Pains of Love (by KateP)

Summary:  Adam falls in love only to find he has a rival, his own father.

Rated: K+ (16,260 words)

Pains of Love Series:

Pains of Love
A Flame Rekindled
Legacy of Love

 

Pains of Love

“What a lovely little boy.” the pretty young woman said, looking at the small child sitting quietly beside his father in the doctor’s waiting room. “And so well behaved.”

The little boy in question scowled slightly at her description while his father laughed wryly. “I assure you Ma’am, he’s not usually so quiet.” He told the young woman. “But he’s had a bad bout of tonsillitis and its dampened his spirits slightly this last week or so.” He glanced down at the boy, anxiety apparent in his look.

“I’m sure he’ll soon be better.” The woman said reassuringly. “I hear that Doctor Martin is very good.” She held out her hand. “My name is Mrs. Collins by the way.” She introduced herself. “Caroline Collins.”

“Ben Cartwright.” Ben replied shaking hands. “And this young man is Joseph, my youngest.”

“Pleased to meet you Joseph.” Caroline smiled at the boy and held out her hand to him. “So you’re the youngest in the family, just like me. I have three sisters and four brothers, how many do you have?”

“Just two brothers.” The child informed her, shaking hands politely. “Adam and Hoss, and my name’s Joe.”

“Joe, not Joseph.” Caroline said solemnly. “I’ll remember that.”

Joe grinned at her words and she was struck by what a good-looking child he was. One day he’ll have all the girls after him, she thought with those dark curls and expressive eyes. Turning back to his father she studied him surreptitiously for a moment. He was a handsome man, grey haired with dark brows and deep brown eyes. She reckoned he must be in his late thirties or early forties though the grey hair made him look somewhat older. The child was around five or six.

“Hoss is an unusual name.” She commented eventually.

Ben glanced up, startled. He had been lost in thought, planning the weeks work ahead. “It’s a nickname.” He explained. “His real name is Eric.”

“Pa.” Joe interrupted, pulling at his father’s arm. “How much longer will we be?”

As if on cue the door to the doctor’s office opened and Doctor Paul Martin ushered out his patient then turned to Ben and Joe.

“Well, well.” He smiled. “It’s Little Joe Cartwright. What can I do for you young man?”

“Pa made me come.” Joe told him, jumping down from his chair and walking over to the doctor. “I’m fine really.”

“I think I’ll decide that.” Paul Martin laughed, following father and son into his office.

****

“If you take the medicine I’m prescribing you, then I think you’ll be feeling better in no time at all.” Doctor Martin told Joe as he finished his examination of the child. “Now go and wait outside for a bit.” He instructed, smiling at the grimace that had crossed Joe’s small face at the word “medicine”. “I just need to talk to your Pa for a while.”

Obediently Joe left the room, closing the door behind him.

“He is all right isn’t he Paul?” Ben’s voice held a trace of alarm.

“He’ll be fine.” The doctor reassured his friend. “He’s just taking a little longer than usual to get over this illness. But considering what he’s been through this year that’s hardly surprising.”

Ben was silent, reflecting on the changes in his family’s circumstances since this time last year. It was just over ten months ago that his third wife, Joe’s mother Marie, had been killed in a riding accident. For a while, Ben had thought that he couldn’t face life any more. He had fallen deep into depression. Eventually with the help of his sons and his friends, he was beginning to come to terms with what had happened, starting to make a life again for himself and his three boys. And it had been just as hard for the boys. Adam and Hoss had lost a stepmother they loved and Little Joe… the child had lost the very centre of his world.

“I wanted to speak to you about how you are coping.” Paul put a sympathetic hand on Ben’s shoulder. “It can’t be easy looking after the boys alone.”

“I manage.” Ben told him, “Adam’s a great help of course, after all he’s eighteen now, hardly a boy any longer. He’s intending to go to college in Boston next year, did I tell you?” Paul nodded. And how will I manage then, Ben thought to himself, recalling the days when he felt so depressed that he didn’t want to get out of bed, didn’t want to face another day without Marie. It was Adam that chivvied him along on those days, persuaded him to get up and dressed, get on with life, “I won’t pretend it’s easy.” He said, fingers kneading his brow as he felt the beginnings of a headache. “I want to do my very best for the boys, Paul. But they miss Marie so, especially Little Joe…”

“He’s still getting the nightmares?” Paul asked gently.

Ben nodded, in his head he could still hear the echoes of his youngest child’s screams as he woke in the night calling for his mother. And it was becoming increasingly difficult for Ben to leave the boy for long. Joe was terrified that his father might also disappear from his life, throwing tantrums if Ben tried to go anywhere without him. It made it very hard to run the Ponderosa. The vast ranch needed constant attention, and since Marie’s death Ben had been forced to neglect certain areas of his business.

“It was Adam’s plans that made me think.” The doctor said, sitting down on the edge of his desk. “You could do with someone to help you look after Hoss and Joe. I know you have Hop Sing, but I was thinking along the lines of a nanny. The boys could do with a woman about the place.”

“I don’t think so Paul.” Ben’s tone was hesitant. “I want to bring up my boys myself, however hard it is. I intend to be mother and father to them if that’s what it takes. I want them to know that even if they only have a father, he’s a father who loves them absolutely. I can’t hand them over to a stranger to bring up.”

“And how will you run the ranch?” Paul asked, “You need to keep that going for the boys as well as yourself. I wasn’t suggesting you give Hoss and Joe’s care over to someone completely Ben, I just think you could do with some help. At least think about it.”

****

Reluctantly agreeing to Paul’s request to think about his suggestion, Ben left the doctor’s office. In the waiting room he found Joe chattering happily to Caroline Collins.

“Come on Joseph.” He held out a hand to the boy. “Time we were getting back home.”

“Aw Pa, I was just telling Carrie ‘bout the Ponderosa.” Joe protested. “And I want to tell her about my pony.”

Ben smiled at the enthusiasm in his young son’s voice, “I’m afraid it will have to wait for now.” He said. “Mrs. Collins has to go in and see Doctor Martin and we have to get back to the ranch.”

“It’s been a pleasure meeting you Joe.” Caroline got to her feet. “But your father is right, I mustn’t keep the doctor waiting and I’m sure your mother must be anxious to hear what he said about you.”

Joe’s eyes clouded instantly and he dropped his gaze. “My mother died,” he said softly.

“Oh Joe, I’m so sorry.” Caroline looked up at Ben and saw the bleak expression that had settled on the man’s face. “I didn’t know, Mr Cartwright.”

“No reason you should.” Ben’s voice was devoid of emotion. “Good day Mrs. Collins.” With that he took hold of his young son’s hand and rapidly exited the building, leaving Caroline staring after him in dismay.

****

“Pa, the candy.” Joe complained loudly as Ben hustled him towards the waiting buggy. “You forgot the candy.”

Ben slowed his pace and resolutely forced a smile as he looked down at his son. “I guess I did at that.” He tousled the boy’s curls fondly. “But I promised you candy if you were good at the doctor’s and candy you will get.”

“I was good, wasn’t I?” Joe followed his father towards the store, eagerly anticipating the treat.

“You were very good.” Ben affirmed, and a little of the desolation he was feeling dispersed at his small son’s beaming smile. As Joe preceded him into the store he found himself wondering if he would ever be able to talk about Marie without that terrible sense of grief and loss flooding over him. He was sorry that he had been so abrupt with young Mrs. Collins. The woman had made a perfectly innocent remark and he had been unforgivably rude.

Joe rapidly chose the candy he wanted from the small selection the storekeeper had in stock. He watched impatiently as the sweet confection was wrapped and presented to his father.

“Couldn’t I have a piece now?” he begged, as the two left the store and made their way to the buggy. “I’ll eat all my supper, I promise.”

Knowing how poor the boy’s appetite had been of late Ben hesitated, but the beseeching look on Joe’s face overcame his resolve and he reached into his pocket. Attention on the bag of candy, Ben almost collided with a plump little man coming in the opposite direction.

“Hey, careful there.” The man laughed, dodging to one side. “Watch where you’re going Ben.”

“I’m sorry, Dan.” Ben apologised, recognising Dan Fuller the town undertaker. “I didn’t see you there.”

“Well, I’m glad I almost bumped into you.” Dan reached down and patted Joe’s head. “And this young man as well. I wanted to know if you and your boys will be attending the Church social tomorrow? I’m on the organising committee this year and I need to know how many will be there.”

Ben was just about to say that they wouldn’t, when he caught sight of Joe’s expression. The little boy was staring up at him with a look of longing. It suddenly occurred to Ben that they hadn’t been to any parties since Marie’s death, he hadn’t felt like facing a crowd of people and had assumed the boys felt the same way. But obviously Joe at least was hoping for a little socialising.

“We’ll be there.” He told Fuller and was rewarded by Joe’s gleaming smile and the look of excited anticipation that appeared on the child’s face.

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.” Dan Fuller was pleased to hear the Cartwrights would be at the social. Ben had become almost a recluse these past few months, it would be good to see him out and about again.

****

Ben was glad that he had made the decision to attend the social. It had been good to see his friends and neighbours again and catch up on all the local news, but the greatest pleasure came from watching his sons, especially Adam. Since Marie’s death Adam had scarcely left the ranch, devoting himself to helping his father and brothers, so it was good to see him now, talking and laughing with his friends.

Looking around for his two younger sons Ben saw Hoss standing beside the food table, quietly loading a plate with fried chicken and bread. For a moment he couldn’t see Joe and was surprised. Except for school Joe rarely let his father out of his sight these days, then he heard the sound of his youngest’s infectious giggle and turned to see the child standing beside Caroline Collins. Mrs. Collins had her hand on Joe’s shoulder and was obviously telling some story that amused the boy, as Ben watched Joe giggled again, his eyes dancing with fun. Momentarily Ben felt a stab of pain. How often he had watched Marie in just such a pose, telling some amusing tale to Adam, Hoss or Joe. He saw Mrs. Collins glance up and catch sight of him, then bend and whisper something to Joe who nodded happily and ran off to join Hoss at the food table.

As soon as the boy was out of earshot, Ben walked across to join the young woman.

“Mr. Cartwright.” She began as Ben drew near. “I hoped I’d see you again, I just wanted to apologise…”

“Mrs. Collins.” Ben interrupted quickly. “It’s me who should be apologising. I was very rude yesterday morning. I hope you can forgive me.”

Caroline smiled prettily, blue eyes sparkling. “Please Mr. Cartwright, think nothing of it.” Catching sight of Joe on his way back, the plate of food that she had asked him to get held precariously in one hand, she hurried on. “I do understand. I lost my husband only a short while ago, so I do know how you feel.”

“I’m sorry to hear that…” Ben began, but was interrupted by Joe, who proudly handed over the plate to Caroline.

With Joe beside him, Ben turned the conversation to more general matters. He learnt that Caroline was staying in Virginia City with one of her sisters Ruth Hawkins who owned the millinery store. She was looking for a position of employment in the town, unwilling to burden her sister and brother-in-law with the cost of her keep for much longer. If such a position was not forthcoming Caroline had decided to leave for San Francisco and try to find work there. When he heard that she was Ruth’s sister, Ben vaguely remembered Marie coming once home from a visit to Mrs. Hawkins store and telling him that Ruth had mentioned her young sister had been tragically widowed after just a few months of marriage.

Suddenly realising that they had been talking for the best part of an hour Ben looked around for Hoss and Adam. It was a long journey back to the ranch and it was time they made a start. Glancing down at Joe he saw the little boy was already sleepy. By the time they got home it would be well past his bedtime. “I’m sorry Mrs. Collins.” He excused himself. “But I really must get this young rascal home to bed.” He reached down and picked Joe up in his arms, the child put his head on his father’s shoulder and closed his eyes, thumb straying to his mouth.

“Then I’ll say Goodnight.” Caroline reached out and stroked Joe’s cheek gently. “And sweet dreams Joe.”

****

Joe settled safely into bed, the lamp on his bedside table turned low, Ben descended the stairs to the great room. Adam and Hoss were playing checkers, both lost in concentration. He picked up a book and sat down wearily in the blue armchair to read for a while.

“Pa.” Ben came awake to find Adam shaking him gently. “Time for bed.”

Yawning, Ben stared blearily at the clock, surprised to find it was almost midnight.

“Hoss went off to bed about an hour ago.” Adam told him. “I didn’t have the heart to wake you.”

“I must have dozed off.” Ben stretched, picking up his book from the floor, where it must have fallen as he slept. “Obviously the evening out tired me more than I realised. Still it was good to see everyone again and I think your brothers enjoyed themselves.”

“I enjoyed it too.” Adam sat down on the hearth. “I saw you talking to a young lady for quite a while Pa.”

“Mrs. Collins.” Ben told him. “I met her at the doctor’s yesterday when I was there with Joe. She’s Mrs. Hawkins sister.”

“Ruth Hawkins at the millinery store?” Adam asked. During the hour or so Ben had been talking to Mrs. Collins, Adam had found his gaze drawn to the young woman. Blonde and blue eyed with a flawless complexion he thought she was just about the prettiest girl he’d ever seen. He had watched her talking and laughing with his father and felt a pang of envy. He’d half hoped Ben would call him over for an introduction at the end of the evening, but his father had been anxious to leave, worried that he’d kept Joe out too late.

“Yes.” Ben answered his question as he stood up and prepared to go up to bed. “She’s Ruth’s widowed sister Caroline. Tragic story, they’d only been married a short while when her husband died. She’s still only 23.”

Only 23 Adam thought as he watched his father ascend the stairs, and a widow. He really hoped that he would get to see Caroline Collins again.

****

The bell above the door of the millinery store tinkled merrily as Ben entered. He looked around him, feeling rather self-conscious in such a resolutely feminine atmosphere. Hats of all shapes and sizes were on display, from the plain everyday kind, to the fanciful frilly confections of feathers and lace that the young ladies of Virginia City wore for special occasions.

“Mr. Cartwright.” Ruth Hawkins came bustling out from behind the counter. “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you. I do hope you are keeping well?”

It had been almost exactly a year since Ben had last been in the store. He remembered the occasion well. Marie had asked him if he would collect a hat for her that Mrs. Hawkins had ordered specially, a dainty little thing in a shade of green that matched to perfection her new riding habit. For a moment he was lost in the past, recalling how well the hat had suited his young wife, perched so prettily on her abundant golden brown curls. With a determined effort he put his memories aside and focused on the woman in front of him. “I’m fine Mrs. Hawkins, thank you.” He said in reply to her question. “I just came in to see if I might have a word with your sister, if she’s in?”

Ruth crossed to the back of the store and pulled aside the curtain that separated the sales area from the storeroom. “Carrie!” she called loudly. “Mr. Cartwright to see you.”

Within moments Carrie entered the store. “How nice to see you again.” She exclaimed, smiling widely as she walked across to Ben’s side.

Looking down at her, Ben wondered if he was doing the right thing. He had spent the better part of a week turning things over in his mind but it was just last night that he had finally made his decision. “Mrs. Collins, Caroline…” he began. ” Are you still looking for employment in Virginia City?”

“I’m afraid I am.” Caroline sighed heavily. “There’s just no work around and I fear I shall soon have to consider going back to San Francisco.”

“I may have a job for you.” Ben told her. “But first I need to know if you have any experience with young children.”

“Oh yes, Mr. Cartwright, I most certainly do.” Caroline looked up at him, eyes dancing. “Before my marriage I was a children’s nurse with a wealthy family in San Francisco.”

“That’s wonderful.” Ben exclaimed, relieved to find the young woman had looked after children before. He had seen how Joe had taken to Caroline but he had been reluctant to leave his precious son with anyone who wasn’t used to children. Briefly he explained that there was a lot of work outstanding on the ranch, much of it would require him to be away from home for at least two or three nights at a time and he needed someone to look after Joe and Hoss. “Of course I could ask my oldest boy Adam to care for his brothers.” He told Caroline. “But Adam will be going east to college next year and I really feel that my cook has enough to do without caring for the boys as well.”

“I would love to help you.” Caroline cried eagerly. “Joe is such a lovely little boy and I’m sure Hoss and I will get on well together…”

“There is a problem.” Ben broke in; wanting to be sure the young woman knew exactly what she was letting herself in for. “Since my wife… since my wife died, Joseph has become a very insecure child. He doesn’t like me to leave him and he can throw some very upsetting tantrums. He still misses his mother very much and often wakes at night calling for her. I have to warn you that he can be very difficult to deal with. He’s a loving child but very stubborn and temperamental. I feel that he needs someone who is prepared to give him a great deal of love and reassurance.”

“I would like to try.” Caroline told him softly. She had seen the anxiety that passed over Ben’s face when he talked of Joe’s problems, heard the love in his voice as he spoke of his little boy. A remarkable man, she thought, feeling a great admiration for him, it was not often that you saw a father so concerned about his children’s welfare. “If you feel I’m suitable then I would very much like the job.”

****

“Well.” Ruth Hawkins turned to her younger sister as Ben left the store. “You sure look like the cat that got the cream. Seems to me you’ve taken a fancy to Mr. Ben Cartwright.”

“Nonsense.” Caroline denied the charge quickly. “I’m just happy to get work near Virginia City and I know I’m going to get on well with Hoss and Joe.”

Ruth’s look was sceptical; if only Caroline could see herself she thought, blue eyes fairly sparkling and face slightly aglow. Oh yes, Ruth thought, even if you’re not admitting it Carrie, there’s definitely an attraction there.

****

Pausing at the top of the stairs and looking across the great room to where Adam was sitting, books spread out before him as he worked to balance the monthly accounts a swell of pride swept over Ben. He regarded his eldest son, dark head bent studiously over the ledgers. Adam had worked so hard these last few months, taking on responsibilities that he should not have had to bear at his age. Life had not dealt very kindly with the young man so far, from a baby he had travelled alongside his father across the country till they settled here in Nevada territory. Often they had faced hunger, cold and danger. Twice it seemed that they had found a happy family life, with a new mother that Adam had come to love. Both times happiness had been cruelly snatched away, the only compensation two young brothers whom Adam loved deeply and unconditionally.

Descending the stairs and crossing over to the desk where Adam sat, Ben considered what he was about to tell his son. He could only hope that Adam would agree with his decision and welcome Caroline Collins into their home.

“Could I talk to you a moment Adam?” he asked, halting in front of the desk.

“Sure, Pa.” Adam looked up at his father, and then reached out to close the ledgers. “I’d just about finished with this anyway. Hoss and Little Joe asleep?”

Ben nodded; he had just been up to check on his two youngest sons, finding them both peacefully sleeping. Leading the way across to the fireplace, he settled comfortably into the old leather armchair. Adam sat down on the hearth, his back to the fire.

“You know I went into Virginia City today?” Ben began. “Well I went to see Mrs. Collins. I asked her if she would be prepared to take up employment here as a nanny to Little Joe and Hoss.”

“A nanny!” Adam was incredulous. “Why would we need a nanny, Pa? The boys are at school most of the time and when they aren’t, there’s you, me and Hop Sing to look after them.”

“That’s just it,” Ben explained. “You’ll soon be leaving for college, Hop Sing does enough without burdening him with child care as well, and I need to get back to running this ranch properly. That will mean days, sometimes even weeks, away from home. I think it would be good for Hoss and Joe to have someone here to take care of them, and Joe has met Mrs. Collins and seems to like her.”

Adam considered his father’s words. He knew that Ben had been neglecting the Ponderosa since Marie’s death. He also knew that a large part of the reason for that neglect was Ben’s unwillingness to leave Hoss and Joe. With his own departure next year he could see that it might be wise to have someone to care for his brothers when his father was away, and he couldn’t deny it would be good to get to know Caroline Collins in the intervening months before he left the ranch.

“I can see…” he began but was interrupted by a piercing scream from upstairs. His youngest brother was once more in the throes of a nightmare. “Did you tell Mrs. Collins about this?” he asked his father as Ben got to his feet and started towards the stairs.

“I told her.” Ben paused a moment and looked back at Adam. “I just hope she can handle it.”

****

As he heard the buggy draw into the yard, Adam opened the door of the ranch house and called his brothers to come and welcome Caroline Collins to the Ponderosa. The three trooped out of the house just as Ben was helping Caroline alight. Adam caught his breath at the sight of the young woman. She was dressed in a gown of pale blue, with a deeper blue cloak and a matching hat. Blonde hair gleamed in the sunlight, a smile played on her lips, and her beauty once again captivated him.

“These are my boys.” Ben led Caroline forwards. “You’ve met Joe, of course. This is Hoss.” Hoss moved to shake Caroline’s hand as his father introduced him. “And Adam, my eldest.”

“Welcome to the Ponderosa, Mrs. Collins.” Adam was annoyed to feel himself blushing as he took Caroline’s hand.

“Please call me Carrie.” Her voice was lovely too, Adam thought as she spoke. Soft and musical. “I’m very pleased to meet you Adam, and you Hoss.” She released Adam’s hand and bent down to hug Little Joe. “And it’s nice to see you again Joe.”

Joe grinned at her happily. He had been pleased when his father told him that Carrie would be coming to stay with them for a while. Ben hadn’t told the child the reason for Mrs. Collins moving to the ranch. He wanted the young woman to settle in first and Joe to become more familiar with her before he broached the subject of leaving his youngest sons alone with her. He hoped that knowing Caroline would be there to look after him might help Joe to accept his own absence from the ranch.

“Well come along in.” Ben led the way toward the door. “Adam, would you bring Carrie’s luggage please?”

Picking up the two heavy bags that Caroline had brought, Adam followed everyone into the ranch house.

****

“It’s a beautiful house, Mr. Cartwright.” Caroline stood in the centre of the great room, looking around her with admiration.

“We like it.” Ben smiled. “Adam.” He turned as his eldest son brought Caroline’s bags into the room. “Would you take Carrie up and show her where she’ll be sleeping?”

Hefting the luggage, Adam started up the stairs, Caroline following close behind. As he reached the top, Adam threw open the door of the room Hop Sing had prepared and stood aside to let her precede him in.

“Oh, Adam.” She exclaimed in delight. “It’s just lovely.”

Adam smiled with pleasure at her reaction. Hop Sing had worked hard getting the room ready, trying to make it a little more feminine for the young woman. Normally a room rarely in use, it had been quite frugal in it’s furnishings. With Ben’s permission, Hop Sing had brightened it up with some of Marie’s pretty bed linen and moved a few of her ornaments in here. A posy of bright flowers, eagerly picked by Joe that morning, stood in a vase on the window ledge, where the crisp white drapes billowed slightly in the breeze from the open window.

“I’ll leave you to unpack.” Adam put the bags down on the bed. “Then perhaps you’d like something to eat? Hop Sing has been busy baking all day.”

“Then I mustn’t disappoint him.” Carrie smiled. “I’ll be down in half an hour.”

As soon as Adam left the room, Carrie crossed to the window and looked out. Below her in the back yard of the Ponderosa, chickens scratched at the earth and a little Chinese man, no doubt Hop Sing, sat on a bench in the late afternoon sunlight shelling peas. With a contented sigh she turned back to the room, and her unpacking.

Descending the stairs a half-hour later Carrie found the Cartwright family assembled in the great room. Ben came forward to greet her, and escorted her across to the table, set ready for the meal.

Seated between Ben and Adam, the two younger boys facing her across the table, Carrie thoroughly enjoyed her first meal at the Ponderosa. Roast beef, (‘From our own herd’ Adam told her) and vegetables was followed by the results of Hop Sing’s baking – a delicious pie made with a fruit tasting not unlike a raspberry, though unfamiliar to Carrie.

“I thought you might like Joe and Hoss to show you round tomorrow.” Ben told her as they finished the meal and he poured coffee for her, Adam and himself, the two younger boys having been served tall glasses of milk by Hop Sing. “Then Adam and I can ride into town to see to some outstanding business I have at the bank.”

Glancing across at Joe, Carrie noticed immediately the anxious look that had settled on the child’s face. “I would love for Joe and Hoss to show me around.” She said quickly, seeking to distract the boy. “You will take me won’t you Joe? I bet you know all the best places round here.”

For a moment it seemed as if the child might refuse, as he looked from her to his father. “I’d like to show you the ranch,” he said at last. Inwardly, Carrie breathed a sigh of relief.

****

As the first scream echoed through the house Carrie sat upright in her bed. Even though it was close to one in the morning, she hadn’t been sleeping. The lamp was still burning low on the bedside table and she had just that moment laid aside the novel she was reading.

Slipping out from beneath the covers, she slid her feet into the slippers that stood beside the bed and reached for her robe. Pulling the folds of blue cotton tightly around her and knotting the belt, she made for the door.

Outside in the corridor she saw Adam, similarly attired in robe and slippers, standing in the doorway to Joe’s room.

“Is he all right?” Carrie whispered, walking quietly along to join him.

Adam jumped, he hadn’t seen Carrie approach. His attention had been on his father who was trying to calm Joe. The screams had stopped now and Ben was sitting on the bed, Joe on his lap, talking quietly to the child.

“Pa’s with him, he’ll be fine.” Adam could feel himself reddening again as he spoke, very aware of Carrie’s thin robe. “I’m just on my way back to bed. Goodnight Mrs…er…Carrie.”

“Goodnight.” Carrie watched as Adam headed for his own room, then turned to look at Joe and Ben. The little boy was curled up sleepily in his father’s arms, Ben murmuring softly to him. As she watched, he gently laid his son back under the covers.

He’s so kind, Carrie thought, So caring. She watched for a few minutes more, then beginning to feel chilly in the cold hallway, returned to her bed.

****

“What a magnificent horse.” Carrie exclaimed as she approached the corral, Joe and Hoss on either side of her. Nothing had been said this morning about Joe’s nightmare, and though the child had looked a little upset as his father and Adam departed for Virginia City, he quickly brightened up on their tour of the ranch.

“That’s Adam’s horse.” Hoss told her proudly. “He’s gonna race him at the fair in Virginia City next week.”

“He’s going to win, too, isn’t he Hoss?” Joe piped up. “There’s no other horse as good as this one in the whole territory.”

“I suppose Adam told you that.” Carrie laughed, watching the animal in the corral. The horse certainly was a beauty, sleek and well muscled, obviously cared for.

“Adam doesn’t need to tell me, I know all about horses.” Joe was indignant.

“He does you know.” Hoss championed his small brother stoutly. “Joe’s real good with horses.”

Throwing Hoss a grateful smile Joe clambered up on the corral fence. “His name’s Hurricane.” He informed Carrie. “And he runs real fast. Just wait till you see him at the fair.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” Carrie gave a last look at the animal then turned toward the house. “How about we go inside now and bake some cookies for when your father and Adam get home?”

“I don’t rightly know about that Ma’am.” Hoss reached out and lifted Little Joe from the fence, setting him down beside Carrie. “Hop Sing might not like us using his kitchen.”

“Hop Sing will be fine, you leave him to me.” Carrie winked broadly at the brothers, causing Hoss to grin back at her and Joe to dissolve in a fit of giggles. “I know how to handle cooks.”

In fact she had already asked Hop Sing’s permission to use his kitchen, the little cook had agreed readily, willing to do anything to assist with helping Joe.

So it was that a couple of hours later, two flour covered, but happy boys were just putting fresh baked cookies out on a tray to cool when Ben and Adam returned home.

“It’s Pa!” Joe exclaimed excitedly, his whole face lighting with relief as he heard the horses come cantering into the yard. “Pa’s home!”

As the child dashed out to greet his father, Hoss close behind, Carrie put a hand up to check her hair was in place, brushed a few cookie crumbs off her dress and followed. Though quietly pleased at her progress with Joe today, she had been aware for the last hour or so that she had lost his attention, as he listened anxiously for his father’s return.

Happily greeting his two youngest sons, Ben managed to catch Caroline’s eye over their heads. She smiled and nodded, indicating that all was well.

With a relieved sigh, Ben allowed Hoss and Joe to lead him into the kitchen where he was proudly presented with a rather thick and slightly stodgy cookie.

“You can have one too, Adam.” Joe offered graciously as his eldest brother followed them in with Carrie close behind. “Hoss and me made them all on our own.”

“And very good they are too.” Ben smiled, and was rewarded by a huge grin from Hoss and another cookie thrust into his hand by Joe. Watching his sons as they all tucked into the cookies Ben was thankful that, so far, taking on Carrie was working out well.

****

Over the next week Carrie settled in well with the Cartwrights. Hoss liked her from the start, enjoying her company and eager to get home from school each evening to tell her all about his day. Joe was happy with her too, although he still stayed close to his father’s side when Ben was at home, and still waited anxiously for his return when he was away from the house. Carrie had been woken on two further occasions by the little boy’s screams as he fought the nightmares that plagued him. Both times she had slipped from her room and headed for Joe’s, but Ben was always there first, quietly reassuring and comforting his youngest son.

Carrie woke early on Saturday morning and lay quietly for a while thinking about Joe. Ben had told her that he intended to take Hoss to Placerville for a few days the next week. The idea was to get Joe used to the idea that sometimes his father would be absent from the ranch for a while. Adam would be on hand this first time, to help out if the child got really distressed. Carrie had to admit to herself that she was a little nervous, if she couldn’t cope with Joe then it was unlikely that Ben would keep her on and she would be heart-broken if she had to leave. For she had to admit to herself that Ruth had been right, Carrie was beginning to feel very attracted to Ben Cartwright.

Through the open window, voices from the yard caught her attention and she pushed back the bedcovers and made her way across to look out.

Outside Adam was standing talking to his father, beside him stood Hurricane, coat gleaming in the sunshine. ‘Of course.’ She thought, seeing Adam run a caressing hand over the horses’ shoulder. ‘Today is the horse race.’

Dressing quickly Carrie made her way downstairs to find the two youngest Cartwrights already finishing breakfast. “Good morning, boys.” She said cheerfully, taking her place at the table and reaching for the bacon. “You’re up very early this morning.”

“That’s ‘cos we’re going to the horse race.” Joe told her animatedly, his face alight with excitement. “We’re gonna see Adam and Hurricane win the race.”

“Well, he has a good chance of winning.” Ben said, entering the house in time to hear his youngest son’s words. “But we’ll have to wait and see whether he does or not.”

“He will, Pa.” Joe told his father earnestly. “Hurricane’s the best horse around here. Isn’t he Hoss?” he appealed, turning to his brother.

“If you say so, shortshanks.” Hoss pushed his empty plate aside and stood up. “I’ll just go and get the buggy ready, Pa.”

“I’ll help!” Joe scrambled down from his chair and the two brothers headed out to the stable, Joe practically pulling Hoss along in his eagerness to get going.

Laughing, Ben sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of coffee. “I hope Adam does win this race.” He said softly. “Joe will be awfully disappointed if Hurricane loses.”

“He’s certainly has a lot of confidence in the horse.” Carrie replied, finishing her breakfast.

“He’s very knowledgeable about the animals, even though he’s so young.” Ben smiled, a touch of sadness in his eyes as he thought about Joe’s affinity with horses. “His mother was the same.”

Carrie sensed the change in Ben’s mood as he remembered Marie. She saw the tenderness in his eyes and found herself wishing that he would look at her that way.

“Come on, Pa. We’re all ready to go.” Hoss called, opening the door. With a jolt both Ben and Carrie broke free of their daydreams and hurried to join the boys.

****

The race was a big event in Virginia City and it seemed that the whole town was out to enjoy themselves for the day. Multi-coloured bunting had been strung across the street, bringing an almost carnival air. It was a very hot day cooled slightly by a gentle breeze that just stirred the flags hanging from the buildings and caused them to flutter lethargically in the heat.

On the sidewalks a few enterprising traders had set up tables offering food and cool drinks, while by the line where the race would start, others were busily taking bets on the outcome.

“Once the race is over there’s to be a contest to see who has raised the best bull this year.” Ben explained to Caroline as they found a place to stand that afforded them a good view of the starting line. “I’m a judge for that so I’ll have to leave you with the boys for a while if that’s all right.”

“Of course it is.” Caroline smiled looking down at Hoss and Joe who had seated themselves on the edge of the sidewalk, boots firmly planted in the dust of the street. “You know how I enjoy their company.”

“It won’t take too long.” Ben assured her. “Then we’ll head down to the river and unpack the picnic Hop Sing has provided. I believe there will be games for the young folk and I have heard that a Medicine show has set up down there.”

“Pa.” Joe interrupted, getting to his feet. “Look up there, they’re selling candy.” He pointed up the street to where a trestle table had been set up outside the General Store with an assortment of glass jars displayed upon it.

“So they are.” Ben said with feigned disinterest and turned to look the other way down the street to where a few of the contestants in the horse race could be seen getting their mounts ready.

“Paaa…” The wheedling tone in the child’s voice made Ben smile as he turned back to look down at him. “Could we have just a little candy…please, Pa?”

“Just ten cents worth then.” Ben reached into his pocket and pulled forth two shiny coins, which he presented to Joe and Hoss. “Run along now, but hurry up. I want you back here before the race starts.”

“Thanks Pa.” The boys chorused and ran off together, coins clutched tightly in their hands.

By the time they returned, each carrying a paper cone filled with lemon drops and peppermint, the riders were assembling at the starting line and Joe waved frantically to Adam as he caught sight of his big brother mounted on Hurricane.

Waving back at Joe, Adam gave a confident smile to his family before returning his attention to Sheriff Roy Coffee who was to start the race. Standing to one side of the line of horses and riders the sheriff raised a small flag in the air. “Ready.” He said loudly, and then began to count downwards from five.

As the flag descended the horses surged forward and Little Joe, standing next to his father, jumped with excitement as Hurricane went straight into the lead. “He’s winning, Pa. Adam’s winning.” He squealed and then coughed as he inadvertently swallowed the lemon drop he had been sucking.

“All right, Little Joe?” Hoss asked in concern giving his younger brother a hefty thump on the back to dislodge the candy.

“I’m fine.” Joe said, pushing him away quickly before he could repeat the manoeuvre.

“Here they come again, boys.” Ben said pointing to the corner as the first horse came into view. Hurricane wasn’t in the lead now and Joe and Hoss looked at each other in dismay but were relieved when Adam was the second rider to come into view, gaining fast on the leader as the horses began their second circuit.

“Come on Adam!” Hoss yelled as his brother passed in front of where his family was standing. “Come on!”

Once again the horses disappeared from view around the corner and the Cartwrights waited tensely for them to complete their circuit around the block.

“Adam’s first, Adam’s first!” Joe practically screamed, as Hurricane appeared galloping for the winning line, his nearest opponent some thirty feet behind. As he crossed the line Joe flung himself at Hoss in a celebratory hug then turned to grab his father’s hand. “Let’s go see Adam.” He said, attempting to pull Ben along.

“Wait till all the horses have finished and everything’s calmed down a little.” Ben told him, disengaging himself from Joe’s sticky fingers and reaching into his pocket for a handkerchief to wipe the residue of the candy from his hand.

“It was a wonderful ride.” Carrie said, turning to Joe, her eyes shining with excitement. “You were right about Hurricane, Joe.”

“Told you he was the best.” Joe grinned widely and held out his cone of candy. “Would you like a peppermint?”

Taking the candy, Carrie looked up at Ben, he was looking across the street to where Adam was being congratulated on his win by his fellow riders and the pride in his eyes was unmistakable. A shiver of desire swept over Carrie and she looked away quickly, blushing at the picture her mind had just created of herself held fast in Ben’s arms, their lips locked together in a passionate kiss.

****

“Well done, son.” Ben said proudly as they walked across the street to join Adam. “You rode well.”

“Thanks, Pa.” Adam turned to pat the nose of the animal that stood beside him. “I had a good horse.”

“He’s the best horse in the world.” Joe piped up and put out a hand to pull at his older brother’s sleeve. “Can I sit up on him for a minute, Adam, please?”

Adam hesitated, giving a quick glance at his father. Seeing Ben’s nod of consent he grinned and, to Joe’s delight, caught the little boy under his arms and hoisted him up into Hurricane’s saddle.

“Can I ride him across to the stables?” Joe begged, looking down at his father. “I’ll be careful, I promise.”

“You can stay up on him while Adam leads him across to the stables.” Ben told him firmly, not wavering when he saw disappointment chase across the child’s face. “He’s too big a horse for you to ride at your age.”

“I can ride him on my own.” Joe said crossly, giving his father a mutinous look. “He’s not too big.”

“Any arguments and you’ll get down right now.” Ben warned and, seeing that his father wasn’t about to change his mind, Joe subsided. “I have to go and judge this contest.” Ben continued, checking the time on his pocket watch. “It shouldn’t take long but if I’m not at the livery stable in half an hours time I’ll meet you all at the picnic ground.” As he walked away two pairs of eyes followed him, Joe’s filled with unease, Caroline’s with yearning.

“Did you enjoy the race, Carrie?” Adam asked anxiously as he took Hurricane’s reins and began to lead the way to the livery stable, Joe sitting proudly astride the horse, Hoss trailing behind busily crunching on the last of his candy.

“I thought you were wonderful.” Carrie told him, giving him an admiring smile. “It was a really exciting race.”

“It was all down to Hurricane really.” Adam said modestly, her words sending a thrill through him. It meant a lot to hear her say that she thought he was wonderful, he’d been hoping that his win would impress her.

Entering the stable Adam reached up to lift Joe down from Hurricane, then led the animal over to one of the stalls where he would rub him down and get him settled before leaving for the picnic. Caroline followed, lifting her skirts slightly to keep them clear of the hay on the floor, Hoss and Joe behind her. Leaning against the stall she watched as Adam tended to his horse. Hoss and Joe soon tired of this and wandered off to the other side of the stable to begin some kind of game involving throwing small stones in the air and attempting to catch them on the backs of their hands.

“Is this the first time you’ve been in the race?” Caroline asked, as Adam fetched water for Hurricane, who drank it eagerly.

“No.” Adam looked up at her. “I entered last year as well. Not on Hurricane though, I was riding a horse called Blackjack, a favourite of my step-mother’s.” He glanced over at Joe and Hoss before continuing. ” I came in second, she was really pleased.”

“What was she like?” Caroline asked softly, wondering about the woman that Ben had been married to. “Was she very beautiful?”

“Yes, she was.” Adam said simply as he threw a blanket over Hurricane and came to stand next to Caroline. “Joe is very like her, same eyes and hair and that kind of delicate look.”

“I suppose your father must have loved her very much?” Caroline wasn’t sure that she wanted to know just how much but somehow she couldn’t resist asking the question.

“He did…” Adam whispered the answer seeing Joe fling down his stones and head in his direction. “Finished your game?” He asked the child as he approached.

“Hoss keeps winning.” Joe complained. “And anyway I’m getting hungry now. When’s Pa going to get back?”

“He said to meet him at the picnic ground if he wasn’t here by now.” Adam held out a hand to the little boy. “How about we go and get the hamper and head off over there.”

With a nod, Joe took Adam’s hand and they started out into the sunlight Hoss walking behind with Caroline. Taking the picnic hamper from the buggy where they had left it the four started off, soon catching up with other revellers on their way to the site where the picnic was held.

By the time Ben joined them Caroline was sitting on the blanket Adam had put down on the ground, her skirts spread around her, unpacking the hamper and distributing the pieces of fried chicken, baked ham and bread that Hop Sing had packed.

“Hey, Pa!” Hoss grinned, seeing his father approach. “How did the contest go?”

“Never again” Ben groaned, sitting down next to Adam and accepting the food Caroline held out to him. “Old Amos Sterling swore it was all fixed and that his bull should have won. Almost had a fight over it.” He took a bite of the chicken and turned to Adam. “Hurricane all settled, son?”

Adam nodded, his attention only half on his father. He was watching Caroline as she ate, admiring the dainty way she bit into the food, the tiny bites she took. Lost in his thoughts he was brought rudely down to earth by his youngest brother launching himself at him and flinging his arms around his neck. “Will you take me to watch the medicine show?” He asked and Adam became aware of the music coming from the direction of the travelling show, which had set up a short distance away. He winced slightly at the off key rendition of Jimmy Crack Corn but got to his feet and took Joe’s hand. “Come on then.” He said. “You coming, Hoss?”

“No.” Hoss mumbled, his mouth full of gingersnap cookie. “You go on.”

So Adam headed off to the medicine show, Joe alongside him. Hoss reached for another gingersnap and Ben settled back on the blanket, put his arms behind his head and dozed off in the hot sunshine leaving Caroline to indulge herself in daydreams of becoming a part of the Cartwright family.

****

With the excitement of the horse race over, Ben began to make preparations for his journey to Placerville and the business he would conduct there. Hoss was excited about going, to be included in his father’s plans made him feel very grown up and important. Unfortunately he couldn’t resist boasting about the trip to his little brother and by the morning of Ben’s departure Joe was not only anxious but resentful as well.

“Why can’t I go too?” He demanded of his father at breakfast. “It’s not fair.”

“Hoss is twelve now, going on thirteen and it’s time he learnt a bit more about the way the Ponderosa is run.” Ben explained patiently. “We’re not going to Placerville to have fun, Joseph. It’s a business trip and I think you’d find it very boring.”

“It’s not fair.” The child repeated, banging his fork down on the table in temper. “I wouldn’t be bored.”

“That’s enough.” Ben said sternly. “You aren’t going and that is an end to it. Now eat your breakfast.”

From her place at the table Caroline saw the tears that sprang to Joe’s eyes at his father’s words. “Your Pa won’t be away long, Joe.” She said consolingly. “And I’m sure that you, me and Adam will find something fun to do while he’s away.”

Joe looked up at her and nodded slightly though his lower lip still trembled revealingly. “I guess.” He said quietly.

“How about we take Carrie fishing with us tomorrow?” Adam asked, and was pleased when his brother nodded again. A couple of hours by the lake with Carrie might give him a chance to tell her how he felt. He had been trying to work up the courage to speak to Carrie for a couple of days but the opportunity had simply not arisen, he had been too busy with ranch work and she had been busy with Joe and Hoss.

Breakfast over Ben and Hoss prepared to leave, Ben stopping to give last minute instructions to Adam.

“It’s all under control, Pa.” Adam told him, ushering his father out of the door. “I know exactly what needs doing round the ranch. You’d better get going or you won’t make Placerville by tonight.”

“Take care of your brother.” Ben said quietly, shaking Adam’s hand in farewell and looking across to where Joe was saying his goodbyes to Hoss. “I’m sure he’ll be fine with Carrie but…”

“But you’ll still worry.” Adam smiled. “He’ll be okay, Pa. Carrie and I will make sure of that.”

Ben nodded but anxiety still lurked in his deep brown eyes as he turned to pick up his youngest son, hugging him tightly for a moment before putting him down beside Adam. “Be good for Carrie and your brother.” He told him as he mounted up. “And have a good time fishing.”

“‘Bye Adam, Carrie. ‘Bye short shanks.” Hoss called as he too mounted up and the two horses headed out of the Ponderosa.

After Ben and Hoss had left it seemed very quiet at the ranch for the rest of the day. Adam was kept busy doing ranch chores and though Carrie sought to distract Little Joe with the offer to play some games or read a book the child was obviously ill at ease with his father away.

Supper over, Joe was despatched upstairs to bed. Adam going up later to hear his prayers and make sure he was settled for the night. Returning to the great room Adam selected a book to read and settled down on the couch, looking over from time to time at Caroline, who was sitting in the armchair sewing. Watching her nimble fingers as she pulled the needle through the cloth he wished he could think of something to say to her. Adam hadn’t had much experience with girls, there had been very few around while he was growing up and Caroline was the first woman he had felt so attracted to. He was just stealing himself to break the silence when Joe’s screams rang through the house. Both Adam and Carrie were immediately on their feet and heading for the stairs. Arriving in Joe’s room they found the little boy sitting up in bed, sobbing.

“Hey, Joe. It’s okay.” Adam said soothingly, sitting on the bed and pulling the child towards him. “We’re here.”

“I don’t want you.” Joe pushed Adam away, tears rolling down his face. “I want Pa.”

“Your Pa will be back soon.” Carrie sat down on the other side of Joe and gently rubbed the boy’s shoulders. “He’s probably thinking of you right now and missing you just as much as you miss him.”

“Really?” Joe raised tear filled green eyes to the young woman.

“Of course.” Carrie put her arm round the child and unresisting he leaned against her, his sobs beginning to diminish.

Adam looked at her, hair gleaming in the lamplight, eyes soft with compassion as she looked down at the little boy and vowed to himself that he would speak to her tomorrow. He was falling in love with this beautiful young woman and he wanted her to know it.

****

Settling Joe down by the lakeside the following afternoon, within sight of where Caroline was sitting, but out of earshot, Adam rehearsed in his mind the words he intended to say to her. In bed last night it had all seemed so easy, his imagination supplying a happy ending where Caroline fell into his arms and told him that she loved him too. But as the time drew near, Adam could feel his resolve beginning to waver. I will do it. He told himself as he helped Joe bait the hook of his fishing pole. I will tell her.

Leaving Joe happily fishing, Adam returned to where Caroline was sitting on a blanket beside the lake, admiring the view.

“It’s so beautiful here.” She said as Adam lowered himself down next to her and picked up his own fishing pole. “Peaceful too.”

“Yes.” Adam was annoyed at himself for the one word answer he gave but could think of nothing else to say. Beside him Caroline lay back on the blanket, the movement causing the outline of her breasts to show clearly through the gingham fabric of her dress. Averting his gaze, Adam was mortified to feel a blush suffuse his face with heat and quickly busied himself with selecting his bait. Relaxing in the sun, Carrie closed her eyes for a moment, enjoying the peacefulness of the lakeside, the silence broken only by the sound of birdsong and the gentle plop of Adam’s fishing line as he cast it into the water.

“Carrie…” Opening her eyes as Adam said her name Carrie saw that the young man had put his fishing pole aside and was looking down at her earnestly, an anxious look on his face.

“Mmmm…?” Propping herself up on her elbow Caroline turned towards him. “What is it?”

“Uhhh…well…I was wondering…do you…I mean would you…” Adam swallowed hard; this was proving even more difficult than he’d anticipated. Taking a deep breath he plunged onwards. “Carrie, I’ve liked you from when I first saw you at the Church social. I think you’re a wonderful person, kind, gentle and really beautiful. Do you think you could do me the honour of becoming my girl?” There it was out. Now he could only wait nervously for her response.

“Oh, Adam.” Caroline stared at the young man in dismay; she had had no idea that this was coming. “I’m so sorry, but…”

“There’s someone else?” Adam finished for her, disappointment evident in his voice.

“I’m afraid so.” Carrie’s mind was racing; she could hardly confess her attraction to Ben to his son. “I’m flattered of course that you think so highly of me and I think you’re a really nice boy…” Her voice trailed off as she saw the devastated look on Adam’s face and realised her mistake.

“This man is older?” Adam asked with a trace of bitterness.

“Considerably.” Carrie said, searching for a way to undo the hurt she could see she was inflicting. “It’s not that I don’t find you a very attractive young man. You’re very handsome and one day I’m sure you’ll find the right girl for you. It’s just that my heart belongs to someone else, I really am sorry.”

Adam turned away, looking out over the lake. His face burned with embarrassment and his heart was heavy with despair, but what stung the most that was Caroline had dismissed him as no more than a boy.

“Adam! Hey, Adam! Carrie! I got a fish.” Little Joe’s excited shout came as a welcome distraction and Adam got hastily to his feet and headed off in his brother’s direction. Caroline watched him go with regret, she knew she had handled things badly and could only hope that his feelings weren’t too bruised. ‘He’s only young’. She told herself consolingly as she saw him drop to his knees beside Joe and admire the little boy’s catch. ‘He’ll soon get over it and find someone else’.

****

The next few days until Ben and Hoss returned from Placerville were uncomfortable for both Adam and Carrie. Adam found it difficult to be around the young woman now that he knew his affection would never be returned and Carrie found it hard to carry on as normal knowing Adam’s feelings. Joe was confused; Adam seemed to be in a bad temper all the time, snapping at him for no reason. Matters came to a head on the morning of the day Ben was expected home when, coming down the stairs, Adam tripped on one of Joe’s toy soldiers. Seeing his little brother sitting in front of the fireplace Adam rounded on the child furiously, asking him why he could never keep his toys tidy and accusing him of having no thought for others. Caroline, coming in from the kitchen just in time to catch the end of the tirade was horrified.

“I never meant to trip you up.” Joe told Adam earnestly, tears beginning to fall at the unjustness of his brother’s accusation. “Why are you being so nasty?” Catching sight of Caroline he ran across to her.

Catching him in her arms, Carrie turned accusing blue eyes on Adam. “He’s right.” She said. “You’ve been taking things out on Joe and it’s not his fault.”

“I’m going into town.” Adam said curtly, and Caroline sighed as he headed out of the door.

Dismayed, Little Joe pulled away from Caroline and ran after his brother, catching him up just as he reached the barn on his way to get his horse. “You can’t go.” He cried, pulling at Adam’s arm. “Pa and Hoss will be home soon. Don’t you want to see them?”

Looking down into the child’s tear streaked face, Adam felt a rush of guilt. Carrie was right, he realised, he’d been hurt by her rejection and he was taking that feeling out on Joe. “Of course I want to see them.” He said, reaching down and picking the little boy up in his arms. “I’m sorry, Joe. I guess I just got in a bad mood. Forgive me?”

Putting both arms round his brother’s neck, Joe gave him hug. “I ‘spose.” He said slowly and Adam saw a scheming look appear on his face. “If you let me ride Hurricane I’ll forgive you.”

“Why you…” Adam laughed, setting Joe down and making him giggle by tickling him under the arms. “All right, I suppose I owe you one ride. But you just sit up on him and I’ll lead him round the corral or Pa’ll have my hide.”

Joe looked up at him with a beaming smile before grabbing his hand and dragging him towards the corral.

Standing in the doorway Carrie breathed a sigh of relief as she saw the two walk off together. Turning back into the house she headed for her room deciding to put on her best blue dress before Ben got back. She knew the gown suited her, bringing out the colour of her eyes and accentuating the gold of her hair. She gave a contented sigh as she dressed, thinking about Ben’s reaction when he saw her. Her pulse raced as she imagined him dismounting from his horse and running to take her in his arms. A touch of guilt marred the dream a little as she remembered Adam but she pushed that aside hastily and indulged herself with fantasies of a wedding at the Ponderosa.

****

The homecoming wasn’t quite the way Carrie had envisioned it. The only person in Ben’s arms was Joe who launched himself at his father as soon as he got off his horse.

“I caught a fish.” The little boy announced proudly as Ben set him back on his feet and turned to greet Adam and Carrie. “And I rode Hurricane.”

“He sat on Hurricane while I led him round.” Adam put in hastily.

“I got to go in a saloon in Placerville.” Hoss told his brothers as he came round to hug Joe and Adam. “Didn’t I Pa?”

Ben nodded in agreement, reaching out to shake Carrie’s hand. “I hope Joe has been well behaved while we’ve been gone?”

“He’s been very good.” Caroline felt a thrill shoot through her at the touch of Ben’s hand in hers, disappointed when he relinquished the hold.

“Did you bring me anything?” Joe asked eagerly, grabbing his father’s arm and looking up at him appealingly.

“It was a business trip, Little Joe.” Hoss said importantly as he pulled his saddlebags from his horse and started towards the house. “Weren’t no time for shopping.”

“Don’t worry.” Ben smiled as he saw the crestfallen look on his youngest’s face. “Your brother’s just teasing you. If you bring my saddlebags inside for me I think you might find there’s a little something in them for you.”

Excitedly the little boy ran to retrieve the bags and Ben spoke softly to Adam. “Any problems?”

“He had a nightmare the first night you were away.” Adam whispered. “But apart from that he’s been fine.”

“Good.” Ben smiled and clapped Adam on the back. “Let’s go in.”

Once inside Joe could hardly contain himself when his father insisted on having a cup of coffee before distributing the gifts he had bought. He sat on the couch wriggling with impatience until Ben sternly ordered him to sit still. It seemed like a very long time to the child until his father at last reached into the heavy bag emblazoned with the pinetree brand of the Ponderosa and brought forth a soft leather pouch, which he handed to Joe.

“Thanks, Pa.” The little boy pulled open the drawer string fastening and exclaimed in delight as he found a selection of coloured glass marbles inside.

“Pa bought me some of those too.” Hoss told him, as Joe took one of the marbles out for a closer look. “I’ll give you a game later if you like.”

“After supper, perhaps.” Ben said smiling with pleasure at Joe’s reaction to the gift. “I have something for Adam, as well.” He said, reaching into the bag again and bringing out a book which Adam accepted gratefully. “And for Carrie.” He handed over a small, glass bottle bearing the inscription ‘Eau de Cologne’ on its label.

“It’s perfume.” Hoss informed her as Caroline took the gift and exclaimed over it. “I helped Pa choose it. It smells real pretty and it comes all the way from Europe.”

“It’s beautiful.” Caroline examined the bottle, removing the stopper and taking a sniff. “Thank You so much.” She dabbed a spot of the scent on her wrists and held out her arm for Joe to smell, laughing as the child wrinkled his nose in disgust.

Present giving over Ben and Hoss went to clean up after their long journey. Carrie headed for her room to put her perfume away and Adam settled himself in the armchair and began to read his new book. Left to his own devices Little Joe quietly let himself out the front door with the intention of trying out his new marbles on the porch.

Supper was a noisy meal with Hoss and Joe vying for attention with tales of what they had been doing the last few days. Hop Sing had prepared chicken and dumplings, knowing it to be one of Hoss’ favourites. Earlier, Ben had presented the cook with the gift of a pair of fine silk slippers and the little man was in a very good mood as he served the food, smiling and nodding in pleasure as he watched ‘his family’ eat.

The last morsel of his meal finished, Ben stood up and stretched. “I’m just going outside for a moment.” He told the others who were lingering over the apple pie that Hop Sing had produced for dessert. “Get some good Ponderosa air into my lungs.” He had just left the room and closed the door behind him when his family were startled by the sound of a loud thud and an exclamation of pain.

“JOSEPH!!” Ben’s voice thundered around the room as he flung the door open and headed in the direction of his youngest son, who stared up at him wide eyed. “What is the meaning of this?” Thrusting his clenched hand under Little Joe’s nose he opened his fingers to reveal a marble.

“It’s a …a …marble, Pa.” Joe said nervously, seeing the anger on his father’s face.

“It’s a marble.” Ben repeated. “And what was it doing on the porch where someone could easily slip up on it?”

“Did you slip up on it, Pa?” Adam asked innocently, trying to keep a smirk from his lips. “That must have been the noise we heard.”

“I did slip on it, yes.” Ben said, shooting Adam a furious look. “It’s no laughing matter either, I could have been badly hurt.”

“You’re not hurt, are you, Pa?” Joe was worried now, he thought he’d picked up all the marbles when he came in for supper but in the fading light he must have missed one. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I’m not hurt.” Ben reassured him, his anger fading as he saw the concern on the child’s face. “But it was very careless, Joe. Very careless.”

“I’m sorry, Pa.” Joe repeated, dropping his gaze to his plate. Looking up again he caught the barely disguised smile on his eldest brother’s face and felt better. If Adam thought it was funny then it couldn’t be too bad. Reaching out he took the marble from his father’s palm and slid down from his chair. “I’ll put it away now.” He said.

Watching as Joe headed off upstairs Ben gave a sigh and sat down heavily. “You go up as well, Hoss.” He told his middle son. “You can play with the marbles in Joe’s room for a half an hour and then get ready for bed.”

“Right, Pa.” Hoss went off to join his brother and Adam excused himself too, intent on reading a chapter or two of his book.

Left alone with Caroline, Ben went to pour himself a small brandy, feeling a little shaken up by his fall. He asked Carrie if she would care to join him but the young woman declined, pouring herself another cup of coffee instead and going over to sit on the couch.

“You didn’t hurt yourself did you?” She asked anxiously as Ben came over and lowered himself stiffly into the leather armchair.

“Not really.” He said, taking a sip of the brandy and feeling it’s warmth track it’s way down into his stomach. “Probably a bruise or two by the morning but no real damage.”

“I’m sure Joe never meant to leave the marble outside.” Carrie said, worried that Ben might still be angry with the boy. “He probably just didn’t see it there.”

“I know.” Ben held the brandy glass in his hands, rolling it from side to side to warm the liquor. “I probably shouldn’t have shouted at him like that. Marie was always saying that I couldn’t expect to keep a perfectly tidy house with a couple of small boys around the place.” He smiled wryly as he recalled his wife’s words. “It was different with Adam of course.” He said. “He never had many toys and we never really had a home until he was too old to want any. Even Hoss never had too many, but Joe…sometimes I fear I spoil the boy.”

“He’s a lovely little boy.” Carrie said, enjoying this talk and hoping to steer it away from the subject of Marie. “A real credit to you, all your boys are.”

“Thank You.” Ben said softly. “I try my best, but it’s hard sometimes. I miss Marie so much.”

Caroline’s heart ached for the man as she saw the sorrow in his eyes. How she longed to help him, to kiss away the pain on his face and have him realise that his future lay with her now. That she could be a mother to Hoss and Little Joe. And what about Adam? The errant thought brought her up short. You can hardly be a mother to him. Determinedly she pushed the thought away, Adam would be leaving soon, he would be far away and there would be no obstacle to her happiness with Ben. “I’m glad that I’ve been able to help you a little with Joe.” She said, smiling tenderly at him. “He responded to me very well when he had that nightmare the other night and I feel sure that he is growing quite fond of me.”

“I’m certain that he is.” Ben told her, and was surprised to feel a prickle of jealousy at the thought that his small son had turned to Carrie for comfort rather than himself or Adam. “I think I’ll just go up now and check that he’s in bed.” Putting his glass down he rose from the chair. “Good night.”

Watching him go up the stairs Carrie smiled dreamily as she prepared to indulge her favourite fantasy of climbing the stairs with him and spending the night held safely in his strong arms.

****

“You know, Ben.” Carrie said as the family sat down to breakfast the next morning. “Joe could do with some new shirts, he’s almost grown out of most of the ones he has.”

Surprised, Ben glanced across the table at his youngest son. Carrie was right, the sleeves of Joe’s shirt were now well above his wrists. “Guess you must have grown some while I was away, son.” He joked and Joe grinned at him, pleased to think he was getting taller.

“If it’s all right by you I could take him into Virginia City today and get him some more.” Carrie continued. “It would give me a chance to see my sister.”

“It’s fine by me.” Ben looked up at Adam. “Weren’t you going into town today, Adam?”

Adam nodded in agreement, his mouth too full to answer.

“Then that’s settled.” Ben said. “Carrie, Adam will drive you and Joe into town. As soon as I’ve finished breakfast I’ll sort out some money for the shirts.”

Adam put down his fork, suddenly losing his appetite, it was a long drive to Virginia City and the thought of all that time in Carrie’s company, when things between them were so strained, wasn’t appealing.

Joe was excited, it wasn’t often that he got a trip to town and, despite the boring prospect of clothes shopping; he was looking forward to it. Waiting on the porch while Adam got the buggy ready and Carrie sorted out some things with his father he played idly with the coins that Hoss had given him to buy him some candy. He had spent all his own money the last time he had gone to town but he wasn’t too worried, he was sure he could persuade Adam or Carrie to give him a few cents. Even if they didn’t, Hoss would no doubt share his candy when Joe brought it home.

The journey into town wasn’t as bad as Adam had feared, true he and Carrie exchanged only basic pleasantries about the dust of the road and the views on the way but Joe’s constant chatter covered any awkwardness and all three were in good spirits when they reached the town.

After arranging a time to meet, Adam went off to the bank and Joe and Carrie headed for the General Store where Joe spent a tedious half hour trying on shirts. At last Carrie was satisfied with her selection and went over to pay while Joe made his choice of candy for Hoss and himself, Adam having slipped him some money as he got down from the buggy.

Holding the shirts, neatly packaged in brown paper bound round with string, Carrie held out her free hand to Joe and led the boy across the street to her sister’s store. “I’m afraid that this might be a bit dull for you, Joe.” She said as she pushed open the door and set the bell tinkling. “So I’ll try not to be too long.”

Ruth Hawkins came out from the back of the store at the sound of the bell. “Carrie!” She exclaimed happily as she saw her sister. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

“I just came in to town to get Joe some new shirts.” Carrie explained. “So I thought I’d pay you a visit at the same time.”

“It’s lovely to see you both.” Ruth came over to give her sister a hug and tousle Joe’s hair. “And you’ve arrived at a good time, Carrie. Minnie Jones and her cousin are here, we were just catching up on all the news.”

“I can’t stay long.” Carrie told her, allowing herself to be led towards the back of the store. “We have to meet Joe’s brother, Adam, in a little while.”

“I’m sure you can spare twenty minutes or so.” Ruth said. “Just wait till you hear what Minnie’s sister has been up to with that young…” She broke off as Carrie shot her a look of warning and gave a significant nod in Joe’s direction. Thinking for a minute, Ruth stepped forward and caught hold of the little boy’s arm. “I’m sure that you don’t want to listen to us ladies chatter away.” She said. “How about if I fetch you a nice glass of milk and a cookie, then you can stay here and look after the store for me for a while. How would you like that Little Joe, to be in charge of the place?”

Joe nodded eagerly, pleased to be given such an important job to do. Within moments Ruth had him perched up on a tall stool behind the counter, milk and cookie by his side and a pencil and paper in front of him.

“You’ll be all right here?” Carrie asked anxiously as Ruth beckoned her to come on. Joe nodded affirmatively, reaching for the cookie. “Just call out if you need me then.” She said and disappeared into the back room.

Joe ate the cookie and drank the milk then beginning to grow bored, drew some pictures on the paper. Nobody came into the store and it seemed to Joe that he had been there for a long time. Beginning to worry that they might be late meeting Adam he clambered down off the stool and made his way to the back of the store where he could hear the muffled sound of women’s voices. Pulling aside the curtain that separated the two rooms Joe found himself in a passageway formed by tall cupboards; peering around the side of one of them Joe saw Carrie and her sister sitting at a table with two other women. The little boy was just about to run over and join them when Ruth started talking and, curious as to what they were saying, he stayed hidden.

“You know Carrie’s working out at the Ponderosa now?” Ruth said, settling herself more comfortably in her chair and smoothing her skirt into place.

There was a murmur of assent from the two women. “Do you like it out there?” One asked.

Carrie nodded and opened her mouth to reply when Ruth interrupted. “Of course she does.” Leaning in closer to the ladies she lowered her voice a little but Joe was still able to hear what she said next. “She’s in love with Ben Cartwright.”

Ruth’s revelation brought forth a satisfying gasp of astonishment from her friends and Carrie blushed becomingly as they turned towards her. “He’s still grieving for his wife yet.” She confided, eager to share her feelings with someone. “But I know he’ll come to care for me soon.”

“Mark my words.” Ruth put in, smiling fondly at her younger sister. “In a few months Carrie will be the next Mrs. Cartwright.”

Joe remained where he was though his first instinct was to rush out and tell them they were wrong. It couldn’t be true. Pa surely wouldn’t replace his Mama with Carrie? Tears began to fall as the child struggled with his emotions. He didn’t want another Mama, had Pa forgotten his Mama already? Adam. Joe thought, backing towards the door. He would find Adam and ask him. Almost blinded by tears he turned and ran through the store, flinging open the door and running aimlessly along the sidewalk.

“A customer.” Ruth said, hearing the sound of the bell. Hurrying into the store she was surprised to see the room empty and the door wide open. Following behind her Carrie stared at the empty place where Joe had been sitting.

“You don’t suppose…?” She said, looking at Ruth in horror. “Oh, Lord. Please don’t let him have heard.” Catching up her parcel she dashed out into the street.

****

Business at the bank finished, Adam had headed over to the saloon for a quick drink before meeting Carrie and Joe. Although the journey into town had been more bearable than he’d feared Adam wasn’t exactly relishing the prospect of Carrie’s company on the way home. His feelings for her now were mixed, he still thought she was beautiful, still felt a surge of desire whenever he was near her but he also felt embarrassed when he thought of her rejection of him. The beer made him feel a little better and he left the saloon in a lighter frame of mind. Stepping on to the sidewalk he was almost knocked to the ground when a small figure flung itself at him.

“Joe?” Recognising his little brother Adam looked at the child with concern. Joe was sobbing wildly, tears coursing down his face. “What’s the matter? Are you hurt?” Joe shook his head, his small chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. Picking him up, Adam carried him into the saloon, sitting him down at a table and calling to the barman to bring a glass of water.

“What is it?” He asked again, kneeling down beside the little boy. “Where’s Carrie?”

“She’s…Adam, don’t let her…please don’t let her.”

“Let her what?” Adam was puzzled.

But Joe just sobbed all the louder, rubbing at his eyes with his fists.

“Here.” Adam turned as Jake the barman banged a glass down on the table, spilling some of the water it held. “That kid shouldn’t be in here.”

“I know.” Adam said placatingly. “Just let me calm him down and find out what’s wrong then I’ll get him out.”

Jake grunted but said no more, walking away as Adam turned back to his brother and offered him the water.

Taking a few sips, Joe tried to get himself under control. His sobs lessened and the tears ceased as he tried to ask Adam about his father and Carrie.

“Is Pa going to marry Carrie?” The words were little more than a whisper and Adam barely caught them.

“Marry Carrie?” He asked in amazement. “Where did you get that idea, Joe?”

“I heard her tell her sister that she l…loved…P…Pa.” Joe’s words came out in gulps as the tears welled again. “Her s…sister…said Carrie was going to be…Mrs…C…Cartwright. Doesn’t Pa love M…Mama any m…more, Adam?”

Pa! Anger flowed through Adam as things suddenly became crystal clear in his mind. When Carrie had said her heart belonged to another she had meant his own Pa! How could he? How could he bring her into their house under the pretence of caring for Joe and Hoss and all the while… Disgusted, Adam pushed aside the thoughts that filled his head and turned to his little brother.

“Let’s get you home.” He said soothingly, holding out a hand to the child. “I expect Pa can explain everything.” And I’m going to be damn interested to hear his explanation. He thought as Joe took his hand trustingly and followed him to the door.

As Adam lifted Joe into the buggy and climbed up beside him Carrie watched them from the shelter of the doorway of the General Store. Even from this distance it was easy to see that Adam was furious as he took up the reins. Tears blurred Carrie’s vision as she watched the buggy drive away, fear filling her as she tried to imagine how Ben would take the news of her love for him. Despite everything a faint glimmer of hope burned deep in her heart that perhaps, just possibly, he might return her love.

****

Bringing the buggy to a halt in front of the ranch house Adam looked down at his little brother. Joe was curled up on the seat; thumb in his mouth, fast asleep, his face still bearing the marks of his tears. Deciding that it would be best to leave him be and hope he slept through the confrontation with his father Adam had just started towards the door when it was flung wide and Hoss came charging out. “Hey, Adam.” He called, seeing his older brother in front of him. “Did Little Joe get my candy?”

Adam held a finger to his lips to signify silence. “Joe’s asleep.” He whispered. “Where’s Pa?”

“He’s in the house.” Hoss told him, puzzled by the angry look on his brother’s face and suddenly noticing Caroline’s absence. “Where’s Carrie? Is something wrong?”

“I need to talk with Pa in private.” Adam answered curtly. “Would you keep an eye on Joe for me and if he wakes up don’t let him in the house for a while?”

Worried now, Hoss agreed to do as Adam asked, watching with anxious eyes as his brother disappeared inside shutting the door firmly behind him.

As Adam came in Ben was just coming down the stairs. “I thought I heard the buggy.” He said, smiling at his son. “Did Carrie get those shirts for Joe all right?”

“Carrie!” Adam practically spat out the young woman’s name. “I just found out all about her Pa, your sordid little secret is out.”

“Secret?” Ben paused at the bottom of the stairs, giving Adam a quizzical look. “What secret?”

That his father should deny it was just about the final straw for Adam and fury coursed through him. “Your affair with Carrie that’s what secret.” He said, his tone icy with rage. “Joe just overheard her telling her friends all about the marriage plans. The poor kid’s heartbroken; he can’t understand how you can forget about his mother so quickly. Pretty fast work wasn’t it Pa? Though thinking back on how fast you married Marie after meeting her, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.”

“I don’t know what…” Ben began, astonished at what he was hearing.

“Oh don’t deny it!” Adam interrupted, too angry to listen to his father’s explanation. “To just move the woman in here, that’s disgusting. Carrying on with her while Hoss and Joe were in the house.” He shrugged his shoulders. “Or maybe I’m wrong, perhaps it only started after she’d moved in. So when’s the wedding, Pa? When do I get yet another ‘mother’?”

“I am not marrying anyone.” Ben said loudly, struggling to keep his temper under control. “I don’t know where you got such a ludicrous idea from. For Heaven’s sake, boy, Marie hasn’t even been gone a year. Do you really think I’d be interested in anyone else?”

“Joe heard her.” Adam stated flatly. “And she told me herself that she was in love with someone else when I told her…”

“How you felt about her.” Ben finished for him as Adam fell silent. “Yes, I knew.” He continued, seeing his son’s surprised look. “I could see your feelings from the beginning. I’m sorry she turned you down son, especially if it was because of me, but I assure you that I do not have any romantic interest in Mrs. Caroline Collins.”

“But then why is she telling everyone that she loves you and is going to be Mrs. Cartwright?”

“I have no idea, but I intend to find out. Where is she?”

“I left her in town. Joe was so upset and I was angry. I just wanted to get back here and… and…”

“Confront me?” Ben asked.

Adam nodded, a little shamefaced now he knew his accusations were unfounded. “I guess I just lost my temper. I’m sorry, Pa.”

“I’d better go to town and see Mrs. Collins.” Ben said with a quick smile at Adam that told him he was forgiven for his outburst. “But first I’d better try and explain things to Joe. Where is he?”

“He was asleep in the buggy.” Adam told him. “I left Hoss with him.”

“You didn’t say anything to Hoss, did you?” Ben asked anxiously, hoping he didn’t have another upset boy on his hands.

“No.” Adam shook his head. “Of course Joe might have by now.”

Ben sighed heavily and headed outside. He was relieved to find that his youngest son was still sound asleep, Hoss keeping guard over him.

“Hey, Pa.” Hoss looked up as his father came out of the house. “Everything all right?”

“Everything’s just fine, son.” Ben reassured him. “I just need to talk to Joe for a moment. Why don’t you go on in the house with Adam?”

Feeling a little resentful that everyone seemed to have some secret that he knew nothing about Hoss did as he was bid leaving his father to wake up Little Joe.

“Joseph.” Ben said softly, leaning over the child and shaking him gently. “Come on, son. Wake up.”

Joe opened his eyes slowly, looking up blearily at his father. “Pa.” He blinked a few times and sat up, looking around him. “I’m home.” He said and yawned widely.

“Yes, you fell asleep on the way.” Ben told him, getting into the buggy beside him and reaching down to lift the child onto his lap. “I want to talk to you for a minute, Joe, about what happened in town.”

Green eyes filled with tears as Joe remembered what Carrie had said and he gave his father a miserable look. “I don’t want you to marry Carrie.” He said quietly. “I don’t want a different Mama, I still love my Mama.”

“I know you do.” Ben soothed, stroking the little boys curly hair. “I still love your Mama as well, Joe. Carrie just made a little mistake, sometimes grown-ups do that. I’m not going to marry her.”

“You’re not?” A tremulous smile quivered on the boy’s lips. “I do like Carrie.” He added quickly, worried his father might think otherwise. “She’s fun and she’s nice, but I don’t want her for a Mama.”

Cuddling the child close, Ben wondered what would happen if Carrie chose not to return to the Ponderosa. “Joseph?” He said quietly and looked down into the small face so like his beloved Marie’s. “Do you know why I asked Carrie to stay?” The little boy shook his head. “I thought she could be company for you when I have to go away sometimes on business.” He explained. “Perhaps Adam might have to be away as well at times and I didn’t want you getting lonely. I know you don’t want us to go away. But sometimes we might have to. I thought Carrie might help if you had a bad dream or got worried about anything.”

“I’ll be all right as long as Hoss or Hop Sing is here.” Joe declared firmly. “I don’t need anyone else, Pa.” He yawned again and Ben lifted him up and got out of the buggy. “I’s a big boy now.” He added sleepily, lapsing into a babyish lisp as he put his head on his father’s shoulder and closed his eyes.

“Of course you are, Joseph.” Ben whispered fondly, as he carried him into the house. “Of course you are.”

****

“He’s here.” Ruth Hawkins announced to her sister, coming in to the back room of the millinery store.

“I don’t think I can see him.” Carrie turned a tear stained face to Ruth. “What if he’s come to tell me to leave the Ponderosa, that he never wants to see me again?”

“You have to see him, whatever he’s come to say.” Ruth said, putting a consoling arm round her shoulders. “Wash your face and come on through, I’ll shut up the store so that you can talk privately.”

Carrie nodded dispiritedly; walking over to the dresser to pour some water into a basin while her sister went back into the store.

“She’ll just be a minute, Mr. Cartwright.” Ruth told Ben, as she changed the sign on the door to ‘Closed’ and turned the key in the lock.

“Thank You.” Ben replied, watching as Ruth finished locking up and left the room. It was only a minute or so later that the curtain dividing the store was pushed aside and a pale and nervous looking Carrie came in.

“Hello, Ben.” She said softly, her gaze fixed on the floor, unable to look him in the face. “I’m so sorry about this.”

“So am I.” Ben replied, looking down at her sadly. “I’m sorry that I have to disappoint you, my dear, but you must realise that your feelings for me cannot be returned. I think you’re a very nice girl and I’m fond of you but no more than that.”

Pain lanced through Caroline’s heart at his words, her hopes and dreams shattering around her. “But I love you.” She whispered sadly.

“You didn’t know Joe’s mother.” Ben said quietly. “Marie was a wonderful woman, beautiful, gentle, like an angel to everyone who met her. When I lost her I thought my world had ended. My love for her still fills my heart and there’s just no room for another woman.”

“You can’t keep on loving a dead person.” Carrie blurted out. “I loved my husband, but I don’t want to go through the rest of my life alone. I fell in love with you, given time I know you would come to return that love.”

“Perhaps in time I will fall in love again.” Ben conceded. “I’ve been lucky enough to meet three remarkable, beautiful women in my life and it may happen again, but not now, and not for a very long time. Don’t waste your life waiting for me, Carrie.”

Tears beginning to fall Carrie finally looked up at him, seeing compassion in the velvet brown eyes. “Do you want me to leave the Ponderosa?” She asked brokenly.

“That must be your decision, my dear.” Ben told her. “I’m not going to dismiss you. Joe and Hoss are both very fond of you and would be sad to see you leave and I think you’ve done a wonderful job with Joe. Adam’s feelings are more mixed but I think he’d like you to stay.”

“And you?” She asked hopefully.

“I only want what is best for the boys.”

Shattered, Carrie turned away from him, her thoughts in turmoil.

“I’ll leave you to make up your mind.” Ben put on his hat and went to unlock the door. “I must ask one thing of you, if you decide not to return to the Ponderosa at least come out and say goodbye to Joe, will you do that?”

Her back to him Carrie nodded blindly, tears coursing down her face. She heard his soft ‘Thank you’ then the bell above the door jingled brightly and he was gone.

****

“Goodbye, Carrie.” Little Joe flung his arms around the young woman’s waist and hugged her tightly.

“Goodbye, Joe.” She bent and kissed the top of his curly head, heart filled with love for the little boy. “I shall miss you.”

Stepping back the child joined his brothers watching as Ben handed Carrie up into the waiting buggy.

“I’m sorry you decided that you had to leave us,” Ben said quietly as Carrie took up the reins. “And I hope that things turn out well for you in San Francisco.”

“I couldn’t stay.” Carrie told him, lowering her voice so that the boys couldn’t hear. “It would just be too painful for me.”

“I’m sorry.” Ben moved back from the buggy and reached for Joe, swinging the little boy up into his arms. Hoss and Adam moved to stand either side of their father and Carrie took a last look at the Cartwright family as she smiled brightly at Hoss and Joe before driving away.

As his father and brothers turned to go into the house Adam watched the buggy disappear from view. He knew that he’d always feel a fondness for Caroline Collins even though his love for her had brought him more pain than pleasure. Still. He consoled himself, turning to follow his family. Next year he’d be in Boston and there were bound to be lots of attractive women there.

Riding away from the Ponderosa, Carrie fought back her tears. For a short time she had thought that all her dreams might come true, a handsome husband, a beautiful home and a loving family. She knew that she would never find a man to measure up to Ben Cartwright, so kind, gentle and caring. ‘Perhaps in time I will fall in love again.’ He’d said and Carrie smiled softly to herself. Perhaps, one day, she’d be back to see if that time had come.

The End

Next Story in the Pains of Love Series:

A Flame Rekindled
Legacy of Love

 

Tags: Family, jealousy

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Author: KateP

On the 24th December 2018 the Bonanza Universe lost one of our dear friends and writers.  Kathleen Pitts (KateP) was a prolific writer of Bonanza fan fiction, a familiar name throughout most of the Bonanza forums where her stories are posted, read, and enjoyed by so many for so long.

Born in Bristol, England, UK Kate was married with two children and grandchildren.   She was a founding member of Bonanzabrits and eventually became the Moderator for that forum where she kindly led many to write and enjoy everything Bonanza for many years.   She was kind, patient, and always encouraging to fans old and new.

Sadly three years ago she retired from Brits and from writing when she was diagnosed with cancer.  We are more than grateful that so many still have the advantage and pleasure of reading her stories here on Brand, as well as other sites for Bonanza fanfiction.   KateP will live on through her stories, and from the many friends she made over the years.

4 thoughts on “Pains of Love (by KateP)

  1. Oh my, the heartache and tears. Guess she should have remembered, what goes around comes around.

    Regardless, it all happened for the best.

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