A Triangle (by BettyHT)

Summary:  This follows First Love, and Tragedy in the Traci Series.  In this story, Hoss renews the family friendship with the Maxim family from Arizona, but that brings up some painful memories and trouble as well as some possibilities especially for Adam.
Rating:  T
Word Count:  19,803

Traci series:
First Love, and Tragedy (by BettyHT)
A Triangle (by BettyHT)
Another Angle (By BettyHT)
A New Angle (by BettyHT)
A Trust Broken and Fixed (by BettyHT)
I Still Love You (by BettyHT)
The Black Egg (by BettyHT)
Another Guise (by BettyHT)
Runaways (by BettyHT)
A Boy and His Horse (by BettyHT)
Frogs and Other Stuff (by BettyHT)
An Island (by BettyHT)


A Triangle

 Chapter 1

The stage was late as always so Adam Cartwright was pacing around the stage depot like a caged cougar. He had been asked by his father to complete a number of errands in town and then escort their guests to the Ponderosa. Hoss had been on a buying trip to Arizona and had met some old friends of the family who had moved there after losing their ranch in the Comstock to gold seekers who killed and ate their cattle, and cut their timber. Maxwell Maxim had owned a small ranch and couldn’t afford to hire men to protect his property. After his oldest son was killed trying to stem the tide of gold and silver seekers onto their property, Max had sold his ranch for a pittance and moved the rest of his family to Arizona where he raised prime beef and bred horses. Neither operation was large but Max insisted on high quality breeding stock so his beef was sold as brood stock and his horses were highly prized by those who could afford one. Finally Adam heard the familiar sounds of the stage heading into town up the steep grade and he stepped down next to the carriage to wait. As the stage came to a stop, four people alighted, Max, his wife Naomi, son Darren, and daughter Traci. Max gave a hint of a scowl when he saw which Cartwright had come to greet them but quickly masked it and offered his hand in greeting.

“Well, good afternoon, Adam, it is good to see you after all this time.”

“Good to see you as well, Mr. Maxim. Good day, Mrs. Maxim, Darren, Traci. I’ll get your luggage loaded up in the carriage and we can be on our way.” Adam had seen the looks from Max and Darren and knew they had never forgiven him. Well he had volunteered to do the line shack duty just for that very reason as he had suspected they would feel that way. He would let Hoss entertain the young lady, and Joe and Darren would likely have plenty to talk about with their common interest in horse breeding. He was the odd man out and wouldn’t be missed.

As Adam drove he pointed out things that had changed since the Maxims had left eighteen years earlier, and a lot had changed in that time. There were churches, businesses, schools, and stores that had been built on what had been open areas when the Maxims had been here last. In fact the Ponderosa was a lot larger than it had been and was far more diversified in its economic pursuits than it had been. The conversation was polite but not warm. Adam felt like a tour guide who had never known these people. Mrs. Maxim and Traci offered a few friendly comments but halted when Max sent a glare their way each time. After a drive that seemed much longer than it was, they arrived at the ranch house where Ben, Hoss, and Joe rushed out to greet their guests. Adam hung in the background until everyone headed inside.

“Adam, you can let that go until later or have one of the hands do it.”

“Pa, it won’t take long to unhitch the team and get them groomed and fed. I’ll be in shortly. You should get inside now too. You wouldn’t want to miss telling all the stories you have about the last eighteen years. I’m sure they have a few stories for you too.”

Ben thought Adam had an odd look about him, but sometimes he was just that way. He would talk about what was bothering him when he was ready to talk and not before so there was no reason to force the issue. Ben walked inside to the boisterous reunion that was well underway. Adam unhitched the team and led them into the barn. After stowing the harness, he groomed each horse taking his time. Sport was standing there as if he needed some attention and Adam thought he might be the most receptive audience he would have for a while so he groomed him too.

“Forgiveness comes hard for the Maxims, old boy. It’s been eighteen years. That’s longer than I was old when it happened. But they still blame me for MJ’s death.”

“Of course we do. You could have saved him, but you ran away and left him to die.”

Startled by the sudden harsh comment, Adam whirled around ready to draw.

“Oh, now you’re ready to draw down. That day you were just a coward and my brother’s dead because of it.”

Obviously, Max had indoctrinated his surviving son into his version of what had happened. Max had never been able to look at what happened objectively. Adam supposed it was because the guilt would eat away at him if he did. It was far easier to blame Adam.

“There were six of them. MJ and I got separated, and three went after him, and three came after me. I guess if I had stayed and died too, that would have made your father happier? Back then rustling cattle often got you killed. They wanted us dead so they would be safe.”

“Well you ended up protecting your own hide, but you left my brother to die.”

“Did you hear anything I said? There were six of them, and we were both sixteen years old going up against experienced guns. You really think your version of the story makes any sense?”

Darren had been edging closer with each statement, and caught Adam with an uppercut and then a blow to the back of his neck. Adam fell but as quickly as he could, he rolled away and got to his feet. He was stunned but wouldn’t be caught by surprise again. Darren was built big and broad like his father, but Adam was strong and sinewy with the long hard days of work on the ranch. They traded blows, but Adam was losing ground mostly because those first blows had hurt him and made it difficult for him to put everything into his punches.

“Thunderation, what is going on here?”

Ben’s bellow stopped the fight immediately. Darren walked to his father’s side and the two of them walked to the house.

“Adam, I want an answer.”

“Darren doesn’t like me, I guess.” Adam stalked out of the stable walking away from the house.

“I want you to come back here and give me a civil answer.”

Adam raised his left hand in a small wave and kept walking.

“Pa, you know how he is. He’ll talk with you later. Just let him calm down some.” As usual Hoss was trying to be the peacemaker. He had no idea why Adam was fighting Darren but knew they wouldn’t be getting an answer from Adam at that moment.

“Joseph, you go after him and make sure he doesn’t do anything else stupid. Tell him I want to see him.”

Ben saw that Naomi was still there and offered his arm to walk her back to the house.  Hoss did the same to Traci who kept looking at Adam’s retreating back.  Hoss had been very attentive, and she liked him, but the ride in the carriage this afternoon had left her with strong feelings of attraction for Adam.  She didn’t dare say anything because it would hurt Hoss and infuriate her father and brother.  But her heart had been stolen away already eighteen years earlier and until now she hadn’t realized how strong the feelings were, and she feared that it would get very complicated if she ever acted on them.  At the same time, she didn’t know how she could avoid it because everything in her told her to go to him.

After walking a short distance, Adam sat on a stump. He took inventory of his injuries and decided that although he hurt everywhere, nothing seemed to be seriously damaged. He wasn’t sure if Darren’s attempt had been to hurt him as a punishment for MJ’s death or if he was trying to kill him for the assault had been vicious. Adam had fought with all the tricks he knew just to avoid the worst of the blows. After about a half hour, he headed back to the house knowing that Joe was shadowing him. When he got to the washroom door, he addressed his younger brother.

“You can tell Pa I’m taking a bath. He can see me in the washroom.”

As Adam entered the washroom, he noticed the door to the kitchen was open and correctly surmised that Hop Sing had been waiting for him as the faithful friend carried in hot water and added it to the tub that was already half full with a cake of soap already floating in it. Adam thanked him and then started stripping off the torn and dirty clothing. As he slid into the water, he winced a lot. The soapy water stung in a number of places. He had soaked only a few minutes when his father showed up. He had been hoping for a bit more time to soak the aches and pains.

“I can’t understand your behavior. They just got here, and now they’re talking about leaving.”

“I’m heading out to the line shacks early tomorrow. You’ll have at least a week of uninterrupted time with your guests.”

“They are our guests and I expect you to apologize for your behavior.”

Adam paused before answering, but there was just no diplomatic way to say what he needed to say. “There won’t be an apology.”

Ben was steaming then and not because of the steam rising from the bath. “Then I will apologize for you. You can sleep in the bunkhouse tonight so that you will have no cause to disturb our guests any more than you already have. Joe can pack your saddlebags for you.”

Adam nodded as his father turned on his heel and left. Joe came in a few minutes later and asked what Adam wanted packed, and he returned a short time later with clean clothes for his oldest brother and packed saddlebags. Hop Sing said he would be up early to pack provisions for him. After his bath, Adam pulled on the pants and shirt but didn’t tuck the shirt in. He walked with his boots and saddlebag out of the washroom intending to head to the bunkhouse.

“I’m sorry my brother did that. I should have expected he would do something. Papa has been telling him for years that you were the cause of his brother’s death.”

Setting his boots and saddlebag down, Adam was surprised that Traci was there and that she seemed sympathetic to his plight. “You don’t think that?”

“No, Mama and I have talked about this often.  Papa sent MJ out there to work by himself.  It was only luck that you were working in the same general area for your father.  That you would choose to work together shouldn’t have surprised anyone.  Those men being there was just horribly bad luck for the two of you.  But if Papa had not sent MJ to work alone, he wouldn’t be dead.  That’s why he blames you, I think, and Mama thinks so too.  If he didn’t blame you, the guilt would eat away at him that he sent his oldest son to his death.  I was only a year younger than you but I understood you weren’t ready to take on six gunmen.  Even now, I wonder if you could.  If you had, you would be dead too, and I wouldn’t want that.  It was difficult to lose one that I loved.”

“Thank you for that. Tonight has been difficult and it’s good to know that not everyone in your family hates me.”

“Adam, I could never hate you.  You were my first love.  You were the first boy I ever kissed, well really kissed.  You were so exciting to be with.   I could never forget the times we were together.  You’re even more exciting now.  You taught me about love and how gentle a man could be and still be a passionate man even though you were only sixteen at the time.”

Traci had walked very close to Adam.  She had been married, but her husband had died of spotted fever, and they had never had any children.  He had been a nice husband, but he never had made her feel like she felt at this moment.  She wanted Adam right then and there.  All she did do however was to kiss him lightly and put her arms around him. It was a quick kiss and a hug that promised there was more if he wanted it, and then she was gone, but not before Hoss saw the kiss and the hug.  He had looked out his bedroom window when he heard voices for he had wondered what was up when he thought he heard Traci walk down the hall.  Now there was another man angry with Adam, but Adam didn’t know that yet.

*****

Chapter 2

Thinking about all that had happened had cost Ben most of his sleep that night. He knew that he had been terribly unfair to Adam. He realized that Darren had sought out Adam in the stable. Therefore, it was unlikely that Adam had done anything to provoke the fight that apparently Darren wanted to have with his oldest son. Ben had remembered all the recrimination from all those years ago and worried that Max still felt that way. He could think of no other reason for Darren to be so angry with Adam because the boy had been very young when all this had happened. If it was that way, then it would be better that Adam would be away from the house, but he shouldn’t leave with his father’s harsh words as his last memory. With such high hopes for this visit, Ben had badly overreacted when things had turned unpleasant.

More than anyone, Ben knew that he should have trusted Adam and known that there was a reason why he had been provoked into a fight. Now he needed to be sure to listen when Adam talked. He had had this conversation with himself several times in the past but one of his failings was always expecting Adam to be perfect and blaming him when things weren’t perfect. Ben intended to talk with him in the morning to apologize and listen to what Adam had to say. He knew he should have done that the night before, but Joe wasn’t the only one in the family with an explosive temper that affected his hearing. Ben knew he needed to apologize for his words and for his actions. As he dressed, he realized that both of those had made it impossible for Adam to speak to him last evening.

When Ben got downstairs very early, he was surprised to see Hoss already at the dining table. Hoss had planned to talk with Adam as well, but he wasn’t going to be apologizing.

“He’s already gone. I got up early to see him, but he had already left.”

“Hoss, why did you need to see him?”

“I saw him kissing Traci last night and I was gonna tell him to back off from my gal.”

“You’re serious about her then?”

“Pa, I spent a lot of time with her in Arizona when I was there. When she got here, I felt like I was whole again. It seemed like a piece of me was missing until she got here. I want to ask her to marry me.”

“Hoss, are you sure that’s wise. Unless Adam forced a kiss on her, and I can’t believe he would do that with any woman, then she may not be so sure if she is in love with you.”

“Well, I think she’d be sure if Adam wasn’t trying to grab her away from me.”

“Where was he when he kissed her that you could see? He slept in the bunkhouse last night so he wasn’t in the house.”

“I saw ’em kissing outside. He had his shirt unbuttoned and he was barefoot.”

“Well she must have met him outside the washroom then.  Son, Adam didn’t go to her. She went to him.  Now perhaps that was just a kiss between friends.  They dated when they were much younger and in fact, right up until MJ got killed and her father made her break it off with him. I agreed with it at the time because I thought the two of them were too young to be so serious about each other.  Marie thought that they had gotten much too close if you know what I mean.  She was worried about what would happen.”

“That was a long time ago, Pa. They was just kids then. This is serious. She’s been married and widowed. Those feelings for Adam were gone a long time ago unless he keeps doing things to try to bring them back.”

“Hoss, I’m just asking you not to jump to any conclusions. I remember the last time, and you could have killed him.”

“Maybe I should have.” That statement by Hoss made Ben sizzle. He wasn’t going to let that line pass without letting Hoss know how much he disapproved of his thinking.

“That is no way to talk. Regan kissed him. Traci may have done the same. He’s your brother. He would give his life for you. You can’t talk like that. I won’t stand for it.”

“Yes, sir.” But Hoss’ thoughts were another matter entirely.

Hoss dropped his head and stirred the food on his plate. He didn’t feel much like eating and sat waiting for their guests. But then Traci came to the table and asked about his promise to take her riding. Ben noted the change in his son’s demeanor, and worried that Hoss had in fact fallen in love already. Ben didn’t see the same signs in Traci. She was nice to Hoss and flattered him, but there was no fire, no sense of a desire for intimacy.

What Ben suspected could lead to serious problems: Traci was being a friend to Hoss and he misinterpreted the signs, and Traci was attracted to Adam. However Hoss was clearly falling in love with Traci so there seemed to be no way for this to work out well.

For the next several days, Hoss and Traci went riding and had picnics. He showed her all of his favorite places on the Ponderosa. He sat on a blanket sharing a beautiful vista each midday when they stopped to eat. Hoss wanted so badly to kiss her, but the timing never seemed right. After lunch she would quickly start to gather up everything to stow it in the saddlebags, and then when they returned, she would rush to the house to tell her mother all about their day. He loved to see her so excited and talking so animatedly when he would enter the house later. He couldn’t get enough of seeing her.

On Thursday evening, Hoss asked Traci to go to town with him and have dinner. She agreed because she wanted to do some shopping. She invited her mother to come along but Naomi declined when she saw the pained look on Hoss’ face. She knew how interested he was in her daughter. What she was unaware of was that her daughter was interested in another Cartwright, the one she had loved so long ago and never forgotten. Traci used to lie with her husband, close her eyes, and dream that it was Adam who was moving above her. It was the only way she could get excited about satisfying her husband’s needs. He was a good man, and she did not resent him ever, but he never knew of course that her closed eyes meant she was fantasizing about another. Traci always thought of it as a harmless way to enjoy sex and never expected to see Adam again either.

Remembering a tall, dark, slender youth with a beautiful smile who was attentive to her and loving, she had been almost shocked by the transformation when he had met their stage. Her adolescent fantasies had never done justice to the man who stood before them. Adam was a gorgeous man who seemed to exude sexuality. His smile was just as beautiful but the broad chest with the hair peeking out at the neck and the overall grace of his movements had her thinking about him in bed even as they drove to the Ponderosa that day. She liked Hoss and thought they were becoming great friends for she missed seeing those adoring looks he gave her when she was busy with someone or something. He hadn’t tried to kiss her or hold her so Traci was in the dark about his true feelings. If she had known, she would have been honest with him. The only thing that she had noticed was that when she asked questions about Adam, he was reticent so she had stopped asking. She asked Joe instead and he was more than willing to talk about his oldest brother and told her a number of stories frequently delighting the whole group at the dining table with one escapade or another. Again, with her attention on Joe, Traci missed seeing the glower that Hoss would give Joe for building Adam up with these stories.

Dinner went well, but Traci was having a hard time concentrating on a conversation with Hoss. She was taken with all the hustle and bustle of Virginia City, and when she wasn’t observing, her thoughts went to Adam. He was expected home the next day. Hoss was attentive and gentlemanly. Again, Traci missed the signs. She sat a chaste distance from him on the carriage seat, and chatted with him on the trip to town and then back to the Ponderosa. With her mind preoccupied with Adam, she failed to see the adoring looks and the wistful ones as Hoss wondered how he could get close enough to her to put his arm around her. He was too shy and she was too oblivious so nothing happened. Hoss was still happy about the time he got to spend alone with her though.

Friday was another delightful day for Hoss as Traci helped him with a weak newborn colt whose mother had died. They were bottle feeding it and working to keep it warm enough. If they could keep him alive for a few days, then his chances were very good. Hoss told her that most foals like this died because it was so hard to live when the mare died. Traci was well aware of that having worked on her father’s ranch. They heated water and soaked wool blankets before draping the steaming blankets over the colt. They fed him warm milk as often as he would take it. By the end of the day, they had the colt standing which was a very good sign. He was also drinking each time they brought him milk. Hoss has a huge grin until he heard hoof-beats followed by Adam walking into the stable leading Sport and his packhorse.

Dusty, sweaty, tired, and sporting a weeks worth of beard, Adam was in no mood for conversation as he saw Hoss and Traci. However Traci found him exceedingly attractive because he looked so masculine especially in those chaps. He nodded as expected with their good news about the colt, but then he said he was headed to the washhouse for a bath and a shave. He unsaddled Sport, and then groomed both of the horses. He gave them feed and water before leaving. As much as he needed attention himself, Traci was impressed that he took care of the horses’ needs first. When she said that to Hoss though, he just grunted. Traci wondered why the two brothers didn’t like each other. She liked both of them and thought they should have been the best of friends not knowing that it was her presence that had made all the difference.

After about a half hour and with the colt doing better, Hoss suggested that Traci could go in the house and get cleaned up for dinner. He would wash up and get a plate from Hop Sing later. As Traci headed to the washroom, she remembered that Adam was in there so she went to the kitchen instead. Hop Sing showed her where to wash there. As he went to the dining table with dishes and silverware, Traci noticed the large pot of water on the stove. She smiled and hefted it and found it wasn’t too heavy for her. She opened the door of the washroom and stepped in. Adam was washing his hair. Traci stepped forward and from behind him, poured some of the water over his head rinsing it.

“Just a minute. Let me stand and you can pour the rest over me to rinse me off. I got this water pretty dirty.”

Adam had assumed it was Hop Sing and stood as he talked.  Traci was too much in shock to pour water over his back or do anything else.  As he turned to see why there was no rinse, she stepped back and set the pot down.  Speechless in his surprise, Adam stood looking at her, and she did the same as both were too frozen by the unexpected nature of the event to do anything else for a moment.  Before Adam could grab the towel from the chair next to the tub, Hoss stepped into the washroom.  Not knowing anything of what had happened, Hoss saw his brother standing naked in front of the woman Hoss loved.  Adam grabbed the towel and wrapped it around his middle barely concealing himself as he stepped out of the tub.  Still speechless, he was even more so when Hoss hit him knocking him back against the wall.

“Hoss, no, it was just a joke. Adam didn’t do anything.”

Traci grabbed Hoss’ arm before he could attack his brother again. By then the commotion had drawn a crowd. Adam was scrambling to grab the towel again and cover himself and at the same time held a hand to his jaw wondering if it was broken. He had a lump forming on the back of his head too where it had connected with the wall as he flew back with the full force of a Hoss hit.

“What is the meaning of this?” Ben was astounded and furious and it was communicated in his bellow.

Traci was going to explain, but her parents escorted her from the room after seeing Adam wasn’t dressed.

“I will not have my sons fighting in my house.”

“Tell him. I didn’t hit anyone.”

Adam stood and grabbed his pants. He pulled them on and then his shirt. During the whole time since he had hit Adam, Hoss was standing and glowering at him. Adam had no doubt that if Ben wasn’t there or if Traci had not been there earlier, Hoss might have beaten him nearly to death. He had never been afraid of his brother before but he was at that moment.

“Pa, you don’t know what he did.  he exposed himself to her. He was, he was, you know, and standing there naked right in front of her. He ain’t no brother of mine to do something like that in front of a lady.”

Hoss turned and stormed out of the washroom.  After a few minutes they heard hoof-beats and knew he had ridden out.  Adam explained what had happened.  Ben wasn’t happy but could see that Traci had thought to play a harmless prank, and it had gotten out of hand.  Neither of them had any idea what to do next.  Adam couldn’t go after Hoss nor could he be a host to their guests.  Ben would have to stay to do that.  In the great room, as Max listened to Traci’s story, he thought the same as Ben about a prank gone wrong, but had drawn another conclusion too.  He saw a way to hurt or even kill Adam without doing anything directly himself.  He thought he would let Hoss do it.

*****

Chapter 3

Ben waited up for his middle son to return. He knew he would. Adam might go off alone to think things through, but Hoss and Joe would always return when their tempers had cooled. When he heard Hoss ride in, he grabbed his jacket and walked to the stable. Talking without a potential audience might help. Hoss was talking quietly to Chubb and rubbing him down. It was apparent that he had been ridden hard. It was so unlike Hoss to abuse an animal like that. Ben knew that he had been terribly upset not to notice what he was doing to his horse.

“I thought perhaps you would like to talk some. I waited for you.”

Hoss said nothing as he began brushing down his horse. He was embarrassed at his outburst but was still angry. The thing was, he wasn’t sure whom he was angry with. The more he thought about it, he couldn’t pinpoint who deserved his anger.

“Having trouble putting your thoughts into words or is it that you don’t want to talk to me?”

“Pa, I just don’t know what to say. What Adam done was wrong, but he didn’t know how I feel about Traci so I can’t rightly blame him for moving in on her. But I just never thought he would do something like that with a nice lady like Traci.”

“Hoss, can I tell you what happened?”

Hoss nodded and moved to sit on a hay bale. He didn’t think anything his father said would help, but he was willing to be polite. Ben saw the attitude. It was common with Joe and on a lesser scale with Adam but was not the usual attitude for Hoss. This whole mess had affected his middle son deeply.

“Traci was trying to play a joke on Adam.  She saw the water on the stove and took it into the washroom to embarrass your brother.  He was washing his hair and she poured some water over his head.  He thought it was Hop Sing and stood up asking for the rest of the water to be poured over him to rinse off.  When he turned around he was as shocked as Traci had been when he stood up.  There was no terrible behavior by either of them.  It was a prank gone wrong.  Traci has apologized to Adam and to me for what she did.  She didn’t think about what could happen.  She has told her parents that it was all her foolishness that led to the problem.”

“But Pa the way he was standing there. It looked like he was pretty interested in Traci.”

“Hoss, put yourself in his place. If you had been away for a week, sitting in your bath, and as you stood, you saw a beautiful woman. Is it so hard to understand why Adam stood there in shock and didn’t know what to do immediately?  It’s not like that is something that happens to a man often.”

Dropping his head, Hoss knew his Pa was correct, but he didn’t like admitting it. He was still mad at Adam and didn’t want to apologize but knew he had to now.

“Are you mad at Adam for what happened that was out of his control or for not knowing that you were interested in Traci, because I have to say, I don’t know why you still seem so angry?”

“Pa, every time I get real serious about a woman, it seems Adam or Joe or both of them mess it up for me. And it seems to be happening again. They can have just about any woman they want. Why does he have to be interested in the one I want?”

“Well, first of all, until tonight, I don’t think Adam had any idea you were interested in Traci.  And you have to remember they had a relationship many years ago.  They were very involved with each other even if they were quite young.  Those feelings don’t just go away because of time and distance.  They may have been in love.  Who knows with two people who were so young?  Being together may be sparking some of those old feelings for them.”

“So are you telling me to give up on Traci? To just let Adam have her?”

Ben put a hand on his son’s shoulder knowing there was no way to console him because there was going to be a loss and Hoss was going to have to accept it.  Ben knew the history.

“Hoss, I spoke with Adam earlier. He said he is not in love with Traci. He said she came to him a week ago. They kissed, and he finds her very attractive. There’s no reason for him to lie about that. He said he likes her as much as he always did. He will not be pursuing her, but as he said, he can’t control her actions or how she feels. You need to speak with Traci and clarify your feelings to see how she feels. If the two of you find out how you truly feel about each other that should help this whole situation a lot.”

The next morning, Adam headed out early to avoid another confrontation with Hoss.  He felt if he stayed away from the house, there would be less chance of any more misunderstood actions.  When Hoss found out he was already gone though, he wondered if Adam was feeling guilty about something and afraid to face him.  The two brothers really needed to talk.  Instead Hoss had a short, and for him, an unpleasant conversation with Traci.

“Hoss, I’m sorry if I led you to believe I had feelings that I did not.  I never meant to do that.  I didn’t know that you were romantically interested in me.  I thought we were becoming great friends.  I hope we can still be friends, but I have to tell you how I feel because you deserve my honesty.  I would never play games with you or trick you.  You never told me of your feelings and you never tried to kiss me or hug me so I had no idea how you felt.”

“I was trying to be a gentleman and wait until the time was right. I showed you all my favorite places on the Ponderosa. I thought we was getting along just fine.”

“We were getting along fine. You were a gentleman.  But you see there never was going to be a right time.  I just don’t feel that way about you.  I am so very sorry to have to say that to you.  I don’t ever want to hurt you, and I think I have.  You have been a wonderful friend and I needed that.  I’m afraid that I have ruined that too.”

“Nah, I’ll always like ya. I was just hoping for more, I guess.”

“Hoss, I was ignorant of your feelings and that was insensitive of me. I hope you can forgive me.”

“Of course, that’s what friends do. Now, ma’am, ifn you don’t mind, I’d like to just get to work now. Maybe you could check in on that little colt today for me?” Traci knew that they had lost something when Hoss referred to her as ma’am. He was putting distance between them.

“I would love to do that, Hoss. I will take the best care of him that I can. You’ll see.”

Hoss had to smile a little at Traci’s desire to do something to make him feel better. She was being a good friend and showing great concern for him. He would have to settle for that he supposed. Much of their conversation had been overheard by Max who had hoped to use this love triangle to get to Adam, but Hoss was being so reasonable and Traci so honest, it wasn’t working they way he wanted it to go. He began to plot to see if there was a way to get Hoss to attack Adam anyway. He needed to get Adam and Traci together in a situation in which Hoss would feel obligated to intervene. He didn’t know what that was yet but if there was a way to keep throwing the three of them together, then at some point, maybe he could light the fireworks.

As Hoss saddled up to ride to the branding corrals, Ben was saddling Buck so that he could ride out to speak with Adam. He still needed to apologize more in depth for his actions and his words from the first trouble they had had with Darren. There had been so much going on that they had not had enough time together to really talk about that enough. When Hoss asked where he was going, he told him where and why. Hoss nodded. He was starting to think he probably should find some time to talk with Adam and apologize for his behavior because the more he thought about it, the less reason there was to be angry with his older brother. Like his father, he had badly overreacted and needed to apologize. It was amazing how often it seemed they needed to apologize to Adam. Perhaps they ought to consider that the next time they didn’t trust him. He mentioned it to his father who chuckled a bit.

“It certainly couldn’t hurt. That brother of yours is remarkably forgiving. For that I am very grateful.”

“Me too, Pa, me too.”

“Your mother taught him well. In that, he is so much like Inger. She could forgive anyone for anything as long as they were genuinely sorry.” The two rode off in a better mood.

As they left, Max walked inside and saw Traci at the dining table. She was finishing her breakfast and was dressed as if she intended to work. He asked her and she told him about the colt which he already knew of course but didn’t let on. Then he said that he had seen Adam that morning and he had asked if Traci would be able to bring some lunch out to him. Max gave the exact location where Adam was working because he had overheard Ben tell Hoss, but it made his false message seem authentic. He planned to be at the branding corral later to mention to Hoss that Traci was bringing lunch out to Adam and that perhaps it would be proper for another adult to be there so there wouldn’t be talk that could besmirch his daughter’s reputation. He rehearsed and when he thought he had just the right tone for his remarks, he headed over to watch the branding.

When Ben got to where Adam was working on the fence, he was surprised to see him sitting in the shade instead of working. That wasn’t at all like his industrious diligent son so he worried as he rode up to him and dismounted.

“Did something happen? Are you hurt?”

“Just taking a break, Pa. Got a little bit of a headache and working in the sun aggravates it. I’ve been taking breaks and that helps.”

“Maybe you ought to head back to the house.”

Adam gave his father one of those looks that spoke volumes. Ben realized too that Adam being at the house would not be a good idea. Hoss needed time to adjust to what was happening and Adam being at the house with Traci was not a good way to give him that time. Ben smiled and Adam knew that he understood.

“What brings you out this way? I’m assuming of course that you are not intending to stay out here mending fence line with me.”

“No, but a week ago, I said some harsh words that were as uncalled for as they were unfair. I needed to apologize and each time I wanted to, you weren’t there or we spent more time talking about Hoss and Traci and making sure everything was good between us. So I made a trip here so we could talk. It’s a talk we have had before unfortunately but all I can say is that I will try to do better.”

Ben knelt down next to where Adam was seated. Adam reached out his hand and his father grasped it and his arm. Adam nodded. They were quiet for a bit.

“I forgave you a week ago, you know. I didn’t need to hear the words. I knew you would feel badly once you calmed down.”

“Why didn’t you say something that night?”

“You were upset and I was too. Seems that when we try to talk under those circumstances, things get said that would be better left unsaid. By the time I walked back, I could have talked but you were still angry. The next morning, I guess I only wanted to avoid the Maxim family and only thought later how that must have looked to you.”

“Hoss was waiting to talk with you too.”

“Well that could certainly have helped avoid some unpleasantness if I had known how he felt about Traci.”

“How do you truly feel about her? Are you sure that some of those old feelings haven’t been dormant? That perhaps you do still love her?”

“I like her a lot. I will always feel very strongly about her and there is some of that love there yet. Something more could have developed there.”

“Could have?”

“I can’t even think about that knowing how it would make Hoss feel. It will be better if she heads back home, and Hoss and I can clear the air between us. I hope he understands now that I wasn’t trying to take her away from him. I had no idea how he felt. I don’t think Traci did either. She’s not that kind of woman.”

“I just wanted to be sure of how you felt. I didn’t want you to have to hide your feelings. You’re very good at that.”

Adam smiled. He was doing it at that moment, and his father didn’t know. Therefore, it was logical to assume he could fool Traci and Hoss too. It was the right thing to do in his mind, so he was doing it. With a smile, Ben took his leave and headed back to be with his guests. Adam went back to work still feeling that pounding in his head. He was very good at hiding symptoms too, but he shouldn’t have. He had already retched up his meager breakfast and knew that he had the signs of a concussion. He ought to go back and just go to bed but wouldn’t give in to a physical ailment nor did he want Hoss to think any thing else negative about him. He loved his brother so much and it hurt immensely to be at odds with him.

*****

Chapter 4

Hop Sing was quite happy to pack a picnic lunch for Adam, but he was also confused. He liked Miss Traci but he had thought she was Hoss’ girl. For five days he had packed picnic lunches for the two of them. But then last night she had gone into the washroom with Adam to tease him and now she was taking a lunch to Adam. It was all very confusing.

Traci knew where blankets for picnics were because she had been on a number of picnics with Hoss so she got one of those. She saddled up a horse, packed the lunch in saddlebags, secured the blanket, and headed off to where Adam was working. Her parents had left with Ben to see the rock paintings up on the plateau and would not be back until evening. Her brother was with Joe at the breaking corrals. Hoss was at the branding pasture, so Traci thought that she would have some uninterrupted time with Adam to see where she stood with him. So far she had been unable to tell.

As Traci rode out, Hoss was about to do the same. He too wanted to talk with Adam and get things right between them again. Later as he neared where he expected to see Adam, he saw Traci with Adam in her arms. He stopped almost in shock and then turned to leave. He had thought Adam had made it clear that he was not going to pursue Traci and now was already hugging her less than a day later. As he rode away, he was shocked to hear a pistol fire from behind him. Turning around, he saw that Adam was now on the ground and Traci was beside him. Traci looked up at Hoss again and fired in the air once more. Hoss had no idea what had happened but he was ready to find out so he rode fast down the hillside.

“We were talking. Suddenly he put his hand to his head and fell against me. I tried to hold him up, but I couldn’t, and he fell. Hoss, there’s something terribly wrong.”

“Did he say anything else?”

“He was sitting by the tree when I got here. He said he had a headache. Then he asked why I was here and I told him my father told me his message.”

Adam was grimacing and sighing deeply. Traci and Hoss watched him carefully waiting for him to open his eyes. Hoss grabbed his canteen.

“What was the message?”

“He said that Adam wanted me to bring lunch out to him. But Hoss, Adam said he never told my father that. So, we were wondering why my father wanted me to come out here.”

“Your father told me that I ought to come out here because it was just you and Adam. He said to protect your reputation, I should be here too.”

Groaning, Adam opened and then closed his eyes. His head was lying on Traci’s lap and thankfully no one was firing his pistol any more. That had really hurt. He listened to Hoss and Traci talk. He felt Traci’s hand by his and grasped it. Traci hardly noticed as she was so surprised by what Hoss had said.

“Well, that’s a funny thing for my father to say. What do you suppose he’s up to with these messages?”

Adam had finally gotten the context of their discussion. “He wanted Hoss to catch us together so Hoss would get mad.” Adam’s voice was weak, but they were both happy that he was coherent and fully conscious again. Traci sat back on her heels and thought about it.

“You think Papa wants Hoss to beat you, don’t you?”

Adam looked at her and nodded slightly but grimaced at his action. Hoss was dumbfounded. He had been manipulated by Max and didn’t like it at all. On the other hand, he had been coming over here to talk with Adam so the plan wouldn’t have worked anyway. Then he remembered his anger at seeing Adam in Traci’s arms and realized the plan could have worked. But more importantly at the moment, why had Adam nearly passed out?

“What about you? Traci said you had a headache and then passed out and fell. What’s wrong? and don’t hide anything from us; this is serious.”

“I didn’t pass out. I just fell. I have had a headache since last night. This morning I was nauseous and could barely eat and threw up what I did eat. I can barely stand to take a sip of water now and then. Being in the sun makes it worse. Standing makes it worse. Hammering really makes it worse. And please, nobody shoot a pistol again.”

“You know you probably have a concussion.” Adam again nodded slightly and then grimaced again. He thought to himself that he needed to stop doing that. Hoss was feeling guilty knowing it was his blow that had caused this. Traci was feeling guiltier than Hoss because it was her actions that had been at the root of the trouble between the brothers. Now she was seeing them as they normally were.

“You know the two of you don’t have to look like you’re at a funeral. I’ve been hurt before. I’ll be fine.”

“Probably but we need to get the doc to take a look at ya. First, we need to get you back to the house and into bed where ya shoulda been all day. Traci, can you get Sport over here? Watch out cause he likes to nip people sometimes.”

Traci picked up Adam’s hat and carried it to Sport. Holding the hat, she untied the horse and led him over to Adam. She tightened up the cinch and made sure everything was as it should be because the worst thing for Adam now was to fall. She handed him his hat and he put it on and grimaced again. She could see that he was hurting worse than he admitted. She helped Adam mount up as Hoss stood on the other side of Sport to make sure he didn’t topple over the other side of the saddle. Once he was secure, Traci and Hoss mounted up and rode to either side of him and that irritated him quite a bit.

“I’m not going to fall off my horse.”

“That’s right because Traci and I are gonna make sure ya don’t. Now just be quiet, and we’ll get you home.”

Once they were at the house, Hoss and Traci helped Adam in to the house and up to his bedroom. Hoss said he would go to have Joe ride for the doctor. Traci stayed with Adam. When Hoss returned, he found Traci sitting at Adam’s bedside holding his hand. Adam was lying quietly and could have been sleeping. Neither seemed aware of Hoss’ presence at the door. When he saw the two of them sitting like that it seemed so natural he was envious but also happy that Traci was there to give his brother comfort. It had been a rough time for Adam in the past year with Laura leaving him for Will and the long recovery from his back injury. As he stood and watched, Adam started to struggle to sit up. Hoss moved into the room quickly.

“Now, brother you need to just lie here and take it easy.”

Adam was grimacing in pain. “It’s worse when I lie down like this. It was better when I was sitting.”

Unsure of what to do but trusting for the time being that Adam’s observations were correct, Hoss asked Traci to go in the other bedrooms and grab some pillows. He helped Adam sit up, and when Traci brought the pillows, they settled him back against those. Adam sighed as he sat there.

“Thank you. That helped.”

Sitting quietly with Adam, Hoss and Traci waited for the doctor. Occasionally Adam would open his eyes and ask for something such as closing the curtains because the light was too bright or asking for a cool drink. When Paul arrived, he wanted to know the background of Adam’s injury. Not much surprised him with these men any more, but he did get a bit angry at how Adam had chosen to spend the day.

“So you suspected you had a concussion, and you thought the best course of action was to ride out to hammer on some fence posts in the hot sun? Is that about it?”

Adam nodded and then grimaced.

“I would think you have had enough head injuries to know that nodding is not the best way to answer my questions. Now if everyone else would leave, I’ll do an examination of my patient.”

As Paul was examining Adam, Ben arrived home with the Maxims and was surprised and worried to see Paul’s carriage in front of the house. When he rushed inside, he saw Joe and Hoss immediately and saw that Traci and Darren were there too.

“Adam?”

Max entered directly behind Ben. “Did Hoss give Adam a sound thrashing?”

A perplexed Ben looked at Max, but Hoss and Traci exchanged knowing glances with Joe. Max’s question had confirmed their theory.

“Yeah, Pa, it’s Adam. Paul’s up there with him now. Traci and I brought Adam back here cause he nearly passed out. He’s got a dandy of a headache too.” Seeing Ben’s look, Hoss had to add more. “Nobody hit him or nothing. It’s from last night.” Ben sighed in relief at that at least. It wasn’t much longer before Paul appeared at the head of the stairs and walked down to let then family know how Adam was doing.

“As suspected, Adam has a concussion. I was worried that his symptoms might mean brain edema, but I think the ride, working in the hot sun, and nothing to eat caused him to nearly pass out and fall. Hoss and Traci had him in the perfect position for his injury before I got here. Keep him in bed propped up on those pillows until the headache is gone, and he should be fine. It’s not even that bad of a concussion. He’s completely aware of his surroundings and his memory is fine although he is a little groggy. Someone should be with him for the next twelve hours or so just to be sure that he does not worsen or fall trying to do something by himself.”

To Hoss, Joe, and Traci, the disappointment that Max was showing was far too obvious. Hoss asked if he could sit with Adam first as Ben went up to see him. Everyone else cleaned up for dinner. Once they were in Adam’s bedroom, Hoss explained to Ben what they suspected was happening. Ben found it hard to believe at first, but Adam agreed with Hoss and said that Traci thought the same. The false messages Max had delivered were the key evidence, but as they discussed it and Ben noted his question when he realized earlier that Adam was injured was enough to know beyond a reasonable doubt that he wanted Adam hurt. “He’s never been rational about MJ’s death. Well, they will be here for another few days. We need to be alert to avoid any more trouble. It’s good though to see the two of you on good terms again.”

Ben smiled as he left the room, but had a frown as soon as he was away from his sons. Now he would have to determine how to handle the situation to make sure there was no more trouble. He would ask Joe to talk with Darren, and he would try to talk with Max. This old grievance needed to be resolved.

After dinner, Traci brought some tea and broth up for Adam. Hop Sing had assured her that even with his nausea, he would be able to sip these slowly and he needed to do that. Hoss was relieved when she got there because the smells from downstairs had been making him salivate for almost an hour. Adam was drowsy so there was little conversation to keep his mind off the food.

“Should I spoon it to you.”

“Give it to me. I’m not an invalid.”

“Joe said you’re a cranky patient.”

“Well he ought to know. He’s pretty cranky when he’s laid up too.”

Slowly sipping the beverages, Adam looked up toward Traci to see her looking at him with concern. He smiled to let her know he was fine, and as a way to apologize for snapping at her and she held his left hand as he used the right to drink broth. He would avoid Hop Sing’s tea for as long as he could. Everyone downstairs had gone outside to see the colt that Hoss and Traci had saved. Joe took some milk and he and Darren were going to feed it. The others who knew that this colt surviving was an unusual accomplishment wanted to get a good look at him. Hop Sing asked Hoss to take a biscuit upstairs to see if Adam would eat it with the broth. With a chicken leg in one hand and the biscuit in the other, Hoss made it to Adam’s room but paused outside the door. Traci was sitting by Adam’s side holding his hand, and the two of them were talking quietly. Hoss coughed so he wouldn’t intrude and then brought in the biscuit. Adam thanked him but Traci blushed and Hoss wondered what they had been discussing. He decided not to go there and headed back downstairs to finish his dinner.

*****

Chapter 5

“Hoss is really good with animals.” Joe was very proud of his brother Hoss and what he could do with a sick or weak animal and liked hearing Darren’s praise. Ben and the Maxims had gone back inside leaving Joe and Darren with the colt.

“Yeah, my brother Adam is darn good with them too, but no one can take care of a sick critter like Hoss.”

“You like Adam?”

“Of course I do. He’s my brother.”

“So you hafta like him?”

“Nah, but we have plenty of go rounds. Actually as long as he isn’t here, I can tell you this. I like getting in fights with him and arguing. I love the way I can set him off. His face gets red and he stomps all over. Sometimes he bellows as loud as Pa.”

“But why do you like him then?”

“He’s taught me more things than I can list. He’s been watching out for me since I can remember. Sometimes he forgets I’m a man now and that can be a little irritating. But I know he’s stuck in that way he has of wanting to protect his family.”

“He didn’t protect my brother. Pa says he was a coward and ran away. That’s why I don’t have an older brother like you do.”

“You know, we were only about four years old when that happened. I can’t say I know what happened that day, but I have to say I’ve never seen Adam run away from a fight. I’ve seen him head to cover, or try to help others. But run away? Just not him.”

“But Pa says he ran and that’s why MJ got killed.”

“Darren, if you and me were up against six gunmen and got separated and three were chasing you and three were after me, would you lead the other three back toward the three already shooting at me?”

That left Darren speechless. What if by leaving, Adam was drawing three gunmen away from MJ? That would mean that each of them had a chance. Maybe it was just bad luck like his Ma said that one of them got around behind MJ and shot him. Ma also said that maybe if he had ridden away instead of hiding in some rocks, he might have been able to get away like Adam did.

“You know they caught some of the men who did it. It was after your family had moved away. Pa said he wasn’t sure where you were, and Adam was the only witness anyway. He testified even though those men said they’d kill him if he did.”

“What happened?”

“Two they never caught. Two got the gallows. The two youngest ones got twenty years each hard labor. Now that I’m thinking about it, I guess they’ll be out in about two years.”

“Do you think Adam’s scared?”

“No more than he is about any of the other men he’s taken on who have threatened him for telling the truth.”

“Does that happen a lot?”

“Some. He put one of his friends and business associates in prison too. He helped prove that he robbed a way station and murdered the manager.”

“But how is he facing a man with a gun?”

“I have to tell you, Darren, there is no man who is more like ice in a gunfight than Adam. He’s faced down several men including a couple of gunfighters and won. I’ve told him when I’ve been mad at him that he doesn’t have a heart. But that’s wrong cause he really cares for his friends and family. But geez, when he’s got to, he can shut his feelings right off and do a cold smart shot like nobody else I know.”

None of this information fit with the stories he had heard over and over again from his father. His Ma and Traci had told him repeatedly that his father said it was Adam’s fault but really blamed himself. He had to focus his anger on Adam or otherwise go mad with the guilt he carried for sending his son out to work alone when he knew that dangerous men were prowling around looking for gold, silver, cattle, or anything else they could get. It had been a rather lawless time in the early Washoe diggings, and family and friends had to watch out for each other. Max had been careless and it had cost him a son. Darren had a lot to think about. He liked Joe a lot and liked Hoss too. He couldn’t see how they could like Adam if he was the coward that Max said he was. But Darren loved his father. After all those years of hearing about Adam and then seeing him that day in Virginia City had made Darren’s blood boil. He couldn’t wait that night to confront the man his father blamed for his brother’s death. Now he had to wonder about all of it, and started to think he might need to apologize to Adam as well. His father was not going to be happy at all about this turn of events.

By the time that Joe and Darren were heading to the house, there was a wall cloud bearing down on the Ponderosa. Joe ran in the house to alert his Pa and Hoss, and then ran back to the stable to start securing things. He got the colt into the stable and put him in a stall. Outside he started grabbing anything that might blow away and hauling it in the stable. Soon his father and Hoss were there too as were Darren and Max. Inside the house, Naomi helped Hop Sing close all the shutters. Then they ran outside to grab wood and kindling. In a very bad storm, the temperature might drop a lot up in the mountains like this so they needed to be prepared. The first thick drops of rain were battering the house by the time the men rushed in and secured the front door.

Upstairs Traci heard all the commotion. Adam had fallen asleep after drinking Hop Sing’s tea under protest. Earlier Hop Sing had come upstairs to retrieve the cups and when he saw the tea untouched, he had stood next to Adam glaring at him until he drank all of it. There was probably something in there to soothe because soon after that Adam had fallen asleep despite his earlier complaint that he couldn’t sleep well sitting up. She had perused Adam’s books and found a number that she liked. She saw too that he had a book on the table by his bed, and when she checked that one out, began reading the book about the submarine. It might never be possible but she was a woman who liked to dream of things that never were and hope that they might come true some day.

After a short time, Joe came in to secure the shutters on the window. He offered to sit with Adam or put another blanket on him, but Traci said she was fine, and Adam looked comfortable the way he was. She said she would be fine as she had found a fascinating book to read. Joe couldn’t imagine how that could be true but accepted her at her word. Once he got downstairs, he was sure to tell Hoss that Adam was doing fine. Anyone could see how badly Hoss felt about what had happened. Joe asked Darren if he would like to play some checkers and then told Hoss he would play the winner. In a move wholly uncharacteristic of him, Joe cheated at checkers in order to lose. He wanted his brother to get involved in something for he knew he would just brood otherwise.

The storm battered the house all night long disturbing everyone’s sleep. About dawn, Traci donned her robe and walked down the hall to Adam’s room. A very sleepy Joe was sitting in a chair doing his best not to fall asleep and clearly failing.

“I’ll sit with him for a while if you want to go back to bed.”

“Nah, it’s my turn. I’m supposed to wake Hoss in two hours.”

“I can sit with him until then. I’ve been in bed since nine, so I have gotten some sleep. You look like you haven’t gotten nearly enough.”

“No, you probably didn’t know it but a big tree branch went through the roof of the bunkhouse about ten. We were all out there cleaning up and patching the roof as well as we could with that wind. Then we set pails on the floor to catch the drips. Luckily, it didn’t come in too far so no one got hurt. I’m guessing that when the storm clears, we’re going to have a lot of work to do.”

“Could you two be quiet so a man could die in peace?”

“You’re not dying.”

“Well, little brother it feels like it and it sounded like hell broke loose around here, so what was I to think?”

“Traci, he must be feeling a lot better if he can smart-mouth me. You’re welcome to him. I’m going back to renew my acquaintance with my pillow.”

Traci chuckled and Adam smirked one of those classic canary ate the cat smirks of his. Joe was gone and Traci was there. It had worked out rather well; even better than he hoped. Then Traci saw his face change. He knew he shouldn’t have done it, but he did want to be alone with her. He had slipped up. Now she knew it too.

“It’s a tragic tale, isn’t it, Adam? If we could get someone to write it, perhaps it would rival Othello or one of the other tragedies.”

“Nothing can come of nothing.”

“King Lear? What do you mean?”

“We can’t say it. We can’t express it. No future can be built on nothing.”

“And so we have it. All that is left is ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’?

“I never did like Romeo and Juliet. It always seemed so wrong that there were no possibilities for a different outcome, but now we are in that same spot.”

Joe had walked back to remind Traci to get Adam to drink some water as Paul wanted him to keep taking fluids. He heard their conversation as he neared the door, and he retreated to his room. He was thinking he had talked to Darren at his father’s request, and now perhaps he ought to talk with Hoss next.

“Well, let’s talk about something else then if you’re not tired. I started reading that Jules Verne book and I loved it. Would you like me to read to you?”

Adam leaned back on the pillows as Traci began to read, and the rain continued to pound on the roof. After about an hour, Traci looked over and he was sleeping. She had looked up numerous times to see his eyelids drooping and then he would wake up and pay attention for a short time until he started slipping toward sleep again. Finally he had lost the battle and succumbed to a healing sleep. Traci turned the lamp down again and rocked in the chair. In less than an hour, she would wake Hoss to take over. That didn’t happen though as she fell asleep in the chair not waking until hours later as Adam hissed her name.

“Traci, Traci, please, I need you to get Hoss.”

Not knowing what was wrong, she heard the urgency in Adam’s voice and hurried to knock on Hoss’ door. Hoss came to the door in his nightshirt, and when she said Adam needed him, he rushed there. She was going to follow but Hoss closed the door firmly and locked it. She heard the click. She went to her room to dress worried about what was wrong. After washing, taking care of needs, and dressing, she returned to Adam’s room and heard him cussing softly through the open door. When she walked inside, Adam was dressed in his pants only and trying to shave but apparently having some difficulties. He had a mirror propped on his desk but already had nicked himself.

“Having trouble?” Traci was having a difficult time not staring at his chest. The muscles and curly hair seemed to be calling out for her to touch his chest. Luckily Adam didn’t notice or hid the fact that he did. All Traci got for her question was a snarl.

“Even if I squint, I’m having trouble focusing.”

“Then let me do it.”

Taking the razor, Traci wiped it dry and stropped it several times. Then she applied more shaving cream to Adam’s face and began to shave him. In a short time, she was done and there were no more nicks.

“Where did you learn to do that? You’re quite good.”

Before she could answer, Max was standing in the doorway.

“You should not be in a room with a half naked man. You need to leave immediately.”

Max was glowering at Adam much as he had those years before when he had accused him of being a coward and letting MJ die. That time Adam had stood defiantly but there had been uncertainty and even a hint of fear. He had shook a little as he stood there under Max’s glare and faced his accusations. Today, the defiance was there but the rest was not. The man who sat looking at him wasn’t afraid of him. With the dark look Adam was giving him, Max felt a little uncertain, and perhaps even a bit scared himself and took a step back.

“Traci was helping me and the door was wide open. Nothing improper happened and you owe your daughter an apology for insinuating that she was being improper in her behavior.”

Traci finished wiping the razor and replacing it and the strop in the leather case Adam had handed to her. She picked up the towel she had used and took the basin of dirty water to toss out. Once all of that had been accomplished, she walked by her father who stood at the door. He wasn’t sure of what he wanted to say but had a great desire to lash out.

Adam spoke first. “Don’t even think to threaten me in my home. You best be on your way before you talk yourself into more trouble than you can handle.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“No, stating a simple fact. You don’t want to face me in a fight.”

“You can’t even shave yourself, and you think you can beat me in a fight.” But Max stepped back and left just the same. There was something about Adam that made his heart beat faster and his palms sweat and not many men could do that to him. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck still standing up as he withdrew and walked away.

*****

Chapter 6

Once the rain stopped at midday, Ben and his sons walked outside to survey the damage. Part of the stable roof was missing, but inside the stock were uninjured. There were tree branches laying everywhere it seemed. Undoubtedly, there were fence lines down and other damage. As the men came out from the bunkhouse, Ben started issuing orders. They needed a complete list of damages and then they could start on repairs. The bunkhouse and stable were the first priority. Luckily they had their own mill so they could get the lumber they needed. Hoss volunteered to ride to the bridge to see if it was useable, and what might be needed for repairs.

Several hours later, Hoss returned. The bridge to Virginia City was damaged but the supports were solid and horses could use it. Carriages and wagons could not until some repairs had been done to the sides and the roadbed of the bridge. The roads west and south of Virginia City had washouts of the roadways in places and some bridges were gone. Telegraph lines were out. It would take days before any stages were heading out. For now, there were supply wagons expected from Reno and the only working telegraph line was to Reno. So nothing too serious had happened but it meant the Maxims would be extending their stay. Darren told his father they ought to spend time visiting neighboring horse ranches to see what stock was available that they might want. Joe had mentioned several ranches they might want to visit. Ben was very grateful to Joe for that suggestion. If Max agreed to do as Darren suggested, there would be a lot less trouble around the Ponderosa until the Maxims left for home.

After a few days, Adam was fit enough for light work and volunteered to go fix the fence line he had been working on when he fell and needed help. Ben agreed it was a good choice for the last thing they needed now was for some of the herd to go wandering off through a broken fence line. Hop Sing was busy with preparing food for the crews repairing the bridge, the roofs, and numerous other problems. Traci was helping Hop Sing in the kitchen and volunteered to bring a lunch to Adam later. Adam picked up the tools and supplies he needed and headed out. His father had told him again that morning how thankful he was that Adam had purchased so many supplies and stored them in the tool shed. They had the tarpaper, nails, wire, and other items that they needed very much and which many people couldn’t get because the supplies had been bought out in town, and it would be days before more arrived from Reno.

Just before noon, Traci finished her work in the kitchen and got a sincere and long thank you from Hop Sing. She took the sack of food prepared for Adam and rode out. When she got to the same spot where he had fallen many days earlier, she didn’t see him and had a sudden foreboding which was squelched when he walked up from a small pond leading Sport. He had simply taken his horse to water and now brought back and let him graze. Adam helped her off her horse and kept his hands on her waist as she reached the ground.

“I have ham and beef sandwiches, some fruit, and some cheese. What would you like?”

“This.” Adam bent down and kissed her as he pulled her close to him. Then just as suddenly he pulled back. “I’m sorry. I should not have done that.”

“I’m not. I’ve been dreaming of a kiss like that for eighteen years.”

“But you know we can’t. It just can’t work out.”

Traci reached out to pull Adam to her but he resisted. “Just once. Can we, just once?”

Adam closed his eyes and groaned. He wanted her so much but it was an impossible hope. Traci stood on tiptoes and caressed his lips with hers. Adam responded and kissed her passionately opening the flood of desire and passion each had kept tightly damned up. Their passion was so all encompassing that when they lay in each other’s embrace later, they couldn’t speak. It seemed there were no words that could express how each felt at that moment.

“I knew you loved me as much as I loved you. You hide your feelings so well but you forgot that I knew you very well at one time. I knew you couldn’t have changed that much.”

“You’ve guessed the truth but there’s another truth I can’t avoid. Anything between us will hurt my brother, and I can’t do that. You said ‘just once’ and that’s what it has to be.”

“I know, but I wouldn’t have given this up for anything. It was all I hoped it would be and more. Now my dreams will be of this and not some adolescent romantic fantasy of what might have been.”

” We should get dressed before someone rides over here to check on us.” Adam stood and pulled Traci up next to him. He helped her button her dress in the back and clean the grass from her hair. “I wish I had a brush or something.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll use a curry brush or something in the stable before I go in the house.”

Adam grinned at her practicality, and she smirked back at him. “I had some practice with that eighteen years ago. I couldn’t walk in the house looking like I had been rolling in the grass with you then either.” They were still sparring verbally when they heard a horseman approaching. Once again it was Hoss.

“There’s been an escape of inmates from Nevada State Prison. They had a bunch of them here doing road repairs and such, and they overpowered the guards and took off. They have the guards’ guns and horses. They got the keys too so they got their chains off. Adam, Traci, them two yahoos that was in on the killing of MJ was in that crew.”

Traci looked at Hoss and then at Adam with such a confused look, they both realized she didn’t know so they told her the story that Joe had told Darren. Adam gathered up his tools as Traci packed the lunch he had not eaten. They mounted up to ride to the ranch house when they heard shooting. Hoss and Adam wanted to go see what was going on, but felt a need to protect Traci too.

“I can shoot well enough to protect myself. Let’s go see who’s in trouble.”

All three headed in the direction of the gunfire but Adam instructed Traci to stay behind them. When they reached the crest of the next hill, they could see Darren and Max being pursued by gunmen. They had a pretty good idea who the gunmen were. As they watched, Darren’s horse stepped in a hole and went down. Darren rolled free, turned, grabbed his rifle, and returned fire using his horse as a shield. It would only work for a short time as the pursuing men fanned out to come at him from several directions. Max attempted to ride back to help his son but the gunmen were already between them.

“Adam, I’m going down there to help get him outta there. You take care of Traci.”

“Hoss, you’re too big a target and I’m a better shot. You give me your horse and get behind some rocks. Give me covering fire, and take good care of Traci.”

Lowering his body behind his horse’s neck as much as he could and leading the other horse, Adam raced toward Darren. Max saw what he was doing and took refuge behind some trees and gave covering fire for his son. Hoss and Traci started doing the same from the other side up on the hill. The gunmen had to stop but were unwilling to give up completely. They started advancing on foot moving from one cover position to the next. Max, Hoss, and Traci had too many spots to cover and were unable to drive the men back.

As Adam reached Darren, the gunfire intensified and he had to dismount to avoid being hit taking refuge with Darren behind the downed animal and releasing the two mounts that were panicking anyway. The two men talked when not taking a turn firing at the men firing at them.

“Well, my Pa would have said it was a cold day in hell when we could expect Adam Cartwright to show up to help us in a gunfight. Glad I don’t think that way. Now, you happen to have an idea how to get us out of this mess?”

“There’s a draw over to our left. If we can get to that, we can climb to higher ground without them seeing us.”

“So all we have to do is run about a hundred yards over open terrain and then we’re safe.”

“Yeah, that’s about it.”

“How we gonna do it?”

“Run about a third of the way to where you see that little depression. Lie in there and give me some cover, and I’ll join you. Then we’ll pick out the next spot.”

“That’s your brilliant plan? Joe said you were pretty smart, and that’s all you got?”

“Yeah, that’s it. You got a better idea?”

“Nope. Who’s up on that hill shooting?”

“Hoss and Traci. I’m hoping all this noise will draw some help because we’re gonna have to rescue your father next. All right, now, run.”

Working in tandem, Adam and Darren worked their way to the draw. Adam dove in last and felt an impact on his foot when he did. He looked down and saw that the heel had been shot off. Thankful that the gunmen were not better shots, he and Darren climbed up the hill to be met by Traci and Hoss. Soon after, Joe, Ben, and some of the hands were there. Seeing the array against them, the gunmen took off with the Ponderosa men in pursuit. Max walked out from the grove of trees leading his horse. He had almost lost another son, and Adam Cartwright had saved him. His mind was spinning. He felt faint and nauseous. Traci and Darren ran down the hill to meet him. He dropped his rifle and the reins to his horse so he could hug his son and his daughter. Then he clutched his chest and fell.

*****

Chapter 7

A wagon was brought from the Ponderosa and Naomi rode to be with her husband. They had piled a mattress from the bunkhouse in the back and blankets. Once they reached the valley where Max laid still unconscious but breathing, Adam, Darren, and Hoss carefully placed him in the wagon. Naomi and Traci climbed in beside Max and Hoss got on the bench seat to drive the wagon home. Being careful not to jostle the patient too much, Hoss drove slowly. Adam went ahead to make preparations for Max at the house. They would put him in the downstairs guest room. Ben and Joe had come back from the group chasing the convicts and Joe had ridden to town for the doctor. Hopefully he would arrive without too much delay because they all feared what had happened. Hop Sing helped Adam gather towels and clean linens and air out the room. There wasn’t much else to do as they waited.

Creaking harness and a squeaking seat let Adam and Hop Sing know that the wagon had arrived. Hop Sing held the door open in the slight breeze and the men carried Max into the house. Once they had him on the bed, Naomi, Darren, and Traci stayed to undress him and put him in his nightshirt. He had emptied his bowels and bladder on the way so they had to clean him up first. Naomi said they should never mention that to him because he would be humiliated and couldn’t help himself in the condition he was in. Both of her children had been around men who were injured and knew that it could happen so they just nodded as if to say of course. Traci rolled up the soiled blanket and clothing and took them to Hop Sing who had smelled the man as he was carried in and had soapy water ready to soak the soiled blanket and clothes. He assured Traci he had done it before and would have the clothing as good as new so that her father would never need to know. Everyone was operating under the presumption that Max was going to be all right, but he had not yet regained consciousness and that was worrisome.

After watching from the porch, Hoss came in to announce that the doctor had arrived. He also had someone with him. A young woman followed Doctor Martin into the house and both were directed to the bedroom where Max was. Soon his family came out to join the Cartwrights in waiting. It took over an hour before the doctor was able to give them some news and most of it wasn’t good.

“Mrs. Maxim, I know you believe your husband may have suffered a mild heart attack. I’m not sure if that is true. That in itself would be serious but sometime before or after that fall he took, he had a stroke. He is only semiconscious at this point making it difficult to determine the full extent of the damage done but he has lost feeling in his right leg. That may be all that is affected but we will have to wait for him to be fully conscious to do a complete evaluation. His heart has a regular rhythm and is strong enough to make me believe it was a very mild heart attack or perhaps it was the stroke that caused everything.”

“What can we do for my husband?”

“I’m leaving my niece Jillian here to help. She has extensive nursing experience and has been assisting me. If there is anything she can’t handle by herself, she will have someone get me. Until then, follow her instructions.”

Ben walked his friend out to his carriage.

“How serious is it, Paul?”

“I really can’t say. At this point, it looks like a mild stroke with minimal damages. Considering the stress he was under at his age, it’s not that surprising. I would like things kept calm and quiet for him.”

“Paul, there is something more going on.” Ben proceeded to fill Paul in on the history with the Maxims and that Max had apparently not given up on his anger at Adam for MJ’s death.

“Well, that certainly would have aggravated any condition that could cause a stroke. Ben, somehow, that anger has to end or he’s walking himself right into his grave at this point. That kind of prolonged stress is exactly what he needs to avoid. Will you tell Jilli about this so she can monitor his condition if he gets upset about it again.”

Assuring Paul that Jilli would know the whole story, Ben waved as Paul drove off. He came inside just as Traci came walking out in tears. He stepped inside and Adam had stood and was looking at Hoss. Hoss said, ‘Go, go, she needs you now.’ and then sat back down. Ben could tell that Adam was torn. He wanted to go comfort Traci but didn’t want to do it at the expense of hurting his brother, so Ben intervened and told him to go see to Traci. Darren had his arm around his mother who was crying softly and looked at Ben and Hoss wondering what dynamic he had missed. He knew Hoss was interested in his sister and that Adam had been when they were much younger. But it was Adam who Hoss and Ben told to go comfort his sister.

Outside, Adam found Traci leaning on the corral fence and crying. As soon as he touched her shoulder, she whirled and was in his arms with her head on his shoulder. “Oh Adam, you don’t think that our relationship had anything to do with Papa’s stroke, do you? He would have been so upset if he knew, I know he would.”

“No one knows, sweetheart. We’ll keep it that way and no one gets hurt.”

“Except you. We didn’t do anything wrong and yet we can’t be together.”

“Nothing from nothing.”

“But it isn’t. We both know something now, but we have to walk away like it isn’t true. You don’t want to hurt Hoss any more, and I can’t tell Papa now. It would all be such an entertaining drama if we weren’t part of it.”

“In time, your father will be all right. Paul Martin is not prone to false hope and false expectations. He told you and your family exactly what he thought. A mild stroke is something that many people have survived and lived many years.”

No longer crying, Traci stood in Adam’s embrace getting solace from him. He ran his fingers through her hair and chuckled.

“You didn’t get to run a comb through this yet. There’s still some grass in it.”

“Well after everything that happened, no one would be surprised by that.”

“I can have Hop Sing draw a bath for you if you wish. Just go up and get a change of clothing and I’ll tell him.” Adam pulled his handkerchief and wiped tear streaks from her face. He smiled wistfully at her, and she knew too why he did it. There would be few occasions when they could hold each other without concern. This was one of those times. Traci thanked him and left to do as he had instructed. Adam stood watching her until she went in the house, and then with his head down, he headed to the kitchen to ask Hop Sing to draw a warm bath for her.

Hoss had watched from the window by the desk. Joe just shook his head at the sight. Joe had told Hoss that he wasn’t really in love with Traci, and that Adam was. He told him too that Traci loved Adam and not him because no one could determine how love would go. No one can make someone love them. It happens. Hoss had said he didn’t think Adam loved Traci even if Traci still had feelings for him, but now as he watched as Adam walked away looking so dejected, he decided he had to think about it more. As Traci came inside, Hoss assured her that her father would be all right in time. She didn’t look distraught any longer, but there was sadness about her in how she looked and how she walked. She told them she was going to take a bath.

Joe walked over to Hoss. “Do you need to see any more? It should be somewhat obvious to you at least. Do you want to put your own feelings over those of your brother? He’s going to let her walk away so he won’t hurt you. Can you do the same?”

“Joe, I just ain’t so sure it’s love they’re feeling. It could just be that they’re feeling that way cause of the way they once was. Heck, he ain’t even kissed her.”

Hoss walked outside. Darren had overheard much of their conversation. His mother was sitting at the dining table drinking coffee with Ben. Darren walked to the desk where Joe was now seated.

“He really doesn’t see it.”

“I know. Just by the way they look at each other kinda gives it away even if they don’t do or say anything.”

“I wasn’t watching for it with the two of them, but once you mentioned it, I thought about it. Hoss found them out at Adam’s work site and the lunch was still packed in the sack. That I know because we ate it while we were waiting for the wagon. What did he think they were doing instead of lunch?”

“My brother Hoss believes what he sees and what he hears directly. He’s not so big on noticing how someone looks at someone or how they look when that someone leaves the room.”

“So unless he sees them in a lovers’ clinch, it’s not true to him?”

“Ya, that about sums it up although I think he’s paying more attention now. I’ve tried to tell him, but he wants to be in love with Traci and he wants her to be in love with him. Tried to tell him it doesn’t work that way. If it did, he’d be married to Bessie Sue for years already.”

“Who’s Bessie Sue?”

“Oh, she’s a big gal who’s decided Hoss is the one for her. Hoss likes her well enough but he’s never loved her. Doesn’t mean she doesn’t keep trying to make him fall for her though.”

Hoss came back in and Joe and Darren stopped talking. Jillian came out from the bedroom to say that Max was conscious and he could have one visitor so Naomi went in to see him. Darren sat with Joe and Hoss waiting to see if he would be able to see his father. Soon, Jillian signaled him to come to the room too.

“He needs to see you to be sure that you’re all right. Don’t talk too much about what happened. Just assure him that you are fine. Try not to get him too excited about anything.”

As Darren entered the room, Jillian closed the door letting the three visit quietly. Ben asked if she should be in there, and she said that too many in the room would be too difficult for Max. She would stay close. Hoss was looking at her and appreciating her looks. Joe nudged Darren who noticed Hoss’ stare too.

“Why don’t you go over and introduce yourself?”

“Aw, shucks, Darren, she’s just here to be a nurse for your father. She don’t need me bothering her.”

“Well if you offered her a cup of coffee and some dinner, you wouldn’t be bothering her.”

Hoss nodded and smiled before walking over to introduce himself and do just that. Darren smirked at Joe. If this didn’t make Hoss understand, nothing would. If he really were in love with Traci, he wouldn’t be so anxious to get to know Jillian. Adam had come in quietly and was sitting, observing, and thinking that it appeared that Joe and Darren were trying to help him out.

Over the next few days, there were some good developments. As Max rested, his leg began to respond to the therapy that Jillian administered. Max had numbness and tingling in his right leg but could move it. He had some tingling in his right arm and hand but no numbness. Otherwise, he was unaffected. Two days after he was brought home unconscious, Jillian determined that he could have the talk with Adam that he had requested almost as soon as he could talk.

“Adam, I’m not sure I can change all the way I think about you and what happened to MJ. But you saved Darren’s life and you kept Traci safe. No matter what I thought before, I know you’re a brave man now and you did what a brave man would do. I am very grateful and there are no words that I can say to tell you how much I thank you. With what happened to MJ, I know you was only sixteen years old and I was more’n twenty years older than you and should have known better. If I hadn’t sent MJ out alone, the two of you would never a been in that situation.”

“Thank you, Mr. Maxim. I know that had to be hard for you to say.”

“So, let’s just let bygones be bygones?” Max stuck out his hand to Adam who stood and took Max’s hand in his.”

“Yes.”

“You are a man of few words, but you certainly make your point.”

“I should let you rest now. Jillian said we had ten minutes and then she was going to kick me out of here.”

“That is one fine nurse, but I would never be able to deal with such a bossy woman. It’s no wonder she’s not married.”

“I do need to get going if you don’t mind. I have some work to do for my father.”

Adam left just as Jillian was coming back to the room. She was giving instructions to Naomi next on Max’s care. The Maxims were planning to leave in a day, and there were things that Jillian wanted to make sure that Naomi understood. After reviewing the requirements that Max take it easy for some time and avoid stress, Jillian asked if they needed anything else. When they didn’t, she packed her bags and asked for a ride to town.

Within a day, the Maxims would be gone too, and life on the Ponderosa would return to normal except for the sadness for one Cartwright who was losing another woman he loved. He consoled himself with the fact that she at least was not harmed and had a fulfilling life in Arizona to which to return. That didn’t help him sleep at night though.

*****

Chapter 8

Before dinner that night, there was a round of story telling of things that had happened in the years the families had been apart. No longer were there any bad feelings hanging over the two families. They had a friendship forged in fire now. Joe and Hoss had many stories to tell and Darren turned out to be a fine storyteller too. The best storyteller in each family though remained quiet. Even when Joe had everyone laughing uproariously with the Hoss and the leprechauns tale, there was little reaction from Adam. He had pulled that mask down and nothing much was showing. When the bull fighting tale started, Joe urged Adam to describe Hoss being pushed down the street by the bull as he was holding on for his life. Adam did a brief description that got a few laughs, and then it was back to the other three telling and embellishing stories. Both Ben and Naomi were concerned about their eldest offspring. Neither knew enough to be able to discern the whole truth although both suspected. Traci yawned and started to take her leave of the group to head upstairs. Adam said he was heading outside for some fresh air.

“Well, maybe that’s what I need too. A dose of this crisp Nevada air might just rejuvenate me. All too soon, we’ll be suffering in the Arizona heat. A little fresh air before dinner might be nice.”

Adam held the door for Traci and then followed her outside.

“Would you like a walk? I don’t think I just want to stand around here. Too many prying eyes.”

“A walk would be delightful.”

And they walked and maintained their polite conversation. It wasn’t what they wanted most, but it was what they had decided it would be. After about twenty minutes, Traci abruptly stopped.

“I can’t do this. Either kiss me and hold me, or I have to go back inside. This being together and not together is torture.”

Adam dropped his head and looked away. As Traci started to leave, he stepped toward her and pulled her into his arms to kiss her as passionately as he was able.

“Adam, there has to be a way.”

“I’ve been thinking. At some point, Hoss will find another woman to love. Then it won’t matter. Can you wait for me? I don’t know how long it will be, but I can’t love another.”

“Oh, if it takes five years, it won’t matter. I just need to know there’s hope. I need to know that one day we’ll be together. We’ve got something and we can’t just turn our backs on it. Love doesn’t happen that often.”

They were interrupted by calls from Joe and quickly stepped apart.

“Hey Adam, Adam. Oh there you are. We’ve just decided that it’s Darren’s last night and we ought to go to town to give him a proper sendoff. We want you to come along.”

Hoss and Darren were right behind Joe with the same hopeful expressions he had.

“Adam, I need to give a proper thank you for what you and Hoss did for me. Without the two of you, I wouldn’t be here now. How about it?”

All three could see Traci’s telltale signs that she and Adam had been kissing. Her lips were red and a little puffy, and she was flushed. Hoss was the only one at all surprised by that, but after what Joe had told him, he had been more observant. He knew now that Adam and Traci had strong feelings for each other. What he didn’t know was how to let Adam know it was all right with him. He was thinking that maybe after a little whisky, he could just tell him how foolish he’d been and that he wouldn’t want to be a roadblock in the way of happiness for him

“You should go. My brother can be a lot of fun, but he needs someone to keep him from ending up in jail. I have a feeling that Joe and Hoss may not be the best candidates for that.”

Joe had to say something. “Hey, I resemble that fact.”

Hoss was just confused by that statement. Darren told him that after a couple of drinks, it would make more sense. He and Joe headed back toward the stable to saddle up some horses.

“Hey, Adam, you coming with us?” Hoss was hoping he’s say yes so that at some point they could talk. Traci would still be here when they got back. “I told Pa we wouldn’t stay too late. He’s got some work he wants us to do tomorrow. ‘This is still a working ranch. If you go to town during the week, I still expect a day’s work out of you the next day.’ You know how he can give a sermon.”

Chuckling, Adam said he would walk Traci to the house and then meet them at the stable. By the time he got there, they had Sport saddled although Darren was rubbing his arm. Joe was giggling.

“We told him that your horse likes to nip people. He figured with all of his experience on a horse ranch that he knew better than we did. He’s paying for it now.” Hoss chuckled more at that comment from Joe.

“If I woulda known he was gonna do that, I woulda let ya saddle your own damn horse. Why do you keep such an ornery mount?”

“He’s not ornery with me.” Adam rubbed Sport on the neck and the horse turned and nuzzled his master and friend.

Hoss tried to explain. “He may be ornery, but he is one smart and loyal horse. He’s stuck around a number of times when Adam’s been hurt or shot. Came back here to get help a few times too. He’s like Adam’s horse and his dog.”

As the four men rode to town, both Hoss and Joe were wondering what had changed. Adam didn’t seem as sad nor was he as crabby and short with them as he had been. Once they were in town and after the first drink as they sat nursing their second drink, Hoss had to ask.

“So, brother, ya got anything ya want to share with me and Joe?”

Joe was glad that Hoss asked because he wanted to know too. Darren had no idea what was going on because he didn’t know Adam well enough and had not endured his snide remarks the past few days. Adam wondered how much they knew but wasn’t ready to discuss this yet. Hoss finally accepted that he would have to be the one to just say it.

“I know about you and Traci.”

With a guarded expression, Adam looked at Hoss not knowing if he was angry or hurt or both. Instead, Hoss looked worried and Adam had no idea why he would look that way.

“Hey, Adam maybe I oughta buy you another drink?”

“Hoss, this is fine. I don’t need any more.”

“Well, maybe I do.” Hoss signaled the saloon gal who willingly came over to fill his glass.

She would have sat in his lap with all the whiskey he was buying from her tonight but he said ‘maybe later’ and let her go.

“Adam, I got something to say and I want ya to hear me out before ya say anything.” Hoss took a deep breath and started. “I been a darn fool. I wanted Traci to love me and I wanted to love her. I thought I had first dibs on her and so I could win her. Joe done told me that love ain’t a competition like when we’re trying to get a new gal in town to pick one of us. He says love just happens and ya can’t make it go one way or another. Before I was just seeing what I wanted to see and Traci liked me and I liked her. But I been watching you and Traci and I know ya love her. If she loves you, I think ya should just tell her to stay. There, I said my piece.”

Joe was observing and loved Adam’s reaction. “Hoss, you did it. You left Adam speechless and you know how hard that is to do.”

Adam frowned at Joe and then looked to Darren.

“Hey, two weeks ago if I had known you were interested in my sister, I would have called you out. Now, go for it. You two are enough alike that she should be happy, and the pickings down in Arizona leave a lot to be desired. There’s about a hundred men for every single female, and Traci says ninety-nine of em ain’t worth having and the other one is already married.”

All of them laughed at that. It sounded so much like Traci it was like she was there.

“It’s gonna take Pa some time to accept it after everything, but he’ll come around. One thing he cares about a lot is that his daughter is going to be happy. So you better do right by her.”

“So what are you waiting for, older brother? I got a gal who wants to sit on my lap and I can watch over these two younguns without your help.”

Hoss stood and so did Adam who looked at Hoss wondering if he really had meant everything that he had said. Hoss shoved him in the shoulder. “Go on. Go. She ain’t gonna wait for your ugly puss forever, you know.”

That got a grin and a thank you before Adam grabbed his hat and headed out the door.

“How fast do you think he’s gonna be riding?”

The three men laughed and Hoss headed over to talk to his favorite saloon gal, at least for tonight, and order some whiskey and let her know his lap was now available. Adam was already at the city’s edge and urged Sport into a gallop. He intended to get home as quickly but as safely as possible so although a run through the meadow and up over the ridge would be faster, he kept to the road. When he rode into the yard and went in the stable to put up Sport, Ben came out to see what was wrong.

“Nothing’s wrong, Pa. Everything’s finally right. Where’s Traci?”

Then Ben understood. Something had happened and Adam was ready to make his feelings for Traci known. “She’s inside packing. She’s going to be helping her mother get her father home safely.”

Nodding, Adam headed to the house. He took the stairs two at a time and was upstairs before Ben got back in the house. Naomi had just come out of the downstairs guest room to see him disappear around the corner.

“I thought our sons were making a night of it in town tonight?”

“Well, apparently plans for one of them have changed.”

When Adam got to Traci’s door, he stopped and watched her as she packed. She turned expecting Ben or her mother to be there and was shocked to see him. He grinned at her and she knew something good had happened. He explained what Hoss had told him and that Darren had accepted it too.

“But I do need to leave tomorrow. Mama needs my help with Papa.”

“I’ll come for you whenever you’re ready.”

Traci moved to him and they kissed. It was the kind of kiss that promised more not the desperately passionate kisses they had had earlier when they thought it was the last time they might be together. Adam held her in his arms then as she wrapped her arms around him. He buried his nose in her hair and inhaled deeply. She was doing the same with his chest. They stood that way for some time until an ‘ahem’ from the doorway let them know they had company.

“Traci, your mother needs you to help downstairs.”

After Traci left, Ben just raised an eyebrow at his eldest son.

“Yes, Pa, we’re a couple. We don’t have any formal plans of any kind yet. Traci has to help her mother with Max and who knows how long that could take. Then when she lets me know, I’ll go get her.”

“You’re getting married then?”

“I haven’t asked her, but I think we both know that I will. This is all pretty new now that Hoss gave me his blessing.” Then Adam explained the conversation he had with Hoss and then with Darren in town. “There’s no rush now that we know we have a future. We’ll have to show some restraint too I think in respect to Hoss’ feelings despite what he said.”

“Son, you’re thirty-four. If you’re going to be giving me those grandchildren, you better think about moving this right along, don’t you think?”

“Ah, Pa, there may not be any grandchildren.”

“The two of you already discussed that but not marriage?”

“Traci was married for almost ten years and was never pregnant. She may not be able to have children.” Ben had a pretty good idea why they would have had that conversation, but they were both old enough to make their own moral choices. It wasn’t something he would condone, but his son was past the stage where he needed his father’s permission.

“I hope you know that I have certain standards I hope you will respect in this house.”

Adam knew his father would understand the relationship that he and Traci already had, but also should have known that they would respect their parents’ homes. He gave one of those sardonic looks at his father, who just raised his hands in mute surrender. They understood each other.

Walking downstairs, Adam and Ben saw Traci talking with her mother. Naomi gave Adam a smile and then returned to the guest bedroom to care for Max. Adam took Traci by the arm and guided her outside.

“Did I do something wrong?”

“No, but I wanted to do this.” Adam pulled her to him and kissed her with open mouth kisses as he caressed her back. “Would you like to take another little walk?” His voice was hoarse with passion and Traci could just manage a nod herself. This time they walked toward the stable and then behind it. Once there, Adam pushed Traci up against the barn wall as he pressed his body into hers and kissed her thoroughly.

“Once was not enough, was it?”

“You are my obsession. You are in my thoughts and in my dreams. All I want is to be with you, to talk with you, hold you, kiss you, and love you.”

They had only been gone for about twenty minutes so Adam didn’t think his father would be overly suspicious. They walked arm-in-arm back to the porch as if that was all they had been doing. In the near darkness, no one would be able to tell otherwise. Once they were seated, they heard the door creak open and Ben came out with a lantern.

“It’s getting dark. I thought you might like some light. Hop Sing said he could have some coffee and cookies out here soon if you wanted them.”

Thanking his father for his thoughtfulness, Adam grinned at Traci as Ben returned inside. His father’s plans for keeping them chaste were rather endearing and of course well after the fact when they were needed.

“Adam, does he always act as if you’re still seventeen?”

“Shh, whisper! He’s probably sitting at his desk chaperoning. And to your question, yes, far too often.”

Hop Sing brought out a tray with cookies and coffee. Both thanked him, and once he was gone, Traci moved over and sat on Adam’s lap as he fed her cookie pieces.

Adam and Traci were still up and talking on the porch when Hoss, Joe, and Darren returned. No one was in jail so it had been a good night. At least that’s what they thought until the three stabled their horses and walked toward the porch where Adam and Traci were seated. There was only one lantern burning but it was enough. Each of the three was sporting some fresh bruises, and Joe was limping.

“What happened to you? Hoss, I thought you said you could watch over these two?”

“Well, Adam, I did. But you see, there are some people who just don’t have a sense of humor.”

“He’s right, Adam. Joe was just trying to get a laugh and this big guy gets all mad and throws him over the bar. He smashed into those shelves and he’s lucky to only have a few stitches, not that he can show you with a lady present. Course, it’s Traci, so it ain’t really a lady, but we still ought to act like gentlemen.”

Traci threw her boot at her brother. She had removed them earlier when she was sitting on Adam’s lap. Now they made handy missiles. They had heard the horses coming so she had been chastely sitting in a chair when they arrived in the yard. Now she wanted to hear what was so funny.

“Well, you might not be aware of this, Traci, but Joe ain’t afraid of spiders or frogs or none that stuff. So he pulled this trick he does sometimes to scare people.”

“Oh, no, you didn’t let him do the frog and the spider, did you? In a bar with a bunch of men who’ve been drinking? What were you thinking?”

“Adam, now come on. That thing he does is funny.”

“Will someone please tell me what he does?” Traci was getting frustrated, so Hoss thought to explain it to her.

“Well you see, he has this spider that’s kind of a pet except he don’t bring him everywhere cause he’s kinda big and most people just want to squash him. Right now he’s hiding somewhere in the Silver Dollar and we’re gonna have to go look for him in the daylight.”

“Hoss, just tell her the trick!”

“Geez, Adam, you sure are getting impatient as you get older. Traci, are you sure you wanta be with him cause he’s kinda crabby like this a lot?”

“Hoss!”

“Well, all right. Joe puts this spider under his hat, and sometimes he puts one of them little tree climbing frogs we got around here on his tongue. Well he takes his hat off, and people get shocked and then he answers them by sticking out his tongue with the frog on it. People usually jump back and it is so funny, it always gets a lot of laughs.”

Trace had to smile because she could see Joe doing something like that and it did sound funny. “But what happened tonight?”

“Well, he did it to that foreman over to the Bar Eight and he ain’t got no sense of humor at all. He jumped back and everyone started laughing, so he up and grabbed Joe and threw him over the bar. Well, I, uh, objected to that, and we threw a few punches and then Darren and Joe were there and his friends stepped in, and that was about it until Roy got there.”

Adam dropped his forehead into his hand. He didn’t want to hear much more of this. But he had to ask.

“How much were the damages and the fines?”

“Well now, it wasn’t too bad. Sam says about a hundred ought to cover it and most of that is for the bottles that broke when he threw Joe over the bar. But Roy tacked on twenty each for disturbing the peace. Then we have to pay Doctor Martin too, well actually, we gotta pay Jillian cause she stitched up Joe.”

“Stitches? Where?”

“Well, let’s just say that sitting a horse is less than comfortable for out little brother right now. Hey, the good news is that Jillian said she’d have dinner with me on Friday night.” Hoss was grinning. Joe was grimacing.

“Yeah, I’m laying on a table with my naked butt stuck in the air, and our brother decides that’s a good time to go chatting up a lady and asking her for a dinner date.”

“Well, Joe, you was just lying there not talking, and I didn’t want her to think we didn’t like her after all that time she spent here and all.”

Joe rolled his eyes and Adam did think it was funny. As the three men went into the house, Adam looked at Traci.

“Time for bed?” Noticing how she reacted, “And don’t give me that look. Your parents have to get used to the idea of us already so let’s not do anything to make that any more difficult than it already is. Besides, Pa has a sixth sense about these things. I’m surprised he wasn’t watching over us on the porch. Of course, that window by his desk is open so he can hear anything out here anyway.”

Traci snickered as they heard movement inside the darkened house. Adam had mentioned in a whisper earlier that he thought his father might be sitting at his desk while they were out on the porch. They gave him a reasonable amount of time to get up the stairs, and then walked in and kissed good night before retiring to their separate bedrooms.

 

 

Tags:  Adam Cartwright, Ben Cartwright, and Hoss 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.

8 thoughts on “A Triangle (by BettyHT)

    1. Merci beaucoup. Oui, Adam et Traci ont un bel avenir et une série d’histoires à ce sujet.

      Thank you so much. Yes, Adam and Traci have a great future and a series of stories about it.

  1. Really, really enjoyable story. Poor Adam put through it again but he did eventually get his reward at the end. You know I love your stories Betty and these I can really identify with. Thank you 👏🏼🥰

    1. Thank you so much. You’re going to get a workout reading through this series, but there’s a lot of Adam in it. My favorite is the short one, I Still Love You, but you will get to it eventually.

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