Captive Heart – Cartwright Gals: A Romancing the Ponderosa Spinoff Book 2 (by millieshepherd)

Summary: Gabriella, the middle Cartwright stepdaughter, gets captured by outlaws and her family and fiancé, Candy Canaday search for her.

Rating: T

Word Count:16,327

Note: The Cartwright Gals trilogy is a spinoff series for Romancing the Ponderosa and it focuses on Ben’s three adult stepdaughters. It should be read in chronological order, starting with “Mrs. Little Joe”.

Romancing the Ponderosa series:

Mrs. Little Joe (Book 1)
The Redhead (Book 2)
Leo (Book 3)
Rose, My Love (Book 4)

Cartwright Gals trilogy:

 

Captive Heart 

Chapter 1
(Gabriella Cartwright)

“Oh, Ellie, it’s beautiful!” I breathe, running my hand down the front of the white lacey wedding dress. Ellie, Madeline’s good friend and Virginia City’s dressmaker, stands behind me adjusting the back, trying her best not to prick me with a pin. 

“Brie, hold still or you’re going to get yourself jabbed.” She laughs as I try moving to see a different angle in the mirror. “I just need to take it in about an inch around the waist and then I think it’ll be finished.”

“Did you finish Jewels’ dress yet?”

“I finished it last night,” she points to a box on her cutting table as I step out of my dress, “it’s in that box.”

“I just know she’s going to love it.” I quickly pull on the light green dress I wore to town. I step up to the table and open the box to pull out the light blue dress that I had Ellie make for my youngest sister. “It’s beautiful, just like everything else you make, Ellie.”

“Thank you.” She sits down at her sewing machine and begins to push the pedal, making the final adjustments to my dress. “At least you gave me more time to make these than Madeline gave me to make her wedding gown.”

“Well, she had to hurry or she would’ve become a spinster.” I joke as I fold the blue dress back up. Madeline, who’s now twenty-eight, was very close to becoming a spinster but that all changed when she became friends with Kevin. Those two have a very sweet, endearing sort of love and it’s precious to watch. 

Leaning on the table, I watch Ellie as she continues with her stitches. Instinctively my hand moves to the locket around my neck and I brush my fingers over it. When Candy proposed to me on Christmas, he didn’t have a ring but he promised to buy me one as soon as he could. A few days later he asked me what type of ring I wanted and I surprised him by saying I’d rather have a locket. It confused him at first but when I explained that I could get a small portrait of him and wear it around my neck, right next to my heart, he agreed, especially after I pointed out that I was going to get a wedding band after our marriage and that I really didn’t need two rings. The locket he bought me was simple yet beautiful. He had our initials carved on the front and I painted a small portrait of him to put inside. Flipping around the silver heart in my hand, I gently open it and look yet again at the likeness of the man who’s captured my heart.

“Do you want to take this home with you today?” The sound of Ellie’s voice brings me back from the little place my mind had drifted. Looking up, I quickly shut the locket and drop it back onto my chest. She gently folds my dress and lays it in a box, it’s new home until I wear it in two weeks. 

“Of course I do.” I giggle, excitement bubbling up in me again. “I can’t wait to show it to Mama and Jewels.”

“I’m guessing Madeline will have to wait.” She teases, tying a ribbon around the box to keep it closed. 

“Not too long though, she’s supposed to come over sometime soon.” I pick up both boxes, the one with Jewels’ dress and then the one with mine in it. “I better get home. I’ve been in town so long now I’m surprised Pa and Candy haven’t started a search party to hunt me down.”

“You better get a move on it before they think you vanished on them.” I walk across the room towards the door. “See you soon, Brie.”

“Bye, Ellie.” Waving over my shoulder, I step out the open door. I walk up to the hitching post where I left my brown mare, Callie, and rub her neck as I slip the boxes into the big saddle bag Pa let me borrow. After I untie the reins from the post, I nimbly swing mount into the saddle. I can still remember Pa’s face the very first time he saw me mount a horse that way; he was shocked to say the least. I guess he was surprised that a girl could do something that he really only saw Little Joe do. 

I turn Callie in the direction of home and wave to a few friends who I pass on the street as I ride out of town. The road is empty as I make my way home but after I’ve ridden for about fifteen minutes or so, I hear galloping horses behind me. I glance over my shoulder and see three horses speeding towards me so I quickly pull Callie to a stop on the side of the road. But instead of continuing on past, like I thought they would, they pull up short beside me. All three are somewhat rough looking men, which makes me realize how alone I really am out here.

“Eh, lookie what we’ve found, amigos.” The Mexican looking one closest to me scans me up and down. Fear begins to pump through my veins as he pulls his horse closer and blocks my way back to the road. Now I know how Madeline felt that time when she got hounded by those drunks in town; only these men are sober and dangerous looking and there’s no one to butt in and get them away from me. The other two follow suit, moving in closer and completely blocking me from getting away.

“She’s a pretty senorita, ain’t she, Carlito?” The blonde one farthest to my right laughs as he leans forward in his saddle to get a better look at me. The way all three of them keep looking at me makes me feel like a bug stuck under a magnifying glass. 

“Si.” The Mexican, whom I’m assuming goes by Carlito, swings his right leg over his saddle. As his feet hit the ground, I realize that they have no intention of letting me go home. He steps up to me and lays one of his dark tan hands on my thigh. My insides recoil as I try to shift Callie away but his hand grabs my thigh in a grip that’s nothing but painful. I try not to gasp and quickly swallow down the pain and fear slowly making their way up my throat as the blonde man lets out a chuckle.

“Well, Carlito, what do ya say,” he asks, “it’s been a while since you’ve had a pretty face to look at or do you think with her havin’ red hair’ll make her too much trouble for ya?”

Carlito turns towards his blonde partner and lets out a string of Spanish that I’m glad I can’t understand because if the look on the other man’s face is any way of telling, I figure it was nothing but curses. His mouthful of Spanish spoken, he turns back to me, hand still on my thigh but thankfully no longer bruising it, “You are a quiet senorita, what’s your name?”

“That is none of your business.” The fear pulsing through me makes it come out almost a whisper, but it’s still loud enough for the other to hear. He chuckles quietly but quickly stops when Carilto’s head swivels back in his direction. 

“Your name, senorita.” This time he growls it at me and I realize I better tell him or he might smack it out of me. 

“Brie.”

“Brie, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” He tips his hat. “Now, if you would be so kind as to turn your horse in the other direction, we’ll be on our way.”

“Um, excuse me?” I ask, confused, yet not completely surprised. 

“What he means, Brie,” the blonde man says as he leans a little closer, “is that now that you’ve seen us, we have to take you with us.”

“But why?” 

“It’s simple: you’d tell the sheriff that you passed us on the road and we can’t have that.” With his words, I fully realize my situation. Apparently they’re some sort of outlaws on the run and I just happened to be in their path. 

“Come now, senorita,” Carlito says again, “turn your horse.”

I know that if I put up a fight I’ll only get myself in deeper yet I have to do something, so I quickly lift my right leg over the saddle. If my horse comes home without me, my family will know something’s wrong and come looking for me. Before Carlito has a chance to react, I leave my left foot loosely in its stirrup with my right one nearly touching the ground as I slap Callie’s rump as hard as I can. I quickly leap backwards so I don’t get dragged along as she takes off at a gallop towards home. A mixture of Spanish and English curses fly through the air around me as Carlito roughly grabs my arm and spins me around to face him. Continuing to curse at me, he slaps his hand hard across my face before dragging me the few feet to his horse. He grabs me around the waist and I’m practically thrown into the saddle. 

“Let’s get outta here.” He swings himself up behind me. Kicking his horse into a gallop, he heads west away from the Ponderosa with his two partners close behind. As the wind whips past me it makes the pins holding my braid on my head loosen as I fight back tears of fear and dread.

 

Chapter 2
(Candy Canaday)

Stepping out of the barn, my chores done, a flash of brown zips past as Little Joe runs in the direction of the water trough. I glance over to see what his hurry is all about and see Lilia Marie splashing happily in the murky water as he quickly scoops her up before she topples in head first. Apparently she got away from him again. Ever since she started walking six months ago right after her first birthday, she’s turned into a little tornado. Joe and Hannah are constantly chasing her around trying to keep her from getting hurt or into trouble. But Joe’s on his own today since he brought Lilia Marie over by himself because he wanted to give Hannah, who wasn’t feeling well, a break.

I walk over to him and his wild child of a daughter and reach down to grab a handful of water from the trough, splashing it on my sweaty face. Lilia Marie watches me and lets out a screech of laughter. A laugh happily escapes me as I flick the little bit of water left on my fingers in her direction and she giggles even harder. 

Joe and I turn in the direction of the house as Jewels walks out onto the porch, calling for us to come in with the promise of fresh, cold lemonade. She hands us both a glass as soon as we’re through the door and in the living room. I look around the room and find the furniture pushed all over the place. I can see Hop Sing scrubbing the floor over by the fireplace and Rose is standing on a chair dusting the top of the gun rack. Jewels goes up the stairs with a can of polish and a rag. She starts at the top and makes her way slowly back down, rubbing the polish onto the banisters. I guess they were serious this morning when they said that they were going to clean the house from top to bottom so it would be spotless for the wedding. 

Feeling lazy just standing here with a cold drink in my hand while everyone else is scrubbing away, I glance over at Joe but he apparently doesn’t feel the same way. He’s plopped himself into a chair and is helping Lilia Marie drink some of his lemonade, obviously in his own little world. I sit my now empty glass back on the tray it came off of and make my way over to Rose. 

“Rose, why don’t you take a break for a little bit.” I gently touch her arm to get her attention. “I’ll finish this for you, go get yourself a glass of lemonade and sit down.” 

“I think I will sit down,” she puts her hand on my shoulder so she can get off the chair without falling and I quickly grab her other one as she steps down. She smiles up at me with thanks, dusting rag still in her hand as she continues, “but I’m all finished dusting, so there wouldn’t be anything for you to do.”

Brushing little flyaway hairs off her sweaty forehead, she steps over to the tray of lemonade and pours herself a glass. I glance passed her at the clock on the wall and notice it’s already getting late in the afternoon, “Brie should be getting home from town soon.”

“Yes, she left right after breakfast and she only planned to go to Ellie’s shop.” Rose looks up from her glass. 

“But, Mama, you’re forgetting something. They might have started talking,” Jewels laughs from over where she’s still polishing the banisters, “and we all know that once those two start, it takes them a while to get it all out.” 

“That is true.” Rose nods, laughing. Suddenly we all hear a horse ride fast into the yard outside. “That must be her now.”

I move to get to the door but because of all the furniture everywhere, Joe beats me to it. With Lilia Marie still on his arm, he swings it open and looks out. He quickly turns to me where I’m a few steps behind him and the open door, “Candy!”

I can tell something’s wrong by his voice and the look on his face, but I don’t stop to ask what it is and just gently push past him out the door. There prancing around the yard is Brie’s horse, Brie’s riderless horse. I run towards the mare, careful not to spook her, and quickly grab one of the dragging reins as Joe, Rose, and Jewels rush up behind me. Joe and I both quickly inspect the horse and saddle for any signs but there’s no blood, only a thin layer of dust on the seat of the saddle and a thick, sweaty lather on Callie where she must have run the whole way home. 

“Rose, did Brie take the normal way to town this morning?” I quickly ask, my thoughts spinning.

“Yes.” 

“Then there’s a large chance that she took that way home, too.” All three of them look at me with slightly confused faces, so I explain myself, “She might have gotten bucked off somewhere on the trail and is just waiting for someone to come get her.”

“And if she’s not?” Jewels’ eyes begin to fill with tears.

“Callie might have gotten spooked or something in town and ran home before Brie had a chance to snag her.” Joe offers up another possibility. 

“I’ll ride down the road she took this morning and see if I can find her.” I turn and sprint in the direction of the barn. Quickly grabbing my saddle, I begin to cinch it on my horse as Joe walks into the barn. He snags another saddle and picks one of the other horses. “What are you doing, Joe?” 

“I’m going to ride into town the other way and see if she’s there somewhere.” He calls back across the barn. 

“Good idea.” With the saddle all the way on, I walk my horse out into the yard. Jewels and Rose tied Callie to the hitching post where Jewels is now unpacking the saddle bag. I swing into my saddle as Rose steps up to me, “You better tell Ben what’s going.”

“Don’t worry I will,” she nods, “I’m going to send Jewels to get him as soon as she’s finished putting Callie up.”

“It might be a good idea to get Adam and Hoss, too.” Joe walks the brown horse he chose out of the barn up beside us. “Hopefully either Candy or I will find Brie but there’s always the chance we won’t. If we don’t, we’ll need to have more people searching. Also someone needs to stay here just in case she somehow makes it home.”

“I’ll stay here and keep a look out for her,” she answers, “I’ll send Hop Sing and a ranch hand to go get Adam and Hoss as soon as you two leave.”

“I can’t take her with me and I don’t have time to take her home…”

“I’ll watch Lilia Marie for you, Joe.” Rose says before he even has a chance to finish asking, “Now get a move on it, you two!” 

We both turn and ride out of the yard, splitting up once we get to the right place. I kick my horse into a gallop and fly down the road, looking back and forth for Brie’s familiar form. I know based off of the amount of lather that was on Callie that she ran for quite a while, so Brie has to be closer to town than the ranch. 

Before I know it, I’m nearly to town and I haven’t spotted her or even a sign of her. I would look for tracks but this is a main road and I’ve already passed three other people. It’s almost like Brie just vanished but then she could’ve taken the other road home. If she did Joe’ll find her.

I ride into town and make my way towards Ellie’s dress shop since that’s where she went today. Pulling up to the shop, I feel my heart sink when I see Joe’s horse already tied to the hitching post but I quickly remind myself that it could be a good thing. I hop down and walk into the shop to see Joe and Ellie talking over by her large table, Brie nowhere in sight. 

“You didn’t find her?” Joe asks.

“No,” I answer, “I’m guessing you didn’t either.”

“There wasn’t a single sign or anything on that road,” he runs his hand through his hair, “it looked like no one had even ridden on it in over a week.”

“What are you going to do now?” Ellie asks.

“Keep searching.” I slap my hat back on my head. “What time did she leave here?”

“A few minutes after one o’clock.”

“And now it’s almost five.” I shake my head. “I’m going to ask around town for a few minutes, Joe would you go tell Roy what’s happened.”

“I’m on my way right now.” He steps towards the door. “I’ll meet you on the outside of town in thirty minutes.”

Thirty minutes later, I pull up beside Joe and I can tell by the look on his face he hasn’t found anything new either. Everyone I talked to who saw her said she rode out of town around one. That means the only place she can be is somewhere between town and the Ponderosa on the road I took on the way here. It really is beginning to seem like she just vanished into thin air. 

 

Chapter 3
(Gabriella Cartwright)

After we ride for nearly three hours straight with only a handful of breaks, Carlito pulls his horse to a stop in front of a shady tree. The other two stop on either side of us, dismounting as Carlito swings down from behind me. He leaves me sitting in the saddle, tied hands looped over the pommel. They tied me up after our first break since I tried to make a run for it. The other man, who’s the quietest and gruffest looking of the trio, knocked me to the ground and grabbed me before I even got five feet away from the resting horses. 

At first it seemed like Carlito was the leader of the gang but now I think that it’s actually the other dark haired man. He hasn’t said but a handful of words the whole time, yet the words that he did growl made the other two tuck tail like chastened puppies. I didn’t catch what he said but apparently he put them in their place. Out of the three of them, Carlito is the only one who’s name I know since he calls both the blonde and the gruff man “amigo”, and the blonde hasn’t said anything to the third man, let alone said his name. 

I continue to sit in the saddle, the heat of the day and the long ride beginning to make me groggy. I hear the blonde man let out a yelp of pain and quickly look over to see him rub the side of his head with the gruff man standing over him. “Ryder, I said go get the gal down. I don’t want to listen to your smart mouth, go!”

The blonde man, who I now know goes by the name Ryder, hurries over to me. He grabs me around the waist and roughly yanks me down, but he forgets to unloop my hands so I get stuck and this time the yelp of pain comes from me. Hearing me, the gruff man looks up and strides over. With a flick of his arm he shoves Ryder out of the way as he reaches out and unloops my hands. I crash into a pile on the ground but he reaches down and yanks me back to my feet. I feel my locket swing forward and as the sun shines on it, it catches his attention. He grabs it in his mitt of a hand and roughly snaps it open, studying the picture for a few moments. 

“Canaday.” His voice comes out a rough, gravelly growl. I’m surprised he knew who the picture was of, let alone Candy’s name. 

“Canaday?” Carlito asks, as he walks up beside us. “Isn’t that the man who tried to stop us from robbing that bank in Reno five years ago?”

“Yeah,” he growls again, “I heard that he settled down somewhere near Virginia City after getting himself a job on a big ranch.”

“Last night in the saloon I heard something about a big rancher’s daughter marrying one of his ranch hands sometime soon.” Carlito rubs his head, thinking, “They called him Candy, I think, and the rancher’s name was Cartwright.”

“Candy, that’s him, Candy Canaday.” He closes the locket but doesn’t let it go. “He’s working for ole Cartwright now, eh?”

“Who’s Cartwright?” Ryder asks. 

“Ben Cartwright owns the largest spread in all of Nevada. I’ve heard that he’s got three sons who each have their own little spread on their daddy’s land. And this little gal must be one of his daughters, not only one of his daughters but the one Canaday plans to marry.”

“If this Cartwright fella owns that much land, I reckon he’s a pretty rich man.” Ryder snarls. “I figure he’d pay a pretty penny to get back this daughter of his.” 

“That he would.” Carlito agrees, nodding his head excitedly. “How much do you think we can get out of him?”

“Three thousand dollars.”

“Three thousand!” Ryder gasps while Carlito’s black eyes look like they’re liable to pop clean out of his head. “Shane, I know we didn’t get anything outta that bank in Carson and even though this Cartwright fella’s a rich man, don’t you think that’s asking a little much?”

“Don’t worry he’ll pay it, you’ll see.” The gruff man, who I now know is named Shane, still holds my locket in his hand. He rubs it on his palm with his fingers and then before I even have enough time to react, he yanks it towards him. The force of it causes me to stumble forward and the chain snaps at the back of my neck. I let out a small shriek as I feel the chain cut into my neck. He smirks at me as he continues, “That is, he’ll pay if he wants to see his pretty daughter again.”

He tosses the locket to the ground, where he spits on it before rubbing it into the dirt with his heavy boot. I feel tears well up in my eyes as I watch my beloved locket being smashed into the ground. It means so much to me and I think somehow Shane knows it, too. It seems like it’s brought him joy to not only bring me pain but to spit and stomp on the picture of a man who stopped him from doing wrong in the past. 

Ryder steps up to me with an open canteen and helps me take a drink as Shane walks away towards the tree. I try to fight my tears but I lose the battle and they silently stream down my cheeks. Neither Ryder nor Carlito give me any pity, just smirks. All I am to them is a way to get a quick and easy thousand dollars each, nothing else. Not a girl with feelings, just a way to get rich quick. 

Before I know it, we’re back in the saddle again and on our way. Distracting myself from the pain of losing one of my most prized possessions, I try to find the reason why the names Shane, Ryder, and Carlito sound so familiar altogether. I run through all the things Candy’s told me about his past, I suddenly make the connection. He told me that there was a gang of three led by a Shane Wesley. The three of them were mean, vicious, and vile but Shane was the worst of the trio. I reach farther into the memory to try and recall the other two’s last names. Somehow I’m able to remember them, too; Ryder McKenzie and Carlito Vincente. Candy told me the three were known and wanted in many places across the West for murder and robbery. 

Fear quickly replaces the distress and sorrow pulsing through me as I realize with a sinking feeling that those same dangerous men who Candy told me about have now captured me. Not only captured me, but are also holding me hostage for a very large sum of money. All I can do is hope that Pa has the money to pay them or I’m going to be a goner. 

 

Chapter 4
(Candy Canaday)

“Hey, Candy,” I glance up and  find Joe about a quarter of a mile on the road ahead of me, “I think I found something.”

I push my horse into a gallop and I’m at his side in a second. I look at the place he’s pointing at and find three sets of tracks veering off the road across the open terrain towards the west. Jumping out of our saddles, we bend down to inspect them. I compare the tracks to each other and discover that one pair is slightly deeper than the others, like someone was carrying something heavy or riding double. 

“What’d you think?” Joe asks from where he looks at the tracks a little further out. 

“I think there’s a very large possibility that these will lead to her,” I stand up, “but she could be home by now wondering where we are.”

“Candy, if she was walking home, one of us would’ve passed her on the way to town.” Joe reminds me. “I’ll ride home and get Pa and the others. You follow those tracks for a while, we’ll catch up to you.”

“We’ve only got about three hours of daylight left.” I swing myself back into the saddle as he does the same. 

“I know, we’ll bring bedrolls and supplies with us.” He turns in the direction of the Ponderosa as he calls over his shoulder, “Don’t worry we’ll find her.”

With a final wave, we both take off in different directions; him towards home and me on what is beginning to feel like a wild goose chase. I keep my horse at a walk so I don’t miss anything like I did the first time and scan the ground, watching the three sets of tracks as I follow them along.

 After riding for about two hours, I find a spot where it looks like they stopped for a break. By the spaces between the tracks I can tell they were galloping the whole way so I figure they needed to rest the horses. I unmount and begin to inspect the area. There’s four different sets of footprints, which means that one of the horses is carrying double. Three sets of the footprints are large and shaped like my own boot but the fourth one is a lot smaller and dainty like a lady’s boot. Like the boots that Brie was wearing when she left this morning.  

 I decide that this spot is as good as any to camp for the night, so I quickly tether my horse and I look around some more before the little bit of daylight left is gone. As I move away from my horse, something in the dirt catches my eye. Stepping over to it, I squat down to get a better look. The ground is smoothed and the shape of a person, like someone had fallen and left an imprint in the loose dirt. Not only is the imprint shaped like a skirt, there’s two handprints where the person caught themself. Being careful not to leave my own handprint in the dirt or mess up any of the imprints, I compare them to my own hands. They’re just the size of Brie’s hands. 

I get slowly to my feet and look around for anything else that might show Brie’s been here, but not seeing anything, I begin to gather some firewood. The others will be here soon and we’ll all want to eat, plus the night’s beginning to get chilly. 

I get the fire going as the sun begins to slip out of the sky. Sitting in front of it, I watch the flames eat away at the dry wood, while my mind wanders to Brie. I knew I should’ve gone to town with her this morning even after she insisted that she’d be perfectly fine going by herself. Wanting to kick myself, I wish I could somehow go back in time as I listen to the fire crackle and pop. Over my loud thoughts, I suddenly hear voices and horses in the distance. I quickly leap to my feet and put my hand on my gun, ready to draw.

“Candy, it’s just us,” Joe’s voice calls out of the dark, “don’t start shooting.”

“Sorry,” I let go of my gun as they ride into the light of the fire, “I couldn’t see who it was.”

“It’s alright.” As he swings himself out of the saddle, I glance passed him and see he brought all the men of the family. Ben, Hoss, Adam, and Kevin slide out of their saddles and begin to unpack their bedrolls and the food they brought. Getting my attention again, Joe tosses me my bedroll from off the back of his horse. Before I know it, the smell of beans and bacon is in the air and all of us are laying on our bedrolls as we wait for them to finish cooking. 

“Did you find anything, Candy?” Ben asks after Joe and Hoss quit arguing about the other’s spot being better than his own. 

“Yeah, it looks like this spot is where they stopped to take a break.” I sit up and wrap my arms around my knees. “I found four different sets of footprints. Three of them are man sized while the fourth one was small and girl sized.” 

“Brie must be with them then.” Adam says from where he lays stretched out on Ben’s other side.

“That’s not all I found,” I point behind me, “there’s an imprint in the dirt over there like someone fell. It’s shaped like the person was wearing a skirt and the handprints in front of it were about the same size as Brie’s.”

“But why would anyone wanna kidnap Brie for?” Hoss asks. “She ain’t done nothin’.”

“The three men must be some sort of outlaws.” Kevin puts in, the firelight making his face glow in the darkness. “They probably took her with them because she saw them and then could identify ‘em for the law.”

“Hey, I just remembered,” Joe shoots up to a sitting position, “Roy told me that three men tried to rob the bank in Carson City but came out empty handed and that the sheriff said they were headed in this direction.”

“What were their names?” Ben asks before I get the chance.

“I think Roy said, Shane Wesley, Ryder McKenzie, and then the other one was a Carlito something, I can’t remember his last name, it was a strange Spanish sounding name.”

“Shane Wesley, Ryder McKenzie, and Carlito Vincinte.” I groan, rubbing my hand down my face.

“You know them?”

“Yeah, I know them.” I look over at Joe. “I stopped them from robbing the bank in Reno about five years ago and they were put in jail for four years. Shane told me that when he got out he would come find and kill me.” 

“What type of man is this Shane Wesley?” Ben asks, his voice laced slightly with dread. 

“Vile, mean, and hard hearted,” I sigh, “and now he’s got Brie.”

 

Chapter 5
(Gabriella Cartwright)

Sitting with my back against a large rock, I watch the three outlaws in the firelight. We apparently still haven’t reached the planned destination yet because Shane said we were just camping here for the night. Carlito and Ryder are still taking turns drinking from the bottle of whiskey that Carlito pulled out of his saddle bag an hour ago. Now it’s nearly empty and both are loud and rowdy. 

Hearing a growl of disgust come from Shane, my eyes quickly dart towards him. Sticking his cigar in his mouth, he slowly stands up and walks over to his drunk partners in crime. With a rough and fast move of his hand he grabs the bottle from them and throws it down on the ground, shattering it into a hundred pieces. Slurred yells of protest come from Carlito and Ryder but Shane just growls at them, “How many times have I told you to stay sober until we’ve gotten to the place we’re going to hide out?”

“I don’t know, amigo, but the whiskey warms my bones.” Carlito’s words slur horribly and even in the dark, I can see him swaying.

“That’s what the fire’s for,” Shane replies, “now both of you start sleeping that booze off, we’ve got a long ride tomorrow.”

Even though they’re full grown men, they both obey him like children and are soon snoring loudly from their bedrolls. Throwing a few more pieces of wood onto the fire, Shane sits down on his bedroll and begins to finish his cigar. He notices me watching him, so I let my head bob forward like I’m beginning to fall asleep and lower my eyelids enough that it looks like my eyes are closed yet I can still be able to see. 

Rubbing the butt of his cigar on the ground, he gives me one last look before laying down. He flops his hat over his eyes and soon snores drift loudly in and out of him. Seeing my chance to escape, I impatiently wait about half an hour or so to make sure all three of them are really asleep. Thankful that Ryder for some reason didn’t think to tie my ankles, I slowly slide my back up the rock until I’m all the way on my feet. I hold still for a minute or two before tentatively taking a step to the side. Very quietly and slowly, I edge my way out of the camp, sure that the sound of my heart beating hard and fast in my chest is going to wake them up. 

Once I’m about twenty feet away from the camp, I begin to walk a little faster. It has to be around midnight but thankfully it just happens to be a full moon tonight and there’s also not a cloud in the sky. With the moon to light my way, I continue to walk in the direction we came. Realizing I’m far enough away now that they can’t hear me anymore, I begin to sprint and then run. 

I last about fifteen minutes at a dead run before I have to slow down. Walking fast, I keep moving; as soon as the pain in my side is gone I’ll be able to run some more. I don’t know where I got them from but I’m very thankful for my athletic abilities. Growing up, I could out run all the boys in my school, something that they hated, yet I’m glad I’m able to run hard for long distances without having to stop. Well, that is until I get a sharp pain in my side, then I have to slow down for a bit before going full speed again. 

After running and walking for about an hour and a half, I come to the spot where Shane ripped off my locket. Even though I want to stop and look for it, I keep on pushing forward. Who knows how much time I have until they discover I’m gone so I have to cover as much ground as possible. Taking off at a run again, I push myself, knowing that if I get far enough ahead I might find Candy. Something inside of me knows that he’s out there searching for me and now it’s just up to me to get to him. 

Before I know it the sun’s beginning to come up and the camp is miles behind me. My feet hurt and I’m thirsty but I keep going. The farther I go the longer it’ll take Shane to find me. I lift my tied hands and try to brush the stray hairs off my face; I feel the last of my pins slip out of my hair and my waist length braid tumbles down my back. At least it’s stayed in its braid so it’s contained and not flying everywhere since I can’t pull it back up. Continuing to walk, I push my feet forward as my head begins to throb.

It takes about an hour but the sun comes out in full force. I want to take off my boots but I know I’ll regret it later, so I just try to ignore the hot, aching feet inside of them as the sun begins to bake me. The world begins to blur and sway in front of me yet I keep going, but I know I won’t last much longer. 

I make it about a hundred feet before my knees buckle and I hit the dirt. I just lay there, trying to catch my breath and will the earth to stop spinning as my head continues to throb. Pressing my forehead into the dirt, I suddenly hear horses in the distance. I quickly look up and think what I see is a mirage but hearing more horses behind me, I realize it is real and not just me going out of my head. Looking behind me I see Shane, Carlito, and Ryder getting closer. I leap to my feet and head towards the other riders. As they see me, the three of them pick up speed, galloping towards me. I immediately recognize all three; it’s Candy, Joe, and Pa.

I begin to run but a sharp pain cuts across my side causing me to lose my footing and I slam into the ground. Sobs begin to come out of my throat as I hear Shane and the others pull to a stop behind me. Glancing up, I still see Candy coming but as a hand grabs the braid going down my back, I know he’s too late. 

 

Chapter 6
(Candy Canaday)

A hot fiery rage begins to boil inside of me as I watch Shane grab Brie’s braid and yank her to her feet. If only I’d been a little faster, I would’ve gotten to her first. Pulling our horses to a stop roughly a man’s length away from Shane and Brie, our boots hit the dirt as we jump from our saddles.

“Shane!” I yell as I quickly look at Brie. “Let her go!” 

“Why’d you think I’d do a thing like that, Canaday?” His rough sounding voice grates on my ears as I watch exhaustion, pain, and fear fleet across Brie’s face in turns. “You ruined four years of my life, now it’s my turn to ruin you.” 

“You touch her, I’ll kill you.” I reach for my gun but before I can even get my hand to it, he has a knife that he pulled from who knows where on Brie’s throat. 

“Any of you touch those guns and I’ll slit her throat.” Quickly glancing to my sides, I see both Joe and Ben in the same position as me, hands nearly to their pistols. We all lift our hands away from them so he won’t touch her. “Now that’s better.”

“What do you want, Shane? I know you really don’t want her, she ain’t the type of girl for you.”

“That Cartwright there with you?” He nods towards Ben. 

“Yes, I’m Ben Cartwright.” He stares down Shane and if looks could kill, Shane would be on the ground dead. “What do you want from me?”

“I want two things,” he spits on the ground, “Canaday there and three thousand dollars. You give me them and I’ll let this little gal go.”

“I’ll go with you.” I answer quickly, knowing they’ll kill me, I’d die for Brie’s safety. 

“Candy, no!” Brie shouts but quickly shuts up as Shane pushes his knife deeper into her throat. 

“I don’t have that much money on me,” Ben says, “but I’ll get it.”

“You bring the money to this spot in two days and you’ll get this gal back.” Ben nods as Shane turns his head to yell behind him, “Carlito, Ryder, tie up Canaday and put him on his horse.”

The Mexican man and Ryder jump down from their horses and walk over to me. Ryder grabs my gun as Carlito ties my wrists together in front of me. It takes both of them to get me in the saddle but as soon as I’m seated and they’ve led me over to their horses, I watch Shane take his knife off of Brie’s throat, but he doesn’t put it away. He grabs Brie’s braid and with a quick slice, cuts it off at her shoulders. A painful cry escapes her as she realizes what he did and I watch shock then anger go across Ben and Joe’s faces as Shane throws the cut hair near their feet. Bending down, Joe grabs it and I watch his fist tighten around it as he gives Shane a blank look. Everyone who knows Joe, knows that look means he’s furious. If two people’s lives weren’t on the line and if he wasn’t outnumbered, he’d be rolling on the ground with Shane right now and even though he’s the smaller one out of the two, I bet he’d beat the tar out of him. 

Shoving Brie onto his saddle, Shane swings behind her, “Remember, Cartwright, three thousand dollars in two days right here.”

“I’ll be here.”

“You better be,” he laughs, “or that hair is all you’ll have left of your gal.”

Suddenly a cloud of dust appears on the horizon behind Ben and Joe. I feel Shane and the others stiffen around me but I know who it is and so does the pa and son in front of me. We left earlier than Hoss, Adam, and Kevin and now they’re catching up. Shane must know that they’re with us because he signals for the others to move out, “Lets go boys!”

We turn from Ben and Joe and ride away in the opposite direction. I found Brie, now I just need to figure out how to get us both out of this mess. Not only get us out of it, but out of it alive.

 

Chapter 7
(Gabriella Cartwright)

Watching Candy sway with his horse in front of me, I fight the tears trying to well up in my eyes. I know Shane’s going to kill Candy as soon as he has a chance and he’ll probably make me watch, too. Candy knew what he was walking into when he agreed on the spot to become Shane’s captive and he did it all for me. He blurs in front of me as a single tear splashes down onto my tied hands around the pommel of the saddle. 

Exhaustion begins to take over and I feel myself sag forward but I keep my back from leaning into Shane. I don’t want to touch the man, let alone lean on him. My head still pounds and I feel dizzy from thirst. All I want is a big drink of water and a soft bed to take a nap in but I know I won’t be getting those things for a while. I only hope that when we stop to rest the horses or when we get back to the camp, that Shane’ll let me have some water. I haven’t had a drop since before I escaped, which was nearly twelve hours ago and not only has it just been a long time, I ran nearly the whole night. 

The wind pushes against my face as we gallop back to where we camped the night before and it makes what’s left of my braid come undone. Another type of sadness fills my heart as my now shoulder length hair whips around my face. It took me nearly ten years to grow my hair that long and now it’s all gone. Well, not really gone since Pa and Joe have it but I can’t put it back on. These men have taken three things from me that can’t be replaced, my beloved locket, my hair, and soon the man that I love more than anything. It’s not fair, all my life I’ve felt almost nothing but pain until we moved to Virginia City and now these men are dishing out more pain by the dipper full. All the grief running through me mixed with the exhaustion and thirst causes me to lose my cool and breakdown into sobs. 

Through my tears I see Candy’s head quickly turn to look behind him when he hears my hiccupping sobs. Knowing there’s nothing he can do to help me, he just gives me a look mixed with longing, comfort, and determination, but it only makes me sob harder. Just letting myself cry until there’s no more tears, I slowly lean forward in a light doze.

I jerk awake when I feel the horse underneath me suddenly come to a complete stop. Shane jumps down from behind me and yanks me to the ground before I’m even sure of what’s going on. Walking me over to the same rock I leaned against last night before I escaped, he pushes me to the ground and makes me sit with my back against it. As he ties my ankles together, Carlito shoves Candy down next to me and does the same to him. Seeing that neither of us can get up and walk away, they stand and go over to their horses, where they begin to take off their saddles to rub them down. 

Candy shifts himself until his shoulder is nearly touching mine. Using his arm, he bumps me a little to make me look up at him from where I was staring blankly at my boots, my mind a groggy mess. I look up at him and find his clear, blue eyes staring at me with the same look they had in them earlier when I broke down and cried. Quickly glancing over at the outlaws to make sure they aren’t paying attention to us, he whispers, “You all right?” 

“Yeah, I’m fine.” My dry mouth makes it hard to talk but I continue anyways, “I escaped last night, ran the whole way until you and Shane caught up with me. Candy, I’m thirsty and all I want to do is take a nap.”

“I’ll get you some water and then you can lay your head on my shoulder and sleep for a bit.” Turning back towards Shane, he yells, “Hey, Wesley, bring over a canteen, the gal needs a drink.”

Shane shoots him a look but thankfully he brings me a canteen, which he throws into my lap. Despite the fact that my hands are tied in front of me, I can still open and lift it to my mouth. In an unladylike way, I guzzle down a few mouthfuls before I hear Candy say, “That’s enough for now, you don’t want to make yourself sick.”

“Alright.” I sigh, still thirsty. Reaching down, Shane yanks the canteen back out of my hands before I even get a chance to put the cap back on. He closes it and tosses it aside as he jerks Candy forward, untying his hands, shoving them behind him and retying them at his back. Finished, he shoves Candy back up and looks at me, I guess trying to decide whether or not he should do the same to me. Thankfully he doesn’t, he must be able to tell that I’m too exhausted to try and escape again. After spitting on the ground in front of Candy’s boots, he stomps off in the direction of Ryder and Carlito, who are arguing about something over by the fire they’re trying to start.

“Scoot closer to me and lay your head on my shoulder.” Candy whispers once he’s out of earshot. “You need to sleep for a little bit, you’re dead on your feet.”

“If I lean on your shoulder, I’ll only hurt you with the way your arms are behind your back.” I look at him and feel myself begin to get to that stage of exhaustion where it feels like I’m floating and everything seems like a dream. “I’ll lean against the rock behind me.”

“No,” he interjects, “turn and lay your head in my lap. You’ll be more comfortable that way.”

“Are you sure?” He nods so I do what he says, gently plopping my head onto his outstretched legs. Almost as soon as I lay down, my legs curled up into me and my head pillowed on his thighs, I fight to keep my eyes open as I see Shane walking angrily towards us. But I feel myself drift towards dreamland before he even makes it halfway to us. With a final sigh, I let my eyes completely close and give in to dreamland’s hard tugs. 

 

Chapter 8
(Candy Canaday)

I feel Brie sigh and I know she’s already asleep. Shane continues to walk towards us, obviously mad that Brie moved but I don’t care, she’s exhausted and she probably isn’t going to wake up for a while either. I could tell by the look on her face and the way her words were so slow that she was going to fall over at any given moment no matter what anybody did. I figured I might as well make that fall a little bit softer by having her lay her head in my lap. I look up and find Shane standing over us, hands on hips, ugly scowl on his gruffly bearded face. 

“Canaday, what do you think you’re doing?” I had forgotten how his voice always sounds like a deep, rumbly growl.

“Letting the girl get a little bit of sleep.” I snarl back. “She ain’t going anywhere so don’t worry your sorry hide about her running off again.”

“Watch your tongue, Canaday,” he bends down, whipping out his knife again, which he points at me, “or I’ll cut it out.”

We hold each other in an intense glare; I don’t back down but I can see my stare slightly unnerves him as he finally looks away. Standing back up, he puts the knife away before he lets out an angry growl and stomps back to his partners. When we crossed paths five years ago I was, or course younger, but I also didn’t have any attachments, I just drifted to and fro. Now it’s different, I have a family and a woman I love more than anything. Even though we aren’t married yet, I’d die for Brie or anyone in her family. We’re all a tight knit bunch that feel like a giant family despite the fact we aren’t all blood kin. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like that and now that I’ve gotten it, I won’t let it all be ripped away from me without a fight. 

Wanting to lean back against the rock but knowing I can’t thanks to my tied hands, I watch the sleeping girl in my lap instead. Despite the fact that the position she’s laying in has to be uncomfortable, she sleeps like a rock. Her chopped off hair sticks to her sweaty face and I wish I could brush it off but I can’t. Just thinking about how Shane chopped off her hair like that makes me ache inside. Brie told me a while back right after we started courting, that when she was fifteen she had to chop off all of her hair at chin length. She had been doing homework at the table and had fallen asleep, head pillowed on her book. In her sleep she knocked over her bottle of ink with her elbow and it ran into her hair, staining a great deal of it. Her mother had no choice but to cut it all off at her chin. She said she wore a bonnet whenever she left the house for a full year after that and I know it’s taken her those ten years to grow it as long as it was. Brie’s not a vain person in the least, but her hair was something special to her and now she’s going to have to grow it all out again. 

She turns slightly in her sleep and I notice her locket’s missing. Shane must have taken that too, and it must be the way he figured out who she really was. Shane’s dealt her quite a few blows in the short time he’s had her, first the locket, then her hair, and now me. 

Leaning back as far I can onto the rock, I begin to try and come up with an escape plan. I have two days before Ben and the boys bring the money, but something in my gut and how well I know the Cartwrights tells me that they’ll try to get us out of this pickle without the money and the two days. Yet I never take anything for granted, so I’ve still got to try and find a way out of here should something happen. 

Realizing Shane’ll probably tie Brie’s hands behind her back once she’s awake, throws my initial plan of having her untie me during the night out the window. Anyways, I don’t think she could physically make it through another night of running. The heat of the day and the warmth coming from Brie are making my head foggy so I quit trying to come up with a plan for now and just keep an eye on Shane and his boys. 

About an hour later, the smell of beans and bacon drifts towards me. It makes my empty stomach rumble, reminding me that I only had a hasty cup of coffee this morning, but at least that was more than Brie had. She’s still sleeping soundly in my lap and is bound to wake up since she hasn’t moved but once and that was right after she fell asleep. Even though it’s only been an hour, my shoulders already feel like they’re on fire and I lost the feeling in my legs over half an hour ago. 

I hear bickering over by the fire again. I look over to find out what all the fuss is about and see Carlito walking towards us with a canteen and two steaming plates. Without even realizing it, I let out a sigh, the sight of him partially wiping away the fear that they were going to starve us. 

“Wake the senorita up,” he tells me with a scowl, “or she’ll not eat until tomorrow.”

“Brie, wake up.” She doesn’t move, so I bounce my legs slightly and try again, this time using her real name, “Gabriella, wake up.”

The bounce does it and she stirs slightly, waking up. Still half asleep, she glances up at me and then over at Carlito. She slowly sits up, her movements stiff and she lets out a quiet, protestful groan. As soon as she has her back against the rock, Carlito plops her plate in her lap and sticks the canteen between us. Reaching down, he unties her hands and she slowly begins to eat. Pulling me roughly forwards, he unites my hands, too, and picks my plate off the ground and nearly spills it on me as he practically throws it on my lap.

He stands and watches us as we try to empty our plates as quickly as possible. The second they’re empty and we’ve both taken a drink from the canteen, he grabs and throws them in the dirt beside him. He yanks me forwards yet again and he ties my hands behind my back. Turning to Brie he doesn’t tie her hands in front of her again, just like I figured, he ties them behind her. He grabs the plates and canteen before he walks back to the others. 

“Feel better?” I ask her as soon as he’s gone.

“A little. What time is it?”

“I figure about noon.”

“It’s going to be a very long day.” She sighs.

“ ‘Fraid so.”

 

Chapter 9
(Gabriella Cartwright)

The rest of the day drags on extremely slowly but it’s finally dark. With the darkness comes a cool breeze that I’m thankful for. Ever since I woke up, my head has been pounding so badly that all I’ve wanted to do is keep my eyes closed tight and the heat was making it worse. On top of my head pounding, my shoulders are tight and burning. 

Shane didn’t let us eat again when he and the others ate their supper but he’s brought over the canteen a few times. The water started to get warm but it was better than nothing. The lack of water and food isn’t what bothers me the most; Candy is. 

He’s been really quiet and has barely shifted any and by the way he’s been watching everything around us, I can tell he’s thinking. Thinking about how we’re going to get out of this. I don’t know if he’s figured anything out yet but I know for a fact that I can’t run again like I did last night. 

The light from the fire bounces off of Shane, Carlito, and Ryder’s faces. It feels like a complete repeat of last night; Carlito and Ryder are drinking again and Shane’s grouching at them. The only thing different about tonight is Candy’s solid form beside me and the fact that my hands are tied behind my back and my ankles are wound tightly with another rope in front of me. 

Before I know it, I hear three different steady snores drifting heavily in the air. Candy shifts beside me and bumps my arm, “You awake?”

“Yeah,” I whisper back, “why?”

“Do you think you’re up to trying to get away?”

“If you mean running again,” I sigh, “no. My head’s been pounding so badly all day that I’ve had a hard time keeping my eyes open.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“If I told you, what could you have done?”

“Nothing,” he sighs angrily, “absolutely nothing.”

“Exactly. I didn’t tell you because I knew you’d just worry.”

“Even though you can’t run,” he says after being quiet for a few moments, “we can still get out of here.”

“How?” I ask, curious.

“You turn your back to face mine, I’ll untie your hands and then you untie me.” He explains. “While they’re still asleep, I’ll clobber them over head and knock them out then tie them up. Tomorrow morning we’ll put them on their horses and ride to town, meeting the others along the way.”

“Candy, you’re forgetting something.”

“What?”

“There’s three of them and only one of you,” I remind him, “and two of those three are bigger than you.”

“I know, I’m just going to have to be quiet and fast.”

“And if it backfires?”

“I won’t let it backfire.” The amount of determination in his voice almost scares me. We both know full well that if he does fail, Shane’ll probably kill him on the spot. “Come on now, turn towards me.”

I quietly turn my back towards him and feel his warm hands touch mine. Both of our hands are stiff but he manages to untie my ropes. My hands freed, I quickly rub my wrists before quietly spinning back around to untie Candy’s hands. As soon as they’re free, he moves down to untie his ankles while I do the same. 

Getting very quietly to his feet, he starts towards the three sleeping outlaws but after taking only a few steps he turns to look at me. Backtracking those few steps, he bends down in front of me and reaches out. He wipes tears that I didn’t even know were falling off my cheek. Leaning forward, he gives me a kiss and then backs up just a bit so that our faces are mere inches apart. I can feel his breath on my face as he whispers, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to be alright. Gabriella, I love you.”

“And I love you, Candy.” Touching his cheek, I close the few inches between us and kiss him one last time. “Be careful.” 

“I will.” With smooth and silent movements, he glides over to Shane’s gun belt where it lays on the ground near him. Swiping the pistol out of the holster, he moves over to Shane himself. He lifts it and is about to knock him over the back of the head when Shane suddenly moves. Candy freezes. 

It feels like the whole world begins to move at half the speed as I hold my breath and watch Candy stand there. He was so sure he could keep his plan from backfiring but now it is. I want to squeeze my eyes shut tight and reopen them to find that this is all a dream but I know I can’t, this is all real. Too real. 

Shane doesn’t just move, he wakes all the way up. In the firelight I can see his eyes open and then just stare at Candy, who’s still frozen, bent with the gun in his hand. The world quickly picks back up its speed as they begin to fight, rolling in the dirt. I stay in the shadows where Candy left me, wanting to make it all stop yet knowing I can’t. 

Carlito and Ryder wake up thanks to the smacks and curses coming from the other two. Ryder, after a moment’s hesitation and as Candy’s thrown to the side, grabs the discarded pistol off the ground. Pointing it right at Candy, he cocks the hammer and puts his finger on the trigger, ready to pull it. An involuntary scream escapes my throat as my hands fly up to cover my ears and tears leak out of my tightly shut eyes. As soon as the scream’s left my vocal cords, I begin to sob, knowing Candy’s dead. 

 

Chapter 10
(Candy Canaday)

I’ve never been so thankful to hear a woman scream in my entire life! Brie’s scream distracted Ryder long enough that I was able to kick the gun out of his hand before Shane pounced on me again. We roll back and forth a few more times when suddenly he deals me a blow that gives him the upper hand. Standing up, he reaches down and grabs me by the front of my shirt, yanking me to my feet.

In the firelight, I get a brief glance at Brie as Shane drags me over to the tree on the other side of camp. She’s curled up into a little ball, her auburn hair all around her face as she sobs into her hands. A sinking, guilty feeling fills my belly as I realize what I’ve just stupidly done. I don’t know why I thought I could knock all three out like that in the first place. It backfired horribly right at the start and now we’re both probably going to end up dead thanks to my rash stupidity. 

Yanking my arms above my head, Shane ties my wrists to two different branches and strings me up. Using another rope, he wraps it around the bottom of the tree trunk and my shins. He takes two steps back and looks at me as a slow, evil looking grin makes its way across his face. I wish I could slap it off, but since I can’t, I just glare at him.

Suddenly chaos breaks out behind him as Brie tears across the camp in our direction. She must have thought Ryder killed me, I can hear her loud, deep sobs. Carlito steps in front of her, wraps an arm around her waist and stops her. “No, no! Let me go!”

“No, senorita,” he says, almost sounding sympathetic, but not quite, “you have no reason to go this way.”

“Yes, I do.” I can see her pushing and shoving on his arm, trying to get free. “Candy!” 

I open my mouth to answer but Shane quickly slaps his hand over it, squeezing my face so I can’t yell back. If he wasn’t squeezing my cheeks together, I’d bite his palm so he’d let go, but since that’s not an option, I just watch Carlito hold a furious, sobbing Brie at arm’s length in front of him as he tells her, “Aah, senorita your Mr. Canaday is alive but he won’t be for much longer.”

“He’s alive?”

“Si, but by morning he’ll be dead.” She relaxes slightly at his beginning word but as the others register, she turns into a little ball of violent fury. Swinging and biting and scratching, she beats on Carlito until with one swift motion, he swings her over his shoulder. Screaming, she pounds and kicks him all the way over to the rock where she was tied earlier. He dumps her roughly on the ground like a discarded sack of potatoes. 

The darkness makes it hard to distinguish them but I can see enough to watch Brie jump back up so fast it catches Carlito off guard. Still screaming and wailing, she goes at him again but Ryder rushes over to give him a hand and she’s soon confined. Her limbs may be held in place but that ain’t stopping her mouth. She screams threats and hurls curses at them with words I never thought she even knew, let alone would say out loud. This whole thing is bringing out a side of Brie that I never even knew existed. 

Shane lets go of me and stomps over to Brie. After staring at her for a moment, he reaches out and slaps her across the face. I can hear the sound of skin hitting skin all the way over here. She goes silent and I’ve had enough “Shane, don’t you touch her again!” 

“If I do,” he laughs at me over his shoulder, “what do you think you can do about it?”

“Untie me for five minutes and you’ll find out.” 

“Why would I do a stupid thing like that?” He takes off his neckcloth and gags Brie with it. “Ryder, Carlito, tie her up.”

Shane turns back and before he’s even halfway to me, Ryder and Carlito have Brie tied and dropped back in the dirt again. The sight infuriates me so badly all I can see is red. Blinded by my fury, I don’t see Shane step up right in front of me. My sight quickly clears as I feel a knife on my throat, “Canaday, you’re a dead man.”

“Go ahead, slit my throat.” I prod, not entirely sure if he really will or not. 

“No, not tonight,” he puts the knife away and pulls another bandana out of his pocket. Shaking it out, he shoves it in my mouth and ties it behind my head, “tomorrow. I want you to squirm for the rest of the night.”

 

Chapter 11
(Gabriella Cartwright)

Opening my eyes, I quickly shut them as the morning sunlight shoots daggers into them. I’ve never felt this bad before in my twenty-five years of life. The world feels like it’s spinning, I’m shivering even though it has to be close to ninety degrees, my head still pounds horribly, and I’m nauseous as all get out. Despite all that, I pry my eyes back open to look over at the tree where Shane strung Candy up last night. My sight blurs awfully yet I can still make out his form and I see him shift. A sigh of relief escapes me but as the air only releases from my nose, I’m reminded yet again of the gag tied tightly around my face. Shane tied it tight, too. So tight that after a few hours I began to taste blood coming from the corners of my mouth. My cheeks are probably going to be bruised after this, that is if I survive. 

I shift myself upwards and slowly slide to a sitting position against the rock. I have to stop halfway for fear of the world spinning out of control and dry heaving into Shane’s neckcloth. As soon as the nausea and dizziness fade somewhat, I finish sitting up. The only thing I want right now is Candy by my side, Pa to come rescue us, and something to make me feel better. It doesn’t seem like much but it seems impossible right now. 

A blurry figure strides towards me and stops at my feet. Blinking a few times to try and clear my sight, I realize it’s Carlito. He squats in front of me and he moves to take off my gag to give me a drink from the canteen he sat down when suddenly over the rushing in my ears, I hear Shane growl, “Carlito?”

“Si, amigo?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Giving the senorita a drink of water.”

“Don’t.”

“Por que?” 

“Because I said don’t.” 

“ She hasn’t had any in a long time,” Carlito almost sounds concerned, “and she doesn’t look too good.”

“I don’t care what she looks like, I said no water for the gal.”

“Si, amigo, I will give her none.” He stands back up and walks away.

I’m past the point of caring or trying to control my tears, so I just let myself cry. But after a few minutes though, I realize it was a mistake. My nose always gets plugged up like I have a cold when I cry and with the gag in my mouth makes it hard to breathe. Not being able to breathe makes me panic slightly because it feels like I’m suffocating but I close my eyes and think about something that has nothing to do with anything around me to try and calm myself down. 

I picture Mama’s face with its cheerful smile and the tinkling laugh that it’s always accompanied by. As my mind drifts to my older sister, I can hear her stern but kind schoolmarm voice that she always used when either Jewels or I would get out of line. Long blonde hair and Mama’s eyes are all Jewels, who is destined to have her nose buried in either a dime store novel or her beloved Romeo and Juliet. I was terrified things would never be the same after we had that horrible fight but thankfully after Pa talked to both of us, we were able to let bygones be bygones. 

I never thought I’d ever have a pa like Ben, he’s so sure and sound, always there with a comforting hand and a piece of steady advice. With Ben, of course, came his three sons and their wives. Each of the boys are so different from one another but they all have big, kind loving hearts, a trait Henry only had a minimum amount of. Hannah, Misty, and Leo have all become like long lost sisters to me, we’ve spent many an hour talking and laughing together. 

Another face shines brightly in my mind, a face sporting sparkling blue eyes, a firm, smiling mouth, and a head full of dark wavy hair, but just as I begin to focus on it, it vanishes. What replaces it is pure madness! I see faces, faces from the past and present accompanied by voices chanting songs I haven’t heard in ages and retelling past conversations. Mama’s voice singing a long forgotten lullaby intertwines with Candy telling me he loves me while I see Henry and Amy’s faces, which are quickly replaced by a giggling Lilia Marie. The faces and voices continue to swirl around and around in my head at a lunatic rate when I suddenly remember my eyes are closed and all I have to do to escape this madness is open them.

Quickly prying them open, I’m met by a blinding light. I force them to stay open since I no longer see the faces, though the voices still hound me. As I try to focus on something in the blurriness around me, the voices fade away surprisingly. But I’m not to be blessed with silence because as soon as they leave, a loud rushing sound takes their place. It sounds like I’ve stuck my head in Lake Tahoe during a storm but somehow do the impossible and avoid getting wet.

It seems that the blinding light, strange rushing sound, and struggle to breathe through my nose isn’t plague enough because the world abruptly decides to spin at an insane speed. I feel myself swaying but I don’t dare close my eyes for fear the faces will come back. A relief seems to be on the horizon though as the brightness around me begins to fade to black like two curtains being pulled closed. Right before all goes completely dark, I hear a soft thud over the rushing and all thankfully disappears. 

 

Chapter 12
(Candy Canaday)

Watching Brie fall over limp onto the ground, unnerves and scares me like nobody’s business. Involuntarily, I yell her name but nothing but an odd sounding moan escapes past the gag in my mouth. The sound catches Ryder’s attention and when he glances over, I nod my head in Brie’s direction, to try and get him to look over at her. Thankfully he gets what I was trying to communicate and hurries over to her. Carlito follows Ryder when he sees her as well and both of them bend down beside her. Carlito moves to untie her gag when suddenly, just like moments before when he tried to give her water, Shane’s voice growls across the camp at him, “Don’t even think about it, you two.”

“Why, Shane?” Ryder looks behind him at Shane, who’s casually smoking a cigar as he fingers the blade of his knife. 

“Leave her be.”

“But she’s burning up and unconscious,” he exclaims, clearly a little shocked, “if we don’t do something she’ll die.”

“Do you think I really intended to give her back to Cartwright alive?” Shane laughs, standing up and walking over to them. “I just said he’d get her back after he gave me the three thousand, I never said how I’d return her.”

“Shane, that’s crossing the line don’t you think?” Ryder’s voice lowers a bit and I see his fists clench tight at sides. Apparently even he has a breaking point with what he’ll do and not do. “With Canady, we have a reason, he stopped us from robbing that bank in Reno and landed us in jail for four years but this gal ain’t done nothing to us.”

“Si, amigo,” Carlito stands up beside Shane, “I do not know why you had us take her, the senorita is pretty but not the right type for any of us. We like those pretty, painted senoritas in the cantinas.”

“So you’re going to go against me, aren’t you?” Shane asks, furious.

“Yes,” Ryder stares him down, “amigo, untie the gal.”

Carlito bends to do Ryder’s bidding but Shane lashes out and grabs his arm. His light brown face flushes red as Carlito swings his free arm and smashes his fist into Shane’s jaw. A brawl begins as they hit the ground, beating each other. Distracted and shocked by it, Ryder forgets about Brie at his feet. 

Watching the two outlaws roll in the dirt, I suddenly feel a hand come around my gagged mouth. Startled but not willing to show it, I try to glance down to see the person’s arm yet I can’t thanks to their angle. A voice hisses quietly out from behind me, “It’s Joe, we’ve got the whole place surrounded. Be quiet and don’t move, I’ll untie you in a minute.”

I relax and wait for all this chaos to end as he takes his hand off my face and slips behind the tree. I quickly glance around and spot everyone else. As they shift, I see Hoss and Kevin behind the big rock Brie’s laying in front of, Adam’s off to the left behind another rock, and Ben is with Roy on my right behind a big tree. 

Ben and Roy step out into the open, the others following suit. All of them loudly cock the rifles in their hands as Ben’s deep voice booms across the camp, “All right, boys, break it up, your game is over.”

Carlito and Shane leap to their feet while Ryder tosses his pistol out of his holster and lifts his hands above his head meekly as he notices all the rifles pointed his way. Roy steps over and takes the other two’s pistols as Hoss helps him tie up their hands. Joe quickly cuts me down as I watch Ben, Adam, and Kevin make their way to Brie. I try to shake the feeling back into my arms as I rush over to them.

They’ve already got her untied and the gag off by the time I get there and the sight of her face startles me. She’s a deathly white with flushed pink cheeks but the worst part is that the gag dug into the corners of her mouth. There’s already bruises beginning to form and each side is stained with blood. 

The four of us quickly get to work trying to lower her temperature and get her conscious. Ben unbuttons the top of her blouse and wipes her neck and upper chest with a cool cloth while Kevin and Adam fumble with the buttons on her boots, fingers slipping in their haste. Using my neck cloth since there’s nothing else, I quickly wet it with water from the canteen and wipe the dirt, sweat, and blood off her face.

Her body begins to cool down and she stirs. Her eyes open but they have a glazed look to them and she quickly closes them like the light is painful. Mumbling something, her face scrunches up like she’s going to cry but she doesn’t.

“We need to get her home.” Adam says, watching her.

“I’ll go get the horses.” Kevin stands and walks away.

“Whoever she rides double with will need to go slow so she doesn’t get worse.” Adam’s voice drifts over as I continue to gently wipe Brie’s face.  

“Don’t worry, I’ll go slow.”

“Candy, I don’t think it’s a good idea for her to ride with her.” Ben says solemnly.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Candy, look at your arms.” Adam points at them as I look down and realize they’re shaking horribly. I was so worried and focused on Brie that I didn’t notice. It must be because they were tied above my head all night. 

“You’re right.” I sigh, feeling worthless yet again.

“She’ll ride with me.” Standing up, Ben takes his horse from Kevin, who just came over with him. After he swings into the saddle, Adam and Kevin lift Brie up to him. Once she’s settled in front of him, he turns towards home and the others follow. 

Before I have a chance to get on my own horse, which Kevin brought over alongside Buck and Sport, Adam reaches out and touches my arm, “Candy, I almost forgot I found this on the trail.”

He grabs my wrist to steady my arm as he turns my hand and lays a silver heart attached to a broken chain in my palm. Brie’s locket. I look at him and fight to keep my eyes from filling with tears, “Thank you, Adam.”

Nodding, he sticks his foot into his stirrup and swings into his saddle. I stay on the ground just staring at the initials engraved onto the top of the locket but Adam’s voice brings me back, “Candy, everything’s going to be alright.”

I take a deep breath and nod at him as I mount my own horse. Riding along beside him, we’ve soon caught up to the others. As we begin what’s going to be a hot, long ride, I let Adam’s words echo through my mind, “Everything’s going to be alright.”

 

Chapter 13
(Gabriella Cartwright)

Everything still spins and I get freezing cold and then blazing hot by turns. Shivering so badly my teeth clack together, I feel my head being lifted and liquid poured in my mouth. It tastes awful and I want to spit the foul stuff back out but without me even really having any control, my mouth makes me swallow it down. I open my eyes just enough to look around and see faces but I can’t recognise any of them. 

All the noises around me sound distant and echoey yet somehow loud. None of the voices make any sense but I do catch a word here and there. Words like, ‘heatstroke’, ‘fever’, ‘delirious’, and ‘severely dehydrated’. I can’t help wondering who’s sick. Whoever is must feel awful, I know I do. 

I close my eyes since all I see is blurry, unrecognizable faces and it’s really quite confusing. I try to sleep instead but suddenly I become hot again. Reaching down, I rip the covers off. They get back on me somehow so I toss them aside again, this time mumbling, “Hot in here.”

Something cold and wet gently covers my forehead. I finger it and start to take it off but stop when I realize the room is beginning to cool off. As the heat leaves my body, I slowly relax. Sleep sounds good right now even though I’m sure there’s something else I should be doing.

Drifting off to sleep, everything peacefully quiets around me; no more humming voices, sloshing water, or clattering spoons. Suddenly I’m outside standing on the porch, a gentle breeze blowing my skirt. Candy walks up to me from the bunkhouse and sweeps me into a hug, planting a kiss on my lips. Almost as soon as he pulls aways, he vanishes and I run through the dark woods. Something’s chasing me and I don’t know what it is. I look over my shoulder and just as a beam of moonlights lights up the darkness, I see Shane on his horse, gaining on me. He growls for me to come back, that there’s no sense in running because he has all my treasures and there isn’t a thing left for me to live for. 

I run faster and see a campfire burning in the distance. Stumbling to a halt in the camp, I find Carlito and Ryder drunk and laughing. They point to the tree on the other side of them and laugh even harder. As I glance over at the tree, a scream rips out of my throat. Candy hangs there, hands tied in the branches above his head as he watches me and the others.

Shane pulls his horse to a stop beside me and jumps down. Strutting over to Candy, he pulls out a sharp knife and holds it to his throat. For some reason my feet won’t move so I scream and cry, “Don’t kill him! Don’t kill, Candy! Please!”

Wailing, I try to push off the hands that grab my arms. I don’t know who’s trying to stop me but I can’t let them kill Candy. The grip gets firmer and I feel myself getting held down. Suddenly over my wails, I hear a familiar voice, “Brie, calm down, everything’s all right.”

“Candy?” I search for him but fail. The tree and the fire, Shane, Ryder, Carlito, they’re all gone. All I see is darkness, a darkness that I can’t find Candy in, “Candy, where are you?”

“Brie, I’m right here.” I feel one of the hands on my arm squeeze gently.

“Candy, Shane’s trying to kill you. Get away, run, don’t let him kill you.”

“Shane isn’t going to kill me. He can’t, he’s in the Virginia City Jail.”

“Oh, good!” I sigh. “I’m tired.”

“Then go to sleep.”

“Are you sure it’s alright?”

“Yes.”

“Alright, I’ll sleep then.” I drift off towards that blessed land filled with dreams and this time it stays quiet and dark.

 

Chapter 14
(Candy Canaday)

“Candy, Candy.” I jerk awake at the sound of Jewels’ voice and her tug on my arm.

“What’s wrong?” Worried, I look up at her from my chair next to Brie’s bed.

“Nothing’s wrong.” Her smile lights up her tired face. “Brie’s fever finally broke.”

“Really?” I scramble out of the chair and bend over her sleeping figure. Gently touching her forehead to see for myself, I try not to wake her up. The skin under my hand is moist with sweat but thankfully cool to the touch and no longer burning hot. I turn my head and look at Jewels over my shoulder. The smile on my face matches her own, tired yet extremely happy and relieved, “Jewels, it’s over, it’s finally over.”

“I know.” She swipes at the happy tears streaming down her cheeks. “I’ll go get Mama and Pa.”

As she quietly runs out of the room and down the hall, I pull my chair closer to the bed. Sitting down in it, I watch Brie sleep peacefully. It’s been a very rough and stressful two days since we got back here on the Ponderosa. That long night of running, the heat of the next day, and the little to no water Shane let her have really did her in. We’ve all been fighting to keep her earthside ever since her fever spiked high yesterday evening. Doc Martin told us we were at the crisis moment and that we had a fifty/fifty chance she would make it. 

I’ll probably never be able to erase from my mind the way she looked last night when she had that awful delirious fit. She had been slightly tossing and turning but when she finally drifted off to sleep, we all thought she would rest peacefully. As her breath had begun to even out, a smile slowly stretched its way across her face but then faster than you could drop a hat, she changed. She began thrashing like a wild woman and after few moments she screamed bloody murder. That scream turned into sobs and loud shouts telling Shane not to kill me. She nearly came off the bed and Ben, the Doc, and I had to physically hold her down so she wouldn’t hurt herself. Talking to her, I tried to bring her out of the hell she was reliving and it thankfully seemed to work. When she opened her eyes and looked at me, it was like she didn’t really see me but she seemed to hear me and it calmed her down. Once she was all of the way calm, she quickly drifted off to sleep again, only this time it was, thankfully, a natural sleep. Doc said it was up to God whether or not she’d make it. 

Hearing voices behind me, I quickly shake myself out of that dark new memory and focus on the present. Ben steps up beside me and lays a hand on my shoulder, giving it a gentle, steady squeeze while Rose slides up on the other side of the bed and caresses Brie’s forehead to check for fever. Jewels lays her head on her shoulder as Rose wraps an arm around her. All of us quietly watch Brie for a few moments before Ben, Rose, and Jewels slip back out of the room. Standing, I cross over to the window and pull back the curtain to look out at the early morning light outside. I watch a few of the ranch hands come out of the bunkhouse and go into the barn to start their day’s work.

“Candy?” I drop the curtain and turn quickly towards the sound of Brie’s voice.

“Brie, you’re awake.” Hurrying over, I sit back down in my chair beside her.

“Of course, what did you think that I was talking in my sleep or something?” She jokes, a small smile on her face. 

“You’ve been asleep for so long,” I grab her outstretched hand and give it a gentle squeeze, “it’s good to have you back.”

“It’s good to be back.”

“I’m glad you think so,” I laugh quietly, “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to come back.”

“Why would I do that? We get married in two weeks.”

“That we do.” I give a smile and turn towards the small table beside the bed to pour some water into a glass from the pitcher. “Here, you need to drink.”

I help her sit up a little as she takes a drink. After nearly drinking half of it, she sinks back into the pillow. I put the glass back on the table and sink onto the edge of the bed beside her, taking her hand again, “How’re you feeling now?”

“Like someone wrung me through Hop Sing’s washboard.” She laughs, the sound weak and lacking its normal energy. “How long have I been sick?”

“About two and a half days.”

“It feels like it’s been longer than that.”

“Trust me, I know,” I sigh, “we all know.”

“I’m sorry I put you all through this mess.” Her voice begins to waver like she’s tiring out.

“Don’t go blaming yourself, none of this is your fault.” I slowly stand, letting go of her hand and lay it back on the blanket. “You need to get some more rest, I’ll leave you alone now.”

“Wait, Candy,” she grabs my hand before I step away from the bed, “one more thing.”

“Alright, but make it quick.”

“My locket, did you find it by any chance?”

I reach into my shirt pocket and pull it out. Laying it in her other hand, I watch her face light up. “You have Adam to thank for that. He found it on the trail and then bought a new chain for it in town yesterday.”

“Oh, I’m so glad he found it!” She looks up at me and I watch her eyes fill with tears. “Will you put it on me?”

“Of course.” I take it back from her and undo the hook as she leans forward. Gently putting it around her neck, I carefully clasp the hook behind her head. She leans back into the pillow again and fingers the silver heart, smiling up at me. I bend down and give her a quick kiss before walking over to the door. Doorknob in hand, I turn to look at her and playfully point my finger, “Now go to sleep, Brie.”

“I will.” As I open the door and walk out, I watch her eyes slowly close. 

 

Chapter 15
(Gabriella Cartwright)

Standing in front of my mirror, I put the last finishing touches on my hair. As I take a deep breath to try and settle the nerves swirling madly inside of me, the locket around my neck catches my eye. I reach down and carefully flip it open to look at the picture inside of it. The little portrait of Candy somehow never got ruined during the locket’s stay on the trail. I don’t know how Adam ever found it that day but I’ll forever be grateful that he did. Closing it, I  drop it back on my chest and smooth the silky white dress hugging my frame. 

During Callie’s gallop back to the Ponderosa, my wedding dress and Jewels’ blue dress thankfully stayed in the saddlebag. Even though it’s a week later than I had anticipated, I finally get to wear it. It took me nearly a week to recover from my heatstroke and then Candy and I had to be witnesses at the trials for Shane, Ryder, and Carlito. That took almost a week since for some odd reason they tried the outlaws separately and each trial took two days. But now three weeks later, both of us still alive and me still on the weak side, we’re finally going to get to say our vows. 

A knock rattles the door and not wanting to open it myself to let whoever in, I call across the room, “Come on in.”

“Are you all ready to go?” Pa’s voice makes me turn to look towards the door. He’s wearing his best suit and has a wide, happy grin on his face, “My goodness, you look beautiful.”

“Thank you, Pa.” The smooth deepness of his voice soothes my nerves. “I think I’m ready.”

“Good.” He steps all the way into the room. “Now give me a slow twirl, I want to see the whole picture.”

Laughing, I slowly twirl to show off my dress and sculpted hair. I hear him let out a whistle before he says, “Pretty as a peacock!”

“Now you’ve started to flatter.”

“No, really, you are.” I step towards him as he gestures me over and loop my arm through his outstretched one. “And now it’s time for me to take this pretty little gal downstairs before Mr. Canaday gets cold feet.”

He leads me down the hall and stairs and I’m at Candy’s side with my hand in his in a moment. Everything else around me seems to fade away even though I know the room’s full of people. I listen to the preacher and repeat after him the vows every woman says when she marries the man she loves. I feel Candy slip the ring on my finger and my heart begins to beat faster in my chest as I know that within seconds, I’ll officially be his wife. In a steady tone I hear the words every preacher says at the end of a wedding and lean towards Candy as he pulls me in for the kiss that seals it all. Suddenly it’s not just Candy, the preacher, and I in the room as Joe’s whistles, cheers from many voices, and loud applause makes me regain my focus. 

What follows is nothing but gaiety and pure fun as we eat and then dance for hours under the clear, blue sky outside. Joe spins me around twice as a fiddle sings out and then with a quick swap, I’m in Hoss’s arms. Back and forth between different partners, I dance until my feet feel like they’re going to fall off and I’m shocked the heels on my shoes haven’t broken. 

As the sun begins to fade out of the sky, the guests slowly start to leave one by one. Before I know it, it’s time to go to Candy and I’s new home about three miles away on a nice, little piece of Ponderosa land. Candy helps me into the buggy but before he gets a chance to snap the reins, Pa, Mama, both my sisters, Adam, Hoss, Joe, and all of their families slide up on either side of us. In one hand Pa holds a box with a bow on it. Handing it to Candy and I, he says, “We all wanted you to have one of your own since you used ours nearly every night.”

After glancing up at me curiously, Candy unties the bow and opens the box. Inside lies a brand new, shiny checkerboard. Our smiles slowly but surely turn into laughs, which causes everyone else to join in. 

Wiping my eyes, I gaze around at my big family. Everyone’s so happy and loving. Almost all the men have an arm around their wives and Joe, Adam, and Hoss also have a sleeping child on their shoulder. Leo cradles the newest member of the family, Anthia, in the crook of her arm while Hannah, who during these past three weeks told us she was expecting again, already has that “with child” glow to her face. 

My heart is filled so full of happiness it’s bound to burst as Candy and I quickly say our thank you’s. He snaps the reins to get the horses going as everyone steps back and the yard erupts with in a chorus of “good nights” and “goodbyes” as we drive off into the dusk, bound for our new home and life together.  

The End

 

Tags:  Candy Canaday, Family, hostage, kidnap, outlaws, revenge, Sister, wife / wives

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Author: millieshepherd

I'm a nineteen almost twenty year old Bonanza fan who started writing fanfiction in February 2021.

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