Summary: A short What Happened in Between for The Dowry. Joe, a beautiful woman, and moonlight should have been the perfect recipe for romance.
Written for the combined Pinecone/Chaps and Spurs Challenge, 2013. The prompts were violet, honey, drew, cast, and fortune.
Disclaimer: I don’t own the Cartwrights or Bonanza. No copyright infringement is intended against Robert Vincent Wright’s script. Original plot is property of the author. This story is for entertainment and no money was made from it.
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“He doesn’t love her, Adam,” said Joe in a conspiratorial whisper around a wad of bread shoved into his cheek, making him appear as a squirrel carrying a cache of acorns. He resumed chewing the moist glob.
“Why are you so sure?” asked Adam, nose wrinkled in disgust at the sight of his brother’s open-mouthed chomping.
Joe swallowed then smiled as if he were a fox satisfied after a meal of hen. “The way she kissed me. A woman only kisses like that to make a man jealous. Don Ricardo didn’t even raise an eyebrow when he caught us.”
“You’re just moon blind,” said Adam as he stabbed a clump of scrambled egg with his fork.
Joe made a noise in his throat to indicate he disagreed. “She slapped me after Don Ricardo didn’t even demand satisfaction. I think she knows he’s only marrying her for money. Shame he thinks that chest holds a fortune. You know, I bet he’d break off the engagement if he knew the truth.”
Adam pointed the business end of his fork at his youngest brother. “You don’t have any proof.” He set the fork down and plucked up a strip of bacon, biting off the crisper end. Through the crunching he said, “Miss Dubois seems to love him.” He swallowed then licked a dab of grease off of his thumb before pointing his forefinger at Joe. “She wouldn’t have slapped you if she didn’t.”
“But I’m telling you Ricardo doesn’t love her,” said Joe, leaning forward, elbows pressed against the table.
“That’s none of our affair. Besides, Mr. Dubois, his daughter, and Don Ricardo are our guests.”
Heavy footsteps on the stairs briefly interrupted the conversation.
“Morning,” said Hoss as he set his napkin in his lap and reached for the bowl of eggs. He nudged Adam to pass the toast.
“Those robbers come back?” asked Hoss around a mouthful of half-chewed food.
“No,” answered Adam over the rim of his coffee cup. He cocked his head in Joe’s direction and said, “But younger brother is moon blind over that girl.”
“I am not,” said Joe, rolling his eyes and propping his right ankle on his left knee.
“I swear, Joe, if gals were flowers you’d be the busiest bee for miles around, always flittin’ here and there to make honey,” said Hoss. He reached across the table and stabbed a thick piece of ham with the tip of his knife and drew the meat back to his plate without leaving any drippings on the table cloth. “Next thing, you’ll be pledging your everlasting love to that there Miss Dubois.”
Joe scoffed and poured another cup of coffee. He remembered the invitation in Michele’s eyes when she’d stood frightened against the tree, then the press of her lips against his own and her hands pulling him close, the scent of violets in her hair and on her skin. Michele Dubois is a beautiful girl in the sunlight but a goddess in moonlight.
Coffee sloshed over the rim of the cup and onto his thigh as Joe was startled out of his reverie by the snap of Hoss’ fingers. Joe snorted through his nose as he slapped his napkin at the dark stain on his clean trousers.
“You’re right, Adam. Little brother is moon blind.” Hoss scooped more eggs onto his plate but slyly watched Joe.
Joe’s voice rose in pitch in disbelief. “You two are the ones who are blind. How come Don Ricardo rides off every morning, leaving Miss Dubois all alone? If she was my affianced, I sure wouldn’t spend my time elsewhere.”
Adam leaned back in his chair. “Don Ricardo knows she’s worried about her father since last night proved he’s not fully recovered from that previous encounter with those men. Besides, Don Ricardo is looking over the Ponderosa for ways to improve his own hacienda.”
“Good morning,” said Ben as he strode down the stairs. “Eat hearty, boys—there are plenty of neglected chores to do today.”
“I fixed the porch,” said Joe, through a smug smile.
“Good,” said Ben with a nod. “It only took my prodding and a pretty young lady to show off for to do it.”
Joe’s smile faded. He returned his right foot to the floor and slumped in his chair.
“That’s the only way to make Joe do anything,” mumbled Hoss around a mouthful of flapjack.
One side of Adam’s mouth quirked up but he didn’t hide his smirk behind his napkin fast enough. His smile withered under his father’s scathing gaze.
Ben pointed at Joe with his knife as he said, “You concentrate on your chores, Joe, and leave Miss Dubois to find her own amusement. Understood?”
“Yes, sir,” mumbled Joe.
The rustle of fabric and dainty footsteps brought an end to conversation. All four men pushed back from the table to greet Michele Dubois.
“Good morning,” said Ben with a smile. “How’s your father this morning?”
She nodded in greeting and said, “Papá thinks he should be out looking for those men. I told him if he eats all of his breakfast, then maybe he’ll have the strength to do so.” She craned her neck to look at the kitchen entrance. “Is his tray ready?”
As if on cue, Hop Sing emerged from the kitchen bearing a tray laden with several plates and a steaming cup of coffee.
“I’ll take that,” said Joe, reaching for the cook’s burden.
Hop Sing scowled and said, “You finish breakfast. Missy come with Hop Sing.”
The other Cartwrights took their seats but Joe remained standing, watching until Michele reached the top of the stairs.
Ben cleared his throat and Joe’s eyebrows drooped in disappointment as he sat down.
“Moon blind,” Hoss mumbled into his coffee.
Before Joe could loose a retort, Adam asked, “Any ideas about last night’s attempted robbery?”
Hoss shrugged a shoulder and said, “Maybe it was a lucky guess.”
Ben shook his head. “No, I think someone’s passing information to them.”
“Don’t look at me,” said Joe, raising his hands.
“We should cast a wider net, find them before they try again. I’m going to head into town and talk to Roy. You boys get your chores done.”
A weak chorus of, “Yes, sir,” arose from Adam and Hoss.
“But what if Miss Dubois, or her father, needs help or . . . .” began Joe.
“I mean it, Joseph. If you pay half as much attention to the wagon as you have to Miss Dubois you’ll have it fixed in no time at all.” Ben’s dark eyes, like twin pieces of coal, fixed on his youngest until Joe dropped his gaze to his plate.
“Yes, sir,” muttered Joe.
“Moon blind,” said Adam under his breath as he cut off a generous bite of ham from the slice on his plate.
“Stop calling me that,” said Joe, eyes flashing in indignation. “You and Hoss let them get away. Twice.”
“I don’t recall you rounding them up last night,” said Hoss.
“It was dark and . . . .”
Draining his coffee cup, Ben wiped his mouth and tossed his napkin onto the table. “That’s enough, boys. I’m going to town so get the chores done.”
Adam winked at Hoss as the front door closed. “Little brother tried to romance Miss Dubois away from Don Ricardo last night. Shame the moon didn’t work in Joe’s favor.”
Joe leaned on the table, propping his cheek against his fist. He gazed at the stairs and sighed.
“Moon blind for sure,” muttered Hoss as he plopped another flapjack onto his plate.
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