Captain Dan Freely stood on the platform of the depot waiting for the train to stop and the passengers to disembark. His thoughts centered on the woman he was meeting as he nodded absently to the greetings of the citizens around him. His eyes scanned the crowd seeking the auburn hair and green eyes of the woman he had once proposed marriage to.
Seeing her glancing around from the steps of the train, he waved and made his way through the crowd towards her. Suzanne Weston scanned the crowd and smiled as she waved back at the tall man hurrying towards her.
“Sue, it’s good to see you!” exclaimed Dan as he wrapped her in a hug and held her at arm’s length as he inspected her.
“You too, Dan.” grinned Sue at the Texas Ranger standing before her. His blue eyes piercing from beneath his black hat which covered the light brown hair. The men who worked with him, held him in the highest regard and admired his skill and courage. This man in charge of the Rangers in this section of Texas was feared and respected.
“What happened to your neck? asked Dan with a concerned look.
Waving his concerns off, she smiled “We’ll talk about it later. How about if I check into the hotel and then you can tell me what you found out.”
“Sure, I already reserved a room for ya’” said Dan as he took her arm and walked her to the hotel. “How are the boys?”
“They’re all fine. They said to say hello.” replied Sue.
Entering the hotel, Dan carried her bag into the room and set it on the bed. “Let’s have some lunch and then we can talk. I’ll meet you downstairs in the dining room.”
Sue nodded as she closed the door, “I’ll be just a few minutes.” Changing her clothes, she belted her gun back on and headed downstairs to the dining room.
Walking over, Sue sat as Dan held out the chair for her. Manuel came over and greeted her enthusiastically, “Miss Weston! It is a pleasure to see you again.”
“Thank you Manuel, it’s great to see you. I’ll have whatever the special is.” smiled Sue widely.
“Same for me, Manuel.” said Dan as Manuel hurried off to get their orders. “How’s Stockton?”
“It’s great. The ranch is coming along nicely. You’ll have to come see it sometime if you’re out that way.” replied Sue as she drank her coffee.
Manuel brought their meal to them and while they were enjoying the delicious entrees, Sue described the ranch and informed Dan of what had happened since she had been gone.
“Whew, you’re lucky to be alive.”
Sue chuckled, “I have some very good friends back there. Heath’s family are wonderful neighbors.”
“Sue, I get the feeling you’re not going to even consider staying here? The ranch is yours so you can pick up where you left off.” exclaimed Dan.
“I’ve made a new start in California. I’m happy there and I’m only here to tie up the loose ends.”
“I was hoping that you would have reconsidered my proposal.” sighed Dan.
Shaking her head, Sue squeezed his hand and replied softly, “I’m sorry, Dan but I don’t love you.”
Dan smiled slightly, “Well, I guess its not true when they say ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’.”
“There’s a wonderful woman out there for you, but it’s just not me. You’ll still be a friend, won’t you?” asked Sue.
“Yeah. Guess I was just wishful thinking.” grinned Dan “But, what about the ranch?”
“I haven’t fully decided what I’m gonna do with it yet.”
Dan stared thoughtfully at the woman across from him. He sensed she had found the part of her soul that was ripped out from her when she had to leave her father’s ranch. Her eyes lit up when she talked about her ranch and the people of Stockton, especially her neighbors.
Sitting over their coffee, Sue sensed an apprehension on the part of Dan’s in his reluctance to start the conversation regarding her father’s murder. Leaning her arms on the table, she looked intently at him.
“Out with it. What don’t you want to tell me?”
Dan startled and chuckled dryly, “I’d forgotten how direct you can be.”
“I haven’t changed Dan. I’m still the same person.” said Sue softly.
“I know. Well, it appears Ramona had something to do with your father’s death.” glancing into the emerald eyes “We were arresting a counterfeiter and found several copies of the same will with your father’s signature on it. Someone had hired the man to forge your father’s signature and change the will. The original will was still in the desk where the man put it after he had finished the fake one. He apparently forgot he had it.”
Sue nodded as she listened intently. “What’s this forger have to say about it.”
“He died of a heart attack before we could question him. He was an old man.”
“And then what?” asked Sue as she sat back in her chair.
“The old man kept records of the work that he did. Her name was in a ledger that indicated she had him forge the will. I saw Judge Mathis and he issued a search warrant for the ranchhouse. We went over there and found a note that was addressed to Ramona. The note said for a thousand dollars her husband would be taken care of on the way back to the ranch. It was signed by Vic Monroe and dated two weeks before your father’s murder.”
“So, you’ve arrested her and this Monroe for his murder.”
“Yes, we arrested Ramona, but Monroe was shot in a fight with the rangers who were arresting him. They brought him to the doctor, but he died before he could wake and confirm she paid him. We can’t charge her with the murder.” replied Dan with a grim look on his face.
“What? You have the note!” said Sue astonished.
“The district attorney said it wasn’t enough evidence without Monroe’s testimony against her. We can only tie her to the falsified will.”
Sue rubbed her temples as the pounding in her head increased with the rising of her blood temperature and replied angrily, “So, basically what you’re saying is that I get my ranch back but she gets away with murder?”
“I’m sorry, Sue. You know I’d do anything for you but without his testimony, its useless. Right now, Ramona’s in the city jail charged with falsifying legal documents. Judge Mathis will give her the maximum sentence.”
Sue’s eyes flashed as she leaned forward and snarled, “How long is the maximum sentence?”
“Four years.” said Dan softly as she blanched.
“Four years! That’s like a grain of sand in an hourglass. That’s it, four years!”
“We have our best rangers working on it. We’ll come up with something.” said Dan trying to reassure her.
Sue stood, “I’m going out to the ranch.”
“I’ll come with you.” said Dan as he stood and followed her to the door.
“Thanks but I’ll have Hank’s brother come with me, Dan. You better get back to headquarters.” said Sue softly as she walked out the door and headed down the street.
Dan shook his head as he watched her walk further away from him down the boardwalk.
Manuel, stood by him and smiled, “Captain, did you think Miss Weston was gonna be happy when you told her? She’s a strong woman, that one.”
Sighing, Dan put on his hat and looked at the man beside him, “Yeah, she’s strong alright. I guess it has been a little too quiet around here. See ya’ Manuel.”
Manuel chuckled as he cleaned up the tables, “Si, too quiet.”
Horace Bardo and Petey Samuels rode by the side of Sue Weston out to the ranch she was reclaiming. In the weeks prior to her arrival, they and Dan Freely had escorted the hands that Ramona had hired off the ranch and secured the buildings. Friends had volunteered to guard the cattle on the ranch until she returned from California.
Pausing on the hill overlooking the ranch site, the breath caught in her throat at the site of the buildings that shown a run down appearance. The disrepair was evident from even at this distance. The once magnificent ranch site had been left to deteriorate due to the uncaring of Ramona and the worthless men she had employed.
Horace cleared his throat, “It can be repaired and rebuilt.”
Sue smiled at the giant beside her. “You’re right Ace. It’s just a shock to see it like this. Com’on lets get this over with.”
Dismounting, the trio walked up and entered the ranchhouse. Dust lay upon the furniture and floor. The western style of furniture had been replaced with an eastern style that duplicated the former owner’s sense of gaudiness. Red velvet chairs and sofa matched the red velvet curtains that hung over the windows.
Whistling, Sue shook her head and grinned at the men, “I feel like I’m in a cathouse!”
Ace and Petey laughed as they followed her from room to room shaking their heads at the new schemes throughout the house. The only room that hadn’t been changed was the kitchen. Heading up to the attic, Sue smiled at the sight of the furniture stored there.
“Thank god, she didn’t burn it. I’ll need some men to move this stuff downstairs.”
They spent the afternoon surveying the other buildings and the ranch. Sue also spent some time by her the graves of her parents and Haavi. Sitting at the table and enjoying a simple dinner, Ace looked curiously at his former boss, “You’re not staying, are you?”
“No, I love this ranch but I’ve made a new life out in California.”
“What ya’ gonna do with this place?” asked Petey.
“Tomorrow, I’m gonna meet with Judge Mathis, see Ramona in jail and meet with my former attorney to handle the disposition of the ranch. When all the details are worked out, I’ll let you in on what’s going to happen.” smiled Sue secretly as the men looked at each other with curiosity.
Sue rose early and made her way to the office of Judge Nathan Mathis, an old family friend with Petey. Dismounting in front of the office, Petey said his goodbye and headed out to the small homestead he had claimed after leaving the Weston ranch.
A silver haired Judge Mathis opened the door as Sue raised her hand to knock, “Sue, welcome back!”
Smiling, Sue greeted her old friend with a kiss on the cheek. “Nice to be back Nathan.”
‘Well, come in girl!” said the judge as he held the door open for her. Gesturing to a chair, he poured them each a cup of coffee.
Sitting across from her, he pointed at the fading bruises under the bandanna on her neck, “Trouble out west?”
“Nothing to worry about. It’s all taken care of now.” smiled Sue as she sipped her coffee.
“Did you see Captain Freely yet?” inquired Nathan.
Placing her cup on the table, Sue sighed and leaned back in her chair. “I saw Dan yesterday. He told me about Ramona and how she’s not gonna be charged with Father’s murder since Monroe died without talking.”
“We can’t prove that she actually paid him to murder your father. All’s we got is a note that means nothing. There’s not even a bank record of her withdrawing the amount of money the note had in it. If only that dang Vic Monroe hadn’t shot it out with the rangers, she’d have been looking at a death sentence.” growled Nathan.
“Nathan, I know you and Dan did everything you could and I appreciate it. I know you have to work within the boundaries of the law and with what you have for evidence. I was hoping it was enough.”
“I was too, Sue. Your father was a good friend to me and I miss him dearly.” said Nathan softly. “What are you going to do with the ranch?”
“I want to build a new mission with an orphanage and a school. The part of the ranch that borders the reservation, I’d like to give back to the Yaqui people. What do you think?”
“I think your parents and Haavi would be proud.” smiled Judge Mathis.
Horace and Sue grinned at each other as they reached a sign indicating Stockton was ahead. The long journey from Texas with the wagon was finally reaching an end.
“Hank’s gonna be surprised when he sees his baby brother, Ace!” chuckled Sue.
“He’s only five minutes older than me!” Horace laughed, “They’re all gonna be surprised since you didn’t tell ‘em we were coming.”
“Well, this way I can see how Jack has run the ranch since I’ve been gone. I like to keep him on his toes.” smirked Sue. “”Don’t want him to get too comfortable.”
Horace shook his head and laughed at his boss as he drove the wagon down the main street.
Looking around, Sue sighed, “We’re home. Go down this street and we can drop those things off for Charity.”
Turning the horses, he stopped in front of the mission and jumped down as his boss walked up and knocked on the door.
Opening the door, Charity was stunned at the woman before her. ” Suzanne!” she called as she grabbed her friend and hugged her. “Why didn’t you tell us you were on your way back?”
“Just wanted to surprise you. Ace, can you bring that vanity here?”
Charity watched as Hank’s twin carried the vanity with ease up the steps and into the building. Placing it down gently, Charity looked at Sue curiously, “Suzanne, what are you doing?”
“Charity, I know how much you always admired this vanity and I want you to have it. It’s a little dusty from the trip but will polish up just fine.”
Smiling, Charity ran her hand over the hardwood and fought back tears. “It’s as beautiful as I remember. Thank you. I’ll take good care of it.”
“I know you will. If you tell Ace where to put it, we’ll be on our way out to the ranch.” said Sue as she watched Horace carry the vanity into the other room. “How about coming out for supper tonight? About six?”
“I’d love to. Thanks again, Suzanne and you too Horace for carrying it in.”
“My pleasure, Miss Charity.” said Horace softly.
“I’ll send Jack to bring you out.” replied Sue as she and Ace climbed back on the wagon and headed back to the main street. Sue pointed out the establishments to Ace as they drove down the street.
Jamie Foster walking down the boardwalk to her house stopped dead in her tracks at the sight of the green eyed woman on the benchseat of the wagon. Her eyes stared as the wagon continued by her and she could feel the recently renewed hopes of winning Nick Barkley’s affections starting to seep out from within her.
“Afternoon Miss Foster.” said Sheriff Madden softly “Something wrong?”
Jamie startled out of her revelry, shook her head, “Sorry I was just day dreaming. Nice to see you Sheriff.”
Fred watched her continue on her way to her house. ‘Bet she’s not too happy about Sue being back, but I know someone who will be.’ thought Fred with a smile as he walked into his office and sat down.
Horace smiled to himself as his boss fidgeted on the seat as they neared the ranch. He could feel the excitement bundled up inside her waiting to be released. The past weeks on the trail were almost at their end and the nervous energy palpitated off her like heat off a stove.
“Boss, aren’t you gonna miss being on the trail with me now that we’re almost home?” inquired Horace.
“We had a great time, didn’t we Ace?” replied Sue and with a grin added. “However, I won’t miss the times you had to cook.”
“I’m hurt you would say such a thing!” retorted Horace with mock indignation. “I have wonderful culinary skills.”
Laughing, she shook her head “Horace, you cook just like your twin does. Everything’s dry and burnt!”
Horace chuckled, “Guess you got me there. We sure do cook the same.”
“Maria does the cooking at the ranch and it is superb. Wait til you try it!”
“I can’t wait to see the guys and Heath again. I still can’t believe he’s our neighbor.” said Horace softly.
As the buildings of the ranch came into view, Sue grabbed his arm excitedly and pointed, “You won’t have to wait to see Heath. That’s Charger, I’d know that horse anywhere. There’s Coco, too”
“Nick’s horse. Heath’s brother. “ stated Sue.
Horace smiled at the look on his boss’ face, “Oh, the guy that you wrote all those letters to.”
Sue blushed, “It wasn’t that many letters, Ace.”
Horace chuckled, “I’d say a letter every two weeks was a lot since you’ve been gone for over four months. Heck, that’s not counting the travel time in this wagon, either.”
Rolling her eyes, Sue snickered, “You wrote Hank letters too.”
“That’s not the same thing, boss.” huffed Horace as Sue laughed. “Let’s go see your boyfriend.”
Jose walking to the house from the corral where he had been watching Davey breaking a horse with the rest of the crew, stopped as he saw the wagon approaching. His eyes widening at the sight of the woman on the seat. Rushing back to the corral, he shouted and gestured to the wagon, “Miss Sue is coming. Miss Sue is back.” The men ran to greet the wagon as it stopped.
Jumping down, Sue and Horace, surrounded by their family gladly accepted the hugs and welcome backs from the group. Looking around for Nick, Sue smiled when Heath gestured behind him to the corral where Nick stood apart from the others chewing on a piece of straw.
“Boys, we have time for questions later. Jack, you need to go get Charity in town for supper at six. Let’s get the wagon unloaded and then we can talk.” smiled Sue widely.
Sue walked over to the corral and stood by the dark haired man of her dreams. ”It’s good to see you, Nick. I’ve thought about you a lot since I’ve been gone.”
Nick grunted and tossed the straw to the ground, “Obviously you didn’t think about me that much or you’d have let me know how you were doing in Texas.”
Sue looked at Nick in shock, “What are ya’ talking about, Nick?”
“Not one word this whole time you’ve been gone! NOT ONE!”
“What? I wrote you at least a dozen letters, Nick!” replied Sue angrily.
Nick stared at her with fury in his eyes, “I didn’t get any damn letters!”
“ARE YOU CALLING ME A LIAR?” shouted Sue as Jack grabbed her.
Heath, holding onto Nick’s arm, asked loudly “What is going on with you two?”
Gesturing towards Nick with her hand, Sue responded, “Your brother called me a liar!”
“I did not!” shouted Nick. “Sue says she wrote me a dozen letters. Did I get any letters from her while she was in Texas, Heath? ANY?”
Heath shook his head and replied softly, “No, he didn’t Sue. I know cause Ciego always gives me the mail when he picks it up.”
“But how could that be, Heath? I mailed the letters for her.” stated Horace puzzled.
“Heath, did you get the letters I sent you?” inquired Sue with a frown.
Nodding, Heath replied “Yes, I did. I know Mother received some also.”
Nick ran his hand through his hair, “This doesn’t make any sense! Jamie never said anything about any letters when we had dinner.”
Sue’s head snapped up and her voice was cold as she asked, “Jamie Foster?”
Heath and Jack winced at the fury in Sue’s eyes and the look on Nick’s face as he stammered, “It’s not what you think. Let me explain.”
“No explanations are needed. ” replied Sue as she shook off Jack’s hold on her arm, strode past the ranch crew to the house, and slammed the door behind her.
Nick groaned, “What is going on?”
Horace looked at Jack, “Honest Jack. She did write the letters and I mailed them myself. Who’s this Jamie Foster?”
“An old friend of Nick’s.” replied Heath frowning at the idea that was forming in his mind.
Clenching his fists, Nick growled, “She helps her dad at the post office sometimes.”
“She couldn’t have done what I think you’re saying?” asked Jack. “She seems like a real nice lady.”
“I should’ve known she was up to no good when she needed my opinion on something every couple of weeks. Wait til I get my hands on her.” fumed Nick.
Heath grabbed Nick by the arm as he headed to Coco, “Nick, wait. I think it’d be best if you see Sue and try to explain it first. We can deal with Jamie later.”
Nick nodded and sighed, “And here I thought she didn’t care all this time.”
“Trust me, she cares.” said Horace softly.
Looking at the house, Nick smiled slightly, “Jack, do you think she’ll let me in the door before she shoots?”
Jack squeezed his shoulder and smiled, “Me and the boys will wait out here til we know the coast is clear.”
“Me, too.” grinned Heath as he and the others chuckled.
Rolling his eyes, Nick snorted as he walked to the house, “Thanks fellas.”
The panes of the windows shook and a picture fell to the floor as the door slammed behind her. Hearing a gasp, Sue turned and saw Maria.
Overcoming her fright, Maria rushed over and hugged her boss, “You’re home, Miss Sue. I missed you.”
“I missed you, too.” replied Sue softly, holding on tight as the tears threatened to flow.
Maria stepped back and looked at the woman before her, “Something’s wrong?”
Taking a deep breath, Sue smiled, “I’m okay. Hope you don’t mind but I invited Charity to dinner tonight. I also brought Hank’s brother back with me so we now have one more to feed.”
Smiling widely, Maria replied, “I will make a celebration dinner for your homecoming.”
“Thank you, Maria. I’ll be in the study if you need me.”
Sue walked into the study and closed the door behind her. Unbuckling her gunbelt, she hung it on the back of a chair and stroked the sleeping kitten occupying the seat.
Pouring a brandy for herself, she sat at the desk and browsed through the stack of mail. Holding an envelope in her hand, tears splattered onto the white envelope when she could no longer hold them in check.
Dropping the paper to the desk, Sue took shallow breaths to stem the river of tears she knew would flow freely if she didn’t stop them. Putting her elbows on her desk, she held her forehead in her clasped hands.
‘It wasn’t like you had a claim staked on him. You have been gone a long time.’ she chided herself.
Frowning, she spoke aloud to Nicodena who shifted positions and meowed at her mistress, ‘Nick and Heath both say he didn’t get the letters. How come only he didn’t get my letters?’
Wiping her eyes, she rebuckled her gunbelt and left the study. “Maria, I’m going to go into town. I’ll be back later.”
“Si, Miss Sue.”
Opening the door, Sue startled Nick as he was about to knock.
“Sue, it’s not what you think. Please let me explain.” said Nick quickly.
“Nick, I shouldn’t have blown up like that. After all, you can see whoever you like.” replied Sue as she walked by him and down the steps.
Nick walked beside her to the barn as the men watched. “I wasn’t seeing her. At least, not in the way you’re thinking.”
Ignoring him, Sue called over to Jack before entering the barn, “I’m going to bring Charity out, Jack. Be back later.”
Nick watched as she saddled Satan, “Sue, can’t we talk about this. Don’t you even want to listen to what I have to say?”
Leading Satan out of the barn, Sue stopped and looked at Nick, “Nick, did you check on Nicodena for me when I was gone?”
Puzzled, Nick shook his head, “I promised I would and I did.”
“Well, I promised to come back and I did.”
“What are you getting at?” asked Nick.
Climbing on Satan, Sue looked down at Nick, “The day I left you asked if you could call on me when I got back, remember?”
“And you said I could.” stated Nick with a hopeful smile.
Taking a deep breath, Sue smiled slightly, “That day, you also said you would wait for me.”
“I have waited for you. I wasn’t calling on Jamie Foster!” replied Nick. “It’s not how it looks.”
“Nick, that doesn’t make it hurt any less.” said Sue softly. “We will discuss this further, just not right now.”
Nick looked up into the emerald eyes, “Tomorrow?”
Nodding, Sue replied, “Tomorrow.”
Nudging Satan, she galloped out of the yard toward Stockton.
Charity rode beside her friend down the main street of Stockton chatting about the events that happened in her absence.
“Charity, I have to stop here. I’ll just be a moment.” said Sue as she tied Satan to the hitching rail in front of the post office.
Walking inside, Sue was greeted by Mr. Foster, “Miss Weston! How wonderful to see you back home! How was your trip?”
“It was fine, Mr. Foster.” smiled Sue at the kindly old man. “Is Jamie here?”
“She just ran an errand for me, but she should be back any minute now. Can I help you with something?”
“I was just gonna ask her about some letters that I sent to Nick Barkley. It appears he never got them. The funny thing is the rest of his family got their letters.” frowned Sue.
Mr. Foster shook his head, “That is strange. I remember seeing his letters from you.”
“I’ll just catch her another time, Mr. Foster. It’s nice to see you again.” smiled Sue.
“Oh, sure Miss Weston. Come back again.” replied Mr. Foster as her words rolled around in his head.
Closing the door behind her, Sue stepped out in front of Jamie Foster.
“Miss Weston.” sneered Jamie as she looked at the woman in front of her with disdain. “I see you’re still dressing like a man.”
Glaring at the woman before her, Sue smiled, “I brought you something from Texas, Miss Foster.”
Puzzled, Jamie looked at her, “You brought me something? What is it?”
“This.” replied Sue as she swung and connected with the woman’s face in front of her.
Jamie flew back onto the boardwalk as Charity yelled, “Suzanne, what are you doing?”
Rushing to Jamie’s side, Charity looked up at her friend as the girl on the ground cried in pain and held her face.
Fred Madden ran over from across the street and stared at the women, “What’s going on here?”
“Sheriff, she assaulted me!” screamed Jamie as she pointed to Sue who was grinning widely. “I’m pressing charges! I want her arrested!”
Fred looked at Sue Weston, “This true, Sue?”
Laughing, Sue exclaimed happily, “Yep! Charity, tell Jack to bring some money to bail me out when you get to the ranch.”
Fred shook his head and held out his hand for her gun. Handing it to him, Sue asked, “Can we stable Satan before you lock me up? He doesn’t like other people to handle him.”
Fred smiled at his happy prisoner, “Sure, Sue.”
Untying Satan, Sue led him down the street to the livery with Fred walking beside her.
“I think I broke my hand.” said Sue as her right hand started to throb on the way back to the jail.
Chuckling, Fred walked her back to the cells. Opening the door of one, Sue walked in and sat on the cot, “I’ll get the doc and have him take a look at it.”
“Thanks, Fred.” smiled Sue as he locked the cell and left to fetch the doctor.
Sue stood as Fred and Dr. Merar entered the cell block. Fred unlocked the door as Howard entered and shook his head, “Tsk, Tsk, Miss Weston. You haven’t been back a whole day and you’re in need of my services.”
Fred chuckled and watched the blush rise on Sue’s cheeks as she replied softly, “Sorry, doc. I just figured you’d be knocked for a loop, if you saw me when I wasn’t a patient.”
Howard laughed and gestured for her to sit on the cot. Putting his bag on the floor, he sat on the stool that Fred had placed in the cell. “Let’s have a look, shall we.”
Sue held out her swollen hand to the doctor. “Fred, could you get an icepack for Miss Weston?”
“Sure, be right back.”
Howard carefully examined her hand, “I understand from Mrs. Barkley that you built a mission with an orphanage and a school in Texas.”
“Yes, I did.” replied Sue wincing as he felt her hand with his fingers. “They really needed a new one. With the land and cattle I gave them, they should be fairly self sufficient.”
“Very generous of you, Miss Weston. There are not many people in this world that would have done what you did.” smiled Howard.
“The missionaries were always nice to my father and I. It was the least I could do.”
“Your hand appears to just be swollen and bruised. No broken bones that I could feel.”
Sue grinned, “Thanks, Doc. Jack would’ve skinned me alive if I’d broken something again.”
“Here’s the icepack.” said Fred as he handed it to Howard through the bars. “You have a visitor, Sue.”
“Already! Charity can’t have gotten to the ranch that fast.”
“No, it’s Jarrod Barkley.” replied Fred as he opened the door and let him in.
“Welcome home, Sue.” smiled Jarrod. “How is she, Dr. Merar?”