"Hope's Gift"


Logline: After the death of Jarrod's wife, his daughter, Audra Anne, tries to get her father's attention. This is an alternate that goes to the episode "Last Train to the Fair"

  Summary: After the death of Jarrod's wife, his daughter, Audra Anne, tries to get her father's attention. This is an alternate that goes probably until the end of the show itself Hope Barkley waddled down the hallway to her husband's office, her slender hands resting on her protruding stomach. Being 7 months pregnant with a baby had made Hope happier than she had been in a long time. Hope could tell that Jarrod was happy as well. Often when he thought that she wasn't looking he'd smile at the thought of having a baby.

Hope opened the door gently. Jarrod sat at his desk, putting papers in his briefcase. At 21 years old Jarrod Barkley had just recently started his own law firm and clearly enjoyed his work. Jarrod's eighteen-year-old brother, Nick, teased him about his choice of career, but Jarrod took the teasing well.

Hope stood next to her husband and pushed an errant strand of black hair behind his ear. Jarrod kissed her hand tenderly.

"How's the baby?" Jarrod asked, looking into his wife's greenish-gray eyes.

"Impatient as her father and Uncle Nick. She's already a true Barkley," Hope said, teasing Jarrod.

"What makes you think the baby might be a girl, Hopie?" Jarrod asked, using his nickname for her.

Hope smiled. Jarrod was the only one who could get away with calling her Hopie. She actually couldn't stand the nickname, but when Jarrod said it it sounded different than if someone else said it. "Mother's intuition, I suppose, Jarrod."

"I can't argue with you there, Hope. But boy or girl I think our baby is going to have the most beautiful mother in the world," Jarrod said.

Hope winced as a sharp pain lanced through her back. "Hope?" Jarrod asked, concerned. It looked as if Hope's face had just drained of all color.

"I'm all right, Jarrod. The baby's kicks are just kind of strong right now. I think I'll go join your mother and Tracie for a cup of tea," Hope said, trying not to let on let this kind of pain had been happening for the last hour.

"All right. Just take care of yourself and the baby," Jarrod said, kissing his wife's forehead gently.

"I will. I love you, Jarrod," Hope said.

"I love you too, Hopie," Jarrod said, putting some more papers back into his briefcase.


Later that evening Jarrod walked up to the door and opened it. He hoped that Hope was all right. Since she said the baby was kicking her stronger now, he hoped that she wasn't hurt by the kicks.

Tracie went by carrying some hot water. "Tracie, what's wrong?" Jarrod asked Nick's wife.

"It's Hope, Jarrod," Tracie said, pushing a lock of brown hair out of her eyes.

"What is it? Is Hope and the baby all right?" Jarrod asked, a panic in his voice.

"Jarrod, Hope went into labor an hour after you left," Tracie said.

"What? She couldn't have! The baby's not due for another month," Jarrod asked shocked.

"Hope complained of a backache this morning and Mother said it was time for the baby to be born if that's the case," Tracie said, surprised at Jarrod's reaction.

Jarrod nodded his head and went into the study, where Tom and Nick were already waiting.

The next two hours were the longest two hours of Jarrod's life. Often he heard Hope's screams fill the house. Jarrod tried to get into a game of checkers with Nick, but his thoughts were so filled with Hope and the baby he couldn't concentrate.

Finally the door opened to reveal Victoria. Victoria held a small pink bundle in her arms. "Jarrod, you have a baby daughter," Victoria said, holding the bundle out to Jarrod.

Tom clapped his oldest son on the back. "Pappy, that's great!" Nick cheered. Nick was happy that Jarrod now had a baby girl. Tracie was expecting a baby in August. If Jarrod held his new daughter Nick would figure out how to hold a baby himself.

"How's Hope?" Jarrod asked, taking the baby into his arms.

"Jarrod, I'm so sorry," Victoria said, the tears that she had been holding back now coursing down her cheeks.

"Why are you sorry?" Jarrod asked, feeling an ice-cold fear in his stomach.

"Jarrod, She... she didn't make it through the delivery," Victoria said, her voice breaking.

Jarrod stared at his mother in dumbfounded shock. Hope was dead? How could that be? She had been all right when she came into his office that morning? Jarrod then remembered the pain she had earlier.

Tom rested his hand on his son's slumped shoulder. Jarrod was a widower now with a baby to take care of. Hope would want her daughter well taken care of.

"Jarrod, what are you going to name the baby?" Tom asked, concerned for his first granddaughter.

"Hopie wanted to name her after Audra. Audra Anne," Jarrod said, his voice filling with tears.

"Audra Anne. That's a beautiful name, Jarrod," Victoria said, smiling through her tears.

"Mother, could you take the baby? I don't think I can hold her anymore," Jarrod said, his voice choking slightly.

Victoria took Audra Anne in her arms and looked at her son. He sank down onto the couch and cried bitterly. For the next few hours Victoria tried to get Jarrod to hold the baby, but he refused to hold and look at her.


The family sat in the church the day of Hope Barkley's funeral. As Victoria held Audra Anne, she felt pangs of sadness for her son and the baby.

Hope had died and Jarrod behaved as if work was more important than the baby at the moment was. Except for holding the newborn briefly, Jarrod hadn't picked up or looked at the baby once.

The baby had come to the funeral, but her father had refused to hold her. Tracie had to hold the baby when Victoria's arms were tired.

Victoria looked over at Jarrod. He hadn't cried much when Hope had died and today was no exception. He just sat there, his eyes facing the front of the church.

Victoria knew that Jarrod would never show his grief in front of any of them. If Jarrod were to cry over losing Hope, he would do that in his office or room.

The baby let out a soft whimper as she woke up from a long nap.

Tracie looked at Victoria. "Mother, I'll take Audra Anne," Tracie whispered softly, holding out her arms.

Victoria placed the baby in Tracie's arms and watched as her daughter-in-law gently rocked her back to sleep.

Jarrod wasn't completely oblivious as Victoria handed Tracie the baby. Jarrod hadn't heard the child cry that much since she had been born, but this day when he heard his daughter's soft whimper his heart lurched.

The thought of raising a child made him feel faint. He had raised Nick, Audra, and Eugene, but raising this child frightened him.

He didn't know if he could do it. The bigger problem was that Hope had died bringing this child into the world. He didn't want to blame the child for coming. That would be cruel. But Hope had died giving birth to this baby.

Jarrod looked at his daughter out of the corner of his eye. She was blinking her eyes as they focused on Tracie's green eyes.

Victoria said that Audra Anne had Hope's eyes. A greenish-gray that had a golden look to them. Everyone said that Hope had handsome eyes. Now it appeared the same was going to be true of the baby.

Jarrod didn't know if he could ever look at Audra Anne and not think of Hope. By the time the service was over he had made up his mind.

Victoria and Tom could raise his child for him. The baby would always know whom her father was, but Jarrod wasn't going to be around were the baby's features could hurt him.


The next few weeks were the hardest on the Barkley family. Jarrod had totally submerged himself with work and still hadn't looked at the baby. While Tom and Victoria had thought Jarrod was wrong for ignoring her they thought that Jarrod had to grieve for Hope.

Victoria was rocking the baby in a rocking chair in the nursery when Audra looked at Victoria and smiled. Silas was walking in with some clean diapers when it happened.

"Silas, she just smiled!" Victoria exclaimed, kissing the baby's soft cheek.

"Yessum, Miz Barkley. It be a shame Miz Hope and Mistuh Jarrod cain't see it," Silas said, putting the linens and baby clothes in a dresser.

"I know, but Jarrod will come around. I'll tell him when he comes home from San Francisco about the baby," Victoria said, putting the baby in her crib.

"What if he don' wanta know?" Silas asked.

Silas had been with the family since Nick had been born. He loved all the Barkley family and Miss Audra Anne was the sweetest little thing. Jarrod would have been foolish not to want to hear about her.

"He's in pain, Silas. He loved Hope very much. I'm sure when the time comes he'll want to know how the baby is," Victoria said, sounding more optimistic than she felt.

Victoria wasn't sure if Jarrod would come to see his daughter. He asked about how she was doing, but when he did there was pain in his eyes. Tom asked Victoria why Jarrod stayed away from the baby. Victoria said it wasn't because the baby had been born. It was because he felt he couldn't be as good a father as Tom.


By the time Audra Anne was five Jarrod had rarely ever had been back to the house. He came home every six months, but when he saw Audra Anne it was only at meal times and from a distance.

Jarrod often asked about how she was faring, to which everyone said that she didn't appear to be unhappy. Audra Anne had learned to read and write at the age of four and the reading material that she could read in a week was astonishing. Jarrod made sure to give Victoria plenty of children's books to keep her occupied, but Audra Anne didn't just read. She devoured the words in the books whole.

Often Lucy Barkley, Uncle Nick's daughter, said she thought Audra Anne dull to enjoy reading so much, but Audra Anne would just smile and go back to her book.

In the summer of 1872 Jarrod was visiting when something awful happened. Audra Anne was sitting on her footstool when Harry, the sheriff came to the door.

"Silas, who is it?" Victoria asked, rising from her chair next to Audra Anne.

"It be de lawman, Miz Barkley," Silas said, showing Harry into the living room.

Harry took off his hat to show respect to Victoria. "How do you do, Victoria?" Harry said.

"I'm doing just fine. How are you, Harry?" Victoria asked, sensing immediately that something was horribly wrong.

"Victoria, something has happened to Tom today," Harry said, not one to beat around the bush.

"What is it? Is he all right?" Victoria asked, concerned.

"There was a shootout today between the farmers and the railroad. I regret to say that Tom and 9 other men were killed today," Harry said, not meeting Victoria's eyes.

The news greeted Victoria like a slap in the face. Her beloved husband dead? She would never see him at the breakfast table again?

A buzzing sound filled Victoria's mind and ears. It had to be a vicious lie on Harry's part. Tom just couldn't be dead! Then Victoria's mind went to the reality of it. Harry had been the family's friend since Jarrod was a small boy. He wouldn't lie like that!

Tears filled Victoria's throat as she thought of telling her children and grandchildren about Tom. Audra Anne was sitting there wrapped up in her book. When people came and she was reading, Audra Anne shut out all sounds until she was finished with the book.

The death of Tom would hurt Audra Anne deeply. She loved Tom so much. Tom felt sorry for his motherless granddaughter, that he would treat her like Audra and Eugene at times. He was more of her father figure than Jarrod was.

"Victoria?" Harry asked, concerned for her.

"Thank you, Harry, for bringing me the news. I just have to be able to tell the children," Victoria said, her voice breaking slightly.

"How do you think Nick and Jarrod are going to take it? Jarrod lost his wife a few years ago and Nick lost his last winter. A blow like that after losing their wives is going to hurt them badly," Harry said.

"I know, but the children need to know," Victoria said, walking Harry to the door.

"I'm sorry, Victoria for bringing the bad news," Harry said, putting on his hat and mounting his horse.

Victoria closed the door, collapsed in the hallway, the deep sobs inside her throat coming out in loud hiccups.


The family sat in shock as Victoria relayed the news about Tom. Audra Anne and Lucy were sitting on Nick's lap, tears streaming down their faces. Audra was openly sobbing and Eugene was trying to act like he wasn't crying.

Jarrod and Nick were silent as they heard the news relayed. Both of them knew that Tom was going to meet with the ranchers and the railroad's hired guns that afternoon. They just didn't know that something awful would come out of it.

Jarrod looked at his daughter. She knew what death was, since her aunt had died last winter. And everyone had told her that her mother had gone to Heaven giving her life.

She was behaving very maturely during this difficult time. "Mother, when is the funeral going to be?" Eugene asked, having no tact.

"This Saturday. Melanie Peters came by and said that the whole valley would like to honor your father," Victoria said, overlooking the question asked by her youngest son.

"Will Uncle Jim be coming?" Lucy asked. Jim Barkley was a favorite of all the Barkley children and grandchildren. Jim was Tom's little brother and he lived in Nevada with his wife Amelia.

"I would think so. I sent a wire today telling him about Tom's death. He will be here tomorrow," Victoria asked, weary of all the questions thrown at her.

Audra Anne looked at her grandmother. Victoria looked exhausted. Having heard about Tom and then having to answer a bunch of questions was too much on her grandmother.

"Why don't we stop asking so many questions?" Audra Anne asked, speaking for the first time since her grandmother's news.

Everyone looked at her surprised. "What do you mean, Audra Anne?" Nick asked, looking into his niece's eyes.

"Grandma's tired," Audra Anne said, as if the answer was obvious.

Victoria's hazel eyes twinkled warmly at her granddaughter. Only Audra Anne understood her grandmother's exhaustion.

"Thank you, Audra Anne. You're very sensitive as your mother was," Victoria said, looking at Jarrod as she said this.

Jarrod blushed slightly. He hadn't spent as much time at home to actually know that. He didn't know that Hope's personality had become Audra Anne's as well. Actually tonight was the first time he had actually sat in the same room with his daughter and heard her talk. She spoke in a clear calm tone and acted as if she was smarter than five were. Usually when Jarrod was home, Audra Anne would never talk to him. It was like she knew that she had her mother's face and it hurt her father immensely.

Jarrod stood up, wanting to get back to the work at hand. "I have to go to the study. I have to get Father's affairs in order," Jarrod said, his own voice close to breaking as Victoria's was.

Jarrod walked out of the room and down to the office. He looked at the picture of Hope on his desk and tears came to his eyes. "Hopie, what have I done?" Jarrod asked the picture.

He had neglected his child and he didn't know how to tell her that he wanted to be her father now.


After the funeral of Tom Barkley the family rode home in silence. Jarrod sat next to Audra Anne in the buggy. She was looking at the scenery as they went by.

Lucy was also looking at her cousin. She reached out a smacked her cousin's knee, playfully.

Audra Anne turned to her cousin, a slightly perturbed look on her face. "Lucy, cut it out!" Audra Anne hissed.

Being the oldest cousin Audra Anne often was the one who was the example to her cousin. Lucy was like Nick in a lot of ways; while Audra Anne acted like Jarrod a great deal.

Jarrod smiled at the scene. It reminded him of when he and nick were boys. Nick was always in trouble while Jarrod was the older of the two and made Nick behave himself.

The buggy stopped in front of the house and Audra Anne jumped down and ran inside the house.

Jarrod was concerned. Something was wrong with Audra Anne. Victoria also looked concerned. She looked at Jarrod wordlessly.

Jarrod followed his daughter's tracks inside the house and went to the library. Audra Anne enjoyed the library. Jarrod knew in advance that it was where his daughter liked to sit and sort out her thoughts and feelings.

Audra Anne sat on the couch, crying softly. Jarrod sat next to her.

"Are you going to be all right?" Jarrod asked. Audra Anne turned to him, her eyes surprised. Her father didn't normally talk to her that much. He usually ignored her as much as possible.

"Yes Sir. Why are you talking to me?" Audra Anne asked, her voice as puzzled as her eyes.

Jarrod's heart nearly broke as he looked into her eyes. His daughter was confused as to why her father was suddenly concerned about her.

"I wanted to talk to you, Honey," Jarrod said reluctantly.

"I'm listening," Audra Anne said.

"Audra Anne, I...I...I was wrong to ignore you. I'd like to be your father if you'd let me," Jarrod said. He looked into her eyes to see how she was taking that bit of news.

"I thought you didn't like me," Audra Anne said, looking into her father's blue eyes.

Jarrod was taken aback. He had thought he would have been a terrible father and his daughter had thought that he didn't like her!

"Audra Anne, when your mother died I was heartbroken. I thought that your grandparents could do a better job than I could in raising you," Jarrod said, reaching out and placing his hand on her cheek.

"That's why you were never there," Audra Anne said, one lone tear making its way down her face.

"That's right. It was nothing that you did, Baby. I just didn't think that neglecting you was terrible at the time," Jarrod said, wiping the tear away with his thumb.

Audra Anne looked up into her father's eyes. He looked as if he wanted her forgiveness, but that didn't change the fact that he was never there for her in the past. How did Audra Anne know that Jarrod wouldn't neglect her again?

Jarrod saw the skepticism in Audra Anne's face. She doubted her father would want to be her father! The doubt was right there in her greenish-gray eyes! Jarrod's heart felt sick. Now he knew. He had made the worst mistake the day of Hope's funeral.

It was then that he resolved to show his little girl that he truly loved her and would be there for her from know on. Jarrod kissed his daughter's forehead and left the room to tell the family of his new decision.

Audra Anne sat there and touched her forehead. All her life she had wanted her father's love and attention. Right now she didn't know if she should feel happy that she got it or cry about it.

Five years later...

Audra Anne Barkley galloped her horse through the North Ridge as fast as she could. At ten-years-old she was one of the best riders on the ranch.

Audra Anne slowed the horse to cool him down a little. If Uncle Nick had known how hard she had ridden her horse, he would have had a fit.

Audra Anne smiled as she thought of Uncle Nick. After five years he was still an important father figure in her life.

Jarrod had kept his promise that he'd never ignore her again, but he still was more like a stranger than her father. At this moment he was in San Francisco trying to keep the railroad from taking the ranchers land. This was the battle that had killed her grandfather five years ago.

Audra Anne was tired of the battle, as was her cousin, Lucy. Victoria said that the battle could only get worse. 200 hired guns were in the town of Stockton ready to kill the ranchers.

Audra Anne mentally shook her head. She didn't like to think about the problems tormenting the San Joachin Valley. She would leave that matter to her father and uncles.


Jarrod Barkley sat in the dining car of the train, enjoying his lunch. He had been in San Francisco for the last two months and he was tired from the case he had just been battling.

The court wouldn't listen to him. They said the farmers and ranchers around Stockton would have to give their land to Crown and the railroad.

Jarrod didn't feel right about that verdict, but there was nothing he could do about it. It was one of those rare times that he felt as if he failed Audra Anne by not winning the case.

Audra Anne. He hadn't seen his daughter in two months. He had promised never to neglect her again, but this case was beyond his control. He just hoped that she wasn't mad at him for being too busy to write.

Charles, the steward came in and cleared Jarrod's plate. "Mr. Barkley, Mr. Crown is here," Charles said, bringing Jarrod's mind back to the present.

Jarrod turned to the steward. "Thank you, Charles," Jarrod said politely.

Crown came in. "Hello Jarrod," Crown said, shaking Jarrod's hand.

Crown was a tall man with dark hair and complexion. He acted real friendly toward people, but usually people could tell that he was crooked.

"How's your family?" Crown asked.

"Fine," Jarrod said shortly.

It was common knowledge that Jarrod didn't like Crown and Crown knew that as well as anybody.

"Jarrod, I'm terribly sorry about you losing the case," Crown started.

"No you're not. You are as happy as you were 5 years ago when the railroad killed my father and nine other men," Jarrod said, his voice hard.

"Jarrod, progress is coming to the valley. Your father stood in the way of that progress along with the farmers he died protecting," Crown said, trying to sound cordial.

"I'm not against progress, but when it forces men that have cultivated their land for years, then I am against it," Jarrod said, his voice firm.

"Jarrod, you can't stop what is going to happen," Crown said.

"I may not be able to, but that rider out their thinks he can beat the railroad," Jarrod said, looking out the window.

A rider on a Modoc pony appeared to be outracing the train. Jarrod and Crown stepped out and watched the race.

"I bet $100 dollars he doesn't make it," Crown said.

"Done. I bet $1,000 he does make it," Jarrod said, not taking his eyes off the rider.

Crown accepted the bet. Both men waited a few minutes. Just as the horse crossed the tracks, the train crossed.

Jarrod smiled as Crown gave him the $1,000 dollars. The rider had proved his point. That the railroad couldn't always win.


The train came into town 45 minutes later. Jarrod was putting his papers in his briefcase when Nick came in. "JARROD!" Nick shouted, coming into the room excitedly.

Jarrod smiled as his little brother pounded his back in greeting. "Hello Nick. It's nice to hear you come in so quietly," Jarrod said, a wry grin on his face.

"How was your trip?" Nick asked.

"Long," Jarrod said, not willing to talk about the court case.

"Hey, what's this? You puttin' on some weight there, pappy?" Nick asked, jabbing Jarrod's stomach.

"It's just a pound, Nick. Where's Audra Anne? I thought she would have come with you?" Jarrod asked, immediately turning the topic to his ten-year-old daughter.

"I told her you were coming home today and she ran off to ride that horse of hers," Nick said. Nick knew that Audra Anne was upset that her father had been gone for two months and hadn't written.

"Is she angry with me?" Jarrod asked, concern filling his blue eyes.

"Hurt is more like it, Pappy. She only runs off to ride that horse when you hurt her," Nick said, trying to excuse Audra Anne's attitude.

"Well, she's not like Hope was around horses," Jarrod said, trying to not to feel upset.

"If I remember correctly, Hope was afraid of horses," Nick said, understanding Jarrod's false cheerful tone.

"Well, I suggest we get home, Nick," Jarrod said, abruptly.

"I brought your horse, Jarrod," Nick said. Jarrod's horse, Jingo, stood quietly next to Nick's horse, Coco. Jarrod had had the horse since he was eighteen and the horse loved his master as much as Jarrod loved the horse.

The brothers mounted their horses and rode down the street leading to the ranch. Nick stopped his horse to talk to Harry Lyman.

"Hey Harry, ya need some new deputies!" Nick shouted over to the elderly lawman.

Harry looked up at Nick. "No thank you, Nick! I got all the deputies I want!" Harry said, grinning at the brothers.

It was common knowledge that Harry's deputies were not the best. They believed in fighting amongst themselves than protecting the town.

"Bye Harry," Jarrod called to the lawman.

The brothers galloped their horses hard to the ranch, just as Lucy came riding in on her horse.

"Papa! Uncle Jarrod!" Lucy squealed, hugging first her father and then Jarrod.

"Hello, Lucy," Jarrod said, patting her light brown head.

"Where's your cousin, Lu?" Nick asked, using the nickname everyone in the family used on Lucy Barkley.

"Don't know, Papa. She went riding this morning and I haven't seen her since," Lucy said.

Eugene came running out of the house at the sight of his older brother. At sixteen Eugene looked up to his older brothers as father figures. Jarrod especially.

"Hello Jarrod," Eugene said, his young face wreathed in smiles.

"How's the future doctor? Or is it a vet this week?" Jarrod asked, cupping Eugene's face with his hands.

It was a running joke that Eugene didn't know what to do with his life so everyone in the family teased him mercilessly about it.

"Jarrod, I asked Eugene to come to Stockton for this problem with the railroad," Nick said, his voice turning serious.

"Speaking of which, the Semple and the others are here, Nick," Eugene said interjected.

Jarrod looked at Lucy. "I'll see Audra Anne and yourself at dinner, Lu," Jarrod said, kissing his niece's forehead.

"See you at dinner, Uncle Jarrod!" Lucy said, as Jarrod went into the house.

Jarrod entered the parlor, a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. It didn't look as if the railroad and farmers were going to back down from this fight. If no one did, men like Tom Barkley would be killed as they did 5 years ago.


Audra Anne rode into the front gate of the ranch. Since her horse had thrown a shoe she had to walk five miles to get home.

Audra Anne's feet and legs were sore from the exercise and she felt as so as she got home she was going straight to bed.

As she turned within sight of the house a figure slightly smaller than herself ran toward her. "Audra Anne, we were so worried!" Lucy said, hugging her cousin tightly.

"My horse threw a shoe. I had to walk five miles just to get home," Audra Anne said, pushing a lock of long black hair out of her greenish-gray eyes.

"Uncle Jarrod's home," Lucy said as if that would make her cousin happy.

Audra Anne turned to look at her cousin. "Did Father say how long he's staying this time?" Audra Anne asked wearily.

"Nope. He was just concerned when you weren't here," Lucy said matter-of-factly.

Lucy knew that Audra Anne and Jarrod didn't always get along well. This was one of those times.

"Are ya going to tell him your back?" Lucy asked.

"He was too busy to even write me these last two months. Why don't I just see him at dinner?" Audra Anne said shortly.

After Audra Anne and Lucy brushed the horse down, the two cousins made their way to the house. A young man with blond hair and a little eight-year-old with red hair were in front of the house.

Jarrod, Nick, and Eugene were also outside as well. Audra Anne looked over at her father. He wasn't looking at her, but at the man.

"Hello," Audra Anne said to the little girl.

"Hi," the redhead replied.

"My name's Audra Anne and this is my cousin, Lucy. What's your name?" Audra Anne asked politely.

"Leah Thomson. My papa calls me Lee," the little girl said shyly.

Audra Anne looked over at her father and uncles again. Uncle Nick didn't appear to like this man. From what she could gather both Nick and the man had broke through the old swinging bridge and into the water. Audra Anne snorted at the thought, but tried to hide it.

"I was told Nick does the hirin," the stranger said, a southern drawl in his voice.

"That's true, but we're all full up. Where're you from, boy?" Nick asked, suspiciously.

'Everywhere and nowhere. I worked at the Corning ranch until a week ago," the stranger said flatly.

"But where were you born?" Nick persisted.

"Me and my daughter were both born in Strawberry," the stranger said, impatient with the conversation.

"Strawberry? We have holdings up there!" Nick exclaimed.

"Nick, hire him," Jarrod said, stepping into the conversation.

"But-," Nick started to say.

"Just do it. He did me a favor today. I saw that race you did with the train that was good riding," Jarrod said to the man.

"All right. Do you have a name, Boy?" Nick asked, sounding disgruntled.

"Heath Thomson and this is my daughter, Lee," Heath said, indicating the little girl behind him.

"Nice to meet ya, Kid," Nick said gruffly.

"Uncle Nick, why doesn't Lee stay in the house with us while Mr. Thomson stays at the bunkhouse?" Audra Anne asked, stepping into the conversation.

'You're kidding right?" Nick asked. Jarrod looked over at his daughter, finally noticing her.

Jarrod stepped over to his daughter, putting his hands on her shoulders.

"No I'm not. Please, Uncle Nick?" Audra Anne begged.

"Pretty please, Papa?" Lee begged of her father.

"I see nothin' wrong with it if the kids want it," Heath said, a lopsided grin gracing his features.

Nick threw up his hands in disgust and defeat. "All right! You win!" Nick shouted.

Audra Anne grinned and looked up at the girl. "Come on, Lee. Let's show you were your bunking down," Audra Anne said.

Lee jumped off her father's horse and ran up to Audra Anne and Lucy. Lucy took one of Lee's hands while Audra Anne took the other. The three girls ran into the house, happy for the moment that talk wasn't about the railroad.


Later that night Audra Anne made her way to her father's study with a tea tray in her hands. Victoria had said that her father wanted some coffee and would Audra Anne please take it to him.

Audra Anne knocked on the door to the study, balancing the tray with one hand.

"Come in," Jarrod's deep voice came out of the office.

Audra Anne opened the door with her free hand and set the tray on a low table. Jarrod looked up at his daughter.

"Audra Anne?" Jarrod asked, as she poured some coffee into a cup.

"Sir?" Audra Anne asked flatly.

Jarrod flinched inwardly. His daughter was mad like Nick said. She only called him "Sir" when she was upset.

"This question may sound rhetorical, but are you mad at me?" Jarrod asked.

"No," Audra Anne said, not meeting her father's eyes as she put two lumps of sugar in his coffee.

Jarrod didn't accept that answer. Also when Audra Anne was mad she wouldn't look at him either. Being a lawyer had made it easy to tell when people were lying to him.

"Audra Anne, I know you're upset that I haven't written in two months-" Jarrod started.

"I'm not upset!" Audra Anne said, her voice trembling slightly.

Jarrod felt his stomach turn slightly. By neglecting her these last two months he had broken his promise to her that he made when she was five.

"Audra Anne, I'm sorry. I never thought I was hurting you. I didn't think that not seeing you for two months would make you mad at me," Jarrod said, hoping that she would forgive him.

Audra Anne turned to face him; tears streaming down her cheeks. "Why didn't you even write me?" Audra Anne asked, wiping her face furiously with the back of her hand.

At the sight of the pain he had caused Jarrod felt almost like crying too. Jarrod rushed over to his little girl and hugged her, her tears wetting the front of his shirt.

"I'm sorry, Audra Anne. Even though I was busy with the case I should have taken time out to write to you. I hope you can forgive me," Jarrod said, looking into her eyes.

"Okay, I forgive you," Audra Anne said sniffling.

Jarrod took out his linen handkerchief. "Blow," Jarrod ordered.

Audra Anne blew her nose and wiped her face with his handkerchief. "What are you working on, Father?" Audra Anne asked, looking at the paperwork on Jarrod's desk.

Jarrod took her over to his desk. From what Audra Anne could gather it was a bunch of legal papers. It looked like eviction notices.

"Are they what I think they are?" Audra Anne asked, looking up at her father.

"Eviction notices," Jarrod said bitterly as if the words tasted bad.

"Are they for the farmers? You know Mr. Semple and the others?" Audra Anne asked.

Jarrod nodded, his eyes on a piece of paper on his desk.

"Tell me you're not going to deliver them to the farmers?" Audra Anne asked, her voice panicked.

"Audra Anne, I'm a lawyer. I have to obey the law," Jarrod said firmly.

"The law is wrong. What do you do when it goes against your morals and principles?" Audra Anne asked, tears running down her face again. She rushed out of Jarrod's office and upstairs to her room, slamming the door.

Jarrod sat there, his daughter's words running through his head. Tom Barkley had once thought like Audra Anne did and it cost him his life. If Jarrod thought like that would it take his life too?