Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
This story is a departure from what I usually write. You will find this one a melodrama. Although it focuses on Jarrod, it has liberal amounts of Heath and his budding romance with Hope, Laura Barkley's cousin. Thank you Abby, Lily & Kandy; you ladies know why. A small section in this story was written by Abigail of Dreamers, that section is in blue. Warning: this story includes adult situations.
I always wondered what went on with Jarrod Barkley in San Francisco, all those weeks and months he was away from the Barkley Ranch. And it always bothered me that when he was home in Stockton, he never was in competition with his brothers when it came to the ladies. So I use to imagine what if Jarrod had a secret life in San Francisco that no one in the family knew about; and what exactly would that life be like? We knew he had an office in San Francisco, and an apartment there, maybe a town house where his office was. Anyway it got me to thinking; I always had a secret passion for that good looking lawyer and I imagine he is a very passionate man. This story is about him, my second favorite Barkley, and answers that question as well as a few others. It takes place in San Francisco in the Winter of the new year (after The Weaker Vessel).
Smoke rings curled around his dark hair as he sat at the ornate mahogany desk. Every piece of furniture in the office was very elegant, not quite the taste of the man who occupied the room, but for the creature comfort of his more affluent clientele who expected no less from any attorney they would retain. The chairs and sofa were upholstered in rich green brocade, the wood highly polished mahogany matching the desk. The only piece of furniture that didn't look like it quite belonged was the maroon colored leather chair he sat in as he shuffled the many papers before him. He breathes a deep sigh, places his cheroot in a crystal ashtray and pulls back in his chair as it creaks with a groan, he rubs his eyes with the open palms of his hands. His office door opens and the familiar scent of jasmine wafts into the room; his normally stoic expression softens to a warm smile and he closes his eyes, taking in the pleasant scent. A soft feminine hand grazes his shoulder and he takes it in his, bringing it to his lips for a soft kiss.
"How did you do with Judge Lavers? Did he throw you out of his chambers?" A teasing smile crinkled his face.
"Now counselor, do you really think I would divulge that information to you?"
His chair is given a firm push away from the desk and his arms wrap around her waist, pulling her into his lap, "As I've said before, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar."
"Well then J.T. you go and sweet talk that old coot. You know that's not my style." She leaned down to receive a sweet kiss from the handsome attorney.
"Yes, you're more like a bull in a china shop. You remind me of my brother." His finger traced her cheek line, and rested in a tap on her patrician nose.
"Really?" She leaned down again to kiss him, parting his lips with the tip of her tongue, "That remind you of your bull-like brother?"
"You see, you can use your charm when you want." His blue eyes twinkled in a satisfying smile.
"So you think I should go sit on Judge Lavers lap and do this." She untied his tie, and pulled off part of his shirt and playfully bit the exposed shoulder.
"Stop that," he chided her as he pushed her away with a kiss.
She pulled away from him with a chuckle and picked up one of the papers on his desk reading it, "Now you're not still working on this exhumation business in Arizona are you? I thought you finished that before Christmas."
"I did, but extenuating circumstances forced me to table it." He took on a serious tone as he recovered his shoulder again, and moved his chair closer to the desk.
"And now you have to start all over again."
"Well, not completely. I do have most of the original paperwork, so that's half the battle."
"I don't know why you didn't just let it happen and be done with it! You have more important things to work on than this foolish thing. The woman's long dead, and life as they say, goes on." She stood and walked to the side of the desk.
"I made a promise and I keep my promises."
"Then you should have had her exhumed and reburied like you promised."
"You know I couldn't do that. How would it look if I told her I had her mother ready to be re-buried right after she lost her baby."
"Perhaps, it would've taken her mind off of things."
"Be serious C.B. I couldn't hurt her like that."
"No, I just bet you couldn't." She threw the paper down on the desk and sat on the edge, glaring at him icily, her arms folded across her chest.
"Exactly what is that supposed to mean?" He said impatiently.
"You know exactly what I'm talking about! You can't fool me. You've been lusting after that woman since the day you met her." Jarrod stood up from his chair, buttoned his shirt and retied his tie. He moved toward the window and looked out onto the busy San Francisco street as glistening grey-blue snow swirled around the ground and people rushed off to the warmth of their own homes.
"She's my brother's wife for God sakes!"
"How well I know, L.a.a.u.u.r.r.a.a...., he whispers in my ear." Jarrod angrily turned toward her from the window, "Damnit C.B., I told you I was sorry about that! How many times do I have to apologize for it?! She was on my mind, she had just lost the baby and we were all worried that she wouldn't make it. She was very ill! I don't lust after her!"
"Sure, you keep telling yourself that." She rose from the desk and stared out the same window.
"You're jealous of her and you have no reason to be!" He said through gritted teeth. He had already gone around with her once about this very subject and didn't relish yet another fruitless bout.
"I look like her don't I? That's why you want me."
"No, you're wrong about that. You're nothing like her, you're a beautiful, intelligent, and well educated woman."
"And she's not?"
"Yes, but in a completely different manner. Carol there's so much more to you, so many beautiful facets...aww honey, don't you know how much I need you, how much I want you?" He stood behind her, clutching at her shoulders pulling her to him. He nuzzled her hair, taking in her sweet jasmine perfume. She turned around in his embrace, wrapping her arms around his waist. They kiss passionately.
"Go lock the door, J.T."
"No, not here, not in the office, upstairs, come on." He pulled her along and she chuckled, "Oh Barkley you're so damn provincial! I don't know why I bother with you."
He stopped, grabbed her waist, and pulled her towards him for a wet kiss. "Because my dear counselor, I put up with you!" He smiled teasingly as he graced her with another kiss.
* * * * * * * *
She watched him from the second floor window of their bedroom as he led his horse into the barn, and then waited to hear the familiar jangling of his spurs on the steps. She moved from the window over to the fire to stoke it into a bright glow again. As the embers moved her thoughts drifted back to a time not so long ago. It had been slightly over ten weeks since her miscarriage, and more than enough time for the two of them to be together again as husband and wife. It was February now, in the new year and it was time to renew all things. On a small table, next to the fireplace, a bottle of wine had been chilled and was uncorked with two glasses beside it. Tonight she was determined that she and her husband would once again come together. It had been so long and she had missed being intimate with him. They had helped each other get over the horrible misfortunes of the past but now it was time to put them all to rest.
What's taking him so long,' she wondered. She heard the front door open, but the expected sound of his footsteps on the stairs was not forthcoming. She opened their bedroom door and walked over to the top of the stairs; she noticed a long dark shadow moving on the floor below as she heard him pour himself a drink. She decided not to call out to him but instead to let him have his drink. She went back to their room to wait.
In the parlor Nick leaned one hand on the fireplace mantle and the other wrapped around a drink. He stared at the glowing fire, his thoughts drifting. Never had they been so joyous or so miserable. Life had certainly played them for fools. The loss of their child, and the miraculous feat of her returning sight; but the blood clot that took away his wife's sight still remained a dark cloud that hung over both of them, and nothing or anything could cause it's movement and his beloved Laura's death.
Nick Barkley was a strong man, he feared nothing, but the thought of losing his wife was more than even he could brave. He insisted that they know everything if he was going to keep her safe. He made the doctor tell him everything, every worry, every detail, every danger, but even the learned doctor couldn't tell him what he needed to know to keep his precious Milady safe. He cursed the day that Johnny Ray had come into their life. Laura had been right, Ray would never leave them, he would always be a chain that they forged together, forever wrapped around their souls. Had he known the danger he never would have...
He emptied his glass and was about to pour another when he thought better of it. It had been a hard day and he was dog-tired, a quick wash and bed was what he sought now. She would be sleeping, he thought gratefully as he quietly walked up the stairs to the solace of their bedroom. But when he opened the door he was surrounded by the inviting warm glow of the room, and the familiar scent of rose buds permeated the air. His eyes beheld a vision as she stood by the fire dressed in a gleaming white negligee that showed off her voluptuous figure. The sight of her almost took his breath away, his heart ached for the touch of her soft skin against his, but too much was at stake to dare take that chance. He quickly averted his eyes.
"I thought you would be sleeping by now. It's very late." He turned, locking the door behind him.
"I wanted to wait up for you sweetheart."
"You shouldn't, you need your rest." He slowly checked the lock, still avoiding the sight of her.
"But I'm not sick anymore. I am perfectly well."
"Don't you have an early meeting in Stockton tomorrow?"
"I have no intentions of missing it."
"I'm gonna wash up." He moved to the wash basin. She poured water from the pitcher into the basin for him.
"I have your water right here, already warmed for you."
"Thank you." He said flatly. She stood and waited by him, holding a towel draped over her arm. After he washed he pulled the towel from her arm, dried himself then looked seriously at her.
"It's late Laura, you really should go to bed."
"Not without you." She said in a sultry tone, Laura pushed herself in his arms, wrapping her arms around his waist. He placed the towel in the dry sink and pulled her away with his hands.
"My clothes are all dirty, careful."
"I don't mind."
"I do." He turned away, pulling off his shirt, throwing it in the hamper in the corner. She moved behind him, grasped his waist and kissed his bare back. He lightly patted her hand around his waist then moved away from her clutches.
"Let me get dressed, okay?"
"I'll get your pajamas." She walked to his bureau pulling out his clothes.
"I can get them."
"So can I, here." He took the clothes, thanking her politely then continued to undress. She walked over to the settee in front of the fire and sat down. "I had Silas open up a bottle of wine for us so it can breathe like you always say." She poured the wine in two crystal glasses then offered one to him.
"I really wasn't going to have any."
"Won't you have some wine with me?'
He took the offered wine, and while her head was turned, he drank it down in one gulp. She slowly turned back, "Here's too...you drank it down already? Why did you do that?"
"You said you wanted me to have a drink with you and I did."
"Honey, I had hoped we could sit by the fire awhile and talk."
"I'm kinda tired, it's been a long day."
She replaced her wine glass on the table and stood up. "Honey? ...Nick, it's been two months now since you and I have been together as a husband and wife." She blushed slightly causing a small grin to curl his mouth. "...And well, Doctor Merar said I was all healed now and..."
Nick's face glared with anger at the mention of the family doctor, "I wish we could get another doctor in this town! That old fool should retire anyway!"
"Nick, he's a fine doctor, and he's been very good to everyone in this family."
"That's your opinion!" He bellowed.
"You still haven't forgiven him have you?"
"I see no reason to! He had no right to keep the truth from us! You could have died!"
"But I didn't, I'm right here; can't we celebrate our good fortune, instead of fretting over the past?"
He turned his back again; he knew he was losing the battle. "I'm tired Laura."
She moved behind him seizing his broad shoulders, touching her cheek to his back. "I'm sure you can't be that tired. It's been so long Nick."
"I am. I'm going to bed." He pulled away from her grasp and crawled in between the sheets. She quickly took off her negligee robe and crawled in beside him, cupping her hand on his chest as she nestled under his arm and murmured, "I love you." He patted her hand, whispering, "Love you too," then turned away from her.
"Nick?" Her head went up.
"I'm really tired Laura. I just want to get some sleep." It was true, he was tired, but he desperately wanted to make love to her, but the fear in him was too great.
Dora Hamon was busily filling the library shelves of the Stockton Public Library, with the newly acquired books. Laura Barkley emerged from her office and looked around. "Is anyone here yet, Dora?"
"No, not yet Laura, but it's still early." Dora carefully eyed her employer and friend, "You seem nervous about this meeting."
"Just a little, I hate asking for money, especially when it's for a relative of mine. I feel like a thief."
"Now you know that's silly, and it's money that is well deserved. She's doing the hard work after all."
"Oh I agree; I just hope I can convince the board of that. Dora could you sit in on the meeting with me? I need to have another ally against those three men."
"Of course, I would be glad to lend my support."
"I wish I knew where to get the money we need for the adult literacy classes."
"What about the Stockton library foundation?"
"That money, unfortunately,
is earmarked for books, we can't divert it without a change in the by laws and
that takes our lawyer, who is out of town unfortunately."
"How long has he been away?" she said with a hint of sarcasm.
"My goodness, who's taking care of his practice here?"
"He gave some of his smaller clients to Mister Capwell."
"Why can't you talk to this other lawyer, Mr. Capwell about this problem?"
"Because Jarrod is the lawyer on record for the Stockton Library, I can't go to another lawyer, that would be like firing my own brother in law, I can't do that."
"Well, it seems that he's never here when you need him. His absence has already cost the library lost time. We should have opened in January, but he's been away all this time."
"Well, he took on a very difficult case in San Francisco. He needs to devote his time to that."
"And hang you and this library." Dora replied with a great deal of irritation in her voice.
"He would be here to help me if he could. Jarrod is very dependable."
"Sure, when he's here."
"Now Dora, I know you have no love for lawyers but..."
They hear the door to the library open. "Hello, is anyone here?"
"Hello Victoria, we're back here at the shelves." Laura put a finger to her lips to quiet her friend.
"Oh well then, I'm not late. How are you Dora?"
"Very well, thank you for asking Mrs. Barkley."
"Now, I thought we agreed that you would call me by my first name."
"Of course I'm sorry, Victoria."
"Now that's better. Laura, I was just at the school, I was going to offer Hope a ride here but she gave me her apologies and said she couldn't make it to the meeting today. Some emergency parents meeting I'm afraid."
"That's too bad, Hope would have made my argument stronger about the adult education program. She is more articulate than I in such matters."
"I'm sure you'll do just fine Laura." She patted her daughter in law's hand. "Do you really expect trouble from the board? Even with such an important matter as this?"
"I just want to be prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Our budget is tight enough and I don't expect the others to loosen the purse strings for my pet project."
"But it is such a worthy cause," Dora said as she looked out the front window and saw three men heading towards the library. "Here's your chance to change their minds, they're heading this way."
"Do they look like they're in a generous spirit?" Laura asked hopefully.
"Not a chance." She answered ruefully.
"Well, let's go ladies, three against three should even the odds."
"They haven't a chance, lets get 'em," Victoria said with an encouraging wink.
* * * * * * * *
Some time into the meeting:
"I think it a wonderful idea to pay Miss Dougherty the money we owe her during the summer months for her work with the Adult Literacy Program. Good thinking Laura."
"Thank you Victoria. I am sure that Hope will agree with it as well."
"Excuse me, but Mrs. Barkley you have not made mention of funding. Just where is this money going to come from to pay for the Adult Literacy Program?" Asked a balding Mr. Ross.
"Now I haven't worked out all the details as yet, but surely we can put our heads together and come up with a solution."
"Oh yes, I am sure we could." Victoria agreed with a smile.
"But I still have a problem with this whole Adult program Mrs. Barkley."
"What is your problem Mr. Walsh?" She asked in a slightly annoyed tone.
"Miss Dougherty has been teaching those adult classes in a saloon, in the evenings, after school."
"Oh I agree Mr. Walsh, that is a problem, poor Miss Dougherty hardly has enough time for herself," Laura had it in the back of her mind to continue to push her dear cousin and Heath together as a couple, "with working all day in school with children and at night with adults. We really must do..."
"Excuse me, Mrs. Barkley, that is not my concern."
"Then what is your concern Sir?"
"It's our school teacher going into the saloon!"
"She's teaching Mr. Walsh, she is not drinking or entertaining men!" Laura rolled her eyes.
"Mrs. Barkley, really!" He said indignantly.
Victoria placed a calming hand on her sometimes volatile daughter in law. "Perhaps Mr. Walsh, you would feel more comfortable if the adult classes were at the school, possibly after school hours or on Saturday?"
"I would have to agree; those people in our school would be unseemly." Mr. Simmons chimed in.
"Perhaps I have the solution gentlemen, Miss Dougherty can have her adult classes here in the library.
We can set up an area where she can teach." Victoria offered, much to the approval of her daughter in law.
"Here!? Those people in OUR library? Surely you jest Mrs. Barkley!" Gasped Mr. Walsh.
"I assure you, I am quite serious."
"Mr. Walsh, it is not OUR library it is the Stockton Public Library. It is to be used by the public!"
"I won't have it! I simply won't have it!" Mr. Walsh sputtered.
Laura shut her eyes as she slowly rose from her chair. "Mr. Walsh, you are an ass."
She quickly leaves the meeting room with her skirts and hair billowing out around her. The men in the room are shocked by the younger Mrs. Barkley's behavior. Mr. Walsh looks around at his companions, "How dare she talk to me like that! I'll have her removed as chairwoman of this library!"
"I'm afraid you can't do that Mr. Walsh, she was appointed by the Governor himself for this project." Dora volunteered smugly.
"You mean to tell me that we have to go to the Governor of this state to get her removed?!"
"Not at all. You can speak to the attorney for the library." Victoria consoled him in a smug tone.
"But that would be...."
"Yes, my son Jarrod. Though I doubt you will have much luck convincing him to remove her. My guess is that he would agree with my daughter in law, in her assessment that you are indeed an ass. Would you excuse me please, I have another appointment." Victoria Barkley stood and glided calmly out of the meeting room.
* * * * * * * *
Nick rode through the pasture, his mind re-living the evening before with his wife. She had hardly spoken a word to him that morning, before he left. Even the kiss goodbye had been without emotion. She was upset with him about last night and he knew it. There was nothing else in the world he would've rather done than take Laura into his arms and make love to her. There was nothing he would rather do, any night, but he couldn't allow either of them to take that chance. How could he? When the words of Dr. Merar hung heavily over both their heads. Nick would not be foolhardy, not where Laura was concerned, taking no chance of losing her. He had to be sure.
He wished they could have sought the other doctor's opinion about her condition, but Laura had refused to go see the specialist he had heard about in Carson City. She didn't want Nick or anyone else in the family making a fuss about it anymore. She wouldn't even admit to getting the headaches, though he knew she still suffered them.
He came upon Heath and four of his men taking a coffee break near the chuck wagon. They were all drinking coffee and chuckling about a joke someone had told. Heath gave an easy smile to his brother when he rode up.
"What's going on here?" He huffed.
"Just taking a coffee break is all Nick, having a few laughs. Do you remember that fellar we saw..."
"We're not paying anyone to have coffee breaks. Get these men back to work." Nick interrupted.
"Relax Nick, we're ahead of schedule, no harm done." Still smiling, he sipped more coffee.
"I said, get 'em back to work!"
"I will Nick, after they finish their coffee, it's kinda cold, they need to warm up a bit."
"Now!" He growled with an icy stare. "...And if you can't get them back to work, I'll get me someone who can and you can go ride line!"
Heath moved slowly as he emptied what was left of his coffee onto the ground, then stood with feet apart and his thumbs hooked in his belt loops.
"I can handle the men. You wanna tell me who put that burr in your saddle?"
"You think I got a burr in my saddle?" Nick gave him a lethal grin, as he leaned over his saddlehorn.
"Well, ya got somethin' stickin' in your craw."
Nick slowing dismounted and strode over to his brother until he stood toe to toe. "Well now, why don't you take it out for me boy?" The men shuffled nervously as each one emptied their cups on the ground and walked back to their jobs.
"Look Nick, I don't want any trouble, we got enough work to do without getting on each other's last nerve."
"That's right, we do. So get movin' and get these men off their asses and back to work!" He pushed his fists on his gun belt.
"I already told ya, when they finish their coffee." Heath said in a defiant tone.
Nick strode over to the campfire where the coffee pot hung on a spigot and gave it a swift kick, sending it and it's contents spilling onto the frozen ground. Nick turned toward his brother and sneered, "They're finished!"
Heath calmly walked over to his brother and spoke quietly to him, "I think we need to talk privately Nick."
"I'm through talkin', privately or otherwise!" Nick swung his fist into his brother's jaw, dropping him to the ground.
"Chrissakes Nick, ya didn't need to do that!" McCall complained as he and the other men came to Heath's aid. Heath waved them off as he pushed himself up, wiping the blood from his chin with the back of his hand.
"Fine, ya through talkin'. Me too." Heath gave Nick a crushing punch to the jaw that sent him into the chuck wagon. Nick pulled himself up holding onto the wagon wheel for support. He shook off the dizziness in his head and smirked at his brother.
"It's been a long time since I beat the crap outta ya, this is gonna be fun!"
"I seem to recall, beating the crap outta you last time!"
"Don't think so little brother!" He smirked, leaned down like a charging bull and head butted Heath in the stomach, sending them both flying to the ground. The two began to throw random punches at each other while the men gathered around for the spectacle.
* * * * * * * *
Victoria knocked on the door marked private, "May I come in?"
"Yes please. I suppose you came here to scold me, go ahead I deserve it."
"Not at all, I came to applaud you."
Laura stood and walked in front of her desk, hands on her hips. "Still got me nowhere with them. Oh Victoria, it's so frustrating. Every time I move an inch ahead they pull the rug out from under me and I'm ten steps back." She paced in front of the desk.
"That's not true, look how far you've come. Stockton never had a library, and soon it will be opening its door; and there wasn't any kind of literacy program for the adults here, and now you have many people in this town reading and writing. Laura you've done such a wonderful job in such a short time; you can't let a few men discourage you." Victoria sat in a chair, shaking her head, "Would you please stop pacing, you can be just like Nick sometimes."
"Sorry, I guess you're right." Laura sat down next to Victoria. "Would you like some tea Victoria? I just made a pot." She reached for the silver teapot on her desk.
"Yes, thank you."
She began to pour the tea into the china cups. "They think because I'm a woman they can lord it over me! But you're right, I didn't come this far for those pea brained idiots to stop me."
Victoria gave a hardy laugh as she took the offered cup. "Now there's the Laura Barkley I know! So what's your next move?"
"I'm at an impasse, I need Jarrod back in Stockton. Oh I wish he were here. He's been gone so long!"
"Granted he has been gone longer than usual, even for him, but that case he's working on is keeping him in San Francisco longer than he planned."
"He's been gone two months, since Christmas. Surely he must be able to take some kind of respite from his work." She stood up and began pacing again, rubbing her forehead. "Uhh, I'm just being selfish; poor Jarrod, he works so hard and he only took on this library venture to help me."
"I know it's frustrating dear, maybe you should wire Jarrod about your problem. He could advise you that way."
"I suppose I could, I just hate to send such details in a wire. Mr. Jenkins is such a busy body. He'll have it all over town." She continued to pace and rub her forehead.
"Laura dear, are you still getting those headaches?" She asked concerned.
She stopped pacing and quickly pulled her hand down from her forehead. "Good Lord, of course not, it's...it's .. just a silly habit of mine. I have so many, Nick is always nagging me about them."
Victoria stood up and pulled her gloves on. "Well, I do have that other appointment I must get to. Why don't you write a letter to Jarrod, that way you could give him more detail. Granted it will take a week or two to get there but you should have your answer in time for the next meeting."
"Yes, in the meantime, the opening of the library will again be put on hold." She folded her arms in frustration.
"Speak to Jarrod about that too. I better go, I'll see you at home later."
There is a loud knock on the door. The two women turn to face the door as it opens. Dora Hamon pokes her head in. "Sorry to disturb you, but there's an urgent message. It seems Nick and Heath have been hurt and they were brought into the doctor's office."
"Oh My God! Nick!" Laura rushed out of the office with Victoria following closely behind.
* * * * * * * *
When they entered the doctor's office the Barkley women found Dr. Merar bandaging Heath's head, after taking care of Nick's cut hands. Laura immediately ran to her husband.
"Oh my Love, who did this to you? Are you alright? My poor Nick!" She hugs her husband.
Victoria embraces Heath. "Heath, what in the world happened to
"I'm okay Mother, it's not as bad as it looks." He tried to brush her off.
"Who did this to you?"
"That's what I'd like to know too!" Laura chimed in. Heath and Nick glared at each other but said nothing.
"Nick? Heath?" Their mother looked at each of them.
Doctor Merar stood by and wiped his hands with a dry cloth. "Should I tell them or are you two going to?" The doctor eyed each man.
Victoria placed her hands on her hips and shook her head. "Oh NO! Don't tell me! You two didn't! Not at this point of your relationship. I don't believe it!"
Both sons averted their eyes from their mother.
"What are you talking about? What happened?" Laura asked the matriarch.
"They did it to themselves!"
"I don't believe it! You two were fighting? What in the world would you have to fight about?" Laura glared at the two of them.
"Honestly two grown men fighting like schools boys! You must have fought about something! What was it?" Victoria chided them.
"Nothing." Nick answered still not looking at the women. The women both looked to Heath for an answer.
"Nothing." Heath replied, averting his eyes again.
"I'll see you two at home later!" Victoria furiously stormed out of the doctor's office. Laura gave each one an angry glare then left without saying a word, slamming the door behind her. The two brothers gave a relieved sigh.
Several weeks went by and the incident between Nick and Heath had been put in the past. In San Francisco the snow had quickly melted away thanks to the hardy salt air; still the biting cold of February would find it's way into the early March winds. The letter read:
Please forgive me first of all for bothering you yet again with such trivial problems as mine. And I know how terribly busy you are with your court agenda these days, but I am afraid I am at an impasse and I do need your expert advice. So please I beg your indulgence just once more dear brother...
The delicate hand ripped the letter in six pieces and threw it into the fire. Jarrod walked into his office, adjusting his gold cuff links.
"Who was as the door C.B.?"
"Oh it was the post man darling. Several bills, and a few checks from grateful clients."
"Well, that's always good; those checks do offset the bills. Ready to go my Love?"
"Lead the way J.T." She made a quick glance at the fireplace then threw the rest of the letters on his desk.
In the foyer, Jarrod assisted with her coat. "I have wonderful news C.B. guess who is doing a lecture at Platt's Hall soon; your favorite dandy Mister Oscar Wilde."
"Oh Jarrod really? Will you get us tickets?"
"I promise I will my Love, as soon as I can." They left the townhouse and entered the waiting closed carriage.
* * * * * * * *
And in Stockton, Nick sat behind the large oak desk sorting through stacks of papers. His wife leaned on the desk in front of him with her back turned and her arms folded. She gave another heavy sigh which caused him to roll his eyes behind her back.
"What is it?" He stared at her with an exasperated look.
"I don't understand you. Why do you feel the need to go? You know that Heath is perfectly willing to go for you."
"Heath is not going because I am going, understand?"
She turned quickly to face him her arms still folded. "Heath said we didn't need those ponies!"
"I don't care what Heath said! I run this ranch and I know what's best for it, and I say we do need them!"
"He runs this ranch too, and he can go just as easily as you can!"
"You're right, but he's not! I am!" He raised an annoyed eyebrow at her.
She unfolded her arms and leaned on the desk pouting. "Why?"
"What do you mean why? I already told you why, and since when do you get yourself involved in running this ranch? It's not your responsibility. You have your library to run. Remember I run the ranch and you run the library. Isn't that what we agreed?"
"Yes, but we were talking about being parents at the time as I recall." Nick quickly got up from the desk, walked over to the bar and poured himself a drink. "...Nick.."
"I didn't mean to bring that up." He said trying to brush it off.
"Don't you think it's time we did?" She walked over and placed a loving hand on his arm. "Please Nick...let's talk about this. Honey, we haven't been together in months. I understand how you must feel. It was a terrible blow to both of us when we lost our baby. We had so many plans Sweetheart, but we have to move on. Mourning has to stop sometime." A tear escaped her eye but she quickly wiped it away.
"This is not the place to talk about these things." He shut his eyes, willing the pain in his gut to leave him.
She leaned her head on his strong arm, as more tears threatened. "Sweetheart I miss you so much."
He was weakening under her touch and he couldn't afford to do that. "This isn't the place to talk about it. I've already told you that!"
"Then let's go upstairs to our room." Nick finished his drink and slammed the glass down. He avoided looking at her and pulled away from her grasp.
"I need to talk to Heath."
"You need to talk to your wife!"
"No! Not now!" He stormed out of the room. She shut her eyes as tears once again stained her cheeks.
* * * * * * * *
The next few days the entire family noticed that the couple hardly spoke to each other. And a dark cloud hung over the house. Nick stood in the foyer with a large valise on the table. Silas was by his side as he packed some of the food the servant had given him.
"Thanks Silas, I really appreciate this, ya didn't have to go through the trouble of packing me a lunch."
"No trouble a'tal Mister Nick, ya know dat." The sound of a horse riding up to the house caused the two men to look up as the front door opened. Laura entered dressed in black riding clothes. She pulled her hat off and let it hang behind her around her neck, then tugged off her gloves. "Mornin' Mrs. Nick, how's ya ride this fine mornin'?"
"Fine Silas." She glanced at her husband packing the food in his valise. She laid her hands on her hips. "So, you're going?"
"Told you I was." He spoke without looking at her. "Taking the noon stage to Carson City. Be back in two weeks like I said."
"Oh don't rush home on my account."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Silas quietly slipped away into the kitchen.
"It means you won't have to find ways to avoid me anymore because I won't be here." She started up the stairs. He looked up at her for the first time.
"What do you mean you won't be here?"
"I'm going to make it easy for you Nick, I'm leaving."
"And just where the hell do you think you're going?"
"San Francisco." She stood on the step and turned to face him.
"You hate San Francisco."
"I happen to have many old friends there."
"So, I'm going to visit them."
"Just like that, you decided you're gonna visit them." He placed his hands on his hips.
"And when are ya planning to come back from this visit?"
"When you're ready to be my husband."
"I am your husband!"
"Yes, you and I share the same last name as a husband and wife, but that's all we share these days."
"You're being ridiculous!"
"Am I? Well, when I went for my ride just now I went into Stockton and wired Jarrod to expect me. I asked him to arrange a room for me at the Palace Hotel."
"That's right, and when you want me that's where I'll be." She turned to continue up the stairs but
Nick moved toward the stairs and roughly grabbed her by the arm.
"You're not going to leave!" He refused to believe that it was possible for her to ever leave him.
"I am leaving and you'll be free of me Nick." She shook herself from his grasp.
"What do you want from me? I've given you everything! Everything I have is yours! You know that!"
"Yes, you've given me everything Nick, except what I want."
"Laura, I love you! You know that!"
"Then show me damnit!" Her blue eyes flashed with anger.
Nick shut his eyes pushing the painful thoughts away again. "You don't understand."
"Then make me understand, I want to understand why you're doing this to us."
"Don't go, I can't lose you!"
"But you are losing me. We are losing each other and I know neither of us wants that!"
He looked away from her, walked back to the table and began to close his valise. "I'll be back in two weeks. You'll be here when I get back." He said resolutely. He pulled his bag off the table and left the house without kissing her good bye.
Tears came to her face as the door shut behind him. She wasn't sure if he had demanded that she be waiting of him, or if he was pleading. She prayed it was the latter, but she also knew she could not stay. Not the way things were, not now.
* * * * * * * *
'Laura'. That name echoed in her head. He had called her that while he was still
trying to catch his breath after making love with her. Had he been thinking about his brother's
wife while they were together? C.B.
shut her eyes, trying to will away the tears. And here she thought she was a strong woman, impermeable even,
but when the man she loved spoke another woman's name; all of her fortitude was
Now, she held a letter in her hands from that woman. And she was planning to come to San Francisco.
She didn't hear him come up behind her as she crumpled the note in her hand. His fist grabbed and covered her small hand before she released the paper into the waiting fireplace. She felt his grip tighten. "Hold on there! I distinctly read my name on that crumpled piece of paper you have there!"
"J.T. I didn't see you come in." She said trying to cover her startled voice.
"Obviously." He snatched the paper from her hand, unraveled and read it, then stared at her incredulously. "How dare you keep this from me!"
"I..I'm...I'm sorry Jarrod." She stammered embarrassed.
"You're just sorry you were caught! How dare you manipulate me this way!"
"Please J.T., let me explain."
"No! I'm tired of your unfounded jealousies. I knew something was amiss when mother sent me a letter last week asking me why I hadn't answered Laura's letter. But how could I have answered her letter when I never received it? What did my sister-in-law write about Carol? I'm sure you read it!" He spat out.
"She...she... was having problems with that foolish library committee of hers. She wanted you to come home."
"I see, but you didn't think it was important enough for me to know about that!" His blue eyes glowered.
"This murder trial has been keeping you busy, I didn't want you to..." she attempted to defend herself.
"You know very well the prosecution asked for a continuance. I could have gone home, helped her with her problem and been back here in plenty of time. Since when do you make my decisions for me?"
"I.. I .. just thought..."
"I know what you
thought. You thought you could get away
with manipulating me! If I told you once I've told you a hundred times, I love
you. I want to marry you. I want to be able to show you off to my
"You know I don't want that! Not until the laws of this land are changed and women have the same rights as men!" Her eyes glistened but she pushed back her tears. She hated crying; men always felt so superior when they saw a woman cry. Always a sign of weakness it seemed to imply.
"Why do all our arguments have to begin and end with women and rights and..." His eyes shut tightly in exasperation, slamming his fist down on the desk.
"And Laura. We can't forget the ever present Laura!" She pushed her anger back to the surface to try to hide the hurt she felt.
For all C. B. Holister's bravado of being the only attorney willing to take up women's causes in the courtroom during such volatile times; she was almost ashamed to admit that she loved Jarrod Barkley passionately. He had asked her to marry him dozens of times but she had refused each one. She could never compromise her strength and passion, not even for him. She knew he would never share her passion for women's legal and political rights and that in itself was enough of a reason to refuse him, for she knew they could never get past that obstacle, if they were to marry.
"You're the one who can't forget her! I am sick of your jealousy!"
"Tell you what; according to that wire she wants you to get her a room at the Palace, maybe I should take a room at the Palace too, then you can have both your women under the same roof!" She spat out angrily.
"Maybe it isn't such a bad idea you taking a room at the Palace. You certainly can't stay here now."
"Why? Afraid your secret lady love will think less of you because you're living in sin?"
"This living arrangement was always your idea, not mine! I never wanted this sneaking around. This was your choice C.B. yours!" He jabbed a finger in her general direction.
"I'll be moving my things out tonight! I'll get a room at the Palace and I'll be sure to send you the bill."
"Fine, my sister-in-law will be staying here anyway." Jarrod said with a hint of an angry threat.
"Here?" She said icily as her anger reached the boiling point.
"That's correct; you know very well that when a member of my family comes to 'Frisco they always stay here; and Laura is no exception."
"I just bet she isn't!"
"She's family! I am not letting her stay alone, across town. It wouldn't be safe for her in the city."
"She's not exactly a country bumpkin. Didn't you tell me she grew up here?"
"She was a young girl, sheltered in a school. I wouldn't call that city-wise." Jarrod tried to hold back his rage, but he was furious with his lover. Ever since he came back from Stockton after Christmas. Carol had been out of sorts with him. Nick's wife had suffered the trauma of losing her baby and her sight at the same time and it had been very stressful for the entire family. However the incident caused Jarrod to develop a deepening admiration for Laura. Not once did she let her affliction get the best of her. His thoughts went back to one morning several days before Christmas:
* * * * * * * *
Jarrod's sense of smell led him to a familiar odor in the kitchen. He leaned on the doorway, smiling as he watched his blind sister-in-law sitting at the kitchen table happily mixing the contents of a bowl before her. The attorney had marveled at her strength of character. Laura Barkley was an intrepid woman, much like his mother. Jarrod understood his brother's attraction for her, the woman paralleled her husband's strength in every way. He had almost envied his brother's good fortune in finding a mate.
Silas stood by her side, measuring the different spices. "Pinch of cinnamon next Missus."
"Good, did you put it in?" She rotated the wooden spoon, all the while smiling gleefully, happy to be feeling useful again. She decided after she had spoken to Padre Sanchez that she wouldn't let her affliction keep her down. She was determined to do everything a sighted person could do; at least she was going to do her best. Nick did his best to encourage her as well. He had remembered when Jarrod had lost his sight some time before and the difficulty he had adjusting; he wasn't going to let his wife fall prey to that.
"I's surely did."
"Do we have sugar, or honey to add next?"
I's enough honey, 'fraid Miss
Audra took most of da sugar for the Christmas cookies for da orphans."
"Ah, no matter, we'll use half honey and the applesauce, our secret ingredient!"
Silas chuckled, then acknowledged Jarrod at the doorway. "Howdy Mr. Jarrod."
"Silas. I couldn't resist the wonderful smell coming from this kitchen. My dear Laura, are you making your famous award winning raisin bread?"
She laughs at her brother-in-law's comment, "Award winning it is! With dear Silas's patient help. May I have two more spoonfuls Silas?"
"Yes'm, comin' up."
Jarrod sat across from her at the table. "So is this effort of yours for the whole family to enjoy or are you only favoring lucky Heath again?"
"This is a Christmas gift for Heath."
"I knew it! He's your favorite brother-in-law."
"Now Jarrod, that's not true! Don't you dare say that! You know I love you both equally."
Her pouty face made him chuckle.
"You are too easy to tease Laura Barkley." He squeezed her hand, giving her cause to smile.
"You're a wicked man Jarrod Barkley! The only reason I'm making this for Heath is he thinks I can't make it for him anymore just because I can't see, but with Silas's help I can and you know how hard Heath is to surprise."
* * * * * * * *
Wasn't it any wonder he had called out her name in his moment of passion with C.B. It was only because she broke into his thoughts. The woman was incredible, she had the strength of a lion and the gentleness of a lamb. Who wouldn't admire a woman like that, he told himself, but in love with her, no, never. She was his brother's wife after all.
"Why is she coming here?" She said it calmly, not daring to show him how much he had hurt her with his stinging words.
"What?" His thoughts were broken by Carol's voice. "Oh I don't know, maybe she wrote that information in the letter you intercepted. Just how many letters have you kept from me?"
"I won't dignify that with an answer!" She quickly walked toward the door, willing her tears away.
"Where are you going C.B.?"
"To pack my things. All of them. We wouldn't want your little country princess to discover your dirty
little secret, now would we?"
"You seem to forget she is my brother's wife!"
"Oh, I am well aware of that, are you?" She slammed the door shut behind her.
* * * * * * * *
They rode quietly in the carriage for the better part of an hour, when Heath finally broke the silence.
"Seems to me ya got a lot of luggage for a two week stay, doncha think?"
"What makes you think it's going to be a two week stay?"
" 'Cause when Nick gets home and finds you gone, he's gonna come after ya." Heath took in a deep breath before he spoke again, wondering if he should dare to continue, "You know honey, I figure you think ya need to teach Nick a lesson, but this may be going about it the wrong way."
"You've said it yourself Heath, sometimes you have to hit Nick over the head to get his attention. This is my way of hitting him over the head."
Heath gave a small chuckle, " Well Sis, this is sure gonna get his attention." He flicked the reins of the horse.
"I hope so Heath, because I
am at a loss as to what to do with your stubborn brother."
"He loves you ya know." Heath said thoughtfully.
"I know. I love him too, but I can't live like this anymore."
Heath knew they were getting close to their destination and he slowed the carriage. "Ya wanna talk about it?" He said sincerely.
Laura shook her head sadly, "I... I can't Heath. Not even to you, not about this."
"Ya know, I could pull into the schoolyard and you can talk to Hope if ya want. I'll even take over her class so you can talk privately." He gave her a grin with a wink of his eye thrown in.
"I could almost let you talk me into that, if only to see you take that class over for my cousin."
Heath chuckled, "Come on, I'm game if you are."
She smiled at him but her eyes quickly filled with tears, as she shook her head. "I love you Heath for trying, but..." She bowed her head and full tears dropped from her eyes. Heath stopped the carriage and pulled out a handkerchief for her from the back of his pants pocket.
"I know whatever's bothering you is bothering Nick cause he's been right ornery these days. You know, I can turn this carriage around and head home."
"No Heath, I have to do this." She sniffled. "Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't know what else I can do except to give him a taste of his own medicine."
"I'll miss having ya around the ranch."
"You'll miss my raisin bread." She teased.
"Now that's a fact, ...but I'll miss you more." She sobbed loudly into the handkerchief Heath placed a comforting arm around her. "I'll do what I can from this end. Maybe between the two of us we can get that stubborn brother of mine to wake up. Whadaya say huh?"
She attempted a smile as she wrapped her arms around his waist. Heath gave her a quick kiss on the top of her head then flicked the reins to move the carriage again.
A light fluffy snow was falling when the train pulled into the bustling San Francisco Train Depot. Laura watched from the window and she thought about the last time she had seen the city. She had just boarded the train to head to her Father's house in Stockton. It seemed like a life time ago. She remembered the excitement she felt, the freedom. Finally leaving the boarding school after twelve long, lonely years. So much had happened to her since that time. The most important of course was Nick. An errant tear escaped as she felt the pain in her heart. She already desperately missed him. Sadly she wondered if he felt the same. Then she spotted him, waving wildly, a bouquet of violets in his hand, she smiled happily and waved back.
Jarrod held his hat down on his head as a gust of wind threatened to take it away. It was so wonderful to see a familiar face. She waited until the train made a full stop then disembarked to meet him. He felt his heart leap for joy, just a little, when he saw her face peering from the window, but he told himself it was seeing a family member, it would have been the same if it were Mother or Audra. Surely he wasn't....
"Jarrod!" She ran into his arms, hugging him. "Oh it's so good to see you again! I've missed you!"
"I've missed you and the rest of the family. I'm sorry I've been away so long, but.."
"Now don't you go apologizing. We all understand, but it doesn't make us miss you less." She kissed his cheek.
"Listen, I have a closed carriage waiting, you get in and I will take care of your luggage, I will only be a minute or two." He rushed her to the carriage, assisted her in, and made sure she was covered with the fur coverlet. "There nice and cozy, be right back. Oh, before I forget these are for you!" With a small bow he presented her with the small bouquet of violets.
She took in the sweet scent and gushed, "How lovely Jarrod, wherever did you find them at this time of the year?"
"Well my dear, I just ordered the sun to shine and grow a bouquet for the lovely lady fair and there they were when I left my house. The bouquet and a little old lady with a push cart." He grinned.
"You're so sweet Jarrod."
"I try my best. ...Be back." He left her in the carriage to enjoy the perfumed flowers. When he came back into the carriage she noticed he did not order the driver to the Palace Hotel.
"Jarrod where are you taking me?"
"To my townhouse, you'll stay there."
"Oh now Jarrod, I can't let you do this. I will be quite happy at the Palace, I don't want to put you out." She protested.
"Nonsense. You aren't putting me out; my townhouse has plenty of room. You'll be much more comfortable there. I will not allow a member of my family to sleep in some hotel."
"Jarrod, The Palace is not just some hotel, it's the biggest and grandest in the world. Kings and Presidents have slept there."
"Well, I had a Duchess and a Princess sleep in mine, and now I will have the fair Lady Laura."
"You are incorrigible." She teased him happily.
* * * * * * * *
At the townhouse, Jarrod swung open the wrought iron gates, Laura took note of the Edwardian architecture of the large building and an ornate black and gold sign outside, hanging above the door.
"Jarrod T Barkley, attorney at law. Very impressive Mr. Barkley." She beamed at her brother-in-law.
"It's very convenient having an office in my home, I can meet all my clients in my pajamas and slippers."
"Oh I'm sure the San Francisco society matrons enjoy that." She chuckled.
"Why they even pay me extra for the privilege."
"Jarrod Barkley! Shame on you!" She giggles as he leads her into the house.
A middle-aged Chinese woman greeted them with a bow at the door, she was adorned in contemporary western dress rather than the traditional Chinese costume.
"Laura dear, this is Mrs. Tam, she's my housekeeper. Mrs. Tam this is my sister-in-law, Mrs. Laura Barkley.
"Mrs. Barkley, welcome to this humble home." She bowed again.
"Thank you Mrs. Tam."
"Anything you need Laura just ask Mrs. Tam, she will do her best to fulfill your every wish. Mrs. Tam, Mrs. Barkley's luggage will be arriving shortly. Please see that they are placed in the guest room upstairs."
"Yes Mr. Barkley, right away."
"Let me give you the grand tour Laura. Here on the left is the parlor. Unfortunately it's hardly used, maybe now that you're here we can enjoy an after dinner sherry. We can certainly have breakfast in there. Mrs. Tam is a wonderful cook."
"That would be very enjoyable. It's a lovely room. Your taste?"
"Ah, no, someone else decorated it. Now this is where you will most likely find me if you ever care to look." He points to the closed door behind him.
"Let me guess, your office." She moved in front of him, and placed her hand on the door knob, "May I see it?"
"Please, help yourself."
Laura opened the door, and found a very attractive blonde woman standing by the desk.
"Good day." The blonde woman said pleasantly.
"Good day." She greeted the woman, "Jarrod did you forget an appointment?" Laura asked giving him a sideways glance.
A startled Jarrod peered in wide eyed. "Ahh, uhh, well, ah C.B., I mean Miss Holister, I didn't expect to see you. I mean, ah... did we have an appointment?" He said trying to cover up his fluster.
"No Jarrod, I mean Mister Barkley." Clearly C.B. Holister was enjoying putting her lover on the spot. "Actually, Mrs. Tam, your housekeeper, let me in."
"Well, why don't I leave you to your business Jarrod." Laura suggested.
"Ah, please Laura. If I may, let me present my colleague, Miss Carol Baelee Holister. Miss Holister, my sister in law, Mrs. Laura Barkley."
"Mrs. Barkley how do you do?" She offered her hand. Laura shook it.
"Miss Holister. A colleague? Does that mean you're an attorney?"
"That's correct Mrs. Barkley." She said smugly.
"How wonderful! A woman in the legal profession. I do believe you are the first I've met. And I do hope to one day meet many more. I would love to speak to you about your practice. It must be very challenging for you to be working in a predominantly male profession, Miss Holister."
"It is." C.B.
was fully prepared to detest this woman on sight. However, the figure presented before her was
very difficult to dislike indeed.
"Fascinating, truly fascinating. I will leave you now to conclude your business with Jarrod, but I do look forward to speaking with you longer Miss Holister, perhaps another time." Laura shook her hand again, "I am so pleased to have made your acquaintance, truly pleased."
"And I you Mrs. Barkley."
Laura put her hand on Jarrod's arm. "I think I will go rest, it was an exhausting trip."
"Of course, please see Mrs. Tam, she'll see to..."
"My every need, yes I know." She interrupted with a condescending smile. "Oh Jarrod I almost forgot, I was supposed to wire home that I arrived safely, I've totally forgotten, would you be a dear?"
"Of course Laura, consider it done." She smiled, nodded to the woman, and then left the office.
Jarrod made sure the door was closed and bolted before he spoke another word. C.B. smiled slyly at him. "Mmm, miss me already sweetheart?" She teasingly unbuttoned her jacket.
"Oh stop it! What the hell are you doing back here? I thought you were settled in at the Palace."
"I forgot something."
"Don't give me that. I'm no fool." Jarrod angrily walked further into the room and poured himself a drink from the bar.
"Very well, you're right, I wanted to see my competition." She pulled off her gloves smartly.
"For God's sakes, she's not your competition." He gulped down a good portion of his drink.
"She's quite beautiful."
"So are you, so what of it?" He growled.
"I was prepared to hate her, unfortunately she's not the stupid little bubble head I had imagined. I like her."
"Well, she seems to like you too, but at this point I don't know why. Honestly C.B., sometimes you drive me mad."
"You drive me mad too my darling." She moved closer to him and untied his tie. "What do you say sweetheart, we can't go to our room, but certainly we can enjoy each other's company here. Won't it be too deliciously wicked with a family member just upstairs? We can unbolt the door to add to the excitement. Just imagine the lady's face when she walks in on us in the throes of our lovemaking."
She teased him with a smothering kiss which he gladly accepted. He brought her closer, crushing her in his embrace. Then she pushed away from him. She smiled as she buttoned her jacket, and pulled on her gloves.
"What are you doing?"
"Leaving." She said smugly. "Will you come with me?"
"I can't leave her alone on her first night here."
"Well duty calls doesn't it? As for me, I will be at the bridal suite at the Palace. I was going to take the Presidential suite but Mister Oscar Wilde took that. Seems he arrived early and insisted on the best suite. Men can be so bothersome." She smiled teasingly.
* * * * * * * *
Laura Barkley was now alone in the guest bedroom, her outer clothing had been removed and the bed turned down. She pulled up the bottom quilt and covered herself. She automatically lay on her side of the bed, then she turned over, pulled the extra pillow beside her and wrapped her arms around it. Soon the pillow she embraced became damp with tears.
* * * * * * * *
He hated waiting, but it seemed that was all he had been doing. He sat there holding the brown leather folder he had borrowed from Dr. Merar, it bulged with papers. How could one so young have so much written about her? He had himself to blame, if he hadn't... What? ...Met her, married her, what would life be like for her, for him? He shut his eyes, he couldn't begin to imagine what life would be like without her. She was his life, his heart, and he wanted desperately to hang on to that life. But would she let him; could he hang on? He had to know.
"Mister Barkley? ...Excuse me Mister Barkley?"
"What?" Nick shook himself from his thoughts.
"The doctor will see you now."
The green and white sign over the door read, 'Doctor Charles A. Warren, Specializing in Internal Medicine.' He told no one his real reason for coming to Carson City. Heath didn't understand Nick's insistence on going and his wife knew that Heath had been right, they didn't need the horses Nick was supposedly going to buy. He had spoken to her briefly about seeing a specialist but she was adamant about it, and he knew once Laura got in her stubborn mode there was no budging her.
The doctor stood from his desk and offered a hardy handshake. "Mister Barkley a pleasure to meet you finally. Please sit down. I've been re-reading your letter as well as Doctor Howard Merar's, your physician in Stockton. I see you brought your wife's medical records."
"Yes Doctor I did." He handed them over to the doctor. The doctor laid the folder open before him as he sat behind his desk.
"Please, you don't mind if I take a few minutes to go over them?"
"No, of course not."
"Your wife is not with you?"
"No, she's home."
"That's too bad, I would have liked to examine her." He took several more minutes to read the information before him. "Does your wife still get these headaches?"
"She says no, but..."
"You don't believe her."
"I think she doesn't want me to worry." Nick surmised.
The doctor read, flipping through the pages. "You are very fortunate to have a family physician who keeps such extensive records. Reading these notes is almost as good as seeing the patient."
"Do you think you can help us?" Nick asked hopefully.
"I really would like to study these notes a little more closely. How long are you planning on staying in Carson City Mr. Barkley?"
"As long as it takes. I told my family I would be back in two weeks but I could stay longer if you need more time to study them."
"Oh no, I don't intend to hold you any longer than need be. But I would like to study them. Hopefully I may have some answers for you before the end of the week." The doctor stood, letting him know that the consultation had ended. He stretched his hand out again. "I do thank you for coming here Mister Barkley, and I hope we can resolve this mystery."
"Thank you Doctor Warren. I will be staying at the Comstock Inn."
"Very well Mr. Barkley."
* * * * * * * *
Nick walked out into the sunlight feeling a little less burdened than before, he even allowed himself a grin when he spotted the sign in the shop window. It read, 'Pearls from the Exotic Orient.' 'Laura's birthday is coming up on the thirteenth, with any luck I will be home by then and with good news', he thought as he walked into the jewelry shop.
After making his purchase, he tucked the package into his breast pocket and took what he thought would be a short cut to the hotel. The last thing he saw was a shadow on the ground of an arm holding a club.
San Francisco the following day. The librarian in Laura Barkley never could resist looking through bookshelves, always searching for some book that struck her fancy. She knew well her brother-in-law's penchant for classic literature and poetry but her hand found a book that seemed out of place even for Jarrod. She opened it to the bookplate that had been signed, 'To C.B. love J.T.'
"Ah Fair Lady there you are. Ready to leave?" Jarrod interrupted as he walked in with their overcoats draped over his arm.
"Jarrod I didn't know you read such contemporaries as Oscar Wilde. I find him fascinating."
"Do you? Well then Fair Lady you are in luck because I have tickets to his lecture at Pratt Hall on the tenth. Would you care to join me?"
"Oh Jarrod! He's going to be here in San Francisco?! How wonderful!"
"I have it on good authority that he already is in San Francisco. He's staying at the Palace."
"Oh my, and to think I could have stayed in the same hotel as Oscar Wilde! Instead I'm
here." She said with mock disappointment, giving him a sly smile.
Jarrod shook his finger, admonishingly. "Why you are a little minx! I shouldn't even take you for that!"
"Oh Jarrod don't be mean. You know I'm only teasing. I love staying here with you." She pouted.
"Very well, you're forgiven. Come along then I've made reservations at Anthony's and our carriage awaits Fair Lady." He assists with her coat.
* * * * * * * *
The two young men lumbered up
the stairs, the dead weight of the large cowboy they were carrying, slowed them
"Where'd ya want 'em?"
"On the bed of course, where do ya think!"
They struggled to push him off their shoulders and onto the bed. The blood that once had been trickling down his head had since dried and had matted on a large patch of dark hair on his forehead. All the pockets in his jacket had been torn in an effort of someone searching through them, and he was filthy from head to boot. One of the boys carrying him had his black hat on his head and tossed it on a nearby chair.
"Whatcha gonna do with him, he ain't got nothin'?"
"What did you boys do, go through his pockets already?"
"No Queenie, we found him like that! Honest!" We was just searchin' for hiz name is all. He's cleaned out; got nothin'."
"You two ever see him before?"
"No Ma'am, just came on him, like we sez."
"We think he's a stranger, never seen him 'afore in these parts."
"Ok you two, get out. Leave him be."
"Whatcha gonna do with him Queenie?" One of them snickered.
"Whatcha think I'm gonna do to him, jackass! Now the two of ya get out of here before I tell yer ma where ya been!"
The two young men left snickering to themselves as she slammed the door behind them. She stood at the foot of the bed, her hands on her green silk hostess dress. She tsked at the sight of him.
"Looks to me like ya gonna wake up with one mean headache cowboy. Hell, they coulda at least left ya with some identification. Well, let's get to it! Gad, what a mess! I don't know why I bother!"
She pulled off his black leather gloves and noticed the gold wedding band. "Well, ya lucky those varmints didn't see that! They woulda think nothin' of cuttin' yer finger off to get at it!"
She took a wet cloth to his face and washed the blood off. "Ain't half bad lookin' cowboy. Too bad ya taken. Betcha she's wonderin' where ya at? That'll teach ya to stray from home. By yer clothes ya look like ya got money, anyways ya did have."
* * * * * * * *
The following day In San Francisco:
Laura had the book opened on her lap but she wasn't reading it, instead she stared into the glowing fireplace, her thoughts on the night before. She had a restless night, just like all the others since she had arrived in San Francisco, but last night was the worst. She had dreamt of Nick being left for dead. She had awoken screaming, drenched in a cold sweat. Jarrod had rushed into her room when he heard her screams. He held her tightly in his arms as she soaked his robe with her tears.
"There, there now, it's all right, it was only a dream. Go back to sleep." He spoke in soothing tones.
"Oh Jarrod it seemed so real! I could see him bleeding! It was awful!" She sobbed shaking with fear.
"Now you know dreams sometimes seem real but they never are. It's just fears we sometimes have, it doesn't really mean anything Honey."
"I would die if anything happened to him Jarrod, I would just die."
"Nothing is going to happen to him. He's a strong man who can certainly take care of himself, you know that."
"I know, ...still. Oh Jarrod, I..." She choked between quaking sobs.
"Now, now, where did you say he was? Carson City?" What kind of trouble could he get into there? He's on a buying trip, right? Would it make you feel better if we wired home tomorrow?"
"No, I'm just being silly. You were right, it was just a bad dream."
As upset as Laura was she stubbornly wouldn't give into contacting Nick first. She had wanted him to make the first move.
* * * * * * * *
Heath sat comfortably on his horse
watching the men while they tended to a few head of stray cattle when he felt a
sharp twinge in his chest. He sat up
with a feeling of uneasiness. The
twinges, when they visited him were always a sign that someone was in
trouble. More often than not, it was
his brother Nick and he was miles from home.
The first time he'd felt it was when Heath had been at the ranch for
only a short time and Nick had been shot in the leg by one of General Wallant's
cohorts. Only moments before it had
happened, Heath had felt the twinge; but had not known it's meaning. He knew it's meaning now and had experienced
it several times since then, the last time was this past summer when Nick and
Laura had run into gunslinger Johnny Ray.
But now, Nick was far from home and Heath could only worry at what kind
of trouble his brother had gotten into this time.
"Shorty! Come here!" Heath yelled out anxiously.
The dusty cowboy rode over to where Heath sat on his mount. "Yeah Boss?"
"Want ya to take over for a while. I got something in town I gotta do."
"Sure boss, almost finished here anyway."
Heath spurred his horse into a canter, heading toward town and straight to the telegraph office.
* * * * * * * *
At the telegraph office Heath leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest waiting for a reply.
The operator attempted to engage Heath in some small talk while they waited. "Ya know Miss Dougherty comes in here sometimes and shares some tea with me, sometimes when it's slow she'll play a game of checkers with me. She's a fine little gal. I hear tell yer sweet on her Heath."
"Is that what ya hear?" He gave the man a half smile.
"That's what I hear." Mr. Jenkins said with a glint in his eye.
"Well, ya think you can hear a message coming on the wire for me anytime soon?"
"Oh sure Heath, it'll be coming. Carson City is a big city ya know. Ever been there?"
"Yeah." The tapping of the wire breaks their conversation, as Heath stood erect from his leaning position. "Is that it?"
"Comstock Inn. Yeah this is what you're waitin' for." Replied Mr. Jenkins as he sat at his desk, pencil in hand.
"Well, what's it say?"
'Comstock Inn, Carson City, Nevada. Mr. Nick Barkley checked in three days ago. Room not used. Await further reply.'
"Gimme a paper." Heath scribbled a message on it. "Send this right away. The minute ya get a reply you come out to the ranch." Heath tossed a gold coin on the counter and left as quickly as he arrived.
"Yes sir Mr. Barkley, will do."
The telegraph operator read the message out loud as he sent it across the wire. "Nick Barkley, Comstock Inn, Carson City, Nevada. Nick, Wire me the minute you get this message, Urgent. ~Heath."
* * * * * * * *
Jarrod leaned back in his wingback chair, attempting to concentrate on the briefs in his hand, but he was unable to focus on the words before him. Instead, his mind was replaying a scene from last night and no matter how hard he tried to push it back, it refused to leave his head. He'd been nearly ready to retire for the evening when Laura's chilling screams shattered the night silence. He'd burst into her room and found her thrashing violently in the bed, caught in the throes of some horrific nightmare. He'd read that it wasn't good to wake someone who was so caught up in their dream; but he just couldn't bear to see her suffering so.
"Laura! Wake up! You're having a bad dream! WAKE UP! Come on honey, it's okay, it all right, relax now. Jarrod's here, come on, calm down." He spoke gentle words while cradling her tightly in his arms, softly rocking her.
"...it was only a dream go back to sleep, Shuusshh, it's all right. I'll stay with you until you fall asleep."
His soothing voice and words of comfort, finally stilled Laura back into a restful slumber and as Jarrod continued to cradle her; sleep came to him as well.
Her soft utterance jarred him from his sleep more resolutely than a scream could have accomplished. His eyes widened at the realization of having spent the duration of the night with her in his arms. Laura's head had come to rest on his chest and her arm was draped up around his neck. With the utmost of care, Jarrod untangled their bodies and laid Laura's head back on the pillow. She stirred slightly and he held his breath. Again, she called out her husband's name then rolled over. Jarrod pulled a quilt over her and tiptoed from her room.
Jarrod took in a deep cleansing breath while he continued to replay the event in his mind. 'Thank the heavens she didn't awaken.' He thought. He could never have explained his presence. But then, lying there beside her seemed so comfortable and satisfying, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Was it possible that C.B. had been right all along? Was he in love with his brother's wife, Nick's wife? Jarrod's eyes shut hard at the thought. 'No, I couldn't possibly be! I won't let Carol's foolish jealousies enter into this,
"I won't!" He said out loud.
"You won't what?" Came a voice from across the room. Jarrod looked up with a start to see her standing at the door way; looking as beautiful as ever.
"Ahh...Carol, what are you doing here?" She entered, careful to shut the door behind her.
"I used to live here. Have you forgotten me already?" She bit her bottom lip hard, determined not to show Jarrod just how hurt and angry she felt inside.
Jarrod quickly stood from his chair, annoyed, he turned away, facing the window. "Of course not! Don't be ridiculous! What are you doing here? And don't say you forgot something again!"
"Oh Jarrod, you can be so childish at times, really. I just came here to ask about our date, is it still on or have you finally gotten rid of me in favor of your brother's wife."
"You just love to remind me of that!" He turned angrily, walking toward her.
"Remind you of what darling?" She feigned ignorance.
"You love to point out the fact that she's my brother's wife! You seem to relish in reminding me at each and every opportunity!"
"Well, someone has to. You seem to conveniently forget." She said coolly.
"Damnit! Would you stop?! Just what date are you speaking about?" He attempted to change the uncomfortable subject.
"Oscar Wilde, Platt Hall, remember? On the tenth."
"Oh yes, that. You know, Mr. Wilde is doing that lecture of his all month, I thought we could go another time when Laura goes back home. I really can't abandon her."
"Oh of course not. You couldn't abandon Laura. Just when is sister dear going back home?"
"She hasn't said."
"Doesn't her husband miss her? Doesn't she miss him?"
"Nick's away in Nevada on business."
"Oh, how convenient, for both of you." She regretted her flip answer the minute it left her lips. She really didn't want to quarrel with him. She hadn't come there for that. Truth be told she had desperately missed him, and wanted to see his handsome face. She hated to admit it but he had long ago captured her heart and she was hopelessly in love with him. Her fate had been sealed, forever entwined with his.
"Would you stop please!" Jarrod admonished her in exasperation.
She moved closer wrapping her arms around his waist. "I'm sorry darling, forgive me; it's just that I've missed having you lying beside me. Don't you miss me?" She nuzzled his chin with her head.
"Darling of course I miss you. You are on my mind night and day."
"J.T., do you think you could get away tonight? Maybe we can have a late supper in my suite? It's really a marvelous room. You should see how huge the bed is. Much too big to sleep alone. Please my sweet. Will you come away with me?" She nuzzled his neck again dotting it with little kisses. He lifted her face up towards his and assaulted her lips with renewed passion.
"You drive me mad! When will you give in to me?"
"J.T. I've always given into you, and you're the only man I ever will give into." She matched his passionate kisses with her own. "Come away with me my darling."
"I wish I could my Love, but I couldn't leave Laura alone."
"I'm talking about later when she goes to sleep. Surely you can steal away then. I'll have a chilled bottle of wine waiting for you." She squeezed her arms around his waist.
"Oh you do tempt me, but I can't. I'm sorry."
"Laura has been having disturbing dreams at night. She may awaken and find me gone. I couldn't let that happen."
"What do you mean? Does she rush into your bed for comfort after she's had a bad dream like a little girl?"
"No of course not! But she
does wake in the middle of the night."
"Oh I see, you rush into her bedroom to comfort her."
Jarrod angrily pulled away from her. "For God's sakes C.B.!"
"Listen maybe she needs to go back to her husband! That should cure her bad dreams, or at least he could comfort her instead of you!"
"I'm leaving. When you want me you know where I'll be." She walked outside the house that they had shared and wiped her tears from her eyes. "Damn you J.T." C.B. whispered hoarsely.
A royal blue blur moved over him. He felt a damp coolness on his head and gave out a low moan.
"Hey wake up. Open your eyes cowboy."
The hazel eyes gave a few blinks, trying to focus on the voice above him. "What?"
"Well, there you are. How do you feel?"
"My's head's pounding."
"Mmmm, I'm not surprised. You have quite a lump on your noggin'. Lucky for you, ya got a hard head."
His eyes focused on an attractive well rounded thirtyish woman, dressed as a dance hall girl in a royal blue dress with blonde hair piled on her head and dancing green eyes. "Who are you and what is this place?"
"Name's Queenie and you're in my room above Sweet Adelaide's Saloon."
"Oh, must have been a helluva party."
"Weren't no party you were at Handsome. Ya know ya talk in your sleep?"
"Heath was the name you used and sometimes ya said Laura. Those people your kin?"
Nick attempted to sit up, but the painful head changed his mind. "OOhhh...What in blazes happened to me?"
"A couple of the boys found ya in the alley behind the saloon. Ya got bushwhacked."
Nick attempted to sit up again, rubbing his head with both hands. "What the hell did they hit me with?"
"Don't know but you've been out for two days just about." She replaced the wet cloth on his head. He pulled it off again and threw it on the bedside table.
"Two days? I've been like this for two days?!"
"Afraid so. You must be hungry I got some grub for you. Here, I'll pour you a cup of coffee. How do you take it?"
"Yeah, how do you take your coffee?"
"I don't know, it don't matter. Just give it to me." He swung his stocking feet over the side of the bed and held his head. She handed him the hot coffee. He took a sip and winced as it burnt his mouth.
"Got any cream or milk, something to put the fire out?"
"Sure. I like it with cream too. Sugar?"
"So, ya got a name cowboy?"
"What's your name again?" Nick looked at her wincing from the almost unbearable pain in his head.
"Queenie, okay. Exactly where am I Queenie?"
"I told you, Honey."
"I mean the name of the town."
"That's where it is."
Nick stood unsteady at first, then made his way to the window. He looked down at the street; nothing looked familiar to him. He took another sip of his coffee. He didn't understand why he could feel his heart racing in his chest and took in a calming breath.
"How's your headache?" Queenie helped herself to a cup of coffee.
"The coffee helps."
"Yeah, I can never start a day without coffee too first thing."
"Yeah, Laura's the same way." He said absentmindedly.
"Laura? That your wife?"
Nick rubbed his head as a searing pain shot through his right eye.
"You just mentioned the name Laura; that your wife?"
"What makes you think I got a wife?"
"The gold band on your left hand, it's usually a dead give away."
Nick looked down at the gold ring on his hand as if he had seen it for the first time. "I got a wife?" Suddenly the sharp ache went from his head and became a tightening grip clenching his stomach.
Queenie joined him at the window and placed a concerned hand on his arm. "You don't know who you are, do you?"
"You mean you never seen me in here before?"
"Never seen you until two days ago." Nick sighed, moving away from the window.
"Great, just great! I have a wife someplace, kids too maybe. Now what do I do?"
"Maybe ya better see the doctor. We got a really good one up the street."
"Yeah that's right. His name is Doctor Warren. How did you know that?"
"Don't know; I seem to remember seeing a sign I guess." Nick began to pace the small room holding his hand to his head, trying to rub the ache away.
* * * * * * * *
He invited her for a second cup of coffee in his office and to finally settle some long standing business. Jarrod sat behind his desk using his best lawyer tone. She forced herself to pay attention, though her thoughts were on her husband and the disturbing dream she had earlier. Jarrod pushed a contract over to her, she took it in her hand.
"Now this is the addendum to the funding to the library. With this added to the clause you shouldn't have any problem with those old fuss budgets on the committee." He grinned.
"Thank you Jarrod, this will be a Godsend."
"And Hope will be able to get the money she so richly deserves."
"Thank you Jarrod for this. It solves so many problems for me." She stood to leave.
"Oh, where are you going?" Jarrod stood as she did, his hands still holding more papers.
"I thought we were finished."
"Oh no, not by a long shot. There is one more thing pending that has been, ...well, it's time we took care of it."
She sat back in her seat. "What is it?"
Jarrod heaved a long sigh as he watched her face register a look of concern. "Do you remember we spoke about having your mother re-buried in Stockton?"
"Yes of course, but I thought that the paper work for that had been completed?"
"It has. All the paper work is done and we're ready to proceed."
Jarrod stood and walked around his desk towards her. He sat on a chair nearby and took hold of her hand. "Yes dear, what I mean is, well... I just wondered if you wanted some sort of graveside service for the re-burial.
"Oh! Well, yes, of course I would like a small service. Perhaps Father Sanchez could be persuaded to read some prayers. You know, I wasn't able to attend my father's funeral when he... ...when he was buried."
"I remember all too well how very ill you were then. Nick was beside himself with worry."
"I think a graveside service of some kind would certainly be in order." She said ignoring his comment. "I ... It would be wonderful to have my parents finally laid to rest together, don't you think?" She bit her bottom lip to keep her tears at bay.
"Yes, I'm sure it would be."
"When I get back to...to, excuse me Jarrod." She stood quickly and ran out of the room, much to Jarrod's chagrin.
"Damnit, I knew I shouldn't have broached the subject with her yet."
She ran into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. It wasn't the thought of her mother and father being laid to rest that was her concern. It was her own marriage; Laura desperately wanted to go back home to Nick, but she had drawn a line in the sand when she told him that she would come back when he was ready. She was waiting for him to come to her, now she feared she would wait forever.
* * * * * * * *
He didn't have much trouble finding the place, in fact it looked a bit familiar to him but he couldn't understand why. The bell over the door rang as he walked in. A woman emerged from a doorway in the corner of the room, a pleasant smile gracing her lips.
"Welcome back Mr. Barkley. I'm afraid the doctor isn't here. He sent word to your hotel that he had the report ready but when he didn't hear from you he took it over to your hotel. I would imagine he's there now."
"You know me?"
"Why yes Sir, I never forget a face. You were in here several days ago inquiring about your wife's health."
"My wife? She's sick? Is she here?"
"No of course not Mr. Barkley she's home." The doctor's assistant gave him a bemused grin.
"Yes sir, Stockton."
"Stockton? Stockton, Nevada?"
"Mr. Barkley, are you well?"
"Yeah fine. Where did you say the doctor went?"
"To see you at your hotel."
"The Comstock Inn of course." She answered the confused cowboy.
"Thanks." Nick gave the bewildered woman a slight wave of his hand then quickly walked out of the office.
Nick strode down the street going on his own instincts as to where the hotel was. He was wearing his black leather gloves, his hat, gunbelt and the torn jacket he was found in.
He came upon the hotel two blocks from the doctor's office. He stepped into a hotel lobby he was sure he had never seen before. He took note that it was of an upscale hotel, with green velvet curtains and plush sofas.
"Mr. Barkley! There you are! We wondered when you would be coming back."
Nick's eyes followed the voice to the front desk as a man about his age smiled at him.
"Yeah?" He said warily.
"I have several messages waiting here for you. Here they are." The desk clerk handed him an envelope, several notes and a small package.
Nick read each one several times over trying to make sense of them. One was a telegram, it read: 'Nick Barkley, Comstock Inn, Carson City, Nevada. Nick, Wire me the minute you get this message, Urgent. ~Heath.'
"Heath?" He said out loud remembering that was the name Queenie had mentioned before.
"Excuse me Sir did you say something?"
"Huh, oh nothing. Where did this wire come from?"
The desk clerk looked at the envelope lying on the desk before him. "Stockton, California Sir."
"Yes Sir, that's how you signed the register, right there." He read it out loud, "Nick Barkley; Barkley Ranch; Stockton, California."
"Barkley Ranch, Stockton." He tried to will his mind to remember those words as he repeated them.
"Mister Barkley! I am so glad I caught up to you." Nick turned toward the voice of a tall, lanky man in his mid-forties, with salt and pepper hair. "I've finished going over your wife's medical charts, I left a message for you here at the desk but apparently you were out of town. I was going to leave them; you see I'm going out of town for a few days, off to Virginia City, but I did want to return them before I left." The doctor handed him the brown leather folder brimming with papers.
"This is my wife's?"
"Yes. I do have time to go over them with you if you like. Shall we go to your room?"
"Ah, yeah sure." Nick turned to the desk clerk. "You got a key? I lost mine."
"Yes Sir. Here you go." He handed Nick the key. He took note of the room number 304 then motioned toward the stairs. "After you doc."
"Oh Mister Barkley Sir, what about the telegram? Don't you want to answer it? It's marked urgent."
"Ah yeah. Tell him I'm okay and send money."
"How much money Sir?"
"I don't know, enough to pay this hotel bill and some spending money. What ever he can spare."
"Yes Sir, I'll get right on it!"
* * * * * * * *
Heath sat on the corner of the billiard table and rolled billiard balls across the green felt, watching them bounce off the sides, he caught several of them in his hand as some rolled back to him.. He repeated the act over and over until a small delicate hand caught one of the balls he was about to catch. Heath gazed into her gray eyes.
"Heath." She rolled the ball away to the opposite end of the table. "You've been quiet these past few days. Would you like to talk about something?"
"Well that's a dead giveaway."
"What's on your mind Heath?"
"What makes you think..." He took note of the stern, no nonsense expression on her face. "Sorry."
"I'm waiting." She placed her hands on her hips.
"I haven't heard from Nick in several days. I sent him a wire but; just wondering if I should go to Carson City."
"Do you think he's in trouble?"
Heath stared at her for a moment then said thoughtfully, "Don't know Mother."
"But you think he could be."
"Don't rightly know."
Why did he go there? I know it wasn't to get more stock, even if he said it was; do you know the real reason Heath?"
"Didn't tell me, just said it was something he had to do. 'Didn't tell anyone why."
"Not even Laura?"
"What is he doing Heath?"
"Don't know mother, really."
"Did Laura give you any idea about...." His mother added.
"Nope. She was just as closed mouth as Nick was."
"I don't like this at all, not at all. There's something going on between those two." She said thoughtfully.
"Did Laura tell you anything in the telegram she sent from Frisco?" Heath asked.
"No, and actually she didn't send it, Jarrod did. He just said that she arrived safely and all was well. He put her up in his home rather than the Palace."
"Well she is family, we always stay with Jarrod when we go there. His house has plenty of room." She said.
"Nick's not gonna like it one bit." Heath stood and poured himself a drink.
"Why because she's staying with Jarrod instead of a hotel?"
"No, because she left. He doesn't know about her leaving."
"What do you mean he doesn't know about it? Of course he knows where his wife is!"
"Nope, he thinks she's still here. She told him she was going to Frisco but Nick wouldn't believe her."
"Now why in the world wouldn't Nick believe her?"
" 'Cause he's Nick that's why. If he doesn't want something to happen then in his mind it doesn't." Heath sighed as he finished his drink and placed the empty glass resignedly on the table.
Audra walked into the game room, wearing her brown riding clothes. "Hello, there you are. Guess what, we got a wire from Nick. It's addressed to you Heath."
"Nick? Lemme see it." He anxiously took the small cream colored note from her hand. He read it several times them looked up at his family, puzzled.
"What is it Heath?"
"Nick says that he's all right and he wants me to send him money for his hotel bill and any spending money I can spare."
"I don't understand; why didn't he cash a bank draft like he always does?" Audra wondered out loud.
"Don't know." Heath cocked his head to one side.
"Heath I want you to go into town and wire Nick. Tell him to come home immediately. Tell him to take the train if he must but come home now." Victoria said with a voice of authority..
"I'm on my way." Heath agreed and quickly walked out of the room.
The Palace Hotel had one of the most exclusive restaurants in the city and Jarrod knew that while Laura had lived in San Francisco for many years she was a mere girl at the time and never really experienced it's finer points, and he loved the idea of showing off his City by the Bay. The maitre d' showed them to Jarrod's favorite table, the one he often shared with C.B. and gave Jarrod a knowing smile when he pulled out Laura's chair. Jarrod chose to ignore the glance from the impertinent waiter.
"Your finest wine please Andrew." Jarrod said in a slightly arrogant tone of voice.
"Of course Mr. Barkley." He gave him a quick bow.
"This is lovely Jarrod, thank you."
"I knew you would enjoy it." A waiter arrived with menus and a pitcher filled with water.
"May I order for you?"
"Please Sir, by all means." She nodded appreciatively.
Jarrod looks over the menu, "Hmmm, let's see salmon looks good...You enjoy fish don't you Laura?"
Laura touched Jarrod's arm, "Oh Jarrod look who's here! It's him!" Jarrod's eyes followed her direction as she pointed toward a tall man with shoulder length wavy hair, a long patrician nose, and a boyish face. He wore silken purple britches instead of long pants and a green waistcoat, with matching purple vest, and a long ruffled shirt. All eyes in the room turned and stared as the flamboyant young man waved at the restaurant patrons with a frilly white silk handkerchief. He seemed to purposely parade around the room while making his way to his dinner table.
"Oh I love these Americans, they are too utterly utter! Basil darling, do find a seat you're causing a scene dear heart," he ordered his dinner companion. Then he strode about the room nodding and tittering to the patrons who were kind enough to acknowledge his presence. The young man was incredibly tall and gangly looking, but for all his height he carried himself with uncommon grace. He walked by Jarrod's table and stopped, smiling at Jarrod.
"Do I know you? You look so familiar. What piercing blue eyes you have, I bet you could see through my soul, that is if I had one!" He laughed at his own joke.
Jarrod stood and stretched out his hand. "Perhaps I look familiar to you Sir, because I just attended your lecture at the Platt, along with my sister in law, may I present Mrs. Laura Barkley. I'm Jarrod Barkley."
The dandy bowed low at her
name. "Madam I am your humble
"And I am a great admirer of yours Mister Wilde. I have read your articles and poems with great interest." She held out her hand and he kissed it.
"You do me honor madam."
"Please Mr. Wilde won't you do us the honor of dining with us?" Jarrod asked, not out of politeness but to please Laura who was quite infatuated with the poet turned lecturer.
"You are so kind, I will sit only for a moment as I cannot abandon my dinner companion."
"Well. he's certainly welcome to join us." Jarrod added the invitation.
"Oh, you are too kind... but I'm afraid Basil is quite a bore. He's my agent and I only tolerate him because he makes sure I get paid for my services." He laughed again at his joke. "So tell me dear lady did my lecture meet up to your expectations, or did yearn to be elsewhere?" Despite declining the invitation to dine with them Mr. Wilde continued his conversation, as he took a seat at their table, much to Laura Barkley's delight.
Several days later:
Nick had spent most of the last evening in his hotel room going over every piece of paper in the file folder before him hoping to find a clue to his own identity. Everything he read about her, although sad, was unfamiliar to him. He didn't know this woman who was his wife. From what he read he didn't have children with her, so at least that was a blessing in itself, still he couldn't help wondering what he was going to do when he got off the train in Stockton, his home. Would she be there to greet him? He looked down at the name again. 'Laura.' Pretty name he thought, 'Wonder what she looks like?'
The train slowed at the depot and Nick looked out searching for a familiar face, any face. This was his home after all; surely some of the townsfolk would be familiar to him. He saw one cowboy on the boardwalk in brown pants and vest. Nick watched him wipe the sweat from his brow with his blue shirtsleeve. His blond hair glistened under the sun. Nick thought he should know him, but couldn't recall the face that held the clear blue eyes. He disembarked from the train.
"Boy howdy Nick, for once that train was on time. How ya doing?" Said the blond cowboy as he slapped him on the back. "How was the trip?"
"Okay." Nick stared at the blue eyes trying to regain some form of recognition.
"Got your mount here. Mother and Audra are anxious to see you." Heath led Nick over to where the horses were tethered.
"Audra? I thought..., isn't it Laura?"
"Huh? What are you talking about?" Heath asked puzzled.
The two brothers rode home, Heath took note of Nick's unusual quietness. Victoria was the first to greet them at the door. She gave Nick a tight hug and a kiss on the cheek.
"Oh son, I'm so glad you're home. We've missed you." Victoria noticed the long brown folder he was carrying under his arm. "What's this Nick?"
"Oh nothing, just some personal stuff." Audra flew down the stairs, flinging herself in Nick's arms.
"Oh Nick! We missed you! Did you buy me anything?" She said teasingly.
"Don't know, maybe. Got this here box." He showed her a small box he had in his pants pocket.
Audra took the box and opened it. She squeals in delight when she sees the contents. "Oh Nick, Laura is going to love it when she sees it! Look mother! Did you get it for her birthday? You know it's the 13th."
"Yeah. Audra?" He wondered out loud.
"Oh mother, it's engraved, look at it." Audra released the contents from its box.
His mother took the gold locket in her hand and read the words, "Forever Nick. It's lovely Nick. Did you put a picture in it? May I open it?"
Victoria opened the engraved locket and found a picture on either side, one of Laura and the other of Nick, taken on their wedding day. "Oh Nick, what a beautiful thought, Laura is going to love it."
Victoria handed the locket back to Nick. He looked at it for the first time and stared at the tiny picture. Nick studied the image for what seemed like a long time, then said just above an awed whisper, "She's beautiful."
Victoria placed a loving hand on his arm, "Yes, she is Nick, and she loves you very much."
"Is she sick? Where is she?"
"In San Francisco." Heath answered, fully expecting the bellowing to begin.
"Oh." Nick replied simply.
Silas arrived to gather up the luggage. "Can I take this for ya Mr. Nick? I'll put it in ya room."
"Ah yeah, sure, I'll help ya. You can take this, I'll carry the other and follow you."
Nick followed the old black servant up the stairs to his bedroom. The three Barkleys remained to stare up at the dark haired cowboy. Victoria then turned to Heath. "What's going on Heath?"
"Don't rightly know Mother." He stood thoughtfully, his hands on his hips, "but I aim to find out."
* * * * * * * *
Once the kindly servant had left the room, Nick walked around the spacious bedroom, hoping to find some small item familiar to him. He searched the pictures on the dresser for recognizable faces. In a gilded frame was the pretty blonde woman who was said to be his wife dressed in a beautiful wedding gown standing beside him in a black tuxedo. He held the photograph in his hand, 'he sure did look happy' he thought. There was something about her that touched his soul. He felt a peacefulness when he looked upon her lovely, luminous face. He closed his eyes, tracing his finger on the image and the fragrance of roses came to him. Somehow he knew it was her scent, and a small smile curled at the corners of his mouth.
Still he felt fortunate that she was not there to greet him. Nick didn't relish having to deal with another stranger in his life. In another picture was that of Audra, Heath, the woman downstairs who was his mother, and two other men. The older man in the picture had dark hair and similar features like himself; the one younger was lighter and resembled Audra, his sister. Nick strained to remember. A knock on the door interrupted his thoughts.
"Yeah?" He heard the door open.
"Can I come in Nick?"
"So, how was the trip Nick, did you get what you needed?"
"Yeah, sure. How was everything here?"
"Okay. Need help unpacking?" Heath watched as Nick opened one of the drawers, but finding women's clothing in it, he closed it again. "Something wrong Nick?"
"No, everything's fine." He replied, trying to sound sure of himself. "Maybe I'll just put them away later."
"How about a drink?" Asked Heath, looking around the room.
"Sounds like a good idea."
"Good, lets have it then."
"The whiskey, your bottle."
"Yeah, ya know ya got one hidden someplace up here. Remember we took a swig before your wedding to settle the nerves. You always had one hidden for just such emergencies."
"Yeah, sure, just don't rightly know where it is now. Maybe my wife moved it?" He pretended to search the top drawer. Heath settled himself in a stuffed brown chair near the fireplace.
"Maybe, but could be you can't find it because you don't have one hidden up here. In fact ya never had one hidden up here."
"What are you gettin' at?"
"I'm tryin' to get at the truth Nick, ya got any to give?" Nick slammed the drawer closed and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He could feel Heath's eyes silently watching him.
Nick glanced over to him then averted his eyes, "Think I'm gonna take a nap. It was a long trip. We'll talk later okay?"
Heath slowly stood up. "What's going on Nick?"
"I told ya, I'm tired, we'll talk later."
"Never had any problems getting you to talk before." Nick sighed, pulled his gun belt off, set it quietly on the bureau then walked toward the bed. He sat on the edge and pulled his boots off. Heath resignedly walked out of Nick's bedroom.
* * * * * * * *
In San Francisco:
Jarrod stood in his dressing gown and poured champagne in two glasses, he handed one of the glasses to a feminine hand.
"There you are my darling, just the way you like it, cold and bubbly."
"And with my favorite lawyer to serve it to me." She smiled as she sipped her glass. "Oh J.T. this is so wonderful to finally be in our own room again, together. How I've missed you." She stroked his cheek with her hand.
"Not half as much as I've missed you my darling." He wrapped his free hand around her waist and pulled her toward him in a generous kiss.
"How did you get rid of her?" C.B. smiled up at him coyly.
"I'm afraid I can't take credit. We ran into an old friend of hers while we were out with that insufferable Wilde fellow yesterday. An old school chum; she invited Laura to spend the day with her. Although I do suspect the only reason the girl invited Laura was in hopes that Oscar Wilde would tag along as a dinner companion for Laura."
"You mean this friend of hers didn't even have the courtesy to invite you sweetheart?" She teased him with a kiss on his cheek.
"Not at all, the lady did invite me, but all the time she was coveting Oscar with her eyes."
"Did Mister Wilde oblige her?"
"No, he wisely excused himself, said he had another engagement, as did I." Jarrod sat at the head of the bed with his feet up and patted the side invitingly with his hand. "Come here." C.B. took the spot beside him on the bed. They gave each other a kiss.
"So she'll be out all day then?" She nestled close to him.
"All day, we have the house all to ourselves. I even gave Mrs. Tam the day off. Wasn't that clever of me?" He kissed the top of her head.
"Very clever." She stretched behind her and placed her glass on the nightstand. Then she worked the knot on his dressing gown. "Now Counselor, without further ado." She planted sweet kisses on his bare chest. Jarrod laughed as he placed his own glass on the nightstand beside him and pushed himself down on the bed.
"Carol, my beautiful darling," his hand caressed her soft cheek as he gave light feathery kisses to her inviting lips.
"Jarrod, did you feel
"What my darling?" His hands worked at reacquainting themselves with her voluptuous body as they hid themselves under her loose bodice.
"It felt like a slight tremor. Didn't you feel it?"
"C.B. all I feel is the tremor you cause lying next to me." He devoured her with wanton kisses over her now exposed breasts.
She allowed her hands to run through his jet-black hair as she pulled him up and met his willing lips with her own. "Mmm, must be me, just being in your arms again is sending shivers up and down my spine. Jarrod..." She moaned as his lips traveled their way between her breasts. "...Oh Jarrod..."
Jarrod tenderly kissed each breast, and his hand traveled down to her navel and around to her buttocks pushing away what was left of her robe.. She lifted herself so that he could easily pull off her undergarments and trace the familiar territory. She moaned as his gentle kisses followed the same tracings of his hand. He lifted himself on her and she opened herself in eager anticipation.