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).
It was an unusually humid day for March as the two women leisurely strolled toward the livery stables.
"I can't believe how much I ate, I'm so full. I'm going to need that ride to work off all that food. What did you call it again?"
"It's called Cantonese. It's fairly new here but it's all the rage, and everyone loves it."
"And they give you so much of it, I feel I could almost burst." She rubbed her stomach and laughed.
"Laura, isn't it your birthday today dear?"
"You remembered Rosalie,
I'm impressed." She smiled
wistfully, she wondered if anyone else realized what day it was.
"Remember the wild things we did to celebrate your sixteenth birthday?!" The tall brunette threw her head back and laughed heartily at the memory. Her dainty gloved hand covering her mouth.
"How could I possibly forget, it very nearly got me thrown out of school!" Laura joined in her friend's contagious laughter.
"Didn't your father come to rescue you then?"
"He didn't come to my rescue, but he did speak to the head mistress about keeping me on, after he paid all the fines and damages. I remember I was terrified he was going to send me to a convent next. Thank God he didn't." Laura laughed softly at the memory.
"He was so furious with you, wasn't he? Positively livid! How is your father Laura?"
Laura's smile faded, "My father died last year."
"Oh I'm so sorry to hear that. What happened to him?" She took her friend's hand in a consoling gesture.
"Are these the stables you were talking about Rosalie?" Laura released her hand quickly and moved ahead toward the livery stable, effectively changing the subject.
* * * * * * * *
Victoria heard the shouts as she walked up the back stairs, she flew into his room where she found her middle son thrashing about on the bed, his body soaked in sweat. She bent over him, trying to stop his convulsing body while avoiding being hit by his long flailing arms. NICK! NICK! WAKE UP DARLING WAKE UP! NICK!"
Audra raced into the room and went to her brother's bedside. "Mother! What on earth is wrong with him?"
"Get a wet cloth, quickly!" Audra obeyed, rushing out of the room.
"LAURA! LAURA! WATCH OUT,
WATCH OUT!" Nick shouted, deeply caught up in a horrible nightmare.
"Nick darling, please wake up! You're having a bad dream. Wake up!" She entreated him.
Nick's eyes slowly flickered open and he found himself gazing up
into a pair of worried gray eyes.
"What?" He grumbled hoarsely.
Audra raced into the room with a wet cloth and quickly gave it to her mother, who proceeded to wipe Nick's forehead with the cool compress. Nick looked at both of them, confused. "What's going on? What..., what are you doing here?"
"You were crying out in your sleep." Victoria explained.
"Were you having a bad dream Nick? I heard you all the way down to hall." Audra asked.
"I.. I'm sorry Ma'am, didn't mean to be a bother to anyone, sorry." He swung his long legs over the side of the bed.
Victoria seated herself by his side. Puzzled looks appeared as the two women stared at Nick's mention of the word 'ma'am.'
"Son, you're not a bother to anyone. Can you tell me what the dream was about?"
"No, no I don't remember." He leaned forward, his elbows resting on his knees and cradling his forehead in his hands. Victoria stroked his damp back with a loving hand.
"You were shouting Laura's name." Audra reminded him.
"You're wife. You were shouting her name. Did you dream you two were quarreling again? Honestly Nick, the two of you..."
Victoria raised her hand to stop her daughter from speaking any further. She gestured for her to leave and Audra obediently excused herself. Victoria continued to stroke her troubled son's back.
"Nick darling; what is it?"
"It's nothing Ma'am, I mean Ma..., I'm okay, you can go."
Victoria was taken back by the name. None of her sons had called her 'Ma or Mama' since there were very little boys and had been seriously hurt. It had always been Mother. It was her sons' way of showing their manhood once they reached school age. She had missed being called that, but she had understood why they must, still it was a surprise to her ear to be called that once again.
"Nick, please. Tell me what's going on. You haven't been yourself since you came home."
"It's nothing, I'm okay, don't worry about me, please." He patted his mother's slender hand.
Heath leaned against the open doorway with his arms folded across his chest, taking note of the troubled scene. "How about that drink you promised me Nick? Looks like you could use one."
Nick stood quickly from the bed. "Sounds like a good idea. I could use a drink." He left his surprised mother still sitting on the bed and followed Heath downstairs.
* * * * * * * *
Once downstairs Heath briefly excused himself. "Ah listen Nick, why don't I meet you in the game room, I gotta talk to Silas a minute."
Heath headed to the kitchen and Nick turned left toward an open door, unaware that Heath had hidden himself. Heath watched as Nick opened the door to Jarrod's office and then quickly closed the door. He turned in the opposite direction where he found the game room with the large billiard table. Nick searched the room for a liquor cabinet while Heath leaned against the door jam observing his brother, then walked into the game room where he stood by the small liquor cabinet near the door.
"Whiskey or brandy?" Heath asked.
"Whiskey." Nick turned, surprised to see him.
Heath poured them each a glass, handing one to Nick. "So what else did you do in Carson City? Did ya look up Harvey Chace?"
"No... I ... ah, didn't have time." Nick lied.
"That's too bad I told ya he had some good ponies on his spread."
"Just as well, we didn't need new stock anyway, but you already knew that. So what was the real reason you went there?" Heath leans on the desk, Nick turns away from, watching the fire.
"I had some personal business, is all."
"Something to do with Laura?"
"Something like that."
"Why didn't you take her with you?"
"She went to Frisco you know that."
"Nick she didn't go to Frisco until after you left."
"I know, but she was planning the trip."
"Funny, 'cause I was under the impression that she wouldn't have gone to Frisco if you hadn't gone to Nevada."
"You know women, they change their minds all the time."
"True, but I also know how your wife feels about San Francisco. She's staying with Jarrod you know."
"Well, it good she's with
family." Nick felt nervous and
poured himself another drink; he drank it down in one hot gulp.
"So it doesn't bother you huh?" Heath also poured himself another drink.
"She'd got a mind of her own, doesn't she?"
"Oh yeah, she's got that all right. It's just that I was figuring you didn't want her to go."
"Why wouldn't I let her visit her family?"
Heath paused momentarily, "Oh, you mean her brother Jarrod?"
"Yeah." He said absentmindedly.
"Nick... Jarrod's our brother, not hers. Now maybe we can stop playing games and maybe you can tell me what's goin' on with you?"
Nick glared at Heath, and then averted his eyes, wondering if he should tell him the truth. Heath waited, as he watched Nick face the fireplace again, staring into the dancing flames.
"I... I don't know..." Nick started but couldn't finish the sentence. Heath moved toward his brother and placed a brotherly hand on his shoulder.
"You can tell me Nick; you can tell me anything, you know that, don't ya?"
Nick's head dropped down sending dark locks of hair into his pained face. "I.. I don't know who I am. I feel I should but it's like my mind won't work. Like it shut off. I see your faces, and you know me, but..."
"How did this happen?"
"Queenie said I got bushwhacked."
"Queenie? Who's Queenie?" Heath rubbed Nick's back giving him the courage to continue his story.
"A saloon girl....she took me in, took care of me. God, I owe her. I never even went back to thank her for the kindness she showed me."
"There's plenty of time for that Nick. Why don't we go into town and see Doc Merar."
"Doc Merar, I heard of him. The Doctor I saw in Carson City knew him. We talked about..."
"I know from what the Doc told me, I went there to see him."
"Doc Warren. He helped me. He said my memory would come back if I saw familiar things but, it hasn't and I don't... I'm scared... I... I can't..."
Heath embraced his older brother; tears lined his cheeks as he held him. "We're gonna take care of this Nick, I promise you big brother, we're gonna take care of it!"
* * * * * * * *
The two friends rode their horses sidesaddle taking a leisurely jaunt through the bridle path of Golden Gate Park.
"Seems like ages since I rode side saddle." Laura smiled at her companion.
"Now you know very well..."
"Ladies only ride sidesaddle," the two women repeated together laughing.
"Can you ever forget those days Laura?"
"No matter how hard I try." She joked.
"Now they weren't all bad; we did have fun." The brunette said with a toss of her head.
"Yes, I suppose. But the best day I ever had in that school was my last."
"Mine too, if truth be told."
They rode quietly enjoying the warm, pleasant day and taking in the heady salt air that held a hint of the springtime to come. Rosalie studied the pensive look on her friend's face.
"What are you thinking L.?"
"Oh... Springtime. It will be the busy season on the ranch soon. Not much time for leisurely rides like these."
"Do you and your husband, what's his name, Nick often go on leisurely rides?"
"Not as often as I would like, While Nick works I usually take a morning ride by myself."
"Doesn't sound like much fun, almost boring. So what else do you do on that ranch?"
"Not much, I'm afraid." She gave a wistful small laugh. "Though I have been busy with the library."
"Yes, I've been coordinating the establishment of the Stockton Library."
"You mean that little town you're stuck in doesn't even have a library? My dear you must be bored to tears living there"
"Not at all, Stockton is a
wonderful town to live in. Granted it
doesn't have the excitement of San Francisco or even offer many amenities,
still it's a lovely town."
"Is that why you're here, for the vibrancy and glamour of the big city?"
"No, of course not, you know I have no love for San Francisco. Actually I came here to settle some Library business that was pending."
"I see." Rosalie's tone held a hint of disbelief in her voice.
Jarrod and I had the most wonderful time shopping yesterday with Mr. Wilde." Laura said, attempting to once again change the subject.
"Oh yes, on Sacramento Street visiting all the Chinese shops. I was quite surprised to see you there. I would have never taken you for the exotic type."
"It was Mr. Oscar Wilde with the flair for the exotic. Did you know he collects peacock feathers? Did you ever hear of anything so strange? He was so pleased yesterday, he found a fan made of peacock
feathers, he was beside himself with joy, like a child with a new toy." She grinned at the memory.
* * * * * * * *
"Would you look at that man, he's probably the strangest man on this earth. Honestly Laura I wish you hadn't accepted this invitation for us to go on this excursion."
"Jarrod darling, you didn't have to come along, Mister Wilde asked me after all."
"I am not going to let you go traipsing about San Francisco with a man you only met the day before."
"Honestly Jarrod, what trouble could I possibly get into? I could have gone without you." She said teasingly.
"Don't be ridiculous; I would never let you go off with a stranger. Especially him! I've met strange people in my time but this one takes the cake. I don't know what you women see in this dandy, he's nothing but..."
* * * * * * * *
"What are you smiling about? I can see those wheels turning," her friend teased.
"Oh I was thinking of my brother in law; he was so upset with me that I had accepted Mr. Wilde's invitation to go shopping with him in the Chinese quarter. Poor Jarrod felt obligated to protect my reputation."
"Humph, he should worry about his own." Rosalie smirked under her breath.
"I beg your pardon." Laura reined her horse to a stop. Rosalie pulled up her steed as well.
"Oh come now, you must have known, half the city knows."
"Half the city knows what? What in the world are you talking about?"
"How naive can you be Laura, for heaven's sakes! Surely you must have seen the signs at the house."
"I have no idea what you are referring to! Now if you have something to say against my brother in law then I suggest you say it!" Her anger spilled out into her words.
Other riders on the bridle path rode quickly by the two women who had stopped to confront each other.
"My God! You are that naive! Who would have thought! Laura Thomas, hah!" The girl began to spur her horse away, but Laura effectively stopped her by quickly grabbing the reins of her horse.
"Don't you dare! You tell me what you're talking about, NOW!"
"Let go of my horse!" She tugged the reins out of Laura's hands. "Your brother in law is a Cad! A well known CAD!"
"How dare you say that about him! Jarrod Barkley is one of the finest men I know, and you have no right to say such horrible things!"
"It's the truth! And the longer you stay under his roof the sooner you will be included in the scandal!"
"What scandal?! Tell me what you think you know about Jarrod!"
"Think?! Hah! I know, so does half the city! He has a woman."
"Many men have women! My brother in law is not..."
Rosalie softened her voice to a
mere whisper. "She is his kept
woman She lives with him."
"You're out of your mind! He hasn't anyone living with him! How dare you say such things! Why the people in San Francisco are no worse than the gossipmongers one would find in a small town like Stockton!"
"Is that so? How long have you been here, almost two weeks under the same roof with him and you've seen no signs of it? Just how stupid are you? You must be so wrapped up in your own little boring world that you can't see the forest for the trees! Why don't you go ask your precious brother-in-law? Go ask the famous lawyer about his tawdry little affair with that Holister woman!"
"Holister woman? The attorney?"
"Ahh, then you do know her! That's right, she goes by the name C.B. Holister. She used that name so that when people heard it, they thought they were hiring a male lawyer; but most around here are on to her little games, so now she takes cases that no respectable lawyer would touch. Like those suffrage women that they threw in prison about a month ago. She got them out."
"I met her the first day I came here. Jarrod introduced her as a colleague. I know Jarrod, he would never involve himself with the Suffrage Movement, he's spoke out about it often enough at the dinner table."
"I don't know about that, but he certainly doesn't have a problem with bedding her!"
"You're a damn liar! I don't believe a word you say!" Laura turned her horse around and spurred him into a canter, leaving her friend Rosalie in a huff.
* * * * * * * *
Laura rode back to the stables, taking a cab to Jarrod's town house. Her mind replayed the last few weeks of her life. It had been so important for her to leave home, to teach Nick a lesson, but the only lesson learned was the cruel one she taught herself.
They had only been married seven months, but during those seven months they had lost their first child, and were now in the process of losing each other and she had been the catalyst. Today was her birthday, the first since she had been married and no word from her husband. She feared that this time she had pushed Nick too far. Her cornflower eyes held pools of tears as the city streets of San Francisco whisked by the cab window.
Why was she even there? And why didn't Jarrod send her packing? She had disrupted his life and he said nothing! Why didn't he encourage her to leave? To go back to her husband. Instead he wined and dined her. Was that another one of Jarrod's lies? Had he been lying to the entire family all this time? She felt anger rising for Jarrod because he was dishonest, and for herself because once again she had unintentionally jeopardized her marriage as she had before:
* * * * * * * *
"Do you realize that a wife has absolutely no rights according to the law when it comes to divorce?! Her children are not even her own, they belong to her husband! That woman in Sacramento that we met, Dora Hamon, she was just in such a situation as that. She hadn't seen her two boys in eight years Nick! Can you imagine that?!"
"I'm sorry, but I didn't make the laws; it has nothing to do with me."
"But it does Nick, only men can make laws and only men can change the laws. Women have no rights! They can't vote!"
"Why does this even concern you?!" He threw his hands up in the air.
"Because, I am a woman and it can happen to me!" Nick furrowed his brow, outraged.
"You think so little of me, that you think I would do that to you?!"
"NO NICK! You don't understand!" She shook her head, frustrated. "That's not what I meant!"
...."You listen to me woman, you make your list, and you give it to my brother, take whatever you want of mine, I don't give a damn! Take it all! But at this rate, we are never going to have children!" He seized the bedroom door, almost tearing it off its hinges.
"Where are you going?!" Her voice panicked.
"I'm not staying where I'm not wanted! Make your God damn list!"
"Nick please! Don't! You can't leave me!" She immediately regretted everything she had said to him.
* * * * * * * *
Home. She decided, she was going home to Nick. He was her home and she would not waste another day in San Francisco.
The carriage arrived at Jarrod's and she flew out of the cab, not waiting for the driver to open the door for her.
"Wait for me, I won't be long. I want you to take me to the train depot."
Laura burst into the townhouse. She marched into kitchen first, searching for Mrs. Tam. She had decided she was going to pack and leave as quickly as possible but then she changed her mind and decided she would rather confront Jarrod first with the accusatory claims of her friend. It was only right that Jarrod knew the truth, that he was being the subject of gossip in his circle of associates. She moved toward his office and firmly knocked on the closed door. When no answered was forthcoming she gingerly pushed the door open...
"Jarrod?" She surveyed the unoccupied room. The flames of the hearth had already begun their descent into dieing embers, then she caught sight of the elegantly tailored jacket that had been draped carelessly over a chair. She took the jacket in her hand; inside the lining she found the embroidered monogram C.B.H., it was then she heard the laughter coming from the hallway behind her; the sound drifting from Jarrod's bedroom. She threw the jacket down onto the chair and quickly ascended the stairs to her own room.
No, she couldn't confront Jarrod now. She decided to write him a terse note instead; she would not spend a moment longer under his roof. Laura was furious with her brother in law for deceiving her and furious with herself for every leaving her home.
"Home, Nick," she whispered his name as tears once again threatened. Throwing the valise on the bed she hurriedly packed.
Voices were heard in the hallway, coming from the opened door in Jarrod's room. Laura opened her door enough to spy out. In his dressing robe, Jarrod's arms lovingly surrounded the slim waist as he tenderly kissed her. She returned his kisses with the same abandonment.
"My darling, I really must leave. We wouldn't want to get caught now would we?"
"No, we certainly wouldn't want to get caught, still it was wonderful to have you back in my arms again."
"Well, if we must we can always go to my suite at the Palace once she's tucked away in bed." They hugged each other as he gave her an appreciative peck on the cheek.
"Let me walk you to the door." Jarrod placed his hand on the small of her back as he led her down the staircase.
"You're scandalous, showing me out the door dressed only in your robe. What will people think counselor?!" She giggled as he slid his hands down her backside, pinching it. He opened the door as he waited for her to retrieve the jacket in the office. "Mustn't leave any evidence."
"Wise woman, but then I always knew that about you." He accepted another kiss on the cheek before she left the house.
Jarrod smiled to himself as he began up the stairs, but stopped when he saw Laura watching him from the top of the stairs. Jarrod self-consciously pulled his robe tightly around his waist. "Laura dear, I didn't expect you home this soon."
"Didn't you?" She stood above him with one hand on her hip and the other on the banister.
"How was your visit with your friend? I hoped you enjoyed yourself."
"Yes, but I sure not as much as you I suspect." The coldness in her voice was all too evident to his ears.
Jarrod cleared his throat. "Yes, well, ah... I can..."
The sound was dull and in the distance at first but then it came rushing towards them, like the sound of a powerful train. It shook the chandelier in the foyer. The lamps rattled to and fro on their stands as the train chugging became louder, almost deafening. The stair rails pulled from their joints. The walls began to crack. Jarrod took several steps up with his hand outstretched, a terrified look on his face.
"Come! Come quickly! It's an earthquake! We must get outside! LAURA!"
She grabbed hold of the banister with both hands as it violently shook. "JARROD!" She screamed, her trembling hands wouldn't release their death grip. Jarrod pleaded with her to let go. The fear he saw in her eyes assured him that she was rooted in the spot. He took the stairs two at a time, but before he had a chance to snatch her to safety the railing gave away and she fell to the first floor, he followed, as the wall behind him pushed him down the same path.
Nick stared into the trusting azure eyes. He felt that he could put his life in this man's hands. He knew that almost instinctively. Nick gave him a grin, Heath smiled and slapped his brother's back.
"We're gonna get ya fixed up Nick, you just see if we don't."
"First thing we do is get you to looking at things that really matter to ya, and I don't know any better then the face of that pretty wife of yours. 'Sides, she's been waitin' on ya!"
They begin to walk from the room out into the foyer.
"Waitin' on me huh? Don't you think she's madder than all hell at me?"
"Naw, she loves ya. 'Course I always say there's no accounting for taste where's a woman's concerned." Heath joked as he jovially rubbed Nick's back.
"Oh is that what you always say huh?" Nick smiled as he easily joined in the banter of this wondrous new friend and brother.
It was almost unnoticeable at first as it began its slow rumble from the west. Heath stopped dead in his tracks, Nick did in kind.
"Earthquake!" Heath yelled. "Where's Mother and Audra?"
"Upstairs, I'll get 'em!"
"I'll see to the men and livestock!" Heath rushed out of the house as Nick raced upstairs to search for the women. But Victoria and Audra were already at the top of the steps, making their way down, when the house shook causing Nick to lose his footing and tumble backwards. His usually strong body at the mercy of the hellish force that wrenched him down.
Victoria and Audra both shouted his name as they rushed to his rescue. The huge chandelier above them shook violently as it threatened to come down on all of them. Victoria grabbed hold of her son's arm in an attempt to drag him to safety.
"Help me Audra!" Victoria cried out. His sister flew to his side as she tried to help her mother pull the heavy burden.
Sensing something amiss in his gut, Heath re-entered the house. He was driven to Nick's side when he caught sight of the danger. "GET OUT! I'LL TAKE HIM!" Heath shouted his orders to the women. With a mad rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins, Heath took up his brother, swinging his large form over his shoulder as effortlessly as a newborn calf. He carried him out to safety, both men dropping to the ground as Heath's brute strength left him as quickly as it came. Heath lay beside his unconscious brother in the dust, clutching his hand to his heart, breathing heavily.
The women went quickly to their side.
"Heath, are you all right?" Audra asked the blond brother.
Still out of breath, he only nodded his answer and angled his head in Nick's direction. "Nick?" Heath breathed out exhausted.
"Looks like he's got a lump on his head. There's no blood." Victoria said relieved as she stroked her unconscious son's forehead.
The shaking earth had stopped, leaving silent destruction in its wake.
* * * * * * * *
As luck would have it C. B. Holister found a waiting carriage in front of the townhouse. The driver gave a tip of his hat and opened the door for her. It was the same carriage that brought Laura Barkley back earlier. She had asked the driver to wait for her.
"That didn't take long ma'am."
"I beg your pardon?" C.B. asked him.
"Will you be sending for your bags later Ma'am?"
"My good man I have no idea what you are referring to! Take me to the Palace and hurry!"
"I thought you wanted to go to the train station Ma'am? You just told me..." The driver stopped himself from having a fruitless argument and instead replaced his hat back on his head muttering about women always changing their minds. "First it's the train depot she wants, now it's the hotel..."
C.B. took no notice of the driver's mutterings as she entered the cab.
When the driver climbed aboard his seat, the horse began nervously jigging. The driver pulled up hard on the reins to get the horse back into control. The carriage lurched forward causing its' passenger to fall back into her seat.
"HEY! What's going on out there?! Easy!" C.B. held tightly to the handrail as the carriage rattled uncontrollably. She knew immediately what was happening, but try as she might, she couldn't get out of the carriage fast enough. Instead the door flew open, throwing her out onto the cobblestone pavement. The driver looked down at her, still trying to control the skittish horse.
"You okay Miss!?" He yelled out above the roar of the savage wind.
She decided the safest course was to lie there until the ground stopped quaking. When the jarring earth settled under her, she pushed herself up from the ground, surveying the area; it was then her eyes gazed on a disturbing sight. The townhouse she had just left was a shambles of brick, rock and twisted metal. The wooden front door was splintered over the mountain that was once stone steps.
"Oh my God, Jarrod!" She ran toward the building that was the home they had shared, searching for an entrance, any way to get to him. "JARROD!" She shouted in desperation, then she turned to the driver.
"Help me! He's trapped in there! You have to help me get him out!"
"Ma'am there ain't nothing I can do alone. You gotta wait for the fire department, they'll be here, I got my stables to look after. I can take you to the hotel if ya want now, so long as I can get through the streets."
"I can't leave him here!"
"Look lady, ain't nothing anyone can do until help comes, ya wanna go or not? Maybe you can get help to dig your friend out, but I'm going with or without ya!"
"Take me to the nearest fire station, NOW!" She demanded, bravely climbing back into the carriage.
* * * * * * * *
Hours passed, Nick was still unconscious despite the family's best effort to revive him. Audra walked into the bedroom with another pan of ice. Heath entered, gazing at his mother who was replacing the ice in a towel and carefully covering the lump in back of his head with the cold compress.
"Well, the lump has gone down somewhat. How's Silas?"
"He's okay, I made him lie in bed. At least his leg was just bruised from the fall and not broken. The doc said he'll be right as rain in a few days. What did he say about Nick?"
"Apparently Howard found another lump on his head. Do you know anything about that Heath?"
"Nick told me he was bushwhacked in Carson City."
"Don't rightly know Mother. It must have been about the time we didn't hear from him."
"Why wasn't I told?!"
"Nick didn't want to worry you, 'sides he was okay when he came back."
"No he wasn't. He was acting very strangely when he came back home. Heath if you know anything about this I think you should..."
"AWWhh..." Nick began to stir, grimacing from the ache in his head.
"NICK!" Heath rushed to his side.
"Nick? Wake up dear... Open your eyes." His mother spoke in anxious tones.
"What's... going on.... What happened?" He looked around at the faces in the room. "Where am I?"
"You're home Nick." Audra answered.
"Home? How did I get home?" Nick stared into Heath's worried face. "Last thing I knew I was in Carson City. What am I doing back here?" He searched the now familiar bedroom for the one face he was anxious to see. "Where's Laura?"
Heath couldn't help conceal his joy at Nick's recovered memory. "Nick! You know who Laura is!!"
"Of course I know who she is! Now where is she?"
"She's in San Francisco Nick; you knew that." Audra answered again, puzzled at Heath's strange exclamation.
Victoria gave Heath a suspicious glare. "Heath, do you want to tell me what's going on with my son?"
Heath shuffled his feet as he
studied the floor.
"What's going on here?! And why the hell is my wife in Frisco?!" Nick sat up in bed, holding onto his head with both hands. "Aaahhh, God... my head! What happened?"
There was a loud knock from the door downstairs. Heath began to leave the room, when Victoria drew up a halting hand. "Don't you dare leave until I find out what's going on! Audra go see who's at the door."
Nick got up from the bed and walked around the room, unsteady at first, searching for the brown leather folder the doctor had given him with his wife's medical records in them.
"Nick, what are you looking for dear?" Victoria asked.
"That brown folder. It's here isn't it? I brought it home, didn't I? I hope I didn't lose it."
"It's on the desk over there." She calmly pointed.
He picked up the folder and clutched it to his chest, "Good..." The words of Doctor Warren came flooding back into his head. He was the specialist Dr. Merar had referred him to:
* * * * * * * *
"Mr. Barkley, the blood clot your family physician spoke to you about had nothing to do with your wife's temporary blindness. It was actually caused by something entirely different."
The doctor leafed through his notes, sitting in the only chair in the hotel room. Nick sat on the bed listening.
"What caused it?"
"It had to do with your wife's pregnancy actually. I know that sounds strange but doctors are only now doing studies and there was a case study in England I read about that was very similar to your wife's . The only difference is this woman carried her child to full term but she spent the entire time in bed.
She had a disease called Toxemia. We are only now studying it. Your wife is very lucky she only became temporarily blind; this disease has been known to kill."
"Does she still have it?" Nick frowned.
"No, it's only prevalent in pregnant women."
"Then she shouldn't get pregnant again. Is that it?"
"Not at all, her next pregnancy will in all likelihood be free of the disease. It seems to be common in first pregnancies to the best of our knowledge."
"Are you sure about that? That there's no danger?"
"Mr. Barkley there is always a danger in having babies, but you shouldn't let that keep you from having children. I wouldn't be concerned if I were you. Your wife could very likely have an easy time of it next time. I have four of my own and I highly recommend them." The doctor said with a gentle smile.
* * * * * * * *
"Laura? I gotta talk to her." He had decided he was taking the next train to San Francisco and dragging her back home and he wouldn't accept any arguments. With the renewed knowledge from the doctor Nick ached more than ever for her and nothing was going to stop him from getting his Laura back home, not his pounding head or an earthquake. His need for her consumed him like a burning fire.
"OH Mother! It's awful! Mother!" Audra rushed into the room gripping a telegram.
"What is it Audra?"
"It's a telegram from San Francisco. The earthquake..., it toppled Jarrod's house! Mother! And he was still inside when it happened!"
"Oh my God!"
"Who's that from? Is it from Laura?" Heath asked.
"No, no..someone named Holister!" Audra said through tears.
Victoria took the note from her daughter and read it. "It doesn't say anything about Laura."
"Just what is going on?" Nick said with a mask of distress covering his face.
"Laura was staying in Jarrod's house." Heath said rigidly.
Forgetting his pounding head, Nick grabbed his valise, his gun belt and hat, then glanced in Heath's direction, "Ya coming?"
"Right behind ya big brother."
"Let us know the minute..." Victoria began.
"You know we will. Bye Mother." Heath dropped a hurried kiss on her crisp white hair then followed Nick out who was already bounding down the stairs.
* * * * * * * *
The dust settled for the most part in his lungs as he choked trying to catch his breath fighting for clean air. Shards of wood and plaster were heavy on his back and each movement caused a searing pain to bite his leg. He tried to examine it, but all he saw was more dust and debris covering his body. Adjusting his eyes to the darkness there was some light coming from above him. He wondered what time it was. What happened? How much time had gone by. No matter he had to find his way out. He looked around, even through all the damage he still managed to recognize his home, or at least what was left of it. He wished now, he had moved into one of those newer buildings that engineers had claimed were quake proof. Of course he didn't believe them, but now he thought it might be nice to see if they were right.
He clawed his way through the rubble, trying to find an escape route, it was his movement on the floor that made him realize how little he was wearing. He found himself in his robe and nothing else. What had he been doing? Yes, he was in bed, in bed with....
"Carol! Carol? Are you here? Where are you?" He frantically looked around... No, wait, she had left, he remembered walking her to the door. 'Yes of course, thank God.' he thought. 'At least she's safe.' He took in a deep sigh, as deep as his weakened lungs would let him. He realized he mustn't move too much, 'let the dust settle' he thought. His eyes then caught sight of a wooden beam with the hall chandelier still attached, it was just above him, precariously leaning on what was left of the office door and a broken portion of the parlor wall.
"Great, one more rattle and it could come down on my head," he said to no one.
* * * * * * * *
The two brothers played cards for want of something to do during the long train ride. Heath dealt as Nick stared out the window watching the distant hills passing by. His mind wandered to the time he and Laura had traveled together on the train to their honeymoon in Sacramento. That trip seemed so long ago but held so much promise for them both. How did he let it go this far? Why were they separated again? He had promised he would never travel without her by his side. The trip to Boston was the first time they were apart and he hated every long, lonely minute of it.
He remembered telling her when they had reunited again, alone in the privacy of their room, 'I didn't marry you to sleep in separate beds.' But they did, and he was the cause of it. After the baby died they slept together but were still apart, and he was the one who built the walls. He knew in his heart that was the real reason she left. He promised himself to make up for all the hurt he caused. His body ached for her, to caress her soft subtle body in his hands. He gave out an audible sigh.
"You okay Nick?" Heath hadn't any trouble sensing his brother's reason for brooding. He knew only too well the feeling a man gets when he's away from his woman. Hope had crossed his mind all too often these days. He desperately wanted a family of his own, but he knew he had to hold back. Hope wasn't ready and he knew well enough that if he pushed she would be scared off. As much as he wanted her he wouldn't dare risk losing her.
"This train seem to be going slower then usual to you?"
"Not to me, maybe you're just anxious to get there. Want any cards?"
"I suppose." Nick shuffled the dealt cards in his hand, and pulled out three cards.
"Ya just threw out three queens."
"Oh... sorry, not thinking..."
Heath gathered up the leftover cards on the table. "Ain't gonna play two handed poker with you, it would be like taking candy from a baby."
"Thought you liked that advantage."
"Not this time, you're making it too easy for me, there ain't no challenge in it."
"This train is slower than usual! I know it is!" Heath shrugged his shoulders. Nick grabbed the jacket sleeve of the conductor when he walked by. "Hey you!"
"Yes Sir? Can I help you?" The conductor said somewhat annoyed at being stopped from his duty.
"This train goin' slower than usual, or what?"
"Sir, we just had an earthquake a while ago; there's always more tremors coming later. We got to take into consideration falling rocks and wreckage on the tracks. We don't want to derail and get more people hurt."
"What did I tell ya, huh?" Nick glared at Heath.
"Well Nick, he's got a point."
"That ain't gonna help Jarrod or Laura. They could be hurt! We don't even know. That telegram told us nothing!"
"Well now Nick, ya gotta take into consideration that's a good sign we got a telegram from 'Frisco. That means the telegraph poles ain't damaged, so maybe it's not all that bad there."
"But that wire did say Jarrod's house was damaged and he was in it at the time!"
"Well, maybe Laura wasn't in it. Didn't ya say she was there visiting friends?"
"Oh fine, that gives me less comfort! She could be trapped someplace else and I don't even know where!"
"Aw now Nick! She may be safe, as safe can be, just waiting on ya to come take her back home."
"And take her back I will! That woman never listens to me! I told her to stay put! But does she? NO! She just goes traipsing off not giving a care what I say! I tell you I'm too easy on that woman! Just too damn easy! Another man would take her over his knee! I'm just too good to her!"
"Uh huh." Heath positions the cards in front of him to play a game of solitaire. Nick rakes his hair back with his hand and shakes his head. Heath watches him thoughtfully. "I know you're worried Nick, but there's no need worrying until ya got something to worry about."
"I know, you're right...Come on, lets play Hi Lo Jack instead." he said in an attempt to calm his nerves.
The train chugged even slower until it came to a dead stop. Nick stood from his seat. "Now what?!"
"Let's go take a look..." Heath stood and led the way to the end of the pullman. The conductor walked up the aisle trying to settle people down.
"Now relax folks, take it easy. We just got some falling rocks blocking the tracks, nothing to worry about we'll have it cleared up in no time. ...Whoa, see here now, where do you two think you're going?" The conductor effectively stopped Heath and Nick with his hands on Heath's chest.
"We just want to see if we can help is all." Heath responded.
"Don't need your help we got railroad men to clean up....It's against railroad policy ya know."
"Mister ya wanna know where you can put your railroad policy?! Now take your hands off my brother before I take 'em off for ya!" Nick growled as he pushed the frightened conductor out of his way. Nick and Heath headed out of the pullman door together.
Outside, the brothers made fast work of joining the railroad workers in clearing the train tracks of fallen rocks. The slower speed of the train and stopping for falling rubble, made the usually punctual Central Pacific two hours late getting into the San Francisco Train Depot.
* * * * * * * *
Jarrod's muddled brain tried to think of what had happened before the quake struck. 'He had walked C.B. to the door,' that he remembered. Naturally he was in his robe and he knew he had to...'the stairs... I walked up the stairs, yes, now I remember....' a shiny object caught his eye. It sparkled even under the gray dust that were once his walls. Jarrod pushed himself with a crawl toward the object, 'Yes, he had seen it before....it was a...diamond and gold ring.' His mind recalled the stairs again, yes... ....'Laura! She was on the stairs when the earthquake struck....' "LAURA!"
He pulled himself quickly toward the shining object..."Oh my God, Laura!" He reached out, carefully pushing and pulling objects away from his quest. He found tousled blonde hair, matted with dry blood.
He gingerly wiped away the layer of dust that settled on her face. It was cold to the touch.
"Oh please God! Don't let her be dead! Please God! Laura? Laura? Can you hear me? Laura honey?"
He pushed away more bits of tangled wood as he felt for some sign of life. "LAURA, WAKE UP! Come on honey! WAKE UP!"
But not a sound was uttered.
Darkness settled on the devastated City by the Bay as the two Barkley brothers finally arrived. The aftermath of the earthquake was evident around them. San Francisco seemed to have been hit harder than home. A clutching fist grabbed at Nick's throat as his eyes caught sight of the damage. Buildings had crumbling facades, gas lampposts were downed like discarded lamp wicks, some still smoldering as the gas smell permeated the air. Trees were uprooted, and the ground had been lacerated by Nature's lash. Heath placed an encouraging firm hand on Nick's shoulder sensing his anxiety.
"Where do you want to go first Nick?"
We're gonna have to walk, don't seem like there's any carriages around and the ground doesn't look all that safe."
"Then let's get moving."
Nick started first at a slow run, then picked up speed. Jarrod's home was a good five blocks from depot and Nick wasn't going to waste any more time. Trepidation was pressing on his heart.
* * * * * * * *
Jarrod pushed and pulled at the plaster, wood and paper strewn over her body. Once free of any refuse, he examined her visually for any cuts or contusions. He slowly turned her on her side and saw the bloody bruised knees from the fall, and the still trickling blood beginning to dry on her skirts. Both her wrists seemed swollen three sizes too big, which left him to surmise they may have been badly bruised or broken from the fall. He sat up, again pulling his dressing gown taut to cover his nakedness. He cursed himself for not dressing, as he didn't even have a shirt to rip up to bandage her wounds.
"Petticoats will do the trick...Sorry Laura for being so forward, but it seems I have no choice in the matter." He spoke to her in soft tones as he lifted her torn skirts and caught sight of her badly bruised legs; he wasted no time in tearing strips of cloth from the lacy cotton petticoat. He thanked the stars it wasn't a satin or taffeta undergarment as that was almost impossible to rip without a knife. He tore the strips of cloth and wrapped them as tight as he dared around each wrist. He thought he heard a slight moan coming from her, but he couldn't be sure. Her weakened state was obvious and he raised his eyes to the heavens, praying that nothing was broken and needed the quick attention of a physician.
"Laura? Honey? Can you hear me?" Part of the stair railing was still beneath her, so he tried as gently as he could to pull her off it in an attempt to let her lay in a more comfortable position.
"There you are. That should make things more..." He looked around for something, anything that would be soft enough to rest her head, or at least cover her. She had felt so cold to the touch. He spotted a small brocade table cloth that had covered a hall table which had been demolished. He draped it around her the best he could, and rubbed her arms to try to get some warmth back in her body.
"Looks like we haven't any choice. We have to warm you up. Me too I suppose, it is getting cold. Wish I could hear someone outside. That would sure make me feel a lot better."
He started to yell for Help as loud as he could, while he wrapped his arms around her shoulders, trying to give her some of his own body warmth.
* * * * * * * *
C.B. had changed into pants, blouse and a warm jacket as she stood outside the shattered house, directing the fire brigade to continue their digging through the rocks and bricks. She cursed herself for not being as strong as a man. She urgently wanted to help them dig out her beloved Jarrod. Not one given to prayer she still pleaded within her heart to whatever god there was to keep her man alive.
* * * * * * * *
Oddly enough Heath could barely keep up, Nick was running like a man possessed, but he understood why, ...if it had been Hope...
They reached the street where Jarrod lived. It was worse than they thought, the whole front end of the brick house was a massive mountain laying on the street. Ten rescue workers were already there but it would still be hours before they could get through, and a deep darkness had already blanketed the city, time wasn't proving to be their friend. The two brothers stopped to take in the gut wrenching scene. It was then he spotted her, Nick's face lit up, running, he grabbed her, pulling her into a crushing bear hug, "Laura!"
"Take your damn hands off me you fool!" C.B. shouted, punching him about the arms. Nick quickly moved away from the angry blonde.
"I, I'm sorry Miss, I thought you were... From the back you looked just like her."
Heath caught up to his brother and stared at the girl. From afar she did look like Laura, enough to be her twin Heath thought. They had the same honey colored hair and about the same height and built. C. B. glowered at both men. They weren't dressed like the men she usually saw in the city. They were definitely from the country, it was then she noticed a familiar look to them.
"I know you two. Barkleys right?"
Yes ma'am. Do you know our brother Jarrod?" Asked Heath.
"Yes I do. I'm C.B. Holister, I wired you, I'm a friend of your brother's. He's buried under that rubble....he... we're trying to get to him." She tried in vain to hold back tears.
"Do you know if my wife was with him? Her name's Laura, do you know her?"
"Yes we've met, but I don't think she's in there." C.B. turned away to watch the workers.
"Well then, do you know where she is? Has anyone heard from her? Is she safe?" Nick asked anxiously.
"I don't know, she was out someplace with a friend, they went riding in the park or something like that. Listen are you two going to help get your brother out of there or are you just going to stand here talking?!"
"We're going to start digging, come on Nick." Heath immediately set himself to the task at hand, working alongside the rescue workers.
Nick chose to question the woman further, "Are you sure she wasn't in there?"
"Look I never saw her, I came out just before the earthquake hit, I was with your brother at the time, he walked me to the door, I got into a waiting cab and left when the quake started, I was... Wait a minute, the cab driver thought I wanted to go to the train depot. He must have been waiting for someone else. I thought it was odd to have a cabbie waiting outside the house.... Maybe, she was... Oh God, the cab driver mistook me for her, just like you did." C.B. looked toward the devastation again that once was Jarrod's house. "My God, she must be in there with him!"
Nick also stared at the rubble and blew out an uneasy breath, then without hesitation took his place along side Heath to work away at the collapsed house.
* * * * * * * *
Jarrod thought he heard the rescue sounds but they were far away, hammers and picks, but when he opened his eyes the sounds were gone. Maybe he had dreamt it because he wanted to. Her head laid on his arm. He removed it gently. It must have been hours he thought, his arm felt stiff with a pins and needles sensation from being in one position for so long. Maybe if he started pushing away at some of the debris they could be rescued that much sooner. The lawyer tried to stand but his leg wouldn't support his weight. He had found a big gash, and had taken most of Laura's petticoat to fashion crude bandages for their wounds. He dragged and clawed toward what was once the front door of his home and made a feeble attempt to pull the stones away, but his own frigid, weakened condition from the blood loss made it impossible. His only answer was to call out in hope that someone heard him.
"HELP! ANYONE! IS SOMEONE OUT THERE?"
"Nick..." came a small voice. Jarrod turned and crawled over to where his sister in law laid. A smile came over him.
"Laura honey, you're awake! We'll be out of here in no time."
"Nick?" she whimpered. "...cold.."
Jarrod exhaled a sigh. Her skin was ice cold, he knew that if he didn't keep her warm she could die of exposure, more than anything else. Fortunately her injuries didn't seem life threatening, but the March winds coming off the San Francisco Bay could be brutal. He knew he had to keep her warm. They were both in danger of dying from exposure, especially if rescue didn't come in a timely manner.
He huddled near her, taking a position as close as possible cradling her in his arms, she responded by placing herself closer, her arms around his chest. She whispered her husband's name. It brought to mind the time before when he found himself in her bedroom after her nightmare experience, he decided he wasn't going to get caught like that again.
"Laura, it's Jarrod, I'm just trying to keep us both warm until we're rescued, okay? We need to keep warm, and that's what we're going to do. Our bodies will keep us warm if we stay like this, it's all we can do for now. Just lie here and wait."
His weakened state, and loss of blood, together with the cold air lulled him into another light fitful sleep.
* * * * * * * *
Nick and Heath worked diligently along side the rescue workers when suddenly Heath stood, wiped his sweaty forehead with his jacket sleeve, and looked at the mountain of rubble before them. Nick looked incredulous at his brother.
"What are you stopping for? Come on!"
"Nick, you and I both know
this isn't gonna work. We've been at
this for hours now and we're gettin' nowhere.
We gotta do something different."
"What?! What are you talking about? What can we do different?!" Nick was breathing heavy and already felt exhausted from the grueling task.
"Dynamite, its the only way Nick."
Nick stood up and thought about the suggestion, "I don't know Heath, it's not like a mine cave-in back home. There are gas lines running under these streets. Dynamite could blow us all to kingdom come."
Heath put a trusting hand on his shoulder, "Not if we put the dynamite in the right place Nick. Come on, we can do this! We don't really have much of a choice here. They can't last much longer. We gotta do something!"
Nick looked up at the remains of the building, pointing to an area of the devastation. "I suppose if we put some sticks there abouts, it might give us the advantage we need."
"Lets do it!" Heath said with renewed hopefulness. Nick smiled with an assuring nod, and the two walked off to speak to Captain Lewis of the rescue team.
* * * * * * * *
"Nick?..." The small weakened voice beckoned him from a fitful dreamless sleep.
"Huh...what?" He said drowsily, his tongue swollen from lack of water.
Laura snuggled closer to Jarrod, her head tucked under his chin. "...love you." She whispered kissing the bare chest protruding out from under his robe.
"Shush, go to sleep, C.B. just sleep honey..." Jarrod slurred groggily.
Hours passed as they laid in each others arms, dreaming of other lovers.
* * * * * * * *
"Do you have any idea what you're talking about?! This isn't a farm we're talking about here! You're not blowing up tree stumps! This is the big city. We got gas lines under ...."
"Now wait just a minute Captain!" Nick began to argue, "I don't need you to remind me of the dangers of dynamite. We can handle it! We can do this!"
"I am not going to be responsible for you or your brother if you get hurt." Captain Lewis continued.
"We're not asking for you to take responsibility for us; just get us the dynamite we'll take care of ourselves." Heath insisted.
"No! I can't let you do it!"
Nick grabbed the Fire Chief by his lapels, "Now you listen to me you dumb jackass! My wife and brother are in there and no blowhard like you is gonna stop me from getting them out!"
"You are going to get them and yourself killed!"
"I haven't got time to waste with you! Come on Heath, lets get it ourselves!"
Nick and Heath walk away while the Fire Chief yelled out a warning, "You're going to get yourselves killed!"
"AW SHUT UP!" Then Nick whispered to his brother, "Where the hell are we gonna get the TNT? I mean no one's knows us here. Who's gonna sell us dynamite?"
Heath boldly walked to the fire wagon, and gazed over to see if the firemen were looking their way, then he pulled off two fire brigade jackets and hats from the wagon.
"Always wanted to be a fireman. Here Nick, put this on." Heath handed Nick a leather fireman's coat.
"You mean there's actually a job you didn't have in your misspent youth?"
"A few." Heath gave a crooked smile as they donned
their disguises and headed down the darkened empty street.
The two would be firemen managed to talk a shopkeeper into donating all the sticks of dynamite and fuses they could ever need for the fire department's use. Nick marveled at Heath's ingenuity for finding solutions to impossible situations.
Back at what was once Jarrod's house, Nick and Heath climbed the mountain of rubble to set the charges. They carefully set the sticks in place, while the rescue workers stopped to watch in awe of the two cowboys.
* * * * * * * *
The sound of the explosion was startling. She searched around, trying to adjust her eyes to the pitch black darkness around. A tiny glimmer of light above the ruins caught her eye. A faint light from a lantern, and then the voice.
Her throat was so dry from thirst and breathing in dust, that her voice had no sound. She desperately wanted to speak; to say his name. He came. He finally came to rescue her from her foolish mistakes. Finally..
Her grateful eyes caught sight of the familiar black gloved hand. "Nick..." she whispered inaudibly. She watched in forced silence as he climbed down toward her. She weakly tried to pull herself up, but her bruised wrists wouldn't take up the challenge.
Nick pushed away some of the rubble. He didn't notice the beam that began to move above him. The beam that still held the crystal and iron chandelier that once lit Jarrod's foyer. She tried to form the words to warn him, but the only sound was the creaking of the beam as it gave away from it's perch, hurling down, landing on her beloved husband.
She tried to scream but only a
whimper was heard and the dust once again rose up from the residue of the
earthquake, choking away the breathable air.
She watched in horror as Heath followed Nick's same path but even his
sure footedness couldn't have stopped Nick from being slammed by the beam. Heath's adrenaline rush gave him the strength
he needed to effortlessly pull off the beam.
Laura watched in horror as Nick's blood stained the wood, spreading and
darkening into black.
NICK! NICK!" She heard
Heath's voice cry out.
Her words strained..."Heath?" she all but managed in a small voice.
Heath with a ragged breath said,
She stirred in his arms agitated, but he held her fast and whispered his reassurance.
"It's me, I'm okay, it was only a dream. I'm here."
"Yes Milady, it's Nick. I'm here with you. You're safe in my arms."
"I thought you were..." She turned to face the ruins of the foyer above her. The beam with the chandelier still leaned precariously on a piece of the wall, but intact.
"Nick..." she whispered, "I love you..."
"I love you too my darling," he said as their lips locked in an ardent kiss. The pain in her arms mysteriously left her as she wrapped them around his broad shoulders.
"I've missed you so. I was coming home to you... I..."
"Shhh, don't talk. I'm here now, that's all that matters."
"I love you so."
Another kiss more intense than the first, and she melted in his strong arms. She felt his smooth hand roam over her thighs and gently pushed them aside. Her clothes had been torn away and he had easy access to her. He softly touched her body, slowly and deliberate. Her hands traveled over his smooth bare chest. They embraced each other tightly and shared lustful kisses. Their passion held no bounds as they whispered their lovers' names.
* * * * * * * *
Rocks and wood moved above them as one black gloved hand held a lantern, the other black glove poked and prodded the wreckage away from his view. Elated to have finally found an entrance, he shone the light into the cavernous tomb. Hazel eyes squinted, waiting for the fleeing dust to settle. His eyes focused on the two dark forms below.
His heartbeat a steady silent prayer. "Please God, let them be alive."
Nick's booming voice resounded above her. But her eyes locked onto piercing blue mere inch from her face. "NO!" Her strained voice rasped out hoarsely. Her aching wrists were bound tightly so she pushed him off with the force of her forearms, the only part of her body that she could move, as her legs and torso were pinned under his semi-naked body.
The force of her push awakened him to the realization of his act. "MY GOD!" Jarrod yelped embarrassed and confused. He hurriedly rolled himself off her. She strained her voice to scream out but only a small screech was heard then fell into silence.
In moments Nick rushed to his wife's side, and scooped her up in his arms. He held his frightened wife who cowered in his strong arms. Nick glared in disbelief. He couldn't have seen what his eyes beheld. He imagined it! He must have, how could anyone believe his older brother would betray him! Nick gripped his wife so tightly he feared she would break, but she didn't protest, instead she clung to him even more closely, shivering in fright.
"You're safe baby, you're safe." Nick cried, burying his face in her blood caked hair, grateful tears falling unashamed.
Heath climbed down with the other rescuers behind him. Fear clutched his heart when he spotted his big brother weeping. "Nick is she... is she alright?" Nick nodded simply, his face still buried in her blood matted-hair. Heath turned his attention to his lawyer brother, " Jarrod?" Jarrod laid on his side, openly weeping, his hands covering his face. "Jarrod can you stand? Jarrod, come on, let me help you out of here." Heath laid a gentle hand on his shoulder but Jarrod pushed it away angrily.
"Leave me!" He choked out.
" ...Jarrod...?" Confusion spread on Heath's face. "Come on Jarrod, what's going on? Let me help you."
The Fire Chief crawled over to Nick, placing his hand on his back. "Come on I'll help you get her out of here."
Nick held fast to his Milady. "Don't you touch her!" He snarled venomously.
The rescuer fearfully backed away. "We need to get her out of here before this place goes!"
Nick stood up, his wife enveloped in his arms. He started up toward the opening. Witnessing his brother's actions, Heath grabbed the Fire Chief's arm, "Let him alone, we gotta get my other brother outta here, he can't walk."
"Daniel bring that stretcher down here!"
Nick made his way out of the ruins, only to be met by Jarrod's anxious girlfriend. She grabbed hold of his arm, effectively stopping him from sprinting away. "What about Jarrod? Is he alright? Are they bringing him out?!"
"Get your claws outta me lady!" He angrily shook her hand off, then turned toward a waiting rescue worker. "Where's the nearest Doctor's office?"
"Wait until they bring the other one out, and we'll take them both to the hospital in the wagon over here." He pointed over his shoulder to a waiting ambulance wagon behind him.
"I'm not waiting! Where is it?!" He growled.
"The nearest one is a block away, right on this street, same side." The young man pointed the way to the angry cowboy.
Nick hiked briskly up the street, his injured wife securely in his arms.
* * * * * * * *
Daybreak introduced a new day while Nick waited for the doctor to finish the examination of his Laura. He wanted to stay with her, but the doctor's wife had offered her assistance, so Nick did what he didn't do best, he waited. Memories of the last twenty-four hours churned over in his confused head, the rescue scene playing over and over again in his head. Did his eyes deceive him? Did he see what he thought he saw? Was it real?
"Mr. Barkley?" The doctor stood before him, wiping his hands with a towel.
Nick stood anxiously "My wife, how is she?"
"She was quite fortunate. The cuts were bandaged quickly enough so she didn't lose much blood. Both wrists have very bad sprains but nothing was broken. Basically she needs nourishment, especially liquids. She's very dehydrated."
"Is that all you found?"
"I don't understand."
"Did she tell you what... I mean.... did she say anything about what happened to her?"
"She didn't seem to remember much, but you can ask her yourself she'll be out in a little bit, her dress was pretty much torn up. My wife is helping her into one of her old ones."
"Please thank your wife for her kindness."
"No need, she was happy to do it. You just take you wife home and look after her, she'll be fine in no time."
Nick studied the floor, his hat crunching in nervous hands as hard words caught deep in his throat.
"Is there something else Mr. Barkley?"
"My wife, you examined her, did she, I mean, was their any evidence that she was...that maybe,..."
"Are you implying that you think she was raped? Why would you...?" The doctor shook his head. "No Mr. Barkley, there wasn't evidence of any force, but I wasn't looking for that. You did say she was caught up in the earthquake. Why would you think she was....?"
"Ah never mind, forget it." Nick interrupted, raking a hand through his sweat soaked dark hair. "Say do you mine if we impose on your kindness one more time? I need to get my wife to the hotel and I sure would appreciate the loan of your carriage, if you don't mind."
"Of course just send it back soon, I have many patients to see this morning. This earthquake has given me more business than I need."
"Nick?" Hazel and blue eyes met and locked as she stood before him, looking vulnerable in a gingham check dress, her wrists wrapped in bandages. She took a few limping steps toward him.
"Sweetheart." His voice quivering, he swept her up in his arms. Grateful tears shedding unashamed.
"I'll go get that carriage ready for you Mr. and Mrs. Barkley." The doctor and his wife excused themselves leaving the reunited couple alone.
They said nothing, preferring instead to seek comfort in each others arms.
* * * * * * * *
During the time he and Heath were there, Nick had arranged for rooms at The Palace Hotel as it was one of the few hotels strong enough to withstand the violent earthquake that came to devastate the Bay City. Nick immediately had food and drink sent up to their suite. The couple sat at the table in the lavishly appointed suite, silently eating their morning meal. Nick dotingly watched her from across the table.
"You're staring." She said in a small voice. Because she hadn't eaten for more than twenty fours hours her stomach couldn't take more than a few bites at a time.
"Sorry, just curious to know how you feel."
"I'm not hungry anymore, nor thirsty."
"Good, but what about in general? How do you feel?"
"Truth." He demanded with finality.
She managed a slight smile. Her husband knew her only too well. She knew it was useless to hide anything from him. "I hurt all over," she finally confessed.
"I thought so. Come on, lets get you in bed." He stood and motioned with an authoritative hand.
"I'm not tired, really."
"But you still need to rest, doctor's orders. Come on let's go."
"All I have is this dress. I've nothing to wear to bed." She stood forlornly looking at the well worn dress the doctor's wife kindly donated. It was hardly a dress she would normally wear unless she was doing household chores.
"Just like a woman, always complaining she has nothing to wear," he teased good-naturedly, causing a weak smile to cross her lips. "I've got an extra shirt you can wear. Later we'll buy you some clothes." Nick plunked his valise on the bed and pulled out a white shirt.
She stood and clutched the shirt, taking in its familiar scent, unwanted tears came to her eyes. Nick uncomfortably shifted his weight from one leg to another. Laura slowly started to unbutton her dress but found it difficult to manage with her bandaged wrists. She sighed in frustration.
"Here, let me do that." He said, grateful to be able to help her in some small way. Nick had been racked with guilt and completely blamed himself for everything she had thus far endured.
She surrendered herself to his help. Tear stained eyes went from his fumbling large hands, up to his warm, loving face. Her hand touched his cheek, and their eyes locked once again. She marveled how she grew to love him more each time she looked into his handsome face.
"What?" His baritone voice vibrated in her fingertips.
"Do you know how much I love you?" She whispered. Her words struck him silent. Action was the only thing left to him as he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her tenderly. She dropped the shirt on the floor. Her arms wrapped around his neck accepting his kiss. He could no longer resist the temptation and he gathered her in his arms, laying her across the bed. A shower of kisses rained down.
They undressed and shared only a blanket between them. As familiar as their love was for each other, it was ignited with a newness they had not experienced since the first time. The lovers reclaimed and renewed their hearts, and all of the anger, frustration, and heartache melted between them, leaving only Nick and Laura, together again.
* * * * * * * *
Heath turned the key in the lock, he was bone weary after spending the better part of the night and early morning seeing to Jarrod's comfort at the County Hospital. Even though he hadn't any breakfast he only wanted sleep. After pulling off his boots, shirt and belt, he laid on top of the bed, sleep claimed him quickly. He hadn't slept for very long when he heard a familiar voice screaming his name in the hallway.
He rushed out, not taking the time to dress or put on his gun belt. He found his sister-in-law wrapped only in a bedsheet screaming his name.
"Laura! What's going on?!" He tried to get her back into the hotel room, but she wouldn't budge.
"Oh Heath! I didn't know where you were! You've got to stop Nick, he's going to kill him!"
"Kill who?! What are you talking about?! Get inside, you'll catch your death, come on!" He led her back through the opened door of her room.
"Nick just left, he was so angry! He's going to kill him I just know he is!" She hung on his arm for support as he brought her back into the room.
"Laura, calm down! Who's Nick gonna kill?"
"Jarrod! You've got to stop him Heath, please!"
"Jarrod? What are you talking about?!"
"Please... Heath... you have to..." He caught her in his arms before she fell to the floor. Heath carefully laid her on the bed. A hotel maid spotted him, and she gave out a small shriek.
"Wait! Lady don't go, please I need your help! This is my sister-in-law, she's very sick. Please get the hotel doctor."
"Please, she needs a doctor. Please get him quickly! Hurry!"
The chambermaid rushed off. Heath covered Laura with a blanket. He tried to arouse her by gently tapping her face. "Laura, come on honey, open your eyes, wake up. You gotta tell me what's going on. What happened?! Why is Nick gonna kill Jarrod?!"
* * * * * * * *
"Are you sure you're comfortable J.T.?" C.B. had fluffed his pillow for the fourth time.
Jarrod appreciated her attention but truly wanted to be left alone in his misery. He felt incredibly ashamed and couldn't get Nick's disappointed face out of his mind. "Carol dear, why don't you go back to the hotel?"
"Honey, are you all right? How do you feel?" Seeing her darling Jarrod laying in the hospital bed with his leg in traction was almost more than she could bear. She held back tears and tried her best to keep a smile, but in reality she was appalled at his appearance and he seemed so dejected. Nothing she could do or say would bring him around.
"I'm fine, just tired. You really should leave darling. I'll see you tomorrow."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes please, I'll be fine, see you tomorrow. I'm not going anywhere like this."
"All right my darling, tomorrow then." She gave him a kiss where no bruise was visible. "Love you."
"Love you too."
C.B. reached for the door when it pushed in, almost knocking her down.
"JARROD!" He roared.
"Nick." Jarrod turned his face away from the fury in his brother's eyes. He knew why he was there and he almost welcomed the punishment he felt he deserved.
"What do you think you're doing?!" C.B. said indignantly.
"You best be leaving lady. What I have to say is not for your ears." The scowling Barkley opened the door for her.
"Your brother needs his rest, I suggest you leave!"
Nick said nothing but the coldness in his eyes gave her pause.
"Please do as my brother says Carol. I'll be fine; go on, I'll see you tomorrow." He gave her a half-hearted smile. She was struck by an overwhelming sense of defeat coloring her lover's face as she left the two men alone.
Nick nodded to the closed door after she left. "She seems to care about you. Do you feel the same?"
"Yes." He still wouldn't look at his brother. Nick pulled his gloves taut on his hands, his face showed an undercurrent of rage.
"Is it because she resembles my wife?" Nick clamped his fists on his hips. Jarrod didn't answer, still looking towards the stark white wall of his small hospital room.
"Look at me! I said look at me! How long?!"
Jarrod finally looked at his brother, "How long what?"
"How long have you been in love with my wife?" He spat out his accusation, his eyes in angry slits.
"You're wrong Nick."
"Am I? Then you tell me," his voice iced at hearing.
"Tell you what?"
"You tell me. Did you touch my wife? Tell me you son of a bitch! TELL ME THE TRUTH!" But before Jarrod could answer, the enraged man lunged for his throat. Jarrod yelped but made no move to defend himself, accepting his brother's tightening grip around his neck.
"NICK!" Heath jumped on his brother's back and pulled him off the bedridden patient. Nick jerked Heath's arms off him, turning, he punched Heath, knocking him into the now partially open door.
"HEATH!" Jarrod rasped out.
Heath shook his head and rose up. Nick grabbed his shirt collar and set him up for another blow to the jaw. Heath grappled with Nick's arms trying to pull away. "NICK, listen to me! Laura's in the hospital!"
Nick held his arm fast in mid air. "What?"
"I just brought her, she's sick."
"Show me where she is!" He quickly followed Heath out of Jarrod's room.
Jarrod brought his arm over his eyes and sobbed.
* * * * * * * *
Nick bounded into the room startling the nurse who was administering to her patient. "You can't come in here! Get out!"
"She's my wife! Tell me what's wrong with her." Nick pulled up a chair and sat by his wife's side.
"I'm getting the doctor!" The nurse flew out of the room, pass Heath who stood by the door.
"Nick, the hotel doctor examined her and thought she might be better off in the hospital, so we brought her here. She fainted."
"Look I don't know, she was really weak, she fainted dead away in my arms."
"You were with her?"
"Yeah, she came looking for me, she was hysterical, she said you were going to kill Jarrod. Nick, what's going on here? I had a feeling if I didn't stop you, ya woulda killed our brother."
"Leave us alone Heath." He took her hand in his and kissed it. "Laura, honey, wake up sweetheart, come on."
"Okay, I'm leaving Nick, but I'm gonna be with Jarrod. I think you better stay away from him, understand?" Heath cautioned but Nick didn't hear him; instead he kept speaking softly to his wife.
He brought her hand to his cheek and stroked it, "Wake up Honey, everything is going to be all right. As soon as you're better I'm taking you home, where you'll be safe. I'm never going to let you out of my sight again. I know I have a lot to make up for and I promise I..."
He was interrupted by a knock on the door. It opened and a tall woman with dark auburn hair and gray eyes walked in. She carried a small medical bag in one hand and a leather note folder in the other.
"Mister Barkley, I'm Doctor James."
Nick stood in deference to the lady. "You're my wife's doctor?"
"But you're a woman."
"How astute you are Mister Barkley. I congratulate you." She walked to the opposite side of the bed and placed her hand on the patient's forehead.
Nick rolled his eyes. "Why isn't my wife waking up?"
"She did wake up when they brought her in, but she was quite agitated so I had to give her a mild sedative. She'll come around soon."
"What do you mean she was agitated?"
"She kept on about someone named Nick wanting to kill somebody. Are you Nick?"
"Yeah." He stared at his boots.
"According to the information your brother gave us, your wife was buried under earthquake debris for well over twenty four hours. She's quite dehydrated you know." She looked him squarely in the eye, holding the medical notes to her bosom.
"I know that! I got her out of there!"
"Then knowing your wife's condition why would you choose to agitate her?"
"I didn't choose to agitate her! It just happened! We had a...a disagreement. Listen, are you a real doctor?!"
"I'm a resident here Mr. Barkley."
"What's that suppose to mean, you live here?"
"It means I am a third year resident. Doctor in training, to put it simply."
"Training hmmph! I thought so! I want my wife to have a real doctor!"
"I am a real doctor, and if your wife wants me off her case she can tell me herself."
"Nah, she won't. She'll like you!"
"You're wife sounds like an intelligent woman. I think I'll like her as well." she smiled satisfied. Nick grunted and sat back down signaling an end to the conversation.
The doctor moved again toward the door. "I'll be back to check on her later. Your wife should be waking soon, try to refrain from threatening to kill anyone in her presence."
Nick watched the woman leave, then propped another chair near the door to lock out any more intruders. He sat down and took up his wife's hand in his. "I seem to be surrounded by smart mouth women these days! But I sure would like to hear your voice Milady. Come on honey, tell me what a jackass I am."
"Laura?" He gave her a wide grin. "Welcome back."
"Jarrod?" He noted the worry shining from her blue eyes.
"He's all right. Heath stopped me."
"Thank God for Heath," she sighed relieved.
Nick bent his head in remorse, "I'm sorry I scared you."
She brought her hand up to his cheek, "Promise me you won't hurt your brother. He didn't do anything wrong."
"We'll talk about this later."
"No Nick, now. Promise me, please." She begged.
Guilt so overwhelmed his heart that he would give her cause to beg him, he decided to put her mind at ease. "I promise," he said quietly.
Heath took up residence by Jarrod's door. He leaned back, arms folded, watching Jarrod in a fitful sleep. Jarrod mumbled incoherently, his eyes flitting back and forth. 'What's got a hold of you Big Brother, huh? What's eating you? And why is...'
Heath jumped up from his chair and moved quickly toward the bed. "It's me Heath. What do you need Jarrod?"
"He's with Laura."
"She all right?" Heath thought Jarrod's eyes held fear in them.
"Yeah, Doc said she was dehydrated, like you I suspect. Can I get you anything, water?"
"Did he hurt her?"
"Hurt who? Who are you talking about.?" Heath took a cool compress and wiped the sweat from his brother's forehead.
"Nick...did he.... It's all my fault, she's not to blame. She didn't know, I should have never let it happen! Damnit!" Jarrod brought his fist to his head. Heath grabbed his hand and brought it down to his side.
"Jarrod, did Nick see something? I mean, he was mistaken wasn't he? You didn't do anything to Laura did you?"
"No. ...No of course not."
"Good, then it's just a misunderstanding, and it will be all right. Nick will come around. He was pretty upset you know, but it's gonna be fine now, just a misunderstanding right?"
"Yes, " he said quietly, "just a misunderstanding." Jarrod turned a silent face toward the blank wall.
* * * * * * * *
Relieved, she sat up and drank liberally of the water by her bedside. Laura watched amused as her husband again checked the strength of the chair under the doorknob. "Nick, what are you doing?" She said in a still raspy voice.
"Keeping those busybodies out."
Nick smirked, pulled off his leather jacket and unbuttoned his shirt, "Cause I'm staying the night and I don't want anyone barging in on us."
"Who says? Watch me!" He slipped out of his pants and threw them over a chair.
"We're married, why do I have to keep reminding you?" He teased as he crawled under the bedcovers, "Move over."
"You're crazy." She smiled.
"Honey, you knew that when you married me. Now finish that water and put it on the table. I don't want to sleep on wet sheets."
"We might fall off . There's not enough room."
"Sure there is, come here, you won't fall off, I'll hold you." She turned facing him and wrapped her arms around his shoulders.
"This is wicked." She giggled, giving him a kiss.
"Yeah, isn't it lucky I happen to know you like wicked," he smirked.
* * * * * * * *
While Nick softly snored, she very carefully pulled on her robe and as quietly as possible moved the chair from the door. She walked down the empty hospital corridor barefoot, reading the names on the hospital room doors looking for...Jarrod Barkley.
She gently tugged him out of a slumber.
"Laura? What in God's name are you doing ...."
She put her finger to her lips, "Shhh, we need to talk."
"Please Laura, you need to leave here, if anyone catches you. If Nick knew, he would kill us both!"
"I need to know what Nick said to you."
"He would have killed me if Heath didn't show up."
"What did you tell him?"
"He didn't give me a chance to say anything. He was enraged! He saw us Laura." Jarrod turned his face away in shame.
"You listen to me Jarrod Barkley! Your brother saw nothing, because nothing happened. Do you understand? Nothing happened."
He turned to face her again, "How can you say that, you know what happened, and no amount of denial is going to...."
"NO! You were ill and so was I. We both just imagined it. I know we did!"
"Nick saw us..."
"NICK SAW NOTHING! He only thought he saw it, we never..."
"I've only been with one man in my life and that's my husband! What you think happened, didn't!"
"I wish I could believe you...I wish it were true..."
"It didn't happen Jarrod! And if you dare say different to another living soul I will never speak to you again!"
"Are you mad?! I would never tell anyone, ever!"
"See that you don't!"
"Then what made him so angry to come here and try to kill me? Tell me that!"
She began to tell Jarrod what had transpired before Nick confronted him in his hospital room.
* * * * * * * *
She was sobbing in her sleep and he shook her awake. "What's the matter? Why are you crying?"
"I don't know... I can't explain it." She sat up in bed, bringing the bedsheets up to cover her nakedness, "I love you Nick, you realize that don't you? You're the only man I will ever love, you know that, right? Please say you know that."
"Why are you saying this? What's going on?"
She bent her head down to her chest continuing to sob, "I love you Nick, only you!"
"Is this about Jarrod? Tell me! Is it?! Is he in love with you? Is that what I saw?!" He took hold of her shoulders. "I saw the two of you. You were kissing, you had your arms around each other and you were kissing! I know because I saw it! I saw it all!"
"No, no I wasn't.. it wasn't, it was you...I was kissing you. I only love you!"
"Yes, I know it was me you were kissing, at least that's what you thought, but he knew different and he took advantage of that! My own brother! I didn't want to believe it, but I knew, in my heart I knew he was in love with you from the beginning!"
"No Nick, that's not true, he doesn't love me. It's that woman, I forgot her name, Hollister. "
She continued to sob while Nick took her in his arms and crushed her in an embrace. He spoke in a low, cold voice, "Tell me, he touched you didn't he? Tell me the truth. He touched you. You thought he was me and you let him touch you."
"No Nick, it wasn't like that, he never did... he didn't... I swear it! I would have known. I would have known. I didn't let him! I swear I didn't! Please Nick, you have to believe me! You have too!"
* * * * * * * *
"But he didn't believe you, did he?"
"He quickly dressed and rushed out of the room; with my wrists bandaged I couldn't manage to put my dress on, I just wrapped myself in a sheet and I went out into the corridor and started screaming for Heath. I didn't know which room he was in, so I just screamed out his name! I was so scared. I was afraid he was going to kill you." She hung her head , "I thank God for Heath!"
"As do I; he saved my life."
"Whatever we do Jarrod, not a word of this should ever be repeated."
"Then you do know what happened, you remember."
"I'm not sure, I don't... Damnit no! Nothing happened! I know it! We didn't do anything wrong! I won't believe it! I refuse!"
"All right, have it your way. I certainly can't let C.B. hear about this, she's jealous enough of you already."
"Jealous? Of me? Why on earth for?"
"She has some foolish notion that I'm secretly in love with you."
"Why that's ridiculous! Where in the world did she ever get that idea?" Jarrod gave a long sigh but said nothing. She stared at him suspiciously. "Jarrod? You're not are you? I couldn't bear it if you..."
"No of course not! I do love you but certainly not that way!"
"There's only one way to remedy this situation, you must marry her."
He gave a sad, low chuckle, "I'm afraid that's easier said than done."
"C.B. refuses to marry me. Oh it's not that she doesn't love me it's just that being an attorney she is well aware of the marriage laws. Well, you above all should understand that being a suffragette."
"Suffrager." She corrected, then shook her head. "I can't understand the two of you, You are both lawyers and you haven't figured any of this out! It's so incredibly stupid on your part! All you need to do is draw up a marriage contract, spelling out what the two of you expect out of your marriage. It will be legally binding, especially with two lawyers drawing it up."
"A marriage contract?! Where on earth did you ever get an idea like that?"
"Well if you read books written by women like E Cady Stanton or Susan B. Anthony maybe you'd get educated! And it's really not that modern a concept did you know that in ancient times.... never mind, I don't have time to go into it, but I'll send you some of my books to enlighten you. I really have to get back before Nick wakes up."
"Nick?! You mean he's in the hospital? Please Laura, you need to leave here, if Nick saw us, he would kill us both!"
"Don't change the subject Jarrod Barkley. You stop what you are doing with this woman. Your reputations are being ruined! Do you know how fortunate you are that this scandal didn't reach Stockton?!"
"Which scandal are you referring to! I seem to be surrounded in scandals these days! First C.B. and now you!"
"Never the less, this situation with you and that woman must be remedied. You must insist that she marry you and make an honest man of you!"
Jarrod couldn't help the smile that escaped his lips, "You are something Laura Barkley. You're a woman ahead of your time. I hope Nick knows how lucky he is to have you."
"I'm the lucky one, because I married into a wonderful family. Good bye Jarrod, take care of yourself and thank you for saving my life." She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek then quickly left his hospital room.
* * * * * * * *
Several weeks went by, Victoria and Audra traveled to San Francisco to look after Jarrod and help put his household back in order. In the meantime Heath, Nick and Laura came back to the ranch. Springtime in April found both Nick and Heath busy with roundup while Laura relished her role as lady of the house in her mother-in-law's absence. Nick walked into the library and found his wife sitting at the great oak desk pouring over the household accounts. He playfully pulled her wire rimmed glasses off her nose.
"Hello Milady, Ciego said you needed to see me. Am I so irresistible that you had to send for me my love?"
"Yes; that, and I needed someone to sign the household checks, besides Heath's not around the ranch."
"Hmmph!" He grunted.
"Here you sit down and sign, I have to see Silas about lunch." She gave him a kiss on the cheek as he sat in her unoccupied seat.
He noticed a pile of invoices on the side. "Are you paying these too?"
"I have a few questions on those. Don't want to pay them unless I really know what they're for."
"Good girl! Very shrewd."
She opened the library door to leave but thought better of it and walked back to the desk. "Nick?"
"Yeah?" He said without looking up from his task.
"Do you know anything about this bill from Carson City? You were there a while ago." She handed him the invoice from the pile on the desk.
"Oh, ah that. Yeah I know, it's okay to pay." He tossed it to the side again, but she picked it up.
"Sweetheart, who's Doctor Charles Warren? Were you ill when you were there?"
"Doctor Charles Warren. Who is he?"
"Doc Warren, oh well I ah, needed to see him about something." She waited patiently for more of an explanation. He felt her piercing sapphire eyes on him and he sheepishly looked up. "Lemme finish signing these checks." She stood watching and waiting. "Didn't you say you needed to talk to Silas about something?" he reminded her.
"Don't go away." She left him at the desk after she pointed a warning finger.
When she came back some moments later she found Heath in the library instead, rifling through the stack of bills. "Where's Nick?"
"I was about to ask you the same thing."
"Maybe he's upstairs, excuse me." She turned to leave but Heath called out to her.
"I was thinking of inviting Hope over for Sunday dinner."
"Wonderful, you know she's welcome anytime. You don't need to ask, there's always plenty of food, we'll just set another plate."
"Ya know, Hope's agreed to letting me teach her how to ride a horse. That's why she's coming over."
"That's great Heath. It's about time she learned to ride, and she couldn't find a better teacher than you."
"Yeah, well she's gonna
need riding britches and ah, I don't think it's right for me to bring it up,
could you maybe..."
"Be glad to, I will take Hope shopping tomorrow."
Nick called out from the foyer, "HEATH LETS GO!"
"Nick..." She rushed out to meet her husband. "Honey, you didn't answer my question about the doctor's bill. Were you ill?"
"Oh no of course not. Don't worry about it, Heath lets go!"
Heath entered the foyer. "Where are we going?"
"Take care of those lost strays."
"Send Davis and Lew to do that."
"Oh well then we need to
check on that well in the pasture for...."
"Done that Nick, I came in to eat lunch, ain't ya hungry? I know I am. I'm gonna wash up. See ya."
Nick stared down at his wife who was standing in the foyer with her hands on her hips. "What?"
"I'm still waiting for an answer."
"Who is Doctor Charles Warren? And why is he sending us a bill for a consultation?"
"Why don't we talk about this after lunch, I'm hungry."
"Let's talk about it now. Well Nick?"
"Aw all right, lets go in the library." He led her by the arm into the library, then began to pace the room, while his wife sighed and sat on the settee waiting for an answer. "Well now, you remember that trip I took to Carson City? I sorta didn't tell you the whole truth about the real reason I went there."
She sat silently with her arms folded in front of her. Nick let out a deep sigh, then decided to give his entire explanation in one short breath. "Doctor Warren is the expert that Doc Merar mentioned to us when you were sick, so I went to see him to talk about you."
"You talked to this doctor about me?" she asked stiffly.
"Yeah, Doc Merar gave me all your medical records so that this fellar could look em over; 'cause he's an expert, ya see?"
"Doctor Merar gave you MY medical records to take to this doctor, without my knowledge?"
"Yeah, well, he figured it was alright, being I'm your husband and all."
"Of course, why not? Women are too stupid to decide such important things. They need their husbands to decide for them. How lucky I have you!" Her voice dripped with sarcasm as she quickly stood, and paced the floor.
Nick stopped his pacing and attempted to reason with her. "Now honey, it's not like that at all. You know I don't think of you like that. Didn't I let you decide on who I should vote for?"
She stopped her pacing long enough to seethe behind gritted teeth, "You let ME decide who to vote for?! You didn't even know who was running until I told you! And don't change the subject! MEN!"
"Look, you refused to go see this doctor, so I did the next best thing. I saw him for you, sort of... I mean... well, you know what I mean. Laura, I was desperate! I needed to do something! We couldn't go on like we had been. Our marriage was falling apart! Blast it Laura, we wasn't even married a year and our marriage was a mess!"
"And who made a mess of it? Who was the one who refused to keep our marriage intact?! You avoided me like I was the Black Plague! Your own wife!"
"Shhh, keep your voice down! Heath's in the dining room!"
"Good! He should hear what an idiot his brother is so he won't make the same mistake when he marries! When I think of all the thoughts I had in my head! It was maddening! You gave more affection to your damn horse than you did me!"
"Now that's not true! Listen! I had good reason! I didn't want anything to happen to you! I didn't want to take a chance of you getting in a family way again and that blood clot moving and probably killing you! I had to keep you safe!"
"So, what changed? You've certainly made up for it since San Francisco! Hardly a day has gone by! If this wasn't a working ranch you'd never leave our bed!"
"Would you keep your voice down! The whole house doesn't have to know our personal business!"
"Why not! Some stranger in Carson City does!"
"Look, listen to me, I got the medical report right here from Doctor Warren." He retrieved a key from the desk drawer and opened a strong box . He pulled out a folded paper. "Just read that, you'll see what he said. It's great news." She slowly read the report then stared at her husband. "You see, what did I tell you? We can have as many children as we want!"
"Don't bet on it!" She stomped out of the room muttering expletives to herself.
"Huh?.... Laura, honey, wait a minute! DAMNIT!" Nick heard her rush up the stairs and slam their bedroom door.
After dinner that following Sunday Laura was in her bedroom helping her cousin Hope get into her new riding clothes. Hope stood in front of the full length mirror with a bewildered look on her face. She wore a dark tan blouse and a chocolate brown split skirt, with shining new black riding boots.
"I don't know about this
L., this outfit is scandalous. If I
weren't wearing boots I would be showing my ankles in this short skirt. What would my students think? For that
matter what would my students' parents think?" Hope said with a tinge of
false frumpiness and a hint of a tease.
She loved to exasperate her western cousin with her Bostonian manner.
Laura shook her head. "Hope Dougherty you are in the West now, not Boston. It's time you left your prim and proper Boston manner back in Massachusetts."
"Easier said than done! Besides my prim and proper Boston manner has served me well here." She gave her cousin a teasing smile.
"And did it serve you well when you were teaching the adult literacy classes in the back room of the Stockton saloon?" Laura finally saw her game and decided to tease back.
"Now I only did that a few times, until you opened up the Stockton Library to the classes, and Heath was with me the whole time, protecting my honor." Hope gave a dramatic curtsy to her cousin who sitting on a chair.
"Speaking of Heath, is there any progress there?"
Hope smartly pulled the white ribbon in her hair taut while looking in the mirror. "Why whatever do you mean cousin mine?"
"Well, cousin mine, have you let Heath kiss you yet? Or are you still holding hands?"
"That is none of your business...Why, has Heath said anything?"
"That's none of your business." Laura gave her a sly smile. "Come on, you're ready, I'm dying to know what Heath says when he sees you in that. I bet he's going to be struck dumb."
"He will not! He'll at least say 'boy howdy'." Hope giggled. Laura opened the door for her cousin.
The two women met Nick at the foot of the staircase.
"Well, look at you Tidbit, you look mighty fine in those ranch clothes. Wait until Heath gets an eye full of you."
"Where is Heath?" She asked.
"Heath went outside to get your horse, and don't you worry because we got you the gentlest horse on the ranch. Heath made sure of that."
"I hope so, I truly don't relish this whole idea now that I've given it a second thought."
The large door opened and Heath, dressed in his ranch clothes after shedding his Sunday best, walked in. "Well, I got the horse for Hoo.........pppe." Heath stood staring at the petite brunette. She smiled pleasantly at him.
"Told you." Laura smiled triumphantly.
"I told you." Hope gave her cousin a sideways glance.
"You sure look nice..., ....and all ready, Hope," Heath said after a moment, regaining his tongue.
She smiled. "Shall we start my riding lesson Heath?"
"Uh huh, " Heath opened the door, his eyes followed her outside before his body did. Nick and Laura watched the pair, amused.
Nick sighed and placed his arm around his wife's shoulder. "Nice couple huh?" Laura unceremoniously pushed her husband's hand off and walked into the kitchen. "Laura? Hey! Come on, you're not still mad are ya? You were talking to me while Hope was here. Hey, come on Honey... Talk to me!"
He followed her into the kitchen where she started washing dishes. "How long are you going to give me the silent treatment? How many times do I have to say I'm sorry? It's been three days now. What do you want from me? You know I can't stand it when people don't talk to me! Heath does it all the time! He drives me crazy, now you're doing it!" He didn't see the sadistic smirk that warmed his wife's face at that remark. Nick snatched up a dirty platter in his hand. "Here! Throw something at me, you'll feel better!"
She took the platter from his hand and wordlessly placed it into the dishwater. Not having anything to do, Nick thought to appease her by drying the dishes. A feat he hadn't done since they had first met. It had marked the first quarrel the two ever had. That whole fiasco had them and the entire kitchen covered in a spilt five pound bag of flour. He remembered the whole day well. They had worked quietly at first, both angry with each other and then, the two had landed on the floor in each other's arms, laughing.
Nick grabbed some dirty utensils from the table and placed each one in the dish water on either side of her so that she was surrounded by his arms. He nuzzled her neck, taking in the familiar perfume scent of rosebuds.
"Heath and Hope won't be back for hours and we have the whole house all to ourselves." he whispered sensually, "I'll wash your back and you can wash mine."
She turned around in his arms to face him, and with her hands dripping with soapy water, she wiped them on the front of his Sunday best white shirt. Then, without a word, walked up the back stairs.
He fumed as he wrenched the wet shirt out of his trouser waist. "Blasted woman!"
* * * * * * * *
The pair of them
walked over to the corral, Heath just a bit ahead, and Hope slightly wary. They reached the corral and leaned against
it. “That the horse?” Hope asked, turning
her head upwards and to the side to face him.
“Yep. That’s her."
She turned to face
the horse again. “What’s her name,
“Hasn’t got a name yet.”
“You let this beautiful mare go without a name?” Hope slapped his arm. “That’s cruelty, Heath Barkley.”
“Well, we got her not long ago, was them that didn’t name her before we didn’t. And she’s such a beaut, can’t rightly think of a proper name for her."
She glared a bit at
him. “And why has someone not remedied
this? I should think at the very least your sister would have enough sense to.”
“She probably would, ‘cept that she’s been awfully busy lately. Takin’ care of Jarrod in 'Frisco with Mother. If you’re so all fired up she needs a name, you name her.”
“Alright, then. I shall.”
Hope studied the horse, screwed up her face in thought, while Heath studied her, his face wearing a smirk. The small mare was a dapple grey with a happy countenance, clever nature, and feisty but gentle disposition. It seemed to Heath that, though she was mostly inexperienced with horses, Hope was very aware of those facts. After a few moments of silence weighted with thought, Hope straightened up and turned to Heath. “Let’s get started."
He smiled down at
her. “Alright." They walked inside the corral, but stopped
shortly before reaching the mare.
“We’re going to have to saddle her now.”
“Shouldn’t I get to know her first?”
Heath smiled. “I usually do, but most don’t. Ya don’t have ta.”
“Well, I want to. You just scoot around to the other side of the corral while Naomi and I get acquainted.”
He shrugged slightly
and gave a little crooked smile. “Have
it your way. I’ll be back in a minute
“Thank you." Heath walked off.
Alone with her mount, Hope sighed. Then she looked at the newly-named mare. Hope and Naomi studied each other for a moment. The former nodded, and the latter stepped closer. Hope smiled widely, took her glasses out of her pocket, and placed them on her nose. She began talking in a soft, slow murmur, her mouth close to the mare’s ear. “Well, now, you are even more beautiful now that I can see properly."
Hope stepped forward herself, and gently pet the horse. “Did you know that you didn’t have a name? Silly me, of course you did. You have one now. I chose it myself. I hope you like it. Your name is Naomi. You just looked so happy, and so pleasant, that it just seems to fit, and I don’t care what Heath, or Nick, or Jarrod, or even Laura thinks. I only hope that you like it. Do you, girl? My, I think you do."
The horse seem to nod in agreement.
"We shall be
good friends, Naomi. And I’ll try to
bring a treat next time I come. I know,
I should have thought to bring one today, but you see, I’ve never ridden a horse
before. Though knowing you, my dear
friend, I think it shall be much better than if you were some other, less
friendly horse. We’ll do well together,
you and I. Ah, yes we will." Hope nuzzled Naomi’s neck with her head, and
stroked her mane, and Naomi leaned in kindly.
“Well, seems to me like you two are a real pair already,” said Heath as he walked towards them. Hope blushed, but remained as she was.
“Indeed we are.”
“Ya want ta get started now, Hope?”
“Alright." Standing straight again, she patted Naomi, and, under Heath’s guidance, saddled her horse.
“Now comes the tricky part: mounting. Come on over here. Ya just put your left foot in the stirrup, grab on ta the saddle horn, straighten up on your left leg so you’re high up, and swing your right leg over
the other side." Heath watched as Hope’s brow furrowed as she rethought the instructions in her head.
“I’m glad Naomi’s so short.”
“That’s half why I picked her.”
Hope’s face reflected her concentration as she slowly but precisely mounted the animal. Heath brought over his mount, leapt into the saddle in one fluid motion, and took Hope’s reins.
“Heath Barkley, how on earth do you mount like that?”
“Well, ya just do. Come on, now. We’ll take some circles around the corral.”
“After that, can we take a real ride?” Hope was as excited as a young child with a new toy. Heath eyed her with an amused glint in his eye.
“We’ll see how well you do. Now, get Naomi moving with a little kick.”
* * * * * * * *
Nick had sat alone for some time in his favorite chair in the game room when he heard the sound of Heath's laughter coming from the foyer.
"I may never sit down again." Hope complained, "Why didn't anyone tell me?"
Heath laughed as he threw his hat on the hall table. "People knew before hand they would never learn ta ride a horse. Come on, lets go in the game room I'll get ya a pillow to sit on." He led her gently by the elbow into the next room.
Nick stood when they entered. "How did the lesson go?"
"It was quite an education." Hope gingerly sat on a soft pillow provided by Heath.
"Aw come on you'll get used to it. How about another lesson after school tomorrow? I'll pick ya up."
"No thank you, these Sunday jaunts will suit me fine. I'll need all week to recuperate."
Heath poured a drink. "How about some sherry Hope?"
"Well just a wee bit to deaden the soreness." Heath gave a chuckle as he poured her a drink.
"How about you Nick? Wanna
"No thanks, I think I'll work on the books. Excuse me."
"Where's Laura?" Hope wondered.
"She was a little tired. She went upstairs to rest."
"Oh dear how am I going to retrieve my clothes? I left them in your bedroom."
"Don't worry, she put them in Heath's room. You can change there when you're ready."
Nick didn't notice the rosy blush coloring Hope's cheeks before he left the room, but Heath caught it and smiled. "I'll show you where it is when you're ready to change."
"Thank you," she said taking a delicate sip of her drink.
Heath took Nick's seat. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Oh no thank you, I'm fine. I think after I finish this drink I'll leave. I wouldn't want you to go home in the dark after you brought me home, it wouldn't be safe. It's getting late and we both have to get up early to work tomorrow."
Heath couldn't help letting a smile escape as he watched her study the drink in her hand. He loved her shyness around him and found it most endearing. Although he knew in reality she was anything but shy. She had a pioneer spirit that seemed to remind Heath of his mother, who was also a strong yet gentle soul. He loved the fact that Hope was so fervent in her religion and enjoyed conversing with Padre Sanchez after church services about the readings of the day. Heath smiled remembering the stiffly polite conversation the two had when the good padre had made mention of a passage about women being subservient to men, luckily the wise priest was ready for his educated parishioner and gave her a satisfactory answer that the two could agree on. 'Mama would have loved Hope,' Heath thought.
* * * * * * * *
"My stars Heath some day a woman's gonna come around and you will know she'll be the right one for you. I know you're broken hearted now about Sarah but she really wasn't the girl for you. She was a selfish girl."
"Heath Thomson in your heart you know that, or at least you will in time. Your heart will show you that. She didn't want the kind of life you offered her."
"Mama what kind of life could I offer her? I've got nothing to give her, or any woman. The only dirt I'll ever own is sticking to my boots!"
"No sweetheart, someday, I promise you, you will come into your own. I promise you that. The Good Lord will never abandon you my child. Others may, but He never will." Leah cupped her nineteen year old son's heartbroken face in her hand and gave him a generous kiss on the cheek.
* * * * * * * *
Others found Heath's silent spells annoying, but Hope didn't see them as threatening. She enjoyed them as it gave her a chance to collect her own thoughts. Like him, she loved quiet times too, when at home, she often made her way up to the lighthouse tower where she would sit and sketch a seascape. The early morning light was the best light for drawing, and she could be alone there with her own thoughts.
"It's getting late, maybe you should show me your room so I could change my clothes."
"Right this way." Heath stood as she did and followed her out.
Upstairs they walked down the hall and opposite Nick's room. Heath opened the door to a very comfortable and warm looking room, but decidedly smaller than Nick's.
"It rather small compared to Nick and Laura's room isn't it?" She surveyed the room and immediately decided that even if no one had told her, she would have known that this was Heath's room. It complemented his quiet solitude.
"Nick got that room when Father died, when he took over the ranch. Mother wanted him to have it. It was hers and Father's room before that. It fits him, Nick needs a lot of room."
"And how did you get this room?"
"I picked it out. I thought it was the best room in the house. You see, it faces East. You can see the sunrise in the morning." Heath walked her over to the window and pointed toward the horizon. "Nick's room faces West, he gets the sunset. He likes it better, so does Laura."
"It must be a beautiful sight in the morning." Hope said searching the tree line and imagining the sight. She thought she would have loved to sketch the scene sometime.
Heath stood behind her smiling impishly, then he placed his hand on her shoulder. "Now do you see those two tall trees way out there."
"Not very well," she squinted.
"Well, on a real clear day, if you look between those two trees do you know what you can see, if ya look just right?"
"Boston Harbor." He chuckled.
Hope turned to face an impish grin. "You have incredible eyes, Mister Barkley."
"So do you Miss Dougherty." He cupped his hand under her chin. Truly he wanted to kiss her, but for now it was enough to touch her soft, creamy skin.
"I think I should change my clothes." She moved away from his grasp.
"I'll get you some fresh towels and water so you can wash."
"Thank you." Heath took the pitcher from the dry sink, closing the door behind him. Hope began to pull up her blouse from her skirt and nervously unbuttoned it.
After a short time Heath walked in again with a pitcher and towels and caught sight of her in a chemise. Hope quickly grabbed her blouse, covering herself. "Oh excuse me! I'm sorry, I should have knocked," he said red-faced.
"That's quite all
right. My brothers walked in on me all
the time... without thinking that
is. It's your room after all. Who knocks to get into their own room?"
"I'll just leave this here. You come downstairs when you're ready. I'll ah, wait for you there." He placed the towels and pitcher down, as he tried to avoid staring at her.
"Thank you." She said hiding an amused grin.
To be continued…