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).
Laura studied her image in the full length mirror staring at her profile and sighing.† "Nick?"
Nick was fidgeting with his tie, "Yeah?"
"Do you think I look too big?"†
Nick rolled his eyes.† "Ya look beautiful.† You always look beautiful.† Blasted tie!"† He threw his hands up in frustration.
"But do I look too big?"
"Honey, you're going to have a baby.† You look like you're supposed to look, pregnant."
"Ugh, I was afraid of that."† She sighed at her reflection.
"Would you help me with this blasted tie?† And quit looking at yourself in the mirror!† You look perfectly beautiful, and I'll shoot anyone who doesn't agree.† Now help me with this miserable tie before I hang myself with it!"
She smiled as she took his tie in her hands.† She pulled him close by the tie laces and kissed him on the lips.† "What was I thinking?† Focusing on myself and ignoring you my lord and master."
"Lord and master eh?† Either Silas put something in your morning coffee or this child you're carrying is doing strange things to your head."
"I am so very proud of you."
"Why?"† He gave her a slight grin.
"Because you're reconciling with your brother."
"Do we have to talk about this again?† I really don't want to get into it."
"Jarrod is going to be here very soon."† She watched his face in earnest for any signs of left over resentment.
"I know that.† Would you please stop looking at me like that?† It's going to be fine, I promise."
"I know Nick.† I just want you to know that..."
"You're proud of me, yeah I know."† He said exasperated.
"I love you with all my heart, and I am very proud to be your wife."
He cupped her face in his hands, "Now that says it all for me too."† He gave her a long, lingering kiss.
They heard Audra's shouts from downstairs.† "They're here!† They're here!"
"I think they're here."
"I think you're right."† They wrapped their arms around each other and left the room.
†* * * * * * * *
In the foyer Heath had opened the door for Hope, Jarrod and Carol.† Victoria, Audra and Silas met them at the door hugging, kissing, and taking wet coats and hats.
"Silas old man, you look younger than ever."† Jarrod laughed handing him his hat.
"It sure is great to see you again Mister Jarrod!† So happy to have you home!"
"Thank you Silas.† Silas you haven't met my lovely bride Carol."
"A pleasure Missus Jarrod."
"Missus Jarrod?"† Carol nodded to Silas but stared questioningly at her husband.
"With all the Missus Barkleys under one roof it just makes it easier for Silas, you understand."† Jarrod explained.
"Of course, I'll be glad to make it easy for you Silas, you may call me Miss Holister.† I still use my maiden name."
Silas nodded rigidly, but still smiled.† "Yes Miss Holister," silently he took the wet clothes to the mud room in the back of the kitchen.
Victoria took her new daughter-in-law's arm, "I'm so happy you could share our Thanksgiving celebration with us Carol dear."† Victoria led her guests to the parlor.† "Jarrod darling would you be a dear and see what everyone wants to drink.† I'm sure you all must be chilled to the bone.† It's very raw out there."
Heath led Hope to the settee and got a drink for the two of them.
"Are you cold?"† Heath asked to her in an intimate whisper.
"Why if this were Boston it would be springtime with weather like this."† She teased him as she took the drink from his hand.
"Why didn't I know you'd say that?"†
"You did," she winked.
Heath chuckled and squeezed her free hand bringing it to his lips for a soft kiss..† "Your hand feels cold.† Let me warm it up for you."† He held her hand and cupped it between his own.† She smiled sweetly as she clinked her glass with his.
Jarrod was pleased to be back at his old familiar post of doling out drinks for everyone as the family host, but still conscience of the fact that he had yet to deal with his volatile middle brother.† He glanced toward the stairs when he saw a swatch of mauve silk and a touch of white satin petticoat.
Nick and Laura had slowly descended the stairs, holding hands.† Jarrod watched from his vantage point in the parlor.† Noticing her husband's eyes diverted as he handed her a drink, Carol turned to watch the newly arrived couple.† Laura had her hair pinned back in white silk netting with a gold and pearl comb holding it all in place.† Even though she was obviously great with child the mauve gown she wore made her look elegant.† Her husband dressed in a black three piece suit and the pair looked like the lord and lady of the manor.† Carol turned back to catch her husband's eyes looking admiringly at the pair.† He waited until the couple entered the parlor.
"Jarrod, Carol.† Welcome home, happy Thanksgiving."† Laura beamed at having the two of them in their midst.
Jarrod hugged his sister-in-law, "Laura dear, you looked radiant."† He gave a chaste kiss on the cheek.†
"That's what I told her."† Nick agreed holding out his hand to Jarrod.† "Welcome home Jarrod."
"Thank you Nick.† It's good to be home."† The two brothers shook hands.
Nick's eyes went to Carol.† Again he was taken aback at how much she looked like his Laura.† "Welcome to our home Carol."† He nodded politely, she did in kind without a word.
Nick stared at Jarrod first.† He noticed how easily he slipped into his old form, but Nick decided he wasn't going to make it easy for him.† "Sure Jarrod, I'll take a drink from you."
Jarrod smiled and averted his eyes to pour the drink, but Nick's seemingly innocent comment told him his place was tenuous at best.† Jarrod knew he had been deposed of his position in the house.† It was most definitely Nick's castle now, and Jarrod knew his presence there was out of Nick's good will and nothing more.
Nick politely took the drink, and raised his glass to his brother.† "Welcome home Jarrod."
"Thank you Nick."† It was only seen by Heath's eagle eye, but he caught his Mother's relieved sigh as she watched her two older sons.
"Drink Laura?† I'll get you some milk, alright?"† Nick offered quickly averting his eyes from Jarrod.
"Yes please, I would love some."† Laura settled on the sofa near her cousin and Heath.† "Please tell us Carol, are you still practicing law?"
Carol sat on a love seat across from them.† Jarrod joined her.† "Why yes I am, I see no reason not to.† There's still a great deal of work to do for women."
"Oh yes, Laura told me that you work for women's suffrage.† Is that correct?"† Hope asked.
"Yes, among other women's rights."
"Divorce laws that protect women are non-existent in this country, but I want to change that."
"Oh yes of course, but won't that take lobbying in Sacramento?"† Hope wondered.† Nick rejoined the assembly and gave his wife a glass of milk then stood by the fireplace listening warily to the conversation.
"Yes, but women are not yet allowed to lobby."† Carol continued animated by the subject of the conversation.
"But you intend to change that."† Hope added with a knowing smile.
"Indeed I do.† How wonderful to meet someone who is so astute in laws affecting women, or rather lack of them."† She complimented the teacher.
"Oh I couldn't take the credit for that.† Laura has done quite extensive reading and studying on the subject.† She was the one who informed me."
"You Laura?† You have an interest in women's rights?"
"I sort of fell into it you might say while honeymooning in Sacramento.† Quite by accident actually."† She took a sip of her milk and eyed her husband whom she noticed was becoming annoyed by the conversation.† "Would you be good enough to excuse me I really should check on the dinner preparations."
Nick loudly cleared his throat as he watched his wife leave the room.† She gave him a sheepish grin.† "Can I freshen up anyone's drinks?"† Nick asked in an attempt to change the subject.
"I hope I didn't bring up a difficult subject.† Laura seemed a bit uncomfortable."† Carol delighted in knowing she had obviously broached a sensitive subject between the couple.† Although she found it hard to dislike her new sister-in-law as she knew they shared the same ideals on women's issues, she had no regard at all for Laura's brute of a husband.
"Oh not at all," Victoria volunteered, "Laura does get a bit uncomfortable sitting for long periods of time.† She moves around quite a bit these days.† Restlessness I suspect.† I remember doing the same when I was carrying my children."
"When is she due if you don't mind me asking?"
"December.† Do you need a refill there?"† Nick interrupted.
"No thank you, I'm fine."† She said curtly.† "You have a lovely home here Mrs. Barkley."
"Oh that's right, Carol hasn't seen the house.† Why don't I show you around Sweetheart."† Jarrod said grateful for any change in the conversation.
""Do you mind if I come along too Jarrod, I want to get more acquainted with my new daughter-in-law?"† Victoria excused herself as she linked one arm with Jarrod and the other with Carol.† Nick also excused himself and went into the kitchen, leaving Hope, Heath and Audra alone in the parlor.†
†* * * * * * * *
Nick entered the kitchen to find Laura taste-testing the soup.† She glanced sideways, giving him a disapproving look.† "Now you didn't come in here to scold me, because I won't have it.† I didn't start the suffrage conversation and I'm not taking the blame for it.† You know...."† Nick swiftly turned her around, grabbed her face with both hands and gave her a hard kiss.† She stared puzzled, then smiled.† "What was that for?"
"It's to shut you up.† Silas, you wanna take Lupe there to see if the silver is polished well enough?"
"Yas sir, Mr. Nick."† Silas' winked knowingly as he pushed the young Mexican girl quickly out of the kitchen.
"Now, why don't you tell me what's going on?† You're jumpier than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockers."
"You know I hate it when you try to read what I'm thinking."† She pouted.
"I know you too well.† But don't worry there are still some parts of you that are a mystery to me."
"Well, that's comforting anyway."
"Come on, give."
It's nothing really.† I was just so excited about this day and now it here's and well, now I wish it was over.† Does that make sense?"
"Yup."† He had felt the same way from the moment he rose from bed.
"Good.† Anyway it's affecting the baby."
"It won't be still, it keeps moving around.† I can't even get comfortable, it's kicking me and just moving everywhere.† This child just won't stop."† She takes his hand and places it on the side of her stomach.† "There, you see?† Like it's doing an Irish Jig!"
Nick laughed, "Maybe you're having a leprechaun?† He sure is active in there huh?† Ah, he just wants to come out."
"Or she.† Anyway, I just can't sit.† I keep getting poked."† He laughs again.† "It's not funny!† God, I wish I could have a drink."
"Have more milk, here I'll get it for you."
"I meant something stronger."
"Now you know you can't have that.† Come with me."
"Upstairs."† He grabs her by the hand.
"Nick, we don't have time for that.† We have guests."
"Would you be still, trust me.† Come on."† He led her up the back steps laughing.
†* * * * * * * *
Heath and Hope sat alone quietly holding hands.† Heath smiled at her and she at him.† Audra, sensing their need to be alone, discreetly left the two alone on a pretense to check the hem of her dress.
"Not while you're here."
"Sometimes I like being alone."† Heath said still holding her hand.† He had finished his drink and now had her hand cupped in his strong calloused ones.
"I like being alone sometimes too."† She bit her bottom lip as she stared into his sky blue eyes.
Heath brought her hand to his lips and gently kissed each tiny fingertip.† "This is not one of those times."
"Pardon?"† She tried not to be flustered, but his kisses made her heartbeat quicken.
"This is not one of those times I want to be alone."
"Oh well, that's good, because then I would have to leave."† She nervously joked as she watched him bring her hand to his cheek.
"Huh?"† Heath stopped caressing her hand and stared into her soft brown eyes.
"The chalk dust makes my hands very dry and I have to put this liniment preparation that my father uses, it's made with aloe leaf and coco butter.† It's really good and it leaves my hands ..."† She swallowed hard as he brought her hand to his lips to kiss them again.† His arm went around her shoulder and he drew her closer.† "What are you doing Heath?"† He brought her head toward his cheek.
"What's that smell in your hair?"
"Soap, I washed my hair this morning."
"It smells like summer lilacs."
"Well I washed it with lilac soap that I bought from the store.† Do you really like it?"
"Oh very much."† He cupped his finger under her chin and brought her lips up to meet his.
Victoria glided into the parlor with Jarrod and Carol on each arm.† "Silas just informed us that dinner is....† Oh, excuse me."† Victoria was embarrassed that she had interrupted an intimate moment for her son.
†Heath and Hope broke away quickly from their embrace.† "Dinner's ready huh?† That's great, we're hungry."† Heath said as he offered Hope a helping hand to stand.† "Why don't we go in then?"
"Yes, lets."† She smiled shyly.
†* * * * * * * *
The five walked into the dining room.† The table was elegantly set with place cards at every table setting.† Victoria was seated at her usual end of the table, but Jarrod had noticed the head of the table where he usually sat was reserved with Nick's name instead, with Laura sitting directly on his right.† Jarrod and Carol found their seats to the right of Victoria, and Heath and Hope opposite them to Victoria's left.† Audra was seated to Nick's left.
"Well isn't this lovely."† Jarrod said sardonically.
"Something wrong Darling?"† Carol inquired.
"No dear, not at all.† Where is Nick?"† Silas brought in a chafing dish, followed by Guadalupe holding a soup tureen.
"Mister Nick will be down directly Mister Jarrod.† I made your favorite for dessert Mister Jarrod, sweet potato pie."
"Ah you are a treasure Silas, thank you; but then some things don't change."†
Nick walked in with his wife and held the chair out for her.† "Oh good, you're all here."
"Just waiting for you brother Nick."† Jarrod quipped, still holding a glint of sarcasm under his breath.† Nick seated himself at the head of the table, taking no notice of Jarrod's glib comment.
"Anytime you're ready Silas."† He leaned over to give Laura a squeeze of her hand.† She smiled appreciatively.† "Feeling better my love?"† Nick said in a low whisper.
"Much."† She beamed, sharing a private moment between the two.†
The soup was the first to be served.† Victoria smiled at her children gathered around her.† She was a very happy woman and she let it show on her face.† "Jarrod why don't you say grace for us dear?"
"Oh lets not break with tradition all together this year Mother, why don't you say grace as you did last year."† Jarrod said with his best lawyerly smile plastered on his face.
"Very well, " Victoria said delighted.† "I do feel very thankful, most especially this year of all years.† With my first grandchild on the way, and my newest daughter-in-law here, not to mention all those I love in this room happy and healthy.
After grace was said, Nick took charge of cutting the turkey and plates of white and dark meat were passed around.† As Jarrod watched his brother carve the Thanksgiving dinner, his mind wandered to the year before:
* * * * *
Jarrod stood at the ready to serve the bird, "Now enough of this chatter, this bird is ready to be eaten.† Who wants white and who wants dark and don't all speak up at once!"
Orders fill Jarrod's ears, "dark, white, white, I'll have white, give me dark, a little of both for me."
"Humph, yes well, thanks for listening everybody," Jarrod feigned annoyance.
* * * * * *
Carol caught the smile on her husband's face.† "What is it Jarrod?"
"Nothing sweetheart, my mind was someplace else, that's all.† How is your turkey my dear?"
"Oh yes, thank you Heath."
The dinner conversation remained light and amicable.† But things were about to change drastically.
After dinner they all settled in the game room for after dinner drinks.†
"Jarrod why don't you tell everyone how you and Carol met.† I don't think Laura and Hope have heard the story.† It's so romantic."
"Yes Jarrod, please do, we would love to hear it."† Laura politely urged.
"Well, I don't know how romantic it was.† I think Audra may be seeing it differently than we did.† But I must say I was quite taken by this lovely lady, unfortunately her feelings weren't mutual.† We met at the State House in Sacramento.† I had been there to help Senator Banyard lobby for his bill about the aquaducts and bringing water into the valley, when I heard all this ruckus down the hall coming from one of the committee rooms."
* * * * *
"Listen lady you're lucky you weren't arrested!† Now get out of here!† And I'm not going to tell you again!"† The blue uniform pushed the petite blonde out of the room and slammed the door shut.
She sat in a pile of navy blue taffeta on the floor with her hat askewed.† She shook a white gloved fist at the closed door.† "You haven't heard the last of C.B.† Holister!† I'll take you all to court!† The laws of this miserable state will be changed if it takes me the rest of my life you rotten excuse for a law officer!
And you can tell that to your backward governor too!† You just wait!"
"Excuse me Miss, but may I help you up?"† Jarrod stood above her and tipped his hat.
"Who are you?"
"Jarrod T.† Barkley, Esquire.† At your service."† He tipped his hat more grandly than before.
"Oh, you're one of them!"
"One of them?"† He asked puzzled.
"One of those pompous ass idiots who have the ear of those shortsighted, cigar smelling, backroom double dealers!"† She pointed a jabbing finger in the air at the closed door before her.
"Well, I see my reputation has proceeded me.† But surely you wouldn't mind if I gave you a hand up from the floor?† Please?"
She gave him her hand and he took it, helping her up from the floor.† She smoothed out her skirts and affixed her hat.† "I apologize for my rudeness.† You didn't deserve that.† Mr. Barkley you said?"
"I did."† His blue eyes twinkled with a charming smile.
"C.† B.† Holister, yes I know, I heard.† What does the C.B.† stand for, if I may be so bold to ask?"
"Carol Baelee.† But I prefer C.B."
"Carol Baelee, very pretty.† Tell me, where did Baelee come from?"
"Grandmother's name, first name, her father wanted a boy so he named her that.† But she was quite a woman.† Owned the best cathouse in Colorado until the ladies betterment league closed her down."
"A cathouse?† I presume that means what I think it means?"
"It does.† You have a problem with that?"
"Not at all, it's refreshing to hear of a woman who has her own business."
"What are you looking at me like that for?† I am not one of them!† I happen to be a lawyer."
"Oh I see; well, it's always pleasant to meet a colleague."
"Oh yes, you're an attorney.† Jarrod Barkley, you're not one of the Stockton Barkleys are you?"
"Guilty as charge."
"It figures.† You're Senator Bannard's hack.† I've heard of you."
"A hack?† I assure you dear lady I am no man's hack!† Good day."† With his anger getting the best of him, he turned on his heels and quickly entered one of the closed doors in the hallway leaving her staring at his broad back with mouth agape.
* * * * *
"Now Jarrod you can't stop there.† Surely the two of you came together at some point."
"Indeed we did Hope.† While I was at my meeting I received a note of apology and an invitation to dinner that evening.† I thought about saying no, but then I feared I might prove myself to be a pompous ass after all, so I accepted her kind invitation."
"I think that sounds very romanitic Jarrod."† Laura added.† Have you been together ever since that evening?"
"Not exactly we fought over who was to pay the check."† Jarrod laughed.
"I won."† Carol said triumphantly.
"And I didn't speak to her until she let me return the favor.† She begged me to forgive her."† Jarrod teased.† Carol slapped his arm playfully.
"I did not beg, I just couldn't take your whining anymore about it."† She said with finality.
"So where did he finally take you Carol?"† asked Laura.
"The Hawthorne Club, have you heard of it?"
"Yes, Nick and I went there one evening while we were on our honeymoon."
"You're a member there Nick?"† Carol questioned haughtily
"No, we were there as guests.† One of Laura's old acquaintances."† Nick shifted uncomfortably in his chair not
caring to relive the wretched memory.
"Acquaintances?† Now that sounds intriguing."† Carol smirked at the blonde woman.
"It's a rather long, boring story.† But do go on with your very interesting one.† What happened at the Hawthorne Club?"† Laura urged.
"Actually it was what happened after the Hawthorne Club that was interesting."† Carol gleamed at Jarrod, who cleared his throat at the embarrassment.
"I'm sure no one wants to hear that.† Another round of drinks anybody?"† Jarrod said quickly changing the subject.
"As much as I have enjoyed this evening, it is
getting late and I have to get back to town."† Hope said taking advantage of the lull in the conversation.
"Absolutely not!† I won't hear of it Hope, you're staying in the guest room.† It's much too cold; and the wind and snow have not let up.† You can leave in the morning after a good hearty breakfast.† And the same goes for you and Carol Jarrod, your room is all made up for you.† You're staying the night.
"Mrs. Barkley, I haven't anything to wear."† Was Carol's feeble excuse for not staying.
"I have a night gown you can use Carol, it will fit you perfectly."† Laura offered her new sister-in-law.
"Yes, and Hope can wear one of my nightgowns.† She and I are more or less the same size."
"Well Carol, looks like we're outnumbered."† Hope sighed with a shy smile.
"I suppose so."† Carol said trying to hide her disappointment.† She loathed the idea of spending a moment more under that roof, but she hadn't any choice in the matter.
†* * * * * * * *
Victoria had escorted both Carol and Hope to their rooms later that evening.
"I've already laid out a nightgown for you Hope, and Lupe has given you fresh linens.† Carol, I'll see that Laura gets your things once she comes upstairs.† Excuse me.† If there is anything you want please don't hesitate to ask."
Both women said thank you and wished each other a good night.† Carol surveyed her husband's boyhood bedroom.† It was much like their own home.† His favorite books, some old textbooks from school and of course his ever present law books, all neatly tucked away in proper order, just as her Jarrod would want.† She had hoped he would have come upstairs with her, but his brothers had challenged him to a game of billiards and she knew Jarrod had missed that camaraderie with his siblings so she let him to his evening game.
†* * * * * * * *
Downstairs Victoria had joined them again in the game room.† She smiled with delight to see her three handsome sons enjoying their billiards.† Victoria clutched Laura's hand as she stood watching them.
"Isn't it wonderful to see them again like this?"
"Oh yes Victoria.† I so hate to tear myself away.† I've longed to see the three of them like this again."
"It does a heart good.† My sons again, under the same roof and happy together; that's the best part."
"It certainly is, but if I don't get some rest soon, I will surely collapse from exhaustion."
"You go up to bed dear, it has been a long, but wonderful day."
"Nick sweetheart, I'm going to bed, enjoy your game.† Good night all."
"Good night Laura, sleep well."† Both Heath and Jarrod added.
"I'll be up just as soon as I whoop these two!"† Nick said enjoying the company.
"I hope I won't be sleeping all alone, waiting for you to win a game Nick Barkley."† She teased with a smile.
"Hey!† Show your husband some respect Woman!"
"She knows you too well big brother."† Heath smirked.† She turned to leave the room.
"Don't forget the nightgown for Carol."† Victoria reminded her.
†* * * * * * * *
Carol sat at a small desk reading a book, when there was a knock on the door.† "Come in."
"Hello, I brought you a nightgown, slippers and a robe."† Laura said as she peeked in the door.
"Oh thank you, come in, you didn't have to do all that.† A nightgown alone would have done nicely."† She stood as Laura entered.
"Well, it does get a bit chilly at night, and they don't fit me very well these days anyway."† She laid the clothes down on the bed.
"Yes of course.† Nick said you were due in December."† She placed the book on the desk.
"Yes, that's right."† She said politely.
"Then that means you conceived in March."†
†"Good at mathematics, as well as a good attorney.† I'm impressed.† Good night, do sleep well."† She turned to leave the room.
"You spent the better part of March in San Francisco if I remember correctly."
"Your memory is correct."
"Yes, you remember I was visiting at the time."
"You spent two weeks living under Jarrod's roof."
"Also correct.† Please excuse me I'm quite tired."
"Just where was that baby conceived?"
"I think that's a rather personal question, don't you?"
"Considering the circumstances I don't agree."†
Laura moved closer to the woman.† "Just what are you implying?"
"I think you know very well."
"Well, Carol dear, since you are so interested in my intimate life with my husband, this child was conceived at The Palace Hotel.† Does that answer your rude question my dear sister-in-law?"
She tried to hold her temper in check.
"I see.† While you were recuperating from the injuries you incurred from the earthquake?"† Laura gave her an icy stare and moved a step closer to the mocking woman.† "Are you sure this child you're carrying wasn't conceived under my husband's roof, in my husband's bed?"
Laura could no longer contain her anger and slapped the woman as hard as she could across the face.† The stinging slap sent her back into the desk chair when she lost her footing.† The fiery blonde woman stood quickly and backhanded Laura who fell under the desk.†
When C.† B.† realized what she had done she raised her hand to her mouth.† "Oh my God!† I'm so sorry!† Are you hurt?† Oh I hope I didn't hurt the baby; I wasn't thinking, it was just a reflex reaction.† Please, I'm so sorry!† Forgive me!"
At that moment Jarrod walked into his bedroom and was thunderstruck when he saw Laura sprawled on the floor.
"Oh my God!† Laura, what happened?"† He immediately knelt beside her.† Nick heard the commotion on the way to his own room and rushed toward the opened door.† Heath stopped dead in his tracks when he heard Nick yell out.
"LAURA!† OH DEAR GOD!"† Nick flew to his wife's side.† Laura stared at Carol but didn't speak.† "Heath!† Go into town and get Doctor Merar!"
"No!† I'm all right!† I'm fine."
"Laura, what happened to you?"† Asked Jarrod.
"I was just clumsy, I slipped, that's all, I'm fine, really.† Help me up please."
Hearing all the commotion, Hope entered already wearing her robe and slippers.† "Laura, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm fine, I just slipped and fell, nothing to worry about."† Jarrod and Nick both helped her up from the floor.
"I still want you to see the doctor."† Nick urged.
"Please Nick, there's no need.† I'm fine, really."
"Still, it wouldn't hurt to look you over, why don't we go into your bedroom and we'll check, come on.† Just for Nick's own piece of mind, you know what a worrywart he is.† Come on, let's go."† Hope successfully convinced her cousin to go with her.† The two women left the room, followed by Nick and Heath.† Jarrod closed the door behind them, then looked intensely at his wife.
"What the hell happened here?"†
Carol turned away from him, her hand still covering her face.† "I told you we shouldn't have come here."
"What's wrong with your face?"† He pulled her hand away from her cheek.† "She slapped you.† Why?"
"No she didn't.† Nothing happened."
"Don't lie to me!† I won't have it!† What did you say that caused her to do that?"
"I told you, nothing happened!"
†* * * * * * * *
Meanwhile in Nick and Laura's room.† Hope asked Nick to wait outside while she helped Laura check for any damage to the baby.
"No blood, that's a good sign."
"I told you I was fine.† The baby wasn't hurt."† She got up from the bed and began to undress for bed.
"No, but you have a mark on your face.† How did you get that?"† Hope washed her hands at the dry sink
"When I fell of course.† My face hit the desk."† She said pulling on her nightgown.
"Really?† You fell on your left side and the mark is on your right side.† So how did you manage that?† Did the desk fly up to meet you?"† Laura gave a long sigh but didn't answer.† "So why are you brawling with your new sister-in-law?"
"I don't want to talk about this Hope."
"I see, well, I'm sure Nick will want to talk to you about it more than I would."
"Damn you're right.† It doesn't look too bad does it?"† She said as she sat at her vanity table.
"You're not going to brush him off like you did me about what happened."
"I'm going to try my best."† She dabbed powder on her face then turned to face her cousin.† "There how does that look?"
"Like you have powder on your face."† I'm going to bed and I shall leave it for you to sort this out with Nick.† "Good night."
"Good night and thank you Hope."
Nick came in just as Hope left.† "How are you feeling?"
Laura stood from her vanity table and walked over to the bed.† "I'm fine, no damage."†
Nick moved immediately to her, taking her in his arms in a protective embrace.† "You scared the hell out of me!"† His mind went back to the year before when they lost their first baby and he almost lost his beloved Milady as well.† He couldn't bear to go through anything like that horror again.† He hugged her tighter, taking in the rosebud scent permeating her golden hair.
"I'm sorry sweetheart but I'm fine, really.† I'm going to bed, I'm exhausted."†
She broke from his embrace but he pulled her back and touched her face.† "What happened to your face?† I thought you weren't hurt."
"I'm fine, it's nothing; just a little scratch.† Let's go to bed."† She tried to pulled away from his grasp but her held her fast.
"How did that happen?"
"I fell, I already told you that."
"You didn't get that from falling."† She pulled away from him.
"Please Nick, I just want to go to bed."
"You're lying to me!"
†* * * * * * * *
Carol had sat on the side of the bed, brushing her hair with a brush belonging to Jarrod.† "I am not lying to you Jarrod!"
"You had words with her I know you did.† I demand you tell me the truth!"† He angrily pulled his tie off his neck and shed his jacket, placing it on a nearby chair.† Then he stood with his hands on his hips, glaring at her.† She stood to meet his angry stare.
"You demand the truth do you?† Well, so do I.† Let's both tell the truth Jarrod; you go first."†
"What are you referring to?"
"You never really told me the whole truth about Nick's anger toward you.† Now at first I was led to believe that he was angry that you apparently encouraged her to leave him; that somehow your brother blamed you for his estrangement from his wife.† And you let me believe that."
"That's not true."† Jarrod unbuttoned his shirt cuffs then started on his vest.† "I can't help what Nick thinks."
"No, of course not.† However, here I am thinking that your big bull of a brother is being unreasonable, but I come here and I find out that dear, sweet Laura is further along than I thought.† Seems to me, you told me she had just found out she was expecting in May but here I find out she's due in December."†
"What of it?"
"What of it you say?† Well now counselor, you tell me?† Let's do some calculations, shall we?† My figures say she conceived in the month of March and that puts her squarely in San Francisco, without her dear, devoted husband.† Am I making myself clear now?"
"Are you accusing me of some tawdry affair with my own sister-in-law?"
"I think the question should be; did your brother accuse you of it?† Isn't that the real reason he hadn't spoken to you all this time?"
Jarrod turned away and walked to the window.† "You don't honestly believe that I fathered this child she's carrying?"† He said staring at the snow packing the hard cold ground, but his mind saw another scene:
* * * * *
"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!"
* * * * *
Carol's eyes filled with tears.† How she hated crying, as it was always a sign of weakness in her mind.† She scrubbed the tears away with her fists before he faced her again.† Jarrod turned slowly, one hand on his hip and the other on the window sash.†
"If Nick thought I was the father of this child, do you think he would ever allow me in this house again?† He is this child's father.† You described Nick before as a devoted husband, and that is true; he is most certainly devoted to Laura and she to him.† He is the father of her child; it would be madness to think anything else."
It was almost midnight when Heath padded up the kitchen steps in his stocking feet, holding two mugs of hot coffee in his hand.† He had decided that he was finally going to get some idea about how Hope really felt about him.† Oh he knew she liked him well enough just as he liked her but he wanted more.† It was his sitting at the dining room table for Thanksgiving Dinner that spurred him on.† There he sat with Nick and Laura to one side of him, expecting their first child and there was Jarrod and Carol newly married looking happy, on the other.† Heath couldn't help feeling a little pang of jealousy for his older brothers.†
He had been keeping company pretty steadily with Hope for a little over a year now and he took it very slowly with her, because he sensed that it was the way she wanted it, but as time went on Heath had found it increasingly harder to go on as he had been.† He had liked her from the beginning.† She was sweet and feisty all at the same time.† He loved how she took no guff from anyone, especially from Nick, who was an expert at giving out guff to people.† She was tiny though, barely coming up to his chest, and he thought when he first met her she was too young for him, she looked like a child, but he soon found out that she was wise beyond her years.†
Last Thanksgiving when Laura had the miscarriage Hope had been a firebrand, taking over and keeping everyone calm, especially Nick, who was not easily controlled by any means.† She was a courageous soul, and he deeply regretted that his Mama couldn't have met her.† 'She would have loved Hope,' he thought, just as he did.†
†Yes, he was in love with her, there was no denying it.† He thought about when he fell in love.† Was it the first time they went fishing when she made the most wonderful can of beans with the bits of herbs and roots she found in the woods?† Was it the first time they danced at the Harvest Festival?† She had stood on his boots as he danced around with her, just like you would a little girl.† Or was it the time after Laura's ordeal and they both sat by the fireplace.† He remembered watching her face in the glow of the firelight.† Her eyes glistening with unshed tears, and her peaches and cream skin glowed from perspiration.† Maybe it was a combination of all those things, he really didn't care, all he knew was that he wanted her more than he ever wanted any woman in his life.†
His heart yearned for her when she wasn't around, and he wanted her around all the time.† 'Yes,' he thought, 'it was no use, Hope has my heart and I couldn't get it back if I tried.' He knew he was incomplete without her.† All his life he had felt incomplete, until he found his family, but now he felt that same pain again, but this time it was because of Hope.† Hope completed him.† How he ached to have her with him always, and he knew until that day came he would never feel whole.
†* * * * * * * *
Hope heard the rap on her door just before sunrise.† She feared maybe it was her cousin in some distress so she pulled on the robe that Mrs. Barkley had lent her and quickly rushed to the door.† She was pleasantly surprised to see Heath at her door holding two mugs of coffee.† Each time she saw his sky blue eyes her heartbeat quickened.† Never had she felt such a sensation with anyone before and it embarrassed and delighted her at the same time.†
Heath had her heart and she knew it.† There was really no denying it as much as she tried.† He was tall and handsome and witty.† He was strong and feared nothing and she always felt safe with him, but most of all she trusted him, and that was the hardest feat she ever had to do with anyone.† She trusted him, and that's why she knew she loved him.† She wondered if he remembered when they first met.† Actually they didn't really meet, but they did bump into each other, she often thought of that hot August day.† Heath had been arguing outside the General Store with Tommy Jenkins Barkley:
* * * * *
love her Heath!† Nick understands about
"Son, she's a saloon girl, ya best keep your mind off that gal.† When Nick finds out what he started, boy howdy, I sure don't want to be around.† Ya still got that ticket to Boston he gave ya?"
"Yes Sir."† Tommy looked down kicking the dirt around under his feet.
"If I were you, I would be using that ticket to Boston before he gets back.† Believe me ya don't wanna be facing Nick when he's riled."
"I'm not using that ticket, I'm not leaving Lottie!"
Heath shook his head, putting his hands on his hips.† "Kid, ya got a lot to learn about what kind of women ya let into your life, and a saloon gal is not it!† DAMN THAT NICK!"† He turns his back as he swears, and bumps into a petite young lady with dark flowing hair; Heath quickly grabs her by the shoulders to stop her from falling backwards.†
"OH!† I'M SO SORRY MISS!!!"† Heath said, fearful that the little gal heard him swear, as Heath was never one to swear in front of any woman, not even a saloon girl.
"It's my fault, I was rushing, I must be going ...please Sir."† The pretty girl smiled up at his handsome face.
"Sorry?.."† Heath asked, still holding the girl by the shoulders, locked into her expressive eyes.
"If you don't mind unhanding me Sir."† She felt uncomfortable as he stared.
He quickly took his hands off her shoulders and backed away.† "Oh yes ...sorry Miss...I...ah...sorry."† She made a quick bow with her head and scurried off for her appointment.† Heath's eyes followed her down the street until she turned onto another avenue.
"Heath?...Heath?...† HEY, HEATH!"
Heath looked at Tommy, with a sorrowful look on his face.† "You don't suppose she heard me swear did ya?"
"That little gal, just ran by here."
"Didn't notice any little gal."† Tommy said climbing into the buckboard.
"How could ya not notice her, she's about the prettiest little..."† Heath replied as he started to climb up beside Tommy on the buckboard.
* * * * *
No, Hope didn't think he would remember that day, but no matter, she would never forget it.† 'A true gentleman isnít a man who doesnít swear, but one who cares that he does.' She thought.
"Good morning.† I didn't wake you did I?"† Heath said leaning against the door jam.
"Good morning.† No, you didn't wake me.† What do you have there?"
"Coffee.† One for you if you want it."†
"Mmm, love some.† Thank you."† She took the offered cup and sipped it.† "Just right."
"I see ya got stuck with the guest room next to Nick and Laura's room."
"Beggars can't be choosers.† But it's a nice enough room."
"True enough, but ya can't see the sunrise from this side of the house."† He took a sip of his coffee.
"No, I suppose not.† What would you suggest?"
"Well, I could suggest we go to my room but that wouldn't be proper I suppose; would it?"
"No, I'm afraid it wouldn't be proper."
"Mmm, thought ya'd say that."† He gave her a disappointed look, then rewarded her with an impish grin.† She gave him a wide smile.
"Any other ideas?"
"Yup, but ya gotta bring a quilt.† Take the one off the bed there."† He pointed to her bed.
"We're not going outside are we?"
"Nope, too cold.† Even for a Bostonian.† Follow me, I know the perfect spot."† Hope pulled the thick heavy quilt off the bed and wrapped it around herself as it was easier than carrying it and followed Heath down the corridor.† He led her to a set of stairs going up to the ceiling.
"What's up there?† More guests rooms?"
"No, better, the attic.† Best place to go to when ya want to see the sunrise up close.† And it's not too cold, ya can get some of the heat coming up from the fireplace."† He opened a creaking door and led her in by the arm.† " Be careful, wait here while I light the lamp, it's pretty dark in here."
He found an oil lamp setting on an old chest of drawers.† It gave a warm golden glow to the attic room when he lit it.
"What a cozy little spot you have here."† She said surveying the room.†
Heath moved a small child's bed near a large round window in the wall.† "Hey, wanna see something special?† It's a surprise for Laura and Nick."† He pulled away an old sheet to reveal a large rocking cradle, hewed from maplewood.† It had a high headboard with the letter B carved in fancy script and small rosebuds on either side of the letter.
"Oh Heath!† It's beautiful, you made it didn't you?"†
"Yup,.† I stained it to match the bookcase I made Laura last year; remember that?"
"Oh yes, it was beautiful, and so is this Heath.† You have such fine talent."
"Aw it's nothing much."
"Nothing much?† Heath it's breathtaking.† They are going to love it.† There isn't anything better than something you made with your own hands because it's made with love."
"Mama used to say that too."† Heath smiled at the memory, and then covered up the cradle.
"When are you going to give them the cradle?"
"I figured I'll give it as a birthday present for my little nephew or niece, the day the baby is born."
"I have a gift for the baby too when it's born.† The baby quilt I made last year for the Harvest Festival.† I'm giving it to Laura.† She admired it so much."
"I thought that was..."
"Well, Laura told me you made it for yourself for a hope chest she said."
"Oh, that was the intention at first, but I think she'll get more use from it than I will."† Heath wiped off some of the dust and dirt on the child's bed with his hand before inviting her to sit.
"Sit here.† We can watch the sunrise."† The two sat in companionable silence for several minutes.† They sipped their coffee while enjoying the sun slowly kissing the new day.† Heath rubbed his arms as a chilling gust of wind came through the window.† Hope opened up the quilt she had around her shoulders inviting him in.† He cuddled under its warming protection and gave her an appreciative look.† "Hope?"
"Please keep the baby blanket for yourself.† Make Laura another one."† He watched her face, searching for the courage he needed to say what he had to say.
"I will."† She graced him with a warm smile.
"Thank you."† He moved his face closer.† She instinctively moved closer as well.† His finger went to her cheek, and her hand caressed his hand.† Their lips touched in a whisper of a kiss.† "Hope?"† She closed her eyes and the whispered kiss became a more gentle touch as they tasted wanting lips.† "Hope."† He whispered again.† "My heart is yours."†
Hope gently pushed away but placed her other hand on his cheek.† "And mine is yours."† She moved closer giving and accepting a kiss that she had longed for.† "Heath."† She whispered.
They lingered in a kiss, and then Heath pulled away.† "I want to say I love you, but it doesn't seem worthy of you."
"I feel the same way about you.† What could we say that would be more?"†
Heath took her hands and brought them palms up to his lips.† He kissed each one.† "I trust my heart in these."†
Hope's eyes filled with tears.† "I pray that I am worthy of your trust, for I trust my heart in your hands as well."†
Heath's thumbs wiped away a tear from each cheek.† She held his hands and gave each palm a sweet kiss as the sun rose above the horizon filling the room with a bright morning light.
Christmas was quickly approaching the usually peaceful San Joachim Valley, and with it was the rush to buy just the right gifts for people on the list, and the blond rancher was just as anxious as the rest of the valley residents.† He always found it difficult to get the right gift for members of his family.† More often than not he would make a gift rather than buy them.† The family seemed to appreciate it more, though he didn't think his homemade gifts were all that special.†
As a child homemade gifts were all the presents his Mama could afford.† Once he was given a store bought toy that was donated by the local church charity fund for poor children, a toy wagon, and young Heath was careful when he played with it; but one day, a school boy named Jack came by the little shack he shared with his Mama and asked to play.† Warily Heath agreed, with his mother's encouragement, but it wasn't long before the boy had broken the new toy to pieces.† The young blond boy held back hot angry tears while young Jack taunted him,
†"Come on little bastard, cry.† Lemme see ya cry!"† With small fists clenched, Heath had brought the larger boy down with one punch, then stood over the boy waiting for him to return the favor in kind, but Jack stood on unsteady legs, and with tears streaming down his cheeks, turned and ran, as bullies tend to do.
Normally Heath Barkley would never ride his horse so fast, but this wasn't a normal day for him.† Ciego Santiago stood on the Barkley veranda, sweeping off the snow that had fallen the night before when he heard Charger's galloping hooves.
"Aye Santa Maria!† Diablo must be chasing him!"† Ciego set himself for another one of Senor Heath's rare moods.† It seemed to the poor gardener that he was the only person on the ranch who got caught up in one of Heath Barkley's rare bad moods.† Of course the blond rancher always profusely apologized for it later, but still the Mexican winced at another confrontation.† Not that he wasn't used to being yelled at because Senor Nick did it all the time, but when Senor Heath did it, it felt worse.†
Heath stopped at a full gallop in front of the house and bolted off Charger.† "CIEGO!"
'Here it comes' the gardener thought, "Si Senor Heath?"† The short stout Mexican winced, but was surprised when the rancher grabbed him in a bear hug.†
"Feliz Navidats Ciego!† Here this is a Christmas present from me!"† Heath shoved a twenty dollar bill in his callused hands.† "Would ya put Charger away for me?† Wipe him down good too will ya?† And give him an extra handful of oats.† Thanks Ciego I really appreciate it!"† Heath patted the man on the back and charged into the house.† His sister greeted him at the door standing on a ladder.
"Oh Heath, I'm so glad you're here, I want your opinion.† Do you think the mistletoe is all right here?"† Audra stood a few steps up on the ladder.
"Sis, don't we always put it there in hopes of you catching some poor unsuspecting fellar under it?"
"OH YOU!† You're no help!"
Heath laughed heartily and offered a helping hand to his sister.† When she got down he gave her a sweet kiss on the cheek and pointed to the now hanging mistletoe.† "Well, you're in the Christmas spirit."
"Well, you're in the Christmas spirit."
"I surely am Sis.† Where's Laura?"
"In the game room, we gave her the job of wrapping last minute Christmas packages.† The poor thing is so bored waiting for the baby.† Just knock first in case she's wrapping one of yours."
"I'll do that."
†* * * * * * * *
The very pregnant young woman stood at the billiard table wrapping a gift when a ball of brightly colored ribbon dropped onto the floor and rolled away from her.† Her protruding stomach prevented her from attempting to bend down to retrieve the errant ball.
"Oh damn!"† A knock on the door caused her to turn around.† "Lupe is that you?† Hurry, I need your help."
Heath poked his head in, "It's not Lupe will I do?"
"Oh Heath, good, I need help, I can't get
the ribbon, it fell under the table."
"Shouldn't you be lying down or at least sitting?"† Heath crawled under the billiard table.
"Doctor Merar said moving around might get this baby to want to make an appearance.† Besides, if I sit down I have a devil of a time getting up.† And where have you been Heath Barkley?† Nick's spent most of the morning ranting and raving about you not being here."
"I'm in trouble again huh?"† He gave her the ribbon, as he stood up with a look of mocked concern.
"Thank you."† She glanced at the ribbon ball in her hand.† "Yes, you forgot didn't you?"
"Forgot what?† Oh no, the Christmas tree!† Ah shoot, was he really mad?"
"He was yelling so loud it even caused the baby to jump. †You don't suppose that's why this baby doesn't want to be born, it keeps hearing his father shouting?"
"Hope not for your sake."† He said with teasing empathy which made her chuckle softly.
"Oh, I've got to sit down, my back hurts, excuse me."† She waddled over to the settee and carefully settled herself down on it.
"Who went with him to get the tree?"
"He took Dace, but I would avoid him if I were you.† You are not his favorite person today.† He was swearing a blue streak about you."
"That bad, huh?"
"Afraid so.† It's really not you Heath, he's anxious about the baby.† Its taking its own sweet time being born and Nick is getting impatient."† Her hand reached as far back as it could to rub the small of her back.
"Getting impatient?† Nick?"† He said teasing good naturedly.
"Oh stop."† She grinned.† "So where have you been?"
"I was at the train depot.† Jarrod arrived today.† He and Carol are staying at the Stockton Inn."
"I see.† Well it's going to be a wonderful surprise for your mother.† I'm so glad Jarrod thought of it."
"Oh I don't know how good an idea it is.† Ya know Mother hates surprises and she's very down about Jarrod not coming home for Christmas and I don't mind tellin' ya I don't like being involved in this little white lie of his."
"I know Heath, but you can handle it.† You're the best liar I know."† She gave him a sly smile.
"Thanks a lot.† I love you too."† He feigned an angry glared.
"Nick says that's what makes you such a good poker player."† She winked.
"He's wrong.† It's my skill that makes me a good poker player and his lack of it that makes him a lousy one."
The front door slammed shut and a familiar voice was loudly heard.† "LAURA!"† The baby leapt in her womb.
"He did it again, he's scaring this baby.† At least we know nothing's wrong with the baby's hearing.† Help me up please."† Heath stretched out his arms and she grabbed hold of his hands, pulling herself up.†
"Laura I really came in here to show you something.† Jarrod picked it up from San Francisco, ya gotta see this."
"Is it a Christmas gift?"† She smoothed out the wrinkles in her dress.
"Yeah.† I want you to see it first and tell me what you think."† Heath pulled out a package from his coat pocket, just as Nick entered the room.
"WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN BOY!† Do you know I've been looking for you all morning!† I took Dace with me to get the tree!† Just where in blazes have you been?!"†
"Nick please, you're scaring the baby."
"HUH??"† He stood with fists planted on his hips.
"The baby, every time you yell it jumps in my womb."† She complained.† Nick hugged his wife, placing a gentle hand on her stomach.
"Aw, I'm sorry Sweetheart.† You should have told me.† Come on I'll carry you upstairs to rest."
"I don't need to rest I need this baby to be born so I can see my feet again!"
"Trust me, your feet are still there, a little swollen but still pretty.† Why don't you sit down?"
"No thank you, I just got up.† I'm fine."
"It's all Heath's fault!"† He points an accusatory finger.
"Me?† How is it my fault?† You're the one shouting all over the place."† Heath stuffed the package back in his pocket again.
"Well I wouldn't shout if you were doing your job.† Which was coming with me to get the DAMN CHRISTMAS TREE!† WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU ANYWAY?!"
"Oh Good Lord! †I give up."† Laura looked down at her swollen tummy and rubbed it.† "I'm afraid you're just going to have to get used to your father like the rest of us."† She slowly waddled out of the game room.†
"Laura wait, I wanted to talk to you."† Heath started after his sister-in-law but Nick grabbed Heath's arm.
"Hold it!† Where the hell were you?!"
"I want ta catch her before she leaves."
"She won't go far, she's a lot slower these days."
"Yeah well, that's true enough."† Heath agreed, giving her a sideways glance as the last bit of skirt disappeared from the room.
"So you talk to me first!"† Nick demanded, " Where did you disappear to?"
"Stockton.† I had to pick up a Christmas gift."
"You had to pick up a Christmas gift."† Nick repeated.
"Yup.† Wanna see it?"
"Is it for me?"
"Then I don't."† Heath rolled his eyes.
"Nick, Jarrod's in town.† He and Carol came in on the morning train."† Nick only grunted.† "Nick, you are gonna to keep your promise?† You're gonna be civil to them for Mother's sake?† Especially to Carol."
Nick shook his head.† "I'm still not satisfied that she didn't hit Laura at Thanksgiving, that miserable little...."
"Nick, come on now.† There's nothing we can do about it now and Laura wouldn't admit to anything.† But I'm guessing Laura got her licks in too if I know her."
"Yeah, I know she did.† Carol had a hand mark across her face as I recall."† Nick smirked at the memory.† "When are they coming?"
"Suppertime.† Then we're all goin' together to the Mission Church and see the children's play before midnight mass, just like we've done before."
"You know Laura's not gonna be able to go this year and I'm certainly not going to leave her."
"I know, we all understand that."† Nick began pacing the room, his hands on his hips.
"God Heath, waiting for this baby to be born has been...† It's like we've been waiting all our lives.† It gets so my head's spinning, I don't know what to think."† He gave out a long, loud sigh.† Heath placed a comforting hand on his shoulder as Nick stopped his pacing.
"I know Nick, but there's nothing anyone can do about it but wait.† And you can be patient when you want to be, I know you big brother."
"There's so many things that can go wrong, ya know.† It could be breech, it could be too big for her to deliver.† I mean look at her, she's as big a barn.† God, don't tell her I said that, she'll kill me!"
"I won't."† Heath laughed.
†"The doctor might not get here on time.† A lot of things can happen."† Nick said forlorned as he hung his fists on his belt.
"I know, but ya can't think on those things.† Just look at her, she looks great.† Fine and healthy.† Ya just gotta take one day at a time, why that little babe will be born before ya know it and you'll be up to your neck in dirty three corner pants."
Nick smiled at his brother.† "Thanks Uncle Heath.† Sorry about the yelling before."
"Aw Nick, if it wasn't for your yellin' I'd have ta shoot ya for being a stranger."† Heath gave his shoulder a brotherly squeeze.† "Now I gotta go see that pretty lady of yours."
Heath left and sought out his sister-in-law.† He found her slowly walking into the parlor to admire the Christmas tree.
"Isn't it lovely Laura?"† Audra asked, as she searched into a box containing Christmas ornaments.
"The best ever," Laura agreed as she walked gingerly to the ornament box.
"That's what Jarrod always said.† I miss him, don't you?"
"Yes, I do."† She fingered a Christmas angel ornament sending a silent prayer in her heart for the baby she carried, 'Dear Lord, please let this baby be...'
"Laura?"† Heath called out to her.
"Yes Heath?"† She subconsciously covered the Christmas angel protectively in her hand.
"I wanted you to see this, but I don't want anyone else to see it."†
Audra turned toward her brother.† "Is it a gift for me?"
"Do you mind leaving us alone Audra?"† Heath queried.
"Oh very well!† But that gift better be for me."† She huffed walking out of the parlor.† Heath watched her until his sister was out of sight.
"What's this mysterious gift Heath?"
"It's for Hope."† He whispered, "I wanted to know what you think.† I mean, do ya think she'll like it?† Or maybe I should get her something else?† But ya know I sure wouldn't want to wait much longer, still you know how Hope is and I don't wanna rush her, still we have really come a lot further these days, so tell me what you think."
"The gift I bought Hope."†
The two blondes stared at each other, until Laura spoke up, "Well?"† Echoing Nick's usual question when he became impatient.
"Well what?"† Heath questioned earnestly.
"Are you going to show it to me?"
"Ohh, yeah, sorry.† Here it is."† He handed her a small box.† "Whadaya think?† Is it too much, too soon, too what?"
"Oh my!"† She stared at the contents in the tiny box.
"It's not good, is it?† Too soon?† It's too much, huh?† She'll hate it, I'll take it back."† He said with a disappointed finality.
"Heath, I never thought I'd say this, but you're talking too much, you're scaring me."† She let out an exhausted sigh, "Ohh, I have to sit down."
"She'll hate it won't she?"
"Heath relax, I'm only sitting down because my back is aching.† Help me will you?"† She grabbed his hand and he led her to a sofa in the room.† "I feel like I've been like this for half my life!"† She complained.
"Laura please..."† He said exasperated as he sat down beside her.
Nick walked into the room at that time.† When he saw Heath help his wife sit down he rushed to her side.† "Laura, are you all right?!† What's wrong?"
"I'm sitting down Nick, that's all, I promise."† He knelt down beside her, opposite Heath.†
"Oh."† He couldn't hide his disappointment.† "Why don't you go lie down upstairs?"
"No thank you, I have an awful time getting up as it is.† Dr. Merar said I should move around and that's what I'm going to do."
"What's that you've got in your hand?"† Nick asked about the small box.† Heath quickly snatched the box from his sister-in-law's hand.
"Nothing!† You said you didn't want to see it and you're not gonna!"† Heath admonished him.
"Is that for Hope?† Is that what I think it is?† Are ya gonna ask her?† Huh?† Well, it's about damn time!† The two of you have been dragging your feet long enough!† It's a diamond ring isn't it?"† Nick pointed to the small box.
"No, it's not a diamond ring!"† Heath clipped angrily.
Laura smiled at her husband, "He's right, it's certainly not a diamond ring.† It's a..."
"Don't tell him!† He doesn't deserve to know!"† Heath quickly shoved the box into his pants pocket.
"The trouble with you Heath is you're too damn slow!† Just how long ya think a woman's gonna wait around for ya?† You know the two of you ain't gettin' any younger!"
"What are you talkin' about?† Hope's twenty years old!† I'm twenty five!"
"You've been courtin' that girl for well over a year now!† If I was her father I would have had a rifle on your tail by now!† Wasting that girl's time!"† Nick stood again and threw up his hands.† Heath stood as well to meet his brother.
"Wastin' her time?† Just because I'm not like you, don't mean I'm wastin' time with a woman!"
"You listen here!† You should have had that girl wedded and bedded by now!"
"NICK BARKLEY!† Your language!† And in front of our baby too!"† Laura sternly admonished him.† "One would think you were in a saloon using that kind of language!† Really!"† She turned her head away so the brothers wouldn't see the amused grin that colored her face.
"Huh?† Aw honey I'm sorry."† He said genuinely apologetic.
"You're lucky your wife's here or I would punch you right in the mouth!"
"Alright, alright!† I said I was sorry damnit!"† Nick scowled.
"Could someone help me up please?"† The two men held their hands out to her, still glowering.† She took each offered hand and pulled herself up from her seat.† "As entertaining as the two of you are I think I'll start decorating the tree before Father Christmas gets here."† She waddled over to the box of ornaments near the tree.† She carefully placed the angel ornament she still held in her hand back in the box..
Heath and Nick began to help decorate the tree, each taking an ornament.† Audra entered again with another box of decorations.
"Oh good, you two are finally going to help decorate.† Wish the rest of the family was here."
"They're on their way."† Heath answered.
The front door opened and Victoria Barkley walked in with Ciego, both were holding packages in their arms.† "Oh good, you're home now.† Please help with these packages boys, just put them on the table there."† She ordered the gardner with a sideways glance.
"Mother, what do you think of the tree?"† Nick asked proudly about his choice.
"Very nice Nick."† She pulled off her gloves and walked into the dining room.† Nick and Heath stared at each other.†
†"What's with her?"† Nick asked.
Laura shook her head.† "We have to tell her Heath."
"Yeah, afraid so.† I can't stand to see her like this.† Mother?† Would you come here a minute?"† Heath called out to her.† Victoria re-entered the parlor again, when the front door flew open.
"Is that roast duck I smell?"† Jarrod said with a wry smile to his surprised mother.† "Hello lovely lady, when's dinner?"
"Jarrod!"† Victoria flew into her eldest son's arms as he stood at the doorway.†
Heath smiled at his sister-in-law.† "WHEW, boy howdy, talk about timing."† Nick took Laura by the waist and the three went to the door to greet Jarrod, Carol and Hope.
Jarrod put one arm around Hope and the other around Carol.† "Look, I even brought two beautiful ladies with me.† They walked in and Heath immediately brought Hope over to the mistletoe.† Everyone was happy to see each other; even Nick greeted his older brother with a handshake and gave Carol a dutiful kiss on the cheek.†
Audra greeted her brother with a hug.† "We were hoping you would get here soon."
"Now wait a minute, was this all planned?† I thought you and Carol couldn't come this year."† Victoria said to Jarrod.
"I'm afraid I'm the culprit.† I told Heath I wanted to surprise you."
"Well, I'll punish Heath later for that."† Victoria teased.† Heath was unaware of his surroundings as he was busy kissing Hope under the mistletoe.
"Merry Christmas, darlin'.† " He whispered lost in her warm loving eyes.
"Merry Christmas Heath."† She whispered back, grinning widely.
"Looks like Heath is already getting punished."† Nick joked, "Hey Boy, give other people a chance will ya?"† Nick pulled Heath out of the way and gave Hope a kiss on the cheek.† "Merry Christmas Tidbit."
"Merry Christmas Nick."† Then she linked her arm around her cousin.† "And how are you feeling, cousin mine?"
"Need you ask?"† Laura said wearily looking down at her protruding belly.
"You do look tired aren't you getting any rest?"
"Rest.† Just exactly what is that?"†
Carol joined them and the three women had their heads together and spoke quietly.
"You know you're going to need your rest if you're going to have the strength to deliver this baby."† Hope chided her cousin.
"Hope's right you know, you look awful."† Chimed in Carol.
"Thanks a lot sister-in-law.† I hope to one day give you the same compliment."† Laura threatened teasingly.
"Not on your life dear.† You'll never see me great with child."† She said emphatically.
"Oh is that so?† And just how do you propose to do that?"† Laura wondered.
"Just as I have been dear.† You don't think it's been all luck do you?"† She said smugly.
Hope moved away from the two blonde women, "I don't think I want to take part in this conversation."
Carol leaned over and whispered in Laura's ear, "We'll talk later about it, just you and I.† We'll have a little girl talk."
"Later?† You know I haven't any patience!† I want to know now."
"Laura dear, it's too late for you anyway."† She teased with a sly grin as she pointed to her swollen stomach.† "Look at you.† I thought you would have that baby by now.† Didn't you say you were due in December?"
"It's still December!"† She defended herself but Carol laughed at her.† "Oh shut up!"† Laura said exasperated and sat herself in a nearby chair.† She decided to watch the others decorating the tree.
"This is the best looking tree we ever had, but it could use a few more ornaments."† Jarrod said grinning at the sparse lookng tree.
"Why don't we get to decorating that tree, shall we; especially now that we have the whole family here."† Victoria said happily.
"Wonderful idea Mother."
"I'll get the ladder.† You know it's tradition that the newest member of the family gets to place the Christmas angel on the top, and that's you C.B."† Nick said with a sarcastic gleam in his eye.† "I'll hold the ladder for you."
Carol pointed to Nick and looked at Heath and Jarrod.† "Should I trust him?"
"I wouldn't."† Heath joked.
"Don't worry Darling, I'll be at the bottom to break your fall."† They all laughed at Carol's expense.† Almost on cue, Silas brought out a punch bowl filled with egg nog.
"Merry Christmas everyone!"† Silas said happily.
After the tree trimming the family sat down for Christmas Eve dinner.† Again the dinner table had place cards but this time Jarrod found his name plate at the head of the table.† Jarrod picks up the card, recognizing the handwriting he glances over at Nick.
"Something wrong Pappy?† Your name spelled wrong or something?"† Nick said with a hint of a smile.
"Not at all Nick."† The card was written in Nick's own hand; he had scrawled in large letters the name, PAPPY.
"Merry Christmas Pappy."
Jarrod was too filled with emotion to speak.† The two brothers embraced each other in a bear hug while the family looked on happily.
†* * * * * * * *
After dinner they settled in the parlor for after dinner drinks.† Jarrod handed out drinks to everyone.
"Isn't the tree beautiful?"† Victoria gushed.
"The absolute best ever."† Jarrod held up his glass to salute the tree.
"You know I bet we have time to sing some Christmas carols before we have to go to the church.† What do you say everyone?"† Audra asked.
"That's a marvelous idea Audra.† Let's gather around everyone."† Exclaimed Victoria and everyone surrounded Audra as she sat down to play the piano.† They sang Deck the Halls, Good King Wenceslas, Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, and Silent Night.
While they were singing Laura patted Nick's chest to get his attention.† "What's the matter?"† He asked.
"I just need to sit down Nick, My back is really hurting from standing."† She whispered quietly to him.
"Oh sure honey, come on, we'll sit down.† Are you sure you don't want to go upstairs and lie down?"
"No, I'm fine, I really should sit down."† He supported her by holding one hand on her back and the other held her hand.† Suddenly she felt wet.† "Oh dear God no!"
"What's the matter?"† Nick questioned.†
Laura looked down at the puddle of water before her.† "Oh Good Lord, look what I did?† Oh Victoria I'm so sorry, I ruined the rug."
Victoria rushed out from behind the piano and the music stopped.† "What's wrong Laura?"† Victoria looked down at the puddle of water that was now spreading on the carpet.† "OH MY!"
"Oh Victoria I'm so sorry.† I don't know what came over me, I've never....Oh, O God!† Ohh this is not good.† NICK!"
"What's going on?† What's happening?"
"I have to push."† She stared intently into her husband's hazel eyes.
"Push?† What?† Whatdaya mean ya gotta push?"
"No Laura, don't push!† Not here!† Nick get her upstairs quickly!† She's going to have the baby on the floor if you don't get her upstairs NOW!"† Victoria ordered.
"No Laura!† Whatever you do DON'T PUSH FOR CHRISSAKES!† Don't push!"† Nick yelled in a panic as he swept her up quickly in his arms and rushed up the stairs.
"Oh Nick, easy!† OWW!"† She yelled out.
Victoria, Hope, Audra and Carol all followed Nick's anxious footsteps up to the bedroom, leaving Heath and Jarrod standing by the piano looking up toward the stairs.
"I better get going."† Heath finally said.† Jarrod looked at him puzzled.
"Where are you going?"
"Get the doc; where do you think I'm going?"† Heath quickly grabbed his hat and coat in the foyer and was out the door in a flash.
†* * * * * * * *
Upstairs the women had managed to change Laura's clothes and get the bed ready.† Nick gave her a brave smile as he knelt down beside the bed.† Hope and Victoria were already preparing the room for delivery of the baby.
"I'll go downstairs and get the water started."† Offered Audra.†
"Come with me Carol, we're going to have to get extra sheets and blankets."† Hope demanded.
"Get towels as well."† Victoria added.
"Laura honey, it's okay now, you're upstairs in bed."† Nick assured her.† "You can push now.† Laura?"† She was lying on her side with her eyes closed.† "Mother, she's not pushing?† What's she doing?"
"Relax Nick she's sleeping."
"Sleeping?† What the hell is she sleeping for?† She's supposed to be pushing!† She can't go to sleep now!"
"Nick please, she's fine, she's just resting right now, she'll wake up soon.† We still have a little while yet."
"What are you talking about, a little while?† Her water broke, we've got ten minutes to deliver this baby!† She can't sleep."
Victoria placed a soothing hand on her son's shoulder, "Relax Nick, it's not like a horse.† Believe me, she won't be delivering that soon, we still have a while."
"Whadaya mean not for a while?"
"Nick, you're wife is not a mare, people take a little longer."
"I couldn't say.† Dear, why don't you go downstairs with your brothers?† You'll be more comfortable."
"No, I'm staying here!"† He said in a determined tone.
"Nick, it's just not done sweetheart."† His mother shook her head.
"I don't give a damn!† I'm not leaving her and our baby.† I'm staying!"
"Suit yourself Nick."† Victoria sighed as the other women came back into the room with their bundles.
"Oh dear, Mother I have to be at the Mission Church for the Nativity play, but I just don't want to leave now.† What am I going to do?"† Audra lamented.†
Victoria placed a calming hand on her daughter's cheek.† "You are going to go the Mission Church.† You can't disappoint those children.† Have one of your brothers take you."
"But I can't leave Laura like this.† She's going to have a baby."
"Look at all the help she has and Doctor Merar will be here soon.† Oh my!† Did anyone go for Doctor Merar?"
"Yes, Heath already left according to Jarrod he's still downstairs.† Look Audra, why don't Jarrod and I take you to the Mission Church?† I really won't be of any help here and I've never seen a Nativity play before."† Carol had no intention of being a witness to the pain of childbirth, and was grateful to have an excuse to leave the house, even if it was to go to a church to see a children's Christmas play.† Her analytical mind told her it was the lesser of two evils.
"Oh Carol, that's a wonderful idea.† Thank you."† Victoria said pleased with the suggestion.† "Between Hope and I we can look after everything until the doctor gets here."†
"Well, all right, but I want to know if anything happens..."† Audra's voice trailed off.† She had hoped to be by her sister-in-law's side for the happy event.† Audra felt so guilty that she hadn't been home when Laura lost her baby the year before.
"Sweetheart, nothing is going to happen before you get back.† There's still plenty of time yet.† You go on and don't worry."
Audra reluctantly left the room, followed by Carol.
Hope took a place by Nick who sat by the bed holding his wife's hand.† "How are you holding up Nick?"
"What's wrong with her Hope?† She's sleeping!"† Said the distraught father-to-be.
"Relax, she's just resting, she'll wake up soon."† She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"When the contractions start.† Don't worry, it will happen soon."
"It better, I've waited too long for this."
"Well, I know how you've suffered all these months dear man, but your suffering will be over soon, I promise."† She patted his shoulder, as an amused gleam came across her face.
"I hope so.† This is killing me."
"Ah Nick, you have the patience of a saint; ai yer be a bleedin' saint.† Why der be erectin' statues ta yer in der square doncha know!"† She mocked him with a thick Irish brogue.
"Ah shut up Tidbit!"
"Nicholas!"† His mother admonished him, but smiled at Hope who flashed her a tantalizing wink.† Like Heath, she couldn't resist teasing Nick when the opportunity presented itself.† It wasn't easy, but Hope had grown to love Nick, and though she would never admit it, he was easily her favorite of all Heath's siblings.† She noticed that Nick and Heath shared a very special love that was rare among brothers; and it left her with very high regard for their kinship.† A kinship that she knew could never be severed.
†* * * * * * * *
Downstairs Carol joined Jarrod in the parlor.
"Carol, what's going on?† What's happening up there?"
"Not much, but your Mother and Hope have everything under control.† Lets get our coats and hats."† She urged him to follow her into the foyer with a wave of her hand.
"Coats and hats?† Why?† Where are we going?"
"To take your sister to the Mission Church, she has to help the orphan children with the Christmas play.† She'll be down directly."
Jarrod helped his wife with her coat.† "Where's Nick?† Just what is going on?† Shouldn't we wait here for any news?"
"We can wait just as well at the Church.† Oh, and your brother Nick; you know I am admiring him more and more these days.† Do you know what he's doing?"† Jarrod stared quizzically waiting for an answer.† "He is right by Laura's side.† He refuses to leave, and wants to be right there for her.† Let me tell you there are not many men like your brother who would stick by a woman when she's giving birth.† Most of them would be cowering in some corner drinking themselves into a stupor.† But not you're brother.† I have to admit that old bear of a brother of yours grows on people, occasionally."
"I'm sure he'll be delighted to hear he has finally earned your high regard."† Jarrod said sarcastically as he buttoned his overcoat.
"It's good for a man's soul to see the misery and pain women go through to have children.† Maybe if more of them did women would fare better in this country of ours!"† Jarrod rolled his eyes and shook his head warily.
"Does everything with you have to come down to women's rights?"† Before she could answer Audra joined them at the bottom of the stairs.† Dressed in a warm coat and matching fur trimmed muffler.
"We better get going; I don't want to be late."† Jarrod pointed a concerned finger in the direction of the stairs.
"Just what is going on up there?† Did you hear anything?"† Audra shook her head.
"No, everything was pretty quiet when I walked by their room.† We better go Jarrod."
†* * * * * * * *
In the bedroom, Victoria and Hope moved around the room making sure they had everything ready.† Nick sat nervously by his wife's side waiting for her to wake up.† She finally opened her eyes and looked directly at her husband.
"Hello."† she said sleepily.
"Hello yourself, how are you feeling?"† He squeezed her hand, and smoothed her hair away from her forehead.
"I'm tired.† How long have I been sleeping?"
"About twenty minutes or so.† Are you sure you're feeling alright?"
"I'm fine......OHH..."† She moaned and squeezed his hand tighter as the pain intensified.† "So that's what a contraction feels like."† She let out a long breath.† Hope and Victoria moved to the other side of the bed.
"Laura, when you feel the next contraction I don't want you to hold your breath, you need to breathe.† You've seen mares do it, I want you to breathe like that."
"You want me to breathe like a horse?† Are you out of your mind?† Where did you get.....OOHH!"
"Breathe!† Come on breathe!"† She did as Hope instructed.† "It doesn't hurt as much when you breathe, come on, in and out, take it shorter.† Very good, you're doing fine.† That's a girl!"
"I wish I had someone like you around when I had my first child."† Victoria said admiringly.
"I've seen enough babies being born to know what works and what doesn't."† Hope checked under the covers for any sign of birthing about to take place.
"I feel like pushing Hope."
"Don't push, you're not ready yet.† Just breathe for now I'll tell you when to push."
"Breathe?† You want me to breathe?"
"Yes.† I want you to breathe.† In and out like this, come on."† Hope demonstrated a panting sound from deep in her diaphragm.
"And when it's gets too much you squeeze my hand as hard as you want."† Added Nick, "I can take it."†
Laura gave her husband a tired smile.† "My hero," she whispered for his ears only.
†* * * * * * * *
Heath was grateful that there was a full moon so he could see his way in the night, but he was still careful to tread the snowy trail lightly as it wouldn't do any good if his horse became lame.† When he finally reached his destination, Doc Merar's home, he took the few steps to the front door and rapped loudly.† After a short time he heard footsteps trudging to the door.† It was after midnight by the time he arrived.† Mrs. Merar groggily opened the door.
"Howard, did you forget your....Oh, Heath, I thought it was my Howard."† She subconsciously tucked a stray bit of hair under her night cap.
Heath politely tipped his hat, "Ma'am, sorry to disturb you.† Isn't Doc Merar here?"
"No I'm sorry Heath, he was called away on an emergency but I expect him back very soon."
"Well, Ma'am could you tell me where he went?† We could really use him at the house, my sister-in-law's time has come."†
The kindly woman smiled, "Oh I'm so happy for Laura, she's waited so long poor thing.† I'm sorry Howard's not here but he went to Sam Driscoll's house, his wife Sally broke her arm.† I was sure my husband would be home by now.† He's been gone a while.† I can't imagine what is taking him this long.† Poor Mrs. Driscoll seems to be quite accident prone, but I certainly can't imagine how she broke her arm on Christmas of all days."
"Yes Ma'am," was his answer, but even Heath heard of Sam Driscoll's bad temper when he got liquored up, and rumor was Driscoll sometimes took it out on his wife Sally, though it was never proven and Sally never said a word to anyone; still the rumors persisted.† "Maybe I best go over there and hurry the doc along, babies don't rightly wait on nobody."
"True enough.† The Driscolls live in that little shack behind the livery stable."
"Thank you Ma'am I know the place."† Heath quickly left.†
Sam Driscoll had been a prize fighter some years before with a minimum of success but somewhere along the way he had drank most of his prize money and started to lose more fights than he won.† He finally had to take a job at the livery stable in town just to pay his drinking debts, and his wife Sally began to take in washing to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads.† The couple thankfully didn't have children.
Heath rode his horse quickly to the worn down shack.† The sight of it made him think of his Mama's home, but even that wasn't as run down as the Driscoll cabin.† There was a tent nearby where Mrs. Driscoll did the wash everyday.† She would hang out the laundry inside the tent during inclement weather.
As he rode closer to the cabin he heard loud voices.† Dismounting Heath stealthily moved toward the only window in the cabin.† Inside he spied Driscoll, sitting at a table, an empty liquor bottle in front of him.† Doc Merar, putting his medical tools away, and was speaking very sternly to the former prize fighter.
"She's a woman, not your punching bag!"† The doctor slammed his bag shut at the last word.
"She's my wife, and my property old man!† You can't tell me what to do, so stay out of it!"
"Your wife is my patient and I am only concerned for her welfare.† I have treated her for enough broken bones and bruises to know she didn't come by it from falling and I don't care what you or her say!† If this continues on, I'm reporting it to the sheriff!"
"She's my woman and there ain't no law says I can't treat her anyway I want!† So just mind your own business old man before I get the law on you for interfering between a man and his woman!"
"You really are one sorry excuse for a human being Driscoll!"† The doctor spit out.† Driscoll jumped up and pushed the table over spilling the contents on the floor.† Merar quickly moved out of the way.† Sally Driscoll took hold of her angry husband's arm as he went for his gun, but he backhanded her, sending her flying across the room where she landed on the floor.† Driscoll cocked the gun at the unarmed doctor and took aim.† Heath burst into the room, gun drawn.
"I would think twice on that Driscoll if I were you."† Heath grounded out.
"Barkley!† What are you doing in my home?"
"Well I came to fetch the Doc so if you don't mind we'll best be going.† You done here Doc?"† Heath stood protectively between Sam's gun barrel and the doctor.
"Sally, are you alright?† Let me check you again.† You may have reinjured that broken arm."
"I'm fine doctor, I really think you need to go with Mister Barkley.† Please go."† She stood quickly, and tried to right herself even as a wave of nausea overtook her.† The petite brunette made her way to a chair in the corner of the room and sat with her head down, in an almost crouching position.
"You heard my wife, get out!"
"Ma'am if you don't think you're safe here we can bring you someplace else."† Heath gallantly offered.
"I'm quite safe here Mr. Barkley."† She said with head still bowed.† "Please leave my husband and I alone."
Heath gave an audible sigh and glanced over to Doc Merar.† The doctor shook his head then gathered up the remnants of his medical bag that had scattered on the floor.† "Let's be on our way Heath.† There's nothing more I can do here."
Heath pushed his gun smartly back into his holster and held open the door for the doctor He didn't take his eyes off the massive drunken man.† Doctor Merar couldn't resist giving it another try.
"You need to see me for anything Sally, you don't hesitate, you hear?"
She simply nodded, avoiding all eyes but her husband's.†
Outside, Doc Merar shook his head.† "If I live to be a hundred I would never understand a man's need to hurt a woman."
"That's no man Doctor.† He ain't no better than a snake!"† Heath spat out through gritted teeth.
By the time Heath had delivered the doctor to the Barkley Ranch it was after 2 o'clock Christmas morning.† During the dark snow crusted ride back Heath kept his mind on the incident he witnessed at the Driscoll home.† It was an abhorrence to him to think of any man hurting his wife, and he never understood men who did.† His thoughts went to Hope.† He loved her deeply and he knew she felt the same way.† His plan was to propose to her Christmas morning but that planned changed with the advent of the new baby and by sun up he was sure she would be too exhausted to think on it.†
†He found that Audra and Carol had gone up to bed and Jarrod was sleeping in the library.† Heath had escorted Doc Merar as far as Nick's bedroom door.† He knew from the sounds coming from the room that Laura was now in hard labor, and he heard his brother's voice encouraging her at every step.† Heath imagined that one day he would be in Nick's boots and he would certainly want to do the same; being by his wife's side as she delivered his child.† Heath couldn't help but smile at the thought.† He began to walk to his room when Hope stepped out into the corridor.
"How's it going?"† Heath smiled at the tired looking woman.† She smiled as she blew back a strand of hair that had fallen into her eyes.†
"Do you believe it?† She threw me out of the room!"
"Who threw you out of the room?"
"Laura!† She threw me right out the minute the doctor showed up.† She said you needed to talk to me."
"Really?† She said I needed to talk to you?"† Heath walked up to her, with a half smile gracing his face.
"Yes!"† She hung her hands on her small waist.
"Always said she was a smart woman, she's right; I do need to talk to you."
"Tell ya what, let me make us some coffee and we'll talk.† Come on, we'll go down the back way."† Hope followed Heath down the back steps to the kitchen.
†* * * * * * * *
Nick was puzzled as to why his wife had thrown her cousin out.† She had been there for both of them from the beginning when they had lost their first child the year before.† It was Hope who single-handedly saved Laura's life and he couldn't understand his wife's reasoning behind it.† Victoria sat by Laura's side wiping the perspiration from her forehead.† She smiled serenely with the knowledge of her daughter-in-law's true intentions.
"Honey, why did you do that?"† Nick couldn't hold his tongue any longer.
"Do...what....Nick?"† She said between grunts.† The last thing she needed right now was to have to explain herself to her husband at this crucial time.
"That wasn't right; you sent Hope away.† After all she did."
"Not...† now...† Nick...† Please!"
"You're doing fine Laura, it won't be long now."† Doctor Merar's encouraging words hung in the air.
"Soon, please let it be soon.† I'm so tired!"† She said as discouraging tears ran down her face.
"Hang on Laura, it will be over soon.† Nick help support her head, let her sit up, it will give her more leverage."† The doctor advised.
"What time is it?"† Laura asked between deep puffs of breathing.
"The sun will be coming up soon."† Nick answered and noticed a sweet smile grace his wife's beautiful face.
Heath had told Laura in secret that he planned to get Hope alone to see the dawn and he was going to propose to her then.† Once Doctor Merar arrived she knew Heath was home so she sent Hope out of the room.† Poor Hope was upset, she wanted to be by her cousin's side for this baby's birth, but Laura knew Heath had better plans for her and Laura felt she had already ruined enough of the families' Christmas plans; at least Heath would still have his, the way he planned it.† She owed him for so many favors from the past, and she was glad she could finally repay them.† 'Besides,' she thought, 'I won't have much time for baking him raisin bread.' Laura had wrapped a Christmas gift for Hope with all of Heath's favorite recipes, including her secret recipe for raisin bread.† Her smile had changed into a grimace when another wave of labor pains forced her to bear down once again.
†* * * * * * * *
Heath climbed up the back stairs holding two coffee cups, with Hope following behind him.† He turned to her.† "Can you go get a nice thick quilt from the spare bedroom in there?"
Hope complied without a word, and followed Heath to another set of stairs reaching up to the attic room.† She recognized where he was leading her and smiled to herself.† Heath took care to light the lamp before they could enter safely.† The room had been left as it was when they were there previously.† The small child's bed had been pushed up close to the attic window.† Hope glanced at the the sheet-covered cradle that Heath had hid there previously.
"You'll be giving that to them soon I suspect."
"Yup, looks like it will be a Christmas gift after all."† The two sat on the child's bed and Heath wiped away the dust that had settled on the attic window.† Hope had wrapped the quilt around her and opened it so that Heath could share its warmth.† They sat quietly awaiting the dawn's light.
"I hope everything's alright."
"Laura of course."† She pushed her chin in her hand and her elbow leaned on the bedpost.
"Well, ya got the doc there, and Mother and Nick; I suspect she'll be fine.† Probably be hearing some whooping and hollering before long."
"Babies don't whoop and holler."
"Nick does."† They both chuckled.
"I hope not, he'll be sure to frighten the poor babe."
"I'm sure the baby's been getting used to his daddy's yelling by now.† Laura complained that every time Nick hollered the baby jumped in her womb."
"Now I'm not surprised.† That man's got a voice as loud as thunder.† Truly I don't know how my cousin puts up with it."
"Truth be told, she loves his bellowing.† Go figure huh?"† Heath winked.
"Must be love."† Hope grinned back taking a warming sip of her coffee.
They sat quietly wrapped inside the quilt for some time waiting for the pink fingers of morning to reach over into the new day.†
Heath placed his free arm around her shoulder as the dawn came over the rise.† "All new day; perfect and fresh."† Heath said eyeing her with a grin.
"Before anyone messes it up."† She agreed gently.† He brought her closer, giving her a squeeze.† Placing a cupped hand under her chin he brought her lips up towards his own and sweetly kissed her.
"Merry Christmas."† Heath whispered.
"Merry Christmas."† Hope repeated.†
He pulled out the small velvet box he had in his suit pocket.† "Sorry, didn't have time to wrap it with all th excitement going on."
"That's all right, it's perfectly understandable."† She accepted his apology as she opened the box.† She swallowed hard when she looked at the contents, then stared into his ocean colored eyes.
"A ring?† You're giving me a ring?"
"Nope, not a ring.† Don't you see it?† It's my heart."
Hope pulled the ring out of its' box.† It was very similar to the one that her mother wore.† One that she hoped to some day have for herself.† "How...how did you know it was what I wanted?† I never told anyone, not a soul."
"Don't know, I just knew.† May I put it on your finger?"
Wordlessly Hope held out a shaky finger.† Heath held her hand steady and placed the gold Claddagh ring on the third finger of her left hand.† In the middle of the ring were two golden hands holding a heart shaped blue stone.† It was the most beautiful ring she had ever seen and it rendered her speechless.†
Heath brought her hand up to his lips and kissed it.† "Would you do me the honor of holding onto my heart forever?"
Tears of joy streaming down her face were her only answer.† She draped her arms around his neck and their lips joined together in a long, lingering kiss, as the morning's golden pink light washed over them in a brand new "not yet messed up" day.
Even the sound of a baby crying, didn't spoil the sweet moment.
†* * * * * * * *
Doctor Merar held the wailing child in his strong hands as Victoria quickly washed the babe with warm water, and wrapped it in a white baby quilt.† Then she gathered the child in her arms, gave it a kiss on its' tiny forehead then handed the child to a smiling new father.
"Here's your daughter."
Nick proudly took the child from his mother and placed her in Laura's waiting arms.† The two laughed as tears of joy ran down their faces.† Nick's large hands brushed the still wet black ringlets from the child's face.
"Did you ever see anything so beautiful in your life as this child?"† Laura asked her husband.
"Oh yes; her mother."† He gave her a gentle kiss on her lips.† "I love you Milady."† Laura placed her hand on his cheek and he kissed her opened palm, then she closed her eyes.† "Laura?† Honey?† Are you all right?"
"Relax Nick, she just fell asleep.† The poor girl's worn out."† Victoria gave him a calming pat on his shoulder.† "I'll be downstairs if you need me."
"Yes Nick?"† She stood at the opened door.
"You were right, this time the answer was yes."
†"Merry Christmas Nick."
†* * * * * * * *
Victoria closed the bedroom door behind her and took Howard Merar's arm.† "Now you will have some coffee and a bite to eat before you leave Howard.
"Well, I certainly won't say no to that.† It will be just what I need to keep me awake for the ride home.† I have yet to go to bed."† Audra, still in her bed clothes and robe rushed out of her room just as Victoria stood at the top of the stairs with the good doctor.
"Mother!† Did I just hear a baby cry?"
"You most certainly did and I am sure you will hear a lot more of her."
"It's a girl?"† Audra squealed in delight while her mother nodded affirmatively.
†Jarrod stood at the foot of the grand staircase, somewhat disheveled from sleeping most of the night in the library chair.† "Did I just hear you say I have a niece?"†
"You did.† And wait until you see her, she's beautiful!"† Victoria added.
Audra followed the two down the stairs while barraging them with questions.† "What does she look like?† Does she have hair?† What color is it?† What about her eyes?† Does she look like Nick or Laura?"
"She has jet black hair, and the sweetest, tiniest, little face you ever saw.† She didn't open her eyes as yet so I don't know, but she has her father's strong lungs because she can sure give out a loud cry."†
†* * * * * * * *
Nick rested his chin on his hand and leaned on the bed watching his wife and his baby sleep; soon his eyelids grew heavy and he fell asleep sitting by the side of the bed.† He hadn't slept longer than twenty minutes before the sound of the baby crying woke him up.† He took her in his arms.
"Hey, whatcha crying for huh?† Doncha know everyone's tired here?† Why if you keep this up your gonna wake up your mother."† He brushed the baby's cheek with a finger and her mouth latched onto it and began sucking.† "Ohh, all right, that's what you want huh?† Well, I'm afraid I can't help you there little girl.† Laura?† Honey?† Wake up."
"What?† Oh the baby.† She must be hungry.† What's wrong with me?† I should have heard her cry."
"Don't go blaming yourself you're exhausted and you have a right to be."† She placed a loving hand on his cheek and he took it in his kissing it.
"You look exhausted too my Love."† She said apologetically.
"Tired or not, this little one is hungry now."† She smiled at her husband and crying daughter.
"Then I guess we should take care of that first.† Do you think you can help me sit up?"
"Sure, let me put the baby down in the cradle."† Still holding the baby he walked across the room and pulled the old cradle near their bed.† He placed the now wailing baby down.† "Easy now there girl, we'll get to you, relax.† I just gotta go help your Mama get ready and I'll be right back for ya.† Trust me.† Easy now."† Nick grinned and turned to his wife rubbing his besieged ear.† "Where do you suppose she got that temper huh?"
Laura laughed, "I have no earthly idea."
†* * * * * * * *
Once the child was fed, Nick placed her in the cradle to sleep.
"Well, now we got that accomplished we can sleep."† He said proudly.
"Nick, could you find Hope and bring her in here.† I was so rude to her before I need to speak to her."
"Yeah, why was that?† Why in the world did you send her out of here?"
"I had my reasons at the time.† Please get her."†
Nick shrugged his shoulders.† "All right, but don't be surprised if she doesn't want to speak to you."
A few minutes later both Heath and Hope came in.† Heath was carrying the newly made cradle he had hidden in the attic.† They smiled but spoke in low tones.
"Whatcha think?"† Heath whispered pointing to the cradle he placed beside the bed.†
"Oh Heath, it's so beautiful, thank you."
"You're welcome."† Heath leaned down and placed a kiss on top of Laura's head.† "How are ya feeling?"† He sat in the bedside chair.
"Tired and happy."† Heath turned to watch Hope and Nick standing over the baby.† Nick pulled the blanket to the side so that Hope could see the baby's face.
"She's so beautiful Nick."† Hope exclaimed.
"Just like her mother."† He stated proudly.
"She has your dark hair."† Hope put a gentle finger on the child's head and brushed a wisp of a curl away, and then she stood and pulled at Nick's sleeve.†
"Come down here Papa."† Nick leaned down and Hope placed a kiss on his cheek.† "Congratulations."
Near the bed, Heath took Laura's hand in his and whispered softly.† "Thank you."
"She said yes?"
"Yup.† She loved the ring."† He smiled happily.
"I told you she would."
"I owe you a lot."
"No Heath, I still owe you, more than I could ever repay.† You did what no one else could.† You brought peace back into this house.† I don't know what you said to turn Nick around about his brother but I will always be grateful to you.† Next to Nick, you're my best hero Heath Barkley."
She placed a kiss on his cheek.† Nick called to him.
"Hey Heath, come see your new niece."† Heath gave Laura a wink and walked over to the cradle.†
"Hope?† Cousin mine?† Don't you have something to show me?"† Laura smiled at Hope.† She took Heath's place by the bedside and sat down.
"So, Heath had something to say to me, did he?† And I had to miss the grand birth."
"Tell me you're not glad I threw you out of here?"
"Well, if truth be told..."† She hesitated and looked sideways at her handsome betrothed.
"Come on, let me see the ring."† Hope held out her hand.† "It's magnificent Hope.† Of course I knew the two of you were perfectly suited to each other.† You two fit like a hand in a glove."
"We do, don't we?"† Hope smiled as she fingered her engagement ring.
"So did you set the date yet?† I do hope you don't wait too long."
"Well," Hope gave an exaggerated sigh.† "It's only proper that we have at least a two year engagement."
Laura rolled her eyes, "Hope Dougherty you are the most exasperating woman I have ever known!"
Hope patted Laura's hand to calm her, "You know, Heath is right about you.† You're just like Nick.† The two of you are so easy to annoy."
Heath leaned over the cradle.† "She's a beautiful baby Nick.† So whatcha gonna call her?"
"She's gotta have a name."
"Hell, haven't much thought about it."† Nick said rubbing his ear.† "Been too damn tired."
Heath stood up and gave Nick a serious look.† "Don't ya think now is a good time?"
Nick looked over to his wife.† "Laura, what's the baby's name?"
"I thought it best that I let my mother name her.† She once told me that she wanted to name me Colleen, but my father insisted that I be named after his mother.† So I thought this time my mother should get her way.† Colleen Victoria Barkley."
Everyone smiled and Nick walked over to kiss his wife's cheek.† "It's a perfect name."† Hope joined Heath by the cradle.
"Oh look, I think she heard her name.† She just woke up."† Hope bent down and pulled the blanket away from her face, "Hello Colleen Victoria Barkley, Merry Christmas angel.† May I pick her up?† She's awake after all."
"Go ahead.† Hope why don't we dress her up and you can take her downstairs so she can be introduced to the rest of the family."
"Oh that's a wonderful idea.† Where are her clothes?"
"Here in the trunk."† Nick opened the trunk at the foot of the bed.† Hope cuddled the baby and gave her a kiss.† Heath stood beside her and smoothed away the baby's hair.† Nick bent down to pull out an article of clothing.† He pulled out a cream colored baby dress and held it up to his chest facing his wife.† "How does this look?"
"Very fetching Nick, but it will look better on the baby."† Laura giggled.
"Very funny!† Here Hope put that on her."† Hope brought her over to the bed and she and Laura dressed the baby.
"She's going to look beautiful for her debut."† Hope said.
"Absolutely.† I wish I could go down with you."†
"You just rest, she'll be back soon enough."† Laura lay back down on the bed.†
In the parlor Audra couldn't contain her excitement.† She pulled out an old photograph album from her mother's writing desk and brought it into the parlor to share with the others.† Discarded Christmas wrappings were already strewn around the room.† Victoria had decided that while they waited to see the new addition to the family that the rest would start opening the Christmas gifts.† Only Nick's, Laura's, Heath's and Hope's gifts had remained intact.†
"I'll start cleaning some of this debris up."† Jarrod offered.
"Oh leave that until later Jarrod, come look at the pictures first."† Audra coaxed.† "Carol, do you want to see a picture of Jarrod when he was a baby?"† Audra gave her older brother a teasing glance.
"I would love to."† Said Carol as she sat by her sister-in-law.
"Now you're not going to bring out that old relic?"† Jarrod sighed.
"I am.† We can see who the baby looks like most."† Audra and Carol thumbed through the pictures.
"Who's this?"† Carol pointed to a little blond child sitting on a woman's lap.
"That's Heath and his mother Leah.† Isn't she lovely?"
"Yes she is.† Where did you get these pictures?"
"Hannah gave them to Heath after his mother died.† Heath was good enough to let us put them in the album for safe keeping.† He has a lovely picture of his mother in his bedroom."
†Suddenly Nick's voice boomed from the top of the stairs.† "Anyone want to see my Christmas gift?"† Nick slowly walked down the stairs holding the precious bundle.† Hope walked beside him and Heath was behind.† Everyone in the room stood smiling, waiting for Nick to enter the parlor.
"Oh may I hold my niece please Nick?"† Audra begged.
"All right, everyone will have a chance to hold her.† Mother first though."† Nick handed the baby into Victoria's waiting arms.
"Hello sweetheart," Victoria cooed and touched her cheek to the child's forehead.† The others in the room gathered around, pushing Nick out of the circle.
"Hey, I'm the father, don't I get any attention?"
"Now Nick, why should we treat you any differently?"† Heath patted his shoulder and then joined the circle of admirers.† "I'm holding my niece next."
"She looks like you Nick!"† Audra surmised pressing close to Heath and her mother for a closer look.
"Ya think?"† He said with a wide grin.
"In fact Nick, I just saw a picture of you as a baby and you look just like...like...† What's the baby's name Nick?"† Audra walked over to the table where she left the album.
"That's right, you never said."† Victoria added.
"Well if ya all didn't grab her away from me so fast I woulda introduced ya.† Family, meet Miss Colleen Victoria Barkley."†
Victoria's eyes quickly teared up and a wide smile found her face.† "You gave her my name?"
"Laura did that, naturally I agreed with it."† Victoria handed the child into Heath's waiting arms and walked over to her middle son.† He kissed the top of her head.
"Thank you."† She said wiping away tears of joy.
Audra sat at the sofa and poured over the family album.† She found the picture that looked like the baby and excitedly pulled it out of the album.† "Look, here it is, I found Nick's baby picture."
The others gathered around the baby and the picture Audra held it up to the baby.† "You see, she looks exactly like Nick."
"Oh my goodness, the spitting image."† Victoria added.
Hope was too short to see the picture everyone was comparing the baby to, but she managed to spy the words written in back of the picture.† "Excuse me, but I don't think that's a picture of Nick."
"What?"† said Nick.
"The back of the picture says 'Jarrod age one'.† " Victoria took the picture from Audra's hand and read the writing.
"My goodness, so it does."† Nick took it out of his mother's hand, read the back of the picture then looked at his daughter.†
"It can't be, it looks just like her."† Nick waited for his mother's explanation.
"Well, you two are brothers.† Look for a baby picture of Nick, I know there's one in there."
Audra searched the other pictures and found one with Nick's name on the back of it.† "Here's one."† Audra placed the picture beside the other one.† "Well, would you look at that.† They could be twins."
"Of course," agreed Victoria smiling, "Siblings often look alike as babies.† Look at you and Heath.† The two of you could be twins and it seems to be the same with Nick and Jarrod.† You can hardly tell their baby pictures apart."
"Boy howdy, you sure can tell them apart now."† Said Heath breaking the tension he knew his brothers were feeling.† He handed the precious bundle to Audra.
"Of course I'm the handsomer one.† " Jarrod joked, silently blessing Heath for his tension breaker.†
Audra gave the picture to her mother and took the baby from Heath's arms.† "Oh she's so beautiful.† Look everyone she's opening her eyes; she's waking up."† Everyone gathered around Audra and they waited in anticipation for the little eyes to open.† "Look, there are bright blue, like the ocean!"† Audra exclaimed.
"Like Laura's I think."† Heath offered.
"No, I do believe they are even deeper, like Audra's or Jarrod's."† Victoria stated while gazing adoringly at her new grandchild.
"Do you think they look like mine?"† Squealed Audra, "I don't know, they seem more like Jarrod's.† Do you think they will stay that way?"
"Who knows?† It would be nice."
"Babies' eye color usually changes by six months old.† It's hard to tell at this age."† Hope said with authority.
"May I hold my niece, I would like to get a look at her myself."† Audra readily gave the baby to Jarrod.† Heath noticed the tinge of annoyance on Nick's face.† Jarrod took the child gently in his arms and gave her a sweet kiss on the forehead.† He placed his finger in her hand and she quickly grabbed hold of it in a fist.† "Oh she is a charmer.† She already has my heart.† Beautiful, positively beautiful."†
Jarrod removed his hand from her tiny pink fist and placed it in his vest pocket.† He pulled out a gold twenty dollar gold piece and placed it in the palm of the baby's hand.† "Here little one, this is for you, a gift from your Uncle Jarrod.† It was minted this year.† The year you were born."
"That's very generous of you Jarrod."† Said Nick moving closer to retrieve the baby.† Jarrod beamed up at his brother.
"Nothing is too good for this precious little angel."† Then he looked back at the child in his arms, "That's the first of many more gifts from me my sweet angel."
Nick nervously cleared his throat, then reached out for the baby.† "Give me my daughter Jarrod."
Jarrod stared into Nick's hazel eyes, 'was that fear he saw there?' He wondered.
"I'm sure Laura wants the baby back by now."† Nick said with finality.
"Oh of course Nick.† Please tell Laura congratulations from Carol and me."† Nick quietly nodded as he took the baby from Jarrod's arms and briskly went up the stairs to his bedroom.
†* * * * * * * *
When Nick walked into the bedroom with their baby, he changed his frown to a pasted on smile.† Laura sat up in bed when he walked in.† She smiled widely.
"I know you were only gone a short while but I missed her terribly."
"I thought you might, that's why I brought her back."† He placed the bundle in her arms.
"And how was her debut?"
"She charmed them all and they are madly in love with her."†
Laura felt a bit of metal in her blanket.† She pulled out the gold coin.† "What is she doing with this?"
"Jarrod gave it to her as a gift.† It's minted in her birth year."
"That was sweet of him."† She fingered the tiny little fists of the baby as Nick quietly watched the child.† After a time, she touched her husband's frowning face and he gave a slight jerk.† "Nick?† What's wrong?"
"Huh?† Oh, um, nothin, just tired is all."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah, fine.† Just tired.† Tell ya what, why don't I put her in that fine cradle Heath made her and you and I can get some shut eye before her next feeding."† He took the now sleeping baby from his wife.† Once he placed the baby in the cradle he sat next to his wife on the bed.† He wrapped his arm around her and she laid her hand on his chest.
"Are you happy my love?"† She asked and he kissed the top of her head.
"Very happy."† He took a deep, relaxing breath.† "You know I've been thinking."
"Uh oh," she said teasing.† He gave a small laugh and squeezed her shoulder.
"Yeah, I know that's a dangerous thing for me to do."† She hugged him around the middle.
"What were you thinking?"
"I was thinking it's not good to be an only child in this world.† Ya know, I mean children should have brothers and sisters.† That way they can help each other, ya know."
Their eyes met and locked as their love for each other reflected there.† His first thought was to kiss her and he did.† Feelings that were locked inside his heart came pouring out.† "I can't even remember what my life was like without you in it."† He whispered sweetly.
Her eyes filled with tears; she patted his chest and kissed it.† "You have my heart right in there, always."† He took her hand and bought it to his lips for a kiss.
"It's too bad we're married because I could happily marry you all over again."
"Our prayers have already been answered, there's no need to go back."
"I have one more prayer I want answered."† She watched his hazel eyes expectantly as they shone back on hers.† "I want a house full of children with you."
"This is a big house."† She laughed.
"And room to add on if need be."† She hugged him tighter.
"Very well," she agreed.† "A boy next time."
"Thomas Carson, after your father and mine."
"You got this all figured out haven't ya?"
"And what if I say no to you?"
"Don't be silly Nick.† You could never say no to me."
"Is that a fact?"
"Uh huh, that's a fact."† She sparkled with an impish grin.
"Blasted woman!"† He pushed himself down on the bed so that he was lying beside her.† They hugged each other tighter and rewarded themselves with a long, lingering kiss.
Heath & Hope
That Summer Heath and Hope were married in a beautiful garden ceremony at the Barkley Ranch.† As a surprise to his new bride Heath had arranged to have Hope's family brought out to the ranch for the wedding.† Hope's brother Sean, a newly ordained priest, performed the wedding ceremony.† Hope had made her wedding dress.† It was a simple but elegant gown of ivory silk.† The dress was fitted at the waist with 3/4 length sleeves and ivory colored lace sewn on the edges that reached down to her wrists.† The same lace covered over the dress like a long opened coat.† The neckline was a wedding ring style adorned with roses sewn around it.† A wreath of small white flowers crowned the lovely bride's head and held a sheer silk veil.† Hope's bouquet of ivory roses was specially grown in Victoria's rose garden.†
Six month old, Colleen Victoria Barkley, also wore a silk and lace dress, similar to the bride and was the unofficial flower girl.† She was carried down the aisle by her mother.† Bridget Dougherty served as her sister's maid of honor.† Nick was Heath's best man.† The bride was given away by both her mother and father, Michael and Margaret Dougherty.† After a three week honeymoon at Milady's Camp in Indian Springs, the couple settled into a newly built home a short mile from the Barkley mansion.† It was a large two story whitewashed house, with a wrap-a-round porch that went from the front of the house to the side where Heath and Hope's bedroom was located.† The large bedroom naturally faced the Eastern sky so that the young couple could enjoy the early morning sunrise, before they commenced to "messing up" the day.†
Jarrod and Carol
They also had a house built on the Barkley Ranch, not far from Heath and Hope's.† It was a smaller but a richly elegant house, just like the occupants.† It was painted white with black shutters and a large front porch that held two white rocking chairs, that were for the most part seldom used except when Laura came to call on those rare occasions with young Colleen.† Jarrod loved to sit with his sister-in-law on the porch and rock his little niece.
The attorney had reopened his law practice in Stockton, but this time he had a partner, C.B.† Holister, who's specialty was women's issues.† C.B.† had become a formidable force in California politics as she became Senator Bannard's assistant in Sacramento for the affairs of women and children.† She had managed to convince the old Senator that laws protecting women and children were seriously lacking and although they had yet to succeed in passing protective laws, they at least made lawmakers in Sacramento aware of the problem.
As much as Jarrod would have loved it, he and Carol didn't have children, but he did manage to have two nieces and a nephew to spoil.† Heath and Hope's first child had turned out to be twins, a boy named Michael and a girl named Leah.† He loved the children but most of Jarrod's attention was paid to the niece he called.† 'My little Princess'.† Hardly a visit from Uncle Jarrod was not without some small token gift to the little dark haired girl whose eyes were extraordinarily and penetratingly blue.
Although Heath no longer lived at the main house, he and Nick still ran the ranch together.† Sundays the entire family came to the Barkley Mansion to spend the day.† Victoria was beside herself with joy because she had more family around her than ever before.† She still maintained her matriarch status in the house although she slowly gave away some of her authority to Nick's wife, who was very careful to discuss all household decisions with the silver haired woman, whom Nick sometimes called the Duchess.
Nick and Laura
Tried as they might it looked to the disappointed couple that Colleen would be their only child.† Laura kept herself busy with the library and her sister-in-law Carol urged her to become more involved in Women's suffrage.† It was a cause close to Laura's heart and she clandestinely organized the Stockton Women's Literary Club that would meet at the Stockton library once a month, with Carol Holister Barkley often spearheading the discussions that had little to do with literature, unless it was written by Lucretia Mott, Susan B.† Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton.†
Nick adored his wife and child but secretly longed for more children.† It was his brother Heath, who with Hope's encouragement became a baptized Catholic, continued to urge his big brother into keeping faith.
Whenever Nick felt discouraged it was his dear brother and best friend Heath, who reminded him with one word, "Faith."†