By Mrs. Nick B
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.
An hour later Laura arrives at her home. After a week away from civilization, camping with Nick and his family at Indian Springs, she is looking forward to a nice, long hot bath. She ties her horse Tipper to the hitching post in front of her house.
"I 'll take care of you in a few minutes Tipper, I promise." As she pats the tired horse. She walks up onto the porch and opens the unlatched door. She assumes her father is home because he seldom has the door unlocked .
"Papa, are you here? I'm home. We came back earlier then planned. Papa?" She walks to the kitchen and sees her father sitting on a kitchen chair, his hands and legs tied behind his back.
She runs over to him to untie him... when she hears the sound of a gun being cocked behind her.
"Welcome home Laurie." She turns to see Johnny Ray standing in her kitchen.
"That's right honey, miss me?" his gun trained on her.
"Why are you here?" she shivers at the sight of him.
"To see you honey, you know that."
"Why is my father tied to a chair?"
"He wasn't cooperating with me, real closed mouth, your old man. Wouldn't tell me where you were. Tried beating it out of him, but he still wouldn't tell me and then I see this!" He pulls out a small newspaper article from his shirt pocket, and hands it to her, the article is announcing her engagement to Nick in the Stockton Eagle.
"Landed yourself a man with money huh?"
"Are you here because of this?"
"Well now, you did promise to wait for me girl..."
"Johnny I was all of ten at the time!" He grabs her by her shirt collar, pulling her towards him.
"I wasn't a kid, and I meant what I told you then! I never touched you, I waited for you!"
'I'm sorry!... I was just a child, I didn't know..." He lets go of her, she moves away from him.
"You can't hold me to a promise made as a child!"
"I said, shut up!" He gives her a swift back hand to the face, she falls onto the floor.
"Please don't hurt her!" cries out her father.
"Shut up old man! Or I'll shut you up with this!"
"He points his gun at Carson." Laura, now in kneeling position on the floor, tugs at Johnny pants leg.
"Please don't hurt him Johnny, I beg you! Please!" He lookd down at her, and stretches his hand out for her to take it. She takes his hand and he pulls her up from the floor."
"Whatta give me if I let him go?"
"What do you want?" she asks, fearfully.
"Laura please NO!" Carson shouts at her.
"I SAID SHUT UP!!" He aims his gun at Carson 's head. Laura tugs at Johnny's arm holding the gun.
"Please! Ignore him Johnny, listen to me! I'll do whatever you want, just leave him alone!"
"Will you come with me Laurie?" She bites her lip to keep her tears at bay.
"If that's what you want me to do." She begins to shake again, she rubs her arms with her hands.
"Untie him from the chair!! But not his hands, get him up!" She immediately moves over to her father and unties him.
"Please Papa, don't antagonize him, keep quiet please!" she whispers in his ear.
"Come on, let's go....move it!" growls Johnny. She helps her father steady himself as he gets up from the chair.
"Go out there!" He points to the parlor. Johnny makes her father stand near the parlor opening. Laura has walked ahead into the parlor. She notices that she left her gun holster on the table near the stairs, she tries to block Johnny's line of site to it.
"Stop right there!" She stops walking.
"What is it?" she says, refusing to face him.
"Where's your things?"
"Upstairs, in my room."
"Go get em! And no messin' around, or your pa's a dead man!" She slowly makes her way to the gun, and quietly pulls it out of it's holster, she turns quickly, pointing the gun at her antagonizer.
"Let's end this Johnny, right here, right now!"
"And what do you think you're going to do with that Laurie?!" he scowls.
"I'm getting you out of life!" He throws his head back laughing outloud, almost hysterically, at her.
"Oh Laurie you are a card! You always did make me laugh." he says smiling. He takes a cigarette from the back of his ear, and lights it with the match he pulls from his vest pocket, striking it on his boot.
"I see nothing to laugh about! Just go and leave us alone! I mean it Johnny!"
"I mean it Johnny... " He mimmicks her and laughs, taking a drag of the cigarette.
"Get Out I said!" she shouts.
"Or what?! You gonna pull that trigger?!"
"If I have too!"
"I taught you how to handle a gun, but I ain't never taught you how to kill a man! You see, that takes something you don't have! A killer instinct! You gotta be able to look into a man's eyes and think of him as a bug! A bug to be squashed under your feet!"
"What happened to you to make you that way, Johnny? You were never like that! I cared about you once. You were a good man!"
"Comes from a lot of hate sweetheart. People treating me like dirt! Calling me a half breed!....They called my momma a whore, until she couldn't take it no more..when I found her hung in our shack! I was 14 when she killed herself!"
"I'm sorry Johnny," she says sympathically, thinking of that awful time in Tucson; when she was too young to understand what was really happening, or why.
"I'm not! Ya see, it taught me; taught me just how powerful a gun is, and I get alot of respect from this here gun....People don't look at me like I'm dirt, they respect me!" he sneers.
"They fear you! That's not respect!" she says, still aiming the gun at him.
"Same thing in my book! You're the only one Laurie who didn't treat me like that, the only one! I swear sometimes just having you smile at me kept me sane in those days. I love ya girl, it's a powerful love I have for ya!"
"Then please just leave us alone! If you love me, then leave. I don't want anything to happen to you, for old time sake, leave us, go to Mexico, I will never tell anyone you were here, I swear it!" She puts the gun down.
"Come with me Laurie! Come with me baby," he pleads with her.
"I can't Johnny, my life is here now."
"That cowboy ya want huh? He's got your heart now does he?" She doesn't answer, biting her lip instead.
"He's easily gotten rid of Laurie, then it will be you and me. Whadaya say?"
"Do you have to kill everyone that gets in the way of what you want?"
"I won't go with you Johnny."
"Fine! It's your choice!" He points his gun towards Laura's father's head. Carson squeezes his eyes shut, waiting for the bullet to hit him.
"NO!" Laura screams, terrified.
"Stop me Laurie, stop me! Go ahead, try! Try to shoot
me!" Laura aims the gun at him, but can't bring herself to fire, her hands
shake uncontrollably. She puts the gun down in her lap as she falls dejected,
in a heap on the floor.
"I'm sorry Papa... I'm so sorry..." her tears stream down her face as she sobs.
"That's all right daughter, it's all right. I'm ready to go if I have to. I'm not afraid to die."
"No please, don't leave me alone, I've only just got you back again, I need you Papa, please!" She weeps bitterly, kneeling on the floor, with the gun still in her hand. Ashamed that she can't save her own father from death.
"Oh Laurie, you're hopeless girl!" Johnny Ray pushes his gun back his holster. He roughly pulls her up from the floor and wraps his arm around her neck, nuzzling her cheek with his whiskered face.
"Little Laurie, I always got to teach you everything, don't I? You're so helpless without me!"
"Please don't kill him Johnny, please don't!" she begs him, weeping.
"Sure honey, I won't kill your old man. I promise, okay? Mmn, you do smell good, like roses, I always like the way ya smelled. Sweet smellin' Laurie, it's been a long time since I had you this close to me." He nuzzles her.
"Please Johnny, don't." He forces her to turn her face towards him and kisses her on the lips, tears streaking her cheeks. Her hand goes limp, as he easily takes the gun from her, shoving it in his belt.
"Ya know, ya got alot to learn, I could do yer cowboy a favor and break ya in for him, huh? What do ya think of that? For old time sake, like ya said." He smiles greedily.
"Please don't Johnny.." she begs him crying.
"I do so love to hear people beg.... music to my ears, especially when a woman begs..... Makes me feel good." He laughs as he nuzzles her cheek, she grimaces as his unshaken face scratches her.
"You're not a rapist Johnny." Tears stream down her face.
"Wouldn't be rape Laurie, we love eachother, remember when we said that to eachother, in the barn when I gave ya yer first kiss?"
"Please Johnny, don't do this! You're hurting me!" she begs him again. He squeezes her tighter to himself..
"Leave my daughter alone! YOU HALF BREED BASTARD!" Carson spits out in anger. Laura's face drains of any color still left in her when she witnesses the hatred in her father's eyes. She can feel Johnny's grip tighten around her neck as he turns angrily towards her father.
"I just about had enough of you old man! Laurie and I would have been together if it hadn't been for you! You spoiled everything, takin' her away from me!!"
"Johnny please.. don't kill him, please, I'm begging you!" He kisses and nuzzles her under her neck, she winces from his touch.
"I promised ya that I wouldn't kill him and I won't. You're going to do that for me baby, for both of us!"
"What are you talking about?" She looks into eyes filled with hate. He pulls her gun out from his belt and places it back in her hand.
"What are you doing?" she begins to panic.
"Teaching ya a new lesson Laurie, I 'm going to teach ya how to kill a man. Here's yer first lesson." He forces her arm up and aims the gun at her father.
"What are you doing, please don't..." she begs as new tears stain her cheeks.
"I'm going to teach ya to kill Laurie! ....Now, all you have to do is aim at the heart. That's it girl..."
"Please don't make me do this.. please don't make me!" He forces her to take aim, wrapping her hand around the gun. He squeezes her finger down hard on the trigger....
The gun erupts, ....BANG....Carson Thomas falls dead on the floor, a bullet to his heart. Laura screams as she pushes Johnny away from her, and runs to her father's side. She watches as her father's clothes soak up the blood pouring out of his lifeless body.
"No, Papa!!" With her hands, she tries to stop the bleeding. Pushing it back inside his body.
"Oh my God! No Papa, don't leave me.. I m sorry, I'm sorry! Forgive me please forgive me! She pleads to her dead father. She lays on his body crying uncontrollably.
"He's dead... he dead....!" Johnny throws the cigarette on the floor and crushes it with his boot. He laughs at her.
"Of course he's dead, you always were a good student Laurie." She looks up at him, hatred filling her eyes.
"There!" he grins, "now that's the look! Now ya know how to kill! Just like a bug to be squashed!" He laughs. She gets up from the floor and attacks him with her fist, pounding hard on his chest. He pushes her away from him, but she comes back with even more determination to beat him, destroy him anyway she can.
"I'm sick of you!" he grunts at her.
He back hands her, she falls away to the floor, but he picks her up again, and punches her on the side of the head with his fist, she falls back, hitting her head on the staircase.
"Sorry Laurie, but that cowboy isn't going to have you either." He takes aim at her heart as she lays unconscious on the floor, covered in her father's own blood. He cocks the gun....
Tipper, Laura's horse, whinnies outside, impatient for the care of his mistress, after a long ride from Indian Springs.
The next afternoon...Audra walks in the house with Ciego
carrying her extra packages. Nick is sitting in the living room reading a book.
His left arm hanging out of his sling.
"Well, look at you, out of bed in one day, and not doing what the doctor told you to do. I might have known." Says Audra.
"Oh hang the doctor, I'm fine, just a few scrapes. What did you do, buy out all of Stockton? Didn't you two leave anything for anybody else?"
"I was alone I'll have you know, your fiance never met me like she promised; Madame Claire was not pleased with her."
"Oh, she can go hang too!" Nick says, disappointed that Laura didn't come home with his sister, he had missed her not having seen her since the day before. He closes the book, setting it on his lap.
"Didn't ya go check on her at her house?"
"No, I had too many packages, I thought maybe she came here."
"No, she was suppose to be with you," he says somewhat annoyed.
"Well, she's not as you can plainly see." Jarrod walks in the parlor, after listening to part of their exchange.
"What's going on?"
"Laura never met me in Stockton like she was suppose to."
"Really? What time was she suppose to meet you?" asks Jarrod, putting his hands in his trouser pockets.
"About 11 o clock."
"Maybe she was at her father's barber shop, did ya check there?" Asks Nick.
"Yes, I thought of that but when I went there, it was closed."
"What was closed?" Heath asks as he enters the room, from the kitchen eating an apple.
"Mr. Thomas's Barber shop," informs Audra.
"Carson never closes that barber shop on a business day." Jarrod adds.
"Maybe he's sick?" Heath offers as a possible explaination, turning his apple around for another bite.
"Maybe. Why don't you and I go over there Heath and see how's he doing." Jarrod says, trying to sound light, so as to not alarmed anyone.
"Sure, I'm game."
"Neither one of ya are going without me!" Nick states as he struggles to get out of his chair.
"You're suppose to be on bedrest. You lost a lot of blood!" adds Jarrod.
"Try and stop me!" Nick challenges his brothers.
"In your weaken state we probably could without much trouble," says Jarrod.
"Let me and Jarrod go, we'll let ya know what's going on," Heath promises his stubborn brother, as he throws the apple core in the fireplace.
"No need, because I'm going with ya!" Nick slowly walks over to the foyer where he has his gun and hat. He pulls the sling off his neck, and attempts to wrap his gun holster around his hip, grimacing at the pain in his shoulder, he struggles to buckle it on. Jarrod and Heath look at eachother, exasperated by his stubbornest.
"We could just leave him here and not help him mount his horse," suggests Jarrod.
"He'll only find a way to follow us." Heath complains.
"True. He never listens to anything we say," adds Jarrod. Nick puts his hat square on his head and looks at them.
"You two gonna quit jawwin, or do I go there alone?!" The two shrug their shoulders as they move to the front door. Heath opens it for his two brothers.
An hour later the Barkley brothers arrive at the Thomas home. They find Laura's horse tied to the hitching post acting very skittish. Nick dismounts and examines the horse.
"He hasn't been fed or watered since yesterday, just left here. Laura would never do that. Something's wrong." Nick surmises. Both Heath and Jarrod draw their guns as they step onto the porch.
"Let me go around the back first, just in case," says Heath.
"Go ahead, don't take too long." Nick warns, his own gun now drawned as he joins Jarrod on the porch. Nick leans against the clapboard of the house, his eyes closed, feeling weaken after the hour's ride. Jarrod notices the blood drain from his brother's face.
"You going to be okay Nick?" Jarrod asks worried, but Nick just nods his head weakly as he holds his breathe peeking into the windows of the house.
"Anything?" Jarrod asks. Nick shakes his head no, waiting for the fear in him to subside and trying to shake off feeling lightheaded again.
Heath enters the back of the house and finds himself in the kitchen. He sees food untouched from the day before on the kitchen table, a kitchen chair overturned onto the floor, and worse, he smells the sickening stench of dried blood and death permeating the entire house. The smell so fowl he has to force himself not to gag. He walks ahead from the kitchen to a small dining area, he feels something sticky under his boot, when he looks down he sees the blood soaked carpet. He quickly steps away from the already sticky substance. His eyes come upon a body of a man lieing in a prone position in a pool of blood. The smell of death even more prevalent then before.
The two Barkley brothers burst in at the sound of Heath's holler. They see Heath standing over the dead body of Carson Thomas. Jarrod grimaces from the smell in the house, Nick is taken aback when he sees the large pool of blood coloring the carpet. He reholsters his gun and leans on the back of a chair in the parlor to steady himself with his hands. Hazel eyes search the room until he sees something underneath an overturned table near the staircase leading up to the bedrooms. He forces himself to walk over to the table and discovers a woman's hand covered in blood.
"Laura..,." he almost whispers, in his weakened state.
Jarrod barely hears Nick' s voice, but he turns just in time to see Nick kneel down near the stairs, beside Laura's blood covered body. Jarrod closes his eyes as the sting of tears begin in his eyes, although he wants to go to his brother to comfort him , he can't seem to make his legs obey. An overwhelming feeling of remorse enters his thoughts.
I could have done more to prevent this. I should have stopped this. Nick will never forgive me when he finds out. I could have prevented this destruction. Forgive me.
Tears run freely from Jarrod's face as he watches Nick throws himself against the stair bannister, grieving, his fists tightened as he hits his forehead, his face grey with shock. Tears flowing from redden eyes, he sits by her blood stained body. Heath rushes to his brother, and kneels beside Laura's body, Heath gingerly touches her face.
"Nick...Nick?" Heath feels the side of Laura's
neck, he smiles.
"Nick...Nick..? Listen to me, she's alive! Laura is alive! NICK! LISTEN TO ME!" Nick seems to have awaken from his shock as he hears his brother's voice.
Heath nods his head yes, smiling as he puts his hand on Nick's face for reasurance choking back tears of his own. Nick smiles at Heath as does Jarrod who finds his legs again and rushes over to them.
"Thank God!" he prays.
"But all the blood on her..." Nick chokes.
"Nick, I don't think it's her blood. Maybe it's her father's." Heath tells him.
"Let's get her up off the floor, come on," says Jarrod. Nick moves to pick her up, but Heath stops him.
"You got a bum shoulder, let me do it, you might drop her. Then, she'll be mad, ya wouldn't want that!" Heath jokes. Nick manages a half grin, for his brother. Jarrod smiles as he helps Heath carry her.
"Careful now.." Nick cautions. He struggles to push himself up from the floor. Jarrod clears a space for them on the sofa. Heath gently puts her down, Nick finds a blanket and covers her with it.
"Heath you better get the doctor and the sheriff right away." orders Jarrod.
"I'm on my way." Heath answers, as he wipes his blood stained hands on his pants. Nick sits on a smalll table, opposite Laura, he is horrified by all the blood on her.
"I got to get this off, I can't let her stay like this."
"What can I do to help Nick?" asks Jarrod, desperate to do something to appease his conscience.
"Maybe you can get me some water and a clean cloth so I can wash her. I don't want her to see her father's blood when she wakes up."
"I'll get it right away."
Jarrod soons comes back with a pan of water and clean cloths. Nick very gently washes the blood off. Then Jarrod searches for a blanket to put over Carson Thomas's body... it is then that he notices a dry boot print in the blood on the floor, then he searches for other clues. He sees that Carson has rope burns around his wrist. He also finds a cigarette ground into the floor and a spent match stick under the sofa.
"Jarrod, can you get me more water, this is all dirty."
When Jarrod picks up the dirty pan, he notices the water dark with blood, he cringes at the sight. When he comes back with clean water, he looks at Laura for the first time, with some of the blood washed off from her face and hands, but still staining her clothes, he is horrified by her appearance.
"My God Nick, who could have done this?!"
"A dead man!" Nick promises.
"Let me get another cloth and I can help you wash her."
"No! I 'll do it myself! I don't want anyone touching her!"
Nick carefully washes off as much as he can from her body, but some of the wet bloody clothes are stuck on and he can only go so far without first removing her clothes.
"At least she doesn't appear to be raped, Nick, judging from her clothes," he says in a meek comfort for his brother.
"I want the man who did this to her and I won't rest until I have him in my gun sights!" Jarrod moves away from the sofa; feelings of regret sweeps over him as he thinks to himself:
'I should have said something, if I had warned them , maybe Carson wouldn't be dead now, I'll never forgive myself!'
Heath arrives with the Sheriff and Dr. Merar.
"Nick, what are you doing out of bed, you 're suppose to be..." the doctor says as he searches his medical bag for his equipment.
"Nevermind me Doc, take care of Laura." Nick stands from his seat on the table so that the doctor can examine her.
"My God, what in the world happened here?!" says the startled doctor as he retrieves his stethscope, and places it to his ear.
Meanwhile... Jarrod pulls back the blanket that is covering Carson Thomas's body so that the sheriff can see for himself. Sheriff Madden bends down to examine the body.
"Looks like he was shot through the heart at close range, I would say, who ever did it was probably standing over there near the staircase I would guess. Any ideas what happened here?"
Jarrod doesn't volunteer his knowledge, but shows the sheriff what kind of evidence he did find. The sheriff searches for more clues when he finds a gun lieing next to a staircase.
"I believe this might be the murder weapon. Anyone know who's gun this is? Heath and Nick easily recoginize the gun as belonging to Laura. They stand quiet, looking at eachother. The sheriff examines the gun.
"It's been fired, I'm thinking who ever owns the gun, fired the shot."
"That's NOT POSSIBLE!" bellows Nick.
"And why not Nick? What do you know about this gun? Do you know who's it is? If you got something to say then spit it out!"
"I 'm going to get a buckboard ready to take Laura home, and I'll tend to the horses ...see that they are fed and watered before we leave.." Heath interrupts, saving Nick from having to answer the sheriff.
"I'll help you Heath." With that said Jarrod leaves the house with Heath.
Nick watches intently as the doctor examines his fiance.
"I can't exam her well enough until we take these bloody clothes off her, they are sticking to her. I want you to go find clean sheets for bandages, I want to wrap her up good and tight incase she has any broken ribs, before we move her." The doctor starts to cut away at her clothes with a sissors.
"Oh, and Nick, get her something to wear, a night gown, anything like that and blankets."
Nick nods his head as he walks up to Laura's bedroom. He searches the bureau drawers for clean linen and something for her to wear. He looks at her bed and thinks of the night he came to see her to propose, he regrets now that he didn't stay to make love to her as he should have...
"What a fool I was!" he says to himself. Finding what he needs, he rejoins to doctor. He overhears the doctor and sheriff talking as he walks down the stairs.
"When will she be able to tell us what happened here, doc?"
"I don't know if she ever will Fred, I don't expect her to live through the night. The way these bruises are, and the trauma to the head; I'm willing to bet, she's in a coma."
"How long ago do you think this happened?" asks the sheriff.
"I think a good guess would be 24 hours ago. If she wasn't in a coma, she would have come to by now, as it is, too much time has already past."
"Doc, here's the linens you wanted, I'll help you get her ready for traveling. You can stay at the house with us, we'll set up a guest room for you, I want you around when she comes too, and she will come too!"
"All right Nick." agrees Dr. Merar, as he eyes Sheriff Madden.
Later at the ranch Victoria and Audra help the doctor tend
to his patient, trying to make her as comfortable as possible. Victoria shakes
her head, tears welling up in her eyes.
"Who could have done such an awful thing to that poor girl!"
"Oh Mother, she looks so still. I couldn't bear it if Nick loses her, I just couldn't bear it!"
"Well, this is all I can do here for now." Dr. Merar says as he closes his medical bag.
"Doctor, is there anything we can do? Anything at all?" begs Audra.
"You've done it. You have made her as comfortable as possible, that's the best anyone can do." Nick bounds into the room with renewed energy, his arm back in a sling.
"No, that's not all we can do! There is something. I want to know what to do for someone in a, what do you call it, a coma?"
"Yes, a coma."
"Tell me what is a coma? Can people die from it?"
"Not necessarily from a coma, but from the results of a coma," the doctor adds.
"How?" Nick asks in earnest. The doctor heaves a deep sigh, sadden that some people can not accept the inevitable.
"WELL?!" Nick says impatiently. Victoria touches his arm to calm him.
"All right Nick, You want me to give it to you straight, I will. You may be aware that a person can't go without food and water for very long. Of course people can go longer without food, sometimes weeks, but not water. Laura is already dehydrated, she has been like that for well over 24 hours now. If she doesn't come out of the coma and get some liquid in her, she is going to die. I am sorry I have to be so blunt, but I really don't hold up much hope for her now. I am truly sorry." The doctor begins to leave the bedroom, Nick grabs him with his good arm.
"I'm not accepting that! There is something we can do. There has got to be."
"Then why don't you tell me just what that is Nick?! Can't you accept the ..."
"NO, I CAN"T, and I won't damn it! There's got to be something! We can give her water!"
"You'll choke her at the first drink! And she'll die even faster!"
"Ice chips!" Victoria interrupts, "When my children were sick with the fever and they couldn't lift there heads to swallow a drop and food was impossible for them, I would give them ice chips. It would fill their stomachs slowly so they wouldn't vomit, and the melting ice would give them the liquids they needed to get better!"
"Oh Mother, yes, I remember you doing that!" says Audra.
"That can work, can't it doc?" asks Nick hopefully.
"You can't do that for long, you don't know how long she'll be in the coma. Something like that could take weeks, and even if you can, she would eventually die of starvation." the doctor informs them.
"As long as she's alive, I am NOT giving up! Not ever! ...... SILAS!!!" Nick hollers as he moves to the bedroom door yanking it open. He stomps down the stairs where he meets Silas and Heath at the bottom.
"Yes, Mr. Nick ?"
"Silas, you get a small pan for ice chips. Heath go to the ice house and and make ice chips, small enough to swallow."
"On my way," says Heath.
'What can I do Nick?" offers Jarrod.
"You can help Heath with the ice chips, we're going to need a lot. We will all take turns feeding the ice chips to Laura, around the clock, we'll do it in shifts. Jarrod, I am also going to need small bits of ice and towels to try and get the swelling down on her head." Nick orders them.
Doctor Merar, joins him at the foot of the stairs. "I don't know about this Nick... I 've never seen this done before."
"There's a first time for everything Doc, and if you can 't help then stay the hell out of my way!" Nick orders.
"I'm here to help and that's what I will do, as long as it takes."
"Good, we can use you." Nick pats the doctor on the shoulder, then climbs the stairs again; despite his wounds, he pushes himself, willing any pain he has in his body away, so that he can conscentrate on his Laura.
Two days later, the Barkleys solemnly leave the Stockton Cemetary. Jarrod walks his mother and Audra to the carriage after the gravesite services.
"What time will you be home, Jarrod?" asks his mother, dressed in a black mourning dress, with matching hat.
"I don't know Mother, I have a meeting in my office with the sheriff."
"It was a lovely funeral, the whole town was there, Laura would be very pleased by how many came to pay their respects to her father." says Mrs. Barkley.
"Yes, I'm sure she would have," Jarrod answers sadly, his eyes downcast, not wanting to reveal the guilt he still feels to his intuitive mother.
"Don't work too hard darling," she kisses his cheek.
"I won't Mother, I'll be home as soon as I can."
"Please do, you haven't had any more sleep than Nick has, since all this happened."
"I'll be fine. You better get home to relieve Nick, he's been up half the night." The three hug and kiss eachother. Jarrod watches until the Barkley carriage is out of sight, then he heads over to his office; while walking over to his office he meets up with Sheriff Fred Madden.
"Jarrod." the sheriff nods to him.
"Fred." Jarrod says as he unlocks his office door. "Come on in." He follows the sheriff in and walks over to a makeshift bar in his office.
"Can I get you a drink Fred?"
"Too early for me Jarrod, thanks anyway."
"Well, it's early for me too Fred, but I could use a drink just the same."
"I guess it's been a rough couple of days for you and your family."
"To say the least, Fred." Jarrod agrees. "Please, sit down." Jarrod walks behind his desk and sits down, shuffling through papers on top his desk.
"How is Miss Thomas?" asks Fred.
"Holding on so far, Dr. Merar is cautiously hopeful. None of us expected her to be with us this long, it's been Nick's persistance that has got her this far. I've never seen my brother work so hard, he's just been driven."
"He must love here very much," adds Fred.
"That he does, and it is very difficult for the family to see him suffering right along with her." Jarrod takes a generous portion of his drink, then shuffles more papers on his desk. He pulls out a wanted poster and hands it to the sheriff. The sheriff reads outloud.
"John Ray, wanted for murder, reward 3000 dollars, dead or alive. This must be an old one you have here Jarrod, because I got a new one this week, and the reward is now 5000 dollars...Now, why are you showing me this?"
"That's the man who killed Carson Thomas." The sheriff looks at Jarrod surprised.
"And what makes you think that?"
"I wasn't sure at first, but I saw him a few days before the murder. When my family was away on that camping trip."
"Where?" Fred asks.
"Right here in Stockton. I happened to look out of my office window and there he was, coming out of the saloon, dressed like a drifter, hat over his head so you didn't see his face."
"So how do you know it's the same man?"
"Because he lit a cigarette, I saw his face when he struck a match on the post and lit it. I went outside to get a better look, but when I did he had disappeared. The next day, I went to the barber shop and showed Carson Thomas this wanted poster, he denied even knowing him."
"And what makes you think Carson was lieing?" inquires Fred.
"Because Johnny Ray is an old friend of his daughter's from back in Arizona."
"That had to be some time ago, since she spent most of her life in 'Frisco, at that girl school, right?"
"Yes, but be that as it may, she did know him because she told me, not willingly of course, but she did tell me. According to the story I got from Laura, she and this Ray grew up together, though he was older than her. He was quite smitten with her, and Carson didn't approved, he felt, and rightly so, that he was too old for her; Carson decided to put some distance between this man and his daughter. Which is the reason he sent her away, left Arizona and moved here... It was to get away from this Ray fellow. After Carson's wife died."
"That's quite a story. And you think Ray held a grudge against Carson all this time?"
"I do. Further, I think he came here to take Laura away, when she refused, he beat her within an inch of her life and he tried to frame her by using her gun to shoot her father."
"Sounds like a right mean cuss. Tell me, what was she doing with a gun in the first place?" Fred implies.
"She brought it along on the camping trip, I think she was concerned about being out in the wilderness. From what Nick told me she wasn't really keen on the idea, he had a devil of a time trying to talk her into going, but she did seem to enjoy camping in the end, from what Nick said." Jarrod defends her.
"Still, you don't often see women of her caliber, shall we say, carrying a gun." reasons the sheriff .
"Well Fred, Laura is a rather unique young woman, I do believe that's what attracted my brother, as well as her beauty." Jarrod smiles wryly.
Fred smiles, and says: "Well, I do hope things work out well for the both of them, in the end. But still Jarrod, unless the girl comes to and tells us what really happen, there is not any evidence to convict this Ray of Carson's murder."
"I know we don't have proof, but I know I'm right about this, just as sure as I know my own name."
"What do you need me to do, Jarrod?"
"Just keep a sharp eye out for him, he may turn up here again."
"Do you think he will be a danger to the girl?'
"I think he will be a danger to all of us, if we don't get him first," Jarrod says with conviction.
"At least Nick is too busy to be going after this man." adds Fred.
"My brother doesn't know about Johnny Ray, all he knows is that someone did this to her and killed her father. I haven't told him anything different." offers Jarrod.
"I can understand why," says the Sheriff.
I only wish I could have done something to have prevented Carson's death."
"Don't blame yourself Jarrod, maybe if Carson Thomas had trusted people, instead of being so closed mouth about it, then things might have been different."
"We'll never know though, will we?" Jarrod says sadly.
"It looks like Nick isn't the only one driven by all this."
"True, I desperately want this man behind bars, although, dead would be preferrable."
"That's not like you to say something like that Jarrod," replies the sheriff.
"Lack of sleep perhaps Fred, or anger from watching my brother suffer through all this. They were going to be married this coming Sunday." Fred stands to leave the office.
"I am truly sorry these things had to happen to your family, I truly am. And I will try my best to find this man."
"Thank you Fred." he says, as he walks Fred to the door.
Jarrod arrives home after his meeting with Sheriff Madden,
he immediately walks upstairs to where Laura Thomas is lieing unconcious from
her accident. Jarrod knocks on the door and he hears Victoria's voice beckon
him in. He enters to see a haggard looking Nick sitting at what has become his
usual place, beside Laura's bed bending over feeding her the endless chips of
ice to her lips in an effort to keep her alive. His mother, opposite her middle
son, looking equally as tired, holding a towel of ice under the quietly, still
"Jarrod," His mother greets him.
"Mother." He greets her, not daring to ask the inevitable question.
"Nick, I do believe the swelling in back of her head has gone down significantly." Victoria offers, trying to sound hopeful. Nick ignores her comments. Victoria looks at her oldest son, sadly.
"Nick, why don't you let me take over, you must be tired, or at least hungry, what do you say?" Jarrod suggests.
Not looking up from his task, he brushes off the offer with an, "I'm fine."
Victoria stands up from her seat, and walks over to Nick, gently touching his shoulder. "Nick, please darling. Give that to me, you go and eat."
He turns away for the first time from his intended. Jarrod is almost taken aback by Nick's appearance, hair unwashed, 2 days of beard growth, and blood shot eyes from lack of sleep. Nick sees the determination in his mother's face, her hand out to take the ice chips from him.
"Please Nicholas." He reluctantly gives her the bowl, then he leans forward to Laura and brushes her hair away from her forehead, tenderly kissing her as he does so. He opens his eyes from the kiss and stares at her, watching her shallow breathing.
"Did you hear that?" He asks.
'What, Nick?" His mother wonders.
"I thought I heard a sound from her."
"I'm sorry darling, I didn't hear a thing."
"I must be hearing things. I guess I could use some rest." Nick stands pushing the chair away. Jarrod takes his mother's place on the other side. He rings out the wet cloth in a pan near by and carefully folds it, placing it on her forehead.
A whisper of a voice, says, "thank you." Jarrod looks up at his mother who is now sitting across from him.
"Did you hear that?" Victoria looks at Jarrod questioning, Nick stops at the door way and turns back.
"I heard it, I heard it!" He rushes back to his chair, his mother quickly stands up so that he can have his seat. Nick bends over Laura, his hand on her forehead.
"Laura? Honey, can you hear me?" Nick looks over to Jarrod, who looks on hopefully.
"You heard her, right?!" he asks his brother. Jarrod nods in agreement, eyes widen in hopefulness. They both hear an audible moan coming from the patient. Victoria puts her hand on Jarrod's shoulder.
"I heard her!" she cries. Nick smiles for the first time in what seems like decades. Tears flow from his mother's eyes. Jarrod tries in vain to choke back his own tears.
"Laura, can you hear me?" Nick speaks to her, his hand still on her forehead.
"More," her whispered voice says. Nick is beside himself with joy, tears begin to fill his eyes as he smiles at his family. yelling joyously, "Did you hear that?! Did you hear that?!"
"What does she want?!" Jarrod smiles.
"I don't know, I don't know!" Nick says excitedly.
"Well, ask her! Ask her!" Jarrod cries out in his own excitment. Victoria laughs joyously at both of them.
"Laura, what do you want honey, What is it?" Nick asks.
"Ice, she wants more ice, Mother give me that!" Nick hurriedly grabs the bowl from his mother's hand. He puts a small piece of ice in her mouth, she swallows it whole. Nick laughs.
'"Did you ever see anyone swallow a piece of ice more beautiful than that!"
"Laura, Laura honey, can you open your eyes for us, come on open your eyes," begs Jarrod. She turns her head sligthly towards Jarrod's voice. Her eyelashes flutter, but she doesn't open them.
"Light...hurts..." Victoria begins to rush around the room drawing all the curtains closed. Laura slowly opens her eyes, she sees Jarrod's smiling face.
"Welcome back!" He almost laughs. She attempts a smile for him.
"Hey, how about a smile for me huh Beautiful?" Her head turns in Nick's direction, she smiles, then closes her eyes.
"What hurts honey?"
"Head..." Nick takes the cloth from her forehead and wets it, carefully replacing it back on her head. Laura weakly brings her hand up to the cloth and touches his hand.
"Is the doctor here?" Nick wonders outloud.
"He had to leave, but he'll be back soon." Victoria informs him.
"He should be here, she needs something for the pain."
"He'll be here soon Nick, relax. The important thing is Laura is back with us.
The next day Laura awakens to see Audra sitting in Nick's seat. Audra has a big smile on her face as she wets another cloth for Laura's head.
"Hello..." Laura greets Audra.
"Hello yourself. How do you feel?" she smiles at her.
"Dizzy..." she answers.
"The doctor is here, he wants me to let him know when you wake up, I'll be right back." Audra stands from the chair, heading towards the door.
"What did you say?" Audra asks her, turning back towards her.
"I'm sorry, I don't understand you, new what?"
"Why don't I get Dr. Merar?" Audra opens the door, walking out of the room. Laura pulls the cloth off her head and rubs it, grimacing in pain. Within minutes Dr. Merar comes in followed by Audra.
"How are you feeling young lady? You gave us all quite a scare."
"That's to be expected with your type of injury. You had quite a bump on your head."
"Where's doctor?" Laura struggles to speak because of a swollen throat.
"What doctor, I am the only doctor here."
"Younger doctor..." she struggles.
"Let me give you some ice chips Laura," suggests Audra. Audra gives her the ice chips, she swallows them.
"How is your headache?" Asks the doctor.
"That's good. A week or two of rest and you'll be ready for your big day," Smiles the good doctor.
"I can hardly wait, of course you still need to be fitted for your gown." Audra adds happily.
"Oh yes, we'll do a lot of dancing, that's for sure." Smiles Audra. A knock on the door interrupts the conversation. Jarrod and Nick enter smiling.
"Well, how is our patient?" says Jarrod.
"Doctor." says Laura.
"Yes? " Dr. Merar answers.
"No, other one." She swallows the dryness in her throat. "Him..." She points to Jarrod.
"Well I've been called alot of names in my day, but never doctor." Jarrod's smile widens.
"If you think he's a doctor, then what am I?" Nick jokes. Laura grimaces when she sees Nick.
"Your headache is back?" questions Dr. Merar.
"Yes. Hurts," she closes her eyes.
"Doc can't you give her something for that?" queries Nick.
"I'm sorry, not with that head injury."
"Maybe a bit of broth is all you need, something to eat." suggests Jarrod.
"Great idea, I'll hand feed you myself." Nick promises.
"Broth ..." She agrees.
"Let's get you sitting up here." Advises Jarrod. Jarrod helps Laura sit up in bed, Audra arranges the pillows behind her.
"Thanks.... doctor." she smiles at Jarrod.
"You'll give me a big head if you keep calling me that." His blue eyes smiling in delight to see her awake.
"Laura, can you tell me your full name?" Asks Doctor Merar as he exams her eyes, his fingers on her eyes lids.
"Laura Meredith Thomas."
"Good girl. Where do you live?" He continues his questions as he sits in the chair to observe her.
'"San Francisco? Where did that come from?" Replies a surprised Nick.
The doctor shushes Nick, with a raised hand.
"Can you tell me where you are?" The doctor continues his line of questioning.
"Hospital?" The brothers look at eachother.
"Doc, what's going on with her?" Nick asks, his hands now hooked behind him on his belt .
"Shhh! Tell me Laura, do you know any of these people around you?"
"Audra.... Jarrod....Dr Merar... Nick... I think.."
"Come on quit fooling , you know me, right?" says Nick.
"Yes ......Nick" She says, happy to get the word out of her still dry throat.
"What's his's last name, Laura. Can you tell me that?" The doctor asks pointing a thumb towards Nick . She looks at Nick and starts to tear up, shaking her head.
"Come on Laura, tell the doctor, quit fooling now. What' s my last name?!" Nick's face reveals a new worried look.
"Please, head ...hurts."
"What's my last name Laura? Tell me," Nick pushes her with a sickly grin. She shakes her head.
"I 'm.... sorry... please! My head hurts, ...please!" She grimaces.
"Do you know where you are now Laura? What city?"
"You're in Stockton, silly," admonishes Audra with a nervous laugh.
"Laura you're in Stockton." Informs the doctor.
"Where's Papa?" Laura asks. They all look at eachother with questioning looks.
"You know, why don't one of you go see about that broth. My patient needs to get her strength back and I am sure a nice cup of broth would certainly do that..Now Laura, I will be right back, I want you to just relax and not try to think of anything except getting well." Doctor Merar orders his patient, then makes a move to usher everyone out of the room. They all file out and down the staircase. At the end of the staircase the three of them turn to Dr. Merar and start talking at once.
"Now hold on, just hold on! She has a case of amnesia, but that is not uncommon with her type of head injury. Now, you saw what she was like when she first came in here. You have to expect some type of damage."
""Doc, this is more than damage! She doesn't even know who any of us are! Just how are we suppose to deal with that?!"
"I understand Nick, I do, but right now we have to just wait and see," advises the doctor.
"NO, I'm not accepting that! She was suppose to be my bride last week and now she doesn't even know who the hell I am!" Nick begins to pace the floor. "This cannot be happening to us! It can't! We 've been through too much! She was at death's door last week and now we're strangers! Like we never met! This is too much! No, no this is way to much!" Nick storms out of the house.
"NICK! Where are you going? Come back!" Jarrod calls out. Jarrod turns back to the doctor.
"Doctor, there's got to be something we can do to get her memory back!"
"There's nothing any of us can do, but wait." The doctor suggests.
"Why can't we tell her what she needs to remember? Maybe her memory will come back?" Audra offers.
"It would have to be done gradually, those headaches she gets is her mind trying to remember. The more she tries to remember, the severe her headaches get. You can't overwhelm her with information. We should wait a few days and gradually we can help her to remember."
"Meanwhile, what do we tell her about her father? She knows she's in Stockton, she's going to want to know why hasn't he been to see her? Doctor she is the only eye witness to a murder." adds a worried Jarrod.
"In a few days she will be well enough to be told about her father, not right now."
Meanwhile Nick rides to a place over looking the valley. He dismounts his horse and looks out over the valley, remembering a day he knew he was in love with her. That day, while on the North Ridge, chasing after strays, and he saw her riding that damn stallion she swindled him out of. God, he was mad as hell at her, and yet, he longed to see her again, and there she was a s bold as brass, riding over Barkley land with that acursed horse of hers! He rode after her and chased her down; poor Coco had all he could do to keep up with the stallion, but Coco did his master proud that day...
"We stopped her, didn't we Coco, huh?"
Nick rubs under Coco's neck....and remembers catching up to her, pulling her off the horse, with her yelling and kicking him black and blue. Nick smiled as he thought of that day. What a handful she was and what a struggle it was for him not to....
He wanted her so badly, the many sleepless nights he spend, pacing the floor, wanting her next to him. God, she drove him crazy, her smell, the scent of rosebuds. Rosebuds, that dress she wore the first time they dance, The dress was white and was decorated with little red rosebuds. She smelled and looked like bouquet of flowers. She promised him one dance, that's all, just one dance... so he made it last, he tipped the band leader a hundred dollar bill and the only instruction he gave him was to play the song over and over again, so that he could have his one, very long dance. The Spring Dance.. never was there such a dance as wonderful as that dance was. Because, at the end of the dance, when he took her home, he knew, although she tried to hide it, he knew that she loved him too, and it was only a matter of time when he would have her.... a matter of time.
A full week had past as Laura sat by a window in her room, watching the men in the corral breaking horses. She rubbed her head as another headache invaded her thougths. There is a gentle rap on the door.
"Come in." Victoria walked in with a tray of tea and cakes.
"Thought you might like to join me for some tea. We can have a nice chat. Are you feeling well Laura? You look troubled."
"No ma'am, I mean Mrs. Barkley, I have a slight headache thats all."
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. What are you watching out there?" Victoria joined her at the window. "Ah, Nick and Heath, taking turns breaking in the new stock. Those two love to compete, they time eachother you know," she chuckled.
"Well, they are going about it all wrong," She said as she walked away from the window. Victoria smiled, then joined her at the table where the tea was set up. Mrs. Barkley poured the tea, handing a cup to Laura, she thanked her.
"Dr. Merar is very pleased with your progress Laura."
"It is only because of your good care Mrs. Barkley, I am sure." She answered politely.
"I do believe it's your own determination to get well. You must come from good strong Irish stock."
Laura smiles at her, "I suppose I do."
"Laura, you are a strong person, I have certainly learned that from all these months that I've known you, and Dr. Merar feels that you are ready to hear answers, that is, should you have any questions."
"Oh Mrs. Barkley, I have many questions. Like how did I get here, what happened to me, and more importantly where's my father. He lives here in Stockton but I haven't.... (she paused). He's dead, isn't he?"
"Yes dear, he is, I'm sorry."
"I knew it! ...I felt it! I could feel it in my heart! If he knew I was here he would have come for me, I know it!" She laments, as she carefully puts her tea cup down on the table and stands up, she walks to the middle of the room. Grabbing hold of the wrought iron foot board of the bed, she crumbles as she cries silently to herself. Victoria moves towards her, wrapping her in her arms to comfort her.
"Please Laura, come sit down dear." Victoria leads her back to the settee.
"How did he die Mrs. Barkley?"
"Heath, Nick and Jarrod found him dead in his house, Laura. That's also where they found you lieing unconscious on the floor. They brought you here. Your father had been shot." Laura puts both palm of her hands on her forehead, trying to think.
"I must have seen it happened then. Was there a robbery?"
"We don't know dear. We don't know what happened or who killed him."
"I should know...I should know... oh God ...I should know!" Laura stands from the settee and paces the floor.
"Does anyone else know, you said your sons were there, do they know?"
"No they don't, I'm sorry." Laura sits on the bed and cries, with her head in her hands. A knock on the door, brings Jarrod into the room.
"Is that crying I hear from our favorite patient?" Jarrod says, trying to sound cheerful. Laura runs into his arms and cries on his shoulder. Jarrod looks at his mother puzzled, as she sits watching and shaking her head.
"Oh Jarrod, my father is dead!" She cries on his arm.
"I know honey, I'm sorry," he sympathizes, as he rubs her back and shoulders.
"Come on, maybe you should lie down and rest a bit, mother and I will leave you alone."
"No, I don't want to rest and I don't want to be left alone. I want to know what happened. I want to remember Jarrod. I want to know what happened to my father!"
He held her outstretched in front of him. "I know you do, and it will come to you. Your memory will come back I know it will. You just have to be patient. But I promise you it will happen, it will come back."
"I thought you weren't a doctor. How would you know?" she smiles sheepishly at him, as she moves into his waiting arms again. He smiles as he hugs her then pulls her out again looking into her eyes.
"First hand experience, a few years ago I had amnesia too, a head injury, similiar to yours, and you know I was worse because I didn't even know who I was, I totally lost my identity."
"Oh how awful for you!" she frowns in sympathy still holding onto his arms.
"There, you see and my memory came back and yours will too. I know how you feel, all confused, but it will come back, I promise you." Jarrod encourages her.
"How did yours come back?" She searches his face with tearfilled eyes, he melts with saddness for her.
"I saw things that were familiar to me, and it finally came back when I saw and heard my brothers. They went searching for me, when I didn't come back."
"What do I have that is familiar to me, my father is gone?!" Her sapphire eyes filled with unspent tears again.
"You have us, maybe you don't remember us now, but you will...When you get more of your strength back. We can help you to remember in time, you'll see." Jarrod says smiling.
Laura turns away from him, letting go of his grasp, as she rubs her head with her hand.
"It's just that it hurts, everytime I try to remember my head starts pounding, and I can't stand it. I feel like I'm going to go mad, if it continues!"
"I know, I had the same problem and you know what helped, a good strong cup of coffee."
"Really?" She brightens with a smile.
"It worked for me." He promised her. "Why don't I have Silas brew you a cup, okay? No more tea for you, a good strong cup of coffee is what Doctor Jarrod orders," Jarrod smiled, as he tapped nose with his index finger.
"Are you sure it's going to work Dr. Jarrod?"
"In all my twenty minutes of medical practice, I have not lost a patient yet!" He smiled as he gave her a peck on the cheek then turns to leave.
"Jarrod?" He turned back to look at her. Laura moved toward him, and putting her hands on his face she kissed him gratefully on the lips. He is speechless for a brief moment. Victoria watches them guardedly.
"Why...ah...don't ...I 'll tell Silas...Excuse me." Jarrod hastily leaves the room. He meets Nick just outside the door. Jarrod has a guilty look on his face as he greets his brother.
"Jarrod, what's going on?"
"What do you mean?"
"Every time I turn around you seem to be coming out of Laura's room."
"I was just checking up on her, she was upset."
"Why is she upset this time?" Nick's face fixed in a frozen frown.
"She found out that her father is dead Nick, that's why she's upset. She still doesn't remember anything. It's going to be up to all of us to help her remember."
"Seems to me that ..."
"That what...?" Jarrod questions.
"Nevermind." Nick walks past him and knocks on her bedroom door.
"Come in," says Victoria. Nick strides into the room, Laura looks at him then turns her face away, folding her arms in front of her.
"I'm going to take the tray down Laura."
"Thank you Mrs. Barkley." Victoria removes the tea tray, Nick watches as his mother walks out, leaving the door ajar. Laura looks out the window, avoiding his eyes.
"Jarrod told me that you learned about you father's death today, I'm sorry, he was a good man in his way."
"Thank you, but why do you say that?"
"He was hard on you sometimes."
"It's not important now, is it?" she answered him, attempting to brush him off.
"Do you remember anything, about that time?"
"Only what others have told me. Would you excuse me please, I really have a bad headache."
"Can you tell me why is it, every time we are in the same room together, you get a headache?"
"I don't know. I'm sorry if it seems that way."
"Laura... I love you!" he says almost pleading. She bows her head down, trying to stop her tears.
"I know. I'm sorry." Her voice cracks, as she bites her lower lip, feeling even more confused. She places both hands to her forehead and grimaces with pain, as she tries to rub the ache away.
"You know....but you can't remember..." Nick turns from her and quietly walks out the door. As he closes the door behind him, she bursts into tears; tears for her father, for herself and for Nick Barkley.
Downstairs, Jarrod meets Nick in the foyer, and stops him before he has a chance to leave the house again.
"Tell me something, what were you going to say before?" he challenges his younger brother.
""Nothing!" Nick snaps back.
"No,... no,... you've got something to say to me then you say it!" Jarrod's voice rises.
"You sure you want to hear it big brother?!" Nick stands with his fists on his hips.
"Yes, I do!"
"Okay! I don't think you're all fired up about helping Laura get her memory back! I think you're happy that all this happened!" fumes Nick.
"That's ridiculous!" Jarrod turns away from him and walks into the parlor; he pours himself a drink. Nick follows him into the room, hands still on hips.
"Ridiculous is it?! Well, from what I can see, Laura doesn't even remember me and that seems just fine with you!"
"I have been trying to help her remember you! Which is more than I can say for you! You've been hiding out, since she has been out of that coma; working day and night!"
"I have a ranch to run!" Nick bellows.
"And this ranch is more important than your intended's health?!" His blue eyes boring into Nick's hazel ones.
"Of course not! But it's Laura who doesn't want me around!"
"That's not true!" Jarrod argues back.
"Isn' t it?! She just threw me out of there!"
"I don't believe that!" Jarrod turns away, swallowing his drink down.
"Don't you? She doesn't want me around! She wants you!" Nick angrily jabs his finger at him.
"She doesn't know what she wants! The girl's sick, confused!" Jarrod walks over to the fireplace, staring at an imaginary fire, that has his face hot with anger and guilt.
"Then tell me this! What is going on between you two? Why are you always there in her room talking to her, giving her advice." Jarrod turns back to face Nick.
"I'm doing the job that you're suppose to be doing! I'm helping her try to remember!"
"How can I help her remember, she can't stand the sight of me!" Nick walks over to where the drinks are kept and pours himself a whiskey; he swallows it in one gulp then sits on the table.
"That's not true Nick, she loves you..."
"She doesn't know me, Jarrod." His voice quieter again.
"You've got to try Nick!"
"It would only hurt her more, and she's been through enough already." Jarrod 's fury mounted, as he walked over to where his brother sat.
"Really?! Do you remember the day we found Laura in her father's house?!"
"I'll never forget it!" Nick grimaces at the memory.
"Well, here's something you DID forget! The person who killed her father! Laura is the only eyewitness to that murder! And that man is still out there, free!" Jarrod points angrily towards the window with his index finger.
"You think he'll come back for her?" Nick asks.
"Wouldn't you? If she was the only one to put a noose around your neck?!"
"I never thought about that."
"That's the trouble with you NICK! You never think!" Nick jumps up from his sitting position and growls at Jarrod, jabbing his finger at his chest.
"I've been more concerned with her then that piece of trash! We don't even know who he is! But if I did I would go after him myself; before he had a chance to get to her!"
"I know you would and you would get yourself killed in the process!"
"And just what makes you so sure?! Do you have some idea who he is?! Do you know more than you're telling us?" Nick wonders outloud.
"I wasn't a witness, she was! And it's up to us to help her remember!" Jarrod urges again.
"How?" asks Nick.
"Show her things she use to know, bring her to places. Certainly you took her places that she could remember, anywhere! Her father's house, you could take her there!"
"But that might cause her pain, I can't do that!" Nick shakes his head.
"Damn it Nick! Do you want her to continue to be a stranger to you?!"
"Of course not! I want her back! I love her! Damnit!" Nick storms upstairs to the privacy of his room. Jarrod watches his brother leave, sadden by the sight of his all so strong brother, looking defeated. Victoria walks into the room after overhearing the conversations of her two sons. She squeezes Jarrod's arm.
"Jarrod, do you have an idea who this man was? Is Nick right? Do you know more than you're telling us?"
"Nick has good intuitive skills. I do know who it is, but I can't tell him, and until Laura begins to remember... Well, what Nick doesn't know, is there is going to be an inquest into Carson Thomas's murder, and Laura is the prime suspect."
"But that can't be! She couldn't have done that! And what about her being beaten..."
"She could have had a quarrel with her father, he could have hit her, he has done it before, Nick told me that himself. Or else at the inquest the prosecutor could say that she was protecting the person who killed her father."
Who? For heaven's sake! Not Nick, he was hurt in bed when it happened!"
"No mother, not Nick, a jealous lover perhaps."
"That's upsurd, she doesn't have anyone else in her life...She adores Nick! At least when she had her memory."
"That's how I would approach it, if I were the prosecutor and I wanted to put a noose around her neck.
Upstairs, Laura had heard most of the arguement between
Nick and Jarrod, and it had left her devastated, so she decided tomorrow that
once and for all, she was going to get her life back no matter how much it hurt
. She would no longer go on, knowing that he loved her, and yet she remembered
nothing of their courtship, not even how they fell in love. Instead it's Jarrod
who is the one she seeks out to care about.
Why? She hears her father's voice, "he is the most prominent citizen in Stockton. You will do well to get close to him. He is just the type of man you were bred for. I have always wanted you to have someone in your life like that."
She grasps her head with her hands, as her headache pounds again. Everytime Nick's face comes into her mind the pain is almost unbearable. She can't bear the guilt, knowing she is the cause of the pained look on his face. "Why can't I remember loving him! Why?! Please God, why?!" She cried to herself as she collapsed on her bed, exhausted.
That evening a nightmare invade her sleep. She tosses in bed, talking outloud to herself.
Everything around her is dark red, almost black...
"Papa!" she calls out. "Where are you going?" "Time to go daughter, we must leave this place, it's no good anymore, we'll make a new life in California."
"I don't want to go Papa, I want to stay here, please Papa, lets stay close to Mama who will take care of her grave? We can't leave her here? Please Papa, please..." A gunshot is heard...
"Don't leave me please, don't leave me, don't leave me!....."
"No one is going to leave you, I won't leave you ! I promise! I won't ever leave you!"
Victoria rushes into Laura's room when she is awakened by her cries, but she finds Nick already there in his robe and pajamas, sitting on the bed, rocking her like a baby in his arms, promising not leave her... Tears streaming down his face. Victoria quietly leaves the room, closing the door behind her, as her own tears fall. Her heart aches for her son. He loves her so, and she has no memory of him. Victoria says a little prayer to herself.
She had finally calmed down, and was no longer talking in her sleep. Nick felt her body relax in his arms, and with the tension gone from her, he laid her back down on the bed, pulling the covers over her. He gave her a gentle kiss on her forehead just as a parent would to a sleeping child then brought a chair nearby the bed, taking up a guarded vigil until dawn broke.
The next day, found Laura in a better mood, Victoria was surprised to see her out of her room as she greets her on the stairs. She wears her riding clothes and is pulling on her gloves, when Victoria speaks to her.
"Did you sleep well Laura?"
"Yes, I did actually, after a while. I slept very well."
"You're not going riding without breakfast are you?"
"Silas brought me a muffin with my coffee this morning. You know Jarrod was right about the coffee curing my headache, because I feel wonderful."
"I glad to hear that," smiles Victoria.
"Do you suppose I can get a horse to ride?"
"I'm sure you will, in fact, I think you will find an old friend in the stable," Victoria hints to her. Laura gives her a smile as she walks outside to the barn. Today is the day she tells herself. Today is the day she finds the answers she needs and she is determined not to let anyone or anything to stop her! Not even her damn headaches she promised herself. Laura meets Heath outside the barn door, sorting out some traps for the black smith.
"Good morning. Heath." She smiles, her hands on her hips.
" 'morning. Don't you look bright and chipper this morning. Going someplace?"
"I decided to go for a ride."
"Not by yourself?" Heath cautions.
"Do you want to come with me?" She invites him pleasantly.
"I would be happy to if I didn't have a mountain of work to get to. But, ya still shouldn't go alone. I can get someone to go with ya if you like." He turns back to his work.
"Well I'll just ...." her voice trails off into silence when she sees a disturbing sight; an animal skin drying of the barn door. She walks over to the skin, pulls off her gloves to touch it. A chilling shiver goes through her, as she makes a small gasping sound. Heath turns towards the sound.
"Laura, are ya okay?" Heath finds Laura almost in tears, both hands on the lion skin tearing at it. Heath stops her before she can damage it.
"Hey, what are ya doing!" She turns to Heath, as he pulls her hands off the pelt. Tears welling up in her eyes.
"Nick, where's Nick!"
"He's in the barn, what's going ....." Heath says, confused by her reaction, still holding her. She pushes Heath away as she runs into the barn and finds Nick saddling his horse, she rushes over and tightly embraces a very surprised Nick who almost loses his balance when she grabs him around his neck..
"Hey, what's going on... Someone chasing you?" She holds on to him tightly and cries.
"Of course I am, what's wrong?"
"I thought you were hurt!" She cries, tears streaking her face.
"I'm fine, what the Sam Hill's is going on?!" He pulled her away, holding her with his outstretched arms confused by the terrified look on her face.
"I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me," she quickly wipes her tears away with the tips of her fingers, and turns away from him, embarrassed.
"You okay now?"
"Yes," she sighed.
"Good, now let me finish what I was doing," he turned to redress his horse. Trying his best to ignore her as the erotic dream he had about her the night before invaded his thoughts. Damn women, get ya crazy!' he thought to himself.
Laura stared at him. 'What a magnificent man he is, just look at his strong back,' she resisted the urge to touch him. She recalled how he felt just now in her arms, wondering how to get his attention back on her and off that, 'damn horse!'.
"What are you doing out here anyway?!" he says gruffly, still not looking at her.
"I thought I would go riding today," She stared at his back wishing he would turn around.
"Alone?" He pretended to tighten the cinch on an already tighten saddle.
"I thought you could take me riding," She bites her lip. He turns towards her, a scowl firmly in place.
"What makes you think I have time to take you for a ride?! I'm busy!" He said in his best gruff voice; the one he used to keep his men in their place. He tried his best not to look too long at those pleading sapphire eyes, but it was no use, he knew in his heart he couldn't say no to her then stop breathing.
'There she goes doing that biting lip thing of hers, I could .... damn her!'
"Where do you want to go?" He said, and cursing himself for asking the second he asked, showing his weakness for her.
"I want to go to my father's house," she smiled, happy in the knowledge that she finally got his attention. She bit her bottom lip trying to hide how pleased she was with herself when he stared at her. He turned away from her again, avoiding looking at her beautiful face. He took in a long, deep breathe, cursing himself yet again.
"Ask Jarrod to take you!" he growled, trying his best to sound even more gruff then before.
"I was hoping you would take me," She refused to give up on this hard headed man.
"Like I told you, I'm busy!" Still declining to turn away from his horse. Laura had finally had enough and stamped her feet on the ground.
"Damn it, what's so special about that stupid horse that you can't look at me!" Nick turns swiftly around with his hands on his hips.
"For one thing, it's not a pain in my butt!" The hurt expression on her face, made him regret speaking to her like that. She blinked her eyes trying to hold back tears then turned from him, arms folded across her chest.
"I thought you might want to help me remember, but I guess I was mistaken!" She said tearfully. Nick pulled his hat off, frustrated, and combed his fingers through his hair. He squared his hat back on his head again, giving another long sigh.
"All right, I'll saddle your horse. He could use the exercise anyway!" he said angrily, but more at himself for surrendering to her wishes.
"My horse? I have a horse?" She smiles happily. Nick walks over to Tipper's stall, she follows him.
"Oh my, is this him? He's beautiful!" She rubs the horse's head. The horse reacts to her touch. Laura smiles as she looks at Nick.
"He knows me!"
"Well, of course he does, he's your horse!" He barks impatiently as he throws a blanket on the horse's back.
"Why hasn't he been exercised?"
"Because, the stupid horse won't let anybody ride him!" He growls, as he brushes by her to get the saddle. She strokes the horse's mane, smiling, recalling something Heath said once.
"Heath said he tips people off, that's why his name is Tipper."
"Yeah, that's right, his name's Tipper," Nick smiles for the first time, hopefully.
"Tipper." They share a smile between them, and without thinking Laura automatically placed her hand on Nick's face, touching his smile, her fingers tracing his perfectly shaped lips.
"How could I have forgotten that smile?" She whispered sweetly.
He gently takes her hand from his face, and brings the opened palm to his lips kissing it. She closed her eyes, and remembered a time when he did that before, after the Spring Dance. She imagined the scent of his cologne, a scent of pine and cinnamon, with just a hint of lemon.
"What do you remember?" He says gently, almost in a whisper.
"The dance... The Spring Dance."
"That's right, we danced only one dance," He said still holding her hand in his, she had her other hand on his chest.
"Yes, but it was wonderful dance, You took me home I remember riding in a carriage."
"You do?" He asked. She bit her lip, trying to hide her embarassment.
"You know, Jarrod suggested that if we did things that we did before, then that would help me to remember... Tell me what we did before Nick. I want to know. Please?"
"Well, *ahem* we did this alot..." He embraced her in a passionate kiss. Her hand traced down the collar of his shirt, as she enjoyed feeling his body and the touch of his lips on hers as he hungrily assaulted them. She recalled his wonderful scent and then they slowly, regretfully broke away from their embrace sharing another smile.
"How could I forgotten that kiss?" She moved to kiss him again, but he stopped her with a question.
"Are you starting to remember any more?"
"Almost... Maybe, if you did that again." She licked her lips in anticipation of another delicious kiss from him. He envelopes her in his arms, kissing her again.
"How's that?" Nick asks smiling.
"More, please." He obliged her, but after a while he pulled away from her.
"I'm starting to remember some things myself." He said embarassed, as his desire for her became evident.
"What do you remember?"
"How long it's been for..., Well, it's been a long while... Why don't I finish saddling your horse and we can go for that ride." He threw the saddle over the horse, she smiled knowlingly.
After Nick told Heath where he is going to be, he rode off with Laura. They arrived at her father's house. Nick solemnly watched her face to see if she recognized anything.† He helped her dismount. Without a word she walked over to the rose bushes in front of the house, now captured by tall weeds. She pulled at the weeds.
"My father would never let this garden go like this!"
"It's been a while," Nick answered her unasked question, he ascended the porch steps and held out his hand to her.
"Come on, lets go inside." She gingerly took his hand as she joined him on the porch. She stared at the door knob, but didn't move to touch it, instead Nick opened the door. She walked around the small parlor taking in every detail.
"This looks like a house my father would live in."
"Do you recognize anything?" He asked.
"Yes, this." She moved over to a small ornate silver frame on the fireplace mantle, and took it in her hand. A small tear escaped her eye, which she quickly wiped away with the back of her hand.
"It's a photograph of my mother."
"I don't believe you ever showed me a picture of your mother, let me see it," Nick gently takes the frame from her hand. It's was a photograph of a darked haired woman with a twinkle in her light eyes, and sweet smile.
"Except for the hair color, she looks like you, right down to the smile."
"Thank you, my hair color comes from my father's side of the family. She was called, Merry. Merry Margaret...Meredith actually, my middle name."
"She's beautiful, like her daughter. Your father was a lucky man to have two such lovely women in his life."
"You're sweet to say so, Nick."
"That's me, Sweet Nick." She smiles at him.
"Do you suppose anyone would mind if I take this picture?'
"I don't see why not, everything here is yours." She puts the picture in her skirt pocket. As she searches for more memories, she notices the bare floor.
"Where's the carpet?"
"You remember it?" Nick asked.
"Yes, it's missing. (a grisly scene of a dead body flashes before her eyes, then quickly passes)......Aghh, I saw it!" She gasps.
"What? What did you see?"
"I saw a body lieing there, it was just a flash, but I saw it!"
"That's where we found your father," he breathes deeply, remembering the grisly scene of that day. She turned away from the site, not wishing to think of it anymore. The ache in her head coming on full force.
"The bedrooms are upstairs, aren't they?" She says trying to ignore the pain.
"Yes." Nick follows her as she ascends the stairs. She finds her way to her own room. When she walks in she is surprised to see the room in such a disarray.
"It looks like it 's been ransacked!" She said startled.
"Oh yeah I'm sorry, I did that." Nick confessed.
"When we found you, you were covered in blood. The doctor asked me to get linens for bandages, blankets and something for you to wear, I didn't know where you kept your things so, I just did it as fast as I could. I'm sorry, when I came back to clean downstairs, I forgot about this room."
"You had to get me something to wear? Why?"
"The doctor cut away all your clothes so that he could bandage you. We had to put something on you."
She looks at Nick with her mouth agaped. "I was naked?!" She walks over to her bed.
"You were full of blood, I washed it off you the best I could!"
"You did what? You washed me?"
"Of course I did, Dr Merar needed to see where you were hurt. We thought you were shot. You had a alot of bruises on you. We needed to bandage them."
"You and the doctor?"
Yeah, I helped him. We did the best we could!" She sits on her bed, and looks at him in disbelief.
"You took my clothes off me?"
"You saw me naked?!" She is mortified at the thought.
"Well, it's not like I haven't seen you like that before!" She stands up from the bed and walks over to the window shocked by the thought.. She looked out the window then back at him. He had seated himself on her bed, watching her. She suddenly remembered seeing him in that same position.
"You've been in my bedroom before, haven't you?!"
"Yes. You're starting to remember!" She looked at him puzzled. Nick flashed a smile at her.
'"We, ah...we didn't...I mean, we never...did...ah,... I mean, I know we were engaged and all but, we...ah..." she sighs, " How do I put this?"
She bit her lip as a worried look covered her face. Nick's smile widened when he realized what she had been struggling to ask.
"What are you smiling at?" She said accusingly.
"Relax, your virtue is intact," He loudly chuckles.
"Good," A sigh of relief escaped her throat.
"Not that we didn't come close to it..." Nick teases with a smirk.
"I don't want to remember that! Not ever!" She stated, angrily as a few flashes of memory come back to her. 'the camisole ribbon!' She shut her eyes at the memory.
"I'll never forget it!" Nick roars with laughter, pushing his index finger deeper in his vest pocket as if to push an object further in. She turned away from him, shielding her crimson face. In an effort to change the subject she rummaged through a chest of drawers in the room. Nick stands up from the bed crossing his arms over his chest.
"Now what are you looking for?"
"Nothing in particular, just something familiar, that's all."
Nick sighs and waits for her to finish. He strained his neck to watch as she pulled out a red linen box, wrapped with a red satin bow.
'What's that?" She unties the satin bow that holds the box closed.
"If I'm not mistaken, this could be..."
"What?" He craned his neck more for a closer look.
"...a box of love letters."
" From who?!" He growled demanding.
She opens one of the folded papers, turns and smiles at him, delighted to see his brow furrowed, and a grimace found where a smirk once resided.
"They are from somebody who calls himself, ..... Sir Nick." She teased with a smile towards him.
"Aw geesch, you kept those?!"
She nods, almost laughing, "A lady always keeps love letters." Nick heaves a large sigh. "This is odd, a telegram? You sent me a love telegram?!"
"Well, I was desperate!"
"Who sends a woman a love telegram?!"
"Just how bad could it be?! ...You kept it!" He said annoyed his fists flying into his waist She turns away so he won't see her smiling, she proceeds to read the telegram to herself.
"Aww, it's so sweet!"
Nick rolls his eyes, sighing. "Just keep it to yourself!"
"I will... oh wait, I just remembered something...I think... yes, I did," she nods her head.
"What?" Nick said cautiously.
"When I got this telegram, I was with your mother, your sister and Jarrod."
"Yeah? So?" She bites her lip again. Nick wags his finger at her.
"I don't like it when you do that, that means trouble, stop biting your lip like that and tell me what you did, that I won't like!"
"I remember reading it to them."
"Aww HELL!! What did you do that for?! My mother?!, Audra? Even Jarrod! Aw damnit! How the hell did you miss Heath?!"
"He was with you at the time, remember? I'm sorry," She tries to look contrite with her eyes downcast, unsuccessfully avoiding a smirk on her face.
"What?! Sorry that you missed Heath?!" he yells.
"Yes, I mean, no! I said I was sorry! It was just so strange, I mean, a love telegram. I had to share it."
"Oh.. You had to share it! Well, ain't ya generous! Damnit!" He grits his teeth, his eyes turn into angry slits.
"I'm sorry Nick, " She says timidly, her hand at her mouth, biting her nails still trying to hide a smirk.
"I'M SORRY NICK!" That's the best you can say for embarrassing me in front of my family?! Well, let me tell you something Milady! My whole family knows some of what went on here that night!" She slams the box down on the chest of drawers.
"You didn't!" She said, furrowing her eyebrows.
"Damn Straight! Not all of it, but enough! So we're even!" He clenches his teeth at her.
"You are NO gentleman Nick Barkley!"
"I never claimed to be! And you liked me that way too, if I remember! No complaints came out of your mouth that night! In fact, you begged me to stay!"
"NEVER! NEVER EVER ! Would I beg you!" she screams at him.
"Yeah well, you remember what you want to remember about that night! But I remember all of it! Every last detail!! Including this!" He pulls out a white satin ribbon from his vest pocket.
"Remember now?!" She stamps her feet on the floor.
"NO I DON'T! She lied.
"Oh I just bet you don't!" he smirks, his fists on his hips again, as he bends over to make his point.
"Let's leave before we get into another arguement!"
"Who's argueing? I 'm stating a fact!" he insists, eyes flashing.
"That's enough!" She walks out of the bedroom, Nick follows her triumphantly down the stairs.
"You're remembering huh?" Nick teases her unmercifully.
"No, I don't remember anything that happened in that bedroom!" She reaches the bottom of the stairs. He stands beside her.
"Not even when I proposed to you?" She hesitates before speaking, Nick witnesses a slight smile curling her lips.
"No, I don't remember that," She lied again, hiding her smile from him as she turned her back on him.
"Liar!" She turns to face him again, trying not to smile.
"Are you daring to call me a liar to my face?!"
"Yeah I am! Whaddaya think of that?!" She smiles at him, he returns the smile.
"Maybe you should refresh my memory then, I don't recall."
"Your wish is my command, Milady." He wraps his arms around her and they kiss eachother. She returns his kiss with the same amount of passion, as she wraps her arms around his neck. He breaks from the kiss and looks down at her smiling, "Let's get out of here."
He pulled at her hand, but she stopped him.
"I can't leave, Nick."
"I still need to remember what happened when my father died."
"Listen we can come back another day, you've done enough; you'll get those headaches again!"
"I need to know what happened that day, Nick," She pleaded.
"If you aren't the stubbornest woman I know! You can't leave well enough alone! You've done enough for one day! We can come back another time!"
"And you're the stubbornest man I know! I need to know what happened! And I won't rest until I find out!" Nick sighed as he folded his arms across his chest.
"All right! Where do you want to start? But don't say I didn't warn ya!"
"I will let you have the privilege of saying, I told you so."
"Good! And I will take it too!" She rolled her eyes, then headed to the kitchen on her quest for the truth.
In the kitchen she stopped abruptly, staring at the kitchen chair, then carefully walked over to it. Running her hands along the back of the chair, she knelt down, placing them on the seat. She imagines her hands untieing a rope.
"Papa was sitting here, he had his hands tied to the chair. I remember untieing them, or at least trying to, but his hands were still tied when he stood up."
"Why didn't you untie his hands?" asks Nick, squinting at her, his hands still folded crossly at his chest, leaning on the kitchen wall.
"I don't know, someone said not to, I think." She hears a voice: "Laurie...."
She turns quickly towards Nick. "Why did you call me that?!"
"Call you what...I didn't call you anything."
"But you did!"
"Honey, I didn't say anything to you, honest!" A confused look crossed his face. She casted her eyes down on the floor, rubbing her forehead.
"Yes," She grimaced, trying to hold back tears.
"Let's go now, you've done enough for today." Nick decided, as he pushed himself up from the wall, and grasped her arm.
"No, not yet!" she pulled away from his grasp, and winces as the pain becomes more intense, she throws her hands up to her head groaning. He attempted to embrace her as she experienced the violent pain; her cries sent chills through him.
"Please Laura, lets go back to the ranch, please!" He continued to beg her, when suddenly they heard a horse riding hard towards the house.
"Who's that?" Nick pushes her out of the way. "You stay back here, I'll see who that is." Nick unholsters his gun readying it.. The sound of the cocked gun brings back a flash of memory.
"What?" He glanced back at her, then the sound of the front door opening brought him back to attention as he carefully moved toward the parlor. He heard the front door slowly squeak open and a familiar voice calls out.
"NICK! Where are you?!" He breathes a sigh of relief as he reholsters his gun. Laura dropped onto the floor and shivered with fear. Nick doesn't notice her, as he calls out to his brother.
"IN THE KITCHEN!"
"Oh my God I remember! I remember!" She repeats. Nick notices her for the first time on the floor sitting in a fetal position with her knees up to her chest, rocking back and forth.
"JARROD! GET IN HERE! QUICK!" Nick quickly rushes to her side.
Jarrod runs in the kitchen to find them both on the floor, with the frightened girl repeating to herself, over and over again: "I remember...."
"What in God's name happened?!" Jarrod asks.
"I don't know what happened. Laura? Laura! Listen to me!" Nick called to her. She continued to repeat the same phrase over again, not seeming to be conscience of any activity around her.
"Laura, honey, what do you remember, tell me!" pleads Jarrod, as he kneels down on one knee beside her, very gently putting his arms around her shoulders in a comforting gesture.
She looks up at him for the first time, "Jarrod?"
"Yes honey, it's Jarrod, can you tell me what you remember?" She grabs hold of his arms, tears streaking her cheeks.
"I killed my father!" Nick looks at Jarrod in shock, a pained look on his face.
"No Laura, listen to me! You're mistaken! You didn't do it ! There was someone here, some one who tied your father up, remember? We found rope burns on his wrists. Do you remember that?"
She shook her head, not really understanding what he said as she clings tightly to the sleeves of his shirt.
"Someone else was here! Give me a name, Laura, I need a name!"
Nick glares at his brother Jarrod thinking, "I was right! Jarrod did know more than he let on. He knew all along what went on here!"
Nick's anger towards his brother rises but Jarrod ignores his brother's eyes as they bore into him.
"I killed my father..." She continually repeats.
"NO.. no you didn't! Now you listen to me, Laura! Come on, listen to me! There was someone else here with you. Tell me his name! " He tries to get her to focus on his face; when she finally does look up she shakes her head at him.
"Don't be afraid! Tell me his name, please Laura, please tell me. I can't protect you if you don't tell me his name! Please, SAY HIS NAME!" She heaves a large sigh and bows her head down still holding onto Jarrod's arms.
"Johnny...Johnny Ray..." She bursts into tears. Jarrod closes his eyes gratefully, as he hugs her.
"Thank God!" Jarrod says relieved, hugging her tightly. He finally acknowledges Nick's look of confusion and anger, as he tries to convey with his eyes that he will explain later.
"Help me get her up off the floor."
Silently, and with hardly any effort Nick took her arm and pulled Laura away from Jarrod and off the floor. He walked her out to the parlor, his arms protectively covering her; then sat her down on the settee. Jarrod takes the chair beside her. Nick leaned near the fireplace mantle, with his arms folded across his chest; his anger very evident, darkening his mood.
"Just what do you know about all this!" His eyes bore into Jarrod.
"Not now please Nick!" Jarrod's impatient voice with his brother, changed to tenderness as he spoke to Laura.
"Laura, why don't you tell us what happened that day. Tell us what you saw when you first came into the house. Was anyone here?"
"No, it was empty. At least I thought it was, I called out to my father, but he didn't answer me."
"What did you do?" Jarrod questioned.
"I thought maybe he was out back and couldn't hear me. First I took off the gun holster. Papa hates it when he sees me with it, he gets so angry at me!"
"Does he hit you because of it?" growls Nick angrily.
Jarrod shushes him, "NOT NOW NICK! Go on Laura, tell me what else happened, What did you do when you put the gun down?"
"I went to the kitchen; that's where I found him, he was tied to a chair. I was terrified, I could hardly move. I was going to untie him, but he stopped me!"
"Who stopped you?" She begins to shiver, Jarrod moves closer, holding her hands in his.
"Johnny, he was there hiding in the kitchen, his gun pointed at both of us."
"Did he threatened you?"
"No, he threatened my father, he said he was going kill him if I didn't do what he wanted."
"Then it was this man who killed your father?" She shakes her head, no.
" No. ...It was me...I killed him!" Nick shakes his head in disabelief.
"No Laura, you couldn't have done it! That's not possible! Something else happened!"
Jarrod knelt down, her hands still in his. "Tell me what he did to you! Please Laura! Tell me!"
Nick turned away from them, his anger at his brother having reached a boiling point. He leaned his left arm on the mantle with his right hand still on his hip. Refusing to watch his brother with her any longer. It takes every fiber of his being to not knock his brother into the middle of next week, for keeping this from him. Nick's thoughts are interrupted by Laura's voice; he listens intently, angling his head, but still not watching the them.
"I tried to stop him, but he just laughed at me. I had the gun in my hand! I couldn't shoot it!
I couldn't stop him! He had his gun aimed at my father, but I couldn't stop him, so instead I
begged him, I begged him not to kill Papa, I begged him!" Her terrified voice tore at Nick's heart.
"Go on Laura," Jarrod urges, as he squeezes her hand for encouragement. Nick had all he could take, he turned to his brother, "Why don't you leave her the hell alone! Haven't you put her through enough?!"
Jarrod jumps up from his kneeling position on the floor and faces Nick with equal rage.
"I 'm trying to save her from a noose! Now it's too bad your ego is hurt, but I don't have time to deal with you, so if you can't help then stay the hell out of my way!" Jarrod turns back to Laura and sits by her on the settee, taking her hands in his again. Nick seats himself in a chair and waits, fear for his fiance crosses his mind as he watches his brother talk to her.
"Honey? Laura, I'm going to ask you again, what did Johnny do, can you tell me exactly what happened? You were here in the parlor with your father and Johnny..."
"He had his arms around me, he was choking me, forcing me to watch my father, I had the gun in my hand and he made me......"
Nick jumped up from the chair and started pacing the floor, listening ...
"...he made me aim the gun at my father. His hand was on mine. He said he was going to teach me how to kill... he forced me to kill him, I killed my father!! ...Johnny laughed, he kept laughing at me! I never hated anyone as much as I hated him...I tried to stop the bleeding, but the blood was eveywhere. When I realized what I had done! ...I looked for the gun but, he took it away...† I wanted to kill him! OH how I wanted to kill him! Please God! Let me kill him!" She hid her eyes in her hands.
"He forced you to pull the trigger! You didn't kill your father, Johnny Ray did!" explains Jarrod.
Laura shakes her head crying, Jarrod comforted her with a hug. "Laura, we need to go into Stockton and speak to the Sheriff. Do you think you can do that?"
Nick stops his pacing, his fists on his hips again as he stared in disbelief at Jarrod. "Haven't you put her through enough! My God man!" Jarrod quickly stood to face Nick again.
"The judge is coming for the inquest next week, just how shall I defend her then?! She's the prime suspect in her father's murder!"
"That's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of! Who would believe that?!"
"If you don't mind I rather save my arguements for the inquest!"
"Fine! You do that! But let me tell you; you owe me an explanation about all of this...."
"And you'll get it! Once we get Laura out of this mess! Now, are you with me?"
"Good. Laura are you ready?"
Nick walked ahead and opened the door for them, Jarrod had his arms around her as they walked out of her father's house.
Some time later Jarrod, Laura and Nick found themselves in front of the Sheriff's office. Jarrod opened the door for her, and he whispered his lawyerly advice quietly. "Now, just let me do the talking, Laura."
She boldly walked up to the Sheriff's desk.
"Miss Thomas, Jarrod, Nick....... What can I do for you?" The Sheriff stood as they entered the room.
"Sheriff, I killed my father." She announced as she held back her tears.
" LAURA!" Jarrod yelled horrified, his eyes widen in shock.
"What did you say?!" Said the sheriff just as horrified.
"Sheriff, Miss Thomas didn't mean to say that. She meant to say that she knows who killed her father!" Jarrod quickly regains his composure.
"Oh well, that's different, then you finally remember what happened that day Miss Thomas?"
asks Fred Madden somewhat relieved, his hand on his chest as if he was about to have a heart attack.
"Yes, I do, I did it!" She stood firmly holding on to the sheriff's desk to steady herself. Nick shook his head is disbelief as he witnessed the scene before him.
"LAURA! It's not true, Fred, really please!" Jarrod turns to Laura, his teeth clenched. "NOT ANOTHER WORD!" Jarrod warns her then turns back to Fred, smiling, "As you can see Sheriff my client is visibly upset. She doesn't realize what she's saying. Which is why she should be QUIET! And let me do the talking!" He returned a steely warning gaze towards her.
"Is she your client Jarrod?" Wondered the confused sheriff.
"Yes." He answered rigidly.
"No," She corrected him.
"YES! .....Laura please!" Jarrod pleaded with the stubborn woman. Nick stood watching and listening, arms folded. His head shaking at the scene before him; slightly amused that it is his older brother who was experiencing for himself Laura's talent for exasperating even the most stoic of men.
"Miss Thomas are you confessing to your father's murder?" The sheriff eyed her cautiously.
"Laura... I'm begging you, please!" Jarrod pleaded, his hands on her shoulders.
"Well, I didn't really... I mean... I did , but I.." She stuttered.
"There! You see Sheriff. She's confused! She's an hysterical woman! She doesn't know what
she's saying!" Jarrod waves his hands in the air.
"I beg your pardon! I am NOT an hysterical woman!" She said indignantly, her teeth clenched as she gave Jarrod a warning glare back. Finally in desperation, Jarrod turned to Nick, who's still quietly witnessing his brother's debacle.
"Nick! Do something!" Jarrod pleaded. Nick moves over to Laura.
"Consider it done!" He said calmly as he grabbed Laura's arm and threw her over his shoulder.
"Nick! Put me down! NICK! " She screamed at him, kicking her feet in the air. Nick straightens the hat on his head.
"You'll know where I'll be."
"Fine, see you later," Jarrod said relieved, as he wiped his brow with a hankerchief pulled from his breast pocket.
Townpeople watch as Nick Barkley strides across the street
with Laura over his shoulder, yelling at his every step.
"Where are you taking me?! Put me down this instant! Nick Barkley! Put me down or else!"
"Quiet, you're making a scene!" He hollers.
"I"M MAKING A SCENE?!" The sound of spurs jinkle as Nick bounds into the Stockton saloon with his burden. The men standing at the bar glance over their shoulders as they watch Nick plop her down in a chair near the wall of the saloon.
"Have a seat." Nick sat beside her at the table. Laura looked around disgusted at the sight before her.
"You brought me to a saloon?! WHY?!"
"If you make a scene here no one's going to take much notice."
"You could have least taken me to the Cattlemen's Club."
"They don't like hysterical women there."
"I am NOT..." She is interrupted by a buxon saloon waitress, with platnium hair.
"What's the matter Nick, the women here ain't good enough for ya anymore; ya gotta bring your own?"
"Not at all Belle," he said smiling. "This is my fiance, Laura Thomas,....this is Belle Blakeson."
"Hello," Greeted Laura, not looking at the woman.
"Fiance huh? Lucky girl. Nick's quite a catch."
"Is he?" She said icily, crossing her arms tightly in front of her.
"Why thank you Belle, that's mighty nice of you," He smiled.
"And I'm in a position to know." The saloon waitress winked at Nick, he warily watched Laura's face from the corner of his eye.
"Why don't you bring us a bottle of your finest whiskey and two glasses, Belle."
"What ever you want Nick, you know that!" Belle smiles as she slinks away. Laura stared at Nick, her eyes boring into him like daggers.
"What?" Nick says defensively.
"What did she mean by that?" Laura asked suspiciously, her eyes squinting.
"...no idea," He shook his head, focusing on a wet ring on the table.
"Who is she to you?" Nick continued to stare at the ring on the table, taking his time, thinking of an answer.
"An old friend of the family, she knew my father."
"Hmmph, I bet she did!" She turned away from him. Nick leaned back on his chair by the wall, stretched his long legs out, crossing them at the ankles, and slid his hat over his eyes, signalling that he didn't want to talk anymore. Laura doesn't moved from her sit up straight position.
"I cannot believe that you would bring me to this dirty, smelly place! It smells like stale cigars and cheap perfume!" Laura fumed at him. Nick slowly rose from his leaning position, cocked his hat back off his head, and laid his elbows on the table, staring at her. She looked back at him angrily. Nick clenched his teeth.
"A women's prison smells a lot worse! And if you kept up your damn yakking in the Sheriff's office, you were well on your way there! So stop your damn yakking!"
Before she had a chance to answer back, Belle banged the whiskey bottle and two glasses down on the table, startling her.
"Here you go Nick honey."
"Thank you Belle," He smiled relieved, "You're an angel of mercy." He grabbed the bottle, pulled out the cork and started pouring the drinks. Belle stood staring at them, with her hand on her hip, the other holding a tray.
"You know Clara..."
"Yeah well, just to let you know....LAURA....Nick is quite a handful for a woman if you know what I mean."
Nick pulled his hat down over his eyes and sipped his drink leaning over the table. He watches his fiance from the corner of his eye, noticing her reaching a boiling point. Nick cleared his throat... Laura's eyes bore into the woman like a knife...
"Don't you have a cowboy upstairs waiting for you?!" Laura spits out. Nick's eyes dart from one woman to the other wondering who's going to hit who first! Belle stands firm staring right back at Laura.
"Just so you know Missy! If you find he's too much of a man for you, you can ask me! I know what Nick likes!"
"WHY YOU MISERABLE FAT WHOR...!" Nick quickly slapped his hand over Laura's mouth before another word got out.
"Thanks for the drink, Belle. Thanks." Nick pleaded with his eyes for her to leave them.
Belle glared at them both then leaves, swinging her hips with each step.
"OWWW!" Nick yells, shaking the pain away from his hand.
"You bit me! What the hell did you do that for?!"
"She's got some nerve talking to me like that! And YOU let her!" Her hands flew to her her hips.
"What you said to her wasn't much better! Asking her if she had some cowboy waiting!"
"Well, doesn't she?! It seems to be her stock in trade!"
"How would I know?!....Drink up!" Nick pushed a filled glass of whiskey over to her.
"That glass probably hasn't been washed since the war!"
"Alcohol cleans everything. Drink!" She took the glass and drank it down in one gulp, suddenly she began gasping for air. Nick hits her on the back.
"Are you all right? You shouldn't drink that fast!" She pushed his arm away.
"Stop hitting me, you're making it worse!" She coughs a hacking choke a few times. Belle saunters over to the table, her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face.
"You need water there Missy?"
"GO AWAY!" Laura barks at her.
"Suit yourself....Choke for all I care!" Belle walked away from them, Nick shakes his head.
"Just drink slower next time." Nick sighed, thankful that another confrontation between the two women had been averted.
"I don't like her!" Laura pours herself a drink.
"Really, and I thought you were really getting along so well there for awhile," He said sarcastically.
An hour later Jarrod joined them at the saloon. He sat beside Laura.
"Belle, another glass for my brother," orders Nick. She nods to him as she crosses the room.
"Sure Nick. How's it going Jarrod?" Belle asked as she placed a glass before the dark haired lawyer.
"Oh, not bad Belle, thanks for asking, how are things with you?"
"I've had better days, of course we had better customers in here too!" She motions over to Laura, who is leaning her head on her hand, drinking another glass. Laura scowls as she sticks her tongue out at Belle.
"I see.., What did you do to her?" Jarrod questioned his brother.
"I didn't do anything to her, she did it to herself! She's got a hollow leg!" Nick defended himself.
"Really?!" said Jarrod, his eyesbrows arched.
"So, tell me what happened at the sheriff's office?"
"It took a lot of talking on my part."
"Well, you're good at that," Nick said icily. Jarrod chose to ignore the remark.
"Yes, fortunately. I got him to put Laura in my custody until the Inquest. Which means she can't leave the ranch." He jerked his thumb at her.
"Well, that shouldn't be a problem," Nick folded his arms leaning over the table.
"After a day like this I have my doubts about that!" Jarrod replied, wearily. Nick grabs the bottle and pours more whiskey in Jarrod's glass, then another shot for himself.
"Hey..What about me? Come on..." Laura held up her shot glass.
"Forget it, you've had enough!" Nick admonished her.
Laura drunkedly looks at Jarrod, "He's so mean to me... HEY, HI JARROD, when did you get here Honey?!" She jerks her head over towards Nick, still leaning on her hand. "You see, my lawyer's here, now you'll get it! Go get him Jarrod!" She hiccups, "Ooh, excuse me..."
"Ah huh," Answered Nick, ignoring her drunken threat as he took another swig of his drink.
"How are we going to explain her condition to Mother?" Jarrod pointed his thumb in Laura's direction.
"We're not, you are! She's in your custody big brother, which means she's your problem!" Nick took another gulp.
"Only for a short time, when you marry her, she becomes your problem!" Jarrod pointed an angry finger at Nick.
"Well, I'll tell ya one thing, no wife of mine is going to sit drinking in no saloon!"
"You brought her here! ...When I think of the sweet young thing who stepped off that train that day we first met, and now after a few months with YOU, she getting drunk in saloons!"
"Well, at least I stopped her from getting into a barroom brawl!"
"Oh God, I don't even want to hear the rest of this, let's get her home!" Jarrod takes Laura's arm, "Come on Laura, lets go home, get up."
Laura stood up tall and straight, not wavering one bit in her stance. Nick and Jarrod stood on either side of her and looked at eachother.
"I'm impressed!" Said Jarrod, with a wink to his brother.
"Irish." Nick informed him.
"Oh yes, that's right." Laura turned to face Jarrod.
"I'm Jarrod, that's Nick," He pointed to Nick.
"Thank you, you are so kind," She smiled at Jarrod then turned toward Nick.
"Nick. ...I think I forgot how to walk."
"No problem, I carried you in here I can carry you out, just don't get sick on me!" Nick grabs her arm and slings her over his shoulder. He heads out with Jarrod following close behind.
Laura put her head up and smiled at Belle who stood across the saloon.
"HEY YOU..., BELLE! EAT YOUR HEART OUT!" Laura laughs all the way out of the saloon.
"SHUT UP!" Nick yelled with a slight slap to her backside.
"You my brother have got your hands full with this woman!" Jarrod warned as he slapped him in the back Nick looked back at Jarrod smiling, as they walk out. "WHEW! Don't I know it!" Nick agrees with a wink.
The next day Laura woke up to a gentle rapping on the door. She sat up in bed, holding her head with both hands.
"Oh please, don't bang like that!"
"Miss Laura, it's Silas, with your coffee Miss."
"Oh Silas, bless you," She struggled to get out of bed and pulled her robe on, then she stumbled to the door. Silas is surprised at her appearance, hair disshoveled, and her eyes half closed and swollen.
"Oh Miss, are you ill?" Silas inquires concerned.
"Please Silas, don't shout, I beg you. Thank you for the coffee," She said in a gravelly voice and began to close the door, after taking the large coffee cup from his hand.
"Miss Laura, Mr. Jarrod wants to see ya in the library after breakfast."
"I think I am skipping breakfast Silas, in fact I am just going to skip the whole day, you tell Mr. Jarrod I'll see him tomorrow. Bye."
Downstairs, Silas walked in the dining room, and began serving breakfast.
"Silas, please don't serve breakfast until Laura gets here," orders Victoria.
"I just spoke to Miss Laura, she said she was skipping breakfast and the rest of the day to boot! Said to tell ya Mr. Jarrod she 'll see ya tomorrow."
"Tomorrow! Really?!" quipped Jarrod. Nick chuckled to himself.
"Just what is going on with you two?"
"I know what's going on Mother, the pair of them got Laura drunk! They woke me up in the middle of the night! I had to undress her! My God Mother, I 've never seen anyone so drunk, it was awful!" Audra complained bitterly.
"You woke your sister up in the middle of the night for that?!" Victoria chided her middle son.
"I had to, Laura gets angry if I undress her!" Nick grinned as he ate breakfast.
"Nicholas! Just what went on here, while I was sleeping?"
"Well, we didn't want to disturb you Mother, you need your rest after all," chimed in Jarrod.
"I want to know just what is going on here!" She asked her sons again.
"Well, the good news is that Laura has fully recovered her memory." Jarrod happily reported.
"So, you got her drunk to celebrate?!" Nick chuckles at his mother's comment.
"That wasn't meant to be funny Nicholas!" She said sternly.
"Yes ma'am," he hid his smile under a napkin brought to his mouth.
"It's really a long story Mother, suffice it to say, the sheriff put Laura into my custody until there is an Inquest into her father's murder."
"Why custody? What happened? Do you know who killed Carson Thomas?"
"Yes Mother. Carson was killed by a gunslinger named Johnny Ray from Tucson."
"From Tucson, that's where the Thomas family is originally from. Did Carson know this man?"
"Yes Mother, I'm afraid he did. This man was sort an old acquaintance of Laura's; they grew up together."
"A gunslinger?!" Victoria raised her eyebrows.
"Well, he wasn't a gunslinger then, he sort of grew up to be one. He was kind of tough boy, you know the kind, and after Carson's wife died, he felt his daughter was becoming too close to the boy, so he moved away, putting Laura in that school in 'Frisco." Jarrod completed his defense.
"Then this Johnny you talked about must be Laura's old boyfriend from Arizona. The one who taught her how to ride and shoot!" Realized Audra.
Nick furrowed his brow, "And just how did you come to know this?!"
"Laura told me all about him."
"She told you about that low life! When?!" Nick's anger rising.
"When she first came here of course. You remember Mother when you asked me to go over the Thomas Ranch and introduce myself, when I got there I heard gun shots in back of the house, I found Laura having a target practice with her gun."
Victoria, Jarrod and Nick said in unison: "Target practice!"
"You knew about this all along, and you didn't tell us?" Victoria admonished her daughter.
"Laura swore me to secrecy, but since you all know about it now, I suppose there's no need to keep it a secret any longer," Audra said.
"Jarrod knows about this man, now I find out you know about this man, and I'm kept in the dark about all of this! I only find out about this bastard when he almost kills her!"
"NICHOLAS PLEASE! You're language!"
Nick stood up from his seat, angrily throwing his napkin down on the table. "I'll be damned if I will ever let her keep secrets from me again! NOT IF SHE WANTS TO BE MY WIFE!!"
"Nickolas please, don't bother her now, she's sick!" Victoria tried to stop him by catching his hand.
"She's going to wish she was more than sick when I get though with her! WOMEN, YOU CAN'T LIVE WITH 'EM AND YOU CAN'T SHOOT 'EM!" Nick stormed out of the dining room.
The Barkleys hear the sound of Nick's boots bounding up the staircase. He stood in front of Laura's door and pounded on it with his fist, three times. "Laura, open this damn door!"
Laura stood by the bed, holding her head with both hands, "Oh please God, anyone but Nick, my head can't take his voice. Please God, make him go away!" She stumbled over to the bedroom door and quickly locked it.
"Go away Nick, please.." She begged him, almost in tears from the pain in her head.
"Did I hear you lock this damn door?!"
Laura whispered as she leaned her face on the wood of the door, "Yes, please go away Nick, I'm begging you."
"OPEN ...THIS ...DAMN... DOOR!"
He growled as he banged his fist four times with each word on the door. It rattled on it's hinges. Laura feels each pound in her head and slides down on the floor in a heap.
"Please God, let me die..." She crawled to the bed, and knelt by it, her hands in prayer as she looked up. "Please God, make him stop, I promise I will never drink anything stronger than coffee again."
Nick bellowed, "OPEN IT NOW!" as he kicked open the door with his boot. The door screamed off it's hinges, wood splinters flying into the air.
"Fine God, you made your choice!..." Laura covered her head with her hands protecting it from the flying woodchips.
What the hell are you doing on the floor?!" He
"Wasting a perfectly good prayer...," she brings her head up to look at him.
"Do you want to marry me?!"
"NO , NOT NOW!"
"Good," she replied, wearily.
"Would you get up off the damn floor when I'm talking to you!" he grabbed her roughly by the arm and forcefully pulled her up.
"Please, if you must talk, don't shout."
"I'm not shouting!"
"Oh please God, no..." She cries, holding her head with both hands. She noticed the coffee cup Silas gave her on the table, she quickly moved toward it, gulped it down, and sighed contently.
"Do you think you could ask Silas to get me another cup of coffee?"
"I didn't come here to serve you coffee!"
"That's too bad, I could really use one more. What do you want Nick, I'm really not feeling well."
"I want to know just how many secrets are you keeping from me!"
"What secrets? I'm not keeping any secrets from you."
"Really, then what do you call that Johnny Ray character!"
"Oh him... he wasn't important for you to know him, he was just a childhood friend."
"LAURA, HE KILLED YOU FATHER!"
"Please don't shout anymore, I'm begging you, at least not until I have another coffee." Nick bounded over to the bedroom door still hanging off it's hinges, he climbed over the mess he made and stood at the doorway, bellowing,
"SILAS! GET MORE COFFEE!"
"Thank you, even if you did have to shout for it." She sat on the settee. Nick moved into the room again standing over her.
"Tell me something! How are we going to have any kind of marriage if you are going to keep secrets from me?! Just how many men do you have in your life?! Are you attracted to dangerous men?!"
"Lately, it seems to be just very LOUD, dangerous men," She answered him back.
"Never mind! I want the truth from you!"
"I'll tell you anything if you don't shout." Silas climbed over the broken door struggling to get into the bedroom.
"Excuse me, Miss Laura, I have coffee for ya. ...Mr. Nick, I sure do hope ya 'll fix that." He hands her the coffee cup.
"Bless you Silas," She gratefully took a generous sip of the hot mixture.
"Oh and I brought this for ya; Mrs. Barkley thought you might need it." Silas gave her a large tin basin.
"Thank Mrs. Barkley for me, hopefully I won't need it."
"Yes Miss, you keep it just same."
"Silas, do you mind!" Nick raised his voice impatiently. He motioned for him to leave.
"Yes'm Mister Nick, ya' ll fix..."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll fix the DAMN DOOR!" He waved Silas out of the room.
Nick watched as she sipped more of her coffee, "Better?"
"Yes. Now what did you want to know?" She sits herself on a chair near a small table.
"I want to know how many secrets you've kept from me. Just how many gunslingers do you know? Any bank robbers?! Thieves?! Pirates?!"
"That's an insult! Just what kind of a person do you think I am?" She rose again from the chair, still holding her coffee cup.
"Well, I damn well want to find out before I ask you to become the mother of my children!"
"I spent 12 miserable years in all girl school, just how many men do you think I knew there?!"
"That's what I want to know!" He bellowed back his answer.
"There were no men there! That's what an all girl school means! You big..." Her voice trailed off.
"I see the coffee works wonders, you're starting to sound like the woman I know!"
"You don't know me very well if you think I've had many men in my life!"
"Very well, let's count 'em?!" Nick put his hand out to count.
"There's the gunslinger! Who else?!"
"Well, after the gunslinger there was one more, the LOUD MOUTH COWBOY, let's not forget him!" she placed the cup back on the table and folded her arms across her chest.
"Very funny!" He spits out angrily.
She closed her eyes, and raised her hands to rub her forehead, "Please, what do you want from me?"
"I want to know why both Jarrod and Audra know about the men in your life and I don't!"
"What men in my life? The only men I have in my life are you, Jarrod and Heath, and Silas if you want to count him! He's such a dear giving me coffee every morning."
"How come I didn't know about this Ray fellow!"
"He wasn't important for you to know. He was nothing to me, a school girl crush, that's all! There has never been any man in my life except you!"
"Now, you don't expect me to believe that!"
"Well, of course I've had dates with various men in San Francisco; but no one special, they were just men who came to the dances. The school hosted many dances. Every week there was a dance, it was all part of the school training in the social graces."
"Still, you should have told me about him!" Nick insisted.
"Why?!" She said exasperated.
"So I could have been prepared to protect you!" The man tried to kill you!"
"He wouldn't have done that!" She turned away from him, so he won't see the fearful doubt on her face.
"You didn't see what I saw when I walked into your father's house. He left you for dead! When I saw you there, all covered with blood....I thought you were dead! Do you know how I felt?! Don't you even realize what that did to me?!"
She sat back down on a chair, rubbing her head, "I'm sorry Nick."
"I'm sorry Nick.. that's the best you can do?!"
"I promise, I'll never keep a secret from you again."
"You're right, you're not! The wedding 's off!"
She quickly rose up from the chair, "You're going to call our wedding off because of some school girl crush I had years ago that I didn't tell you about?!"
"You know it's more than that!" Nick clenched his teeth at her, then turned to leave.
"Okay Mister No Secrets, tell me about Belle?! The TRUTH!" she planted her hands firmly on her hips.
Nick turned back, her voice stopping him dead in his tracks. "Huh?"
"Belle, the saloon whore you introduced me to yesterday...What was her name? Belle Blackheart?"
"Blakeson. And don't call her that!" He defended the saloon hostess.
"Ah...yes of course, Blakesen!"
"What about her?" Nick said innocently.
"You tell me! What about her?!"
"I told you she's an old family friend." Nick tried to sound nonchalant.
"Seems to know a lot about you! What did she call you, oh yes, quite a catch!" Nick smiled a sickly smile, and swallowed some bile coming up from his stomach.
"What else did she say about you....hmmm, let me think, ... HANDFULL, I think she said. What do you suppose she was referring to?!"
"Well..." Nick grinned. Laura walked over to Nick whispering in his ear.
"I know what Nick likes... Remember that? 'Mister Quite A Catch'!? "
"Men don't talk about such things to ladies." He chided her.
"I didn't think you would remember that, you were drunk after all."
"Obviously, not drunk enough!" She shouted.
"Okay, All right! We're even!"
"Are we even? Do you really think so?" She walked around the back of him.
"What are you getting at?" Nick watched her from the corner of his eye. "OKAY, OKAY, so I sowed a few wild oats in my time! You don't expect a man to be, well, ...you know..."
"Why not? You expect a woman to be...well, ...you know...!" she imitated his inflection.
"Men are built differently then women," Nick excused the analogy.
"And who would know that better than Nick 'HANDFULL' Barkley!" Nick gave a long sigh.
"Okay, I'm sorry, the wedding is back on, I didn't really mean it you know, I was angry, you understand that don't you?"
"Well, let's count them, shall we?"
"Count what?" Nick wondered, a sickening look on his face.
Laura put her hand out to count, "Let's see, there's Belle, the saloon trollop."
"Don't call her that! She's a friend of mine!"
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought she was a friend of your daddy's?"
"Any other trollops I should know about?"
"I don't want to discuss this with you!"
"Just how many women have you bedded Nick Barkley?! TELL ME THAT! You want honest, let's be honest! I"ll tell you how many men I went to bed with, if you tell me all the women you when to bed with."
"WHAT MEN?! Any man touches you I'LL KILL HIM!" Nick grabbed her by her arms and pulled her toward him.
"There's never been any man in my life but you Nick Barkley!" (her voice softened).."I wanted you the first time I laid eyes on you. Remember? You and Heath, fixing those fences, on that hot spring day. The day I arrived from San Francisco on the train. My heart was yours, from that day, there's never been anyone else for me, not for a second."
"Marry me, and I promise you I'll never look at another woman again. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, til death do we part. I want the last thing I hear before I die is you whispering my name."
"Nick.." She said tearfully. They kiss passionately.
The next morning Laura joined them all for breakfast in
what was an eventful day. Nick and Laura come in the dining room together,
holding hands. Everyone greeted them with smiles on their faces.
"Good morning Family."
"Good morning" is said in unison. Nick pulled a chair out for Laura.
"Thank you dear." She said sweetly.
"My pleasure Sweetheart." Nick smiled as he kisses her cheek.
"I think I'll pass on the sugar this morning." gripes Heath mockingly. Nick gives Heath an impatient look.
"We have an announcement to make," says Nick.
"My goodness whatever could that be?" Mrs. Barkley feigned surprise.
"Pray, do tell us Nick, what is your big announcement?!" Audra teased her brother.
"Alright, alright! That's enough! My Laura and I have set the date for the wedding!"
"You mean another one?" Heath smirks.
"Okay, so it was postpone a few times!" Nick gripped.
"A few?! We were beginning to think it would never happen!" chimed in Audra.
"Do you want to hear this, or what?"
"I hope you'll give us some time to have our dresses fitted."
"Oh I sure we'll have enough time, I did think about that and..." Laura assured her.
Nick cleared his throat very loudly as he gave Laura a sideways glance, "AHEM!!"
"Oh, excuse me..sorry," said Laura, biting her lip in embarrassment.
She covered her mouth with a napkin trying to hide a smile. Nick watched her with mock annoyance. Then she motioned with her hand for him to get on with the announcement.
"I'm getting to it! We set the date for Sunday."
"This Sunday?" cries Victoria.
"That's wonderful!" smiles Audra.
"We'll have a lot to do, but we can do it," comments Victoria.
Everyone started talking at once about the plans for the wedding and who was going to be invited and what type of food was going to be served when Nick glanced over at Jarrod who hadn't said a word the whole time except good morning.
"Yeah?" said Nick, expecting Jarrod to answer.
"Well, Sunday is fine if you want to get married, but you'll have to postpone the honeymoon."
"WHY?" Nick's voice rose an octave.
"Unless of course you want me to come along on the honeymoon."
"We love you Jarrod, but not that much!" added Nick.
"Why Jarrod?" asked Laura, trying to quell Nick's impatience, with her hand on his arm.
"Because Laura, the Inquest is not until next week, it was postponed when the circuit judge had to fill in for Judge Needham in Modesto, remember?"
"Yes," she answered.
"So until then, you are still in my custody which means you can't go anywhere without me."
"OH this is a fine how do you do!" Nick stood up from his chair.
"Nick, please," Laura tried to stop him.
"It's a fine thing! A man can't take his bride on a honeymoon, without her lawyer!" Laura tried to stifle a laugh. Heath choked on his coffee muffling a laugh. Jarrod wiped a smile off his face with his napkin. Nick started pacing the dining room floor.
"Just Great! Do you believe This!" Nick began his rant.
"Nick please," Laura begged him.
"All because of some stupid judge, in some little town, thirty miles from here, had to have his nose wiped!"
"Nick please, sit down," Laura begged him again.
"If this isn't the stupidest way to have a..."
"NICK SIT!" Victoria ordered. Nick quickly took his seat again next to his intended. Laura stared at Victoria in admiration.
"How did you do that?!" Laura smiled.
"Years of practice, you'll get the hang of it." Victoria promised her future daughter in law.
"Now, we will just have to postpone it until the following Sunday. Alright?" Victoria decided.
"Fine," said the bride. Nick grunted. They all try to hide their smiles.
Later that afternoon, Jarrod and Laura are in the library discussing what the Inquest will entail. Laura sat on a leather chair impatiently listening to her lawyer. "Now an Inquest is not like a trial. Have you ever seen a trial?"
"No, I haven't, but I promise to see one of yours one day," she smiled sweetly.
"Thank you, I will try to do my best when you do. Now, as I was saying, it's not like a trial, both the prosecutor and the judge may ask you questions," He leaned on his desk, his legs crossed at the ankles, and arms folded.
"Questions? What am I suppose to say to them? What if I'm too nervous to speak?"
"You; too nervous to speak?! Somehow I doubt that will happen."
"Now, what's that suppose to mean Jarrod Barkley?!" She stood up from the chair, her fists on her hips. Jarrod smiled teasingly.
"You, my dear future sister-in-law has never been one to be at a loss for words."
"You're very amusing Mr. Barkley, I hope you'll be able to amuse the judge in my favor with your wit!"
"Well, I will most certainly try, Miss Thomas," he grinned, his blue eyes sparkling. Laura smiled back as she headed toward the library door.
"Well, if we are finished here, I really have a lot to do today," She opened the door.
"We're finished, I can fill you in on the day of the Inquest more thoroughly. What are you doing today? More wedding plans?"
"Yes actually, Audra and I are going into town for a final fitting."
"In town? I'm afraid you can't do that," He straightened himself up from the desk he was leaning on.
"Of course I can," she stood with the door opened in her hand.
"No, you can't," Jarrod said firmly, his arms crossed in front of him.
"What do you mean I can't?" she put her hands on her hips again, eyeing him defiantly.
"You can't leave this ranch, I thought you understood that?"
"What do you mean I can't leave this ranch?" Her voice rising.
"You are under my custody until that Inquest, remember, that's why you postponed the wedding." Jarrod informed her.
"You were the one who postponed the wedding!" She pointed to him with her finger.
"Actually it was the honeymoon that was postponed, to be more specfic and Nick postponed that."
"How am I to have my final fitting? Audra and I made plans to have it done today." She closed the library door again.
"Audra can go into town if she wants and have a final fitting, but you can't, not yet," Jarrod said very firmly.
"How am I going to have the dress ready in time, if I can't go for my final fitting?!"
"Well, here's a novel idea, bring the dress and the dressmaker here!" Jarrod said as if it was his final summation to a jury, with one hand on his hip and his other with a finger waving in the air.
"NO!" Laura protested.
"What do you mean NO?! Why not?!"
Meanwhile, Nick and Heath have arrived home for lunch. Heath stopped in front of the library door, and cocked his ear to it when he heard angry voices.
"We can go check on the vineyards after lunch, we'll get Ciego to send..." Nick says as he throws his hat on the table after following Heath in. Nick is surprised to find Heath with his ear to the library door.
"What in Sam Hill are ya doing there boy?"
"Listen, shh..." Heath whispers to him as he points to the door. Nick puts his ear to the door.
"What?" he says, Heath shushes him again. Nick smiles, as he whispers, "That's Laura.. She's quarreling with Jarrod."
"I know....who'daya think is gonna win?" Heath smiled.
"Ten dollars on Laura," bets Nick with a sly glint in his eye.
"I don't know, Jarrod pretty good arguing court cases."
"He's an amateur where my Laura is concerned," Nick whispered proudly.
"I don't know..." doubted Heath.
"It 'll cost ya ten dollars to find out, put yer money where your mouth is little brother." Nick said, relishing a win against his brother.
"You're on," Heath shakes Nick's hand.
"Let's go in. Nick says as he slaps Heath's shoulder.
"We really shouldn't interrupt them," said a concerned Heath.
"Nonense, how are we going to find out who won, if we don't see the fight!? Come on." Nick opened the door to the library.
"Nick, I'm glad you're here. Please talk some sense into your fiance."
"What do you want me to say?" Nick asked innocently.
"Tell her to listen to me!" Nick saunters over to Laura, "Listen to Jarrod."
"NO!" She yelled. Nick threw his hands up in the air, "I tried."
"That's the best you can do?!" complained Jarrod.
"What do you want from me?" shrugged Nick, trying to stifle a laugh.
Jarrod sighed, "I am trying to explain to your intended here, that she can NOT leave the ranch because she's still under my custody."
"Don't talk like I'm not in the room! That's rude!" Laura admonished Jarrod.
"I apologize, I was just informing my brother of your stubbornest!" Jarrod blirted.
"There's no need for that!" Laura chided him.
"That's right, I am well aware of her stubbornest!" Nick smiled.
"NICK, you're not helping!" She complained. Nick smiled and Heath shook his head.
"Sorry, sweetheart. What do you need me to do?"
"Tell Jarrod that I need to go into town for my final fitting," She jerked her thumb in Jarrod's direction.
"She can have the dressmaker come out to the ranch!" Jarrod argued, pointing a finger at her.
Nick and Heath watch the two of them volley arguements, turning heads to and fro, "Make that twenty," Heath whispered to Nick. "You're on," Nick smiled, showing a dimpled cheek.
Jarrod and Laura stop arguing and look at Nick. "Well?" They both waited for an answer.
"What?" Nick came to attention, not really listening to their arguement.
'Who's right?" Laura asked him.
"You are," Nick grinned at his fiance.
"She can get arrested without me to protect her!" Jarrod informed his brother.
"Jarrod's right about that too," Nick adds wagging his finger.
"Oh you're no help!" She says as she walks away from the two of them, towards the windows.
"That's the first thing you said that we can BOTH agree on!" argued Jarrod, then he looked at Heath.
"Well, what's your opinion?"
"Whatever Nick says," Heath replied.
"Why does that NOT surprise me?!" Jarrod shakes his head in exasperation. Heath shrugged his shoulders.
"Hey Jarrod?" asks Heath.
"Why don't you deputize Audra then Laura can go to Stockton with her?" Nick and Laura laugh at Heath's humor, Jarrod scowled at him.
"I'm glad you all think this is funny! You won't think it's so funny when the Sheriff arrests you!"
"On what charge, getting a wedding gown fitted?" Laura adds to the quarrel.
"You'll be getting fitted for prison stripes instead!"
"Oh come on now Jarrod, you're being overly dramatic, Fred's not going to arrest Laura if she goes into Stockton.....It's not like she's a threat to anyone," Nick reasoned.
"Alright fine, you want to be her Hero, then you can go with her to Stockton!" replies Jarrod.
"I'm not going to sit around some ladies dress shop, like some fool!"
"Nick is not going! I don't want him to see my dress before the wedding!"
"There you see, I can't go! I'm the bridegroom after all. Why don't you go? You're the one who's responsible for her! You go lawyer man!"
"I can't go, I have other things I have to attend to! I don't see why the dressmaker can't come here to the house. After all, we pay her enough!"
"I am paying for my own dress I will have you know!"
"I wasn't talking about you and your dress!" Jarrod rubbed his forehead in frustration, and paced the floor.
"Fine, fine, you win...no more, I've had enough! Go into Stockton and do what you have to do. I just thank God you are not an attorney!"
"You mean I can go to Stockton?" Laura smiled at her lawyer.
"Sure, why not, go ahead. But let me tell you this much young lady!..." Jarrod wagged his finger like an uncle. "If you get caught, and you get arrested, I can't bail you out! You will have to stay there until the circuit judge comes Thursday. Do you understand? No bail, if you break a custody agreement!"
"I won't get caught, no one will even notice I am there! Thank you Jarrod!" She hugs and kisses him. Nick smiles and makes a 'gimme hand motion' to Heath. Heath reluctantly pulls a twenty dollar bill out of his vest pocket.
"I won't be bettin' against her again anytime soon!" Heath grumbled.
"What did I tell ya, do I know my woman, or what? Come on, lets go have lunch."