by Karen Shannon

"DADDY!" she all but screamed as she threw her little arms around Buck’s neck. Stunned, Buck pulled away and stood up. He stood staring at Jo in disbelief. He cut his eyes over toward Vin. "I don’t know what kinda game you're playing, but this ain’t funny." Then he stormed off across the street to the saloon. Jo just stood there with tears in her eyes.

Vin watched as Buck stormed off and then looked at Ezra who shrugged his shoulders. Finally, Vin crossed the street and entered the saloon. He walked up to Buck, grabbed him by his arm, spun him around and punched him in the jaw. The punch knocked Buck back against the bar.

Coming up, Buck almost returned the punch, but as he rubbed his jaw, he looked at Vin, "Daddy?" "Yep, she’s got a letter for ya from her ma. It has your name printed on the envelope plain as day." Vin answered with a nod.

"And how would you know?" Buck retorted.

"Cause, Ezra says so." Vin answered as he leaned back on his left leg, hooked his thumbs into his gun belt.

Buck thought about this for a moment, "Well, where is this letter?"

"Jo’s got it in her pocket. She’s holding on to it like’s gold Buck, ya gotta talk to her."

Buck thought about Vin’s words for minute, "A letter huh?"


"Well, let’s go get this mess cleared up." They left the saloon and crossed back over to where they left Jo standing. Mrs. Wells was now kneeling beside Jo as she cried. When Buck approached, Mrs. Wells gave him a daring glare. He shrugged his shoulders and knelt back down beside Jo. "Vin here tells me ya got a letter for me."

As she nodded her head yes, as she pulled the letter out of her pocket and handed it to him, "Right here, daddy. That is your name, isn’t it?" she sniffed pointing to the writing on the envelope.

Buck took the envelope from her. There printed plain as day in big bold letters, BUCK WILMINGTON, FOUR CORNERS, AZ. He scratched his head, making his hat sit on the back of head.

"Well?" Jo asked again.

"Well what?" Buck responded.

"Is that your name or not?" she said with a little annoyance in her voice.

Buck smiled, "Yea, it’s my name alright. Let’s see what it says inside." He opened the envelope and took out a letter. He read it to himself. Then he whispered, "Maggie?"

Jo smiled, "Maggie’s my mama. You remember her don’t ya daddy?"

Buck looked off into the distance and thought for a minute. A smile came across his face and he nodded his head, "Yea darlin’, I remember your mama. She’s a fine lady. What she doing sending you all this way by yourself?"

Jo lowered her head; "Mama died." Looking back up at him, "but, ‘fore she died she gave me two envelopes. One had some tickets for the trains and stage to get here. The other one was this letter to you."

Buck stood up and as he did, he picked her up with him. "I’m real sorry about your mama darlin’. But I sure wish she’d told me about you along time ago."

Jo nodded her head yes, ‘Yea, Mama said that was the biggest mistake she ever made."

"She did? What else did she say? What did she tell you about me?" Buck asked as the two of them walk away leaving the group standing on the boardwalk.

That evening Buck brought Jo into the saloon for dinner. "Inez, how about some of your special chili for me and my little girl here?" He asked with a smile. The Mexican woman put here left fist on her hip and started waving her right hand with a towel in it, in the air, "Senior, why do you bring such a lovely little girl into this den of thieves? Do you want to teach her that this is NOT what she is suppose to grow up to be like?"

Buck looked down at Jo and then back to Inez, "Now, darlin’, I’ve been bragging on your chili all day. And I’ve been tell Jo here, how nice you are. Are you gonna make ‘ole Buck a out to be liar right in front of his little girl?" He hung his head in mock hurt, "I’m crushed." His hands covered his heart.

Inez just glared at him. As she waved her hand one more time, she turned her back to them and headed for a back door, "Very well, Senior, but I have warned you." She disappeared through the door. Buck laughed and ushered Jo to a table were she saw Mr. Ezra and Mr. Vin sitting. There were three other men sitting with them. As Buck introduced them, Jo decided that she liked all of them. Especially, the big man with deep voice. Daddy called him Josiah. She bet he told great bet time stories. She thought he’d make a great grandpa. Then there was the one daddy called, "The Kid." His name was JD. Jo thought that was kind of funny, for someone to name their kid JD. And Jo could tell he was young, but he had whiskers, so he couldn’t be a kid. Kids don’t have whiskers! And he dressed different, too. He wasn’t wearing jeans and shirt like daddy, he was wearing a suit and a funny looking hat. The one that sort of scared Jo at first, was Nathan. He was a big black man, and even though Jo had seen black folks before, even had some black friends. Once mama had married Chris, Jo wasn’t allowed to play with them anymore, because they were a sneaky lot. All of them. Chris said so. But, Nathan had a smile that told Jo, that Chris was wrong.

From out of the back Inez appeared again with a tray. "Are you going to make her stand and eat or are you going to let the child sit down, Senior?"

Buck picked Jo up and set her in a chair opposite Mr. Ezra. "There ya go little darlin’."

As she placed the bowl of chili and a glass of milk in front of Jo. "Jo, I am Seniorita Inez. I do believe little one, that life is going to become very interesting for Senior Buck now that you are here. Now eat before it get cold."

Jo smiled at Inez, picked up her spoon and began to eat. Jo was having a great time with her daddy’s friends, when she looked up she saw her daddy talking with a lady in funny looking dress and she saw him lean over and kiss her. Jo’s attention was brought back to table by Mr. Ezra. He was showing her card tricks. Jo thought he was the best at card tricks she’d ever seen, of course she had to admit she hadn't seen any before Mr. Ezra. She couldn’t figure out how he always knew were the Ace of Spades always was. When she looked for her daddy again, he was with a different lady and he kissed her, too. Jo thought that was strange, but returned her attention to Mr. Ezra. She was determined to figure out how he always found that card. When Mr. Ezra had finally shown her how to do trick, she was so excited and wanted to show her daddy, but when turned around to find her Daddy kissing yet another woman, her attention to the cards left. Jo was confused. She’d never seen anyone kiss so many different people in her life. "Daddy?" she asked as she tugged on his jacket. Buck looked down at her and smiled, but his hands never left the pretty lady’s face, "Yes, darlin’?"

"Daddy, how come you’re kissin’ on this lady, when I seen you kissing on the lady over there in the yeller dress about 15 minutes ago. And before you was kissin’ her, you’d been kissin’ on the lady in the blue dress. How come, Daddy?" She asked with wide eyed innocence.

Buck looked to his friends for help, but all he received was a room full of laughter and Ezra’s reply, "Yes, Mr. Wilmington, please do explain to us why you feel it necessary to kiss each and every damsel that dares to enter our little den of thieves?" And the room filled with even more laughter.

Buck looked at the woman he was holding and noticed that her hands were on her hips, a fine white line was all he could see of her luscious lips, and if possible he would have sworn that daggers were coming from her eyes. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled, "Kids! What can I say Lily?" Lily slapped him across his face, "How about good night!" She turned and stomped away, "MEN!" she muttered storming past everyone on her way upstairs.

Jo stood there with her mouth open, in surprise, "How’s come that lady slapped you, Daddy? Was you a bad boy?"

Vin couldn’t help himself, as he held his side, trying to regain some composure, "Yea, Buck. Was you a bad boy?"

Buck just glared at all of them, as he took Jo by the hand and ushered her out the batwing doors.

Later that evening, Buck and Jo were in his room above the saloon. He had put her to bed, her doll right by her side, and he was sitting in a chair by the window. There came a knock at the door. Buck crossed the room and opened the door to find a man dressed all in black. Buck smiled as he opened the door even wider. "Come on in, pard. Pull up a chair." Buck crossed back over to his chair as the other man grabbed the only other chair in the room and carried it over to where Buck was sitting. He sat down, as he hung his hat on the back of the chair.

"Wanna fill me in?" The man said firmly, nodding his head toward Jo.

"What’s to tell? I knew her mama about ten years ago. Actually, I think you even met her. Her name was Maggie Johnson." The other man thought for a moment then as he remembered something he nodded his head for Buck to continue. "Well, from the letter, I reckon Maggie got scared when she found out that she was pregnant, and instead of telling me, she ran. She also said that she finally married, but the guy hates Jo and was really mean to her. Said his name didn’t matter cause he never adopted her and now she was with me and that’s what counted."

"Buck, what’s a scoundrel like you gonna do with a little girl?" The man in black questioned.

Buck shook his head, "I don’t know. But I’m gonna do my best. Maybe I’ll find me a good woman to marry and she can help me raise Jo up all proper like."

"YOU – married? Buck, ya don’t get married just so your daughter can have a mama. Sure a mama is important but if you ain’t happy, then the child won’t be happy either." Replied the other man.

"I know that…" suddenly they heard Jo stir and then sit up.

"Daddy?" She said as she wiped sleep from her eyes.

Buck crossed over to the bed and sat down on the edge. "I’m right here darlin’. I ain’t gone no where. I’m just talking with another friend of mine. In fact, I’d say he’s my best friend. Jo, meet Mr. Larabee. Chris Larabee." Chris reached out to touch her, but Jo pulled away. Buck and Chris gave each other questionable looks and then back to her. "Darlin’, what’s wrong? You don’t have to be afraid of Chris. He won’t hurt you. In fact, he’s a real softie when it comes to children!" Buck said as he shifted closer to her on the bed and put his arm around Jo.

"Thanks Buck." Chris replied.

Buck smiled, "Aww Chris, you know it’s true. Every kid in town knows you’re the one to come ask about fishing. Every kid in town knows you’re a sucker for a kid in tears. And every little girl in town knows which one of us seven will never tell them NO when they ask to sit in our laps. Admit it, these kids got you wrapped around their little fingers."

"Buck – shut up." Chris said as he tried to give Buck one of his famous Larabee "glares", but Buck just smiled at him.

Unfortunately, Jo got angry though, "DON"T YOU TELL MY DADDY TO SHUT UP! He don’t have to listen to you, cause he’s bigger than you."

"WHOA darlin’. Ole Chris didn’t mean nothing by that. We was just funning is all." Buck said as he tried to calm her down.

Jo hid behind Buck, "Daddy make him go away."

Buck reached back and tried to pull her around front, "Come on, baby. Listen to daddy. Chris here is a friend."

"No daddy, please.’ She begged.

Chris was disturbed over her reaction to him. He frowned and his eyebrows came closer together when he realized that forcing her was not going to solve anything, "Buck don’t. She’s obviously afraid of me for some reason. Maybe she’s just tired. Let it rest for now."

"I don’t know Chris." Said Buck.

"No Buck. Forcing her will only make it worse. Let it go for now." Chris said as he picked up his hat. "Well, alright pard. I guess I’ll see ya in the morning." Sighed Buck as Jo hung onto him. "Alright. Night, Buck. Night, Jo." Chris took one more look at Jo before opening the door.

"Night, Chris." Buck looked down at Jo. "You gonna tell Chris good night?" She shook her head no. Buck just shrugged his shoulders at Chris who shook his head and walked out the door.


Jo woke up the next morning, sleeping next to her daddy. Smiling she tried to snuggle closer to him. Buck woke up when she moved. He pulled her closer to him and gave her a hug. "You hungry?"

She nodded her head yes, "I could eat a horse!"

"A horse! That’s an awful lot of meat for such an iddy biddy gal!’

"Yea, I’m little now but I’m gonna get bigger and I need food for that!"

Laughing Buck answered, "That ya do darlin’ that ya do."

Downstairs in the saloon, Chris, Vin, JD and Josiah were having breakfast when Buck and Jo came down the stairs. Jo ran up to each of the men and gave them a big good morning hug until she reached Chris. Instead of giving him a hug, she backed up into the legs of Buck. "Now darlin’, don’t start that again. Go give Chris a hug."

Tears welled up in her eyes as she looked up at Buck, "Daddy please don’t make me."

Buck knelt down in front of her, "Now darlin’ last night you was tired, but this morning there ain’t no reason for you to be acting like this. I told you that Chris here would never hurt you. He’s your friend just like he’s mine."

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she whispered, "Daddy please, I’m scared."

However, Chris heard what she said. "Buck, I told ya last night not to force her."

"Chris, I’m sorry. I wish I could explain her fear."

"Buck, there’s nothing to explain except that she’s terrified of me for some reason. Only time will help her see that I’d never hurt her."

"I reckon you’re right Chris. But I sure hate this."

"Me too Buck, me too. But for now, I’ll head over to the jail and relieve Ezra for a spell." Chris rose from his seat and walked out of the saloon. Buck sat down in Chris’ chair and pulled Jo up on his lap. "What am I gonna do with you young lady?’’

She smiled up at him, "Feed me!"

"Feed ya?" He shook his head and laughed.

A few days later, Buck and Ezra were sitting outside the saloon as Jo, Billy Travis and the Potter children played nearby. "I must say Mr. Wilmington, that your daughter is most enchanting." Ezra said as he shuffled his cards.

"Why thank ya, Ezra. She is a little beauty." Buck beamed.

"Yes and her beauty has not gone unnoticed by young David Potter."

"What ya mean Ezra?" Buck said as he looked at the children playing.

"Have you not seen the look in the young boy’s eyes each time he believes Jo is not watching him?" Smiled Ezra.

"Why that little…." Buck said as he started to get up from his chair.

Suddenly, their conversation was cut short, though, by the sound of gunfire. Buck and Ezra stood up and looked down the street towards the bank. Several men came running out with bags of money, jumped on their horses and attempted to make their escape while shooting up the town. Buck and Ezra returned the gunfire while at the same time trying to get to the children and protect them from the alleyway. Chris and Vin came out of the jail and joined the gunplay. Chris ducked behind a nearby water barrel, while Vin took cover behind the horse trough. Josiah and Nathan helped from the roof the church they had been repairing. Both, taking cover by laying low to the roof. JD came out of the livery both guns drawn, using the livery doors for protection. The sounds of the horses’ hoofs against the ground and the gunfire was deafening. One of Vin’s first shots was true, it hit and knocked one of bank robbers off his horse, causing the body to crash to dusty street. Josiah was able wound one of the bandits in the left shoulder as he rode by but the man stayed on his horse. During the gunplay, Chris was shot in the leg as the bank robbers made their way out of town and down the road. After the gunfire stopped, Buck and Ezra turned to the children to make sure they were all right. After easing their minds about the children, they ran across the street to check on Chris. Nathan was kneeling beside Chris as they approached. Nathan took off his bandana, pressed it against Chris’ wound and then reached up, and took Vin’s bandana, using it to tie his in place. Buck and Josiah picked Chris up and carried him up to Nathan’s clinic.

As they laid him on the bed, Nathan went around the room gathering supplies. "Josiah," said Nathan, "give Chris some of this Laudanum. It’ll help with the pain as I dig out the bullet." Josiah picked up the brown bottle setting on the shelf and poured a dose into a spoon. Placing to Chris’ mouth he managed to pour the liquid threw Chris’ clenched teeth. Grimacing at the taste, Chris surrendered to it powers and relaxed. As Nathan prepared to remove the bullet, he started passing out orders. "Josiah, hold his head, Buck you hold his shoulders down, Vin and Ezra grab a leg each. Be careful Vin, you’re holding the wounded leg. Just hold it steady. Don’t let him move it. JD you lay across his middle here. I don’t want him moving one inch. This is a nasty wound and one false move and I could do more harm than good. So hold tight fellas."Each man did as he was instructed. They were so involved with the task at hand, that they did not notice when Jo had slipped into the room and hid in the corner. She watched in amazement as Nathan used his probe to search for the bullet. Looking at Chris’ face, she wondered how he could take the pain. She heard Nathan say that he had found the bullet and she made a face as the bullet was pulled out and discarded in a nearby bowl of water. Her eyes are transfixed on Chris’ face, watching for any kind of reaction, but there was none. Just a clenched jaw. And as the bullet was removed, a deep breath was released by all. As Nathan painstakingly began to wrap Chris’ wound, the other men gather their scattered belongings.

Out of the quiet Vin spoke up, "Nathan, we’re going after the men who did this. You coming or should ya stay with Chris?"

"I’m fixing to give Chris another dose of Laudanum. That should put him out for the night. I’m riding with you." Answered Nathan.

"What if Chris needs ya before we get back?" asked Buck.

"I’ll get Mary to come sit with him. She’ll be able to handle him 'till we return."

With a nod of their heads, they departed, unknowingly, leaving Jo alone with Chris. Slowly, she walked up to the bed and stood there, staring at Chris. She looked at the bowl of water holding the bullet. Reaching in, she picked up the bullet and looked at it, turning it over in the palm of her hand. When she turned to look at Chris, she realized his eyes were open and he was watching her. Dropping the bullet back in the bowl, she turned and raced out of the clinic and down the stairs. With Chris calling her, "Jo, wait! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to…." She never heard his last words though, as the door slammed closed behind her.

She finally stopped running when she found herself across the street and in the ally beside the saloon. Stopping to catch her breath, she was startled once more when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She screamed and started to run when another hand wrapped around her waist and pulled her back. "WHOA! darlin’" said Buck with a smile on his face. "Sorry baby, didn’t mean ‘ta scare ya like that. But, me and boys gotta ride. We’ve gotta go after the men that held up the bank and shot Chris. Now I’ve already talked to Mrs. Potter and you’re to go over to her place until I get back. Ok?"

"But, Daddy, I’m scared." Jo said with tears in her eyes.

Buck held her close, "No need to be scared darlin’. We’ll get those men. In the mean time I have a really big favor to ask of you."

"Yes, sir?"

"Well, Mrs. Travis will be watching over Chris while we’re gone, but Chris can be a handful. I would appreciate it if you’d help her out some. Little things, like making sure there’s plenty of water in the water jug beside the bed, running errands for her, maybe even reading to Chris. He’d like that. He likes poetry." Buck asked with a smile.

Jo’s eyes got big and her breathing became heavy, "But daddy, what if he…."

"Please darlin’, I need ya to trust me right now and do as I ask. Chris ain’t gonna hurt ya none. Will ya trust me and help out?"

Reluctantly, she nodded her head, "Yes, daddy."

"That’s my girl." With that he gave her kiss and turned to leave. The other men were already on their horses waiting for him. As they rode out of town, the stage was entering. It came to a stop in front of the telegraph office. Several passengers disembarked, but one passenger in particular. A tall blonde haired, green-eyed man, wearing black pants, a gray shirt and gun hanging low on his hips.


With her head hung low, Jo walked across the street, kicking at the stones, to Mrs. Potter’s hardware store. Upon entering, she looked around and found Mrs. Potter up on a ladder putting supplies away. As she walked up to the base of the ladder, Jo spoke, "Mrs. Potter, my daddy said I was to stay with you until he got back."

Mrs. Potter looked down from her ladder with a smile, "Yes, dear. He asked me to keep an eye on you."

"Yes’m. And I’s suppose to help Mrs. Travis take care of Mr. Larabee." Jo said with a hint of nervousness in her voice.

"Does that bother you dear?" Mrs. Potter asked as she climbed down.

"I’m just scared of him, Mrs. Potter. He ain’t done nothing I know, but I’m still scared of him."

Mrs. Potter put her hand on Jo’s shoulder, "Honey, what is it about Mr. Larabee that scares you so much? Do you know?"

Jo shrugged her shoulders, "It’s just that he reminds me of somebody, Mrs. Potter. Somebody real scary. Somebody I don’t ever want to see again."

Mrs. Potter nodded her head, "Well now I can see why you might be afraid. But, honey, your daddy wouldn’t let Mr. Larabee hurt you, even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t by the way."

With tears in her eyes, "I know. But I’m still scared."

They heard the door open and close and turned to see Mrs. Travis enter the hardware store. "Hello Mary. How are you today?" Greeted Mrs. Potter, as Jo wiped the tears away.

"Hello, Gloria. I’m fine thank you. I’ve come to get Jo so we can see to Mr. Larabee." Mary said with a smile.

"Alright. Do you need anything as far as supplies go? Does Mr. Jackson have enough clean linens and blankets?"

Mary thought for a moment the shook her head, "As far as I know he does, but if I need anything I’ll send Jo for them."

"All right then, you take care of him. He’s important to this town."

Mary smiled "Yes, we will, won’t we Jo?" Mary held out her hand as Jo approached her. Taking her hand, Jo looked back at Mrs. Potter and waved. They exited the store and crossed the street to the clinic. What they didn’t notice was that pair of sinister green eyes was watching them. As they entered the clinic, Mary walked over to Chris’ bedside and sat down beside the bed. Jo stayed near the door ready to run. "Jo, honey, would you please get me some fresh water in the pitcher?"

"Yes mamn." Jo stepped forward and took the pitcher from Mary. When she left the clinic with the pitcher, she went down the step and around back to the well. She reached for the handle to bring up the fresh cool water. Suddenly, a hand was pressed against her mouth while another hand and arm grabbed her around the waist and picked her up. Turning her head, she looked into the eyes of her stepfather, Chris. She tried to scream, but his hand kept her from making any noise. So she tried twisting and kicking in an attempt to free herself from his grip but he just held tighter.

"Don’t even THINK you’re gonna get away from me this time, missy. Your mama thought she was so smart. But, she wasn’t smart enough. As soon as I found out you were gone I knew she’d sent you to live with your daddy. But, I just didn’t know where that was. Therefore, I had to CONVINCE her that it was in your best interest if you stayed with me. Of course she disagreed but in the end she saw it my way." He laughed as he carried her to the livery. Once inside he told the blacksmith, Yosemite, that he needed a horse.

"Hey, ain’t that Buck’s little girl you got there?" Yosemite yelled as he advanced toward them.

"NO! She’s mine! Now get me a horse!" Pointing to a black horse in one of the front stalls, "That one! I want that horse." Chris lowered his hand from her mouth and drew out his gun, pointing it at Yosemite.

"Sorry mister, but that horse ain’t for sale. He belongs to one of the peace- keepers here in Four Corners."

"I don’t care WHO he belongs to. Saddle him up and hurry!" Chris shouted as he fired his gun at Yosemite’s feet.

Going up to Storm’s stall, Yosemite backed him out of the stall and used the crossties to hold him steady until he was saddled. Once all of his tack was on, Chris pushed Yosemite aside, threw Jo up in the saddle, and started placing his own gear on the horse. Yosemite used this time to sneak out the back of the livery and over to the clinic to warn Chris Larabee. Once Chris was ready, he threw himself up the back of Storm, behind Jo, and with a kick to Storm’s flanks he bolted out the livery doors and down the street. However, as he reached the saloon he heard a whistle from behind him, then suddenly the horse reared up, causing both Chris and Jo to fall to the ground. Jo scrambled to her feet and ran into the ally next to the saloon. Chris followed her, "Come back here, you little wench!" As he entered the dark ally, he paused for his eyes to adjust to the lack of sunlight. That was all the time that Larabee needed. As fast as his wounded leg would allow him, he hurried across the street and tackled Chris from behind. At first, Larabee did a good job at holding his own. They each threw punches knocking each other to the ground, but before Larabee could get back up from the last punch, Chris kicked him in his wounded leg sending pain throughout Larabee’s body. He grimaced from the shock of the pain as he grabbed for his gun. But, Chris kicked it out of his hand, sending it to the other side of the ally.

Drawing his own gun, Chris pointed it straight at Larabee’s head. "So you’re the man my woman was always dreaming about. You sure don’t look like what she described to me. Don’t matter no way. 'Cause you're fixing to be dead." He cocked his gun and a shot rang out!


Chris Larabee sat up and looked at the body of the man lying on the ground. A bullet had gone through his back, straight into his heart. Chris raised his eyes to the other side of the ally to see Jo standing there with his smoking gun in her little hands. Using a nearby crate to help him stand, he limped slowing towards her. In as soft a voice as Chris could come up with he tried to speak to her, "Jo, it’s over. Give me the gun, sweetheart." She just shook her head no. "Listen to me, Jo. He can’t hurt you anymore. It’s over. Now let me have the gun." She just stared at the body, still shaking her head. Tired and sore Chris sat down beside her. "Do ya want to talk about it? Tell me what happened?"

Tears came to her eyes, but still she stared at the body, "Why did he hate me?"

"What?" asked a puzzled Chris.

"He hated me. Why? I always tried to be a good girl. I did my chores, my homework, I never sassed him or Mama, and when Mama got sick, I tried to keep the house clean and I even tried to cook. But all I know to cook is beans and taters. But, no matter how hard I tried, he was always mad at me. Why?" She said turning to Chris, the hurt burned in her eyes.

Chris took a deep breath before he answered, "I don’t know sweetie. Maybe, it wasn’t you he hated." She looked at Chris as if he had three heads. Chris smiled a little at her as he reached over and gently took the gun from her hands and put it back in his holster. "It could be that he hated himself, but he didn’t know what to do about it so he took out his angry on you."

Jo looked puzzled, "I don’t understand."

As Chris scratched his head, "Well, sweetie, sometimes grownups do things that don’t make a whole lotta sense. Sometimes we hurt so bad inside that the only thing we can do is lash out at those that love or care about us."

Shaking her head, "That’s dumb."

As he got up again, he took her hand, "Yea it is, but some folks just never learn how to handle grownup problems."

"Do you know how to handle them?" she asked.

Chris thought for a moment and smiled, "Most of the time, sweetie. Sometimes, though, I get drunk and loud. And sometimes I get into fights that maybe I shouldn’t. There are times I get so fed up that I’ll disappear for days on end, but Jo, listen real careful to me. Under no circumstances would I ever hurt you. I understand now why you’ve been afraid of me and I want to make sure you understand that I am nothing like your stepfather. It sure is odd that we have the same name and we looked something alike. We even dress kinda the same, but that’s as far as it goes as to us being alike. I’ve never hurt a child and I don’t intend to start now. Do you understand?"

She nodded her head yes, "So you promise never to hurt me like he did?"

Laughing, "Yea, I promise. Besides if I ever even THOUGHT about hurtin’ you, all I have to remember is that Buck is your daddy and even though he and I have been friends for a long time, he’d probably take my head off."

She smiled up at Chris, "He would?"

Chris nodded his head yes, "Yea, and I’m kinda partial to my head. So I think I’ll keep it. So are we friends?"

Jo took a deep breath and shrugged her shoulders, "Ok, I guess so."

Chris picked her up in his arms, and began limping across the street, back to the clinic and to a nervous Mary, "Good, cause I need all the friends I can get." Jo giggled as Chris tickled her.

+ + + + + + +

Later that evening the six tired men rode into town with bank robbers in tow. Two riding with the hands tide to the saddle horns and three laying belly down across their saddles. Vin handed the reins of the horses of the dead men to the undertaker as JD and Ezra took the other two to the jailhouse. Buck headed over to Mrs. Potters as Nathan and Josiah headed for the clinic to check on Chris. When Nathan and Josiah entered the clinic, they froze at the sight they saw. A few minutes later, Buck came running up the stairs and through the door. "Nathan, Mrs. Potter said a man tried to kidnap Jo, but Chris stopped him. Where is she?" Pointing to the bed in the other room, Buck looked in to see a smiling Chris sitting in a rocking chair with Jo cradled on his lap, sound asleep.


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