Trouble Comes to Watsonville

by Mallory & Linda A. Murdock

That evening, Watsonville is practically deserted. The town's people took Chris" advice to heart and most have left the town, fearful of the Carter's returning. A few persons have stayed on. The man that manages the hotel/restaurant and the man who runs the saloon among them. The hotel manager lets Becky cook in the restaurant kitchen and she brings him a plate of food. Josiah, Vin and JD help her bring the food and coffee on trays over to the jail so everyone can eat.

Becky tries to help Linda get some food down, but she only eats a small portion. "It's not the food, that's good. I'm just not very hungry," Linda says. The two wounded deputies have been taken home by family members and Linda is the only one recovering in the jail at that time.

Nathan says, "Try to eat what you can, Linda. It'll help bring your strength back."

"Just leave it here," Linda says, still on her cot but sitting up now, her right arm in a sling and her shoulder bandaged, "I'll try to eat some more later."

Becky gives Linda a smile and leaves the cell. She takes a seat between Josiah and Buck and starts to eat her dinner. At one point, Becky looks up at Chris and says, "So, what are we going to do?"

Chris looks around at the group, "I think we should stay." He looks at Becky, "But I want you and Linda out of here."

Becky nods, "I was thinking that I could take her back to Four Corners. Nathan says he thinks she may be able to travel by tomorrow but I may need to have a wagon or buggy to move her if she's not up to riding."

From Linda's cot comes a weak call, "No. We can't just leave."

Becky looks over at her, "Linda - you're wounded and there are possibly 20 some men coming to rob this town in two days. We can't get a telegraph out from here. And you are in no shape to fight - the arm you shot with is in a sling."

"No," Linda says, "that's not what I meant. Becky and I can go to the Kiowa tribe and ask for help. My mother was the daughter of their Chief. He might give us warriors to help fight the Carter's. The tribe is only about a 2 hour ride from here."

Josiah looks over at Linda, "Do you think they would help us?"

"Chief Running Bear is my grandfather. He might be willing to help me," Linda says.

Chris nods, "I think it's worth a try, but I don't think you two should go alone. Take Vin with you. He has had some experience with the Kiowa tribes."

The others nodded. Vin says, "If we could get enough men from the tribe it might make the Carter's think twice. The Kiowa's are good fighters." He looked over at Linda, "Is it a large tribe?"

"Yes," she nodded, "If the Chief agrees, we won't have a problem with the number of men we can get to help. I wouldn't normally get them involved, but the Army has not been that responsive and now with this second attack - well, we just have to end this and soon."

"What time do you want to head out tomorrow?" Becky asks.

Linda thought for a moment, "Let's leave about 8 o"clock."

Becky nodded, "Okay, I'll get some supplies ready. Are you going to need help getting ready in the morning?" she asks Linda.

"Yes, I probably will. Can you meet me here around six?" Linda asks.

"Sure, I'll bring breakfast." Becky says. She stood, "I'm going to get these dishes back to the restaurant," she glanced at Josiah, "anyone want to give me a hand?"

"We all will," Josiah says, firmly. They got up, picking up dishes, cups, etc. Vin stayed behind in the jail with Linda.

Vin walked into the cell Linda was lying in. "Where are you going to sleep tonight?"

"This cot is not exactly comfortable. Got any suggestions?" she asks.

"Yeah - you have a room at the hotel, don't you? I can help you get over there," Vin says.

"Okay, I'll accept your offer." Vin gave her a hand up and with his arm around her waist, walked over to the hotel with her.

+ + + + + + +

A few minutes later, Becky came back into the jail. She saw that Vin and Linda were gone. She smiled, then went back into the jail and picked up Linda's tray to return it to the restaurant.

+ + + + + + +

Early in the morning, Becky met Linda in the jail. She helped Linda wash up and put on clean clothes. Linda wanted her holster and guns. Linda stayed in the jail and Becky went over to the hotel to get them breakfast.

Chris, Vin and Josiah came into the jail. Linda told them Becky had gone over to the restaurant. Josiah says he'd go give Becky a hand and be back in a few minutes.

When he'd gone, Vin says to Linda. "Are you going to be up to this trip?" he asks.

"Yeah. I feel up to riding. There's really no choice anyway, I have to go. The Chief doesn't know you. I should be there, it's my place to ask for this favor," she replied.

Chris says, "Becky got some medical supplies from Nathan and she'll bring them along on the trip in case you need anything."

"She seems to know something about nursing," Linda says.

Chris nodded, "During the war, she worked in one of the Army hospitals. Her husband was in the Cavalry - got killed during the Battle of Selma. She trained as a mid-wife, too."

Vin says, "Linda, we'll just take the trip at your pace. If you need to rest, just speak up and we'll stop."

They heard Josiah and Becky coming back and all sat down to eat.

+ + + + + + +

Linda sat on a bench outside the livery. Chris, Vin, Josiah and Becky were getting the horses ready inside the livery. The others had come down after eating and were standing outside by where Linda was waiting. Nathan was checking on her bandages.

Chris was saying to Vin, "If that Gang shows up and things look bad, we'll just get out of town. I'm just going to make sure everyone just has their horses saddled and ready to make a hasty retreat if need be. Linda says the stream we passed on the trail leads up close to where the Kiowa tribe is. We'll just head out that way and make camp. If it comes to that, we'll run into you there on your way back."

Vin nodded, "If there are no problems, we should be back at the end of the day. Hopefully the Kiowa can be here tomorrow." When he was finished, he took the lead for his and Linda's horses, "Becky, I'll meet you out in front when you're ready." Vin left with the horses and Chris followed him out of the livery.

Josiah went over to Becky and helped her cinch her saddle on. "Got everything you need?" Josiah asks.

"Yes," she says, "I think I'm ready."

"Remember, these Indian tribes have their own ways. Let Linda do the talking since she knows them. But if you're asks anything, especially if the Chief addresses you, you must answer. It's considered disrespectful not to. Even if you think his questions are personal, answer them," he advised.

She looked up at him, "I'll remember." She put a hand on his chest, "Be careful here."

"Don't worry about me. Take care of yourself. I love you."

"I love you too," she says. He leaned down and kissed her.

+ + + + + + +

Vin helped Linda mount her horse. He looked at Chris. "Watch your back, "Vin says.

"Thanks for the reminder," Chris grinned.

+ + + + + + +

Vin, Linda and Becky rode along, with Linda in the middle - Vin and Becky each keeping watch on either side of her. They'd been riding for a little over an hour, following the stream, when Linda says, "Can we stop - I need to rest a few minutes."

"Sure," Vin says, "Let's stop up by that grove of trees."

Vin helped Linda dismount and she sat on the grass. Vin and Becky hitched the horses up to the trees. The horses all began to munch on the grass. Becky got a canteen and passed it around so they could all have a drink of water.

Becky took a seat on the other side of Vin.

"Pretty county, hereabouts," Vin says.

"Have you lived here all your life, Linda?" Becky asks.

"Pretty much. Except for a few forays tracking bounties. I'm always drawn back here, though," Linda says.

"I can see why," Vin commented.

+ + + + + + +

When they got close to the Kiowa tribe, Linda moved her horse into the lead. Becky and Vin followed her closely, but they would take their cues from her.

Several scouts appeared from the woods, they looked suspicious until one of them recognized Linda. Delight was clearly written on his face as he approached her. His name was Kjlo. He spoke rapidly. Becky only picked up part of what he says. It sounded as though he was welcoming Linda home - and what was that name he called her? It sounded like "Lady Horse Whisperer". Becky wondered if that was Linda's Indian name. She glanced at Vin but he was watching the scouts closely. He kept his hands on his reins; Becky did the same.

"Thank you for your welcome, Kjlo. I am honored to be home. I need to see my grandfather," Linda says.

Linda turned and looked back at the pair, "We'll walk from here and lead the horses." The first scout was gesturing for them to follow him. They all dismounted and lead the horses as they walked along. Two of the scouts took up positions behind Vin and Becky.

As they came into a clearing, they saw many teepees and a few tulle huts arranged in a circle. Horses off to one side in a corral. There were several small boys caring for them. They looked up curiously when they saw the strangers and gathered in a group, pointing and whispering.

Becky noticed that she and Linda were attracting a lot of stares. She guessed it was probably due to their hair color. All of the Kiowa's had pitch black hair, except for the elders whose hair was snow white.

An older man came out to greet them. Despite his age, he had a very regal bearing. Becky wondered if this was the Chief. Linda dropped her horse's reins and walked up to him. The man put his hands on her shoulders and looked at her closely.

"It is good to see you, child of my daughter," he says.

"Grandfather, I am glad to be home. I have much to tell you. These are my friends. Can we go somewhere and talk?" Linda asks.

"Yes," he looked at Vin and Becky, "Any friends of my granddaughter are welcome. Please come into my hut."

Several of the boys ran over and took their horses, leading them over to the corral.

+ + + + + + +

Once they were settled, Linda told her grandfather about the Carter Gang and their attacks on Watsonville. The deaths they caused. Men, women and children slaughtered. She told about meeting Vin, Becky and the other men from Four Corners. She told him about the second attack and how Becky had known something was wrong and Linda's life had been saved. When Linda told this part of the story, her grandfather was looking closely at Becky but not in an unkind way. Linda told her grandfather that there were not enough of them to fight off the Gang and that she was now wounded and would not be able to fight. She asks him to give her warriors to help her.

Her grandfather turned and spoke to two other men who sat behind him. They spoke in low voices and a language that Becky could not understand. But Becky noticed that Vin was smiling. When her grandfather turned back to Linda, he says, "These men are evil. They must be stopped or more innocents will be killed. I will grant your request. I will send 20 warriors to you tomorrow. They will stay with you until you no longer have need of them."

"Thank you, grandfather," Linda says, "This means so much." She had tears in her eyes.

The Chief turned and spoke to the two men sitting behind him. Both men got up and left the hut.

+ + + + + + +

The ride back to Watsonville was strangely quiet. Becky wondered if Linda was just tired or worried about the coming events. They were almost back to the town when Linda says she needed to stop for a rest. Becky told Vin she wanted to keep going as the town was only over the next rise. Vin went ahead and took a look. He came back and says everything was clear so Becky could go on ahead. He'd follow shortly with Linda. Becky told them she'd have supper ready when they got back to Watsonville and she went on ahead.

Vin threw a blanket down on the ground as there was a chill in the air. Linda took a seat.

Vin tied the horses to a tree and sat beside her.

"Worried about the Carters?" he asks.

She nodded, "Yes." She turned to look at him. "I'm sorry I haven't had

ny news yet from the Governor of Texas. I'm sure you're anxious."

Vin shrugged, "Well, I understand with the telegraph wires down and all. I've waited this long. A few more days won't make any difference."

They sat quietly and watched the sun sink low on the horizon.

+ + + + + + +

Becky rode back into Watsonville. Chris was waiting by the livery. He came up to her when she rode up.

"Well?" he asks.

"The Kiowa chief is going to send 20 warriors to help us tomorrow," Becky says.

"That's good news," Chris says. "Where are Linda and Vin?"

Becky says, "They'll be coming shortly. Linda needed a rest."

He smiled at Becky. She eyed him suspiciously.

"He told you, didn't he?" she asks.

Chris grinned, "Who told me what?"

"Josiah - he told you we'd gotten engaged - you already know!"

Chris laughed, "Yes, he told me. I've known for a few weeks that he was going to ask you."

"When did he tell you?" she asks.

"When he got the ring. You know Josiah is a bit more traditional. He wanted my blessing," Chris says.

 Becky says, "And did we get your blessing, Chris?"

Chris was enjoying this, "Sure. I told him that if he ever hurts you I will call him out. What are brothers for?" Seeing that he was teasing, Becky laughed.

"I was kind of hoping you'd give me away," she says.

"I'd be honored to, darlin"," Chris replied.

She saw Buck sitting outside the saloon and waved to him. "I'm going to go talk to Buck," Becky says. "We'll have dinner in about an hour, okay?"

"Sure," Chris says. "I'll take care of your horse."

"Thanks," Becky dismounted and walked over toward Buck.

"How did it go?" Buck asks.

"The Kiowa Chief is going to send 20 of his warriors to help us tomorrow," she says, with a grin.

"That's great news!" Buck says, happily. "Where are Vin and Linda?"

"They are behind me. Linda needed to take a slower pace but I thought I'd get back to let you all know the news. I'm going to wash up and get dinner on. Can you gather everyone in the saloon in about an hour? Let them know the good news. Linda can fill everyone in on the particulars when she gets here." she asks.

"Sure," Buck says.

"Buck," Becky says, "Do you have a minute?"

"Always for you, Becky," Buck grinned.

"Let's sit down over here," she says. They moved over to the chairs in front of the saloon. She looked at him for a moment. "Buck, I wanted you to hear this from me but this is the first time I've been able to get you alone for a moment. Josiah has asks me to marry him and I've accepted."

Buck leaned back in the chair and smiled, "That's wonderful, Becky. Congratulations."

"Thank you," she looked pleased.

"Do I get to kiss the bride?" he asks with a smile.

"I wouldn't feel properly engaged if you didn't," she teased.

Buck leaned forward and gave her a soft kiss on the lips. He looked at her closely for a moment and says, "I guess things are going to change now."

"No, I don't think anything will change. You'll always be my friend, Buck. I feel like you and Chris are brothers to me. We've been through so much together, good and bad," she says.

He nodded, "Yeah, you're right."

"Well, I'm going to go get washed up and start on dinner. I'll see you in about an hour," She says.

"Sure, sis," he replied with a wink. She laughed.

Becky walked across the street and into the hotel. The hotel manager, Mr. Sachs, was there. She told him the news about the Kiowa tribe. He seemed relieved. "I'm going to get cleaned up and if you'd like, Mr. Sachs, I'll bring you some dinner shortly."

He smiled and nodded, "I'd sure appreciate that."

Becky hurried up the stairs. She opened the door to her room and found that Josiah was there. He smiled at her when she walked in.

"Welcome back. I wanted to be sure I didn't miss you. So, how did everything go?" he asks, getting up and moving toward her.

"Better than expected," she replied, reaching up to give him a kiss.

She turned and tossed her saddlebags and holster on the chair, "I'll tell you while I wash up."

+ + + + + + +

After she delivered dinner to Mr. Sachs, Becky, with the help of Josiah, Buck and JD, begin taking food and coffee over to the saloon. She brought a plate for the saloon keeper, a Mr. Tomas. He offered drinks on the house, but Becky reminded everyone of what they were up against and not to overindulge. "Not to take away your fun, gents, but keep in mind that the Carter Gang has struck before without notice."

Nathan agreed, "That's a good point - want to keep our wits about us."

She looked around, "Haven't Vin and Linda showed up yet?"

Chris says, "They're over at the livery. Be here shortly."

Becky put two cloth napkins over their plates to keep them warm. The group started to eat.

After a short time Vin and Linda walked in. Nathan got up and moved towards Linda.

He says, "How are you feeling?"

She looked at him and smiled, weakly, "Tired but hungry."

"Well, come and eat. I'd like to check on your wounds before you turn in." Nathan continued.

She nodded, "All right."

They sat. As Vin started to eat, he says, "Becky probably told you already but Linda's grandfather is sending 20 men in to help us tomorrow. We need to make plans about what we are going to do when the Carter's get here."

"Do we know which direction this gold shipment is coming from?" Chris asks.

"It'll be coming from the East," Linda says.

"We should put some scouts out on the trail the shipment will be taking, use our fastest horses so they can ride in and make reports. We'll have to have a couple of men at the livery to have fresh horses ready if the scouts need them," Chris says, "Maybe get a couple of men up on the rooftops - keeping a lookout."

Linda nodded, "Sounds like a good plan. Everyone else can be in town ready and waiting. When they see so many men, it will startle them. Give us a good chance to capture as many as we can. If they put up a resistance, shoot them."

Chris nodded, "Let's finish and we'll talk more in the morning. Who wants to volunteer for the first night patrol?"

Ezra spoke up, "I'll be glad to."

"So will I," says Nathan, "After Linda is settled."

"Okay," Chris says, "Then Buck and JD will relieve you. Tomorrow, I want the four of you to get some rest. By then the Kiowa will be here - it will make the night patrols easier. In the morning, Vin, Josiah and I will meet with the Kiowa's and get our plans finalized. Let's all meet up here for lunch and we'll go over everything. Agreed?"

+ + + + + + +

Becky was in the restaurant kitchen, finishing up the dishes. Josiah was helping her. He noticed she seemed to be deep in thought.

"Are you alright?" he asks, sounding concerned.

She paused and looked at him, "I'm sorry. I just have something on my mind."

"Anything you want to talk about?"

"No, just worry about the Carters coming back."

He smiled at her, touched her cheek gently.

"Let's go to bed," she says, "I'm exhausted."

+ + + + + + +

The next morning Becky woke up early, before sun up. Josiah was still sleeping. Still concerned about her safety with the Carters nearby, he had been sleeping in her room.

She moved to the window and looked out. She could see JD and Buck sitting in front of the saloon. There was a lamp lit at their feet and they were sitting in chairs just talking, their horses hitched in front of them. She figured they were probably taking a break after a patrol. At least all was quiet.

She got back into bed and pressed herself close to Josiah. He seemed to wake for a moment, smiled at her sleepily, gave her a kiss on the cheek and fell back to sleep. She lay there quietly and listened to his steady breathing until she was lulled back to sleep herself.

+ + + + + + +

Later that morning, Linda seemed relieved when she got the saloon and saw Chris eating breakfast with Becky, Josiah, JD and Buck.

Becky smiled at her and stood up, "Good morning. Sit down. Let me get you some coffee and breakfast."

"Thanks," Linda says. Becky brought her a plate, utensils and a steaming cup of coffee. Linda sniffed the air appreciatively as the coffee smelled really good. "Where is everyone else?"

"Vin already ate; he is on patrol. Nathan and Ezra are sleeping." Josiah says.

Becky looked over at Linda, "Will we need to feed the Kiowa men when they come?"

Linda shook her head, "They won't eat white man's food. I'm sure they will camp around town and take care of their own needs. You don't need to worry about that. They won't be interested in staying in the hotel or coming into the saloon."

Becky nodded.

JD and Buck finished eating. JD says, "Well, I don't know about Buck, but I'm going to turn in and get some sleep. Thanks for breakfast, Becky."

She smiled at JD, "You're welcome. Sleep well."

Buck stood and stretched, "I'm off to my lonely bed. All by myself. Nothing to hug but my pillow."

Becky shook her head and grinned, "Well, have a good time."

Chris, Linda and Josiah laughed. Buck gave Becky a look that told her he'd get her back for that.

After Buck and JD were gone, Chris says to Linda, "When do you think they will arrive?"

Linda thought for a moment, "They probably left just after sun up. I'd say they should be here within the next hour or so."

"How are you feeling today, Linda?" Becky asks.

"Better, I'm just feeling worn out," she says. "I guess that's to be expected."

Chris looked at Linda and Becky, "I have to bring this up," he says, "And I know you are going to be mad at me," he was looking at Linda. "But, I think you and Becky should head back to Four Corners. Today."

Linda looked at him, clearly upset, "I can't leave now. You are going to need my help with the Kiowa warriors. I know the Carter Gang. I have to stay. I've been deputized - It's my job."

Chris was adamant, "You are in no condition to stay."

"That's not fair," she says, "It should be my decision!"

Becky interjected, "Perhaps Josiah and I should leave."

"No - Linda has been wounded - she's in no condition to fight. I think it would be dangerous for you to stay here," Chris says. "Josiah, back me up on this."

"Well," Josiah says, "Linda you have been wounded and that is the arm you shot with. Could put you at something of a disadvantage. But," Josiah continued, "I will concede with you on one point - it has to be your decision."

Chris didn't like that at all, "Now wait a minute."

"Chris," Josiah says, "You can't control what she does. If you force her to leave against her will, there will be nothing to stop her from coming back."

Linda looked at Chris, "Alright, I'll go. But not to Four Corners. I'll go to my grandfather." She looked over at Becky, "You are welcome to come with me, if you want to."

Becky nodded, "I will. I think that's a good idea. It will be an easier trip for you - safer, too, and we'll be close by."

Josiah says, "I agree. You'll be safer with your family."

Chris turned to Linda, "Thank you for doing this for me. I'll send one of the men with you and Becky."

Linda nodded, "For you? - not all for you, Mr. Larabee. We can leave later today. After the Kiowa arrive."

+ + + + + + +

After Becky has cleaned up breakfast, she returns to her room to pack up. She gets all her things together but leaves them in her hotel room, figuring she can just come and get them when they're leaving. She takes off her long skirt and puts on her riding skirt and boots again. She puts on her holster and leaves her rifle out and loaded to take with her on her horse. She goes back outside the hotel and sees Chris. Chris walks over to her.

"I've decided to send Vin again with you and Linda up to the Indian Village," he says.

Becky nods, "Sure. That way he will only be gone from here a couple of hours."

Chris shakes his head, "No, I was thinking it would be a better idea if he stayed with you and Linda until all this is over. I just want to be sure you are both safe."

Becky is thoughtful for a moment, "Does Linda know you are planning this?"

"No," he says. "I told Vin not to say anything until you have arrived."

"She's not going to like having a bodyguard," Becky cautioned.

"I know," he says, "But I'd feel better."

She puts a hand on his arm, "I know. That's fine with me. Vin's a good man."

They hear horse hoofs - lots of them. Chris tenses - could it be the Carter's? But no, he sees it's the Kiowa warriors. He turns to Becky, "Run up stairs and get Linda."

Becky runs into the hotel. She is back quickly as she ran into Linda coming down the stairs.

Linda and Becky stand with Chris as the Kiowa's come up to the hotel.

Their leader is the same scout who met Linda, Becky and Chris at the Indian Village. Linda walks up to him, "Greetings, Spotted Eagle (Kjlo)."

"And to you Lady Horse Whisperer," he replies. He looks at Chris, "Man in Black, you are the leader?" Chris nods. Kjlo continues, "My men have been sent by Chief Running Bear. We are given over to your hands as long as you need us."

Chris nods, "Thank you, Kjlo." The other six men have gathered by this time. Chris introduces them to Kjlo. "Why don't you and your men make camp. After you are settled, meet me here and we will make our plans."

"As you wish, Man in Black," Kjlo says. He turns on his mount and speaks to his men. They all dismount and take up positions down alley ways, setting up camp. Several of the warriors take the horses over to the livery. Most of their horses are placed in the corral next to the livery stable.

Chris turns to Vin, "How soon can you be ready to go?"

Vin says, "I've been ready, cowboy."

Chris turns to Becky, Josiah is standing just behind her right shoulder. Before Chris can even ask, Becky says, "I'm packed. I just have to go upstairs and get my things together."

Chris looks at Linda, "Yes, I'm ready, too," she says. But the tone of her voice suggests otherwise. She does not look at Chris kindly.

Linda and Becky go back into the hotel to get their things. Josiah goes with them to help.

Buck comes over to Chris, "Chris, what's going on?"

Chris looks at Buck and says, "Linda is really mad that I'm making her leave. She's going up to the Indian Village with Becky to stay there until the fighting with the Carters is over. I'm sending Vin with them."

Buck furrows his brow, "Well, she's just used to making her own decisions."

Chris shakes his head, "Let's go over to the saloon, I need a drink." Chris and Buck head over to the saloon. As Chris passes Vin, Chris says, "We'll be in here if you need us," jerking his thumb towards the saloon.

Vin does not answer but smiles and tips his hat.

+ + + + + + +

Becky, Linda, Vin and Josiah go to the livery, get the horses packed and ready for the trip. They bring the horses out of the livery. Becky asks Vin, "Where's Chris?"

Vin grins, "In the saloon."

Becky shakes her head, "I should have known. I want to see him before we leave," she says. "I'll be right back."

Becky goes into the saloon. Buck and Chris are sitting at a table drinking whiskey. Becky sees the whiskey bottle and thinks this is not a good sign.

Becky says, "We're ready to go."

Chris looks up at her and says, "Be careful on the way up there; we don't know where the Carter's are right now. It could be a dangerous trip."

Becky nods, "Don't worry."

Chris stands up. He give Becky a hug, "Be careful, sis."

"You, too," she says, "Watch your back. These Carter's are bad news."

He nods, "I'll come up to the Indian Village when this is over."

"See you then, I guess," she says.

Becky leans over Buck, puts a hand on his shoulder and gives it a squeeze. She looks up at Chris but says to Buck, "Take care of this fellow, will you?"

Buck smiles at Becky, "Don't worry about that." Buck turns his head suddenly and gives Becky a kiss on the cheek. She looks at him and smiles.

Becky starts to move toward the batwing doors but pauses to take one look back at the pair before she leaves.

+ + + + + + +

Vin helps Linda mount her horse. He moves over toward his own horse.

Becky stands on the other side of her horse, away from the others with Josiah. She says quietly, "It could be a hard fight."

"Don't worry. I'm ready," Josiah says, with a small smile, "Just take care of yourself." He leans close and whispers, "I'm going to miss you."

She smiles, "I'll miss you, too. I'll be thinking about you."

He kisses her on the lips. When they part she looks at him for a moment and then climbs up into the saddle.

"Take care of them, brother Vin," Josiah says,

Vin grins, "Have no fear, brother Josiah."

Josiah grins and waves them off.

+ + + + + + +

Chris tries to clear his head and he goes out to meet with Kjlo. He was mad at Linda for arguing with him but he's got to let that go for now and concentrate on the matters at hand. Josiah is talking to Kjlo when Chris walks up. Chris explains the plan they have; Kjlo agrees and says he will sent out his four best scouts on their fastest horses, one in each direction, to keep on eye on things. They can ride back fast and forewarn of anything that's coming toward Watsonville.

Chris agrees it is a good plan. He tells Kjlo that these Carter's are very evil. Kjlo is to tell his men not to take any chances. If they need to kill the Carter's, they should do so. Kjlo nods and says Chief Running Bear has told him the same thing. He moves off to send out his scouts.

Josiah looks at Chris, "You look worried," Josiah says. He knows that is not like Chris.

Chris says, "It's not the Carter's I'm worried about."

Josiah nods, "Rebecca and Linda?"

"Yes," Chris says, staring off into the distance.

+ + + + + + +

As they ride toward the Indian Village, Becky turns to Linda, "Nathan wants me to check your bandages later today. Possibly tomorrow, I can start taking some of those stitches out."

Linda nods, "That will be good. They're itchy."

Becky smiles, "Yes, I know. I just finally got all mine removed."

Linda looks at Becky and says quietly, "Are you disappointed in me?"

Becky furrows her brow, "No, why would you think such a thing?"

"For arguing with Chris in front of everyone like I did," Linda says.

Becky smiles, "No. You are used to your way of doing things. Chris is used to his. Chris has very set ideas of how the things should be. He just gets his dander up when things don't go the way he wants. You two seem to have been cut from the same piece of cloth."

Linda relaxes and smiles back at her. Vin had moved up ahead to scout out the trail. He returns and smiles at the ladies.

"Well, ladies, it appears we have clear trails ahead," Vin says with a grin.

+ + + + + + +

They arrive at the Indian Village without incident. Becky is relieved. She had visions of running into the Carter's and being out numbered.

Chief Running Bear seems happy to see them. Vin looks at Becky.

"Linda," Becky says, "Chris wants Vin to stay here with us."

Linda, surprisingly, does not appear upset. "That's fine," she says.

Chief Running Bear says, "I will give you a hut to use while you stay with us." They take their packs off the horses and several of the young boys are there to take the horses to the corral. They smile in recognition when they see Becky. She smiles back at them.

The Chief takes them to a hut, "Please feel this is your home while you are here."

"Thank you, Chief, for your hospitality," Vin says. He goes inside and is followed by Linda and Becky.

+ + + + + + +

Back in Watsonville, things are quiet. Chris sits in a chair in front of the saloon. As usual before a fight he tries to clear his head and concentrate on what needs to be done.

+ + + + + + +

The next day in the Indian Village, Linda sits on a hillside overlooking the village. It is just about sun up. She can just make out Watsonville from there. The town looks small from this far away. However, if the Carters come toward Watsonville, there will be enough of them that she will be able to see the dust cloud their approach will create from her vantage point.

She is thinking about Chris. He angers her. She does not like being told what to do by any man.

She thinks about Becky and Josiah. They never seem to fight. They are perfect for each other. She wants to find that happiness - where is the man that fits her? She closes her eyes and tries to meditate.

+ + + + + + +

 A short while later Linda runs up to the hut she has been sharing with Vin and Becky. She pokes her head in, "Come up on the hillside," she says, "Something's happening!"

+ + + + + + +

Up on the hillside overlooking the Indian village, Linda is standing looking through a scope, like the one that Vin has. Becky and Vin run up and stand behind her.

Linda points, "See that dust cloud? It's the Carter Gang. They are headed for Watsonville."

Becky and Vin share a look.

+ + + + + + +

Down in Watsonville, one of the Indian scouts rode in fast. He calls for Spotted Eagle (Kjlo). "The men are coming. They are riding hard. There may be as many as 25 men," he says as he jumps off his horse.

Chris pulls his gun, "Everyone, in your places!"

The men scatter. Several of the warriors have taken up positions on top of the buildings on the main street. Ezra is with them. Some of the warriors are armed with bow and arrows, some with rifles. They line the street taking cover where they can. They wait.

It is quiet for a few moments. Suddenly the sound of hoof beats, like thunder roars into town.

The Carter Gang stops. Conner is in the lead. He looks around, grins, "Looks like those towns people took my advice and are going to stay out of our way."

Suddenly Chris" voice calls out, "Give yourselves up. You are surrounded."

Conner yells back, "The Carter's don't give up!" The gang begins shooting. So do Chris, Ezra and the warriors.

Carters start to fall like flies. Conner is cussing. After several minutes of this he turns his horse and starts to flee, those still on their mounts follow. As they race back up the street, there is another dust cloud approaching. Lead by Josiah, Buck, JD, Nathan and several warriors, they are shooting before the dust clears.

"Out of here - Now!" Conner yells, the gang turning back the other way. But they are boxed in. Conner and a handful of men make it down a side street. Warriors are there hiding in doorways shooting with their bow and arrows. Only Conner makes it through. He rides out of town abandoning the rest of his gang to the six men from Four Corners and the Kiowa warriors.

+ + + + + + + =

Finally one of the Carter gang, lying in the street with several gunshot wounds, pulls out a white handkerchief and waves it in the air. "Carter's," he calls out, "Hold your fire. Drop your weapons."

Only five of the Carter's are still alive. All are wounded. None of Chris" men or the warriors has any serious injuries. The five survivors are taken to the jail. Nathan tends to their wounds while Buck, JD and Ezra stand guard over the prisoners.

+ + + + + + +

It is late. The sun has set. Spotted Eagle (Kjlo) comes to Chris and Josiah. "One white man did get away," he says, "Three of my men have gone after him. I believe it is the leader."

"Damn," Chris says, "Conner. I wanted to get that son of a bitch."

Josiah looks at Kjlo, "What direction was he headed in?"

"Towards the stream to the west," Kjlo replies.

"The one that leads towards your village?" Josiah asks.

"Yes, but I don't know which way he will turn when he runs into the stream." Kjlo says.

Chris and Josiah share a glance. "Kjlo, tell my men that Josiah and I are going up to the Indian Village. We'll be back as soon as we can." Chris and Josiah run to the livery.

+ + + + + + +

In the Indian Village, it is quiet. Everyone has turned in for the night. In their hut, Becky and Vin are asleep on their bed rolls. Linda is awake. She can't sleep. All seemed quiet down in Watsonville before the sun set. Becky and Vin had discussed going back but Vin decided they should stay put. He felt Chris would send someone to let them know when it was safe and Becky conceded to his opinion. Linda decides she needs some time for herself. She leaves the hut. She goes to her Grandfather. She wants someone to know she is leaving of her own free will so they won't worry. Her Grandfather is sitting in his teepee, not sleeping either.

When she enters, the Chief says, "Something disturbs your sleep, granddaughter."

She nods, "I need some time by myself. To mediate and sort things out."

"That is understandable. Where will you go?" he asks.

"I'll go to my place in the hills. Will you tell my friends I'm alright and not to worry about me?" she asks.

"I will tell them in the morning." He replies, "Have a safe journey and come back to see me when you can."

"I will. Thank you, grandfather - for everything."

+ + + + + + +

It took Chris and Josiah most of the night to get up to the Village in the dark. A scout greets them just before they reach the village. Josiah tells the scout that they are friends of Linda Murdock's.

Chris asks if it has been quiet in the village.

"Yes, it has been quiet all night," the scout replies.

Chris and Josiah visibly relax. Josiah says, "He must have turned South, towards Mexico."

Chris nods, "It would seem that way." Chris turns back to the scout, "My sister is here with one of my men. They came to your village with Linda. Can you take me to them?"

The scout nods. He calls to another scout that they are going into the village. Chris and Josiah dismount and lead their horses, following the first scout.

+ + + + + + +

The Kiowa scout leads them to the hut that Linda, Becky and Vin have shared. Chris and Josiah go in. Josiah goes to Becky and gently shakes her shoulder. She opens her eyes wide and smiles. She throws herself into Josiah's arms, "I'm so glad you're here! Chris, you too! Is everything alright?" She grabs Chris into a tight hug as well.

Chris smiles, "Everything's fine. It's over."

Becky smiles back, "That's good."

Josiah says, "The only bad news is that Conner escaped. But several of Kjlo's men are following him."

Becky nods. She reaches over and shakes Vin, "Vin, wake up," she says. She turns back to say something to Josiah and stares at the spot where Linda slept.

"Where is Linda?" she asks.

"We haven't seen her," Chris says, "Where does she sleep?"

"She should be right here. She was when I went to sleep. Her bed roll is gone," Becky replies.

Vin sits up, "Gents, welcome to our humble abode."

"Vin, have you seen Linda?" Chris asks.

"She should be sleeping right over. . . " Vin starts.

"She's not," Becky says, "Let's go talk to the Chief." They all get up and leave the hut.

+ + + + + + +

In the Chief's hut, the Chief tells them not to worry, Linda is fine.

Chris and Josiah tell him all that happened in Watsonville. Chris again thanks the Chief for the warriors he sent, "We could not have defeated the Carter gang without them."

The Chief nods, "It is good that they were stopped."

Chris mentions that Conner got away but several of the warriors followed him. The Chief nods, "I don't know if they will find him. He is clever and dangerous, that one."

Chris says, "If they don't find him, we'll continue to search for him; he has a lot to answer for."

Josiah puts his arm around Becky and gives her a squeeze. The Chief looks at them.

The Chief says to Josiah, "This woman saved my granddaughters life. You will all always be welcome in our Village."

Josiah nods, "Thank you, Chief Running Bear."

Vin looks at the Chief, "Where has Linda gone?"

"She has a home in the hills. She has gone there." The Chief replies.

"Can you tell us where her home is?" Vin asks.

+ + + + + + +

As they are preparing to leave the Indian village, Buck arrives. He says a messenger was sent by the Governor of Texas and he has brought a letter for Linda. Buck carries it with him. Chris tells him that they are on their way up to her home in the hills.

Buck is going to head back down to Watsonville. He'll wait with Ezra, Nathan and JD until Chris and the others return. The Kiowa warriors are going to stay as well.

Chris, Vin, Josiah and Becky start off. The Kiowa's have given them water and supplies. The Chief waves good-bye to them and wishes them well.

As they leave, Vin says, "Linda's place is only about an hours ride from here. We'll be there soon."

+ + + + + + +

They find Linda's home with ease. It is up in the mountains surrounded by pines. A stream runs down the mountain, near her home. There is a small cabin and in the corral they see Blue.

Becky says, "I can't believe how beautiful it is here. The top of the mountain disappears right into the clouds."

They stop before the house. There is a long hitching post and they tie their horses there. Linda has heard the horses approach. She looks out a window and sees them. They are walking around, looking at the grounds and her garden.

Vin takes the letter that Buck brought for Linda. He turns to the others and says, "Could I have a few minutes alone with Linda?"

"Sure," Chris nods.

Chris, Josiah and Becky make their way down to the corral.

Vin walks up to the front door and knocks.

He hears footsteps across the hardwood floors. Linda opens the door.

"Is it over?" She asks.

He nods, "Yes, it's over. Unfortunately, Conner escaped but several of your warriors went after him."

She looks hard at him. "Come in," she finally says.

She leads him into her kitchen. A pot of stew is on the stove; there are fresh loaves of bread on the sideboard. A bottle of tequila and two shot glasses are on the table. "Have a seat," she says. "Would you like a drink?"

He nods. She pours him a shot which he downs quickly.

"Buck brought this up to the village. A messenger brought this letter to you. It's from the governor of Texas."

She opens it and reads the letter. "It's about your pardon, Vin."

He looks at her expectantly.

She continues, "A short time ago, I was in Texas. I was on the trail of a bounty. I caught this man as he was robbing a stage coach. On the stage happened to be the Governor of the state. He was so grateful for his life being saved, that he promised me a favor. I've called in that favor and you've been pardoned."

Vin laughs and lets out a yell, "YEE HAA!"

Outside Linda's house, Chris, Becky and Josiah look up at Vin's call wondering what has happened.

+ + + + + + +

Two weeks later, everyone is back in Four Corners. Conner Carter was not found but between Linda, Becky and several other witnesses a really good sketch of him was put together for the wanted posted.

When Chris shows the poster to Becky, she made a sour face and says, "Yes, that's him." Chris and Josiah make it a point to put the sketch down to memory. They definitely want to find this one.

Becky plans a party and will be taking over the Grain Exchange for this event. Mostly she is throwing the party to celebrate Vin's pardon and there is her and Josiah's engagement to celebrate. Becky also wants the chance to thank everyone in town for making her so welcome since she's settled in Four Corners.

Becky and Josiah had met with Judge Travis during his visit to talk with him about getting their marriage license and having the Judge perform the ceremony. The Judge tells them he would be honored to perform the ceremony and a date is set. He will be back in town with his wife for the party and return again for the wedding.

The day of the party arrives. Linda has come into town for the party. Becky and Linda barricade themselves in Becky's house and Becky makes it clear that her house is off-limits to men that day. Becky says she and Linda will meet the boys at the party. Josiah just laughs it off, but Vin is extremely curious what the gals are up to.

The evening of the party and the Grain Exchange has been fixed up real fine. The day before, Becky with help from Mary, Gloria, Inez, and Casey had cleaned the place up and decorated it. The manager of the restaurant in town was going to provide the food and drink. Becky had also engaged a small band (several of the local farmers played) so there could be dancing. She was paying for the party herself and she told everyone that Vin was the guest of honor. Everyone in town and the surrounding vicinity had been invited. Becky was too busy getting things organized to be nervous about the party but Linda had butterflies in her stomach.

Back in Becky's house, early that day, Linda was standing on a small stool. She had on a pretty dark blue party dress that Becky had made for her. This day, Becky had to get the final fitting done so it would look just right. They laughed throughout the day. The curtains and doors were tightly closed against any unexpected visitors.

When the dress was finished in the afternoon, Becky says to Linda, "What do you want to do with your hair? Leave it down or should I pin it up for you?"

Linda looked thoughtful, "I usually wear it down, but I'd like to see how it looks pinned up."

Becky took Linda into the bedroom and had her sit in front of the vanity. Becky brushed Linda's hair. Linda's arm was out of the sling, but she still had to take it easy. Becky makes a French knot in Linda's hair, pinning it up in place. A few hairs were curled and framed her face. When Becky was finished, she held a hand mirror behind Linda so Linda could see how the back of her hair looked. Linda smiled, "Yes, I like this. Let's leave it this way."

Becky helps Linda apply a light touch of make up. Becky can't help smiling, "I can't wait until the boys see you - they are going to faint!"

Linda laughs.

As Becky is getting herself ready in an emerald green party dress, Linda stands in front of the full-length mirror in Becky's parlor and admires herself. She cannot believe the transformation. She no longer looks like a boy in her work clothes - she is a woman. Her face glows with more than the make up. Her greenish blue eyes sparkle.

Just before the party, a buggy pulls up in front of Becky's house. Becky has only told Casey and JD of her plan and sworn them to secrecy. Becky asks JD if he would bring the buggy and escort all the ladies to the party. JD was happy to agree. He and Casey were excited to be in on the secret and JD was looking forward to their arrival at the party.

Casey and JD knock on the door. Becky lets them in. "Good evening!" Becky says. She compliments Casey and JD on their appearance. Casey is also wearing a pink dress that Becky had made for her earlier as a thank you for being such a good friend.

"Are you ready, Linda? Come on out," Becky says. Linda comes out of Becky's bedroom.

JD eyes widen and he smiles, "Wow! You are going to cause a stir tonight!"

They all laugh.

+ + + + + + +

At the Grain Exchange, Chris is standing having a drink with Josiah, Buck, Vin and Ezra. The band is already playing and Nathan is out on the dance floor with Rain, who has come into town for the event.

Different townsfolk pass by, stopping to slap Josiah on the back or congratulate Vin. Everyone seems happy for them. Vin has a permanent smile on his face, glad his pardon has come through and he no longer needs to worry about bounty hunters or lawmen.

Finally a buggy pulls up in front. Buck nods towards it, "Well, there's JD and Casey," he says. Then he pauses and adds, "No wait. Who else is that with him? Did JD manage to get three dates for the night - well I'll be. The boy is finally learning!"

Ezra rolls his eyes, "Mr. Wilmington obviously needs glasses - that's Becky he just helped out of the buggy and the other lady is . . ." Ezra's mouth drops open. So does Buck's. Then Vin says, "Is that who I think it is?"

The five of them stare. JD starts towards the Grain Exchange door. He's got Casey on his left arm and Linda on his right. Becky is following a short distance behind; she appears to be really enjoying this.

Josiah walks up to greet them. Says good evening to Linda, Casey and winks at JD. Josiah moves on to meet Becky and walk her into the party. As she takes his arm, she whispers, "What do you think?"

Josiah smiles down at her and says, "Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather."

Vin very smoothly meets Linda at the door. "Miss Murdock, would you like to dance?"

Linda flashes him a big smile and says, "Why, thank you, Mr. Tanner. I'd be delighted."

Linda smiled and nodded to Chris as she passed. Linda smiles and says to Ezra and Buck, "Gentlemen, better close your mouths or you'll catch flies that way."

Buck and Ezra look embarrassed but close their mouths, watching as Vin sweeps her out onto the dance floor. The townsfolk are all staring. Most don't know Linda yet and there are whispers, "Who is that with Vin?" Linda smiles and nods to Nathan and Rain. Nathan smiles at her and nods his head approvingly.

After their dance, Vin begins to take Linda around the Grain Exchange, clearly proud to have her on his arm. He introduces her to the pillars of the community, then takes her over to the refreshment table and gets her a drink. As they stand together watching the party in full swing, Vin says, "You look beautiful."

She blushes and smiles, "Thank you. You look very handsome yourself."

Linda notices Becky across the room. Becky is quickly surrounded by Mary, Gloria and Inez. They are admiring her engagement ring but by the glances she is receiving, Linda has no doubt that they are asking questions about her. Becky seems to really be enjoying herself.

JD has taken Casey out onto the dance floor. Josiah takes Becky out to dance and Chris takes Mary for a spin.

Across the room, still standing by the front door are Buck and Ezra. They are clearly having a debate of some sort. At one point, Ezra give Buck a push and Buck pushes Ezra back. Josiah excuses himself and moves over to the two of them, taking hold of their shoulders, "Gentlemen, let's take this outside," Josiah says, escorting them both outside. In front of the Grain Exchange, Josiah says, "All right. What's the problem?" They both start saying they want to ask Linda to dance and are arguing over who should ask her first. Josiah shakes his head, "There must be an easier way." He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a coin. "Buck," Josiah says, "Call it." Josiah tosses the coin into the air and just before he catches it, Buck says, "Heads." Josiah looks at the coin. "Its tails. Ezra, you ask her first. And gentlemen, if you cause anymore disturbances at this party, I'll throw you both in jail to cool down for the rest of the night - is that understood?" Both Ezra and Buck nod and rush for the door. Josiah sighs and shakes his head, going back inside.

Ezra reaches Linda first and asks her to dance; Linda looks at Vin but Vin shrugs indicating it's up to her. Linda moves off onto the dance floor with Ezra.

Chris gets himself a drink and walks over towards Becky. He is about to ask her to dance with Buck rushes up.

"Damn, Ezra," Buck says.

Becky looks at him, "What's the problem?" Josiah has just joined the group. He gives Buck a warning glance.

Buck says, "Oh, Ezra just thinks he's the king or something because he got to ask Linda to dance before I did."

Becky laughs, "You know, Buck, she's not the only lady here this evening."

Ezra keeps Linda on the dance floor through two songs. Finally Buck can wait no longer. Buck starts moving across the dance floor, "Hey, Ezra, I'm cutting in now."

Becky, Chris and Josiah laugh.

+ + + + + + +

As the party is winding down, Becky and Josiah are by the door, saying good night to the departing guests, thanking them for coming. Vin and Linda are two of the last to leave.

Vin comes up to them and says, "Josiah, if you don't mind, I would like to kiss your bride." Josiah smiles and says, "You may." Vin gives her a sweet kiss on the lips. "Thank you for tonight, Becky," he says. She smiles at him, "Vin, I am so happy for you." She looks at Linda and they give each other a hug.

Becky and Josiah are alone in the Grain Exchange. They turn out lamps, close and lock the door behind them. On the front porch, Josiah says, "You did a wonderful job. It was a great party."

She smiles at him, "Well, we have to plan a wedding now."

He grins, "Think it will top this?"

She moves close to him, "It will for me."

He pulls her against him and gives her a long kiss.

+ + + + + + +

After the party, Vin walks Linda back to the hotel, where she has a room.

"So did you have a good time tonight?" Vin asks.

Linda smiles at him, "It was wonderful."

"What are your plans now?" Vin asks.

"Well, there was a reward out for that bounty I caught in Texas. I've just received the money. I've been saving for a while because I'd like to stop bounty hunting and settle down. Have a ranch and raise horses. There's a really nice piece of land out by Rock Outcrop. I was thinking of looking into buying that and starting a ranch," she replied.

Vin smiles, "You'll be pretty close then."

"Would you come and visit me once in a while?" she asks.

Vin looked at her. "I would be pleased to," he replies.

They reached the hotel and Vin walked Linda up to her room.

"Do you think you could stay on for a few days?" Vin asks.

She smiled, "I would like that."

"Then I'll see you in the morning," Vin says. Leaning forward, he kissed her.