It Was Just Supposed to Be a Relaxing Picnic

by Jan

Third story in the Smile series.

Author's note: Special Thanks to Sherry and the Muse Ladies for reviewing the story for me. The OC Amy Travis and her family were introduced in my stories, For Your Smile and Buck's Apology.

Disclaimer: I don't own any of the Magnificent Seven characters. They are the property of MGM and Trilogy Entertainment, darn; the original characters are mine. No money is being made from this story; it is purely for enjoyment purposes only. No infringements of these copyrights are intended,

In answer to a Word Prompt Challenge on the Tanner Talk list. The words from the challenge ~ Scared, Honor, and Friendship

Chapter 1

Vin stretched, working the kinks out of his back. He had just gotten out of his wagon and was standing next to it. It was unusual for him to sleep this late, but then again, it was almost dawn when he finally got to bed.

Chris walked up next to Vin. "You still look tired, Vin. Amy won't mind if you cancel."

"No, she wouldn't, but JD would be upset. He got Miss Eloise to agree to accompany him on the picnic with him with the promise that Amy and I would be with them."

"You could always go tomorrow instead."

"Naw, it's just a relaxing picnic. 'Sides, JD has been floating on air since Miss Eloise decided to stop seeing Buck to see him instead."

The two men looked at each other and smiled. They remembered back to a week ago when JD stole the fair lady's heart from Buck.

"I expected you to be in more of a hurry to get back, Buck," Nathan said when he, Buck, Josiah, and Chris were returning from taking supplies to the Seminole tribe.

"Why's that, Nate?" Buck asked.

"Pace we're going, you'll be over an hour late for your dinner date with that new school teacher," Nathan answered smiling at the idea.

"I'm not worried," Buck said smugly.

"Why's that brother, Buck?" Josiah asked.

"With Ezra in Eagle Bend for that poker game, there's not a man in town that can compete with the Wilmington charm," Buck answered, making the other three laugh.

"Vin and JD are in town you know," Chris reminded him.

"Not a problem. Vin's having dinner with Amy tonight, and JD wouldn't know what to do with a lady like Eloise," Buck said confident he was safe being late for his date.

Back in town, JD knocked on Eloise Lawson's door. "Ma'am," he greeted warmly. "Buck wouldn't want you to have to wait for dinner, so if it's all right with you, I'm offering to stand in for him."

Eloise smiled at JD asking, "Are you sure Buck won't mind?"

"No ma'am, Buck respects you too much to leave you without a chaperone," JD reassured her. "I would love to have dinner with you JD, but only if you start calling me Eloise instead of ma'am."

"I think I can handle that, Eloise," JD said smiling at her as he held out his arm. "I arranged for us to meet up with Vin and Amy at the restaurant. I thought you might feel more comfortable that way."

"Thank you, that's very considerate of you."

Buck, Chris, Nathan, and Josiah arrived in town as the two couples were leaving the restaurant, all four laughing at something JD had said.

"Eloise," Buck stammered out.

"Oh, Buck, thank you for being late. I've had the best time with JD. He's such a charmer and so considerate," Eloise gushed, not noticing Buck's mouth hanging open. Turning to JD she asked, "Would you be so kind as to escort me home, maybe stay for some coffee?"

"I'd be delighted, Eloise," JD answered as he held out his arm to her. The two walked off oblivious to anyone else.

"Eloise seems smitten with young JD," Josiah pointed out.

"Yep," Vin agreed. "She laughed at all of his jokes at dinner. She's got it bad."

"Guess the famed Wilmington charm isn't as powerful as you thought, Buck," Chris added as everyone, except for Buck, started to laugh.

"Stopped by the jail. Saw you and Nathan caught our criminals last night," Chris said, his eyes twinkling with mirth.

Vin shook his head thinking about the two fourteen-year-old boys that had been causing such a ruckus with the townsfolk. The Seven had been taking turns watching the town at night in hopes they could catch the troublemakers before they did any serious damage. Last night had been Vin and Nathan's turn. They caught the boys in the act of moving the barrels around in front of Gloria Potter's store. After making the boys put everything back, they locked them up as a lesson more than anything else.

"Dang boys couldn't strike early in the evening. They waited until it was an hour before dawn to play their tricks."

"JD filled me in at the jail. I figure leaving them locked up 'til tomorrow should put the fear of God back in 'em."

Vin laughed. "Reckon that'll do it."

Vin nudged Chris to look up by the saloon where JD and Buck were talking. They made their way over to join their friends.

"I'm just saying, ain't much of a friend that would steal another man's lady," Buck insisted.

"All I did was step in and made sure the lady got her dinner, since you weren't in town."

"I told her when we rode out that I wasn't sure if I would be back in time for our dinner, but I would make it up to her if I didn't show. She was fine with it until you butted in."

"I didn't know that, Buck, and it's not my fault that she finds me charming."

"Let it go, Buck. JD didn't do anything wrong."

"Stay out of this, Vin. I got a bone to pick with you, too. You and Amy are helping the boy steal my girl."

"Way I heard it, Buck, you were sure JD and me weren't a threat, so you took your time gettin' back to town."

Vin saw JD was feeling bad about what had happened, but he also knew the Easterner cared about Eloise. "You always get the girl, Buck. Is it really so horrible that this one likes me better than you?"

Buck knew with Chris standing right there he couldn't deny what Vin said. He also knew it was more his pride that was stung than any real emotions for Eloise. "I wish you the best with her kid."

"Thanks, Buck, I wasn't trying to step in on you. I wouldn't do that."

"I know that kid. Just be sure to treat her right or you'll answer to me." Giving JD a huge smile, Buck reached out to wrap an arm around JD's neck before knocking off his hat and roughing up his hair.

JD was so happy that Buck had forgiven him that he didn't complain much. "Hey, knock it off, Buck."

Once Buck let him go, JD stepped back making sure he was out of his friend's reach. "Vin, you sure Amy didn't mind doing all the cooking for our picnic?"

"She volunteered, JD. She's fine with it."

"I rented a buckboard from Yosemite for us to use. Do you want to meet at the stable in an hour?"

"Fine, I'm heading over to Amy's now. I'll find you if that don't work for her."

"I'll come with you," Chris said. At Vin's questioning look he added, "Josiah and I are taking Josh and Betsy riding."

Josh came running out to meet Vin and Chris when they walked up to the Travis home. "Vin, guess what? Me and Betsy gets to go riding with Chris and Josiah."

Vin reached down and lifted the five year old up to sit on his hip. "I heard, Pard. Is your Mama here?"

"Yep, she's in the kitchen cooking for your picnic. She said I don't get to go with you."

"This picnic is for grown ups, Pard. Next time we'll take everyone."

"Promise?" Josh asked, his eyes full of excitement.

"Promise," Vin said with a wink that had Josh laughing.

Chris smiled watching his friend and the little boy. Vin was a natural with kids, and would be a great Pa to both Josh and Rosie once he and Amy got married.

"Mister Chris, Mister Chris," Betsy called as she threw herself into his arms. "Can we go riding now?"

Chris swung Betsy up to sit on his hip. She was a few months older than her cousin Josh and just as adventurous. Chris had gone with Vin several times when he took the two out to teach them the ways of nature.

"Mama, Vin and Chris are here," Josh yelled as they made their way into the kitchen.

"So I see, morning gentlemen," Amy greeted. "The cookies have cooled off enough if you want some."

Josh and Betsy didn't have to be told twice. They jumped down and raced over to the plate of cookies on the table. Vin and Chris, at a much slower pace, also came over and grabbed a couple of cookies each.

Two-year-old Rosie grabbed Vin's pants leg, reaching out she said, "Up."

"Mornin' sweetpea, how's my girl?" Vin asked as he swung her in the air before letting her settle on his hip.

Rosie giggled, and then put her lips together in a kissing motion. Vin smiled as he leaned down to kiss her softly, making her smile back at him.

Looking over at Amy, Vin winked. He walked over to where she was putting food in the picnic basket. "Mornin'," he whispered before capturing her lips in a gentle kiss that warmed her soul.

Vin and Amy made it a practice not to hide their affection for each other from the children, holding hands, hugging, and kissing in front of them. Amy had told Vin that her whole life, her parents were open about their love, and it made she and her brothers and sisters feel safe and loved more because of it. Both Vin and Amy wanted Josh and Rosie to know that their relationship included them and always being open in front of the kids was one of the ways they showed it.

When Vin lifted his head, he felt Amy's eyes studying him. He knew she was asking if he was all right. All he had to do was say the word and she would call off the picnic. She would even make an excuse if he wanted her to. He smiled and winked at her, telling her without words he was fine. Vin's smile grew when Amy smiled and winked back at him, her hand squeezing his arm.

"What did you make?" Vin asked, peeking in the basket.

"Let's see. We have fried chicken, biscuits, ham sandwiches, hard boiled eggs, corn dodgers with molasses, fried taters, pickles, tomatoes, apples, chocolate cake, peach pie, and lemonade."

"Maybe I'll come with you on that picnic." Chris reached down to rough up Josh's hair.

"Don't worry, Chris, I made you some to take on your ride with the kids." Amy pointed to the bulging saddle bags sitting in the chair.

"Amy, if you ever get tired of that Texan, I'm first in line to replace him."

"Find your own lady, Cowboy. This one is mine." Vin wrapped his free arm around Amy's shoulders, pulling her snug against him.

"He's right, Chris. I'm head over heels in love with this blue-eyed charmer." Amy gave Vin a quick kiss, before she rested her head on his shoulder, and winked at Rosie, who giggled, and then laid her head on Vin's chest, too.

Just as Chris opened his mouth to wipe the smirk off Vin's face, Betsy spoke up excitedly. "You can marry my Mama, Mister Chris. She cooks almost as good as Cousin Amy."

"Betsy Mitchell!" Holly had walked into the kitchen just as her daughter announced her plan.

"But, Mama, you and Mister Chris are alone. You can marry and I gets Mister Chris like Josh gets Mister Vin."

"Sounds like a right good plan to me, Betsy." Vin earned a huge smile from Betsy, but a glare from both Holly and Chris.

Amy gave Vin a playful punch in the shoulder. "Betsy honey, Mister Chris was just teasing Vin. People don't fall in love just 'cause you want them to."

"Don't you worry, Sweetheart, I don't have to marry your Mama to be here for you, my word of honor." Chris squatted down to be at eye level with Betsy. "We still friends?"

Betsy nodded and ran up to give Chris a big hug. "I love you, Mister Chris."

"How about, we take this here meal Amy made us and go on our ride?"

"Yes!" both Betsy and Josh said together.

"You both be good and listen to what Chris and Josiah tell you." Amy walked over and hugged both Josh and Betsy.

"We will, Mama, bye." Josh promised before he went over to hug Vin, followed closely by Betsy.

Holly squatted down and held out her arms. "Don't I get a hug goodbye, too?"

"Bye, Mama, love you." Betsy hugged Holly tight.

"Love you too, Pumpkin." Once Betsy let go, Holly pulled Josh into her embrace. "And I love you too, little man."

Standing up, Holly turned to Amy and Vin. "Rosie, would you like to go with me to Potter's store? We can walk with Josh, Betsy, and Chris."

"Go ahead, Sweetie, your Mama and I will see you tonight." Vin handed Rosie over to Holly.

"You be good too, Sweetpea, and mind your Cousin Holly." Amy kissed her youngest then nodded at Chris who was putting the saddle bags over his shoulder. "Y'all have fun."

"We will. You both have fun, too. C'mon kids, let's ride." Chris herded Holly and the kids out.

Vin put his arm around Amy's waist as they watched them leave. "Betsy scared Chris wanting him to marry Holly."

"She scared Holly too. And don't you go getting any ideas about helping Betsy play matchmaker for those two." They both started laughing. "I need a favor from you."

"What do you need?"

Amy pulled out a plate and put it on the table. She took the napkin off the top to show Vin it was full of the food she had prepared for their picnic. "Will you try this and let me know if it tastes all right?"

Vin looked at the plate and then back at Amy, he stroked her cheek saying, "Do you know how much I love you?"

"Yep, head over heels. Now eat or we'll be late."

"Yes ma'am."

Chapter 2

JD and Eloise were at the stable when Vin and Amy arrived. Vin put the picnic basket in the buckboard then took the two blankets from Amy, placing them next to the basket.

"Want me to saddle the horses?" Vin asked, looking around seeing Peso and Milagro still in their stalls.

"Um, no. We're just taking the buckboard, I figured I'd drive with Eloise beside me, and you and Amy could ride in the back."

JD leaned in close to Vin and said under his breath, "The dust bothers Eloise. I hope you and Amy don't mind."

Vin wasn't thrilled about it, but this was important to JD, so he nodded his agreement. He smiled at Amy, then reached out and lifted her up to sit on the back of the buckboard. Jumping up to sit next to her, Vin said, "Let's go have our picnic."

Both Vin and Amy saw the relief on JD's face. He gave them a huge smile, then he rushed to the front of the buckboard and climbed on the seat next to Eloise. As they were pulling out of town, Vin had Amy laughing, telling her about his and Nathan's exploits the night before catching the young vandals.

Eloise glanced to the back of the buckboard before turning to JD with a warm smile. "They look like they're having a good time."

JD nodded before saying, "Vin laughs a lot more since he and Amy got together. He likes to make her smile. How about you? Are you having a good time?"

"Coming out west has been such an adventure for me. I came to teach the children, but I think I'm learning more than they are."

"Life is different out west, isn't it?"

"Oh my yes, take today. Back in Philadelphia we wouldn't take a buckboard, it would be a surrey. The picnic would have been prepared by our cook or a restaurant."

"Amy's a great cook."

"Oh, I'm sure she is. In a way, I envy her. My Mother insisted I live the life of leisure with our staff to wait on me. Amy has experienced life, while I watched it out the window. I was rather spoiled. My friends would be shocked to see me now."

"Your family was well off?" JD asked, a knot growing in the pit of his stomach. Down deep he knew if they were still back east, Eloise would have looked right past him as she did all the other servants.

"Not compared to some, but we lived a comfortable life."

"Bet your family wasn't too happy when you wanted to move out west."

Eloise laughed. "No, they tried to talk me out of it, but I needed to prove to myself that I could stand on my own two feet. Silly isn't it?"

"I don't think so, in fact I think you're doing great all by yourself."

"Thank you, JD, you are so sweet to me."

"Hey, JD, you missed the turn to the lake," Vin hollered from the back.

"That's 'cause we ain't going to the lake. I have somewhere new in mind."

"Did you tell anyone where we was goin'?" Vin asked, knowing that both Chris and Josiah thought they were going to the lake for their picnic.

"Don't be such an old lady, Vin. And if it makes you feel better, yes, Nathan knows where we'll be."

"That's all I wanted to know, JD."

Amy and Eloise both started to laugh. It wasn't long before Vin and JD joined in as they continued on their way to the picnic spot JD had chosen.

It was a half an hour later when JD pulled the buckboard to a stop, announcing, "We have to walk from here."

Vin jumped off the back, then turned to help Amy, who was pulling out the blankets and picnic basket before jumping down herself. "How far, JD?"

"We gotta go across that plank there on the creek and then up the hill. I'll take the basket and blankets over first then come back to help Eloise."

Vin nodded. "I'll unhitch the horses, and see they are cared for."

Amy helped Vin with the horses while Eloise watched JD carry over their supplies. They were finishing up the last horse when JD came back.

"Go on ahead, JD, we'll catch up," Vin said as he stowed the tack from the horses in the bed of the buckboard.

"All right, we'll be up on that hill over there. Are you ready, Eloise?"

Eloise took the hand JD was holding out to her and said, "Yes, let's go."

JD and Eloise were almost at the top of the hill when Vin and Amy got to the plank to cross the creek. Amy hesitated. Looking at the creek, she debated if she wanted to just wade across rather than walk the plank.

Vin knew Amy had a fear of falling and even though the plank wasn't that high off the ground, this would make her nervous. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze as he flashed her one of his drop dead smiles and a wink.

"Just hold on to me, Sweetheart, I won't let you fall."

Amy relaxed a little and smiled back. "I know you won't." She took a deep breath and let it out. "Let's go."

Vin made sure to go slow, but steady, as they made their way across. Amy knew if Vin had been alone he would have been up the hill with JD and Eloise already.

Vin stepped off when they got to the end, then turned and grabbed Amy's waist. He lifted her up and swung her around to stand on the other side of him before pulling her in for a quick kiss.

"Thank you," Amy whispered when Vin lifted his head.

"For what?"

"For loving me, protecting me, and not laughing at my stupid fears."

"Darlin', loving and protecting you is easy, and I'd never laugh at you."

"I love you so much, Vin." Amy kissed him softly, pulling back she smiled. "Know what? We're down here and JD is up the hill with all the food."

"Damn, that's right. We need to go up that hill." Vin put his arm around Amy's shoulders, pulling her tight against him. He smiled when she put her arm around his waist.

By the time Vin and Amy made it to the top of the hill, JD and Eloise had the two blankets spread out and all the food out of the basket.

"This looks wonderful, Amy," Eloise said. "I'm going to have to take some cooking lessons from you."

"I'd be happy to teach you, Eloise, just let me know when you have some free time and we'll work something out."

The day was turning out like JD had hoped. The weather was nice, not too hot or too cool. They had plenty of shade and a nice view from the spot they set up. Amy had prepared a delicious meal and the company was delightful.

JD entertained them all by telling stories of the Seven's adventures during their meal. The laughter added to the relaxed friendly atmosphere which surrounded the four.

Amy wiped away the tears rolling down her cheeks from the laughter JD's stories had caused. "You tell a great story, JD."

"Thank you, will you tell Buck that?"

"Yes, I will."

Amy started to get up, stopping when JD said, "Don't you dare. You did all the cooking, we can do the clean up. You too, Vin, me and Eloise have it under control."

Vin picked up his coat from its spot on the blanket next to him. He placed it between Amy and the tree, and then had her lean back using the coat to protect her from the rough bark. "Comfortable?"

"Yep, thanks."

Vin stretched out on the blanket, resting his head on Amy's lap and using his hat to cover his face. "Good, so am I."

Amy laughed and rested her hand on Vin's chest. "I'm glad."

Eloise packed the leftovers back into the picnic basket while JD took the dishes down to the creek to rinse them off. He also buried the chicken bones, not wanting them to attract animals.

Satisfied everything was back the way they found it, JD asked Eloise, "Would you like to go for a walk?"

"That would be nice."

JD carried the picnic basket over and put it up on a stump near Amy and Vin. He started to tell them where he was going when Amy put her finger in front of her lips whispering, "Shhhh."

She looked down at Vin to let JD know he was sleeping. JD hesitated about leaving until Amy smiled, and patted the pocket of her skirt, letting him know she had her gun and they would be fine.

JD mouthed that he and Eloise were going for a walk. Smiling, Amy mouthed back for them to take their time and have fun.

JD had seen Amy shoot; he knew she was more than able to take care of his friend. Holding out a hand to Eloise, JD waited for her to take it, before they left on their walk.

JD would stop occasionally to point out something to Eloise, passing on the lessons about the world around them that Vin had so patiently taught him. The young couple lost track of time and it was almost two hours later when they arrived back at their picnic site.

Vin still had his head in Amy's lap, but they were talking quietly when JD and Eloise returned. Looking up at JD, Vin said, "Reckon we should be heading back to town."

At JD's nod of agreement, Vin stood, and then turned to hold out his hand to Amy. After helping her up, Vin reached down to lift the blanket up. He shook it out, then folded it and laid the blanket next to the other that JD had folded before he and Eloise left on their walk.

Amy was shaking out Vin's coat when she noticed Vin turning, listening carefully. "Aw hell, JD, take Eloise over to that tree. Sit next to it and both of you hold on. Don't let go no matter what. Amy, do the same with that tree there."

Eloise started to asked questions but both JD and Amy knew better than to question Vin when he used that tone. "C'mon, Eloise, we gotta do what Vin says."

They had just settled in place when they heard the roar of water rushing at them. It had been a beautiful day where they were, but Amy remembered Vin pointing out to her the storm over the nearby mountains. She knew there was a small dam up from where they were located and figured it must have broken in the storm sending a flash flood down on them.

Amy was hanging onto to the tree, praying silently, when she felt a warm body lay next to her and an arm wrap itself around her. She felt some of the fear she was experiencing leave, knowing that Vin was here now, protecting her.

Amy let go of the tree with one arm and used it to pull Vin tight against her. She knew he would be mad at her for letting go of the tree but she felt safer holding him than she did the tree.

It seemed like hours that the water roared around them. In reality, it was only a few minutes. Vin lifted his head and looked around, relief filling him when he saw that the hill they were on was high enough to be out of the rushing water, which surrounded them.

Standing, Vin reached down and helped Amy up. "JD, are you and Eloise all right?"

"Yeah, we're fine," JD replied as he and Eloise stood.

"My God, what happened?" Eloise asked, holding on to JD to steady her nerves.

"Flash flood," Vin answered. "You stay here, I'm gonna look around."

Amy watched him walk off before she sat down on a fallen tree, too shaken to notice that Eloise was fast losing control.

Eloise looked around and saw the swirling, mud-filled water surrounding them. "We need to get out of here."

"Vin's looking for a way, let's wait and see what he finds," JD said trying to calm her down.

"No, JD, if the water gets higher…"

"We're safe where we are, Eloise. The worst is over."

"The rope, there was a rope in the buckboard. You can swim over and get it."


"See the buckboard is just over there. It's not that far. You told me you were a good swimmer. Please, JD, I can't be here. It's your fault I'm trapped; I need you to save me."

The desperation in Eloise's voice was making headway with JD. Under normal circumstances he would have known trying to cross the swollen creek was a bad idea. He was still in shock by what had happened and not thinking clearly. It was his idea to come on the picnic and to come here. She was right, it was his fault and he had to fix it. He took off his hat and jacket.

Amy had calmed down enough to realize what was going on. Jumping up, she ran over to JD and grabbed his arm. "No, JD, wait for Vin to get back."

"I can do this, Amy. It's not far, and I'm a strong swimmer."

"He can do it, let him go," Eloise pleaded trying to pull Amy away from JD.

"NO!" She yelled for help, while she argued with the young couple. "VIN! The water's too fast and there's too much debris, you'll be killed. VIN!" Amy was getting frantic. JD was pulling away and Eloise kept yanking on her to make her let him go.

JD managed to break free just as Vin came running up. Amy turned to Vin crying, "JD's going to try to swim across."

Vin was next to JD before he could make it to the bank. "JD, listen to me. Look at the water; it's full of branches and rocks. Look how fast it's running. You know you don't stand a chance in making it across. I need you here to help me protect Amy and Eloise."

"Eloise needs to get out of here. It's my fault we're trapped."

"JD, there's no way you could know there would be a flash flood. We're safe here and Nathan knows where we are. When we don't come back to town, the boys will come lookin' for us."

JD thought about it and realized waiting for the boys to find them was the smart thing to do. No matter how strong of a swimmer he was, he wouldn't make it, and then Vin would try to save him. What would happen to Eloise and Amy if he and Vin were hurt?

Vin saw that JD listened and worked it out in his head. Cupping his hand behind JD's neck, Vin said, "Promise me you won't try to leave without talkin' to me first."

"I promise. I'm sorry I got carried away."

"It's all right, kid. Just don't do it again. We need to stay calm and protect the ladies." Vin smiled, letting JD know he trusted him.

The two men walked over to where Amy was trying to get Eloise to calm down. When words weren't helping, Amy grabbed Eloise by the shoulders and shook her. "JD would have been killed and we would be in more trouble, now stop acting like a child."

"Amy's right, Eloise, it's too dangerous to try to swim in this," JD said, pulling her against him and letting her cry on his shoulder.

Amy turned to Vin and walked into his open arms, letting his warm embrace melt away her fears. "Thank God you got back when you did. I was so scared I wouldn't be able to stop him."

"I knew you wouldn't be yelling for me like that if it wasn't serious. You did good, Sweetheart, it's all over now."

Once JD got Eloise calmed down, he asked Vin, "Did you find anything?"

"No, we're completely surrounded by water. There's no choice but to wait for the boys to come."

"We should gather some wood for a fire," JD said.

"A fire? What do we need a fire for?" Eloise asked starting to get upset again.

"Best we are prepared, in case we have to spend the night." Vin looked at Amy. He and JD would take turns going for wood if Amy wasn't sure she could handle Eloise.

"Spend the night? We can't spend the night here."

"We probably won't have to, Eloise. I heard you are planning a performance for your students. Will you tell me about it?" Amy smiled at Vin, then held out her hand to Eloise. The two ladies walked over to sit on the fallen log.

Eloise started to talk about the performance she had mapped out in her head, relaxing a little the more she talked.

Vin and JD made fast work of gathering the wood. Amy would have helped them, but she didn't think leaving Eloise alone was a good idea. Once the men had enough to last through the night, they joined the ladies on the log.

Chapter 3

JD stayed with Eloise, while Vin and Amy went to spread the blankets out on the tree branches to dry any moisture that might have been absorbed while they were sitting on the ground. Once the sun went down it would get cold and the blankets were going to be mighty handy to have. They also made a couple of beds of pine needles to protect them from the cold damp ground if they had to spend the night.

Amy saw the look of disgust on Vin's face when he glanced over at Eloise. "She's scared, Vin. Don't be so hard on her. I get the feeling she lived a very sheltered life in the city. She's never had to deal with anything like this."

"You telling me you weren't scared?"

"I was scared too, but I trust you, and I grew up on a ranch."

"She could have gotten JD killed."

"I know, but JD is smart. I keep thinking when he actually got to the bank and really looked at that creek, he wouldn't have tried it."

"I don't think JD is likin' the person Eloise is under all that education."

Amy ran her hand down Vin's suspender, and gave him a sad look. "Yeah, we'll need to be there for him."

"We will, and we'll have some help from our friends, too." Vin leaned forward and softly kissed Amy. "Reckon we should get back."

"Um, I need to go take care of something first."

"Need help?"

"No, this is better if I'm alone."

Vin was chuckling to himself when he walked back to where JD and Eloise were sitting. A short while later, Amy walked back to the clearing. Before joining the others, she turned and headed over to a small pile of wood. She hadn't noticed it before and thought to bring it over with the rest that Vin and JD had gathered.

Vin stood and walked toward Amy. Eloise gasped when she saw Vin pull out his knife and throw it towards Amy.

Amy stared at the knife embedded in the log, just inches from her hand. Vin was next to her before she could react. Pulling out the knife, he lifted the rattlesnake he had killed.

He held the rattlesnake up for all to see before dropping it in the grass. "Damnit, be more careful. You almost got bit."

Amy's mouth was moving, but no words were coming out. Vin saw the tears filling her eyes and felt bad for yelling at her. He knew she was scared of snakes and normally wouldn't have made the mistake she just did.

Vin pulled her tight against him, feeling worse when he heard her whisper in a broken voice, "I'm sorry, I know better. I was in a hurry and didn't look."

"Aw hell, I'm sorry. You scared me half to death when I saw that rattler starting to strike. I shouldn't have yelled at you."

"Yes, you should have yelled, and I'm sorry I scared you. If it makes you feel any better, it scared me, too." Amy's voice was stronger and Vin could tell she wasn't shaking as bad.

"Well, at least now we can have rattler for dinner tonight." Vin relaxed when he felt Amy start to laugh.

Amy felt safe in Vin's arms. She loved the fact that no matter how bad the situation seemed, he could always make her laugh. "Only if you cook it," she said, hearing Vin laugh quietly.

"Thank you," Amy whispered before kissing his cheek.

"Anytime, Darlin', anytime." Vin reach down to grab the snake he had dropped, then led Amy back to where JD was trying to get Eloise calmed down again.

"JD, get the fire going. I'm gonna take this down to the water and skin it."

"Why does he need to skin it?" Eloise asked, afraid to find out the answer.

"So he can cook it," Amy replied.

"He doesn't expect us to eat snake does he?"

"Actually, Eloise, rattlesnake is quite good. But there is some of our picnic left, you can eat that."

"My parents were right! I never should have left Philadelphia."

"Tell me what it's like back east," Amy said, trying to change the subject before Eloise got all wound up again.

Between JD telling stories and Amy asking questions they managed to keep Eloise distracted. When the darkness surrounded them, JD gave Eloise his jacket. Vin started to give Amy his, but she had a better idea.

Moving to sit directly in front of him, Amy leaned back against Vin's chest. He wrapped his arms around her waist making Amy sigh with contentment. "Isn't this better?"

Amy smiled when she felt the rumble of laughter in Vin's chest. JD added more wood to the fire then told them all about his trip out west. Everything was going smoothly until Vin said they should get some sleep.

"We can't sleep here, my reputation will be ruined," Eloise cried.

"Eloise, JD and Vin are honorable men. They would never take advantage of the situation," Amy said with confidence.

"Vin and I can use one blanket. You and Amy can have the other, it'll be fine."

"Who will believe that's what happened? It's not like it will matter about Amy. Everyone knows she's a loose woman." She saw JD's eye's widen, and his mouth drop open in shock at her words, but couldn't stop. "Oh c'mon JD, she has two children and has never been married. She's a whore."

JD was horrified. He considered Amy a good friend. If he knew Eloise had such a low opinion of Vin's lady, none of them would be here now.

Vin was done putting up with Eloise and started toward her, stopping when Amy grabbed his arm. "Fine, since my reputation doesn't matter, I'm sleeping next to Vin. He'll be warmer to snuggle up to than you are. Good night."

Amy took Vin's hand and led him over to the other side of the fire by one of the pine needle beds they had set up earlier. She could tell that Vin was still mad at Eloise. "Vin, listen to me, please."

Amy waited until Vin looked her in the eye. "I've heard worse and it's all right. When people found out I was pregnant with Josh they talked, even some of those who knew the true story called me names. That little boy means the world to me, and having him in my life is worth putting up with all those rude people. I wouldn't trade one second of it for anything. I knew when I adopted Rosie it would add fuel to the fire. I may regret some things in my life, but Josh and Rosie aren't one of them. Being a proper lady doesn't come close to the happiness my kids give me."

Vin smiled, clearly reading the love in her eyes. "If being a proper lady means you have to be like Eloise, I'm glad you're not one."

Amy laughed. "Me too, besides now I don't have to listen to her whine all night."

Vin wrapped his arms around her and pulled her snug against him. "If I have to snuggle up with someone to stay warm, I'm glad it's you instead of JD."

Laughter bubbled up from Amy. "I'm tired, let's get some sleep."

Vin pulled the blanket down from the branch before he settled in next to Amy. She rested her head on his shoulder, pulling his coat over both of them followed with the blanket.

On the other side of the fire, Eloise was trying again to get JD to leave. "They're asleep, you can go get help."

"Are you insane? Jumping into an overflowing creek at night would mean my death. Is that what you want?"

"No, of course not, but, JD, you said you would protect me. Doesn't that include my reputation? Vin will never know if you look for some way out of this mess."

"I'll know. I gave him my word. What kind of man does that make me if I can't honor my word to a friend?"

"What about your word to me?"

"You are safe; there is no reason for anyone to risk their life. You may not like it, Eloise, but I'm not violating Vin's trust in me for your precious reputation."

Eloise stomped her foot, and then walked over to the other pine needle bed. She shot JD a dirty look before wrapping the blanket around her and lying down to go to sleep. JD was left standing by the fire to wonder what he ever saw in her to begin with.

A couple of hours later, Vin woke up hearing a noise. He carefully moved Amy out of his arms, settling her on the ground next to him. Sitting up, he slipped on his coat, then tucked the blanket around Amy.

Vin had his knife ready when he left Amy's side to go investigate the noise. Seeing JD by the fire, Vin put his knife back and went to sit next to his friend.

"Want to talk about it?"

"I thought she cared about me. She wanted me to sneak out after you and Amy went to sleep."

"You didn't go though."

"Of course I didn't go. Do you think I'm stupid?"

"Nope, never once thought that, JD."

"I shouldn't be taking it out on you. I'm the one that wanted to bring Eloise on a picnic. I'm sorry for what she said to Amy."

"Amy doesn't blame you, JD, and I think she was kind of glad to have an excuse not to bunk up with Eloise."

"Amy's a good woman. You're a lucky man, Vin."

"That I am, JD."

"I never knew my Pa. I supposed she would have said those things about my Ma, too."

"JD, your Ma loved you just like Amy loves Josh and Rosie." Vin waited for JD to nod that he understood. "Amy told me she wouldn't trade being Josh and Rosie's Ma for anything. Bet your Ma felt the same way about you."

"I thought I cared about Eloise, but now…"

"My Pa told me once, during the bad times was when you found out what kind of a person someone really is. You have to ask yourself, is she who you want to go through the bad times with?"

"If it would turn out anything like this picnic has been, then no."

"Be glad you found out now. You're young, JD. You have time to find the right woman for you. Someone you can count on to watch your back."

"Thanks, Vin. You're a good friend. Go on back to sleep. No use both of us being cold."

"She didn't give you back your jacket before she took the blanket, huh?"

"I don't know why that should surprise me. Eloise has only thought of herself since the flood happened."

Vin took off his coat and handed it to JD. "You keep it tonight, Amy and I will be fine with the blanket."

"Thanks, Vin."

Crawling back under the blanket, Vin took Amy in his arms again. "Is JD all right?" she asked, her voice full of sleep.

"He will be, go back to sleep, Sweetheart."

Eloise was still mad at all of them when they finished breakfast. Vin really didn't care. JD and Amy had both given up trying to make her happy. The scowl didn't leave her face until they spotted the five riders heading in their direction.

Chris, Buck, Josiah, Nathan, and Ezra pulled up next to the buckboard. Several ideas were discussed and discarded before they finally decided to put a rope over a sturdy branch that hung out to the middle of the creek. They tied a small log to the end of the rope and swung it to Vin and JD.

Eloise was right beside Vin and JD the whole time. Amy was back at their campsite making sure the fire was out and the picnic basket and blankets were ready to go. She knew there was a good chance they would have to leave them behind, but just in case they could take them, she wanted to be prepared.

Vin untied the log from the rope and looked around. Eloise was at his side in an instant. "Please, I need to go first."

"All right, but you do exactly what I say," Vin said. The look in his eyes told her now was not the time to mess with this man.

Anxious to get to the other side, Eloise quickly agreed. Vin tied the rope around her waist. "Hang on tight. The boys are going to pull on the rope, lifting you up some. JD and I will push so you swing over to the other side, Buck'll catch you."

Eloise nodded that she understood. It worked just like they planned. Eloise was on the other side, clinging to Buck, sobbing out how horrible it had been. Chris managed to get the rope untied from Eloise so they could tie another log on and send it back over.

"Amy, you're next." Vin gave her the same instructions that he gave Eloise, but he also had her put on his coat before tying the rope around her waist. "The hide will protect you from the rope."

"What about you?" Amy asked. "Should I send your coat back?"

"Naw, JD and I will use the blankets." His wink told her he hadn't given Eloise anything on purpose.

On the other side, Buck was trying to release himself from Eloise's grasp. "Now darlin', I need to go help the boys get Amy, Vin, and JD back."

"I need you, Buck, don't leave me," Eloise cried.

"Buck, take her over by the buckboard," Chris ordered. The look he gave him told Buck not to argue.

Buck didn't like not being able to help three of his friends, but had the feeling keeping Eloise away from Chris was more help than if he stayed.

Ezra caught Amy, quickly untied her, and prepared the rope for the next rescue.

JD handed Vin one of the blankets. "You're next, Vin."

Vin nodded, knowing JD needed to be the last across for his own peace of mind. They both were aware the last one would have to push off himself, meaning they couldn't raise him in the air first.

JD made sure to have everything he needed within his reach when the rope came back. He wrapped the blanket around him, tied off the rope, then reached for the picnic basket. He heard Chris holler to leave it and ignored him. JD backed up and ran toward the water, with a yell he swung out and pulled his legs up.

This time, they had to wait until JD was in the air to pull him up making it easier to clear the water. Vin went to help Josiah, Nathan, and Chris pull on the rope, while Ezra and Amy waited to catch JD when he got to their side.

Buck let out a whoop of joy once everyone was on the same side of the creek. He still couldn't get Eloise to let go. Again, he was forced to watch while his friends hitched up the horses to the buckboard.

Amy walked up to JD, who was putting the picnic basket in the bed of the buckboard. "You should have left it, JD. I can replace a basket. I can't replace you."

"No, Eloise was horrible to you. I didn't want you to have to give up anything else."

Amy reached out and gave JD a hug. "You deserve someone special, JD, don't settle for anything less."

Nathan insisted on checking everyone out before they left. Once he announced they were all fine, Buck managed to get Eloise to let go on the promise that he would drive the buckboard. He helped her to get seated then crawled up beside her.

Vin smiled when Amy hopped up to sit on the back without his help. Hopping up beside her, they moved over making a space on the other side of Amy. "C'mon, JD, there's room for you, too."

Josiah, Nathan, Ezra, and Chris all mounted up. Looking at his friends, Chris said, "Let's go home."

The End

Corn Dodgers
From the Little House Cookbook
Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories

Corn dodgers are a descendent of the Indians' appone, or corn pone – small cakes baked directly in the fireplace embers, with or without a wrapping of wet corn husks. In the Midwest, dodgers were usually made of cornmeal, lard, and milk. They were shaped either in small patties or like miniature ears of corm and were baked, fried, or fried and baked.

Dodgers take some getting used to, but they are worth trying – both hot, with butter, as they appeared at Thanksgiving, and cold, with molasses, as the girls ate them.

For 1 dozen dodgers you will need:

Cornmeal, 2 cups yellow stoneground
Salt, 1 scant teaspoon
Lard, 1 tablespoon
Homogenized milk, ½ cup whole
Drippings, bacon or salt pork, 1 tablespoon
Bowl, 2-quart; skillet, 12-inch

Mix cornmeal and salt in bowl. Press lard into well in center. Bring ½ cup of water to a boil, pour it on the lard, and stir after lard has melted. Stir until mixture is cool and crumbly, and then stir in enough milk to form a sticky batter, about ½ cup.

Heat about 1 tablespoon of drippings in skillet. Shape the paste with hands into "corn ears," or drop it by the spoonful into hot skillet and press with spoon into cakes, watching out for hot spattering fat. Fry ears or cakes well on one side; turn and brown well on the other. Cook about 15 minutes in all.