By D. G. Fisher


Chapter 10

For some reason Adam’s father and brothers were surprised when Thea told them at breakfast the next morning that her husband had already left for the office hours ago with the four detectives in tow.

“I guess I was assuming he would take some time off now that Jackson’s organization has been dismantled,” her father-in-law said.

She smiled at Ben.  “Normally that would be true, but he has a lot to do today because we decided last night to be rude and invite ourselves to go back with you.”

The three men smiled at each other in pleased surprise and the children were practically humming with excitement.

Ben laughed at their enthusiasm, “So you’re looking forward to coming home with us?”

Annalise nodded vigorously, her eyes shining an emerald green as she grinned at her grandfather.

Alexander was bouncing in his chair, so Thea put a hand on his shoulder to quell him.  Bouncing was not proper behavior at the table.

“Yeah,” the little boy enthused, “and specially since we get to go in our own car!”

The three men looked to Thea to explain.

“Adam’s businesses are all owned or jointly owned by his company, Eden Enterprises, and the company has it’s own railway car.”

“We’ve never even seen it,” Alexander continued and started to bounce again.  His mother gave him an chiding look, so he reluctantly stopped.

“Well,” Thea said to him, “I can tell you’re finished so you and Annalise may be excused.”

The two children quickly slid from their chairs and started to run to the door until their mother cleared her throat.  They both stopped and turned to walk back to her.

She looked at them with a raised eyebrow, but didn’t speak.  Glancing at each other they hung their heads, knowing what was coming.

“What is the first rule of this house?”

“No running,” they replied in unison.

“Correct.  Now I have a lot to do today and am not in the mood for punishing anyone so I am asking you to do your best to stay out of trouble.  Can you do that for me?”

Looking up at their mother’s smiling face they both nodded.  She held her arms out to them and they crowded up against her, one on either side.  Giving each one a squeeze, she put her own head down in between theirs.

“I’m going to need a lot of help from you two on this trip and I hope I can count on you.”

The children looked up at her, a little startled at first, then with joy at the idea of having some responsibility.  They earnestly nodded.

“Alright, here is what I want you to do.  Go to your rooms and decide what you want to take with you.  We will be gone for two weeks and you need to pick out five toys each, no more than that and no exceptions.  Can you do that for me?”

“Yes, Ma.”

Thea bit her lip to keep from laughing at their solemn faces, “Then I think the two of you need to get to work.”

The children turned away and walked to the door, although Annalise did skip just a little.  The two went through and Thea listened to see if they would run after leaving the room, but she didn’t hear any thundering feet.

Thea blew out a breath and smiled at the rest of her family.  “I imagine I don’t have to tell you three what to do, but Adam would like to leave early in the morning, day after tomorrow.”

When she stood so did the men and she smiled, pleased by their good manners.  “You know, now that we are family I think we can dispense with the gentlemanly gestures when it’s just us.  If we are to stay for two weeks, you three will be exhausted by all the jumping up you will have to do.”

The three men laughed at her joke as she motioned for them to be seated.  Smiling at them with deep affection she said, “Take your time over breakfast and if you need anything today just tell me or one of the staff.  I’ll be rushing around, so you may not see much of me except in passing.”  She laughed as she gave them one more smile, and then slipped through the door to the kitchen.

Hoss looked at his brother and father, his face alight with anticipation.  Joe was almost bouncing in his chair, just like his nephew.

“Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!” Joe chortled with glee, “I hope Adam will walk down the main street with me when we get there.  I want to see the faces of all those people who kept saying he was dead.”

Ben just shook his head at Joe’s childish excitement.

Hoss chuckled, “That’s somethin’ I wouldn’t mind seein’ myself.”

“Maybe Adam will do that for you Joe, if you ask him nicely,” Ben said.  “But don’t pester him if he refuses.”

Joe nodded, but was absolutely sure Adam wouldn’t let him down.

The three men then turned their attention back to breakfast and discussed what they needed to get done before leaving for home.


Ben, Hoss, and Joe left the house in the morning and didn’t return until close to five o’clock.  When they came in, a member of the house staff who had been watching for them said the family, including Adam, was out in the garden.  The three men were following the path to the family’s favorite spot and they stopped abruptly when they caught sight of Adam and what he was doing.

Thea and the children were sitting on the grass and applauding as Adam walked around on his hands.  He was facing the path and when he saw the men’s expressions he started to laugh, bent at the waist and dropped his legs as he pushed off with his hands and came gracefully upright.

His father and brothers were still laughing when they reached the rest of the family and the twins threw themselves on their grandfather.  Ben staggered back a bit then crouched down to tuck one under each arm as he walked up to his daughter-in-law.  He put the twins down and surprised her by dropping to the ground to sit next to her.  The twins plopped down on either side of him.

Thea smiled at her father-in-law then glanced at the three brothers; Hoss and Adam had Joe upside down, each one holding onto an ankle as Joe tried to mimic his older brother and walk on his hands.  Every time they would let Joe take his full weight on his arms his elbows started to buckle.  His brothers were becoming weak with amusement and were having a hard time holding him up, so Adam let Hoss hold both ankles and put his arms around Joe’s waist to flip him up.

When Joe was finally upright the other two tried to stop laughing, but couldn’t for a minute.  Adam put an arm across Joe’s shoulders, “It takes a lot of arm strength and practice, Joe.  I couldn’t do it the first time either.” Adam said as the three came over to the rest of the family.  “But if you want to see a true expert you should ask Thea to do a demonstration.”

Thea gasped and her husband laughed at her outraged expression.  “Sorry dear, but they are family and would have found out your deep, dark secret eventually.  You can keep things like that hidden for only so long.” 

Ben turned and his eyes twinkled at her, “Show us,” he said having noticed she was dressed in male clothing.

“Alright, but I’m not like Adam, I’m out of practice.  Don’t expect anything spectacular.”

Adam winked at his father, then said, “I’ll spot you,” to his wife.

“You’ll have to move fast.”

“I know.”

Thea stood and moved away from them for a good distance.  Adam had stayed where he was, knowing she would begin by running.

She took off, running fast, and when she was opposite the family she launched herself into a string of handsprings then finished with a double flip.  When her feet hit the ground at the end, she started to fly backward, but Adam had kept pace with her and was there to stop her fall.  He grabbed her around the waist then whirled her around a few times, before setting her back on her feet.  He kept a hold of her, though, knowing she was still a little unsteady – she seldom did anything like that anymore.

The children and the rest of the family applauded enthusiastically as Adam took her hand and they walked back.  Ben had a twin under each arm now and he looked up at her with raised eyebrows and a smile.  “That wasn’t spectacular?” he teased her and she blushed, ducking her head.

“Did you teach her how to do that?” Joe asked, still amazed.

Adam put a hand on top of Joe’s head and shook it.  “No, idiot, who do you think taught me.”

Joe grabbed her other hand, excited.  “Would you teach me?”

Thea was a little startled at first but said, “I’d be willing to, but Adam would have to be there.  I’m not strong enough to spot you.”

Before Joe could ask, Adam said, “If we can find the time,” and his younger brother had to be satisfied with that answer.

Thea cleared her throat, still a little embarrassed by their reactions, “I think it’s time to head in, dinner will be ready soon.”

The twins jumped up and grabbed their grandfather’s hands, making a big show of helping him up as Joe and Hoss started toward the house; Ben holding the twins by the hand followed closely behind.  Adam and Thea stood there and watched them for a moment then glanced at each other, thinking the same thing – how quickly Ben and Joe and Hoss had let Thea and the children into their hearts without reservation.  In just a few days they had become a solid family unit, bound by love and respect. 

Thea slipped her hand into his and squeezed it as he looked down into her shining eyes.  “This is so much more than I ever even dared to hope for,” she said in a whisper as she looked up into her husband’s smiling face.  “Thank you,” she said as he tucked her hand under his arm and they followed the rest of their family down the path and into the house.


The family had all fallen into the habit of congregating in Adam’s office every evening and this one was no exception.  Joe and Hoss were on the sofa and Thea was near them, curled up in a wing chair.  Ben was comfortably settled into a large, overstuffed leather chair, while Adam was in front of him sitting cross-legged on the floor with both children crowded into his lap.  The twins were heavy-eyed as they leaned back against their father’s strong arms.

Looking at his eldest son, Ben was struck by how different Adam looked tonight, sitting on the floor and dressed in a dark red shirt and black trousers, instead of one of his tailored suits.  If not for the beard and mustache, he would have looked exactly the way he had six years ago, before he disappeared.

He was pulled back from his musings by Adam’s deep laughter.  “Where were you?” he asked his father, still smiling.

Ben shrugged, “In the past.”

Adam nodded, his expression saying he knew exactly what his father had been thinking.

“Tell me about your plans, son.” Ben said, giving Adam his full attention.  Joe, Hoss, and Thea fell silent to listen.

“Well, the first order of business is to make Wes and Charlie offers they would be crazy to pass up.”

Ben raised his eyebrows expectantly.

“Wes now has the option of running the hotel with Dulcy, giving me a percentage of the profits for five years.  At that point we will become partners, with me as the ‘silent’ one with a reduction in my percentage.  After five more years they will own the hotel outright. “  Adam paused to settle one of the twins more comfortably.  “Charlie will be offered the same deal with the club.”

“You’re just going to let the hotel and club go like that?  Won’t that bother you?”  Joe asked.

“No, not at all,” his older brother answered.

“I thought you enjoyed the work,” Joe continued.

Adam laughed, “I did, but now it’s time to move on to something else,” he looked at Joe and saw he was still not completely understanding.

“Let me explain.  When I got such a close look at how short life can be, I made up my mind I would try to accomplish as much as possible with the rest of my life.  So, I start a business, build it up, then become a silent partner with someone so I can move on.”

All three men were leaning forward, listening to him intently.  “I started the publishing house, then moved on to the shipping company, then the club, then the hotel.  Once I prove to myself I can do something, I move on to another, although the two constants have always been my family and law enforcement.”

 “What I want to know,” Hoss said, “is how your businesses became so successful so quick-like.”

“You want to know the secret?”  Adam said, glancing over his shoulder.  “It’s really rather simple.  You can’t succeed without the help of the people who work for you.  All you have to do is find the right person for the job, whatever that job may be, then let them do it without a lot of interference.”  He laughed, “But you also need to know how to do unexpected, random checks to keep everyone on their toes.  My people know I can show up anywhere at anytime.  They never know when they might turn around to see me standing right behind them.”

He leaned down to look at the twins.  Both were fast asleep, lulled by their father’s deep voice rumbling in his chest.

“You also need to reward initiative and a job well-done, and to deal with incompetence in a decisive manner.  You just have to know people.  I’ve used these methods successfully in businesses in Chicago and London, too.”

Joe’s mouth fell open.  “I asked you what businesses you owned and you didn’t mention them.”

Adam chuckled, “You asked me how many businesses I owned in San Francisco, and I told you.  Remember, you have to learn to ask the right questions.”  Everyone, even Joe smiled at that.

Thea stood and stretched.  “I think I will head upstairs now and take the children with me.  It’s been a very long day.”  She yawned.

She came over to her husband and gently shook the children awake.  Taking them both by the hand, Thea made a circuit of the room with them, dispensing kisses and ‘good nights’ to all.

After she left, Adam stood and settled himself into the rocking chair next to his father, his expression serious.  “I wanted to tell you what we now know about the attempted kidnappings.  Seemingly, the dead man in the gazebo, Brian Kestler, was the one who let the kidnapper into the house and drew the map for him.  Jackson was paying him for information and when his usefulness was over they killed him to keep him quiet.”

“That’s terrible!” Hoss said.

“I agree,” Adam nodded, “and it’s even worse.  The only family he had was his mother, he was her sole support.”  The other three men all looked distressed for the poor woman.

“So, she will be coming by here tomorrow to sign some paperwork for the pension I’ve arranged and to discuss what she wants for his funeral.”

Joe looked startled, “You’re giving her a pension?”

“Of course, her son died while in my employ.  She doesn’t need to know what else he did, the poor woman has suffered enough.  Besides, the money is what tempted Brian into doing what he knew wasn’t right.  He made a mistake and paid for it with his life.”
“You’re not going to the office tomorrow?” his father asked.

“No, I’ll be seeing people here in between making the arrangements for our trip.  The pastor of our church will be coming by and Lieutenant Tolson will be bringing the final reports on the kidnapping.  They found the man who tried to take Annalise in the gardens and Tolson would rather I not be within striking distance of him.  I guess I will have to be satisfied with him going to prison and that he has lost the use of his left arm.  Thea was a very good student when I taught her to how to throw a knife.  She’s pretty good with a gun, too.”

Ben looked at his son and wondered what other revelations about his daughter-in-law would be coming out next.

“I do have to leave long enough to escort Thea to the hospital for the next board meeting.  She’s decided to resign before we go, instead of waiting for when we actually move.  And I would rather she not be alone because of the hostility some of the men on that board have shown her.”

“If they dislike her so much, how did she end up on the board?” Joe asked.

“The president has been a friend of Thea’s since they worked together in New York.  He’s always respected her surgical skills and was hoping it would attract other female physicians to the hospital, but it didn’t work.”

“Well, if it would help with your busy schedule I’d be happy to be her escort,” Ben said, his eyes snapping with anger at the thought of anyone treating his new daughter badly.

Adam smiled at his father,  “I would appreciate that, Pa.”

“We’ll go with you,” Hoss said and Joe nodded.

“Good, and thank you.  I’m sure she’ll feel a lot better about this with your support,” Adam said and began to rock as he finally started to relax from his hectic day.

“I’ve been meanin’ to ask you,” Hoss said, “what are you plannin’ on doin’ with this place when you move?  Sell it?”

“No, Thea has decided to endow an orphanage-school and we are both looking forward to getting out of this mausoleum.”

When he saw the other men’s puzzled looks, Adam laughed.  “I’m sorry, we never told you the story of how we came to live here.  A very nice, very rich, and very eccentric old man named Boomer left this house to us in his will.  His children were trying to have him declared incompetent and he came to us for help.  I handled the legal end and Thea handled the medical end.  We won, and Boomer got to live out his last year in the house he loved so much.”

Adam paused for a moment to yawn.  “Anyway, Boomer had a provision in his will that the house would go to his children if we did not live here for two years.  Thea hated his children so much for breaking his heart there was no way she would ever have let them get their greedy hands on this place, so we moved in.  Thank God the two years is almost up.”

Adam yawned again and his father said, “You look exhausted.”

His son nodded as he briefly laughed, “I am.  I’ve worked eighteen-hour days frequently for the past two years and a person can only keep up that pace for so long.  Even a work horse like me.”  He yawned again.

“But that is going to change; the children need me even more now.”  Adam continued, ”I’ve lost so much time with them that I can never get back, and we need to put down some permanent roots.  Especially with another one on the way.”  He yawned a third time and it became contagious.

Laughing at the chorus of answering yawns Adam stood.  “On that note I think this lively group should throw in the towel and get to bed.  Tomorrow is going to be another extremely busy day.”  He began to put out the lamps as Ben, Joe and Hoss slowly moved out the door.

When Adam came out of the office and closed the door only Hoss was still in the hall waiting, a frown on his usually smiling face.

“What’s wrong, Hoss?”

“I don’t rightly know, but I had a strange feelin’ all day today that someone was followin’ us.”

Adam instantly became fully alert.  “But you didn’t actually see anyone?”

“Nope.  But I just couldn’t shake that feelin’.”

His older brother nodded.  “Hmmmm…I know what you mean,” he said, then stood there thinking for a few moments.

“Well just to be safe, please be extra careful with Thea tomorrow.  I was sure we had picked up everyone working for Jackson, but someone could have fallen through the cracks and is still out there.  Although why they would want to still be here and risk being turned in I don’t know.”

Hoss nodded, “That’s pretty much what I was thinkin’ but wanted to run it past you first.”

“Thanks,” Adam said as he clapped his brother on the back.  “Stay around us much longer and you’ll end up being as suspicious as I am.”  Hoss gave a small chuff of laughter.

“I usually do the rounds of the house to make sure everything is secure before I go to bed.  Want to come along?”

The relieved look on Hoss’s face told his brother that he was truly concerned about the family’s safety, so whatever he had sensed while out today had him badly unnerved.  And Hoss did not spook easily

“Come on,” Adam said while moving toward a table across the hall that held small lamps.  He lit two and handed one to Hoss.  “We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up,” he said and the two men disappeared through a door to the cellar.



Chapter 11

Ben left the house about mid-morning the next day and when he returned only a few hours later he spotted Wes coming down the sidewalk, so he waited and the two men went up the steps together.

Thea was passing through the front hall when they came in and she ran up to give each man a kiss on the cheek.  Ben smiled as he always did and Wes blushed as he straightened up.

“How is Dulcy?” she said, smiling at the huge man.

“Fine, ma’am.”

She looked at him with her head to the side.  “You know I haven’t made up my mind yet whether or not to be mad at you two for eloping, and making it worse by not telling anyone for two weeks.”

Wes actually looked worried for a moment so Thea took pity on him.  “I’m just teasing you,” she said as she took one of his large hands in both of hers and smiled up at him.

“Oh,” he said as he smiled back shyly with a relieved expression.

Thea laughed and patted his hand.  “Adam is waiting for you, so go right on into the office,” she said and watched him go across the hall.  She turned back to her father-in-law.

“I finished frosting a cake a little while ago and I think I deserve to have a little break, so would you like to join me for some coffee and?”

He smiled down into her animated face and nodded, “Yes I would.”

She grinned.  “You come with me to my office.  Nobody will ever think to look for us there,” she said and took him by the hand, leading him through the left archway.

Her office was on the far side of the kitchen and was furnished comfortably in green and white.  Ben had expected it to be a feminine room and was pleased by her choice of elegant furnishings that somehow managed to be warm and inviting too.

Thea took his hat and hung it on a row of pegs on the wall then said she would be right back.

Her father-in-law walked around the office looking at the pictures on the walls.  He stopped when he came to an ambrotype of Adam and Thea that had to be their wedding picture.  Thea was dressed in a simple, flowing, unadorned dress in what looked to be white velvet.  She was not wearing a veil, and most of her hair was loose and held back from her face by two braids formed from the front sections of her hair.  They met at the nape of her neck and he could see small flowers had been woven into the braids.  Adam made an elegant groom in a black suit, and his father could just make out a dark gray embroidered waistcoat.  The pose was unusual for a wedding picture, but that didn’t surprise Ben at all.  The two of them stood with their sides to the viewer and they held each other’s hands.  Thea was smiling her usual wide smile looking up at her new husband and he was grinning down at her, looking as though he had just finished laughing.

He turned to the next picture and this one was also plainly from the wedding and included the whole party.  Adam stood in the center with Thea on his left holding onto his arm and a tall, dark haired woman on his right.  Mike and Nate stood next to Thea while Jerry and John stood next to the dark-haired woman.  Noticing something odd, Ben stepped up close to the picture and realized that Nate had a black eye.  He looked closer at the other detectives and saw a sutured gash on Mike’s forehead, bandages on both of Jerry’s hands, and that John’s face was badly bruised as he tried to smile with hugely swollen lips.  The only man in the picture unmarked was Adam.

Ben started laughing and was still chuckling when Thea came back through the door with a tray.  She grinned when she saw what he was looking at and placed the tray on a table in front of a large window before coming to stand next to him.  He looked down into her smiling face.

“I love that picture,” she said and her father-in-law was not surprised.  He was getting to know his new daughter very well.

“It’s the perfect representation of what was our little family back then.”

He nodded, still smiling then looked at the woman on Adam’s right.  “Who is she?”

Thea’s face became serious.  “That’s Olivia.  She was my best friend for years, even before I met Adam.”

“Was your best friend?”

She nodded.  “I barely ever saw her again not long after she married Jackson.  I was her doctor, but she stopped coming to see me too,” she said in a pained voice and looked away.

Ben looked at the smiling face of the lovely young woman and felt sorry for her, now that her husband was facing spending the rest of his life in prison.

Thea took his arm and tugged him away from the picture and toward the table by the window.  He went willingly.

Thea had brought sandwiches as well as the coffee and cake, so they settled in for a long talk.  Nearly two hours later the clock on her desk chimed once she jumped up, aghast.  “Oh dear Lord!  It’s one o’clock!  The board meeting starts at two,” she said as her father-in-law stood.

“Do you know where Hoss and Joe are?”

She nodded.  “The plan was for them to have a picnic with the children in the garden.  They should still be there.”

“Then we will meet you in the front hall in half-an-hour,” Ben said as they walked through the kitchen together then separated in the back hallway; Thea took off up the back stairs and he went out the back door to find his sons.

The three men were already in the hall when Thea came down the front stairs dressed to the teeth in an elegant suit of dark green.

“Are we all ready?” she asked as the three men nodded.  They, too, had dressed up in their best and she smiled, touched by this gesture of respect.

Hoss opened the front door as Ben gave her his arm, then the four of them went out, down the steps, and into the waiting coach.


When they pulled up in front of the hospital Ben got out first and reached up to help Thea down.  The two younger men followed quickly and Hoss told the driver to be back in a half-an-hour as he closed the door and turned to follow the rest of his family into the building.

Thea told Ben where the meeting was being held and they moved through the office areas of the hospital.  When they reached the meeting room he opened the door and escorted her in.

Nine men were seated at a long, glossy table with only one chair empty.  Ben stopped and put a hand over the one Thea had in the crook of his arm to stop her from letting go and going to her chair.  Hoss and Joe had come in too, and after shutting the door, moved to stand one on either side of their father and sister-in-law.

The men turned to look and many of the faces showed surprise, then bafflement when the three men and Thea stood there silently.  Ben looked back at the seated men with a stern expression.

“Gentleman, I believe a lady has just entered this room,” he said in an admonishing tone.

The men glanced at each other then rose to their feet, some looking annoyed, some looking embarrassed, and the one who had already been standing at the head of the table looking amused.

Ben led her forward then and held her chair for her as she was seated.  The board members took their seats again, except for the man at the head of the table.

“May I enquire as to your name, sir?” he said with a pleasant voice, tinged with laughter.

“I am Thea’s father-in-law, Benjamin Cartwright.”  He gave the man a disgruntled look.

The man still standing looked at Joe and Hoss, “And these two gentlemen?” he said, plainly amused.

“Two of my sons, Joseph and Hoss,” he answered, “Thea’s husband Adam is my eldest son.”

“Oh yes, I had heard the story,” the man said and moved toward Ben with his hand out.  “Please forgive our terrible manners, even though I know there is no excuse for being so rude.”

Ben gave him a sharp look and must have decided the man was telling the truth because his expression became less severe as the two men shook hands.

“I am Dr. David Charles and I am President of this board and Chief Administrator of this hospital.  You may stay for the meeting if you wish.”

“Thank you,” Ben said and gave the man a look that told him they would have stayed anyway.

Dr. Charles grinned and motioned toward some chairs grouped at the far end of the room and said, “Please be seated,” as he moved back to the head of the table.

He had just taken his seat when Thea stood.  The rest of the board immediately rose to their feet and Ben put a hand over his mouth to hide his pleased smile.

“I ask to address the board before the meeting starts David,” she said looking down the table at him and motioning for the men to resume their seats.

“Certainly,” he said, but remained standing.

“I only came to inform you all that I am resigning from this board as of today and giving up my hospital privileges.”

Dr. Charles lost his smile and his eyebrows snapped together.  “May I ask why?” he said, no longer amused.

“I will be leaving to visit my husband’s family in another state and then will be moving there permanently in a few months.”

“I see,” the president of the board said and his expression changed from angry to just unhappy as Thea sat down again.

“I am extremely sorry to see you go, Thea.  You have been an excellent addition to our staff and we will sorely miss your surgical skills.  But I hope you will keep in touch and let us know how you are doing.”

“Thank you,” she said in a quiet voice.  “Since I am no longer a member of this board I will withdraw now.”  She stood and Dr. Charles came to pull her chair out as the rest of the men in the room stood.

He offered her his arm and she took it after giving all the members of the board a cool look.  At least some of them had the grace to look ashamed at the petty behavior they had subjected her to through the years and she let Dr. Charles lead her to the door.  The three Cartwright men were already there, waiting.

Joe opened the door and the five of them went out into the hall, closing the door behind them.

The president of the board turned to Thea as she let go of his arm.  He held his right hand out to her and she smiled as they shook hands, but he didn’t release hers right away.  “I’m serious, Thea, I can’t tell you how much I will miss you.  Sometimes it seemed like you were the only physician on staff with any brains.”  She smiled at him.

“I’m going to miss you, too, but I’m sure you can understand my reasons.  And quite frankly I’m relieved to no longer have to deal with the boy’s club in there any more.”

“I know, but you don’t understand.  We have another female physician coming to join the staff.  I was hoping the two of you could band together and teach them a thing or two.  Now she’ll be alone to face those idiots.”

Thea burst out laughing and the four men joined her.  Shaking her head she asked, “Where is she coming from?”


Thea’s brows rose, “May I ask for her name?”

“Hester Graham.”

Thea’s brows rose even higher and her mouth fell open before she started to laugh again.  “David,” she gasped, “believe me, you don’t have to worry about that woman.  If she’s the same Hester Graham I know she could probably pick you up with one hand!”

Dr. Charles grinned wickedly and rubbed his hands together.  “Oh good, now I have something to look forward to again.  I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when she gets here!”  He turned to the Cartwright men and shook hands with each of them then paused with his hand on the knob of the meeting room door.

“I mean it, Thea.  Please keep in touch both before and after you move.”

“You bet I will and I want to hear all the horror stories about Hester.”

He nodded then his grin disappeared as he looked at her with sad eyes.  “I wish you the best of luck and if you visit the city again after you move, please come to see me.”

“I will,” Thea said, her own eyes sad as he gave her one last look and went back into the room, closing the door quietly.

“Ready to go?” her father-in-law asked and offered her his arm.  She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, but they all paused when they heard loud voices erupt on the other side of the door.

“David must have just told them about Hester,” she said and gave an evil little chuckle.  “I almost wish I could stay to see it!”

“I hope she makes their lives a living hell,” Joe said, loyally.

“Is she really that tough?” Hoss asked, as they started moving down the hallway.

“Oh my, yes,” Thea answered, and gave that little chuckle again as they neared the front door of the hospital.

She let go of Ben’s arm and he stepped forward to open the door when someone grabbed Thea by the arm, dragged her through an open office door, then slammed it closed and locked it.

Thea had stumbled across the room and now she whirled around to see Olivia Jackson leaning against the office door the men had started to pound on.  She looked haggard and desperate.

“You’ve got to help me Thea.  You have to talk to Adam and get him to release my husband.  He didn’t do all those things he’s accused of.”

“You don’t understand, Livvy, it’s not in Adam’s hands now.  The courts will be making that decision.”

The taller woman rushed up to her and clamped her hands painfully on Thea’s shoulders.  “But he could help, couldn’t he?  I mean he could put in a good word for him.  I know Adam has a lot of influence.”

“Adam wouldn’t do that even if I asked; your husband hired two thugs to kidnap our children.  The one knocked me down and threatened to break Annalise’s neck.”  She shook her head, looking at her friend with pity.  “I’m sorry, but the only way I can help you now is by being your friend”

The other woman’s face went red with fury as she hissed, “You’ll be sorry, Thea.  You and your husband and your precious children.”  Overcome with anger she let go of Thea’s shoulders and slapped her in the face.

Thea stumbled to the side, but didn’t fall down.  She turned to see Olivia standing there with her hand over her mouth, tears springing from eyes wide with shock and horror at what she had done.

“I’m so sorry, Livvy, I wish I could help you,” Thea said her hand cradling her aching cheek, “but you better leave.  My brother-in-law will be bashing that door down in a second and I don’t want him to catch you here.”

Olivia ran to the other office door and opened it, but stopped to look back at her former friend.  Her mouth opened and she started to say something, but stopped and looked ashamed for a second then was gone.

Thea stood there staring after her former friend and holding her swelling cheek as her eyes filled.

Hoss came crashing through the door then with Joe and Ben right behind.  Ben rushed up to her, put his arms around her and she turned to bury her face in his chest as tried to get a hold of herself.

Joe and Hoss went through the other office door as Ben put his hand under Thea’s chin and tipped her face up.

“That was Olivia, wasn’t it?”

She nodded and sniffed.

“Did she hurt you?”

Thea shook her head, sighing.  “No, not really.  She’s frightened and desperate and came to me for help, but she didn’t want the only help I can give her.”

“That’s not your fault, Thea.”

“I know, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”

“I know,” Ben said as he pulled her to him again and she rested her aching cheek against his chest until Joe and Hoss came back through the other door.

“Who was that woman?” Joe asked the second he came through.

His father answered, “Jackson’s wife.”

“Oh,” Joe said.  “Did she hurt Thea?”

“No,” Thea answered him, “and I think we better get home before Adam starts to worry.”

“Adam!”  Hoss said turning pale as he realized they would have to try to explain to him how a woman had outmaneuvered them and snatched Thea away.

Joe shook his head, “Oh boy, is he going to be furious.”

“He has good reason to be,” his father said.  “I’ll tell him, hopefully, he won’t punch me.”

The three men looked at each other with anxious faces and Thea started to laugh.

“Oh now, he’ll yell at us for a bit and then it will be over,” she said.  “I can’t believe you would actually think he would ever lay one finger on you,” she said to Ben as they moved toward the door.

A small crowd had gathered and they pushed their way through and left the hospital after Thea spoke to someone behind the desk, telling them to send her a bill for the damage to the door.

Once they were inside the house Thea sighed and took Ben and Hoss by the hand.  “Come on, let’s get this over with,” and pulled them toward Adam’s office with Joe following close behind.

Adam was sitting at his desk and looked up when they entered the room.  When he saw Thea holding both Ben and Hoss by the hand as Joe hovered behind them, he closed his eyes briefly then deeply sighed.

“What happened?” he asked when he opened his eyes and stood.

All four of them started talking once and Adam raised his hands and shouted, “Quiet!!”  He looked at his father.  “Pa, what happened?”

“Olivia Jackson grabbed Thea, pulled her into an office, and locked the door.”

Adam became ominously still and the silence lengthened as his face turned a deep shade of red.  Thea was about to shriek, “Say something!”  When he took a deep breath and seemed to relax a little and the red began to fade from his face.

“Thea, come here.”

She let go of Ben’s and Hoss’s hands and went around the desk to stand in front of him as he turned toward her.  She looked up at him and he cupped her chin in his hand and turned her face to the side to look at her red, swollen cheek.  He let go of her chin and shook his head as he pulled her into his arms and hugged her so tightly she gasped.

In a few moments he loosened his hold on her and turned his head to look at his father.

“I apologize, Adam, this was all my fault.  I wasn’t as alert as I should have been.”

“It’s my fault too,” Hoss said earnestly, “you told me to be extra careful today and I let you down.”

Joe had come forward to stand in between his father and brother.  “I should have been watching the people around us so I’m at fault, too.  Olivia never would have been able to drag her away if I had.”

Thea cleared her throat and Adam looked down into her serious face.  “The fault is really mine Adam,” she said, “I could have resisted her, but I let her drag me into that office so I could talk to her.”

His face tightened and she felt his body stiffen.  “You let her drag you in there and behind a locked door?”

She looked down and nodded her head, ashamed.  “I know it was a stupid thing to do and I swear I won’t ever do something like that again.”

Adam gave her a little shake and she looked up into his dark, angry eyes.  “If you do, you won’t be able to sit down for a week.  I will be forced to treat you like an irresponsible child if you insist on acting like one.”

Thea tightened her lips and nodded before laying her head sideways against his chest.  She looked at Joe, Ben, and Hoss with an apologetic expression then closed her eyes, suddenly very tired.

Her husband turned his head to look at his father and brothers.  “As for you three, you made a very serious mistake today.  But people do make them and that’s impossible to avoid, so for God’s sake at least learn from this one.  Your mistake was in assuming that any attack would come in the form of a man.  And since I know Olivia, I can tell you she is extremely intelligent and someone to be very careful of, so remember that and don’t let anything like this happen again.  Never underestimate women.”

The three men nodded, chastened, as Adam sighed and tightened his hold on Thea again, so she knew she was forgiven, too.

A knock sounded on the office door and Adam called out, “Come in.”

The door opened and a young woman stepped in holding the twins by the hand.  She let them go and turned to leave, shutting the door behind her.  The twins came further into the room and their little faces became solemn when they sensed the atmosphere so they rushed up to Adam and Thea.  They wrapped their arms around their parent’s legs and looked up at them with worried expressions.

Thea laughed.  “I guess I better get these two ready for dinner,” she said and started to pull back, but he didn’t let her go at first.  He tightened his arms around her one more time and she hugged him back as hard as she could.  He actually chuckled a bit when he let her go.

She bent down and picked both twins up, but when she straightened Adam took Annalise from her.  “I’ll go with you,” he said and they left through the back door to the office together.

After they were gone the three men finally relaxed and Joe said, “Whew!  The last time I saw him that angry was when he bashed Jackson’s face in.”

“Yeah,” Hoss said, looking at his father.  “Do you think he’d ever really put Thea over his knee?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Ben said, “but I think he might if she ever pushes him too far.  I hope he doesn’t though.”

“Why? I mean besides not wanting anything to happen to Thea?” Joe asked.

“Partly that,” his father answered, “but mostly because I think he would end up having to sleep with one eye open for the rest of his life.  She’s a fierce little thing.”

Joe grinned at that mental picture and nodded.

“That won’t ever happen,” Hoss said with certainty.

His father and brother just looked at him and waited for him to explain why he was so sure.  “She lied,” he said with a shrug.  “She didn’t do what she said she did.  Thea’s too smart for that.”

“Are you sure?” Ben asked.

“You two weren’t facin’ in that direction, but I was and I saw her dig in her heels when that woman grabbed her.  She told him that just to protect us.”

The three men fell silent then for a minute to think about it.

“Should you tell Adam?” Joe asked his father.

Ben shook his head, “I don’t know.  On the one hand Thea would be furious and we should respect her wishes.  On the other hand, Adam should know that the blame is entirely ours, but Thea should be the one to tell him the truth.”

They were silent again to think about the problem some more until Ben said, “This is extremely complicated and I’ll just have to talk to Thea and try to convince her to tell him herself.  That’s the only thing I can do without interfering and I swore I would never do that again.”

 Hoss and Joe nodded in agreement, grinning at their father.

Ben’s brow furrowed as he looked at them.  “What are you two smiling about?  Neither of you knows how hard it is for a father to step back and do nothing when he thinks one of his children is making a mistake.”

“Yes, sir.” Joe and Hoss said in unison, still grinning at him.

“Oh, shut up.” Ben said, exasperated, and stalked out of the office.  They waited until they were reasonably sure he was out of earshot before laughing.

Turning to his brother, Joe said “You know, we really should thank Adam for doing that.”

“Yep.  It looks like Pa’s going to be a lot better about that sort of thing now.”

Joe nodded and the two grinned at each other as they left the office to go upstairs to change out of their best clothes.

Everything seemed back to normal at dinner that evening because Joe and Hoss did their best to behave and not tease their father any more.  Adam seemed to be over his anger and Thea was the only one who seemed a little quiet.  Even the children were on their best behavior.

They didn’t gather in Adam’s office this time because the adults scattered throughout the house making last minute preparations for the morning.  Everyone was tired from the events of the day so they all went to bed early and fell asleep quickly.


 The sun had just started to rise when the peaceful and dusky quiet of the second floor of the gray stone mansion was shattered by the shrill sound of a police whistle.  The former sleepers then heard Adam’s annoyingly cheerful voice.

 “Rise and shine, people!  We have a train to catch!” he shouted as he pounded on his youngest brother’s bedroom door.

Joe had jumped out of bed, heavy-eyed and irritable when the whistle had shocked him awake, and he glared when his brother pounded on his door.

Hoss’s door was next, “Up and at ‘em Hoss!” Adam yelled as he pounded on his door too.  He didn’t hear any movement in the room, but his brother’s deep, rumbling snore stopped, so he took that as a sign he was awake.

He was about to move on to the next door when it opened quietly and Ben stepped out, already dressed and carrying a small bag – the last of his luggage.

Adam was about to say, “Good morning,” to his father when Joe’s door opened.  He stomped out barefoot, in his nightshirt, and carrying a pillow.  Adam was still in front of Hoss’s door and had just started to turn his head toward his youngest brother when Joe swung the pillow by one end as hard as he could.  The pillow whapped into the back of Adam’s head and being unprepared for the attack, it snapped forward and banged into the door.

Without a word, Joe stomped back into his room and slammed the door shut.

Putting a hand to his forehead Adam said “Ow!” before starting to laugh.

He had gotten the twins up and ready earlier and now he motioned for them to follow as he moved to stand in front of the door Joe had just slammed.

He couldn’t hear any movement inside the room, so he knew Joe had gone back to bed.  Throwing the door open, he saw his brother huddled under the covers, but he opened his eyes and lifted his head to glare at Adam.

“You asked for this Joseph,” he said in a angry tone then he looked at the twins saying, “Attack!”

The two children started yelling as they ran into the room, and threw themselves onto the bed.  Joe tried to roll away, but he didn’t make it.  The twins bounced on top of him and their nimble little fingers dug into his ribs, tickling their uncle as hard as they could.  Joe began to laugh hysterically, then managed to get his arms out from under the covers to tickle them back.

Adam shut the door on their shrieks of laughter and turned back to his father, who was still standing in front of his room.

“You heard me getting the twins ready earlier, didn’t you?” Adam said smiling at his father who nodded in answer.  “And you knew I would do something like this, too?”

Ben nodded again, highly amused and Adam laughed, impressed by his father being a step ahead of him.  He went to Hoss’s door again and listened, but still didn’t hear any movement, so he opened the door and looked in.  Hoss was still sound asleep laying flat on his back.  He went into the room and up to the bed as his father moved to stand in the doorway.

Adam looked down at his sleeping brother’s peaceful face, bent over him, took the whistle from his pocket and blew a sharp blast.  Hoss’s eyes snapped open and he quickly sat up, hitting Adam in the head with his own.  Ben winced when he heard the ripe-melon sound of the two heads smacking together.  Still being half asleep, Hoss threw a heavy arm around Adam’s neck and pulled him half onto the bed and on his back, holding him in a tight headlock.  In a moment he realized whose neck he was squeezing and let go.  Adam slid to the floor.

Hoss looked around the room, then spotted his father in the doorway, shaking his head at the two of them.  He rolled to the edge of the bed and looked anxiously over the side to see Adam lying there on his back rubbing his forehead with one hand and shaking with silent laughter.  “Morning, Hoss,” he finally managed to say then sat up, grinning at his brother.  Hoss grinned back, relieved that he wasn’t angry.

Ben came forward to give Adam a hand up then reached down to rumple Hoss’s hair.  “Are you two finished with your wrestling demonstration?”  Both men nodded.

 “Breakfast is ready, so let’s get this show on the road,” Adam said and turned toward the door to see Joe dressed and standing there with the twins.

“Be right down,” Hoss called out to his father and brother as they left the room and shut the door behind them.

Out in the hallway Adam said to the two men, “Why don’t you take the twins down and I’ll get the last of the bags together.”

“Where’s Thea?” Ben asked as he bent down to pick up his granddaughter while Joe crouched down to let Alexander climb onto his back.

“She’s been rushing around downstairs like a madwoman for a couple of hours now.  Tell her Hoss will be there in a few minutes, but don’t wait for him,” he said and watched the two men go down the hall and disappear down the stairs.

He went into his father’s room to make sure Ben hadn’t forgotten anything.  Then he went back out into the hall, closing the bedroom door behind him.  To his surprise Hoss’s door opened and he saw his brother standing there, dressed and ready to go.

“You sure were up early,” the big man said with a smile.

“Yep, but that’s not unusual for me,” Adam said, “I can only sleep about four or five hours a night now.  We don’t know why, but things have been that way since I woke up in that hospital.”  He smiled at his brother’s concerned expression.  “Don’t worry about it Hoss, it’s just the way I am now.  You better get downstairs, before Thea comes looking for you.”

His brother nodded and hurried down the hall, not wanting his sister-in-law to come after him.

Adam watched him go then turned away to check his brother’s rooms, then gathered the last of the bags together.  He took them downstairs and out the front door.  The coach was ready and waiting in front of the house and the driver came to help load the bags on top.  The rest of their luggage had been taken to the train the afternoon before.

After taking some time to speak to the driver, he went back inside and to his office to pick up a document case he had packed the night before.  He checked the contents one more time, then closed and locked it.  He sat down behind his desk and took out a piece of paper to write a note to Nate.  The four detectives would be following them to Virginia City in three days and would be staying in the house until then.

 Adam folded the note, wrote Nate’s name on the outside and left it in on top of the desk.  He picked up the document case then and left the office.  When he came into the hall he was pleased to see the front door was open and everyone, including the dog, but not Thea, going down the steps toward the waiting coach.

His wife still stood next to the door and smiled at him as she gave him jaunty salute.  “All personnel accounted for, sir!” she called.

Her husband just laughed and shook his head at her as he crossed the hall.  When he reached the door she took his arm and smiled up at him with excitement, her eyes dancing.

He leaned down and kissed her on top of the head, and they went out the door to start their much-anticipated journey into Adam’s past.



Chapter 12

Joe was the first one out of the private car, almost before it stopped moving, and he was practically dancing with impatience.  He just couldn’t wait - he wanted to run through town, shouting the news that Adam had been found at the top of his voice.

Hoss and Ben were coming down the steps when a wagon and buggy were delivered from the livery.  Thea and the children were still in the car when Adam came down and said, “Why don’t we form a bucket brigade and get the luggage in the wagon that way.”

The other three men agreed and everything went smoothly; the wagon was loaded in record time.  They started to break the line when Adam said, “Wait there’s two more,” and proceeded to pick up Alexander and toss him to Ben.  Annalise was next and she giggled with happiness when she finally landed in Hoss’s arms.  Joe was holding Alexander when Adam picked Thea up with one arm around her thighs and she half-sat on his shoulder as he walked up to his father.  “Where do you want this last bag, sir?”

Thea was laughing too hard to protest as Ben played along by grinning and nodding toward the buggy.  Adam carried her over and set her down on her feet as Hoss and Joe brought the children.  She looked down into his smiling face and said, “So, are you going to do it?”

He nodded and gave her a wicked grin.  “I don’t want to disappoint Joe.  You just be careful driving this through town.”  She crossed her eyes and nodded idiotically at him, “I’ll do my best mister,” and he laughed as he walked back to the car and went inside.

When he came back out, he had Balor with him.  He led the dog over to the buggy and instructed him to jump into the back seat where the twins were.  Then he turned back to his youngest brother who was standing there with an expectant look on his face.

“Well, Joseph, I need to pay a courtesy call on Roy before we go home.  Would you care to take a little stroll through town with me?”

Joe’s incredibly wide smile was his answer and the two men stepped up on the board sidewalk and began walking slowly toward the Sheriff’s office several blocks away as the wagon and buggy started down the street.

Being Saturday morning and a good number of the population were out shopping and taking care of various errands.  A tall heavy-set man was the first they encountered and Joe said, “Morning Sam,” as they passed.  Sam had merely nodded with a smile and he was past the two before he realized what he had just seen.  He looked back over his shoulder, but didn’t stop walking, so he banged right into a small group of men leaving the barbershop and a fight started.

The next block had more people and one man walked into a roof support, while another fell over a hitching rail.  Some people were bumping into and tripping over each other while the rest just stopped dead and stared as both Cartwright men went by.

As they approached an older woman they both tipped their hats and Joe said, “Good morning,” while Adam said, “Mrs. Grundy” pleasantly.  She stopped abruptly and watched them go by with huge eyes.  After they were past, she let out a shriek, threw her arms up to cover her head, and the parcels she was carrying went everywhere.

Joe and Adam turned around and came back to pick them up for her, aware that all movement on the street had stopped and voices were passing the news up and down the street that Adam was back.

They handed the parcels to the woman, tipped their hats again and proceeded on, only now everyone on the street was staring.  One older man stepped quickly back as Adam passed him, as though he was afraid he might be touched, and fell back into a horse trough.  The watching crowd started to laugh at that and the two men went on their way down the next block weaving around the staring people.

The wagon and buggy were already in front of the Sheriff’s office when Adam and Joe passed a saloon.  People were crowded into the doorway, having come to look at whatever the commotion was all about.  A well-endowed blonde pushed her way out and came running up to Adam and threw her arms around his neck.  She pulled his head down and tried to kiss him, but was pushed gently away.

“Adam!  I knew you would come back.  I didn’t believe all those people who were saying you were dead,” she gushed and tried to kiss him again.  Again, she was pushed gently away.

“Why do you keep doing that?  What’s wrong?”

Adam held up his left hand to show her his wedding ring.  “First of all, I’m married, second, I’m sorry but I don’t remember you, and third, my wife is standing right behind you and she looks extremely irritated,” he smiled at the young woman apologetically.

The blonde looked over her shoulder slowly with wide eyes and she jumped when she met Thea’s cold stare.  She let go of Adam and stepped back, her face a bright red.  “I didn’t know…” she started to say to Thea who interrupted her.

“No, you didn’t know,” she said quietly, “but now you do,” the tightly controlled fury in her expression frightened the other woman,  “so go away.  Now.”

The woman fled back into the saloon as the men in the doorway laughed.  Thea shook her head, “Only back in town for a few minutes and already you’re bringing them out of the woodwork.”

Adam shrugged and said, “That’s not my fault.”

“I know,” his wife answered, “and that is why it is so annoying.”

Adam was shaking his head at Thea as she just put her nose in the air and walked back to the buggy.  Her husband turned to Joe, “Who was that?”


“Oh,” Adam said then shrugged.  “No, can’t remember a thing,” he said as they reached the office and he paused with his hand on the doorknob.  “I won’t be long.”

Roy looked up from his desk as the door opened and Adam stepped inside, closing the door behind him.  “Can I help you?” he said, but Adam didn’t answer him at first.  He just stood there smiling for a few moments.

“What’s the matter, Roy, don’t you recognize me?” he said and took off his hat as he approached the older man’s desk.  At the sound of his voice, the Sheriff’s eyes opened wide and he stood and tried to come around the desk too quickly, smashing his knee into the corner.

Adam came up to him and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Take it easy Roy, I’m not going to disappear.  At least not again anyway,” he said and the older man laughed.

“What happened, Adam, where have you been?”

“It’s a long story, so come out to the house while we’re here and I’ll tell you all about it.”


“Yes, I brought my wife and children with me.”

“Wife?  Children?”

Adam sighed, aware he would be getting this reaction many times more before they left.  “Yes, they’re waiting outside.  But the other reason I came in was to pay you a courtesy call now that I’m in your jurisdiction,” he reached into a pocket and handed the Sheriff the leather wallet that held his badge and identification.

The older man opened it and looked at them blankly for a moment then at Adam, then at his identification again.

“I would appreciate you keeping this to yourself, Roy.  I’m only here for a visit this time, not in any official capacity.  We won’t actually be moving here for a few months yet.”

“So when you do move here it will be official?”

Adam just nodded, smiling at the older man.

“You involved with the regional office?”

Adam nodded again and Roy laughed.

“You’ll really have this town standing on its ear then, won’t you?”

This time, Adam just shrugged and raised his eyebrows saying, “Come on out and meet my family.”

Roy was still chuckling as Adam held the office door open for him then followed him out.  Thea held Annalise with one arm and had Alexander by the hand.  Adam picked up his son and turned back to the Sheriff.  “Roy, this is my wife Theadora, my daughter Annalise, and my son Alexander.”

Thea gave him her now free hand with a brilliant smile, “I’m so pleased to meet you, Roy.”

The Sheriff was clearly dazzled and he actually blushed a little as he smiled back at her, “I’m meased to pleet…I mean pleased to meet you too, ma’am,” he murmured and ducked his head in embarrassment.  She laughed and squeezed his hand before letting go.  When she turned toward Adam she spotted a man coming down the sidewalk across the street.

“Adam…That man looks familiar, but I can’t tell.  Is that Matt?”

Her husband turned to look.  “I think it is,” he said and whistled his piercing whistle.

The tall, gangly man’s head came up like a hound on point and he turned toward the sound.  He raised a hand to shade his eyes and they could see him smile a broad smile as he dashed across and down the street toward them.

“Adam!  Thea!  What are you doing here?” he hugged Thea and turned to shake Adam’s hand.

“Believe it or not, we are here to visit my family,” Adam answered grinning at the boyish man.

“Family!  You mean you finally found them?”

“No, actually they found me,” Adam nodded toward his father and brothers.

“Ben, and Hoss, and Joe are your family!”

Adam nodded.

Ben spoke up, “How do you know Adam and Thea?”

Matt laughed, “Thea and I were graduated from medical school together.  In fact, if it hadn’t been for her I probably wouldn’t have made it through.”

“Matt!  That’s not true!” Thea protested.

“Yes, it is,” he insisted.  “Thea held my hand the whole way through and if I was half the doctor she is I’d be proud.”

Thea blushed and gave him an admonishing look.  “Now stop that, you helped me too.”

He patted her on the head; “I think you’ve been in the sun too long, you poor child” he laughed, “Adam, you better get her inside soon.”

The rest of the family laughed while Thea gave Matt an extremely irritated look.  He immediately apologized, “I’m sorry Thea, and you know I was just joking.  Except for that part about you being the best.”

She was still annoyed.

“But I would appreciate your taking a look at my office and giving me your opinion.”

Thea’s face brightened and she turned to her husband, “Do you mind?  I’m sure I won’t be long.”

“As if I could stop you,” Adam laughed then turned to Matt.  “Just don’t let her start cutting on anyone while she’s over there.”

“I won’t,” Matt promised as Thea handed Annalise to Joe who had come to stand in between her and Hoss.

The doctor had his back to Adam so only his brothers saw the look he gave her as she put her arm in his and they started across the street.

Adam watched them intently until they reached the office and went in.  His brothers had moved forward to stand next to him, one on either side.  He smiled, aware of why they had done so.  “Don’t worry,” he said, “I’ve known how Matt feels about Thea from the first time I met him, but nothing will happen.”

“How do you know that?” Joe said.

“Could it be because I trust my wife?” he said as he turned to Joe.  “Besides, Matt knows if he ever tried anything with her she would shut him out of her life forever.”

“You’re sure?” Hoss asked as he moved to stand beside Joe.

“Oh yes, I’ve seen it happen before.”  He put Alexander down, took Annalise from Joe and put her down then told the children to go to their grandfather and they trotted off.

“Let me explain something to you.  You think you know Thea, but you really don’t yet.  She can be extremely hard and unbending.” 

“Thea?!” Hoss and Joe said together.

Adam shook his head, “I’m telling you the truth.  There are two things she will never forgive you for if you are her friend.  One is trying to harm the people she loves and the other is betraying her trust.  There are no second chances with her if you are stupid enough to do either of those things.”

He glanced across and up the street; Thea and Matt were coming out the office door.  “But neither of you have to worry about that, you’re her family now and she would do anything for you.  Matt, however, is not family.”

Joe and Hoss exchanged a doubtful look, “Don’t worry,” Adam said firmly, “I know my wife.”

When the two stepped up on the sidewalk Thea dropped Matt’s arm and went to Adam and took his.  “I think it’s time we head home, don’t you think?” she said to him.

He nodded as they all walked toward Ben and the Sheriff.  “Good to see you again, Matt.  Don’t forget to come out and see us before we leave.  You too, Roy.”

Both men said they would as Adam helped Thea up into the buggy. Ben lifted the children into the back seat from the other side.  He waited until he backed the buggy up and were on their way before turning to his wife.

“Any change?”

She shook her head, “No.  I wish he would at least try to find someone.”

“I do too, but that’s for purely selfish reasons.”

When he glanced at her again she had her head down and was staring at her hands in her lap.  “What?”

“He asked me to go into partnership with him in his practice.  He figures with me there the women of this town will finally get the full medical care they need.”

Adam didn’t respond for a few minutes as he thought that over then startled her with his answer.  “If you want to, if this is something you would like to do, I think you should.”




“Because I don’t want you to give up practicing medicine, and seeing you on a regular basis might finally make him accept the fact that nothing will ever happen between you.”

“I never thought of that.  I think you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right.  I’m always right,” he laughed and she smiled briefly then gave him a narrow look.

“Adam, my love.”

“Yes, my dove?” he was still laughing at her.

“I thought you said you never lie?”

Her husband just laughed harder for a minute then put one arm around her, pulling her up against his side.  Not hearing anything from the twins, Thea glanced over her shoulder and couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the huge dog sitting bolt upright between the two children on the seat.  Her children smiled back at her with the pleased expressions they always wore when their father was showing her affection.

When she turned back around she realized they were heading in a direction that was opposite from what she thought was the way to the ranch.  As though reading her mind, Adam said, “I have to stop and see Hal before we go home.”

A few minutes later they reached the other end of town and he pulled the buggy up in front of a large, beautifully proportioned house of dark cream-colored brick.  The house was shaped much like a medieval keep, being square with a round tower-like projection on the two front corners.

The trim and doors were a soft, dusty blue and each window was bordered with squares of stained glass in alternating pale colors of blue, rose, green, and amber.  Each tower had an outside entrance and was domed on top with glass held in a fretwork of iron bands.

A wide, covered porch stretched from tower to tower on the front of the house, with steps in the center that led up to the dusty blue front door.

Thea sighed with pleasure when she saw the house and waved to Hal when he opened the front door and came out.  Adam bounded up the steps, shook the man’s hand and took the papers held out to him.  He tucked the folded packet into an inside suit pocket, shook the man’s hand again then came back to the buggy.

“Is everybody ready to leave town now?” he asked and his wife and children nodded.  Then Adam glanced at Balor who was staring straight ahead, having not moved at all.  Then huge dog turned his head to look at his master and huffed at him while shifting his front feet with impatience.  “I’ll take that as a ‘yes’” he said and his wife and children laughed as he climbed up onto the seat and picked up the reins.

Small groups of people had formed on the sidewalks and it was clear most of them were still discussing Adam’s mysterious return.  Many heads turned as they watched the buggy roll slowly by, “You enjoyed shocking all these people during your little stroll through town, didn’t you?” Thea said with glee.

“Yes, I have to admit I did,” he said with a smile at her.

“Hmmm…why do I have this feeling you had other reasons besides not wanting to disappoint Joe?”

He grinned, “Could it be because you have brains as well as beauty?  And possibly the fact that you know me so well, inside and out?”  He didn’t move his head again, but surveyed the people on the street with just his eyes.

“Panic, confusion, and mayhem ensue; my work here is done,” he said softly and his smile widened.

“That’s exactly what you wanted, isn’t it?”

“Yes.  I want them to be off balance, I want them to be unsure.  Now all I need is one incident to establish my authority and everything should be reasonably smooth sailing after that.”

Thea allowed herself to laugh, now that they were past the town.

“And if that incident doesn’t just occur before we leave, I’ll have to go looking for something,” Adam continued.  “It’s very important that these people not be allowed to see me as the same person who left here six years ago.  My position in this community needs to be established before they relax and drop me back into that spot in their minds where I was before.”

“Oh, you are so tricky!” she said with open admiration.

 “Tricky, devious, resourceful, creative.  All terms for the same thing, just different ways of looking at it,” he said and then his eyes took on a faraway look she was very familiar with.  He was, no doubt, going over what would be his next moves in the weeks and months to come, before and after they moved here permanently.

Knowing she would get no response from him except a blank stare until he was finished, Thea settled back and just enjoyed watching the scenery.  But she again wondered how he could do that – be someplace else mentally, yet still react and function normally.

The wagon caught up to them just as they reached the house.  Adam pulled the buggy up to the hitching rail and jumped down to come around to Thea’s side.

Ben came over to lift the children down and started toward the house with them while Adam helped Thea.  The front door opened and Hop Sing came out.  When he spotted Ben with the children he called, “You bring home guests Mister Ben?”

“No not guests, these two are family.”  He smiled at the Chinese man’s puzzled expression, which turned into wide-eyed astonishment when Adam came out from the other side of the buggy with Thea.

They walked slowly up to the little man and when they were standing right in front of him he said something softly in Chinese.

“Now how could I be a ghost?” Adam asked in a reasonable tone as Ben came up to stand beside Thea.

“We found him in San Francisco,” Ben explained, and Hop Sing gave him a dubious look.   He cautiously reached out a hand and poked Adam in the chest.

When his finger encountered a solid person he smiled widely with joy, then his expression turned into a fierce scowl.

“Where you been?” he shook a finger in Adam’s face, “everybody worry for six year!”

Adam laughed, “It’s a long story and I’ll tell you all about it later.  Right now I want you to meet my wife, Theadora.”

The Chinese man turned his eyes to Thea and his mouth fell open in astonishment when she bowed slightly at the waist and spoke a traditional greeting in Cantonese.

Smiling, he spoke the traditional response, and then continued in Cantonese, asking her a question.

“No, I only know how to speak a little of your language and you’ve just about heard it all.  But both Adam and I do understand some.”

Hop Sing looked at Adam, who nodded.  Then he turned his attention to the children.

“This is my grandson Alexander,” Ben said, “and this is my granddaughter Annalise.”

“How old?” the little man said and the two children each held up a hand with the thumb folded down.  He turned back to Adam.  “Two?”

“If you mean twins, then yes, they are.”

Hop Sing seemingly was very impressed.  “You very blessed Mister Adam,” he said, “you come inside now.  I make coffee,” he said and trotted into the house.

Joe and Hoss had joined their little group now and they all filed into the house, Thea first.

She walked into the center of the great room and stood there, turning slowly as she took in all the details.

Adam took the twins from his father and carried them to the sofa while Ben moved to stand next to Thea.  She turned to him with shining eyes.

“Oh Pa, you’re house is just perfect,” she said softly then threw her arms around him.  “Now this house is a home!” she enthused.

Ben laughed and hugged her back for a moment.  “I’m glad you like it,” he smiled down into her happy face as Adam came to sit on the low table in front of the sofa and looked at his children.

The four adults came over to lean on the back of the sofa and listen – it looked like Adam had something very important to say.

“Now that we are finally here we are going to set some rules for while we are staying in your grandfather’s house.  One, you will not touch anything, and I mean anything unless it belongs to you.  Two, you will never, ever be out of sight of this house without one of us.  Three, you will not touch any animal; no matter what kind it is, without an adult present.  Four, you will obey your grandfather, your uncles, and Hop Sing the same way you would your mother or I.  And five, any rule we had established at the house in San Francisco will be the same here.  Do you understand?”

The children looked back at their father with solemn expressions and nodded earnestly.

“Remember that if you break any one of these rules, you will be punished.  No exceptions, no excuses.  Got it?”

They nodded again, looking at their father with wide, innocent eyes, as though they just couldn’t believe he would think they would do such things.

Thea was biting her lip as hard as she could and the men were trying very hard to hold onto their serious expressions.

“I think I’ll go see if Hop Sing can use some help,” Thea said in a choked voice and hurried over to the kitchen door.  Ben, Joe, and Hoss were surprised when she stopped to knock on the door and say something in Cantonese.  Hop Sing answered her and she went into the kitchen.  Immediately they heard her muffled laughter.

“Why did she do that?” Hoss said, looking at Adam.

“She was just being polite by asking him permission to enter his kitchen.  Good manners and respect are very important in Chinese culture.”

Ben was impressed, “You mean you understood what they were saying?”

Adam nodded.  “Most of the important words - but don’t ask me to speak any of it!  I’ve tried and it’s just hopeless.”  He turned his attention back to the children.

“Can you two manage to behave yourselves and stay right here while we bring everything in?”

“Yes Pa,” they said together and gave him innocent smiles.

“Alright, you just stay sitting on this couch, and I mean sitting.  No bouncing, standing, or rolling around,” he said as he stood and the men all went outside and began to carry the bags in.  Adam took a moment to bring Balor in and ordered him to lie down beside the sofa.

The coffee was ready when they finished and Thea helped Hop Sing carry trays to the table in front of the sofa.  He put his tray down and when he turned away he noticed the dog.  Balor sat up and growled at him, his amber eyes glowing and his lips rippling over his white fangs.

Adam immediately said “Balor, down!” and the dog instantly obeyed.

Hop Sing turned to Adam with a white face, “What is that?”

Laughing, Adam said “Just a dog, but a very loyal dog.  He is always with the twins to guard them.”

“Oh,” the Chinese man said softly, giving the dog a frightened look.  “He bite?”

“Balor will only attack if I tell him to.”

“Good,” Hop Sing said, sidled past him, and went back into the kitchen.

Looking at the twins Adam could see they were bursting with the need to move.  “You two can go outside, but DO NOT leave the front yard.”

The two children slid off the sofa and trotted through the front door as their father told Balor to “guard.”  The huge animal rose and padded out after them.

Adam came to sit beside Thea on the sofa and took her hand, letting out a deep breath.

Ben poured the coffee and said, “We’ll all try to help keep an eye on them, Adam.”

“Thank you,” his eldest son said.  “But from my experience it would take a whole regiment to keep those two out of trouble.  It always amazes me how they manage to find something new, something that hasn’t already been covered by a rule, to get in trouble with.”

“Unfortunately we have been cursed with intelligent, lively children,” Thea said wryly.

Adam smiled, appreciating her point.

Joe looked at Thea and asked, “So you’ve known Matt for years?”  Adam rolled his eyes and sighed, knowing what was coming.

She nodded, “Yes, and he was really exaggerating.  He could have made it through medical school all by himself he didn’t really need me.  But I certainly appreciated his help.  I faced the same hostility in school that I had thrown in my face almost every day at the hospital.  Matt tried to protect me.”

Joe nodded, but his odd expression finally registered with Thea.  “Oh, you must have noticed how Matt looks at me like a sick calf whenever he thinks no one is looking.”

Hoss and Joe nodded, while their father’s face registered disapproval.  “This is news to me,” Ben said.

“Don’t worry about it,” Thea laughed, “Matt thinks he loves me, but he doesn’t.  He’ll figure that out eventually, now that we’re going to be partners.”

Her three new relatives all sat up quickly, startled.

“Partners?” Ben asked, definitely not happy with the idea.

“Mm hmm.  Some space is available for rent on the other side of town across from a saloon that just opened.  We’ll need more space for the two of us.”

Joe, Hoss, and Ben looked at Adam.  He sighed again.

“This is Thea’s decision, but I happen to agree with her.  I don’t want her to stop practicing medicine and I believe seeing her every day will force him to realize she is my wife and that is not ever going to change.”

Thea nodded emphatically and squeezed his hand.

Ben thought about this for a minute.  “I think you’re right, Adam.”

Joe, they could plainly see, did not agree while Hoss seemed to still be on the fence.

“I’m looking forward to limiting my practice to female patients and children.  I hope the women in Virginia City will feel more inclined to seek medical care if they know the doctor is female.”

Joe had just opened his mouth, no doubt to argue the point some more when they heard the shrill sound of a police whistle.

Adam stood, vaulted over the back of the sofa, and was out the door in the blink of an eye.  Thea followed quickly, but took a more conventional route.  When she came out she saw Annalise under a large tree near the barn.  She was talking to her father and pointing up while Balor kept circling the trunk.  She could hear him whimpering in distress.

Thea looked at the huge, tall tree and her heart clenched in her chest.  She ran to them as fast as she could and was followed closely by the rest of the family.

Just as she reached the tree, Adam swung himself up and began to climb toward Alexander who was so far up he was hard to see.  Annalise ran to her mother and Thea picked her up, staring anxiously upward as Ben, Hoss, and Joe came to stand next to her.  Balor stopped circling the tree and came over to sit in between her and her father-in-law.

Her husband was moving nimbly and quickly up the tree and Thea breathed a sigh of relief when she saw him reach the branch her son was sitting on.

Adam carefully pulled himself up next to Alexander and sat on the same thick branch, then leaned back against another and looked at his son.  The boy was desperately clutching the trunk of the tree with his back to his father.

“Looks like you got yourself into a bit of a situation here, haven’t you?” he said to his son in a conversational tone as he swung his legs.

“Yes, Pa,” the boy said, trying not to cry.

 “Why,” his father continued, “what on earth possessed you to climb this tree?”

“I didn’t climb it,” Alexander said with a muffled voice.

Adam frowned, “Well, I know you can’t fly,” he said and looked around for a moment, then understood.

Trying not to laugh he said, “You mean you went up on the silo roof and jumped over to this branch?”

Alexander nodded, opened his eyes a bit then slammed them shut in terror.

“Good Lord,” his father said then reached out and pulled him off the trunk and into his lap.  He wrapped his arms around the boy tightly and could feel him trembling.

“Oh, Alexander.  Just when I think you have learned a lesson about doing stupid things you manage to dig a little deeper into stupidity.  But you are not stupid, son, so tell me why do you do these things?”

Alexander had stopped trembling now that he was in the safety of his father’s arms, and he cried out “I don’t know!” in true anguish.

Adam chuckled and squeezed his son even tighter.  “Well, we have to figure this out, because you can’t continue to do things like this; I can’t be with you twenty-four hours a day.”  The boy nodded, bumping the back of his head on his father’s hard chest.

“We’ll talk about that later after I have a chance to do some thinking about it.  But right now I want you to look down.”

The boy started to tremble again, but his father insisted.  “It’s alright, you’re safe with me.  Look down.”

“Do I have to, Pa?”

“Yes, you do.”

Alexander slowly opened his eyes and cautiously stretched his head forward.  Somehow looking down with his father’s arms around him wasn’t nearly as frightening as when he was alone.

“You see all those people down there?  You frightened the wits out of all of them by what you’ve done, by you’re irresponsible behavior.  You are going to be five soon and it’s time for you to learn now to use the brains God gave you.  Now, after I take you down, you are going to go to each person and apologize to them for scaring them so badly.  Understand?”

The boy nodded and leaned back against his father again, willing to do anything that would make his father forgive him.

“I’m talking about how what you do affects other people again.  Do you remember?”

Alexander nodded then hung his head.

“Alright, it’s time to go down now.”  He picked the boy up and lifted him over his head.  Alex put his arms around his father’s neck and squeezed tightly.  Adam patted his arms saying, “Loosen your hold just a little.  Being able to breathe is important for climbing down a tree.”

Adam started down being careful to not joggle Alexander any more than was necessary.  When he was near the bottom he stopped, motioned for Hoss to come over, and handed his son down into his brother’s arms.

Hoss immediately turned and gave the boy to his mother while Adam dropped to the ground.

Thea clutched Alexander tightly, closed her eyes in relief then took a deep breath and held it to keep from shouting at him.  In a moment she calmed down and opened her eyes to see Adam standing in front of her, perfect understanding of what she was feeling in his eyes.

He took the boy from her arms, set him on his feet and gave him a firm look that reminded the boy of what he had been told to do.

Alexander turned to his mother, “I’m sorry Ma, I didn’t mean to scare you so bad.  You too Annalise.”  He glanced at his father who nodded for him to go on.

He straightened his little shoulders and went to his grandfather next.  “I’m sorry, grandpa.  I never shoulda gone up on that roof and jumped onto that stupid branch,” he said earnestly.

His grandfather tried not to smile as he answered.  “Apology accepted, Alexander,” he said and surprised the boy by taking his hand and shaking it.

He stepped up to Hoss then.  “Uncle Hoss, please forgive me for frightnin’ the wits out of you,” he said, using the words his father had said.  Adam put a hand up to his mouth to cover a smile.

“You’re forgiven’ little fella.  Just remember not to do somethin’ like that again.”  The boy nodded and gave his uncle a grateful look.

Joe didn’t even try to not smile when his nephew marched over to him.  “Can you forgive me for scarin’ you so bad Uncle Joe?”

“Yes I can, Alexander, because it takes a big man to admit he has made a mistake and apologize for it.”  Alexander smiled with relief and turned to walk back to his father and lean against his hard leg.  Adam put a hand on the boy’s head and smoothed his hair back.

“Did I do it right, Pa?” he said in a small voice.

“That was absolutely perfect, Alex.”

The boy quickly looked up at his father and was awed by the unreserved approval he saw there.

Adam bent down to pick up his son and the family started walking back to the house with Balor closely following behind Thea and Annalise.

“Wait Pa.” Alexander said low into his father’s ear.


“I didn’t apologize to you yet.”

“You’re right, you didn’t.”

“I’m real sorry, Pa,” the boy said softly.

“I know you are, Alex, and I forgive you.”

Now that all was almost right with his world again, Alexander laid his head on his father’s shoulder and closed his eyes.  He was asleep before they went through the front door.


Adam took Alexander upstairs and Thea followed with Annalise.  They took the children to the room they would be sharing and Balor came in to settle himself on the floor near the window.  They put both children on the bed and the little girl soon dropped off next to her sleeping brother.  Their parents moved quietly around the room and spoke in hushed voices as they unpacked the children’s bags.

The twins were still fast asleep as they carried the empty bags out and left the door ajar.  Then they moved on to their room to unpack their own bags.  By the time they finished it was almost six o’clock so they checked on the children and found them still deeply asleep.

“I don’t think either one is going to be up again until morning,” Thea whispered, so they quickly got them ready for bed and tucked them in.

Everyone was a little subdued at dinner that night; they were all tired from the traveling.

Thea helped Hop Sing with the clearing up while Adam went upstairs to look in on the twins.  He stood there for a while, watching his children sleep and found himself thinking about the attempted kidnappings again.  Every time he did he was filled with such fury it was frightening.  He had never seen himself as a truly violent man, but he knew in his heart he would kill to protect them without a second’s hesitation.

He left the room quietly and went back downstairs.  He sat next to Thea on the sofa again, but couldn’t seem to follow any of the conversation.  By the time he had caught himself almost falling asleep for the third time he gave up and tugged on Thea’s hand.  She knew that meant it was time for bed, so the two of them said their good nights and slowly climbed the stairs and went to their room.


Piercing shrieks split the night in between flashes of lighting and rumbles of thunder; Ben jumped out of bed and rushed to open his bedroom door.  He paused, hearing the shrieks coming toward him down the hall.  A flash of lightning revealed two small white figures and one huge, dark shadow racing past his door.

The bright light had blinded him so he stayed where he was and closed his eyes to recover.  He heard a door crash open then a series of thuds and a final shout.  As he stepped out into the hallway he could see Joe and Hoss coming, each one carrying a lit lamp.  They all converged on Adam and Thea’s room.

When the lamplight fell on the bed they could just barely see Adam buried under two children and one extremely large dog.

“Get him off me!” Adam managed to say in a choked whisper, he couldn’t move with his arms trapped under the covers.  Hoss handed the lamp to his father and lifted the 180-pound dog off his brother.  Adam sat up and the children threw themselves at him.  He had an arm around each of them then noticed Thea was missing.

“Where’s Thea?” he said looking around the room.

A hand appeared and waved at him over the other side of the bed.

“I’m here.  Balor pushed me out,” she chuckled.

Adam shifted Alexander out of his way then slid out of the bed on her side.  She was still chuckling when her husband helped her to her feet.  Rubbing the back of her head, she assured him she was fine, then burst into a full laugh when she looked across at Hoss, he was still struggling with the huge dog.  Balor had all four legs wrapped around the man as he trembled and whimpered and refused to let go.

Joe was giggling helplessly and Ben couldn’t hold back a smile as Adam came around to pry the dog off his brother and found himself in the same situation.

Thea had climbed back into the bed to calm her children and was now having a hard time containing her mirth at the sight of the huge animal stuck to her husband like a burr.

She directed the children’s attention to the sight and when they forgot about the storm and started to laugh she got out of the bed and went to coax the dog to let go.  She soon had the Balor standing on his hind legs and Adam managed to unwrap the animal’s front legs from around his neck.

The dog sat there huddled up against Thea as she knelt down, put her arms around him and began to whisper soothingly in his ear.

Joe and Hoss were laughing when Adam looked at his father “I swear to you, Pa, we’re not a family, we’re a traveling circus.”

“Do you want us to help get the children back to bed?” Ben asked with a wide smile.

Adam gave him a narrow look, “You’re still enjoying this aren’t you?”

His father nodded and started to chuckle.

“You won’t think it’s so funny when I finally lose my mind.”

The three men just laughed harder so Adam started to herd them through the door, “Alright, show’s over, everybody back to bed.”  Then he turned to the children, “You two stay there, I don’t want any encores of tonight’s performance.”

His father and brothers managed to choke out a “Good night” as Adam shut the door behind them, and then turned to his family.  The children had already fallen asleep and Thea was just climbing in on her side.  Balor was lying on the floor next to his side.

He managed to get in without stepping on the dog and turned on his side to look at his wife and children.  With a gentle hand he stroked Annalise’s cheek and smoothed Alexander’s unruly hair back from his forehead. 

Thea grinned at him, “You realize that if we are a circus then that makes you the Ringmaster.”

Adam laughed quietly, “I think I’d rather be the one that sticks his head in the lion’s mouth, it would be less dangerous.”



Chapter 13

Ben was surprised the next morning when he realized he had overslept, but glad to be back in his own home, he decided to take his time getting ready.

When he left his room and went down the stairs he saw the dining room table was set for three.  He glanced back when he heard footsteps; Hoss and Joe were coming down.

The three men had just taken their usual places when Hop Sing popped out of the kitchen door, coffee pot in hand.  He bustled around the table to fill their cups.

“Where are Adam, Thea, and the children?” Ben asked.

“Oh, Mister Adam and children up early.  They go outside.  Missus Adam making special breakfast for you.”  He set the pot down on a trivet and hustled back through the kitchen door.  They heard him say something in Cantonese and Thea’s answering laughter.

“Stop that, I can’t do this right if you keep making me laugh,” Thea chuckled then said a few words in Cantonese too.

He spoke again.

“I didn’t!  I really just called you a chicken beak?”  He laughed with her this time.

The three men at the table smiled at each other, pleased and relieved that he had accepted her so quickly.

In a moment Thea and Hop Sing came through the door, each carrying a large, flat, covered dish.  They placed them on the table and he rushed back into the kitchen as Thea went around to kiss each man on the top of the head and say “Good morning.”

Hop Sing appeared then with a third dish and placed it on the table.

“I was in the mood to do some French cooking this morning and decided to make you crepes, but with an American slant,” Thea said as she removed the cover from one of the dishes and fragrant steam wafted up.

“These are onion crepes stuffed with scrambled eggs and bacon,” she said then removed another cover.

“These are maple crepes stuffed with sausage, and these are cheese crepes stuffed with seasoned, browned potatoes,” she finished as she removed the last cover. 

“Save a little room for the dessert crepes, I made two kinds – spiced apple and strawberry.”  She handed the covers to Hop Sing saying, “I hope you like them,” and gave them a sweet smile as she hurried out the front door.

Hop Sing had gone back into the kitchen when Hoss sighed, “It’s too bad they can’t stay here permanently,” he said and his father and brother laughed as they all dug in.

They took their time over breakfast and when they were sitting back with more coffee Thea ran in the front door, scampered up the stairs, then came back down pulling on a pair of brown leather gloves.  She smiled at them as she passed, “Adam is going to give me a lesson this morning,” she explained as she hurried by and out the door.

“What did she say?” Joe asked.

“Something about Adam giving her a lesson,” his father answered.

“I thought that’s what she said.  What kind of lesson, I wonder?” he said, both puzzled and interested.

“I don’t rightly know,” Hoss laughed, “but she has to wear trousers and gloves for it.”

He and Joe grinned at each other then quickly stood and hurried outside.  Their father shook his head at them, but followed closely.

When he came through the door he saw the twins sitting on the hitching rail watching their parents with Balor sitting at attention to the side.  Adam was turning in one spot with his hands up, palms out, as Thea circled him, her hands clenched into fists and her eyes fixed on him with fierce concentration.

His eldest son was distracted only for a brief second when his father appeared, but Thea saw it and attacked.  He caught her first three punches on his hands, but the fourth slipped past and would have clipped his jaw if he hadn’t jerked his head to the side.

He took a step back and dropped his hands saying, “Good job!  You didn’t hesitate to take advantage of that break in my concentration.  Now try to get another one through.”  He raised his hands again.

She continued to circle around him, but couldn’t get past his blocks the next two times she attacked.  “Come on, you can do better than that.  Don’t start turning into a weak female on me now!” he teased her.

Thea’s face flushed red, her eyes flashed and her stance became more aggressive.

Two times she started to attack, but ended up retreating.  Adam was watching her intently so when she did attack he was ready.  Or so he thought.

She punched with her right and then her left, blows he easily blocked.  Then she started to throw another left at him, but pulled it as she put all her strength into another right.  Adam was fooled by the fake left and was not prepared to block the strong right that nailed him in the mouth.

His head snapped back and the two of them stared at each other in surprise for a second then Adam grinned with delight and rushed her, picked her up and swung her around.  “Good girl!  You actually fooled me!  Where did you learn how to fake a punch?”

He stopped swinging her around and stood there, holding her in his arms with her booted feet dangling.

“I learned from watching you!” she laughed and he set her down as the rest of the family, including their children, applauded.  Balor shifted his front feet and barked, looking as though he would have applauded too if he had hands.

Adam turned to his father and brothers.  “Well, now that you three are up I can ask if you have any plans to go into town.  I need to start looking for office space to rent and Thea will be going to see Matt and accept his offer.”

His father answered, “Well, actually I do.  I forgot to stop at the post office, and I need to stop by the feed store to see if a shipment came in.”

“Joe and I better go along, just in case it did,” Hoss said as Joe nodded.

“Well, let’s get ready, people!” Adam said and they all went into the house.


Some time later the wagon and buggy pulled up in front of Matt’s office.  Across and half a block up the street Maisy stared wistfully from the saloon doorway.  She watched Adam lift Thea down, then her eyebrows rose when she saw him lifting the twins down.  “Geez, and he’s got children too,” she said and continued to watch, as the group of people seemed to be discussing something.  Then the group broke up.

Thea went into Matt’s office, Hoss and Adam started down the street on that side, and Ben and Joe each picked up a twin and crossed the street.  The two men passed the saloon on their way to Roy’s office.  Maisy took a close look at Alexander and Annalise as they went past, “And, of course, beautiful children at that,” she said under her breath then turned away with a heavy heart to get back to work.

Ben and Joe had gone to see Roy to invite him to dinner then quickly left to move back up the street.  When they reached the Post Office they both went in.  A tall, lovely woman with honey-colored hair was behind a counter sorting mail, but she quickly turned when the two men approached.

“Ben! Joe!” she said with real pleasure to see them.  “How was your trip to San Francisco?”

“Eventful!” Ben said and Joe nodded his head saying “Nice to see you again Mrs. Jackson,” as her smiling eyes fastened on the twins.

She nodded to Joe.  “And who are these two wee people?” she laughed.

“This is my grandson Alexander and my granddaughter Annalise,” Ben answered.

“Grandchildren?” she said and looked sharply at Joe who was holding Annalise.  He quickly shook his head, both appalled and embarrassed.

Ben was highly amused by his youngest son’s expression.  “No, these two belong to Adam.”

Her eyes opened wide and her mouth fell open, “Adam?”

“Yes, he came home for a visit, he’s been living in San Francisco.  I guess you weren’t in town yesterday when we arrived so you didn’t know yet.”

“Oh,” she said, still plainly baffled, but her innate good manners prevented her from following that line of questioning further and she smiled.  “They’re beautiful children,” she continued, “How old are they?”


“They’re twins?” she said, startled again.

“Yes, they are.” Ben was enjoying himself as he grinned at her wickedly.

Catching on to what he was doing she gave a joyful laugh.  “You are a naughty one, aren’t you?”

Ben nodded and she laughed again saying, “I wish I could go with you when you shock your next victim!”  She turned around, gathered his mail together then handed it to him as she turned back

“Please tell Adam I said ‘hello’ and ‘congratulations’.  And please ask him to bring his wife in sometime.  I can tell she’s a woman I would definitely like to meet!”

“Well, Thea is going into partnership with Dr. Harvey so I’m sure you will be seeing her around town when they move here in a couple of months.”

“Good God, she’s a doctor?” the poor woman was starting to feel stunned.

“Yes she is, but she is also a surgeon.  Although she’s planning on limiting her practice to women and children now.”

“Well, I don’t think I can wait until they move here, so please bring her by.  I’ll be dying of curiosity if you don’t!”  Her eyes were dancing with fun.

“We will,” Ben answered as he and Joe left and started toward the feed store to show off his grandchildren some more.


Matt looked up from his desk and stood as Thea came in.  She motioned for him to sit back down and he did as she took the chair next to his desk.

He smiled, thinking how lovely she looked this morning, and felt the familiar pang in his heart of unrequited love.

She looked at him with lively interest and her expression almost led him to believe she knew exactly what he was thinking.  But that had to be impossible.

“Good morning.  I came in to tell you I have decided to accept your partnership offer.  But I have to tell you I won’t be able to actually start until the beginning or the middle of December if you’d be willing to wait that long.”

“December?” he said, puzzled.

“Yes,” she said gently, “according to my calculations I’ll be due in the third or fourth week of November.”

His eyes widened and his mouth dropped open as he stared at her in shock.

“Matt, there really isn’t any reason for you to be so surprised.”

“Uh, yeah.”  He cleared his throat and looked away for a moment to get his expression under control.  When he turned back to her she was still smiling that gentle smile she always gave him.  He looked into her fine hazel eyes and saw true affection for him there, but nothing beyond that, and suddenly he felt ashamed of having nurtured his dreams of her ever being his.  He cleared his throat again.

“I don’t see any problems with waiting until December for you to officially join.  I’ll just move everything into the new office when my lease is up here at the end of September.  That way you can see patients if you should feel you want to when you move here.  Do you know when that will be?”

“In two months and probably in the second week of October.”

“Good!” he said as he stood and reached for her right hand with his.  They shook hands and Thea laughed.  “Why don’t we go look at that space for rent so we can start making some decisions about what to do with it.”  She stood.

“Good idea,” he said as he held the office door open for her.  This time when they were standing on the board sidewalk he offered her his arm without a trace of the look she had always dreaded.  Her heart lightened and she laughed as she mentally acknowledged that Adam had been right again.

“Shall we, Mrs. Cartwright?” he smiled down at her.

“Yes, I think we shall, Mr. Harvey,” she laughed and the two began to walk briskly down the street.


Adam and Hoss were standing outside a small building on the other side of town and down the street a short way from the Sage Brush Saloon.  They had just finished looking it over and Adam had pronounced it perfect for what he needed.  He would be using it as an office to work out of while the regional office was being constructed.

“Would you mind going a little further down the street with me, I want to show you something,” Adam said to his brother.

“Sure!” Hoss said, pleased to be having a little more time to spend with his older brother alone.  Adam always seemed to be surrounded by groups of people anymore.

The two men crossed the street and continued down, away from the center of town.  In a few minutes they reached the dark-cream colored brick house.

Hoss stopped to look up, taking in the three stories and the towers, then followed as Adam went up the steps, pulled out a key, and unlocked the door.  They entered a large front hall painted in a lighter cream color than the brick with honey oak moldings and floor.  The hall was shaped like a “T” and the doors to the two towers were on either side of what would be the cross bar.  Doors were set into the middle of the sidewalls and they were open revealing a formal dining room on their left and a large bedroom on their right.

The hall was two stories high with a staircase coming down on each side and a railed gallery that served as a hallway for the second floor bedrooms.

Hoss looked around at the groups of furniture that were scattered around and Adam smiled at him as he led him down the hall and opened a door at the end.  The two men then entered a large kitchen that was painted a cheerful yellow, further brightened by wide, tall windows that let in the sunlight.

On the right side was the cooking area and on the left was a large oak table surrounded by at least twelve chairs.  Door-less openings on either side of the long room revealed the back stairs and a door to the back yard was on the right.

Adam was looking around the room when Hoss finally spoke.  “You thinkin’ about buyin’ this place?”

His older brother turned to him with a satisfied expression and a smile, “Yep.  I’m planning it as a surprise for Thea.”

“Do you think she’ll mind not havin’ picked it out herself?”

“Nope, we stopped by here yesterday and I saw her expression when she saw this place.  I knew she would love it, but wanted to be sure and I was right, this is exactly the kind of house she would love.”

Hoss’s face brightened at the firm conviction in Adam’s voice.

“Now, you are the only one in the family that knows this secret and I’d like to keep it that way.  Please don’t say anything to Pa or Joe.”

His younger brother nodded his agreement, pleased to be in on the surprise for Thea.

“I will be sending some people to get this place ready after we return to San Francisco, and I would appreciate your dropping by from time to time and letting me know how the work is coming along.  Do you think you could do that for me?”

“I’d be glad to,” Hoss said with enthusiasm and clapped Adam on the back making him stagger a little.

“Thank you!” Adam said as he offered Hoss his hand and the two men shook on it.

“Just remember that if Joe should happen to catch wind of this he’ll be after you to find out what’s going on, so be careful.  You know how extremely nosey he can be.”

Hoss chuckled and nodded as they left the kitchen and went down the hall and out the front door.  Adam locked the door behind them and said, “We better get moving.  I want to rent that building and make an offer for the house before we’re supposed to meet up again at Matt’s office.”

The two men went down the steps and started back toward the center of town, walking along in companionable silence.


When they were a block down from the doctor’s office they saw Thea, Matt and Joe come out, followed by Ben who had the twins holding his hands.  When they spotted their father Alexander called “Pa!” and the two ran down the sidewalk to him.  Adam crouched down and swept the two up when they reached him and settled a child on each hip as he noticed other pedestrians staring.  Alexander started chattering immediately.

“Grandpa took us to all the stores, and the Post Office, and the Liv’ry, and the ‘Pothecary, and...” His little brow creased in concentration, trying to remember the other place.

“And the Sheriff’s,” his sister helpfully supplied the answer for him.

“Yeah, and we got to see the cells and everything!’

Adam smiled and waited for a moment to be sure his son’s flow of words had stopped.  “So you had a good time?”

“Uh huh!” Alexander answered as his father looked down at Annalise as he reached the waiting group.  “You too, Punkin’?” he asked and the little girl just nodded, her beautiful green eyes shining up at him.  He laughed and bent his head down to kiss her on both cheeks as she giggled.

Adam looked at his father, noting Ben’s satisfied smile.  “So, I hear you were showing your grandchildren off all around town today.  Did they behave for you?”

“Perfectly,” Ben said, completely unabashed.

“And I take it you were his willing accomplice?” Adam said to Joe.

His youngest brother nodded, “At first, but you wouldn’t believe how many people thought they were mine!”

Adam chuckled imagining how embarrassed Joe must have been all morning, and his youngest brother gave him an irritated look.

“It wasn’t funny!” he protested as the rest of his family joined in to laugh at his distress.  The twins laughed too, even though they didn’t understand why.  They just thought Uncle Joe’s appalled expression was funny.

The group broke up then and when they were on their way home in the buggy, Adam gave Thea a questioning look.

“So how did it go?”

Thea sighed and rolled her eyes, “I hesitate to tell you this because it will only give you a bigger swelled head, but it looks like you were right about Matt.  After I told him we have another child on the way he seemed different, and I didn’t catch him giving me one of those annoying looks even once.”

Adam just smiled his superior smile and kept his eyes on the road.

“Aren’t you going to say ‘I told you so’?”

He shook his head, still smiling that superior smile as he reached into a pocket of his suit coat and handed her a small envelope.

Thea gave him a puzzled look as she opened it and pulled out a small card.  She instantly burst out laughing when she saw the words “I told you so” printed in huge letters that filled the entire space.  On a hunch, she turned it over and saw the same words printed on the other side.

“How long were you prepared to carry this around?” she gasped, and then dissolved into laughter again.

“As long as necessary,” he said as he put his arm around her shoulders, holding her tight, and continued to smile that annoying, irritating, and now justifiably superior smile the entire way home.



Chapter 14

Two days later Adam was sitting at a desk studying plans in the office of the small building he was using to work out of until the district building was constructed. He was concentrating hard, but for some reason just happened to glance up to see what seemed like a familiar face passing quickly by.  A few minutes later the same thing happened again, then it happened twice more.

He sat there deep in thought for a few minutes, smoothing down his close-clipped beard as his eyes narrowed and he stared into the distance intently.  Coming to a decision he said to himself, “It’s a little soon, but I just can’t pass up this opportunity.”

Taking some papers out of the desk, he flipped through them, pulled out four and set them to the side.  Standing, he tied his holster down and then checked his gun, making sure it was fully loaded.  He pulled on his suit coat and mentally reviewed what weapons he was carrying, then folded the four papers he had set aside and slipped them into a pocket. 

He entered the Sage Brush a few minutes later, quietly and slowly so as to not attract any attention.  Just as he had expected, his brothers were there with his deputies, sitting at a large table by the door.  He surveyed the room with just his eyes for a brief moment.  His family and friends looked up with surprise when he came to the table and sat down with his back to the room.  Adam never sat with his back to the room or to the door now.

Nate was about to speak when his boss propped his elbow on the table and dropped his chin into his hand with a finger across his lips.  The four deputies instantly sat up straight and looked at him expectantly.

As Adam was reaching into his pocket, Joe opened his mouth to ask what was going on.  Mike leaned back in his chair as though stretching and poked him hard with his elbow, while his eldest brother gave him a quelling look.

Putting the folded papers on the table, Adam flicked them with a finger and they slid across to Nate who quietly opened them.  The four deputies passed them around then looked to Adam again.  He jerked his head back slightly and four pairs of eyes zeroed in on the four men whose pictures were on the “wanted” notices.  They all seemed to relax then, but were really watching Adam’s face intently until he glanced down at his right hand that was lying on the table, palm down with the fingers curled and resting on their tips.

He straightened his index and middle fingers, pointing to Mike and Jerry.  The two men nodded slightly.  Adam tapped the tips of those two fingers on the table once then slid his eyes to the left.  He looked straight at Nate then slid his eyes to his right.  Nate nodded.  Adam then raised a closed hand to his mouth as though covering a yawn and tipped his head back briefly.  Nate nodded again.

Mike and Jerry stood when Adam looked at them and gave them a slight nod.  The two men began to banter with each other as they made their way up the right side of the room.  Nate was the next to stand when Adam glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and began walking slowly toward the stairs on the left side of the room.  Hoss and Joe watched with lively interest.

When Nate was halfway down the room, Adam stood and turned around after giving Joe and Hoss a look that plainly said, “Stay out of this.”

He made his way down the middle of the room, weaving through the tables then stopped with his side to the back of a large, unkempt man sitting at a table with three others.  Adam pulled his weapon, grabbed the man by the back of the neck, slammed his head down on the table then pressed the barrel of his gun to the side of his head so quickly everyone in the room was stunned.  The man was reaching for his holster until he heard the click of a hammer being drawn back and he froze.

The other three men had been badly startled and slow to react, but before they could recover Mike, Jerry, and Nate appeared behind them and did the same thing, gun barrels pressed to their heads, too.

Adam saw the man in front of him move his gun hand slightly so he pressed harder.

“Not a good idea, William,” he said in a calm tone, “I would have absolutely no problem at all with putting a bullet through your brain.”  He looked at the other three men.  “Now let’s see everybody’s hands on the table.”

Sensing movement out of the corner of his eye, Adam turned his head slightly to see someone slip out the back door.  Knowing the man lived in town, he assumed he was going to get Roy and he smiled.

“Damn you!” the seated man ground out as he did what he was told.  “Why the hell aren’t you in San Francisco?”

“I missed you too,” Adam chuckled.  “But you’ve just got to stop following me.  This is what, the third time I’ve had to haul you in this year?”  His deputies laughed, “You’re just not having any kind of luck except bad.”

Without taking his eyes off the man in front of him, Adam called out, “John!  Would you mind getting over here and doing the honors?”

John quickly came up to the table, took the guns from the four men, then retreated to stand in a spot where he had a clear view of each of the wanted men.  He held one of the confiscated guns in his hand.

Will was quivering with rage, “When I get out this time I’m coming straight after you, Eden.”

“That’s right, you must have still been inside, you haven’t heard the news Willie.  My last name isn’t Eden anymore, it’s Cartwright.”

“So you finally found your family - I bet they’re regretting it already.”

“You might be right about that, but I really don’t have the time to continue this interesting little chat,” he let go of the man’s neck and took two steps back.  “You know the drill William, on the floor, arms and legs spread.”

Clenching his hands into fists, the big man sat up and stood, took two steps to the side then lay down on the floor, spread-eagled.

Adam nodded to John and reached into a small divided case he carried attached to his belt on his left hip and pulled out a pair of handcuffs.  Nudging the man on the floor with the toe of his boot he said, “Come on, Willie, hands behind your back.”  The big man obeyed, then John knelt with one knee in the small of his back while he closed a cuff over each of his wrists.

The procedure was repeated with the other three men and they were just hauling them to their feet when Roy came in, followed by the man who had slipped out the back door.

“Watcha got there Adam?” he said as he approached the group.

“Just an old friend and three stupid people that decided to join up with him.”  Adam swung his prisoner around by the upper arm to face Roy.  “Do you recognize this pillar of society?”

Roy narrowed his eyes and stared at Will’s face for a moment.  Then his face cleared, “William Meyer, isn’t he?”

“Yes sir,” Adam laughed.  “And since I’m not officially assigned this region yet, I believe these four now belong to you.”

“Gee thanks,” Roy said with a smile.  “And I didn’t get you anything.”

Adam laughed.  “Do you mind taking Will down to your jail?  I want to have a little chat with John before we join the party.”

“Sure,” the older man said and took the prisoner by the upper arm.

“Oh, and if I were you I’d hold him by the cuffs.  Will is pretty tricky and I’ve found that’s the best way to control him.”

The big man leaned forward and glared at Adam.  “I’m coming after you first when I get out, and then I’ll take care of the rest of your family.  They’ll be begging me to kill ‘em by the time I’m done, especially that little wife of yours.”

Adam gave him a menacing smile, “What makes you think you’ll ever be coming out?  You’ll be going to a federal prison this time and once you go through those gates the only way you will be leaving is feet first.”  He turned to his two brothers who were still sitting at the table.  “Hoss, Joe, would you mind going along to help?  The more the merrier.”

His brothers stood quickly and Hoss came to wrap one huge hand around the back of Will’s neck.

“Will, I’d like you to meet my brother Hoss,” Adam said with a grin.

The prisoner looked up at Hoss and his eyes widened.  “I’m pretty partial to my new sister-in-law and wouldn’t take someone tryin’ to hurt her very well.  In fact, you never know just what I might do.”

Will suddenly found the floor to be so fascinating he just put his head down stared at it.

“John, please hand those guns over to Joe.”

The prisoners and their escort left then and Adam pinned John with a cold stare.  Without taking his eyes off him he said, “Larry, I need to use Hal’s office for a minute.”

“No problem, Mr. Cartwright,” the bartender answered quickly.

Adam went to the office door next to the back end of the bar, opened it, and then stood there waiting for his deputy.  John walked through and Adam followed, closing the door firmly behind them.

The patrons of the bar had watched the four men being arrested with extreme interest and no little confusion.  When they heard Adam’s raised voice they all looked toward the office door and listened as hard as they could; a few even moved closer to hear better.

“Dammit, John, I just can’t understand what the hell is the matter with you.  You know the regulations – a marshal must carry his weapon at all times when out in public.”

“I know.”

“Did I give you permission to speak?  No, you just keep your mouth shut and listen,” Adam said as he moved to stand directly in front of John until they were face to face.  “I already gave you a second chance and you just blew it.  I should be demanding your badge right now, but I’m not going to.  You’re just too damn good at what you do right to kick you out without trying to solve this problem.  But I’m putting you on probation.  You mess up one more time and you’re out.  And don’t think our friendship is going to save you.  I can’t risk my life and the lives of your fellow deputies just because you can’t follow the regulations.”

He paused to take a deep breath.  “I have to be able to depend on you, not be your mother.  Now get your ass down to that jail and try to actually help instead of putting lives in danger.”

John quickly walked out with his head down when Adam pulled the door open; he stood in the office doorway and watched as the smaller man went through the swinging doors and turned down the street toward the jail.

He stepped out of the office and closed the door behind him, walked up to the table and collected the “wanted” notices that were still lying there.  As he was folding the papers he noticed the room was silent and when he turned around everyone quickly looked away. 

Adam resisted the urge to smile and looked at the bartender.  “Larry, when you see Hal tomorrow morning please tell him to come to the office at 9:00.”

“Yes sir.”

“Thank you,” Adam answered as he turned away and left.  As soon as he was on the other side of the swinging doors, the saloon erupted with a babble of loud voices.  He laughed to himself then headed down the sidewalk toward the Sheriff’s office.

When he got there and went inside he saw his brothers and deputies in a group near Roy’s desk.  The men were quietly talking while they waited for him.  He glanced toward the cells – Will was in one by himself, his hands still cuffed behind him and the other three were sharing the cell to the left.

Roy looked up, “We couldn’t take the cuffs off because you have the key and I could tell from looking at them none of my keys would have fit.  Are they new?”

Adam smiled, “Very new, they’re Tower double locks,” he said as he stopped in front of Roy’s desk.  “I’ll go in and take them off.”

Roy handed him the keys then he walked over to stand in front of the door to Will’s cell.  “Have a seat,” he said and the prisoner obeyed.  He unlocked the door then tossed the cell keys to Hoss, who was the closest person.

Adam paused in the cell doorway.  “Stand up and turn around,” he said and the big man did so.  He came up and took hold of the chain between the two cuffs and reached for the key.  Stepping up right behind the prisoner, he spoke to him in a low, conversational voice.

“I thought you might like to know we found Lizzie alive and well.”  He removed the cuffs and stepped back.  “Turn around and sit down.”

Will slowly did as he was told and kept his eyes on the floor.

Moving to stand in front of the seated man Adam leaned over a little.  “She’s decided to do the right thing and testify, so you’re finally going to swing for what you did to Janet.”  The prisoner looked up and when his eyes met the other man’s cold stare he quickly looked back down again.

“I told you to stay away from me and mine, Will.  But you wouldn’t listen.  It’s taken a long time, but I’ve got you now.”

Adam stepped out and closed the door firmly then tested it to make sure it was locked.  Then he turned his attention to the three men in the other cell.

“This is just a little bit of advice.  The next time you decide to join up with someone, it would be a good idea to check them out first.  You see Willie has a nasty habit of killing anyone he does a job with.  I guess his mother never taught him how to share.”

The three men instantly fastened hostile eyes on Will.  With any luck, Adam figured, they would be going to the same prison and would make Will’s life a living hell until he was executed.

Satisfied that he had done everything he could to avenge the sweet young woman Will had murdered, he walked away to join the group around Roy’s desk.

The Sheriff said, “Mind if I take a look at those cuffs?”

“Sure,” Adam said and handed them to Roy as he looked at his deputies.  “Go on back to the Sage Brush and wait for me there.”

The four men quietly left the office, followed by Hoss and Joe.  When they closed the door Adam and Roy were deep into a discussion about new handcuff designs.


No one spoke until they entered the saloon and were seated at “their” table.  Nate, Jerry, and Mike looked at John expectantly.

“Well?  What happened?” Nate said.  “I’m assuming he didn’t demand your badge since you’re still here.”

John grimaced, “He almost did.  I thought he was going to rip my head off!”

“Did he put you on probation?”  Mike asked.

“Yeah. He said one more mess up and I’m out.”

“John,” Jerry said, “I would suggest you try to get back on his good side, because if he does boot you out the only job you will be able to get in law enforcement in this region will be dog catcher.”  He turned to Joe and Hoss, “Your brother has a lot of influence and a long arm,” he said by way of explanation.  “He wouldn’t deliberately do anything to keep John from getting a job, but he would tell the truth about his past performance.”

Mike nodded in agreement.  “You know, it would have been bad enough to mess up with any arrest, but if something had gone wrong with bringing Will in…I hate to think about what might have happened.”

John turned a little green and looked sick at that possibility.

“Yeah,” Jerry said “he might have lost it and beaten the crap out of you.”

“I wouldn’t have blamed him if he did.”  John stared down at the table, ashamed.

“What’s so different about this one?  Why does Adam hate that man so much?” Joe asked.

The four deputies glanced at each other then Nate answered, “He murdered a girl that worked in Adam’s hotel.”

“Oh, no.” Hoss said softly and looked disgusted.

“It was awful,” Nate continued.  “Janet was such a shy little thing and Thea took her under her wing.  The two of them got to be pretty close and Thea was heart-broken, but volunteered to do the post-mortem.  She shouldn’t have done that.  What that man did to that girl turned my stomach.”  He paused to clear his throat.  “I’ve never seen her break down and cry like that before, not even when they lost their first son.”

When Nate saw Joe and Hoss turn to each other, shocked, he frowned, “Oh no, I guess Adam never told you.”

The brothers shook their heads.

“He was born too soon and not long after they were married.  The poor little guy never had a chance.  They both took it very hard.”

Hoss closed his eyes, his face creased with sympathy for Adam and Thea, while Joe just stared at Nate in shock.

“Adam never said to not to tell anyone, but that still might not keep him from being furious with me, so please don’t say anything.  Except to your father, of course.”

The brothers nodded and they all sat there silently for a little while.

Nate broke the silence to continue his explanation about Will.  “So, to get back to Mr. William Meyer, of course Adam took Janet’s murder personally and went after him as hard as he could, but the only witness to the abduction, Lizzie, disappeared and there wasn’t enough evidence without her testimony to bring him to trial.”  Nate smiled and shook his head, “But you know your brother, he never gave up and has been putting pressure on his circle of informants for anything they could dig up or report to him on what Will has been doing.  That’s why Adam has arrested him three times already this year.  He’ll use anything to get him behind bars.”

Jerry laughed, “That man is just like a bulldog.  He gets his teeth into something and won’t ever let go.  I admire that.”

“He never forgives and he never forgets,” Mike said.  “I still don’t think he’s ever completely forgiven Nate for what happened at the private party we threw for him the night before his wedding.”

“That wasn’t my fault!” Nate protested as the other deputies laughed.  “How was I supposed to know that obnoxious little party-crasher was the Chief of Police’s son?"

“That wasn’t the point,” Jerry argued, “You didn’t have to rough the kid up before you threw him out.  That’s one reason why Adam is still mad about it.”  He looked at Hoss and Joe, “The party got raided and a huge fight started, so we all spent the rest of that night in jail.”

“Adam, too?” Hoss chuckled.  Joe was laughing too hard to get a word out.

“Yeah,” Nate answered, “I’d be a dead man now if we hadn’t gotten out in time to make it to the wedding.”

“Dear Lord.” Joe had calmed down enough to speak, “Did you four have to share a cell with him?”

Nate nodded with a grimace, “I have to say that was the most unpleasant night I have ever spent in my life.  And he never said a word, he just stared at me…all…night…long.”

Joe was laughing harder at that image when he looked up and saw Adam come in.  He sat up and managed to stop laughing, but couldn’t stop smiling.

Adam came up to the table and dropped the arrest report in front of Nate.  “Read it over, sign it, and pass it on,” he said then looked at Joe suspiciously.  “What’s he smiling about?” he said as he moved to an empty chair and sat down next to Hoss.

“Ah geez,” Nate groaned and slid down in his chair.  When the other men started laughing Adam figured it out.

“Oh, the night before my wedding,” he said and gave Nate a dark look.

“That’s it!  That’s the look!” Nate said sitting up in his chair.

Even Adam laughed then as he said, “You are so lucky we made it to the wedding on time.  I would have had to seriously hurt you otherwise, instead of just punching you in the eye.”

Hoss was shaking his head, “But if you had been late wouldn’t Thea have understood?”

“Hell no!  I had a hard enough time just getting her to say ‘yes’.  If I had been late that would have been it, she had already told me ‘no’ three times.”

“Smart woman,” Jerry commented dryly and Hoss looked at Adam in disbelief while the rest of the men showed their amusement.

“It’s true, Hoss, I asked her three times and three times she said ‘no’.”  I know now that she thought I was asking her out of gratitude, but she realized that wasn’t true and that I wasn’t going to just go away.  So she said ‘yes’ the fourth time.”

“Probably just to shut you up,” Jerry said and Adam smiled.

“Out of gratitude for saving your life?  But isn’t that her job as a doctor?” his youngest brother asked

“You just don’t get it, do you Joe?  She not only saved my life, she left her position at the hospital and took me into her home.  Then she spent the next six months doing nothing but help me recover.  I was grateful, but that’s not why I asked her to marry me.  I asked her because I wanted to and I refused to let her get away.”

“When did you know?  I mean, when were you sure?” Hoss asked, almost shyly.

Adam leaned back in his chair and smiled that special smile they only saw when he was talking or thinking about Thea.  “Probably the day she called me an ungrateful bastard,” he said and laughed at Hoss’s expression.

“Like I said before,” Jerry interrupted, “she’s a smart woman.”

“Shut up, Jerry” Adam said, “You’re just jealous that you didn’t meet her first.”

Jerry laughed as he nodded.  “Aren’t we all?” he said and Adam gave him a look that told him to knock it off.

“Why’d she do that?”  Seemingly Hoss was even more confused now.

“Because I called her a bitch.”  Adam answered.


“Because I called her a bitch,” Adam said again and chuckled.  “Look, I did that on purpose.  All I had been getting from her was sweetness and light, and I knew that was NOT the real Thea.  I had heard her giving an intern a dressing down once, and I wanted her to be herself around me.  And boy did it work!  I had never seen anyone who was literally ‘hopping mad’ before; it was an awe inspiring sight.”  He leaned back in his chair and stretched his legs out before continuing.

“But I think I was sure beyond a shadow of a doubt when I went to her to talk about the nasty neighborhood gossip I was hearing about us.  We were the scandal of the year because we were living in the same house, even though I could barely walk at that point.”  He laughed.  “She must have thought I was only concerned about myself because she said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do the honorable thing and marry you now that your reputation has been tarnished’.  I have never before heard that kind of exquisite sarcasm coming from a female,” He smiled and winked at Hoss as he nodded his head, “and that’s when I knew she was the girl for me!”

Adam shook his head at the memory while the rest of them burst out laughing.

“Anyway,” he said, “I wanted you all to know Lizzie has been found and has agreed to testify.  That monster will be ending his miserable life at the end of a rope.”  He looked at his friends and was gratified to see how pleased they were.

“Thea will be happy to hear that,” Nate said, “and speaking of Thea what has she been up to?  We haven’t seen her since we hit town.”

“Well, she accepted an offer from Matt to go into partnership and has been busy making plans for their new office.”

His friends knew who Matt was and they all looked at him in surprise.  Adam rolled his eyes.

“Why can’t any of you get it through your thick heads that I trust my wife and for the last time – NOTHING IS GOING TO HAPPEN!” He sighed in exasperation, “You all know Thea, or at least you should by now, and this suspicious attitude is going to make her furious eventually.  And believe me, you don’t want that.  Besides, it looks like Matt is already over his infatuation with her.”

His deputies nodded while Joe still looked a little dubious; Hoss was keeping his opinion to himself.

Nate started to stand and so did the other deputies when he said, “I guess we should call it a night,” but they all froze when Adam quietly said, “Sit down.”  They all slowly sat back down, knowing what was coming.

Adam turned to Joe and Hoss who had started to stand, but sat back down again too.  “I wasn’t talking to you two, you don’t work for me.”  He looked at his brothers with raised eyebrows and they got the message.

They stood, said goodnight, and quickly left.

When Adam turned back to his deputies they could see he was furious.  He took a few seconds to look at each one before he spoke.

“Did you actually think I wouldn’t realize that you were sitting right here when those four men came in and none of you recognized them?”

Nate paled, John looked down at the table, Jerry turned red, and Mike’s face went still as his jaw clenched.

“What the hell is going on?” Adam said in a low, controlled voice that didn’t travel to the other tables.  “You all seem to have this idea that you’re not on the job yet because we haven’t been assigned this region.  Well I have news for you – the second you were sworn in as deputy marshals you became officially ‘on duty’.  Being a marshal is a twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year job.  And if any of you think you can’t handle that the time to tell me is now, because after this point there will be no going back.”

He paused and looked at each of them with hooded eyes.  “I chose you for reasons that would not be obvious to most people, and definitely not because of our friendship.  I chose you because I have seen that you all have the ability to think on your feet.  Although today has not been a shining example of that.”

His deputies all slid a little further down into their chairs.  Adam bit back a smile.

“Another reason why I chose you four is because you seem to be able to work together as a team and can handle a difference in opinions without things degrading into a knife fight.  You are highly intelligent and each of you possesses unique skills that can be used to our advantage.  But you all don’t seem to see the whole picture here.  We have a great opportunity to do something that is very important.  I know you have all seen how faulty procedures, politics and incompetence can destroy the effectiveness of law enforcement.  Well, I have been given a free hand and we are ALL going to work together to set policy, develop procedures, and prove that regional offices of the special division are necessary.”

Looking directly at John he said, “You will ALL follow regulations without exception.”
Turning his eyes to Nate he said, “You will ALL read every report that comes in and become very familiar with the information.”

Mike was next, “You will ALL review wanted notices every day, and I mean all of them, not just the one’s that came in that day.  You will also become very familiar with the facts on each person.”

Jerry sat up straighter as Adam turned to him, “And you will ALL come to know every person who lives in this town and the surrounding areas until you can easily distinguish between resident and stranger.”

He stopped and patiently waited until each man raised his head and looked him in the eye.  “And you will ALL come to me with any idea, and I mean constructive ideas, that you think will be of value.  Anything that we can use to our advantage.”

Adam pushed back his chair and stood.  “I intend to be very hard on you and if that has the effect of destroying our friendship then so be it.  If I can teach you to keep yourselves alive and keep the people you are sworn to protect alive it will have been worth it.  I will be annoying the hell out of you, that is my job, and fortunately I happen to have a natural talent for it.”

Again he paused to look at each man one more time.  “Now I will see you in the office at six o’clock tomorrow morning and I expect that report to be signed by each of you.  And for God’s sake, don’t be late.”  He turned and walked through the swinging doors, anger ringing with each step.

As soon as he was out the door, the men still at the table relaxed and they looked at each other:  Jerry was smiling his usual ironic smile; Mike was red in the face; John was still downcast; and Nate was frowning with worry.  Then John spoke up and broke the spell, “How come it’s always so much worse when he doesn’t even yell?”


Thea had finished her errands early on purpose and went to Matt’s office to be alone for a while and wait for Adam.  She had just opened a large envelope and pulled out a sheaf of papers when she heard a faint knock at the back door.

She went to the door and opened it to see Maisy standing there.  The other woman’s eyes alone showed her surprise to see Thea answering the door, her face being too badly bruised and swollen to show any expression at all.  She mumbled an apology as well as she could with her swollen lips and started to turn away.  But Thea startled her as she grabbed the other woman by the arm and pulled her through the door.

“Who did this to you?” Thea said through clenched teeth, absolutely furious.

 Maisy looked at her with fear in her eyes.  “I can’t tell you,” she said slowly so Thea could understand.

“Yes you can,” Thea insisted, and the other woman tried to pull away again shaking her head.

Reining her temper in Thea let go of the other woman’s arm, knowing if she kept insisting Maisy would leave.

“Alright, I understand, I won’t ask you again,” she said quietly and motioned for the other woman to come into the treatment room.  “Come on, I want to get a look at you.”

Maisy followed, painfully and slowly then Thea helped her up onto the table.

The first thing she did was take stock of Maisy’s facial injuries.  A quick exam showed a broken nose, but no fractures of the bones in her face.

She unbuttoned the woman’s dress and gently pulled her arms out of the sleeves.  The woman’s torso and arms were covered with bruises and abrasions, but again, no broken bones.  Thea clenched her teeth, her eyes flashing with fury and was glad she was standing behind Maisy so she wouldn’t see.

“He beat you while you were naked, didn’t he?”

The other woman’s back stiffened with surprise and she bowed her head.  That was answer enough for Thea, she had seen this many times before.  She used all her control to cover her rage and to put on a calm, professional expression.  Then she got down to the business of treating her patient.


Maisy had left some time ago and Thea was sitting at Matt’s desk again with the sheaf of papers she had taken from the envelope stacked neatly in front of her.  She sat there motionless, staring at the opposite wall without actually seeing it, and wasn’t even aware when Adam came quietly in the door.

He stared at his wife for a second, alarmed by her expression; he had never seen her face and eyes look so blank and still before.

“Thea?” he said softly, not wanting to startle her.

His wife slowly raised her eyes to his and he could see how red they were, as though she had been crying.  She stared at him with no expression for a moment, then something seemed to click behind her eyes and she focused on him with a wan smile.

“What happened?” he asked anxiously as he came around the desk and leaned over her.  He reached to cup her chin in his hand and was deeply shocked when she jerked away from his touch.  Thea had never done anything like that before.

“What happened?” he said again.

“Nothing,” she answered, not looking at him as she stood, shoved the papers back into the envelope and gathered the rest of her things together.  “I’m just tired,” she said shortly as she brushed past him and went out the door.

His eyes narrowed as he stood there by the desk and he took a few moments to think and try to come up with a reason for her sudden change in demeanor.  Only this time, for the first time in a long time, his agile mind came up with nothing.  He naturally wanted to take a direct approach and demand an answer.  But he knew that would not work and would definitely make whatever this situation was worse.

As he came out the door, he saw Thea already seated in the buggy waiting for him.  She was looking down at her hands lying limply in her lap; a sign that he knew meant she had something very heavy weighing on her mind.  Normally he would ask her what was wrong and they would discuss it and come up with a solution.  But this time was different and he decided he would step back and watch, knowing that eventually something would happen that would give him the key to this puzzle.  He climbed up onto the seat and picked up the reins in silence.

They had just passed the last building in town when he noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that Thea was looking at him.  He waited to see what she would do. 

In a few moments she moved closer to him on the seat and tugged on his right arm, so he obligingly slipped it around her shoulders.  But he still didn’t say a word.

She sighed as she rested her head against his shoulder and softly said, “I’m sorry.”

He tightened his arm and pulled her closer as his answer and they drove the rest of the way home in a different kind of silence.


Chapter 15

Thea had retreated to Matt’s office again a few days later to be alone.  She had been doing this every day she had the chance.  Sitting at his desk with her head in her hands she was looking down at the large envelope again when a single, large tear dropped onto it and she quickly wiped it away.  Her attention was so focused she didn’t hear the first, faint scream.  But the second one she did.

She stood, alarmed, and went to the front window looking out at the saloon across and up the street.  As she watched, someone rushed out and ran down the sidewalk toward the sheriff’s office.  She heard the scream again and the sound pulled her out the door and to the edge of the sidewalk.

Stepping down into the street she had only gone a short way when a woman with blood on her face and a torn dress staggered out the door of the saloon, spotted the other woman, and came toward her in a stumbling run.  Thea rushed forward, but the woman collapsed before she could reach her.

She knelt in the dust next to the prone form and when she looked into the woman’s blood-covered face she recognized Maisy.  A man’s voice shouting something caused her to look up to see a huge, shambling figure come out of the saloon.  He spotted the two women in the street and began to lurch slowly toward them.

Thea went cold with anger, pulled her knife, and stood concealing it in the folds of her skirt.  She took one step toward the approaching man and shouted at him.  “Stop!  Don’t come any closer.”  He stopped for a moment and blinked at her swaying on his feet.  “Drunken fool,” Thea said to herself.

The man grinned a nasty grin then shook his big head as he came toward them again.  Thea showed him the knife in her hand.  He just laughed and kept coming, so she flipped the knife over and held it by the blade, preparing to throw it if necessary.  He laughed again and kept coming.

Her stomach was tying itself into knots until she looked behind him and saw Mike, Jerry, John, Roy and two other men quietly, but quickly, moving up behind the drunken man.  To keep his attention on her she shouted, “Don’t make me hurt you!  I don’t want to, but I will if you come any closer!”

He stopped and stood there, unsteady on his feet, blinking and scowling at her, until the six men jumped on him from behind.  They all went crashing to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs.

Thea sighed in relief as she turned and dropped to her knees next to Maisy, but one look told her it was too late.  The woman was dead.  She bowed her head as anger burst into fury in her heart.  When she opened her eyes everything looked as though she was seeing it from a distance through a red mist.  She slowly rose to her feet and turned around looking at the monster responsible.

He had managed somehow to get to his knees, still struggling to throw the six men off and get to his feet.  Her eyes fastened on him and a scream of rage stayed frozen in her throat as she started toward him with an odd stiff-legged gait, her hand tightly gripping her knife.  She never saw Adam come out of the Post Office, or heard him shout a warning to Jerry as he came running toward her at top speed.

She dropped her knife when he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her away and she began to kick back at his legs and to claw at his hands, trying to get free.  He gave her a shake and shouted, “Theadora, stop it!”  Her head whipped to the side and she looked over her shoulder at him with confused eyes.  Then she looked down at the bloody trails her nails had gouged into his hands and she gasped, horrified.

Adam set her down, took her by the arm in a firm grip and quickly pulled her toward Matt’s office, pushed her in the door, and slammed it shut behind them.

“What the hell did you think you were doing?  Do you have any idea what would have happened to you if that man had gotten his hands on you?”  He stopped the next shout from leaving his throat and rubbed a hand across his forehead while trying to get a grip on his anger.

She winced when she saw blood trickle down his hand from the deepest gouge.  Turning away, she moved over to the side window behind the desk and stood there with a blank face, not seeing anything at all.

When he thought he had calmed down enough, Adam took a deep breath and looked at his wife, noting she had her back to him. 

“What is it, Thea?” he said quietly, “Something has been bothering you for days now and I have to know.  What is wrong?”

She didn’t move or speak.

“Theadora, answer me!” he insisted.

Without turning around she said, “Isn’t that just like an all-powerful male.  You think that just because you demand a woman has to deliver.  You men are all alike.”

That floored Adam and he bit back another surge of anger.  “I was under the impression when we married that we became partners and what you just said was a low blow.  I have always treated you with respect.”

“You’ve never shouted at me like that before.”

Her husband sighed in exasperation, “I’ve never had reason to before.  You scared the hell out of me.”

She nodded, “I know, and I’m sorry.”

He stared at her back, at a loss as to what to say next when Ben burst through the office door.  His eyes went to Thea and he looked relieved, as she seemed fine, at least from the back.  When she didn’t turn toward him he looked at his son with a puzzled expression.  “Is she alright?”

Adam raised his hands, spread wide in a helpless gesture.  “Your guess is as good as mine, I can’t get a straight answer out of her.  Or any answer at all.”

Ben glanced at his daughter-in-law’s stiff back again, “Do you want me to leave you two alone?” he asked Adam, but Thea answered him.

“No, please stay.  You’re my family now and you have a right to hear this too.  After all, it affects your grandchildren.”

She turned around slowly and Adam saw her glance at Ben with yearning in her eyes.  Then she looked away as a spasm of pain crossed her face and picked up the envelope still sitting on the desk.  “Here,” she said as she held it out to her husband and he came forward to take it.  He opened the envelope and took out a sheaf of papers and leafed through them quickly as she sat down behind the desk.

“These are from Doc’s solicitors in London.”

Thea nodded.  “Don’t try to read them right now, even you couldn’t go through them in less than an hour.”

Adam slapped them against this thigh, “So what could possibly be in these to cause you this much anguish?”

She propped her elbows on the desk and put her head in her hands, “Doc really was my father.”

A strained silence filled the room as the two Cartwright men looked at each other with appalled expressions.  “Dear God,” Adam said softly and Thea gave a short, bitter laugh.

“Everything, every single thing in my life up until I met you was a lie.  I thought he was the most wonderful man in the world.  Imagine, a nobleman taking in a poor little orphan girl,” she started to laugh again, but it died in her throat.

“But, why?  Why did he lie?” her husband asked gently.

“To keep his dirty little secret,” she said.  “I know what you’re thinking, that he lied because I was illegitimate, but you’re wrong.  They were married – Sir Richard Westwood and Sarah Lightfoot.”  She lifted her head and looked at Adam with a tightly controlled, devastated expression.  “He was too ashamed to claim me because my mother was Cherokee.”

Adam’s face tightened in anger for her pain and he took a step toward her.

“Don’t,” she raised a hand to warn him off.  “Don’t touch me.”


“Because it would not be a good idea for any man to touch me right now.”

She looked at him, her eyes dark with pain and anger; “He buried her, his wife, my mother, under a tombstone that had nothing on it but her death date.”  Two thin tears slid down her cheeks and she angrily dashed them away.  Looking at her husband and father-in-law she struggled to get herself under control.  “I ask you, both of you, as men – how could he do that to her?  To me  - how could he?”

“He was a coward.” Ben answered, furious with a man he had never met.

Thea gave him a small smile, “I’m sure you’re right.”

Adam’s heart was breaking for his wife and he started to take another step toward her, but stopped.  He knew he would have to let her come to him.

“What do they claim as proof of this?”

“There’s a letter in the file in Doc’s handwriting.  He claims that my mother never told him until right before she died, right before I was born.” 

“Thea, why didn’t you tell me this?  Why were you trying to carry this burden by yourself?  We agreed we would always work problems out together.  Didn’t you trust me?”

When she looked up and saw that her husband was hurt she stood and ran to him.  “I’m so sorry!  I kept telling myself that this wouldn’t make any difference, that I could trust you.  But then I kept thinking how I trusted Doc, how I believed everything he told me too and I was terrified.  I just couldn’t face it, even though I knew it wouldn’t matter to you.”

She was standing in front of him with her head bowed so he reached out, pulled her into his arms and held her tightly.  “That’s what you’ve been worried about?  It doesn’t mean a damn thing,” he said and looked at his father over her bowed head.  Ben came up behind her, and Adam let go and turned her around to face him, giving her a gentle push.
As soon as she was in Ben’s arms the storm broke and she cried out, “How could he, Pa, how could he?”  One father had cruelly betrayed her, but this one never would.


Later that evening Thea had gone to bed early, worn out and still dazed by the depths of her father’s heartlessness compounded by Maisy’s senseless death.  Adam and his brothers had put the twins to bed, making a game out of it so they wouldn’t think something was wrong and worry about their mother.

Hoss and Joe went down to join Ben, and Adam took few minutes to check on Thea.  He lit a candle before he went in and stood next to the bed looking down at his sleeping wife.  Reaching down to gently touch her cheek, he softly said, “I’m so sorry, love – I wish I could protect you from this.”

He shook his head as he turned away and didn’t see her eyes open as he left the room.  Thea thought about what he had just said and a few stray tears escaped.  Then she wiped them away and set her jaw, determined that she would follow her husband’s example.  He had been forced to give up his past for six years, but she would choose to let go of her own.  Her past may have been one long, continuous lie, but she had a wonderful present and a promising future to concentrate on.

Having made up her mind as to how she would deal with this terrible blow to her heart, she nodded, turned over, and finally did fall asleep as her husband joined his father and brothers downstairs.

Joe spoke as soon as Adam had settled himself tiredly onto the sofa.

“What’s wrong?  What happened?” he asked anxiously.

Adam glanced at his father then turned back to Joe.  “Thea received some documents from Doc’s solicitors in London about a month ago and only got around to looking at them recently.”

“Uh oh, that doesn’t sound good,” Hoss said as he leaned forward in his chair, his bright eyes fastened on Adam’s face.

“You don’t know it, but that was an understatement, Hoss.  Seemingly Sir Richard really was Thea’s father.”

Hoss and Joe glanced at each other, but didn’t speak, waiting for their brother to continue.

“Lord, it makes me sick just thinking about this.  He made up that story about Thea being an orphan because he didn’t want to claim her as his daughter because her mother confessed to being Cherokee right before she died.”

Joe’s face instantly became red with fury at her father while Hoss’s filled with concern for her.

“How is she takin’ it?” Hoss said quietly while Joe was too consumed by anger to get a word out.

“I don’t really know.  I think she’s too stunned by his cruelty to know her own feelings about this yet.”

“Cold cruelty,” Joe finally spoke, “how could anyone treat her that way?  Let alone her own father?”

“Well I think Pa said it all today when he called Doc a coward.  I think the thing that hurt Thea the most was knowing he buried her mother as an unknown, with nothing on her headstone but a death date.”

“Lordy,” Hoss said, “and just because her mother was Cherokee?”

Adam nodded and scrubbed his hands over his face.  “You may not believe this but I feel like digging his corpse up and kicking it to pieces.”  His father and brothers nodded and he smiled, knowing their nods meant they felt the same way.

Ben finally spoke, “Since that isn’t really an option for us we need to think about how we can help Thea through this.”

His eldest son looked at him gratefully.  “I’m glad you feel that way, but I think the best thing you can do is to not treat her any differently than you did before.  Be available to listen, but act as though nothing happened.  Her biggest fear is that people will think less of her now, so be careful.”

The other three men were nodding as Adam continued, “I know Thea is too stunned to realize this, but there is another problem of equal significance I’ll have to deal with sometime soon.  All because she is Sir Richard’s legitimate daughter.”

Joe and Hoss were puzzled, but Ben grasped what Adam was saying quickly and he shook his head, “Oh no.”

Adam nodded then turned to Joe when he spoke, “We don’t get it.”

“How does the name ‘Sir Alexander Cartwright’, sound to you?”

His youngest brother honestly did try to not laugh, but he couldn’t help himself, “Alexander, an English Lord?” he managed to choke out then clamped his mouth shut and nearly strangled.

Hoss made it worse by saying, “You mean that little feller could go to the palace and meet the Queen?”

Just the idea of Alexander meeting Queen Victoria was enough to get even Adam shaking with laughter.

“Oh God,” the boy’s father said leaning back on the sofa, “Just think about it…Alexander…in the House of Lords.  We could end up at war with England again.”

At that picture they all gave up and just laughed outright until Adam managed to say, “We have to stop now, we’re going to wake Thea.”  He turned to his father while his brothers managed to calm down..  “I’m sorry, Pa, but after seeing my marriage up close like this those two will probably never get married and give you any more grandchildren.”

Ben just smiled and said, “Oh, I wouldn’t be too sure about that.  Besides you’ve already given me two with another one on the way.”

“True,” Adam said, “And that reminds me, I’m taking Thea in to see Matt tomorrow afternoon.  Just to make sure everything is alright so far.”

“What time?”

“One o’clock.”

“I have some things to do in town, so I might as well just ride along with you two.”

Adam just smiled and nodded, knowing his father really just wanted to be there for support if there should be a problem.  He looked at his brothers; “I suppose you both have things to do in town tomorrow, too.”

They nodded and stood, heading for the stairs and bed.  The other two followed slowly and when they reached the stairs Adam put a hand on Ben’s shoulder.  “Pa,” he said low, “I know Thea doesn’t look it, but she’s tough, so don’t be surprised if she also acts like nothing happened.  The best thing you can do for her is to treat her like she is your daughter since now it is clear she never really had a father at all.”

“What do you mean, treat her as though she is; she is my daughter now.  That cold-hearted coward never deserved or appreciated her, and if anyone tries to hurt her again, they will have me to deal with.”  He started up the steps and looked back at his eldest son over his shoulder.  “And that includes you, too, so treat her right.”

Adam laughed and followed his father up the stairs, “Yes sir,” was all he said before going into the room where his wife lay sleeping and quietly shut the door.



Chapter 16

Adam’s family and his four friends were seated around the large table in the Sage Brush the next afternoon when Adam walked in.  Joe was the first to spot him and he nudged Hoss.  They both watched their older brother go directly to the bar and speak to the bartender who put a shot glass down in front of him and filled it with whiskey.  Adam picked it up, tossed it back, dropped some money on the bar and then came over to the table.

As soon as he sat down his father asked, “What’s wrong?”

His eldest son just looked at him blankly.

“Is Thea alright?” Ben asked and Adam nodded mutely.

All the men were giving each other puzzled looks and then Nate spoke up, “I haven’t seen that look on his face since he found out Thea was carrying twins.”  They all laughed.

Adam groaned and let his head fall forward, banging his forehead on the table.  “Damn,” he said and banged his forehead again.

Everyone stopped laughing.  “Is your missus carryin’ twins again Adam?” Hoss asked.

With his forehead still on the table he said, “No.”

“Then it’s one baby,” Ben said.

Again, Adam said, “No.”

Still not catching on, Joe said, “What is it then?”

His oldest brother raised his head and gave Joe an irritated look.  “If it’s not one and it’s not two, then what does it have to be Joe,” he said sarcastically.

Ben put his hand on Adam’s shoulder, “Are you saying that Thea is carrying triplets?”

His son flinched, “Oh God, it’s even worse when you say it out loud,” he said then put his hands over his face and leaned back in his chair.

No one, except Ben, even tried to hold back their laughter.  Adam rolled his eyes and expelled an angry breath,  “This is not funny.”  Obviously, his friends and brothers did not agree, they were laughing so hard everyone in the room was staring.  Ben was looking at his son in commiseration, but didn’t say anything.  Adam wouldn’t have been able to hear him anyway.

When the others at the table finally quieted down Ben said to his son, “I’m sorry, but I have to do this, it’s a once in a lifetime sort of occasion.”  He called to the bartender, “Larry, a round for the house on me.”

The packed room burst out into whistles and cheers; Adam was still staring at the ceiling with a stony glare, “Damn,” he said again.  His brothers and friends were thoroughly enjoying his distress.

“What’s the occasion Mr. Cartwright?” one enthusiastic drinker yelled.  Ben glanced at Adam and said, “It seems I can expect even more grandchildren in November; triplets.”  Adam lowered his eyes and gave his father a dark look.

The room filled with laughter, shouted congratulations, and a few already drunk patrons rushed over to clap Adam on the back.  He put up with the well-wishers, but his jaw was clenched and his eyes narrowed in ill temper.

Joe was still laughing helplessly when Adam pinned him with a glare, “Joe, this is not funny.”  His brother just laughed all the harder.  “Yes, it is,” he managed to choke out, then stood to yell to the bartender, “and after that, one more round for the house on me!” then he sat down limply, trying to get his breath.

More men were coming through the front door, drawn by the noise.  All were quickly informed about the reason for the uproar and they joined the throng to celebrate.  Adam was getting more furious every minute.

“I know three more is a lot at one time, but why are you so angry?” Ben said low to his oldest son.

Adam sat up and shot a glare across the table at Joe, “Because every single one of them is going to be a boy and every single one of them is going to be just like him,” he gestured toward Joe, who burst out laughing again.  “I already have one, now I’m going to have three more.  Don’t ask me how I know, I just do,” Adam finished then looked at the ceiling again and said, “I’m too old for this crap.”  This time even Ben couldn’t help laughing.

When Joe could speak he gave Adam a smart-aleck grin, “Hey Adam,” he chuckled, “they know what causes that now.”

Adam’s eyes went wide with rage and he lunged across the table at his younger brother.  Joe pushed back so hard his chair went over, but he managed to get to his feet and took off running, straight out the door with his brother in hot pursuit.

The four deputies stood and three of them dashed after the two brothers.  Nate paused long enough to say to Ben, “Don’t worry, we’ll keep him from killing Joe,” and then he ran out the door.

Ben just shook his head while Hoss put his head back and roared with laughter.


Thea came out of the new office space across the street from the Sage Brush and saw her new brother-in-law burst out the front and run down the alley beside the saloon.  Her eyebrows rose when she saw her husband rush after him.

“Oh no,” she said under her breath.  Just as she was about to cross the street she saw Mike, Jerry, and John do the same.  She was still standing there when Nate ran out.  He looked at her and she pointed to the alley and he dashed away.  Thea followed at a fast walk.

When she reached a fenced in area behind the saloon she saw the first three men hanging on Adam, the smallest one dangling down his back with an arm around his neck and the other two desperately holding onto his arms.  Nate was in front of him with his hands up reasoning with Adam, whose entire attention was focused on Joe who was lying on the ground still laughing hysterically.

Nate saw her and came over.  “He’s starting to calm down, Thea; he’ll have himself under control in a minute.  Has he been in a bad mood a lot lately?”

“Not really,” she said, “But he hasn’t had anybody to fight for a long time and it’s getting on his nerves.”

The detective shook his head, “Well, we were talking and we’re willing to spar with him for a while.  We figured we’d each fight him for five minutes on a rotation.  He shouldn’t be able to severely hurt anyone in five minutes.”

“You know, Nate, you four have to be the best friends he’s ever had,” she was smiling at him gratefully.

He flushed slightly pink, “We owe him,” was all he said and walked over to the other three who had let go of Adam who was now helping Joe up.

“You guys ready to fight?” he said and was answered by three nods.

When the two walked back Nate said to Adam, “Would you get out of this nasty mood if the four of us fight you?”

Grinning, Adam looked at each man for a second then he said, “You are truly my friends.”

“We will fight you at five-minute intervals on a rotating basis.”

Adam nodded, “That’s a good idea.  Joe can be the timekeeper, and this fenced in area can be the ring.”  He cracked his knuckles and rolled his head.  “Who’s first?” he said, smiling in anticipation.

“Me,” Nate said, “this was my idiot idea.”  They took off their gun belts, hung them on the fence, and then climbed through.

Thea came to stand next to Joe who pulled out his pocket watch.  She put a hand on his arm to stop him from starting the fighting.  “Adam,” she called, “give me your wedding ring.  Last time you bent it so badly we had to cut it off.”  He came to her, handed over his ring with a grin and a wink then went back to Nate.  She turned back to Joe and handed him a whistle she had taken out of her pocket.  The piercing sound when he blew it made her jump.

Adam immediately raised his fists and focused on Nate, walking around him and taking stock of the other man.  Nate was the first to attack, but Adam parried his blows easily, then went on the offensive with a flurry of different punches, most of which connected.  Adam kept on the offensive until Nate rushed him again.  Adam stepped nimbly to the side at the last second and the other man got a face full of dirt, but scrambled to his feet and started to turn to face the attack he knew was coming.  He hadn’t even completely turned around when he took a fast combination of blows to the body.  He sat down, hard, and the whistle blew.

John climbed in as Nate limped up to the fence and painfully pulled himself through.  Thea went right to him and began to look him over.

Adam rolled his shoulders and shook out his hands as John approached cautiously.  When they heard the whistle Adam immediately attacked.  John managed to avoid Adam’s fists by ducking and barreling forward, catching his opponent in the midsection with his shoulder.  Both went down, John on top, but he immediately scrambled away before his opponent could get a hold on him.  Adam rose easily to his feet and came after John, inflicting short bursts of punishment when he managed to get near him.  He managed to surprise Adam once by rushing him.  Being unprepared for this attack, all Adam could do was crouch down and flip the smaller man over his shoulder.

Everyone flinched when John hit the ground, hard and he lay there for a while, the wind knocked out of him.  His opponent came over to help him up then backed away.  He didn’t move until John raised his fists, a signal he was ready to continue.  Adam was still circling John when the whistle sounded.

Adam helped John over to the fence.  The smaller man slipped through the opening between the two rails and Jerry climbed in.  Thea began examining John while her husband came over to ask Nate how he was.  Nate tried to grin, but couldn’t quite manage it with his badly split lip and said a muffled “Fine.” 

Joe blew the whistle just then and Jerry attacked Adam from behind.  When he felt the other man grab him, Adam pushed back as hard as he could to knock him down.  When they hit the ground Adam swung his legs up and over then pushed up with his arms into a handstand.  He landed on his feet.  As soon as Adam was off him, Jerry had rolled quickly to the side and scrambled up.

Until then, Thea hadn’t been aware of people coming out the back door of the saloon.  They were ranging themselves around the fence and she looked up to see Ben standing on her right and Hoss on her left.

Jerry furiously forced his opponent back into the fence.  Adam ducked out from under his arms and danced away backward.  When Jerry turned around Adam began to launch short attacks, connecting with a few short, powerful blows then backing away.  Each time, Jerry came after him only to receive the same punishment, just in different combinations.  At the whistle, Jerry staggered over to where Thea was standing.  Nate helped him through the fence.

Adam bent over to stretch his back as Mike climbed in.  The two men grinned at each other, aware that the strategy was to save the strongest of them for last.

Ben asked Thea, “How many has he fought so far?”  She sighed, “This is the fourth.”  Ben shook his head as his daughter-in-law asked, “I take it he wasn’t this aggressive six years ago?”

“No,” his father answered, “but I imagine that after what he went through he had to become aggressive to survive.”

“That’s true,” she nodded.  “He also learned what you are seeing out there sparing with professional fighters, and it’s kind of become a hobby for him now.”  She sighed again, “His abilities are so well known in San Francisco he has a hard time finding someone willing to fight him except for Wes and Charlie.”

Joe was so excited the whistle was even more piercing when he blew it this time.  Thea jumped.

Adam slowly began to circle Mike, his eyes gauging the other man’s fighting stance.  He quickly saw that Mike was a flat-footed fighter and would be hard to knock down, so he began to make the other man come to him, trying to tire him out.  But Adam stayed in one spot too long and took a massive blow from his opponent.  He hit the ground hard and didn’t move.  Mike stood there for a moment then came over to see if Adam was all right.

Thea tugged on her father-in-law’s sleeve, “I can’t believe Mike is falling for that.”

Mike was bent over the prone man when Adam’s eyes popped open and he grabbed Mike by the front of his shirt, drew his legs up, and flipped him over his head.  The ground shook when Mike hit and Adam vaulted to his feet to the crowd’s applause.

“That’s one of his favorite moves,” Thea said to Hoss and her brother-in-law shook his head.  “Adam sure has changed.”

Mike was out and Adam gestured to Nate to come in.  They picked Mike up and brought him over to the fence, then passed him through to John and Hoss.  Mike’s eyes opened as Thea bent over him, “Ma? Is that you?” he said, his unfocused eyes only seeing a female form.  She laughed and gestured for the men to take him inside.

Nate nodded at Jerry and he climbed in.  When Adam saw this he started to laugh, “Two this time?”  Nate nodded, “We want to make sure you get this out of your system.”  Their opponent smiled, “I won’t forget you doing this for me.”

Nate rolled his eyes and Jerry shook his head when the whistle came.

The two deputies began to circle Adam until Jerry was in front and Nate was behind.  They rushed him at the same time.  Adam knew what they were doing and waited for the last second before launching himself into a back flip over Nate.  His opponents crashed together and went down.  The crowd watching roared with laughter.

Adam rushed forward and grabbed Nate, who was on top, by the back of his shirt and threw him into the fence headfirst.  Jerry tried to roll away, but couldn’t escape so he kicked Adam’s legs out from under him.  The two men rolled on the ground as Nate sat by the fence trying to shake his head clear.

Jerry was on top when Adam managed to get a powerful blow in that knocked the gray-haired man out.  He pushed the unconscious man off and rolled to his feet; Nate was coming fast.  He caught Adam around the waist and crashed him backward into the fence.  Adam brought his fists down on Nate’s back and kneed him in the stomach.  The other man slid down his legs; Nate was now down and out.  Adam sat down next to him to catch his breath and started laughing when Joe forgot the whistle and called “Time!”

Nate stood groggily while Adam bounced to his feet then the two of them moved over to Jerry and helped him up.  The three men came over to Thea who was back in between Hoss and Ben.  Adam leaned on the fence in front of her, grinned, then put a hand to the back of her head and pulled her forward for a kiss.  “Thank you,” he said and chuckled when she shook her head at him.

“Well, I guess that’s it unless anyone else wants to come in,” he said hopefully and looked around.  No one offered, but then Adam’s eyes fastened on Hoss.  He raised his eyebrows at his brother.  Hoss shook his head.

“Come on, Hoss, you won’t hurt me, at least not too much.  Come on,” Adam said, “I’ll never ask you to do it again.”

Hoss looked at his father then back at his brother.  “I figure you’ll never leave me alone until I do.”  Adam nodded.  “All right, then,” he said grudgingly and climbed over the fence.  Chatter and catcalls swept through the crowd.

Joe was about to blow the whistle when Adam called, “No, we won’t be timing this one,” and he smiled wickedly at Hoss.

The two men began to circle each other and Thea felt pain in her hands.  She had them clenched so hard her nails were drawing blood from her palms.  She let go and tried to relax, but still jumped at the sound of the two men crashing together.

Hoss somehow managed to get a hold on Adam from behind, so he let himself go limp, becoming dead weight.  Hoss didn’t expect that and he loosened his grip; Adam slid out of his arms, pushed himself behind Hoss through his legs and jumped on his back.  He had Hoss’s neck in the crook of his elbow and he began to squeeze as hard as he could.  His younger brother grunted then started moving backward, fast, to slam Adam into the fence.  Adam let go of Hoss’s neck and used his hands on the other man’s shoulders to vault over him and out of the way.  Hoss stunned himself when his back crashed into the fence and Adam was right in front of him when he hit, connecting several very powerful punches.  The crowd began to applaud as Adam danced away backward.

Hoss shook his head and fastened his blue eyes on Adam who had the sense to be a little afraid.  In a few minutes he found himself being stalked and then Hoss managed to corner him.  He braced himself for the punches he knew he wasn’t going to avoid this time.  But each time Hoss landed a punch Adam landed two and the bigger man began to tire.

Adam reached up and swept the back of his hand across his forehead to flick away sweat, and blood from a cut over his eye; he saw that Hoss was looking just as rough.  He feinted to his left and spun around Hoss to the right, the larger man wasn’t fast enough to catch him.  He was backing away when Hoss rushed him.  Adam knew it was now or never because he couldn’t go on much longer.  He waited until Hoss was closing in and launched himself, throwing his whole body into a right cross.

Everyone flinched when the punch connected.  Hoss went down on his back and his brother landed next to him on his right side.  The two men lay there breathing hard, for a bit, then Adam sat up.  He staggered to his feet and looked down at his brother, holding his hand out to help Hoss up.  Hoss stared at the hand for a moment then looked up at Adam, taking in the cuts, bruises, and abrasions, but also noting the fierce light still shining in his eyes.  He sat up and took Adam’s hand who pulled as hard as he could, putting his whole weight into it to help his brother up.  When Hoss was standing, he kept a hard grip on his older brother’s hand and looked at him without any expression.  Adam grinned back impudently.  The silence stretched for a few awkward moments then Hoss’s face broke into a smile.  He almost jerked Adam off his feet as he pulled him forward into a hard, backslapping hug.  The crowd applauded, whistled, and cheered.

“Hoss,” Adam grunted, “I can’t breathe.”

“Oh, sorry,” his brother said as he let go, then threw a heavy arm across Adam’s shoulders, almost knocking him down as they walked over to where the rest of the family was standing.

Thea looked at him anxiously, “Are you all right?”

Her husband grinned at her and nodded, slipping through the fence.  She gasped in protest as he threw his arms around her covering her with sweat, blood, and dirt.

“Oh, thank you very much,” she said, then laughed at his pleased expression.  “Did you have a good time?”

“The best,” he chuckled and turned to Hoss.  “You are truly my brother.  I appreciate what you did for me.”

“Just don’t ever ask me again,” Hoss said.

“No problem, I don’t think I want to.”

Ben was shaking his head when Joe said, “Well, what about me?”

Adam gave him a narrow look saying, “You are a royal pain in the ass.”

Joe actually looked hurt until Adam reached out and grabbed him by the scruff of his neck.  “But you’re my royal pain in the ass brother and I wouldn’t ever want to lose you.”  Joe looked mollified.

“Come on inside, I want to look you over,” Thea was tugging him toward the back door of the saloon by his hand.

“All right, I’m coming, you don’t have to pull my arm off,” he said and the two went in.

Hoss looked at his father and shook his head, “I’m glad he stopped Pa, he almost had me.”

“That’s hard to believe, Hoss,” his father said in surprise.

“It’s true,” Hoss assured him as he turned to Joe.  “Now if you have any sense, Joe, you’ll remember that and try not to rile him agin’.”

His younger brother just grinned, and Hoss looked at his father.  “Oh well, can’t say I didn’t try.”

Joe said, “I know we were harassing him, but why did he get so mad at what I said?”

“Well, Joe, think about it.  Do you know what the chances are for a woman to survive the birth of triplets?”

Joe’s face paled as he answered, “No.”

“They aren’t all that good and I’m sure Adam knows that and is feeling guilty as well as afraid for his wife.”  Ben shook his head and pinned his youngest son with his dark-eyed gaze.  “Your thoughtless comment definitely emphasized the guilt he was no doubt feeling.”

“Oh,” Joe said, feeling contrite and already starting to worry about Thea.  “I think I better go apologize to him right now.”

“I think that would be a good idea,” his father answered so Joe rushed up to, and through, the back door.

Ben sighed, “That boy’s got a good heart, but…”

Hoss nodded, “Yeah… but….”

The two exchanged a knowing look, then Hoss laughed and Ben put an arm across his shoulders.  “Come on,” he said as he steered his son toward the back door.  “I’m buying.”



Chapter 17

Nearly two months ago Adam and his family had returned to San Francisco.  In the subsequent weeks their house had been emptied of the family’s possessions, which were then sent to Virginia City by train.

Both Adam and Thea spent their time getting ready for the move and going over plans for transforming the house into an orphanage school.  Thea interviewed many people at the house, making her choices for teachers and caregivers who would live in the house with the children.  Adam worked with a local bank, choosing a trustee who would supervise the funds and the everyday business involved.  They planned to visit San Francisco every four months to inspect the school and go over the finances.

Adam turned management of the hotel over to Wes and Dulcy, and the club to Charlie, so he worked out of his office at home.  Marie was given two months off with pay and she was taking advantage of it to visit family back east.  After the family was settled in Virginia City she would return to work for Adam and she would live with them for a while.  The plans after that were still up in the air.

The time flew by quickly and on a hot and muggy Friday in the second week of October the family finally boarded the private car and left the city that was no longer their home.
Ben, Hoss, and Joe were waiting impatiently for the train to arrive, and when it finally rolled to a stop, Adam bounded down the steps of the car.  He quickly and enthusiastically greeted his father and brothers, but when he stepped back, his expression became very serious.  “I only have a few minutes before Thea comes out and I have to warn you of something.  Be prepared, she is huge.”

His father immediately understood, but his brothers looked at him blankly for a few moments before understanding.

“Just remember that she is only five-foot-two and is carrying three babies.  She is uncomfortable, miserable, and has a quick temper.”  Adam glanced back at the car, but Thea had not come through the door yet.

“Now I’m asking you to please be careful, and for God’s sake, don’t look anywhere except at her face.”  He glanced at Joe and was irritated see him smiling in amusement.

“Dammit Joe, I’m serious.  If I hear even the tiniest bit of laughter from you I swear I will punch you right in the mouth.”  Joe’s smile disappeared and he cleared his throat before saying, “Sorry.”

The door at the end of the car opened and Adam hurried back.  The twins scampered down first, followed by the ever-present dog, and ran to their grandfather first, then threw themselves at their uncles.  Alexander was trying to climb Hoss, while Annalise hung from Joe’s arm to make him bend over so she could kiss him on the cheek.

The three men were so focused on the children that they didn’t see a painfully pregnant Thea slowly come down the steps.  Adam lifted her down from the last one and set her on her feet, but didn’t let go at first.  He paused to look down into her pale face, noting the black circles under her eyes and how sharp her cheekbones had become.  The unusual hot and humid October weather coupled with the pressure of carrying three babies made it almost impossible for her to eat.  Or even to breathe sometimes.

Ben turned away from watching his grandchildren assault two of his sons and looked at Thea; she looked back at him and saw sympathy and understanding in his eyes as he moved toward her with his arms out.  She met him partway and he wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her back with one hand, remembering.

Thea sighed and Ben leaned back to cup her face with both hands.  “You poor child,” he said, “you must be in absolute misery.”

She nodded, “Miserable doesn’t even begin to describe it,” she said and leaned against him again.  This time he rubbed her back with both hands and smiled at his son with sympathy that was meant for him.  Adam breathed a sigh of relief, thankful for his father’s wisdom.

Hoss and Joe came up to them then, each carrying a child and bent to kiss Thea on the cheek as she continued to rest her head sideways on Ben’s chest, her eyes closed.  She was enjoying Ben rubbing her back so much she almost nodded off because she was having trouble sleeping, too.

Her husband came to put a hand on the back of her head.  “I think we should get you home as soon as possible, before the worst of the heat starts today.”

She reluctantly stepped back from Ben and turned to her husband, taking the arm he was offering her.  They slowly walked to the buggy, while Joe and Hoss loaded the few bags in the wagon, the last of their possessions from San Francisco.  Everything else they owned was already there.

Adam lifted her up into the buggy and turned to look at his father.

“Pa, would you three mind taking the twins to the house with you?  I want to take our time driving there and those two just won’t have the patience for that.”

His father just nodded and turned away with the twins in his arms and walked back to the wagon.  He handed both children up to his sons on the wagon seat; Joe took Alexander into his lap while Hoss took Annalise into his.  Balor jumped into the back as Ben climbed up, took the lines, and then waved as he drove the wagon away.

Adam climbed up into the buggy and took Thea’s hand and gave it a squeeze before letting go and taking up the reins.  He started the buggy, but kept the horse to a walk – the train ride had been hard enough on his wife and he wanted her to have a chance to relax.

Once they moved out of town Thea seemed to perk up a bit, but he could see she kept stretching her back and would occasionally try to rub it herself.  Halfway to the ranch he stopped next to the lake and under a grouping of trees.  He took a basket from the buggy and spread a blanket out in the shade, then came to lift Thea down.

He helped her sit on the blanket then sat down cross-legged behind her and began to massage her back with long, firm strokes.  In a few minutes he could tell she was finally relaxing and in a half-an-hour she was about to fall asleep.  He helped her lay down on her back and took a small pillow from the basket for under her head, and a larger pillow to place under the small of her back.  She sighed and immediately fell asleep.

Adam propped his elbows on his knees and dropped his chin into his hands and sighed himself.  He wished he could do more for her and stared out at the lake and tried to think of something.

Of course, the answer was right in front of him.


Their family life for the rest of October settled into a comfortable rhythm.  Adam would be up and out early every day and went to town to work with his four deputies then check on the construction of the regional office.  And every day he would drop in at the cream-colored house, which was almost ready.

He usually was back home around two o’clock and they would all pile into the buggy and drive down to the lake so Thea and the children could go swimming.  The first time he had suggested it, Thea had looked at him like he had gone out of his mind.  But the second she was in the cool water and felt a lessening of the pressure on her body she had smiled blissfully and called out, “I love you!” to her husband.

Adam had just laughed at her.  He would be sitting in the shade and watching over his family while he practiced on his guitar, having not played one since he had left.  It took a while, but the memories came back, and soon he was playing even better than he had before.

The twins usually tired quickly and went to their father.  When he had them dressed in dry clothes they would stretch out on a blanket next to him and nap until it was time to go home.

The strangely warm and muggy weather that October continued until the last week.  The daytime temperatures became tolerable and the nights became colder, putting an end to the swimming, but Thea was more comfortable now and didn’t look like she was about to drop over at any minute.

So she finally talked her husband into taking her with him when he went into town on Halloween, to fulfill a promise he had made to his four friends.

Adam stopped the wagon in front of the office Thea and Matt now shared, got down, and came around to lift her down.  He looked closely at his wife and was relieved to see she had more color in her face since the weather had turned cooler.  The lack of heat and humidity had helped ease her discomfort a few weeks away from birth.  She smiled up at him when he set her down and took his arm.  They entered the office and Thea sat down behind her desk while Adam lit the lamps as the sun was starting to go down.

“Now, you promised me you wouldn’t do anything but sit there and go through your journals.  Can I trust you?”

“I swear.”

“I don’t care if a dozen people show up here with major injuries, I don’t want you doing anything,” he insisted.

She laughed, “I swear, cross my heart and hope to die.”

He came over and leaned down to kiss her on top of her head, “I’ll take your word for it, even though I should know better.”

“You promised the boys you would help set up for their Halloween dance and play the piano.  They’ll be so disappointed if you don’t.”

“At the most they are going to get three hours out of me, then I’m taking you home and putting you to bed.  I’m not very happy with taking you home in the dark either.  I wish you had stayed there.”

“I know, but I needed to get out for a bit, I’ll be fine.”

He went to the door and paused to look back.  “Are you sure?”

Nodding, she said, “Go!  But at least try to have a little fun.”

He left then after giving her another worried look and she watched as he crossed the street and paused at the front door of the Sage Brush, looking at her through the front window of the office.  She waved and could see him shake his head as he went inside.

Sighing in relief she ignored the journals on the desk and stood to cross the room slowly and settle herself into an old, battered, and very comfortable overstuffed chair.  Finally she had a little time to herself.  Things had been bad enough when she was close to having the twins, but now she had five men watching her like hawks, never leaving her alone for a minute. 
She tried to stretch a little, but a cramp in her lower back caused her to gasp, so she let her head fall against the high back of the chair and she relaxed as much as she could.  The setting sun was casting long shadows on the street and she gazed out the window at the saloon.  Her eyes closed, and she fell into a light sleep.

When she opened her eyes an hour later she saw Joe come out of the Sage Brush and stand there in his shirt sleeves.  Even in the dim light from the lamps on either side of the door she could see his breath in the cold air.  He reached up with his handkerchief and wiped his face.  She smiled, thinking he was so warm from joining in the dancing with his usual enthusiasm for anything he considered fun, and wished she could too as Joe went back in.

She smiled as she continued to watch the saloon, seeing the bright light through the frosted windows and the dim shadows of people whirling around.  When she saw Joe come out again she almost laughed, but saw him roll his left shoulder and jerk a little when he tried to take a deep breath.  She sat up and stared at him intently as he wiped his face and tried to stretch out his left side but jerked again.

He went back into the saloon and Thea thought about what she had seen for a minute, her face creased with worry.  She stood up, grabbed her shawl, went out and slowly crossed the street.

When she reached the Sage Brush she was a little surprised that she felt breathless and another twinge in her lower back caused her to clench her teeth as she opened the door a crack and peeked in.  Just as she had been afraid she would see, Joe was not dancing – he was leaning on the end of the bar.  She looked around but didn’t see Adam, so she slipped in and made her way over to her young brother-in-law.

Joe straightened up and smiled down at her.  “What are you doing here?  Adam will be annoyed with you,” he laughed lightly.

She ignored what he was saying and reached up to feel his forehead.  To her touch he felt like he was burning up.  Joe jerked his head away and grimaced with the pain that movement caused him.

“How long have you had this fever?” she asked her eyes intent on his flushed face.

“I don’t have a fever, it’s just very warm in here.”

“Stop it, Joe.  Now give me a straight answer, how long have you had this fever?”

“Only a couple of days.  I’ll be able to shake it off soon.”

She grabbed him by the front of his shirt.  “HOW LONG!”

“A week, alright, a week!  You’re making a scene,” he said as more and more people stopped what they were doing and stared.

Thea let go of his shirtfront.  “Where is the pain?”

“I don’t have any pain, just a little twinge in my stomach, that’s all.”

She let out an angry breath, “Where?”

“Thea, I’m fine.  You shouldn’t get yourself all upset like this,” he said then was astonished when she reached up and slapped him in the face.

“Don’t make me hit you again.  WHERE IS THE PAIN?” her shout almost echoed in the now completely quiet room.

Adam came out from the back room with Larry.  “Thea?” he said, wondering what was going on.  She ignored him and put one hand on Joe’s back and pressed in with the other just below his ribs on the left side.  Joe gasped and went pale.  When she saw his reaction, her face tightened and she closed her eyes for a moment.  “Does your left shoulder hurt?” she demanded.

Joe paused, but must have decided to just be truthful now, “Yes.”

Thea opened her eyes and turned to look for Hoss, but instead her husband was standing right behind her.  She expected him to be angry with her for leaving the office, but he was looking at Joe anxiously.  “What’s wrong?”

“I’m not sure yet,” she said vaguely then saw Hoss come through the front door.  He took one look at the three of them and came right over.

“What’s goin’ on?”

“Hoss I need you to carry Joe over to my office, I don’t want him walking any more than is necessary.”  She turned to her husband, “Adam, find your father. Now.”

Hoss had picked Joe up, who started protesting, but he didn’t pay any attention to his brother and carried him out the door.

Adam shook his head.  “No, I’m going with you first.  Besides, Pa said he would be back here at nine o’clock and that’s just a half hour from now so I can come and get him if you need him,” he said firmly.  “What’s wrong with Joe?”

Thea looked toward the door – Hoss and Joe were already outside.  “He has an enlarged spleen, probably from some infection that caused his fever.  I barely had to press on it to feel it.  If it ruptures he’ll bleed to death, I have to take it out right now.”

She was surprised when he didn’t even question her diagnosis; he just nodded and put his arm around her shoulders to keep her from rushing out the door as they left the saloon.  The crowd silently watched them go.

As soon as they were in the office door Adam said, “I’ll get Joe on the table.  Hoss, go back over to the Sage Brush and bring back a stool,” he turned to his wife.  “At least you can sit while you do this.”

“I’ll get what I need gathered then you can help me set up,” she said as Hoss left.

Adam had Joe stripped down and on the table in just a few minutes, and he came out to take over gathering what she needed, ordering her to sit down.

Hoss came in and carried the stool into the treatment room just as Adam finished setting up a tray with the instruments she would need.  When he looked at Thea he was startled to see an unfamiliar anxiety on her face.  He moved in front of her then crouched down as he took her hands in his.  They felt as cold as ice.

“Theadora?  You can do this.”

“Yes, but Oh God now I know why they try to discourage doctors from treating their own families.  I love that idiot in there, he’s my brother now, and I can’t stand the thought of losing him.”

He stood and tugged on her hands, bringing her to her feet.  “You’ve done this many times before, Thea, just don’t look at his face.  Concentrate on what you have to do; you can do this.”

She nodded, took a deep breath and whispered, “Please God, guide my hand,” and they went into the treatment room.

Once she was seated on the stool in front of a sheet-draped, unconscious Joe she seemed to regain her confidence.  Hoss stood at Joe’s head, instructed to report any little sign of him returning to consciousness and to use the mask again if necessary.  Adam stood on the other side of the table to assist.

Without looking she picked a scalpel off the tray and made her first incision.  With a bold stroke of the knife she cut through the skin and muscle and the greatly enlarged organ bulged up, pushing apart the lips of the wound.  She breathed a sigh of relief that it hadn’t burst and there was no sign of internal bleeding.  After that it was merely a matter of clamping off the blood vessels and removing the infected spleen.  

It wasn’t until she placed the last stitch in the skin did Thea feel the incredible pain in her back as she tried to straighten up.  She tried to knead the pain away and she almost groaned.  Adam was there immediately to help her down then into the office and over to the chair she had been sitting in earlier.

“Hoss and I can take care of cleaning him up and bandaging the wound.  When we are done you can take another look at him and Hoss can go find Pa.”

She nodded and wearily leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.

The sound of the front door shutting behind Hoss woke her and she went into the treatment room to see Adam checking Joe’s pulse.

“How is it?”

“Only a little slow, but strong.”

“That’s to be expected,” she said as she came over and pushed up one of Joe’s eyelids.  “He’s going to be out for a while, but I think it’s safe to move him to a cot in the office now.”  She felt his forehead and smiled, very pleased, “His fever is almost gone.”

Her husband came around from the other side of the table and put his arms around her.  “Thea, I’ve never been more grateful to anyone before in my life.  Not only have you given me two beautiful children, and soon three more, but you’ve also saved my brother’s life.  Sometimes I almost feel like I should thank Allan, if it wasn’t for him I never would have met you.”

He laughed as she wearily nodded her head and said,  “There’s no great ill wind that doesn’t blow at least some small good.”

Adam hugged her tighter for a moment then ordered her back to the chair in the office.  She gladly went.

Hoss had just returned from telling their astonished father the good news – Joe was going to be fine.  Thea had taken his spleen out in time, just barely before it would have burst and her quick action had saved Joe’s life.  Adam had told Hoss to instruct their father to stay where he was and when Joe was settled they would come and get him.

When he walked into the front room he didn’t see Thea or Adam, but he did see Joe asleep on a cot in the corner, already settled in for the night.  Then he heard a pained, choking groan come from the other room and he went to the doorway to see what was going on.  He was horrified to see Thea lying on the table she had just bent over to operate on Joe.  Adam was removing her dress and he looked up at Hoss with a white face and anxious eyes.

“Hoss, you’ve got to help me, she’s gone into labor,” his older brother said as he spread a sheet over his wife.

“Are you sure?”

“Believe me, I’ve done this twice before, she’s definitely in labor,” he folded the bottom of the sheet back from Thea’s legs and gently began to examine her.

“What can I do?”

“Right now just give her someone to hang on to.”

Hoss moved toward the head of the table as Thea cried out then clapped both hands over her mouth.  She looked up at him and clutched his arm, “Hoss, there’s something wrong.  This just doesn’t feel right.”  She let go of his arm and spread her hands across her taut belly and began to press in, trying to assess the situation.

All of a sudden her entire body stiffened and she bit off a scream as a gush of blood burst from between her legs.  Adam’s hands were drenched.

She struggled to catch her breath then spoke through clenched teeth.  “Adam, come here, I have to talk to the both of you.”

Her husband tried to wipe as much of the blood off as he could with a towel as he came to stand next to her.  She reached to take his hand in both of hers, her blazing eyes boring into his, “There’s something terribly wrong and we don’t have much time.  This is what you will have to do….”


Ben looked up as Hoss steered Adam through the door of the Sage Brush an hour later, his arm around his older brother’s shoulders.  Their father looked at them anxiously, uncertain about what this meant.  Hoss quickly reassured him about his son, “Joe’s still fine Pa, he hasn’t taken a turn for the worse, and Matt came back,” he guided Adam to a chair and pushed him down into it.

He poured a glass of whiskey and pressed it into Adam’s hand, ordering him to drink it.  With a dazed look, his older brother obeyed, emptied the glass then set it on the table with a shaking hand.

His father looked to Hoss for an explanation.  His middle son looked back with tortured eyes.  “Pa…Thea’s gone.”

“What?” Ben shouted and the room became absolutely still.

Hoss nodded his head reluctantly.  “It happened so fast.  She went into labor right after she finished with Joe and right away she said somethin’ was wrong.  She was losin’ a lot of blood and just kept gettin’ weaker and weaker and then…died.”

Ben sat back in his chair, stunned.  Less than two hours ago their lives had seemed perfect, yet in that short space of time they had all been dealt a cruel blow.

Adam had been staring off into the distance, but now he cleared his throat as he looked down at his hands, still stained with traces of his wife’s blood.  Ben went to him and knelt down on one knee in front of him.  His eldest son was still staring at his hands.  “I had to do it, Pa, I didn’t have any choice,” he said softly.  “I had to, or I would have lost all four of them.”

“The babies, too?”

The dazed man nodded then lifted agonized eyes to meet his father’s.  “Your three new grandsons are alive and healthy.  But Pa, I had to cut her open and take them to save them.”

Gasps of horror sounded in the room so Adam was the only one who heard the anguished sound that escaped Ben’s throat.  He gently put a hand to his father’s cheek and said, “I know, Pa, I know how much it hurts now.  Dear God, how did you go through this three times?”  He leaned forward and put his arms around his father and pressed the older man’s head to his shoulder.  He held him in a tight grip as Ben tried to contain his grief and stop his tears.  Adam’s eyes remained dry.

People came forward and crowded around the two men, some reaching out to touch – some trying to speak broken words of condolence.  Adam didn’t hear them or feel them; his heart seemed to be dead and he didn’t think he would ever feel anything again.

The room slowly emptied of all but the closest of Adam and Thea’s friends.  Hoss stood up when Matt came in and the doctor went directly to Adam and placed a hand on his bowed back.  Ben looked up.

“What happened?”

Matt looked down at him with pained and reddened eyes, “I’m so sorry, Ben, but Thea’s womb ruptured and she bled to death.  There was nothing anyone could do, even if I had made it back in time, except try to save the babies,” he said.  “Adam did an amazing thing, it’s very difficult even for a surgeon to manage as well as he did.”

“How did he know what to do?”

Hoss spoke up, his voice deepened and roughened by his grief, “Thea told him right before she died, she made him promise he would.”

Matt nodded, “I’m not surprised.  She must have realized what happened,” he rubbed a hand over his tear stained face.  “Dear God the courage that woman had!”

Ben and Hoss nodded, their pain undiminished.

Adam looked up at the doctor and seemed to have trouble focusing on him so he narrowed his eyes.  “Matt, has she been taken away yet?”

“No, I thought you would want a chance to say a private good-bye first.”

Nodding, Adam stood, briefly placed a hand on his kneeling father’s head as he swayed a little then turned to leave.  Matt, Hoss, and Ben followed slowly.  When he entered the doctor’s office he hesitated and changed direction toward Joe, who was still sleeping peacefully on his cot.  His older brother stopped and felt his forehead, looking for returning fever.  He seemed to be satisfied there was none because he stepped back, then slowly went into the other room.

Looking down at his wife’s dear face, peaceful in death, Adam closed his eyes feeling his will to live start to die.  “Thea,” he said in a broken whisper, then one of the three new babies in the front room cried out and the sound pierced his heart.  Tears began to flow from his eyes then and the ice that had frozen his heart cracked and started to melt.

For the first time in his life he finally understood that there was no one he could fight, no plan he could make, nothing he could do to change this.  He didn’t understand what God’s purpose could possibly be, but he bowed his head to the Lord’s infinite power and gave up, handing control of his life over.  He humbled himself in his soul and asked for the strength to endure.  A peace he had never known before enfolded him and at first he just felt drained, then the spark of love for his three new children in the front room blossomed in spite of the circumstances of their birth.

As the last tear finally fell, he wearily lifted his head and looked at his wife for the last time.  He reached to grasp the blood stained sheet to draw it up and bent down to kiss her when something glittering caught his eye – a thin track of tears flowed from the corners of her eyes, soaking into her hair.  In disbelief, he reached out with a trembling hand, touched the tears and felt the wetness on his finger.  He stroked her cheek and realized her skin was not cold.

“Matt!” he bellowed as he rushed out the door.  He was moving so fast he nearly ran right over the doctor who had come running.  Grabbing the man by the arm he dragged him in and right up to Thea.  “She’s crying,” he simply said and both men gasped when she moved her head.

The doctor sprang into action, pulling a protesting Adam out of the room then dragging Hoss in to be his assistant.  Adam stood at a loss in the front room, staring at his father mutely.  Ben took his eldest son by the shoulders and shook him.  “Adam, what the hell happened?”

He just stared at his father and said, “She’s alive.”

Ben looked at him closely to see if maybe Adam had gone off the deep end, but his son shook off the older man’s hands saying, “Oh God, I have to pray.”  He sat down, propped his elbows on his knees and put his head in his hands – he never moved a muscle until Matt came back out and stood in front of him.

Adam didn’t want to look up, but he forced himself to.  “She’s still alive,” the doctor said as Adam rose to his feet and grabbed him with a hard hand on either side of his head.

“Is she awake?”

“Yes,” Matt said in disbelief.

“May I see her?”

The bewildered man raised his hands then let them fall helplessly as he nodded and Adam badly startled him by pulling him forward and kissing him on the forehead.  “Matt, I think I love you!” he said and rushed into the treatment room.

The doctor turned to Ben with a baffled look.

“He’s not himself,” the older man said, smiling at Matt’s expression.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life.  She lost too much blood to be alive, but she is.”  He almost fell into the chair Adam had been sitting in.

Ben came over and put a hand on the young man’s shoulder.  “You know Thea and you know how implacable her will is,” he said and almost chuckled but his throat was still too tight.  “I guess she just decided she wasn’t ready to leave.”

The doctor snorted with laughter as Hoss came up to them – he had heard the conversation.  “Looks like even God can’t get that woman to do anythin’ she doesn’t want to.”

That set them off and they laughed in relief and managed to wake all three babies.  Each man came and took one into his arms.  Without discussion they all filed into the other room and when Thea saw them coming she struggled to raise her head, but couldn’t.  Her husband bent down to put his arms around her shoulders and propped her up with her head on his chest, just under his chin.

Ben came forward first and held the baby as close to her as possible.  She craned her neck forward as much as she could and kissed the child’s forehead.  Adam looked around when he felt a strange puff of warm air on his cheek, then he turned his attention back to his wife and son.  The baby looked back at her with sleepy black eyes.  “Benjamin Patrick,’ she whispered and let her head fall back.  A single, unexpected tear fell from her father-in-law’s eye and he gently stroked her hair back from her face before moving away.

Hoss came forward next, his joy at Thea being alive illuminating his sweet face.  This child seemed to have fallen back asleep, but when his mother touched her lips to his hand he opened his green-blue eyes and placed his other tiny hand on her cheek.  Again, Adam felt the warm air waft past.  “Thomas Eric,” Thea said, her voice a little stronger now.  Hoss leaned forward and actually kissed her gently on the lips, and then stepped back to allow the doctor to come forward.

Matt was still looking at her closely; he was the only one who truly understood what a medical impossibility this was.  The infant was still awake, his little mouth curved up at the corners and his fine hazel eyes wide open.  The doctor held the baby as close as possible to her face with one hand cradling his small head.  The warm air flowed past again as tears of exhaustion were seeping from Thea’s eyes, but she used the last of her strength to kiss the child’s face saying, “Mathew Joseph.”  Her eyes closed and the doctor checked her pulse quickly; somehow it had become slightly stronger.

Adam looked at them gratefully and said, “I’m depending on all of you to remember who is who,” and he smiled a very, very tired smile.

“You should get some rest,” Matt said quietly when he saw Thea had fallen asleep.  Her husband gently laid her head back on the pillow.

“I’m not leaving and don’t even try to convince me to.  I’m not going to let her out of my sight again for a very long, long time.”

Matt shook his head, but wasn’t surprised.  “I’ll set up a cot for you so you can at least lie down in here.”  Adam nodded, never taking his eyes off his sleeping wife.

The three men went back into the front room and put the now sleeping babies back on the cot.  They were standing there wearily, drained by the events of the day when a sound behind them made them turn around.  Joe was awake.

He looked at his father, brother, and the doctor with bleary eyes and said, “What the hell is going on?” irritably.

The doctor quickly checked him out and reported that he was fine.  Ben put his hand on his youngest son’s head and said, “Go back to sleep, Joseph, there will be plenty of time tomorrow for explanations,” but Joe was asleep again even before his father had finished.

“Well,” Hoss said with a wide smile, “I guess we all have somethin’ to do,” and he headed across the street to report the good news to Adam and Thea’s friends still gathered there, prepared to celebrate like he never had before.

Ben left then after telling Matt he was heading back to the ranch so he could be there when Alexander and Annalise awoke in the morning to tell them of their new brothers and to bring them to their mother as early as possible.

Matt agreed, believing anything that would reinforce Thea’s will to live should be done.  After Ben left, he sighed and went into the storage room to drag out a cot for Adam and another for himself.  He wasn’t going let his five patients out of his sight for a very long, long time too.


Adam came awake from a light doze with a start; someone had been saying his name.  When he realized it must have been Thea, he quickly threw back the blanket and stood to hurry over.  He leaned over her and felt his heart fill when he saw her eyes were open and a little more animated than they had been hours ago.

She licked her dry, cracked lips and tried to speak, but couldn’t.  He reached for a cup of water that was sitting on the cabinet and helped her take a drink. She almost choked, but managed to get a good bit of the water down and he gently eased her head back to the pillow.  He started to turn away, and was surprised when she grabbed his arm.  He looked down into her eyes and saw she was still a little unfocused, but determined to say something.  Leaning over her, he kissed her then put his ear near her mouth.

He heard her clear her throat then she said, “They want me to thank you.”  Adam turned his head quickly and met her gaze.  “Who?”

“You know, you’ve seen them before – the Three Graces – they’re saying they want me to thank you and won’t go until I do,” she licked her lips again, “so, ‘Thank you.’”

Adam shook his head, assuming his wife was dreaming or maybe delirious – he leaned over her when she spoke again.  “The one with the dark hair says to tell you I’m not dreaming or delirious and she wants you to listen.  She says something has been lifted because of something you did.”  Her husband went cold and he felt a strange, warm, prickling sensation on his left cheek.  He looked in his wife’s eyes, “Where are they?”

Thea turned her head, looked in the corner behind him and hoarsely said, “Right there.  The one who was speaking to me just went back after kissing you on the cheek.  They’re all saying goodbye now.”

His heart was thumping and the hair on the back of his neck was standing up when she gave him a small nudge.  “Don’t be rude, Adam, tell them goodbye.  They all love you, you know, and are very proud of you.”

He felt stupid for doing it, but he did as she asked and turned around saying, “Good-bye,” to the corner.  He wasn’t sure if his eyes were playing tricks on him or not, but he could have sworn he saw a faint glimmer of something moving there that faded quickly.  Thea smiled, satisfied that her husband had shown his good manners and that the Graces would leave her alone now.  She closed her eyes and when he turned back she was already asleep.

He spent the rest of the time until morning sitting on his cot with his back up against the wall, watching over his sleeping wife.  He remembered his own experience and thought about what she had said until the sun finally rose and drove away the darkness of that All Hallows Eve night.


The End