Angels with Red hair?
By Lyn Robinson

Hoss had gone into Virginia City with Jess to collect some stores and do some routine banking for his father. They had a long list of stores to collect and had taken the buckboard. Hoss had promised his father not to do any lifting and Ben trusted Jess to keep an eye on his big son. Hoss was slowly recovering but he still didn’t feel like doing very much. Doc had assured him that he would make a full recovery but his left arm was still largely useless and if he did too much he had sharp pains in his back, not helped by muscles which were weak from lack of use.

Hoss had finished his errands and had a beer so he went back to join Jess who was busy loading up the buckboard. Jess had almost finished and was keen to get back to the ranch as he had a horse he wanted to train and so Hoss went to get up on the buckboard. Just as he did so three drunken cowboys came rushing down the street, hooraying at the tops of their voices and firing their guns in the air, The buckboard horses scared by the sudden noise moved forward rapidly. Hoss, his balance uncertain and his reflexes still slow, forgot his wound and tried to hold on with his left hand. It wouldn’t work and Hoss fell heavily, hitting his head and more seriously his injured back on the planks of wood placed to help people cross the street out of the mud. The sudden pain in his back, as much as the bang to his head, lost Hoss all hold on his senses.

Jess ran over to him and a crowd gathered round the big man. Roy hurried over leaving his deputy to arrest the three suddenly sobered cowboys. Roy was more concerned about his friend as Hoss was bleeding. Jess had quickly checked and looked up “I can’t see any sign of bullet holes, I think he’s just broken that wound in his back open again.”

“Either way he’s bleeding bad. We’d better get him down to the hospital, Doc Martin is out at Mrs Barnard’s, her baby is coming, he won’t be back for at least a couple of hours, maybe much longer.” Roy ordered two men to get a stretcher from the hospital and sent one for the new young Doctor, Doc Woodtree, who was working at the hospital. Then four of them lifted Hoss onto the stretcher and began carrying him down to the Sisters of Mercy hospital. Hoss stirred as they did so but Roy held him still, “Easy does it Hoss, Doc will be here in a minute.”

Hoss lay still only really aware of the pain in his back, feeling very woozy, not too sure what had happened. Jess bit his lip, “I guess I’d better go fetch his Pa.”

One of the men following the stretcher volunteered the information that he had seen Adam going into the bank just before the accident. Jess frowned, knowing that Ben wasn’t expecting Adam back for another couple of days, but his friend might have ridden ahead, eager to get home. Roy suggested, “Jess, you stay with Hoss. The sisters will need some help with him he’s a mite heavy for them. Least ‘til I find out if Adam’s been in. The bank will tell me. If he has I’ll find him and send him down to the hospital.”

“Seems best. Thanks”

Roy smiled “Hoss is an old friend and so is Adam. I’ll break it gently.”

The four men got Hoss onto a bed as gently as they could, in one of the small private rooms. Hoss had become a very important donor to the hospital since the investment in the mines proved so valuable and everyone rushed round to do all they could to help him, although they would have done much the same for any injured man. Jess stayed to help one of the nurses get Hoss out of his coat and shirt to see what damage had been done. By the time they had edged him out of his clothes, Doc Woodtree was there. The ugly wound on Hoss’ back seemed to have reopened along the whole length and his shirt was soaked in blood. Doc didn’t waste any time quickly cleaning and restitching the wound, repairing the damage before Hoss lost any more blood. Not until his back was rebandaged did the Doc begin checking what other damage had been done. Hoss was suffering from a slight concussion and very badly shaken by the fall and he was aching all over. He lay patiently letting Doc do what he had to but, through the haze of pain and blurred vision, he found himself watching the nurse. She was a tall redhead completely different to the nuns that Hoss knew at the hospital. He was puzzled by her presence but she was very lovely, although a statuesque woman, bigger than Doc, and her hands were very gentle as she helped Doc and wiped the sweat from his face. Hoss was able to concentrate on her and forget a little of the pain that he was enduring. By the time Doc had finished Hoss was on the verge of losing hold of his senses and when he heard Doc tell him to get some sleep, the voice seemed to come from a great distance, but the idea made sense. Hoss closed his eyes and slipped into sleep not even hearing the Doc’s reassurance that there was no serious damage.

Roy had gone down to the Bank; the manager had confirmed that Adam had been in, he had just left. Roy hoped that his friend would have gone for a drink before heading home and hurried over to the Palace saloon. He saw Adam’s black stallion tied outside and slowed down, trying to think what to say. As he walked in he saw Adam sitting in the corner with Dan sipping a beer and even from there he could see that Adam was very tired, which didn’t make his job any easier.

Adam saw Roy coming over and frowned as he saw the expression on Roy’s face “Dan is there anything wrong?”

“Not so far as I know. Why?”

“Roy looks as though he has the weight of the world on his shoulders.”

Before Dan could answer Roy had pulled up a chair and joined them. Adam put his beer down, considering the way Roy looked at him, “What’s wrong Roy?”

“Guess you know me too well! I’m glad you’re in town Adam I was about to send word to your Pa.” Roy hesitated but Adam had to be told. “There’s been a slight accident. Hoss, he’s opened that wound again, not too bad. He’s over at the hospital, Doc Woodtree has been looking after him.”

Adam was on his feet before Roy had finished speaking and he had lost colour, scared for his big brother. Roy moved over next to him “I’ll explain while we go.”

As they walked over he told Adam what had happened, the three men, thoroughly scared by what they had done, were down at the jail. Roy did his best to reassure Adam that there was no serious harm. Adam listened but he made no comment, shouldering his way through the crowds, just wanting to get to his brother. He knew just how much the bad wound had already taken out of Hoss. The streets were as crowded as always and it seemed to take him forever to reach the hospital. As he did so he saw Jess in the corridor. Jess was relieved to see his friend but taken aback by just how tired and drawn Adam looked. He moved swiftly over to him and gripped his arm, "Easy Adam. Hoss will be fine. Glad you’re back. Hoss is just along here.” Jess gestured to the room just behind him along the corridor.

Adam nodded and not even knocking went straight in to find Doc Woodtree washing up and one of the nuns straightening the bedclothes. Adam moved swiftly over to his brother but Hoss was seemingly out cold. Adam could see the lines of pain on his face and gently wiped the sweat from his forehead. Only then did he look up at Doc "How is he?"”

In the last couple of years Adam had become quite friendly with George Woodtree and his wife Evangeline. He didn’t quite trust them in the way he did Paul Martin, whom he’d known most of his life, but he did have considerable respect for their ability. George smiled reassuringly, “Not too bad Adam, nothing to worry about. He’s reopened that wound but only at the surface, the deeper muscles are healing well, so he’s only put himself back maybe two weeks. Bang on the head and slight concussion and he’s been thoroughly shaken, but nothing a day or two’s rest won’t cure.”

Adam shut his eyes for a moment and breathed out a sigh of relief. He knew that he could trust George to tell him straight, Still very tired from the strains of the drive this unexpected shock had hit him hard and for a moment he didn’t seem able to think clearly, just so relieved that it was no worse. After a minute he straightened up “Can I take him home?”

Doc came over and he shrugged “You can, but I wouldn’t advise it.”


“He’s been badly shaken, the drive will cost him more pain and it isn’t very nice weather, cold and damp, might risk catching cold. The nuns here have been looking forward to doing something to help the Cartwrights and they can nurse him as well as you and Ben. Let him stay put in a nice warm bed, just for a couple of days until his concussion has cleared and the worst of his aches and pains have gone. Then you can collect him without risk. He’s too big a man to take a fall like that without getting well shaken and with that wound his reactions just weren’t fast enough to help him.”

Adam nodded slowly, he could see the sense of it, but he wasn’t leaving his brother until he could at least explain what was happening and why. He pulled up a chair and sat by the bed. Doc gripped his shoulder “I mean it Adam, nothing to worry about. You can give your father my word on that.”

Adam relaxed slightly and the Doc left him alone. Jess put his head round the door as both the Doc and the Nun came out. Adam said, “He’ll be okay but he’s gonna stay here for a couple of days.”

“I’m glad Hoss will be alright, how about you Adam?”

“I’m fine, just tired. What were you two doing in town anyway?”

“Hoss had been to the bank. I was collecting stores. What do you want me to do, wait for you or head on back?”
Adam went over to the chair and picked up the moneybelt, which had been taken from his brother. It was sticky with Hoss’ blood and he wiped it grim faced, furious with the stupid drunks who had caused the accident. Then he turned back to Jess, “You’d better start back, Pa will be worried. I’ll probably catch up before you get home. I’ll bring the money-belt, once I’ve had a word with Hoss. If you get home before me, you’ll have to tell Pa. Will you please?”

“You know I will, Adam.”

“Tell him there’s nothing to worry about. Hoss will be home in a couple of days. Anyway I’ll probably join you first.”

Soon after Jess had gone Hoss stirred. He’d been vaguely aware of his brother’s voice but he couldn’t imagine how Adam had got there, he was on the drive. Hoss had been thinking about it and summoning up the strength to open his eyes, even in the darkened room the light was enough to hurt. Finally as Adam wiped his face he recognized the touch and opened them, with an effort focusing on his brother, “Didn’t know you were back.”

Adam pushed his hair back off his forehead, “Some greeting you big moose. Lie still everything is going to be fine.”

“Good to see you brother.”

“Take it easy Hoss. No real damage but you need some sleep. I can’t take you home for a day or two, break the sister’s hearts. They’ve been trying to do something for you since you took over this place.”

Hoss frowned and then, to Adam’s complete bewilderment, he asked, “Do you reckon angels have red hair?”

Adam felt his brother’s forehead but Hoss didn’t seem to be running a temperature, not enough to be delirious. “You need some sleep big brother.”

“I’m okay. Not a nun but an angel of mercy.” Hoss was fighting to keep his eyes open and Adam took his hand gently “Don’t fight it Hoss, go to sleep. I’ll go tell Pa and I’ll be back tomorrow, maybe take you home the day after that. The nuns will take good care of you.”

“I know that, don’t worry Pa.”

“I won’t, you just rest. I’m home now and I’ll look after everything.”

“Sure you will Adam. Good to have you back.” Hoss was asleep almost before he’d finished speaking and Adam tucked the bedclothes round his brother. For five minutes he stood just looking at Hoss and then with an effort pulled himself away, As he went out Sister Cecily was waiting, she was in charge of the hospital and knew just how much they owed to the Cartwrights. Of recent months Hoss had given them so much, but Adam and his father had been donors for many years and both still did so. She assured Adam that his brother would get the very best of care, everything he wanted. It was little enough to do in return for all the help they’d been given.

Adam smiled, “I know he will, same as everyone else here. We don’t want any return, never did. You do a marvellous job here, least we can do is to help.”

Adam went and collected Blackie, not wanting to talk to anyone. The expression on his face was sufficient to keep acquaintances at bay, but before he left town he had one more job to do, He went down to the jail and found Roy there, “I want to see the men who caused it.”


“Don’t look so worried. I won’t lay a finger on them. You could charge then with disturbing the peace, get them fined, but I think if I can have five minutes to tell them what I think of them it will be more effective.”

Roy couldn’t argue about that. He had already told the men that Hoss would be okay and that he hadn’t actually been hit by a bullet, but he’d also told them that Adam was with his brother. Roy had seen how they cringed back at that news, knowing his reputation and scared of his reaction. Finally seeing how determined Adam looked, Roy nodded. “Alright back there. Don’t frighten them too much, they sobered up mighty fast when they saw Hoss fall bleeding.”

Adam wasn’t gentle and told the three exactly what he though of their stupid behaviour, telling them they should think themselves lucky the consequences weren’t more serious. By the time he’d finished three very demoralised men were sitting staring at the floor unable to meet his eye,

After he’d gone one summed it up “I’d rather have taken a beating any day than that tongue lashing.”

Adam rode slowly out of town, trying to think of an easy way to tell his father but knowing there really wasn’t one. Then once he was clear of the traffic, he let Blackie stretch his legs, wanting to ensure he caught Jess up. The wagon wasn’t far ahead and Adam rode alongside it for a mile or so, getting the outline of news from the ranch while he’d been away and then, leaving Jess to bring the wagon, he hurried onto the main house. He wasn’t expected at any particularly time, so he’d see his father first before going home to Carole and his kids.

Ben was working at his desk when Adam walked in, but seeing his eldest son he came abruptly to his feet. He went over to Adam seeing the signs of strain and tiredness and something else he didn’t quite understand, “Its good to see you. Is everything alright?” Ben held Adam’s shoulders and frowned as he looked at his son.

Adam bit his lip and then said, “There’s been an accident Pa. In town. Hoss has reopened his wound; it’s not serious. Doctor Woodtree said that I could give you his word on that, but Hoss is well shaken, slight concussion. Doc thought it more sensible for him to stay in bed at the hospital for a day or so before we bring him home."

Ben was completely surprised at that news and went over to the sofa and sat down staring into the fire, Adam poured two brandies and brought them over “Here Pa.” Adam slipped into his usual blue chair. “Take it easy. Hoss will be okay in a couple of days, just set back the healing by a week or so.”

Ben nodded but he studied Adam’s face intently, before reassured by what he saw, he lent back and asked for details. Adam told him all he knew, not that it amounted to much and slowly Ben relaxed, as he was reassured that Hoss wasn’t seriously hurt. Ben contemplated going into town to see his son, but Adam insisted it wasn’t sensible. Hoss would sleep, probably until morning and he was having the best of care. Tomorrow would be time enough. Ben had been working hard too and still had plenty to do so he accepted his eldest son’s advice. He changed the subject to the drive and asked for details, seeing just how tired Adam was. Adam admitted that it had been a very difficult drive especially after José’s accident, He was able to give Ben a good report on their foreman’s recovery and slowly outlined just how he had coped. He still blamed himself for José’s accident and Ben realised the situation and the decision he had taken and why. He wasn’t surprised to get his father’s support but he was relieved, more so than he had expected. After half an hour Ben said “The rest of the details can wait, You’ve had a tough few weeks, go on home to your family and relax. I’ll go and see Hoss tomorrow.”

“Pa, you’re not going to sit here and worry are you? There’s no need I promise you.”

“I believe you Son and anyway I have too much to do, go home to Carole.”

Adam looked long and hard at his father but decided it wasn’t an act “Okay Pa. I must admit I’ve missed them. No problems?”

Ben grinned “None, but your daughter seems to grow every day, you’ll see quite a difference.”

Adam grinned broadly and suddenly eager to get home he grabbed his coat and headed off to Carole and his kids. She could see that he was tired but he was relaxed and the children were so excited to see their father, they threw themselves at him. It wasn’t until the children were in bed that Adam told her about Hoss’ accident. Carole was worried, very fond of her big hearted brother-in-law, but Adam reassured her and promised to take her into town the following day to visit Hoss and collect some much needed stores. They went to bed early and Carole snuggled up contentedly, knowing there were no more long trips planned before the winter and she was likely to have his company until the spring.

The next day Ben joined them and on the ride into town Adam filled in some of the details of the drive for his father and wife. In return he learnt the news from round the ranch and of Joe’s success in Frisco. Little Joe was on the way home and the family would soon be complete again, just the way Ben liked it. Adam suggested he go to Reno and collect his brother, but Ben shook his head. “Joe’s a lot better, his leg has about given up worrying him from what he said. He’s planning on getting the stage, you can pick him up in Virginia City if you like, but for the moment I think you need a few days to relax, You’ve been working very hard for too long.”

Adam hesitated, “Joe’s never been exactly willing to admit he’s not fit.”

“Must be following someone else’s example!” commented Ben dryly and then grinned, “I don’t trust him either, but I’ve had word from Will too. He can manage even if he’s not fully fit, no need for you to go running after him.”

In town Hoss had woken up to find the red-haired nurse sitting by him again. He felt much better for a long sleep and submitted to her ministrations. He asked about her as she checked his wound and redressed it, while his breakfast was prepared. She wasn’t a nun and had no intention of becoming one but she was a trained nurse. Fed up with suggestions that nurses were little better than prostitutes, she was glad of the chance to work in peace at the hospital. Hoss learnt her name was Sue-Ellen Riley, she was Irish and still had an Irish accent, very soft and attractive, although she had left Ireland as a young girl. She had been trained as a nurse in London but restless had come to America and gradually ended up in the west. Too big for most men she was fed up with looking down on men and she had almost resigned herself to the idea that marriage and children weren’t for her and had tried to make nursing enough, proud of her knowledge. She found the big man very easy to talk to and before Hoss had finished his breakfast they were on first name terms. She liked the shortened form of her name, Sue, but too many people seemed to find it too little a name for such a big woman. Hoss used it without thought, she didn’t seem too big to him, just an immensely attractive gentle lady. She had to go off and do other jobs but promised to come back later. Hoss looked forward to that and was totally relaxed, lazing back in bed when his family arrived. To his family’s surprise he wasn’t fretting to come home and even staying in bed without complaint, They stayed and chatted for a while and then went off to do some chores and get a meal, promising to return during the afternoon. Over lunch Ben was worried and very quiet, scared his big son was more seriously hurt than he would admit, as Hoss didn’t seem to object to staying in bed. Eventually Adam noticed that his father wasn’t eating

“Come on Pa, Hoss wasn’t seriously hurt.”

“I know.” Ben sighed “But...”

Adam smiled and said consideringly “I have a feeling my brother is up to something.”

Carole laughed at him “Just what? He’s in a hospital run by nuns!” The disbelief in her voice was echoed by the expression on Ben’s face but Adam wouldn’t be budged. “I don’t know what, but I do know Hoss, that expression on his face. He’s shaken, headachy and no doubt very sore but he’s not really ill. Mark my words he’s up to something.”

The others didn’t believe him but at least Ben relaxed enough to eat his lunch; Adam was right about one thing Hoss wasn’t seriously hurt, just weak. After lunch they returned to the hospital for a while and although Hoss didn’t say why, he made it clear that he was in no hurry to return home. He said that while he was needing nursing and the dressing changed he might as well stay in town. His father was busy, especially with Joe still away, and it would be one less job to do.

All three were puzzled at Hoss’ attitude but he wouldn’t meet their eyes carefully looking between them. Ben could only let him do as he wanted and, as Hoss looked tired, he told his son to get some rest. Adam said that he would drop by the following day, claiming business at the mine and then three very puzzled people headed home. Ben was even prepared to admit that his eldest son was right, Hoss was up to something, although like Carole he couldn’t imagine what.

The next day Adam went in to visit Hoss, to find his brother sitting up the worst of the concussion over. Hoss looked much brighter but was no more prepared to come home. Adam didn’t probe, his brother would tell him if he wanted to and he just sat and chatted, filling Hoss in about the drive and just how useful he had found his brother’s advice. He was also able to tell Hoss that Joe was on his way home and would be there in another two days.

Hoss was glad to see his brother and recognised the curiosity in Adam’s eyes, but he was too uncertain to want to talk. He relaxed enjoying his brother’s company as they chatted, although he left Adam just as puzzled. Adam eventually pulled himself to his feet, he did have various chores to do in town but he promised to come back the following day. Hoss looked guilty and tried to point out that Adam didn't have to come to town every day. Adam just laughed, after having been away he had lots of jobs to do in town and he would survive the ride.

Soon after Adam left SueEllen came in. She was off duty but enjoyed the big man’s company and both were amazed when his meal was brought in. They had been talking for over two hours and the time had flown past. Sue found herself telling Hoss much more about herself than she would normally reveal. She was nearly twenty-seven, just a few months younger than Hoss and had never really had a close relationship with a man, although she’d had friends, and very quickly this giant of a man was becoming important to her. She didn’t realise just how much she was revealing as she talked of her love for nursing and how it had become her life, but it was difficult with so many in America having a low opinion of nurses. In turn Hoss told her about his ranch and his family, the pride he had in both shining through. She had been in town long enough to hear a lot about the Cartwrights and she was intrigued by him. Hoss asked her to come out and see his ranch once he was better, promising to show her some of the most beautiful spots in the world. She relaxed as she accepted, glad that he wanted to see her again after leaving, although she hadn’t realised that he was only staying in the hospital to be near her. That night Hoss settled to sleep, still very sore but more contented than he could remember. He smiled to himself as he remembered a comment Dan had made at Joe and Marie’s wedding, that he would have to find a redhead to complete the set. At the time he had laughed not really ever seeing himself married and even last year when he was attracted to Meg, he’d been very uncertain about the idea. Now suddenly the idea had no terrors. Marie was gone but just maybe he would add the redhead. He knew that it was very early to be thinking about marriage but he’d never met anyone who attracted him so strongly and he sensed that she was attracted too and that she would like a settled family life. On that very pleasant thought Hoss drifted asleep.

That evening at home Adam was speculating on the reason for his brother’s weird behaviour and he suddenly remembered the odd comment Hoss had made when he first returned. He frowned and then went to pour himself a drink “I think my brother has found himself a girl.”

“What?” Carole said in surprise, “But they are nuns!”

“Not this one, she’s a redhead and you can’t tell the colour of a nun’s hair.”

“Have you seen her?”

Adam shook his head and had to admit that Hoss hadn’t mentioned her either, but despite Carole’s obvious disbelief he stuck to his guns. She had to admit that it would explain Hoss’ odd behaviour, which was distinctly out of character. In all the time she’d known him Hoss had only ever indulged in the mildest of flirtations. He’d come closest to getting involved with Meg and that hadn’t really been anything. Carole asked, “Do you think Hoss is likely to get serious?”

Adam hesitated for a moment. “I’m only guessing in the dark you know. Four times in my life my brother has been close to getting married. The first time she was dying of consumption before he ever met her but she certainly found some happiness and learnt to love him. The second was just using him because he was rich. She was the widow of an old friend and had indirectly killed him by gambling all his money away; it was like a disease with her nothing else mattered. The third was a very beautiful woman, who couldn’t help flirting with every man she met, even me, although she was engaged to Hoss. In her own way I think she loved him as much as she was capable of loving anyone, apart from herself, but it would never have been enough. The last was a strange woman and she cared very deeply. Unfortunately she had killed her first husband and the law was on her trail. For a while she thought Hoss would take her away, maybe even to Europe, but when she knew him better she realised that he couldn’t leave this land, its part of him. Maybe of all of us, Joe and I have both felt that pull, but for Hoss I think it’s stronger even than for me. She gave herself up to the law in such a way that Hoss could break it off. Staged a drunken scene, pretending the marshall was her lover, and that she’d only been after his money. Left it to me to tell him the truth once she’d gone. We never knew exactly where, just back east, and he couldn’t follow. In her own way she loved him very much.”

Carole heard the defensive note in Adam’s voice and smiled, she knew him very well. “I’m not surprised at that. Hoss may not be as good looking as you and Joe but you don’t have to be with him very long to know just what a kind, gentle loving man he is.”

Adam pulled her close to him. “We’ve all had caps set at us because we’re rich but somehow noone that Hoss could really love has ever seemed to realise that simple fact about him. In a lot of ways he’s always been scared of marriage, even after ours, he regretted me leaving home. Joe and I are very important to him. He’s rather shy in many ways, has lots of friends but few really close ones. He’s always been self-conscious about his size and his strength, almost scared of it. Now I think he’s finally realised that nothing can affect our relationship and he’s just gained so much with you and the children. Maybe he’s beginning to think of settling down. I hope so, I’d like him to know some of the joy I’ve found these last years.”

Carole couldn’t find the words to answer him and just held her husband tight, hoping that he was right about Hoss. She certainly wouldn’t bet against it, the brothers knew each other better than anyone.

The next day Carole joined Adam on his trip into town, riding her mare for once. While Adam went up to the California, she went to see Hoss, carrying a message from his brother that he would be in during the afternoon. Sue was on duty but she had a quarter of an hour break and had gone to see Hoss, She was sitting on his bed talking when Carole knocked on the door, Sue jumped up flustered and straightened her uniform as Hoss called “Come in.” He was delighted to see his sister-in-law, very fond of Carole, but Sue felt enormous and ugly, compared to the neat beauty of the brunette who came in. Carole was rather thinner than when she’d got married, busy with three children, and she looked as small compared to Sue, as Marie had compared to her. Sue was glad to be back on duty and quickly excused herself before Hoss could make any introductions, feeling so very plain. Carole kissed Hoss and studied his face, glad to see him looking better and then gave him the messages from both Adam and their father, before reverting to Sue. “Was that one of the nurses here when I came in? I thought they were all nuns.”

“Most are, but she’s a nurse, trained in England. She’s an Irish girl, doesn’t want to be a nun, just to nurse.”

Carole hadn’t forgotten Adam’s comments about a redhead and here was one, but as Hoss obviously didn’t want to talk about it she changed the subject. Joe was due home the nest day and she was planning a small party, once Hoss was feeling better. She stayed chatting for an hour and then went down to the dressmaker’s, before meeting Adam for lunch. Over lunch she told her husband about the nurse, a redhead as he’d predicted. Adam was intrigued but Carole couldn’t help much, the nurse had just said that she had to go, and Hoss wouldn’t talk either.

Adam asked “Well what did she look like, was she pretty?”

Carole frowned, “She’s tall, about the same as Joe. Big but only in proportion to her height, very attractive face and the most gorgeous curly hair. Not auburn or ginger, but a lovely deep rich red, absolutely beautiful. She was ill at ease when I went in, eager to get away, so not exactly at her best.”

Adam wanted to see for himself but knowing that he was coming Sue kept well out of his way. Hoss was very proud of his clever elder brother and in telling Sue about him he hadn’t stinted his praise. She was well aware that Adam mattered very much to his brother and Hoss cared about his opinions. Having seen his own delicately beautiful wife and knowing from Hoss that she was clever and cultured as well, she couldn’t imagine that Adam would think much of her. The prospect of meeting him terrified her and she had got the idea that a few words from Adam would finish her in Hoss’ eyes. Although it wouldn’t be avoidable for very long she wanted to put it off for as long as possible, She had never known anyone like Hoss and stored up the memories of every minute that she could spend with him. She had quickly sensed his kindness and gentle strength but it was the way that he made her feel so feminine that had really caught her heart and he was already more important to her than anyone she had ever known.
Hoss didn’t want to push; unsure of her feelings and never free from doubts as to his own attractiveness to women, knowing he had none of the good looks and elegance his brothers possessed in abundance. He avoided the subject with Adam but despite Joe’s return the following day; Hoss hesitantly suggested he stay where he was for another couple of days. He didn’t want to go home and wasn’t well enough to do more than sit around but he wasn’t really ill either. He was torn, not wanting his family to be worried that he was staying because really he felt much worse than he was admitting. Adam knew Hoss well enough to realise his brother’s predicament and he took pity on him. As they were about to leave, Carole had already gone out, Adam turned and went back to the bed. “I’m not sure what you’re up to you big moose, your business and I won’t pry, but I will stop Pa worrying. You just rest and recover and if you can enjoy yourself as well....” Adam gave his brother a roguish grin and winked before heading after his wife. Hoss relaxed back against the pillow knowing that Adam would keep his word and much relieved.

Sue had to bring in his dinner and he was so flatteringly pleased to see her that she realised that although she might feel very plain compared to his sister-in-law, Hoss didn’t care. She didn’t need much encouragement to return and spend the evening with him once she’d finished work.

The next day Adam spent ten minutes reassuring Ben that Hoss was recovering fine and quite fit enough to come home if he wanted to. He passed on what little he had managed to glean from Carole and Ben, who had almost given up hope of Hoss settling down, wasn’t about to put any obstacles in his big son’s way. Adam rode into town on the buckboard to collect his youngest brother, quietly amused by his father’s reaction. Arriving in town with plenty of time to spare, he dropped by to see Hoss, promising to come back with Joe to see him before they returned home.
The Doc wanted to change Hoss’ bandages and with expert help on hand from Sister Cecily threw Adam out, still with half hour to kill before he could expect to see the stage. He was just about to head down to the Palace for a beer and the latest gossip when he saw Sue approaching him. Adam had no difficulty in recognising her, there couldn’t be two tall redheads and he smiled, “You must be the nurse from Ireland my brother was talking about. I’m Adam Cartwright.”

She was scared but didn’t know how to get away as Adam was unable to hide the frank curiosity in his eyes. She was rather more attractive than he had expected from Carole’s comments, knowing that his wife tended to be kind rather than accurate. Not beautiful but there was character in her face and although she was definitely very feminine. Tall himself she didn’t strike him as overly large, as she did many men. Sue mumbled something about Hoss being much better and Adam seeing the fear in her eyes stepped aside, puzzled why he had that effect on her.
He soon forgot about it as he went to meet the stage, wondering how fit his youngest brother was and how successful his trip to San Francisco had been, both on business and on a personal level.

Joe had had plenty of time to think on the long journey home and most of the time he was thinking about Nita. He knew now that she was as important to him as Marie had been before their marriage. He was in love with her and if she could fit in with his life here in Nevada, he would ask nothing better than to marry her. He was sure too that in this step he would have Marie's blessing, that his beloved wife would like Nita. In some strange way Nita who had so much, was very like Marie. She was lonely and unhappy and Joe wanted to take her away from her current life, protect her and make her a life, which meant something. Banish forever the cynical bitch that he’d first met. As he got closer to home Joe remembered that he had committed his brother and Carole to a houseguest that they didn’t even know for Christmas. Feeling vaguely uneasy Joe couldn’t wait to tell Adam, get his brother’s confirmation that he didn’t mind.

The final stage of the journey by stagecoach from Reno seemed to take forever and Joe was very relieved when they finally pulled into Virginia City. The coach had been crowded and his leg was aching from the lack of opportunity to stretch it. He was pleased to see his brother’s tall figure lounging against the wall by the stage depot. His father’s brief letters had kept him reasonably up to date and he knew what a hard drive Adam had had, but after several days at home his brother showed no sign of it, looking fit and relaxed. Adam helped his brother down, noticing with some concern that Joe was still limping but he didn’t comment just collecting Joe’s baggage and putting it in the buckboard. “Bet you’re dry, let’s go have a beer before lunch.”

Joe nodded and led the way over to the Bucket O’Blood wanting to talk to Adam and not be interrupted by Dan or any other friends, as was too likely in the Palace. Adam was pleased to see him move more easily as he stretched his leg. Over a beer Joe outlined his success on all the business he had been entrusted with and he revelled in his elder brother’s praise but he suggested that they leave the details until they got home so he wouldn’t have to go over it twice for Pa. Then he sat turning his glass staring into it; suddenly it wasn’t so easy to tell Adam, although it had seemed very logical at the time. Joe was still sure that Adam wouldn’t mind but there was Carole and....

Adam sat watching his brother for a few minutes, accurately reading the changing emotions on Joe’s face and then taking pity on him, he said, “Spit it out Joe. I promise I won’t bite. I’m in a very mellow mood so you probably won’t get a better chance.”

Joe looked up in surprise and seeing Adam’s grin he couldn’t help but smile. “You know me too well! Okay I’ve sort of committed you to an extra houseguest at Christmas. I couldn’t write, it was sort of spur of the minute, I really didn't mean to do it.”
Adam drank his beer, savouring his brother’s guilty little boy look, which he hadn’t seen in quite a while. Joe’s explanation left a lot to be desired but it was fairly clear to his brother. Just to be sure Adam asked, “I take it you mean Nita and I presume you conned Will and Laura into escorting her?”

“They were pleased to do it she’s very good with the twins.” Joe hesitated, “Do you mind Adam? And Carole? I mean she’s not even met.... I’m sorry I should have asked but Leland Stanford sort of gave me the chance and I jumped in.”

Adam grinned broadly “Of course we don’t mind!” He punched his brother lightly on the shoulder. “Delighted to have the opportunity to get to know her and anyway the more the merrier. I presume you found her like her letters?”

“We’ve got to know each other now, but she must see what it’s like here. This way it’s just a visit to friends she’s not committed. If she hates it or I found that she couldn’t fit in noone is hurt, no reason for gossip. I promised that you would write and invite her.”

"You know that you are very welcome Joe, of course I’ll write. Suppose she loves it here?”

Adam wasn’t sure he should have asked, but he got his answer in the way his brother’s expression softened. He looked as he had so often with Marie, as though he was looking into the future and finding it good. Very quietly Joe said, “If she does and I pray she will, noone will be happier than me.”

Adam knew in that moment that this girl, whom he’d once described as a poor little rich girl, had as much of a hold on his brother’s heart as Marie. Equally as unlikely as a saloon girl, although totally different and Adam was sure that just as with Marie there would be a lot more below the surface facade that he’d seen. He prayed too that she would fit in, because despite Joe’s comment about noone getting hurt, Adam was sure that his brother was already too involved to just walk away if she couldn’t.

Thinking of Joe courting again brought his mind back to Hoss and he told Joe of their brother’s accident a few days earlier. Joe forgot Nita instantly, anxious about Hoss and when he heard that Hoss was still in the Sisters of Mercy Hospital and that they were going to see him, the alarm flared. Adam had been careful to emphasise that it wasn’t serious but with Hoss staying in hospital so long, Joe found it difficult to believe. “There must be more than you’ve said or he’d be home. What’s wrong?”

Adam grinned, “Calm down Joe, I told you the truth, there’s more alright but it’s nothing wrong. Hoss could have come home days ago but he doesn’t want to.”

“I don’t understand,”

“You are not to tease him. Our big brother, unless I very much miss my guess, is doing what you have been doing, courting.”

“But they are nuns!” Joe looked at Adam as though he’d lost his senses.
Adam grinned, “Not all of them. Carole saw this nurse in with Hoss and I saw her today. She’s not a nun and has no intention of becoming one. Irish, trained as a nurse in London. That’s all Hoss has said, I don’t even know her name.”

“Then why do you think that he’s courting?”

“You’re not the only one that can, you know.”

Joe glared at him “I know that! But Hoss?”

“He’s staying put so there has to be a reason. Add to that, the day he had his accident, he was three quarters asleep but he was babbling about angels of mercy having red-hair. She’s a red head, very attractive, although almost as big as you are. Finally add that when I spoke to her today she was petrified and nearly fled. I’m not sure why but if it is just nurse-patient, there’s no reason. After all Marie was scared of me before she met me, maybe Hoss has been building me up into some sort of saint or genius.”

“Mmm.” Joe commented, but he had to admit that Adam made out a good case and his brother knew them all very well and was usually right. Adam went on to warn his brother, “Don’t you mention it to Hoss. Let him talk when he’s good and ready. I just wanted to explain that there isn’t anything to worry about.”

On that point the brothers headed for lunch and despite Joe’s insistent questions Adam could only add a more detailed description of the girl and their brother’s behaviour, because that was all he knew.

Hoss was delighted to see his little brother and once he had been reassured that Joe’s leg was virtually better he was content to sit and chat. Now that Joe was home and he was so much better, he really had no excuse to stay at the hospital and vaguely suggested going home the following day. To his delight, which he couldn’t quite hide, Adam claimed that they would be too busy to collect him and he’d better stay one more day. Hoss’ reaction confirmed to Joe that Adam was right, but he behaved himself and didn’t tease.

Adam said, “Carole is planning a small party with all of us home, just thirty or so, maybe on Saturday. Do you think you’ll feel up to it Hoss?”

Hoss nodded slowly, wondering if Sue would be free to come and indeed if she would want to.

Adam went on “We though we’d ask Sister Cecily, she could come out with Beth and Dan. A sort of thank you for looking after you. Are there any other nurses that you’d like to ask?”

Hoss hesitated but Adam wouldn’t meet his eye. “No matter, think about it and feel free to invite whoever you like. Just as long as you let us know for numbers.” Then he changed the subject “By the way I met Roy while I was waiting for the stage. There’s been another payroll robbery, Same procedure as the earlier ones, two men killed, no witnesses. Roy thinks that gang who faded out may have returned.”

Hoss looked worried, “You two go careful on the way home.”

“We’ll keep a wary eye, don’t worry.”

Hoss frowned “With the way you can get into trouble on your own, with the pair of you...” he shook his head.

Joe punched him lightly “We didn’t try taking on the combined Indian nations and who is it who makes a habit of falling off buckboards?”

Hoss grunted, “That ain’t fair little brother.”

“No, but it is true.”

Adam pulled Joe to his feet, “Come on time I got you home. Stop baiting him. We’ll be by, day after tomorrow, to take you home. I’m sure you can manage without us for one day. Don’t forget party at my place on Saturday.”

Hoss grinned as they left, sure his brothers knew exactly why he was staying put, but they were co-operating in not forcing him to talk. He was nervous, unsure that Sue would come to the party, although she had indirectly agreed to come and see the ranch. He couldn’t wait for her to come in but when she did she was too busy and he had to wait until she was off duty. Eventually she came back to spend the evening with him and Hoss soon got to the point. “My little brother got home today. The season’s work is just about done and so we’re gonna have a small party to celebrate. Just thirty or so at my brother’s place. Would you come with me?”

Sue flushed hotly, knowing it made her plainer than ever, but she couldn’t help it. “I don’t know.”

“Sister Cecily is coming. Sorta thank you for looking after me. You could come out with her and Beth Kelly. Dan will bring you/”


“Dan de Quille, our reporter on the Enterprise. He’s a good friend and he won’t get lost. He sorta uses the Ponderosa as a second home.”

“I’m not sure.”

Hoss took her hand “Please Sue. I want you to see my ranch, meet my family.”

“I wouldn’t fit in.”

“You’d be surprised. Just be yourself and you’ll fit in just fine. They ain’t that frightening.”

Sue wasn’t at all sure about that but eventually she gave in and promised Hoss that she would come. Hoss relaxed once he had her word and soon had her giggling, he was in such a daft mood.

The next day, realising that she was nervous about Adam, Hoss tried to undo the damage. He told her how his brother had pulled him out of a trap when he’d first been injured and managed to negotiate a truce with the Indians. Sue found herself admiring the tall dark haired man she had met even more and realised why Hoss though so much of him, but apart from that it didn’t work as she was even more nervous at facing him.

At the ranch Joe had passed over the final contracts for the pipe and lumber for the railway and then spent several hours explaining how the negotiations had gone. Ben and Adam were both very pleased, their trust in Joe had been fully justified and with those jobs completed the summer’s work was just about finished. Over dinner Joe relaxed basking in their approval and he told them about Nita. A little of the things that they had said and done, the way she had changed and Leland Stanford’s disapproval but support for her visit. It was the first time that he had spoken about her at any length and his feelings were very evident. Ben walked out with Adam as he was heading home, “You met her. What did you think?”

“I barely noticed her Pa. I was starting a cold and just wasn’t in the mood to be sociable. She’s very lovely, about Carole’s build but very blonde. It was just polite small talk and really she didn’t make any impression on me. I think she means as much to him as Marie did.”

Ben sighed heavily “I know, I just hope that she likes it here and it works out. He’s been hurt enough.”

Adam gripped his father’s arm “Easy Pa. There’s no guarantees in love. Joe made an excellent choice first time, trust him again. If things do go wrong we can only be around to help. At least it proves he’s finally recovered from Marie’s death.”

“Two and a half years and yet sometime I still turn round and expect to see her.”

“I know. None of us will ever forget her but she’d be the first to want Joe to find new happiness.” Adam swung up on Blackie “You may still get that trio Dan talked of brunette, blonde and redhead.”

“You just look after the first one, your brothers will go their own way.”

“I know. I’ll pick up Hoss in the morning bring him home, he’s just about run out of excuses. Then maybe on Saturday we can satisfy our curiosity.”

The next morning Hoss was waiting for his brother. He had thanked all the nuns and paid the bills. He had Sue’s word to come out on Saturday with sister Cecily and all of a sudden he was eager to get home. Adam was there by nine but even so Hoss growled at him “You’re late.”
Adam didn’t bother to answer, just collecting his brother’s meagre luggage and then helping Hoss up onto the buckboard. “Everything sorted out and paid for?”

“Yeah, you got business in town?”

“No. Straight home.” Adam suited the action to the word and began edging through the traffic.

Hoss was quiet at first but once they were clear of town he said, “I.. eh ..I did invite one nurse.”

Adam couldn’t resist “A redhead?”

“Carole told you?”

“No I told her before that. You were on about red headed angels of mercy! I saw her, she’s very attractive.”

“She don’t think so.”

“You obviously do!”

“I think she’s beautiful but she don’t believe me.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sue-Ellen Riley. Good old Irish name, she has the accent too.”

“Very soft, Not that she would talk to me, ran away as though I was an ogre!”

“What did you think?” Hoss asked anxiously

Adam laughed “Do you care?”

“She matters. I don’t know why, so fast.... I think she likes me too.”

“Stop underrating yourself big brother. Why shouldn’t she?”

“I ain’t good looking like you and Joe.”

“So we’re lucky, but a large proportion of the human race isn’t and luckily that’s never stopped anyone falling in love, She’s a big woman and she need a big man. Never any guarantees Hoss but why not push on, see where it takes you. I think it could be well worth while.” After that Adam refused to say anymore and Hoss was soon sunk in reverie. His brother was right, this time he would push on. He wasn’t hanging around while someone else slipped in.

At home Hoss was reticent but he did tell his father and Joe a little about Sue, with no real choice, as they would be meeting her on Saturday. They respected his obvious disinclination to talk and waited until Saturday, Ben with rather more patience than his youngest son.
Sue-Ellen was getting more and more nervous, wishing she hadn’t agreed to go. Only the presence of Sister Cecily made her stick to her promise. She told herself that she wasn’t attending the party as Hoss’ girl, just as his nurse. A thank you for looking after him along with the sister in charge of the hospital. She had heard about the Cartwrights and the Ponderosa but she didn’t realise how big the ranch was or how rich and powerful the family was. On the journey out with Beth and Dan she began to feel even worse. She was wearing her one evening dress, a very plain dark green that suited her colouring admirably but was a long way from new. It was very simple and unfashionable compared to the elaborate dresses she had seen round Virginia City and she felt awkward and plain. Then Sister Cecily began talking about this completely unnecessary act the Cartwrights had done so much for the hospital that any thanks were due the other way. For the first time Sue learnt just how much the Cartwrights paid for at the hospital and from Dan’s comments that they could easily afford it, she got some idea of their wealth. Beth tried to put the younger nurse at her ease, sensing her uncertainty but she only made matters worse. She asked Sue if she had been out to the Ponderosa before. Sue shook her head “I’m not even quite sure where it is.”

Beth laughed “You’re on it. Have been for twenty minutes and it stretches as far as you can see in every direction. How big is it now Dan?”

“You’ll have to ask Ben or Adam, I don’t know just how much Adam bought last spring but it must be well over a thousand square miles.”

Sue’s eyes opened wide as she stared round her in near panic. This was so much more than she’d ever dreamt of. Beth was still talking “We’re going to Adam’s house. The main ranch house is about half a mile away, that’s a long log built house. It’s spectacular but Adam’s is even more so. He designed it himself. He’s an architect as well as an engineer and now a lawyer and the house is gorgeous.”

Dan commented, “He virtually designed the main house too. I can remember Ben saying that he’d let Adam have it as he wanted, even at twelve he had an instinctive feel for line.”

Sue swallowed hard “I don’t know him but Hoss obviously thinks very highly of his brother.”

Beth turned and patted her arm, “Don’t sound so worried, I’ll admit Adam can sound frightening but he’s very easy to get on with and I know that both he and his father are very grateful for the care you all gave Hoss.”

Even so Sue got down from the buggy wanting only to turn tail and run. The house so different from what she was used to made her feel even worse. Dan had helped her down from the buggy but she was as tall as he was and much bigger than the skinny reporter so she felt huge and ugly, quite incapable of meeting people, most of whom she didn’t know.

Ben had insisted Hoss took it easy, unsure that his big son was really well enough for a party. Hoss was sitting by the fire with his niece on his lap while the twins played around his feet, so that he could feel he was being useful as his family were busily completing the arrangements. As usual Dan was the first to arrive and by the time he had helped the three ladies down Ben and Adam had both come out to welcome them. Adam had Red and Hank over to take care of the horses and leaving them to cope and his father to greet Beth and Sister Cecily, he went over to the scared redhead. He smiled at her “I’m so glad you could come Miss Riley, my brother said that he had persuaded you.”

She licked her lips; “It was good of you to ask us.”

Adam took her arm and she was relieved to find she had to look up to him. “Hoss is inside keeping my children quiet. Come and meet my wife Carole and my youngest brother Joe. Carole did see you at the hospital I believe.”

“Yes Mr Cartwright. She is very lovely.”

“I think so but then I’m biased, The name is Adam or it starts getting very confusing with four Mr Cartwrights. May I call you Sue-Ellen, it’s a lovely name.”
Sue nodded, relaxing slightly; he wasn’t at all what she had expected. Adam took her over to the fire and took her cloak and as Hoss looked tongue-tied he said, “These three menaces are mine, Marie is the good one. This is David and the curly headed one is Mark.” He couldn’t hide the thread of pride in his voice as he looked down at the children and Sue smiled at him “They are lovely children, you must be very proud.”

Before Adam could answer, David, who had got up on his favourite Uncle’s lap, stood up precariously reaching for Sue’s hair, where it curled down in natural ringlets onto her shoulder, and announced in a very serious tone, “The lady has pretty hair.”

The brothers both laughed and Adam, picked up his son before he could fall, “Out of the mouths of babes! Yes David she does have very beautiful hair but that’s not quite the way to say it.”
With David on his hip Adam turned to Sue “I have to agree with my son though, very pretty and the colour of your dress goes superbly. It ought to be against the law, hiding yourself away in a nurse’s uniform. Can I offer you a drink, sherry, punch, wine?”

“A sherry please,” she said greatly daring and Adam called to Joe “Take this for me.” handing Joe her cloak. Joe smiled at her “Unpaid labour that’s all I am round here. He doesn’t even bother to introduce me, I’m Joe Cartwright.”

Hoss got to his feet considering that his brothers had said quite enough. “Joe this is Sue-Ellen Riley. Sue my little brother Joe. Adam if you’ll take your daughter, I’ll get Sue that drink.”

Adam smiled “I wondered when you were going to wake up.” But he did as he was told and took Marie. With her in one arm and his sons hanging onto his coat he went to greet new arrivals.

Hoss took Sue into his brother’s study and poured her a drink and got himself one. She was immensely taken by the room and the painting of the lake. Hoss explained that it was a view over Lake Tahoe, which was almost as beautiful as the real view and promised to take her up to see it. He moved closer to her and greatly daring put his right arm round her shoulders, but Sue just relaxed. It was an odd but very pleasurable feeling to find her head resting on a man’s shoulders and all the Cartwrights were so friendly that she had completely lost her panic. Even Joe was as tall as she was and for once she didn’t feel ungainly or out of place. Carole was wearing a white gown as simple as her own and she had seen the clear admiration in Adam’s eyes as well as Hoss’.

Ben had seen his big son lead her off and wanting to meet her he followed. As both seemed to be lost in thought, he gently tapped on the door. Hoss didn’t move his arm, just turning her slightly “Oh good Pa. I’d like you to meet Sue. I told you about her.”

Ben came over smiling and took her hand, “Delighted to meet you Sue. Thank you for keeping him under control. He’s usually a very bad patient.”

Hoss protested, but Ben ignored him asking Sue what she thought of Virginia City and telling her that she must get Hoss to show her some of the lovelier parts of the ranch. Sue found him very easy to talk to and when Carole came over to join them, the twins came too so it was impossible to feel awkward. It wasn’t until they were sitting down to dinner where she was placed next to Hoss that she realised that all the Cartwrights had taken it for granted she was there as Hoss’ girl and even more surprisingly all of them seemed to welcome it.
Having relaxed Sue thoroughly enjoyed the party. Hoss wasn’t up to dancing but Adam, Joe and even their father all insisted and for once she wasn’t towering over her partner and could enjoy herself. The second time she danced with Joe it began to pull at his leg, he'd been doing too much all day. Seeing a flicker of pain she remembered what Hoss had said and asked, “Should you be dancing? You hurt your leg?”

Joe smiled “If you don’t mind, it is getting a mite sore.”

“Of course not.”

“Come outside for a minute, Hoss is busy with Sister Cecily. I’d like some air, it’s getting very hot in here.”

“You must have your own friends, you don’t have to...”

Joe interrupted “I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t want to Sue. Do you mind if I call you Sue?”

She shook her head. Joe went on “My girl is in San Francisco, I hope she’ll come and visit at Christmas. She’s never seen all this.” He gestured at the mountains and trees. “Its the first time you’ve been to the Ponderosa too what do you think of it?”

“I’ve never seen anything more beautiful. This house is superb your brother is very clever.”

Joe smiled, “Yeah we’re all rather proud of Adam. He designed my wife and I a house once. It was totally unlike this, but equally lovely, or it would have been if it had been built.”

Sue frowned, “Your wife?”

Joe smiled reassuringly at her “It’s okay. No reason you should know. She died in childbirth, two and a half years ago. Adam’s daughter is named after her Marie.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Long time, the pain fades. I still love her but life goes on, She was very tiny, not really big enough for children and she had years of neglect, hard work in saloons. She just wasn’t strong enough physically, She was mentally very strong, a very special person we all loved her, not just me. That’s why Carole wanted her daughter to be called Marie.”

“You are a very close family.”

“We’re lucky. When she died they kept me sane. Hoss and I worked up in the hills, just the two of us, for weeks. He was marvellous, he got the patience the rest of us missed out on. I couldn’t have faced anyone else then.”

“He’s very gentle and very kind.”

“Well I’m biased but I don’t know any nicer person than that big galoot even if he is my brother! Come on it’s getting chilly, have you tried Hop Sing’s punch, just right to warm us up.”
Sue let him take her hand and went in with him, moved by the very obvious affection between the brothers. The evening flew past and all too soon it was time to go, Hoss knew that she had a day off on Thursday and asked to see her. Sue hesitated unsure that he was well enough for the long ride to town but then nodded “Provided you feel well enough. If not don’t worry I won’t be offended.”

“I’ll be there.” Hoss said confidently and then very daring he kissed her gently on the lips before leading her out to join Sister Cecily. Even for that brief moment he had felt her respond and although very tired he was happy and content.

The next day over lunch, Carole and Adam had joined the others and they were discussing the party. Hoss asked what they thought of Sue and Ben was the first to answer, “She’s remarkably feminine and pretty for such a large woman. Plenty of character in that face. I think she would be a handful. I wonder if she has the temper to go with that red hair?”

Joe laughed “Women don’t have to be large to be a handful. I never could win an argument with Marie!”

Adam looked sideways at Carole “I have my problems too. I liked Sue, hope we’ll see more of her Hoss. The twins were greatly taken, kept on about the kind lady with red hair this morning. What were you and she doing, feeding them goodies?”

Hoss wouldn’t answer but he was pleased at his family’s reaction, he had wanted them to like her, they were all so important to him. “She’ll be coming out on Thursday, I thought I’d take her up to the Lake, come back here for dinner.”

Ben looked up, it was the first he’d heard of it. “You are not going all the way to town and back twice.”

“I’m fine Pa.” Hoss protested, In fact the long rest had made him feel better than he had since he was first injured, despite breaking open the wound.

“If it was just one journey I’d agree but it’s too far. See her in town just for a week or so.”
Hoss looked stubborn and Ben glared at his son. Adam said, “There’s an easy way out Hoss. I have to go to town on Wednesday, some legal work for the pipeline, and I’ll probably be tied up until late anyway. I’ll take the buckboard in, stay over night and bring Sue out to join you here. Then you’ll have the day together and Pa won’t object to the one journey to take Sue home.”

Hoss looked over at Carole but she smiled, “He said this morning that he would probably stop over. Jim Fair has a problem at the California as well and you know what that means.”
Hoss nodded “Thanks Adam.”

“My pleasure big brother.”

On the Thursday Adam spent a while talking to Roy before he headed over to the boarding house where Sue lived. Roy was worried, there had been another raid, noone killed this time but one man was badly hurt and there were still no leads. Adam promised to have another sweep around his own land and warn all the hands but otherwise there was little he could do to help. He was deep in thought and very sombre as he tied the buckboard up and went into the boarding house, He hadn’t set out to get stores but as he had the wagon both Carole and Ben had thought of a few things and by the time Hop Sing and Kam Su had added their requirements he had quite a load.

Sue was ready and waiting, very smart in new riding gear, which she had just bought, the severe simplicity suiting her admirably. When she saw Adam her face fell, although she did her best to hide it, but she had told Hoss not to worry if he didn’t feel up to it.

Adam grinned at that, pleased to see how disappointed she was. “Good morning Sue, I am well aware that I am a poor substitute but as I was in town this morning anyway I am standing in for my brother. Pa didn’t want him overdoing things by making two journeys to town in the one day, so I offered to escort you out to the ranch. Hoss wasn’t particularly pleased but Pa still tends to get his own way. The buckboard is downstairs.”

As she realised that she wasn’t going to be disappointed, she relaxed and tried to thank Adam. He shrugged it off; he’d had to stay in town anyway. Adam admired her new outfit and asked her how good a rider she was. It was the one sport that she adored, in the saddle she’d never felt ungainly and her enthusiasm sounded in her voice. Adam smiled “Well I don’t know if Hoss has a horse picked out for you, but if he hasn’t I have a very nicely gaited chestnut mare I think you might like. She deserves more attention than I give her.”

“Why? Has she got a name?”

“That’s what I mean, I’ve never bothered. I bought her in exchange for a roan I had ridden hard when I wanted to get home in a hurry once. Kept her because she’s a fine horse but it was only a few weeks after I’d had to shoot Sport. He had been my main horse for years but he broke a leg. For a while I couldn’t get involved with any other horse and she came at just the wrong time. Now I have a very fine black stallion, originally called Blackie, and she still gets little attention. My cousin’s wife rides her when she is here and I do occasionally as a second string but not enough. Maybe you could give her a name.”

“You are so very kind and yet you hardly know me.”

“Let’s say I trust my brother’s judgement and I like what I see.”

Almost in spite of herself, Sue protested “But I’m so big.”

Adam grinned “So is Hoss, come to that none of us are small. Hoss’ heart is as big as he is, all I ask is that you don’t break it and somehow I don’t think you will. I’d guess the same could be said of you Nurse Riley. My children liked you at once and they don’t take to everyone.”
She blushed hotly but Adam just ignored it, pointing out the various landmarks around the ranch.

Very soon they arrived and for the first time she saw the main house with all the barns, bunkhouses, cook shack and corrals. It was enormous and she went very quiet as she saw the further proof of this family’s position, but then Hoss was there helping her down and over coffee she forgot her qualms. Adam unloaded the stores destined for the main house and then wandered in “Hoss, Have you got a horse in mind for Sue?”

“Hadn’t thought.” Hoss sighed heavily “I should have.”
Adam grinned “No matter. I’ll bring that chestnut mare over in about ten minutes, Sue has promised to name her for me.”

When he got back with the mare, Sue made a fuss of it with obvious delight, “She looks just like Sheba, the mare I had back home in Ireland.”

Adam and Hoss smiled and Adam commented, “That’s a nice name Sheba.”

“Would you mind Adam.”

“I told you the choice was yours. I like it; Hoss can arrange stabling later. Enjoy yourselves.” Then Adam turned and rode home. Sue watched him leave and moved closer to Hoss “He’s so different from what I expected. I like your brother.”

“Good so do I. Come on let’s go for a ride.” Hoss led the way up to the Lake and for several minutes she just sat staring at the beautiful scenery. Then she noticed the graves, five of them each with a stone marker. She didn’t like to ask but Hoss saw the question in her eyes, “Come and sit down. Five graves six bodies.” He gestured at two of them “Those two were close friends of Adam’s. Ross was his best friend but he was ill, mentally ill, and he killed his wife. Adam tried to avoid it, took a bullet but he had to kill Ross. Maybe the best thing even if he’d recovered he’d never have lived with killing Delphine. We buried them up here quietly, away from the gossip. Adam took it very hard, still blames himself. The next one is by far the oldest, Joe’s mother is buried there."

“Joe’s mother?”

Hoss put his arm round her “We’re all half brothers, Pa married three times. Adam’s ma died having him and mine in an Indian raid on the way west when I was just a few weeks. I only just remember Joe’s mother, he was only four when she died in a riding accident.”

“Your father has known tragedy.”

“And joy, we all have, The next is another Marie. Joe’s ma was Marie.”

“His wife. Joe told me that she died in childbirth too.” Hoss was slightly surprised but he nodded, “And the baby it only lived for an hour, a badly deformed leg. We all loved Marie and for a while I doubted Joe would ever really recover. It took more’n a year fore he really laughed again. Adam took him over to Europe with Carole and the twins and the break helped, I know he still loves her but now I reckon he’s found someone else. I sure hope so and I know Marie would, she was a very loving little lady. A very special person and the love between her and my little brother was real special, it changed him, he sure matured. Even when she’d died somehow she was still there helping him, guess she still is in many ways.”

“You did love her like Joe said and your brother and his wife must have done to call their daughter after her.”

“She’d never had a real chance in life and yet she was gentle, kind and loving and very beautiful.”

“The fifth stone hasn’t got a grave.” Commented Sue.

Hoss frowned “It has but a tiny one, an unborn baby, deformed it near cost Carole her life.” He outlined Adam and Joe’s fight for Carole and David on the boat and the belated victim. His expressive face showing all too many memories as he described the long ride home from the back country to Carole’s bedside and the fight to save her, finishing with his own ride up here with his brothers to bury the tiny unborn child. Sue liked Adam and she found tears in her eyes as Hoss finished. Hoss pulled her close to him and wiped them gently “They are fine. Carole recovered and they have a beautiful daughter to help them forget."

She smiled and Hoss couldn’t help himself and kissed he gently at first and then as her arms went round him, with true passion, carried away with a feeling for this girl unlike anything he had ever known before. The rest of the day was perfect and Hoss arranged to meet her the following week. Then he rode home in a state of complete contentment, not even noticing his tiredness.

Ben and Joe watched him go up to bed, not raiding the kitchen for food or even really noticing their presence and Joe whistled softly. “Adam was right Hoss is courting, I’ve never seen him look like that before.”

“Nice girl I just hope it works out for them.”

Joe giggled, “Any kids they have should keep Adam’s and mine in order.”

“I don’t see why.” said his father acidly, “Size difference has never helped Hoss deal with you."

The following day Adam brought over the invitation he had written to Nita so that Joe could have a look before he sent it off. Hoss was there too and Adam said “There’s still a bedroom free if you want me to ask Sue too, or are you asking her to come here?”

Hoss hadn’t thought that far but used to his brother he just grinned, “I’ll let you know,”

Joe was pleased with the invitation and offered to take it into town and post it straight away.

Adam signed it and passed it back, laughing at his brother “Getting it off a day earlier won’t bring Christmas any quicker Little Joe. Its still only October.”

As Joe rode out, Adam caught sight of his father looking very smug and burst out laughing. Ben frowned and Adam got to his feet “It’s alright Pa, I’m heading home I’ll leave you to anticipate your new role as patriarch.” He was out of the door before Ben could respond but as he sat back shaking his head at his eldest son, he had to admit Adam had read his mind. He rather enjoyed the prospect of all of his sons happily married and, with God’s blessing more grandchildren, the future looked very bright.