The Stranger

By: Michelle Denson

Chapter 1

Adam sighed contentedly as he looked over the large Ponderosa herd. It had been a long day checking the pastureland and the herd for signs of sickness and impending births. He wondered not for the first time that day what his brothers were up to. Probably no good he thought to himself. He took one last look at the herd and turned his horse for home. The sky was clear and large white clouds dotted the sky. The sun sat high in the sky sending down its hot rays to the already heated earth below. Adam swept his arm across his brow. "Sure is a hot one today boy" he announced as his hand gently patted the red stallion's powerful neck. Suddenly he pulled his horse to a halt causing him to prance nervously. Adam's eyes glared down to the riverbed. His brows furrowed he pressed his lips tightly in annoyance. He turned the steed's head in a new direction and kicked the horse into a gallop.

A black and white gelding stood lazily as his master filled the canteen. He watched as brown hair met with the cool wetness of the river and he licked his lips in envy. Slowly he made his way into the water and enjoyed the refreshment that it brought to his sore muscles. His master sat on the dry ground and watched with delight as the horse entertained himself. The sound of an approaching rider brought worry to the pair and quickly the gelding left the river to offer escape if his master decided to run. His nostrils flared at the sight of a large man on an equally large red stallion as they came to halt just yards in front of them. The pinto nervously pawed the ground as he looked behind him at his master still sitting on the ground.

Adam was perplexed by the pinto's behavior. However he was even more enraged by the lack of respect of his brother sitting by the river and acting as though he was not even there. He huffed himself into full height and swung easily down from his horse. Dressed in his normal black attire he looked like the devil coming from hell to claim a new soul. His deep scowl left a menacing air and his eyes gleamed of pent up anger. He stalked towards the boy with the intent of showing him the wrath for not doing his duties as a Cartwright. Yes Joe was still young but that boy was nearly twenty and should know by now that he has responsibilities to running this ranch just like everyone else. He stopped quickly as the pinto seemed enraged and started throwing his head and rearing up towards him as he got closer to Joe. Now what in the world is wrong with Cochise thought Adam. "If you think playing ignorant is going to keep you out of trouble you better think again." Adam watched as wet brown hair shimmered in the sun's rays and took a short breath when blue eyes meet his steely gaze. He was confused, he would have sworn that was his younger brother slacking off at work but it wasn't. This person was the same size as his little brother but except for that there was no similarity. It made sense now, no wonder Cochise was acting funny this obviously wasn't his brother's mare. Adam chuckled at himself when he realized his obvious mistake. I live and work on a farm, you'd think I could tell the sex of an animal by now, he mused to himself.

The pinto calmed immediately when his master came to his side. Quickly the stranger mounted and took off at a full gallop before being caught and more trouble met in their lives.

Dumbstruck at first Adam quickly sobered and took off after the stranger. He didn't have far to go as he watched the rider collapse from the horse's back to the dusty ground below. Quickly he was dismounted and assisting the rider. He pulled his canteen off the saddle and offered some water. "Easy now take it slowly" he encouraged. He could feel the heat radiating through the thick clothes and a raspy cough followed the small amount of cool water. "Well if you would have waited a minute I would have apologized I thought you were my little brother trying to escape a day's work again." He watched a soft smile reach the other's lips but fall quickly with a moan. "Did you hurt yourself when you fell?" Near panic filled the stranger's eyes as Adam started to check for any broken bones. "Aghhhh" the stranger moaned as Adam pressed on the rib cage. He pulled the shirt loose and did a thorough investigation much to the stranger's protests. "Well aren't we just full of surprises?" Adam smirked and rocked back on his feet. "I think you have some bruised ribs, maybe even some cracked." He smiled before he added in a long drawn out tone, "Ma'am"

The stranger giggled but ended up moaning to herself when the pain invaded her body once again. She attempted to sit up but only managed to fall back into a pair of strong arms. She finally relaxed and surrendered herself to exhaustion, passing out into the arms of her dark handsome stranger.

Adam rolled his eyes skyward. She just had to pass out now. Why couldn't she wait until she was mounted on the horse? No don't make it easy on me, make me lift you onto the horse. He sighed heavily as he lifted the young lady onto Sport's back. He mounted up behind her and smiled when her head rolled back into his chest. He gathered the pinto's reins and headed for home at a slow walk.

Chapter 2

Ben had just left the confines of his desk for a bit of fresh air. He missed being outside all day but the paperwork was just as important as ranch work. He smiled when he heard the sound of hoofbeats. Now which of my boys will that be, he wondered. Soon he found his heart in his throat as he saw Adam leading a familiar looking pinto and brown haired boy. "Adam, what happened?" Ben asked as he ran towards his son.

Adam couldn't help but smile at his father, at least he wasn't the only one to misidentify this stranger as Little Joe. "It's alright Pa, she's pretty sick and took a fall off her horse." He watched the perplexed look cross his father's face. "Looks a lot like Little Joe don't she Pa?" Adam chuckled to himself as he handed her down to his father.

"She sure does. Who is she?" Ben asked while his son dismounted and took the lady from his father.

Adam headed toward the house and answered his father with a shrug of his shoulder; "I don't know Pa."

Ben sent one of the hands for a doctor while Adam settled their new guest in the room downstairs. After a few hours Doc Martin came out of the guestroom from his examination of the girl.

"Doc how is she?" Ben asked in a concerned voice.

"She's pretty exhausted. Don't think she's eaten much in awhile. She only bruised her ribs. A few days rest and some good food she should be up and about. Her fever's not too high, most likely from exhaustion. Should it get any higher send for me right away."

"Thank you Doc. Can I go in and see her?" Adam asked even as he made his way to the room.

"Sure Adam, but not too long she needs to rest."

Ben saw the doctor out when Adam closed the door to the guestroom. He figured Adam could handle watching over their guest so he would take the opportunity to take a look at the new horses.

The girl was sitting up in bed when Adam entered. "How are you feeling?" he inquired.

"Fine" she replied curtly

"Really" he raised an eyebrow at her.

"Where am I?"

"You're at the Ponderosa ranch, ma'am."

"Oh, and who are you?"

"I'm Adam Cartwright and my father, Ben Cartwright, owns the Ponderosa. I have two other brothers, Hoss and Little Joe. Now that you know who I am, who are you?"

"Christina Summers"

"A pleasure to meet you Miss Summers." He dashed a brilliant smile her way.

"Christy" she said with a yawn.

"Pardon?"

"Call me Christy, but it doesn't matter I'll be leaving shortly."

Adam gave a small laugh; "Alright Christy, but you won't be leaving anytime soon. You need to rest and get some food into you."

"You don't understand" her eyelids slowly dropped over her crystal blue eyes.

"Shh, just sleep." Adam barely had his words out before he watched her sleep soundly. He sat there awhile watching her. She was young, he assumed probably Little Joe's age. She was quite attractive; the short brown hair he found was actually longer reaching below her shoulders. It was light and held a slight wave. She had beautiful feminine features and although she was slightly underweight she had a beautiful strong figure. He had noticed the outlines of her bosom when he found her earlier. Her skin was lightly tanned, not at all like the ladies in town that seemed like walking ghosts. It was her eyes though that he found so entrancing. He thought he could see clear to her soul. He felt a kinship to her mirrored eyes like his own. Sadness and strength played a battle in the blue sea. She was direct, a bit reserved and seemed to be stubborn. He knew as he sat there watching the young lady that a fire had started deep within himself. He was attracted and intrigued by this rare beauty. Adam stood and checked her forehead, she was still warm but the fever didn't seem to be getting and higher. He pulled the covers higher, "Sleep well Christy" he said as he closed the door to her room.

Chapter 3

Dusk had settled on the Ponderosa when Hoss and Joe made their way home. "A long day of mending fences sure does make a man work up an appetite!" Hoss announced while he patted his large middle.

Joe giggled, "Well Hoss ain't gonna be much left for you by the time I'm finished. I'm hungry enough to eat a horse!"

"Talking about horses, isn't that your pinto?" Hoss asked seriously.

Joe watched a young figure swing up on his pinto and take off out of the barn. "Hey that's my horse you thief!" he yelled as he scrambled off the buckboard and started chasing after the rider.

Adam having heard the commotion came running to find his brother also running out of the yard screaming about a thief. He came up to Hoss, whom was still seated in the buckboard in obvious shook. "Hoss, what's Joe screaming about. Some thief?"

"Uh well some lad just took off on his horse and he's running after them." Hoss said and made his way off the buckboard towards the barn.

Adam groaned loudly and placed a calming hand on his brother's broad shoulder. "It's not Joe's horse."

"Not my horse? What are you talking about Adam? I know my horse, ain't no one got one like her. Just what do you mean she ain't my horse?" Joe spat out after running back to the yard in order to get a horse and ride after the thief.

Adam raised his hands to stop the onslaught. "Joe that isn't your horse."

"Adam I think I know my horse when I see it; and while we're standing here jawing that thief is getting farther away."

Adam smirked, he knew he'd have to go after their guest but that could wait for a little ribbing to his brother. "Joe I assure you that is not your horse."

"What do you mean by that?" Joe spat out. How could his brother be so cruel when his beloved horse was just stolen from the safety of the barn?

"Like I said kid, that is not your horse." Adam finished and walked into the barn. A smile crossed his lips the minute his brother was not looking.

"Adam" Joe cried but could not finish when he saw his horse standing in her stall. "Adam?"

"Like I said kid, that is not your horse." Adam finished saddling Sport and left in pursuit of the wayward girl and the look-a-like gelding.

"Hoss?" Joe asked for he was thoroughly confused. "Didn't you see that rider take off on my horse?" He asked as he scratched his curly-topped head.

"Yeah, sure, but I don't get it. How could she be here and stolen at the same time?" He asked while he scrunched up his face in bewilderment.

It didn't take long for Adam to catch up with Christy. She didn't even make it far before her horse started walking back towards the ranch house. Christy was slumped forward in the saddle, lost in a land of darkness. Adam eased her into the saddle with him and headed home with his quarry. Fool girl is she trying to get herself killed? he thought to himself as they road home. When they reached the yard Joe and Hoss quickly came up to retrieve the horses while Adam carried his bounty back to her bed.

"Like I said Joe, that is not your horse." Adam laughed as he entered the house.

"Well I'll be little brother. This here horse and Cochise could be twins!" Hoss exclaimed.

"Yeah sure could, wonder if they could be?" Joe brightened at the thought that the best horse in the world could have a brother. Holy Toledo! A brother and you think you know horseflesh! Thinking this horse could be Cochise. Looks very close, but one obvious difference. This horse is not a mare!

After her latest escapade Adam kept watch over her during the night. He sat reading in the guestroom while the young lady slept soundly in the large bed. She sure is a wonder, he thought to himself. Wonder what's so important that she won't sit still long enough to get the rest she needs. He watched her for hours and didn't remember falling asleep, but he must have as he found himself fighting off the effects of a night's sleep with the scent of fresh coffee filtered into the room. His eyes quickly went to the bed and the young lady still nestled there. He rose quietly and stretched out the kinks in his back before making a quiet exit.

Chapter 4

"Good morning Adam, how is our guest this morning?" Ben was already seated at the table with a fresh cup of coffee extended from his hand to his oldest son.

"Thanks, she slept like a baby."

Ben watched his son, he could see that Adam was bothered and figured it was about the girl sleeping in the room next door. "What's wrong son?"

"I don't Pa. I just can't understand it. What would make such a pretty young lady so skittish? It's like she's afraid of her own shadow."

"Have you asked her?"

"No Pa, she hasn't been awake enough. Then when she is awake she tries to take off like the devil is after her."

"Well son, she must have her reasons. Maybe when she wakes up she'll feel like talking."

"I think I'll see if she's awake yet." Adam put his cup of coffee down and headed back into the room. "Not Again!"

Ben hearing his son's irritated bellow ran into the room, already guessing that their guest had flown the coop. He wasn't surprised to see the bed empty and both Adam and the girl gone. He shook his head and chuckled to himself before returning to his seat at the table. Adam would be back with the girl in a short time.

"Put me down! Put me down right now!"

"Alright!" Adam unceremoniously dropped the squirming girl onto her backside. He chuckled as he watched her rub her sore bottom. This lady seemed to cause many emotions to flow through him at one time. "Well you asked me to." He smirked at the scowl that crossed her face.

"Leave me alone. Just leave me be!"

Uh oh here come the tears Adam cringed. "Here let me help you up." Adam reached for her arm but she snubbed his move.

"I don't want, nor do I need your help!" She was quickly on her feet and stomping off in anger towards her horse.

"And where do you think your going?" Deafening silence was his answer. "Your in no condition to ride." He continued but he was met with the most stubborn creature he had ever met.

Christy smiled to herself, if she didn't need to get moving on, she would have loved sparring with this man. As it was she sobered herself, she had to get out of here and quickly. Nothing but heartache and pain followed her, she didn't think she could keep up her fight much longer. She sighed into her horse's soft fur and allowed a few tears to reach her eyes. How tired she was. Tired from running, tired of being frightened, and tired of the way things have turned out in her life. She felt the strong hand on her shoulder as it smoothly massaged her shoulder. Perhaps just one day's rest she could afford, just one day. She turned to the big man behind her and wrapped herself into him, letting the tears of pain wash through her. "I'm so tired. So tired."

Adam shushed her as his hand massaged her wracking shoulders. Not so stubborn after all he mused. Maybe she'll feel like talking now. He waited until her cries quieted and she seemed to gain control of her emotions. "Would it help to talk about it?" He escorted her over to the hay bales.

"I'm just tired." She sniffled and smiled at the offer of his handkerchief. She could see the doubting look in his eyes. A good honest man she thought, I shouldn't bring this trouble to such nice people.

Adam watched the uncertainty in her. He had to treat her like a skittish colt, small steps. He rose and offered his arm. "Perhaps later you would feel up to a talk. How about some breakfast?"

She smiled at him broadly. She was thankful to be given the reprieve. Yes, perhaps later she would confide in him. He couldn't help, no one could help, but it would be good to talk about it.

"That was wonderful Hop Sing, you are a delightful cook."

"Thank you Missy Summers. Hop Sing cook you special linner tonight." Hop Sing smiled at the young beauty. He loved when people complimented him on his culinary skills. Yes this lady would have the best dinner tonight.

"Well Pa, I'm gonna head out." Joe said as he rose from the table.

"Be careful Joseph and remember to come straight back from town."

"Yes sir." How many times would he have to be reminded that picking up the payroll meant no extra stops in town? "Bye Miss Summers, Pa, Hoss, Adam." He smiled at them, especially Hoss. Normally this would have been his chore, but Hoss drew the short match and he got the honor of shoeing the new horses.

"If you'll excuse me I think I will lie down for awhile." Christy stood from the table and made her way into the guestroom.

"Sure hope she stays put this time Pa." Adam gave a wary look to the closed door.

"I'm sure she will son. Now Hoss, about those horses."

"Yes sir, I'm headed out their right now."

"Hoss why don't you check the herd? I'll take care of shoeing. I'd like to stick close to home today."

Hoss couldn't help the smile that reached clear to his eyes. He smiled at Ben's nod of acceptance to the plan. "Wouldn't have anything to do with a certain young lady would it?" Hoss gave his brother a gap tooth grin and gooey eyes.

Ben laughed at Hoss' antics, while Adam preferred to roll his eyes heavenward at the teasing.

Chapter 5

Two men sat on the outskirts of town when they spotted a familiar pinto headed their direction. "Well what have we hear?" The shorter of the two scrunched up his rounded face. "Looks like we found her Jed." Jed the larger of the two smiled broadly. It had been a long chase after Christy. He could barely contain his excitement of the chase finally being over. In just a few moments they could make their way back home. Back where everyone belonged. "Come on Charlie we'll take her as she passes." Charlie was ever eager to please Jed. He idolized the man like a father and would do anything he asked of him. They hid behind some trees and waited for their trap to be set.

Adam had spent most of the morning fighting with the horses. With ten to do, he had managed to do half when lunchtime finally rolled around. He thought about just skipping his meal and finishing the job, but he was curious if their guest was awake and ready to talk with him about her problems. He smiled as he saw his large brother ride in. "Everything all right with the herd?"

"Sure is, just figured I'd eat lunch at home. How's those horses, thought you'd have had them finished already."

"Well let's just say both the horses and I had plans today, but neither of us seem to be getting our way."

Hoss laughed loudly to Adam's dry humor. "Joe back yet?"

"Not yet he should be here any minute."

"Sure hope he didn't dally in town, Pa'd be fit to be tied."

"You know Joe, he probably found some pretty young thing in town and forgot what he was supposed to be doing."

"Really and um, what about you? Did you forget what you was supposed to be doing?"

Here she comes Charlie, get behind her so she can't take off the other direction. Charlie sent a quick nod and set out to cover the rear. As the pinto reached the stand of trees Jed positioned his horse in the path. His brow furrowed in anger at the sight. That was not Christy but some boy. "What are you doing with that horse boy and where is Christy?"

It didn't take Joe long to figure out that the man in front of him was not the type of person to take kindly to anything but what he wanted. He wouldn't give him anything, especially the whereabouts of Christy. "This is my horse and if you'll kindly move yours out of my way I'll be on leaving."

Jed snorted with a mixture of amusement and disgust. "Boy you got about three seconds to give me some answers. Jed made a slight bend of his head. Before Joe could give a retort he found himself knocked off his horse. Jed quickly dismounted and grabbed the boy by the hair. Joe only momentarily stunned came up swinging. He felt his fist connect a few times before he went into the land of uncaring blackness. "Stupid kid." Jed spat as he kicked the unconscious boy off the road. "Jed" Charlie called. He was used to seeing the savage way Jed dealt with those that crossed him. "That ain't Christy's horse. This here's a mare." Jed cursed under his breath and took a sorrowed look at the boy he left beaten. "Damn kid. Come on Charlie let's head off towards the town for the night." Charlie looked hesitantly towards the beaten boy. "What about him?" Jed simply walked over to the pinto and gave her a hard slap on the hindquarters. "When the horse gets home alone, I's figure the boy's folks will come a looking for him." Charlie watched as Jed mounted his horse and headed off towards town. Inside he hoped they would never find Christy. She was a beautiful lady and he hated to see her bruised up like she had been so many times before. Jed was a great guy though; he just couldn't seem to control that temper. He shook his head at the beaten boy again before he headed after Jed.

Chapter 6

"Finally" Ben called as he rose to enter the front yard. He had given easy enough instructions to his son, or so he thought. Joseph should have been home hours ago, but as he looked out into the yard his heart seemed to stop beating. "Hoss, Adam, quick" That was all it took for the other two sons to join their father's side. Nothing could hide the worry each wore on their face.

"I'll get the horses Pa." Hoss offered as he took off towards the barn. Ben and Adam took off towards Cochise.

"Can't be too far Pa, Cochise isn't too sweaty." Adam didn't wait for his Pa to answer as he swung onto the pinto's back and headed in the direction of town. Adam's heart constricted at Joe's body lying face down on the road. "Joe" He called as he flew down from the horse's back to his brother's side. A lump formed in his throat as he turned Joe over fearing the worse. "Oh Joe" He almost half cried at the beaten boy he held in his arms. He knew he should get up and get the canteen, but his heart refused to let go of the boy. He sighed in relief as he heard the horses approaching. "Pa get the canteen." He cried without taking his eyes from his brother.

"Hoss get a wagon. Quick and send a hand to town for the doctor and sheriff." Hoss was already headed back towards the house before his Pa could finish the sentence.

"Joe, Joe buddy can you hear me?" Adam encouraged his brother back to consciousness. He smiled as he watched Joe fight to wake up. "That's it little buddy, come on Joe time to wake up."

"…ist…y" Joe croaked out.

"Here Joseph drink some of this. Easy take it slow." Ben helped Joe drink some of the water.

"…ty" Joe whispered as he fell back into the black void.

Adam and Ben cleaned Joe as much as they could before Hoss arrived back with the wagon.

Ben made his way down the stairs, feeling older then he truly was. He had just left Joe at the doctor's request that he get something to eat before he became the third patient of the household.

"How's Joe?" Hoss was quickly standing and waiting impatiently for the news on his little brother. He had a deep desire to go after the men responsible for near beating his little brother to death.

"He's resting. Doc says he'll be fine in time. He was beaten pretty badly and he has some busted and cracked ribs. He'll be laid up for awhile."

"Did he say who did it?" Adam's desire for restitution was equal if not greater than that of his brother's.

Ben's eyes trailed to the lady seated on the settee so quietly. He could see the fright in her eyes and her body shook slightly. "Said that the two guys mixed him up with someone else."

Christy didn't even try to the hide the tears that poured down her eyes. She knew she shouldn't have stayed here this long, she brought this trouble to these kind people and now that sweet boy was laying upstairs beaten badly for no reason. "Me"

Ben stood in front of her and nodded his head.

"I'm sorry I never wanted to bring my trouble here. Oh God I shouldn't have stayed. Maybe then Joe would be all right. Oh how could he do it." She cried to herself. Already she knew what she must do to stop all the violence Jed delivered to others because of her flight. She would go back with him, back to the violence that would never leave her alone. Only then would she be assured that no one else would ever be hurt because of her.

Adam had stood back listening. He now had his answer; she was running from these men. Was one her beau or perhaps even her husband? Did he beat her like he had Joe? He still had so many questions that needed answering.

Ben sat on the table in front of her and waited for her tears to quiet. "Would you like to tell us about it?"

Christy nodded and took a shaky breath. "Jed and Charlie have been following after me for a month now. Jed changed a few years ago after Mary died. He was a good man Mr. Cartwright, why did he change?" It was a question that held no answers.

"Who was Mary?" Adam encouraged

"Mary was my older sister. She and Jed were married and expecting their first child. He was a good husband to my sister and was like a father to me. Then Mary died in childbirth and the baby did not make it. He was strangled by the cord." Christy couldn't help the sobs that escaped her. "I had lived with them to help out my sister. After her death I stayed to help out Jed. He was angry at the world and would come home yelling at me about anything that went wrong. I remember the first time he hit me. I had gone out with my beau Josh to the dance and got home late. Jed hit me across the face." Christy touched her face; she could still feel the sting he had left on her. "I really don't remember what he had said to me I was so in shock of him raising his hand to me. I heard the next day that Josh had been beaten badly, I never saw him again after that dance. After that he seemed to always find an excuse to lash out at me. I tried to leave once before and only made it a short distance before he caught up to me. A few months ago I met a nice man named Jack that asked for my hand. I accepted the proposal but before we were to be married Jack was killed. I suspected that Jed was behind it but had no proof. I tried to talk to the sheriff but was beaten for it. That's when I made my decision to run. I made a terrible mistake by resting and now your son is lying up there beaten near to death because of me." Christy lost herself in tears. She felt the large arms that encompassed her and wept for the years of pain and sorrow she had felt.

"Shhh s'kay. You'll be safe here we won't let nothing happen to you." Ben crooned to the young woman.

Sheriff Coffee had sat back and listened to the young lady's tale. He now only needed to get a description of the two men and he'd have them locked up in his jail. "Miss Summer's can you give me a description of Jed and Charlie?"

Christy shook her head and whipped at the tears that fell from her eyes. "Jed's a big man sheriff, not as tall as Hoss though. His hair is brown and was shoulder length and straight last I saw him, and he usually wears a beard and moustache. He's got a scar on his right forearm; it's real noticeable. Charlie's shorter than Jed is, but he's got a bit of weight on him. His hair is also brown but he keeps it short and is usually shaven. Not really anything special I can note on Charlie, except that he looks to Jed with utter devotion. I wish I could help you more."

Adam had walked over and placed his hands on her shaking shoulders. She looked up and into his eyes, the thanks of gratitude and something more personal was conveyed in the stare. He smiled down reassuringly to this young beauty that he now felt a stronger connection to. He knew at that moment, he would die before he would ever allow Jed to hurt her again.

Hoss rode into town with the sheriff with hopes of finding the scoundrels responsible for his brother's condition and the young lady's fears. Ben walked the doctor out when he finished tending to Joe, then returned to his son's bedside leaving Adam and Christy alone downstairs.

"Adam are you sure Joe's going to be okay?" Christy looked towards him her eyes glistening with tears.

"He'll be alright. Joe's been in plenty of scraps and I'm certain he'll be in plenty more with his hot temper." He smiled reassuringly towards Christy. Yes she was just like a skittish colt; now that the initial acceptance of trust was created between them, breaking her in would be just routine work.

"I'm so sorry for all the trouble I brought to your lovely home." The floods were open and she gave way to the anguish in her heart. She felt herself pulled into Adam's strong embrace. At first she held strong against it, but soon found herself enveloped into his hold. She looked into his eyes as he swiped the last of her tears from her cheek. He was dashingly handsome and so caring. Melting, that's what she felt she was doing, melting into one with him as he tenderly kissed her forehead.

Adam saw the desire in her eyes for him and he slowly brought his lips to hers and tasted the sweetness of her lips. Gently at first and then he pressed into her with more fire. There was a growing fire between them and Adam tasted it with each passing moment in their locked embrace. Breathlessly they parted and Adam swore he was floating in heaven when he heard her soft call of his name. He again took possession of her mouth with renewed vigor. He knew if they kept this embrace for much longer, his control would be compromised.

She felt his fire and breathlessly pulled back, she felt herself falling for the man in front of her. Would things work out this time and she finally have the happiness she so long had waited for? Looking into the dark orbs she brushed her lips to his, lightly they touched and she brought up her index finger to shush any forthcoming words. Escape, yes she must escape this position before she became too weak in her convictions. This was not the time, nor the place for gentle flirtations. She smiled at his curious look as she walked back to the guestroom. One last look over her shoulder, "Goodnight Adam" she breathed huskily before she retired in her room.

Chapter 7

Adam lay awake in his room that evening working through his thoughts. He still had much to discuss with their beautiful guest, but when he was with her talking was the last thing on his mind. It seemed now each time he was within her presence that he could not hold onto any reasonable thought, except to holding onto Christy. Hoss hadn't returned from Virginia City last night, most likely stayed in town with Roy. Adam had checked on his little brother during the night. He found his father sleeping in the bedside chair and with a bit of encouragement sent him to bed and resumed his place at Joe's bedside.

"Adam. Adam, son wake up."

He heard his father's voice and jumped in alarm. "I must have dosed off Pa. What time is it?"

"It's morning. Why don't you get some breakfast while I sit with Joe." Ben quickly had his spot at Joe's bedside when Adam vacated the seat. He watched the eyelids flutter on the boy in the bed. Soon he was greeted with a pair of hazel eyes. He couldn't help notice the pain and fatigue etched in his youngest son's face. "Well good morning there. You sure gave us quite a scare young man."

"Morning Pa." Joe tried to smile, but only succeeded in a half grimace when he tried to change positions. "Don't think I'll be breaking any horses today Pa."

"No son, not for quite some time. You have some busted and cracked ribs, as well as a concussion." Ben could see the growing discomfort in the boy and moved to mix one of the powders Paul had left for him.

"I'll be alright Pa. I don't need any of that medicine." Joe knew he was lying, he hurt pretty badly and only wanted to save his father from more worry.

"Really?" Ben half laughed at the look on his son's face. It was a poor excuse for a Joe Cartwright smile. Ben didn't bother to try an argument with his stubborn son; instead he just helped the boy with his medicine. It didn't take long for Joe to feel the effects and Ben sighed when he saw his boy's body begin to relax. Gently he stroked Joe's curls from his forehead as he watched the boy give into much needed sleep.

Adam sat downstairs nursing his morning coffee. His attention was refocused when he heard a rider approach the house. Swiftly he was at the door and sighed in relief when he saw Hoss enter the barn. Adam made his way out to the yard to find out about the two men that he felt such a strong dislike for without every having met.

"Hey Adam, how's Little Joe?"

"Fine, slept like a baby. Pa's up with him. What happened in town?"

"Me and Roy got those two yahoos locked up in the jail. Roy said he needs ta have Miss Summer's come down to identify them."

"If she's up to it I'll take her to town this morning. Come on inside and have some breakfast. Hop Sing's making flapjacks."

Hoss didn't need a second invitation for that. Flapjack's was his favorite meal for breakfast.

"Are you sure you're up to this?" Adam asked for what seemed like the hundredth time she felt.

"Yes I just want this to be over with." She smiled as he helped her into the buggy. Their hands lingered a bit longer than what was socially acceptable. Shyly she drew her hand to her lap. It always amazed her that when she felt attracted to a man she became shy and giddy; however if she was just a friend, she felt just plan comfortable. She couldn't help but feel awed by the grandness of the Ponderosa. The land was just breath taking and she quickly had secured time with Adam to show her the beautiful country. It didn't take much convincing on either's part, both felt the need to be with one another.

The heads were turning in Virginia City when Adam drove the beauty down the crowded streets. Most of the ladies smiled Christy's direction, but she also saw quite a few frowns at what they considered the loss of a very eligible bachelor. The men however, all kept their eyes glued to the beautiful girl. Some of the more intoxicated miners even had the gall to walk towards the buggy, but Adam's protective presence nipped any would be hasslers away. Christy couldn't help but look longly at the dressmaker's shops. She hadn't worn anything that accentuated her figure in quite some time. She had been limited to clothing that would make traveling easier. She knew she would have to find some type of employment soon so as to earn enough money for living expenses. Other than tending home, she really had no other skills. All too soon she felt the buggy stop and was helped down by her escort. The breath caught in her throat, she couldn't believe that this would be the end of her torment.

Adam watched her hesitation and offered a gentle squeeze of support. "It'll be alright. I'll be right there with you the whole time." He watched her nod and after she said 'thank you' he brought her into the sheriff's office. "Good morning Roy. I brought Christy in to identify those two men you and Hoss picked up last night. Christy held tight to his arm as Roy walked them to the cells in the side room. She shook her head yes when Roy asked her if those were the two men.

Jed watched as the young women he had known like a daughter betrayed him to the law. At that moment he felt enraged beyond anything he had ever felt before. It didn't even feel like himself as he ran to the bars and tried to reach out and grab her. "I'll kill you for this you little ungrateful whelp. You'll regret the day you turned your back on me." Finding no other outlet he picked up the water barrel and slammed it against the iron bars. He continued to scream out his desire to kill her and anyone that helped her as the door to the cell room was closed. Charlie sat back quietly watching his idol. Never had he seen the ravage hate that filled him. For the first time he worried about his own safety. He gave silent thanks that he was locked in a separate cell. "I'll kill her Charlie, I swear I'll kill her with my own bare hands!"

"Are you alright Miss?" Roy asked worriedly. He could see the pale complexion that came across her when Jed informed her of his desire to take her life.

"Christy, are you okay?" Adam had felt her grip tighten on him as the man verbally accosted her.

"I'm alright. I'd like to leave here, please Adam." She felt weak and shaky after her encounter with Jed. She felt more worried now than she had before about her safety and that of her new friends.

"You go on ahead and take her home Adam. I'll come out later and get a statement from Little Joe. Well be able to get these boys to trial here right quick."

Adam tipped his hat and thanked the family friend. The ride home was very quiet. In fact besides the normal pleasantries Christy hadn't spoken a word. Christy returned to her room when the arrived back at the ranch house. She had felt worn out from the trip and experience of Jed's volatile anger. Adam watched her go into the house and sighed, as she seemed to have clamed up again, much like when she had first arrived. Later that day Roy had arrived to get a statement from Little Joe and let the family know the trial would be starting in two days.

Chapter 8

The next morning Hoss found his older brother readying his and Christy's horses. Adam had been quiet the night before and he figured something happened in town that had him worried.

"Hey Adam, ya taken Miss Christy for a ride around the ranch?" Hoss watched Adam nod his head and he sighed. He was hoping for some conversation and insight to what had happened yesterday to put him and Christy in such quiet moods. Let's try this again, he thought to himself before clearing his throat. "What happened in town yesterday?"

Why is it that when you don't want to talk someone always wants to strike a conversation, Adam questioned himself not for the first time in his life. "Christy had a rough go at it yesterday. Once this trials behind her, she'll be fine."

"And what about you?" Hoss continued. He had seen the way Adam looked at the girl. It didn't take a college degree to see his brother was falling in love, and by the looks of it falling fast.

"Me?"

"Yup, I see the way you been lookin at that gal."

"And what way is that?"

"You're not gonna deny you gots feelings for her now are ya?"

Adam groaned audibly, which was responded to by a bellowing laugh of his brother. "Hoss there's just nothing that gets passed you."

"Nope older brother, nothing." Hoss smiled smugly as he finally saw his brother start to lighten up. He still hadn't found out much of what went on in town, but he knew it had troubled Adam gravely. "Seriously Adam, what's got you in such a burr?"

"Just this Jed guy. Hoss I'll tell you he is one nasty fellow. Poor Christy was in shock when we left there. The man was like a rabid animal Hoss. He threatened to kill Christy and anyone that helped her."

Hoss shook his head in understanding. Any further discussion was curtailed as Christy arrived. "Good morning Hoss. Adam."

"Good morning Miss Christy. You and Adam here gonna take a ride around the Ponderosa?"

"Yes Hoss. Your brother kindly offered to show me your beautiful ranch. I even talked him into a picnic lunch." She smiled sweetly and added a little wink towards Hoss.

"Well in that case perhaps you'll be in need of an extra escort." Hoss grasped his belt in both hands as he rocked on his feet.

Adam quickly prevented the extra wheel from attending his plains for a romantic day. "Sorry younger brother, but Hop Sing only packed enough food for two."

"Perhaps another time Hoss." Christy smiled sweetly and allowed Adam to help her onto her horse, even though she was perfectly capable of getting on her own. "Thank you Adam." She smiled down to him and their hands lingered together for a few moments while her handed her the reins.

Hoss chuckled to himself at the puppy dog looks that passed between the two of them. "Now you two be good and remember to be home before dark."

Hoss' bellowing laugh followed them as they left the yard. Most of the morning Adam showed her around the beautiful pastureland and the vast herd of cattle that swarmed the grassland. The afternoon found them closer to beautiful Lake Tahoe, where they finally stopped for their picnic lunch. "So Miss Summers, tell me more about yourself." Adam began as he lay down on the checkered blanket. He watched her nervously place out some food, trying to postpone the answer. He watched her as she smiled wickedly towards him.

"And what is it sir that you would like to know?" Yes she thought she could have some fun sparring with this man. She watched his dark brows raise at the answer she replied.

Adam raised himself up on his elbow and smiled at her mischievous look. He could care less about the idle chatter, what he really wanted was to capture her in his embrace. However, he was still curious about her past and really knew little about her. Perhaps now he could find out some of those answers. "Hmm what's your horse's name?"

Okay that came out of left field, my horse? What in the world is he asking about my horse? She felt slightly confused and a bit upset that of all the questions he could ask it was to be of a horse's name first. Well two can play this game Mr. Cartwright. "Spirit. He's a wonderful horse and quite intelligent."

"Really and what about his owner?" Adam smirked as he watched the emotions run through her face.

"His owner is quite intelligent too. What about your horse Adam, does he have a name?"

"Sport. He is highly spirited."

"Like his owner?" She smiled as she watched the grin grace the handsome face. Yes Adam was handsome and she found herself not really wanting to spar but rather melt into his embrace. She settled herself onto the blanket beside Adam and sighed as she looked out across the blue water.

Chapter 9

"Did you enjoy your ride around the Ponderosa Christy?" Ben asked of the young lady when she entered the house. He noted she looked a bit tired.

"Yes Mr. Cartwright you have a beautiful ranch. I'm feeling a bit tired, I think I will lay down until dinner." She sent a glowing smile towards the family patriarch before retiring to her room.

"Have a nice rest dear." Ben watched as she retreated into her room. It was nice to have a female in the ranch house again. She was certainly breath of fresh air, and seems to have captured his eldest son's heart. He smiled as his oldest walked in the door. He could see the joy radiating off him and nothing made him feel better than to see Adam happy. "Did you have a nice time son?" He already knew the answer to that by the glow in his son's face.

"Yes Pa, we had a nice time. Pa what do you think of Christy?"

"Well Adam, she seems to be a lovely young lady. I think the more important question is what you think of her son." Ben sat back into his chair and waited for the discussion about Adam's feelings towards this girl.

"I love her Pa." Adam said matter of factly. "Pa I want to ask her to marry me."

Ben smiled as big as he could. "She'll make you a fine wife Adam."

"Thanks Pa." Adam felt relieved that his father was pleased with his decision. Now he only had to worry about Christy accepting his proposal.

Ben saw the change in his son's demeanor. "What's wrong Adam?"

"I'm not sure Pa. I just worry if she will accept. After all her last two beaus were beaten badly, and one killed."

"Only she can answer that for you son."

"Thanks Pa."

Chapter 10

The figure visibly cringed with the sounds of the squeaky floorboard. He knew he was in trouble if he was caught, but another minute in his room and he knew he would go insane. His only reprieve was to make it downstairs and to the settee before his family noticed he had left his room. He looked back over his shoulder to see if his forward progress to the stairs was to be halted. He sighed in relief when none of his family's doors opened. He shuffled his feet lightly, as each step sent a jolt of pain in his sides. Slowly he made it down the first landing and had to stop and catch his breath. Just a few more steps to go and he would be home free. Slowly he made his way down the last few steps. He knew he had over done himself and just simply wanted to lay down on the settee and fall asleep. He didn't know how he made it but soon found himself in the comforts of the soft cushion. He closed his eyes and was soon asleep from his recent trip. At least until the booming voice of his father nearly made him fall off the settee.

"JOSEPH FRANCIS CARTWRIGHT, What the devil do you think your doing out of bed?" Ben stood legs slightly spread and his arms crossed in front of his wayward son. Ben almost laughed at the look his youngest gave at being caught out of bed. "Well Joseph, I'm waiting."

"Ah Pa I just couldn't stand to look at the walls in my bedroom another minute."

"Joseph, Paul gave explicit orders that you were not to leave your bed until his say so."

"Well Pa, can't I just stay down here for a bit longer. I promise I won't get off this settee." Joe gave his most winning smile.

"Not one foot is to come off that settee. Do you understand me?" Ben said as he pointed a warning finger at his young son.

"Yes sir." Joe gave him a mock salute and smiled to himself that he got his way.

"Pa?"

"Yes Joseph."

"What do you think will happen tomorrow?"

Ben knew that Joe was worried about the trial that started tomorrow. He felt assured after speaking to Roy that both of the men would be spending some time in jail, especially Jed. "I'm sure they will be found guilty and sent to jail. Is there something troubling you?"

"Just worried for Christy Pa. Hoss spoke to Adam yesterday and said that Jed threatened to kill her and anyone that helped her."

"Yes I spoke to Adam about it. When he gets convicted tomorrow we won't have to worry about that idle threat. Now you close your eyes and get some rest, and remember what I said. Not one foot off this settee."

"Yes sir." Joe leaned back into the settee and was soon fast asleep.

Ben watched his boy sleep for a few minutes. He knew tomorrow was going to be a stressful day for both Christy and Joseph.

Chapter 11

"Have you reached a verdict?" The judge asked the jury foreman.

"Yes sir we have." The large man stated, while he held a firm gaze on the two defendants.

"Will the defendants please rise." The judge waited for the two men to stand before he continued, "What has the jury decided?"

Christy felt the caring touch of Adam as he squeezed her hand. The trial had been very nerve wracking for her. Each moment she had heard the testimony and the equal threats by Jed towards her and her friend's welfare. Now it was almost over. After the jury read the verdict she felt a slight calm before the storm. It was not unsurprising that they had been found guilty and sentenced to jail. She should have been happy that she was finally free of her brother in law's hold, but inside she was deeply worried. She knew that things with Jed were far from over. She felt herself being helped up by her new beau and embraced within his hold as Jed was led from the courtroom onslaughting her with threats of death for her betrayal. "It's over" she heard herself whisper.

Adam lifted her chin to focus on her sky blue eyes. "It's over my dear." He watched as she smiled towards him in acceptance. With a simple nod she lifted her head proudly and announced that they head home. Home, Adam though, yes our home my dear. He was bursting at the seems to ask her to marry him, but he knew that right now was not the time. Soon he thought, soon she will be Mrs. Adam Cartwright.