A/N: Okay, I edited this. It sounds a little better now…the main reason I'm doing this is because I'm hoping it will inspire me to finish the rest of it!

Long Lost Lover

Chapter One

"That was great, Hop Sing," Hoss Cartwright said, leaning back in his chair and wiping his mouth on his sleeve. The Cartwright family had just finished another large meal made by the oriental cook.

Adam Cartwright, the eldest of the boys, arched his eyebrows and set his elbows on the table. "Yes, it was. But do you have any idea what it was?"

"Well, no. But it was still great."

The room filled with good-natured laughter as the dishes were cleared from the table that looked small in the large, and somewhat empty, main room of the ranch house. Rain pattered the tin roof and glass windows; faint lightening flashed every now and then.

Ben Cartwright, father of Hoss, Adam, and their little brother Joseph, smiled as Hop Sing stepped up with another delicious surprise.

"Dang it, Hop Sing, a cake too?" Little Joe exclaimed. Hop Sing smiled, set the cake down on the table, and began to slice it.

"You spoil us, Hop Sing. Thank you." Ben said.

"You very welcome, Mr. Cartwright." Hop Sing replied in his broken English, sliding a slice of cake onto Ben's plate. Little Joe held up his plate at the same time as the ranch hand and family friend, Carlos Rivera de Vega, causing them to clank together.

Ben was chuckling along with the rest of the group when a sudden urgent knocking came from the front door the room fell silent, and Ben wondered just who would be knocking on the Ponderosa Ranch's door at that hour, in the rain.

"I will check, see who is." Hop Sing set down a plate in front of Hoss, who happened to be the last served.

Ben nodded, took a bite of the cake, then allowed his eyes to follow Hop Sing.

Hop Sing sort of glided over to the door, opened it and stepped back, ready and willing to greet and welcome a guest, friend or stranger, when a figure dressed in black crashed through the door and landed face-first onto the floor at his feet.

Ben choked on the small bite, Adam and Little Joe jumped, Hoss knocked his plate over, Carlos swallowed wrong, and Hop Sing stared, with his hand still holding the door, at the still form on the floor. The body was silent, head and neck buried in long black hair.

Immediately Hop Sing jerked himself from his daze and knelt beside the person, pushing back the locks of hair to search for a pulse.

The five at the table scrambled out of their chairs and Ben and Adam knelt beside Hop Sing as the others stood around awkwardly.

"Still breathing?" Ben asked and Hop Sing nodded.

"Pa, there's blood on the floor," Little Joe pointed at the growing puddle near the figure's right side.

Ben nodded. "Let's roll 'em over," he instructed. As Hoss shut the front door, Adam helped Ben roll the thin figure over to their back as. With the rather pale face exposed, it was obvious this person was a young woman.

Ben jumped as Carlos gasped, crossed himself in Catholic tradition and dropped to his knees with, "iMadre de Dios!" he reached out and brushed her hair back from her face. "iRaquelita!"

Adam gave Ben a questioning look, but Ben never saw it. "You know this girl?" Carlos didn't answer as he whispered things in Spanish. Ben finally looked at Hop Sing again. "Is it a bullet wound?"

Hop Sing nodded.

"Let's get her inside. In my room." Ben ordered. He and Adam lifted the limp woman from the floor and walked toward the bedroom. Carlos began to follow, but Hop Sing stopped him at the doorway to the bedroom. "We need water. And towels."

"But…"

"Please."

Carlos gave an anxious sigh and turned on his heel.

Little Joe stared up at Hoss. Hoss just shrugged, knowing what the twelve-year-old was thinking, but it didn't stop the questions from flowing like a waterfall.

"Who is she? Where'd she come from? How'd she get hurt? How does Carlos know her?"

"How would I know any of that, Little Joe?" Hoss asked, throwing his hands in the air. "She just crashed through the door, and I've never seen her before. How would I know who she is?"

"But, why did she come here?"

"Little Joe,"

"But, Hoss, how come? Who is she?" Joe's eyebrows were scrunched together as he pondered. "And how does Carlos know her?"

"Joe, if you should be askin' anybody, it'd be Carlos."

Little Joe nodded. "Good idea." He turned to follow Carlos. Hoss caught him by the shoulder.

"Hold up, I didn't mean now, he's busy. We'll all have to wait for now."

-PONDEROSA-

Carlos's heart raced and his hands shook as he carried the freshly drawn water back into the house. He snatched the old towels from the chair he'd set them on. Hoss and Little Joe sat in front of the fireplace, watching him as he stormed into the bedroom

"Thank you, Carlos." Ben took the bucket from him and set it on the floor beside the bed, and Carlos handed the towels to Hop Sing.

"Is there anything I can do, Pa?" Adam asked.

Ben looked at Hop Sing, who shook his head. "No, Adam. Go keep your brothers company."

Adam nodded and headed for the door, giving Carlos a look that said to follow.

Carlos didn't want to leave the room, but he knew his presence wasn't needed. He almost hurt physically as he took a step back, turned, and walked out the door, closing it behind him.

"You know her?" Adam asked, trying to look him in the eye. Little Joe and Hoss glanced up, hoping for answers just as much as Adam.

"Yes, Adam, I do. Or at least, I did know her, years ago." Carlos closed his eyes for a second, then opened them again and took in the sight of the Cartwright brothers staring at him, begging for information.

He sighed. "She lived on El Rodeo Rancho, right next to Rancho Rivera. She and Isabella were close friends as children." A long line of Rivera De Vega's had once owned Rancho Rivera.

Adam nodded, but Carlos wasn't finished. "When she was eighteen years old, I asked Raquel's father for permission to marry her. The next day her rancho was gone; fire had destroyed everything. As far as anyone knew, no one survived."

A/N: Okay, edited…sounds a little better. Review!