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Long Lost Lover

Chapter Eight

Isabella smiled at Adam after he helped her down off her horse. She stepped back and looked up as she heard the front door open.

"Isabella!"

"Raquel!"

The two young women ran to each other and embraced. The reuniting was full of exclamations in Spanish, tears of joy, more hugs, and smiles as bright as day.

Raquel ushered her old friend inside so that she could sit down. She explained everything; about the fire, why she left, when she came back the first time, what she'd been doing for the past years, how she'd been wounded, and why she had come back now. Isabella listened happily until she heard the rest of the story about her past running from the law.

"How could you, Raquel? Did you think it would make you happier?" she asked with a slight frown and a few tears in her eyes.

Raquel shook her head and sighed. "It was all anger. I've regretted everything unlawful I've done since the moment I did it. But once I started, I couldn't stop; it was the only way I could live."

Isabella was silent as she pondered this, staring at the floor. Finally she looked up at her again. "What did Carlos say?"

Raquel scoffed. "Not much. It is easy to say he was not happy about it."

Isabella nodded slowly. "What will you do now?"

Raquel frowned and tears came to her eyes. "I do not know. I need to leave, but I don't want to leave without Carlos. But now I fear he doesn't want me." she took a deep breath to steady her voice. "He was so angry, Isabella. I told him the whole story and he never once interrupted. But with every word he looked more and more disappointed. I hated myself as I explained it to him."

Isabella reached out and touched her friend's arm. "He is disappointed. He has reason to be. I cannot say that I am proud of the things you have done, but let me ask you something. Do you want to change?"

Raquel nodded. "More than anything. Seeing you both again has brought back happiness."

"Then change. Prove to Carlos that even though you can't take back what you've done, you can change your future."

Raquel nodded again. "I suppose I can try that."

They both heard the sound of a wagon coming up fast. Isabella went to the window and said over her shoulder, "It's Mr. Cartwright and Little Joe. They look a little worried…"

She was interrupted as Adam jumped onto the porch and shoved the door open. "Pa's got bad news. Little Joe blabbed to Shelby about you and Marshall Collier right in front of Jack Wolf…"

Isabella cut him off. "Oh, no!" she moaned.

"Who is Jack Wolf?" Raquel asked, but her question was lost in the fury of words between Adam and Isabella.

"Is Collier still in town?" Isabella's tone was controlled, but her face held an expression of panic.

"If he's not, he can't be far away. No doubt that Wolf will send someone after him."

"What do we do?"

"I don't know. If he finds her, she won't be the only one she drags off. Pa'll be tried for hiding her."

Isabella ran her hands through her hair. "There's nowhere for her to hide!"

Raquel stepped between the two. "If Collier is coming back, I have to leave."

"No, Raquel, you can't go!" Isabella exclaimed. "Not after all these years, not after I watched Carlos fall apart after you left, please, Raquel, we'll think of something."

Raquel shook her head, but the look on Isabella's face made her sigh. "We'll see."

The three of them looked up as the front door opened again. Ben and Little Joe entered; each wearing a different expression of worry. Joseph's was guilty, and Ben's was slightly annoyed.

Ben pushed his son forward. "Tell Miss Raquel what happened."

"But, pa…"

"Joseph!"

"Yes, pa." He sighed. "Miss Raquel, I'm real sorry…but I told Miss Sterret about you and all, and I knew she could keep a secret…but Mr. Wolf was standin' nearby and I guess he heard every word. I didn't even know he was there 'til he broke in and asked what I meant."

Raquel looked up at Ben. "Mr. Cartwright, if he will send word to Collier, I must leave. I have money…I can buy a horse from you."

"No, no…you're in no condition to travel. We'll…"

"Mr. Cartwright, I once rode a horse for four hours straight with three arrows in my leg. I can do it."

Ben stared at her for a moment, as though debating. Finally he said, "But, you just found your friends, your life, again. Don't you want to stay?"

"More than anything. But I can't if it will put any of you in danger. Please," she added as he opened his mouth to argue. "It's important to me."

He shook his head and was silent for a moment. "Where's Carlos?" he asked and looked around the room.

Raquel glanced toward the window. "He rode off this morning."

Ben sighed. "I won't let you leave until he gets back. I can't do that to him."

Raquel looked down to blink away tears. "Neither could I." she took a deep breath. "But, I must. Perhaps I could return after a while."

Ben shook his head again. "Just wait. We'll think of something."

Raquel fought the urge to groan in frustration. "There is not time to think of something! Every moment we wait is one moment more for Collier to get closer, in one way or another. Please, Mr. Cartwright."

He stared at her again. She prayed he was seeing her point of view. After what seemed like hours, he replied. "Not just yet. If I don't have another solution, I'll give you a horse."

Raquel fought to keep from doing something she'd regret. If Ben Cartwright was so intelligent, why couldn't he see the problem at hand? Before she could argue, Ben turned away.

"Adam, come with me."

"Yes, pa."

The two left the house, and Little Joe went and sat in front of the fireplace. Isabella sighed. "Raquel, what are we going to do?"

Raquel quickly decided that it wasn't a real question, and so she didn't need to answer. She needed to think.

There was nowhere to hide. She'd outsmarted Collier more than once; her luck would run out. She couldn't leave on foot, especially with a gunshot wound. She'd be weak and vulnerable without a horse, and that was a chance she wasn't willing to take.

Everything pointed to what she'd said in the first place. There was only one thing left to do.

PONDEROSA Several hours later…

Carlos walked his horse into the ranch yard of the Ponderosa and stopped in front of the barn. The sun was setting, and Carlos felt a little guilty and juvenile for shirking out on the chores. However, he'd thought a lot out while on his daylong ride.

He dismounted and patted his horse on the neck. He led the animal into the barn and took his time unsaddling. After he tied the gelding in a stall, he sighed and headed for the house.

It was odd; the entire place was silent. Usually Little Joe would have come out to greet him, or at least ask where he'd been.

Carlos stepped inside the house. Apparently they'd eaten without him, because Hop Sing was just finishing gathering dishes to wash, and everyone else was still sitting at the table.

Isabella was there, and from the look on her face, she wasn't very happy. When she looked at him, Carlos was sure she'd been crying.

If she was there, she knew about Raquel. And if she was upset…

"Where's Raquel?" the question left him barely before he comprehended it.

Ben sighed. "Carlos…"

Isabella interrupted him. "She left, Carlos. Without a word to any of us! She just stole a horse, and left!" she stood abruptly, chair legs scraping across the floor. She stormed passed Carlos and out the front door.

Carlos hardly noticed. "She, left?"

Ben nodded. "I'm sorry. I thought I'd talked her out of it. Marshal Collier found out about her from Jack Wolf…no doubt about it. Little Joe was talking to Shelby, and Wolf overhead him. Raquel insisted that she leave, but I thought she'd decided to listen to me and stay until we thought of something else. I'm sorry, Carlos." He repeated.

Carlos shook his head and his eyes landed on the door to Ben's room. He had to see for himself.

His long stride ate up the distance to the door, and he opened it a mere second later. Sure enough, the bed was made, and the room empty. Again.

No. Raquel, no! you cannot do this to me again…He was about to relive the scene of hearing the news about the fire at the rancho when he caught sight of a piece of paper, sticking out from under the pillow.

He snatched at the corner. It was an envelope, with his name on it.

Dearest Carlos,

I am so sorry. For everything. For leaving so many years ago, for not trying harder to find you, for turning away from what is right, and for leaving you yet again.

There was no other way. if I stayed, I would be caught, and Mr. Cartwright would have hung right along with me. I could not do that to this family.

I know you are angry, and you have every right to be. I promise: I will change my ways. Never again will I disappoint you. I'll never steal another horse, crumb of food, or dime. I want to be able to live with myself.

Carlos, I love you, and I am sorry I hurt you. I will not be caught, and I will not be hung. Please tell Isabella that she is the best friend I will ever have, and that I am sorry for hurting her as well. Thank the Cartwrights, and Hop Sing for their hospitality.

Perhaps, one day, I will return.

Love always,

Your Raquelita

Carlos blinked back tears.

His long-lost lover was lost yet again.

Okay, yes, that's the end. I'm sorry!! I was just so sick of writing it…it's done!!!!!!! Yay!!!!!! Review!! And tell your friends to read it if you liked it!!