Disclaimer & Notices

Copyright: I own some of these characters and others are real but long gone.

Subtext: Oh yes.

Violence: Yes, there's finally some gun-slinging.

Summary: Landen Morrison has a chance to finally meet Mrs. Jane Baylor, and Landen is really feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. Then Raleigh Baylor rides into Paris to make the biggest change in her life ever.

Started: February 22, 2007

Ended: February 23, 2007

Series: My Midnight Muses - Story#4

My Midnight Muses: Chili Con Carne

by Red Hope

Chapter 1

Landen nervously toyed with Stargazer's reins then she shifted around in the saddle. She cleared her throat in a nervous fashion then played with the rein's again. Suddenly a large hand shot out and stilled hers. Her head snapped to the right, and Landen's eyebrows went up at Raleigh's speed. "And they call me the Triple L."

Raleigh was facing straight ahead in her saddle, yet she was bent to her left so that she could reach better. She straightened up while removing her hand, and she finally turned her head to Landen. "Yew'll be fine."

The cowgirl wasn't as optimistic about meeting Raleigh's mother. "She's gonna chase me outta the house wit her shot gun."

The Texas Ranger had an amused expression, and her eyes light. "She ain't gonna." She turned her head away and focused on her ride to her mother's home. They'd be there shortly.

Landen put the reins in her left hand then with her right, she took her black hat off and put it on again. She debated whether to pull out a cigarette, but she knew better than to smoke and ride at the same time. That caused an old memory to come back to her, and she started to quietly laugh.

"What?" Raleigh shifted in the saddle.

Landen shook her head then settled her giggles down. Her features were softer when she replied, "Uh couple of years ago when I had my first cigarette…" She stopped because a few more chuckles hit her. She shook her head then told, "I was ridin' Stargazer, lit the cig, and I didn't know how tuh smoke."

The ranger's right eyebrow slowly curved up, and her imagination took her away.

"So I started chokin' on the damn thing and I fell off Stargazer," Landen confessed, and her laughter returned.

Raleigh's face broke with mirth, and she started laughing at her mental picture.

"My right leg was all caught up in the stirrup," Landen rasped between her laughing fit. "I was uh sight."

Raleigh was bent forward and tried to stop her laughter, but it was too hard. It took her a good minute before she straightened up and brushed her bangs back. Her eyes were bright and watery from amusement, and she hoarsely stated, "Little…" She stopped and laughed again yet rasped, "Little Lumbering Landen."

The southerner rolled her eyes, however her laughter wouldn't refuse her. She breathed deeply then revealed, "Ever since then I ain't rode and smoked."

The ranger snickered a few times then cleared her throat to calm her emotions. Her red cheeks slowly went normal again. "I hope yew ain't told nobody about that."

"And ruin my reputation?" Landen falsely gasped like she was a prim southerner. She wickedly grinned. "Ya the only one that knows, Raleigh."

The ranger mirrored the grin but hers went even deeper. "I'll remember that for future use." She then winked and turned her head away when she spotted her mother's farmhouse just ahead.

Landen sobered at seeing the house. "Are ya sure I gottuh go in?"

Raleigh signaled her horse to walk closer to Stargazer. She stretched out her hand and panted her lover's knee. "Yew'll be fine."

The cowgirl tilted her hat back with her left hand. "I reckon I'm agonna have tuh be." She didn't catch her partner's amused features.

The couple dismounted just beside the corral after Raleigh had pointed it out, and they let their horses join the others after untacking them. They then slowly trekked to the front of the house, and Raleigh noticed Landen's strides grew slower. The ranger paused by the steps of the house until her lover was near her. She bent over so that her lips were near Landen's ear.

The cowgirl tilted her head up some in natural reaction.

"There ain't nottin' ta worry about. Promise." Raleigh then placed a light kiss to her partner's temple then quickly withdrew and ascended the steps.

The southerner had a crooked smile, but she followed after her lover. She entered behind Raleigh into the house.

Raleigh gazed about the empty living room then called, "Ma?"

"In 'ere, sweetie," called a woman's gentle voice from the kitchen.

The ranger glanced back at her friend and smiled warmly. She crossed the short distance from the front door to the kitchen.

"So did yew find her?" Jane inquired, and her back was to the kitchen doorway. She was standing at the counter and in front of a large, metal bowl. She was working with some ground up meat.

"I did," Raleigh answered, and she was rather amused. She entered the kitchen, stepped aside, and signaled for her shy partner to join her.

"What'd yew find out?"

The cowgirl had furrowed eyebrows, and she peered up at her partner. She said nothing though.

Raleigh bit her lower lip but politely replied, "Quite a bit, ma."

"Did she give reason why she joined thuh gang?"

Raleigh cleared her throat, scratched her nose, and peered down at her partner. She smirked and folded her arms over her chest. "Tell me again why, Landen?"

The southerner quietly giggled and honestly replied, "Tuh protect ya."

Jane stopped working the grounded meat, and she turned around in surprise. "My Lord." She stared at the stranger in her house, and then she peered up at her daughter. "Raleigh…"

The ranger lifted her eyebrow in question. "Yes'sum?"

"Yew shoulda said somethin' earlier." Jane Baylor quickly wiped her hands on her apron and neared the younger pair. She scanned Landen's entire length, and it didn't take her long. "So yew are thuh gal that's been shootin' at my daughter?"

Landen tried to remain composed but being trapped between the two tall women of matching features, she had a hard time. She tilted her head back and met the grey-blue eyes of Jane Baylor. She said the only thing she knew that was polite. "I apologize, ma'am… it was uh rather lengthy misunderstanding."

Raleigh leaned to her right so that she had a better view of her mother and lover being head to toe. Her grin was wide because after a quick glance at her mother she knew what was going on.

"Misunderstanding?" Jane Baylor drew out dryly.

The cowgirl cleared her throat, and her anxiety heightened. Maybe this wasn't exactly the best idea to be meeting Mrs. Jane Baylor.

Jane placed her hands on her hips. Her head was cocked to one side, and her eyes drilled into the young southerner. "Yew also happen ta be thuh gal that's captured my daughter's… affections."

Landen proceeded to say something, however she fell short and her mouth remained hung open. She snapped her jaw shut.

Mrs. Baylor slowly lifted her right hand to the cowgirl. "Perhaps after some explainin' we can get more comfortable, Miss Morrison…?"

Landen lifted her left hand quickly, removed her hat, and tucked it under her left arm. "Yes, ma'am." Her right hand slipped into the larger, softer hand offered to her.

After the handshake, Jane pointed to the kitchen table and said, "Set a spell."

Raleigh stepped forward instead and pulled her mother in for a hug.

The mother chuckled and warmly hugged her child back. She withdrew some and placed her palms against Raleigh's cheeks. "I missed yew."

"Ma," the ranger argued, "I was only gone for uh few days."

Jane mimicked her daughter's lifted eyebrow technique. "Still too long." She then patted her child's side and ordered, "Sit." She turned and strolled back to the counter. "Yawl want some Arbuckle?"

Landen was never the coffee drinker; her nose crinkled up. She opened her mouth to politely refuse but then her lover silently slapped her in the side. Landen quickly looked to Raleigh with confused features.

Raleigh nodded her head twice, and she mouthed 'yes' to the cowgirl.

"Well?" Jane prompted who turned on her heels partially. Her features tightened when she saw the pair staring at one another.

Raleigh suddenly smiled at her mother. "Please, ma." She reached up to remove her hat and took a seat.

Landen stood rooted, yet she smiled and answered, "That'd be nice, Mrs. Baylor."

Jane turned back to the counter and picked up the kettle from the counter. She proceeded to put it on the iron stove top then checked on the wood.

The cowgirl took a seat beside her partner, but she turned the seat around otherwise she'd have her back to Mrs. Baylor. She let her Stetson sit on her right knee.

"So tell me about yewself, Miss Morrison," the mother encouraged. She went back to preparing her chili con carne.

The cowgirl worked her fingers through her hair. She put her thoughts together and finally replied, "Well I'm originally from Charleston, South Carolina. Mah folks, mahself, my aunt, and unca moved tuh San Francisco when I was uh youngen."

"Where are yew folks now?" Jane lifted the minced meat and carefully put it into the pot.

"They died when the cholera epidemic struck the city." Landen paused and tried to remain calm despite she wasn't use to telling her story to people. She knew she at least owed this woman her background especially when Raleigh would be taking off with her. "Afterwards mah aunt and uncle took care of me and my unca bought uh small farm just south of San Bruno. I reckon I was about nine or ten when we moved tuh San Bruno."

Jane Baylor was carefully listening. She'd finished her chili and placed it on the hot stove. She then took the steaming kettle so that she could prepare the mugs of coffee. "What of yew aunt and uncle?"

Landen nervously drummed her fingers on her stiff hat but she calmly replied, "They died when I was nineteen." She saw that Mrs. Baylor paused in making the coffee. "They were…" She stopped and glanced at Raleigh.

The ranger smiled supportively, stretched out her hand, and squeezed her partner's knee. She pulled back when her mother turned with two mugs of coffee.

Jane handed the mugs to the younger women then retrieved hers from the counter. She didn't come back to the table but instead leaned against the counter. She planned to keep an eye on the chili.

Landen peered into her mug of coffee. The smell wafted up to her, and she wondered if she could actually drink it.

"So how'd yew aunt and uncle pass away?" Jane had sipped on her coffee. "Disease too?"

The cowgirl lifted her head and slowly negatively moved her head. "I wish it had been." She licked her lips then quietly explained, "They were murdered… gunned down."

"My Lord," Jane whispered in shock. "May I ask what happened?"

"I ain't exactly sure," Landen confessed. She took a second by drinking the wickedly strong brew. She cleared her throat after working it down. "I reckon it had somethin' tuh do with the local shurf."

The mother shook her head and cupped her mug with both hands; her interests set on her daughter now. "Raleigh, yew hear about this at work?"

The Texas Ranger had taken a sip of her Arbuckle. She let the mug rest in her lap with her right hand through the handle. "Naw, I told yew what thuh wanted poster says."

Jane was baffled. She turned back to Landen. "Why yew say it was thuh sheriff?"

The cowgirl's shoulders slightly fell. "It weren't but uh few days before mah aunt and uncle died that mah unca had a fight with the shurf."

"And yew believe that led him ta murder them?" Jane Baylor was very dumbstruck, but the honesty in Landen's eyes made her believe it.

"I reckon so." Landen toyed with her warm mug then mentioned, "It weren't but uh day later that my face was on wanted posters in town."

"They set yew up," Jane murmured. She shook her head and tried to fathom why anybody would do such sins. "What would drive a man ta murder?"

Raleigh wondered the same thing, and she had every intention to find out why. She already had a few suspicions however she'd wait it out until they made it to California.

Jane set her mug down on the small, wood counter and she picked up her wood spoon. She carefully stirred her chili, but her body still faced the women. "So how did yew find yewself between mah daughter and thuh Sam Bass Gang?"

"Yew remember Belle Reed, ma?"

The mother focused on her daughter. She grunted then removed the wood spoon from the chili pot. "That vile whoamun and her husband."

Raleigh smirked over at her partner. "Ma had uh bad run in with her too."

Landen shook her head then she took a sip of her Arbuckle.

"Late husband, ma." Raleigh smirked at her mother's soft laugh. She set her half empty mug on the table near her hat. "Yew remember I told yew that Belle Reed made uh deal with Landen?" After her mother's nod, she further explained, "Well thuh little deal was that Landen had ta work for Sam Bass and Belle wouldn't have me murdered."

Jane had been sipping on her coffee when she was caught off guard. She choked on her coffee but worked the brew down. She swallowed then stared wide-eye at the younger women. "How charmin'." Her teeth showed as she snarled, "That whoamun is blacker than midnight under uh damn black skillet."

Raleigh's mouth slightly hung open at her mother's vicious words and tone.

Landen snickered and stated, "I agree, Mrs. Baylor."

The mother set her mug down behind her on the counter. She pointed a finger at the cowgirl. "If yew ever see her again, Miss Morrison see that yew beat her like uh rented mule."

"Ma!" Raleigh yelled in shock.

Landen dropped her head back and laughed. How she wished she could get her hands on that outlaw and do just as Mrs. Baylor instructed. She let out her last couple of laughs then promised, "I will, Mrs. Baylor… I surely will."

"Good ta hear." The mother went back to stirring her stew.

Raleigh had her head hung down but when she peered over at her lover she couldn't help a small laugh. She then picked up her mug and took one last drink. She fiddled with the mug for a beat then mentioned, "Ma, Landen and I plan ta figure out what happened ta her aunt and uncle."

Jane Baylor set her spoon down again then finally put the cover over the large pot. She grabbed her mug and took a seat on the opposite side of Landen. She noted that Landen moved her chair around again. She finally had a full, close view of Landen Morrison's soft features, striking green eyes, and full lips. She now understood why her daughter harbored such an attraction to the mysterious cowgirl. Her focused switched to her daughter after her inspection of Landen. "Ta California?"

Raleigh set her mug down on the table, but she leaned back in her chair casually. "Yayup."

"Yew leavin' thuh rangers?" After her daughter's nod, Jane required some time to absorb this news. She knew it was quite serious by her child's stone features. She inhaled slowly then gradually released it. "When yew leave?"

Raleigh's eyes flickered to her silent partner and back to her mother. "Taday, ma."

"When yew be back?"

The ranger's eyes held sadness, and she confessed, "I ain't sure, ma but as soon as I can."

Jane combed her dark brown hair back with her left hand. She couldn't blame Landen Morrison for this because she knew her daughter had always talked about traveling. Her daughter had only stayed behind and became a ranger because Raleigh didn't want to leave her alone. If it was one thing she knew best about her daughter it was that once Raleigh made up her mind then it was set. "Yew sure yew can't stay thuh night?"

"We would, ma but I'm worried about Landen bein' seen."

Jane hadn't considered that fact. She'd already heard enough when in town yesterday. People were suspicious about Raleigh's whereabouts since Raleigh just upped and left without reason but promised to return in a few days.

"Raleigh, we can stay uh few nights," Landen argued, "We ain't gotta take off right away. We'll be safe here."

"I've already stirred up enough trouble," the ranger mentioned. "Thuh captain threw a hissy fit when I left town. I need ta face him soon and once I do then we need ta leave."

Jane dipped her head as she considered something. She frowned. "I also expect Mr. Pappas here 'morrow."

Raleigh Baylor wickedly grinned at her mother. "Ma, yew invited him here?"

The southerner carefully listened in since she didn't know anything about a Mr. Pappas.

Jane smiled coyly then shrugged casually. "I thought he might like ta see thuh place."

The ranger turned to her lover and a grin swept over her. "It seems uh stranger has captured my mother's… affections in recent months."

"Ya ain't mentioned this." Landen grinned back and became real comfortable for this topic.

"Don't yew start, Raleigh," Jane warned.

Raleigh snorted and teased, "After yew gave me uh hard time about Landen?" She wagged a finger at her mother. "Yew had this comin'." She turned back to Landen with a smirking face. "Mr. Melvin Pappas is from Columbia, South Carolina."

"Oh?" the cowgirl prompted, and she chuckled.

"Yayup and he's a prominent name in Columbia." Raleigh sweetly smiled at her mother. "How many plantations does he own, ma?"

Jane Baylor shot a dark look at her daughter. "He owns two cotton plantations." Her dark blue eyes switched back to Landen. "He's here in Teksus on vacation."

Raleigh's amused voice filled the air again. "Mr. Pappas is actually on extended stay, Landen after he met my mother."

"Oh… I see." Landen chuckled and couldn't help her grin. "It would seem y'all have uh soft spot for the Old South."

"I reckon so," Raleigh mustarded in her best fake southern accent.

Jane's smiled deepened as she thought more about Melvin Pappas and his gentlemanly ways. She'd never met such a proper man nor did she expect him to be quite open minded, and he was good humored. He was everything her late husband was not and that settled well with her.

The conversation continued between the women for some time until Mrs. Baylor had the chili prepared. She then dished out bowls of it to her guests and one for herself. Landen quickly discovered how brutally strong homemade chili con carne could be when her mouth was on fire. She decided she much preferred a cup of coffee over the spicy stew. She also noticed that Raleigh absolutely enjoyed it and had no issues with the spice. Landen dared to wonder if her future would hold more of this stew.

It wasn't until the late afternoon that Raleigh told her mother that she and Landen had to take their leave. Jane Baylor wasn't much happy about losing her daughter for an extended time. Her emotional goodbye with her daughter made her wonder when she'd see Raleigh again. She then had a moment alone with Landen Morrison on the porch of her house while Raleigh got the horses.

"I don't know much about yew, Miss Morrison but I'm trustin' yew ta care of my only child."

The cowgirl felt uneasy, yet she knew this was her opportunity to ease the mother. "And I appreciate that, Mrs. Baylor." She sighed and tapped her hat against her leg with her hand. "I tried tuh get her tuh stay."

"She's stubborn," Jane agreed. Her eyes were on her daughter, who was saddling Classic Touch by the corral. "But she's got uh good heart."

"Too good," Landen murmured, sadly.

Jane Baylor now faced the smaller woman. "Raleigh ain't thuh type of whoamun ta blindly follow anybody. She knows what she's doin', and I can tell she believes in yew."

Landen's lips thinned and her features darkened. "And that don't make no sense." Her sights were set on Raleigh, but she peered up desperately at the mother, who understood Raleigh the best. "I'm an outlaw, Mrs. Baylor and your daughter stands by me…?"

"That's cuz she sees somethin' beyond your exterior," Jane explained. She nodded once then revealed, "So do I."

Landen sighed sadly because she didn't understand it.

Jane sensed the smaller woman's distraught and for the first time, Jane touched Landen. Her hand rested on the smaller shoulder closest to her. "Raleigh is takin' a chance so maybe that's enough ta make yew believe in somethin' here."

The cowgirl bitter sweetly smiled, and she turned her head towards Raleigh's direction. "I reckon so, Mrs. Baylor." She felt a squeeze then the hand was gone from her shoulder.

Raleigh towed the two horses on either side. As she approached the porch, she read Landen and her mother's body language and determined they were comfortable with each other finally. "Yew ready, pardner?"

"I reckon so," Landen answered.

Jane Baylor came down the steps and her ears echoed with Landen's heavy footfall. She stepped up to Raleigh and gave her another long hug then parted.

Raleigh adjusted her hat on her head then reminded, "I'll be sure ta send a war now and again."

Landen already made a mental note to make sure to remind Raleigh about sending those promised telegrams. She could see them getting too busy then forgetting and leaving Mrs. Baylor in the dark. Just as she prepared to put her cowboy hat on, Mrs. Baylor turned to her. She smiled warmly then held out her free right hand. "Thank ya for the visit, Mrs. Baylor."

Jane Baylor, surprisingly, decided to have nothing to do with the handshake. Instead she pulled the small, young woman into a warm hug but it wasn't as long as Raleigh's.

Landen managed her arms around the mother after her initial shock. She pulled back and showed a beautiful smile.

"Go on now," the mother ordered to the pair. "Before I hog tie yew ta thuh house."

Landen dipped her head, put her hat on, and came over to Stargazer's side after putting the rein's over the horse's head. She efficiently mounted the Morgan horse.

Raleigh was settled in the saddle and adjusted the reins. "Stay well, ma and make sure Mr. Pappas is kind or else."

Jane laughed, however she knew her daughter would make good on the threat if necessary. "Please be careful, yawl."

"We will," the ranger promised.

Landen urged Stargazer ahead of Classic Touch. She twisted in her saddle and said, "Thank ya again, Mrs. Baylor. Ya take care now."

"Yew too, Miss Morrison." Jane finished her words with a smile.

Landen politely tipped her hat's brim at the mother then tapped Stargazer's sides. She slowly rode down the small, worn path.

Classic Touch pranced in place; her anticipation about leaving was high.

Jane Baylor stepped up to the Tennessee Walker, and she placed her hand on Raleigh's knee. "Please be safe. Yew are all I have left."

Raleigh sadly smiled. She bent down and placed a kiss to her mother's cheek and whispered, "I promise. I love yew, ma."

Jane returned to kiss to her child's cheek and uttered, "I love yew too, mah little one." She patted Raleigh's knee then backed away when the ranger straightened up.

Raleigh Baylor urged her mare to the right. She turned in her saddle, smiled, and waved at her mother.

Jane held up her hand then slowly lowered it when her daughter's back was to her. She linked her hands together in front of her apron. She watched the chestnut horse canter down the road then slowed beside Landen Morrison's horse. Jane remained rooted in her spot until her daughter and the cowgirl disappeared in the distance. As her child grew fainter, her throat tightened, and she could only imagine when or even if she'd see Raleigh again. Once Raleigh was gone from her sights, she dropped her face and covered it with her right hand to fruitlessly stop her tears.

The ranger and cowgirl galloped towards Paris but when they were within a couple of miles of the town they came to a quick stop. Landen dismounted from her horse just by a tree. Her features were pensive, and she wouldn't look at her partner.

"We need anythin' while I'm in town?" Raleigh questioned.

The cowgirl merely shook her head. She continued to work the face tack off of Stargazer, who probably wanted to graze.

"Landen?"

The southerner finally had the tack off. She peered up at her lover on the tall, chestnut mare.

"I'll be back," Raleigh promised.

"I know," Landen murmured. "Just be careful."

The Texas Ranger confidently smiled. "There ain't nottin' ta worry about." She gently tapped Classic Touch's sides. "I'll see yew in a bit."

"Raleigh?" Landen called after her partner was a several yards away. She moved away from Stargazer and approached the returning ranger.

Raleigh curiously peered down at the younger woman. "What is it?"

The cowgirl came to the tall horse's side, and she commanded, "Com'ere." Her right hand stretched up while her boot heels lifted off the ground.

Raleigh was bent down as far as she could go and her lips met Landen's in a soft kiss. She freed her left hand and caressed Landen's cheek at the end. "I won't be long, promise." She gave one last, quick kiss then rose up into the saddle again. She winked then turned Classic Touch around for Paris. Once she was far enough away, she signaled her mare into a full gallop.

The cowgirl shook her head and muttered, "That damn ranger." Stargazer whine from behind her back, and Landen spun around on her heels. "I reckon I ain't gonna be able tuh say that no more soon."

Stargazer threw her head about then lowered it again to get more grass.

The southerner chuckled then strolled back to her horse. She pulled out her water canteen from the saddlebags and took a long drink. She really hoped it would settle her twisting stomach. She knew it was less her nerves and more Jane Baylor's chili con carne.

Landen bit her lower lip then glanced at her horse. "Be glad ya didn't eat the chili, Stargazer." She tucked the canteen back away after spinning the lid tightly.

The horse whined in amusement then dropped her head.

Landen swallowed when her very lower stomach did a flip. "I reckon…Yup." She rummaged through the saddlebags until she came up with the several pieces of toilet paper. "I reckon this is Mrs. Baylor's way of getting back at me." She then took off at a fast walk for the small forest.

Stargazer twisted her head away until the cowgirl disappeared in the woods. She snorted then returned to eating.

Landen didn't return for about fifteen minutes. She had no paper left and her features slightly pale. She decided to retrieve her journal with writing utensils and prayed this would keep her mind off her tossing stomach. She moseyed over to the tree and sat down with her legs propped up. She set her journal against her chap covered thighs, tossed her hat aside, and proceeded to make an entry.

Ranger Raleigh Baylor slowed Classic Touch down until they were at a walk. Once she was past the welcoming sign for the town, she dismounted and guided her horse into town. She noted the various stares from the townsfolk however it wasn't anything really new to her. She went across town until she was upon the ranger office and after she hitched her horse to the post, she ascended the steps.

Captain George Herold, recently promoted, sat behind the desk in the ranger office. He lifted his head back and back until his eyes finally met the crisp blue eyes of Raleigh Baylor. "Well look what blew in."

Ranger Baylor placed her hands on her hips. She lifted her right eyebrow at the new captain. "Captain," she merely greeted. Then she reached up to her left chest where her pesco badge was clipped.

"Where yew been, Raleigh?" Captain Herold pointed a finger at the ranger. "I have uh good enough mind ta put yew on patrol for this stunt."

Raleigh Baylor shrugged and finished unclipping her badge. She closed up the pin in the back then tossed the badge in the air, caught it with her left hand, and suddenly slammed it on the desk. "That's fine by me, captain." Her right hand went to her back pocket.

"What yew doing, Raleigh?" Captain Herold quickly stood up. His face was twisted tightly and his eyes swirled with fear.

Ranger Raleigh Baylor held up her Authority paper between her fingers in her right hand. "I resign, captain." She lowered the Authority paper and let it rest on top of her badge. She then politely tipped her brim at George Herold then she turned and marched out of the building.

Captain Herold stumbled around the desk and chased after the leaving woman. "Raleigh, what in blazes yew think yew doin'?" He stopped in the doorway and stared down at Raleigh, who was at the bottom of the steps.

Raleigh turned some then twisted her head until her gaze met the captain. "I've got uh wild future waitin' on me." She laughed at George's dumb expression. She quickly unhitched Classic Touch then started on her way.

"Raleigh Baylor!" The captain's voice echoed through the town which captured the townsfolk's attention.

Raleigh Baylor ignored it and casually strolled down the main street; her smile just kept growing. For years to come the townsfolk would talk and talk about how the famous Ranger Raleigh Baylor just one day set her badge down and silently left without explanation. In those years every speculation would be thrown into the air about her odd resignation and the truth wouldn't be told until the wild tales floated back into town by word of mouth.

Former Ranger Raleigh Baylor mounted her mare outside of town and went into a full gallop back to Landen. Her smile wasn't lost on the ride back. Then her spirits heightened when she saw Landen Morrison stepping around Stargazer and awaited her arrival. Landen's bright smile that afternoon would always stay with Raleigh.

Chapter 2

Landen Morrison slowed her mare down beside her partner. She caught sight of the sun headed low in the west. She glanced at Raleigh. "What time is it?"

Raleigh freed her left hand and fished out her American Waltham pocket watch from her vest's pocket. The clock's door flipped open, and she read, "Six thirty-five." She snapped the door closed and tucked the gold watch away. She then tilted her head and considered her mental map of Texas. "We're about twenty minutes south of Ivanhoe."

The cowgirl considered their surroundings, which were a mix of forest, crop fields, and open fields. She made her decision and swung her leg over the saddle as she dismounted.

The former ranger followed suit and landed loudly on her boots. She took Classic Touch's reins over her head then quietly followed along side her partner on the road. "Where yew wanna camp?"

Landen stepped up to her partner then her features became twisted.

Raleigh noticed the odd look. "Yew alright, Landen?"

The cowgirl's inhaled and held her breath when her stomach did that funny feeling again. "Um..." Her features paled.

The Texan realized it as they'd stopped two times today already after leaving Paris. "Yew better get some paper."

Landen suddenly threw Stargazer's reins at her partner then jumped to her mare's saddlebags. She now had the toilet paper at the top just to be safe. She snatched up several sheets then took off like a dog was at her heels, and she cursed, "Shit, shit."

Raleigh couldn't hold her laughter back anymore. "That's exactly what it is!" she hollered. After a minute, her laughter faded into a chuckle but stopped instantly upon seeing the annoyed cowgirl trekking out of the woods. She bit her lower lip. "Yew feel better?"

Landen tucked away the few remaining sheets into the saddlebags. She shot a dangerous look at her partner. "Yer mother planned that… her chili is bitin' me in the ass."

The former ranger snickered then shook her head. "Naw, yew just ain't use ta real chili."

Landen pointed a finger at her partner. "And thank ya for warning me." After her partner's innocent shrug, she sighed heavily. "I ain't ever gonna eat Mrs. Baylor's chili uhgain."

Raleigh decided it was best not to comment since she knew better. Her eyes darted to her saddlebags on Classic Touch, and her body shook with a silent laugh. "Yew ready, pardner?"

The southerner stalked up to her lover, yanked the reins from her, and traveled down the road again.

The Texan caught up to the cowgirl and kept silent.

Landen decided on a new topic. "So where'd ya get that watch?" Landen curiously peered up at her lover.

Raleigh pulled it back out and let it rest in her palm. "It was mah grandfather's actually… ma's father." She smiled sadly at her memories of her grandfather as a child. Her grandfather had very much been her father after her real father disappeared on her and her mother. "He willed it tuh me." She turned it over and held it out to Landen as best as she could despite the retaining chain.

The southerner stopped and gingerly touched the back of the watch. She bent over and read, "American Waltham."

"It's thuh American Waltham Watch Company," Raleigh clarified. She tucked it away again then mentioned, "It's taken a lickin' and keeps tickin'."

The cowgirl's nose crinkled up and her eyes were bright. "Raleigh." She shook her head then a distant noise made her sober. She turned her head to the right.

Raleigh's eyes were slotted and her head tilted. "Yew hear that too?"

"Yea," Landen murmured then she suddenly tossed her reins back over Stargazer's head. "Com'on."

Raleigh was already in action as she hastily mounted her mare. She spurred Classic Touch to follow the Cremello Morgan horse.

Landen raced down the dirt road towards the direction she'd heard the gunshots originally. She then jerked Stargazer to a hasty stop when gunshots rang out again but much closer.

Raleigh stopped beside her partner and pointed off to her left. "Over there." She tapped her mare's sides and trotted into the woods. She halted Classic Touch when she heard the voices finally.

Landen came along side her Raleigh, and she listened more carefully. She heard a man ordering some people to get out. She peered up to Raleigh and muttered, "Bandit outlaws."

"They're just up on thuh road," Raleigh confirmed.

"What's the plan?" Landen quietly asked who was yanking her cased rifle free.

Raleigh dropped her head back and stared up at the thick tree branches above them. She grinned.

Landen gazed up too then saw that look on her partner's face. She smirked. "I got ya back."

The former ranger moved quickly. She dismounted her mare then edged up to the end of the forest where it met the road.

The cowgirl had put her rifle's case across her back; the brown strap diagonal across her chest and the rifle's buttstock protruded above her back. Her sights were set on the trees then she pointed to the one closest to the road but well covered by leaves. She silently jogged up to Raleigh and murmured, "I'll need uh leg up."

"Gotcha," Raleigh agreed. "I'll whistle when I need yew outta thuh tree."

The cowgirl nodded and kissed her lover on the cheek. "Be careful." She then back peddled a few steps.

Raleigh positioned herself in front of the designated tree. She cupped her hands, bent forward, and nodded.

Landen ran several stops then lifted her right foot a little higher once close enough. Her right boot landed into Raleigh's cupped hands, and she suddenly was launched into the air. She bit her lower lip tightly and stretched out her hands as she came at the tree. Her nimble fingers wrapped around the tree branch high up. Landen swiftly lifted herself up onto the branch.

Raleigh stole a quick glance up at her partner to see her situated then she hurried up onto the road. Her emotions left her eyes, her skin crawled, and slowly her snide smirk appeared. Her sights rested on the three bandits robbing the black stagecoach.

Off to the side of the road sat the hostages; a young boy, who was tied and gagged. Then to the boy's left was presumably the mother and her hands were tied behind her back too. Last was the father, who had bound wrists and legs then his right shoulder was stained red with blood.

Raleigh Baylor merely sashayed closer and closer to the back of the stagecoach. Her hips swayed up and down and her demeanor was rather arrogant. Her right eyebrow arched up when one of the bandits stumbled out of the stagecoach and saw her.

The tied boy's eyes widened upon seeing the tall, dark woman merely waltzing up to them. He never imagined seeing a woman dressed like a man and much less welled gunned.

"Nick, Harry get out 'ere!" the bandit yelled, "We got company." He assessed the newcomer as a threat but not overly seriously because she didn't have her gun out.

Raleigh stopped only a few yards from the stagecoach. Her eyes flickered to the hostages, and they goggled at her. Her smirk widened. She lifted her cold eyes to the three men, who met at the back of the stagecoach. "Howdy, boys."

None of the bandits had their guns out but one anxiously kept his hand on his revolver's handle. They were a rather rough looking bunch with messy hair or dirty features, and clothes unkempt.

The bandit in the middle, who had his hand on the revolver handle, stepped forward. "And who… better yet what are yew?"

The former ranger lifted her right hand and tipped her brim at the men. Her polite voice was laced with her egotism. "Raleigh Baylor."

The left bandit's eyes widened at hearing the name. "I heard of yew… yew that female ranger from Paris." He become really nervous and tensed for his gun but didn't draw it.

The bandit in the middle, Harry, laughed and logically questioned, "What would she be doin' out here, alone?" He narrowed his eyes at the ranger. "Yew uh long way from Paris, Ranger Baylor."

Raleigh's smirk didn't falter as she coolly remarked, "Yew might be wrong on that alone part."

Harry snorted. "I don't see nobody but yewself." His fingers curled around his handle tighter. "Why don't yew just be movin' along, ranger."

Raleigh chuckled and replied, "Sorry but yew takin' advantage of these 'ere folks is my business." She lifted her hands then signaled the bandits to take a shot. "Com'on, boys!"

Harry was the only one to act; he ripped out his gun and stretched out his arm. Before he could even cock his hammer in midmotion, he howled in pain when a bullet tore through his palm. He dropped his bloody gun and bent forward in pain. He tried to cover his bleeding hand with his good hand but his blood continued to flow freely.

The two unharmed bandits glanced at one another then looked back at the ranger, who hadn't even pulled her gun.

Raleigh tilted her head, rested her hands on her cartilage belt, and taunted, "Com'on now."

The right bandit, Nick, hastily went for his pistol however it was shot from his grasp when he partially had it up. He stiffened in fear, and his wide eyes rested on the ranger.

Raleigh showed her teeth in a wicked grin. She casually pulled out her black Colt and aimed it at the last bandit with a gun. "Yew feelin' lucky?"

The left bandit glanced down at Harry, who was still clenching his bleeding hand. He swallowed and fearfully stared at the ranger.

Raleigh pulled the hammer back with a distinct click. "Throw yew gun down real slow."

The left bandit carefully did as he was instructed. He then glanced at his partners then back at the ranger.

"Now, boys put yew hands up where I can see 'em."

"Get up, Harry," Nick told the injured bandit.

Harry slowly got up and his head lifted; his expression was very angry. He still clutched his injured hand but kept them visible for the ranger.

Raleigh stepped a little closer to the bandits but stopped. She lifted her left hand then with her thumb and index finger positioned between her teeth, she gave a double whistle. She noticed how everybody, including the hostages, watched in fascination when a mysterious, small form appeared out of the woods.

Landen Morrison quickly walked down the dirt road, her rifle diagonal to her body, and her face somewhat hidden by her cowboy hat. She took position beside her partner.

"Good shootin', pardner," Raleigh mentioned.

The cowgirl grew smug. "Nottin' to it." She then quickly reached back with her rifle and slipped the rifle into its case strapped to her back. "I'll cover them." Her lightening hands went to her bullet belt and blurredly removed her Colt Peacemakers.

Raleigh released her hammer, holstered her gun, and hastily went to the hostages. She quickly worked to free them then she had plans for this same rope the bandits had used. When she got to the father, she made him stay seated, and she checked over the shoulder wound.

The wife was knelt beside her husband and studied the bullet wound too. "Jim, how yew feel?"

The father hoarsely whispered, "Weak but I'll make it to Ivanhoe."

"It ain't that far from 'ere," Raleigh promised.

"Thank you," the grateful wife said to the ranger.

Raleigh faintly nodded. "Let's see if we can't get thuh bleedin' ta stop." She twisted her head to the left and called, "Landen, yew got thuh wine?"

"Yeah." The cowgirl holstered her left gun then quickly did a distinct whistle for Stargazer. She then removed her left revolver when she heard the bandits whispering amongst themselves.

"Yew hear her name? Landen?"

Nick leaned over Harry and stated, "Its thuh-"

"Shut up," Landen cut off; her gun pointed at Nick. "Ya open yer mouth uhgain then ya'll find uh bullet in it. Y'hear?"

Raleigh was mentally cursing herself for saying her lover's name aloud. She prayed these people knew nothing about the Triple L and the Sam Bass Gang. She stood up and went to Stargazer. She quickly found the wine canteen along with a long rag she could use for the bleeding.

"Is pa gonna die?" the boy questioned.

The kneeling mother peered up at her child. "No, Sean… don't yew worry." She then sensed the ranger beside her again. She assisted Raleigh it tearing away her husband's shirt then cleaned the wound.

Raleigh utilized the sleeve from the torn shirt to wipe away the blood and then soaked it with wine. She quickly cleaned the wound and noticed that it bothered Jim. She then took the clean rag and wrapped it around so that it would hopefully slow the bleeding until he got to Ivanhoe. Finally, she helped the man climb to his weaken feet. "Let's get yew in thuh carriage."

Jim mutely agreed and carefully made it into the stagecoach. He leaned heavily against the bench seat and wall.

Raleigh then turned to the young man, who was around nine but no more than eleven. "Yew know how ta drive thuh carriage?"

"My father ain't taught me."

"Well I'm afraid yew gonna have ta learn today, Sean." The former ranger knelt down and quickly advised the boy how to guide the two horses. She could tell the boy easily understood, and she was grateful. When she stood up to her towering six feet, she offered a smile to the mother. "Yew should hit Ivanhoe in twenty ta thirty minutes."

"Thank yew so much," the wife replied. Her closest hand rested on her son's shoulder. "What will yawl do with thuh bandits? Take 'em ta Ivanhoe?"

"I don't think so," Raleigh answered, her eyes flickered to the bandits and back to the family. "Yew let us worry about that." She then ordered, "Yawl best be movin' along before it gets any later."

"Can we give yew somethin'?" the wife desperately tried. "Some gold pieces? Please?"

Raleigh took a step back and shook her head. "No thank yew, ma'am." She then politely tipped her hat. "Be safe now." She then turned on her heels and went to her partner's side.

The wife ushered her son to get on the stagecoach at the front. She then called out to the mysterious women. "Thank yew, Raleigh and Landen."

The cowgirl nodded and called back, "Take care, ma'am." Her eyes though stayed on the bandits the entire time.

The wife quickly climbed onto the stagecoach and took shotgun beside her son. She helped Sean get the horses walking then let him command them.

Raleigh walked over to where the rope rested in piles. She picked them up and marched over to the bandits. She took the left bandit first and ordered, "Put yew hands behind yew back." She was fairly efficient in tying the men's hands behind their backs then she directed her words to the injured bandit. "If yew settle down we might take care of yew hand."

Landen holstered her left Colt then stepped up to her lover and the bandits. "We're gonna have tuh take 'em tuh Ivanhoe."

The former ranger nodded because it was getting late and traveling at night with three bandits wasn't in their best interest. "I know… I didn't want those folks ta know it though." She tightly jerked Nick's tied hands which made him hiss. "Tight enough?"

Nick dangerously glared up at the ranger, who smirked back at him.

"Landen, we're gonna need yew lasso."

The cowgirl had a confused expression then it dawned on her. She laughed and in her deepest voice she threatened, "No ya ain't using mah lasso."

Raleigh folded her arms over her chest and arched an eyebrow.

The southerner sighed, rolled her eyes, and walked off to retrieve her lasso from her horse.

The former ranger lifted her right hand and gave a piercing whistle for Classic Touch to join them. She smiled at seeing the tall, chestnut mare trotting down the road and stopped beside Stargazer.

It wasn't long before the bandits were linked together by Landen's lasso across their waists. Harry had a bandaged hand. And the bandits walked ahead of the two female gunslingers down the dirt road, which led north to Ivanhoe.

Landen stayed astride her mare with her rifle still on her back and her left revolver in hand. Her right hand held the clumped up reins. She glanced down at Raleigh, who walked behind the bandits and would deal with anything they may try.

Harry, the injured bandit, glanced behind and dared a look up at the cowgirl on the white horse. He then snidely asked, "So yew are thuh Triple L? There ain't any other blond, female squaddie."

Raleigh's right hand shot out. She roughly jerked the bandit's bonds which made him painfully growl.

The cowgirl slowly smirked then gruffly shot back, "Ya really wanna find out?"

Harry grunted then turned his head around when the strain was too much on his neck. "So what's uh lawman and outlaw ridin' tagether for?"

"Never yew mind," Raleigh warned.

Harry didn't lose his grin as he considered his next option as soon as they made it to Ivanhoe.

Chapter 3

Raleigh Baylor glowed in the setting sunlight. "Go on," she ordered to the outlaws, who climbed the steps to the sheriff's jailhouse.

The sheriff sat behind his desk, and he was a rather older man. He lifted his head but grew shocked upon taking in the three tied men followed by a tall, dark woman. He jumped to his feet and approached the group. "Can I… help yew?"

"Howdy," Raleigh greeted. "I bringin' in these fine gentlemen." She smirked at their dower faces. "They tried robbin' a stagecoach just south of town."

The sheriff rested his hands on his hips and surveyed the outlaws. He suddenly chuckled and said, "These are thuh fellas that'a been gettin' away from me and mah deputy." He then smiled at the tall woman. "I'm Sheriff Kelly Jonathan." He held out his hand.

Raleigh took the shake and introduced herself. "Raleigh Baylor."

The sheriff tilted his hat back and eyed the woman better. "I'll be damned… yew that female ranger from Paris."

"I was," Raleigh corrected. "I resigned."

"What?" Harry piped up.

"We thought yew were still a ranger," the unknown bandit spoke.

Raleigh smirked at the bandits. "Sorry, boys."

Sherriff Jonathan shook his head. "Yew left thuh rangers?"

"I'm goin' out on mah own," Raleigh simply explained.

"Bounty hunter," the sheriff concluded. "Yew be wantin' thuh reward on these 'ere fellas."

Raleigh shook her head. "That's alright, sheriff." She quickly grabbed Nick's restraints and gave them a nice yank. "I'm more than happy ta bring these gentleman ta yew."

"Well," the happy sheriff started, "right this way then." He guided the outlaws and former ranger into the back where he had several empty jail cells. He unlocked one then watched Raleigh untie his hands then he closed the cell door once the bandit entered. He went to the next cell and repeated the process.

Raleigh untied the rope from Harry then gave Harry an extra shove into his cell. She winked at him when he spun around angrily.

Harry grabbed at the bars and declared, "She's rides with thuh Triple L!"

Raleigh Baylor narrowed her eyes at the bandit then she turned her head to the sheriff.

Sheriff Kelly Jonathan had wide eyes upon hearing the infamous outlaw's name. He gazed upon the former Texas Ranger.

Raleigh grinned at the sheriff. "Thuh Triple L?" Her voice mixed amusement and disbelief, her eyes bright.

The sheriff considered it then slowly started to laugh and laughed deeper when Raleigh joined in. He settled down and turned back to the bandit in the cell. "Next yew tell me she's pardners with thuh Triple L." He laughed and reminded, "She was one of thuh rangers that stopped thuh Sam Bass Gang, yew fool." He shook his head then touched the former ranger's shoulder. "Thank yew for bringin' them in, Miss Baylor."

Raleigh strolled off with the sheriff. "Mah pleasure, sheriff."

Harry growled hotly then kicked at the bars. "Yew damn ranger!"

"That's ex-ranger," Nick reminded from his cell.

"Shut up," Harry snapped, "Yew idiot."

Sheriff Jonathan patted the tall woman's shoulder then released her. "Yew welcome ta Ivanhoe anytime, Ranger Baylor."

The former ranger hesitated by the doorway of the jailhouse. "I ain't a ranger no more, sheriff."

The sheriff stood behind his desk. He smiled proudly then stated, "Once uh ranger, always uh ranger."

Raleigh actually believed there was some truth behind those words. She tipped her hat at the older man then respectfully stated, "Yew have uh goodnight, sheriff."

"Yew take care, ranger." Sheriff Jonathan kept his smile then he shook his head once the unusual woman left his office. He took his seat then considered the odd appearance of the ranger all the way from Paris. He just shrugged it off and began his paperwork to get the jailed bandits prepared for court.

Raleigh unhitched Classic Touch from the post by the sheriff's building. She easily mounted her horse then started out of town in the early evening. Once she was out of town, she broke into a gallop to join her waiting partner some miles away in a camp among the woods.

Landen Morrison poked the fire again with her thick branch. She pulled out the branch then peered into the metal bowl that hung over the fire. The water was just starting to bowl, and she'd need to add some meat, vegetables, and herb to make the dinner. She then sensed before she heard her partner's expected return.

Raleigh ducked under a low tree branch then she smiled upon seeing the cowgirl by the fire.

Landen remained by the fire because she was throwing the ingredients into the small pot. "Ya get them there okay?"

"Yes'sum." Raleigh went to work to free her mare of all the tack. "The bandit, Harry, was havin' uh hissy fit."

The southerner snickered and asked, "He cause ya problems?"

"Naw." Raleigh set her saddlebags down by Landen's set. "He tried ta tell thuh sheriff that I was ridin' with thuh Triple L."

Landen brushed her hands clean on her leather chaps after getting the herbs into the pot. She glanced over at her busy lover. "How'd ya get outta that?"

Raleigh held the face tack in her left hand and the girdle in her right. She arched an eyebrow at Landen. "Now who would believe uh Texas Ranger rides with thuh Triple L?"

Landen grunted and nodded with a sly grin. She bent down, picked up the wood spoon, and as she straightened up she spun the spoon between her fingers. She had an old habit of spinning anything between her fingers that she could manage. She took the time to stir the soup. "That cover won't work forever, Raleigh."

"It's good enough for now," Raleigh decided. She patted Classic Touch's side and whispered, "Thanks, girl." She then came towards Landen but stopped and quickly stroked Stargazer's nose.

Landen slightly smiled when her partner was beside her. "Ya want some tea with me?"

"That'd be nice," the former ranger agreed. She noted the kettle already hanging over the fire. She peered over into the pot.

Landen caught the motions, and she teased, "It ain't no chili."

The Texan laughed heartedly. "I can only handle mah mother's chili once a month."

Landen's glowing eyes met her partner's. "So it ain't just me?"

Raleigh laughed again, bent over, and placed a kiss to her lover's temple. "Naw." She strolled off to the saddlebags. She dug around for the bedrolls. She then paused when she came upon a tightly sealed jar. She hauled it out then stared at it, glanced at her partner, and back at the glass jar. She snickered then straightened up with the jar on display. "Landen, I've got a confession."

The cowgirl blinked and turned her head to the left. Her eyes widened between a mix of fear and astonishment. "Ooo… no, no!" She shook her head several times.

Raleigh laughed as she perfectly displayed the jar of her mother's chili that'd been packed for her. "Com'on, ma wanted us ta have it for tanight."

"Raleigh," Landen started in her deep, dangerous tone. Her right hand lowered to her right holster. "Get that stuff uhway before I-"

"Don't be havin' a fit," Raleigh teased then she hastily tucked the jar away in the bags.

Landen's sly grin showed as she turned back to the unspicy stew she was making for supper. "As good as it was," Landen started, "it tore mah stomach up."

The former ranger was highly amused. "Yew ain't much spicy food I take it."

"I've eatin' some spicy food but yer ma's don't even compare." Landen recalled the walloping flavor and stated, "I reckon her chili could take down thuh U.S. Army." She pulled out the spoon and set it down on the rag, which rested on a small stone by the campfire.

Raleigh was laughing from her spot where she was positioning the bedrolls and blankets. She removed her hat and set it at the head of the bedrolls. She then came closer to the campfire and took a seat on a large enough rock.

The cowgirl approached her partner with a warm smile. She gave a tender kiss to Raleigh then she sat down on the ground but between Raleigh's open legs. She removed her Stetson and set it aside then strong hands on her shoulders invited her to lean back.

The former ranger slid her hands down Landen's shoulders and wrapped around the small woman's chest. Raleigh leaned forward and kissed the cowgirl's temple. She finally straightened up and stared at the fire.

Landen rested her right hand on her lover's knee. Her fingertips traced different designs over Raleigh's canvas pants. She rested her head back against Raleigh's muscular yet soft stomach. "We did good tuhday… with hepin' those folks." A thin smile was on her face.

"We did," Raleigh gently agreed. She detected the smile in Landen's words which made her smile.

"I've heped uh few folks in my past," Landen revealed. "I've made some strange friendships that way."

"Yew seem ta do everything in uh strange way." Raleigh instantly received a smack to her thigh.

"Watch it," Landen growled.

Raleigh gently laughed in reaction.

"I enjoyed doin' that tuhday," Landen murmured after some more contemplation.

The Texan bent forward and kissed her lover's temple again then whispered, "Me too." She then released Landen when the kettle made noise. She quickly got up before Landen could move. "I got it."

The cowgirl played with her short hair. "Stir the soup too, please."

Raleigh did just that then it wasn't long before she came back over with the steaming mugs. She handed one to Landen then she returned to her spot on the rock.

The cowgirl sipped her tea then softly asked, "Raleigh?"

"Mmmm?" Raleigh lowered the mugs from her lips and waited.

"Ya sure about this?" Landen twisted her head around. "It ain't too late tuh go back tuh Paris."

"I'm ridin' high… there ain't no goin' back, Landen."

Part of Landen was grateful for the answer and another part was concerned about the former ranger's future. She didn't much like the idea of being the corrupter in Raleigh's life. It would be something that she would carry in her for some time. "Thank you, Raleigh."

Raleigh leaned forward and lowered her head until her cheek brushed against Landen's. "This is where I wanna be, Landen… right by yew side." She sensed the emotions building in Landen. "Don't yew ever doubt it."

"I'll try not tuh," Landen whispered then turned her head for a soft kiss. Then upon gazing into Raleigh's amazing blue eyes in the firelight, Landen for once saw something worth wild in her future. She genuinely smiled and it grew wider until it hurt because of Raleigh's beautiful smile back.

The End