Chapter 1

Adam Cartwright would always go after his little brother. No matter the circumstances, Adam was fairly certain that there was no trouble in the world Little Joe could get himself into that he and Hoss could not extract him from. The question was, whether the trouble or his brothers would kill Joe first.

"What was he thinking?!" Adam gritted angrily between his teeth.

"I don't know, but when I find him, I'm gonna pin his ears back." Hoss vowed solemnly.

"I told him to stay away from that girl. Why doesn't he ever listen?" Adam was pacing through the living room. His face was set in anger, but Hoss knew well enough that it was only a thin mask disguising his worry for Little Joe. Adam always felt responsible for his younger brothers, especially Joe who had a penchant for trouble as big as the state of Nevada.

"Now Adam, you know as well as I do that Little Joe don't hear so good when it comes to pretty gals." Hoss soothed.

"Yes, and it's going to get him killed someday." Adam shut his eyes and stopped pacing for a moment. "I wish Pa were here." he added quietly.

"We'll have Little Joe back by the time Pa gets home."

"I hope you're right."

--

Joe swore to himself that he'd never get involved with women again as long as he lived. He swore it to himself again and again as he attempted to free himself from the tight ropes that held him bound against a beam.

She had seemed like such a nice girl too. Curly, golden hair, deep limpid blue eyes, full red lips, soft, sweet voice. She was short too. Little Joe liked that. If a girl was tall, well... Joe shook his head. Too bad she was such a treacherous little...

Adam and Hoss were going to kill him.

"Comfortable, Little Joe?" The door opened to admit the beautiful girl herself. Her perfect profile was outlined against the light of the door.

Joe pursed his lips and glared. After a day and a half of being tied up, his hands had gone completely numb and his entire body was stiff and sore from remaining in the same position so long. To top it off, they hadn't given him anything to eat. "Never been so comfortable in my life." He quipped.

"Good. It shouldn't be too much longer. Your family received the message yesterday."

"You're assuming my family will meet your demands, Ally. Maybe they don't care what happens to me." Joe said dispassionately. It was a weak attempt, but he had to try.

Ally Forster smiled knowingly. "I met your family, Little Joe. They care. They care a great deal more than I do what happens to you."

Joe resisted the urge to wince. That hurt. He really had thought she cared for him. "You're quite the little actress, aren't you?"

She bowed dramatically. "My family and I have to make a living somehow. And I'll tell you something, Little Joe-- you're only one among many young men I've had eating out of my hand, pouring out their hearts to me and swearing undying love." She laughed mirthlessly. "I've gotten used to it. You're nothing special." She knelt in front of him, looking into his bold young eyes. Something bordering tenderness flickered briefly across her features. "Or maybe you are."

She laid a hand on his cheek and he shrugged away, picking a spot on the dark wall to stare at. "What happens to me if they don't meet the ransom?"

"Such gloomy thoughts for such a beautiful day!" Miss Forster chided.

"I don't like surprises."

The woman stood to her feet and went to the door, her expression carefully masked again. "Let's just say, for your sake I hope your brothers get here by tonight."

Joe didn't bother to say it, but he hoped so too.

--

AN/ /What sort of horrible trouble has Lil' Joe gotten himself into THIS time? Actually, I don't know where this story is going yet. I began this in a notebook a few days ago because I desperately needed a distraction at the time. I wasn't exactly bitten by a plot bunny or anything, I just needed to write, so I could politely ignore everyone, and NOT bite someone's head off! My immediate and extended family was driving me CRAZY and I was stuck in the same house with them! Don't get me wrong, I love my family very, very much, but there are times...

So, this tale may be the result of relative-induced madness, and as such, will most likely be short on detail, plot, and description. Time will tell... :P I've also discovered that I desperately need a detailed map of the Ponderosa... so if I'm way off in my geography, I'll try to fix it later. As it is, I'll probably have a LOT of things to fix later. Or, maybe I'll just write another, better Bonanza story! :P Yep, I like that idea. :)