A/N: I know it has been a long time, but I found my Nemesis muse so I wrote another chapter. Hopefully they will come with more frequency from now on.
Horatio looked down at the calligraphy sample and smiled. If he had a mustache he certainly would had twirled the ends. Maybe he would grow one just so the next time he was satisfied he would have a way to express it. He had chosen the lettering style and the stationary. Now the invitations just needed to be sent. The small lawless town of Regrets was more than happy to host his event. He had lots to arrange yet. A poker tournament would be the main activity advertised to the general public, but that was just a cover to hide the real excitement. The men he addressed envelopes to were the ringers in this alternative tournament and young men eager to test their mettle would come like lambs to the slaughter. Not a one of them would be able to resist being crowned 'The Fastest Gun in the West.' J.D. Marcus would write the books and the winner would be famous beyond their lifetime. Oh, he knew the Hickok boy didn't desire that title or the fame that would follow it. He'd already proven that with his first encounter with Mr. Marcus. He needed to compel the boy into the tournament and he knew just how. He would take a cheap and easy shot.
There were already people following her and watching her every move. All they had to do was wait for the word and they would pick her up. Horatio thought a threat to hurt her might be enough, but he wouldn't hesitate to kidnap her and hold her until the contest was concluded. A thought occurred to him and he smiled. He could just offer her up as part of the prize. He could have her tarted up so that there wouldn't be a question what she was meant for. He chuckled as he thought of the puppy that followed her around. He wasn't bad with a gun and just maybe he would enter the contest too. There was no 'maybe' about it. He would enter to save her, they both would. He could kill two birds with one stone so to speak, but more than likely three. This plan was delicious.
The invitations would go out today. He would have them hand delivered and his men were instructed to wait for an RSVP -all except the Hickok boy's invitation. That would arrive the same way letters to the station always arrived. One of the riders would get it at one of the other stations and deliver it home. He would send a man to escort James Hickok to the tournament and not take 'no' for an answer in a week. He might just take the girl anyway. It sounded amusing. Maybe he would even send a cryptic message to the boy they called 'the Kid' and then really have some real fun. That is what he would do. Horatio felt suddenly anxious. Time couldn't move fast enough for him. This was going to be a delightful tournament. Now if he could just find Charles and that sister of his, everything would be going right with his world.
Sam was uncomfortable keeping secrets especially from Emma, but he had a lot of time on the stage to think. He couldn't risk losing Charlotte. She was the key to finding out who was stealing the army guns and getting that information out of her was going to take time, but it was time he was willing to spend. Emma didn't need to know just now that Amy Bonner was Buck's Charlotte. He would keep it to himself for a while.
Charlotte was a wild card. Everything that he had heard about her through Rachel and Teaspoon convinced him of it. Also, Buck seemed to blame her at least partly for his being buried alive. Then she mentioned a brother that wanted to kill her and had blamed the attack on Buck on him as well. This girl was running from a lot of things. She had no way of knowing whether Sam was on her side or not. Also, she was cautious. Right after he told her he was the Territorial Marshal, she clammed up and had the look in her eye like she suddenly knew who they were. She was ready to escape from Omaha at a moment's notice and Sam knew it.
Sam made sure Charlotte was safely ensconced in the convent with the Sisters of Mercy. She had requested to wear the clothes of a novice to blend in. That girl was no fool. He still wasn't sure how Buck, of all Emma's boys had gotten involved with Charlotte. She didn't seem at all his type. Granted, the only girl Sam ever saw him fall for was Kathleen Devlin, so maybe Charlotte was exactly the type of girl Buck would fall for...the wrong one. Well, he was with Jenny Tompkins now and for that Sam was glad. She seemed like the right girl.
Emma was in the kitchen when Sam came home. Sam leaned against the door and inhaled deeply. Emma's cooking could bring him comfort like nothing else.
"Welcome home, Sam," Emma said as she took some biscuits out of the oven. "Is Amy all settled?"
"She is," Sam replied as he walked into the kitchen. Sam hugged Emma tightly. He just needed to feel her safely in his arms.
"What was that for?" Emma asked.
"Something's coming, Emma," Sam said. "I just don't know when."
"This is about Charlotte," Emma prompted. Sam tried to hide his surprise. "I know Amy isn't her real name. She could only be Charlotte."
"When did you figure it out?" Sam asked sighing.
"You changed toward her," Emma said. "I knew as soon as you started to treat her like a witness about to bolt that she was Charlotte."
"Emma, what are we gonna do?" Sam asked. He was so relieved that he didn't have to keep Charlotte a secret anymore, but that didn't mean they were all out of danger.
"About Charlotte or about Buck?" Emma asked.
"I know what to do about Charlotte," Sam said, "It's Buck I'm worried about."
"I know what you mean," Emma said. "We can't keep this from him."
"We can't tell him now," Sam said. "It would put her in danger. Hell, it would probably put him in danger too."
"We'll just have to keep her close," Emma decided, "And hope he forgives us for keeping this from him."
"I was afraid you were going to say that," Sam said.
Charlotte sat on the bed in her room. It was a small room, but she didn't need a lot of space. If she could just hide out here, she would be alright. She and her baby would be taken care of and then everything would be fine. If she kept telling herself that she might just believe it. Charlotte hugged the pillow and curled up in the middle of the bed. All she wanted was Buck here with her now. She didn't know how to cope with her life anymore. Everything about her life was unfamiliar. She was self-reliant and never tied done. She didn't have to hide from anything. Now she was seeking refuge at a convent and trying to decide if trusting the territorial marshal and his wife was a wise move or not. She was pregnant, alone, and most disturbingly, in love.
"Oh, Buck, why did I have to fall for you," Charlotte said out loud. "Everything would have been so much easier if I hadn't."
Charlotte patted her belly. She hadn't started to show yet so she was still trying to get used to the idea of being with child. "I'm not going to let anyone hurt you, little one."
"I wish things were different," Charlotte told the ceiling. "I guess I only have myself to blame. Please watch over my baby. He's innocent. If anything happens to me, I hope you will bring our baby to Buck."
Thoughts of the marshal and his wife kept swirling in her mind. They knew who she was, but they gave her space. They wanted her to trust them and Charlotte really wanted to, but at the same time she wanted to protect them. She didn't want to bring the hell Charles had planned for her onto her new friends. They all needed to stay away from each other while in the public eye.
Jimmy sat on the bunkhouse porch. His chair was tipped back and he rested his feet up on a small barrel. Today seemed like a nice day to relax. He and the riders hadn't had too many of those lately, but things had calmed down. Buck was doing better now, but not as well as he'd like others to believe. He was in town right now wooing the shopkeeper's daughter. Jimmy had to smile at that. His friend had had a pretty wild few months and Jimmy was happy that Buck had finally found a bit of peace. The letters from the mysterious "N" had stopped and everybody was feeling relieved about that.
Jimmy missed having Emma around. He hadn't realized how much he missed her until she and Sam had come back. Rachel had taken good care of them all, but Emma's presence had come at a critical time. Everything seemed to be spinning out of control and then Emma came back to them and fixed it.
The day was getting hotter and Jimmy was about to retreat inside the bunkhouse when he saw a familiar dust cloud approaching the station.
"Rider up," he called and Lou charged out of the bunkhouse and got ready to take the mochilla from Noah.
The hand off went smooth enough, but something in the way Noah looked at him told him that the calm he had been feeling was only temporary.
"What is it?" Jimmy asked.
"Letter for you," Noah said. "It looks like an invitation of some kind. It has all sorts of fancy lettering on it."
"Who is it from?" Jimmy asked with trepidation.
Jimmy feared everything was going to fall to pieces again. Last time they had almost lost Buck. If this was from the mysterious 'N', what did this man have in store for them this time?
Jimmy looked at the linen envelope with the fancy writing and gently opened it. He pulled the card out from inside and looked it over. It was from who he feared. His reading skills weren't great but they were getting better. He didn't trust his abilities completely and handed the letter off to Noah.
"Read it," Jimmy pleaded.
Noah read aloud,
Dear Mr. Hickok,
Your presence is expected at a quick draw contest in the town of Regrets in one week's time. All the arrangements and accommodations have been made. If you choose not to show up you will be compelled to participate. Tell no one of this contest or the lives of your friends are forfeit. Do not test us on this. You friends lives depend on your cooperation.
"I'm getting sick of this man threatening us," Noah complained. "What kind of 'quick draw' contest does this man have in mind?"
"I don't know, but I also know I don't want to be anywhere near it."
"Do you think he would make good on his threat to compel you to enter?" Noah wondered.
"He doesn't make threats idly," Jimmy answered. "Buck can attest to that."
"We better tell Teaspoon and get the gang together," Noah said.
"I can't do that, Noah," Jimmy said. "He threatened your lives if I got you involved."
"I can't and won't sit by and wait for him to kill you Jimmy," Noah protested. "Now like it or not I'm helping you."
"Then you best stay out of sight," Jimmy said.
Jimmy took the letter out of Noah's hands and read it to himself again. He cursed himself for getting comfortable. The mysterious 'N' wasn't out of their lives by a long shot and Jimmy didn't think they would get the man off their back until they found out who he was.