Chapter 1

Wispy snow white clouds, reminiscent of mare's tails blazed across the azure sky over Sweetwater on this unusually hot June day. The sun showed no mercy as the town's Pony Express riders, (better known as Teaspoon's boys) heaved heavy sacks of livestock feed and other need supplies from Tompkins' store onto the stations buckboard that was pulled up alongside the loading platform.

"Come on Boys, let's get this wagon loaded, it's getting close to noon," Teaspoon hollered, "Y'all know how Emma hates to be kept waiting when she's about to get dinner on the table!" Lazily he leaned his chair back against the wall of the store, turning his attention towards the town's marshal, Samuel Cain.

Jimmy, heaving a sack to Ike, cut off Teaspoon's comment to Sam with a disgruntled, "Oh come on Teaspoon! We're moving as fast as we can. Why not get on to Cody who seems too preoccupied with every pretty girl that passes by to bother helping us?"

Buck was hot, sweaty, and most of all hungry. His belly was well past rumbling and had now grown into a fully-fledged gnawing at his backbone as he hefted another sack onto the wagon bed, all the while cursing Cody for slowing their work! The last place he wanted to be was in this town after what happened at his last visit to Tompkins' store.

In May, Kiowa Indians had attacked the nearby town of White Canyon, one county over in Harpers Creek, setting fire to their Pony Express station. Since then, the local town's people didn't take too kindly to Buck's presence in Sweetwater. Tompkins had run him out of his store soon after that fateful day in May, and things hadn't much improved.

Now, Buck found himself back again, doing both his and Cody's work as wary eyes watched his every move. He thought he had steeled himself against the way the town's folk treated him, with their poorly concealed disdain and at times abject fear; but the words and looks still hurt. Buck knew his true friends didn't see him as a "half breed", as he had been cruelly called by Tompkins and others. They saw him for who he was - Buck Cross, a man who happened to be part Kiowa; part White. His fellow riders embraced his duel heritage, and in Buck's mind they were his family, even Cody, who sorely vexed him at times such as today.

Pausing in his work, Buck looked over at Cody, as he flirtatiously curled one of Mary's golden locks around his finger. Mrs. Higgins' pretty daughter was giggling and smiling sweetly up at Cody with shining eyes only for him. The image strangely left an empty void in Buck's heart, and suddenly he felt alone, so alone. He wondered if he would ever experience the feel of someone gazing up at him with such a glowing smile and adoring eyes. His gloomy thoughts were suddenly interrupted as a sack of flour slammed into his arm, knocking him with a grunt into the side of the wagon's boards.

"Hey!" Buck yelled, "Watch where you are throwing that sack, Jimmy!"

"I was watching, Buck! You just weren't paying attention, that's all!"

"I'd sure as hell pay more attention Jimmy, if I wasn't so hungry!" Buck grumbled as he bent to pick up the bag of flour, throwing it unceremoniously on top of the other supplies, then proceeded to rub his sore arm that now took precedence over his empty stomach.

Turning dark eyes upon Teaspoon, Buck spoke out almost shouting, "Hickock's right Teaspoon!" Kicking dirt with the heel of his boot the young man's anger flared, "We've been working hard here! Cody's done nothing to help us."

Buck looked over at Ike who was as angry, hot and as tired as he was, signing furiously with his hands. Buck translated for his friend, "Ike says we should just leave Cody here with the rest of Emma's supplies and let him figure out how to get it all back to the station by himself!"

The sharp thud of chair legs hitting the porch decking silenced the young men as Teaspoon stood up. "Okay Boys, that's enough!" Turning his attention towards Cody, he spoke in a firm tone that meant business. "Cody! Don't you have some work to do?"

"I'm coming Teaspoon," Cody replied, "Just give me a minute to say goodbye to Miss Higgins." Quickly he turned his attentions back towards Mary, giving her his most dazzling smile.

Teaspoon held up his hand to thwart the oncoming protests about to ensue from the boys. "Now before you say anything I know you are all angry." He paused, waiting for the grumbling to cease before continuing, "It's hotter than Hades out here, and y'all have been working hard and are tired and hungry. I understand, but you boys have to remember that there will come a day when a pretty young lady will turn your head faster than it will take Cody to blink, and she'll be all you'll be able to think about, and someone else will have to carry your load for the moment, now just think about that."

"That all sounds good and nice for Cody, "Jimmy retorted, "but I don't see any pretty girls looking our way, and I'm sure not getting any closer to Emma's beef stew!"

Buck who was usually quiet, thoughtful and generally in control of his tongue rashly spoke out. "So what are you saying Teaspoon? Do we have to do all Cody's work while he flirts with every girl in Sweetwater who smiles his way? That doesn't sound fair to me, and frankly I am tired of it!"

"*I agree!*" Ike signed.

Teaspoon, understanding the meaning behind Buck's words leveled his blue gaze upon the young Indian's dark eyes, his words succinctly spoken. "Careful Buck, careful! Those words may just come back to bite you." The meaning clear.

Buck went silent, breaking his dark look as he signaled for Jimmy to toss him another sack of flour.

Teaspoon cast his glacial eyes upon Cody as he spoke, "I thought I told you…"

"I'm coming Teaspoon." Cody responded with hast.

Resuming his seat he watched as Cody bid a warm farewell to Mary Higgins, gallantly kissing the back of her hand with a flourish. Looks passed between the boys sharper than Buck's knife could cut as Cody rejoined them. "What? What did I do?"

"Nothing Cody, nothing at all." Jimmy growled, heaving another sack to Ike.

Sighing, Teaspoon turned back towards the marshal, "Sometimes I don't know Sam, they're good hard working boys but there are times I think…"

Sam, who had been watching the whole scene play out picked up on the other man's thoughts. "There are times you think it would be better if there were no pretty girls around to turn their heads, causing them to act so crazy?"

"Yep, something like that, but I would probably have better success if I just put blinders on Cody." The amusement faded from Teaspoon's voice. "I can't blame Buck for getting so angry," Teaspoon continued, "This town has given that boy an awful hard time since the second attack over at White Canyon. The burned down way station hasn't helped matters any. Things have calmed down somewhat, but it still hasn't stopped this town's ignorant talk! Any young girl that does happen to pass a look Buck's way generally has a mother in tow that hightails her precious daughter out of Buck's path, afraid he is some sort a savage out for their scalps."

Sam was silent for a moment, absently scuffing his booted foot back and forth on the wooden porch boards. He loved listening to the sounds of his town at peace. The horses whinnying as they trotted into town, and the children laughing as they ran, leaping over his booted legs stretched out across his porch. These sounds, mingled along with piano music coming from the hotels' saloon, and especially the giggles of the young girls as the Express riders rode into town, interwove themselves into the tapestry of everyday life in Sweetwater that Sam loved. Nothing missed Marshal Cain's sharp eyes and ears, and he knew the pulse of his town better than anyone. Yet in the last month the sounds seemed only a surface illusion, like smooth ice deceptively glazed over a pond, ready to crack and take any unwary soul down under into its cold dark depths.

The incident at Tompkins' store was the start. Buck had been told that his "kind" was not welcome. Jimmy, Cody, and Lou took up the defense of Buck as two of Tompkins' hired men tried to manhandle Buck. Pandemonium to broke out. A small smile tugged at the corners of the marshal's mouth as he remembered being told how the "scrawny one" took a cast iron skillet to Tompkins' head. In the marshal's personal opinion if any one deserved a knock on the head, it was Tompkins.

Teaspoon, watching Sam, saw the beginnings of a smile start to form. "What's got you so amused, Marshal?"

A small laugh escaped Sam, "Just thinking of Lou with that iron skillet. I wish I had seen that one." His laughter died away on the June breeze, becoming serious once more. "Oh hellfire Teaspoon! What's becoming of this town? Buck's a good, honest, hardworking kid! This crazed Indian nonsense has got to stop!" He almost shouted out the words, slamming his hand down hard on the arm of his chair.

"I know your frustration, Sam. I sure hope it stops for Buck's sake. I will say this though; those boys are handling this mess a heck of a lot better than we ever would have done at their age." Teaspoon let his chair legs thud once more back on the porch. Raising himself up he slowly scanned the activity in the street.

In a more somber tone Sam quietly asked, "How much more blood is going to be spilled before this is all over, Teaspoon?"

"I don't know Marshal. But I do know all it would take is a spark to start an all-out war with the Indians. Russells, Majors, and Wydell, are forcing more and more riders to pass through sacred Indian lands, it's only a matter of time. I sure hope it doesn't come to that here, I don't know how much more Buck can take -" Teaspoon paused to look over at the tired, sweaty young man placing the last of the smaller packages onto the wagon bed. "That boy could sure do with a pretty girl smiling up at him right about now." Teaspoon mused more to himself than Sam.

"What was that Teaspoon?" Sam asked, somewhat puzzled, "I didn't catch the end of what you said"

"Oh, nothing Sam, just that I think those boys are ready for a good meal." Just then Teaspoon felt his stomach rumble and he called out, "Hey! You Boys 'bout finish there with that wagon? I don't know about you, but I am in need of some of Miss Emma's good cookin'!"

At the mention of Emma, all morose thoughts fled away from Sam as he got up and slapped Teaspoon friendly like on the back. "I know what you mean about Emma's cooking Teaspoon, there ain't nothin' like it in the world." All the while Sam was suddenly grinning like a lovesick school boy.

Teaspoon gave him a sideways mischievous grin, "Now Marshal, how would you happen to know 'bout that?"Both men enjoyed a moment of hearty laughter and unspoken understanding - Sam was sweet on Emma.

As Teaspoon and Marshal Cain were carrying on, Cody, Jimmy, Ike and Buck worked without words, placing the remaining sacks of provisions onto the buckboard. Suddenly without warning, as Jimmy passed the last sack of grain to Ike, Cody let out a exuberant whistle exclaiming "Will y'all look at that?"

"Look at what Cody?" Jimmy asked, "I don't see anything but two other tired, hungry faces ready to eat." nodding his head in the direction of Ike heaving the last heavy sack to Buck.

Cody frowned, "Not those two, I mean over there across the street." Cody inclined his head in the direction of a raven-haired young woman walking out of the school house, down the side walk pass the side of the hardware store.

Buck, catching the last grain sack, let out a low grunt as he threw it up on the buckboard, peevishly retorting, "You know Cody, some of us would like to eat sometime today!"

Cody never heard a word. All eyes, Buck's included, were now turned towards the tall stately young lady who paused at the hardware, gazing across at the Hotel on the other side of the street.

"My oh my, I think I've just died and gone to heaven, for a face that lovely could only belong to an angel." Cody sighed.

Jimmy chuckled at his friend as he spoke, "So tell me Cody, that pretty Mary Higgins you were talking to outside Tompkins' store..."

Before Jimmy could finish his jib, or Cody give a reply, Buck's deep resonant voice cut through the lighthearted banter. "I think she is really upset, the young woman looks like she's crying."

Buck just stood, his dark eyes transfixed upon the attractive young lady as she wiped dark curls and what he suspected were tears away from her pale, beautiful ivory face; a face that would forever haunt Buck's dreams.

Cody cast a glance at Buck then at the young woman, and in his fashion, full of cheeky brash replied, "Well Buck, that's because she hasn't met me yet!"

Taking a swaggering step off the sidewalk Cody shot back over his shoulder, "I think I'll go over and pay my respects and welcome the young lady to our fair town of Sweetwater."

"I don't think so Cody!" Jimmy replied, as he and Ike quickly rushed Cody, each grabbing him by the arm, thus halting his forward momentum and promptly pulled him back causing Cody to tumble to the ground.

Cody angered and completely dust covered, glowered at Jimmy and Ike. "What the hell did you go and do that for?" he yelled, "Look at me? I can't go see her looking like this!" Knocking dust off his coat and breeches his voice quivered with rage, "I'm going to get you both for this!" He started towards Jimmy; arm raised but suddenly stopped mid swing and turned as Ike beat on his chest for attention while pointing across the street as the scene unfolded.

It all happened in a moment, but to Ike it was like watching a horror in one's nightmare played out in slow motion as he heard his friend cry out, "Look out! Ma'am! Look out!"

Recklessly, Buck bolted across the street not heeding the oncoming rider that almost ran him down. All Buck could see was the dark-haired woman stepping off the sidewalk onto the street straight into the path of an oncoming stagecoach.

Buck bellowed, "Look out Miss! Get out of the way!" He heard her scream, and with all the strength he possessed, he lunged at the girl catching her about the waist, forcing them both at the latest possible moment out of the coach's path to crash and tumble onto the dusty street.

Men, wheels, and horses cried out and squealed in protest as the driver pulled back with all his might to bring the moving coach to a halt. The main street of Sweetwater was in a complete uproar of commotion, yet Buck heard none of it. His gaze was riveted on the pale lovely face of the young woman lying as one dead before him, his heart seemed to stop beating as he asked, "Ma'am, can you hear me?"

No answer came. Panic started to weave itself around his heart as he begged, "Miss, Miss, wake up, wake up!"

Gently he lifted and cradled her head in the crook of his arm, while tenderly brushing away the spray of jet curls scattered across her face revealing tear stained cheeks. Silently offering a prayer to the spirits, Buck tenderly wiped away the remaining tears while imploring the young woman to wake up and open her eyes.

Several heartbeats passed, and Buck feared the worst. Suddenly, he heard a soft moan from the girl as her eyes fluttered open, focusing and locking on his soulful dark gaze. Buck's breath caught in his throat, never had he seen eyes so beautiful and of such an unusual shade of green flecked with golden amber; which seemed to peer into the depths of his very being and touch his soul.

Gathering his composure, he spoke in his most soothing tone, never taking his gaze off her. "My name is Buck Cross; I'm a Pony Express rider." He gave her his most reassuring, warm smile, "You stepped out in front of an oncoming coach, I had to push you out of the way; you almost got killed. Tell me where you are hurt?"

Her large green,gold flecked eyes never left his as her voice came like a soft spring breeze through willows to his ears. "Buck, Buck Cross..." her words trailing off as the smallest hint of a smile played at the corners of her mouth. With the lightest of touch, her fingers grazed Buck's arm as she reached up and grasped the sleeve of his shirt; holding on as if it were a lifeline holding her safe in Buck's world. A soft "Thank you, Buck" passed from her lips as a lone tear, which hung precariously on her lashes, now slipped down her cheek.

Buck noticed her focus growing weak as he tenderly brushed away the solitary tear with his thumb. As his hand came to rest on her shoulder, he tried to gingerly shake her awake. "Ma'am, you have to stay with me, what is your name, Can you tell me your name?"

Furring her brow she brought her focus back on Buck, her voice barely above a whisper.

Buck, becoming aware of Jimmy and Cody yelling his name over the clamoring din, had to lower his head closer to hers in order to hear her response. He caught her faint sent of honeysuckle, which sent a slight tremor through his being as she whispered, "Bran... my name is Branwen." As her hand slipped from Buck's shirt sleeve her head slumped back in his arm; she was gone.

Panic and fear gripped Buck. Quickly he placed a finger against her throat and sighed another thanks as he felt a pulse beat, albeit weak.

"Wake up! Branwen, please wake up!" his tone fraught with concern as he tried to shake her awake.

Ike reached Buck first; kneeling before his friend he placed a hand upon Buck's shoulder before signing *"Is she dead, Buck?"* he asked, as Jimmy and Cody joined them.

Taking his eyes off the girl for the first time since the accident, Buck gazed at his friends, the hint of unshed tears glistened in his dark eyes, his voice thick with unspoken emotions. "She's alive Ike, but only just."

Turning his attention back to Branwen, he reached under the linen fabric of her skirts, grasping her legs firmly while cradling her head against his chest and in one fluid motion lifted her up, embracing her close to his strong lithe frame.

"I need to get her to Doc." Buck started in the direction of Dr. Barnes' office.

Jimmy clasped his arm. "Buck, wait," Buck clenched his jaw, glaring darkly at his friend. "What is it Jimmy! Can't you see -"

Teaspoon, pushing his way through the gathering crowd in an effort to get to Buck yelled out, "Can someone tell me what in the blazes happened here? Buck go! Get her inside Doc's office. Jimmy go see if you can find Doc, he's probably at the barber's shop. Ike I want you to go with Buck, keep an eye on him!" Wiping his face with his hand, he turned, addressing Cody, "One minute everything is fine the next this! Cody, do you mind telling me what happened here?"

Cody heard Teaspoon's question, yet was far too shaken to answer, as he followed Buck's gaze towards the puddle of blood Ike was pointing to on the ground. More passed between Buck and Ike in that silent moment than words could ever express. Buck turned, and with long quick strides carried the dark haired young woman towards Dr. Barnes' office as Cody watched Ike follow in his wake.

"Son," Teaspoon tried to get Cody's attention, "can you explain to me what happened?"

Cody was truly bewildered as he responded, "I don't know Teaspoon, honest. One moment I was starting to cross the street to speak to the young lady, the next thing I know, Ike and Jimmy are pulling me back and I hit the ground. I was all covered in dust and angry Teaspoon, I was about to take a swing at Jimmy, when I saw Ike pointing at Buck who was hollering out to the girl. Before I knew what was happening Buck is running head long into the street and intercepted the girl as she stepped out into the path of that stagecoach." Cody now pointed towards the coach, and stagecoach master Sam Cain was talking to.

Teaspoon clasped the young man's shoulder, "It's alright son, Buck's okay except for a few scraps and knowing him, I'm sure the young lady is going to be fine as well. Now, what I want is for you to ride back to the station and let Emma know what's happened. I'm afraid the girl may be staying with us if she has no family close by."

"I'm right on it, Teaspoon!" Cody eagerly replied.

"Oh, and Cody, tell Emma some of us will be a little late for dinner, have her save a plate for Buck, if you don't mind."

"I'll do that, Teaspoon." Cody, flashing a grin, dashed off for his horse and with a sharp hiyah, hoof's and dust went flying, as he headed back towards Emma's and the Way Station to deliver the news, praying all the while that everything would be well with the raven haired young woman.

To be continued...


A/N

I have never really written before...not like this. So this is my very first TYR story, and I want to express my thanks to those who took the time to read.

Especially I want to thank my beta's Anita and Karen...without you guys and your time and patience with me, this story would have never seen the light of day.

Also want to thank Kristina and Jenna who gave wonderful support and encouraged to me, a newbie, and helped to keep me writing and keep going. To all at G+...you gals are great. (Huge hug)

I hope every one will stick around for the story...it will lead into a different version of Daddy's girl and go from there...