Never Alone

Chapter One

The night wind was blowing hard as Kathleen walked through the huge mansion she'd called home for almost twenty years. Most of the time, the place felt bright, uplifting and friendly; tonight it was eerily silent. Walking over to one of the living room windows she opened up one of the windows, not caring if the wind would blow in and knock things over. Tonight her heart was too afraid to care. When she heard footsteps, Kathleen turned to see her nineteen year old daughter, Victoria May, standing in the room looking just as upset as her mother. At least the other six children were asleep. "Everyone is out looking, mother. They'll find him; they have too." Victoria May looked at her mother.

Kathleen looked down at the small table she and Nick had bought the week before. She couldn't help but pick up one of the pictures she'd insisted be placed upon it. A sad, somewhat amused smile spread across her face. She couldn't remember why or how, but her brother in law, Heath Barkley, had talked her husband into posing for the lone portrait. Later, Nick had wanted to get rid of it, said it made him look like a stuck up city fellow, but she'd held onto it for all she was worth.

Kathleen's eyes went from the picture of her missing husband to that of their oldest child, born exactly nine months after they'd married. Everyone called her their wedding night baby. Only she and Nick knew the truth, and neither of them had ever said a word. "I'm sure they will." She did her best to smile, to hold onto the faith that Nick would be found and found alive. She wasn't ready to lose him yet.

Victoria May walked up next to her mother and looked at the picture in her mother's hands. With her father missing, the young woman wanted something, anything, to keep her mind busy. "Tell me a story, mother, please." Victoria May could never get enough of the family stories, sad, happy, tragic or not; she loved them all. Her eyes pled for her mother to do as she asked.

"Which one? There are many." Kathleen smiled as she looked upon her daughter who looked so much like her grandmother it was almost scary.

Victoria May thought and thought. After a few moments, she answered quietly and hesitantly, "How about the first time Father had to leave Stockton for the first time after his accident and was gone longer than planned. You know, when he missed my birth because I came early."

Kathleen stiffened slightly and then set the picture in her hands down. Out of all the stories there were, her oldest would pick that one. Walking over to the mantle above the fireplace, she took another picture and sat down on the couch. Her daughter sat down beside her, looked at the picture in her mother's hand and listened as Kathleen began to speak of another moment in time.

0000

The sun was shining and there were few clouds in the sky. Kathleen walked down the path from the house to the rose garden she and Nick had planted once they were married. Actually, since she was carrying their first baby and was due to deliver sometime in October, it was Kathleen that felt like she waddled more than she walked. By the time she actually reached her favorite spot of the garden, she was ready to sit on the bench that sat along its edge and just think, mostly about the conversation that had taken place in the bedroom Nick and she shared. It was something she felt strongly she could do without interruption as Audra was visiting friends in Sacremento and Gene had married and moved to New York.

"I have to go." Nick barked as he stood in the middle of the room doing his best not to let his wife's "irrational thinking" get to him. His mother had warned him that Kathleen would get moody, have strange cravings and the likes, but lately the woman he'd married was being far more emotional than Nick was used to seeing her. "I can't ask Heath to make the trip alone. We need those horses, all of them. We won't be gone more than a week, maybe ten days. That baby ain't due for another three weeks!" On seeing the upset look on Kathleen's face, he laid one hand on his wife's shoulder and the other one on her cheek. He looked her in the eye and lowered his voice. "If I could stay I would. I promise," he said as he kissed her forehead, "I won't be longer than I have to. I want to be here for the birth of my child just as bad as you want me to be here."

Kathleen sighed as she watched a few birds fly overhead. Other words had been exchanged, some quite hurtful. She knew she'd behaved worse than a child when she heard about the trip her husband and his blond-haired brother were taking. She didn't know why fear had grabbed at her heart, a irrational fear that something would happen to Nick. The child she carried needed his, or her, father.

For that matter, that something could happen to Heath. She didn't want anything to happen to him either. Heath had just gotten engaged to Maria Montero, who had realized that she loved Heath to much to turn her back on him and returned in spite of the threat of being disowned. When she heard the sound of spurs, Kathleen turned her head to see Nick standing at the edge of the garden. She started to rise only to find Nick sitting down and facing her.

Kathleen opened her mouth to speak only to find Nick's fingers upon her lips. "We both said a lot of things back there we shouldn't have." Nick moved his hand to her shoulder, "Mother heard us and pulled me aside." A grin appeared on his face as he chuckled. "You know, that mother of mine keeps reminding me how wise she really is. I would like the underlying issue she pointed out brought out and talked about before I leave. Heath should be here in a half hour." His brother had went into town to see Maria.

Kathleen hung her head slightly. What was the underlying issue? She had acted liked a child, a very possessive one at that. She was greatly embarrassed and ashamed of herself. When Nick took a hold of her chin and raised her head, Kathleen didn't fight him. "Neither one of us took time to realize this is the first trip I've had to take out of town since my accident, and you only came into my life after I was thrown from the horse. Mother thinks, and I agree," Nick said as his eyes filled with love and concern for his wife, "that you're really afraid something will happen to me again. You're trying to protect me, but this is life. People are born, they live their lives and then they pass to the other side. Neither one of us can do anything to change that fact." He paused then admitted, "The other day, when I was working with Heath and McCall, I came close to asking him if he'd go with Heath." Nick sighed and held Kathleen close. "I think it was for the same reason. I was afraid something would happen and I wouldn't have you nearby."

Kathleen didn't fight the few tears that escaped her eyes as she held onto Nick for all she was worth. If she was to be honest with herself, she had to admit her husband and mother-in-law had a point. It felt good to know he'd had the same fears. "You have to go," she spoke softly as she felt Nick's arm tighten ever so slightly around her, "It's like you said. You can't ask Heath to go by himself and this baby isn't due yet." She kept herself from voicing, yet again, the feeling that had come over her… one that still warned her of impending danger to someone.

Nick and Kathleen continued talking, even laughing a bit, before they heard Heath's voice calling out for Nick. Nick gave his wife a grin, helped her up and held onto her arm as the two walked out of the garden. He might have said something about the waddle of hers, but he figured that it would not be good timing on his part.

Seeing his brother and sister-in-law walking arm in arm, smiling from ear to ear, Heath could only hope he would have just a good a marriage with Marie as Nick seemed to have with Kathleen. "You ready to go?" Heath asked once his brother was within hearing range. Heath was eager to go; after all, the sooner he and Nick left, the sooner they could get back.

"Yeah, just let me go saddle Coco." Nick let go of Kathleen's arm and headed for the stable. Kathleen went back inside and fought the childish fear that had started to rear its head again. All she could do was keep busy, pray the man upstairs would keep her husband and brother-in-law safe while they were gone and hope for their safe return.

"Three grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for."

Joseph Addison