The next day Kid was enjoying a mid-morning coffee on the porch when he spotted a carriage in the distance approaching the ranch. It was Bill and it looked as though the lovely Alyssa might be with him. Kid grinned to himself; Heyes's plan was definitely working. He turned his head and yelled through the open window behind him, "We've got visitors. Bill's come to call and he's brought his lady."

Heyes had been in the living room reading. He rose from his chair, and walked over to the window and glanced out at the approaching carriage. What a waste, he thought. A smart, beautiful woman and she'd chosen a man like Decker. Shaking his head to himself, he said to his partner, "I'll make myself scarce. Old Bill will get to the point faster if I'm not around. I'll be upstairs if you need me, but I'll tell Lobo and Wheat to get out front and work around in the yard just in case you need backup."

Kid nodded and sipped at his coffee without taking his eyes off the carriage. He was going to miss this ranch when they left. The life of a rich rancher suited him just fine; a soft bed, late mornings, afternoon poker games, and good food. What more could he ask for? He was going to have to put his foot down with Heyes a bit more often so he could get more of the good jobs. Kid rocked quietly. Wheat soon appeared with a rake in hand and Lobo followed him with a wheelbarrow. The two outlaws began raking the yard clean. There'd been an overnight rainstorm that had blown through and left scattered leaves, twigs, and mud puddles.

The carriage pulled into the yard and Wheat went to meet it. Holding the horses steady, he watched as Decker jumped down and helped Alyssa to alight. Wheat smiled at Decker, who frowned in return. Wheat scowled at the snub and walked back to whisper with Lobo. Decker offered his arm to Alyssa, and carefully guided her around the puddles as she held the hem of her skirt up slightly and walked with him to the porch where Kid was standing up to welcome his guests.

"Bill, Alyssa, it's good to see you again. To what do I owe the pleasure?" said Kid politely.

Alyssa flashed Kid a brilliant smile. He was so handsome and well-mannered. If only he had Bill's money, she'd go for him in an instant. As it was, she would admire both him and the intriguing Mr. James from afar. They were complications she could ill-afford.

Decker had noticed Alyssa's interest and he was inwardly seething. He wasn't a sentimental man and he knew that his fiancée was his only by virtue of his fortune and that made him even more determined to solve his problems. "Steven, Alyssa and I would like a few minutes of your time," he said. He had decided to include Alyssa as he had learned to rely on her insights. Bill felt she was an excellent judge of character; after all, she'd chosen him. He'd also noticed Boswell's interest in her at their dinner party and he wasn't above using her as a distraction.

"Certainly, won't you please be seated, ma'am?" said Kid indicating an empty rocker to Alyssa.

The front door opened slowly and a cautious Kyle stepped out gingerly balancing a tray of lemonade. "Hey, Mr. Boswell, I brought you and your guests something to wet your whistles," said the small man as he flashed a tobacco-stained smile at Alyssa and offered her a glass. She recoiled from the smile, but accepted the drink with a polite nod.

"Thank you, Kyle, you can just set the tray on the railing, we can serve ourselves," said Kid. When he noticed Kyle was still grinning at Alyssa, who was becoming uncomfortable; he added, "That will be all." Kyle took the hint and went inside. He closed the front door behind him and drew his gun and listened; just like Heyes had told him to.

"All right, Bill. What's on your mind?" asked Kid.

"I want to make you another offer. Alyssa has convinced me that I may have insulted you with the last one. I hope that wasn't the case," said Bill, as if he'd really care what Boswell felt. Bill gritted his teeth and tried to pretend to be conciliatory. He had to make this work; it was his last chance. With the information he'd bought from James, Bill was pretty sure that he could drive a hard bargain. He now knew that Boswell was hard up for money and only had a couple of more weeks to pay up to the loan shark. Bill had the upper hand; he knew that; he'd toss Boswell a bit more money and his problems would be solved.

Kid didn't respond. He was waiting to hear what was next. Alyssa watched Mr. Boswell closely. There was something not quite right about his demeanor. He appeared relaxed and somewhat amused; not at all how a desperate man would behave. She looked at Bill and realized with a shock that Bill was sweating, nervous, and displaying the attributes she had expected from Mr. Boswell. She also wondered why.

"Not at all, Bill. There's no harm in trying a little horse-trading, but I'm glad you've decided to make me a real offer," said Kid.

Decker reddened at the hidden rebuke, but continued, "We would like to offer you $50,000 for the ranch and water."

Kid laughed and said, "Now, Bill, I thought the horse-trading was over."

Bill snapped, "It's a fair offer."

"No, it's not. It's low and you know it. You make it $75,000 and we'll have a deal," said Kid firmly. He noticed Alyssa's eyes on him and he smiled charmingly at her. He was enjoying this and didn't care if she knew it. Bill was just too fun to rile.

"That's preposterous! This property isn't worth a penny over $70,000," said Bill. Realizing his error, he growled, "Damn it, Boswell, you're going to be sorry you met me." Decker threw his glass against the wall shattering it and clenched his fists.

"No doubt about it, Bill. I already am sorry," said Kid with a laugh.

Alyssa had risen at Bill's outburst, stunned by his loss of control. This wasn't the man she believed she would marry. This was some petulant child not getting what he wanted. She was embarrassed and started to walk back to the carriage without him. Decker glared at Kid and quickly followed her. Kid watched their retreat with amusement. Yep, there was definitely trouble in paradise.

Lobo had hurried to the carriage to hold the horses, while Wheat stood by the step to offer the lady a hand up. Alyssa nodded at him this time and he neatly handed her up into her seat. Turning his attention to Decker, Wheat stepped back out of his way as Bill pushed past him, knocking Wheat's shoulder out of the way. At a nod from Wheat, Lobo pulled the horses forward a couple of steps just as Bill was stepping up into the carriage and was unbalanced. The sudden movement sent Decker tumbling backwards into a mud puddle.

Wheat rushed forward to help him up, apologizing profusely for Lobo's clumsiness. Bill was furious and swatted at Wheat's hands while letting loose with a string of profanity. Alyssa sat, white-faced and staring straight ahead in the carriage, ignoring Bill. Wheat stepped back as Decker struggled to his feet and tugged at his suit. Bill climbed into the carriage, still cursing, and roughly slapped the reins down on the horses' backs causing them to leap forward and charge away. Alyssa grimly clung to the side of the carriage.

Heyes had watched the whole thing from the upstairs window and almost doubled over with laughter. He caught his breath and, leaning out the window, called Lobo and Wheat up to the house to congratulate them on their creativity. Preacher and Hank were already up at the reservoir keeping an eye on things. After this morning, Heyes was expecting trouble so he, Kid, and Kyle would ride up to the reservoir in an hour leaving Wheat and Lobo to look after the ranch house.

OOOOOOOOOO

Decker began to calm down a few miles from town. Glancing over at Alyssa, he realized she hadn't said a word since leaving Boswell's. He noticed her rigid posture and set jaw and knew she was angry. He also knew he'd overreacted earlier and he guessed he'd better make it up to her. Women required more attention than Bill usually wanted to provide. In the past, he had preferred to purchase their company but he wasn't getting any younger and it was time to provide an heir for the Circle Bar D. Decker had chosen well with Alyssa. She had good breeding and would give him intelligent, healthy children. He thought briefly about ignoring her, but knew he'd have to appease her sooner or later.

"James cheated me. He obviously overstated Boswell's desperation. It was his fault I came in too low on my offer. Damn him, now Boswell's going to stick it to me anyway and I'm out the two thousand I paid James. He probably knew he was setting me up, but he'll pay," ranted Bill as an opening to the conversation. If he had been paying Alyssa any attention at all, he would have seen the shocked look on her face and would have been ready for her response. Unfortunately, he was too busy exonerating his own responsibility for her humiliation.

"Stop the carriage!" shrieked Alyssa. Bill was startled by her shrill tone and pulled up the horses. Scrambling with her skirts, Alyssa climbed out of the carriage in a most un-ladylike manner and stood looking up at Bill. "I would rather walk the last two miles to town than spend one more second in your boorish company," she said. With a pronounced sniff, she turned and marched down the dirt lane holding her skirts above the muddy roadbed. Her satin slippers were instantly caked with sticky mud, but Alyssa would crawl on her hands and knees through the mud to get away from Bill Decker.

Bill stared after her, his temper rising. Who did she think she was? She was nothing, nobody, and she thought she could walk away from him? He vaulted out of the carriage and ran after her, his temper rising again.

Alyssa heard Bill running up behind her and she swung around to face him. She was a tiny little thing, but she wasn't afraid of him. She'd known immediately upon meeting Bill that he was a cowardly man. She hadn't been interested in him at all, but her mother had pressured her to consider him because he was from an old family and he was wealthy. She'd very nearly ruined her life. Thank God for Mr. James and Mr. Boswell. If it weren't for their arrival, she'd never have seen Bill Decker for what he was until it was too late. Alyssa was kicking herself. She'd heard whispers around Denver, but she had turned a deaf ear to them wanting to believe in her own abilities to discern character.

What a fool she was. She had thought herself important. Bill had treated her well and looked to her for her opinion, which was unusual in a man in this day and age. This deference had reassured her of her choice. She realized now that he only did it out of weakness. Why had she not seen him for what he was? All her life, she had been subtly guided towards wealth and status with no consideration for her own wants and desires. Well, look where it had gotten her. She watched as Bill panted his way up to her. Her eyes narrowed and the hair on the back of her neck rose. Like a cornered animal, Alyssa was ready for a fight.

Bill slowed to a walk when he saw Alyssa turn to face him. He was out of breath and gasping for air as he stopped in front of her. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he growled, reaching out and grabbing her arm.

"Don't touch me!" she yelled, twisting sideways and pulling her arm away from him. "We are through. I am not marrying you."

"You high and mighty bitch; you are mine. I bought and paid for you," yelled Bill.

Alyssa glared at him, "What on earth are you talking about?"

"Who do you think bought that fancy house your mother just moved into? You might be Miss Uppity, but you aren't stupid," spit Bill.

Alyssa was speechless. Her own mother had betrayed her; had been willing to push her into a loveless match for her own gain. The traitor! Rage blinded her and with a strangled cry, Alyssa threw herself at Bill, clawing at his face, biting out in fury, and kicking at his shins.

Bill reacted at first by throwing up his hands protectively, but he soon remembered his size and grabbed both her arms, wrenching them cruelly. "You witch. You'll pay for this," yelled Bill as he flung her off him. Lurching forward, Alyssa swung at him with an open hand and slapped him across his face. Decker's temper exploded and he punched her in the stomach and slapped at her repeatedly, howling vile curses. Alyssa was no match for him and she fell to the ground sobbing. Bill took this as a sign of weakness, but Alyssa was crying out in frustration and anger. She wildly flung her hands through the mud searching for a weapon. There were none. Bill stopped hitting her and stood over her watching her wallow in the dirt. Decker had never hit a woman before, but she had earned it.

It pleased him to see her so debased and he began to laugh. "You're right. You're always right, aren't you? The wedding's off. I'll see you in hell," he said, leaving her lying in the road and crying hysterically.

Alyssa heard the carriage pass her by, but she wouldn't look up. She sat there for a long time, calming down and thinking. She had attacked Bill Decker and it had felt wonderful. She couldn't believe how wonderful. Trained from an early age to be a lady, she would never have envisioned herself as being capable of hitting a man. For the first time in her short life, Alyssa had been free; completely free. Carefully, she stood up and wiped her hair out of her face and smoothed down her skirts. Then she laughed at herself. She didn't care what she looked like. Here she was, reacting to training once again. Well, no more. She would do as she damned well pleased. She had inherited some money of her own when her father died. She could use that to start her own life.

How funny is that? Bill had told her on the ride out that he had telegraphed his lawyer and had him draw papers up naming her as his heir. He'd just signed them and sent them off that evening. How ironic, that the very moment she'd achieved the goals set for her, she no longer cared about them. With a bemused smile on her face and a square set to her shoulders, Alyssa began to walk to town.

OOOOOOOOOO

The next morning trouble arrived at the reservoir.

Heyes and his men were camped about 300 yards from the reservoir in a grove of thick spruce trees, aspens, and cinquefoil. It was excellent cover and they could watch from a safe distance without being seen.

Heyes was up early and had inspected the dynamite to make sure they were ready. Kyle had unrolled the wire to the dynamite last night and attached it to a detonator. Heyes had already stoked the fire and started a pot of coffee and now walked to each of his men kicking the bottom of their feet to wake them. "All right, boys, time to rise and shine." There was much grumbling, especially from Lobo's bedroll, but Heyes kept at it until Kid threw his boot at him.

Laughing, Heyes went and poured himself a cup of coffee. He stood quietly sipping the brew and watching the sunrise as his men crawled out of their beds. He knew it wouldn't be long now. Decker was not a patient man.

OOOOOOOOOO

Heyes saw a lone rider top the rise across the fence and stop. The rider stood for a moment and turned, disappearing down the hillside. A short time later, cows spilled out over the top of a rise being quietly driven by five hands. Joel, in his gray Stetson, rode with two other hands. They broke off from the herd and galloped to the fence line. Dismounting as their horses slid to a stop, the three made quick work of cutting the fence line and pulling back the barbed wire. They mounted and rode back to the other hands. The cowboys started yelling and waving their hats and lariats at the cattle, rounding them up and driving them towards the reservoir. The animals needed little encouragement; they were thirsty.

The Devil's Hole gang had seen the cows and had gathered around the detonator. Heyes watched carefully, his hand resting on Kyle's shoulder. The the smaller man knelt with his hands on the plunger. "Steady now, wait, wait, wa….it," said Heyes. He waited until the first of the cattle reached the fence posts which were still well outside of the blast zone, "NOW!" said Heyes squeezing Kyle's shoulder. Kyle pumped the plunger and a huge explosion rent the air. Dirt clods and dust flew 40 feet in the air along a long, straight line just inside the fence line. The lead cows lurched to a halt and turned and scrambled backwards and over the oncoming cows, shying from the sight. The herd stampeded past the cowboys who had been following them. It was complete chaos, with horses rearing and leaping trying to avoid the horns of the frightened cows and the hands trying to hang on to their mounts. The men were swept aside and they chased after the terrified animals anxious to prevent them from running all their summer weight off. It was over quickly, the stunned cows and cowboys disappearing over the hilltop, and all that was left was the churned up ground they'd left in their wake.

The Devil's Hole gang was dead quiet throughout the whole thing. They had been nearly as shocked by the mess they'd created as the men it was meant for. Hank cracked first and started to chuckle, and then Kyle, until all five were laughing hysterically. Preacher pulled himself together first and said, "There is no way on God's green earth those boys will ever get those cows to drink again." This touched off another round of laughter. Finally, Heyes slapped Kyle on the back and said, "Kyle, you are a dynamiting maestro!" Kyle had no idea what that meant, but it pleased him anyway.

OOOOOOOOOO

When the hands finally straggled into the yard at the Circle Bar D, Bill was on hand to greet them. He smiled broadly as he watched them walking their horses slowly down the road. That smile disappeared as they got closer and he could see their expressions. Joel rode in first and pulled up outside of the bunkhouse, dismounting. Bill had followed him and crowded up behind him yelling, "What the hell happened this time?"

Joel turned and squinted at Bill. He reached up and shoved Bill back a good six feet and said, "Get out of my face, Decker. You can find yourself another foreman. I quit." The other hands had ridden up while this was going on and dismounted without a word, going into the bunkhouse. Joel followed his men in.

"Damn it, Joel. What happened?" asked Bill more quietly following Joel into the bunkhouse. "Was it James? Did he shoot at you?"

"No, I didn't see James. I didn't see anything, but a whole mess of dynamite going off. Good luck getting your cattle to water now, Bill," said Joel, calming a bit. The other hands had quickly gathered their gear and walked out the door with their belongings.

"Dynamite? What exactly happened up there?" said Bill, yelling again.

"Congratulations, Bill, you finally pissed off the wrong men. That's what happened, and I ain't getting caught up in your war," said Joel as he packed up his things. He could hear the hands mounting and riding off. He'd be following them in a minute.