I keep thinking I've written my last story, and then . . .so here's another one. This is a story that happens somewhere inside the first season-ish. It is before Winter Roses, and A Ring for Hannah. I am so enjoying all the stories that have posted recently and can't wait to see how they all play out. Love that there are so many things to read now! Thank you to all those of you who have encouraged me. As always I really appreciate your reviews and comments.

Adam slid into bed next to his wife who was sound asleep. His workday had been endless and he was so relieved to be off his feet and in a warm bed. Even sound asleep, Hannah was a comfort to him. She rolled toward him, wrapping herself around his cold body. "A good wife is a good thing," He thought again.

He had spent the afternoon trying to repair the harrow that had broken yet again. When he had finally wrestled it into submission, a sudden storm hit, drenching him and changing his plans. He returned to the barn soaking wet, only to discover two of Guthrie's lambs had escaped their pen. He spent a good hour searching for them and finally found them near the creek. One was now stuck in a mudbank and he had to climb into the mud and water, and lift the terrified lamb out of the mud. He had just put the lambs inside the barn when Brian had run towards him to tell him that the supply shed had a door blown off. Everything inside would be ruined by the rainstorm if they didn't repair it. Sighing, he trudged in the cold rain toward his fate, and they spent the next two and half hours rebuilding the door. It was nearly dark by then and well past dinner. He and Brian headed toward the house wet, tired and grumpy, but they'd been stopped by a noise from one of the sows. "Of course," Adam thought, "the piglets would come now." He sent Brian inside, deciding that at least one of them should get warm, and watched six piglets join the Circle Bar Seven Ranch. By then he was starving, exhausted and frozen.

Stepping into the familiar warmth of home, he found a plate of food sitting on the table. He unwrapped the plate to find a turkey sandwich that he ate greedily while reading the note she'd left beside it.

Poor Starving Rancher Man,

Missed you at dinner. This food isn't warm, but I am!

Come on up, and find out!

Love,

Your Girl

H

He smiled thinking of how much his life had improved since he'd slid a ring on her left hand. He polished off the sandwich and set the plate in the sink. He passed through the laundry room, tiptoeing by the fold-out bed where his baby brother slept. He gently tucked a blanket around Guthrie who sighed and mumbled in his sleep. Brian was on the couch in the front room snoring loud enough to rattle the floorboards. He could see a plate on the coffee table near him and Adam smiled thinking how fortunate he was that his wife was infinitely loving. He saw the note she'd left for his brother.

Sorry your day was so long.

Hope this helps to redeem it.

Perhaps, someday you'll like me.

Your Sis,

H

It was a joke between the two of them. Brian had been the last to truly accept her. He had been fearful and uncomfortable with the change she brought. But over time he had come to love her dearly and she would tease him mercilessly often remarking, "I thought you didn't like me," and then she would smile and he would shake his head at her saying,"Knock it off, Sis."

Adam smiled at his sleeping brother, and put one more log on the fire, pausing to gaze at the hearth. He was struck by a sudden and powerful memory of sitting at the hearth as a small boy. Brian sat beside him and Crane was a baby in his father's arms. His mother strummed a guitar and they all sang together.

Another memory flitted past, himself, barely eighteen reading picture books with Evan, Ford and Guthrie who listened with young eager faces.

He could remember other times too. Gazing at the flames alone, the weight of trying to raise his brothers heavy on his young shoulders. He knew he had to choose them over everything else - even his own personal life. He felt utterly alone in those days, and was convinced he would be for life.

He smiled remembering a rainy Saturday, just a few weeks ago when he had sat by the same hearth, Hannah in his arms. Through a bizarre twist of basketball practice, chores and projects they were the only ones home. It was a miracle. As soon as he realized they were alone for once, he had pulled her close, kissing her even as she laughed. "Good God, woman! We are alone!"

"Adam!" She'd protested laughing. "I've got chores."

"The hell you do! I'm the boss of the house. You've got the afternoon off! Now stop fussin' and kiss me, girl!"

"Well," She hesitated, considering thoughtfully. "Guthrie did say you were boss. So . . ."

He leaned in close. "Only one boss in this house, but it sure ain't me." He grinned but then she kissed him and there was no one in the world; just the two of them, their heartbeats matched in perfect rhythm.

He checked the front door and turned out the porch light. Climbing the stairs, a rip in the wallpaper caught his eye, revealing an older paper underneath. "This whole house is like that." He thought.

Every room layered so thick with memories. The past always hovering, lovingly near. He was struck then, by a beautiful and shocking vision; he could see a future version of himself with his own children around him sitting at the very same hearth and Hannah singing with them all, just as his own mother had.

Opening the door to their room, a smile still on his face, he could see her curled asleep in bed, and paused to kiss her cheek before heading down the hall to wash up. He was exhausted; worn out from a long, long day. Laying next to her in the darkness. Her body warmed him, and he began to drift toward sleep wondering at his good fortune. What kind of woman curls up next to an ice cold rancher man? She ought to roll away - anyone with an ounce of self would.

"Adam?" She mumbled sleepily.

"I hope you aren't expecting someone else." He whispered.

"You alright? Did you eat?"

"Go back to sleep, sweetheart." He kissed her forehead. "I'm fine. Thanks, honey."

"Love you." Her voice froggy with sleep.

"'Night girl." He closed his eyes and was instantly asleep.

***7***

The beginning of the dream was always the same. It was night and there was no moon. It was the deepest darkest part of night and his hands gripped the steering wheel. Fog rolled in thick and ominous. He leaned forward trying to see the road ahead which twisted and curved unpredictably. Sleep, like a heavy hand, pushed down on him. He fought drowsiness and struggled to remain conscious but it was an impossible battle. He watched himself knowing what a dangerous thing it was to continue driving but was powerless to stop himself. The heaviness of sleep was a lead weight that he was not strong enough to fight. He swerved across the lane watching the white line pass beneath him. He fought to control the truck but could not. He crashed into the truck head-on. He could see the people inside clearly. He saw two faces wide-eyed and fearful. His mother's terror filling his heart with dread.

Then the dream shifted and he stood in the dark fog picking his way through the wreckage. He stepped over the bodies of his parents, hands clasped together even in death. He moved frantically through twisted metal and broken glass. His brothers lay strewn across the road; all of them lost and he broke into a run searching desperately. His heart pounding in his chest, he saw her at last, her brown curls spread out behind her like a halo so pale and still. Guthrie lay beside her and one arm was wrapped around him protectively. She mothered him even here in death. He fell to his knees, shattered, broken beyond repair and devastated, and began to weep for all that he had lost.

***7***

Hannah awoke as Adam twisted and turned in sleep. The sound of his sobbing heart-breakingly sad. He only had the dream when he was burdened down with worries, or like now, exhausted beyond all measure. She wrapped her arms around him and whispered soothingly, "Shh. Hush now. It's alright. Everyone is alright. It's okay, Adam. Shhh. Honey, it's okay."

The first time he had the dream, she had tried to wake him. He awoke startled, sobbing, and it had taken hours for him to calm down. Even then, he would not submit to sleep too fearful that the images would return. He refused to talk to her about it. "It is too horrible." He said his voice angry, but she knew his anger was only to hide his fear. She had learned it was better not to wake him, but speak comfortingly to him as he slept. It usually took fifteen minutes, maybe twenty, but if she kept speaking loving words, he would eventually settle back into a restful sleep. She would ask him in the morning if he remembered the dream, and he would tell her no. But she had learned to watch him carefully, and could tell by the way he was gentle with them all that he never really forgot it. It hovered over him like a cloud and he would be pensive and thoughtful for days afterward.

He finally settled back into sleep, but disturbed by his sorrow and terror, she could not fall back asleep. She tiptoed downstairs, pausing to cover Guthrie with a blanket - he always kicked them off. He looked so small asleep; still a sweet boy. She sighed and couldn't help but smile seeing him curled up tight, his cheeks pink with sleep. She went into the kitchen to make herself some warm milk, and was surprised to see Brian sitting at the table a mug in his hand.

"Fancy, meeting you here." He said seeing her. He rose and went to the stove. "Want some milk?"

"Yes." She smiled at him. "Aren't you exhausted?"

"Yep, but I woke up and for some reason can't get back to sleep. What's your excuse? Adam's snoring has gotten to you at last?"

"Well, it wasn't his snoring." She teased him.

"I don't snore." He grinned at her and handed her a mug of warm milk. She sipped it thoughtfully, trying to push the sound of Adam's crying out of her mind. He sat down saying nothing for a time. He sighed and then spoke softly.

"You didn't try and wake him, did you?" Brian asked startling her. She turned to him with wide eyes. "It is worse if you wake him. It's that damn dream." He sighed.

"No, I didn't. He's better now. He's asleep." She answered softly.

"Yeah." He looked at her. "Did he tell you about it? What he dreams?" She shook her head at him.

"He won't say. He says it is too terrible."

"He wouldn't tell me either. I bet he'll tell you, though. He can't say no to you for very long." He grinned at her. "Trouble is, once he's asleep and better, you feel terrible."

She nodded in agreement, unable to trust her voice. She took a sip of warm milk. "Has he dreamed it since that night?" She asked. Their entire lives were divided by the night their parents were killed. It had been split in two: Life Before/Life After.

"It didn't start 'til maybe a year or so after. He used to dream it a lot when Crane was away at Davis. I don't know after awhile it was only when one of us was sick, or in trouble or he was just over-tired."

She sighed and setting her mug down, rested her cheek against her hand. He looked at her, and tried to remember why he had once found her so threatening. He had been angry with Adam for bringing her home, and disrupting their lives. Looking at her now, he couldn't imagine her not a part of their family. He reached for her hand.

"The sound of his crying," He paused as she looked up at him sharply. "It stays with you. I've never heard him cry like that, except in his sleep."

She squeezed his fingers gently. "I think maybe its because he never had time to really grieve. You didn't either, for that matter. You had the boys to think of, and the ranch. He had to keep moving forward and pressing on. So maybe it is only asleep that he can really let go of it all."

"Yeah." He said surprised by how much sense that made. He was often amazed at how well Hannah understood things; things no one had even ever told her. "Yeah."

"I'm sorry, Brian." She said.

"Sorry? For what?" He asked confused.

"That you've had so much loss. I never said that to you, and I've wanted to. I'm sorry you had to take on so much so young, and that you had to lose them."

He swallowed hard, surprised by how deeply her words affected him. He couldn't say something stupid like, "Oh, that's alright." It wasn't alright. It was a scar they all bore - a deep wound that sometimes seemed would never, ever heal.

"Thanks, Hannah." He said at last. He sighed and confessed, "I'm awfully glad you are here, Sis. He is so happy. You make him, so happy." He blushed embarrassed, and she grinned and looked away from him, hiding tears that had sprung to her eyes.

"But you don't even . . ." She began to tease him yet again, knowing he was uncomfortable with strong emotions.

"No, you don't have to do that, Sis." He said rising. "I do like you, and I was a jackass when you first came here. I'm the one who's sorry." He bent and kissed her cheek. "You make us all happy. Go back to bed. He's alright now. We all are."

He went back to the livingroom and his makeshift bed. She sat for a few more minutes alone in a pool of moonlight, thinking of the many, many things that filled her heart with thankfulness. She could still remember the sting of her first evening here; standing alone on the front porch crying that Adam had kept the truth of his brothers from her. She'd been so hurt. He had thought she cried because he hadn't been honest with her, and that was partly true. But mostly she cried because she was afraid she had married a man who didn't really trust her enough to share everything with her. She had felt separated from him, and it had frightened her. Later, dancing in his arms, listening to his brothers singing - their peace offering to her - she had cried because he had given her all her secret wishes without even knowing it. She could remember all those days alone in that little trailer dreaming of someday being part of a family. Now, all these months later, she couldn't even really remember the loneliness that she had lived with. It was gone. It had taken so much hard work for her to break into the inner circle of the brotherhood, but in her whole life she had never, ever felt so at peace and so perfectly content.

She didn't even really mind the piles of dishes, the laundry, or even the way you had to move through the room carefully because two brothers might be wrestling. She didn't even mind that they were never really alone, realizing on about the third day that if she waited until they were alone, she would never get a chance to kiss Adam. So more often than not, they would be kissing while all around them their brothers ignored them. Their brothers. That was how she thought if it now. She couldn't separate herself from them, even if she had wanted to, and she didn't. She loved all of them, even Brian who had been so difficult at first. At night, before she drifted to sleep, she would run through the list, alphabetically, praying for each one. She loved them all. Stubborn Brian, who had tried to keep her at arms length. Crane who was kind-hearted and loving - looking out for her from the very beginning. Daniel who was a difficult combination of wild and gentle; as ready to sing a tender song as bust out fighting, Evan who was most likely to be a the center of some prank, Ford who was so quiet, gentle and shy, she had to fight against babying him, and Guthrie. She couldn't think of Guthrie and not smile. He was twelve years old, and yet, had such a sweetness to him that made him seem even younger. No matter where she was if he was in the same room, he would be at her side. He held a soft spot in all their hearts, he was so loving and open. Adam had told her that he was always that way because their mother had been so loving to him, but she pointed out that their mother had only two years with him, while Adam had raised him for ten.

She loved her family. They weren't quiet or small. They were boisterous, wild and unpredictable, and Hannah couldn't imagine a better life. She sighed, realizing dawn would be here soon enough. There would be a million things that needed doing and she had better get some sleep while she could. It was while she drifted to sleep listening to Adam's soft steady breathing that she realized, Brian had done a pretty good job of cheering her up.