I’m Telling You Now (by BettyHT)

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SUMMARY:  This is the sequel to Red Night that can probably stand alone but may read more easily if you have read the first story.  Answers to the questions left hanging in the first story are woven into this one which is about five years later.  A prologue fills in the intervening years somewhat . It won’t be an easy homecoming for Adam because of a new tragedy and the lingering turmoil that sent him away originally.

rating = T   word count = 18,147

Red Night Series

Red Night
I’m Telling You Now
Understanding
Firsts

I’m Telling You Now (by BettyHT)

Prologue

Standing at the rail of the small ship that he had taken from New Orleans, Adam reflected on the previous two years. He had been to France, Italy, and Australia. Now he was returning to New York. When he was twenty-two, he had hoped to travel to all of those places and even dreamed he might live in one of them. At nearly forty, he found all of them lacking. All he wanted now was to be home among Americans and find a way to support himself in comfort hopefully by doing some kind of work that might leave a lasting legacy or at least do some good. With no idea what that job might be, he was prepared to use the last of his resources to find out. Going back to Nevada was not an option. The deaths of women in Virginia City were still tied to him in the minds of many, and his return would stir all of that up again. On this trip, he had encountered an old classmate from college. They had dinner in New Orleans and then Adam was surprised when his friend was on the same ship to New York and even more so when he had said he wanted to speak to him privately. With only hours left before they got to New York harbor, the man had asked Adam to meet him on deck so that they could talk. It all seemed very cloak and dagger which Adam found rather amusing, but he did remember that Daryl had a dramatic streak so chalked it up to that. When he did show up, Adam was startled by him.

“Sorry about that. I had to make sure that no one saw us meeting.”

“Why all the secrecy? You’re acting like we’re in some kind of undercover operation or something.”

“We are.”

“What?”

“It’s the kind of work I do, and I want you to work with me. You told me quite a lot about yourself in New Orleans. I wired my superiors after we had dinner. At the last stop we made in Baltimore, I got clearance to offer you a job.”

Intrigued but wary, Adam was cautious and curious. “What kind of job?”

“Working for the Treasury Department as a special agent.”

“I have no experience in law enforcement.”

“It’s not what you would be doing. You would be working, to all appearances, as an architect and engineer, but as you complete the contracts you agree to fulfill, you would be collecting information for us. That would be the special agent aspect of your job.”

“What kind of information?”

“There is a significant amount of counterfeiting, fraud, bribery, and various other forms of corruption that is rampant. We can’t stop it all, but we want to stop as much as we can.”

“Would I actually be working as an architect or engineer?”

“Yes, that would be necessary. You would actually have to build up a business and do good work. However, we would be able to help you with startup costs and travel expenses especially in the beginning. We could also give you special consideration for some government contracts at first to get you established. We need you to start funneling information to us as soon as you can and we don’t want to wait five to ten years for you to develop a business with connections that would have access to what we want so we would help you get there faster.”

“It seems like we would be cheating.”

“It would if you weren’t qualified to do the work, but I know you and you can do it.”

“I’ll probably have to bid low to guarantee getting contracts.”

“Yes, and there would be compensation for you for doing that.”

“There doesn’t seem to be a downside to this. What am I missing?”

“Only the most obvious negative and perhaps the only one for you. If they find out what you’re doing, they’ll kill you.”

“That’s a big downside.”

“It is, and it’s why I only ask men who aren’t married and have no children to do this kind of work. You won’t leave a grieving wife behind nor leave children without a father.”

“And no one can use them against me either.”

Daryl smiled slightly in acknowledgement of Adam’s understanding of the situation. “You’re never going to see me again, and you’ll need to stay away from anyone associated with the Treasury Department. Our communication will be by messages only. We’ll set up blind drops for instructions to be passed to you and for you to send information to us.”

“What if I find I don’t like the work or I find someone I want to marry?”

“Then you tell us you’re retiring.”

Accepting that, Adam asked what a blind drop was, Daryl knew he would do it. By the time the ship docked, Adam was ready to receive instructions via a blind drop and Daryl told him what hotel to use and where to have dinner that night. Over the next years, Adam met most of the captains of industry, worked for them and was invited to parties at their homes. In Washington, he met the leaders of both parties and worked hard to curry favor to get contracts for his firm. In New York, he ignored the political machine but did make contact with a group that was using counterfeit money to invest in large projects. Many men went to prison never knowing that the man they had hired had handed the government thick folders of evidence against them guaranteeing convictions in court. Adam seemed the typical greedy prosperous businessman only interested in building his business into the biggest and best in the east.

With projects from the east coast to Denver, he traveled a lot and never managed to find a woman to marry so he continued to work for the government as a special agent. He wasn’t too sorry about that most of the time thinking his life too dangerous to bring a wife into it. There was a woman in his life though when he hired an assistant at Daryl’s suggestion. Because he was having too much difficulty managing his firm and collating the information the government needed, another special agent was sent to him in the guise of an assistant. They traveled together and worked together, and inevitably, became intimate. Neither considered love a factor in their relationship although they did like each other and respected each other. Both considered the relationship to be temporary. Adam wasn’t even sure that her name was Diane.

With his job responsibilities and travel, Adam managed to write to his family fairly regularly, but their letters had a difficult time catching up to him. He never visited especially after hearing that another woman had been killed in Virginia City. Because his family had told people of his travels, rumors continued to circulate that he might be responsible for the deaths of the women who had been so horribly mutilated.

Chapter One

In Washington DC, Adam pulled his arm from a sling grimacing as he did so. The bandages holding the splint in place no longer were stained with blood but the muscles and tissue still needed time to heal even though the bone had mended. He still had strapping around his ribs though as they needed more time. Pulling out the chair at his desk, he finished the letter of resignation he had worked on for a few days and signed it. When Diane came in to work that morning, she saw the letter was finished and signed. It had been the subject of several conversations between them with the same result each time.

“You’re leaving then?”

“I warned you that I was fairly sure I would. You could still come with me.” He hoped she would but guessed she would not. Every conversation they had had about this had been the same. She didn’t want to leave the east for what she called the empty west. He was going back to Nevada for he had had enough of the east.

“Adam, the men who died were killed by evil men who didn’t care about the lives of people. They only cared about making money. To them, people were replaceable. You had no way of knowing that the materials in that mining operation were that inferior.”

“I should have checked before I allowed any agents to be sent there and put at risk. Four men are buried under tons of rock and rubble now because of me.”

“It’s not because of you. It’s the job. It wasn’t your decision to send them there. Like you, they signed on to this job knowing the risks. You could have died too. For a while, I thought you had died. When those whistles blew, I didn’t think they were going to bring any of you out alive. Waiting for a day until you and James were brought out was an eternity. Then I didn’t know if you would live when your lungs collapsed. It was only by God’s will that you lived.”

“Sometimes, I wish I hadn’t.”

“And I wish you wouldn’t talk like that.”

He dropped his head and rubbed the back of his neck. “It’s the guilt talking. You don’t have to worry. I’ve always been like this. I feel responsible, and nothing you say is going to change how I feel.”

“I got a message this morning. Daryl wants to talk with you.”

“Talk, as in actually talk?”

“Yes, that’s what he wants. Now that you told him what you thought you were probably going to resign, he thought he could risk a meeting. It still has to be secret though so he’s working on a way to do it.”

Noting how weary Adam looked, Diane’s first instinct was to go to him and hold him to try to soothe him and ease his emotional burden. There were many nights she had done so when he woke from nightmares. It had taken some time for him to tell her the content of those terrible dreams, but he had. The death of a woman on Red Night made him feel guilty because he believed she had been killed in some kind of plan to get him charged with murder and hanged. To that extent, he felt responsible, but in his nightmares, his fear that he had a more direct role in that death was expressed. She always tried to convince him that she was sure he could never have committed such a horrible act. Slowly, the nightmares had diminished and now he was ready to go home. However, when he had announced his intention to return to Nevada, her response had been that she wouldn’t go with him and that they should end their intimate relationship because their working partnership was over. She had remembered how they had first met and how he had so studiously avoided any hint that he was attracted to her. She had been the one to address the issue a few weeks after they began working together.

“Are you ever going to try to kiss me or take me to your bed?” Those words had shocked him leaving him speechless which she had discovered was not an easy thing to accomplish. He had told her he wasn’t interested in her that way.

“We’re partners working together for a common purpose. I don’t expect more from you because you’re here every day.”

“You may not expect it, but you’re not telling the truth when you say you don’t want it. You see, I’m well aware that men are generally unable to hide their attraction to a woman. A woman has the option of letting a man know she wants to be with him or not, but a man really can’t keep such a secret if one is observant.” He hadn’t said much at that point considering her words. His reticence had made her nervous ad she kept talking too much until he smiled at her and reached out his arms for her. There were many things she discovered about physical love between a man and a woman because of Adam. One was that he could make a kiss seem like making love, except once you made love with him, then you knew that a man could take his pleasure while giving even more. One of the things she enjoyed most was seeing that grin of his when he was able to give her pleasure which was as important to him as his satisfying his own desires. Never regretting their intimate relationship, Diane expected it to end at some point so they were careful to ensure that there would be no unwanted long-term commitment. Now he was leaving so she had ended the intimacy. It hadn’t been difficult to do. For weeks, he had been in bed recuperating from his injuries. She simply had not joined him there when he recovered enough. He never said anything about it understanding without the words being spoken. They were back to business only.

Until Adam met with Daryl, Diane thought he shouldn’t sell any properties or disband his business so he didn’t do anything about that for two days. After meeting with Daryl, he made Diane an offer she couldn’t refuse.

“Did you know what he was going to offer me?”

“You know him better than that. He told me nothing.”

“He wants me to consider a leave of absence instead of a full resignation. He said he’ll give me a year if I need it. At the end of a year, I need to give him a final decision. Until then, I’ll keep the house here and in New York, and I’ll keep the business operating except I will inform my employees what might happen in a year.”

“What about me? Did he say what I ought to do for the next year?”

“He didn’t say, but I had a suggestion. I think you should run the business as if I haven’t left and you can live in the house here too. There are contracts to finalize and some to finish. You know more about them than anyone,”

“What about new contracts?”

“Don’t take any until you hear from me that I’m coming back. If I don’t, there’s no reason to have more contracts.”

“You really are going then?”

“I really am going, and I probably won’t be back. You have time to make a transition though, and you can keep the house here and the one in New York if it suits you. It could help you in your work, and I won’t need them.”

“If you’re not coming back, why not make a clean break?”

“I can’t be completely sure. I may not be as welcome at home as I hope to be. I could be back here. It may be unlikely but it is possible.”

Although Diane didn’t think it was going to happen, his assessment was accurate that the arrangement would help her to do her work so she agreed to it. She knew too that he had enough money that the sale of the two houses was insignificant to him. While working as an architect and engineer, Adam had amassed a small fortune even as he funneled significant information to the government for prosecution of those businessmen who broke the laws while fulfilling government contracts. Diane wondered what a wealthy engineer and architect would do on a ranch in Nevada, but it wasn’t her business to interfere in his life. She wished him well when he departed.

Chapter Two

Having spent more than five years doing a lot of traveling, Adam found no interest in the trip west until he passed Denver. It had been a long time since he had seen this land which felt more like home than any place he had been. Although he was anxious to get to the Ponderosa, he wouldn’t have minded a bit more time to absorb what he was viewing, but the train was too fast for him to see much of the changes that had taken place. There were times that he turned to his right to say something about the terrain to Diane only to remember she wasn’t there any more and wouldn’t be there again. He missed her, but she had made it clear that she had no interest in what she called the empty west, and he was fairly certain he no longer wanted to live in the east. It was another loss, but it was one he had anticipated. For a time, he had hoped that she was developing feelings for him on a personal level, but when he told her about his desire to return to Nevada, she had turned cool toward him and not shared as much as a hug with him. When they said goodbye, it had been very businesslike as if they had not spent over three years being intimate and sharing their lives nearly around the clock every day of the year. He tried to focus on the future and insulate himself from the hurt much as he always did.

In Reno, he had to take a room overnight because he couldn’t get passage on the spur line to Virginia City until the next day. When he left dinner that evening, he knew he was being followed so he stuck to well lighted areas and crossed the street to his hotel when there were quite a few people to cover his move. Once he got into the lobby, he moved to an area off to the side to see who came in next. Smiling when he saw who it was, he waited until the man was halfway up the stairs and then followed him walking softly so as not to alert him that he was being followed. When the man stopped at his door, Adam startled him.

“James, I thought you were better at this.”

Whirling around, James first looked shocked before he grinned. “For an engineer, you’re not bad at being a special agent.”

“I’m surprised to see you here.”

“After the mine collapse, my cover was blown so I was reassigned out here to work for the marshals’ service. It’s not bad. Let’s go in your room, if you don’t mind, before we discuss anything more.

Once they were in Adam’s room, James wanted to know what Adam was doing in Reno. He wasn’t surprised having heard some of it before he had left Washington and had a proposition. “It’s about what I guessed so I have a favor to ask. I’ve been following a man, and I think he’s figured it out. I’m supposed to keep track of him and see who he meets.”

“And you want me to take your place. James, I’m on leave. I only want to go home.”

“That’s the beauty of it. You can go home. He bought a ticket for Virginia City today. All you have to do is ride the stage with him.”

“The stage?”

“He’s low on money. I guess he couldn’t afford the railroad ticket.”

“I’m going to look out of place on a stage.”

“I can have your things shipped to Virginia City. You can get some other clothing to wear so you fit in better.”

“Seems like you have it all planned out.”

“As I remember it, you always liked a good plan. As soon as I saw you, I started working on it.”

“Pretty sure of yourself.”

“No, I was pretty sure of you. Some men see a house on fire and hurry to fight the fire to save the family. Then there’s the man who runs into the burning house to save the family. We both know which one you are.”

“What’s the man’s name?”

“John Harper is his name. I guess his sister moved to Virginia City, and he’s going there to see her. It’s probably a cover story though for something else he’s planning. I want to know who he meets up with.”

“That name sounds vaguely familiar but I don’t remember why. All right, I’ll do it, but this is it. By the way, I hate riding on a stage, so you owe me for this one.”

“I owe you a lot more than that. If you hadn’t shoved me forward in that mine, I’d still be there. You took a lot of timber on you taking the time to save my sorry hide. I walked out of there with what amounted to a few scratches.”

“I would have taken more to save the other four.”

“Nothing could have saved them. They were too far back. The men who used inferior material and put everyone in that mine at risk killed them. At least they’re going to prison now.”

“It should be more.”

“Someday we’ll get federal laws protecting workers, but for now we’re limited by what each state has in place, and that was all that we could get there.”

“We keep doing what we can, I guess.”

He bid goodnight to James then, but he didn’t stop thinking about what he had said about his cover being blown. As Adam had been recuperating, he had thought about everything that had happened before the mine collapsed. He remembered the words that had been spoken and the sounds that he had heard. With what James had said about his cover being blown, Adam’s suspicions were confirmed. That mine collapse had not been an accident. Clearly it had been attempted murder and murder. In fact, they had been charged with the least of the offenses with which they could have been charged. Then he knew. They had turned on their partners, whomever they were, and they were giving evidence to the government on them. It made the whole thing make sense, and it confirmed to Adam that he had made the right choice. He couldn’t be part of that kind of operation any longer.

The next morning, Adam deposited his luggage at the train station after he purchased some clothing for the stage ride and a small satchel for his personal belongings. Instead of a suit and vest, he wore a thick shirt and leather vest to disguise the strapping he still wore around his ribs. James hadn’t seemed to notice so he concluded he had done well at hiding that he wasn’t fully recovered yet. He had thought about ditching the strapping while he traveled, but he was glad he hadn’t because it would help on the stage ride.

At the stage depot, Adam was glad to see that the stage wasn’t going to be full. Detesting riding up on top, he knew he at least wouldn’t be subjected to that on this trip. There was a young woman with a small child and one man whom he assumed must be John Harper. He fit the description that James had given him. Once they were underway, he began the introductions and John introduced himself with only his first name. It was sufficient though. Not expecting to find out much on the trip, Adam settled in and mused a bit about the surprise his family would have when he showed up. He had written to let them know he would be visiting, but he hadn’t told them when because he hadn’t been sure at the time. He was going to send a wire before the train left Reno, but once he agreed to go by stage, he decided not to do that because stage travel was notoriously unreliable when it came to schedules or at least it had been. He didn’t know how frequently members of his family were finding reasons to make trips to town wondering if that was the day he would finally arrive.

The first day of the trip passed rather pleasantly in conversation as the young woman queried the men about their careers and their knowledge of Nevada. By John’s answers, Adam quickly formed the impression that he was more of a showman than anything. There was a lot of bravado but also a lot of willingness to answer questions when he obviously had little information himself but was willing to be creative in order to impress the lady and her son. Adam freely admitted that he had not been in the area for over five years and that his information was dated as a result but that he had lived there for twenty-five years missing only four years when he was in college. When it was clear that he was one of the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa, Adam noted that John began staring at him more and talking less. He didn’t know why that had happened but welcomed it because he was tired of hearing the man talk ad the stares didn’t bother him.

The second day of the trip started well but clouds over the mountain looked ominous. The driver pushed the horses hard all day arriving at each station well ahead of schedule and hurrying the passengers back into the coach to continue. Guessing he was worried about rain and the dangers of traveling up muddy Mount Davidson roads, Adam assumed the man knew the best routes to take in case of rain. He was wrong, but didn’t realize it until it was too late. They started being battered by rain by early afternoon. Working together, Adam and John got the window flaps down and secured and had the woman and her son sit on the opposite side from where the rain was hitting the coach most of the time. When they finished with the flaps, John took the seat up against the front of the coach leaving the worst seat for Adam.

The coach rocked a lot with the speed the driver was pushing the horses to take which was dangerous enough as the rain turned the road to mud, but Adam realized they were on a flat section of road too. “The fool’s taken the lower road so he can go faster.”

John didn’t see the problem belying his supposed knowledge of the area. “That makes sense to me. He wants to get to Virginia City as fast as possible.”

“With this rain as fast as it has come down, there’s likely to be a flash flood and we’re paralleling the river bed.”

“I looked out as we pulled the flaps down. There was no river out there.”

“Normally there isn’t, but with rain like this, it could be a raging torrent in a matter of minutes.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

That’s when Adam heard it. “There it is. That’s the roar of a flash flood coming.”

“That’s thunder.”

Except Adam wasn’t listening. He was leaning out a window trying to get the driver’s attention. “We have to stop and climb to higher ground. There’s a flash flood coming!”

The driver either didn’t hear or didn’t believe him. There might not have been time to do as Adam suggested anyway. About a minute later, the coach was hit by a wall of debris and thick mud followed by muddy water that kept coming tearing the coach from the frightened horses and eventually pushing the coach up against several trees where it continued to be battered by the raging torrent of muddy water. Adam didn’t see a way for them to survive until he heard a familiar voice. He opened the door on the opposite side of the coach and yelled back at Hoss.

“Hoss, we have a woman and little boy in here. Throw me a rope and we’ll get them out first.”

“Welcome back, older brother. Ya shur got a way of making an entrance.”

Even as he was talking, Hoss was getting the rope from Chubb. Joe and another hand rode up as he threw a lasso to Adam who reached out and tied it to a tree that was holding the coach. With the other two there, it was going to be easier to get everyone to safety. Joe tied a rope to Hoss who waded into the muddy water using the rope he had thrown to Adam as a second line. when he got to the coach, the woman insisted he take her son first. He did, and then came back for her. John wanted to go right away too as he felt the coach shift, but Adam told him to wait and blocked the door so he couldn’t get out.

“I don’t want anyone risking their life any more than necessary. We’ll go one by one. When Hoss gets her to land safely, he can throw a line and then you can go.”

By the time Hoss was back with a rope for John, the coach was starting to shift in the current so Hoss untied the rope from the tree and told Adam to tie that one around himself so he could be pulled in. The three of them started for the bank when the coach slid away from the trees and downstream in the torrent. It no longer blocked any of the debris which hit the three men knocking both Hoss and John off their feet and ripping those two ropes out of the hands of the men on shore. Adam managed to grab both ropes though and hung on even as his ribs protested and he could barely breathe. As he felt both ropes abrading his hands and slipping through his grasp, he knew he couldn’t hold both men especially in that current. He had to make a decision. He let one rope go and with both hands grabbed the rope holding Hoss. He heard a yell from Joe on shore but wasn’t sure what it was as all he could do was to concentrate all he had on holding onto that one rope. It seemed an eternity before he felt hands grab him and pull him to solid though muddy ground where he lay gasping for air. Hoss was beside him a moment later.

“Adam, I coulda made it. Ya didn’t have to let John die.”

Closing his eyes, Adam felt the way he did not long before in that mine when he learned that four of his colleagues were dead. He said nothing and stayed quiet as they all traveled to town and ended up in Doctor Martin’s office for treatment before Hoss rented a carriage to give him a ride home. He saw the looks from Joe and guessed he was going to hear from him at some point, but before they reached the house, Joe rode away.

“Where’s he going?”

“His house. You know, his and Alice’s house. Alice Harper.”

That was the clue Adam had been missing. He had forgotten Alice’s first name. Too busy to come back for the wedding, he thought he had probably only seen it once and that was on the wedding announcement. After that, he only thought of her as Alice or as Alice Cartwright. Reminded of her maiden name, he understood better why Hoss had been upset and why Joe looked so angry, but he knew he had done the best he could do. As in the past, he wondered if his family would understand and accept his actions though.

Chapter Three

In town, Sheriff Roy Coffee went to talk to Doctor Martin after he saw the Cartwrights leave the doctor’s office. There was some information he wanted from the doctor which he hoped might help him decide how to handle an old issue that was likely to become a current issue again.

“How did he seem?”

“I’m guessing you’re asking about Adam, and he seemed quieter than I remember him being.”

“He was always quiet.”

“He hardly said a word while he was here. I was used to him not complaining while I treated him, but this was more pronounced too. He’s been hurt recently too. He still has some wide bracing around his ribs, but when I asked, he said it was about time it came off. After what he went through, I told him it might be a good idea to leave it so he let me replace what was soiled.”

“He didn’t say how he was hurt?”

“Not specifically, but the injuries looked like they were extensive and resembled a lot of what I see in miners here who get hurt in accidents. I asked him if it was a mining accident and he said it was in a mine but it was no accident. He didn’t explain any further. You know how he is. The bruising and abrasions are nearly healed, but I could see where they were.”

“Might have something to do with why he decided to come home. I got my reasons to think he was doing some kind of work for the government. Maybe somebody found out and didn’t like that.”

“Yes, it makes sense. Now, what about the other issue? Has anything happened lately?”

“No, it’s been quiet for months now. I thought maybe he gave up, but with Adam back, it’s bound to come to a head. I have no idea what he’ll do though. What I got told by that government man who came here years ago to check Adam out said it was someone who held a terrible grudge and wanted Adam to be humiliated and then killed. It’s hard to believe he’s forgotten about that if it was so important to him that he would kill two women.”

“Do you think other women are at risk?”

“I’m afraid they might be, but if I put out a warning, I’ll put Adam at risk.”

With a disgusted look, Paul sat down heavily. “He can’t win in this one, can he? If you warn the women, some men may decide to do something to him as preventative justice. If you don’t warn the women and one gets hurt or killed, some may blame him and he’s back where he was years ago.”

“This time I plan to talk with Adam and his family and try to figure this all out before anyone gets hurt. I don’t aim to let this go on and be a shock to all of us. I want to talk to Adam as soon as I can and get something worked out.”

“I hope you can work out a plan.”

“I shur hope so too. I hope things go well out on the ranch too. It’s got to be hard with Adam letting John Harper die so he could save Hoss.”

“Joe was angry when he was here, but we know how he is. Give him time and he’ll cool down and figure it out.”

“As long as he don’t do something too stupid ‘fore he gets there.”

Of course, on the Ponderosa, Joe was still being driven by emotion because he had to tell Alice about the death of her brother. She had lost the last of her family and was nearly inconsolable.

“Why couldn’t he hang onto both? Hoss is so strong.”

“I know. Hoss even yelled at him that he could make it back and help him with John, but Adam’s never been one to listen to anyone.”

“I don’t know how I’m going to be able to be civil to your brother. I know he’s family, but after this, I just don’t know.”

“We don’t have to see him much. He’ll be at the main house, and in the letter to Pa, he did say he was coming for a visit. I guess if we don’t make him feel too welcome, that’s all it will be. Pa will be happy seeing him again, but we’ll be happier if he doesn’t stay.”

“I guess I could be civil enough if I knew he wasn’t going to be around long. Oh, Joe, we’ll have to have a funeral and there won’t even be a body. What will we do?”

“We’ll have a memorial service. We’ll do what we can do. I’ll pay some men to do a search, but like I told you, it’s not likely that they’ll find anything.”

When Ben asked them to come to the main house for dinner, they didn’t want to go but felt they had to go because Ben asked. However, both weren’t sure how they were going to act toward Adam when they saw him. At the house, Alice was cool saying only Adam’s name in greeting and then moving on into the house to accept condolences from Hoss and Ben ignoring Adam the rest of the time. Adam made no effort to break that wall down. Not knowing Alice, he didn’t know what kind of approach to use and didn’t want to make things worse. Joe greeted him with a greeting that was normal but with an undercurrent of anger that no one missed. Ben’s raised eyebrows and Hoss’ look were enough for Joe not to express what he was thinking even if it took a gargantuan effort. Hiding the pain that all of this cost him, Adam stayed quiet which his father noticed but the others seemed indifferent to how the oldest brother was feeling.

However, when it was time for Joe and Alice to leave, Ben suggested that Adam help Joe get the carriage ready. Neither Joe nor Adam could refuse without bringing the issues up so they agreed. In the stable, they worked silently until the carriage was nearly ready to go. Joe couldn’t hold back any longer at that point though.

“Alice will never forgive you for killing her brother.”

“I didn’t kill him. The flash flood killed him. It wasn’t such a loss either. She may be better off in the long run without him.”

“What do you know about it?”

Realizing he needed to have a cover story, Adam improvised. “I rode with him from Reno. He was no good.”

“He was a gambler and lost money a lot. That hardly qualifies as no good.”

“Joe, how does a gambler who only loses money keep gambling?”

Wanting desperately to have a snappy comeback to that, Joe didn’t have one. He did know that John had gotten money from Alice on a number of occasions but knew it wasn’t enough to support his gambling habit. Reluctantly, at least to himself, he had to admit Adam had a point. Before he could say anything more, Adam was gone, walking back to the house probably hoping there would be no further arguing. That too was out of character for his oldest brother who seemed weary more than anything. For the first time, Joe took a good look at Adam and realized he walked stiffly making him wonder if he had been hurt in the accident and if that was why he had let go of one rope. It wasn’t the kind of thing Adam would ever use as an excuse. He was more likely blaming himself for being too weak to save both men. Thinking about that and putting aside past resentments, Joe thought that perhaps he needed to talk to his brother in a meaningful way and not the way he had addressed him this evening.

Once Adam got back in the house, Alice left without even acknowledging that he had returned. He wasn’t surprised by that, but he was caught off guard by Hoss going up to bed only saying goodnight to their father. Ben noticed that and was hurt too seeing how it made Adam’s shoulders slump even further. He had saved is brother’s life and the lives of a woman and child, returned home after being gone for over five years, and yet he was being treated as a near pariah by his brothers.

“Hoss is feeling guilty that a man died so he could be saved.”

With a shrug, Adam said nothing. Ben wasn’t used to his eldest being this taciturn even if he had always held a lot inside for this was far more than he had ever seen.

“Alice has no other family so she’s feeling her loss particularly hard.”

Once more, Adam did not respond to that comment. When he did talk, he did about something unrelated.

“Tomorrow, I’d like to take a ride around the ranch to see what’s new. I assume that it wouldn’t be a good idea for one of my brothers to go with me. Who would you suggest?”

Caught off-guard by that, Ben thought quickly. “Candy would be the best one to show you what we’ve been doing.”

“Yes, he’s been mentioned a lot in letters. I’d like to meet him.”

“Are you sure you want to ride? Your hands look battered.”

“It’s superficial. Paul put bandages over the abrasions mainly to prevent infection. I’m sure Hop Sing has something that will help too. I’ll be fine.”

With nothing more to say, Adam excused himself to go up to bed saying he was tired. That was a gross understatement because he was weary in every category he could imagine. With no energy left to even carry on a conversation, he went to his bed alone and lay staring into the darkness feeling as alone as he had felt in a very long time. It was the opposite of how he thought he would feel by returning home. No one had asked him how he felt about letting a man die because he wasn’t strong enough to save him. They acted as if he didn’t have feelings so he wondered if he had hidden them so well for so long that they forgot he had them.

Downstairs, Ben was concerned for all three sons who were hurting, but his heart was breaking for Adam because he knew his first-born son was in great pain and unable to express it. He thought he would have to work on Hoss and Joe because they needed to show some compassion for their brother or he wouldn’t likely be home long. Ben could see it, and he feared Adam leaving in such emotional pain with no one to offer him any comfort. He had thought that Adam had met someone by some comments he had made in letters over the past three years, but there had been no mention of her recently so he guessed correctly that was over. He had his chance with Hoss at breakfast when Hoss came down and Adam apparently was sleeping in. When Hoss looked so relieved that Adam wasn’t at the table, Ben took that as his opening.

“I saw you looking around and then smiling a bit. Is that because Adam isn’t here?” He noted that at least Hoss looked a little embarrassed at least to be caught out so easily on that count. “Yesterday, I heard how much Alice was hurt by what happened and how upset Joe was. I heard you out too.”

“Pa, I yelled that I could make it on my own and for Adam to save John. He never listens to nobody but does it his way. He don’t know ifn I coulda made it. Maybe I could.”

However, Ben noted that Hoss didn’t sound at all sure of himself when he said it. Doubt had crept in since it had happened. He decided he could add to that. “Are you sure he heard you? I’ve heard flash floods. They’re loud, and he was in the water too just like you and John. I saw his hands. You took him to the doctor so you saw them too. The ropes were burning his hands. That could have affected his ability to concentrate.”

Hoss hung his head a bit because clearly, he hadn’t considered any of those things. “Yeah, I been thinkin’ mainly on myself. I guess over the years, I kinda got used to Adam takin’ care of hisself. It’s hard to think of havin’ ta take care of him.”

“Or him taking care of you? I heard you say maybe you could have made it. Do you know what that would have done to him if he had let you go and you didn’t make it? I know Joe was upset that John died and was angry at Adam because of it, but how would he have responded if you had been the one who died? What do you think that have would have been like for me? I don’t rejoice at all that John Harper died, but given circumstances like Adam faced, I would have done the same thing.”

“I guess I woulda too.”

“How do you think he felt letting a man die? Don’t you think he did the best he could do?”

Because he had been consumed by his own guilt and concern for Joe and Alice, Hoss was now even more embarrassed to realize how poor a brother he had been to Adam. “Lordy, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not the one who needs to hear that.”

“I’ll talk to him, and I’ll talk to Joe too. He must still be sleepin’ yet, huh?”

“Yes, he looked exhausted so I’m not surprised he’s still sleeping. I would guess he may have had trouble getting to sleep too.”

Then Hoss took a deep breath because he had something to admit that was difficult to discuss. “I had a dream last night. I already figured on talking with you and with Adam because of it. Now you gave me even more to think on.”

However, Ben focused on the one element in the middle of that long statement. “What was in your dream?”

“It was kinda silly in a way, but Candy came to me in my dream and said he had something to show me. Lickety split, he took me out to the lake, and you and Joe were there standing by a grave while some of the hands filled it in. While people were leaving, he told me to go over and look at the marker, and when I picked it up, I dropped it like a red-hot poker. The name on there was mine. Shook me up something terrible. Seems Adam let go of the rope holding me so he could save John. Well, according to Candy in my dream, I lost my footing right away and went under. Nobody could save me, and everybody blamed Adam so he left again. I guess the current was too strong and with all the stuff in the water, it musta knocked me around some.”

“Maybe in your dream, you were speaking truth to yourself.”

“You know, the more we talk, the more I think you must be right about that.”

“So perhaps it’s time now to speak that truth to Adam. My heart was breaking for him last night especially because there was almost nothing I could do to heal the rift among the three of you. Yet I knew the pain he must have been feeling. It’s the loneliest feeling there is to be unwanted in the one place you want to be.”

“You think Adam’s come home for good and not just for a visit?”

“Hoss, you need to think about how he’s been in the short time he’s been back. He’s hurting, and he came here because he needed us.”

“Dadburnit, and all I did was make it worse. I’ll take care of that today, Pa. You can bet on that. As soon as I see Adam, I’ll clear things up with him. I wasn’t thinking too straight about things before, but I got it now.”

Ben put a hand on Hoss’ shoulder and squeezed. One down and one to go, but with Hoss on his side, it was going to be easier to talk with Joe.

Chapter Four

At Joe’s house, Alice was dumbfounded listening to Joe talk that morning especially because it was such a change from his thoughts of the night before. It seemed that Joe had had a dream much as Hoss had. His revelation had an even greater impact though, and he tried as diplomatically as he could to explain it to his wife. Finally, though, she summarized what he had said making him realize how harsh it sounded.

“So, Candy talked to you in your dream and told you that Adam knew that John was a criminal and that he was going to bring his associates here to the house to get money from me. If I didn’t pay, it was likely that they might harm me, our baby, and John. By letting go of that rope and saving Hoss, Adam did the right thing and saved a good man as well as our brother, and he let a criminal die because there was no possible way he could save both of them. That’s what you want me to accept?”

“I know it sounds harsh, but it has the ring of truth to it, Alice. The only times you ever saw him were when he wanted money. Now that you’re married to me, he would probably have assumed you had a lot more money.”

“John was my brother.”

“Alice, we know he was a criminal too. No one can keep losing that kind of money gambling and not get into criminal activities.” Joe knew he was basically quoting Adam and almost smiled at the realization. “It’s how criminals frequently get control of people. It’s not unusual at all for gamblers to get into criminal activity to pay off their debts. He’s been losing money for years.”

“But Joe, he was my brother. You can’t ask me not to grieve for him.”

“No, I’m not asking that at all. What I’m saying is that we shouldn’t blame Adam for the decision he made. He did the right thing. He usually does or tries to. We need to let him know that. We both treated him poorly yesterday and acted very selfishly. After what he had to do, he needed our support, and we let him down badly.”

“You really think he feels that terrible about this?”

“I’m sure he feels terrible. He hardly talked yesterday, and that’s not like him. He was holding it all in like he usually does, but I bet it was hurting him something awful. I think we ought to go over there today and do what we can to mend our relationship. You need to get to know him.”

Placing her hands on her expanding belly and thinking about their baby, Alice thought too about what Joe had said. “You think John would have brought bad men into our lives, don’t you?”

“Yes, it may have come to me in a dream, but when I woke and thought it through, I knew that’s exactly what would have happened. He had criminal contacts. We know that, and sooner or later, those men would have been in contact with us.”

“That could have put our child in danger.”

Wrapping his arms around her, Joe held her close. “Yes, and because you were the source of his money, you too.”

“And you and maybe other members of the family.” She paused as Joe held her. “I don’t think Adam could have thought about all of that, but he must have thought John wasn’t a good person for him to say what he said to you in the stable. You told me that last night when you were still so angry at him, but now it makes so much more sense. Somehow, he knew a lot about John.”

“Yes, somehow he did. I’ve thought about that situation too, and I know Hoss said he could have made it out on his own, but I don’t think so. The current was too strong. Even with the rope, it took a lot for us to pull him and Adam out of there.”

“Joe, I agree with you. We need to make amends with Adam, and I need to get to know him. It’s going to be difficult for me. I’ll need your help.”

Holding her close, Joe whispered in her ear. “We’ll do it together.”

“Joe, why did the dream affect you so much?”

The dream sequence that haunted him flitted through his mind once more. Although he didn’t want to tell her, he knew he should be honest. “In the dream, I saw John dead shot by his associates here by our house. They had killed you two and fired the house. I never had a body to bury, and I was all alone. Our baby was never born.”

“Oh, Joe, I’m so sorry. Do you think something like that could really have happened?”

“I do.”

“Then it will be easier for me to let go of John and welcome Adam home.”

A lot of good intentions didn’t amount to anything however. Hoss rode over to talk to Joe thinking he would have to convince him to make amends with Adam. While he was gone, Adam talked with Candy, and the two left to take a riding tour of the Ponderosa that turned into an all-day excursion when the two men found an easy comradery and talked extensively. It was opened up primarily because of one point Candy decided he ought to make early.

“I know Hoss and Joe gave you a hard time about what happened with Harper.” Adam steeled himself to hear more condemnation for his action. “I knew some things about the man though, and he was no loss. Losing Hoss would have torn a hole in your family and the whole community. I’m real glad you were strong enough to hang onto him.”

“Thank you. You, my father, and Hop Sing seem to be the only ones who see it that way.”

“Well that makes me feel pretty good. That’s good company to be in.” Then Candy decided that as long as he was being honest, he would go for all of it. “What I don’t understand is how you could leave your family and not come back for so long.”

“It’s complicated.”

“We got time.”

It was mostly history so Adam decided to explain. “Over five years ago, a woman was murdered and mutilated, a banker and his family burned to death when someone fired their house, and the newspaper offices were trashed. The evidence pointed to me.”

“You had an alibi, didn’t you? I mean people wouldn’t believe you would do that anyway.”

“I knew the woman, had a grudge against the banker, and was mad at the paper for a story they ran. No, some believed it could be me. I woke up in a grove of trees with a lump on my head and no memory of where I’d been for over twelve hours.”

“Why couldn’t you remember?”

“Based on what I’ve learned over the last few years, I think I was drugged before I was knocked unconscious. I don’t know who did it though but it had to be someone I knew well enough that I accepted a drink from them. It could have been coffee or water or lemonade. I was sick when I woke up and stayed sick for hours. The way things were going at that time, I figured to be on the gallows before the truth was found out. I left.”

“When did they find out who committed the crimes?”

“Hoss helped solve the first one not long after I left. A man who used to work for the Territorial Enterprise tried to get a job on the Ponderosa. Hoss didn’t hire him because he had been drinking. He made some comments that implicated him in the damage to the newspaper offices, and Roy followed up on that. But it was two years later, when another man committed suicide because he couldn’t live with the guilt of killing a whole family when he really only wanted to kill the banker, that the arson murders were resolved.”

“What about the woman?”

“Her murder and that of another woman who was killed and found on the Ponderosa have never been solved. I had an alibi that was verified for the second one, but nothing for the first one.”

“So, you’re still a suspect?”

“No there’s no evidence linking me to the crime. There were only rumors that someone was spreading that stirred everything up at the time and for quite a while afterwards.”

“Then why didn’t you come home?”

“From what I heard, there were things left on the graves of the women to keep the issue stirred up.”

“What kinds of things?”

“Black things, silk handkerchiefs, crosses.”

“Why black?”

“I used to wear mostly black.”

“Your father and Hoss especially talked about you a lot. Joe tried to cover his true feelings, but I know he missed you too.”

“Hard to tell by the reactions I got.”

“It was pretty upsetting with what happened.”

“It was upsetting to me too.”

Kicking Sport into a faster pace, Adam rode ahead of Candy who had to work to catch up. He knew Adam had said more than he intended and wanted to end that part of the conversation. With so much already covered, he wasn’t going to push it with him. Already surprised by how open Adam had been with him after hearing how he held things inside so much, Candy wasn’t sure if he should feel good that he had been trusted as a friend so quickly or if he was being told information to give to the family because Adam was leaving again. As a man who had done a bit of wandering himself, he suspected the latter. There was another related subject that he thought they could discuss that might help in the long run regardless of what Adam decided to do,

“As long as we’re talking about your family some, there’s something about Joe you might like to know.” By the way Adam leaned to the side, Candy already knew him well enough to know he had his attention so he decided to lay it all out as clearly as he could. “He thinks you never forgave him for all the stupid things he said when he was younger. He knows he talks first without thinking, and he knows how that can get him into trouble.”

“It can, and often did, but I never held any of those things against him. He always had my forgiveness. I’m not one to hold a grudge. I’ll have it out with someone right away or let it go. I don’t have enough time or energy to stew on things like that like some do who hang onto every grievance real or imagined for years and wait for their chance to even up the score as they see it. I feel sorry for people like that. They lead miserable lives without any true friends and never get to experience true joy.”

“You’re good.”

“Good?”

“Hoss told me once that he missed having you around especially when it was time to talk to your father about something difficult. He said you could turn an argument around to something else so fast you didn’t know what had happened, and pretty soon you’d find yourself agreeing with you until you got your way.”

“Hoss was always the one who understood me best.”

“There you do again. I wanted to talk about Joe. I think you need to clear the air with him before you go,”

“What makes you think I’m going to go?”

“I’m not answering that. We’re talking about Joe here. Now, will you let him know you forgive him for things he said so he can rest easier at night?”

“I can tell him that.”

Pursing his lips, Candy was quiet for a time. “You think he meant some or all of what he said though.”

Adam’s shoulders moved almost imperceptibly, but they moved. It was clear that he did.

“Care to say anything more or you gonna just leave it lay there like that?”

Pausing long enough that Candy knew he was considering whether he ought to say it or not, Adam finally dropped his head and spoke softly. “He said the same things often enough that there had to be some conviction or at least some true feeling behind the words. It started when Sam Bryant held my father hostage. It got worse from there.”

“You’re brothers so maybe it’s time you talked and found out for sure instead of both of you wondering what the other is thinking. You need to really talk and not argue. Maybe you’ve been given a cactus, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit on it.”

“Maybe we should, but with what’s happened, I don’t know that there’s going to be an opportunity to talk without emotions getting in the way.”

Under the circumstances, Candy had to agree. Instead, it was his chance to change the subject as he suggested they take a ride to the lumber mill because Ben had been talking about expanding it so they could do a better job of meeting contracts in a timely manner without worrying about breakdowns. Although Adam agreed to the trip, Candy could tell he was ill at ease about it.

“Don’t worry so much. I’m with you this time. Nobody is going to meet up with you when you leave and knock you over the head with anything.”

A crooked little smile greeted that statement, and Adam rode ahead of him to the mill as if he wasn’t worried at all. When they got to the mill, the foreman came out to greet them and Sport reared up and nearly threw Adam who had to fight to regain control. He finally managed to do that but the horse was highly agitated and Adam guided him away to the edge of the property where he seemed to settle down some. There, Adam was able to dismount safely and tie him off. He walked back to where the other two men waited. Davis Patrickus, the foreman at the mill, frowned when Adam got close.

“Your hands are bleeding.”

The bandages had come loose because of the difficulties of controlling Sport and the abrasions were scraped raw again too.

“It’s not bad. I could use some fresh bandages though.”

They went in the office and Davis got out a roll of soft cotton bandage which Candy helped Adam wrap around the worst of the abrasions. Once that was done, Davis offered them coffee which Candy was going to willingly accept, but a sharp quick no from Adam curtailed that break. They got a quick tour of the mill and Adam took a look at the terrain and the stream that fed the mill pond before telling Candy they ought to go.

“With this trip, we’re going to get back later than they probably thought we would. I don’t want Pa to worry too much.”

“Heck, he probably started worrying the minute you rode out with me.”

“I didn’t realize riding with you was such a risk.”

“Now don’t you start with me.”

The two men grinned though as they walked to where Sport was tied. Candy got serious though when they got out of earshot of anyone from the mill. “Your horse sure doesn’t like Davis for some reason.”

“Definitely dislikes him, and he’s usually a good judge.”

“Were you riding him the day you left here and woke up later with no memory of what happened?”

“I was. He was tied off nearby when I woke up.”

“Davis makes some of the best coffee around. I would have liked a cup.”

“You’re wondering why I said no.” Candy’s look made it clear he did. “I have no idea why I said that.”

That made Candy frown as much as it made Adam try to remember that day more than five years earlier. Quite a while later, Candy had Adam pull up because he had something to discuss.

“Did you and Davis ever have a problem between you?”

“Not that I remember. The woman he married was a woman I had been seeing before he started seeing her. I wasn’t invited to the wedding. She told me he was jealous even though we weren’t together any more. There never was any direct trouble between us. Why?” Except Adam suspected he knew what Candy was going to say and wasn’t disappointed.

“Coffee would be a good way to drug someone. It’s already a little bitter. Sport didn’t like him at all like he did something to him. The hard part is I can’t imagine Davis killing anyone especially a woman or in this case, two women.”

“I know, but there are twenty other men who work there. We need to find out who else was working at that mill when this happened.”

It was time for dinner by the time Adam and Candy got back to the ranch house. After taking care of their horses, Adam and Candy went to the house. Candy noted how slowly Adam walked and how weary he looked when they cleaned up in the washroom. He wasn’t surprised that Adam told his father and Hoss that he wasn’t hungry and wanted instead to turn in early. Exhausted by the day’s activities, Adam missed the obvious disappointment his father and brother showed at his declaration. He did give them a glimmer of hope though when he said he was going to town the next day to pick up his luggage from the train station because he was tired of having only one set of clothing to wear. At least he seemed to be planning to stay a while. Ben invited Candy to have dinner with them clearly hoping to find out what might have transpired between him and Adam during the day. There wasn’t a lot that Candy could divulge though without breaking a confidence with Adam so he mainly talked about what had happened at the mill. It was the first clue they had ever had as to what might have happened to Adam that night.

In town, the man who knew the most about what happened that night overheard Sheriff Coffee telling a deputy to ride to the Ponderosa the next morning to ask Adam to come into town to talk with him about what had happened on Red Night. Roy thought he might have an idea about what had happened and wanted Adam’s opinion about it. Hearing that, the man decided he was going to have to move fast to finish his plan for Adam. He went home to take the first step in finishing his revenge.

Chapter Five

At the dining table early the next morning, Adam downed a cup of coffee and a biscuit quickly hoping to make his exit before his father or Hoss made it downstairs. The last two days had been emotionally and physically exhausting. He hoped for a slow quiet ride to town and thought perhaps an equally slow ride back might take up most of the day if he took the long way back with a loaded carriage. Almost successful in achieving his goal, Adam disappointed his father who had hoped to have a conversation with Adam that morning that they had been unable to have the previous night.

“Adam, I had hoped we could all talk this morning.”

“Talking has been a problem for me lately. I think I would prefer the silence of the ride to town and back.”

“I understand why you would feel that way, but Hoss and Joe both feel badly about what they said to you and how they acted. It’s time for them to talk to you and work this out.”

“I’m not sure I have the energy for them this morning.”

What Ben interpreted that to mean was that Adam didn’t trust that the conversation with his brothers was going to turn out well for him. Based on his earlier interaction with them, that was probably understandable, but Ben didn’t want him to leave the house with such a negative impression. “They wanted to talk to you yesterday and waited for you here. We had no idea you would be back so late. Will you be back by lunch today so I can tell them we can talk then?”

Caught up in his father’s plea, Adam couldn’t deny him. He agreed to be back for lunch and a discussion with his brothers. His plan to have another day of emotional insulation to lick his wounds was gone. His father correctly interpreted his look and demeanor. He put a hand on Adam’s shoulder to stop him from abruptly leaving.

“It will be fine. Your brothers needed prodding to think things through. I think you’ll be more agreeable to how they’re thinking now and what they have to say to you.”

A weak smile never reaching the eyes was all Ben got for his efforts, but at least Adam had agreed to the meeting. Ben hoped healing would occur so the family could begin to move forward again. If not, he was worried that Adam would leave again, and if he did, he doubted he would ever return. Believing the family was strongest when they were all together, he had felt that for the past years, the family had been missing a balance that was necessary. Good things had happened with Joe maturing and becoming more responsible, but he thought that would have happened if Adam had stayed because Joe was reaching the age at that point when young men typically did become more mature and responsible. Unlike some others, he did not attribute Joe’s growth to Adam’s absence seeing it as coincidental only. However, he did see that Joe’s enthusiasm and emotional energy as well as Hoss’ natural optimism and willingness to trust needed Adam’s logic and skepticism as a balancing influence. The three were so much better together. More than anything, Ben hoped to see that once again.

In town, a distraught Davis Patrickus was in Sheriff Roy Coffee’s office. “I can’t find my wife. I woke up this morning, and she wasn’t there. Her robe was gone so all I can say is she must have gone out to the necessary last night after we went to bed. I was sleeping. I never heard her leave. Now she’s gone, and all I found was this. It was tied to the door handle of the necessary.” Davis handed over a black silk handkerchief. “I saw Adam Cartwright yesterday. He was at the mill. He was squiring around my Charlene before she took up with me, before we got married. Now he come back and killed her.”

Immediately Roy disagreed. “Davis, you got no call to say that. Adam is no killer.”

“He killed that Janie. We all know it.”

“He didn’t kill anyone. Now you stop talking like that. I’ll get some men together and we’ll head to your place and start searching for your wife. You come with us.”

“I don’t want to come with you. I know how those other women were found. I don’t want to find my Charlene like that.”

“Sit right here then. Clem, come with me. We’ll get some men and go look for her.”

Roy and Clem didn’t get far. The undertaker met them with some shocking news.

“I was at the graveyard to did a grave for the funeral for Mister Milius tomorrow. Roy, I found a woman there. There’s a black cross at her feet, but I can’t rightly tell you who it is cause of what was done to her.”

Davis had come out of the office and dropped to his knees. “Oh, Lord, it’s my Charlene. I know it’s her. He’s killed her. Adam Cartwright murdered my Charlene!”

Turning to Clem, Roy told him to get Davis inside and to shut him up. Roy went with the undertaker to the graveyard to identify the body. He sent one man to get Doctor Martin. Sadly, by Roy’s estimation, it was Charlene Patrickus. The poor woman had lost her son a year earlier when he had drowned. She hadn’t handled it well and had lost a lot of weight over the past year. From the look of the body they found, it was consistent with her height, hair color, and the weight loss. Roy’s greatest fear had been realized. Someone who wanted to destroy Adam had killed again but much sooner than Roy had expected. He had thought he would have some time to lay a trap, but the killer was far more devious and sinister than he had imagined. He went with the doctor in the undertaker’s wagon when he took the body to the doctor’s office.

When Adam drove the carriage into town, he noted the unusual number of people in the streets so early in the morning and the hostile stares he got. By the time he was loading his luggage at the train station, he saw a number of men approaching and knew it wasn’t looking good for him. He was going to jump in the carriage to leave but was grabbed from behind by two men obviously sent ahead by the larger mob. They held his arms and one grabbed his pistol and tossed it in the dirt. Without knowing why they were upset, he still saw the anger in the mob and soon felt it as they began to pummel him. With his arms pinned and his pistol gone, he expected to die, but shots were fired and he heard Roy’s voice. The men holding him released him letting him fall to the ground. He had been hit in the head, face, chest, and abdomen. His shirt sleeves were ripped on both arms and his shirt buttons were torn off leaving his shirt hanging open. Blood dripped from his mouth and nose. Roy forced the men to back up, and then he and Clem pulled Adam up between them. Roy leaned toward Adam to speak softly.

“Kin you make it to my office, boy?”

“I’m not a boy.”

“Well, that tells me you can ifn you kin still argue with me.”

Between them, Roy and Clem got Adam to the office nearly dragging him because he could hardly lift his feet at all on his own. At the office, Davis yelled at them that they should have let the men out there handle justice once and for all.

“You shut up, Davis. This is all your doing. There’s no evidence Adam did anything. A man doesn’t get executed in this town because of rumors.”

“We all know he done it.”

By then, Doctor Martin was there to help. With a quick examination of Adam, he told Roy that he needed to get Adam over to his office. Once again Davis objected saying he belonged in jail at least.

“No, he doesn’t. You people hurt an innocent man. Davis, your wife fought her attacker. I found a lot of skin and blood under her fingernails. Whoever killed her has a lot of scratches on him. You can all see that Adam has none. You find the man who’s all scratched up and you will probably have her killer. Now who’s going to help me get this man to my office so I can take proper care of him?”

A number of men, feeling guilty, stepped forward to help Adam who was nearly carried to Paul’s office. While that happened, Clem spoke quietly to Roy about what he had seen earlier. Roy walked up to Davis and pulled his pistol from his holster.

“Hey, what are you doing? I won’t shoot him now that Doc says he didn’t do it.”

“I want you to roll up your sleeves. Clem said he thought he saw some small scratches on the back of your hand earlier.”

“You can’t mean that. Charlene was my wife.”

“I mean it.”

“All right.”

Except Davis turned to run instead. Men who earlier had gone after Adam because Davis said he had murdered Charlene now went after Davis. It was ironic that the mob he intended to use to kill Adam was the one that dragged him back to face justice. It didn’t take long to bring him back either to where Roy stood. When the men shoved him to his knees before Roy and Clem it was with his bare forearms showing numerous deep scratches. It all made terrible good sense. Davis had been the first to point a finger at Adam telling Roy he rode away from the mill toward town on Red Night. He had also been the one to suggest to other men that they should search the line cabins on the Ponderosa to look for Adam, but clearly he had known what they would find instead.

“Why, Davis? Why did you do it?”

“She talked about him. She compared me to him. Once when I was kissing her, she said his name. Then we had Robert, and he had those damn dimples and that curly black hair, and I knew. He was with my wife. I knew it. No man does that to me, no man!”

“Charlene had black hair, and she had dimples when she smiled.”

“No, it was him. I could tell by how he talked to me. He came to the mill and he talked to me like he was better than me. It was him. Well I got the best of him. I got rid of his brat. I watched him drown before I went for help. Now I took his woman. I got rid of him for over five years too.”

“But those women, Davis, what did they ever do to you?”

“Janie was gonna have a baby and tell everybody it was Adam’s and not mine. She wanted to marry him and figured to use me to find a way to force him into it. She was just like Charlene betraying me like that. Her friend Marcie knew about it. I couldn’t let her around to tell everybody what she knew. Nobody was gonna miss them anyhow. They was only saloon tramps.”

Everyone listening was very quiet. Davis had confessed to four gruesome murders as if they were normal things for a man to do. No one there had ever run into such a monster. Finally able to brag about what he had done, Davis actually looked proud and continued to look that way even as Roy and Clem marched him into the jail to lock him away. Once Davis was locked in a cell, Roy asked Clem to ride to the Ponderosa to tell the family what had happened. Unwilling to leave Davis unguarded, he had to wait for some deputies to come on duty in the afternoon before he could go to the doctor’s office to check on Adam to see how he was doing.

On the Ponderosa, as it got close to lunchtime, Joe arrived with Alice and they all waited for Adam. However, Clem arrived instead with his tale to tell. Shocked by the news, soon they were all headed to town with Ben and Hoss riding well ahead of Joe and Alice in the carriage. At the doctor’s office, they get far worse news than they expected to hear. Doctor Martin let them stand just inside the room where Adam lay in a bed covered by a sheet. The dark bruises on Adam’s face were an all too apparent reminder that he had taken a vicious beating. Paul gave them a quick diagnosis. It was not reassuring.

“He’s unconscious and unresponsive. He lost consciousness shortly after he got to my office, and he’s become less responsive since then. His breathing is shallow.”

“Paul, what are you saying? Will my son be all right?”

“Ben, I don’t know. I can’t tell how seriously he’s injured. We have to wait and see at this point. We’ll know more in a day.”

Ben knew what he meant. He would begin to recover or slowly slip away. All they could do was wait to see which way it would go. But it didn’t go either way as Adam stayed about the same. Paul seemed puzzled by it and began questioning them about what had been happening in the family since the stagecoach accident. What he heard bothered him, but gave him an idea of why Adam might not be recovering. He added to what he has said earlier and it was more upsetting.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to wake up.”

“Well, that’s plain crazy talk. Course he wants ta wake up, Doc.” Hoss was incredulous that Paul would even suggest such a thing.

However, Ben moved to Adam’s side and looked at the dark bruises showing on his son and saw the faded bruises from much earlier. He knew Adam had been through something terrible not long ago and then faced another crisis in the stagecoach accident. The reaction of his brothers to that incident had added to the burden he had been carrying, and Ben knew that perhaps Paul was correct. He asked Paul about the faded bruising.

“I saw that when I treated him after the stagecoach accident. He was wearing some bracing for his ribs too. He didn’t say much about how he was hurt except that it was in a mine and it wasn’t an accident. I don’t know what he meant by that.”

With the revelation, both Joe and Hoss realized something else. Joe was the first to say it. “It must have been awfully hard for him to pull on those ropes that day.”

No one needed to say anything because they knew the answer.

Chapter Six

For the next day, Ben Cartwright was the most frustrated man in Nevada although Hoss, Joe, and Doctor Martin were competing for a close second. Their concern was the same: Adam wasn’t responding to anyone or anything. He lay quiet and wouldn’t even swallow water if it was spooned into his mouth. Paul’s assessment was that it was a deep melancholia aggravating serious injuries, but the most significant factor was the mental state of his patient. They were guessing about that until Candy came to town with extra clothing for all of them and to take the carriage back to the ranch. Ben asked him if he could tell them any more of how Adam was feeling on the day they spent together.

“I know you don’t want to break any confidence with Adam, but this could mean everything to saving his life. We need to know how to reach him.”

“Without saying what he said, he was hurt that no one seemed to be concerned about how he felt after what happened at the stagecoach accident. He’s also not so sure that all those negative things that have been said to him in the past don’t have some true feelings behind them because he heard them so often. I guess if he had been welcomed home more warmly, he might have had more of a good feeling about things, but I had the feeling he was planning to leave because he didn’t think he was wanted here.”

After those revelations, Paul wanted to hear what had happened at the ranch after the brothers had left his office. He found it disturbing especially when he found out that Hoss and Joe had not apologized nor offered any solace to their older brother.

“I think Adam came home because he was already in need of emotional support. What I saw when he was in my office that day was a man who seemed troubled. I’m surprised that none of you saw it.”

“And we made it a lot worse.” Joe was feeling a lot of guilt.

“Feeling guilty isn’t going to help Adam. What you need to do is try to reach him with your support and your love. If you don’t, well, I think you know.”

Joe went first and then Hoss expressing their feelings for their brother. There was no change. Ben had been hopeful that he would see some response, but Paul confirmed what Ben saw. Adam was as unresponsive as he had been. Late that second day, there was a small disturbance in the office that Ben could hear from his perch on a stool next to the bed where Adam lay. He went to the door to find out what was happening and stop the noise. As he approached the door, it opened and a woman came through moving quickly to Adam and ignoring Ben who didn’t react because he was so surprised and so tired too. When she got to Adam, she leaned in close to him.

“Adam, darling, I’ve heard you’ve been laying here and giving up. Now that is not like you.” She took his hand and held the back of it to her cheek. “I want you to listen to me. Darling, have I told you lately that I love you?” Adam stirred slightly. “Have I told you that I dream about you at night.” It was clear to everyone that he was responding to her voice. “Have I told you that my days are empty without you and the nights are far too long.”

She paused and gently touched his battered cheek with her other hand. His eyelids fluttered. Doctor Martin had come in the room and seeing what was happening, encouraged her to keep talking. Leaning close to him, she continued and the raw emotion in her voice caught at their hearts too.

“Have I told you that I was a complete fool for saying I couldn’t live out here in such emptiness not knowing that when you left, Washington was empty of anything important to me. Well, darling, I’m telling you now.”

Slowly, Adam opened his eyes to slits. She smiled at him and gently stroked his cheek. He spoke softly. She couldn’t hear him and asked him to repeat what he had said. When he did, the others could hear it too even though it was still spoken very softly and his voice was hoarse. “I’m not worth it.”

“Now where did that come from?” Her voice stayed soft but became more intense. “You are worth every moment of time I can give. You are worth more than any man I have ever met. I will never meet another one like you. I had to come here to tell you that. I traveled thousands of miles and you know how I don’t like to travel especially alone. That should tell you something. Now, I said I love you. Did you hear me when I said it? Maybe you didn’t. If you didn’t, I’ll say it again. I love you. Do I get an answer to that?” There was the hint of a smile on his battered lips. “And don’t you dare say that was not a question.”

As she saw his eyes flick around to the others in the room, she knew what it would cost him to answer her there and wondered if he would. Then those words made her nearly cry.

“I love you.”

The words were spoken softly, but he was looking at her, and his voice though hoarse was clear. He wanted everyone there to hear his declaration. Leaning down, she kissed him softly hoping not to hurt him but unwilling to let such a moment pass without a kiss.

“Darling, we’ll figure the rest out later.”

“Yes, we will.”

Paul set a tray with a cup of water and a cup of broth on the table next to the bed.

“I think the doctor wants you to drink something. Can I help you?”

A smile was her answer, and she helped Adam drink water and broth as his family watched. None of them wanted to say or do anything that might jinx the miracle they were witnessing. When about half the liquids were gone, it was clear Adam was tired. Paul moved in and told Diane she could let Adam sleep. She told him to close his eyes and she would be right there when he woke. His eyelids drooped and closed. When his breathing became regular, Diane rose and walked to the office and the Cartwrights followed. She didn’t say anything, but her look was basically communicating that she wanted to know what the heck had been going on. Ben decided to be the mediator.

“Perhaps we could all sit down, introduce ourselves, and then we can explain what’s happened in the last few days.”

What none of them said but what was foremost in the minds of all the Cartwrights was the question of who this woman was and how she knew Adam because it was clear she knew him well. As Alice got coffee and cups for all of them, they all moved chairs so they could all sit close to each other. When Diane sat, the others sat too ready to hear whatever she had to say. Instead though she had questions. They found out her name was Diane, but then she asked how Adam had been hurt and why he had not responded to them because she had learned that from Sheriff Coffee who had told her where Adam was and about his condition. She didn’t explain why Roy had told her so much. When they told her about the arrest of Davis Patrickus and what had led up to that, she looked relieved.

“It haunted him that he couldn’t remember what had happened that night. It upset him too that those women had probably been killed because someone wanted him to be blamed and hanged for it. In that way, he still felt responsible. Adam had nightmares about all of that for years.” She stopped talking then realizing how much she had revealed with that last part.

Smiling gently, Ben reassured her. “I’m glad my son had someone for whom he cared so much. I’m glad he wasn’t alone.”

Hoss and Joe were grinning though. Both liked the idea that Adam had done something that their father had to think was wrong even if he told Diane he accepted it. At some point, they guessed their father and Adam were going to have a discussion about this, and those discussions were usually the best entertainment around. However, they didn’t understand Ben knew any such kind of intrusion in Adam’s personal life was off limits. He wasn’t going to do anything to push his eldest away.

“Mebbe now that the varmint who done it all is locked up, and we got the answers to the questions, Adam will be able to put that part behind him.” Hoss was hopeful but knew how Adam could hold onto feeling responsible.

“The man actually was so jealous that he would murder in order to get even! There seems to be no limit to the evil that men will do. I’ve seen some cold-hearted behavior in the work we’ve done but nothing so cold as that and especially to kill an innocent child.”

Ben asked the next question but all three wondered about it. “Exactly what kind of work were you and Adam doing? I know he did some building, and he did quite a lot of engineering work, but there always seemed like there was more to it. The emotional state he was in when he returned and the injuries he received recently add up to more of an answer than what we knew about what he was doing.”

“I suppose I can tell you the basic story because he won’t be going back to it anyway. He left the door open a crack, but I know he won’t go back. We did do those legitimate jobs working mostly on government contracts, but we also investigated for the government and passed on information they could use to prosecute men for corruption.”

“His past here was of no concern?”

“He was checked out here. Sheriff Coffee was contacted, and one of our investigators looked into the allegations and found no merit to them.”

Ben had more questions and Hoss and Joe let him take the lead as they listened intently to the answers. “So, did you work for the government or work for Adam?”

“Both. I worked for his company and kept records, but like Adam, I was a conduit for information being funneled to the government so I worked with the records to see discrepancies that could indicate something was being done that was wrong.”

“Adam was hurt recently. What can you tell us about that? He said something to Doctor Martin that he was hurt in a mine but it was no accident.”

“I thought he would figure that out.” She saw the surprise that registered on their faces. “Yes, I knew it wasn’t an accident, but the men responsible made a deal and turned on their bosses to get more lenient treatment and avoid the gallows. Our boss was afraid that if Adam knew that, he might seek justice on his own. They had found out what he was doing and the collapse of the mine was intended to kill him and his men. Four men died. He managed to save one but was caught in the collapse. He can’t go back to that work now that we’ve confirmed that they’ve uncovered what he was doing.”

“What about you?”

“If I want to keep working for the government, I would have to take a different job and move probably far from the east.”

“Perhaps to Nevada?”

There was no answer Diane was prepared to give to that query so she ignored it as if it hadn’t been spoken. Instead, she wanted to go back in to see Adam. “I said I’d be there when he woke. I better get back to his side. I don’t want to disappoint him.” She didn’t have to say that it was especially important considering how his brothers had reacted to him on his return. She stood and quickly moved to the room where Adam lay before the others could even react.

Hoss moved to stand by his father and put a hand on his shoulder. “Ya oughta go get some rest. Ya won’t move her away from Adam without a charge of dynamite anyway.”

“Yeah, Pa. We got two rooms over at the hotel. Maybe we should find out if Diane wants one too.”

“I’ll go ask her.” Alice was back in a few minutes with an affirmative answer. “I’m the only one who got any normal sleep last night because Joe insisted. I’ll stay here and come get you if there’s any change.”

After telling her he would have food sent over, Joe left with Hoss and Ben to get some rest. When the food arrived, Alice took two servings and went in to share with Diane and wait for Adam to wake. It was nearly four hours later before she went to the hotel with good news. When Ben next saw Adam, he was sitting up in the bed. Although pale around the bruising, he looked alert and clear-eyed.

“Hi, Pa. Sorry I gave you a scare.” He gave his father one of those crooked little smiles before becoming serious. “Diane and Alice have been telling me about Davis and about everything else that’s happened.”

“It’s good to see you looking so much better. Has Paul said when you can leave?”

At that point, Paul walked in the room. “I hadn’t but from what I can tell, if he stays at the hotel, he could leave today. I don’t want him taking any long trips. I’d like him close by for at least two more days.”

“I’m right here. You could talk to me.”

“I’m sorry, Adam. It’s habit. You’re right. You can leave if you stay at the hotel. I don’t want you taking any long trips for at least two days. Rest, good food, and relaxation are my prescription.”

“We have rooms at the hotel.”

“I’d like my own room.”

“Of course. We’ll take care of that for you. We can get your luggage into that room too.”

“Thank you.”

That afternoon, Adam moved into a room next to the one Diane had. He teased her about that causing his brothers to chuckle. Later, Diane asked him about that. It was after his family had bid him goodnight, and Diane came back into his room using the door connecting their rooms. With Diane sitting on the side of the bed, they had a chance to talk more openly.

“They were bound to notice. By making a joke about it, they probably won’t say anything more. And it is convenient.” He waited to see how she would react.

“I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you more than I thought I could. Will you stay with me tonight?”

“You’re hurt.”

“Believe me, I know that. All I thought was that we could be together. It would be so much better than being alone. We could talk.”

“We always used to talk afterwards.”

“So now we’ll talk before or perhaps instead.”

“Your father wants you to move back out to the ranch. What happens to us then?”

“That’s one of the things we need to talk about.”

“I’ll get ready for bed and be back.”

When Diane slid into bed next to Adam, she leaned in so that he could kiss her, but then he pulled her closer and had a request. She leaned back in surprise.

“I thought you were being overly optimistic when you said perhaps, but you were serious. You’re hurt.”

“Not that hurt and not there.”

“I don’t want to cause you any pain.”

“We can go slowly and be careful.”

They did and then rested comfortably in each other’s arms. In the morning, when neither of them answered the knock on their door, Hoss went downstairs to report that they were sleeping in. Ben wanted to ask some questions, but Hoss told him not to ask. Hoss did ask his father what the accommodations would be if Diane came out to the Ponderosa with Adam. Ben didn’t have an answer for that one.

Chapter Seven

When Diane awoke, Adam had another request. There were things he still needed some help to do. Once she had helped him with his needs and helped him into a robe, she went to her room to dress for the day so she could go get some breakfast for them. They were eating that when Ben knocked on the door.

“I hope I’m not disturbing you. I have some news. With the confession that Davis made in front of so many people, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to delay his trial. It’s going to be in two days and should last no more than a day probably. Roy asked if you could stay in town until then in case they want to call you as a witness. That fits with what Doctor Martin wanted anyway.”

“But I don’t remember anything.”

“You remember going to the mill and then nothing afterwards. Candy already told us about how Sport acted and how you didn’t want the coffee. The jury will be able to put it all together. Roy thinks it may cause Davis to act irrationally too if you’re in the courtroom. He said he’s not right in the head when it comes to you. He’s been saying more while he’s been in jail. Roy and Clem have been writing it all down. It’s all evidence against him.”

“Is there anything else?” Adam sensed that his father had something more on his mind.

“Roy wants to meet with the men who were in the mob that injured you. He wants to find out who the leaders were and who the followers were. Then each one will have to go before a judge for punishment. It will probably be mostly fines unless you want him to push for jail or prison time. You could do that if you wanted them charged with assault.”

“I can stay in town. It’s not a problem at all.”

In fact, Adam looked rather pleased with that arrangement. Ben didn’t have to guess why. On the topic of the mob, Adam said nothing at first. Ben waited because he saw the frown and knew Adam was thinking. “There should be something more. They broke the basic rule of law. Their names should be recorded as not being allowed to be on a jury or on a posse. It would be a reminder of what happens when you take the law into your own hands and act based on rumors and innuendo.”

“Something like that can be done perhaps to the leaders. It would have the most effect that way.”

Adam agreed with that. Once Ben left, Adam turned to Diane.

“I liked waking up with you beside me this morning. I didn’t know how much I was going to miss that until you weren’t there any more. As I traveled out here, I kept turning as if to tell you about something I’d seen or to ask you something except you weren’t there. I felt like I had suffered a great loss. I had suffered a great loss. At first, I thought it would be like every other loss I’ve had, but as time passed, I felt worse and worse about it.”

“It felt good to wake up snuggled up to you too. I felt like my life was empty when you left. We made a great partnership.”

“You know what that means, don’t you?”

“I know.”

For the next several days, Adam and Diane spent all their time together making up for the time they had lost and talking about possibilities for the future. Once the trial was underway, Adam gave his short testimony and as expected, Davis over-reacted to it helping to convince the jury right there of his guilt. When it was over and Davis was sentenced to death by hanging, Ben told them he would send the Ponderosa carriage the next day. Smiling, Adam accepted noting that his father didn’t ask if they would want one room or two at the house.

The next day, Ben and Hoss were the ones smiling when Adam and Diane arrived on the Ponderosa. There was a big welcome banner and colorful paper lanterns as well as a variety of other decorations. Hoss helped Diane from the carriage.

“Welcome! We got a big dinner planned too. I’ll get your luggage inside. We got a few guests here too. Roy and Paul and a few others are inside with Joe and Alice. It’s a small party to celebrate you coming home.”

“Hoss, what’s going on?”

“Older brother, I’m sorry for how I acted. This is how we shoulda welcomed you home the first time. I know I said I was sorry for what I said, but I figured sayin’ I’m sorry weren’t enough. I had ta show it. I told Pa the best thing I could think of to do was to have this here welcome home party.”

“You didn’t have to do this.”

“Yeah, we did. We talked about it, and we knew we was responsible for you being the way you was at the doc’s office. You didn’t want to see us ’cause we made you feel like you wasn’t wanted here. That was more wrong of us than we could imagine we coulda ever acted. When we saw this little slip of a gal pull you right out of it by talking to ya, then we knew. It was us that was the problem. This here is the first step to fixing what’s wrong.”

“Thank you.”

All knew that was for more than the welcome home.

“Now, why don’t you two go on inside and I’ll take care of the carriage.”

Ben had one question first though. “Adam and Diane, I want to know how you want me to introduce Diane to our guests. I’m not sure what I should say.”

Tempted to say something off color, Adam instead decided to stay within the spirit of the moment. “The best way would be for you to introduce her as my wife.”

“Adam, I can’t lie about that.”

Adam grinned and Diane held up her hand.

“We got married four days ago, but we weren’t able to pick up the ring until this morning.”

If anything, Ben’s grin was even bigger than Adam’s. He wanted to slap his son on the shoulder and grab him in a big bear hug but knew that probably would hurt. Instead, he simply put his hands on Adam’s shoulders.

“Congratulations, son. I wish you all the happiness in the world. You made a great choice. May I kiss the bride?”

With a grin, Adam gave his permission and Hoss stepped up to do the same. When Ben went inside to make that announcement, Hoss could hear Joe’s whoop all the way out by the stable. The announcement of their wedding made the party an even greater celebration, and once the party was over, there was only one issue yet to address: Joe and Adam needed to talk. That happened a few days later.

“Candy says you think our relationship changed when Bryant threatened to kill Pa. That’s when I told you I thought you were gambling with ‘my father’s’ life. I was pretty hard on you there. I was pretty hard on you other times too. I made up names to call you. I never meant for you to think I didn’t love you as my brother.”

“Then what happened?”

“What happened first is that I realized you were just like any other man, and I held it against you. I know you find that kind of shocking, but you see, when I was younger, you were always the one who took care of things. If something was wrong, you fixed it or made it better. If I got in trouble, you helped. If I had a problem, you had a solution or a plan. Then all of a sudden, it was Pa’s life, and you had nothing except to risk Pa on a belief that you knew Bryant well enough to guess what he’d do next. My faith in you was too shaken at that point to accept that. You see, it wasn’t you. It was me growing up and seeing those around me with a man’s eyes and not a boy’s eyes except I wasn’t ready for it yet. I was jealous too. You had so much of what I wanted. So, it was a little payback for all of that to be able to get under your skin and get you to react badly. It showed you weren’t perfect.”

“I never presented myself as perfect.”

“No, but when I was a boy, for a long time, I thought you were as close to it as anyone was ever going to be. You were such a great oldest brother. I didn’t think you could ever do anything wrong or make a mistake, and then suddenly I worried that you might.”

“I’ve made lots of mistakes. It’s how people learn.”

“Then I should be the smartest man around.”

“There are times I feel like that too.”

“I suppose you’re thinking about those men who died in that mine. You know, a lot of people should have seen that coming. You worked on government contracts with other companies, and when you were done, people from those companies got arrested and went to prison. After a few years of that, they saw the pattern and figured out who had to be the one doing it and that you had to have help.”

Staring at Joe, Adam had to smile. “I wish you had been part of my team.”

“I am now. Nothing can stand against us when we’re all together. We are all together, aren’t we?”

“We are. I’m going to start my own business with Diane’s help, but we’re staying here. We’ll build a house here and even if we travel at times, we’ll always come back here. It’s our home.”

“I’m telling you now, I really like hearing you say that. You’re not planning to help out on the Ponderosa itself?”

“I will in any project where my skills will be useful. I’ll be expanding the mill and anything like that.”

“But no bronc busting or fence mending?”

“No, I’m not planning on any more of that. I’m telling you now. I’m done with all of that stuff.”

 

Next Story in the Red Night Series

Understanding
Firsts

2 thoughts on “I’m Telling You Now (by BettyHT)”

  1. This is a great sequel to Red Night. It definitely answered many questions but I like the new path that Adam’s on too. I enjoyed the conversation between Adam and Candy, those two make a great pair. I also like the conversation Joe had with Adam at the end. It summed up a lot of the history between them and now they can move, on closer than ever.

    1. Thank you so much. I do like to pair Adam and Candy in conversation, and with Adam and Joe older, they too had to have a conversation to reflect that.

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