Millie folded up the letter and placed it back in her music box where she always kept it. It was again wet with tears. She read it every day before setting out the door. That letter and her brother’s other personal effects were delivered to her parents by a soldier, months after Bull Run took place. They hadn’t heard form him in a while, and fretted the worst. Millie would never forget that day. It was etched in her memory like the Ten Commandments were etched in the stone – nothing could ever remove it. She had first heard her mother’s cry, than her father cry. That’s when Millie knew something was terribly wrong. When she entered to parlor where her parents had invited the unknown visitor, she saw her brother’s best friend standing at attention in uniform.
Her knees had buckled in that instance. She could no longer stand, and didn’t care to ever stand again. Every moment of their lives together flashed before her, and she didn’t remember another thing until she woke up in her bed. “Ted…Ted…” Millie mumbled.
“There, there, my sweet daughter!” Millie opened her eyes to see her father sitting on the bed, a hard smile laid forcibly on his cheek. “Ted’s in heaven with Jesus now.” Then he began humming “In the Sweet by and by.”
It had taken Millie weeks to get through that experience. She felt like her right arm had been chopped off. For weeks after she went back to teaching, she felt like someone was carrying her. There were many days she couldn’t even remember being alive because of the pain that lay so heavily in her heart. Eventually, she had given up her teaching job in Kansas City and moved out west – alone. She took her brother with her, wrapped tightly around her heart. The letter, which her parents so graciously gave her, stayed safely in her music box. Very few other possessions went with her.
Now, here she was still mourning her brother’s death years later. She had learned to live a normal, functional life without him, but she still mourned for him deep in her heart.
Now, as she made her way down the street toward the school house, Millie thought back to the night before. Clay, a young man she had been courting for the last several months, had asked her to marry him. She felt horrible because she couldn’t answer his question right away. She had a lot to think about. If she was going to be stuck with a man for the rest of her life, she would have to make sure he was the right man! Clay was a sweet, gentle man; but he had already informed her that once they got married, she would be expected to set up a house for him and do all his cooking and cleaning.
It’s not that Millie didn’t want to do those things – she did. But she wasn’t the type of girl that could just sit at home all day sewing up her husband’s pants and chasing around five children while her husband worked in his newspaper office! She would much rather live on a ranch and help with the ranching duties, or live on a farm and help with the crops while watching the children. She and her brother had talked about that in great length. She still remembered his words:
“Of course I want you to get married and have children, my sweet sister. But I also want you to be happy. If staying at home keeping house and raising children is what you would enjoy doing, then I say do it. But, if you are like our mother, you must find someone to settle down with who won’t make you settle down so tightly. You know that pa allowed ma to work beside him everyday on this farm. You know there were days she would have us doing out lessons on the side of the cornfield while she worked right beside pa. If sewing patches on pants and chasing kids around all day isn’t all you desire for your future, then fill it with something else. You must be happy!”
Millie walked into the school. She was happy being a school teacher, but marriage would put an end to that for sure. There were schools in the east that were already allowing married women to continue teaching, but in the rugged west, the rules were rather strict that a married woman’s place was in the kitchen.
Millie smiled to herself as she already knew what the answer would be. Then she turned toward the students and greeted them before they bowed their head in prayer.
“What do you mean you couldn’t be happy with me?” Clay practically shouted. Millie tried to shush him, but he held up a finger, letting her know she was not to say another word.
Millie folded her arms. “See? That’s what I’m talking about! I’m not a child, Clay. I have a voice and a mind of my own, and I choose to use it if I see it fitting. I will not be silenced by your finger anymore!”
Clay folded his arms across his front. “What are you talking about?”
Millie rolled her eyes. “Oh Clay! What would I do married to a newspaper man? All day, you would be working in the office, and I’d be…what?”
Clay shrugged his shoulders “Well, you would be at home keeping the house.”
“Keeping the house…what?” Millie asked. “Cooking? Cleaning? Watching our children?”
Clay’s head shot up. “Are you saying you don’t want children?”
“No!” Millie exclaimed. “I love children. I do want children! But that’s not what I’m all about – being a mother is a part of me, Clay. It’s not all of me.”
Clay rolled his eyes. “Millie, a woman’s place is in the home. You cook three meals a day, do the baking, the housework, and take care of the kids.”
“And?” Millie stated.
“And nothing. That’s it. That’s why men have wives.”
Millie’s mouth popped open! “I thought you loved me! Isn’t that why you want to marry me?”
Clay opened his mouth to answer, and then closed it again. He scratched his head. “Well, I think love is something that happens slowly.”
“You’ll love me if I’m the good little wife you want me to be?” Millie closed her eyes and turned around. Then she turned back. “Listen Clay, I know that men see their lives as getting married to a fine woman who can cook, sew, scrub and take care of children. I know that here in the west women are expected to do those things. But why couldn’t I….oh, I don’t know…tend a store and-“
Clay began laughing. “You want to be a store keeper? Where would the children be?”
Millie was growing angry. “I am not saying I want to be a store keeper. If I have a child, I’d be more than willing to stop tending the store and stay home, but-“
Clay shook his head. “You aren’t making sense, Millie honey. Just leave the thinking to us men. That’s the way God intended it to be.”
Millie stared at him for several moments. Then she folded her arms and walked over to her door. She opened it, then said, “When you find that verse in the Bible, you can come back and we’ll talk. Until then, I want you to go.”
Clay walked toward the door. Before he left, he turned and pointed a finger in her face. “Your father obviously didn’t teach you where a woman’s place is, Millie dear! No wife of mine will ever talk to me like that and get away with it.”
Millie stared at her wall. “Are you threatening me, Clay?”
Clay had turned to leave, but then came to stand directly in front of her. He bent over so his eyes were level with hers. “A woman’s place is in the kitchen and having babies. If you don’t accept that, then you’ll be alone for the rest of your life!”
Millie turned from the window; the newspaper was still in her hand. She could not believe what she was reading. “He’s saying that I would refuse to give up my teaching job if I get married? How could he say such a thing?”
Sandy shook her head. “So, you didn’t say that?”
Millie turned. Her mouth was half open as she thought about this. “No. I respect the town’s rules, even if I don’t agree with them. I understand why it’s in place, and if I got married I would be willing to give up my job.” Millie continued reading the newspaper. “It says here that I want women and men to have equal rights…why would he do this? I never said those things! I told him I didn’t want to sit at home all day alone doing cooking and cleaning. I told him I wanted more. That’s all.” Millie wiped her hands through the air angrily.
Sandy turned toward her friend. “Well, the article yesterday stated that you want to take over the general store.”
“I what?” Millie folded her arms.
“Well, I’m afraid the town council’s meeting on this article tonight. There are several parents who want you to be fired. They don’t want their children to be influenced by such ideas.”
Millie stared at Sandy. “Do you think I’m wrong because I just might want to do something besides sit at home and do “women’s work” as these men so delicately put it? Is it so wrong that I want more?”
Suddenly, a knock came to the door. Millie looked at Sandy before she went to answer it. “Mr. Fielding, come in.”
Mr. Fielding nodded at her and played nervously with the hat in his hands. “Miss. Scott, I’m sure you’ve read the articles your er…friend has printed in the paper.”
“I assure you they weren’t true.”
Mr. Fielding shook his head. “Well nevertheless, we feel that perhaps an…er…older schoolteacher would be able to…er control the children with more discipline.”
“The children love me.” Millie folded her arms. “Mr. Fielding, you know darn well that it’s because of those articles in the paper.”
“I won’t deny that it is. I’m afraid that your thinking is a bit to…um…eastern for our standards.”
“You mean because I don’t want to be a slave to my husband, I’m considered less of a woman?”
Mr. Fielding looked down at his hat and cleared his throat. “Well, the money that we owe you should be enough to get you back East.”
“Back east?” Millie questioned.
“Well, you can’t stay here, Miss Scott. You will need to go back to your parents.”
Millie shook her head. “I have no intention on going back east, Mr. Fielding. Now, get out of my house!”
Millie read the telegram again. She had written home to tell her folks what had happened, but the telegram that reached her just two days later was devastating. “My father died of a hear attack late last night,” she whispered hoarsely. She allowed Sandy to hug her, but she was still in shock.
Millie read the words again. “He hasn’t been in good health since…well…in a few years. We got some news that weakened his heart. We all knew it would get him someday, but now when things are already so messed up.!”
“Is that all the telegram said?” Sandy asked.
Millie shook her head. “My father left me some money. It’s being wired here. Then my father’s cousin is coming here from North Fork. She’ll be here tomorrow.”
“Oh? Your father’s cousin?”
Millie nodded. “Yes. Her name’s Hattie. Hattie Denton.”
Millie jumped from the bench when she saw the stage coach coming. She rushed to meet stage and stood anxiously as the driver jumped down and opened the door. Millie stood on her toes and looked over the taller heads, but saw no sign of her second cousin. “Oh, where could she be!” Millie declared as she bit her lip.
Suddenly she saw her and squeezed through the men to get to her cousin. “Hattie! Oh, Hattie!” Millie cried as they hugged. “I’m so glad you came!”
Hattie pushed her away at arms length to get a good look at her. “Well, I haven’t seen you in a long time, my dear!”
Millie bit her lip again. “It’s so good to see you!”
“I’m sorry about your father, Millie. I’m sorry you won’t be able to go to the funeral.” Suddenly, Millie burst into tears and Hattie took her in her arms. “Come on, dear. Let’s get you home so we can talk.
Hattie and Millie settled down at the table with some coffee. Millie told Hattie about everything that had happened to her in the last several days. “Well, he isn’t worth crying over!” Hattie declared. “As for the so-called town council, well…”
Millie sighed. I don’t understand why they continue to think of us as…well…overgrown children!”
Hattie laid a hand over Millie’s. “Now, they don’t all think that way, dear. If the North Fork town council had met over this, their head wouldn’t have been so easy going about the decision, I’ll tell you that! Lucas would have stood up for you!”
“Lucas? Lucas McCain?” Millie laughed. “You’ve mentioned him in your letters. He’s…um…the tall rancher with the smile that you think would match mine?”
Hattie giggled. “Well, I know he and that boy need someone like you. And I know that you need-“ Millie held up a hand to quite her cousin.
“Well, it’s nice to know that not all men are as narrow minded to think that women are only good for keeping house and child rearing!”
Hattie took another swallow of her coffee. “Now, don’t get me wrong, Millie. Lucas is a little rough around the edges just like the west, but he’s not so narrow minded that he would-“
“Hattie! Enough!” Millie laughed. “Now, how about fixing some of that stew you promised!”
Millie and Hattie had a good visit. Hattie had been there two days before she brought up her thoughts. “Millie, I don’t want to add to your worries. But, you know that my sister up north has been having some health problems?” Millie nodded. “Well, I’m afraid that she just can’t take care of herself anymore. I’m going to have to move up there.”
Millie gasped. “It seems like lots of changes are happening all at once.” Hattie nodded. “Well, I’m gonna have to sell the store, and I’ve put so much work in it that I don’t want to see it go to just anyone. I was wondering if you would want to buy it.”
Millie laughed. “Me be a store keeper?”
Hattie shrugged. “Well, why not?”
“It’s just that when Clay and I were fighting the other day, I used running a general store as an example of something I told him I could do if I wanted.” Millie swirled the coffee around in her cup. “Well, I…I guess I could. This town is wanting me out anyway.”
Hattie smiled. “Well, I guess Lucas will be surprised when he gets back from that hunting trip of his!” Hattie laughed. Then she sobered. “Now Millie, Lucas and Mark are very good friends of mine. I hate not being able to say goodbye, but my sister just can’t wait.” Hattie sighed. “I will miss that tall man and his son something terrible – that’s for sure! But…well, at least you’ll be nearby. I’m sure you will treat them with the upmost respect!”
Millie stared at the man’s retreating figure out of the general store. Well, Hattie would be proud! She had just met the man, and they were already off to a bad start! She couldn’t understand why the man got so riled at her just because she wanted him to pay her the money he owed. What was so hard to understand about that fact anyway? Another thing that riled her was that he was “telling” her to send that pump part back when it wasn’t even her fault that the silly thing didn’t fit. She couldn’t believe this was the same man that Hattie had described to her.
Maybe that was why she allowed that man to talk her into such a plot of allowing him to collect the money. She should have known better – her instincts had told her there was something smelly about the plan from the start. But because she wanted to show everyone that a woman could be just as stubborn as a man and be successful, she allowed it to happen.
A few days after hiring Mr. Adams, the Marshall and Lucas had to get the town out of a fix that she had caused. She felt horrible that her stubbornness to listen had caused such problems to happen. The Marshall was very understanding and forgave her instantly. Lucas, on the other hand, was a bit like her in that he was stubborn himself. After thinking it over for a few moments, he hinted, rather than stated, that she was forgiven by offering to fix her window.
By the time Lucas had gotten her window fixed, they were laughing and joking. Mark tried to join in, but didn’t understand what was so funny a lot of the time. Micah noticed Millie and Lucas talking and suggested that he take Mark fishing. Lucas nodded with a knowing grin. “So, Hattie’s your cousin?” Lucas was asking.
“She’s my second cousin.”
“So, I suppose she’s told you about me?” Millie only looked at him and smiled. Lucas cleared his throat. “What d’ she say?”
“It’s all good, I assure you, Lucas!” Millie went to restock the shelves, but Lucas gently laid a hand on her arm. Millie turned and looked at him in surprise.
Lucas smiled into her eyes. “How about if I buy you a cup of coffee? Then maybe Mark and Micah will feed us fish tonight.”
Millie nodded and grabbed her jacket. Lucas allowed her to go out first before closing the door and locking it for her. “So, you were a school teacher?”
Millie nodded. “In Santa Fe.. I loved it!” Millie looked down at her feet. “I was fired.”
Lucas’s head shot up. “Fired? Why?”
Millie sighed. “Lucas, I’m not like a lot of women. I…I want more than just keeping house and raising kids.”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with that.” Millie’s head shot up in surprise. Lucas chuckled. “Did I…surprise you, Miss Scott?” He pulled the chair out so she could sit down, then asked the waiter to bring coffee. “I admit that when I was married, I expected my wife to keep house and such. But if she wanted to do something besides, well I wouldn’t stop her if it didn’t interfere with…” Millie’s eyes closed a bit and Lucas struggled for the right words. “Let me put it this way. I didn’t do the cooking and cleaning when my wife was alive. But I was as much of a father to my son as she was a mother. I didn’t expect her to do all that.”
Lucas took a drink of his coffee before speaking again. “The truth is, I may want to marry a woman that can cook and clean and sew, I’ll admit. But my wife helped me on the ranch just like Mark helps me now. I didn’t treat her like a china doll or like a slave. Do you understand?”
Millie smiled. “Well, Hattie’s right. You do have a few rough edges, but I guess you are a pretty nice man at that.” Lucas narrowed his eyes at her. Then he shook his head and laughed.
Millie’s heart was healing from the pathetic beating it had taken by the newspaper man. She was growing to really care for Lucas, though she wouldn’t dare tell him. She was holding back from him, yet he was holding back from her. Over the next few months, Millie watched Lucas, and understood just why Hattie loved him so much. Lucas was a wonderful father, a protective citizen of North Fork, and was always able to get peace restored to North Fork.
She hadn’t been in North Fork very long before she realized that Lucas didn’t back down and did not allow threats to get him down. One day, an old woman that was on her death bed had made a threat that Lucas would die within the week. This frightened Millie so much that she begged Lucas not to come into town. She didn’t sleep nights, fretting that some harm would come to him. That’s when she realized that she really did care for this tall, brave man. Her care and respect for him grew as she watched him stand tall through that trial and act normal as if nothing was wrong.
There were many times that his life was in danger and Lucas didn’t even tell her. She remembered hearing the day after that a man named Earl Bantry, who looked a lot like Lucas, had terrorized Lucas and Mark in their home. She was told they were okay, but that didn’t stop her from going to see for herself. When she had ridden into the yard, she saw Lucas out chopping firewood without his shirt on. She smiled a bit, bur turned her head while he hurriedly grabbed his shirt and buttoned it up. She also had forgotten to come up with a good excuse for being there.
“Well, I didn’t expect to see you today, Millie.” Lucas said as he helped her down from the buggy.
“I gather that.” Millie looked around, trying to stall until she figured out a dignified way to explain her presence. “This seems to be a nice ranch you have here.”
Lucas nodded, then looked down at his boots and back up. “You’ve seen it before, Millie.” Lucas cocked his head to one side and waited quietly for her to say something.
“Well, I came out to see if you needed…that is…” Millie bit her lip. “Where’s Mark?”
“At school.” Lucas answered. Then he grinned. “Micah told you, didn’t he?”
Lucas gently took her arm as he grinned. “He told you that Mark and I had an…unexpected visitor last night?”
Millie’s face reddened. Then she looked down at the dirt. “A visitor? Who?”
Lucas folded his arms and raised his eyebrows. Millie looked up at him. She saw that he had pushed the hat further back on his head, revealing his entire face and some of his blond hair. She looked away, not being able to trust herself if she continued looking at that face. “Al right, Lucas! He told me.”
Lucas smiled. “And you were worried about me?”
Millie shrugged. “Well, you and Mark are good friends of mine and-“
“What are you doing Friday night, Millie?”
Millie’s head popped up as she stared into his eyes again. “Friday night?”
Lucas smiled. “Would you like to eat dinner with me at the motel?”
Millie nodded. “Well, I…yes, Lucas. I enjoy having dinner with you and Mark.”
Lucas rubbed the end of his nose with his finger to hide his happy grin. “Well, Mark has other plans. It would just be the two of us.”
“Oh.” Millie turned around and closed her eyes to regain her composure. “Well, I guess I could have dinner with you…if it’s company your wanting.”
Lucas took Millie by the arm and turned her around. “It’s the company of a certain female that I want.” He grinned. “Well, I think you should get back to town. I need to finish chopping this wood so Mark can stack it when he gets home.
At the mention of his chopping wood, Millie’s face reddened. She left before he could see the scarlet color on her cheeks.
She didn’t leave soon enough.
Lucas came into the store early one morning to buy some supplies, which included some work clothes for him and Mark. She had been waiting for Lucas to ask her to the church social, but he had never gotten around to it. They had made the announcement in church last Sunday and, in fact, Lucas had offered to help set up for the social. So, she suggested to Lucas that he buy a nice fancy shirt she had just gotten in. Lucas liked to tease her about their courting, and now was no different.
During the last few weeks, they had admitted, nonverbally, that they were attracted to each other. And when no one was around, Lucas had taken her hand into his big strong one a time or two. Every time he did it, she would get goose bumps, and she could tell taking her hand had the same effect on him. But, Lucas continued to tease her about their courting. “And if I didn’t?” Lucas asked after Millie had to come right out and say that she would go with him to the church social if he was dressed properly.
Millie saw the handsome, mischievous grin on his face and told him that he knew she’d go with him either way. But, in the end, she won out and was able to sell him that fancy shirt.
The mood changed fast. Millie didn’t like that look on Lucas’s face. She had never seen Lucas angry like that before. Right there in the store, she watched him grab the man by the shirt and throw him against the door. Then she watched him throw him out of her store. She kept her arm around Mark the entire time, feeling that she should be protecting him somehow.
Suddenly, Micah appeared in the door. “Micah, I said I’d try to stay away from him, but he wouldn’t have it that way. When he put his hands on Mark, that was it as far as I was concerned. I don’t let any man do that, not even for you!”
Millie saw the worried look in Mark’s eyes and tried so smile an encouraging smile, but a deep worry settled in her heart. She suddenly heard Micah say, “Did I say anything, Lucas?”
“No,” Lucas stated as he looked out the door toward the saloon.
“He was looking for trouble,” Micah stated.
Lucas commented that he was glad he understood. Then Millie’s heart jumped again and she heard Lucas’s answer to Micah’s question about how long he was staying in town. “For as long as I’ve got things to do! Mark’s gotta go to school. I have to go to the barber. After that, I gotta see the harness maker, the blacksmith…and after that, we’re having dinner at the hotel. Mark’s getting tired of my cooking.”
She watched Lucas and Mark leave and knew he was too angry. She couldn’t stop her heart from crying out to him. But Lucas didn’t even acknowledge he heard her. He just kept on walking out the door.
Millie couldn’t concentrate after that. Lucas finally came back after getting his chores done to pick up the supplies. “Lucas, about what happened while ago. I-“
Lucas looked around and noticed that no one else was in the store. So he gently took her hand in his and smiled. “It’s okay. I’m sorry you had to see that.”
Millie nodded. “What’s going on, Lucas?”
Again, Lucas looked into her eyes and smiled. “Millie, don’t worry. I’m handling it.”
“I…” Millie stopped and swallowed. “I just don’t want to see you get shot.”
Lucas smiled and laid a hand on her cheek. “Millie?” He said gently so she would look up at him. He rubbed his thumb across her cheek. “Don’t worry, okay?”
They locked eyes and smiled for a few moments. Then Millie looked away. Lucas gathered the stuff and walked out the door to his horse. “Thanks, Millie,” Lucas said now that the moment was over. “I’m going to ride down to the school and wait for Mark.”
Millie couldn’t help to once again remind him about the social on Saturday. Lucas smiled at her insistence, loving the feelings it brought to his cobwebbed heart. Suddenly, he saw her mood change. He saw her loving smile suddenly replaced with the fearful look he had coaxed out of her only moments before.
Millie stood in horror as a young boy came up and began coaxing Lucas into a shootout. She watched Lucas grab his gun and turn around. Then she watched him freeze. As he slowly climbed onto his horse and rode out of town, fear gripped Millie’s heart. “What is it, Micah?”
Micah turned and saw the worry on Millie’s face. “I don’t know, Millie. I’ll go talk to him.” Millie looked in the direction that Lucas had gone. “I’ll bring him back safely to you, Millie. I promise.”
Millie couldn’t concentrate on her work. Mark soon came in looking for Lucas. “Oh,” Millie answered, trying to sound nonchalant. “Um…he said he’ll be back in a little while. He had an errand to take care of. Come on in and get yourself a piece of candy.” Millie put an arm around Mark’s shoulder and led him inside. She looked back over her shoulder worriedly, praying that he was okay.
Millie heard a wagon approaching and looked out the door. Tears of joy and relief filled her eyes. She watched Lucas as he stopped in front of the doctor’s office. Then she started down the street. But before she could get there, Micah stopped her. “Listen Millie, Lucas doesn’t want you to see him right now. He’s dealing with a ghost from his past and-“ Micah stopped when he saw the shock in her eyes. “Oh, everything’s fine now, but he’s still having a hard time. He’d just rather you not see him like this. He’s fine, Millie. I promise.”
Millie nodded. She could not wait until Saturday night so she would be able to see for herself.
Millie looked in the mirror and pinched her cheeks again. She knew she was nervous, but she didn’t know exactly why. It wasn’t like she hadn’t ever been somewhere with Lucas before. And Mark would be with them anyhow. Millie smoothed down her dress. This was Lucas’s favorite – she knew this because she saw the look in his eyes each time she wore it. He would always tell her that the color red was made for her.
She heard the knock on the store door and hurried in to open it. Lucas stood, leaning against the post. His fancy shirt looked great on him. The colors brought out his eyes. There were patches of red, green and blue spread throughout the shirt. Millie smiled as he pushed himself off the post and sautéed closer to her. “The color red was made for you, Mil,” Lucas smiled.
Millie bit her lip. “You say that every time I wear this dress.”
Lucas raised his eyebrows at her. “Well, it’s my saying it that keeps you wearing it.”
Millie smiled as her cheeks reddened. “You don’t have to say a thing, Lucas.” She broke the gaze and looked away.
“Well,” Lucas stated as he took her arm and tucked it into his. “I feel completely silly in this shirt!”
Millie laughed. “Well, I like it,” Millie assured him. Then she looked around. “Lucas, where’s Mark? Is he already at the supper?”
“Mark,” Lucas grinned. “Oh, I knew I forgot someone at home!”
Millie stopped and turned to him. “You mean....he’s not coming?”
Lucas smiled. “Has a bit of a tummy ache. I think someone gave him too much candy.” Lucas put his hand under her chin and tipped it up. “So, if you are afraid to be alone with me when the moon rises, you are to blame for that…Miss Scott.”
Millie smiled up at him. This time, Lucas broke the stare as they started walking again. Millie smiled as he put his arm around her and they made their way to the social together.
Millie stopped in mid-air when she heard Mark’s lonesome voice outside. Mark was telling Micah that their cattle had been hit by hoof and mouth disease. Her heart beat so hard that she thought that it was going to leap right out of her chest. Not Lucas too! Millie ran out and asked Mark if there was anything she could do. Mark only replied, ‘I guess there isn’t anything anyone can do.” She put her hand to her mouth as she watched Mark ride slowly out of town.
Everything was quite. She felt like she was living in a ghost town. People came into the store to get supplies, but only things they needed for their trip. Lucas slowly rode into town one day and handed Millie the list of things he would need. She knew they were barely hanging on. She wanted to reach out and touch him – to tell him everything would be okay. But she didn’t know that it would be okay. As she went to gather up the supplies, Micah called Lucas over to talk.
Mark slowly rode into town and went into the General Store. “Mark, have a piece of candy,” she said, wanting to cheer him up.
But Mark shook his head. “Millie, you can’t afford to give anything away anymore than we can afford to buy anything in this store,” Mark answered. Lucas walked slowly into the store. Millie started to hand Lucas the supplies, but the she stopped. She saw a far away look in his eyes.
“Millie, I think that the three of us should talk,” Lucas stated.
Millie led Mark and Lucas to the back of the store and they all sat down at a table. Millie poured Lucas some coffee. She offered Mark some milk, but he only shook his head. “Mark, you should drink some,” Lucas stated. “You…you won’t be help to anyone if you don’t keep up your strength.”
Mark just shook his head sadly. “I’m not thirsty.”
“Mark,” Millie took his hand. “Please drink some milk. Your father doesn’t need to worry anymore than he already is.”
Mark looked at his father, then nodded. “Listen, I…” Lucas cleared his throat. “I…um…may need you to keep the boy for awhile, Millie.”
Mark’s head shot up. Millie nodded. “Where are you going, Lucas?”
Lucas shook his head. “I…I may leave for awhile to…to look for work.” Lucas looked to Millie, then to Mark. “I’m still thinking about it.”
Millie bowed her head as the room grew quite. “Can’t I go with you, Pa?” Mark asked.
Lucas shook his head. “You have school, son.” He looked up at Mark and shook his head. “Please don’t make this any harder on me then it is. I don’t want to leave you anymore than you want me to.”
Lucas and Millie watched Mark slowly get up and walk out the door. “He’s hurting, Lucas. Just…just like all of us.”
Lucas nodded. “Funny thing…weren’t we just living it up at a social two weeks ago? Now look at us.”
Millie smiled weakly. “Well, the bad times won’t last forever, Lucas.” Millie bowed her head. Then she licked her lips. “Lucas?”
Lucas turned his head to look at her. “You…are coming back, aren’t you?”
Lucas took his hand away and stood up. “Yes Millie, I’ll be back.” Millie watched him hurry out the door.
Two days later, the four of them stood outside the general store. She had insisted that Lucas take anything he needed. He wouldn’t even hardly look at her. She knew his heart was full of uncertainty, but it broker her heart not to have those innocent moments anymore. Millie stood and watched Lucas say goodbye to Mark. Tears filled her eyes as she watched their hearts break for each other. She wanted to run up to Lucas and demand he take Mark with him. She couldn’t hardly stand to see this. After a hard goodbye, Lucas got on his horse and rode off.
Millie’s heart broke over and over as she listened to Mark cry himself to sleep every night. She would go in and kiss him goodnight, just like she promised Lucas she would do. For the next two months, she watched Mark fall deeper and deeper into a pit of loneliness. She begged Micah to tell her where Lucas was, and when he finally told her that he got a job that would put his life in danger if anyone knew, she agreed that Lucas was doing the right thing.
She’ll never forget the day Lucas came back. She and Micah had ridden out to talk to Mark, who had given up hope on his father ever coming back. Mark said some pretty cruel things, but in the end, she knew they were things that needed said. She remembered watching Mark as he suddenly felt his father near. She watched the embrace. It was then that she knew that everything in the world would be all right again.
Lucas, Mark and Micah came to her place for supper that night. Lucas tried to catch up on everything that happened while he was gone. Mark and Micah teased each other again. Millie watched the interactions from a distance. She smiled as she saw Lucas and Mark hug several times. Never had she seen a greater love between a father and son.
Later that night, she stood at the door and said goodbye to the three men. Lucas turned to say goodbye to Millie, but then he froze. He smiled at her. “Um…Mark, could you wait for me by the horses son?”
Mark let out a snicker, and Millie watched Lucas throw him a dirty look. “Uh, sure pa. Right away.” Mark smiled.
“Well, here we are,” Lucas said. “Did you miss me?”
“Not as much as Mark did.” Millie smiled.
Lucas raised an eyebrow at her. “I…um…I owe you an apology.” Millie tried to stop him, but Lucas raised his hand to hush her. “Let me say this please.”
Millie watched him take off his hat. “Millie, I…I was rude to you before I left for the trip, and I’m sorry. I was so uncertain about so many things. I know I brushed you off, but-“
Millie put a finger to his lips and shook her head. “I didn’t expect any difference. Lucas, we’ve only known each other for months. You’ve known Mark for 12 years. I wouldn’t expect anything more from you.”
Lucas took her hand and smiled at her. “Well, now that I’m back, maybe we could…do something…just the two of us?”
“Pa, I’m waiting!” Mark suddenly hollered out.
Lucas rolled his eyes and Millie giggled. “He’s right, Lucas. Spend some time with your son.”
Lucas squeezed her hand, then he quickly walked away.
More tragedies struck during the next few months. Millie thought her heart would break again when Lucas went blind. She watched Mark struggle through the crisis like a true trooper. She was happy when Mark came to talk to her about the problem. Millie wanted to take Lucas into her arms and care for him herself, but she knew that wasn’t possible, and she knew that Mark needed to do this more. So as in most tragic moments, she stood by and allowed father and son to deal with it in their own way. She kissed him on the cheek as he left the office.
One day, after Lucas’s sight had been restored and all was well, Lucas told her that if he hadn’t been blind, the cheek would not have been what she was kissing. Millie only smiled and said, “That’s why I knew I’d get by with it then.”
A couple months later, a strange woman came into town declaring that Lucas was her intended and they were going to get married. If she hadn’t been a woman, Millie would have punched that woman in the nose right where she stood. In the end, though, she felt sorry for the woman who had been tricked by a couple of frequent visitors to Sweeny’s bar that wanted to get back at Lucas.
Then there came an experience that again served to bring the three of them closer together. She was in the store and things were really busy. Lucas came and stood at a distance as she helped the customers. When she had helped the last person in line for the moment, he walked up to her and leaned over the counter. “I need to talk to you for a minute,” Lucas said with a grin on his face.
Millie sighed as she continued writing in the book. “Lucas, now isn’t a good time. Can’t you see I’m very busy? Perhaps we can talk-“ Suddenly, Lucas put a hand on her wrist and she stopped and looked at him. “I really am busy, Lucas.”
“I can see that. All I wanted to ask is if you can have dinner with us tonight? My treat of course,” Lucas gave Millie the grin that made his eyes turn up.
Millie nodded. “Well of course I’d love to. But, there’s something else.”
Lucas raised his eyebrows to her. “Oh?”
Millie bowed her head to look busy with the ledger. “Yes. You have that look, Lucas.”
“The there’s something I have to tell Millie and don’t want to look.” Millie raised her eyebrows and Lucas and looked straight into his eyes.
Someone was waiting to check out. Lucas stepped outside so Millie could help him. Then he plopped himself back down on the counter. “Okay, I need you to watch Mark for a while tomorrow night.”
“Why?” Millie saw some of the sparkle leave Lucas’s eyes, but she wouldn’t back down. “What don’t you want to tell me?”
Lucas sighed and looked down at the counter. “I want you and Mark to stay in here with the doors locked tomorrow night. You’ll be safe enough. I just don’t want to worry about you two.”
Millie’s heart leapt at the thought of Lucas being worried about her. But she couldn’t keep the fear from her voice. “What’s happening, Lucas?”
“Well, there’s a large amount of cash being transferred to the bank here, and John just wants me to help make sure it get here safely. That’s all.”
Millie nodded. “That’s all, huh? Well, if there wasn’t anything to worry about, you wouldn’t have been so nervous to tell me about it.”
Lucas laid a hand on top of hers. “You don’t need to worry, Mil. I’ll be okay.” Lucas turned to see two other people wanting to purchase their goods. He went and closed the front door so no new customers would come in.
The three laughed at supper as they always did. Millie and Lucas exchanged a few smiles when Mark wasn’t paying attention. After supper, they walked outside into the fresh air.
"It was a wonderful dinner Lucas, thank you," said Millie, as they walked outside.
"My pleasure Millie.” Lucas said with a grin. Sorta help repay you for helping takin' care of this monkey tomorrow night." Lucas knew that she never minded taking care of Mark any more than he minded taking her to the restaurant for supper.
"You don't have to repay me, Mark's always welcome! Besides.....we have fun, playing checkers and reading," said Millie.
"Yup, and you're still three games up on me from last time," said Mark. Lucas had been enjoying the nice fresh air and quietness of the night that he had almost forgotten that Mark was even there.
"We'll just have to see what we can do about that," laughed Millie.
Lucas enjoyed very much the banter between Mark and Millie. It almost made him feel like they were a family. Suddenly, Lucas had the desire to be alone with Millie. "Son.....you mind getting the horses?” Millie’s heart leapt at the thought of being alone with Lucas.
Mark smiled and looked at the two adults. "Alright Pa."
Millie smiled as she watched Mark go on ahead. She looked up at Lucas. "If the stage is too late getting in, Mark could spend the night," said Millie.
"Oh I don't think that will be necessary.....the stage is always on time,” Lucas answered.
"But carrying all that money.....would they keep to their regular schedule?" Millie asked this. Lucas could hear the worry in her voice.
"I don't see why not. Like John Hamilton said, it's safe, least until it gets here." "Then all we've have to do is transfer it from the stagecoach to the bank." Lucas could tell she was still worried. "It'll be well guarded,” he said.
Millie couldn’t keep the worry from her voice. She suddenly had the desire to ask him not to help. But she knew she had no right in asking him to not do something that was his civic duty. "You will be careful.....won't you Lucas?"
“Stop worrying Millie,” Lucas said as they locked eyes once again.
Millie looked down. “I’m sorry. I guess I can’t help being a woman.”
Lucas’s eyes big and a big, joyful grin spread across his face. “No you can’t,” he answered. Then they looked at each other again.
As usual, Mark was a little quick on interrupting their moment. “All ready, pa?”
“Ready, son.” Lucas answered as he pushed off the hitching post.
“Thanks, Lucas.” Lucas didn’t miss the look in her eyes. He knew she was thanking him for more than dinner. He wanted to say thank you back, because he was enjoying her company very much. Instead, he just smiled at her once more before leaving her to watch his tall, retreating figure in the dark.
Millie smiled. Clay had never made her feel like this. Lucas was so different – he was strong and protective. Never had she realized that she needed someone like him. He made her feel like a woman, but the respect he had for her and how she believed made her feel even better. She had no doubt that if they were to marry some day, he would still allow her to run the general store as she always had done.
Millie went into the general store and closed the door. She was so happy that she didn’t even notice any difference in the room. She struck a match to light a lantern when a hand covered her mouth. Sudden fear pierced her eyes as the man warned her about screaming. It was long before they revealed why they were there – it wasn’t to hurt her, and this made Millie feel a little better.
But when she realized why they were there, sudden fear wrapped around her heart and began squeezing. “We’ve come to hold up the stage.”
Oh, Lucas was in danger and she could do nothing. The men were threatening to kill her. Millie suddenly closed her eyes and asked God to send Lucas into town the next day. She knew that they knew each other well enough that he would be able to sense something was wrong.
The next day, the men stayed while the store remained open. All day Millie had to do business as if nothing was wrong. She kept watching for Lucas, but he never came. Time to close the store came. As she was lowering the blinds and locking the door, she saw Lucas and Mark coming up in the buckboard. She wanted to pretend like she wasn’t there. Fear gripped her. Oh, please, Lucas! Please don’t bring the boy here! Millie begged in her heart.
But Sloane knew Millie was hiding something. “Who are they?” he asked.
Millie told him that Mark was coming to stay with her. The next words were very difficult for her to speak, and she didn’t want to say them. Lucas’s life was in even more danger now that they knew he would be protecting the money. She knew he would be in the line of fire. And it was at that moment that she made up her mind she would save Lucas – even if it meant she would die trying. She loved Mark and knew how he felt for his father. Nothing in this world should cause mark to loose his father, and she’d never forgive her self if Lucas died because she was a coward.
When Mark walked in, Millie hugged him and cried. The men tied them up in the store room, promising nothing would happen if they cooperated. Millie knew she couldn’t let that happen. She had to protect Mark and Lucas. She had given them both a large chunk of her already chipped heart, and she couldn’t afford to loose those chunks. So she and Mark managed to get loose. Then she waited for the perfect opportunity.
Protecting Mark like a mother hen, Millie grabbed a canteen. She knew she only had one shot. She also knew that she could be killed when performing her heroic task. When she knew the men weren’t watching, Millie threw the canteen and screamed Lucas’s name. Then she heard gunshots. It was all over so fast. Millie was shaking from the whole episode.
They rushed out the front doors. Mark ran into his father’s waiting arms and hugged him. Millie ran up to Lucas, but stopped before getting into his arms. Lucas looked up and smiled. “There’s plenty of room here for you too…Mil.” Lucas smiled. Millie didn’t hesitate. She rushed into his arms and allowed him to take all her fears away.
Then she and Mark looked at each other. “I told you, pa.” Mark said with a smile.
Millie lifted her head to look into Lucas’s smiling eyes. “Told you what?”
Lucas cleared his throat as the three of them started walking. He kept an arm around both of them. “Son,” Lucas declared. “You talk too much!”
Millie only looked at him and smiled.
Lucas suddenly saw Micah and cleared his throat again. He knew a good opportunity when he saw one. “Um, I gotta go…talk to…Micah. Excuse me.” He heard Mark snicker. “I’ll talk to you later, mister!” Then Lucas stopped and pointed and Millie. “And you too, young lady!” Then he turned and hurried to Micah.
Millie and Mark went to lock up the store. She didn’t know why they bothered since there was a broken window. She smiled in her heart, knowing Lucas would have to fix it for her. After all, it was his life she was saving!
Suddenly Mark said, “Miss Millie, were you scared?”
Millie thought about the last twenty-four hours. The word scared didn’t seem to cover it. She had had so much fear in her heart – not only for herself, but for her two favorite guys. “Well, to be perfectly honest with you…” Millie started. She hesitated for only a second when she said, “I was really scared.”
Mark nodded. “So was I.”
Millie and Mark looked at each other. She suspected they understood where their true fear lied, and it wasn’t only that they may loose their own life. She smiled at Mark. “That’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
Mark had insisted that he needed some apple pie, so they went to satisfy his craving. After they were done, Lucas made Mark go to the hotel and sleep. “I’ll be there soon, son. I just need to talk to Millie.”
Mark opened his mouth to say something, but Lucas held up a finger. Millie smiled as Mark disappeared into the hotel. Lucas led Millie to a chair outside the hotel. He knelt in front of her and looked into her eyes. “Are you okay?”
Millie nodded. The Lucas suddenly hugged her tightly. “Oh, when I think about you and Mark in that store, I…” Lucas couldn’t speak.
“We’re fine, Lucas. We’re fine.” Millie stated.
“It’s my fault. I should have been a gentleman and walked you in last night instead of leaving you outside. I should have never-“
Millie put a finger to his lips and shook her head. “I’m a big girl, Lucas.”
Lucas stood and sat in the chair next to her. He took her hand between both of his and just held it. Neither said a word for awhile. Lucas took her hand and touched it to his lips gently, closing his eyes. “Millie, you shouldn’t have put your life in danger like that.”
“What are you talking about?” Millie asked softly.
“You should have just stayed tied up. Micah and I were onto something, and we were expecting something like this.”
Millie sighed. “Lucas, I know it’s your duty as a man to lecture me about being brave and courageous to save you. But-“
Millie and Lucas looked at each other. Millie smiled. Lucas parted his lips slightly as they looked into each other’s eyes. Lucas bent in to kiss her, but Millie suddenly turned away. She felt that if she kissed him there would be no turning back, and she wasn’t sure she was ready to take such a step with her heart – not after it had already been broken. “Tell me what you’re afraid of, Millie?”
Millie couldn’t look at him. Suddenly she asked, “What was Mark right about?”
Lucas held contact with her eyes and kept a stern look on his face. Millie knew this was a look that worked on Mark, but she couldn’t be persuaded to reveal such a deep thought. Finally, Lucas realized she wasn’t going to give in, so he sighed and looked away. “I was teasing Mark about wanting to go to town so much now days and he told me I don’t ever miss an opportunity to come to town…at least since you arrived.”
“Oh,” Millie smiled. “Well, I’m glad I am such an important part of this town.”
Lucas nodded. He rubbed the back of his fingertips across her cheek. “Millie, I really am glad you are okay.”
“I know,” Millie answered. Then she said, “Lucas, my heart’s been through a beating twice already. I just…can’t take another beating.”
Lucas stood and pulled her up. He hugged her tightly one last time. “Well, I’m a patient man,” he answered. “I can wait.”
Millie watched Lucas walk into the hotel. “Lucas,” Millie called.
Lucas turned and they locked eyes once more. “You…” Millie looked as if she changed her mind about what she was about to say. “You are still a little rough around the edges.”
“Thank you,” Lucas grinned. “I take that as the finest of compliments.” With that, he touched his hat and climbed the stairs.
Things between Millie and Lucas were really good after that. They started seeing more of each other. Millie became a bigger part of both Lucas’s and Mark’s life. Micah could even see that maybe a wedding would be brewing in the wind. But even Micah knew that since the death of his wife, Lucas hadn’t allowed his heart to be taken by any woman. He sensed that things were the same with Millie.
Then one day, a stranger rode into North Fork. This was a stranger that would rock the foundations of the not-to-stable relationship Millie and Lucas had built. The relationship was tested to its foundation, and the test wasn’t enjoyable for anyone.
Millie had met someone who claimed to have known her brother. Lucas had been able to see right through the situation and forced Harry to reveal the truth to her. But Millie had been so taken in by this man’s claim to have known her brother.
She was sure Lucas thought she was falling for him. Lucas was extremely jealous of the relationship from the start, she knew. But after Harry left that evening, Millie knew that in truth, she was in love with the idea of knowing someone who knew her brother. The wound her brother’s death had caused had really never healed, and she had allowed a man to use her weakness to charm his way into her life.
As Millie sat in the darkness and remembered the last few days she had spent with Harry, she had to think about just how much she had hurt Lucas. How could he ever forgive her? Lucas had been furious with her when she agreed to go to the church social with Harry instead of Lucas, and in hind site, she would have changed that. But, she also knew that Lucas had been wrong in “assuming” that she would be going with him!
Then there was the confrontation in the store. She had said some really hurtful things to him. He was in a jealous rage, and was pretty mad that Harry was getting the “upper hand,” so to speak. That’s why he came in and slammed the door, demanding they have a talk. “Millie, I feel we are pretty good friends.” Lucas had stated.
“Why, of course we are. Why do you ask?” Millie still remembered the look he gave her. Her heart ached just thinking about how deeply she had hurt him with her next words.
“Well, it may be none of my business, but I don’t think Harry Chase is for you!” Lucas had declared, to which Mille had shot back in anger, “I don’t see where that’s any concern of yours!” Millie closed her eyes now just thinking about it. She had wanted to give this man her heart, now she was stomping all over his. How could she have been so blind? So stupid as to say something like that?
Her heart leapt as she remembered the kiss he had given her to show her who the better man was. If she hadn’t been so blinded by her deep loss over her brother, she may have wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. In fact, if he walked in right now, she would kiss him back.
A tear slid down her face. She knew she had to tell Lucas the truth – the whole truth. She knew that she had to go back home and bury her brother. She had been carrying him along with her to protect her heart, but she had broken a man’s heart that she wanted to always protect from hurt. Millie looked down at the book, and then she went to find Lucas.
Millie could tell there was a rock wall between them. She didn’t know how their hearts would recover. It would be so easy for her to blame the wall on her brother’s death, but she knew it was her doing that kept him from being buried. It was her doing that kept that crack in her heart. She explained to Lucas that the whole week had been her feeling like being closer to her brother. After returning the book, she turned to leave. “May I walk you home?” Lucas asked.
Millie smiled. “That would be nice.” They walked in silence for quite some time. Neither one knew what to say. Finally, they found themselves outside Millie’s door. “Lucas, there’s some thing I need to tell you.”
Lucas shook his head. “I understand more than you know.”
But Millie ignored him. “You see, when my brother was killed, I was devastated. You see, my brother and I were more than best friends. We were…so close – kind of like you and Mark. He was my protector, my strong one. We were a part of each other. When he died, part of me died to.”
Millie walked away. She didn’t feel safe being so close to Lucas. She stood under a tree and looked up at the stars. “I ran to Sante Fe, not because I wanted to live out West, although I think I do. But, I came here to…well, to get away from the pain…the hurt…that I felt. My folks-they tried to reason with me, to tell me to go to the funeral and to mourn for my brother. But I wouldn’t do it. I refused. As long as I didn’t say good-bye, I would be able to keep him alive.
“I never told a single person about my brother. It was too personal – something tucked away in my heart that I wanted to stay there. If I said it out loud, I’d have to admit the cold hard truth – that he’s dead. Then, when Harry came to town, something made me just blurt it out – that he died at Bull Run. I was using Harry as a rope that was tied to my brother. I mistook my pain for my brother’s death for-“
Millie hung her head. She let tears slide down her cheeks. “I hurt you so deeply, Lucas. I said things that I…I can never take back. And I’m so sorry.”
Lucas came to stand in front of her. He wiped her tears with the back of his hand, then he took her head gently into his hands. “My sweet Mil,” Lucas smiled at her. “I would be lying if I said your words hadn’t hurt me, but…your heart was hurting too.”
Millie smiled and looked into his eyes. “There’s more, Lucas.” She quickly pulled away. You stay there, please, so I can get it out. “Lucas, I have to go back east.”
Lucas’s smile disappeared. A blank look came to his face. “What’s that mean…exactly, Millie?”
Millie looked away. “I have to go home and say goodbye to my brother. I have to make amends with my mother.”
“Will you come back?” Lucas managed to choke out.
Millie bit her lip. “I can’t make any promises, Lucas.” Suddenly, she had the urge to be in his arms. “Please understand.”
Lucas nodded. “When I lost my wife, I wanted to do the same thing you did. Fortunately for me, I made the right decision. So, I understand. But that doesn’t make it hurt any less.”
Millie began crying and Lucas immediately wrapped his arms around her and kissed her hair. “Hush, darling. It’ll be okay.” Lucas soothed. “Oh, my sweet Mil, if God wants us together, you’ll be back.”
They just stood and held each other for a long time. Then Lucas pulled her away and looked deeply into her eyes. “Millie, I…” Lucas looked away for a moment. Then he looked back at her. “I love you.”
Millie nodded as tears again went down her cheeks. “I…I love you too, Lucas.”
Lucas wiped those tears. “I wish I could be there to wipe your tears away, because I’m afraid you’ll be shedding plenty.” They looked deeply into each other’s eyes. “Maybe this will help,” Then Lucas lowered his lips to her and kissed her gently. Millie wrapped her arms around him and returned his kiss.
Millie sat silently in the parlor of her mother’s house. She leaned her head against the back of the couch and closed them. She had been back for seven months, and felt that she was now ready to move on. It had been a tough seven months. Because she had left so suddenly, she had amends to make with her mother. Not only had she come back to bury her brother, but her father’s memories had overtaken her as soon as she got off the train in Kansas City.
Millie sat in silence with her eyes closed. She felt her mother sit down beside her. “What are you thinking about, Amelia?”
Millie opened her eyes and sat up. She turned and smiled at her mother. “The day Lucas said goodbye to me at the stage.” Millie smiled. “Has it really been seven months? It seems like yesterday and yet…it seems like so long ago!”
“You really do love him. Don’t you?” her mother stated.
Millie smiled. “He writes me, but he never says anything about how he feels. That day at the stage, he said good-bye and kissed me. But…his kiss was…Well, it was reserved. Like he was taking back part of his heart.”
Beth laid a hand on her daughter’s hand. “It’s been tough for you…these last seven months.”
Millie smiled. “Yes. I wish I had dealt with it back when I should have. It was so much harder doing it this way.”
“Your hearts not in Kansas City anymore, my daughter.” Millie’s head popped up and she stared at her mother. “I’m afraid you heart’s in New Mexico territory.”
“I can’t go back there. Not knowing how he feels about me, mother. What if I go back and…Oh, I just can’t go back there!”
Beth shrugged. “Why not?”
“Well,” Millie picked up Lucas’s latest letter. “I think he’s found another.”
“Lou Mallory?” Beth rolled her eyes. “Oh, please! He doesn’t love her!”
Millie laughed. “How do you know?”
“Because he loves you.” Millie raised an eyebrow at her mother. “He writes you every week, and he hasn’t hardly missed a week in the last seven months!”
Beth shook her head. “If he didn’t love you, he wouldn’t keep writing you every week! He’s a busy rancher raising a son and, according to you, courting another woman. He wouldn’t be writing you.”
Millie looked at the latest letter. “He admits to going to some dance with her, mother!” Millie declared.
Beth smiled. “Well, either you go pack your bags, or you’ll find them out on the lawn tomorrow morning!”
Lucas waved to Mark as he left for school. “Don’t get into any quicksand today like you did yesterday!” Lucas teased.
Mark rolled his eyes. “As long as I don’t have to rescuing any damsels in distress, I won’t.”
Lucas went back in to clean up the breakfast dishes before going to round up the cattle. Suddenly, he heard a knock at the door. He went to open it. A big smile slowly spread across his face as he stared into the questioning eyes of Millie Scott.
“It’s been a long time, Lucas.” Millie smiled.
Lucas nodded as he licked his lips that had suddenly gone dry. “Eight months.”
“I…I didn’t know if you wanted me to come back. I thought about writing first to ask you, but I decided I’d get the truth as soon as I saw your face.”
Lucas just kept staring at her. She was wearing her hair down today – not in the ponytail like she usually did. Her black hair spread over her shoulders. She was wearing the red dress that he had loved so much. “The color red was made for you.” Lucas stated suddenly.
Millie looked down at her shoes. “I stopped by the hotel to freshen up. I wanted to look…presentable.”
Lucas kept staring. “Oh Mil, I can’t believe you are here!”
Millie suddenly folded her arms and cocked her head to one side. “Well, you are still a little rough around the edges, Lucas.” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Are you going to leave me standing on the porch all day?”
Lucas shook his head as he grabbed her by the hand. “Oh no, Mil. I’m going to do what I’ve wanted to do for eight months!”
Millie watched his lips part, then he wrapped his arms around her and gave her a long, breathtaking kiss. “My mother told me I left my heart in New Mexico, so I had to come back and find it.”
“It’s been right here. I’ve kept it safe. And Mil darling,” Lucas smiled deep into her eyes. “Thanks for bringing me my heart back.”