Chapter 15 – The Groom is Missing
It was six o’clock in the morning. Milly had stayed quiet and still for
as long as she could. She put on her robe and opened the door to her
hotel room. “It’s here! It’s finally here!” she shouted as she spun
around in the hallway. She knocked on her Mother’s door and hurried
inside. Jenny tiredly sat up in bed. “Mother, the day has arrived!
I’ll become Mrs. Lucas McCain in seven…” Milly’s eyes grew wide and she
gasped. “Oh MOTHER! SEVEN hours!” Milly jumped up and started pacing
the floor. “Seven hours until I marry him…” She ran back to her mother.
“What do I do? What do I do now, Mother?”
“Do?” Jenny pulled the covers back and stood up. “Milly Darling, what
are you talking about?”
“Oh Mother…” Milly ran across the room to where her Mother was beginning
to dress. “Something’s going to go wrong! I just know it!”
Lou knocked then hurried into the room. “What on earth is going on in
“Milly’s having one last panic before she gets married. She wants to
know what she’s going to do.”
“Ye will be coming down those stairs in seven hours!” Lou declared. Milly
shot a hand to her mouth as her eyes widened. “What’s wrong?” Milly
pushed past Lou and made her way down the hall. Lou and Jenny laughed
as they heard the water closet slam shut.
“Nerves,” Jenny declared. “Anytime she’s really nervous she heaves.
She’s always been like that, and I’d say this is about as nervous as
the child’s ever been!”
Lucas opened the door to the bedroom he and Mark had shared for the last
five years. He stood in the doorway. Turning, he looked at his son
still fast asleep and shook his head. “It’s been five good years, son,”
Lucas mumbled as he looked across the room at the door to his and
Milly’s bedroom. He looked down at the floor, realizing for the first
time that the moment he stepped out of the bedroom, it would cease to be
his. The bedroom…Lucas stepped out in the living room….was officially
Mark’s room now. He had moved his things into his and Milly’s room the
night before. Lou had brought over Milly’s things yesterday, and she
had hung up her dresses and put her undergarments in the drawers. Lucas
slowly walked across the room and put his hand on the doorknob to his
bedroom. The next time he opened the door would be with Milly in his
“Pa?” Lucas jumped when he heard Mark behind him. Mark yawned.
“Thinking about tonight?”
Lucas smiled. “I’m thinking about one o’clock today, son.
“Are you ready for me to fix breakfast?” Mark asked.
Lucas turned and looked at Mark. “I couldn’t eat a thing, son. My
stomach…it feels like there are butterflies all through it.”
Mark watched as his father walked outside and toward the barn. He
looked toward the kitchen, then hurried out after his Pa.
Lucas could hardly function as he tried to lay down fresh hay for the
animals. Mark finally ordered his father to sit down. “Today’s the big
day, Pa.” Lucas nodded, swallowing loudly in the quiet barn. “Why are
you so nervous?” Their talk last night did little to answer that
question for Mark.
Lucas looked up at Mark. “I…I don’t rightly no, son,” Lucas answered in
an unsteady voice. He walked to the barn door and stared out into the
yard. “Son, I still remember the day you and I rode onto this place.
We’ve built ourselves a fine home here…you and me…Now…there will be a
third. Our lives are about to change.”
Mark sat the pitchfork against the wall and slowly walked up to his
father. Lucas didn’t look at him, but he could hear the smile in his
voice. “I’d say they changed four weeks ago, Pa, when Milly…Ma…knocked
on the front door.” Mark put a hand on his father’s shoulder. Lucas
turned, his eyes full of nervous concern for all the stability he’d felt
in his life. “It’s going to be good, Pa. You and Milly…well, that
first day in the store…Even then I could see something.”
“What?” Lucas asked. “What did you see?”
“The minute you walked into the store you…you stared at her. There was
this look in your eye that I’d never seen before…this smile on your face
that was almost like…well, like you were looking right into her soul.
The way you said “Fine,” to Micah. I’ll never forget it. It’s like…”
Mark smiled. “Well, I hate to sound like the girls at school when they
talk about boys, but…it’s like fate.”
“I’m her prince on the white horse?” Lucas laughed.
“Well…more like a…uh…cowboy on a black horse.” Mark chuckled. “Pa…”
Lucas looked into his son’s eyes. “You two are going to get married and
then have a wonderful honeymoon. She’s going to live here and it’s
going to be great!”
“If I can remember how to breathe until after the wedding!” Lucas
Mark patted him hard on the back. “I’ll just kick ya every once in a
while, Pa. I ain’t gonna let anything happen to you now! Not after all
the work I’ve put into making Milly my mother after all these years.”
Mark picked up the pitchfork as he went back to his chores. “You never
know…I just may be a big brother soon.” Lucas raised his eyebrow at his
“That boy!” Lucas mumbled.
Things were a bit more…chaotic in town. It was 9:00 in the morning and
Milly was running around like a chicken without a head. Lou finally
tackled her outside her hotel room and led her down to the bath. “We’ve
got hair to do and there’s no time to waste!” she declared.
After Milly bathed, Lou and Jenny fussed with Milly’s hair for a long
time. The time ticked by so very quickly, so it seemed to Milly, and
there were still so many last minute things to do. The women pulled her
hair this way and that as they tried to get it just right.
Lou ran back and forth between the hotel room and the kitchen. She
barked orders at the ladies who were helping her in the kitchen. She
barked orders at the women who were straightening up from the party the
night before. More decorations for the wedding were brought in. Every
man was commanded to wipe his feet before entering the hotel.
As Lou counted the seats in the lobby, she threw a hand to her mouth and
raced across the street. “Chairs! We need more chairs!” she told Micah
in a panic. “I need at least 20! The men will just have to stand up in
Then Lou raced back upstairs to see how Milly was coming along. Milly
stared at herself in the mirror. “Oh, what if he doesn’t come?”
“Doesn’t come?” Jenny repeated. “Why wouldn’t he come?”
“Maybe…” Milly bit her lip. “Oh, maybe he woke up this morning and
realized that he doesn’t want his life to be turned upside down by a
“Turned upside down?” Jenny rolled her eyes and turned her daughters
head back around as she swirled hair around her finger. “His life will
hardly be turned upside down! Why, any man would be honored to share
his home with such a beautiful woman who can cook and sew and scrub! I
see his love for you in his eyes, sweetheart. When he looks at you, his
face blushes and his eyes dance…and he’s a MAN! There ain’t very many
men who look like that at a woman!”
“But what if Mark decides he doesn’t want to share his father with me?
Oh…if he doesn’t show up I’ll…I’ll…I’ll just die!”
“No you wouldn’t!” Lou declared as she entered the room. “But he would
because I’d kill him!”
Mark brushed the back of his father’s jacket as Lucas continued trying
to tie his tie properly. He groaned and untied it again. “Oh, I’m all
Mark smiled. It wasn’t too long ago that he was getting ready for a
dance. Micah had to tie his tie for him because he was too nervous. He
turned Lucas around and began tying the tie for him. “Now Pa,” Mark
stated with a grin. “I want you to be on your best behavior tonight.”
Lucas lowered his eyes to his son’s. He saw the knowing grin playing on
Mark’s mouth. “Don’t worry, son…I will…” Lucas retorted back with the
same knowing grin.
“Remember that Milly is a lady. You should be patient with her. Treat
her with respect. When you bring her home tonight, you should…”
Lucas cleared his throat. “That will be quiet enough of that, Mark.”
He studied his son’s tie. “Well, at least we both have crooked ties,
Lucas sent Mark into town to assist with final preparations. He stared
at himself in the mirror as he slowly let his breath out. “Just
breathe, McCain!” Lucas told himself. “You’re going to do fine!” Lucas
looked around the house. He smiled in satisfaction. He couldn’t wait
for Milly to see everything he had done. He just knew she would be
Lucas grabbed his hat and rifle. He paused at the door as he stared at
his rifle in his hand. How many times had he told his son and others
that he was married to his rifle? How many times did he say he hated
being married to it? “Not today,” he mumbled to himself. “There’s only
one person I want to be married to today.” It was hard. He hadn’t gone
to town without his rifle in years, but today he would. Slowly, he put
the rifle back in its holder. “Today, I’m Lucas McCain…Not the
Lucas’s hands were shaking as he stepped out onto the porch. He turned
and looked inside. The next time he entered this house, he would have
Milly in his arms. Lucas smiled as he shook his head. It didn’t seem
real! But tonight, Milly would make it real for him. Tonight when she
kissed him and held him in her arms, he would know that he was indeed a
Lucas slowly climbed onto the wagon seat. He couldn’t help looking at
the seat beside him where Mark usually sat. In just a few hours, his
bride would be sitting beside him as he drove her to THEIR home. He
smiled in anticipation. As nervous as he was, Lucas was able to whistle
But he had this feeling deep inside him that he had forgotten something
important. He started running through the list in his head. Suddenly,
his eyes grew wide!
He was half way to town when he allowed his whistling to die on his
lips. “Whoa!” he called to the horses as he pulled back on the reins.
He stood in the seat and felt in his pockets. “Oh no,” he groaned. “I
forgot the rings!”
Lucas quickly turned the wagon around and headed back home, driving as
fast as he could. But that soon met him with catastrophe. The wagon
slowed as the wheel spun. Lucas jumped from the seat and bent down by
the wheel as he pushed his hat back on his head. “Oh no!”
He hurried to the back of the wagon, but to his horror, he realized that
the tools were back at the house. Mark had forgotten to put them back
in the wagon! “That boy,” Lucas grunted as he shook his head. “Just
wait until I get my hands on that boy!” He looked up at the sky. “Of
all the days to have a mishap, it had to be today!”
Lucas had no choice but to turn around and start walking. He was
half-way to town when the wagon broke down, and he still had quite a
ways to walk before getting home. The hot sun shone on him. He felt
sweat forming on his back. He took off his jacket and rolled up his
sleeves, trying to keep from smelling like an old wet dog at his
wedding. Lucas looked up at the sky and groaned. “Oh no.” At this
rate, he KNEW he was going to be late…very, very late!
But to his relief a man on a horse approached him. Maybe Lucas could
still make it to the hotel by 1:00 after all!
Milly breathed nervously as Lou buttoned up the back of her wedding
dress. She stood up so the women could admire her. Lou carefully put
the flowers in her hair. “Ah yes…you look beautiful! When Lucas sees
you…” Lou started.
“What time is it?” Milly asked as she straightened her dress.
Lou smiled. “You have thirty minutes, thirty minutes before you walk
down those stairs into the waiting arms of Lucas McCain!”
“Is he here?” Milly asked. “Has anyone seen him?”
“I’m sure he’s here, honey,” Lou declared. “He wouldn’t miss this day
for anything.” She looked above Milly’s head and locked eyes with Jenny
who shook her head. Lucas hadn’t arrived yet.
Micah sputtered the water from his mouth at Mark’s announcement. “What
do you mean he’s not here? Where is the groom, Mark?”
“Well…I…” Mark dug his hands in his pockets. “He should be here by now,
Micah! He said he’d be right behind me, but that was some time ago.”
“Do you realize it is only twenty minutes…twenty minutes before…”
Micah’s voice boomed angrily.
Lou walked down the stairs. “Where’s Lucas?” she asked calmly, but
everyone heard the impatience in her voice.
Micah turned and looked at Mark. Then he turned back around. “Well…”
He cleared his throat. “I’m afraid we have a problem.”
“A problem?” Lou asked in a panicked voice. “No…no…no!” Lou laughed
nervously. “We can’t possibly have a problem, Micah! There’s a bride
just up those stairs who is supposed to be getting married in exactly 19
minutes! She is very nervous – afraid the groom isn’t going to show!”
Lou shook a finger at Micah. “So don’t ye tell me there’s a problem!”
“She may…have cause to be worried,” Micah frowned. “The groom’s not
“Who’s not here?” Ann asked as she came down the stairs. “Where’s
“What’s going on?” Abraham asked as he came up to the group. “Where’s
“Seems to be the question of the hour,” Micah declared sarcastically.
“Would you like me to go back and look for him?” Mark asked.
“Yes!” Everybody turned to him and exclaimed.
Mark held up his hands. “Okay, okay!” He rolled his eyes. “But…just
for the record, I cannot be blamed this time!”
“Get going!” Lou ordered. “And you tell him he has exactly ten minutes
to get here before we have to tell Milly he’s missing! And I don’t
think he’ll want us to do that!” Lou declared through clinched teeth.
Abraham hurried out the door with Mark. “I’ll go with you,” he offered.
They climbed on their horses and raced out of town.
Both knew they didn’t want to be anywhere near town in ten minutes!
”Micah,” Lou folded her arms. “You don’t suppose someone could have…”
She allowed the question to die on her lips.
“We have two men posted at the ranch. We have men at all the roads
coming into North Fork. Buckhart and Benton have been checking in guns
all morning. I don’t know how someone could have gotten past everyone!”
“Well, I hope he’s here soon.” Lou bit her lip. “I have to tell Milly
if he isn’t here in…” she looked at the locket watch. “…Nine minutes!”
“This is Pa’s wagon!” Mark yelled back to his uncle as he jumped off his
horse. He looked the wagon over. Bending down, he saw the broken
wheel. “Uh oh…Seems he had some trouble but…the wagon’s pointed back
toward the ranch.”
“Probably forgot something and was rushing back to get it,” Abraham
mumbled. “Here’s his footsteps. I bet he’s walking. Let’s go!”
“Uncle Abe!” Mark stopped him. “If the wagon’s broken down, he could
have used the tools to…” Mark’s eyes grew wide. He looked in the back
of the wagon. “Oh NO!” He turned and looked at Abraham. “I’ve done it
Mark dug his heels into Blue Boy as they hurried forward. They hadn’t
been riding very long before Abraham hollered for him to hold up. Mark
turned Blue Boy around and watched as his uncle dismounted his horse and
bent down on the road. “What’s wrong?” he asked as he hurried back to
Abraham touched the red spot on the road. “Blood,” he answered.
“Well, seems he stopped walking right here.” Abraham slowly stood up.
“Mark, go back to town and get Micah and your uncles. Tell them to
come to the ranch.”
“What about Milly?” Mark asked.
Abraham sighed. “Just tell Lou to…keep her calm.”
“Yes sir.” Mark jumped on his horse and raced back to North Fork.
Milly stood up from the chair and fluffed out her dress. “Is it time?”
She asked excitedly.
Lou and Ann looked at each other. Lou lowered her eyes, unable to look
at Milly. Milly looked from Lou to Ann, then at her mother. “What?
What’s wrong?” her voice sounded concerned.
Lou took Milly’s hand. “Why don’t you sit back down.”
“I don’t want to sit down!” Milly exclaimed. “I’m supposed to get
married at one o’clock! It’s now five minutes to one!” She looked from
Lou to Ann then to her mother. Her eyes filled with tears. “He’s not
coming, is he? He’s not coming!”
Milly ran across the room and threw herself on the bed. “I knew it! I
just knew it!”
“Now, now Darling!” Jenny hurried over to the bed. “Don’t get yourself
all messed up! He IS coming! He’s just a bit…delayed.”
“Delayed?” Milly sat up. “What’s more important than getting married?
His cow’s? A gunfight? What?????” Milly cried.
“Now Milly!” Lou sat down on the other side of her. “Milly, Abraham
and Mark are out looking for him.”
Milly’s head shot up. Her eyes grew wide. “Looking for him? What do
you mean they are looking for him???” Milly looked at Lou, then she
turned and looked at her mother. “Mother, what does she mean? Is he
Jenny shook her head as she tried to reassure her daughter. “There,
there Darling! He’s just a bit delayed! Perhaps his wagon broke down
“He’s lying hurt on the side of the road!” Milly jumped up. She ran
toward the balcony and stared out. “Or maybe…Maybe he changed his mind!
Maybe he doesn’t want to marry me after all!” Milly ran to her mother.
“Oh Mother!” Then she clung to Jenny and cried.
Lou quietly slipped out of the room. She had to announce to the guests
that the wedding would be delayed because of a missing groom.
“Micah!” Mark yelled as he ran into the hotel.
“Mark? Where’s Lucas?” Mark looked up to see Milly standing at the top
of the stairs. Her face frowned in worry. But still, she looked
“Milly…” Mark took his hat off as she lifted her wedding dress and
walked down the stairs. “He is just a bit delayed. I…” Mark
swallowed. He felt like he was facing a pit full of rattlesnakes. Mark
looked around. “Where is everyone?”
“Lou sent everyone outside until we know what’s going on,” Micah
Milly took Mark’s face in her hands. “Don’t lie to me. Tell me where
Mark sighed. He looked to Micah. “Well boy?”
“Uncle Abraham told me to come get you and my uncles. There’s…” Mark
sighed. He closed his eyes, sorry he had to say this in front of Milly.
“…trouble, I’m afraid.”
“Trouble?” Milly gasped as she threw a hand to her chest. “What sort of
“I…I’m not sure. I…” Mark swallowed. “Uncle Abraham’s waiting at the
ranch. That’s all I know! Honest!”
“I’m going with you!” Milly declared.
“No!” Micah said. “You have to stay here.”
Milly’s eyes teared up. “Is Lucas okay?”
Mark couldn’t bear to tell her the truth. He closed his eyes as he
prepared the lie. Then bravely, he reached out and took her hand. “He
had a bit of a wagon mishap. He’ll be here before long, Milly. He told
you not to worry. He’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“If he wasn’t alright, I would have asked for Dr. Burrage.” Mark
smiled. “He’s fine.”
“Well tell him he was supposed to be here at one o’clock!” Milly
declared as she began crying. “Tell him…” Milly turned and hurried back
up the stairs. The men listened as they heard a door slam.
Johnny Drako stood in the yard as he looked toward the barn. “Well, we
know someone’s in the barn. I don’t know who or why. We heard
“Alright. Drako, you take the back.” Micah turned to the McCain
Brothers. “Position yourself around the yard where you have good aim.
Gibbs, you stay with me.”
“What about me, Micah?” Billy Lehigh asked. “What should I do?”
“Stay behind the house. I don’t know what this guy’s up to.”
“You think he has Lucas with him?”
“I think so,” Micah answered.
“Why would he have brought him here though? It doesn’t make sense!”
“Well…he thought the wedding was here. Maybe he was planning on
exchanging Lucas for something that would hurt him more than killing…Milly.”
They got in position outside the barn. Micah fired a warning shot.
“Alright, you in the barn! Come on out of there!”
The door to the hayloft opened. A man fired a shot down at the men.
“I’ve got the groom! I’ll let him go if you deliver the bride to me!”
“Not a chance!” Drako declared. “You have six guns on you! You kill
McCain, we kill you!”
“Gibbs, you keep him busy. I’m going to sneak around back.” Johnny
nodded as he fired a shot toward the man in the door. Micah slowly made
his way around back. He made eye contact with Drako and nodded toward
the barn. Drako nodded as they both edged around to the front. When the
men saw them, they stopped firing.
Drako motioned to Micah to let him go first. Then he nodded for Micah
to come in. They saw Lucas bound and gagged in a stall. Micah hurried
over to him while Drako made his way up the stairs into the hayloft.
“Alright! Freeze!” Suddenly shots were fired. The kidnapper fell from
the hayloft dead.
The men ran over to the body. Abraham turned him over and gasped. “I
don’t believe it!”
“Me neither!” Jeremiah said.
“Floyd?” Peter gasped. “Floyd Pritchard?”
“He was living in Texas. How’d he know about…”
Suddenly, the three brothers looked at each other. “Women!” they
Micah took the gag from Lucas’s mouth. “You okay?”
“Except for a very bad headache, I’m fine,” Lucas grumbled. “I’m a
“I’m afraid your headache will get worse before it gets better. You are
two hours late for your wedding, Lucas Boy! Mark had to tell a lie to
keep you out of trouble.”
“You mean…Milly doesn’t know I was missing?” Lucas asked.
“Mark told her you had a wagon mishap, but were fine. He was really
convincing, I might add.” Micah raised his eyebrows as the other men
walked in. “What happened to you anyhow?”
“Well…” Lucas groaned as he touched his forehead. “I forgot the rings
so I had to come back here to get them. I was in such a hurry that the
wagon broke. Mark forgot to put the tools back in the wagon so I took
off walking. Then that man came by…”
“Floyd,” Abraham declared. “Lucas, he was living in Texas, last I
“Texas?” Micah turned and stared at Lucas. “How did he…”
“The Austin newspaper, that’s how!” Lucas declared. “Seems those ladies
certainly were busy!”
“Yeah!” Lucas shook his head. “I best go get cleaned up.”
Lucas slowly walked into the hotel. “Lucas McCain! Do ye know your
bride is upstairs crying? Where…” Lou gasped as she saw the gash on his
head. “What happened to ye?” She reached up to touch it.
Lucas brushed her hand away. “I’m alright. It’s a long story.” He
looked up the stairs. “Look, all Milly needs to know is that I had a
mishap with the wagon. That’s the truth.” He sighed as he made his way
up the stairs and knocked on Milly’s door.
“Who is it?” Milly called. Lucas could tell she was crying.
“It’s me, honey. Can I come in?” He tired to speak in a soothing, calm
“NO!” she cried. She ran to the door. “Lucas McCain, do you realize
you’re three hours late?” She yelled angrily.
“I’m sorry, honey! The wagon broke down and I…I got here as fast as I
could!” Lucas’s voice pleaded for her to understand.
“What else?” Milly sniffed. “Lucas McCain, you aren’t three hours late
just because a wagon broke down! What else happened?”
“Nothing!” Lucas declared. “Nothing else happened, honey! I’m just…”
He knocked on the door. “Can I see you? Please?”
Lucas waited but the door never opened. “Now?”
“No! It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding! But you better
make it up to me, Lucas McCain!” Lucas heard relief in her voice. But
he still had a feeling she was a bit miffed at him.
“Oh, I intend to do just that, Darling. I’ll make it ALL up to you
tonight! I promise! But I’d feel better if I could see you before the
wedding…just once more.”
“Well, that’s your fault! I wanted to be married three hours ago!”
Milly declared. “If you’d been here, we’d be married right now, Lucas
“Will you two stop arguing about seeing each other?” Lou put her hands
on her hips. “Lucas McCain, if you get down there and in position, we
can get this started and you CAN see her!”
Lucas nodded. He turned back toward the door. “I love you.”
There was a short pause. He heard a sniff. “I love you too.” Lucas
turned and hurried back down the stairs.