The Rifleman
Welcome to The Writer's Corner
Fan Fiction

An Invitation
Written by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1
  
Lucas looked up from his ledger as his young son hurried through the door. He had told Mark to stop by for the mail after school, and from the smile on Mark’s face and the gleam in his eye, Lucas knew he had done just that – and had something interesting to show him. “It’s a letter, Pa!” Mark proclaimed excitedly as he held out the letter for him to see.
 
“Mm Hm,” Lucas mumbled as he took the sealed envelope from Mark’s hand. “So I see.”
 
“Look at who it’s from, Pa!” Mark cried excitedly.
 
“Yes,” Lucas nodded. “I see that too.”
 
Mark stood beside his Pa as he slit the envelope open and started to pull out the letter. Lucas paused in his task and raised his eyebrows as he looked at his son. “Don’t you have something to do?”
 
“Oh.” Mark backed up and hurried to the table. He sat down and opened his math book as he started on his lessons. From the corner of his eye, he saw his Pa unfold the single sheet of paper. He held an expression on his face that Mark couldn’t read.
 
Lucas read the letter through several times. Finally, he folded it up and sat it on his desk. Mark watched as Lucas put a hand to his cheek and rubbed as if he was deep in thought. “What was it, Pa?” Mark asked.
 
“Hm?” Lucas hadn’t heard the question. Mark repeated it. “Oh, it’s a wedding invitation.”
 
“Well, are we gonna go?” Mark asked then.
 
Lucas picked up the sheet of paper as if the answer to the question was on that sheet. He read through it again. “I don’t know, son. I don’t know.”
 
**********************
 
Santa Fe was a growing town. As soon as she stepped off the stage, she wanted to turn and get right back on again. North Fork was much safer, and she knew there was a wonderful man there by the name of Lucas McCain who made her feel safe. But she couldn’t think on that now.
 
She could feel the eyes on her and hear the whispers as she walked toward the hotel. Nobody spoke to her. Everyone just wondered who she was and why she was there. She hurried into the hotel. “I would like a room, please,” she smiled at the clerk. “I don’t know for how long. I’ll pay for a week.” She set the money on the counter, signed the guest register, then took the key from the clerk’s hand.
 
As she started up the stairs, several more eyes stared at her. Soon she would have to ask where to find the Undertaker’s so she could start taking care of affairs. She would have to look up the lawyer they called Lakota Taylor. But for now, she wanted to rest. Tomorrow would be soon enough for everything else.
 
But as she stepped on the top step, it gave way and she suddenly felt herself falling backwards. She let out a yell as she felt her ankle twist. She wondered if it would hurt much to land with a hard thump at the bottom.
 
But suddenly, strong arms reached out and grabbed her. “Oh!” she cried. She turned around and stared into a smiling face. The face was rather handsome as his eyes crinkled and stared into hers. She tried to catch her breath as he continued to hold onto her with his arms wrapped around her waist.
 
Suddenly, his gentle, rich voice spoke through his smiling mouth. “This is a rather odd way to meet. I was expecting a handshake, but I must admit that this is much nicer!”
 
“Oh!” she suddenly cried as she realized she was in his embrace. She pushed against his chest, forcing him to let go of her. “I must apologize! I don’t usually…uh…”
 
“Fall into the arms of a stranger?” The man smiled at her. “Name’s Lakota, ma’am. “Lakota Taylor.”
 
She shook his hand. She couldn’t get over how nice looking he was. He reminded her so much of someone she used to know…a long time ago. “Mr. Taylor…” She smiled as she cleared her throat and held firmly to his hand. “I was going to look you up tomorrow.” She laughed nervously as she suddenly removed her hand from his and smoothed her dress. She straightened the hat on her head and started to step up, but she suddenly felt a searing pain go through her ankle.
 
Lakota bent down and raised her dress above her ankle. “Excuse me, sir! What are you-“
 
“After falling in my arms, I’d say we’re beyond the proper stage, madam. I just want to look at your ankle.”
 
Again, he started to raise her dress. “Well, I-OH!” As she tried to step away from him, she felt the pain again shoot through her ankle. “You are a lawyer…not a doctor!”
 
“Yes ma’am.” Lakota touched her ankle gently as she winced. “It’s swollen.” He straightened up. “I’m afraid it’s sprained. The doc will have to wrap it.” Without warning, he swept her up into his strong arms and hurried down the stairs.
 
She didn’t know what to do! So she just wrapped her arms around his neck and stayed quiet. She tried to ignore the stares of people as they hurried by. She gasped as Lakota hurried across the street. “Do you work for the doctor?” she asked as a wagon barely missed running them over. “I mean…does he pay you to bring him business? Is that it?”
 
Lakota chuckled as he banged on the doctor’s door with his foot. “No ma’am.” The door opened. An older man stood there wiping his hands on a towel. “Got a patient for you, doc?”
 
“Who is she?” the doc asked.
 
Lakota sat her down on the examining table. “Hm…” He straightened up. “I don’t know her name. We…uh…haven’t gotten that far. She just came…out of nowhere.” Lakota leaned in close to her. “What IS your name?”
 
“Ann,” she answered. “Mrs. Ann Dodd.”
 
Chapter 2
 
“The ranch?” Ann whispered as Lakota laid down the Will and folded his hands. “He left me the…” She swallowed.
 
Lakota suddenly stood up and rushed over to her. “Ann, you’re white as a sheet!” He bent down next to her and took her hand. “Ann!” He reached for a glass of water. Dipping his kerchief in it, he began wiping her face with it.
 
“Is Pete even mentioned in there?” Ann asked then. Lakota looked into her eyes and slowly shook his head.
 
“Neither of the Morgan’s were mentioned in the will. Lakota continued wiping Ann’s face with the cloth as he spoke. “Your…uncle…He came to me several months ago and asked me to write a will for him. He told me that he was afraid Pete would kill him.”
 
“But…why?” Ann asked. “Why would Uncle Jon leave his own son out of the will?”
 
Lakota sat back in his chair and scratched his chin. “How…well did you know your Uncle and his family?”
 
Ann shrugged. “Well…I didn’t. Uncle Jon was there when I was born, but left shortly after. We kept in contact over the years and he…he tried to come out and see me after my…” Ann swallowed. Even after six years it was hard to talk about. “…family died.”
 
Lakota’s head jerked up then. He stared into her eyes and leaned forward in his chair. “Died?” Ann merely nodded. “I…I’m so sorry.” Lakota stood up. “Your cousin, Pete…He was an okay kid until he met up with this woman, Jenny. I still remember the day she rode into town. Rumor had it that she had just lost her first husband in a rather…odd accident. She was money hungry and wanted to get her hands on your uncle’s ranch in a really bad way. You see…your uncle’s ranch is rather valuable.”
 
“Oh?” Ann’s forehead wrinkled. “How so?”
 
“Well, it’s the biggest ranch in these parts for one thing. The soil is rich, and there’s a small gold mine.” Lakota turned from looking out the window.
 
“A…” Ann bolted out of her chair. “A gold mine?” Lakota nodded. “You mean…real gold?”
 
“Is there any other kind?” Lakota gave her a small smile. “However, your uncle was already wealthy and didn’t care to have anything done to it. It’s hidden and sealed off. He didn’t tell anyone where it was – not even me. Jenny found out about it somehow. She dug her clutches in Pete and they were soon married. Even while they were courting I could see her evil desires, but no one else saw it.”
 
Lakota came back and sat down. “That’s why I wasn’t surprised when your Uncle Jon came into my office and asked me to make up a new will – one that didn’t include his own son. Something happened at the ranch that morning…I don’t know what, but he was extremely upset. He asked me not to tell anyone he was changing his will.”
 
“Did he really kill his own father?” Ann suddenly asked.
 
Lakota nodded. “I think so. I don’t think his falling off that horse was any accident. I looked at the saddle he was sitting in when it happened. There was a cut in the synch.”
 
Ann put her hand to her mouth as a tear squeezed out of her eye. “How could a son…”
 
“He was poisoned,” Lakota said with a heavy sigh. “By Jenny. Jenny twisted his mind until he didn’t even know what was right or wrong anymore. Jon…and even you…were no longer family members – but strangers…inconvenient strangers.”
 
“I was his only other family. That’s why he sent for me – he didn’t trust his only son!” Ann stood up and walked to the window. She shivered. “Just last week while in North Fork, I felt like I was alive again – maybe for the first time in six years. Now I feel…” Ann hung her head as she started crying.
 
Lakota stood up and walked up behind her. He reached out his hands to her, but hesitated. Gently, he laid his hands on her shoulders. “The ranch is yours. Perhaps you can-“
 
“No!” She cried it out so suddenly that Lakota’s hand suddenly shot off her shoulder. “I can’t!” She shook her head and started for the door.
 
Lakota grabbed her before she could get too far though. He held her arm firmly in his grip. “What is it?” Lakota’s voice was heavy with emotion. He didn’t know why, but he suddenly wanted to help this woman any way he could. He suddenly felt a strong bond toward her. “Talk to me!”
 
Ann slowly turned around then. Lakota’s heart sank when he saw her tear-streaked face. “I don’t want the ranch.” She shook her head as she cried. “I can’t…” She laid her head against his chest and sobbed from deep within herself – somewhere no one could ever get to. “I can’t…”
 
Lakota was a bit taken back by her sudden emotional outburst. He was reminded of a time earlier in his life when another woman so much like Ann had clung to him crying like this. He had to bury that memory now so he could console Ann. He brushed her hair gently with his hand. “Sh,” he consoled her. “It’s okay. It’s okay…”
 
When her tears were spent, she lifted her head from his chest. Lakota allowed his arms to drop from around her. “Oh!” She threw a hand to her mouth as she realized in horror that she had just clung to this almost-complete stranger as if he were a lifeline. “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m so terribly-“
 
He held up a hand. “Don’t be.” He took her arm and led her over to his couch. He sat her down on it then went for some water. While she started drinking it, he sat down beside her, but left enough distance between them to keep her comfortable. “You want to talk about it?”
 
Ann sighed. “It’s the most painful time in my life,” she answered. “I was living in Enid, Oklahoma on a ranch. It wasn’t big, but we were comfortable. My husband and I had been married for about seven years. We had a six year old son. He was so beautiful.” Ann paused and took a locket from inside her pocket. She handed it to Lakota.
 
Lakota opened it. He saw a younger Ann smiling as a man’s arm laid on her shoulders. His other hand sat on a little boy’s shoulder while Ann’s free hand rested on the other. “It’s a perfect circle of love…” Lakota whispered.
 
“They were…my life…” Ann swallowed the lump forming in her throat. “One day they were there and the next…” She shook her head sadly. She had told Lucas she was over such hurt, but the truth was, she still felt it deeply. That’s another reason she couldn’t marry him – she was still very much married to her dead husband.
 
“An accident?” Lakota asked then in a low voice.
 
“What?” Ann’s head shot up as she realized Lakota was speaking.
 
“Was it an…accident?”
 
She stared at him as if he were suddenly some deadly poison she would have to ingest. Then slowly, she stood up and again walked to the window in the small office. She looked out onto the street. “After it happened, I remember walking into town and just sitting there watching the people walk down the street as if there was nothing wrong. But then I saw it in other’s eyes too. That pain…that incredible pain that makes everything in you hurt…” She shook her head. “I moved to the city after that. I just couldn’t stand…” She sighed. “But even there, the memory of those last few days haunted me. Every face I looked into, I wondered if they ever felt the pain that I felt…”
 
She turned from the window and crossed her arms. Leaning against the window, she slowly shook her head. “An accident? No. Perhaps it would have been less painful that way…maybe more painful. I sat at their bedsides for hours watching them suffer. They weren’t too sick to begin with, and my best friend was really ill, so I would leave them in a neighbor’s care and take care of her.”
 
Ann closed her eyes as she remembered her best friend. She pointed to the locket Lakota was still holding. “On the other side, you’ll see another family.”
 
Lakota nodded. “Another beautiful portrait of a family encircled in love.“
 
“Yes.” Ann turned back to the window. “We were all very close. I can’t tell you how many evenings we spent together laughing and talking…I stood up with her at her wedding.” Ann grew really quiet as she thought about her best friend. “Margaret Gibbs…McCain.” She smiled. “We grew up together – all four of us. As children, Margaret and I played together nearly every day. It was the same with Hal and Lucas.”
 
“Lucas?” Lakota stood up then and walked slowly toward her. “Yes, that is Lucas!” Lakota declared as he took a closer look at the locket. “Lucas McCain, the Rifleman!”
 
Ann turned from the window and stared at him. “You know him? Lucas?”
 
Lakota nodded. “Very well. He comes through here every now and then to buy or sell cattle. He usually brings his son, Mark with him.” Lakota shook his head. “That Mark…he’s a fine boy!”
 
Ann couldn’t help but smile through her pain. “Yes. He’s wonderful!” She suddenly remembered her task at hand. She turned away, but Lakota put a hand on her shoulder and turned her back around. Ann lowered her head toward the floor. “I lost Margaret one day. She was Lucas’s wife. I couldn’t stand the pain in that house so I left. When I got back home, my own family had taken a turn for the worst.”
 
“Small pox?” Lakota guessed. Ann nodded. “I’m sorry.”
 
Ann wiped at her tears that were once again falling. “You know the worst part?” She gave a sad laugh. “I walked into town and sat on a bench one day. I felt so alone. Then I saw them…Lucas and Mark riding out of town together. He didn’t stop to say goodbye, but just kept riding.” She again tried to turn toward the window.
 
Lakota grabbed her shoulders again. In a husky voice, he spoke gently to her. “Don’t hide from your pain anymore, Ann.” She wouldn’t look at him. Lakota suddenly laid a gentle hand on her cheek. She lifted her eyes to his. “You’ve never really talked about this.” It was a statement – not a question.
 
“No.” Ann threw her hands to her face. “I was jealous of Lucas…jealous that he got to keep his little boy! I…I never told him that – I couldn’t! I knew his hurt ran very deep – like mine. But he had something to live for.”
 
The pain was causing her a great ache. Ann bolted away from him and hurried to the door. She wanted to run from it – to hide like she had always done. She had shown Lucas the happy side of herself while she was in North Fork. She just couldn’t let him see what those years of hiding had done to her. She put her hand on the door and opened it. But suddenly, Lakota’s strong hand reached up and slammed it shut. “Don’t!” His voice was stern.
 
She stared at the closed door. “That’s what it was,” she whispered. “Just like that.”
 
“What?”
 
“The door just slammed shut that day. I lost my best friend…my husband…my son…and then my other best friend picked up his own son and left. I felt so alone…so alone…” Ann sighed. “I guess I…I never got over that. All these years, I hid.” She turned to him. “And now YOU have dredged it all up!”
 
“No,” Lakota shook his head. “It was there ready to come up. I just held the key to unlock that hurt.” Lakota reached out a hand to her. “I understand that pain, Ann. I understand.”
 
“How could you?” Ann asked. “How could you understand?” She brushed away his hand and bolted across the room. “How can anyone understand?”
 
Lakota gave a deep sigh. “Let’s go have lunch. Then after that, I’ll tell you about the hurt that I buried in my own heart.”
 
Chapter 3
 
Eyes stared at Ann as she walked into the hotel. She felt refreshed after changing her clothes and washing her face. She gave Lakota a small smile as he stood up from his chair and held hers out for her. She smiled her thanks as they sat down. After ordering, she occupied herself with straightening her silverware. “I…I’m sorry about-“
 
“Don’t.” Lakota shook his head. “You feel better?”
 
Ann nodded. “I do in a way. I suppose in some ways I never stopped grieving because I buried that pain so deep inside. Now I feel like I can grieve…for real.” Ann lowered her head. “About the ranch…”
 
“I’ll take you out there after we talk this afternoon,” Lakota answered with a smile.
 
Ann smiled. “Don’t you…” She looked around. “Don’t you have other clients?”
 
“Of course!” Lakota answered. “But unfortunately…or maybe fortunately?” He smiled at Ann. “…none of them are as pretty as you.”
 
Ann blushed. “It’s been a long time since a man’s told me I was pretty.” She looked around. “Aren’t you afraid people will talk?”
 
“Talk?” Lakota chuckled as he sat back in his chair. “Ann, people always talk about me. If they talk about seeing you and me together, then I’ll…be honored to accept the rumors.”
 
Ann was happy their food came just then. She felt such twisted emotions toward this handsome man who sat across from her. She wasn’t sure exactly what she was feeling, or even if she liked it. All she knew is that his smile did something for her heart – it’s like it was healing it…
 
They ate in silence, only exchanging pleasantries as they ate. He asked her if she wanted desert. She suddenly remembered the apple pie she’d eaten with Mark and Lucas. “Yes,” she answered. “A big slice of apple pie will top off this wonderful lunch.”
 
After the pie was consumed, she wiped her mouth and started to stand up. Lakota quickly stood and took her arm as they walked out into the lobby. “Well, Lakota!” The Marshal tipped his hat toward Ann. “Who’s the lady?”
 
“Marshal Briggs, this is Ann Dodd. She’s come to settle her Uncle Jon’s estate.”
 
“Oh yes. I heard what happened to you in North Fork. My deputy, Billy Mathis brought Jenny in this morning. I’m sorry for the trouble she caused, ma’am. I hadn’t heard they had left. I was looking for them after the doc told me his findings on your uncle, but I was too late.”
 
Ann nodded. “She’ll stand trial?”
 
“We’ll see. If she does, she’ll be tried for the murder of your uncle, though she probably will get off since she wasn’t directly involved. “
 
Ann gasped. She hadn’t realized…”I think you’ve said enough, Marshal!” Lakota’s voice held a warning. “Too much, actually.” He tipped his hat to the Marshal then took Ann’s arm and hurried her out of the hotel.
 
“What did he mean she may get off?” Ann asked. “She killed my uncle just as much as Pete did! In fact, I witnessed her kill her own husband!”
 
“Don’t worry about it,” Lakota said as they stepped out onto the street.
 
Ann stopped. She turned to face him. “I will worry about it! What did he mean?”
 
Lakota nodded. “Okay. There’s no evidence that she was involved. Here-say and knowing is not enough to convict her. As far as her husband…she was aiming for Lucas. She was trying to protect…”
 
“Protect herself! So, she’ll be free to do this again?” Ann asked as Lakota shut the door. “She’ll be able to-“
 
Lakota took his hat off and threw it on the table. He ripped off his suit jacket. Then he ran a hand through his hair. “Listen Ann,” Lakota came over and grabbed her shoulders. He stopped as he looked into her eyes. In a whisper, he said, “We only met yesterday, but it seems like we’ve known each other for so long…
 
“Tell me about your pain,” Ann asked then. Her voice was soft.
 
Lakota took her hand and led her over to the couch. He sat down and got comfortable. “Six years ago, I too was married. I had a wife named Elizabeth. She was so beautiful! She was always laughing and going around town helping anybody and everybody.” Lakota smiled as he remembered her. He pointed to the picture on the wall. “That’s her.”
 
“She was beautiful!” Ann declared.
 
“Yes.” Lakota sighed. “We had two children. My daughter Jessie was two years old. My other daughter…Beth…was only one.” Lakota leaned his head back on the back of the couch and sighed heavily. “They were on their way into town one day to have lunch with me. Beth said “Papa” for the first time that day. I was so thrilled and decided to buy her a brand new doll at the store. When I was in the store, Marshal Briggs came in. I was holding that doll with the marble face in my hand when he walked through the door.
 
“There’s been an accident.” Ann heard the pain as Lakota repeated the Marshal’s words that day. “They’re gone.” Lakota’s eyes filled with tears, but they never fell. “I heard glass breaking just then. I thought it was my heart.” Lakota swallowed. “Instead, it was the doll. You know what I did?” Ann shook her head as she grabbed his hand to comfort him in his own pain. Lakota let out a nervous laugh. “I paid for that doll and walked out the door.”
 
“It must have been horrible…” Ann said.
 
“I didn’t practice law for a year after that. I lost our home…everything we owned. All I did was…drink…and drink…and drink…” Lakota put his hands to his face and groaned. “That was a dark year for me. I kept imagining the terror they expressed when the wagon turned over and rolled down that hill. Sometimes, I would ride out to where it happened. I could hear their terrifying screams and see the horror on their faces. I wondered how much they suffered.”
 
“I’m sure they didn’t suffer much,” Ann tried to console him.
 
Lakota turned to her. He grasped her hands. “You said it might have been better if it had been an accident.” Lakota shook his head. “No. It wouldn’t have been better…I’m not saying the accident was worse but…You were prepared somewhat. You saw it coming and had a chance to say goodbye.” He laid a hand on her cheek. “My happiness was ripped away from me in a mere second.”
 
“I’m so sorry,” Ann said passionately.
 
“After a year, Marshal Briggs had to lock me up. That’s what saved me.” Lakota sighed. “You see, Marshal Briggs and I…we were best friends before the tragedy. The day he locked me up, he told me I’d stay there until I sobered up and we talked. He forced me to face my pain…my hurt. Like I wouldn’t let you run from it this morning, he didn’t let me run from it then. I remember sobbing right there in the cell. I remember him putting his arms around me as I cried through all my hurt.”
 
Lakota let out a short laugh as he looked in Ann’s eyes. “Can you imagine Marshal Briggs holding me like I was a six year old child?”
 
“We all need that. I did,” Ann reminded him.
 
Lakota nodded. “A week after that, I went back to practicing law. I never got my house back, but I have a nice apartment here in town. I’ve earned back the town’s respect. And I have several ladies interested in courting me.”
 
Ann smiled. “And…how many are you courting?”
 
“None.” Lakota sighed. “I got over the tragedy. I came to terms with it, but I never found anyone who could come close to matching what I had with Elizabeth.”
 
Ann smiled again. “Well, maybe someday you will find someone to fill that place in your heart.”
 
Lakota stared into Ann’s eyes. “Yes. Maybe…someday very soon…” They smiled at each other. Finally, Lakota broke the stare. “Well…you ready to go see the ranch now?”
 
Ann nodded.
 
Chapter 4
 
Memories flooded Ann’s mind as they stopped in front of the ranch. It reminded her so much of the one she and her husband owned back in Oklahoma. The white picket fence ran around the edge of the yard, separating it from the rest of the ranch. Ann slowly climbed down and laid her hand on the gate that led into the yard.
 
Lakota stood behind her. “Memories?” Ann nodded. She bit her lip. “We don’t have to…”
 
“No. I want to. I just finished visiting Lucas. He had a ranch that looked a lot like the one he had in Oklahoma, but I was happy to be there. That whole visit was filled with happiness. But this…so much like ours.  We had a white picket fence. My husband built it for me. It took him months to complete…”
 
“Do you…want me to go with you?” Lakota asked then with a deep, emotional voice.
 
Ann turned to tell him no. But then she stared into his concerned face. She nodded. “I do.” She wasn’t sure why, but she felt strong with him by her side.
 
Lakota opened the gate and they walked up the path to the stairs. He took her elbow as they walked up onto the porch. “It’s in bad shape,” Ann declared.
 
“Yes. Your Uncle’s health wasn’t well, but he was far from dying. Pete didn’t keep up with the repairs like he should have. Most of the upstairs is in bad shape.”
 
Ann walked in to a big sitting room. The furniture was covered in sheets. She looked around at the cobwebs that had already formed in the week or so since her Uncle’s death. “There’s something about death…the spider’s know when the dweller’s are gone,” Lakota mumbled.
 
Ann walked throughout the house. She couldn’t help smiling at the well-furnished house and the size of everything. She slowly made her way upstairs. Ann stood in front of a door. She started to open it, but Lakota grabbed her arm. “That was his room. I found him in there.”
 
Ann turned. She saw the pain in Lakota’s eyes. She laid a hand on his cheek. “You took care of him. Didn’t you?”
 
“Professionally and…personally. At least I tried. Pete didn’t like me coming around, but I had to check on him. I was so very worried. He’d been dead for quite a while.” Lakota swallowed. “They…waited awhile before they reported his death. Pete claimed that it was just too hard…”
 
“How did he…” Ann didn’t finish her question.
 
“Well, he was poisoned. But I think Pete probably put a pillow over his face and suffocated him.”
 
“That’s what he tried to do to me,” Ann declared. “If Lucas hadn’t been there…”
 
“I’m glad he was.” Lakota smiled at her. They went room-to-room. Ann shook her head in despair as she looked around. “Such a beautiful house…” She took off her gloves and put them inside her bag. “Well…I guess I should get started.”
 
“Started?”
 
“On cleaning!” Ann declared. “I can’t sell it until I get it back in shape.”
 
“You can’t sell it!” Lakota declared suddenly. “You just can’t!”
 
“Why not?” Ann asked.
 
“Ann, this was your Uncle Jon’s dream! He worked his whole life building this up and saving. He left an incredible sum of money in the bank. He wants this to be your legacy! He wants you to live here.”
 
“I’m a woman, Mr. Taylor. I can’t-“
 
“It’s your legacy, Ann!” Lakota declared. His voice held so much passion in it that Ann couldn’t say anything.
 
Ann looked around and sighed. “Well, I must get it cleaned up regardless. Right?” Lakota nodded. “Then if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get started. You go on back to work. You can come fetch me for supper.”
 
Lakota didn’t want to leave her. He wanted to stay and help, but he did have an appointment to keep that afternoon. He hesitated as he looked down at her. Finally, he said, “Okay. But don’t you be lifting or climbing on anything!” He pointed at her. “You hear me?”
 
“Yes.” Ann smiled. “But I won’t break!”
 
“Well…that ankle of yours isn’t exactly in top shape. I don’t want you-“ he suddenly stopped himself, realizing he had no authority to give her orders. “Please, just be careful.”
 
Ann watched him leave. She wasn’t sure where to begin, but if she was going to have visitors, she wanted the living quarters cleaned. So she filled up big pans of water to heat and found some good strong soap. She spent the next several hours dusting and scrubbing.
 
When Lakota arrived at 5:30, she had the parlor shining and the kitchen half-way cleaned. Lakota stopped in the doorway as he looked at her. She had changed into a simpler dress in order to do her hard labor. Her hair had all fallen out of it’s bun and laid in curls along her face and down her back. Her face was flushed and she looked exhausted. She was beautiful!
 
Ann looked up at him and gave him a tired smile. “Well, what do you think?”
 
“Progress,” Lakota answered as he chuckled. “Listen, I have one appointment first thing in the morning. The rest of the day, I’ll be here to help you.”
 
“Oh no, that’s not-“ Ann started.
 
Lakota held up his hand. “It is VERY necessary!” Lakota insisted. “I’ll hear no arguments about it!”
 
Ann nodded with a smile. “Thank you.” She pushed her hair back behind her ear and started twisting it.
 
“We’ll get you back to the hotel and let you freshen up.” Lakota opened the door for her. “Oh, has anyone told you that your hair looks beautiful down?”
 
Ann smiled. “Not in a long time.” She hurried out the door.
 
*****************
 
As promised, Lakota made Ann wait in town with her leg up on a pillow while he took care of his appointment. Then, after checking the swelling in her ankle, he frowned. “I don’t like it.”
 
Ann smiled. “I feel fine!” she declared. “I can’t just sit here!”
 
Lakota scratched his nose as he thought on it. “Well…alright.” He pointed a finger at her. “But you won’t overdo it, you hear?”
 
“I promise.” The smile she flashed him was so beautiful that he counted that as his reward for allowing her to go back to the ranch.
 
They worked all day. By lunch time, they had the living quarters in good shape.
 
In fact, for the next several days, Lakota and Ann worked together at her ranch cleaning. Other people got involved in the process as well. A week after Ann arrived, the inside was in such good shape that Ann declared she would be staying there until she decided what to do. Lakota frowned at her Announcement and sat down his fork as they ate together in the hotel dining room.
 
Ann knew him well enough by now to know that he wasn’t happy with her Announcement. “I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself.”
 
“You are a beautiful woman about to go off alone on a ranch with a gold mine – a ranch worth a lot of money.”
 
“I’ll be okay,” Ann promised him.
 
“I don’t like it!” Lakota declared a bit too loudly. They looked around at the stares. He lowered his voice. “Ann, I don’t like you being there all alone.”
 
“You’re the one that insisted on my keeping it. Remember?” Ann tipped her head to one side and smiled at him.
 
He nodded. “Yes. I remember.” He sighed.
 
Ann reached out and laid a hand on his. “I’ll be okay.” Lakota stared at her hand. She saw the look on his face. It made her heart skip a beat. “Do you…worry about all your clients like this?”
 
Lakota allowed his eyes to raise until they looked directly into hers. He gave her a short shake of the head. “Only you.”
 
Ann smiled. There were no words to express what each was thinking in that moment. They both knew how the other felt as they continued looking at each other. “It’s…” Lakota finally was able to speak, though not very well. “It’s been a very long time since I felt this way, Ann.”
 
Ann nodded. “Me too.”  She realized now that what she had felt for Lucas was a connection to the past – not attraction. “A…long time since I wanted to feel this way.”
 
Ann could feel a set of eyes boring into her back. She turned to see a woman with a scowl on her face. She turned back and looked at Lakota. “Well?”
 
“I’m suddenly not hungry. You care for a ride?” Ann nodded as they stood and walked out.
 
The ride in the moonlight was nice. The conversation was limited to Lakota’s making sure she was comfortable. When they finally got back to town, Lakota walked Ann up the stairs to her hotel room. Outside, He cleared his throat. “Well…”
 
“Well…” Ann smiled. “It was a…lovely ride. Thank you.”
 
They both knew what was coming, but neither wanted to think on it. Finally, Lakota lowered his face to hers as they shared a kiss. Ann smiled as he lifted his head and looked into her eyes. “Until tomorrow…Ann…” Lakota touched her chin with his finger then turned and hurried down the stairs.
 
Chapter 5
 
Lakota smiled as he sat in his office finishing up a document. It had now been three weeks since he had met Ann and he felt so young and free again. A day hadn’t gone by since he and Ann had met that they hadn’t spent time together.
 
He was thinking on this when Marshal Briggs walked in. He poured himself a cup of coffee then sat down in a chair. Lakota looked up. “What can I do for you?”
 
“How’s Ann?” the Marshal asked.
 
Lakota grinned. “Fine. She’s fine.”
 
“You still worried about her out at the ranch alone?” Lakota nodded. “Well, I have the deputies riding out there every night. There hasn’t been any disturbance.” Marshal Briggs grew quiet as he continued sipping his coffee.
 
Lakota sighed as he sat down his pin. “Okay, you didn’t come in here just to tell me that. We’ve been best friends for too many years – I can read you like a book. What do you have to tell me?”
 
The Marshal looked down into his cup. “She’s gone.”
 
“Who?” Lakota asked.
 
“Jenny.”
 
Lakota leaned forward in his chair. “What do you mean she’s gone?”
 
“The judge ordered her release. She won’t even stand trial.”
 
“Why not?”
 
Marshal Briggs swirled the coffee around in his cup as he thought on how to break the news to him. “There’s no proof that she helped Pete kill his father.”
 
“She was there!” Lakota declared as he stood up from his desk and pressed his hands on it to gain control of his emotions.
 
Marshall Briggs stood up too. “I know she was there!” He yelled back. “But you know the law as well as I do! That doesn’t mean she had anything to do with it!”
 
“She didn’t report his death for hours!” Lakota tried then.
 
“So?”
 
“So? She killed her own husband!” Lakota’s face was turning red. He came around the desk with clinched fists.
 
“Now, cool it, Taylor!” Marshall Briggs warned as he stuck a finger in his friend’s face. “You know better than that!”
 
Lakota turned and walked to the wall. He slammed his fist in it as hard as he could. “I don’t believe this! Why didn’t you tell me?”
 
“I just released her ten minutes ago!” Marshall Briggs hurried up to Lakota. “I told her to get out of town. She said she intended to do just that.”
 
Lakota suddenly turned toward his friend. “She said that?”
 
“Yes.” Marshall Briggs held up a hand. “She said she just had one item of business – to check in on a friend and-“ He suddenly stopped.
 
Lakota’s eyes grew wide. “Ann!” he cried.
 
Both men hurried out the door and jumped on their horses. “She better be okay, or so help me, I’ll strangle her myself!”
 
Chapter 6
 
Ann walked around the ranch, smiling as she imagined how it would feel to have horses and cattle again. She walked into the barn Lakota had worked so hard on all week. It was ready for a horse. He told her he would go pick up a pair of horses for her in a day or so – he just had some loose ends to clear up in town.
 
She ran her hand over the shiny new saddle Lakota had brought to her only yesterday. She laughed when she realized it was a man’s saddle. “I’m assuming you’re the type that doesn’t ride side saddle. You look like the type that knows how to ride like a man.”
 
He knew her so well. They complimented each other’s thoughts. He even asked her if they could go fishing one evening. She assured him that she was very capable of making the trout flies. He raised his eyebrows at her as if he didn’t believe her. Perhaps he didn’t, but he’d soon find out!
 
Ann walked out of the barn and leaned over the fence to look into the pig pen. It wasn’t repaired yet. Lakota assured her he’d tackle that project next. Ann suggested that she could get started on it, but Lakota gave her a very stern look and ordered her not to even try it!
 
“You’re a lawyer, not a rancher.” Ann remembered as they talked under the moonlight the night before.
 
Lakota had nodded as he put his arm around her shoulders. “Who says I can’t do both? We could hire some men to do most of the ranching work, but it would be nice to be a rancher. I grew up on a ranch, you know.”
 
“We?” Ann had asked then.
 
Lakota had smiled down at her and grinned. “Well now…I don’t have anyone to ask for your hand…do I?” Lakota had then gotten a gleam in his eyes. “Of course…there’s always…Lucas McCain.”
 
Ann gasped. “Oh, don’t ask him!” She smiled. “I think I’m past the age of needing permission to get married.”
 
“Well then…” Lakota had taken her hand in his. “Maybe soon I’ll get down on one knee and ask you.” Then he gave her a soft kiss and left.
 
Ann smiled now as she thought on it. “He’s going to marry me!” She Announced to herself. She felt like she was 18 again. She looked up toward the heavens. “What would Hal say?” she wondered.
 
She smiled. Her heart had healed incredibly these past few weeks. “I would have his blessing.” She knew that with all her heart!
 
Ann shivered then. It wasn’t cold. Just the opposite, it was rather hot outside. But she suddenly felt something odd – as if an icy cold wind had blown through her body. Ann turned. She saw a horse coming up the path. She walked toward the house to put some coffee on. She hoped it was Lakota.
 
Walking into the house, she hummed to herself, but suddenly that icy cold feeling came over her again. Ann quickly walked to the front door and opened it. Her blood ran cold as she stared into the cold, dark eyes of Jenny Morgan!
 
Quickly, she slammed the door closed. Her hands shook as she tried to turn the key in the lock, but Jenny was pushing against it. A gun! She needed a gun, but there was none! The shotgun was hanging above the fireplace clear across the room. There was no way she would be able to get to it.
 
Ann turned and ran up the stairs as quickly as she could. The front door opened. “Mrs. Ann Dodd. Heiress!” Ann heard Jenny’s sneer from the bottom of the stairs.
 
“Help me!” Ann screamed as loudly as she could. “Somebody help me!” Ann ran into the bedroom and slammed the door shut. She positioned a chair under it so that Jenny couldn’t get in there. Ann looked around the room, but there was nothing for a weapon.
 
Then she allowed her eyes to focus on the window. She ran to it and lifted it. It was stuck! She grabbed an iron and threw it through the window. “Somebody help me!” She screamed this over and over as loud as she could. She had to get out! Ann knew that she could break her leg jumping, but she had no choice!
 
After clearing the glass out of the window, she crawled through and jumped. She screamed as pieces of glass still in the window cut her skin, but she couldn’t think on that now. She allowed herself to roll as she landed, which saved her some. She hurt something awful, but grasped her side and stood up to run. “Ann!” She heard Jenny scream from the window she had just jumped through. “Ann Dodd, I’ll get you!” Jenny screamed.
 
Ann screamed as Jenny shot at her. The bullet just missed her. “Help me! Somebody please help me!” Ann screamed.
 
She ran into the woods behind the ranch. She had no idea where to go. She could hear footsteps behind her. Ann gasped as Jenny appeared close behind her. Her leg was hurting something awful, and she knew her ribs must be broken.  She was slowing down incredibly! “Help me!”
 
Suddenly, in the distance, she could hear a man’s voice. “Ann! Ann! Where are you?”
 
“Lakota!” She screamed as loudly as she could. “Help-“ She gasped as her foot tripped. She fell to the ground. When she looked up, Jenny was standing over her. She pointed the gun right at Ann then grinned as she pulled the trigger.
 
Chapter 7
 
Lakota froze when he heard the gunshot. He and Marshal Briggs looked at each other. “It came from the woods.”
 
They hurried forward. Lakota saw a body laying on the ground ahead. It was Ann. He rushed up to her. “No!” he screamed as he lifted her head and shoulders and held her in his arms. “Oh God, no!” Tears began falling down his cheeks.
 
Marshal Briggs ran on ahead. “Jenny!” He called. “Jenny Morgan, you come on out!”
 
Lakota heard Marshall Briggs’s calls as he sat there rocking his precious Ann. “Ann…” he mumbled. “My sweet Ann!” He sobbed as he held her, rocking her back and forth. Blood oozed from her chest.
 
A shot rang out. Lakota flinched as he heard it. He laid a hand on her cheek. “It’s all over now, my sweet Ann.”
 
Marshall Briggs appeared then. “Jenny’s dead. I had to shoot her. I had no choice.” Then he placed a hand on Ann’s face. He gasped. “Lakota! She’s alive!”
 
“What?” Lakota put his head on her chest. “She IS alive!” Lakota stood up and lifted her into his arms. “I swear, Alex…she was dead! Her heart…”
 
“Nevermind that!” Marshall Briggs hurried to the horses. “You get her inside and try to stop the bleeding. I’ll go for the doctor!”
 
Lakota rushed in the front door and bounded up the stairs with Ann in his arms. He laid her in bed, quickly taking off her shirt so he could see the wound. “Hold on, Ann…I can’t lose you too!” Lakota cried.
 
Lakota grabbed a wet towel and pressed it against the wound in her chest. With his other hand, he brushed the hair back from her face. “Oh, please, darling! Hold on! Just hold on!” He softly kissed her cheek. “Hold on!”
 
It seemed like forever before the doctor got there. When he did, he told Lakota to wait outside. “No!” Lakota shouted with tears on his cheeks. “I won’t leave her! I’ll NEVER leave her again!”
 
Marshall Briggs took Lakota by the arm. “Come on,” he coaxed him softly. “Let the doctor work.”
 
“No!” Lakota pulled away from Alex. “I’m staying here. She…She knows I’m here.”
 
Lakota put his hand on Ann’s leg while the doctor worked. “Well doc?” Lakota finally asked.
 
The doctor turned and looked at Lakota. “It doesn’t look good. The bullet is deep. It just…it doesn’t look good.”
 
Lakota began sobbing again. “Doc, you HAVE to save her! You HAVE to!” He begged.
 
“I’ll do my best. But you have to go.” He put a hand on Lakota’s shoulder. “You have to.”
 
Lakota nodded. He bent over and pressed one last kiss on her lips. Then he walked to the door. He opened it, then turned back toward the doc. “I mean it, doc. She can’t die.” Then he hurried out.
 
Alex stood up and watched Lakota slowly make his way down the stairs. He went to the window and stared out. “Well?” Alex asked.
 
“Doc says it doesn’t look good.” Lakota dropped to his knees then. “Oh God! Save her!” He prayed loudly. Alex bent down next to him and put a hand on his shoulder. They joined together in prayer.
 
****************
 
When the doc slowly made his way down the stairs two hours later, the men were sitting quietly on the couch. Their prayer vigil continued. Lakota stood up and hurried over to the Doc. “Well?”
 
Doc shook his head. “She’s still alive, but…but she’s fading fast.”
 
“Can…” Lakota swallowed the lump in his throat. “Can I see her?”
 
The doctor nodded. “You best say goodbye.”
 
“I won’t!” Lakota declared. “I’ll never say goodbye! I’ll give her hope!”
 
“She’s too hurt inside, Lakota. Nothing can-“
 
“There’s a God, doctor. As long as there’s a God, there’s hope!” Lakota gave each man one more hard look then hurried up the stairs.
 
Quietly, he walked inside and pulled up a chair to sit down beside her. He grabbed her hand and put it up to his cheek. “Oh Ann, you cannot die!” He sighed. “I haven’t felt much of anything since my family died, but you…you fell into my life.” He laughed as he remembered their first meeting. “It’s only been a few weeks, but in my eyes it seems like so much longer!”
 
Lakota reached out and brushed her cheek with his hand. “When you get better, we’re gonna have ourselves a real church wedding. You hear me? I’m gonna buy some cattle…and horses…and pigs…We’re going to work this ranch together.” Lakota brushed a curl from her cheek. “I promise you! And if God allows it, we’ll fill this house with the laughter of children.”
 
Lakota gasped. He suddenly wanted to get everything ready. “Darling, I’m right here! You hear me? When you wake up, this will be a real ranch!”
 
He stood up and raced out. Bounding down the stairs, he called for Alex. Alex hurried forward. “What is it?”
 
“I want you to go into town and hire some men. I want you to find some good men to get us some cattle. I also want a couple of good riding horses, and a couple team horses.”
 
“Lakota, what-“ Alex started.
 
“Just do it!” Lakota ordered.
 
“But Lakota, the doctor-“
 
“No!” Lakota declared. “I know!” He jabbed a finger into Alex’s chest. “I know!” He smiled. “When Ann wakes, up, this is going to be a real ranch! I want some chickens and pigs too.” He turned. “Does…The Wilson boy still have those pups?”
 
“I…think so,” Alex answered.
 
“Get one of those too.” Lakota turned to go back up the stairs. “Well?”
 
“We’ll get right on it.” Alex put his hat on his head and started out the door.
 
Doc stopped him. “He’s loco, Marshall. She won’t make it!”
 
Marshall Briggs turned and looked at the stairs Lakota had just hurried back up. “She’ll make it,” he said with a smile.  “She’ll make it!”
 
Chapter 8
 
Lakota poured himself another cup of coffee. He turned as the back door to the ranch house opened. Alex stepped inside. “How is she?”
 
“She’s still alive,” Lakota answered. “How’d things go in town?”
 
Alex smiled. “Well…they all think you’re loco.” He threw his hat on the table and took the cup of coffee Alex held out for him. “But, they’re all pulling for you. The ranch hands will report here in the morning to get started. The cattle will arrive at the end of the week. You’re not going to believe this.”
 
They sat down at the table. Lakota stared into his coffee cup. “What?” he asked with a deep sigh as he rubbed his tired eyes.
 
“Well…They brought Jenny’s body back into town and before I even got there, the story was out. The ladies are holding a prayer vigil around the clock at the church. They think Ann’s a very sweet woman, and they think you deserve a lady like her.” Alex took a sip of his coffee. “Some of the local ranchers are going to sell you some of their cattle to get you started. They said they’d buy them back at half the price if-“ Alex stopped.
 
Lakota jerked his head up. “If nothing!” Lakota declared. “She’s going to live!”
 
“I know. “ Alex smiled at him. “Somehow…I know.” He took another drink. “Before we get those animals, we need to do some repairs. The ranch hands will start on those tomorrow. Then the animals will arrive.”
 
Alex looked up as Dr. Thompson came into the kitchen. He had a strange look on his face. Both men stood up. “Doc?” Lakota asked.
 
“No change,” the doctor answered. “In fact…she’s weakened a bit.”
 
Lakota bolted up the stairs and hurried into the room. He took Ann’s hand in his. “Ann, I’m here, honey! Oh, I wish I had asked you to marry me last night. Honey, the animals will be here by the end of the week. Come next spring, we’ll plant you a vegetable garden and I’ll make sure there are plenty of flowers around the house.” He smoothed the hair from her head. “Ann…I…You made me feel alive again. Please stay with me, Ann. Ann…I…I love you.”
 
Lakota lifted her hand and laid it against her cheek. “Did you hear me, Ann? I love you and…and…I want to marry you!” Lakota sat in the darkness and stared at her for a long time. Then slowly, he lowered his head on the bed and fell asleep.
 
************************
 
A boy was running…laughing…across the field. In his hand, he held a bouquet of Black-eyed Susans and Easter lilly’s. “Mama, mama!” he called. She reached out her arms to him as he laughed. “Mama, look what I got!”
 
Suddenly, he was gone. She stretched her arms up toward the sky. “Come back!” She cried. “Come back!” But then she saw them together. Father and son were there. He held the little boy in his arms and smiled down at her. “Come!” She cried.
 
Ann wanted to go up there to them – her precious family who she had missed so terribly deeply. Her heart yearned for them. She stretched out her arms as a ladder suddenly appeared. It was a ladder that would take her up to her precious family.
 
“Ann! My darling Ann!” She had her foot on the second rung of the ladder when she heard someone calling from below. Ann lowered her head and saw Lakota standing there. His arms were outstretched. “Ann, I love you! I want to marry you!”
 
Ann looked up at her family and began crying. She wanted to go to them. She had the chance to go right now. But she heard Lakota begging her to stay. “I don’t know what to do!” Ann cried.
 
“I love you, mommy!” That voice! She hadn’t heard that voice in nearly 7 years! She had to go to him – her little boy! She’d made her choice.
 
Ann laughed as she started up the stairs. “Oh my precious boy!”
 
“Ann, I love you!” She turned and saw Lakota standing there with outstretched arms. “We’ll have a ranch! We’ll have cattle and horses…Pigs and chickens…lots of flowers around the house…
 
“Ann!” Ann looked up towards her husband. “My precious, sweet Ann…you can’t come now. You must stay!”
 
“No!” Ann cried. “I love you too!”
 
“Our time has passed, Ann. We’re happy in heaven. You must go to him, my darling. Go to him.”
 
Ann began crying. She turned and looked down at Lakota. “Mommy stay!” She looked up at her precious son. “Mommy, stay!”
 
“You deserve life, Ann! You’ve done well!” She smiled up at her family. “You deserve life! You hear me!”
 
Ann stretched her hand out to them. “I love him too!” She laughed. “Oh, I do love him!”
 
“Then you must go to him. Go to him…” She watched as her family disappeared. She stepped off the ladder. It too disappeared.
 
Ann turned. “I’ll stay with you, my darling! I’ll stay!”
 
Chapter 9
 
Lakota felt a hand brush against his cheek. He lifted his head to find Ann’s eyes open. She held no expression on her face, but a tear lay on her cheek. Lakota lifted up from the bed. He laid a hand against her cheek. “Oh, Ann…my precious Ann! You’ve come back.”
 
“I…I’ll…stay…” Ann whispered. “I’ll…stay…”
 
Lakota lifted her hand to his lips. “And you’ll marry me?”
 
Ann nodded. “Marry…you…”
 
“Wait until you see what’s outside!” Lakota declared. “You just wait until you see.”
 
“P-pigs…h-horses…ch…” Ann gasped for breath.
 
Lakota put a finger to her lips. “No, no, my sweet. Don’t talk. You rest.” Lakota stood up. “I’ll be back. You hear me? I’ll be back.”
 
Lakota watched as her eyes fluttered closed. He raced out of the room. “Anybody here?” he called. “Anybody?”
 
Doc Thompson hurried forward. “What is it?”
 
“She’s awake, Doc! She woke up!”
 
Doc hurried into the room. Lakota was right behind him. Doc put a hand to his chest. “No, now you stay here!”
 
Lakota paced the floor as he waited. It seemed like forever before that door opened! “Well?”
 
“It’s a miracle, plain and simple,” Doc Thompson declared. “There is no medical explanation for it.”
 
Lakota smiled. “She came back to me! She had the choice of going, yet she chose to stay!”
 
*****************
 
Ann opened her eyes and looked around. She had been drifting in and out of consciousness for a few days now, and it was getting easier to stay awake. She heard the door opening and smiled as Lakota came in with some broth. “Can you eat?”
 
She nodded. She groaned in pain as Lakota propped her up with pillows. “I’m sorry…” he said. “I would have taken the bullet for you if I could have.”
 
Ann opened her mouth so Lakota could feed her. The feeling was returning to her hands and legs, but she knew the progress would be slow. “Jenny…” Ann mumbled.
 
Lakota held the spoon in midair. “What?”
 
“Is…Is Jenny okay?”
 
Lakota sighed. “She’s dead. She started to shoot Marshall Briggs. He had no choice.”
 
Ann closed her eyes. “I’m sorry for that. Why? Why’d she come after me?”
 
“Well…” Lakota sat down the broth. He knew she needed answers to help her heal. “She felt guilt over killing her husband. She was filled with vengeance – as unhealthy as it was – and she struck out the only way she knew how.”
 
“Oh Lakota…her eyes…” Ann shook her head. “I’ll never get those eyes out of my mind.”
 
“Shhh….” Lakota put a finger to her lips. “We have something more important to discuss. Your wedding.”
 
“My wedding?” Ann fluffed her blankets up. “Am I getting married?”
 
“Well…” Lakota leaned forward and kissed her on the nose. “I hope so.”
 
“Who am I marrying?” But Ann couldn’t keep up the act. She smiled and put a hand on each of his cheeks. “Of course I’ll marry you!”
 
 
Three weeks after the incident, Ann pulled on the yellow dress Lakota had bought for her at the dress shop in town. She brushed her hair as she looked in the mirror, smiling at herself as she remembered Lakota telling her he loved her hair down.
 
There was a knock at the door. “All ready?”
 
Ann turned and smiled. “Lucas!” She held out her arms. Lucas hugged her. “I’m so glad you came!”
 
“I wasn’t sure I would,” Lucas answered honestly. “Your invitation came as quite a shock.”
 
“For me too,” Ann declared. “You know, Lakota mailed those out the day after I got…after the incident?”
 
Lucas smiled at her. “You look radiant in spite of it all!” Lucas looked toward the door. “Well…there’s a very lucky man downstairs waiting for you.”
 
“You’ve seen him?” Ann asked. Lucas nodded. “And…you approve?”
 
Lucas lowered his head to his and kissed her on the cheek. “Very much!”
 
“Is he too disappointed about not having a church wedding?”
 
“Disappointed?” Lucas chuckled. “I don’t think he cares! He’s just happy to be getting married! Ann, I’ve known him for two years now. He’s a wonderful man. Mark and I always have supper with him when we’re in Santa Fe. And now…” Lucas grinned. “I reckon you will join us!”
 
“Next time you’re in town, Lucas, I’ll make you my special goose!” Ann declared. She wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’m ready.”
 
Lucas picked her up in his arms and carried her downstairs to her waiting prince.
 
Conclusion
 
My Dearest Lucas and Mark,
 
I certainly hope this letter finds you well. It has now been two years since the wedding, and I’m happy to report that we now have two wonderful children who were born to us last night – a boy and a girl.
 
The father is happy but exhausted. He’s not able to do much law practice now, what with having to care for the twins and work out so much at the ranch. But we are so very happy.
 
Lucas, I will never forget the memories we shared, but as someone once told me, our time has ended. It’s time for a new life to begin, and it is a good one.
 
Lakota sends his love, as does little Joy and little Alex. I can’t wait until you return to Santa Fe so you can see these precious babies! Lakota said he’d be happy with half a dozen, but I think he’ll be happy with just these two as well.
 
God bless you and Mark. Please know that you two will always have a special place in my heart.
 
Warm regards,
 
Ann and Lakota Taylor
 
Lucas smiled as he folded up the letter. “Pa, I got all the wood chopped and stacked! Now can I go into town to play with the boys?” Mark asked as he bounded inside the house.
 
Lucas folded the letter as he smiled. “No, son.” He looked up at Mark. “We have a trip to make.”
 
“Oh? Where?”
 
Lucas nodded. “Santa Fe. I want to see some very special friends.”

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!

The Writer's Corner
Table of Contents



Site Map
around The McCain Ranch