The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Wedding
A Bring Back Milly Production
by Michelle Palmer

Chapter 1:  The Return

“Five minutes till North Fork!”  She heard the announcement.  Her heart beat faster as she realized she would be there in only five more minutes!  She wondered what the town looked like after a year of being gone.  Would anyone she knew be at the train to greet it?  Oh, she so hoped Mark and Lucas weren’t there!  She so wanted to surprise them.

She looked down at the letter she clutched in her hand.  “I love you.”  That’s what the words said from the last letter he’d written.  She drew the note to her bosom and leaned back in the seat as she stared at her reflection in the window.  She closed her eyes and smiled as she remembered the last night she had seen Lucas. They had shared one last kiss before he rode away.  And now she had returned.

The train pulled into the North Fork station.  As she got off the train, she asked that her luggage be sent to the Mallory House.  Then she slowly made her way into town.  She smiled as she looked down Main Street.  Most of it seemed the same.  There was a new sign above the hotel and General Store, but everything else looked just like she had left it

At seven in the morning, she didn’t figure there was too much activity yet.  As she walked down the main street of North Fork, she noticed doors opening as the businesses opened for the day.  Without hesitation, she walked into the hotel.  It certainly looked different, just like Lucas and Mark had told her.  She stopped as she looked at the red-headed beauty behind the counter.

So…this was the Irish beauty Lucas had told her about!  She smiled.  “May I help you?” The woman spoke in her deep Irish accent.  Her face was friendly and inviting.

“Yes.  I’d like a room, please, Miss Mallory.”  She smiled sweetly.

Lou had turned to get a key, but paused at the sound of her name.  She slowly turned around.  “Do I…know you?”

The newcomer smiled.  “No.  But I hope we’ll soon know each other.  I hope we’ll become good friends.”  She then looked towards the dining room as she remembered all the evenings she and Lucas had sat there together.  “Oh, I am hungry!  I need to freshen up then I’ll have breakfast.”  She smiled as Lou turned the book around for her to sign.  “I have a very important errand to run just after breakfast.  Could you see that I get a horse and buggy?”

Lou nodded.  “Are you from around here?”

Her smile widened.  “You might say that I’ve come home.  I hope I’m here to stay.”  She signed her name on the register.  “Oh, I’ll be riding out to the McCain Ranch.”

“Lucas McCain?” Lou stopped.  She narrowed her eyes at the woman in front of her, studying her intently.  Then she looked down at the ledger.  “Milly?  Milly Scott?” Recognition registered on Lou’s face.  “So, YOU are THE Milly Scott Lucas and Mark speak so highly of!

Milly’s heart soared at that.  She smiled with a nod.  “Yes.  I’ve come home.  I’ve come home, and this time I intend to stay.”

***
Lucas wiped his hands on the dishtowel.  He had a lot of work to get done today, and he was certainly glad the last of the breakfast dishes were clean.  It had been a wild morning in the McCain household that morning.  Mark had gotten to bed late the night before, and it took an announcement that he’d be going to bed early that night to get him up.  Then he argued with Lucas about his going to help out Nils for awhile after school.  Lucas had insisted on Mark’s coming home after school and concentrating on his own studies.

Lucas turned to wipe down the table.  “Oh no,” he groaned out loud.  He picked up Mark’s history paper.  Mark had worked on it diligently all week.  Lucas had to do a lot of the ranching on his own that week because Mark had once again waited until the last minute to do his paper.  This paper was worth a lot of his history grade.  After finally completing it late the night before, Mark had left it for his father to proofread and had to make several changes at breakfast that morning.  Lucas wasn’t the best proof-reader, but was able to pick out the obvious mistakes.

“That boy.”  He shook his head.  He suspected right about now his boy was stammering out an excuse to Mr. Griswald. Lucas smiled.  It’ll be good for him to squirm.  Maybe it’ll teach him a lesson.  Lucas looked down at the paper.  “But it has been a rough morning.”  He’d been riding Mark pretty hard the last couple of weeks.  Mark was putting up with his father’s foul mood pretty well, so he deserved a break.  Lucas decided he would run the paper into town before getting back to his ranching duties.

He didn’t know it at the time, but the cause for his foul mood was closer than he ever imagined.

Lucas heard a knock at the door.  He must have been really thinking intently not to have heard the rider approaching.  He looked down at the history paper and shook his head again then sat it down.  The visitor wasn’t too patient.  He, or she, didn’t wait long before knocking again, and this time the knock sounded louder.

“Yeah, yeah…I’m coming!” Lucas grumbled.  He reckoned the boy’s mood had put a damper on his own.  But who was he kidding?  He’d been this way for at least the last two weeks.

Lucas opened the door.  He looked up.  His face froze when he saw his visitor.  A loud gasp escaped his throat.  He just stared into the eyes of his visitor as his heart started racing.  The subject of his foul mood was standing in front of him.  She held a nervous smile on her face.  Her eyes held question in them.  “Milly!” His mouth gaped open as he allowed his eyes to travel from her head to her toe, and back up again.  “Milly.”  He said again.  Confusion slowly etched his face as she continued staring at him.  She too looked him up and down nervously.

“It’s been a long time, Lucas,” Milly said softly.  Her eyes held question.  When she saw the look of confusion on his face, her heart began beating even faster as she lost some of her smile.  She wondered if maybe she had misread his last letter.

Lucas slowly nodded as he began smiling.  “It’s been a…a year, Milly.” He tried to swallow the lump that was forming in his throat.

Milly nodded.  “Almost.”  Her voice was more than a question.  The suspense was killing her.  Was he happy?  Did he indeed love her?  He was smiling, but her heart wouldn’t know the answer until…

“Eleven months, 10 days and uh…” Lucas stared into her eyes.  “About 20 hours.”  Milly’s heart swelled.  He had been counting the hours.  He swallowed hard again.  His face held a mixture of emotions and questions.  His eyes again scanned her from her head to her toe, then again focused on her eyes.  “I…I didn’t get a letter saying you were coming.”

Milly slowly shook her head.  Had she done wrong to just come like she did?  “I didn’t write one.  I wanted to…surprise you.”  She lifted her eyebrows in question as she held her breath, waiting for his heart to answer her heart’s beating question.

Lucas shook his head in bewilderment.  His face still registered shock and surprise.  “Well…you sure did that!” He just stood in the doorway as his arm rested on the door jam.

Oh, how much longer would this go on?  How much longer would her heart have to race before he answered her silent question?
She swallowed as she decided to speak it out loud.  “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.”  But all it was seeming to get her was more questions.
Lucas’s face changed to confusion.  “The truth?” Lucas asked.
Was he waiting for her to say it first?  Is that what he was doing?  Was he as frightened about the truth of that four letter word as she was?
“About what you said in your last letter.”  She lifted her eyebrows in question.  Then she again looked Lucas up and down.  He hadn’t changed a bit.  She knew about the hard year he and Mark had and it showed around his eyes.  His mouth still held that firm smile.  The cut above his lip still made his face look rugged, and the bump on his forehead made her want to reach out and touch his face.  She squeezed her hand into a fist to restrain herself from doing just what she wanted to do.
Her eyes rested on his chest.  She couldn’t keep a smile of admiration from playing at the corners of her mouth.  His shirt was only half way buttoned up.  She could see part of his chest – the chest she had only had a glimpse of once or twice.  His sleeves were rolled up revealing the strength of his biceps.  She was satisfied with what she saw.  Her heart again swelled at the attraction she still felt for this rancher.

She allowed her eyes to travel back up to his face, only to realize he was taking this moment of silence to study her features.
Lucas knew she was studying him, and he decided to take the opportunity to do the same thing.  She was wearing her hair down today – not in the ponytail like she usually did.  Her black hair spread over her shoulders.  He loved her with her hair down, and she knew that.  She was wearing the red dress that he had loved so much.  Lucas wondered if she had worn it since the last time he saw her in it.

“My last letter?”  He slowly smiled as he realized the truth.  The three words he had said had put her on a train.  They were three words he should have said a long time ago. “The color red was made for you.” Lucas affirmed in a husky voice.
Milly glanced downward, suddenly blushing.  A man hadn’t made her blush in all the time she was gone.  She’d been here not five minutes and was already blushing.  “I stopped by the hotel to freshen up.  I wanted to look…”  She struggled to find the right word.  “…presentable.”

Lucas slowly lifted his eyebrows as a smile of gratification spread across his face.  “Oh…you could never look anything else to me, Mil.”  His voice lowered as he lifted a hand to her cheek and touched it lightly.  “You look…stunning!”  He suddenly felt overwhelmed by her presence. “Oh Mil, I can’t believe you are here!” He breathed.

“So…you are happy I’m here?” Milly asked, question still on her face.  Lucas nodded.  He was suddenly speechless.  “I…didn’t misread the last letter?”
 
“Misread?”  Lucas stroked her cheek with his thumb. “You mean ‘I love you?’”

He said them!  Her heart jumped.  She saw the answer in his eyes.  She smiled.  She thought knowing the answer would calm her heart, but knowing just made it beat faster.  She watched Lucas swallow again.  “Do…you?” He asked breathlessly as he searched her face.  His hand continued to stroke her cheek.
 
Milly lifted her hand and rested it on the hand on her cheek.  She slowly nodded.  Lucas’s eyes sparkled.  “Yes, Lucas.  I…” Milly swallowed.  Her voice was a whisper.  “I love you.”
 
Neither moved as they continued to stare at each other.  Neither wanted the moment to ever end, but it had to, were they to ever move forward.  Slowly, Milly moved her hand down his arm.  He dropped his hand and allowed her hand to slide into his.  Their eyes never moved from the other’s.

Finally, Milly broke the silence. “Lucas McCain, you are still a little rough around the edges.” Her voice gently teased.  Surprised by her words, Lucas raised an eyebrow.  “Are you going to leave me standing on the porch all day?”

Lucas allowed a slow, easy smile to cover his face.  His eyes widened as he shook his head.  “Oh no, Mil.  I’m going to do what I’ve wanted to do for eleven months!” He suddenly declared.

Milly watched his lips part, then he stepped forward and wrapped his arms around her.  Her heart soared higher than it had ever soared before as he lowered his face to hers and gave her a long, breathtaking kiss.  She welcomed his kiss and returned it with one of her own.  Their kiss deepened.  They enjoyed being back in each other’s arms.  Never had the two of them been more in love with each other then in this moment.  
 
The kiss lasted several moments.  After Lucas allowed his lips to part from hers, he kept his arms snuggly around her and smiled deeply into her eyes.

Milly sighed in content as she laid her head against his chest.  She could hear his heart racing and knew it was answering her own heart’s question.
 
That’s when she knew the truth.  She heard it in his voice, she saw it in his eyes, she felt it in his kiss.  And now, she heard it in his heart.
 
.  “My mother told me I left my heart in New Mexico, so I had to come back and find it,” she mumbled as his arms tightened around her.

Lucas laid a kiss on top of her head.  “It’s been right here.  I’ve kept it safe for you.  And Mil darling,” Lucas’s voice became husky once again as he lifted her chin so he could look intensely into her eyes.  “Thanks for bringing me my heart back.”
 
He lowered his face again to hers, and again he kissed her.  But this time the kiss wasn’t as passionate.  It was soft and gentle.  The first kiss had given their hearts the answer it needed.  This kiss was in response to the answer, and it left both of them tingling all over.

They stood there in the doorway for several minutes in silence, just holding each other.  Each enjoyed being in the other’s arms.  They each needed silence to adjust to their sudden revelations. A knock at the door had changed both of their lives forever.

Finally, they parted.  Milly looked up into her love’s handsome face.  Lucas’s eyes widened as he spoke.  “I didn’t hear from you in several weeks, Milly.  After I told you how I felt I was afraid…”  He couldn’t finish the thought.

“Oh Lucas!” Milly breathed.  She suddenly regretted her decision not to write.  She had put him in torment for several weeks.  Milly shook her head as she laid a hand on his cheek and pressed her forehead against his.  “No…no…Lucas, the letter left me so shaken.  The letters you’ve written over the year has made me realize just how much I loved you.  But you never said those words.  I waited and waited… But then Lou…” Milly stopped.

Lucas’s eyes again widened.  He had wanted to be honest with her as she was with him.  “Oh, no! No, Mil…I must admit that we did spend time together, but it was because I was so lonely for you!”  Lucas gently kissed her lips again.  “I was so lonely all this time…I…Milly, honey, I’m a man.  These things aren’t easy to say.  I…”  Milly suddenly placed a finger to her lips and shook her head.

“It doesn’t matter anymore, Lucas.  I know the truth now!” She smiled as she took her finger away.

Lucas smiled as he took her hand and slowly led her inside.  He pulled out a chair and sat her down at the table, leaving the door open for modesty.  He couldn’t trust himself to be alone with her behind closed door at the moment.  He slowly lowered himself to a chair beside her, never taking his eyes from hers.  ”I…” Lucas swallowed.  “I…Oh…” He lifted a hand and softly brushed her hair back.  “I missed you so much, Mil.  I didn’t realize how much until now.”

Milly lifted a hand and reached up to touch his face.  She rubbed the scar on his cheek.  Then she touched the bump on his head.  She loved his rugged looks.  That’s one thing that always attracted her to him.  “I missed you so much, Lucas.  I told my mother all about you.  She said you…sounded lovely.”

Lucas’s hand paused on her hair.  Slowly, he gave her a teasing smile as he lifted an eyebrow.  “Then you didn’t paint a true picture of me,” he teased.

Milly had to take her eyes from his face were she to remember her proper manners as a lady.  She looked down at the table.  Her eyes focused on Mark’s history paper sitting there.  Picking it up, she asked, “Is this Mark’s?” She once again looked into his eyes.

Lucas raised his eyebrows as he continued staring at her beauty.  “Mark?”

Milly smiled.  “That blond-headed son of yours that occasionally hangs around the ranch and is used for hard labor?” Her eyes crinkled up as she giggled.

“Oh…Mark! But he’s not blond anymore.  His hair has darkened since you left.”  Lucas looked down at the paper.  “I was about to take this to him.  We had sort of a bad morning and he forgot it in all the rush.”  Lucas looked up and put a hand against her cheek.  “I…I’m afraid that our mood may be on account of receiving no recent letters, Mil.”

“I’ll make it up to you somehow, Lucas,” Milly assured him.  She scanned through the paper.  Lifting her head, she raised an eyebrow.  “Did you proofread this for him?”  Lucas nodded.  “Well, there are at least three commas missing, and five that shouldn’t be there.  Should I mention the grammatical error I see?”

Lucas chuckled.  “Oh, that’s right!  You’re a school teacher!”

“I WAS a school teacher, Lucas.”  She shook her head.  “I just can’t stand the thought of Mark handing in a paper like this!”

“Did you correct his letters too?” Lucas teased as he snatched the paper from her hand.

“No, but I did cringe every now and then.”  She laughed.  “I can’t help it, Lucas!  It’s in my nature!”

Lucas nodded.  “Well, you can’t do anything with this paper, Milly.  But from now on, you will proofread Mark’s papers.”  Lucas stood.  “But I have to get this to him.  I wouldn’t normally, but I do feel his forgetting the paper was partly my fault.”  He paused as he bent down and kissed her again.  “But I think I’m a lot better now.”

 She stood.  “Well, while you are running your errand, how about if I give this house a woman’s touch?  Then I’ll fix fried chicken for supper tonight and…” Milly started talking excitedly.  She loved taking care of her two favorite men!  “And I’ll have lunch ready for you at 12 o'clock sharp, so don’t you be late, Lucas McCain!”

“Yes ma’am!”  Lucas shook his head.  How had his life completely changed in such a short time?  When he got up that morning, he had no idea he’d be kissing on a beautiful woman who would suddenly want to take over his kitchen!  “But I want you all to myself tonight, Mil.” Lucas raised his eyebrows as he watched her begin feeling pans with water to heat.  He knew his house would be sparkling that evening!  “I thought we’d go to the restaurant then take a walk in the moonlight and…” Milly turned and put a finger to his lips.  Lucas smiled as he took her finger and kissed it.  “Of course, I guess there’s always plenty of time for us…Our whole life if I have my way.”  Milly smiled.  She loved the sound of that!  “We should be together tonight as a…” Lucas stopped.  He started to say family, but they weren’t family…at least not yet.

Milly raised her eyebrows.  Lucas looked away, not ready to share his thoughts with her.  After all, she’d only arrived back into his life mere minutes ago.  But then he smiled to himself, because he knew the truth.  She never left his life.  They’d been courting through letters of love for over a year.  He rolled his eyes.  He had to get out of here!  He wasn’t thinking like a rancher, or even like a Rifleman!  He was thinking like a love-sick boy!

He lifted the paper.  “Well, I do want you close to us today, honey.  So you just stay here and uh…give this place a woman’s touch.”  Lucas paused.  “I wish I could be here with you, but I have a lot of chores to do.”  He groaned as he put a hand to her cheek and again kissed her softly.  “I won’t say anything to Mark…if you don’t want me to.”  He raised his eyebrows in question.

Milly smiled.  “I’d appreciate that.  I want to see the look on his face when he sees me.”  She giggled.  “But I doubt anybody could top yours!”

“Oh, but Mark’s going to wonder what’s up when he sees my smile.  I may be able to keep my mouth shut, but there’s no way I’ll stop smiling today!”  Lucas picked up his hat and put it on.  Then he picked up his rifle.  He turned back to Milly.  She gasped, put a hand to her mouth, and stared at him.  “What?” Lucas asked, suddenly concerned at her reaction.

“You…with your hat and rifle…it’s…it’s just as I remembered you!  It’s the picture I’ve carried in my heart all this time!” Milly declared.  Lucas smiled proudly as he walked toward her.  He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face up.  Then he pressed another gentle kiss on her lips.  They smiled again as they looked into each other’s eyes.  “I love you, Milly.  You know that now that you’re here, I’m never letting you go!”

“Never?” Milly breathed.

“NEVER!” Lucas exclaimed.  “And I can’t kiss you anymore or I’ll never get my work done!”  He walked away from her.  Pausing at the door, he turned back to her.  “I’ll turn the horse out, Milly.  Then I’m afraid when I get back I’ve got a lot of work to do.  I promise to be here at 12 o’clock sharp for my lunch.”  He smiled.  It was nice to have someone take care of him.

“You do that!  I know I have to share you with the cattle!”  Milly pressed her lips in a mock pout, but her laughing eyes gave herself away.

He turned away, forcing his eyes off of her.  “But then you’ll have to get used to that if you’re going to be the wife of a rancher.”  He spoke these words quickly then hurried out as he closed the door.

Milly’s hands froze on the dishtowel she had picked up as the door closed.  Her eyes grew wide as those last words registered in her clouded brain.  She turned and stared at the door.  “The wife of a…” she whispered as her heart started beating fast again.  Milly turned back to the table and shook her head in amazement.  “Well…Lucas McCain!” She declared as she reached in her handbag for a hair clip to put her hair up with.  “You ARE rough around the edges!”

***

Lucas rode to the school.  He couldn’t keep the smile off his face.  He could tell Mark was wondering why he was so happy, but he just nodded as he passed on his way out the door.  “Son,” he nodded.  Then he got back on his horse and rode for home.

His heart began beating faster as he neared his ranch.  He couldn’t keep the smile off his face, knowing there was a beautiful woman he loved home at the ranch.  He suddenly began worrying that perhaps he had been dreaming this whole time – maybe she wasn’t really there.  He saw the buggy still in the yard, but still – he had to see her to know for sure.

Lucas opened the door.  “Don’t you dare step foot in this house!” He heard her voice, but he didn’t see her.

“Milly?” Lucas poked his head inside and looked around.  “Where are you?”

“I’m in the kitchen,” she answered.  That’s when he saw her on the floor with a scrub brush in her hand working diligently on the floor.  She no longer wore a dress, but was in a shirt and jeans, which she had obviously brought with her.  He figured she brought them just in case.

“What are you doing?” he asked from his place in the doorway.

“Scrubbing this…” Milly gasped.  “filthy…floor!” She declared as she scrubbed.  She brushed hair out of her face as she turned and looked up at him.

“We…have a mop,” Lucas grinned, very much enjoying the view from the doorway.

“I know that!” Milly answered shortly.  “No mop will clean as well as a brush and some elbow grease!”

“Oh.”  Lucas leaned against the door.  “You know, Milly, you don’t have to clean.”  He smiled at her.  “I’m already in love with you.”

“I want to.”  Milly sat up and pointed at him.  “Now, you just go do your work!”

“Could I…just borrow you for a minute?” Lucas smiled.  “On the way back here, I got to thinking that maybe you were just a dream.”

“You can see me from here,” Milly answered sternly, but she couldn’t keep the smile off her face.  She couldn’t get over it.  Just a few hours ago she was on a train with no idea on what she would find when she arrived at the ranch.  Now, she was scrubbing the floor of the man she loved.

“I know.  But…” He took a step forward.  “You could be just a figment of my imagination.”

“Oh.”  Milly stood up.  “Well…when you come in for lunch and taste the stew I have cooking, you’ll know I’m not just your imagination.”  She smiled mischievously at him.  “Now, go get to work!”

Lucas smiled.  He loved this woman – even when she was bossy!  “Yes ma’am.

All morning, Lucas tried to concentrate on his work.  He checked the cattle and even worked on repairs in the barn.  He was having trouble concentrating, and every once in a while had to turn and look back toward the house.  He came out of the barn as Milly carried out the rug to hang on the line.  He hurried over to her and picked it up.  “You shouldn’t be doing this!”  He threw it over the line.  “My, for a city girl you sure are strong!  We just might make a rancher out of you yet!”

“Thanks, Lucas.”  For some reason, she felt she had just received the highest of compliments.  She rewarded him with a smile then went to get the broom so she could beat the rug.

Lucas reached out and grabbed her arm.  She turned back to him.  “Don’t I get a reward for being a gentleman?”

“Yes.”  Milly nodded.  “I’ll bake an apple pie for supper!”  He groaned as he watched her hurry back into the house.  She was the only woman he knew who could still look beautiful in pants!

Lucas was working in the barn fixing one of the stalls when he heard Milly’s voice.  “Lucas!”  Lucas turned toward her calling as he let the hammer come down, hitting his thumb.  “Ouch!” He threw down the hammer and walked out of the barn.  Milly stood in the doorway of the house with a big smile on her face.  If he didn’t know better, he’d  say she was enjoying being here as much as he was enjoying having her here. “Lunch is on the table!”  She must have been done with the hard work, because she had changed back into her dress.

Lucas sucked on his smarting thumb as he walked into the house.  But as he started to step inside, Milly turned and pointed at him.  “Take your boots off!” She ordered sternly.

“Huh?” Lucas asked in surprise.

“Take your boots off!”  Lucas continued staring at her.  Milly put her hands on her hips.  “I don’t want dirt and manure on my clean floor.”  Lucas groaned and complained as he took his boots off at the door, but he couldn’t help smiling.  It sure was nice to have Milly home!  “And don’t forget to wash up!”

“Yes ma’am,” he answered with a grin.

Milly brought the bread to the table and sat down.  She reached out to take his hand so Lucas could bless the food, but suddenly gasped when saw his thumb.  “Lucas!  What happened?” She asked as she took it in her hand and studied it.

“Well,” Lucas grinned at the concern in her voice.  “I was working in the barn when some beautiful voice called out my name and distracted me.  I hit it with the hammer.”

“Oh…” Milly gently pushed on it. “Does it hurt?”  Lucas nodded.  “I hope you don’t lose the nail.  She put the thumb to her lips and kissed it.

“Well now,” Lucas said with a grin.  “If I’m going to get this kind of treatment, I reckon I’ll smash my thumb more often!”

“You’d smash your thumb just to get it kissed?” Milly asked with a grin?  “You think that’s really worth it?”

“No, but this is!” Lucas leaned over and kissed her on the lips.  He grinned.  Then he sobered as he looked in her eyes.  “I still can’t believe you’re here!”  He took her hand and bowed his head.  “Dear Lord, I think you for bringing Milly back to me.  You know how much I’ve prayed for a second chance.  Now that I have it, I plan on doing things right this time.  Thank you, Lord.  Amen.”

“You forgot to bless the food,” she whispered, her head still bowed.

“Oh!” Lucas bowed his head again.  “Bless this food and the hands that prepared it.  Amen.”  Lucas lifted his head.  Milly shook her head at him.  “Sorry.”

“What did you ever do without me?” Milly asked softly.  Lucas chuckled.

That afternoon, Lucas left Milly with a kiss.  She insisted she still had some cleaning to do, and he had ranching to do.  He smiled as he mounted Razor and rode out onto the range.  As he worked on checking the cattle, he began thinking about Milly and her being at the house.  He thought about how nice it would be to have it this way every day.  He could leave her with a kiss every morning, come home at lunch, then come home every night with a kiss.  Lucas realized he would like it.  He’d like it a lot.

Lucas returned to the ranch around three.  He tied Razor to the hitching post then hurried inside.  “Honey, I forgot all about us having fried ch…” Lucas stopped when he saw Milly cleaning a chicken.  He folded his arms as he leaned against the door jam.  “I hesitate to ask this…but where did that chicken come from?”

“In the yard,” Milly answered without stopping her work.  When she realized Lucas’s mouth was gaping open and his eyes were about to pop, she stopped her task and turned.  “Why?  Did I just kill the family pet?”

Lucas walked into the kitchen.  He didn’t even think to take off his boots.  “YOU killed the chicken?”  Milly nodded as she kept cleaning.  “Where…”

“Lucas, I’ve done it before!” Milly declared.  “After all, you were talking about me being a rancher’s wife someday.  Killing chickens is part of it, right?”

“Well, actually…” Lucas folded his arms.  “I’m the chicken killer in the family.  Even Mark can’t bring himself to do that!”

Milly smiled.  Then she looked down at his boots.  The smile on her face disappeared as she realized he had left a nice trail of dirt all the way from the door to the kitchen.  “LUCAS!”  She pointed.

***
Mark shook the dust from the rag.  He hurried back inside the school.  “I got all the benches cleaned and the floor swept.  Does that square us?” He asked Mr. Griswald.

Mr. Griswald nodded.  “That squares us, young man.”  He whipped his glasses off and stood up.  “The next time you forget your homework at home, you will receive a failing grade for the assignment.  The only reason your father brought it in is because it was worth a large part of your grade.”

“Yes sir.”

“Alright.”  Mr. Griswald said as he snapped his watch closed.  “You are dismissed.”

As punishment, Mark had been forced to stay the whole day in school, then clean after school.  He had watched his Pa walk in mid-morning with his history paper.  He didn’t even stop at Mark’s desk, but made his way up front to Mr. Griswald and handed him the paper.  Then the two men spoke quietly for a few moments.  Then his Pa, who had a very cheerful look on his face, had winked at him, then walked out the door.  Mark thought the punishment was quite cruel under the circumstances.  He hurried out of the school and mounted Blue Boy.  Then he raced off toward home.

His stomach was growling!  Though school had let out at three, he had been forced to stay long after the other kids had gone home.  By the time he got home, he hoped his father would have a fine dinner fixed for him.  Tonight, he was so hungry that he could eat a horse.  He looked down at Blue Boy and patted him.  “No offense, friend,” he muttered.

He slowed down as he saw a buggy sitting out in the yard.  There wasn’t a horse attached to it which meant the visitor was planning on staying, or had been staying there for quite awhile.

Mark tied Blue Boy up to the hitching post.  The front door opened just enough for Lucas to exit it.  Then he closed it behind him.  He had a strange look on his face as if he had just found out he was a million dollars richer. Mark thought he was acting very suspicious.  For some reason, he didn’t want Mark in the house. “Uh…s-son, why don’t you go bed down your horse?”

“Already?” Mark asked.  “Pa, it’s barely five o’clock!”

Lucas lifted his eyebrows and crossed his arms.  “Mark, I’m very well aware of what time it is.”  He nudged his head toward the barn.  “Go bed down Blue Boy.”

“Supper ready?” Mark asked as he sniffed the air.  “It smells like fried chicken.  Who’s doing the cooking?”

Lucas sighed.  “It will be ready very soon, son.  Go on now.” Mark raised his eyebrows and studied his father closely.  He was smart enough to know that something was going on, but he wasn’t sure what.  He slowly turned and untied Blue Boy, then obediently headed toward the barn.

Mark patted Blue Boy as he poured the oats in his trough.  “There you go, boy.”

“Well, your father was right.  You have grown,” a familiar voice suddenly spoke from behind him.

Mark’s hand froze in mid-stride as he patted Blue Boy. He slowly turned around.  His eyes grew big when he saw Milly standing in front of him with her arms crossed and a big smile on her face.  “Milly?”  he questioned, still not believing what he was seeing.  He stared for another moment as he allowed the image to sink in.  “Milly!”  Suddenly, he bolted forward.  He threw his arms around her and gave her a giant of a hug.  Then he kissed her cheek.  “Oh Milly!” he started crying.  “You’ve come home!”

Milly pushed herself away from him so she could look into his face.  She wiped the tears from his cheeks and laid her hands on them.  Tears laid on her own cheeks as the two rejoiced in the reunion.  “Are you happy to see me?” Her voice was broken as she cried tears of joy to finally have her boy in her arms.

“Happy?”  Mark swallowed hard.  “I…I don’t think happy comes near to describing what I feel.  I’m more in shock at the moment!”  Mark lifted his eyes to see his Pa standing in the doorway.  Lucas smiled as he watched the sweet reunion between his son and Milly.  Mark turned back to her. “How long have you been here?”

“She arrived about thirty minutes after you left for school, son,” Lucas answered.

“Oh.”  Mark took her hands and lifted them up as they continued to stare at each other. “Then you’ve been here all day?” Milly nodded.  Tears sparkled in her eyes.  “So my being kept after school was…to stall me…to give Milly more time to prepare for my return.” Mark was beginning to understand.

“Partly,” Lucas answered as he pushed himself off the wall and walked into the barn.  He put a hand on Mark’s shoulder and an arm around Milly.  “And partly to punish you for forgetting your paper.”

“Oh Lucas, he’s just a boy!” Milly smiled as she put a hand on Mark’s cheek.

“I’m fifteen!” Mark reminded her.

Milly stared at him.  “Well, my…” She folded her arms.  “My boy is growing up!”

“Not too grown up to eat your apple pie, Milly!” Mark exclaimed hopefully.

Milly giggled as Lucas kept his arm around her shoulders and they walked toward the house together.  “Yes…I hear good apple pie is hard to come by around here.”

“Pa! You told her?” Mark declared.  “Well Miss Milly, now that you’re here, maybe you can find some way to…” Mark stopped when he saw the warning on his father’s face.

“Mark!” Lucas warned.

Milly laughed as they walked inside.  It was so wonderful to be home.  She enjoyed the banter between father and son and was certainly happy to be back in the middle of it.

As he entered the house, Mark stopped and looked around.  The lace curtains in the window had been gently cleaned and freshened.  The whole house smelled clean! Everything was shining and sparkling.  He’d never seen the floor cleaner.  Even the rug was clean.  There was a tablecloth on the table with candles lit.  A platter full of fried chicken sat in the middle of the table, along with mashed potatoes, green beans, fresh bread, and apple pie!

“Golly gee!” Mark exclaimed.  “Milly, you did everything but the laundry!”

“Mark McCain!” Lucas and Milly both said at the same time.  Mark held his hands up in mock surrender.  “You are doing laundry tomorrow, my boy!”

“Oh.  Can’t Milly come back tomorrow?” Mark whined.

“Wash your hands!” Milly ordered, but she laughed as she looked at Lucas.

As Mark sat down, he watched his father pull out Milly’s chair and helped her sit down at the table.  Then Lucas held out his hands.  Mark watched Milly smile softly as she placed her hand in his.  Then Mark took her other hand and bowed his head.  Lucas’s voice broke as he thanked God for bringing Milly back to them.  Everything was quiet after Lucas said Amen.  Mark cleared his throat to break the silence as Lucas filled his plate.  “So, are you…back for good?”  He couldn’t stop himself from asking.  He hadn’t realized how much he wanted her to become part of their family until tonight.

Milly opened her mouth to answer, but Lucas sharply shot a warning out to him.  Milly held up her hand to hush Lucas.  “Mark, I hope I’m back forever.”  She turned and looked at Lucas.  Mark watched the two exchange a smile.  His heart beat faster as he realized just how much in love they were with each other.  Milly lowered her eyes.  “Oh, I hate leaving Mother back East by herself, Lucas.  That’s partly the reason I hesitated in coming back.” Milly blushed as she looked toward Mark.  “I missed you both so much and Mother could tell.  After the last letter, she told me that she would be happier if I came back here then if I stayed because of her.  She has friends to care for her…I just miss her so much. We have other family in Denver, and Mother may travel there eventually…She doesn’t want to leave the house.”

Lucas laid a hand on top of hers. “Well, you’ll go back to visit her.”  Mark turned and looked at Lucas.  There was no question in his voice.  He was telling Milly she’d go back to visit.  “I’ll see to it.”

“What will you do?” Mark asked then.  “I mean…where will you stay?”

He didn’t miss the look on his father’s face.  His father was as much interested in the answer as he was.

“Well…” Milly swallowed her food as she smiled sweetly at Mark.  “I may see about working at the General Store…or maybe in the hotel.  I haven’t really thought about it yet.”  She blushed.  The only thing she had thought about was coming home.

Lucas cleared his throat.  He sat back in his seat and watched his son and Milly.  It did his heart proud to see them all back together again.  He smiled.  “Mark, you’ll never guess who prepared the chicken.”

“Milly, of course,” Mark answered matter-of-factly.

“No…I mean who did the preparations…before she cooked it.”  Lucas raised his eyebrow.  “As in…” Lucas drew a finger across his neck to show his meaning.

“Lucas!” Milly rolled her eyes at him.

“Milly?”  Mark leaned forward and stared at Milly.  “YOU killed the chicken?”  Milly nodded.  “With an axe?”

“Oh Mark!” Milly rolled her eyes again.

Mark cocked his head to one side.  He got a funny look on his face as he looked down at the chicken on his plate.  “Uh…you got this chicken out of the chicken coop, right?”

Milly sat down her coffee cup as she studied Mark.  “Well…as a matter of fact, Mark…I started to go to the coop, but I found one who had escaped.”

Mark’s eyes grew wide as he suddenly stood from the table.  “No!”

“What?” Milly slowly stood, suddenly alarmed.  “What’s wrong?”

“Mark, how many times have I told you to leave Bernice in the roost?  This wouldn’t have happened if you had done what I told you to!” Lucas groaned.

Mark stared from Milly to Lucas.  He stood and dashed toward the barn.  Lucas and a very confused Milly followed behind.  “Bernice!” Mark called.  He opened the door to the barn.  “Bernice!”

“Lucas, what’s going on?” Milly asked as they stood on the porch.

“Mark took it upon himself to raise Bernice since she was born.  Her mother was…accidently killed, and Bernice was just a newly hatched chick.  The rest of the eggs were stolen by a varmint.  Mark nursed that chick since he was ten years old.  I know it’s silly, but…I never thought about it while ago when you asked if you killed the family pet.”

Milly threw a hand to her mouth.  Her eyes filled up with tears.  “Oh Lucas! What have I done???”  She sounded horrified.

“He keeps her in a special roost next to the barn.  She’s supposed to be pinned in, but he forgets to latch it sometimes.  He lets her out to get ‘exercise’, and he probably forgot to lock her back up.”

“Why didn’t I ever know about this?” Milly asked.  “All the times I was here…”

Lucas put an arm around her shoulders.  “It’s okay, honey…It’s okay!” He tried to soothe her while keeping a straight face.  “Mark was a bit…embarrassed that he had a chicken for a pet.  I suppose it is sort of peculiar, but it meant a lot to him and I guess he just became attached.  We expected Bernice to die from old age…not by an axe.”  This time Lucas did grin.

“It’s not funny, Lucas!” Milly chastised him.  Then she stepped off the porch and hurried toward the barn.  “Mark?  Mark!”

Mark ran out of the barn. “She’s not there, Pa!  Bernice’s not there!” Mark declared in a panicked voice.

Lucas rolled his eyes as he stepped forward.  Milly was crying from guilt while Mark was about to start crying from grief.  Lucas put a hand to his head.  “Did you look in the roost?”  Mark nodded.  “Well did you look in the shed?”

“The shed!” Mark and Milly both dashed toward the shed.  Mark opened the door.  “Bernice!” Mark cried as he picked the chicken up.  “Oh, Bernice!”

Milly threw her hands to her mouth and blinked back tears.  “Oh, thank God!”

Lucas stood back and watched the two hug.  He looked heavenward.  “A chicken…” he mumbled.  “So much ado over a chicken!”

Eventually, the three went back inside and sat back down.  They spent the remainder of the meal talking about the past.  Milly served desert and they talked some more.  Finally, Milly stood and started gathering up the dishes.  Lucas reached out and grabbed her hands.  “Mark will do this, Milly.”

Milly gasped.  “Oh, but Lucas, I…” Suddenly, their eyes locked.  Lucas’s eyes silently pleaded with hers.  He wanted to be alone with her.  Milly smiled as she nodded slightly and turned away from the table.  She was sort of happy to have Mark to do the dishes.  She suddenly longed to be alone with this rugged rancher.

“Goodnight, son.  When you are done with the dishes, you get to bed.  You owe me a half hour from this morning.” Milly smiled at Mark, but said nothing.  She was suddenly overcome with emotion.

“Yes sir.”  Lucas didn’t miss Mark’s grin as he picked up his hat and walked out the door.

Lucas took Milly’s hand in his as they started walking down a familiar path behind the house.  The full moon shone down on the couple.  A pleasant, serene silence stayed among them as they walked, just enjoying being together again.  They found themselves in a clearing and Lucas sat down under a tree.  Milly sat down next to him and Lucas put his arm around her and drew her to him.  She laid her head on his shoulder.  Neither spoke as they sat silently, just enjoying being together.  Finally, Lucas let out a long sigh. “I’ve got to get you back to town,” he said regrettably.

“Yes.  I know.”  She wasn’t too keen on the moment ending either.  Milly lifted her head from his shoulder and looked into his eyes.  “Lucas, I’m so sorry for…” she started.

Lucas shook his head.  Then he kissed her softly.  “I’m not,” he said as he placed a hand on her cheek and gently stroked it with his finger.  “You see…I wasn’t ready for marriage then.  I couldn’t give you my heart.”

“What’s happened since then?” Milly asked as her heart raced.

“I’ve had to live without you.”  Lucas sighed as he leaned his head back against the tree.  “All these months I’ve had you on my mind, Mil.  Every time I got a letter, I…” Lucas closed his eyes and sighed again.  “I told you before that I was spending time with Lou because she made me feel less lonely; but she understood from the beginning how I felt about you.  In the end, though, I realized she was beginning to uh…like me too much.  I had to cut it off because I knew that if you walked into North Fork one day, I’d take you in my arms and never let you go.” He turned and stared into his eyes as he spoke huskily.

Milly’s heart raced as she stared back hopefully.  “Is that what you intend to do?”

“It’s tempting.”  Lucas kissed her once more then stood up.  “But we have to get you back to town.  I want to keep everything proper.”  He took her hand in his, intertwining his fingers with hers as they started back toward the ranch.  As they walked back into the yard, Milly stopped and looked around.  “Kansas City isn’t like this, Lucas.  Out here it’s so peaceful!  I can stand out here and look up at the stars.”  She turned and looked at Lucas again.  “Oh Lucas, you just don’t know…You don’t know how much I missed this…all of it!  I wanted to clean and cook supper for you.  I wanted to take care of you.  I want to watch you and Mark talk.  It’s so…I can’t explain it except to say that…if feels like…” Milly smiled at she batted her eyes.  “Home.”

“I know what you mean,” Lucas nodded.

Milly turned from him.  She suddenly felt in conflict with herself.  “Is it wrong, Lucas?”  Her eyes flashed as she thought on it.  Lucas put a hand on her shoulder.  “I mean…Kansas City is my home!  I grew up there!  My brother left and never returned.  My father died there and my mother…”

“Milly.”  Lucas lifted her chin to look at him.  “Excuse the cliché, but ‘Home is where the heart is.’”

Milly nodded.  “Then I am home, Lucas!  I am home!”

“Good!”  Lucas touched her nose as he winked at her.  “Why don’t you go sit on the porch while I hitch up your buggy.”

 Milly sat on the porch enjoying the peacefulness as she watched Lucas hitch up her buggy.  He tied his horse to the back then walked over to her.  She jumped up, realizing that he intended on taking her back to town himself.  “You don’t have to take me back, Lucas.  I can find my way.”

“I AM taking you back to town,” Lucas declared sternly.  “You’re not going to argue about it!”  Milly smiled as she allowed Lucas to help her into the buggy.  Then he called to the horse and they started on their way.

Again, they just enjoyed being together.  Lucas could tell Milly was growing tired.  It had been a long day for her and he regretted keeping her out so late.  Milly began yawning half-way back into town.  Lucas smiled softly as he put an arm around her shoulders and allowed her head to gently plop down on his shoulder.  He kissed the top of her head as she fell asleep.  He smiled, feeling very content at the moment.  He never wanted this to end.

But as he pulled the buggy up to the hotel, he saw Micah sitting outside his office.  Micah sat up as he watched the buggy ride into town.  He saw Lucas driving it, which immediately stirred up his curiosity.  But then his eyes grew wide when he saw the sleeping figure of a woman with him.  Now he was really curious!  He watched as Lucas gently nudged the woman awake.  Then he helped her from the buggy.  Micah gasped when she stepped down.  At first, he thought his eyes were deceiving him, but as she turned into the light, he knew it was her.

“Milly?” Micah quickly stood and hurried across the street.  “Milly Scott!”  He laughed happily as he rushed up to her.  Milly smiled tiredly at Micah as she allowed him to hug her.  Having just awakened from a pleasant sleep, she couldn’t put thoughts into words.  “What are you doing here?  Lucas didn’t even tell me you were-“

Protectively, Lucas held up a hand to cut him off.  “Micah, let’s save the conversation for morning.  I want to get her inside so she can go to bed.”  Micah clamped his mouth shut but continued grinning at his friend.  Milly’s head was still nodding.  Lucas kept an arm firmly around her as he turned her toward the hotel.

“Lucas Boy, we need to talk,” Micah declared with a boyish grin.

Suddenly, the door to the hotel opened. Lou hurried out with an angry scowl on her face.  She stopped and put a hand to her chest when she saw Lucas with his arm around Milly.  But she quickly regained her composure when she realized Milly was practically asleep.  She hurried forward.  “Lucas McCain, I oughta take a stick to you, keeping this poor lady out so late!”  Lou reached out to Milly and put her arm around her shoulders.  “I was about to send Micah out looking for her!”

“Am I…the only one who didn’t know Milly was back?” Micah suddenly asked.

“Ye just never mind, Micah!  And ye tell your friend, here, how to properly treat a lady!  She was on the train for three days traveling and ye jest keep her out half the night?  I’ve a good mind to…” Lou stopped.

“Oh, I don’t know, Lou…” Micah grinned at Lucas.  “Seems that Lucas handled himself pretty well.”

“Oh…” Lou pressed her lips together in a stubborn line.  “Men!”  She turned and hurried Milly inside before anything else was said.

“Well, she didn’t even let you give Milly a good night kiss!” Micah declared with a shake of his head.  Lucas turned and glared at his friend.  Micah laughed and slapped his friend on the back.  “Lucas Boy…I think you need a beer!”

Lucas and Micah settled down at the bar.  “Two beers, Sweeney!” Micah called.  Micah studied Lucas silently as they waited for the beers.  He watched as Lucas picked up the mug and took a sip.  He could tell, though, that Lucas’s mind was on a raven-haired beauty at the hotel.  “When did she arrive?”

“Showed up at my ranch around 8:30 this morning,” Lucas answered absent-mindedly.

“Hm,” Micah’s grin widened as he turned toward Lucas.  “Well…she must have come in on the 7:00 train.”  Micah shook his head.  “She sure didn’t waste any time. I guess I don’t need to ask the reason she returned.”  Lucas stayed silent as he took another sip.  Micah turned serious.  “May I ask…what you think about all this?”

Lucas sat his beer mug down as he looked up and turned to his friend.  “What do I think?”  Lucas swallowed nervously.  “I’m in love with her, Micah.”

“Oh…” Micah took a long drink from his mug.  He studied the contents inside the mug for a few moments.  “I’ve left you alone on the subject since she left because I knew how much it hurt you to watch her leave.  I also knew you loved her.”  Lucas looked up, surprised.  “I saw you with Lou.”  He turned and looked at Lucas again.  “You didn’t fool me for a second, Lucas Boy.  I knew there was really nothing between the two of you.”  Micah looked back down in his mug.  “What about…Margaret?”

Both Lucas and Micah knew that it had taken many, many years for Lucas to accept she was gone.  In fact, it wasn’t until Milly arrived that Lucas had dared to take off his wedding band.

“Margaret…” Lucas set his beer mug down.  “Micah, I still love her, because she saw the real me underneath everything I’d been through.  She loved me in spite of my faults.  I will always love her because she gave me Mark.  Margaret will always own part of my heart, Micah.  I can’t change that.  But, Milly...”

“Yes?” Micah enjoyed bringing out this side of Lucas.

Lucas turned and stared at Micah.  He stood up as he finished off his beer.  He had thought it several times.  Not just today, but also in the past.  For the first time, he was admitting it out loud.  “I want to marry that woman, Micah.”

Micah grinned.  “Well then…I think you should.”

“I will.”  Lucas thought on it.  “You don’t think it’s too soon?”

“You two have been in love with each other for three years now, Lucas.”  Lucas stared questionably at his friend.  Micah grinned.  “It’s the job of a best friend to know these things.  I never told you because I knew this was something you two would have to figure out on your own.”

 “I will marry her, my golly!” Lucas declared as his heart swelled.  Lucas patted Micah on the shoulder.  “But first, I need to go home and ask someone for permission.”

Lucas hurried to his horse.  Tomorrow he and Mark would have a serious talk.  Then he planned to make Mildred Josephine Scott his wife!

The Wedding — The Proposal

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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