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Character of a Coward,
Written by Morgan
Mark read the note for the
“I warned you all.”
It could only be from DeFord. Since he hadn't been found,
everyone assumed he and his men skipped town; but apparently
everyone had been wrong.
Mark turned the paper around, only to find a blank page. He
crumpled it up and through it in the wastebasket before looking
up at his Pa, who still hadn't said anything. There was a long
silence as Mark formulated his thoughts; a silence that was
surprisingly not broken by Lucas.
"Pa," Mark began. "He's playing a game with us. We can't let him
get inside our heads; that's exactly what he wants to do and
exactly how he's going to win. After all of the fighting we've
done we can't let him win, we've gotta move forward."
"You're right son, we do need to move forward. But for once I'm
going to ask you to look back as you do."
Mark gave his father a puzzled look as Lucas took a moment to
gather his thoughts again.
"Not in a wishful way. Son, I can't tell you how much I wish
none of this would have happened. But it has and there's no
changing that. Mark, I don't want you to forget any of this
experience. I want you to learn everything you can from it. I
want you to look at the choices Osborne made and see that the
smallest decision made without integrity leads to a life with
the character of a coward. I want you to remember that by
sticking to what you knew was right, justice was delivered. Most
importantly, I never want you to forget what the Good Lord has
brought us through this mess: your Ma and Cassie. Learn from the
past, Son, and move forward with those lessons planted deep in
your mind." Lucas paused before continuing. "In regards to the
threat, I don't want you to live in fear, but don't forget to
watch your back - understand?" Lucas locked eyes with his son as
Mark quickly nodded his head yes.
There were a few moments of silence between the two before Mark
spoke up again.
"Pa, are you alright?"
"No, but I will be."
Mark nodded in reply as they both gave a faint smile. Again, the
silence between them was only brief; an urgent knock at the door
Mark opened the door to find Cassie on the other side, holding a
piece of paper similar to the
one in the wastebasket.
"Mark..." was all she said, worry and concern in her voice.
Cassie handed Mark the note and he read it. It had the same
words as their note, but written in a new handwriting.
"We got one too." Mark paused while he considered what to say
"What do you think he's going to do?" Cassie asked, close to
Mark turned his head to ask his Pa something, but Lucas had
already been anticipating the question and nodded.
Mark grabbed his rifle and walked out of the room, closing the
door behind him.
"Cassie, your uncle is-"
"Please don't call him that. That may be what he is legally, but
to me he's no more than a stranger."
Cassie nodded and took Mark's arm as a means of apologizing for
her harshness. The two began to walk down the hall as the
"DeFord is smart. He's not going to try anything, at least now.
Everyone is too tense and on guard. And by the time things have
calmed down, he'll probably be deep in Mexico, if he knows
what's good for him."
"But Mark, what if he does try something? What if something
happens to you, or the rest of the family?"
"Cassie, we can't live in fear. With or without DeFord something
always goes wrong in our family and we just have to accept it
and roll with the punches."
"Is that your way of comforting me?" Cassie asked as a half
hearted attempt to lighten the conversation.
"No, but this is: Cassie, whether it's distance or life and
death that separates us, we'll always be together, bound by our
love. More importantly we can always go on knowing that the Good
Lord will turn whatever mess we're in to good. Just like this
mess brought Ma and you into my life. We just gotta live by
faith, and trust that what happens is allowed by God for a good
You believe that, don't you?"
"I do, sometimes I just forget and need a reminder. I'm thankful
He gave me you to remind me."
Mark and Cassie stopped as they smiled at each other.
"Care to go for a walk?" Mark inquired.
"I could use some fresh air. Let me tell my Ma first."
"You know," Mark began as they headed towards the Osborne's
hotel room. "I'm really glad Ned showed up and stayed through
"I am as well. It was such a relief to all of us, especially
mother, to be able to deal with everything together."
"Is he planning on staying in California?"
"For the time being, but he promised to visit often."
Upon reaching Cassie's hotel room, Mrs. Osborne was informed of
the couple's plans and agreed to meet them for supper in the
restaurant later that evening. Mark and Cassie then made their
way outside the hotel and soon found an occupied, but not
crowded street to walk.
Finally, both of them felt like they could breathe. The pain of
the past few months was so very present... yet... So far away.
Arm in arm, they put the pain aside for a few minutes.
Cassie was just beginning to understand how the woman on the
train was able to say her and her husband were more in love than
ever before. She was just beginning to understand... how much
her love for Mark would grow.
"There you are," Lou stated as she finished pouring Milly a cup
"Lou, I can't tell you how-"
"No you don't, we're family and that's all there is to it."
"Please hear me out Lou, I need to say this and I need you not
to just blow it off..." There was earnestness in Milly's voice
as she spoke to her friend, earnestness that caught Lou's
"Alright, I'm listening," Lou replied with a small smile.
"When I first came to North Fork, I found most of my old friends
had moved away. I was a stranger to about three quarters of the
town, and only an acquaintance with others. Yes, people welcomed
me back and gave me friendly smiles..."
"Some more than others," Lou hinted with a grin.
"Especially one tall rancher," Milly agreed. "But you took me in
and accepted me as your friend right away. You had no obligation
towards me and yet treated me as your closest and dearest
friend. You've always been here to support me and I honestly
can't say I could've handled Mark's disappearance or this trial
without you. Thank you, Lou."
"No, thank you."
"What do you mean?" Milly questioned.
"Yes, I've been in North Fork longer than you, but... I really
never had a friend like you. There of course was your husband,
Mark, and Micah... but it wasn't the same. I made such a mess of
things when I first came to town I think I scared all the women
in town away; I'm not exactly the ideal woman... I'm a little,
forward, you might say," Lou stated with a chuckle. "You came to
town and had such a sweet, open heart. You gave me someone to be
a friend to. Legally family or not I will always consider you as
"Thank you Lou."
There was a quiet pause in the conversation until someone
started pounding on the door.
"I wonder who that could be?" Milly commented.
Lou opened the door to find Oat Jackford on the other side, hat
"Oat, what can I do for you?" Lou asked. She took a long look at
the man and sensed something was amiss.
"Now Lou, no need to get excited, ya don't need ta worry or
"What happened?" Lou nervously asked, Milly now by her friend's
"There was an accident at the ranch and Johnny-"
"What happened? Is he alright? Where is he?" Lou frantically
"Now Lou, just simmer down and-"
"Simmer down?! Ye come 'ere and tell me my husband's hurt and
'expect me ta stay calm?"
"Now I didn't say he was hurt..."
"Well isn't he?"
"Lou, calm down, I'm sure Johnny is fine," Milly assured. "Oat,
"Down at Doc's, he asked me to get Lou..."
"Milly, would ye-"
"Don't worry about Maddy, I'll take care of her for you. Go with
Oat and Lou were soon running to the doctor's office. Oat was
trying to explain what happened but Lou wasn't hearing any of
it; she was simply focused on getting to her husband. Within
minutes the two had reached the office and Oat brought Lou to
"Johnny Gibbs, what did ye do ta yerself?!" Lou exclaimed upon
seeing the bandages around Johnny's chest. "Doc what happened?
Oat did ye let 'em boys try bronc ridin' again? Johnny ye
promised ye'd be careful today considerin' the muscle ye
Oat and Doc just stared blankly as the rush of words came out of
Lou's mouth. And as much as it hurt, Johnny couldn't help but
chuckle at his wife.
"Oh what is it?" Lou asked, her hands at her hips. "What 'tis so
"Oh nothing..." Johnny sighed, stilled chuckling.
"I was just getting to think you'd lost your Irish accent after
so long in the west. I see I was wrong."
"I haven't lost me Irish temper either! Now would any of ye
gentlemen be kind enough ta tell me what happened?"
"Would you sit down, Lou?" Doc asked.
Reluctantly Lou did as she was asked and waited for an
"We got a new horse at the ranch," Oat began. "Johnny was
working with him and before too long was on top of it. Fairly
calm and tame horse, but easily spooked."
"I had hung my gun belt over the fence before I started working
with the horse and something must've knocked it down," Johnny
stated. "The gun went off, thankfully only hitting a tree. The
horse got spooked though, and threw me. I just cracked a few
ribs. Be as good as new in a few weeks."
"Doc?" Lou asked with doubt and concern.
"Cracked and bruised, but he's correct. Give it a while and
he'll be as right as rain."
"When... and how can I take 'im home?" Lou asked.
"Let me finish bandaging him up, and Oat offered to take him
over in the buck board."
"Lou and Johnny, I really am sorry this happened..." Oat began.
"It's all part of the job," Johnny replied with a smile before
turning his head towards his wife. "Where's Maddy?"
"Milly is watchin' 'er. Thankfully we were both at the house
when Oat came."
Doc finished with Johnny before Lou and Oat got him over to the
Gibbs' home. After much protest, Johnny finally gave in to his
wife and agreed to rest.
"How is he?" Milly asked as Lou came out of the bedroom.
"Restin', thank goodness. Milly, I don't know how ye do it with
them McCain men, always gettin' inta some sort of trouble."
"Believe me, it takes a lot of patience... and faith." A
distant, longing look came into Milly's eyes as she spoke.
"Ye miss 'em, don't ye?" It was more a statement than a
"More than you know... I can't wait for them to get back. I
can't wait to put this whole mess behind us. I wish I could've
"Ye and I both know ye couldn't have handled it."
"I just wish I could've been there to support Mark and Lucas."
"Milly, as much as ye tried to hide it they knew ye weren't doin'
well, they understand. It was better for ye ta stay here and
rest a wee bit."
"Milly, ye're an amazing wife and mother and they knew ye were
fully behind them. Ye need ta think about yerself every once in
a while if ye want ta be considerate of them."
"What do you mean?"
"Do ye really think it would have done Lucas good ta have ye
worn down and sickly at the trial?"
"Well no, but..."
"No but's. Ye needed rest, fer them and fer yerself. One more
day, and ye'll be back together again."
Milly watched the train come to a stop before the crowd of
passengers began to step onto the platform. She anxiously
scanned the crowd before finally seeing Anna stepping off the
train followed the the rest of the family and Micah. Quickly she
made her way towards them and soon found herself finally back in
her husband's arms.
"How was the ride back?" Milly inquired.
"Uneventful, surprisingly," Mark replied.
"What do you mean?" Lucas asked his son with a confused stare.
"It seems we have trouble on trains more often than not. The
grasshopper incident, the counterfeiting operation, you and Ma
"I suppose you're right," Lucas chuckled.
Lucas turned to ask his wife something, but changed his mind,
deciding to wait until they were in the privacy of their own
Micah soon left for the Marshal's office, while the others
headed to the Osborne's. It was a quiet walk to the Osborne's
home, no one really felt like making much small talk. Upon
arriving at the small home, Catherine and Milly prepared coffee
while everyone else took a seat around the kitchen table.
"So what happened at the trial?" Milly asked as she put the
coffee pot on the stove.
Everyone seemed to be waiting for someone else to answer the
question. There was a brief silence before Lucas spoke up.
"It only lasted a few hours. The prosecution had several
marshals, including Micah, and then Ara testify before Mark.
After the prosecution was done with Mark the defense lawyer
cross examined... Trying to make it look like Mark was to
blame." The irritation could be heard in Lucas' voice, and Mark
decided to speak up so his father wouldn't get too caught up in
what had happened.
"But he pretty much talked himself out of an argument-"
"Although Mark was the one who shot his argument down," Cassie
"Anyway," Mark continued. "Some arguments erupted in the
courtroom and Osborne had finally had enough. He pled guilty and
the judge sentenced him to fifteen years."
"Although none of us wanted to see John released," Catherine
began, "I don't think it made us feel any better that he was
"But I think we're all ready to move on," Anna stated.
"...I'm glad to hear that," Milly replied to her niece.
Lucas couldn't put his finger on it, but there was something
bothering his wife. He wished they were home so they could talk
about it, but also knew the family needed to be together for a
They continued making conversation, discussing the trip and
After a few hours, the McCains took their leave, although Lucas
did have to just about drag Mark out of the house.
"You'll see her again, Son. Let's go!"
Lucas, Milly and Catherine all chuckled at the reluctance in
Cassie and Mark's eyes, while Anna simply rolled hers.
The three made their way to the livery to get the buckboard they
had kept there before heading to the Gibbs' to retrieve Milly's
"Oh Lucas, I forgot to mention that Johnny cracked his ribs...
Doc says he'll be down for a
couple weeks," Milly informed her husband.
"What'd he do? Try to break a bronc in the middle of winter?"
Lucas asked in surprise.
"No, he was working with a fairly new, but tame horse. Somehow
Johnny's gun went off, which spooked the horse, who threw
"How did Aunt Lou handle the news?" Mark asked.
"She was just a little concerned," Milly replied sarcastically.
"Her Irish accent came out like I've never heard it before."
The three only visited with the Gibbs for a few minutes before
heading home. It was a fairly quiet ride to the ranch, each of
them lost in their own thoughts. Once they got back to the
ranch, Mark offered to put the horses away, knowing his parents
needed some privacy to talk.
Lucas and Milly made their way inside with the luggage and began
"Milly, how have you been feeling?" Lucas asked with concern.
"Better then when you left, I'm not as tired all the time and my
headaches haven't been as bad. I just wish I could've been
"Milly, we all knew it was best for you to stay home. No one
blames you for staying home and no one should. What did Doc have
"I haven't talked to him."
Lucas turned around to face his wife and Milly could tell he
wasn't thrilled with her.
"It's not that big of a deal, probably just..."
"Milly, it could be serious. That's why I asked you to see Doc.
You've been dealing with a lot more than fatigue and headaches.
Why didn't you see him when I asked you to?" Lucas asked, very
"I suppose I am just hoping it will go away..." Milly replied as
she turned to continue unpacking.
She soon felt Lucas place his hands on her shoulders as he began
to softly reply.
"If your symptoms aren't gone in the next few days, will you
promise me you'll go visit Doc?"
Milly turned around and looked into her husband's tender,
"I promise," She answered with a slight smile, one that soon
"What is it?"
"Did they ever find DeFord?"
Lucas simply sighed as he shook his head no.
"Did he send anymore threats against Mark?"
"...No... he... threatened all of us," Lucas hesitantly
Lucas could see the concern in his wife's eyes.
"Lucas, what are you going to do?"
"Just go on with life and keep an eye out. We can't let him
Milly nodded as she wrapped her arms around her husband.
"Lucas, do you think this madness will ever truly end?"
"I don't know Milly... I wish I could tell you yes, but I don't
When Lucas woke the next morning, the time piece read
four-thirteen. He had hoped he would finally be able to get a
good night's rest, but he had woken often throughout the night.
Lucas turned to his other side and tried falling asleep again,
but then he heard the front door open and close.
Curious and slightly alarmed, Lucas got out of bed and headed to
his son's bedroom. Upon opening the door, he saw that Mark was
gone, but found comfort in the fact that the bed was made,
meaning Mark had left willingly. He put the thought of DeFord
out of his mind and dressed before making his way to the barn.
He didn't see his son, but soon saw the hay falling from the
"A little early, isn't it?" Lucas called.
"I decided to get an early start on the day," Mark replied
before tossing down more hay and then
making his way down the ladder.
Lucas walked towards his son and met him at the bottom of the
"You're not having trouble with the dreams again, are you?"
Mark looked straight into his Pa's eyes with that boyish grin he
would always carry.
"Naw," Mark began. "Just the limitations of time."
Confused, Lucas stared after Mark as his son began forking hay
into the horses' stalls.
"...Care to explain?"
"Well, before the trial everything was too much of a mess, at
this point I think we all need a little more time to cope, but I
leave for training at the end of the month, meaning I now have
to wait until that's over."
"Mark," Lucas waited for his son to turn around before he
continued, "You aren't making any sense. What are you talking
"What do you mean? I-" Mark stopped and contemplated the
conversation. "I guess I'm not... sorry. I'm just getting
impatient about proposing to Cassie."
Lucas laughed at his son's quandary.
"This isn't funny, Pa."
"Sorry," Lucas chuckled. "Son, you've waited this long to do
things right, don't mess it up by rushing things now. Remember
that even as sensitive as you are to other people, women tend to
take longer to get over things. Like you said, everyone needs
time to cope. Give it time."
"Pa, this whole thing with the Pinkertons... do you think it's
the right thing for me?"
"I'm not sure, Mark. You're the only one who can know for sure.
Give it a shot, and see what happens. It may or may not be what
you're supposed to pursue after you finish training, but you
won't know unless you give it a try." Lucas picked up a shovel
and started helping his son with the chores. "So... besides the
limitations of time, what drove you to leave the house so
"Sorry if I woke you up. I wanted to head to town and order some
things from the general store so it would get here before I
leave for Chicago."
"Do you mind me asking what they are?"
"Lanterns? We have plenty..."
"I need about twenty five."
"Son, what on earth are you-" Lucas stopped short as he realized
the answer to his question was quite obvious. "Where are you
going to propose?"
"The same place I asked her if I could court her. She loves it
"Are you doing it before you leave, then?"
"No, but I want to make sure everything is in place as much as
it can be so I can ask her when I get back. We're wiring the
order, so it shouldn't be too long before it gets here."
"Well if you need anything, be sure to let me know. Are you
still planning on building up the hill?"
"If you're still alright with it."
"I don't see a problem. I'm sure you're not going to miss that
"I don't know... like you said, the Good Lord brings good out of
our messes. It kinda reminds me of all the growth I had during
that mess, and everything we've made it through since." Mark
paused and thought some more. "It also reminds me that
forgiveness, trust, and love are never feelings, but choices.
Choices you have to make in order to live forward."
Lucas nodded in agreement. He often found himself in amazement
of his son's insight, and this was one of those times.
After the two finished the chores, Mark headed to town promising
to be back by noon to help ride the fence line.
It felt good to be home again, doing the ranch chores again,
even to have the cold winter wind stinging his face as he rode
Blue Boy. Mark had missed his quiet hometown while he was away
and was glad to finally be settling back in.
Mark only spent a few minutes in the store before heading to
Micah's office. As Mark walked in, he found the old marshal
asleep in the chair, feet up on the desk.
Mark smiled as he remembered back to the good times he and his
Pa had enjoyed with Micah. All the times Micah had been there
for them and all the lessons he had helped teach both father
Mark decided to let the marshal sleep; they would be back in
town the next day anyway.
As Mark rode home, he came up to the road leading off to the
Donalds' home. Realizing that it had been some time since he had
paid a visit, Mark decided to swing by and check in on the
Not much had changed since they had first moved into town. The
family kept to themselves for the most part, had their fair
share of financial worries, and each winter posed a threat to
Mrs. Donalds' health. The more Mark thought on it, the more he
realized how blessed he was that he and his Pa were in such a
good position. Most families out west didn't have it so good,
and even though each year things were tight in between cattle
sales, they were blessed to be as financially secure as they
As Mark rode into the yard he caught a glimpse of Emma walking
into the barn. He tied Blue Boy's reigns to a tree and followed
the lonely young woman.
"Howdy, Emma," Mark greeted as he entered the barn.
Emma jumped and turned around, but didn't relax once she
recognized her friend.
"Hello, Mark. What brings you out here?"
"Figured l would stop by on my way back from town and see if you
"No, we're fine, thank you," Emma quickly replied as she latched
the milking cow's stall and proceeded out the door.
Mark was confused by her coldness and continued to follow her.
"Are you sure?" Mark insisted as he caught up to her.
She just nodded and continued to walk.
Emma turned around and looked Mark in her eyes. He saw fear, he
saw hurt, he saw anger... and for the first time noticed a
bruise on her cheek bone.
"Incident with the cow."
"Well is there-"
"Mark, I know you're just trying to help. You've always helped
us and Ma and I appreciate it. But right now, if you really want
to help, you can go home. I'm sorry, but I can't explain."
Emma quickly turned and ran inside, ignoring Mark's calls.
Mark stood in the yard, staring at the house for a long moment.
Something was seriously wrong, but he couldn't put his finger on
it. Finally Mark headed towards Blue Boy, but as he was just
getting ready to mount up, he heard a scream from the inside of
Mark ran to the porch and banged on the door, but nobody
answered. Finally, Mark had waited long enough and walked
inside. He didn't see anyone in the front room, but the door to
the second bedroom was open. Mark headed that direction and
froze in the doorway.
A large man had his arm wrapped around Emma's waist, restraining
her, while his other hand cupped her mouth. Mrs. Donalds lied
motionless on the floor, but breathing.
"Now Emma, what'd I tell you about havin' folk around here?!"
The man demanded angrily as he clenched Emma even tighter.
"Let her go," Mark calmly ordered.
"Look at that, the man with the rifle thinks he's calling the
shots. Emma, that never ends well, does it?" Emma didn't
respond, she just stood there frozen. "Does it?!" The man
Emma quickly shook her head no while her eyes pleaded for help.
"I'm giving you one more warning," Mark stated.
"What are you going to do? Shoot towards the girl?"
Mark let off a shot, just barley grazing the man's ear. The man
let go of Emma's mouth and cupped his ear, but still held her
captive in the other arm.
"You missed," The man grunted.
"I hit exactly what I aim for. And I'd let the lady go if you
don't want me to aim somewhere fatal."
Begrudgingly, the man loosened his grip on Emma, allowing her to
run to the other side of the room with Mark.
"Move," Mark ordered the man as he motioned with his gun.
The three headed to the front room where Mark had Emma open the
cellar door and ordered the man to climb down the ladder. Emma
then removed the ladder and Mark latched the door shut.
Mark put his rifle down on the table before the two made their
way back to the bedroom. Emma seemed to be in a bit of shock and
Mark helped her sit on the bed before tending to Mrs. Donalds.
"Emma, can you tell me what happened?" Mark gently asked as he
tried to assess Mrs. Donalds' injuries.
"...He came..." She barely whispered. "Just one day... he showed
up, more drunk than I've seen anybody before. He took over and
he beat her. Beat me. Ordered us around like we were slaves..."
There was a long silence before she continued. "...I came in the
house after talking to you and started straightening the mess he
made last night. Then I heard something fall in here... I opened
the door and that's when I saw him standing over her... I
screamed... And then he had me and then you were in here and..."
The tears were falling down her face and Mark knew her breathing
was becoming irregular.
Mark made his was towards her knelt next to the bed.
"Emma, just breathe. It's over and you won't have to deal with
anything anymore. Now, I'm going to get the buckboard ready and
take your Ma into town. Where are the younger kids?"
"Over here," Lilly called from the doorway where she stood with
her brothers. The small child inched her way towards Mark. "Is
"He's gone," Mark assured. "Why don't you three help me with the
The foursome made there way outside and began preparing the
buckboard and horses.
"Do you all know who the man was?"
"No... he just showed up one day." Tim, the second oldest of the
four Donalds children, replied.
Mark nodded and the four continued to work in silence. Soon,
Mark had Mrs. Donalds and Emma at Doc's, the three others under
his Aunt Lou's care, Nils on his way to inform Lucas why Mark
wouldn't be back by noon, and Micah saddling up.
Mark brought Micah to the Donalds' where he arrested Anthony
Birch. Finally, after checking in on Emma and Mrs. Donalds, Mark
was giving his statement to Micah in the office.
"...Then we headed to town, and you know the rest," Mark
Micah jotted down a few more words before sighing and tossing
the notepad onto the desk.
"Lucky thing you decided to stop by," Micah said.
"You know Micah, the longer I live, the less I believe in
“luck”. Too many things had to have fallen in place this morning
for it to be “luck”."
"I guess you're right..." Micah agreed. "How's Emma and her Ma
"Mrs. Donalds is awake. She has a few bruises, but she'll be
fine. Emma is shook up, but Cassie is over there with her right
"I don't understand how I could've missed the signs. They
haven't been in church, they haven't come to town, they-"
"Micah, don't blame yourself, you've been a little busy with
"I know, but just because a marshal is busy doesn't mean he can
neglect his responsibilities."
"You didn't neglect anything. The rest of us in the community
have responsibilities too, and should've checked up on them, but
Anthony Birch is the one to blame, no one else. I hate to think
what the full extent of what he did was, Emma was keeping
something back, and I don't blame her."
"Well at least their nightmare is over."
"Thank God for that."
It took everyone in the community a while to settle down after
what had happened, and no one was sure they would quite get over
it. One thing was for certain, people would be doing a lot more
checking up on each other from that point on.
The end of February came too soon for Cassie. She was excited
for Mark, but didn't want him to leave. It was only for a few
weeks, but at the same time, she felt like it was going to be an
The last Sunday before Mark was to leave, the Osbornes, McCains
and Micah made there way to the Gibbs' for Sunday dinner after
During the meal, Mark tried to steer the conversation away from
his leaving, knowing it was difficult for Cassie... and himself.
Eventually Johnny and Lucas got the hint and moved on to other
"So Lucas," Johnny began. "How does it feel to be wearin' the
"About the same as it did before. Although Micah was right when
he said North Fork is getting too big for one person to handle.
I didn't realize how long it took just to make the rounds."
"You know Lucas, I was thinking about retirement the other
day..." Micah teased.
"Oh no you don't," Lucas emphatically replied. "This thing is
just temporary, remember?"
"Sure, sure..." Micah chuckled. "Miss Anna, how is school coming
"Slowly, I wish May would hurry up and get here."
"Are ye looking forward ta leavin' fer school in the fall?" Lou
"Yes and no. It's what I want to do... I'm just going to miss
everyone around here. I honestly wasn't too excited about moving
when we did, but I've come to love the friends and family we
"We'll all miss having you around as well, but you will come
home eventually. It's all part of growing up," Mrs. Osborne
As the afternoon drew to a close, things were becoming more
difficult for everyone. They knew it was good for Mark to look
into this opportunity, but everyone was still on edge from the
Lucas knew Mark was needing a few minutes alone with Cassie
before they left and asked his son to get the horses ready.
"Sure thing, Pa," Mark replied before looking to Cassie.
He didn't need to say anything, she just nodded and followed him
out the door. There was a long silence between the two, neither
one sure of what to say. Finally, Cassie spoke up.
"Mark, do you really think this whole private investigator thing
is for you?"
"I'm honestly not sure Cassie, that's why I'm going. Are you not
alright with it?" Mark asked as he started to hitch the horses
to the buck board.
"Well, first of all, it's not for me to tell you what to do.
Like I've said before, I want you to go, and to figure things
out for yourself."
"But I value your opinion, and I want to know what it is."
"Putting my emotions aside, the only concern I have is if it
would pull you away from North Fork often. Not just for my sake,
though I miss you when you're gone, but for others' as well.
With your Pa temporarily deputy marshal he's going to need more
help at the ranch, your Ma is still adjusting to the idea of you
being a full grown man and-"
"What do you mean?" Mark asked, surprised.
"Well think about it," Cassie stated as the two stepped closer
together. "She left when you were twelve, still a young boy just
coming out of childhood. She came back and you were eighteen...
a very mature eighteen."
"I never thought about it like that..."
"But like you've said before, you won't know until you try. So
my opinion is that you should try... just keep everything in
"...And not putting your emotions aside?"
Cassie turned away from Mark, unprepared for the question or the
rush of emotions that hit her. She didn't want to be a hindrance
to him, and yet...
"Cassie," Mark interrupted her thoughts. "Talk to me."
Cassie felt Mark turn her around before lifting her chin up so
she would look at him.
"I'm scared..." Cassie admitted with the tears streaming down
her face. "Mark, I've seen you close to death too many times and
if something happened..." Cassie couldn't say anymore, but let
herself fall into Mark's arms.
"A lot of things could happen, Cass, to either one of us. A lot
of “ifs” are possible. I guess that's why we just gotta live by
faith, moment by moment, moving on from the past and looking to
Lucas pulled back the shade to see Mark and Cassie in their
embrace. A concerned smile crossed his face as he watched the
young couple fight through their worries.
"Lucas McCain, stop spying on them," Milly light-heartedly
"They're not married yet."
"Not to pry," Catherine began. "But what is going on inside that
head of his? It seems like he asked for permission ages ago."
"He knew he needed to wait until after the trial, and I think
part of him wanted to propose before he left again, but he
decided it was best until he was home for good so they could
focus during their engagement," Lucas explained.
"He's going to be a good husband for her," Catherine stated as
she joined Lucas by the window.
"He bet'r be, or there will be quite a few folks he will have ta
answer to," Lou chimed in as she glanced out the window as well.
Cassie looked up to see several eyes staring out the window.
"I think we have company," she whispered.
Mark pulled away and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.
"One of these days we'll have to make it back to your old house
so we can get some privacy."
The next morning, Lucas, Milly, and Cassie saw Mark off at the
train station. It was a bit difficult for all of them, but they
at least felt like this was a step to moving forward with life
after the trial.
Mark leaned back in his seat, hoping to get some sleep. He
hadn't slept well the night before, anticipating his trip and
knowing how much Cassie was struggling, and hoped he would be
rested enough by the time he got to Chicago. He was even looking
forward to the layover that night, even though it was the town
he and Ned almost got killed in a few years before.
Thankfully, Mark didn't spend the night in a jail cell this time
and reached Chicago the next day without any problems. After
sending a telegram to Cassie and his parents, Mark found his way
to the Pinkerton office and was soon in a room surrounded by
fifty men. Almost all of them had to be at least five years
older than he was, and even with Mark's height and build, the
age difference was obvious.
It was made clear when the first instructor spoke that this
training wasn't a joke, and those who weren't prepared for an
intense couple of weeks should leave before they got started.
Not surprisingly, everyone stayed where they were and things
continued on. The first two days would be spent in the office,
completing mental assessment and logic tests. Anyone with a
score lower than 90 on any exam would be sent home. They didn't
waste any time and started right away, only allowing for a short
break for dinner before resuming the tests.
Mark was mentally exhausted by the end of the night and couldn't
imagine doing the same thing all day the next day; but before he
knew it, he was. He felt relieved when he handed in his last
The men anxiously waited for the results to be posted while they
ate their supper. When they finally were, Mark made his way
towards the back of the room with everyone else.
Mark was towards the back of the line and became more and more
discouraged the more men he saw walking away in disappointment.
Finally, he could see the roster and made his way down to the
Surprised to see his name on the list, Mark had to read it a few
times just to be certain.
Those who didn't make it were sent home. The others were sent on
a four mile march to the training grounds on the outskirts of
Mark had known the Pinkertons were asked to help create militias
for defense of states and territories, but he didn't realize how
much the training would be like true military training.
Nevertheless, Mark put his full effort into everything he did.
From washing the dishes to working in small groups to deal with
staged scenarios, those who watched him saw hard work,
determination, and integrity.
On the weekends, everyone could do as they pleased. Mark used
the time on Saturdays to wire home and get supplies from town.
He attended one of the local churches on Sunday and was back to
training on Monday.
One Saturday afternoon, Mark was playing cards with some of the
men he had been in training with. No one had seemed to take much
interest in him and Mark tended to keep to himself. But as the
afternoon drew on and more men left, Mark found himself alone
with Mitchell, one of the trainees, about thirty.
"McCain, you don't like talking much, do you?"
"I don't see the point in wasting my breath on useless
information, but you get me talking about the right thing and I
can talk up a storm."
There was a few moments of quiet before the man spoke up again.
"A lot of us have been talking, but no one can quite seem to put
a age to ya..."
"...Does it really matter?"
"Well, no, but you do look rather young."
"Well you all could've just asked. I'm nineteen."
Mark couldn't help but smirk at the man's face.
"But... it's not plausible... you've been at the top of the list
in most everything 'cept marksmanship."
Mark just shrugged and laid down his winning hand.
Mitchell threw down his cards and shook his head.
"I don't understand it. No one has that much luck."
"Not luck my friend, strategy. Wanna try again?"
"Naw. I'm just lucky you don't play more than a few dollars at a
time or I'd be broke. How'd you get so good at cards anyway?"
"You spend enough time with outlaws you kinda have to get good
The man gave Mark a long, confused stare.
"Come on, I'll buy you some coffee and explain."
"So you don't drink either, do you?"
"Not a chance."
Mark spent the rest of the afternoon and evening telling of his
eventful upbringing. He left out quite a bit, but he was pretty
sure Mitchell was starting to piece some things together.
"Where'd you say you were from?" Mitchell inquired.
"I didn't," Mark replied.
"Do you mind me knowing?"
"I guess not," Mark sighed. "North Fork, New Mexico."
"North Fork... McCain..." The man's jaw just about dropped to
the floor. "That means your Pa's the rifleman... and he's still
alive... and you're... The Rifle Kid?"
Mark laughed at the horrid nickname.
"I didn't realize that was still a thing. But yeah... I guess
so. Just do me a favor and don't spread it around."
"...Sure..." Mitchell replied, still in amazement that this
nineteen year old kid had hidden who he was from everyone
else... and that everyone else had missed it.
NORTH FORK, NEW MEXICO
One week left
See you in ten days
Cassie left the telegraph office with a wishful smile on her
face. She was more than ready for Mark to be home, and couldn't
wait for his return.
Cassie headed for the hotel to pick up Madelyn. Since her mother
had been hired at the bank, Cassie didn't need to hold down a
job at the dress shop, but found herself hopelessly bored.
Cassie was about ready to go back to work when Lou asked her to
watch Madelyn during the day so she could do more at the hotel.
Cassie had gladly accepted and enjoyed nannying the baby during
"Morning, Miss Lou," Cassie greeted as she entered the
"Child, when are ye ever goin' ta quit callin' me “miss”?"
"When she can call ya “aunt”," Micah quipped as he came from the
Micah and Lou chuckled as Cassie's cheeks turned a darker shade
"What are ye blushin' for? There's no need ta be embarrassed by
love," Lou said.
"When you're married..." Cassie quietly stated, still a bit
"Any news from Mark?" Micah inquired, trying to change the
subject for Cassie's sake.
"I just got a telegram. He should be home in ten days," Cassie
replied, a sparkle in her eye.
"It'll be good to have him home," Micah replied.
"Micah, what was that other marshal doing in town yesterday?"
Lou inquired, piquing Cassie's interest.
"That was Marshal Anker. He's had a few run ins with Mark and
was hoping to see him on his way through New Mexico. I explained
where he was and Anker said he'd catch him some other time."
Micah chuckled and the two women gave him a confused look.
"What?" Cassie asked.
"Oh, just that Marshal Anker was disappointed Mark was training
with the Pinkertons."
"Why?" Lou questioned.
"Because Anker wants him to become a Deputy U.S. Marshal."
"Well Mark seems to be quite the popular person," Lou began.
"The Pinkertons want him, the U.S. Marshals want him, Cassie
"What time do you want Maddy back to feed her?" Cassie
"Normal time should be fine," Lou replied with a laugh as she
handed her daughter to Cassie.
"Have a good day," Cassie called as she quickly left the hotel.
"That girl..." Lou mused.
"She better get used to teasing if she's planning on marrying
into the McCain family," Micah said with a smile.
"How are things at the office, Micah?" Lou asked.
"Better now that Lucas is helping out. Although it seems like
the more help I get the more things
I have to deal with. Maybe I could talk Mark into helping out."
"I wouldn't count on it. He's gettin' ready ta start a family,
he's still workin' the ranch, the Pinkertons are going to have
him opening an office in town-"
"That's if he decides to go through with it."
"You don't think he will?" Lou inquired.
"I don't know. When he first got the offer, he seemed ecstatic.
But I think something changed during the trial... I'm not sure
what, but something inside of him changed."
There was a few moments of silence before Lou replied.
"... I suppose ye're right, he did seem a bit different. I
figure he'll make the right decision though."
"After all the trouble his Pa put into raisin' the boy, he
better," Micah half jokingly, half seriously stated. "Speaking
of raising children, how are you and Johnny doing?"
"We were both so nervous of doing something wrong, but she's
still alive, so we must be doing something right. I never really
liked the idea of having children, but when I found out I was
pregnant, everything seemed to change and a mother was all I
wanted to be."
"Well you're making a fine mother. I see you've moved on from
your scare with Johnny last month?"
"What do you mean?" Lou asked in confusion.
"Well you've just about lost your accent again..." Micah teased.
Graduation night came and Mark, along with nine others,
graduated the program.
Yet Mark didn't feel glad or even relief that the training was
over. Instead, he felt torn and like he was battling himself.
After the ceremony ended, Mark wandered outside the main
building and looked up into the sky. He ignored the commotion
from inside the building and let himself take in the stillness
of the night. He looked up into the stars and found himself
amazed at the simplistic beauty of them.
One star in particular caught his eye. It wasn't the biggest,
nor the brightest; for that matter it was the dimmest star he
could see. It seemed to be slightly set apart from the others,
and unimportant compared to the larger planets, yet Mark knew it
was up there for a reason, one he probably would never
Mark suddenly was able to relate that star to his own life.
His entire life he had looked to be a part of something that
made an impact, to be a part of something big... but just maybe
he was created to be set apart. Maybe he was created to fill a
void no one else could, and maybe that meant filling a seemingly
insignificant role. He didn't have to run with the biggest or
the best- he just needed to do what he was born to do; and
somehow, Mark knew right now that wasn’t working for the
Pinkertons. He never liked the city life... shining bright
around others. He preferred to stay at home, covered in dust and
being chided for tracking mud in.
Even though the Pinkertons offered him an office in North Fork,
things wouldn't be the same. He'd have to do quite a bit of
traveling, do a lot of reporting back in Chicago, and do a lot
of meddling in other people's business. Mark would still be glad
to help anyone if they asked him and would gladly stand up for
what was right in any situation, but for some reason, Mark knew
taking this offer would change him- and he wanted to stay who he
"There you are, Mark!" Mitchell called as he walked towards
Mark. "I've been looking everywhere for ya!"
"Needed some fresh air. What's up?"
"The rest of us are heading to town, you gonna join us or what?"
"I'll pass on this one," Mark politely responded.
"Come on, we'll all grab a girl and hit the city!"
"No thanks, I've got one waiting for me at home," Mark smiled.
"Whatever you say. See you in the morning!"
"Goodnight!" Mark waved as the man walked off.
"...And boy do I miss her..."
"Lucas, are you coming in soon?" Milly asked as she stepped out
on to the porch.
"I'll be in after a while," Lucas replied as he continued
staring into the vast prairie.
"It's a beautiful night," Milly commented as she leaned against
the porch railing alongside her husband.
Lucas didn't respond and Milly looked up into her husband's
eyes. A look Milly hadn't seen before was spread across Lucas's
"Lucas, is everything alright?"
Her husband still didn't respond.
"Lucas?" Milly called as she touched his arm.
"Hmm?" Lucas asked as he looked towards her.
"You looked as if you were a thousand miles away. What is the
"I suppose I am."
"Thinking about Mark?"
Lucas sighed as he nodded.
"Still worried something is going to happen?"
"No, not necessarily. I suppose I'm more nervous about his
decision with the Pinkertons. I gave him my full blessing and
I'm not taking it back, I suppose... I'm just seeing life a bit
differently after the trial and after what happened to the
Donalds. I don't want to lose him to the business of city life."
"Well he'd still live here."
"I know, but the city has a way of... changing people. Mark's
confident in who he is, I just don't want him to feel pressured
into making any rash decisions. I know he's grown up, but
there's a lot of the world he hasn't seen and as a father I want
to protect him from that... I honestly don't want him caught up
in criminal cases with wicked men who do things like Birch did.
He doesn't need to be carrying things like that into marriage
"I share and understand your concerns... but he is grown, and
I'm confident he has the discretion to make the right choices."
Lucas looked at his wife again and smiled.
"Come for a walk with me."
Lucas took his wife's hand and the two walked into the night.
Neither said much but enjoyed listening to the wind, the creek,
and the animals scattered across their land.
Milly couldn't imagine life without Mark or Lucas. There had
been a part of her heart missing the six years she was gone that
came back as soon as she saw the two men again. In the midst of
all the threats and uncertainty, for once in her life she felt
safe and secure.
"Mark, I really wish you would reconsider," William Pinkerton
sighed. "Robert even warmed up to you, and that's saying a lot."
"I know, and I'm sorry things turned out they way they did, but
this was a trial on both our ends and it's not something I can
commit my life to right now."
"... I understand. Thank you for coming out here... And for
proving my brother wrong," Will jested.
"Any time. I owe you for putting so much faith in me-"
"No you don't, you made yourself worth the risk."
"Regardless, if you ever need a hand in my neck of the woods,
I'd be happy to lend one."
"I'll keep that in mind. There is something I've been meaning to
ask you though..."
"I know you're a man of integrity and character, and great
humility. But why did you pull your shots all week?"
"Training is over, no need to “sir” me." Mark nodded before Will
continued. "I looked at your shooting scores for the week. You
scored worse than half the graduates. You couldn't have
accidentally missed those targets."
"No... but I have always promised myself I wouldn't test myself
against other people. It either gets a person puffed up with
pride or in a situation where they could wind up shot. I've had
many people try to scare me into a gunfight. I know that if I
start comparing myself to others I won't stop until I find
someone who beats me, which probably wouldn't take too long. I
don't need to know I'm better than the next guy because there
will always be someone better. All I need to know is that I can
use the gun for what it was intended for... the same way I've
gotta use my life for what it's intended for."
"Unfortunately for us, that's not stuck behind a desk running a
detective office. I understand."
"Thank you again for the opportunity."
"It was an honor to have you. If you're ever up this way again,
feel free to stop by the office."
"I doubt I'll be up here again, but I will if I am. You are
always welcome at the ranch as well."
Mark shook William's hand and left the office, confident that he
had made the right decision.
Mark made his way to town borrowing one of the horses they had
been given access to all week. He dropped it off at the livery
where someone from the agency would pick it up later. He headed
to the train station and waited for about forty five minutes
before he could board the train. He sat down across from an
elderly couple and it wasn't belong before they were conversing.
"Where are you from, Mark?" The man asked.
"New Mexico territory," he replied.
"What brings you all the way up here then?"
"I had some business with the Pinkertons, and I'm headed home
"I'm sure you're looking forward to getting home and seeing the
family again?" The woman asked.
"Yes ma'am, I am."
"How many siblings do you have?" The woman inquired.
"It's just me and my parents, just my Pa and I before that."
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have assumed."
"I understand," Mark cheerfully replied. "It's a bit unusual for
out west. Where are you folks headed, if you don't mind me
"Wyoming, to visit our daughter and son-in-law," the man
replied. "She's expecting our first grandchild."
"Congratulations," Mark offered as he thought about making his
parents grandparents one day.
"Any special lady waiting for you at home?" The woman inquired.
"Yes ma'am," Mark replied with a grin. "Her name is Cassie
Osborne and she-" Mark stopped short as he saw a strange look
cross the couple's faces.
"As in John Osborne's daughter?" The lady asked. "The ex-marshal
who escaped from prison?"
"Yes, the-" Mark finally registered what the woman had said.
"...Did you just say he escaped?"
"It's been all over the papers," her husband responded.
"Do you know how long ago this was?"
"Just a few days ago," the woman paused before continuing. "Then
you must be Mark McCain... I'm sorry to have-"
"No need to apologize, I'm glad I didn't return home without
Mark tried to continue conversation with the couple after
changing the subject. His mind was a mess, going a million
different directions. Why would he escape when he was ready to
be done with everything? Had Mark fallen for his fake apologies
again? Was he headed back to North Fork? Was he intending on
interfering with Mark's family?
It wasn't too much longer before the conversation between Mark
and the couple had died down. Mark excused himself and made his
way to the back of the train.
Mark spent the rest of the train ride watching the land go by
and sorting through his thoughts.
Finally, the train stopped for the night and Mark checked into a
hotel. But as he was signing the register, he noticed a familiar
name a few lines above his.
"Which room is Marshal Anker in?" Mark asked the clerk.
"I'm sorry, I can't disclose that information," she replied.
"If you see him, will you tell him Mark McCain wants to talk to
"I can talk to you now if you'd like."
Mark turned around to see the Marshal walking down the stairs.
The two men silently made their way up to Mark's room. After
entering, Mark put his luggage down and turned to look at the
"So when were you all planning on informing me?"
"We didn't want to distract you from your training. That's why I
came here to meet you."
"My family is a little more important than that."
"I'm sorry Mark."
"...So what happened?"
"Osborne was cooperating nicely. Then one day, he just
"What do you mean, “he just vanished?” No one just disappears."
"Mark, I don't have answers. But we think DeFord broke him out."
Mark's body tensed at the mere mention of the man's name.
"What makes you think that?"
"A note was left in the cell with the words, “he was warned”."
"Do you think DeFord is going to kill him?"
"I don't know, I wish I did. I'm sorry this is happening."
"That's the way things seem to go in life. Thanks for filling me
Marshal Anker could her the coldness in the man's voice. He
could see the anger in Mark's eyes.
"McCain, are you going to be alright if you ever come face to
face with him?"
"Honestly, Marshal, I don't know. I surely hope so, but if he
messes with my family or the ones I
"That's not you talking, Mark. That's hate. The Mark I know can
control and redirect hate, fear, and anger. Don't let DeFord win
by letting him control you."
Mark nodded and slightly relaxed, but this news was going to
take a while to adjust to.
"How did things go with the Pinkertons?"
"I decided to not go with agency... I just realized it wasn't
what I was supposed to do. There's something else intended for
"Do you know what it is?"
"Not yet... but whatever it is, it's in North Fork."
"Ever considered marshaling?"
"Thanks, but I'll leave that one to Micah and my Pa."
"Cassie...?" Emma said in surprise as she saw her friend walk
through the barn door. "...What are you doing here?"
"We haven't really talked much since what happened... you
disappear after church and are always in a rush when you're in
"...Wouldn't you be?"
Cassie saw the pain and hurt in her friend's eyes. She was
bearing such a burden and Cassie wished she could carry it for
"I suppose I would..." Cassie paused before continuing. "I'm
sorry Emma... I'm sorry everything happened and I..."
"That's just what everyone is. Sorry. But that doesn't change
There was a deep look of longing in Emma's eyes as she spoke.
Cassie walked closer to her and reached out to touch her arm.
Emma shrunk back as her whole body tensed.
"Emma, please talk to me. I don't want to see you keep it all
inside. That's what I used to do... it feels like the easiest
option. But in the long run it only makes things hurt worse...
it tears you down and takes over... and I don't want whatever
happened to destroy you."
"Cassie..." She barely whispered as the tears began to roll down
her face. "I'm scared..."
Cassie didn't know what to say... she couldn't say anything.
As her own tears began to fall, Cassie reached forward and
hugged her friend. The two young women just stood there hugging
and crying... it was the first time since the initial incident
that Emma had let herself cry... and it felt good.
After a few long minutes the two drew back from each other and
"Emma, if there's anything I can ever do-"
"You already did, thank you."
"What do you mean?" Cassie inquired.
"You gave me a shoulder to cry on. You didn't ask questions.
Most of all, you're here. You and Mark are the only ones,
besides Mr. McCain and Marshal Torrance, that come around here.
It means so much to know that someone out there cares."
"I'm sorry I don't come around more often..."
"I don't necessarily come knocking on your front door either,
but... I will be."
The girls smiled at each other before Emma invited Cassie in for
tea. The two spent several hours talking; a little bit about
what had happened, but mostly about life in general and the
comings and goings of North Fork.
It was difficult for Cassie to move on from the subject of what
had happened. She wanted to help her friend and could tell Emma
was hiding something. Yet Cassie knew not to push, just to
simply be there. If the time came that Emma needed to disclose
something, she would know Cassie would be there to listen.
"I better be going," Cassie finally said as she rose from her
seat. "Mark's train is due in a little while."
"Thanks for stopping by, tell Mark I said hello."
The two said goodbye and Cassie made her way to town, eager to
see Mark. Not long after arriving at the train station she found
Lucas and Milly waiting on the platform.
"Hello Aunt Milly, Uncle Lucas," Cassie pleasantly greeted, a
sparkle in her eye.
Milly hugged her niece as she said hello.
"Good to see you Cassie. What brings you out here?" Lucas
"Oh nothing that exciting," Cassie replied with a smile. "Do you
know if the train is on schedule?"
"Isn't it always?" Lucas sarcastically asked. "I'm not exactly
Lucas's statement was interrupted by the train's whistle.
"Wonder of wonders..." Milly laughed.
The three waited impatiently for the train to settle and the
passengers to start pouring on to the platform. They all became
a little worried when the crowd started to thin out and they
still didn't see Mark.
"You don't think something happened, do you?" Cassie worriedly
"I'm sure everything's fine," Lucas assured her.
"There he is!" Milly exclaimed as she gestured to the last car
where Mark was stepping off the train.
As they made their way towards Mark, he finally saw them and
walked their direction.
"Get lost?" Lucas quipped.
"Howdy, Pa," Mark replied before embracing his parents.
Mark and Cassie started making their way towards each other, but
remembered they were in public and simply greeted each other
instead. Lucas tried to hide his chuckles.
"I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm starving!" Mark
stated, trying to divert his Pa's attention.
"How about dinner at the restaurant?" Milly suggested.
"Sounds good to me," Lucas replied.
The four made their way to the buckboard and drove the short
distance to the hotel. Lucas watched as Mark and Cassie silently
interacted. Neither one had to speak a word; their eyes said it
Lucas and Milly began asking questions about Mark's trip and
Mark began to answer.
After settling in and ordering at the hotel, however, things
turned to much more serious subject matter.
"I'm assuming you all heard about John?" Mark asked as he looked
between the three of them.
Surprisingly, Cassie was the one to speak up.
"Yes... and even though it's difficult, we've all agreed not to
let it pull us down or bring us back to where we were during the
Mark put his hand on hers and smiled.
"I'm glad. I agree it's not time to look back, we just gotta
"Speaking of which," Lucas began. "When are you starting with
"I'm not," Mark simply answered.
"...Why not?" Milly asked.
"To be quite honest, I'm not exactly sure. But what I am sure of
is that being a detective isn't for me... and besides that, I
would've had to spend a lot more time in an office than I
"And we all know what happens when Mark gets cooped up..."
"He'd be out of a job in a week," Milly laughed.
"You two don't know the half of it," Lucas stated as he looked
at his son, who was wearing a mischievous grin.
After finishing supper, the McCains returned Cassie home before
heading to the ranch. Milly went inside while Mark and Lucas
took care of the horses.
"Pa, how's Ma doing?"
"Much better, I'm happy to say. She finally went to Doc and he
said it was some sort of infection. He gave her some medicine
and it's been helping."
"Good... I was really getting concerned about her."
"Mark, are you really alright with Osborne and everything?"
"At first I wasn't... but then I had a few hours on the train to
think. I don't want to see him or DeFord cause problems for the
family. But like I told Cass before I left, what happens,
happens. We might as well accept it and move on."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"...Just as long as you're watching my back."
"Always will be, partner."
"Lucas, what could be taking him so long?" Milly asked as she
impatiently looked back towards the house. "We're going to be
late for church."
"I'll see what's going on," Lucas replied with a sigh as he
handed Milly the horses' reins.
Lucas knocked on his son's bedroom door before entering. He saw
Mark in front of a mirror fiddling with his tie.
"Let me help you." Lucas chuckled as he made his way to Mark and
began to adjust the tie.
"Thanks... sorry this took so long, I guess I'm just a little
"Relax, son. She's not going to say no. Besides, you have a
sermon and dinner to sit through, you might as well get
"Well weren't you nervous?" Mark asked as they headed out of the
bedroom and then outside.
"The first time, and then a little when I was going to propose
to your Ma on the train, but some outlaws got in the way, so by
"Outlaws?" Milly asked, only hearing the tail end of Lucas'
"On the way back from you sister's."
Milly nodded in reply as Mark got in the back of the buckboard
and Lucas urged the team forward.
"Anyway," Lucas continued. "By the time I asked your Ma my
nerves were spent."
"You should've taken notes," Milly added, catching on to the
conversation's subject. "Seeing as how you watched the whole
"...Well, growing up, you two were always telling me not to
interrupt adults, so I was just obeying you."
The three laughed along with each other as the buckboard bounced
down the dirt road and Blue Boy followed behind, tied to the
The McCains and Micah were the last ones to find their seats
before the reverend began his sermon.
Mark tried to focus as much as possible, but his mind only
wanted to wander. Usually Mark was in no hurry to leave the
church after the service ended, but today he had things to do.
After the service, Mark quickly made his way to the livery and
got Storm from his stable. He brought his and Cassie's horses to
his aunt and uncle's and picketed them behind the barn, out of
It wasn't long before the rest of the usual Sunday guests at
Johnny and Lou's arrived. The women all made their way to the
kitchen to help with the finishing touches on the meal while the
men set the table.
Soon everyone was seated and the afternoon continued to drag on
for Mark. Finally, four o'clock rolled around.
"Cassie," Mark began as he dried the last dish. "Do you want to
go for a walk?"
Mark just replied with his boyish grin and Cassie followed him
Mark brought her to the backside of the barn where the horses
"I thought you said a walk?"
"We did walk. From the house to the barn."
Cassie rolled her eyes with a smile.
"Now," Mark continued. "Will you go on a ride with me?"
"I'd be delighted."
"There they go..." Johnny chuckled from the window as he watched
Cassie and Mark ride off.
"Well, I say it's about time," Anna commented.
"If Mark puts this off any longer I'll put him in jail," Micah
"For what?" Lou asked.
"They certainly were made for each other," Mrs. Osborne chimed
in. "Lucas, I'm sure you're proud of the son you've raised."
"Well I couldn't have done it without Milly, Micah or Lou."
"What about me?! I'm the one who showed your son exactly how he
didn't want to turn out," Johnny joked.
"How ye turned out was fine," Lou told her husband. "It was the
gettin' there that took a bit of doing."
"Catherine, have you heard anything from Ned?" Lucas inquired.
"A little. One of his old professors needed some help while his
mother was ill, so he's been a little busy, traveling back and
forth between San Fransisco and... Stockton, where the two
"I trust he's enjoying it though?"
"Very much. He hadn't dreamed of being a part of such a firm in
years, and even if it is just
temporary, he's enjoying being able to help his old professor."
"Well thanks again for the meal, Lou," Micah said as he stood.
"I best be going, Mark asked Johnny and me to light some
lanterns and we best get that done."
"Ye are welcome any time. Have a goodnight!" Lou replied.
"I best get going as well," Lucas said as he started to get up.
"I have the shift at the office tonight and should probably
start making the rounds. Milly, are you sure you don’t want to
wait for Mark before you drive home?”
“I’ll be fine, Lucas.”
Lucas kissed Milly before the three men left the house.
"Milly, do you know how late Mark was planning on keeping Cassie
out tonight?" Catherine inquired.
"He was wanting to propose at dusk, so knowing Mark, he'll
probably have her back shortly after dark. I can't imagine them
doing much afterwards."
"He didn't seem too nervous to me, considering the boy's about
ta propose," Lou commented.
"You should've seen him this morning," Milly laughed. "He was
the reason we were almost late for church."
"Now that he's declined the Pinkerton's offer, what are his
plans?" Lou asked.
"Working on the ranch for now. The cattle are going to keep him
and Lucas plenty busy over the next few months."
Anna listened as the women continued the conversation, but found
herself a bit distracted with her own thoughts. As she looked to
the other women in the room she saw three people who gave her
nothing but love and care. As she thought about Cassie, she
thought about the person she would always be able to go to for
help. As she considered Ned, Mark, Lucas, Micah, and Johnny, she
appreciated the five men who were always there to protect her.
She lived in a place of safety and love. She was going to miss
that greatly, but knew that after school was over she would
always come home. Being a nurse was her calling, and North Fork
would always be home.
After months of chaos and calamity, everything was settling
down. Lucas was helping out at the Marshal's office, Ned was
finding his place in California, Mark and Cassie would finally
be tying the knot, and Anna was at more peace with her decision
to go to school than she ever had been before.
The rain fell and the thunder shook the sky as Catherine walked
down the street, thankful to see the light in the marshal's
office. She hesitated before turning the knob and opening the
Lucas was pouring himself a cup of coffee as she entered the
building and he turned around, expecting to see Mark or Micah.
"Catherine?" Lucas asked with confusion. "What brings you over
here so late?”
"Did Mark stop by?"
"No, net yet."
"Then you haven't seen him or Cassie?"
"Mark hasn't brought her home yet?"
Catherine shook her head, worry etched on her face.
"The spot he was taking her was closer to the ranch; maybe he
took Cassie to the house because of the storm."
"Maybe... but Lucas, I have a feeling something happened."
"Call it what you will, but it's not a joke."
"Believe me, I know, I'll ride to the ranch. I can walk you home
At that moment, the door swung open again. The three adults
stood there, staring at each other in defeat for a long moment.
No one said anything for a long time; their faces said it all.
"What are we going to do?" Milly asked helplessly.
"I'll get Micah, Johnny, and Nils. You two can wait here and-"
"Lucas, I can't just sit here and do nothing!" Milly said as she
stepped closer to her husband.
"Milly, I'm not letting you go out in that storm, it's too
dangerous. You shouldn't have ridden to town."
"But Lucas, what if-"
"Mark is smart and knows how to find shelter, I'm sure they're
both fine. Mark has made it through worse storms than this and
Cassie isn't unaccustomed to the country. But I do need to be
able to know that both of you are in town and safe so I can
focus on finding Cassie and Mark."
Milly and Catherine both nodded in understanding before Lucas
got his things together and left them in the office. It wasn't
long before he had the three other men together at the livery.
"We'll head up to where Mark proposed and go from there. Their
tracks are probably washed out, but there's not too much
distance between there and the ranch." Lucas sounded a lot more
confident than he felt.
The four made their way to the spot, but as they approached, the
men got an uneasy feeling. Lucas looked to Micah who had a
concerned look on his face.
"Lucas, everything is exactly the way we left it..." Micah
paused and handed Lucas his reigns after dismounting.
He made his way to one of the rocks and picked up a now soaked
"Lucas, they never made it here."
"Alright, so we look closer to town," Nils commented, not sure
why Micah looked so grave.
"They should've made it here long before it started raining.
Something besides the weather kept them from getting here."
Lucas let out a long sigh as he tried to figure out what to do
as the dozens of possibilities invaded his mind.
Seeing his friend's dilemma, Micah took charge.
"Alright, Johnny and Nils, spread out and search towards town.
Lucas and I will make our way towards the ranch in case their
plans changed for some reason. We'll meet back up at the office
in a few hours."
Johnny and Nils took off, but Lucas just sat for a moment.
"Lucas-boy..." Micah began.
"I can't do this again, Micah. I can't lose him again. Mark
alone is hard enough... but Cassie too? She's like the daughter
I never had and if-"
"Lucas, you know our rule about “ifs”. Let's just find them."
The two spread out to search and met at the ranch within an
hour. Neither had found anything and both were becoming
On the way back to town, they took a different route than Nils
and Johnny would have. Micah searched to the left of the road
while Lucas looked to the right.
Lucas was so caught up in his worries that he couldn't hear
Micah calling to him. The sound of Micah shooting his shotgun
into the sky, however, did get his attention and Lucas made his
way towards the sound.
"Micah?" Lucas called.
"Over here, Lucas!"
Lucas finally caught sight of his friend and saw him kneeling
over something... someone.
As Lucas got closer, he realized that someone was his son.
"Mark!" Lucas yelled as he knelt down next to Micah.
Mark lay on the ground, unconscious, but alive.
"Where's Cassie?" Lucas asked with concern as he looked around.
"I tried calling for her, but no reply... maybe she went for
"I'll ride to town and get a buckboard, see if you can't find
her around here."
Lucas was soon racing towards town, praying both Cassie and Mark
would be fine.
Catherine saw Lucas ride down the street from the office window.
Milly, Johnny, Nils and herself were soon running after Lucas.
Lucas didn't have time to sort through their questions.
"We found Mark, but not Cassie. He's unconscious. Johnny and
Nils, come back with me. Catherine and Milly, get Doc," Lucas
ordered as he hitched the horses.
Lucas had no sooner arrived in town than he had left. Milly and
Catherine ran to Doc's and then helped him prepare the
When they finally heard horses outside, the three ran to the
"Where's Lucas and Micah?" Catherine asked as the men carried
"Looking for Cassie," someone replied.
As they brought Mark inside, the light began to illuminate the
dried blood on Mark's head.
Upon the doctor's request, Catherine kept Milly in the waiting
room and tried to comfort her sister as she fought her own
tears. Eventually, both women were crying for fear of what might
happen to both Cassie and Mark.
"Doc, what happened?" Nils asked as the doctor continued to
clean the wound.
"... I don't know."
"Doc, doesn't that look like a-" Johnny began before Doc
"Yes, but right now it's all a mess, so we can't jump to any
About half an hour later, Catherine and Milly looked up as the
door opened and the three men entered the waiting room.
"...Doc?" Milly whispered.
Doc Burrage took a seat beside the women as Nils sat across from
them and Johnny paced the floor.
"Milly, I'm sorry but I don't know what's going to happen. Mark
was shot in the head. The bullet didn't enter completely, but
grazed him enough to leave a very deep wound. Thankfully it had
already stopped bleeding but I'm sure there is some damage and
we will have to fight infection."
Milly nodded as the words sunk in. They were difficult to take
in... but at least they knew what had happened to Mark... Cassie
was still missing.
Just as the sun was coming up, Lucas and Micah walked into the
doctor's office. Milly and Catherine were asleep in their
chairs, as were Lou and Johnny on the opposite side of the room.
They had seen Nils at the livery and Doc was sitting down at his
The two quietly made their way to the doctor, who motioned for
them to follow him into the hall.
"How is he?" Lucas asked.
"Lucas, he was shot in the head. Just a graze, but the wound is
deep. We will have to wait for him to wake up before we know
Lucas nodded as he accepted the news.
"No sign of the girl?" Doc asked.
Lucas and Micah looked to each other, unsure of what to say.
"What is it?"
"We found this near where we found Mark," Micah said as he
handed Doc a paper. "We couldn't find a trace."
Doc opened the folded note and read it aloud.
"I warned him too." Doc looked at the note, puzzled. "What does
"...It means one of the criminals involved with Osborne's case
kidnapped Cassie and tried to kill Mark," Lucas painfully
"But what does he mean, “too”? And when was Mark warned, of
what? What's going on?"
"Doc," Micah began. "DeFord, the man responsible for Mark's
disappearance a few months ago, told the McCains and Osbornes
that they would regret it if Mark or John testified. He
threatened again after the trial, but everyone didn't think he'd
actually go through with anything. Then John was broke out of
prison... those same words left behind," Micah said, gesturing
to the note.
"So, the man tried to kill my son and has at least kidnapped
Cassie. ...We hope that's all," Lucas concluded, anger in his
"Do you want to see him?" Burrage asked.
"Yes, please," Lucas replied.
Doc took Micah and Lucas farther down the hall to the room Mark
As Lucas walked inside, he silently thanked God that his son was
Lucas slowly made his way towards the bed, Doc and Micah leaving
to give the father some
The tall rancher took a seat in the small chair beside the bed.
He didn't say anything for a long time. He simply sat there,
remembering the past. He thought about all the times he'd feared
for his son's life... all the times the current situation had
"Son," Lucas finally said. "You have people who need you here.
Don't you dare go anywhere."
A while later, Milly came into the room and sat down on Lucas'
lap, his arms wrapping around her.
"Micah's getting a posse together... are you going or staying?"
"We talked about it on the way back. North Fork needs a marshal
while he's gone... and we're both afraid of what might happen if
I see DeFord anywhere besides behind bars."
Milly nodded in understanding.
They both sat there, watching their son barely breathe for the
remainder of the morning. Everything seemed so helpless... they
prayed for Cassie and Mark's protection.
Around one, Lou brought in a meal for everyone else at the
doctor's office. She had spent a great deal of time trying to
re-assure Catherine and Anna, who had been informed of what was
going on that morning, that everything would be alright.
No one really ate much, but were appreciative of the food.
By late afternoon, Micah and the posse had left, and Lucas knew
he needed to start doing something proactive in finding Cassie.
"Milly, I'm going to contact Marshal Anker and some of the
"He was too busy organizing the posse. I'll be back in a little
Milly kissed Lucas before he headed for the door.
"Lucas, what if he wakes up?"
"What do you mean?"
"What if he asks about or for Cassie?"
Lucas contemplated the question for a long time.
"...If he doesn't remember what happened... keep it that way,
"Lucas, secrets don't ever end well around here..."
"Then why'd you ask me what to do? If he finds out, he'll go
chasing after them!" Lucas snapped.
"Don't you think I know that?! He's as stubborn as you are!"
"It'll be easier to ask for forgiveness than to tell him the
truth right away!"
"...I'm not so sure. Lucas, isn't there another way?"
Lucas sighed and walked back towards his wife.
"I'm sorry, Milly," he apologized as he embraced her. "I don't
know what's going to happen. We'll just have to play it by ear.
Hopefully he'll be smart enough to stay in town if he finds
The next morning, Doc saw an improvement in Mark's breathing and
pulse, but he still hadn't woke.
"Milly, why don't you get some fresh air? I'll sit with him for
a while," Lucas offered as he entered the room.
"How'd you know?"
"We could hear the ruckus from Sweeney's all the way down here."
"Just a couple of tired ranch hands, it's all settled. Why don't
you go see Catherine? I'm sure she'd appreciate the company."
"I'll be back in a while."
Husband and wife kissed before Milly left the room. Lucas walked
to his son's bedside and sighed.
"Mark, you can't do this. You've got too much to live for. Too
many people to live for." Lucas turned and walked towards the
window. He blankly stared out of it as he sorted through his
thoughts. "Son, if you don't pull through..." Lucas couldn't say
any more. The tears were streaming down his face.
Lucas turned around at the sound of his son's voice. Mark's eyes
weren't open... but Lucas hoped...
"What did you just say?" Lucas asked as he quickly closed the
gap between himself and Mark.
"I said... if... is a dangerous... word." Mark replied with a
weak smile as he opened his eyes.
"I love you, son."
After Lucas got Doc, it was a battle to keep Mark awake for the
first few minutes, but they thankfully succeeded.
Doc did a quick examination and although Mark was weak, there
wouldn't be any long-term physical injuries.
"Mark, can you tell me what happened?" The doctor inquired.
"Well..." Mark began, but then he realized that he didn't really
Doc and Lucas saw the confusion in Mark's face.
"What was the last thing you remember?"
"...We were getting ready to leave the house for something...
for some reason... Pa, I think you were helping me with my tie."
"That was a few days ago, we were getting ready to leave for
"Why did I need help with my tie?"
"You were nervous, remember why?" Lucas replied.
"I think..." Mark thought for a long moment. The two men could
see Mark struggling to remember. "Cassie and I... I was going to
propose... did I?"
"No, it happened before then."
"Well what happened?" Mark asked.
"Mark, to gauge your recovery, I'm going to need you to remember
that on your own. But as you do remember, let someone know right
away," Burrage instructed.
"Yes sir..." Mark replied, trying to grasp everything.
"Lucas, will you come outside with me?"
"Mark, I'll be right back," Lucas said as he patted his son's
shoulder and followed the doctor outside the room, then down the
"Well?" Lucas asked.
"I think he figures he just had another seizure. Let's keep it
that way until he remembers; I really will be able to gauge
everything better that way... although he won't buy it when he
"... I know, but under the circumstances, there's not much else
we can do."
Lucas then went to inform Catherine and Milly of the news, as
well as what Mark knew. Catherine decided to stay home, unsure
of her ability to handle seeing Mark. Milly felt the same way,
but knew she needed to see her son or Mark would get suspicious.
Milly and Lucas returned to the doctor's office, and Milly felt
so much relief when she saw Mark awake.
Later in the day, Lou and Johnny paid a visit and were relieved
to see the mischievous gleam in Mark's eye, yet all their hearts
felt heavy, still having heard no news about Cassie.
The next morning, Mark asked to see Cassie.
"She's not available right now," Lucas answered. "I'll get her
here as soon as I can."
"Pa, where's Micah?"
"He had to be called away on marshal business, though he hated
to leave while you were still unconscious."
Mark kept asking difficult questions, and Lucas was running out
of answers that weren't blatant lies.
"Hold on, I just remembered doc saying something about you
needing to take a pill, I'll be right back."
Lucas left the room and returned with a glass of water and pill.
Lucas made sure he was the one asking questions until Mark
slowly drifted off to sleep.
Doc and Milly both came into the room a few minutes later.
"He's asking too many questions, I think he already suspects
that something is wrong," Lucas helplessly stated.
"Do you think we should just tell him?" Milly asked.
"Let's hold off a little longer," Doc replied. "Hopefully by
then Micah will have found DeFord and Cassie. I'm afraid of what
might happen if he finds out."
"And if he hasn't found her?" Milly inquired.
"We all will have a lot more praying to do..." Burrage replied
as he looked at Mark. Yet he didn't see the tall rancher. He saw
a ten year old boy, small in size but large in heart.
The three soon made their way out the room, and Mark opened his
eyes as the door shut.
He had been having flashbacks of something, but until over
hearing the previous conversation, Mark had hoped it was just a
Mark opened his hand and looked at the pill he was supposed to
have taken. He passed it from one hand to the other. He wasn't
mad, he understood why they did it.
They did it because of what he was about to do.
Cassie stopped struggling to get out of her restraints as the
door to the room she was in
The man stepped closer and proceeded to untie the ropes around
her wrists and ankles as he had every morning of her captivity.
"If you don't stop trying to get out of those ropes you're going
to hurt your wrists. They're already scratched up enough, they
could get infected."
"Like you would care," Cassie scoffed as she stood and rubbed
her sore wrists.
"I care a lot more than you think."
Cassie clenched her jaw and closed her eyes as she fought her
anger. After a moment, Cassie let out a deep breath and simply
walked past the man, towards the door.
"Cassie, things can't go on like this."
"Says you, the person who ties me up every night! I think they
can," Cassie half laughed, half cried in response.
"That's your own doing, you were the one foolish enough to try
to run away," he replied as he gestured to her bruised cheek.
"What do you expect?! You shot him!" Cassie was now sobbing and
the man stepped closer to her.
"Cassie, I've told you time and time again, it wasn't me." The
man tried to place his hands on her shoulders, but she backed
"John Osborne, don't you dare touch me! I don't care who pulled
the trigger, you were as much a part of it as the next person!"
"Excuse me, I have chores to do."
Cassie stormed into the front room where DeFord and some of his
men were sitting. No one was surprised by her abrupt entrance,
they had all gotten use to the strong-willed, emotional woman.
Cassie had tried hard to hide her weakness, but she couldn't do
it. The pain and stress of it all was too much. She couldn't
keep the image of Mark's motionless body out of her head, and
just when she had come to terms with what her father had done,
and that he was “sorry”, she found
out he helped DeFord plan Mark's murder... she could only pray
that they had been unsuccessful.
Cassie had prepared breakfast before most of the men left for
town. The others went out to work in the barn, and as she
cleared the table, it was just her and DeFord.
He sat leaning back in his chair, newspaper in hand. She stared
at him in disgust and anger.
"How could you do this? To your own niece, no less?" Cassie
finally asked him.
DeFord laughed, surprising Cassie.
"Please don't call yourself my niece," he replied in a mocking
voice. "That may be what you are legally, but to me, you're no
more than a stranger."
Cassie looked at him in shock and disbelief.
"You... you were there! At the trial... at the hotel and..."
"Think about it, Cassie, I've always been there."
Cassie tilted her head as she looked at the man in confusion.
"...What do you mean?" Cassie asked.
"The bank teller in Kansas. School teacher in Liberty. Ranch
hand in Oklahoma. I've always been there."
Cassie thought about the several different places she had lived
throughout her life, and except for one or two towns she
couldn't remember well, she now realized DeFord had always been
nearby. He may have looked a bit different, but he was always
"Why'd you do it all?" Cassie asked.
"Not just with my family. How could you just... kill so many
people like you have?"
"The same way I could leave McCain to die when Daniels was
stupid enough to shoot him in the head."
Cassie just nodded as a tear slid down her cheek and she quickly
made her way to the sink.
She began to wash the dishes... unable to wash away her grief.
Cassie felt so sick, she almost couldn't bear it. She felt as
though DeFord had torn her heart out of her chest and dashed it
into a thousand pieces. She wanted out of that cabin, out of her
prison... but even if she ever was set free, the pain of losing
Mark would never let her go.
Somehow, Cassie managed through the day. Cleaning, cooking, and
whatever else DeFord told her to do mildly helped keep her mind
That night as Cassie lied on her thin mat, hands bound and in
complete darkness, she couldn't escape the agonizing thoughts
and images her mind brought her.
Doc Burrage looked up from his desk to see Lucas and Milly
entering the office.
"Morning Lucas, Milly."
"Did he wake up at all yesterday evening?" Milly asked.
"No. I think besides the pill, he was extremely tired. I haven't
checked this morning, you can go in if you'd like."
"I'll be there in a minute," Lucas said as his wife headed for
Doc waited for the door to close before speaking.
"How is Milly handling it all?"
"Pretty well. We both feel horrible for Catherine... I've been
through what she's going through more than enough to know how
"I pray they find Cassie soon. Has Micah-"
The conversation was interrupted by Milly screaming Lucas's
name. Both men ran to Mark's room and found Milly standing next
to the empty bed.
"Lucas, he's gone!" Milly cried.
Lucas wrapped his arms around Milly and tried to calm her.
"Why would DeFord..." Milly began.
"It wasn't him, it was Mark," Lucas said as he separated from
"How do you know?" Doc asked.
Lucas walked to the night stand and picked up an envelope with
“Pa & Ma” written on it. He lifted it before replying.
"Besides this, the bed is made, his rifle is gone, and he
changed into his day clothes," Lucas explained, gesturing to the
spot they had once lied.
"What does the note say?" Milly asked, trying to stop her tears.
Lucas opened the letter and first pulled out the pill he had
given Mark the day before, then the note.
"I'm sorry, but I had to know. I'm not coming back without her.
I'll be home in a couple days and mindful of injuries. Please
Pa; DeFord files, my statement, page two.
"What did that last part mean?" Milly inquired.
"He wants me to look at something... I'll be back."
Instead of waiting, Doc and Milly followed Lucas to the
marshal's office where he quickly began going through filing
"Micah, why don't you keep anything organized?" Lucas mumbled.
Finally, Lucas found the file he was looking for and turned to
the second page.
"Well, what is it?" Milly asked.
"Directions to the cabin where DeFord held Mark last winter."
"He doesn't think DeFord would be stupid enough to go back
there, would he?" Doc asked.
"No, DeFord would be smart enough. Everyone figured he went
south, and the only one who would know to go back there is Mark,
who DeFord thought he killed."
"...Or did he?" Milly suggested. "Lucas, DeFord could have shot
Mark to make sure he was dead... but he only shot Mark once. Do
you think it... could be a trap?"
"I don't know," Lucas answered.
"What are you going to do?" Milly asked.
"Go after Mark, and hopefully find him before DeFord does."
"Lucas, I understand, but what about North Fork?" Doc asked.
"Nils has watched the town before, and I don't know if Johnny
can technically be deputized, but he'll help keep the peace."
It wasn't long before Lucas was kissing Milly goodbye and
mounting up on his horse.
"Be careful..." Milly told Lucas.
"I will be. Stay close to town."
Lucas waved goodbye as he urged his horse forward. Once out of
town, it wasn't difficult for Lucas to find his son's trail.
Even though Mark had learned everything he knew about tracking
from Lucas, Mark still had his own unique style. Thankfully,
Lucas knew his son well.
Lucas guessed Mark to be about three hours ahead of him, which
surprised Lucas, but he was thankful his son wasn't farther
Meanwhile, Cassie was unaware of any hope of rescue and was more
than ready to try to run again.
She was once again clearing the breakfast dishes as DeFord sat
in a chair, boots on the table.
"Where are you going?" DeFord asked as Cassie walked towards the
"I have to throw out the old water, there's no drain, remember?"
"Do it from there."
"You want a big puddle of water in front of the door?" Cassie
"Fine. You just don't do anything stupid. I'd hate to see you in
Cassie continued out the door with the tub of water. As soon as
she was a ways out the door, she dropped the tub and ran, faster
than she ever had.
DeFord was soon chasing after her, angrily yelling threats.
Cassie simply ignored them and kept running.
Unfortunately, Cassie hadn't anticipated any of DeFord's men
still being around the property.
"Daniels, don't just sit there!" DeFord yelled. "Run her down!"
Before Cassie knew it, DeFord and Daniels, who was on a horse,
were chasing her.
Cassie could hear the horse getting closer and closer until
suddenly, the horse was on top of her.
Cassie felt the agonizing pain shoot through her body as the
horse first ran into her, and then came down on her back.
Cassie lied on the ground, trying not to pass out.
When DeFord and Daniels began dragging her back to the cabin,
she didn't fight, she actually tried to get there as fast as
Upon reaching the cabin the men set her in a chair. While DeFord
walked to the other side of the room, debating what to do,
Daniels slapped Cassie, sending her onto the floor and into
Hearing the noise, DeFord turned around.
"What'd you do that for?!" DeFord yelled.
"Seemed like a good idea," he laughed.
"Use the small brain you have! She's a girl, not a two hundred
pound male! I wouldn't have had you run her down except for the
fact that she was actually getting away!"
"I wasn't the one who let her out of the house, don't blame me."
"One of these days, you're going to go too far!" DeFord yelled
as he put a finger in Daniels's face. "Help me get her into the
Cassie didn't wake up until the next morning, and when she did,
she found that DeFord wasn't kidding when he threatened to put
her in shackles.
Every muscle in her body ached, the rope tied around her wrists
chafed them, and the chains around her ankles were much too
The door soon opened, but DeFord, not John, entered the room.
"Where's Osborne?" Cassie inquired.
"Your father is running an errand for me. And when he gets back,
not a word about what happened, understand?"
Cassie nodded as DeFord untied the rope and pulled her to her
feet. She just stood there, unsure of what DeFord was going to
"Well let's go!" DeFord ordered. "I'm a hungry man!"
Cassie walked out of the room as quickly as she could. The iron
around her ankles made it difficult and awkward to walk. Usually
easy tasks were extremely difficult to accomplish; every little
move Cassie made sent pain through her body, and every breath
caused a sharp pain in her rib cage.
Cassie didn't want to move- she didn't even want to be alive.
But there was no avoiding either one.
Mark laid in the grass on the hill above the cabin he had been
imprisoned in four months earlier. He had been watching for a
few hours, but only saw men he didn't recognize. No sign of
DeFord or Cassie.
Mark prayed his assumption had been right and that he wasn't
wasting time while DeFord was getting farther away. He also
prayed that Cassie was still alive. Knowing DeFord, he wasn't
too sure that she was.
Mark heard someone approaching behind him and took cover behind
a nearby tree, gun at the ready. He wasn't going to let there be
a repeat of the last time he was there.
Relief flooded him as he saw his Pa walk to the spot where he
had been lying. Mark relaxed his body and walked towards his Pa.
As Mark approached his father, he was thankful to see relief
instead of anger in Lucas' eyes.
They both took a lying position on the hillside, watching the
"Any sign of them?" Lucas asked.
Mark's voice was steady, but Lucas could see the battle going on
inside his son in Mark's face.
"We'll find her."
"I don't doubt that... I... I question if I'll bring her home
alive or not."
Lucas's heart sunk as Mark spoke the words. He remembered having
the same doubts when Mark had been kidnapped in his younger
years. Lucas wished he could assure Mark that he would find her
alive, but he couldn't. The longer they had gone without word
from DeFord, the more he questioned whether Cassie was alive or
The two spent the next hour in silence, neither knowing what to
say... neither wanting to say anything.
Finally, both their hearts filled with joy as they saw who could
only be Cassie and a man exit the building.
Lucas knew it was taking every effort for Mark not to move.
The man took a seat next to the door while Cassie began hanging
clothes on the nearby clothesline, her back to the McCain men.
It wasn't long before the man began to wander over towards
Cassie and was soon behind her. He grabbed a strand of her hair
and began playing with it, as his other hand rested on her
Mark couldn't take it and began to move, but Lucas put a
restraining hand on Mark's shoulder.
Mark settled, but both men continued to cringe at the scene
To their relief, DeFord came out and began yelling at the man
before sending him to the barn
and Cassie back inside.
"Well son, what's your plan?" Lucas asked.
"Most of them just got back a little while ago from somewhere. I
guess we wait until most of them leave again. There has to be
about ten other men in the bunkhouse, we can't risk it with all
of them here."
Lucas nodded in agreement.
"Pa!" Mark whispered in a raised tone.
"What is it, Mark?"
Lucas followed Mark's finger to the man who was walking from the
barn to the cabin.
"Pa... DeFord didn't kill him. DeFord broke him out of jail! Pa,
what kind of man goes through all that apologizing and
repenting, and then goes right back to everything he promised to
"A coward, Son. A coward."
The next morning, Lucas and Mark watched as the last man they
had seen around the property, besides DeFord, left.
The two began making their way down the hill when they saw
DeFord leave the cabin. They watched as he walked into the barn
and they quickly followed.
Mark and Lucas took positions on the opposite sides of the barn
doors. Lucas counted to three before they turned and entered the
barn, only they didn't see DeFord. Suddenly a gunshot came from
above them and they both took cover behind hay bales.
A gun fight ensued, Mark and Lucas blindly shooting into the
hayloft across the barn.
As Mark was re-loading his rifle, Lucas must have hit something,
because DeFord's gun dropped to the barn floor.
"Alright DeFord, down the ladder," Lucas ordered.
Soon, DeFord appeared and did as he was told, holding his left
hand to his chest.
Lucas quickly made his way to the man as Mark found some rope.
They tied him up as Mark demanded to know where Cassie was.
"Wouldn't you like to know," DeFord laughed as blood dropped
from his chest.
Mark gathered DeFord's shirt in a fist and pulled him forward.
"DeFord, I swear-"
"Mark!" Lucas firmly said.
Mark looked to his Pa, still holding a tight grip.
"Go look in the house."
Mark slowly let go before grabbing his rifle and running towards
As Mark entered, memories of his own captivity flooded his mind,
but Mark pushed them aside and focused on finding Cassie.
"Cassie!" Mark yelled.
There was no reply.
"Cassie!" Mark yelled again as he went to the door to the back
room and tried to open it, but it was locked. "Cassie, are you
Mark tried the door some more, but it wouldn't budge. Mark was
just about ready to try to shoot the lock when he heard a small,
quiet voice from the other side of the door.
"Cassie!" Mark yelled again as his heart began to pound faster.
"Cassie, do you know where a key is?" Mark desperately asked.
"To the right of the stove in one of the cupboards."
Mark ran to the stove and rummaged through the cupboards before
finally finding the key. He
quickly unlocked the door and opened it, finding Cassie
immediately to his left.
Cassie fell into Mark's arms, never wanting to be out of them
again, but as Mark wrapped his arms around her tighter, she
couldn't help but indicate the pain it caused.
"What is it?" Mark asked with worry as he let go.
"Nothing," Cassie replied, still wrapping her own arms around
Mark gently put his hands on her shoulders and separated himself
Mark looked at Cassie with worry and pain. Her eyes were
bloodshot, there were bruises on both sides of her face, and her
skin looked much too pale.
"... I don't want to talk about it right now." Cassie looked to
Mark with pleading eyes.
Mark turned around as the door to the cabin opened and Lucas
stepped into the house.
"DeFord?" Mark asked.
"He's dead," Lucas replied.
Lucas shifted his eyes from Mark to Cassie before walking
towards the two.
"Cassie, are you alright?" Lucas tenderly asked.
"...I'll live." Cassie tried to force a smile, but it was a weak
Mark and Lucas helped Cassie sit down. Only then did they
realize she was shackled.
"Cassie, do you know where the key for the iron is?" Mark asked
with concern evident in his voice.
"Should be in DeFord's shirt pocket."
Lucas left and returned with the key. He unlocked the chains and
tossed them across the room.
"I'm going to see if I can't find a buckboard around here,"
Lucas said as he got up.
"There's one behind the bunkhouse," Cassie informed him.
Lucas nodded and left the cabin.
Mark stayed next to Cassie as she blankly stared at the wall.
Finally, a tear fell, followed by another, then another.
Mark reached out and took Cassie's hand.
"Mark, I thought he had killed you."
"He didn't. I'm alive. You're alive. And we're going to go home,
Soon after, Lucas had his and Mark's horses hitched to the
Mark sat with Cassie in the back as Lucas drove to the nearest
Every bump in the road hurt, but Cassie was thankful to be
putting distance between herself and that cabin.
Lucas dropped Mark and Cassie off at the doctor's office before
he went to talk to the sheriff.
Mark impatiently waited for the doctor to come out of the
examination room, and finally he did.
"Doc?" Mark asked.
"She's been through a lot. Thankfully her worst injury is a few
cracked ribs, it could have been worse. I suggest she stays here
for a few days to rest and recuperate before you head home.
She's beyond exhausted."
"Thank you. Can I see her?"
"For a few minutes, I want her to sleep. You will have to wait
for the nurse to finish helping her get cleaned up though."
Mark nodded and was let into the back room a few minutes later.
Cassie smiled as Mark walked through the door.
"Cassie, I'm so sorry all this happened."
"Don't you dare go blaming yourself," Cassie quietly replied.
"You got dragged into my family's mess, and that's not your
"But if I had been paying more attention when we were out
There were tears in Cassie’s eyes as she spoke, "Mark, don't do
this to us. It's done and over with, and it's not your fault.
You came to rescue me even though you were shot and should've
"I was fine."
"Mark, you're a horrible liar," Cassie whispered with a smile,
which turned into a gentle laugh.
Mark laughed along with her as the tension of the past few days
slowly began to dissipate.
"...Can you tell me how you got hurt?" Mark hesitantly asked.
"... I tired running away the first night we were at the cabin,"
Cassie said as she gestured to the right side of her cheek.
"Then a few days later..." Cassie couldn't go on, a lump formed
in her throat and the tears started falling.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't-"
"No, it's fine. We always said we needed to be honest.” Cassie
reached for Mark’s hand and pulled him to sit on the bed beside
her. “...And in all honesty, Mark, I thought you were dead. I
couldn't go on, I felt so sick and I couldn't stand being there
any more. I foolishly tried to run, but one of his men ran me
down with his horse and-"
"He what?!" Mark asked with anger.
"Mark, please calm down... I'm fine."
Mark calmed down, but only for Cassie's sake.
"...And then he slapped me. DeFord put me in iron after that and
that was it."
"He... or the others didn't do anything else?" Mark hesitantly
"Nothing, I promise."
Mark closed his eyes and let it all sink in, before reopening
them. He looked into Cassie's beautiful face and thanked God for
letting him see it again.
Mark put his hand over hers and returned the smile she gave him.
"Cassie, I love you."
Lucas walked into the doctor's office and found his son sitting
in one of the chairs.
"How is she?" Lucas asked as he sat down next to his son.
"She has a few cracked ribs and is completely exhausted... but
somehow... she seems to be at peace with everything."
"...What about you?"
"Pa, she could've died. If-" Mark stopped himself before going
on. "...If is a dangerous word, I know. I still feel guilty for
what happened. At the very least, I wasn't on guard when we went
riding because I was too preoccupied."
Lucas thought for a minute before replying. He knew the guilt
Mark carried and knew he wasn't going to be able to take that
"So how are we, or, just as or even more importantly, you and
Cassie going to move on?"
"Well... I... don't know. Pa, how are we supposed to?"
"Son, you just have to be open with each other. Enjoy the times
you have from this point forward, remember the good times, but
don't be afraid to talk about the past. Although you don't want
to stay in the past, don't be afraid to talk about it; one of
you might move too quickly for the other. Don't forget that you
both have friends and family more than willing to help."
Mark and Lucas told the doctor where they would be if he needed
anything and headed for the hotel. They checked into their rooms
before finding an early supper across the street at the cafe.
"Pa, what did the sheriff have to say?"
"He's going to need a statement from Cassie, then he'll write a
letter to his superiors and put out a warrant for John and the
others. As soon as we get to a town with a telegraph office I'm
going to wire home and then Marshal Anker."
"Marshal Anker? What does he have to do with anything?"
"I wired him after we found out DeFord was involved in Cassie's
"I'm assuming Micah is still out on the trail?"
"I'm not sure, but it wouldn't surprise me. We'll wire around
Mark nodded in reply as he took another bite of his meal.
"Now..." Lucas began.
Mark could tell where the conversation was headed and Lucas
watched as Mark ever so slightly cringed.
"Pa, I'm sorry for any worry I caused you and Ma for leaving
like I did, but in all honesty, I would do it again in a
heartbeat. For Cassie, for you, or for Ma. I couldn't just lie
"Son, I understand. As your father, I will always be concerned
for your well being. But also as your father, I understand
putting everything else aside to rescue the one you love. I'm
not going to chide you; you're a grown adult and can make your
own decisions. I would've preferred that you would've waited and
talked to me, but I honestly would've tried to make you stay
home, so I understand why you didn't. But I want you to be
honest with me. How is your wound?"
"Other than a migraine, it's fine. It was just a scratch."
"Keep in mind that you've hurt your head several times before."
"I know. I rode easy on the way to the cabin. I wanted to find
her so bad, but I knew I needed to be of use when I got there."
"That would explain why you were only a few hours ahead of me."
Mark nodded in response. Lucas looked into his son's face and
could tell there was something else... he couldn't quite tell
what it was though.
"What is it, son?"
"Pa... thanks for following after me," Mark replied as he locked
eyes with Lucas.
"Mark... there's no need to say thanks, I-"
"There is. Thank you for being there, for being someone I can
count on. Even though I knew you had plenty of reasons you
could've... and maybe even should've stayed in North Fork, I had
no doubt that you were just a few hours behind me. We've had our
ups and our downs, but through it all, you've been..." Mark
searched for the word.
"I'll always be your partner, son. I told you I'd watch your
back and I intended to make good on my promise. Any time my son
asks for my help, I will be there."
"Thanks Pa." A grin crossed Mark's face before he continued.
"How about helping me build a cabin when we get back home?"
"It'd be a pleasure."
Lucas and Mark finished their meal before heading to the
doctor's office one last time. Cassie was asleep, so they agreed
to head to bed early, both were exhausted. It didn't take long
for either of them to drift to sleep, but they were suddenly
woken early the next morning by someone urgently knocking on the
door. Lucas got up and answered it as Mark lit one of the
Mark quickly threw on his shirt and headed to the doorway.
"It's Cassie, she woke up a short while ago, won't stop crying
or shaking and keeps asking for Mark. I need to give her a
sedative, but she won't let anyone near her... understandably."
Mark and Lucas quickly grabbed their rifles before following the
doctor back to his office.
As they entered Cassie's room, they saw her in the corner, arms
wrapped around her legs, head down.
Mark could see her shaking from across the room and her sobs
were unmistakable. Mark started towards her, but stopped before
turning around and handing Lucas his rifle.
Mark knelt down next to Cassie and put his hands on her
"Get away from me! Stop!" Cassie cried as she fought him.
The scene was tearing Mark apart; yet he kept his composure and
quietly assured her.
"Cassie, it's Mark," he said as he tried to keep her from moving
"Please..." Cassie cried.
"Cassie, please listen to me..." Mark pleaded as he reluctantly
held her against the wall. "Cassie..."
"No! You can't-" Cassie stopped as she recognized the soothing
voice speaking to her. Cassie lifted her head towards Mark and
stared into his eyes.
"Cassie, you're safe."
"Mark..." Cassie whispered as she reached out to touch his face.
Cassie sunk into Mark's lap and started crying again; but it was
a controlled cry.
Mark wrapped his arms around her and ran his fingers through her
long, blonde hair.
"Mark, don't leave me..." Cassie barely whispered.
"I won't," Mark assured as he tapped her locket. "I promised."
The next morning, after Cassie assured everyone she was fine,
she gave her statement to the sheriff. It was difficult for her,
especially when recounting how she saw Mark get shot, but Mark
and Lucas were both there supporting her.
"Thank you Ms. Osborne," the sheriff finally concluded. "I know
it's difficult, but unfortunately necessary."
"You don't have to apologize. I understand."
"What about DeFord's men?" Lucas inquired.
"I took a posse down there early this morning and there was no
sight of them. They probably figured out what happened and
headed for the hills. I should've recognized Osborne when he and
a few of the others came to town though. Showed up every few
days... I knew I remembered him from somewhere, but couldn't
place him... I'm sorry, he looked quite a bit different than his
picture in the newspaper a few months back."
"He raised me, and between the beard and weight gain, I was even
a little confused. It's not your fault." Cassie assured him.
"When are you folks headed back to North Fork?"
"Day after tomorrow, the doctor wants Cassie to rest another
day," Lucas answered.
"Well then I better let you do that young lady," the sheriff
told Cassie. "I hope you have a quick recovery."
Lucas and Mark walked with the sheriff back to his office.
"How are you getting back home?" The man asked as they entered.
"Stage coach and then train, accompanied by myself," a voice
answered from the desk.
"...Might I ask who you are?" The sheriff inquired.
"Marshal Anker, U.S. Marshal's Service," Anker replied as he
shook the sheriff's hand.
"Sorry for the intrusion, but Mr. McCain's wife wired me from
North Fork and told me what had happened. I went to the cabin
and found it empty before heading here. Mark, I would've been
here sooner, but I was delivering a prisoner."
"I understand. Thanks for coming, but you don't really need to
"Not a word from either of you. I'm seeing to it that all three
of you get back home safely, orders from headquarters."
"That's-" Lucas began, but Anker interrupted.
"And you are still deputized, which means that you could get
into trouble for insubordination."
"Yes sir," Lucas replied.
"Now, I've been riding a long time and could use a good meal.
You men mind joining me for lunch?"
The four made their way to the cafe and ordered. Conversation
bounced around, but Mark had stayed fairly quiet. Finally, Anker
asked a question.
"Mark, how did you know to go to the cabin? That's the last
place any of us would have looked."
"DeFord is... was, a creature of habit and too hot headed. He
counted on everyone thinking he wouldn't go back there and so he
did just that. The other part of it was that DeFord was wanting
me to chase him, so he went somewhere I would know. When I left
North Fork it was just a feeling, but now that my memory of that
day is clearer, I remember DeFord yelling at whoever shot me for
taking such a risky shot. Said he wanted me alive. Then DeFord
got to feeling invincible, got too comfortable, and left himself
"I'm telling you Mark, you would make a great marshal."
"...Thank you, but right now I need to focus on... some other
"There's no law against a marshal being married..." Anker
There was quite a bit of crying upon Cassie's return. Half the
town seemed to be waiting at the train station and Cassie was a
bit embarrassed by all the fuss. Eventually she got settled at
home and finally felt like she could start putting everything
Mark stayed in town for a few days after they got back to North
Fork so he could spend more time with Cassie and so they could
deal with things together.
It was difficult when Mark finally had to return to the ranch,
but they knew it had to happen.
As Mark was unsaddling Blue Boy, his Pa entered the barn.
"Mark, I think this is yours."
Mark took the small gift box from his Pa and put it in his shirt
The two continued to unsaddle and brush Blue Boy down.
"Mark, I know you're eager to marry her, but maybe you should
just consider waiting a while."
"If Cassie and I are supposed to spend the rest of our lives
together, we've got to start the “together” somewhere. We can't
wait for life to be just right or the timing to be perfect. For
most people, that's feasible, but that's a just fantasy in our
world. We've got to learn to cope and grow and change together.
Just like you and me, Pa, Cassie and I have gone too far
together for one of us to slip backwards alone. I want to be
there to love and support her every second of every
day. And I can't exactly do that if we live a hour from each
Lucas thought for a long moment before turning towards his son.
"Well what are you just standing there for? Don't you have some
building plans to show me?"
Father and son made their way inside where the whole McCain
family began looking over the plans Mark had drawn up.
It was a simple cabin, one that could be added onto in the
future if need be. There were two bedrooms and a front room with
a kitchen and...
"The house in Oklahoma?" Lucas asked.
"I was thinking of planting Marigolds..."
Milly understood the memento and thought it was sweet of Mark to
keep his Ma's memory alive in that way.
"Mark, if you feel like-" Milly began, but Mark interjected.
"Ma, you helped build my life just like she did. You gave me
life in ways she didn't. I want to as a reminder of how blessed
I am to have someone to call “Ma”."
"I love you, Mark."
"I love you too, Ma."
A few days later, Cassie opened the door to see Mark on the
other side with a bouquet of flowers.
"For you," Mark said with a dramatic bow as he handed them to
"You remember that dance?"
"The one where we told Lilly and Sarah we were only friends?
Yeah... I remember."
Cassie smiled and smelled the flowers.
"Do you want to come in?"
Cassie let Mark inside and put the flowers in water.
"What brings you out this way?"
"Well, I was talking to Doc and he said you still couldn't ride
for a while, but you could go on a buggy ride... what do you
"Ma is working and Anna is at school. Let me get my bonnet."
Cassie left the room and returned with her hat. Mark walked
Cassie out the door and to his uncle and aunt's buggy before
helping her up into the seat.
They talked as they rode, but five minutes outside of town, Mark
turned off the main road and directed the horses up the path
towards a house.
"What are we doing here?" Cassie asked as she recognized her
"I asked Mr. Hamilton if we could use the barn."
"For what?" Cassie asked in confusion.
Mark didn't reply. He just stepped down and walked around to
Cassie's side before assisting her down.
Mark led Cassie to the barn and opened the door. Cassie walked
inside, Mark close behind.
Cassie was taken aback by the beautiful display of lanterns and
rose petals around the barn. Mark led her to the center of the
floor and held her hands.
"Mark, what are you doing?" Cassie asked, on the verge of tears.
"Cassie, last time I tried doing this we got interrupted. You've
always joked about how this seems to be the only place we can
get some privacy, and I figured you're just about right. Cass, I
love you, and I want to spend every day of my life with you. I'm
not perfect, I make a lot of mistakes, but I promise to love you
and always give you someone you can trust." Mark knelt in front
of her. "Cassie, will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Cassie quickly nodded as tears streamed down her face.
"Yes, Mark!" Cassie wrapped her arms around Mark's neck as he
embraced her. "Thank you..."
Mark understood what she met and nodded.
"I love you, Cassie."
The two separated and Mark used his thumbs to wipe away her
"So that's why you were so preoccupied when we went riding!"
"Speaking of which..." Mark reached behind a hay bale and
retrieved a small gift box before handing it to Cassie to open.
"I know this isn't very traditional out here, and it's nothing
fancy. But until you do become my wife and you have your wedding
ring..." Mark waited until Cassie pulled out the simple silver
band with a small red ruby on top. "I want this ring to signify
the promise I'm making to you that I will never give you a
reason to not trust me. Just like the circle is unbroken, I
intend to never break that promise."
"Mark... you shouldn't have..."
"I wanted to. We've been through so much the last few months...
you've been through even more with finding out about your
parents..." Mark took the ring and slipped it onto her finger.
"I love you, and want you to know what you mean to me."
Cassie wrapped her arms around Mark's neck.
After a long embrace, Mark took Cassie's hand and led her out of
the barn. They walked away from the buildings and began a well
enjoyed walk around the property.
As they walked, they recalled different memories they had made
on that property. Some saddened them, some made them laugh, but
all were filled with love.
They stopped on the edge of the property and sat along the fence
they had once worked on together.
Mark felt a bit of concern as he looked into Cassie's face, not
sure what she was feeling.
"Cassie, what is it?"
"...I... I can't explain it."
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No, not at all..." A tear slid down her cheek. "Mark, I've been
wrestling with myself for so many years. I've been wrestling
with the world it seems. I have always been close to my family,
and yet I always felt so alone... lost, and afraid. I never knew
who I really was, and kept putting on masks as it were. Then I
met you... and you weren't satisfied with masks. You dug past my
care-free, tomboyish exterior and helped me find myself again.
Around you, I could let myself feel because I knew there would
be no judgment or expectation; I knew there would be someone
waiting to catch me when I fell. I never had that before. I had
someone who loved me in a way no one else had before, and I had
someone that I loved as I hadn't loved before. And Mark, I can't
tell you how much I am already dreading you having to go home
tonight. I can't tell you how much I love you. I can't say...
thank you enough for caring about me."
Mark tucked a golden strand of hair behind her ear.
"You never need to say it."
Mark drew Cassie close and pressed his lips on hers.
This is a story based on the TV
series The Rifleman
Here are some other great stories. Enjoy!
around The McCain Ranch