The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years...
 
Chapter 12 - Range War
Written by Michelle Palmer
 
Jake Scully scratched his long, scraggly beard as he slightly shifted in the saddle. Two men sat on their horses on each side of him. On his right was his brother, Alex, who had been brought up to be as rough and tough as Jake. Alex had red hair that matched Jake's, and his long mustache hung below his chin. Bobby sat on the other side of Scully; but unlike his brother, Alex, he didn't enjoy walking in his brother's footsteps. No...He'd rather learn to live the honest way.
 
Scully smiled as he looked over the land. "Yep…this will do quite well for those thousand head I have grazing elsewhere. Yes siree…finest land I've seen yet!" He turned slightly in his saddle to look at Alex. "Ya boys found out who owns it?" His voice growled as if he had cactus needles in his throat.
 
"Matter-of-fact, Jake, there are two owners. That spread…" the shorter of the two pointed to his right. "…belongs to a man named Dodd. He owns the most of it. Has lots of cattle that I reckon we wouldn't mind taking on. He paid quite the price for his land…$2000. The other…" He pointed to the other side. "That belongs to a man named McCain. It's about 4200 acres, only a fourth the size that Dodd has, and he only paid $500."
 
"I see…" Jake slowly pulled out a cigar from his pocket and rolled it under his nose. "Know anythin' about ‘em?"
 
"Heard tell that the McCain's ‘round here are pretty tough. Asked around in town last night, and the late McCain helped settle this town years ago. There are four brothers as tough as nails. The men in th' saloon last night said they…all stick together." Jake turned and narrowed his eyes at Alex. "Ya want we should pay ‘em a visit?"
 
"Mm hm…" Jake nodded his head. He rolled the cigar between his fingers as he lifted high up in the saddle and looked over the McCain Ranch. "We'll start with McCain. If we can break him, we can break Dodd, I ‘spect." He turned back to his horse. "Mount up, men. Let's go pay McCain a visit."
 
***
 
The first two weeks of their marriage had been blissful. Margaret and Lucas only left the ranch for short periods of time and spent plenty of time together. Margaret tried to do outdoor chores when Lucas was working outdoors, then when he had indoor things to do, Margaret would work indoors. They built up so many memories those first two weeks. Margaret very much enjoyed fixing three square meals a day, washing his clothes, cleaning up after her husband. Though it's true that he was quite messy, she lightly chastised him and began training him on the proper way to behave in her home.
 
Many evenings were spent sitting in their home reading a book or sewing, then they'd move out onto the porch and just hold hands, cuddle, and look at the stars. The nights would end with the couple retiring to bed making love, or just cuddling until they fell asleep in each other's arms.
 
But then one morning, Lucas announced that he would break the ground he would need to plant the crops come spring. He would have liked to get winter wheat in the ground, but that wouldn't happen this year. Margaret mumbled an apology, but Lucas told her he reckoned he received a better investment in rescuing her and getting married. Margaret blushed as he took her in his arms and kissed her once more.
 
The first morning, Lucas and Margaret lingered in bed. They made love before Margaret got up to go fix breakfast. As Lucas ate, he told Margaret it would take him several days to do the plowing. His days would be long and hard. Winter could sometimes sneak up on a person, and since October was quickly approaching, he simply HAD to get this chore done before the ground started freezing. But still, Margaret wasn't prepared for the long days.
 
That first evening, Lucas dragged in well after dark. Margaret scolded Lucas for working so late, but Lucas was too tired to listen. He was falling asleep at the table as he ate his stew and eventually fell into bed. When Margaret woke up the next morning, Lucas was already gone. She fixed breakfast as the sun started to peak over the horizon, and again scolded Lucas when he tiredly stepped into the house and quickly ate his food. Lucas didn't even stop to kiss her before he went out into the fields. Margaret made sure to bring him water out in the field every hour or so, then at noon she would take him a sandwich. But Lucas didn't leave his plow until the sun went down.
 
That second night, Lucas never made it to supper. He came inside and mumbled that he would just lay down while she spooned up his beans. As Margaret carried the bowl into the bedroom, she heard the soft snoring of her husband. Lovingly, she covered him, kissed him on the forehead, then left.
 
Margaret woke the following morning to hear Lucas stirring about. She sat up, asking what time it was, and Lucas mumbled that he reckoned it was close to four in the morning. He wanted to get the chores done and breakfast eaten before the sun came up. There was no time to waste on the field. Margaret tiredly prepared his coffee, and Lucas mentioned he'd only have time for oatmeal that morning. Margaret started to protest, but Lucas held up a hand and hurried out the door.
 
Little did either of them know what was in store for them on that day. Something was about to happen that would test the undying love they had for each other.
 
Later that morning, Margaret looked up from the scrub board and wiped an arm to her forehead to push the hair back from her face. The sun was still warm, and she was sure Lucas was near parched from the sun and hard work. Of course, as his wife, she worried he was pushing himself too hard.
 
Margaret wiped her hands on her apron and picked up the bucket sitting on the porch. Slowly, she made her way out to the field. Lucas stopped the horses and turned to accept the dipper she held out to him. "Thanks." He took a long drink then took off his hat and poured the rest on his head. "It sure is hot out here."
 
Margaret looked up at the sky. The sun shined brightly on them. For mid-September, the air was still rather warm. "Luke, I think you're pushing yourself too hard. You need to slow down," she worried.
 
Lucas put the dipper back in the bucket and turned back to the plow. "I'll be done in a couple more days."
 
Margaret reached out a hand and touched his arm. It was really the first touch from Lucas she had felt since the plowing had began. She couldn't even remember him kissing her in the last three days...not since that first morning. Lucas looked up into her face. "Luke, you're so tired. I hate to see you working this hard..."
 
Lucas turned from her and looked toward the horses. "This is a farming ranch, Margaret. I told you farming's hard work."
 
"I know. It's just that...you work until sundown and fall into bed so exhausted you can hardly stand. You aren't eating either, which isn't good for you! I just..." She stopped. She started to tell him she missed his kisses...his holding her...his arms...But that sounded so selfish. She had no right to ask for those things when he was working so hard to provide for her.
 
"I have to get back to work." Lucas put the reins back over his neck. He sensed Margaret's feelings. He could hear the unspoken frustration in her voice. That made him pause and turn back to her. "Honey, I'll be done in a couple days." He gave her a crooked smile.
 
Margaret lowered her head and bit her lip. "I'm sorry. I'm just...being selfish."
 
"It's okay, Honey." Lucas touched her chin. Margaret leaned into his hand and closed her eyes with a sigh. She would relish this one simple touch he had volunteered without any prompting from her. As she looked into his eyes, he winked at her and gave her a tired smile. "I love you."
 
She didn't realize until that very moment that it wasn't the kisses or his arms she needed. It was hearing those three tender words spoken from his lips. She didn't even have to say anything. Her smile told him everything he needed. They shared a quick look, then Margaret nodded and stepped backwards as she continued smiling at him. Lucas turned from her and clucked to the horses, starting the plow back into motion.
 
Margaret went back to her laundry. She'd take Lucas out a sandwich in another hour.  Maybe she'd even manage to receive another smile from him. Margaret's heart soared as she remembered those words Lucas had spoken before going back to work. Even the daunting task of laundry didn't spoil the mood she suddenly found herself in. From where she stood, she could see Lucas as he plowed the field, his upper body stripped of clothing and drenched with sweat. She enjoyed the view.
 
But then they came. She was hanging one of Lucas' shirts on the line when she head their horses ride up. She turned and wiped her hands on her apron as she stepped forward to greet the strangers. Three men dismounted their horses and tied them to a nearby hitching post. Margaret lost part of her smile when she saw their faces. Some sort of dread entered her, causing her to take a step backwards. "Howdy, ma'am," the one with a mustache tipped his hat to her as he growled out a greeting.
 
"Hello," Margaret greeted them coolly.
 
"Yer husband here?" The man with the beard asked the question. Margaret nodded toward the field. He chewed on the cigar in his mouth as he narrowed his eyes and slowly slid his eyes down her body and back up again. "You two live here alone?"
 
Margaret was relieved when she saw, from the corner of her eye, the plow stop and Lucas hurry down into the yard. "My husband and I live here." Margaret turned to see Lucas pick up the rifle leaning against the porch and hurry toward them.
 
Lucas came to stand beside Margaret. Protectively, he pushed her back behind him a bit as his lips pressed in a straight line. Silently, he studied the three strangers. Margaret could tell from the expression on his face that he wasn't too impressed with what he found. "What can we do for you gentlemen?"
 
The big man with a scraggly beard smiled as he took a long puff from his cigar and looked Lucas up and down. Cocking his head to one side and slowly blowing smoke from his mouth, he asked, "You McCain?"
 
Lucas looked suspiciously from man to man to man. His eyes narrowed and his hand tightened around the trigger of his rifle. "I'm McCain," he answered with the slightest nod. "Now tell me who you are," Lucas growled, still leery at just who these men were.
 
"Scully. Jake Scully." The man smiled. He laughed a wicked laugh that sent chills up Margaret's spine. "These here 'er my brothers...Alex..." Alex tipped his hat and nodded toward Margaret. The grin he gave her matched Jake's. "An' Bobby."
 
"How do, ma'am?" Bobby gave her a pleasant smile as he removed his hat.
 
"Put yer hat back on!" Jake growled to his brother. Bobby obeyed, but Lucas and Margaret could tell he wasn't too happy about it. Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. He shot her a warning to stay quiet. Lucas suddenly whipped his head around when he heard the evil laughs from Jake and Alex. "Thet's a…right fine lookin' wife ya got there, mister."
 
Lucas protectively put an arm around Margaret. "Margaret…go on inside," he quietly ordered.
 
"Luke…" The last thing Margaret wanted to do was leave him alone with these three men. She didn't trust them, and she suspected Lucas was anxious to send them on their way.
 
"Go on." Lucas didn't take his eyes off the men as he quietly spoke to her. "Go on now. Do as I say. Get inside and…stay out of sight." Lucas' voice was gruff as he spoke, and held a warning…one that Margaret had to obey.
 
Margaret looked at her husband one more time. Lucas finally turned his head to look at her, but kept one eye on the men. His eyebrows shot up, warning her to not dare defy him. "Yes, Luke." Margaret really didn't want to go inside, and she was sure Lucas knew that. She slowly made her way inside, keeping her head turned. At the door, she turned back and gave the men one more long look.
 
Lucas waited until he heard the door close, but never took his eyes off the men. The three strangers eyed the rifle he held in his hands. Lucas lifted it slightly and made sure they saw him grip it tighter. "Now…like I asked before…What can I do for you?" Lucas' voice was far from pleasant as he spoke. It held barbed wire, and the men knew it.
 
Jake looked around the yard. He allowed his eyes to stray from one end of the land to the other. Slowly, he took another long puff off his cigar and allowed the smoke to roll from his lips. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and threatening. "Ya…got yerself a right-fine piece a land here, McCain."
 
"That's right," Lucas nodded, his eyes challenging the man to go on.
 
Jake cocked his head to one side. "How long ya been livin' here?"
 
Lucas eyed the men again, beginning to understand why they were there. "Long enough."
 
"Oh." After taking one last puff, Jake threw his cigar down and started to take a step forward, but he froze when he heard the cock of Lucas' rifle. A slow, evil smile spread across his face. "Hee hee hee…" His laugh was pure evil and his eyes flashed.
 
"I'm only going to ask you once more. What do you want?" The barbed wire in Lucas' voice had been replaced with sharp nails. Jake continued to smile as he looked over Lucas' shoulder toward the house. Lucas moved sideways so he could look behind him to see what Jake was looking at, yet keep an eye on the men. He saw Margaret in the window. Lucas turned back and narrowed his eyes at Jake, then he looked back toward the window.
 
"Margaret, get back and stay out of sight!" Lucas barked out loud enough for her to hear. He saw her face quickly disappear from the window. He turned back to give the men his full attention. "Well?" He made sure they understood that this was his final warning.
 
"Your land." The smile never left Jake's face. "We just want your land."
 
"Well…" Lucas lifted his rifle a little higher as he clinched his jaw and glared straight at Jake. "There's only one problem with that." He eyed the three strangers again. "My land ain't for sell."
 
"Oh." Jake turned and looked at his two brothers. Alex gave a laugh that matched his brother's evil laugh. Jake turned back around and narrowed his eyes at Lucas. "Don't seem to understand…" Alex started as his laugh grew louder.
 
"Shut up!" Jake hollered as he turned and shot his brother a look. Alex cleared his throat and immediately sobered. It was obvious to Lucas that these brothers were scared of him. Jake turned back around and cleared his throat. "Well…were I you, Mr. McCain, I would change thet way a thinkin' right quick."
 
"What's that supposed to mean?" Lucas snarled.
 
Jake held up a hand and cocked his head to one side. "Now…now…now…don't ya go thinkin' we's some sorta land grabbers er somethin'…we ain't gonna take yer land…We'll buy it from ya…" Again, Alex let out a hideous laugh. Jake rolled his eyes skyward as he turned and gave his brother a hard smack on the jaw. "I said shut up!" Alex lifted a fist in reaction, but immediately stepped back and sobered once again. Jake turned back to face Lucas. He cleared his throat and ran his fingers around the inside of his gun belt. "Like I said…we'll pay…the price ya paid fer it." Jake continued to give Lucas a pained expression as he reached in his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of money. He threw it at Lucas. Lucas moved his eyes downward as the money fell to the ground. "Five hundred dollars."
 
Lucas slowly lifted his eyes back up and narrowed them at the men. Lifting his eyebrows, he sneered, "Well, that's mighty kind of you, but I'm afraid the land's worth much more than that now."
 
"That's all yer gonna get," Jake announced with an evil grin. "Take it or leave it." Jake held up a hand to stop Lucas from answering just yet. "And were I you, McCain…" Jake slowly took another cigar from his pocket. "I would take it."
 
Lucas stepped on one of the gold eagles, pressing it into the ground. Without hesitation, he answered, "I'll leave it."
 
"Well…that's too bad." Jake nodded to Bobby who stooped down and picked up the gold pieces as Lucas and Jake continued to stare at each other. Lucas began to impatiently work his jaw as Bobby hurriedly picked up the money. He handed it to Jake who counted the money and narrowed his eyes at Bobby. Bobby apologized humbly and looked around the ground. Lucas grabbed Bobby by the chin with the barrel of his rifle and glared into his eyes. "Were I you, I'd ride out of here," Lucas growled in his face.
 
Bobby slowly turned and looked at his brother. Jake slapped him across the face. "You lilly liver!"" Jake cursed him. "Ya find that other gold piece."
 
"I said ride out of here!" Lucas clinched his jaw and gave Bobby a hard shove back. "Ya get on yer horse, BOY!"
 
Bobby didn't look toward his older brother this time. He turned and mounted his horse. Jake stepped up beside Bobby's horse and got right in his face. He grabbed him by the shirt and pulled him forward. "Ya get out a here, ya coward!" Bobby turned his horse around and quickly rode off without saying another word. Jake turned back to Luke. "Now…ya gonna give me that ten dollar eagle under your boot?"
 
"Nope," Lucas answered. "It's on my property."
 
"Why you…" Jake lifted his hand to smack him. Lucas swung the rifle across his hand. Jake cursed even louder.
 
"Good day," Lucas nodded his head and nudged his chin toward the road behind him.
 
"Now, hold on a minute there. I'm not finished!" Jake's words came out in a growl as he pointed a warning finger at Lucas.
 
"You are." Lucas gave him a small nod. "And if you want proof…" Lucas held the rifle up and pointed it right at Jake's chest. "…just say the word."
 
"Well…" Jake widened his legs as he held his hands out to his side. "Perhaps we didn't make ourselves clear enough." Jake looked at Alex from the corner of his eye. "You see…either you be friendly-like about this and GIVE us the land in exchange for this five hundred dollars…or we'll have to do things the hard way." This time, Jake took a step forward. He allowed an evil grin to come across his face. "We'll take it from ya." He looked over Lucas' shoulder. "Yes sir…that's a right purty wife ya have there." The warning was very clear to Lucas.
 
"Get out of here!" Lucas growled as he lifted his rifle and fired it, barely missing the man's shoulder. "Get out of here NOW!"
 
"Oh, we'll leave." Jake tipped his hat to Lucas. He turned and mounted his horse. Before turning to leave, he leaned way down on the saddle and pointed a finger at Lucas. "Oh, and if you have some notion on taking on the three of us…I'll warn you now…I have many, many more men. You refuse me and you just may find yerself in trouble." He tipped his hat. "Good day, McCain. We'll be back…and when we come back, we won't be alone." Again, Jake looked over Lucas' shoulder. "Ya tell thet wife a yers I'll be seein' her."
 
Lucas felt his jaw clinch some more as he watched the two men ride away. He turned and looked toward the house. Margaret was again staring out the window. Their eyes met. Margaret read so many emotions in his eyes as they gazed at each other. Her heart nearly jumped in her throat at the look that quenched his face. She stepped away from the window and hurried out to him, but Lucas simply turned from her without saying a word and walked back to the field. From the yard, Margaret watched as he put the reins over his neck and started the horses back into motion.
 
Her shoulders were heavy as she went back to her washing. The joy that had filled her heart only minutes earlier was now replaced with a deep worry. She hadn't been able to hear much of the conversation, but from the looks on the faces of the men, she knew something was going on. The expression Lucas had worn on his face after the men had left was enough to tell Margaret that something was amiss.
 
Margaret wanted to find out what was going on, but she knew Lucas didn't want interruptions while he was plowing, and she knew he expected her to go about her chores as if nothing had happened; but the truth is something HAD happened. In fact, Margaret had a notion that Lucas had been threatened.
 
Margaret hung another article of clothing on the line, and again turned and looked toward the field where Lucas was working. The rifle, which had previously sat against the porch, was now in his hand as he pushed the plow. Lucas plowed, but kept one eye on the road.
 
Margaret quickly finished her laundry, then went in to prepare him a sandwich.
 
***
 
He had to get the plowing done. Lucas made sure to know exactly when Margaret left the yard to go back inside. He shifted the rifle in his hand as he plowed. He couldn't take his mind off of what had happened earlier. The minute those men had rode onto his land, Lucas knew they were bad news. He remembered back to almost ten years ago when some men had come to visit his father. He remembered that his father had been out in the fields. Though Lucas hadn't heard the conversation, he knew his family had been threatened because after that his father had made sure to know where every member was, and he had ordered the women-folk to stay inside.
 
Lucas felt a burden weighing heavy on his shoulders as he quickly wiped an arm across his forehead. A realization had kicked him in the gut when he watched those men hurry off. Never in his life had he ever been responsible for another person. He was the youngest of four sons, and when he went off to war his parents were still alive. Never was he responsible for the life of another person…until now.
 
Lucas stopped the plow and whipped his hat off his head. "Damnit!" he cursed as he hit his thigh with his hat. He turned to see Margret hurrying toward him with his lunch. She was now his responsibility. She was the one weakness he now had in his life, and those men had used her to try and get to him. The more Lucas thought on the responsibility that now belonged to him, the more bothered he became. He started working his jaw as he felt the anger wail up inside him. He felt like he was about to explode from the weight of it all.
 
"Hungry?" Margaret asked as she forced a small smile on her face. Lucas merely nodded as he took off his gloves and took the sandwich from her. Margaret silently watched him as he ate. He refused to look at her and kept his back turned toward her. She saw the muscles in his face working; she knew he was fighting against something. "You want to talk about it?"
 
"Nope," Lucas answered shortly. He took another bite off his sandwich and bent down to take the dipper in his hand. He took a long drink as he continued to think on the fact that this woman whom he loved more than life itself was now his responsibility. Every decision he made…everything that affected him would now affect her. Something dark had come into his life today, and he wanted nothing more than to protect her from it.
 
He hoped she wouldn't ask, but he should have known better.  "Lucas, those men…"
 
Lucas stopped her before she could go any further. He shoved the dipper back down into the bucket. "I know you had your heart set on riding out to see Julie this afternoon, but I think its best you stay where I can keep an eye…" Lucas stopped when he heard her sharp intake of breath. "I mean…with me." Lucas finished off his sandwich before he stood up. "In fact, while I'm out here in the field, I think its best you stay inside."
 
"I've got chores to do outside, Luke," Margaret pointed out.
 
"They can wait," Lucas answered simply.
 
"Luke…" Margaret felt the anger wailing up inside her. "Why don't you talk to me? Tell me what you're feeling? I want to help you…"
 
"Thanks for the sandwich." Lucas said quickly as he handed her the cloth it had been wrapped in. "I should get back to work now." He said nothing more, but turned abruptly from her and put the reins back around his neck. Margaret's eyes filled with tears as she watched him start the team back in motion and continue with his plowing.
 
***
 
Margaret had no choice but to do as Lucas wished that afternoon. She had enough cream to do some churning, made a pie for dessert, and washed the floors even though they really didn't need it. But she couldn't take her mind off of the events from earlier.
 
When she had come inside, the shouting frightened her so she stood at the window and watched. She knew Lucas was upset that she had stood at the window, especially when that man…Jake, he said his name was, had looked at her the way he did. Lucas wasn't exactly the jealous type, but Margaret figured he was a bit possessive when it came to her. She had done as he asked and stayed away from the window, but the gunshot had sent her running back. That man, of course, had seen her from where he stood and once again gave her a look.
 
Margaret hoped that by tonight Lucas would be ready to talk about what had happened and how he was feeling. She wanted to be supportive and help him, but it was a bit hard to do so if he shut her out. They had always been close…had always been able to talk through problems without much trouble. Lucas wasn't ever one to express his feelings, but now that they were married Margaret was sure he would. After all, a husband is supposed to share his feelings with his wife so he can receive comfort.
 
Margaret was happy when late afternoon came and she could fix supper. She took the deer meat Lucas had brought to her a week ago and cooked it along with some mashed potatoes and carrots. When supper was almost ready, she walked out into the field and announced supper was ready. Lucas didn't say a word but nodded, indicating he had heard her. Margaret turned and hurried back inside.
 
Margaret had supper on the table by the time Lucas came in. She filled his coffee cup as he sat down at the table. She was surprised when he began chatting. "Can't believe how hot is still is out there," Lucas grumbled as he picked up the coffee cup and took a sip. Without saying more, he bowed his head and quickly blessed the food. He usually took her hand as they blessed the food, but not tonight. After his amen, Lucas started eating in silence.
 
Margaret, wanting to break the ice before she asked Lucas about earlier, cleared her throat. "How's the plowing coming?"
 
"Oh." Lucas took another sip of coffee to wash down the venison in his mouth. "I'll have to get Hal to help me pull out this tree tomorrow. I'm hoping we won't need blasting powder, though Hal said he has enough on hand if we need it. After that one tree, I think the rest of the plowing will go smoothly." Lucas had looked up into her eyes, but quickly looked away and began eating in silence again.
 
Margaret sat down her fork and leaned forward.  "I'm glad you're almost finished. I want my husband back."  She smiled, but her smile quickly disappeared when she got no response. Again, she tried to keep a calm voice. "I hate seeing you so tired, Luke." Still, Lucas ate in silence. Margaret leaned forward in her chair. Quietly, she asked the question. "Luke…about those men…"
 
Lucas quickly lifted his head and looked into her eyes.  They narrowed, and the expression on his face darkened. "Yes…about that…" He took a long swallow of his coffee before continuing with what he had to say on the matter. "I sensed there was something about them the minute they rode up. That's why I sent you inside, Margaret." His voice was controlled.
 
"You didn't like the way that man was looking at me. I understand that, Luke. But…" Margaret stopped when Lucas held up his hand.
 
He shifted in his seat, then looked into her eyes. As he studied her, his expression changed from concern to anger. Harshly, he grunted. "I don't much appreciate you standing at the window spying on me."
 
The words stung as much as his tone of voice did. Margaret stared at him, not quite believing that he was speaking to her in such a way. "What?" Margaret slowly sat her spoon down, feeling angered at his accusation. "Luke, I wasn't spying on you…that doesn't even make sense!" Lucas' eyes narrowed. "I was just concerned." Her voice shook as she spoke.
 
"Yes. So was I." The expression on his face was now unreadable. It looked as if he was fighting some battle inside himself. "Well next time when I tell you to go inside, don't stand at the window gawking." Lucas stood from the table. "I best get back to work," he mumbled, suddenly needing out of the house.
 
Margaret felt hot tears burn her eyes as Lucas hurried from the house. He was angry at her and she didn't understand why. "Lucas…" She hurried after him. "Luke…We need to talk about…" But Lucas didn't stop walking as he went to the barn to saddle his horse and ride out onto the range. Margaret went back inside to clean up. Several minutes later, the door opened. She turned to see Lucas' tall frame standing in the doorway. His eyes held a deep worry. When he finally spoke, his voice was low and shaky. "I have to go check the stock. I don't want you leaving this house, ya hear?" He stared at her, waiting for her response as he worked the muscles in his face again. Margaret couldn't find her voice, so she merely nodded as she pressed a hand to her middle.
 
Lucas nodded. Then he was gone.
 
***
 
Being late September, the sun was already going down earlier. As Lucas rode away from the house, he stopped his horse on the range and looked down toward the house. He didn't want to leave her alone – not for a second. He could still see the ranch house from where he stood, but if those men came back he wouldn't have time to get to her. Lucas looked down at his rifle. He felt anger again boil inside of him. The words Jake Scully had spoken again echoed in his head. ‘That's a right purty wife ya got there, mister.'
 
It didn't take an education for a person to figure out that was an out-right threat. Lucas knew the men would be back, but he had no idea how long. He couldn't leave her alone. He just couldn't let her out of his sight. "Damnit!" Lucas cursed again. He felt the pressure of his responsibility suddenly weighing on his shoulders. He remembered his Pa's words when men had threatened to take his land from him. "I'll die before I let anybody take my land!" Those were words to live by, and Lucas felt the same way.
 
This land meant a lot to him. Before the war, Lucas had ridden out here and just stood on the hill where the house now sat. He dreamed of the day he'd be living on the land…soon, the dream included Margaret. He and Margaret had spent so many evenings on this land. He'd proposed to her right on the crest a ways from the front of the house. He loved Margaret more than anything, yet he never even thought about the fact that he was now responsible for her well-being.
 
"Oh God…" Lucas prayed as he looked toward the house, watching for any sign of danger. "God…am I ready for such a responsibility? I've never had to deal with such a thing before…Even in the war…I promised her I'd take care of her when I married her, yet now I have to come to a decision. I can't just make it based on what I want…" Lucas knew he couldn't give up his land. He also understood that decision could cost him his life. "I'll have to send her away to keep her safe…"
 
The prospect of doing that brought grief to Lucas' heart. It tormented him to even think about sending her away, yet he had to keep her safe. Lucas turned in his saddle and looked out onto the range. He knew he needed to check the cattle, but instead he rode back to the ranch house. After bedding down the stock, he hurried inside.
 
Margaret was just finishing up the dishes when he walked inside and put his rifle in the holder by the door. "I thought you went to check the cattle."
 
"I changed my mind." Lucas went to look out the window. "I meant to pick up some locks for these doors when I was in town the other day…" Lucas mumbled these words to himself. "I worry about you when you're here alone."
 
Margaret sat the plate down and slowly walked over to him. "I know how to shoot that shotgun we have over the mantle." She nodded toward it. "If you remember, my brother taught me."
 
Lucas jerked his head around. "I don't want you using that gun, you hear me?" His voice boomed the order so loud that Margaret took a step backwards. She was shocked at his sudden outburst. Lucas put a hand to his forehead and sighed. "I'm…sorry…" He turned and started to reach out to her, but he lowered his hand back to his side. "I just…worry about you."
 
"Luke, pleas talk to me," Margaret pleaded.
 
Lucas turned away from her. "I'm going to bed."
 
***
 
Margaret blew out the lantern and sat down on the side of the bed. "Luke, you awake?" she asked as she laid down in the bed and pulled the covers up around her. Lucas grunted, indicating he was. Margaret stayed on her back and looked up at the ceiling as she spoke calmly and quietly. "Luke, will you please talk to me?"
 
"About what?"
 
"About those men."
 
She heard Lucas sigh. "You don't need to worry about it. I'll take…"
 
Margaret suddenly sat up in bed and looked down at Lucas who was laying on his side away from her. "I DO need to worry about it, Lucas McCain! You are my husband. What concerns you concerns me." Margaret paused and waited for him to speak. "What did they want? Who were they?"
 
Lucas didn't move or say a word for a moment, then he sighed as he slowly turned onto his back. In the darkness, he looked up at her. "They want the land."
 
Margaret drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. She stared toward the far wall as she allowed the meaning of his words to sink in. "To buy it?" she finally asked.
 
"They offered to give me five hundred dollars," Lucas answered.
 
"I see."
 
Lucas sat up and turned to face her. "No, honey…I'm afraid you don't. They want to…take it." Margaret slowly turned and looked at him as realization began to set in her eyes. A pained expression crossed Lucas' face. "Do you remember when we were kids?" Lucas reached out and took her hand. "There was a man who came to my Pa and made the same demands these men were demanding of me today. When my Pa refused, this man tried to burn us out. We lost a lot that night. Do you remember that?"
 
A tear slid down Margaret's cheek as she slowly nodded her head. Silence snipped the air as Lucas allowed the seriousness of the situation to sink in. He continued to hold her hand, rubbing his thumb along the top of it as she sniffed. Finally, Margaret allowed herself to ask the question. "Is that going to happen to us?"
 
"I…I don't know." Lucas swallowed as he answered honestly. "I…I hope not." But Margaret heard the fear as his voice shook.
 
"So you're saying that…that those men are…are…land grabbers?" Margaret felt more hot tears fall from her eyes. Her lips began trembling as she turned to look into her husband's eyes. Lucas slightly nodded to answer her question. "You're so much like your father, Luke. You…won't give in." It wasn't a question.
 
"No."
 
Margaret slowly nodded, trying to accept this piece of news. She forced the tears to stay in her eyes. She wanted to be strong for her husband. The last thing he needed was her weakness. "I won't pretend to understand what's so important about land that makes a man want to die over it…But…I'll stand beside you." Margaret wiped the tears from her cheek. "Maybe…maybe you scared them. Maybe they'll go away." They just stared into each others' eyes. Both Lucas and Margaret knew they wouldn't.
 
Margaret and Lucas continued staring at each other. They both knew what the reality of today was, and they both knew it wasn't over. Suddenly, Margaret's face turned from sadness to hurt as she once again felt the sting of her husband's words. She was no longer able to hold her tears back. Before she was overcome with tears, she choked out, "I wasn't gawking today, Luke." Then she burst into tears, allowing the emotions of the day to capture her.
 
Lucas felt his own eyes fill with tears. He reached out and took her into his arms. Margaret pressed against him as she wrapped her arms around him and sobbed hard, shaking sobs in the comfort of his arms. Lucas knew he had caused some of her tears. "I'm sorry…I shouldn't have said that, honey…" He held Margaret while she cried. "That was rude and harsh…I was just so upset." Lucas sighed. "I guess I'm a bit…protective of you. The way that man looked at you…"
 
"I know. But I was just so concerned…" Margaret mumbled against his shoulder. "I'm sorry I disobeyed."
 
"Disobeyed…" Lucas lifted Margaret's head from his shoulder. "I knew they were bad news, honey…and Scully made some inappropriate threats. I just…I have to protect you." As he continued to hold her, Lucas felt the weight of his new responsibility again. He had come to a decision earlier. Lucas lowered his head, gaining strength for his next words. "Margaret, if they come back, I'll send you away."
 
Margaret lifted from his embrace and stared into his eyes. "NO!" Margaret shook her head violently. "You can't! I'm your wife!"
 
"And I'm your husband, Margaret. I have to do what's best for you! I have to keep you safe!"
 
"Your fight is my fight, Luke!" Margaret's eyes again filled with tears. "You can't push me away! You need to talk to me…tell me what you're thinking and feeling…"
 
"I won't allow you to stay here!" Lucas suddenly declared as he pushed her further away. "I'll send you to your mother's…or to my family."
 
"NO!" Margaret shook her head even harder. "I won't go!"
 
Lucas suddenly released her. Anger flashed in his eyes. "Margaret, I…" He stopped and turned from her. Laying down on his side away from her, he said, "We should sleep. I've a big day tomorrow."
 
Margaret knew that was the end of the discussion. She was left sitting up in bed trying to come to terms with all that had happened on her own. As she stared down at her husband, she became hurt, angry, and fearful all at the same time. She remembered that dark time in the McCain family's life. She remembered how hard it was for the family to recover from that. She remembered…remembered too well.
 
In time, Margaret laid down on her side away from Lucas. She sobbed, suddenly feeling alone. A long time later, she fell asleep.
 
***
 
Margaret had hoped things would look better for both of them by morning, but when she woke up the next morning, Margaret found the place beside her empty and cold. After dressing, she walked into the kitchen and started breakfast. Margaret lifted the curtain from the window to see Lucas standing over the woodpile with his ax in hand. His rifle was leaning up beside the barn, in easy reach if he suddenly needed it. He nervously looked from one direction to the other, took a swing with the ax, then looked in every direction again.

Margaret turned from the window and went to light a fire in the stove. She started the coffee warming as she went to start a batch of pancakes. After the coffee warmed, Margaret made her way to the barn where Lucas was once again hitching up the plow. He turned when he heard the barn door open. "Margaret, I don't want you outside the house, I said!" His voice snapped at her.
 
"I refuse to be held prisoner in my own home!" Margaret shot out. She gave him a hard look as he took a sip of his coffee. "And you'll eat breakfast before you start plowing."
 
"Just bring it out to me when it's…" Lucas started.
 
"I will not!" Margaret declared. "You can't eat pancakes from the field. I expect you inside to eat a good breakfast before you go to work." Margaret turned on her heels and started out the door.
 
"Margaret…" Margaret turned to look at him. His eyes softened a bit as he gave her a small smile. "Thanks for taking care of me. But…don't be angry when I do the same."
 
"I'm not," Margaret answered simply. "I'm worried about you, Luke."
 
"I know." Lucas turned back to ready the horses for the day. "And I'm worried about you. That's why I have to…"
 
Lucas turned when he heard her let out a loud sob. He saw her back quickly retreating to the house.
 
Breakfast that morning was eaten in silence. Margaret glanced at him a few times, and he glanced at her, but they silently ate their pancakes and sipped their coffee without saying a word. When Lucas was done eating his two pancakes, he refused anymore and got up to start his hard day. At the door, he again paused and asked her not to leave the house.
 
Margaret couldn't concentrate on a thing that day. She tried to keep herself busy with baking bread and cleaning, but there were only so many things she could do. She watched Lucas work himself hard. He seemed to be pushing himself harder than he had the other days, and today he anxiously looked toward the house every minute to make sure those men weren't coming back. She took him a sandwich at noon, much to his disapproval, then called to him to come in at six o'clock that evening. Lucas was so exhausted, yet he sat on the porch that evening and smoked his cigar with his rifle on his lap. Margaret stood in the doorway, but somehow didn't feel invited to join him.
 
He later laid down beside her, but there was an empty space between them. Margaret longed to be held by him as she fell asleep, but they were both so angry. Again that night, she cried herself to sleep.
 
The following day was much of the same. Margaret allowed the day to go on, but didn't stay inside, much to Lucas' disapproval. They exchanged a few angry words and in the end Lucas ‘allowed' Margaret to do some outside chores, not that she gave him much of a choice in the matter, that she declared simply must be done while he plowed from the other direction. Margaret hated that he felt he couldn't let her out of his sight for a moment. She felt like such a burden and wondered why he wouldn't talk to her. That night at supper, Margaret again begged Lucas to tell her why he was so angry; but again, Lucas clammed up and wouldn't say a word.
 
Another night was spent apart, yet in the same bed.
 
***
 
Two mornings after the Scully brothers' visit, Margaret felt Lucas stir in the bed beside her. The house was still dark when she turned to see Lucas rise from the bed and begin to dress. "Luke?" Margaret called in the darkness.
 
Lucas pulled his pants on, then hurried to her and gently pushed her back down in bed. "Everything's okay, Margaret. I'll start the coffee. You go on back to sleep," he whispered gently. Margaret heard the concern in his voice.
 
"What time is it?" Margaret asked as she turned on her back and yawned. Lucas reported it was nearly three o'clock. Margaret slowly sat up in the bed again. "What's wrong, Luke?"
 
"Nothing," Lucas tried to reassure her again. "There's nothing wrong." Lucas pulled on his shirt.
 
"Then come on back to bed, honey." Margaret watched in the darkness as Lucas continued to button his shirt. "Luke, you need to sleep too."
 
"I can't." Lucas whispered as he continued to stoop down beside the bed. He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Now, you go back to sleep." He stood up, then hurried from the room.
 
Margaret soon heard his stirring in the front room. Then she heard the front door close. She waited a few minutes then stood from the bed. After securing her robe, she walked to the front door and opened it. There she found Lucas on the porch with his rifle in hand. "Luke?"
 
Lucas turned to her. "Margaret, I told you to…" He started in an accusing voice.
 
Margaret ignored him and came to stand beside him. Her eyes scanned the darkness. "What's out there, Luke? What is it?"
 
"It's nothing!" Lucas answered her harshly.
 
"Then why are you standing guard as if someone's out there?" Margaret shivered involuntarily. "Luke, what's wrong?" She reached out and grabbed his arm. "TALK to me!"
 
Lucas' eyes hardened. "Nothing's wrong!"
 
"Stop it, Luke! Stop lying to me!" Margaret stepped closer to him. "A man…especially you…doesn't stand guard on his front porch in the middle of the night when nothing's wrong!" Margaret watched as he turned away from her. "Luke…those men have you really scared, don't they?"
 
"I'm not scared!" Lucas stopped, realizing that wasn't completely true. "Look…I have to protect you, Margaret." Lucas clinched his jaw as he grabbed her arm. "That's my responsibility. I…I have to protect you."
 
Margaret searched his face. She saw such desperation…such weariness in his face. She felt an ache deep inside her. "You can't keep going like this, Luke. Those men were here two days ago. All you've managed to do the last two days is walk back and forth in the yard and work. You've hardly let me out of your sight. You don't talk to me…you growl orders at me…I'm sick of it! You aren't sleeping and…and I'm tired of seeing you like this." Margaret was half shouting, half-crying as she spoke these words. She again had tears falling down her cheeks.
 
"What do you want me to do?" Lucas' suddenly snapped at her as his eyes glared. "You tell me what you expect of me? You expect me to just lay in there in that bed and leave you unprotected? To go about my work and leave you here alone knowing that those men are out there…just waiting for the opportunity?" Lucas clinched his fists.
 
Margaret shook her head. "I'm NOT unprotected, Luke! You're in that bed right beside me!"
 
"I can't take this rifle to bed with us, Margaret! I won't live like that!" Lucas suddenly shouted in anger.
 
Margaret turned from him, trying to regain her composure. She closed her eyes then turned around, but the anger and hurt was still there. She felt hot tears once again pour down her cheeks. Her eyes flashed. "YOU can't live like that?! So instead, you're going to sleep on one side of the bed and me on the on the other…then you're going to leave me in bed alone…in the house in solitude while you stand guard outside the house? You don't talk to me…you just give me orders, and when we do have a conversation, we end up fighting!" Margaret shook her head. "I CAN'T LIVE LIKE THAT!"
 
Lucas' voice softened as he once again took her arm. Calmly, he spoke. "Margaret, do you remember those men who approached my father? Do you? Do you remember just how cruel they were?" Lucas turned back to look across the road. "I talked to Hal yesterday. He had a friendly visit from those men. They told Hal they planned to take his land as well." Lucas turned back to face his wife. "By force if they have to…Just like Pa." Lucas closed his eyes as he stepped away from her. "I can't let ANYTHING happen to you! You are my world!"
 
Margaret bit her lip to keep it from trembling. "Luke there are some things you aren't telling me. Tell me what's got you so scared!" Lucas closed his eyes and remained silent. Margaret again stepped toward him and gently laid a hand on his arm. "Luke, please…talk to me! Allow me to share this with you!"
 
"Go back inside." Lucas' voice ordered her. Margaret didn't move, but only stared at him. "GO BACK INSIDE, I SAID!"
 
The moment the order left his lips, Lucas felt regret. A deep hurt suddenly entered his wife's face. Margaret threw a hand to her mouth and hurried inside, giving the door a good slam behind her.
 
Lucas jumped as the door slammed. He banged his hand against the post on the porch and looked up into the sky. "God…" Lucas breathed. "Please help us. Help her understand that this is hard for me. I've never had to be responsible for someone. I've never had to share my every thought with a person. I can't tell her that she's the way they want to hurt me. Oh God…" Lucas felt a tear slide down his cheek. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Margaret, but he was so scared. He had lived through this once before, and he wasn't sure he could endure it again…not when Margaret was involved!
 
On the other side of the door, Margaret was sobbing as she clinched a hand to her mouth. She felt so alone. This was a time when husband and wife should be holding each other, trying to find a solution to their problem. Instead, Lucas was shutting her out, not allowing her anywhere near his fears and pain. If only he would hold her and talk to her! If only he would allow her to suffer through this with him. "God…" Margaret whispered through her tears. "God…please help him understand that I love him, and I want to help him…Please help him understand that watching him go through this alone is killing me inside!"
 
***
 
Lucas came inside hours later when Margaret quietly announced breakfast was ready. He ate quickly, neither husband nor wife uttered a word. Enough had already been said that morning, and they both knew it. In fact, the silence was so thick that when Lucas allowed his fork to fall on his plate, the sound of it made Margaret jump. Lucas didn't seem to notice, but mumbled that as soon as she finished the dishes, he would escort her across the street to stay with Ann behind locked doors.
 
Margaret's eyes grew wide as she stared at him, but Lucas took special care not to look toward her as he put his gloves on and lifted his rifle. Margaret suddenly felt as if she were a six year old child being punished for not obeying her mother. Of course, she always enjoyed visiting Ann, but not behind locked doors at the express commands of her husband. She opened her mouth to say something, but closed it when she saw the warning in Lucas' eyes as he finally turned to face her. She was one to speak her mind, but enough had already been said. She just couldn't say anymore, knowing it would only turn into yet another fighting match.
 
Instead, she turned away from him and clinched a hand over her mouth. Only when she heard the door close behind her did she allow her sobs to sound once again and her shoulders to shake from the weight of it all. It was some time later before she felt steady enough to clean the dishes.
 
In time, Margaret removed her apron and went to look out the bedroom window. There she saw Lucas, rifle in hand, plowing the field. Margaret put a hand to the window as she whispered his name. She wished she had the wisdom to take this horrid pain from him that he was bearing. She couldn't believe they had only been married 3 ½ weeks ago. Right now, it seemed like an eternity. Were they really in that blissful state of their marriage just three days ago? Margaret remembered that last morning when they had made love. She had no idea then that in only a few hours, their blissful life would come to a screeching halt. First Lucas had started long days of plowing, then the strain already between them had increased when those men showed up a few days later.
 
Suddenly, Margaret needed Ann. She hadn't even been able to see or talk to Ann since all this had started. She needed out of this house and…she hated to even think it…away from her over-protective husband for awhile. Margaret turned from the window and went to check her hair in the mirror. She felt torn, though. What if those men came back while she was gone? How could she help him…protect him from himself if she was across the street behind locked doors?
 
Margaret walked into the front room and opened the door. She stepped out onto the porch and looked toward Lucas where he was almost done plowing. Lucas ‘whoaed' the team and wiped the sweat from his brow as he hurried toward her. "Maybe they won't come back," Margaret mumbled. Then he was there. He nodded toward the road, and without saying a word walked with her across the street.
 
But Margaret couldn't stay silent. She had to let Lucas know just what she was feeling. When they had entered the Dodd yard, Margaret bravely voiced her thoughts. "Luke…I think that the way you are treating me is very…cruel."
 
Lucas stopped and took her arm, pulling her back beside him. He turned her to face him. "Honey, I'm trying to protect you!"
 
"You're not letting me in. You're trying to fight this alone." Margaret kept her voice controlled and even.
 
"You don't understand!" Lucas shouted suddenly. "I have work to do and I can't leave you there by yourself, knowing those men could come while I'm gone!"
 
"I'm not a child!" Margaret screamed. "I'm an adult and I can take care of myself."
 
Suddenly, the door opened. The fighting couple turned, their faces reddening with embarrassment at being caught in an argument. Hal stepped from the door, ignoring the whole exchange they had obviously heard. Ann lifted her eyebrows in question as she looked toward her best friend. "Ann, make sure you lock the door behind you." Ann nodded silently.
 
Lucas and Margaret continued staring at each other. It was obvious that had they not been interrupted, more words would have been said. Ann felt her intervention was necessary at this point. "Margaret, come on inside." Ann took her arm and turned her around. She led Margaret inside then locked the door. After settling Margaret at the table with a cup of tea, she spoke. "I heard you fighting, Margaret.  I know this is between you and Luke, but…can I say something?" Margaret nodded as she stared into her tea. "Lucas loves you, honey." Ann took her hand and looked into Margaret's eyes. "He wants to take care of you and this thing's got him and Hal both scared." Ann lifted an eyebrow. "Hal said they threatened him with me."
 
"You? How?" Margaret asked suddenly.
 
"Well, they didn't come right out and say it, but they mentioned how lovely I was several times. Hal got their message loud and clear."
 
Margaret bit her lip. "You think…perhaps…they did the same with Luke?"
 
"Well…that's one way to try and get what they want." Ann reached out and took Margaret's hand. "Hal's tried to talk to Luke, but Luke won't talk to him about it either. He's pretty shut up about all this."
 
Margaret's eyes held fear and hurt in them. She once again lowered her eyes to her tea cup still sitting on the table. She finally spoke, but her words were quiet. "Did you know Lucas' family was burned out by men like this?" Ann said nothing. Margaret continued. "We were about…oh…twelve or thirteen, I suppose." A tear slid down Margaret's cheek. "I was there the first time they came by. I remember the look on Uncle Marcus' face." Margaret bit her lip as she lifted her eyes to Ann. "I saw that same look two days ago. It was like looking in the face of a…a ghost…" The last two words came out in a whisper.
 
"What happened?"
 
"When it was all over…Uncle Marcus cried. The whole family went through quite a difficult time. They…had to rebuild…not only their farm, but their lives. Aunt Ruth was a rock, but there were times when she could hardly stand to be there. Oh, but that was such a hard time." Margaret's eyes filled with tears. "I don't know if…if Luke can survive that again. The last time he…he swore he kill that man someday."
 
"I'm sorry this is happening again."
 
Margaret slowly stood up and walked to the window. "Ann…if I'm not there…" She turned back to face her best friend. "…there's no telling what Luke will do. I have to…to protect him from himself. He won't let me inside…he's fighting this alone."
 
Ann slowly stood and walked over to Margaret. She put an arm around her best friend's shoulders. "Maybe that's how he wants it."
 
"He's my husband!" Margaret wiped tears from her face. "I love him…so much! I want to help him!"
 
"Just keep loving him, Margaret. Pray." Ann lifted her eyes. "We can pray right now."
 
The two women kneeled beside the couch and poured their hearts out to God. An hour had passed before the women opened their eyes and stood from their kneeled positions. Ann started to suggest they make their way back into the kitchen when the sounds of horses could be heard. Margaret hurried to the window, her eyes growing wide at the image she saw. She counted them then turned to Ann. Her face paled as she whispered, "There's ten of them that I see!" Margaret's eyes filled with fear. "And they're all heading to our ranch!"
 
Suddenly, Margaret bolted for the door. Ann caught her arm and held on for dear life, stopping her from opening it. "We'll just cause trouble!" Ann shouted as she held tight to Margaret. "We have to wait."
 
"I can't!" Margaret cried.
 
"You could get him killed!" Ann insisted. Margaret froze, realizing she was right. Then she allowed Ann to hug her as she wept and prayed.
 
***
 
Lucas heard the approaching horses and quickly turned from his work in the barn. He picked up his rifle and swung it around before leaving the confines of the barn. Slowly, he walked out. Jake Scully looked around the yard as he scratched his chin. He sat up straighter in the saddle. "I thought we finished our business the other day," Lucas growled as he looked from Jake to his brothers.
 
"Seems we didn't. You're still here." Alex laughed wickedly, and this time his brother, Jake, joined in with him. "McCain…" Jake moistened his lips as he slowly leaned forward on the saddle. "Now…our business ain't done ‘til ya come ta yer senses." Scully slowly sat up straight and again slid a cigar from his pocket. "Ya might as well make it easy on yerself an' give me the land."
 
Lucas cocked his head to one side. "I thought you would give me five hundred dollars for it."
 
"That was the other day." Jake slid the match across his boot. "Today…I take it…fer nothin'."
 
"No, Jake," Alex laughed. "Fer ten dollars, ‘member?"
 
"Ah yes…" Jake laughed. "Ya see, McCain, th' way I see it, I have invested in this land already." He took a long puff off his cigar. "Might as well make it easy on yerself. Ya may live to regret…"
 
"This is my ranch!" Lucas suddenly shouted. "I plan on bringing up my family on this ranch. You ain't gonna stop me." There was a stubborn determination in Lucas' voice.
 
"Speaking of thet…" Scully turned to look around. "Where is the wife? Ya have her locked up somewheres?" Scully laughed evilly again.
 
Lucas suddenly lifted his rifle and shot at the horse's hooves. The horse reared back and threw Scully from the saddle. Lucas hurried up to him and pointed his rifle in Scully's face. "Now, get out of here," Lucas snarled.
 
Scully eyed the rifle. A smile slowly crossed his face as he propped himself up in the dirt. "You know…that rifle sure does look like it can shoot its target. And you can shoot me too." He stood to his feet, his eyes staying on the rifle as it raised with him. "But uh…as soon as you do, there's seven more guns that will fill you full of led." He took the cigar out of his mouth and pointed it behind him. Lucas turned and looked to see guns drawn from other men he hadn't noticed before. Jake and Alex both cackled. "Now…were I you, McCain…I'd just drop thet rifle."
 
Lucas did as he was told. He held up his hands and waited for the next move. Scully slowly circled him, chuckling to himself. "Now uh…you have a nice house here. You have a mighty fine barn and shed…That's a right purty woman you got there too." Scully stopped and laughed right in Lucas' face. "Hate for ya to lose those things."
 
Lucas reached up to punch him, but froze when he heard the cocking of a gun behind him. "You plan to kill me for this land?"
 
"Kill you?" Scully laughed as he looked at the cigar in his hand. "Nah…I don't think I'll have to go that fer. At least I haven't had ta yet." Scully took a few steps away from Lucas. "Besides, there's other ways ta convince ya." Scully nodded to his men as he slowly put the cigar back in his mouth.
 
Lucas looked around to see the men slowly walk towards him. Soon, they were all circled around him as Scully and his brothers just stood on the outside watching. Lucas turned and punched one of the men hard, but two men grabbed him from behind and held him as a big man with a beard lifted his fist and punched him hard. Lucas groaned as pain shot through his face. The man hit him twice more. Then another man came forward and punched him in the gut. Lucas let out a cry as he toppled to the ground. He felt a hard kick in the side, then another lifted his head by the hair and punched him twice more. Lucas fell to the ground, his head buried in the dirt.
 
Scully came to stand over him. Lucas weakly lifted his face and looked at the boots of the man who was causing him so much grief. "We'll be back, McCain. Ya have yer answer ready then. Pack up and get out….or else…" Scully turned from him. "Mount up, boys." Lucas weakly bobbed his head up and down as the sound of mounting horses came. "By the way, McCain…that's a mighty fine lookin' woman ya got yerself…next time…it just may be her."
 
***
 
Margaret watched out the window, but she couldn't see anything. She fretted as she began pacing the floor, wondering what was going on over there. "Where's Hal?" Margaret suddenly asked. "Why doesn't he come?"
 
Ann shook her head as she clasped her hands around Margaret's shoulders. "Hal's way out in the North pasture."
 
Margaret again began pacing the floor. Suddenly, she heard the sound of Lucas' rifle firing. "Oh!" She let out a cry and raced toward the door.
 
"Not yet!" Ann hurried toward Margaret and again grabbed her. "You can't go out there, honey!"
 
"I have to go!" Margaret felt tears welling in her eyes. "Oh, he's my husband! I must…"
 
"We're safer in here!" Ann shouted. "There's nothing you can do…NOTHING!" Ann cried herself. She hated what was happening to her best friends. "The men are still there, Margaret. We must wait until they leave!"
 
Margaret was shaking with fear. She couldn't think that Ann was right in making her stay, yet she couldn't fight against her. Margaret dropped to her knees and put her face in her hands. "Oh…please God! Please protect him!" Margaret hugged herself as Ann kneeled beside her. Both women again prayed.
 
A few minutes later, Margaret hurried to the window when she heard the horses ride off. "I'm going over there!" Margaret announced a she ran to the front door and unlocked it. She lifted her skirt and cried as she hurried across the street, Ann hurried right behind her. When she saw Lucas' form still kneeling on the ground, she let out a cry and hurried up to him. "Lucas!" She fell down in front of him and took his face in her hands.  "Oh Luke…what did they do to you?" She asked as she tenderly began searching him for wounds.
 
"I'll go get my husband!" Ann declared as she turned and hurried back across the road.
 
Lucas lifted a shaky hand to her face and sighed. Blood oozed from his nose and several other wounds on his face. Tears of shame that his wife had to find him in such a state were in his eyes. He clinched his middle and knew that he would be hurting worse later. "They tried to beat the sense into me." He closed his eyes and groaned. "Margaret…" Lucas swallowed hard. "Please…please just go…leave me alone…"
 
"I won't!" Margaret took his face in her hands. "I'm your wife and I love you!"
 
"I don't want you to see me this way…" Lucas tried to keep the tears from slipping down his face, but one trickled down anyhow. "Oh please…please, honey…please go away…PLEASE!"
 
"Lucas McCain…" Margaret lifted his face, forcing him to look into hers. "YOU are my husband. I married you in good times and bad. I will NOT leave you, and don't you DARE feel ashamed for what those men did to you! You took a beating because you stood up for what you believe. I am so…proud of you!"
 
Lucas stared at her, then slightly nodded.
 
"Can you make it inside?" Margaret questioned then as she tugged on his arm to help him up. Lucas nodded and put his arm around her. Margaret helped him stand. They walked inside. After Margaret got him seated at the table, she hurried into the kitchen and poured water into the basin. She grabbed a cloth and dipped it into the water than hurried back over to Lucas.
 
Just then, the door opened. Hal hurried inside with Ann right behind him. "Luke!" Hal bent down in front of his friend. He touched Lucas' chin and turned his head from side to side. "How many were there?"
 
"I don't know," Lucas mumbled as Margaret pulled out the chair beside her husband and sat down. "Ten maybe."
 
Hal lifted his eyebrows. "They beat you up badly. What did they say to you?"
 
"Not in front of my wife, Hal," Lucas grumbled.
 
"Luke…I want to know!" Margaret argued.
 
"Alright." Hal put a hand on Margaret's shoulder; silently telling her to stay calm. "I'll go for the Marshal."
 
"NO!" Lucas shouted. Hal froze and slowly turned around. He looked from Ann to Margaret as his eyebrows popped up in question. "I don't want you to tell anybody!"
 
"Luke, don't be a fool!" Hal argued. "You can't go up against ten men! This is something for the Marshal!"
 
"I don't want him involved!" Lucas shouted. "This is my fight! I don't want to hurt anyone else."
 
"What about Margaret?" Hal asked.
 
Lucas' eyes raged as he turned to look at Margaret. "She's my responsibility. I'll take care of her."
 
"Lucas, have you forgotten that they want Hal too? It could be him next!" Margaret argued. She began tenderly wiping his wounds as she calmed her voice. "I don't understand why they're fighting you instead of Hal anyhow."
 
"Margaret!"
 
"She's right," Ann responded. "After all…we have a lot more land than you do, Luke."
 
Hal stood and placed his hands on Ann's shoulders. He looked straight into her eyes. "I don't have the reputation of a McCain." He turned and looked at Margaret. "They think that…if they can break a McCain…they can break me."
 
"That's ENOUGH, HAL!" Lucas suddenly shouted.
 
"What are they going to do next?" Margaret cried. "Burn our house? Kill you?" Margaret shook her head. "Luke, you cannot do this alone! You just can't!"
 
Lucas reached out and touched her chin. "Hal…I'd like to be alone with my wife."
 
"Luke!" Ann started to argue. Hal immediately shook his head and motioned for Ann to leave. "But Hal…he's…"
 
Hal hurried Ann from the house. "He's being a fool," Hal grumbled.
 
"You should go for the Marshal, Hal. We've Margaret to think on."
 
Hal shook his head. "No…I think Lucas will be taking Margaret to town. For now…we just have to mind our own business."
 
"Will they kill him?"
 
Hal turned and looked toward the closed door. "I…don't know."
 
Lucas stayed quiet as Margaret worked on his cuts and bruises. He kept an eye on her face and could tell she was working up to a fiery speech. He'd had enough and he knew what would need to be done. Lucas flinched a bit. He wasn't sure if the pain in his heart or the pain on his face was hurting worse. No, he decided, it was neither. The pain was coming from the hurt and agony he saw on his wife's face. Just when he was about to reach out and touch her, Margaret spoke. "Oh Luke…they hurt you badly! They could have killed you!" Finally, she leaned forward and kissed his cut lip softly. "You have to let Hal go for the Marshal."
 
"Hal should have NEVER spoken on the matter in front of you!" Lucas grumbled.
 
"I don't understand you, Luke! I'm your WIFE!" Margaret felt her eyes fill with tears again. "Hal's right. You cannot fight off ten men! You just…you can't!"
 
"I said I'll handle it, Margaret!"
 
Lucas grabbed her wrist as she started to stand. "Margaret…we need to talk." She heard the hesitation in his voice.
 
Margaret settled herself back in the chair and softly patted his cuts with the damp cloth. "What is it?"
 
"I have to send you away."
 
"No, Luke!"
 
"It's not up for discussion!" Lucas declared. "You're going to your family for a few days, and that's final!"
 
"Luke…" Margaret shook her head. "Luke, don't do this! You cannot shut me out!"
 
"Honey, I love you!" Lucas pressed his fingers to her lips. "I…I love you." His voice spoke so tenderly. His eyes filled with tears. Then to Margaret's surprise, he began weeping. "Oh Margaret…please understand that I love you so much!" He groaned as he stood to his feet. "Have your things packed by the time I get the wagon hitched up."
 
"Luke…"
 
Look stopped and turned around. His eyes held a warning. "Margaret, please don't fight me on this," he demanded angrily.
 
Margaret watched Lucas turn and walk out the door, then she turned and hurried into the bedroom.
 
***
 
After hitching the team, Lucas stepped into the house. When he opened the door, he was surprised to find Margaret standing in front of him with her head lifted high and her arms folded in front of her. "I thought I told you to be ready," Lucas stated gruffly.
 
"You did," Margaret answered with a nod. She took a step forward. "That's what you did…you TOLD me."
 
"Well?" Lucas folded his arms, matching her stance as he towered over her.
 
"Lucas McCain…I have a few things to say and…"
 
"Now, see here Margaret…" Lucas shouted.
 
"Don't interrupt me! I have something to say and you WILL listen without interrupting!" Lucas wrinkled his brow, quite surprised at the tone of voice she was using. But that tone of voice had its effect on him. He stopped talking immediately. "Now then…I want you to know that what I have to do is killing me. You have absolutely NO idea how hard this is for me to do." Margaret began crying hot tears. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to go against your orders…to defy you…to…disobey." Margaret bit her lip. "I am your wife, and I married you for better or worse. We promised to ALWAYS stick together." Margaret bit her lip. "So…" She swallowed hard. "I'm not going."
 
She saw the hurt in his eyes. The hurt quickly changed to anger, then changed to something unrecognizable. Margaret braced for the explosion and told herself she would fight. "Now then…you can pick me up and throw me over your shoulder and FORCE me to go along with you to town. You can force me to leave you here all alone because you are physically stronger than me but…" Margaret cried harder. "If you do that, Lucas McCain…we'll lose something."
 
Lucas looked her up and down as his lips clinched and he worked his jaw. Without saying a word, he turned and hurried out the door.
 
***
 
When Margaret retired for the evening, she found Lucas sitting in bed reading the newspaper. As she prepared for bed, she spoke. "Luke, can we talk?" She got no response, so after slipping into her gown, she made her way to his side of the bed and pushed down the paper. "I said can we talk?"
 
"Sure," Lucas grunted.
 
"Luke…you haven't said ten words to me since…"
 
"I'm sorry."
 
"Luke…two nights ago, you asked me if…if I remembered what happened to your family when we were kids. Well, I do, Luke. I remember that incident very well." Margaret walked to her side of the bed and crawled under the covers. Remaining in the sitting position, she turned and looked at her husband. "It wasn't just your family that suffered, Luke. I suffered too because I loved you and I saw what that incident did to you. I…" Margaret pressed a hand to her mouth and began sobbing softly. "I remember you after it happened…I remember the HATE in your eyes…the sound of your voice when you swore you'd kill that man…that…"
 
"Jameson," Lucas said his name as if it were dirty.
 
"Jameson," Margaret repeated. "Luke…I saw your father two days ago when you looked at me through the window. It did something to me…It hurt so much, because I remember your father's crying that day. I remember your mother's pleadings to you, your brothers, and your father for…for months…I remember YOU…" Margaret shook her head as she pressed a hand to his cheek. "Oh Luke…when I refused you while ago, I wasn't refusing you out of greed or selfishness…Well, I guess that's not true because…three and a half weeks ago, we stood in front of a preacher. You made some promises to me that we'd be together for better or for worse…"
 
Lucas slowly lifted his eyes to hers. He saw such a deep hurt there, and he knew it was a hurt he had caused. He suddenly took her in his arms and squeezed her against him.  He could feel her heart beating hard against his chest. Never had he wanted to hurt her. Never! "I just love you so much, Margaret. I just…I just can't…" Suddenly, he was kissing her hard on the mouth. Margaret laid down in the bed and Lucas moved with her until he was pressing against her. His hard kiss slowly turned tender as they shared a passionate kiss. Then she laid her head on his chest. His arms stayed around her as they laid still.
 
"Please don't be angry with me, Luke," Margaret begged. "I did it because I love you…because…I WANT to take care of you…too."
 
Lucas didn't say anything for a long time. When he finally spoke, his words were quiet. She sensed a bit of anger returning to his voice. "Having you here with me is like having my hands tied behind me, Margaret. You know that."
 
Margaret traced a finger through his chest hairs. "I know, Luke," she whispered softly. "I know."
 
"Ohhhhh…" Lucas tightened his arms around her. "I love you, Baby." He kissed the top of her head and closed his eyes. "I just love you." Margaret tenderly pressed her lips to his chest in response to his words. Then she cuddled down into his arms as he reached up and turned the wick all the way down.
 
They both knew their fight was far from over, but for tonight they silently agreed on a cease fire as they held each other and fell asleep in each other's arms.


***
 
When Margaret woke up the next morning, Lucas was gone. She slipped from her bed and grabbed her robe. Walking into the main room, she hurried to the window and looked out. "Oh Luke…" Margaret pressed her head against the window as tears filled her eyes because of what she had seen. Lucas was again standing at the edge of the yard, watching the road.
 
Margaret turned from the window and lit the lantern. She angrily threw wood into the stove and started the coffee. Soon, the door opened and closed. Margaret didn't turn from her tasks in the kitchen as she spoke. "You think standing at the edge of the road is going to protect us?"
 
Silence answered her.
 
Margaret turned from the stove. Hot angry tears laid on her face. "Luke, there's a whole range out there!" She shoved a hand toward the back of the house. "They have many ways they can come in here! Standing at the road isn't going to…"
 
"It's all I can do!" Lucas suddenly shouted. His booming voice silenced as he and Margaret glared at each other. "YOU are the one who chose to stay, remember that! I have to protect you, Margaret…any way I can!"
 
"With THAT????" Margaret shoved a finger toward his rifle. "THAT's how you're protecting me?" Margaret shook her head as she took a step toward him. "Luke, they aren't going to just rush into the house and grab me! They…"
 
Lucas took a step toward her. "YOU DON'T KNOW THAT!!!"
 
Silence followed his words. When Lucas spoke again, his voice was controlled and quiet. "Coffee ready?" He pushed past her and hurried toward the stove. He reached for the cup on the counter and poured the coffee into his cup, then without saying another word he turned and walked toward the door. "Hal and I…are taking shifts. I'll do my chores when Hal's on guard."
 
Margaret turned again and looked at him. Then she turned back and looked into the bowl of pancake batter. "You make it sound like a…war."
 
Lucas' shoulders slumped. "It…is."
 
Margaret watched later as her husband ate his pancakes in silence. She figured they wouldn't be attending church that morning, and Lucas merely nodded his head. He hadn't said a word since he had returned from his guard duty…save for mumbling out a quick prayer at Margaret's insistence. When Lucas stood from the table, he reached for his rifle and announced he'd be out tending to chores. She would again go to the Dodd house and stay there behind locked doors until he came for her. "You're treating me l like a caged animal."
 
Her words angered Lucas even more. "You made this choice." Then he was gone.
 
Margaret cried in Ann's arms that morning as they stood in her spacious kitchen. Ann whispered that it was unfair they had to go through such a time so soon after the marriage. Margaret stated she was trying to be strong. "Margaret, our husbands are only trying to protect us."
 
Margaret bit her lip and turned away. "I know. I'm ashamed for how I spoke to Luke this morning…and other times…but…" She turned back toward Ann. "Oh Ann…I'm just so terrified! Luke isn't telling me anything, but I fear they threatened him with me. I think that's why he's so worried." Margaret sniffed. "We've been…at odds ever since those men rode up. I don't…don't understand! We've always been best friends…always been able to get through things together." She shook her head. "Why is it suddenly so different?"
 
"Because now he's your husband," Ann answered. Margaret lifted her head; her eyes grew wide at the implication. "You should have left like he asked. We should go together…" Ann stopped.
 
Margaret stared at her. "Do you know what you're saying, Ann?" Margaret hurried over to her. She stood in front of the window as she clasped Ann's hands. "You are willing to leave your husband here alone to…to fight these…these men?"
 
Suddenly, the women heard the rapid sound of hoof beats as a horse raced up to the house. Then the sound of shattered glass sounded. Margaret let out a loud scream and fell to her knees.
 
***
 
Lucas looked up from checking one of his calves to see Hal hurrying toward him. "Something's happened! Hurry!" Hal shouted.
 
Lucas jumped on his horse and raced toward the ranch. He followed Hal to the Dodd Ranch house. Before they even opened the door, they could hear Margaret's crying. The sound pierced Lucas' heart. Lucas hurried inside and kneeled down beside the chair. "What happened?" He pressed his hands to Margaret's cheeks and waited for an answer. He grabbed her cheeks tighter as fear gripped his being. "WHAT HAPPENED?!" He demanded loudly.
 
"A rider…threw…that rock." Ann pointed a shaky finger toward a rock. A piece of string laid beside it.
 
"Where's the note that was attached to it?" Lucas asked.
 
"Luke…Oh…Oh Luke…" Margaret began sobbing as she pressed her head into his chest. Lucas wrapped his arms protectively around her.
 
"Where's the note?" Lucas asked again, louder this time.
 
Hal cleared his throat. "Margaret unwrapped it. Luke…they've given us twenty-four hours to get out before…before they attack."
 
"Attack?" Lucas turned his head sideways to look at Hal. "Are we talking about what I think you're talking about?"
 
Hal nodded. "A range war."
 
"Oh Luke…Luke…" Margaret grabbed him and hugged him tight. But Lucas took her arms from around his neck and stood up.
 
"Lucas, Margaret was hurt," Ann said softly.
 
"Ann!" Margaret cried disapprovingly.
 
"Where?" Lucas bent back down beside her, concern on his face. It was then that he saw the bloodstain and tear in her dress. He tore the sleeve of her dress a little more to see the ugly cut with shreds of glass in it. "Dear God…" Lucas breathed.
 
"This isn't your fault, Luke," Margaret said as she saw his eyes flash.
 
"Hal, you take the women on into town. I'll stay here and…try to figure out a way to…"
 
"NO!" Margaret leapt to her feet. "Luke, you come with me!"
 
"I can't! They're trying to take our land, Margaret!" Lucas shouted.
 
"Luke, I counted at least ten of them yesterday. You can't go against ten men alone!" Margaret shouted desperately. "You can't!"
 
"I'll see if I can get some other men to come help us," Hal stated. "And I'll get the marshal."
 
"It's not their fight!" Lucas shouted. He grabbed Margaret's arm. "Let's go home and get you packed."
 
Half an hour later, Lucas was standing beside the closed door when he saw Hal pull into the yard.   Margaret stared at the bag that sat, ready to put in the wagon. She had tears on her face. "Margaret, you may hate me for this and right now I…" He stopped. "I have to do what I think is best. Jason needs to look at your arm and…and I need you out of danger. Please…try to understand that."
 
"Lucas…" Margaret hurried up to him as she squeezed the compress tighter against her arm. "You can't fight them alone! THEY'LL KILL YOU!" She screamed these last words.
 
Lucas' eyes filled with tears. He took a deep breath. "Hal's waiting outside." Lucas turned from her. "You better go."
 
"Luke, listen to me!" Margaret pleaded again as tears continued to run down her cheeks.
 
Tears fell from Lucas' eyes as well. "Margaret, a man lives by principles. If a man allows another to take his land then…he ain't much of a man." Lucas paused and turned back to her. His eyes softened as he put a hand against her cheek. "I…I love you."
 
Margaret searched his eyes. She knew her husband had a lot of pride. She knew going against him again would only make things worse. Slowly, she nodded her head. After wiping the tears from her cheeks, she said, "I…I won't fight you anymore…And I won't hate you for this."
 
"I'll come for you soon."
 
Margaret nodded again as she stood at the door. Suddenly, they were in each other's arms. Lucas held her tight as she sobbed uncontrollably. "I love you too, Luke…Please…Please come with me!"
 
Lucas grabbed her shoulders and pushed her away. He lifted a hand to her cheek and kissed her softly. "I'll come to you soon, Honey." Lucas leaned forward and opened the door. "Go on now."
 
Margaret watched Lucas from the door as Hal quickly rode away. Tears filled her eyes. "Take care of yourself…" But by the time she was able to say the words, he was gone.
 
***
 
They were just leaving the church that Sunday morning when they heard a wagon quickly approaching. Dr. Jason Livingston paused as he was discussing the fact that Lucas and Margaret hadn't shown up for Sunday services when he saw Hal stop the wagon beside the group. Jason, alarmed when he saw Margaret pressing a bloodied compress against her upper arm hurried forward. "Take this," he said to Emily as he held out his Bible. Then he hurried forward to help Margaret down.
 
"What happened?" Abe asked as he hurried forward.
 
"Someone threw a rock through my window and hit her with it," Ann explained quickly.
 
"What? Why?" Peter asked then. "What's going on?"
 
"Earlier this week some men came to us…they're trying to force us to sell our land. They've now given us twenty-four hours to get out before…" Margaret stopped as tears filled her already red eyes.
 
Hal looked around at the group that had gathered to Worship that Sunday morning. "Before what?" Julie asked.
 
Hal's eyes turned to look at the children gathered around as well. He wondered if he should reveal the harsh realities with everyone gathered around, but Abe saved the trouble. "A range war? Is that what we're talking about?" Hal nodded.
 
"Dear God…" Someone breathed in the crowd. Several women put their hands to their mouths.
 
"Abe…" Margaret hurried forward and took his hands. "Abe…please…" Her eyes filled with tears. "There are at least ten of them. Luke's there all alone. Oh please…"
 
Abe nodded. "You go on with Jason, honey. We'll take care of it." Abe turned around. "Anyone who's willing to fight, meet in front of the Marshal's office in a half hour. Be ready to ride." Abe turned and looked at the Marshal. "You're coming?"
 
"Of course." Marshal Williams put his hat on. "It's my job." He turned and kissed his wife and son on top of the head. "Let's go!" Margaret could hear the men discussing plans as they hurried down the street. The three McCain brothers, Scott, and Hal were among them. In all, there were only seven. She feared the odds were still against them.
 
Jason took Margaret by the arm. "I'll join them as soon as I get Margaret taken care of," Jason announced.
 
"Oh Jason…" Emily started.
 
"Now Honey, I'm a McCain as well.  I've had to shoot my way out of a few scrapes…" Jason turned toward the McCain and Gibb families. "Take everyone to the hotel dining from. See if they can make accommodations for all of you." He hurried Margaret to his office.
 
Emily stood beside Margaret as Jason went to work on cleaning the wound and taking out the shards of glass. Margaret cried as she pressed a hand to her mouth. "I know it hurts." Emily brushed a hand against her sister-in-law's hair. "He'll be done in a minute."
 
Margaret shook her head. "It's not Jason that's causing my pain. It's…It's…" Margaret suddenly threw her arms around Emily. "Oh, it's been awful!" Jason paused as Emily held her. He knew Margaret needed the comfort of her more than his medical attention. "I'm so scared, Emily…I'm so…"
 
Jason cleared his throat. "Listen honey, I've gotten most of the glass out. Could you take over? I think I want to go join the men."
 
Emily pushed away from Margaret and reached out to her husband. Margaret paused as they shared an embrace. "Be careful…" Jason nodded and kissed her. Margaret watched Jason put a hand on Emily's swelling belly.
 
"I'm going with you!" Margaret suddenly declared.
 
"No. Absolutely not!" Jason answered. "You stay here!"
 
Margaret bolted from the office and ran toward the Marshal's office. "Abe…Abe…" She ran up to the group. She clasped Abe's arms. "I'm going with you!"
 
"NO!" Abe answered with a shake of his head.
 
"But you don't understand!" Margaret argued. "Abe…you remember when this happened to your father? You remember Luke?"
 
Abe's expression changed to understanding. He bent down to become eye-level with Margaret. "Honey…I'll take care of my baby brother. I'll make sure he stays safe."
 
"But without me there…"
 
Scott put a hand on his sister's shoulder. "We'll all protect Luke, Margaret. You stay with Ma and Amanda."
 
"But…"
 
"We'll be back." Abraham looked up toward his wife and mouthed ‘I love you.' Then Jennifer put her arms securely around Margaret's shoulder. "You women stay in town until we get back. You'll be safer here."
 
The women and children watched as the men rode out of town. Margaret felt tears slip from her eyes as she pressed a hand to her mouth. Emily put an arm around Margaret's shoulder. "Come on. Let's finish doctoring that wound."
 
***
 
Margaret's heart was heavy as Emily worked at finishing her husband's job. Margaret watched Emily's face closely and noticed a sadness of her own. "I'm sorry…" Emily looked up at her, question in her voice. "I've been selfish. I'm so worried about Luke, yet…your husband's in danger now too…as well as all your brothers."
 
Emily shook her head as a tear slid down her cheek. "Don't be. My husband's where he should be."
 
"Why, Emily?" Emily pinned the bandage tightly to Margaret's arm. "Why do they want to die for that land?"
 
Emily lifted her eyes to Margaret. The women just looked at each other. "I don't know." She turned to gather up the medicines she had used for her minor surgery. "I remember when this happened to Papa. I remember how all my brothers proudly stood behind him and I questioned Papa about it. He said that after all the blood and sweat he put into the land, he wasn't giving it up. He'd rather die then…" Emily gasped. "I'm sorry."
 
"Luke didn't tell me, but…I think they've threatened our lives...at least mine. That's why he sent me away."
 
Emily smiled. "He also sent you away because he wants you safe. That's part of a husband's responsibility...to keep the wife safe. It's been that way since Adam and Eve."
 
"Do you enjoy this?" Emily turned and looked at Margaret. "Do you enjoy being a nurse?" Emily nodded. "Do you miss...farming?"
 
"I love my husband, Margaret. I love being married to a doctor and..." Emily pressed a hand to her belly that was beginning to swell. "I love the fact that I'm about to be a mother. Jason said something about finding a new nurse when the baby comes, but I won't hear of it! I told him I could be both a mother and a nurse."
 
"You two are…fighting?"
 
Emily heard Margaret's voice break. She turned and looked at Margaret questionably. "No…we're just discussing it rather uh…loudly at times." Emily smiled. "And it's not me being loud. It's Jason! He certainly has a temper."
 
Just then the door opened. Margaret and Emily turned to see Jennifer coming in. "How's my daughter?" Jennifer put an arm around Margaret. "Can she come eat? They're preparing a meal for us at the hotel."
 
"Mama…I'm not hungry."
 
Jennifer turned Margaret's face toward hers and smoothed Margaret's hair from her face. "I know…but you have to eat."
 
"Mama…" Margaret's eyes filled with tears. "Oh Mama…I'm so scared!" Margaret threw her arms around her mother and began sobbing. Emily rubbed her back while Jennifer kept her arms around her daughter. In time, Margaret lifted. "Those men are so mean. There's about ten of them and…" Margaret bit her lip. "But that's not all I'm scared about."
 
Emily led Margaret to a table in the front room of the clinic. The three women sat down as Emily poured Margaret a glass of water. "It was so…so blissful the first two weeks. We were happy…woke up every morning in each others' arms and stole kisses all day…I would find myself just watching him work and he'd look up at me and smile…" Margaret felt hot tears again fall down her cheeks as her lips started trembling.
 
"What is it, Margaret?" Jennifer smoothed her hair and tenderly touched her cheeks. "What?"
 
"Ever since these men rode in…" Margaret burst into tears. She again wrapped her arms around her mother and sobbed as hard as she could. "Oh Mama…what's happening? I don't want to lose him!"
 
"Now daughter, you are married now!" Jennifer declared. "You're not going to lose him." She smiled. "Your brother and his brothers are there…the Marshal and deputy…Several men rode out. If there is a range war, it won't last long. Those men are sensible."
 
"I'm not talking about that…" Margaret sniffed and blew into the handkerchief Emily had handed her. "Two weeks ago, Luke started working the fields.  He's been so tired…He started work at sunup and didn't finish until the sun went down. He'd barely stay awake long enough to eat." Margaret bit her lip. "Then those men came and we…we…we've been fighting ever since!"
 
"Oh baby…" Jennifer hugged her daughter to her. "Is that what this is all about?" Margaret paused in her crying and looked up at her mother. "Now, I've told you that marriage is hard. There's going to be storms in your marriage."
 
"But it's only been three weeks! That blissfulness…"
 
"…will be back when the storm passes," Emily finished for her.
 
Margaret turned and looked at her sister-in-law. "Have you and Jason…?"
 
"We've had a few minor spats."
 
"This isn't a spat. We've been yelling at each other. He's not talking to me…not sharing his feelings…"
 
Suddenly, Emily burst into laughter. Margaret glared at her then. "Margaret…Lucas has NEVER shared his feelings with us! He always tries to take on battles by himself." Emily shook her head. "I'm sure marrying you had changed him a bit, but not that much!"
 
"And he's so protective of me…I want to be there with him, yet…Oh…I don't understand, Mama…"
 
"It's because you love him that you fight. You are both very worried and upset. This will pass."
 
"But before…" Margaret swallowed.  "Before we were married…Luke and I always worked through the troubles without too much fighting. He would always seek me out…talk to me…tell me what he was truly thinking. Ann said that it's different now since I'm his wife."
 
Jennifer hugged her daughter again. "It is different, Baby. Before…you were best friends. Now you are his wife. You've become one. He can no longer share his hurts with you like he used to because though he knew you hurt with him before, now he understands that…that you feel his pain." Jennifer smoothed Margaret's hair. "There's another thing you need to think about. Honey, a man feels a responsibility to his family. Perhaps Lucas is feeling a bit overwhelmed right now. He knows that…well…that the decision he makes will affect not only his life, but also yours. He wants to keep you safe…to protect you because he loves you so very much; yet you are fighting against his deepest need – to protect you."
 
"I am scared, Ma." Margaret lifted her head. "What if…what if those men fight tomorrow? How many of our men will they get before…"
 
"No, honey. I learned a long time ago that we can't think ‘what if' at times like these. No…we have to pray and have faith." Jennifer smiled at her daughter. "As for the fighting…you and Luke love each other. You'll patch things up when you return home. The passion…will return." Margaret searched her mother's face and nodded. "Now, let's get over there and eat before the rest of those women and children eat it all up!"
 
Margaret's heart was still heavy. She hated the fact that she was separated from her husband when he was going through such an ordeal. The women reminded her that's the way he wanted it, and that's the way it should be. Margaret knew five of her family members had ridden out with the Marshal, as well as his deputy. The Marshal had asked some of the other men to come as well. In all there were probably eight or nine.
 
Margaret tried to answer the children's questions they asked her, but it was hard. Charlie commented that he missed her awfully much, and Margaret smiled, hardly believing the eldest McCain child was starting school. Charlie told her all about his Pa giving him a whipping for arguing about going to school, and how his Pa threatened daily trips to the barn if he even looked like he was going to argue with his Mama.
 
That Sunday afternoon was probably one of the longest afternoons Margaret had ever experienced. The women put the children to bed then sat in the hotel lobby for a long time. There was a sober silence because they all knew that their men folk were in a terrible danger. Tomorrow would be here soon enough.
 
Finally, Margaret allowed Emily to lead her to the cottage she shared with Jason. Emily put fresh sheets on the bed in the second bedroom and ordered Margaret to go to sleep. But sleep was something hard to come by that particular night. Margaret finally went to the window and watched all her memories float before her eyes.
 
Though she did see memories of before their marriage, the ones that stood out the most were from the last four weeks since they were married. Margaret remembered that day. Lucas' smile as he led her in the rain to the church, the tenderness in his touch as he slipped the ring on her finger and looked deeply into her eyes, and the kiss that followed the preacher's declaration. Margaret remembered then, the carriage ride to the little cottage they shared during their honeymoon. She remembered the kisses they shared, and the morning she gave herself to him. She remembered those intimate moments the most as she hugged herself.
 
Margaret remembered that last morning, days before the Scully brothers rode in. She and Lucas had awakened early that morning when a mocking bird had planted himself just outside their bedroom window. Lucas had groaned and put his arms around her wishing the bird to go away. Margaret giggled as she pressed up against Lucas. Then Lucas had jumped from the bed, ran to the window. After opening it, he shouted his order for the bird to leave them alone.
 
Then when Lucas came back to bed, they began kissing. He had slipped her gown off over her head and caressed her as he stared into her eyes, then his eyes grew wide as he moved his mouth down to hers. They had made love that morning while the mocking bird began to sing his sweet song to them. Margaret remembered the feel of his lips on hers, his hands as they pressed hers firmly down onto the bed; and the sound of his soft moans as they made love.
 
"Oh Luke…Luke…" Margaret felt a tear fall down her cheek as she pressed her forehead against the glass. Because what she remembered next was haunting. She remembered the words she and Lucas yelled at each other. She remembered the anger…the silence…the sleeping apart, yet in the same bed…She remembered it all. "God…please…" Margaret prayed in a shaky voice as tears fell from her eyes. "Please don't let those be my last memories…"
 
Margaret lifted her head and slowly walked to the bed. She lifted the Bible from the night stand and began reading and praying. Finally, she closed the Bible and stood from the bed. "That's what I have to do." Margaret nodded. Then she stood and wiped her eyes. "So be it."
 
***
The women were just getting their children settled down for breakfast the next morning when they heard the commotion coming from the front of the hotel. Julie hurried into the front room to see a wide-eyed, white-faced Emily. In her hand, Emily held a single sheet of paper. "Emily? Emily, what's wrong?" Julie hurried forward and grabbed her sister. "What is it?"
 
"It's…it's Margaret…" Emily slowly turned to look at the other women gathered with Julie. "She…she went home."
 
***
Lucas had been less than thrilled when the men showed up with Hal the night before. Abe, always the bossy type, held up his hand and ordered Lucas not to say a word on the matter. Lucas' fighting the men alone would be suicide. Abe made Lucas give them every detail at what had happened. He assured Lucas that Margaret was okay, though she was rather upset.
 
The next morning, the men were in place even before the sun came up. They all stayed at their posts, armed, and with plenty of ammunition. They were prepared for a fight, though Marshal Williams hoped it wouldn't come to that. He'd had his share of range wars and didn't like them much. There would more than likely be causalities on both sides. Abe looked toward his brother. "You're worried about Margaret."
 
Lucas nodded. "We…haven't been getting along too well lately."
 
"Honeymoon's over?" Abe questioned.
 
"Yeah. Something like that."
 
Abe nodded. "It's hard when you have conflict. Luke…" Lucas turned and looked at his brother. "You two love each other. This will pass, and when it does, I'm sure you two will be as sappy and disgusting as you were two week ago."
 
Lucas smiled. "I hope so. I love that woman…I guess that's really why we're fighting."
 
No more could be said, because sounds of horses could be heard in the distance. "Alright men, don't you fire a shot until I tell you to, ya hear?" Marshal Williams ordered his stern warning. "We don't want to start any gun play!"
 
***
 
It was eight o'clock in the morning when Lucas saw from his station at the window the first rider come into the yard. Every man was hiding, not willing to reveal how many were there lying in wait. Jake Scully threw down his cigar and dismounted his horse. Slowly, he wrapped the reins around the hitching post and looked around. Everything seemed abandoned.
 
Lucas watched as Jake made a motion with his hand for the others to come in. He looked around as he waited for the men. "Looks like the coast is clear, Jake," Alex stated as he slowly walked up to his brother.
 
"No." Jake shook his head. "It's too quiet." Jake took a step toward the house and scratched his beard. "McCain?" Scully put his hand on his gun belt. "Okay McCain, I know yer in there. And I know yer missus is in town. Come on out."
 
Lucas looked toward the marshal who nodded his head slightly. Lucas laid his rifle against the wall and stood up. "Alright…I'll come to the porch. But you have plenty of guns trained on you, so don't do anything stupid!" Slowly, he made his way out onto the porch. Several cocks could be heard as men all around the ranch readied their guns to start shooting. "Alright. What do you want?"
 
"You know what I want," Scully answered as he waved a hand across the land.
 
"The answer is no." Lucas quickly looked Scully up and down. "I'm staying."
 
Scully slowly licked his lips and narrowed his eyes at Lucas. "I told you what would happen if you decided to stay."
 
Lucas nodded. "You told me." Challenge sounded in his voice.
 
"You don't care that I threatened yer wife?" Scully snickered. He slid a cigar from his pocket again. "Ya know…" He struck a match against the porch post and lit his cigar. After taking a long puff from it, he took the cigar from his mouth and said, "…I jest may ride myself into town and take a uh…have a talk with her." Suddenly, a shot whizzed just over his head.
 
"I said hold your fire!" Marshal Williams shouted.
 
"What was that?" Scully asked as he ducked just a bit and grabbed his hat.
 
"Surely you aren't that stupid," Lucas sneered. "It's called a gun shot."
 
"Who?"
 
"Well you see…" Lucas folded his arms. "My…lovely wife…has a brother that's pretty protective. In fact, he's almost shot me a few times."
 
"How many men ya got McCain?"
 
"Enough."
 
"Too scared to fight yer own battles?"
 
Lucas lifted his head and looked at the men standing with Scully.  "If the shoe fits…"
 
Scully pressed his lips together and pointed the cigar at him. "This is your last warning, McCain. Get out!" He shouted.
 
"No."
 
"Ya tryin' ta start somethin'? Ya know how many men I got?" Scully lifted his head and nodded toward a hill. Lucas saw five more men on horses, waiting for his signal.
 
"You got my answer. I don't care if you have a whole Cavalry ready to fight me…the answer always has been, and always will be…NO!" Lucas purposely turned his back and walked back inside the house. Then he lifted his rifle and hit the window with it. The window shattered. Lucas jammed his rifle out of the hole. "I'm ready."
 
"Marshal, there's at least sixteen men out there!" Jason declared.
 
"I know…I know!" Marshal Williams punched the floor.
 
"What do we do?" Jeremiah asked then. "Are we going to fight?"
 
"I don't know…let me think!"
 
Abe crawled over to sit beside Lucas. "I promised Margaret I would bring you back to her. I promised her I'd protect you, so don't try anything stupid." Abe looked out the window. "Like get yourself killed."
 
"McCain! You got those mangy brothers in there with ya? Ya got the Marshal?" Scully laughed. "Hey Marshal, ya in there?"
 
Suddenly, a shot rang out. Lucas looked out the window and cried. "Dear God! The barn's on fire!"
 
The men Marshal Williams had sent to the barn were rushing from it. Horses cried as the doors opened. Lucas jumped up and bolted toward the door, but Abe and Peter grabbed him to hold him back. "The horses!" Lucas cried. "All our horses are in there!"
 
"There's nothing we can do!" Abe shouted. "We can't go out there!" Lucas continued to fight. Abe gave Lucas a hard slap across the face. "Listen to me now, baby brother! I promised Margaret I would deliver you to her safely! The minute you walk out the door, they'll shoot you dead!" Abe shoved him to the floor and pinned him down. "Now…you stay put or I'll shoot you in the leg to keep you alive, you got that?"
 
"Our horses…" Lucas mumbled.   Already, the sounds of the horses' screams could be heard. A few had managed to escape the burning embers, but not many of them. "Our…horses…" The sound of the horses' screams pierced Lucas' ears. He hated the fact that they were dying such a horrid death; it broke Lucas' heart. Tears filled his eyes.
 
"What do you say, McCain?" Scully laughed. "Ya believe me now?"
 
Lucas looked toward his brother who gave him an encouraging nod. "I can build another barn! I can get more horses!" Lucas shouted above the noise. "Burning my barn won't hurt me!"
 
"What about yer wife, McCain?" Pure evil dripped from Scully's words.
 
Lucas fired a shot toward Scully. Scully jumped as he felt the bullet hit his boot. "I won't miss the next shot!" Lucas warned.
 
The men had all dismounted at this time. They all stood in a line across the front of the yard. "We'll kill you!" Scully shouted. "We'll kill every last one of you ugly sod-busters!"
 
"Now boss, ya said nothin' ‘bout killin'!" one of the men suddenly shouted.
 
"Shut up!" Scully shouted. He turned back to look towards the house. "We'll…do what we have to do."
"Now Jake, you said we'd burn them out…you didn't say nothin' ‘bout killin'!" Bobby Scully said. "I don't much cotton to..."
 
Scully reared back and slapped Bobby so hard that Bobby let out a cry and fell to the ground. "What's wrong with you? Ya all yeller or somethin'?" Scully's voice growled as he took another hard look at his men. "Ya comin' out, McCain? Or…" Scully lit a match. "We gonna hafta burn you out?"
Lucas turned and looked at his brothers. His decision was putting them all into danger. Catching the house on fire would take away the one piece of shelter they had left. Abe, Peter, and Lucas all looked at each other, knowing what the answer had to be, yet understanding just what the price of that answer would be. "Pa…" Abe swallowed. "He'd be so proud right now, Luke." Lucas nodded as he turned back to give his answer.
 
But just then, Jeremiah and Scott, who were watching the back, suddenly saw a lone rider coming over the hill. They watched the rider closely, wondering if it was another one of Scully's men. Scott cocked his rifle, ready to kill if the rider started shooting; but as the figure got closer, their eyes widened. "Scott, what's your sister doing here?" Jeremiah suddenly questioned in shock.
 
"Margaret!" Scott jumped up and hurried out the back door. Lucas turned and ran toward the back door. His eyes widened when he saw Margaret quickly approaching. Scott tried to catch the reins to her horse, but Margaret bolted her horse out of his reach. She rode to the side of the house then jumped off the horse.
 
"Wait!" Margaret gasped for air. "Just…just wait!"
 
"Margaret, what the HELL are you doing here?" Lucas shouted angrily from the doorway. "Get inside now!"
 
"NO!" Margaret lifted her head. She slowly walked to the front yard. "Well…if you want the land, all you have to do is take me!" Margaret bravely stepped in front of the men. "…DEAD!" The men turned and looked at Jake. Margaret balled her fists and curled her lip as she screamed at them. "That's right, you brave men! Didn't Mr. Scully tell you McCain had a wife? This is also my home…my husband…my land…and I'm NOT going to just stand by and let you take it!"
 
The men, some with gaping mouths, all watched as Margaret stepped up onto the porch. "Or did you think I was the silent, abiding wife who allowed her husband to fight his own battles…alone?" Margaret slowly shook her head. "You can shoot him, but that won't make you a man!" Margaret shoved a finger toward the house. "Inside there are my husband's three brothers, my husband's brother-in-law, my brother, the Marshal, and a deputy. They all have wives and children. Also inside is my best friends' husband. I assure you men that if you DO manage to kill some of them…" Margaret pointed to several of the men who stood before her. "You WILL NOT live to enjoy the fruits of your labor!"
 
Lucas stood in the doorway staring at her. He couldn't even move to take her away, he was in such shock at what he was witnessing. The men were listening to her! "You are all wrong, and nothing you EVER do will make it right again!" She lifted her chin higher. "What good will this land do you? You'll either be dead or…wanted by the law…either way, you won't be able to enjoy it. Why all this greed and violence?" Margaret looked up to the hill where the five other men sat. "My husband fought for your country to earn the money for this land. He fought for four long, hellish years so you could live in America where land is being GIVEN away to men who want to work it…Yet, you all stand here trying to TAKE the land my husband has poured every ounce of blood and sweat into? He will die for this land!" Margaret turned and walked to stand beside Lucas. She took his hand. "And so will I."
 
Lucas could see Margaret's hand shaking. He heard her voice break at the end of her fiery speech. The silence that followed was eerie as the men on both sides stared at each other. "Well then…" Scully finally shouted. "I reckon you'll die with him." Scully lifted his gun. Margaret turned to Lucas and buried her head in his middle and covered her ears as she let out a loud scream.
 
Gunshots rang out. Then there was silence. Margaret felt Lucas' hands go to her face. "It's alright, honey…look." Margaret turned to see Jake and Alex Scully's crumpled bodies at the foot of the porch. The five men on the hill turned and rode away. "You're right, Miss…There won't be any more trouble." Bobby slowly put his smoking gun back into his holster and tipped his hat. After mounting his horse, he turned to the men. "We'll rebuild your barn." Some of the men grumbled. "At least I will."
 
"And the horses?" Margaret questioned. "The horses you…you…"  Her eyes filled with tears and her lips trembled as she realized the reality of the burning barn. The air was filled with the stench of it.
 
"Margaret…" Lucas warned.
 
"We'll replace the horses."
 
Margaret, Lucas, and the rest of the men watched as the men slowly rode from the yard. "You can press charges, you know," Marshal Williams stated.
 
Lucas turned and smiled at the Marshal. "No. I think they've learned something today." Lucas put his arms on Margaret's shoulder and locked his hands behind her neck. "So have I."
 
"What's that, Luke?" Jeremiah asked.
 
Lucas never took his eyes off of Margaret's face as he answered. "Well…us men fight a war with our weapons, but women have a weapon of their own…one that's…often overlooked. Their weapon tames us men and leaves us quivering at their feet, yet we don't account for it being able to stop a fight." Lucas smiled. "Maybe had women been in charge of the country there never would have been a war."
 
"What weapon are you talking about, Luke?" Scott stupidly asked.
 
Lucas smiled into Margaret's eyes. "The tongue."
 
"Oh Luke!" Margaret cried. Then Lucas took Margaret in his arms and hugged her tight as they both sobbed tears of relief.

The Margaret Years — Aftermath

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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