The Rifleman
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Fan Fiction

The Margaret Years...

Chapter 1 - The Home Coming
Written by Michelle Palmer

Orange and yellow mixed with red in the sky, making a beautiful blanket as he watched the sun sink lower in the West. The clouds surrounding it seemed to be trying to soak in the last rays before they had to give in to the darkness that was quickly chasing behind the sun. The moon could be seen as it peaked from a cloud, but it wasn’t quite ready to glow yet. A soft wind blew through the trees, causing the sound of a rustling. And in the distance, thunder could be heard which threatened the moon that it may not be able to shine on this early April night.

This is the way he remembered Oklahoma as a child. Since the age of 18, he hadn’t stayed in one place for very long, save the battlefield. He closed his eyes as he sat still in the saddle and remembered back to those difficult years. It was those hard years that made him run, and so many things had happened. But now, he was ready to settle down. The actual thought that brought him back was a brown-haired, brown-eyed beauty that had captured his heart. He had borrowed her heart for the trip instead, and had been too restless to really stay in one place for long.

He hadn’t even written since the day he left Enid. His family hardly even knew where he was. Every now and then, he was sure they had heard his name mentioned, because he was making quite a name for himself. But the name he was making wasn’t one he wanted on his headstone. He didn’t want to be remembered as a “fast gun” or a “reckless wanderer.” No. He wanted to be remembered as a good husband, father, and rancher.

And that’s why he was back.

He bent down and patted his horse. “Well Bullet, we’re finally home. And this time we’re home to stay.” The horse whinnied as if telling the man he was indeed happy about that. “But before we decide on anything, old boy, we have to see someone. She promised to wait for me, ol’ boy, but I don’t know that I’m worth waiting for.”

He turned his horse south and slowly rode over the range. The house came into view. Since he had left for war, there were a few changes. A bunk house had been built for the men who worked the ranch. A new barn had been built after their old barn burned in a fire that destroyed a lot of the land last year. But the house looked like the same house. He smiled and softly kneed his horse to move forward.

His heart started racing as he rode up and dismounted. He tried to remember how to breathe as his shaky hands tied the reins on the hitching post. His feet hardly wanted to move as he made his way to the door. He was scared…terrified, really…and he didn’t pretend not to know why. He wondered if his heart was still there behind those doors and in good shape. He wondered if…

But as he raised his fist to knock, the door opened. He found himself staring into the eyes that held the answer to his questions. A lump rose in his throat as he stared at the brown haired beauty. He watched her eyes grow wide in surprise and her lips slightly part. The man and woman just stood there, staring at each other. A mixture of question, surprise, and wonder raced through his mind, and it was apparent she was having the same thoughts as he looked into her eyes. For the longest time – what seemed to him as an eternity – they just stared at each other. Neither person was able to move.

Finally, he slowly allowed his eyes to move from her face clear down to her toes. She hadn’t changed a bit, except in the year he’d been away she had gotten a lot prettier. A smile played at the corners of his lips as his eyes searched hers for the question that danced around them. She gave him the slightest nod as she finally allowed her eyes to leave his face and travel down his body. When her eyes met his again, he saw the answer there. His heart leapt with joy.

The whole event only took mere seconds, but to the man who had just ridden in after being gone a year, it seemed hours passed. Finally, from behind the woman who still held his heart, he heard a voice speak. “What’s the matter with you, Margaret? I thought you were going to go…”

His voice died when he saw the reason for Margaret’s frozen position at the door. The man, suddenly realizing he had forgotten his hat, reached up and took it from his head. He toyed with it as he waited for her to speak. But when someone spoke, it wasn’t her. Rather, it was her protective brother, Scott. “Well, well, well…” He folded his arms and shook his head. “Look what the cat dragged in.”

The fact that Scott wasn’t overly pleased with him was obvious to anyone who watched the scene unfold. He watched as Scott placed his hands on his hips and continued to shake his head. Neither he nor the woman before him could find their voice to speak. But they continued to stare at each other. Scott spoke again as a baby started crying from inside. “Well, don’t just stand there, boy! Either come in or go out!”

Finally, he was able to find his voice. When he spoke, it was a mere squeak that escaped his swollen throat. “Uh…may I speak to you outside…ma’am?”

The baby’s cry became louder. Amanda appeared next to her husband. “Scott, the baby…” But as she looked toward the entrance of the doorway, her mouth opened. “Well…I’ll be a…” Her voice stalled as she stared at the figure in front of her.

He again turned to look at the brown-eyed beauty he had come to see. “Please, ma’am…” His adam’s apple bobbed up and down as he tried to swallow. “May I please…”

“Now, just a minute!” Scott held up a finger and started out the door. But finally, the woman found her voice. She turned to her brother and slightly shook her head. Then she turned back around.

“I’ll step outside.” She took a few steps. The man couldn’t take his eyes from Scott who’s glare seemed to grow at his sister’s obvious defiance at what he expected. He nodded slightly toward Scott then turned to follow the lady into the yard. She turned and saw her brother’s glare. “I do believe he wants to speak to me…in private, Scott.”

Scott took the hint his sister sent his way and pushed the door to, but they both noticed that it still stood ajar. He reached out and took her arm as he led her toward the fence. He lowered his head as he stared at the hat in his hands. He tried to force the words from his lips, but nothing wanted to come. He opened his mouth to speak.

“It’s been a…long time.” The words shook as they left her lips.

Lucas continued to stare at his hat. “Yes. It’s been a year.”

“It was a year, one month and ten days to be exact.” The words still shook, but there was something else in her voice. He had to actually lift his head to see why her voice suddenly held that tone.

“I’ll be asking your forgiveness, ma’am. I…” Lucas swallowed, but was unable to get anything else out.

Margaret turned from him. She looked into the corral as if what was in there was suddenly very fascinating. “There wasn’t a letter in all these months. I’ve often wondered…I heard things and didn’t know if they were true or not.” Lucas felt his height getting shorter as she spoke. Her voice didn’t really hold an accusing tone, but it was apparent that she wasn’t overly pleased with his behavior this past year. “You asked me to marry you after the war, and then you ran away.”

Lucas nodded slightly. “I know.” He tried to put the explanation into words. He’d rehearsed it many, many times as he rode back from Texas; but now that he was face-to-face with the woman who’d caused his heart to ache so deeply these last few years, he wasn’t sure they sounded good. But he decided to give them a try anyhow. He figured he had nothing to lose. “If you’re obliged to listen, I’d like to explain something about that.”

If he expected her to welcome his explanation with open arms, he was badly mistaken. The only thing he received was a slight nod. “Uh…After being in the war all those years…”

“Now Lucas McCain…” She turned around so sharply and spoke with such emotion that Lucas actually took a couple steps away from her. Her hands went to her hips and her eyes flashed with anger and hurt. “If you’re going to stand there and blame your actions on that blasted war, then you can just go get back on that horse and leave me be!” There was finality…a stern warning in her voice, and nobody could mistake it for anything else.

“No ma’am…” Actually, that’s what he was going to do. He had felt so smothered after the war. He was so restless that settling down and staying in one place at the time seemed so hard. He knew he couldn’t do it. But now that he was here, he realized there was only one thing she wanted to hear.

Lucas wasn’t sure if he could get those words out, even if they were true. He hadn’t said them in a long time. In fact, if truth were known, he couldn’t remember the last time he had said them. The words seemed so far away…so foreign to him…that he had trouble even forming them in his head. But he knew that if he was ever going to have any sort of future with this woman, he’d have to get used to saying them, and often.

Lucas raised his eyebrows as he looked at her. She crossed her arms across her chest. Her lips pressed in a thin line and her eyes flashed him a very clear warning. He decided that he felt safer on the battlefield in Gettysburg than he did in this moment. He looked down at his hat as if it held the words. Then he took a deep breath and lifted his head. “I’m sorry.” There, the words were out. But he saw that she still wasn’t convinced. Lucas found himself dropping to his knees in front of her. “Ma’am…” He swallowed, not even feeling worthy of saying her sweet name. “Ma’am, I’m awful sorry for the way I’ve behaved. There is no excuse for what I did. But I do ask you to please try and find it in your heart to forgive me…” She lifted her eyebrows as she looked down at him, but remained quiet. He knew she wanted more groveling. “I know running wasn’t the answer…now…but at the time, I felt so smothered and restless. There were so many haunting thoughts going through my head and so many…many things happened in the war…”

Lucas again looked at his hat to gain strength. He lifted his head and nodded slightly. “Ma’am, if you could only know the horrors I faced in war…the morals that were absent…the things I was forced to do…to watch…I couldn’t settle down until I was able to get those thoughts from me. I had some burying to do, and I can only imagine the things you heard this past year. I wish I could say none of them are true, but I’d be lying so…” Lucas stopped, the words suddenly leaving his lips.

Margaret’s expression changed. Her lips turned upwards as she smiled down at the man who still owned her heart. She had thought as much, but she couldn’t help still being upset with his absence. After all, how many times had Lucas promised to marry her when he came back from the war? When she had run to his house that night, rejoicing that he was alive, he asked her to marry him. And then when she didn’t answer right away, he bolted thinking her heart had changed.

But in all this time, her love for him had grown. Her family hadn’t understood why she didn’t move on. Even some of the McCain’s declared that Lucas didn’t deserve as fine a woman as she if he just left her like this. And in that year she had refused to dance with any man. There was only one man who owned her heart and he had taken it with him when he left. She knew that he would be back when he had found the answers he was searching for. And she could see in his eyes that he was back…ready to settle down.

But she was a proud woman, just like Lucas McCain was a proud man, and she wasn’t willing to let him know just how she felt, yet. She said nothing as he broke into a sweat and stayed on his knees in front of her. “Please ma’am…” He swallowed that big adam’s apple of his again. He looked so nervous. “I’m begging your…your humble forgiveness.”

The words that came from her lips were indeed not the words Lucas McCain expected to hear. “My name’s Margaret Gibbs…not ‘ma’am.’ My friends call me Margaret. You, however, may call me Miss Gibbs.”

“Oh. Of course.” Lucas narrowed his eyes as her lips turned up even more. He cocked his head to one side. “Are you…putting me on?” He could hear his heart beating from his chest.

Any traces of a smile she had held suddenly disappeared. “Putting you on?” The words held anger as her face suddenly glowed with that emotion. She took two steps toward him until she was towering over him, still on his knees. Margaret’s voice was cold and loud as she spoke her next words. “I waited for you to return home from that blasted war! I waited through your sickness, through your being grieved, through your death! You returned home and proposed to me that night. Then, after the doctor said your leg was completely healed, two days later, you’re gone?! No letter, just Abe saying you couldn’t stay here?! Ever since we were eight, I’ve know that I was going to marry you. The whole time you were away, I watched and helped as my friends and members of my family, and YOUR FAMILY got married. I dreamed of what my own wedding would be like when you returned, but then you up and LEAVE?!”

To say she was mad would be putting it lightly. Lucas could feel himself growing smaller and smaller as her eyes continued to flash above him. He was quite taken back. He’d never heard this defiant tone from the woman who held his heart.

Lucas couldn’t say a word. His mouth gaped open as he continued to kneel in front of her. Oh, this is NOT the reception he had expected, and he suddenly wondered how long he’d have to grovel before he received her forgiveness.

“Mr. McCain, I think it is a little too late for a man to be calling on a woman, at least a respectable woman. If you’ll excuse me, I must return to the house.” Lucas felt his heart drop as he watched the woman who meant everything to him turn and walk away.

As she stepped to the porch, she turned on her heels, folded her arms across her chest and stated, “A respectably, shaven GENTLEMAN can call on me at nine o’clock tomorrow morning!” Lucas saw the gleam in her eyes and the faint trace of the smile that he so loved. “If you’re back, for good, you have to do this properly, Mr. McCain. First you have to ask my brother’s permission to see me and maybe, someday, he’ll grant you permission to court me, but you’re going to have to prove that you’re ready to make a commitment.”

Before the smile could play on Lucas’ lips, he heard the tone in her voice change again. “He’s quite upset with you.”

“Really?” Lucas suddenly felt afraid again. “How upset?”

“Well…let’s just say he used a few names that a lady can’t repeat.”

“Oh.” Lucas slowly stood to his feet as he turned from her and looked out toward the valley where the sun was slowly setting. “I was hoping I’d come back and get a kiss from ya. I reckon I was a bit…premature in my thinking.”

“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “And you better do this right.” As Margaret continued, Lucas heard the change in her voice again. “There’s a dance Saturday night and I haven’t danced in a long time.”

Her words caused Lucas to suck in his breath. He turned and stared into her eyes as he took a few steps toward the porch where she still stood. “You haven’t courted anybody else since I’ve been gone?”

“Of course not!” Margaret declared. “The day you said goodbye and left for the war, you asked me to wait for you. You promised to be back. I told you I would.”

“Yes but…I was gone for longer than the war!”

“Yes. One year, one month, and ten days longer!” Margaret declared. “But I promised myself when you went back to war after Gettysburg that I wouldn’t dance with another until…until you returned to dance with me.” Margaret turned away from him and folded her arms. “Didn’t even take me to the dance after you came home from the war.”

“Oh.” Lucas now stood directly behind her and looked down at her. “Well, if you recall my leg was broken.”

“Sounds like an excuse to me.” She turned. They were standing very close together. Margaret looked into his eyes and suddenly longed to feel his lips against hers. It took all the strength she could muster to turn away from him. She felt a tear in her eye as she did so. She grabbed the porch post for strength and shot a hand to her chest. “You should return at a more appropriate time to talk to my brother.”

“Oh.” Lucas had hoped she would allow him off with a warning, but he could tell he was going to be severely punished for his transgressions. And facing her brother was probably the worst punishment she could give him.

Lucas stood and made his way over to his horse. A glow from the moon was quickly being covered by clouds which held incredible lightening. Lucas studied the sky, thinking that the storm matched his mood right now. He didn’t know what he had expected when he came back…Actually, yes he did. He had expected Margaret to jump into his arms and agree to marry him right there on the spot, but that’s not how it happened. This wasn’t, after all, a Shakespeare play. This was real life and he knew that he’d have to wait to receive that kiss from her until she could trust her heart to release that to him.

Lucas Slowly mounted his horse and rode toward the McCain farm where he had always found comfort and a warm reception. But tonight, he had hoped to have his girl back in his arms only to discover that he’d have to wait. If anyone would have welcomed him back, he figured it would be Margaret. Lucas sighed, wondering just how he could face his family.

Huge claps of thunder sounded all around him. Lucas hurried his horse toward the farm so he could beat the rain. He rode into the yard and saw lights on in the main house. Above, on the hill, he saw a light shining in Abe’s house as well. When he looked to the right, he saw yet another light shining in Jeremiah’s. But tonight none of them looked inviting.

Lucas could only picture the expressions on his brothers’ faces as he stood in front of them. If Margaret could give him what for like she did, he could only imagine the friendly reception he’d receive from his own family. Lucas rode to the barn and was happy to see it was closed up for the night. No one would come in and find him here. He bedded down his horse, and then laid in the hay to get some sleep.

But sleep didn’t come easily that night. Lucas sighed as he tossed and turned. The image of the anger in Margaret’s flashing eyes wrecked any thought of sleep he may have. Sometime in the night, he managed to fall into a restless sleep.

He heard a rooster announce that the sun was rising and quickly stood up. He went to the door and watched as the front door of Peter’s house opened and his brother, Peter started for the barn. “Oh no,” Lucas groaned. Now he was in for it!

“Peter! Could you help me with this pump? I think something’s wrong with it!” Tiffany suddenly called. Lucas was never more grateful to hear that his family now had running water in the house. That would stall Peter long enough so that maybe Lucas could get his horse saddled and on his way. He had to go to the creek and get cleaned up and shaved. Then he’d talk to Margaret and Scott.

Lucas quickly saddled his horse and went to the trunk in the corner of the barn. He was happy to find some of his things in there. He grabbed a change of clothes. He was also happy to find some soap and towels in a locker. After stuffing these things in his saddlebag, he took his horse by the reins and led him to the barn entrance. Seeing that the coast was clear, Lucas jumped on his horse and quickly rode away.

***

Lucas held his hat nervously in his hand as he made his way to the oak tree in the front yard of the Gibbs’ ranch. He turned and saw Scott standing on the porch watching his every move. “Boy, I’m not going to get any breaks…” Lucas mumbled under his breath.

Margaret turned and glared at him. Lucas immediately apologized, not meaning for her to hear the words he had mumbled. He motioned for her to sit under the oak tree but she shook her head and declared it wouldn’t be proper to sit with him when they weren’t even courting.

“How’s your family?” Lucas asked after greeting Margaret.

“Pa’s here some and gone sometimes…Depends on if he can find someone to give him liquor. Right now, he’s gone. Mama’s doing well. Scott and Amanda are busy with their son, Andy. He’s had croup some, so they have their hands full with him. I help the best I can, but Andy seems to cling to his folks more than me. Beth…she’s been spending her evenings with a beau. I think it’s becoming quite serious.”

“And Johnny?”

Margaret turned and faced him, but kept her proper distance from the man she loved. “Johnny…he’s gone at the moment. He’s been riding bulls in some rodeo for the past several months, but at least he comes by and says hello when he’s out this way. He sent a letter yesterday and said he’ll be home for an extended visit soon. At least HE tries to…”

Ouch! He heard the sting in her words. “I thought you’ve forgiven me,” Lucas said curtly.

“Not quite, the hurt’s still there, Mr. McCain.” She stepped further away from him. “Get my brother’s permission. If Scott approves, then we can talk more.”

“Margaret…” Lucas looked over his shoulder and saw Scott’s form now standing plain in the doorway, arms crossed. “Is it really necessary? After all, we’re twenty-two years old now and…”

“Yes, Mr. McCain. It is necessary.” Margaret turned and hurried into the house.

Lucas heaved a deep sigh and slapped his hat on his leg before placing it back on his head. He crossed his arms and watched as Margaret paused and spoke to her brother. Then she turned back and looked at Lucas one last time before hurrying inside. Lucas rolled his eyes as Scott slowly walked out the door and toward him. Oh boy, Lucas thought. Now Lucas boy, you just keep your cool. Take some deep breaths…there…that’s right…stay nice and calm and just take the punches like a real man.

“Luke…” Scott’s voice was quite stiff as he stepped in front of him. Luke was taller than Scott and all his brothers, but as Scott towered over him right now, Luke felt much smaller. “Saw Abe in town yesterday. Didn’t say anything about your coming home.”

“Nobody knew.”

Scott cocked his head to one side. “Why’d you come back Luke? You come just to get her hopes up again and leave?”

Lucas sighed as he turned from Scott. “No.”

“You think you’ll stay this time?”

“That’s my plan…if the whole town of Enid don’t shun me. Might as well put a great big A on my chest – for abandonment!” Lucas declared sarcastically.

Lucas could tell from the expression on Scott’s face that Scott didn’t appreciate his sarcasm much. Good going, McCain! You just keep it up and you’ll never get his permission! Lucas opened his mouth to apologize, but Scott held up a hand.

“Why do you think you’ll stay this time?”

Lucas sighed and motioned for Scott to walk over to a bench sitting in the yard. After they settled down, Lucas turned to him. “Can we talk…man to man…like we used to?” Scott nodded. “I don’t know how much you’ve heard about the Civil War, but it’s about the most immoral and ugliest war ever fought. Brothers killed each other. I saw it happen, Scott. I told Margaret that there were unspeakable horrors that occurred, and there were. Now, I was lucky enough to have a good Captain who respected mankind and tried to do everything in the code, but he was under the command of generals, and the generals weren’t playing by the rules, they were playing to win.

“I won’t go into everything that occurred. I don’t want to even think about them. But Scott, it wasn’t only soldiers signing up to fight that were killed. Innocent women and children were burned out of their houses, some even burned up with their house. Men came into houses and took whatever they wanted. Women were hurt in sickening ways. Executions of Rebel prisoners occurred…Like I said, unspeakable horrors. I heard of Andersonville. Those images stuck in my mind like glue sticks to paper, Scott.

“When I first got back, I figured I could just push all that aside and settle down, but I soon learned that I couldn’t. Those images stuck with me and the only thing I could do was allow time to let them fade. I’ve done some stupid and wild things this past year…Many things, I’m not too proud of. But I’ve been able to talk to some of my fellow soldiers…my Captain…and others. We’ve ridden together and helped each other understand that during the war, we allowed our morals to be set aside all in the name of war. It’s something I can’t explain. Those things…I can’t take back, but I can make myself believe that I can gain my morals back. It just…took some time away to do so.”

Scott remained quiet the entire time. Finally, when he spoke it was with sympathy. But there was still accusation in his voice. “You should have explained this to Margaret.”

“Oh Scott…I didn’t want her wrapped up in this! I love her so much that I wanted to protect her from all this. I didn’t want to explain to her that it wasn’t only soldiers dying in this hellish war. A woman like Margaret…she didn’t need to know those things.”

Scott nodded. “I understand. But Luke, it’s going to take you some time.”

“I want to court her, Scott.”

“Then ask the question.”

Lucas gave a slight laugh. “Boy…you all ARE going to make me grovel, aren’t ya?” Scott opened his mouth, but Lucas held up his hands in defeat. “Alright, alright…I would like to ask your permission to court your sister.”

Scott allowed a smile to play on his lips. He nodded. “I won’t approve of you courting my sister just yet. First you may call on her. And maybe, I’ll give you permission to court her after that. But you’ve got earn it.” Lucas started to speak, but Scott held up his hand. “But I have a few things to say to you first.” Lucas sucked in his breath and allowed it to escape his lips slowly. “Now…my sister is a wonderful, kind-hearted woman. She also loves you more than she loves herself. She’s been through so much with you gone and I have heard her crying on more than one occasion. Now, I don’t know why she’s so in love with an ugly cuss like you, but for some reason, she’s had her eyes on you ever since you were kids. So, I’m only going to give you one warning. I may eventually give you permission to court her, but don’t you be getting any notions in your head to marry her anytime soon. First, you have to get my permission, and then you have to prove to me that you won’t run out on her.”

“But I want to marry her!” Lucas declared.

“I know. And she wants to marry you. But you have some things to prove to me first, boy. And I’m going to see that you do just that before I allow my sister to surrender her whole heart to you.”

Scott stood and returned to the porch.

“Would you like to come in and say hello to Mother and Amanda?” Scott asked in a gentle voice from the doorway. “You can meet my son. He’s a dandy.”

Lucas turned and smiled at Scott. “I expect he is. But with your permission, I’d like to come by tomorrow and do just that…and perhaps take Margaret to the restaurant in town for supper.”

“No. I don’t think you should take her to town for supper. Remember Luke, you are only calling on her. But I’ll invite you here for supper…Tomorrow night.” Scott nodded his consent. “You going home?”

“Yeah.” He felt like he was about to walk out of the furnace and into a fire. “Wish me luck.”

Scott smiled. “Good luck. And Luke…” Luke looked towards him. “Welcome home.”

***

Inside, Margaret watched Lucas leave from her window. She rested her forehead against the glass as a blushing smile crossed her face. A knock sounded on her door. She turned and looked at Scott as he stood in her doorway. “He has my permission to call on you.”

“Call on me???” Margaret questioned.

“Yes.” Scott came in and sat down. “I know how you feel, and I know what you wanted me to do. But Margaret, that boy hurt you deeply. He needs to be severely punished for what he did. He needs to understand that you are very precious and he can’t hurt you ever again like he did.”

“He won’t, Scott!” Margaret declared.

“I know.” Scott nodded. “And I aim to make sure he doesn’t. He can call on you for a spell, then when he’s proven himself loyal, I’ll allow him to court you at which time he can take you into town and spend more time with you. Until then…I want to restrict you to the ranch.”

“Yes, Scott.” She put up no argument, because she knew Scott was being nice in just allowing this much. “I’m going to marry him, Scott. I’m going to marry him!” Margaret’s eyes shone with unshed tears. Her voice held such love and devotion.

“I know.” Scott smiled. “All this time, you’ve remained faithful to him. Even when Lariat asked my permission to court you and I granted it, you turned him down. Why do you love him so much?”

Margaret crossed her arms and shrugged. “Why do you love Amanda so much?”

“Well…Amanda isn’t wild like Lucas.”

“Maybe that’s why I love him. I love him for who he is – not who I’d like him to be. You can’t always explain love. Sometimes it just happens.” Margaret smiled. “But I’m going to marry him.”

“What if he goes away again?”

“He won’t,” Margaret answered. She turned and looked out the window. “He’s here to stay.”

“How do you know?”

“Because…I saw it in his eyes.” Margaret smiled. “I can always see truth in his eyes. They haven’t failed me yet.”

Scott grunted. “Goodnight, sis.”

But sleep was slow in coming that night as Margaret imagined Lucas standing in front of the church in his black suit smiling down at her saying those two magical words, “I do!”

***

Lucas wondered which family member would be the least likely to kill him. He thought about riding to Abe’s place and getting the worst shot over with. After all, with all the children around, how much yelling and punching could Abe do? But then Abe was always good at doing his lecturing in the barn – away from the prying eyes and ears of women and children. Then Lucas thought about Jeremiah. Jeremiah was always more gentle than the others with his slow to anger attitude. Lucas cringed as he pictured Jeremiah giving one of his “Bible” lessons. Sometimes it was easier to be yelled at then hearing a boring sermon from his big brother.

And Peter? Well, Peter couldn’t yell too much. After all, Peter married a saloon girl without bothering to tell anyone, then proceeded to bring her home. But then…Lucas knew Peter had at least returned home. He didn’t abandon the family. Peter was hot headed and wouldn’t hesitate to give Lucas a good tongue trashing.

Then Lucas turned his horse toward town. Emily may be the best person to see first. She was a nurse, after all, and was a woman who healed. Besides that, if she did proceed to give Lucas a good punch in the nose, he knew Emily’s husband, Dr. Livingston, was close by to give him good doctoring. “Town it is!” Lucas mumbled.

But boy, was Lucas surprised when he saw three pairs of feet on the boardwalk as he tied his horse to the hitching post. Lucas slowly lifted his eyes and saw three brothers standing in front of him. Their faces did not hold a relieved smile. Instead, they looked quite threatening and demanding for an explanation. “Oh boy…” He would have been better off going to the farm and announcing he was home instead of taking them all on at the same time.

“The Prodigal Son returns…” Abe’s voice was quiet as he muttered those words.

“Not a word…Not a word the whole time he was gone,” Jeremiah shook his head.

“Oh, there were words alright,” Peter nodded. “Just not from Luke.”

“Yeah. Something about a gunfight or some other mess.” Abe scratched his head.

“Yeah…” Peter snapped his fingers as if trying to remember something. “In fact…wasn’t there something about uh…cattle rustling?”

“Now, just a minute!” Lucas interrupted his brothers. “I had nothing to do with that and I left as soon as…”

“Oh right…Did you hear something just now? That was a familiar sounding voice…” Jeremiah piped up.

“Maybe it was just the wind.” Peter winked at his brothers. “Or is it the person who stayed in the barn last night, without permission, and left hoping no one would see him from the kitchen window?”

That was a brotherly game they used to play on him when he was little, and it wasn’t any funnier now than it was then…”Alright, that’s enough!”

“Is it?” Abe asked as he shook his head at his brother. “Do you understand the hell you’ve put us through, Luke? Do you?”

“Yes. I heard it from Margaret last night and again this morning. Then Scott had his turn.”

“Well…what they had to say is NOTHING compared to what we have to say…” Peter started.

“I came to see Emily.”

“Oh yes…that way you’ll have a doctor’s protection.” Abe shook his head. “I think it’s important for you to remember that Emily has a husband who was very, very upset at how much you hurt her. He no sooner left your place when you up and rode out. Emily was quite upset and Jason is very, very protective of her. He doesn’t much like it when she’s hurt.”

“And we’re not the only one’s, Luke. Let’s talk about Julie and Laura…”

Lucas sighed as they continued to hound him. Then, Abe cleared his throat. “Uh…people are staring, guys. Let’s not air our dirty laundry in front of them.” Without a word, Abe grabbed Lucas by the arm and the other brothers surrounded him and quickly walked him behind the livery.

At that very moment, Emily heard the commotion from inside the clinic. She ran for the front door to see what all the commotion was about. She stared horrified. As she watched, she saw what looked like three McCain brothers escorting their condemned prisoner to the gallows. “Jason! Jason!” Emily called in alarm. Jason was by her side in a second and stared at the sight going down the street. “Come on!” She quickly went to follow her brothers, with Jason at her side.

For the next hour, Lucas heard nothing more than how disappointed his family was in him.

The whole time, Lucas stood quietly and allowed them to have their venting time. Finally, Abe asked, “What brought you back, Luke?”

“Margaret,” Luke answered. “And I’m ready to settle down.”

“And how long will you stay this time?” Emily’s tongue clicked as she spoke. “You gonna run again? Like you did before? Are you going to just always be running?”

“Emily…” Jason warned his wife.

“It’s okay, Jason. I deserve that.” Lucas folded his arms. “I can’t begin to explain to you all what the war was like. I told Scott last night, but I don’t want to go into too much detail with mixed company about. But…I will tell you that I’m not the only man who wondered around to find himself. There were many who…turned bad. Now, I may have done a lot of wild, reckless things but I DID NOT break the law!”

“Oh?” Jeremiah leaned forward. “What about that cattle rustling? The way we heard it…”

“Only gossip that spreads in half-truths. I did ride with a couple men driving cattle. They were fun and adventurous. BUT the moment I found out they didn’t have a legitimate bill of sale for the cattle I split! That is the gospel truth!”

“What about some man you killed? What’s his name again?” Jeremiah looked toward Peter.

Lucas’s jaw clinched. “Stop it! I had no choice when it came to killing that man, just like in the war!” he suddenly ordered. “I’m here now and I’m ready to settle down. I want to start working the farm again. I’m willing to take over my old responsibilities and…”

“Pick up where you left off? Is that it?” Abe’s voice held a sharpness in it.

“Something like that I guess.”

“Did you try that on Margaret last night too? I hope she gave you what for if you did.”

“I did,” Lucas nodded. “And she sorta did.”

“Thought you wanted to be a rancher.”

Lucas nodded. “I do. But first I have to prove myself to all of you. I’ll look into the land I wanted to buy eventually, but right now I’m more concerned with getting back into good graces with all of you. So…can I work the farm?”

“Yes.” Abe nodded. “But we’ve expanded. Fact is, we’re breaking a hundred new acres this spring to plant more wheat. We’ve been asked to grow wheat, and we are. When the time’s right for you, we’ll give you your share of the farm, as long as you have earned it, and you can invest it in your ranch. We all agreed on that a long time ago.”

“Alright.” Lucas nodded. “But for now, I would like to help with the planting.”

“It’s hard work,” Abe warned. “Sun up to sun down, and there’s hardly any time for anything else.”

“Well, right now all I have permission to do is call on Margaret. Until Scott grants me permission to court her I’ll only go visit her briefly at her house. So I’ll ask that I do that before starting on the work each morning. Other than that, I’ll take supper with them some…”

“Alright.” Abe nodded. “And you’ll be a hired hand for now. So you can sleep in the barn.”

Emily gasped. “Abraham!”

“I’m sorry, Emily. But that’s the way it has to be.”

“Peter?”

Peter nodded. “I agree with Abe. Luke’s a hired hand for now. Just like he has to prove himself with Margaret and Scott, he’ll have to prove himself with us.”

“And you can take supper with us tonight,” Abe declared. “I’m sure Julie and Laura will have a few things to say to you as well.”

Lucas nodded his silent agreement. He put his hat on and stood up. “If you don’t mind, I’ll go on and get started on the job. Peter, you mind riding back with me and showing me where the new fields will go?”

***

It was close to 6:00 before Lucas allowed himself to unhitch the plow and take the tired oxen back to the barn. Tiffany had brought him a sandwich mid-afternoon which really did hit the spot since he hadn’t had anything to eat since sometime the day before, and some water a few times; but Lucas hadn’t stopped in his work since he returned home.

As he walked into the barn, he found that a fresh bed with a freshly stuffed feathered mattress and a dresser had been hauled out for his sleeping quarters. The bed had been made with such loving care that Lucas knew it is was done by the hand of Tiffany, rather than her husband. From the way his brothers had behaved in town earlier, Lucas could guess that had Peter had his way, he’d gotten nothing but a blanket to sleep with. He couldn’t help chuckling to himself as he imagined Peter standing before a bossy wife insisting that Lucas have some sort of humane conditions. He’d have to thank her for the thought later. Lucas sat down on the bed and propped his elbows on his knees as he ran his hands through his hair. He was exhausted!

Lucas felt his eyes close as he sat on that bed. “Luke?” he heard his name from the doorway.

Lucas lifted his head and turned to look at Tiffany. She had a towel in her hands and some fresh clothing. Lucas again smiled at the tender loving care he was receiving from her. “Thank you for the bed. It will be much softer to sleep on then an old blanket in the corner of a stall.”

Tiffany allowed a small smile to play on the corner of her lips. “You know my husband well.”

“I…lived with him for many, many years. As the youngest, I was always being picked on.” Lucas smiled. “I’m glad to see I have one friend.”

“I’m a woman, Luke, so don’t be asking me to take sides because you know whose side I would take!” Tiffany suddenly declared as her smile disappeared.

“Oh, yes ma’am!” Lucas answered. “I mean…no ma’am…” Tiffany raised an eyebrow. Lucas blushed and decided to focus on the clothes in her hand. “And I thank you for the fresh clothes as well.”

“Luke, I’ll try to make your retribution time less painful for you the best I can, but I’m with the others in that you were wrong to run away. The wives…we had to pick up the pieces you left behind.” Lucas nodded. Softening her voice, she added, “I know the men are treating you rough and I’m sorry…”

Lucas shook his head. “I deserve it. I’ve been a heel this last year. I’ll prove myself to them soon enough.”

“Abe said you’re to be at his house by 7:00 sharp. Julie’s keeping supper warm for you. You best go to the creek and get cleaned up.” Tiffany held out the clothes and stuff to him. Lucas thanked her as she turned and left the barn.

Lucas slowly lowered himself down to the bed. He’d just rest a few minutes before going into yet another lion’s den. He had missed his favorite sibling, Laura, a lot and was looking forward to talking to her; but he knew that she and Julie both would have a few choice things to say to him and he would need to be alert or he’d get into even more trouble. Lucas slowly closed his eyes to rest…

***

The next thing Lucas knew, he was listening to a rooster’s crow. He sat up abruptly as he tried to allow sleep to leave his body. But he groaned as he came to a horrible realization. He had fallen asleep without ever cleaning from his work yesterday. He knew Abe, Julie, and Laura would be quite upset with him. And tonight, he had to take supper with Margaret and her family. That was one meal he was not going to miss! Can things get any worse? he wondered.

Lucas looked at the clean clothes still sitting on his bed. He shook his head, knowing he’d been so tried he hadn’t moved a muscle all night. Lucas stood and stretched the soreness out of his weary bones. After a year of cattle chasing, he should be used to such hard labor. Pushing a plow wasn’t nearly as bad as riding in a saddle all day…But then Lucas knew that part of his weariness was because of the conflict he had faced since his return to Enid.

Lucas shook his head and put his hat on as he hurried to get the oxen. There sure wasn’t any reason for him to clean up now. He was just going to get dirty again. Lucas was taking the oxen out to the fields when he heard his name called from behind him. “Lucas McCain!”

Lucas froze and turned to see Tiffany’s bulky figure hurrying up to him. “You get yourself in that house for breakfast!” Her tongue was sharp, and her eyes demanding.

“No time!” Lucas declared. His eyes focused on her bulging middle where her hand rested. “You shouldn’t be out here anyhow. Looks like your times nearing.”

“And your time will be up if you don’t eat! Now get in that house!” Her voice was stern and sharp as she pointed a finger toward the house.

Lucas shook his head. “Yes ma’am.” Boy, his brothers sure did know how to pick women! He hoped Margaret wasn’t as mean as the other McCain women seemed to be, but if the other night was any indication…he was sure in for it!

Lucas delivered the oxen back to the barn, then made his way to the house. But as he started to step in, Tiffany hurried to the doorway. She planted a hand on her hips and wagged a finger at him. “And don’t ya even THINK of stepping a foot in my CLEAN house with all that mud on yourself!”

“It’s dirt from plowing yesterday,” Lucas argued. “And I see no reason to get washed up when I’m planning on going right back out there!”

“You’re not stepping into my house looking like THAT!” Tiffany informed him.

“Fine! I wasn’t hungry anyhow!” Lucas said sharply as he turned to leave.

“Lucas McCain…”

He heard the warning in her voice and turned around. Peter stood behind her with a hand over his mouth, trying to hide his grin. “Is it because she’s pregnant or is she always a spit fire?”

“Well, the truth is, Luke…” Tiffany spun around and glared at her husband. Peter put an arm around her shoulders. “She’s a lovely woman…can’t say what you mean by spit fire!” Peter hurried forward and stepped out onto the porch. “BUT…I DO suggest you go get cleaned up.”

“Waste of time, if you ask me,” Lucas grumbled as he turned and went back to the barn to get cleaned up.

“And put those clothes in the soaking barrel behind the house!” Tiffany ordered.

“Yes ma’am,” Lucas answered as he tipped his hat to her.

Lucas grumbled the whole time he did so, but he did manage to wash off the majority of the dirt from yesterday, and he did put on clean clothes. He didn’t understand women, yet he found himself wanting what Peter had…Boy, maybe those gunshot wounds he received in the head during the war really DID mess with his brain! He hurried to the back of the house to put his dirty clothes in the barrel. It seemed Tiffany was just making more work for herself by making him change clothes…Then he began wondering WHO exactly was doing her laundry right now.

After Lucas was seated at the table and got Tiffany’s seal of approval, Peter blessed the food. Lucas decided to ask the question while they started eating. “Say Tiffany…It occurred to me that in your present condition, it would be rather difficult to do certain chores, so…who does your laundry right now?” Lucas looked toward Peter, hoping she didn’t name her husband as the unlucky person.

But after she named the person, he wished she had named Peter. “Right now Margaret is helping out down here.”

“Margaret?” Lucas almost choked on his mouthful of pancakes.

“Well, she’s the most helpful person I’ve ever met! She never asks for anything in return.” Tiffany ignored the look on Lucas’ face as she continued. “She helps Julie nearly every afternoon, and about a couple months ago, Julie insisted she come and help me out. Peter won’t let me do the scrubbing or the laundry anymore – says it’s no work for a woman in my condition…” Lucas could tell from the tone of her voice that she wasn’t too pleased with the restrictions either.

“Margaret???” Lucas asked again as a look of horror crossed his face.

“What’s wrong?”

“She ain’t doing my laundry! Why, she washes those clothes and she’ll think I’m a mess!”

Tiffany and Peter busted out laughing. “I’m afraid she already knows that, little brother!” Peter joked. “Now, eat your breakfast so we can get to work.

As Lucas continued eating his breakfast in silence, he became aware of two-year old Ruthie staring at him as she quietly sucked on her pancake. She had only been one the last time he saw her, and Ruthie probably didn’t even remember him. He wondered if he was scary looking. Peter glanced sideways at his daughter and chuckled. “Well now, I don’t suppose you would be remembering your uncle now, would you little Ruthie?” Peter laughed. “This here’s your Uncle Luke. You’ll have time to get to know him later.” Ruthie didn’t say a word as her pancake began crumbling and she continued to stare. Finally, Peter’s voice grew firm. “Eat your pancake, Ruthie.” Lucas watched as Ruthie obeyed.

Lucas felt uncomfortable in the silence that had suddenly settled around him. He glanced up at Tiffany and asked, “When do you expect the baby?”

“About any time now, I reckon.” She smiled at Luke, then turned to care for her daughter.

Lucas stood when he was done. “Thanks for breakfast, Tiffany. I reckon I’ll get to work.”

“Lunch will be on the table at noon,” Tiffany called out to him as he started out the door.

“Oh uh…thanks, but I’ll work through lunch. I’m going to…”

“I don’t care where you’re going or what you are going to be doing, Lucas. You’ll be here at this table at noon!” Tiffany ordered in a tone of voice that warned him not to argue.

Lucas lifted an eyebrow then looked at Peter who snickered into his coffee cup. “Is she for real?”

Peter smiled as he nodded his head. “She’s for real.” He slowly sat his coffee cup down and reached his hand across the table to take hers. They smiled into each others’ eyes. “And don’t you dare be late unless you want to pay the consequences.”

“Which are?” Lucas asked.

Peter stood and cleared his throat. “Well now…I haven’t exactly found that out yet. You see…when it comes to her, you…”

“Peter McCain!” Tiffany suddenly declared.

Peter cleared his throat and kissed the top of his daughter’s head. “We’ll be here…at noon!” Peter promised her as he turned to go out the door.

“Peter, aren’t you forgetting something?” Peter looked down to make sure he had everything he needed. He couldn’t think of a single thing. Then, Lucas snickered as Peter hurried over and gave Tiffany a goodbye kiss. His hand touched her belly as they kissed.

Lucas lowered his head and smiled. He wanted that so badly. He knew he’d work his butt off to get it! As they started toward the barn, Lucas slowed. “Peter…can I ask you a question?”

Peter heard the puzzlement in his brother’s voice and stopped walking. “What is it?”

“Well…do you always let Tiffany…boss you like that?”

Peter chuckled. “Now Lucas, I am the head of our household, that’s true. I make the important decision and set the rules for our daughter with Tiffany’s help, but the house, in many ways, belongs to the women. Our women want to take care of us. They want to teach us proper manners. Tiffany may seem a bit bossy right now, but her time’s coming near and I suspect she’s a bit edgy and uncomfortable. But when you marry, Luke, you discover a whole new life for yourself.”

“So you don’t mind it? I mean…I never imagined you allowing a woman to…”

“When it comes to taking care of me and feeding me proper, there’s no better woman on this earth. Tiffany believes it’s important for a man to have three square meals a day. And you DID look like a pig when you started to come into the house.” Peter lifted an eyebrow. “You’ve been living without a woman’s influence for too long.”

“Well…” Lucas scratched his head as he thought on it. “I reckon that cattle driving…you don’t have to worry about washing and uh…other things. Heck, we were lucky to get two meals a day that filled you up. I reckon I have roughened up a bit.”

“Not a bit, little brother…A LOT!” Peter chuckled as they started back toward the barn. “She’s doing you a favor in many ways, Luke. If you want to marry Margaret someday, you best learn all the etiquette you can. It’ll be easier for you when you live in HER house and follow HER rules.”

“Never saw Ma boss Pa like that.”

Peter laughed. “That’s because Ma had Pa trained long before you came along, Luke. Don’t worry. I still get into a bit of trouble when I drag mud into the house and she makes me sweep the floor.”

“YOU…sweep the floor? Boy…” Lucas shook his head. “I do feel sorry for you.”

Peter laughed. “You have no idea about marriage, Luke…You have no idea!”

***

Lucas worked for two solid hours before he saw Abe making his way across the field. He could tell Abe was upset by the way he walked. Lucas didn’t have to guess what it was all about. Abe didn’t even greet him as he stopped in front of Lucas and glared at him. “I told Julie and Laura you’d be there last night! Julie kept dinner warm for you. We waited for an hour! Where were you???” Abe shouted at him.

“I’m sorry! I fell asleep. It…”

“You fell asleep? Didn’t Tiffany give you my message?”

Lucas had had himself quite a time since his return. He had about all he could take. “Listen, Abe…I’m doing the best I can!” Lucas threw the harness off his neck and faced his brother. “I still had yesterday’s dirt on my clothes when I woke up this morning! I pushed a plow for five hours straight yesterday, and I laid down to rest when I fell asleep! I’m sorry! I’m doing the best I can!”

“Well, just make sure you’re there tonight!” Abe demanded.

“I can’t!” Abe turned and glared at Lucas. “I…I was invited to share supper at the Gibbs’.”

“Oh.”

“And I’m sorry, but I’m walking on eggshells with that woman already! I can’t disappoint her anymore!”

“What about my wife and our sister?” Abe shot out at him then.

“Then you tell me what to do, Abe!” Lucas shoved a finger in Abe’s face. “You decide…tell me who I should disappoint…Julie and Laura…or Margaret? Because no matter what’s decided, someone’s going to be mad!”

Abe sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Very well,” he said a bit calmly. But then he pointed a finger at Lucas and sternly declared, “But you better be there for dinner Saturday night!”

“Saturday…” Lucas closed his eyes as he watched Abe stomp across the field. He took his hat off and threw it on the ground in frustration. Margaret had so much as ordered him to be at the dance Saturday night! He wondered how much longer his family would treat him like a child…

***

“Why are you going through so much trouble for him?” Scott planted his fists on his hips and glared down at his sister as she patiently began taking pans from the cabinets in order to fix Lucas a fine meal of her fried chicken with dumplings. “After all the heartache he’s put you through this past year…”

Margaret had simply asked her brother to go kill a chicken for supper. He was acting as if she had announced she was running away with Lucas and eloping with him, never to return again. Margaret simply smiled as she took out the flour and spread it out on the countertop. She turned and took the dough for her dumplings from the bowl and started rolling it out. “And I’ll need it cleaned as soon as you can get it to me.”

Scott continued to glare at her. Amanda came into the kitchen with the freshly picked apples in her bucket and looked her husband up and down. “Oh, put your eyes back in your head and do as you’re told!” She ordered with a firm nod. “Just like a man not to understand matters of the heart.” Scott turned and stomped out of the kitchen to do as he was told. Amanda poured the apples into the sink and started pumping the water to wash the apples. “Now you pay him no mind, Margaret. He’s just being…

“…My brother,” Margaret answered with a smile. She sighed as she worked on rolling out the dough. “Oh Amanda, you don’t know how hard it was to restrain myself from jumping back into Lucas’ arms when I saw him Thursday night! Why, he looked like a little lost puppy at the door…It was the cutest site I’d ever seen! I wanted so badly to kiss him and tell him I loved him!”

“Well, you just bide your time!” Amanda ordered her gently. “A man’s got to learn sometimes that we are not some ol’ horse they can put out into pasture, then ride whenever they see fitting! They’ve just GOT to understand that we have feelings, as you well know…” Amanda watched Margaret chew on her lip. “He DID hurt you deeply, leaving like he did, didn’t he?”

“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “I just wish Scott wouldn’t be so hard on Luke, Amanda. After all, he’s never been to war and…”

“…and that’s a very touchy subject with him so I wouldn’t bring it up if you chose to argue with him!” Amanda grew quiet as she pealed the apples. “You’ve been pretty hard on Lucas yourself,” she pointed out gently.

“I know.” She sighed.

“How…much longer are you going to punish him, Margaret?” Amanda asked.

“Until I can forgive him.”

“When will that be?”

Margaret paused in making her dumplings and turned around to face her sister-in-law. “I don’t know. I told him he was going to have to start all over and earn my trust back. Do you think I’m being too hard on him?”

Amanda didn’t answer her question right off. Instead, she asked one of her own. “Margaret...can I give you some advice without upsetting you?”

“Of course.” Margaret paused in rolling out the dough to look at Amanda. “I don’t think you have to say it. I know I should take things slow with Luke.” Margaret smiled as she looked straight ahead. “Oh, but I am glad he’s back, Amanda! Why, I’m going to show him just how much I missed him, and that I can take care of him! From here on out…Oh, I’ll continue to be stern with him for a bit, but eventually, I’ll…”

Amanda shook her head and gave a short laugh. “I declare, Margaret Gibbs! You are a piece of work…Why, if Scott pulled something like that on me, he’d have to wait two years to even get a look at me! And here you are just accepting Lucas back without giving the matter a second thought.”

Margaret smiled. She turned and leaned against the counter. “Well…I think he expected to just pick up where we left off last night…I could tell he was a might upset with me when I wouldn’t even let him hold my hand! But he’ll have to show me that he’s committed. He sure got riled when I made him ask Scott’s permission to see me last night.”

“Hmmmm….” Amanda smiled. “I’m thinking that Lucas McCain will have a lot of work to do to prove himself to everyone.”

The ladies worked silently as Margaret remembered back to the time before the war. She was so engrossed in her memories that she didn’t even hear the door to the kitchen open and close. “Well, here ya go.”

Margaret jumped a foot in the air and let out a loud gasp. She turned to see Scott holding up a freshly defeathered and beheaded chicken. “Oh…” She took the chicken from him. Scott watched her put it into the sink. “Scott, I want you to do me a favor tonight.”

“What?” Scott grumbled, obviously knowing what the request was going to be.

“I…” Margaret turned around and folded her arms as she lifted her chin and stared sternly into her brother’s eyes. “I want you to put your distrust and feelings of unforgiveness aside for Lucas tonight. I want you to give him a chance.”

Scott stared at her silently as he studied her face. When he finally spoke, his words were quiet and doubtful. “Margaret, do you remember how hard you cried when he left? I was there…I saw how Amanda and mother held you every night while you cried!”

“Yes.” Margaret nodded. “And you also remember how I finally stood up straight and assured you…all of you…that he’d be back for me because I KNEW he loved me!” She turned back toward the sink. “I just didn’t expect it to be so long…” she added in regret.

Scott propped his elbow on the counter as he bent down to look into her face. Margaret busied herself with cleaning the chicken. “You really do love him.” He smiled. Baby Andy woke up just then, screaming for attention. Amanda turned from the counter where she was rolling out pie dough and asked Scott to get the baby. Scott kissed Margaret’s cheek. “I reckon I can give him another chance.” Margaret smiled her thanks as Scott hurried from the kitchen.

The two women turned and looked at each other. They smiled, knowing Scott was indeed a softy when it came to making his sister happy.

“Are you…going to be hard on him?” Amanda asked as she lifted an eyebrow.

“Well, I…I’m going to stick to what I told him Thursday night, Amanda. Oh…maybe I was a bit rough on him but…how dare he think he can just come right back in here as if nothing ever happened!” She folded her arms. “I have every intention on marrying that boy, but I’m going to certainly show him how I expect to be treated…like a lady!”

“If he truly loves you like you think, I think he’d move heaven and earth to make that happen.”

Margaret and Amanda continued working throughout the afternoon with the supper preparations. Jennifer and Beth returned from town with Samuel Gibbs toting purchased packages. He started to set them on the table, but Margaret ordered her father to carry them right back out and put them where they belonged! She had worked all morning on getting the dining room just right, and she wanted no imperfections! Margaret straightened the candles on the table and asked Beth to set the table. But Margaret came behind her and corrected the laying of the silverware, again reminding Beth of the important etiquette of table setting.

It was 4:30 when Margaret took her apron off and hurried into the bedroom to get dressed. She began throwing dresses from the closet looking for the very dress she wanted. It was her green dress with white lace along the edges and the black sewn design on the chest. She recalled how Lucas’ eyes had lit up when he saw her in that dress, and she suddenly had the deep desire to see that look again.

Margaret worked hastily at pinning her hair up in combs, but groaned as she once again took the combs out. She was relieved when her mother took over the duty and smiled into the mirror at her daughter. “You are indeed the most beautiful woman!” She smiled. “And you pay no mind to that brother of yours. You just show Luke all the love you want.” Then as an afterthought, she added, “…from a distance.”

Margaret giggled and hugged her mother. “I intend to do just that!” Margaret declared. As she hurried from the room, she added, “Besides, with Scott’s watching our every move, how could he steal a kiss from me?”

“Margaret Gibbs!” her mother declared with a shake of her head.

Margaret hurried back into the kitchen. Scott whistled when he saw how beautiful she looked. He couldn’t understand why she looked so beautiful in that dress. When he mentioned his thought to Amanda, she declared that it wasn’t the dress that made her beautiful – it was the glow on her face. Scott folded his arms and tried to figure out just what she meant. How could a man put such a glow on a woman’s face?

Amanda rolled her eyes and told him he’d never understand because he wasn’t a woman, to which Scott declared, “Thank goodness” before taking her into an embrace.

Margaret was in the process of getting the remainder of her fried chicken from the frying pan when the knock sounded on the door. She felt her heart racing as she slowly slipped the last piece of chicken on the platter. Amanda smiled and took the platter from her. “I believe your guest has arrived.”

Margaret hurried to the mirror in the kitchen and stared into it. She pinched her cheeks and twirled the pieces of loose hair around her fingers to curl them. “I thought you were severely punishing him,” Amanda declared.

Margaret turned and smiled mischievously. “I am!” Then she hurried to the door. But she rested her hand on the door and paused, saying a quick prayer before pushing the door to go out.

Lucas was all dressed up with a string tie and everything. He held his hat in one hand and a bunch of marigolds in the other. As he turned, he heard her sharp intake of breath.

The sight that met his eyes took his breath away. Lucas stared at the woman who stood before him. Her hands were clasped together and hung down the front of her. He looked up into her sparkling eyes and noticed she had her hair the way he liked it best. The sides were pulled up in combs and splashed down around her face while the back hung in beautiful locks down her back. Her cheeks were rosy, and her fair skin flushed from the excitement of the evening. Her green dress made the color in her brown eyes even deeper and he couldn’t imagine her ever looking more beautiful.

“Hello.” Margaret managed the one word to escape her lips. Lucas couldn’t even manage that as he forced the lump in his throat down. He merely nodded at her and smiled. Suddenly realizing he had the marigolds still in his hands, he held them out to her. But the words he wanted to say caught in his throat. Margaret reached out and took them as a smile played on her lips.

“They’re beautiful,” Margaret stated with a nod. She couldn’t think of a better peace offering. He’d never given her flowers before. “Supper’s almost ready.” Margaret forced her shaky legs to move forward as she held out her hand to the chair. “Won’t you sit down and…”

Lucas stepped forward as she still spoke. His nearness forced her words to die in her throat. He smiled into her eyes. Finally, Lucas forced the words to come out. “You look…beautiful tonight...Miss Gibbs.”

The huskiness in his voice as he said her name made her heart dance. Margaret blushed, suddenly feeling like a school girl involved in her first crush. Somehow things felt so different this time. She was confused, yet she loved the way she was feeling. “Thank you.” She swallowed before adding, “So do you, Mr. McCain.” Lucas couldn’t keep his eyebrows from popping up. “Uh…I mean you look…” Margaret’s blush deepened. Lucas gave a short chuckle before sitting down at the table.

Beth brought out the fried chicken and set it on the table. The women soon had the whole feast set before them and Lucas stood as Margaret started to sit down. “Allow me…” He held her chair for her then scooted her in. Margaret had never seen him behave with such manners before. She had expected him to be more ill-mannered than ever after riding around with a bunch of men the last several years, yet tonight he was behaving like a true gentleman. She wondered if perhaps he had been coached by his brother.

Samuel never came to the table. Nobody hastened to guess why. He had probably slipped off to town again. After Scott said the prayer, the members at the table began passing the food around. There was an uncomfortable silence at the table. Lucas cleared his throat. “So Scott…uh…how’s the ranch holding up?”

“I’ve practically doubled the herd from last year. Things seem to be really picking up.” Scott cleared his throat. “Um…ranching is a growing industry around here…along with wheat farming.”

“Yes.” Lucas nodded. “I took charge of breaking the new ground for all the wheat my brothers want to plant this year. We’ll be breaking a hundred new acres for wheat.”

“Oh?” Scott lifted an eyebrow. “That will take you quite awhile. I suspect you have several trees to pull and rocks to move and…”

“Yes.” Lucas nodded. “I’ve plowed a bit, but it seems that we do have several trees we’ll have to remove and uh…rocks to dig out…” Lucas said these words with a warning in his voice…one Scott wasn’t quite ready to heed.

“I suppose you’ll be pretty busy the next several weeks.” Nobody missed the meaning in his tone. Scott grunted when he felt a hard kick under the table, delivered by his wife.

Lucas cleared his throat and decided to ignore the harsh hint he had heard in Scott’s voice. “I will be busy, but not too busy to tend to all my tasks.” He smiled at Margaret who merely blushed again.

Margaret watched Lucas closely as he took a few bites. She saw the weariness in his face, and she saw him stifle a yawn a few times. “You’re tired,” she commented.

“Yes.” Lucas cleared his throat. “Plowing and breaking new ground is…tiring work. I was behind the plow nine solid hours today. I’ll put in that many tomorrow as well.”

“But you’ll be done in time for the dance.” This wasn’t a question. It was a declaration.

“Margaret…” Scott warned.

Lucas cleared his throat. “Uh…I’m not sure about the dance. You see…I have…”

“You couldn’t take her anyway,” Scott stated harshly.

“Scott,” Jennifer looked up at her son. “Could you discuss this later?”

A silence fell over the table. After they had dessert, Margaret stood up to gather the dirty dishes, but Jennifer stopped her. “Margaret, why don’t you take Lucas into the parlor?”

Margaret smiled bashfully as she looked at Amanda. Amanda and Beth both agreed that they would do the dishes that evening. Lucas stood and walked to stand next to Margaret. His hand brushed her elbow by accident and they both felt it. Scott turned when he heard their gasps. He cleared his throat. “And make sure you leave that parlor door open!”

“Scott Gibbs!” Amanda declared harshly.

“As a matter of fact,” Lucas stated with a small bit of annoyance in his voice. “I was going to do just that.” Lucas turned and looked at Margaret. “Miss Gibbs, would you excuse us for a moment?”

Margaret looked from Lucas to Scott, then nodded and hurried toward the parlor. Lucas waited until she disappeared into the parlor, then turned and glared at Scott. “Now…I understand that I’m having to start at the beginning with Margaret…” Lucas closed his eyes and sighed. “…Miss Gibbs. And I understand that you all are very upset with me. But if you have something rude to say to me, I request you say it to me alone and not in front of your sister. Now, I have every intention of making up for everything I did. And it would go a lot better for both of us if you would just lay off the rude and insulting comments and try to work WITH me instead of AGAINST me!”

Scott watched as Lucas abruptly turned from him and hurried into the parlor. He started to go after him, but Amanda stopped him. “Scott, I have to feed the baby. You help Beth with the dishes.”

“WHAT???” Scott turned and glared at Amanda who merely raised an eyebrow. “Yes ma’am!”

***

Lucas walked into the parlor and saw Margaret looking out the window. She had lit the lamp, and it cast a glow around her. The flame made golden rays dance in her hair. “Miss Gibbs, I…”

“Lucas, I…” She started at the same moment. Margaret blushed as she lowered her head. “Mr. McCain…” She paused. “You go first.”

“No ma’am, please…you go first.”

Margaret clasped her hands together nervously. “I just…wanted to think you for coming to supper tonight.”

Lucas cocked his head to one side and studied her. “You…sending me home already?”

“Well, I…I know how tired you are and that you need some rest.” She blushed. Her plead for him to stay longer was evident in her tone of voice.

Lucas raised an eyebrow and motioned toward the couch. Margaret nodded as she turned and walked to the couch and sat. Lucas sat down, but when Margaret turned and lifted an eyebrow, he scooted a bit further away from her. Lucas cleared his throat. “Do you still help Julie?”

“Yes.” Margaret smiled. “With six children about, she needs the help.”

“Six children…” Lucas shook his head. “I still can’t get over that! How can they have so many already?”

Margaret smiled. “Well, each one of them is an example of the love they share with each other. Even Laura…you can tell that they’ve accepted her as their own daughter. Why, Laura even calls them Mama and Papa.”

“Laura’s hardly a child anymore. She’s…”

“Eleven,” Margaret answered. “She’s grown up so much over this past year, Mr. McCain.”

Lucas grunted at hearing his name spoken so formal. “How did she take my leaving?” He was hoping she wouldn’t start in on him again.

“About like I did, I expect. She loves you. Your leaving without saying goodbye was very hurtful. Julie told me she and Abe had to hold her while she cried. She loved you very much, and it’ll take a while for you to earn back her trust.”

“I know.”

“Mr. McCain, I…”

Lucas sighed. “Please ma’am…” He swallowed as he looked up at her. “May I have permission to…to call you by your given name?”

“No.”

“Huh?” Lucas asked in surprise. He was sure all he needed was proper permission.

“I’ll let you know when you may do so.”

“Oh.”

Margaret saw the weariness in his eyes. She could tell he was exhausted, and the fact that he came over instead of going to bed made her feel special. “About Saturday night…”

Lucas spoke quickly before she could say anymore about it. “I want to take you to the dance, I really do.” Lucas sighed as he turned to her and reached for her hand, but she snatched it away and lifted her eyebrow. “Abe…he’s pretty riled. Actually, they all are and…well, I couldn’t take you anyhow since Scott’s restricted me to calling on you only and…”

“But I’ll be there.”

“I know. But the truth is…I was supposed to have supper at my brother’s last night so his wife and our sister could have their turn at me. I…Well, I fell asleep. Abe was awful sore at me because Julie and Laura were upset I didn’t show. Like I have to prove myself to you, Miss Gibbs…I have to do the same for my family. So I’m sorry, but…I can’t see you there.” He didn’t miss the disappointment in her eyes. “I can’t please everyone!” Lucas suddenly declared a bit sharper than he meant. “I’m sorry.”

Margaret nodded. “I understand. I was just…hoping.”

“I know. But perhaps the next dance…”

“Next Saturday?”

“Huh?”

“Ann and Hal are having a barn dance at their house to celebrate her pregnancy. Maybe by then…”

“Boy, two dances in two weeks!” Lucas chuckled. “But I don’t think I could take you. Scott’s going to require more than a week for me to prove I’m worthy to court his beautiful sister.”

“But we could dance there.”

Lucas nodded. “I’ll see. But in the meantime, if you want to take…”

“I don’t need your permission, Mr. McCain,” Margaret declared as she stood from the couch and went to the window. She had to hide her emotions. She understood why Lucas couldn’t come to the dance, but she was still disappointed. And she was hurt that Lucas would even suggest her going with another man. She’d had hoped to make Saturday night the day he could take her in his arms, but it would have to wait. “And I can’t think of a man on this earth I’d let ask me.”

“Oh.”

“That is…” Margaret turned. “Since the man I really want to go with has other commitments.”

Boy, did he fell like a heel again! “Miss Gibbs…” Lucas stood and walked toward her.

“Please…” Margaret swallowed hard. “Call me…Margaret.” A smile played on her lips as the clock sounded. “It’s eight o’clock. I’m afraid you’ll have to leave.”

“Right. Goodnight.” Lucas started toward her, but she quickly turned away.

“I’ll see you in church Sunday…Lucas.”

“Church?” Lucas immediately regretted it as soon as he’d said the word. He hadn’t been to church in quite some time.

“Yes. CHURCH, Mr. McCain!”

“Yes ma’am.” Lucas nodded his head in a courteous goodbye then turned and hurried out the door.

Tears filled Margaret’s eyes and she put a hand to her mouth as she sobbed. Scott hurried into the room and upon seeing her crying jumped to conclusions. “What did he do now? Is he leaving again?” There was immediate anger in his voice.

Margaret shook her head. “It’s not him! It’s me!” Margaret declared through her sobs.

Amanda hurried into the room. “Scott, put Andy to bed,” she ordered as she handed him the baby. “I’ll deal with this.” Scott turned and hurried from the parlor. Amanda hurried over to Margaret and took her into her arms. Margaret cried. “It’s okay,” Amanda soothed her.

“It’s so hard!” Margaret sobbed. “I just don’t know how long I can…”

“This is for your pride, Margaret. You just remember that.”

“He can’t take me to the dance tomorrow night. He can’t even come!” Margaret cried. “When I asked him about the Dodd’s dance, he wasn’t sure if he could even go to that one!”

“Perhaps if he asks Scott’s permission, he could take you.”

“He doesn’t think Scott will let him. Oh Amanda, why aren’t we married already? He promised me a long time ago!” Margaret sobbed. “I held on through the war and rejoiced when he asked me to marry him after he came back…then he up and left!” Margaret sniffed as she buried her face in Amanda’s shoulder. “I watched you marry Scott…Peter and Jeremiah marry…Ann marry…And all the time, I stayed patient because I knew that as soon as the war was over…” Margaret lifted her head and stared at Amanda. “Oh, and now I’m STILL waiting! Why? Why’s it taking so long for the one thing I’ve always wanted to come true?”

“Because, honey, life’s not a fairy tale.” Amanda took Margaret’s face in her hands and stared into her eyes. “But you stay strong. I think there’s times we all go through hard things like Lucas did. We all handle them differently. Lucas is powerful with a gun, but weak when it comes to facing his problems head on. You just love him and continue to make him grovel. You’ll know when the time’s right.” Amanda smiled at her. “I’m proud of you. You stay strong!”

“I just…I just want to marry him!” Margaret declared as she once again accepted Amanda’s embrace and cried.

“You will, Margaret. You will.”

***

Saturday was a busy day. The day started before the sun even came up. Jeremiah and Abe were both at the main farm to eat a hearty breakfast prepared by Em, who insisted she fix breakfast. Peter had insisted Tiffany stay in bed since she wasn’t feeling well. Lucas worried, not knowing much about childbirth, and Em assured Lucas that it was simply the baby letting the Mama know she should rest before her ordeal. The event could still be days away.

All four brothers walked out together. They had a hard day before them cutting down trees and pulling stumps. Abe decided they should look at this practically. It would save them having to cut firewood for a spell. They worked hard without any breaks until noon. Em made sure to bring the water bucket around every now and then so they would get plenty of water to drink. At noon, the men were in the middle of cutting a tree into logs they could haul to the barn for chopping, so she delivered sandwiches, though she warned that Tiffany was wagging her tongue about the whole notion of her man working right through lunch.

That afternoon, the sun grew rather hot. The work should have been done a month ago. The wheat should have already been planted, but it had been a long, harsh winter and the last snow hadn’t melted from the ground until a couple weeks ago. Now, the sun seemed to be making up for its absence through the winter months by shining hotly on the land. The men stripped off their shirts, wiped the sweat from their faces, and continued working.

By five o’clock, they had put quite a dent into the work, and though they still had a long ways to go – time was of the essence, after all – Em came out and declared Tiffany wouldn’t stay in bed another minute and watch the men working so hard in the fields. “She said she’d only stay off her feet if you quit right now and have your supper!” Em declared with a firm nod of her head.

The men put away their tools and agreed that they had, indeed, put in a hard day’s work. They were anxious for the planting to be done already. Em brought out towels for the men as they washed up behind the house. Lucas watched Jeremiah and Em make their way home with their daughter after her informing the others that there was a big pot of stew on the stove for their supper.

Abe reminded Lucas that he was to be at his house at 6:30 sharp. “But Julie demanded me to get home in time to take a bath and get dressed properly.” Abe handed Lucas the bar of soap. “Were I you, Luke, I would smell fresher than a new born baby when you arrive at my house.” Abe motioned toward the creek. After retrieving a fresh change of clothes from the house, Lucas made his way to the creek to wash off all the dirt.

It was 6:45 when Lucas arrived at Abe McCain’s house. The boys were playing outside, and as he approached the gate to their house the door opened and Abe hollered for his four boys to come ‘front and center’ on the double. Abe folded his arms and gave his sons a firm lecture about getting dirty after their mother worked so hard at washing them up. Lucas watched as all four boys took their turn at a firm smack on the backside before going inside with somber looks.

“Lucas…” Abe nodded toward his brother in a tired and stern tone of voice. “You are fifteen minutes late.”

“Yes, my lord…” Lucas stopped when Abe planted his hands on his hips and glared at him for the sarcastic remark. He started to apologize, but decided against it. He saw how clean Abe was and wondered where he found the time to get so refreshed and still have time to yell at his children. But he bit his tongue, deciding to just accept Abe’s reprimand in silence. He’d just have to bide his time the best he could.

Abe stepped aside so Lucas could enter. He watched as Laura lifted her eyes to him, then quickly turned and went to the other side of the room and stared out the window. Julie turned from the kitchen and wiped her hands on her apron. “Lucas…” She came forward and took his hands. “Luke…I don’t know rather to kiss you or beat you, but…” Julie turned and looked at Laura. “Laura, come to Mama, honey.”

But Laura didn’t move. She stayed staring out the window. Just seeing Lucas reminded her of the hurt she had felt. “Rose Bud…”

Laura spun around. Tears shone in her eyes and trickled down her face. “Don’t call me that! Don’t you EVER call me that!” She started to run to her room.

“Laura Rose!” Abe’s voice sounded harsh, and froze her in her tracks. Ever since Abe had taken his sister in after their mother’s death, she’d been learning to obey his voice.

“Yes Papa?”

“As long as you live under my roof, you will treat those who enter our house with respect.” Laura didn’t turn, but allowed her shoulders to slump. “Did you hear me?”

“Yes Papa,” Laura answered with a sniff.

“Well?” Abe waited patiently. Slowly, Laura turned and looked up at Lucas, her youngest, older brother.

Lucas played with the hat in his hand and looked away. He had been able to tolerate the anger in his brothers’ eyes, and even in Margaret’s…but the look in Laura’s eyes haunted him in a way he could never explain. They had always been close. Laura had been his pet, and he’d always treated her special. Throughout the war, she had remained loyal to him and knew he would return to be her favorite brother. But now he saw that innocence lost in her eyes. The respect was gone.

Lucas dropped to his knees and swallowed hard. “Laura…” He dropped his hat and grasped her hands. “Laura…I’m begging your forgiveness.”

Laura lifted her eyes to look over his shoulder at Julie. Julie stood directly behind Lucas with her arms crossed. Lucas slowly turned and looked up at her. He saw the unforgiveness in her eyes as well. “I’ll respect you because Papa told me I have to,” Laura answered. “But don’t ask me to forgive you because…I can’t!”

Laura suddenly hurried from the house. Lucas watched Abe hurry out after her. Slowly, he stood up and turned to look at Julie who held an angry expression on her face. “Lucas…Abe told me of your excuses for running a year ago, and I tried to understand. But…” Julie’s voice broke as her eyes filled with tears. “But…when I had to hold your sister in my arms while her heart broke with your leaving…When I see the anger in my little girl’s eyes…and hear…” Julie turned from him. Lucas knew she was trying to regain control of her emotions.

“Julie, I…”

“No, Luke…I’m not finished!” Julie licked her lips before turning and continuing. “When you left for war, Laura lost her best friend…her favorite brother. And we tried to make her understand that it was something you had to do. Then she lost her father and that was so hard for her! But when her mother died…oh, it broke her heart.” Julie closed her eyes, remembering that time in their lives. “She had to leave the only home she had. Suddenly, Abe was no longer her brother, but her father. I was no longer her sister, but her mother…and we’ve come through all that. Then we got the telegram that you had been killed and that was more than she could take! She was so relieved when you returned. But when Abe had to tell her…A ten year old little girl…that her favorite brother ran out on his family…it broke her heart!

“Lucas, this little girl…” Julie’s voice was half-crying and half yelling by this point. She pointed toward the door. “That little girl…has been through so much and I’m telling you right now that if YOU do ANYTHING to hurt her EVER again, you will regret the day you were born!” Lucas heard the threat clearly in her words. He knew she wasn’t kidding.

She turned and hurried outside. Lucas had never seen Julie so emotional. She’d never been angry with him, really, and he hated seeing her like that now. He suddenly felt uncomfortable as he realized four little boys were looking up at him. “Well…” He folded his arms and turned to look down at the four little boys. “Let’s see now…” He put a finger to his chin. “You are David…”

Charlie rolled his eyes. “No, no, no! I’m Charlie!” He pointed to another little boy. “That’s David!”

Of course, Lucas knew which one was Charlie, but he was trying to relieve their looks of concern. “Okay…I think I have it now.” He pointed to a little girl toddling toward him. “Okay, and THIS…” He reached down and scooped her up. “This must be Adam!”

David giggled as he put a hand to his face. “That’s Sissy!” David declared.

“Sissy?” Lucas raised an eyebrow. “Hm…now I never heard of her!”

“Rachel,” Charlie replied. “We call her Sissy!”

“Oh. I see.” Lucas smiled at the little girl that was a miniature of Julie.

The door opened. Abe walked back in with Laura and Julie right behind him. “Supper will be on the table soon.”

Supper was rather awkward. Charlie and Lucas chatted comfortably together, and the triplets tried to join in whenever possible. Even Rachel managed to get a few words in edgewise, but Laura simply ate her food and refused to engage in any conversation.

After dessert, Julie requested that Laura start clearing the table. Lucas cleared his throat and stood up. “I was wondering if I could speak to Laura…Miss McCain…outside.” Laura didn’t attempt to look at him. She simply continued to gather the dishes. Lucas walked toward the door. “Please, ma’am.”

“Laura…” Julie put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “Laura, you promised me you’d try and give him a chance. Now…He’s asking to speak to you outside. I think you owe it to him.”

“Why?” Laura suddenly asked. “Why do I owe it to him?”

Julie put a hand on the girl’s cheek. “Because, sweetie…He’s your brother.”

Laura lifted her eyes and looked Julie in the eye. Then she smiled and nodded her head. “Alright, Mama.”

Lucas watched Laura brush past him and step out onto the porch. He turned and looked at Abe and Julie who gave him a warning look to tread softly. Lucas nodded silently, then turned and walked out the door. “Won’t you sit down?” he motioned toward the steps. He dug something from his pocket and handed it to her.

Laura studied it before slowly lifting her eyes to stare into this face. “Do you remember the day I gave one like that to you?”

“Yes. It’s the day you left for the war. You told me it was your way of assuring me you’d be back.”

“And I came back,” Lucas answered.

“But you left again.”

“Yes.” Lucas wrapped his arms around his knees and sighed. “And I’m not sorry for leaving…But I AM sorry for the way I left, Laura.” Laura turned away from him. Lucas put his hands on her shoulder and turned her back around. “I should have never left without explaining to you…to all of you…just why I had to leave. And I never should have stayed silent.”

“Why did you leave?” Laura asked as she wiped tears from her face.

“Well, I…” Lucas sighed. How could he ever explain something so deep and emotional to a little girl? Lucas closed his eyes. “It’s really hard to explain, Laura, but…For three years, I was traveling with a bunch of men in a war. Do you know what happens in a war?”

Laura nodded. “We’re studying it in school. You shoot the enemy.” Laura looked intently at Lucas. “Did you kill people?”

“Yes.” Lucas lowered his head again. “And killing a man is really hard, Laura. I didn’t want to do it. I was around nothing but men for three years, and when I came back I had all those memories all tangled up in my head.” Lucas turned and looked at Laura. “Have you ever wanted to run away?”

“Yes. After Papa died, I didn’t feel like anybody understood me. Then after Mama died…”

“It’s hard to adjust without those we care about,” Lucas acknowledged. “And I reckon that was part of my problem. When I left, Mama and Papa were still alive. Uncle Sam wasn’t…”

“A drunk?” Laura tried.

Lucas smiled. “…sick,” he corrected her. “And Andy was still here. When I came back, Peter and Tiffany were living in Mama and Papa’s house. Jeremiah had his own house. Emily was married and living in town. You…You had a new home too. And you all had moved on. But for me, it seemed like life just passed me by.”

“Kinda like you went to sleep and then woke up to find everything different?” Laura tried.

Lucas nodded. “Yes. Sort of like that. Well…I guess that I’ve never been too good at sitting down and talking my thoughts over with people…I mean, I used to do that with Mama, but Mama was gone and I didn’t think anybody would understand. Then there were the memories of what I did in war and I wondered if…”

“Did ya become a gunfighter?” Laura suddenly asked then. “I heard there’s been lots of gunfighters since the war.”

“Not really. My friend…Johnny…He’s become one, and I don’t like it. Not one bit.” Lucas raised an eyebrow to her. “You should have grown up a lot since I left for war. Does Abe know you think about gunfighting and calling people drunks and stuff?”

Laura gasped. “Abe would tan my hide in a second if he knew!”

“Well…It’s not proper thinkin’ for a girl…especially for one as pretty as you.” Lucas pulled on her pigtail. “Anyhow…I was wrong, Laura, in just up and leaving like I did. I needed some time away to think on things and to figure out what I was going to do.” He raised his eyebrows. “You know what I found out?”

Laura shook her head.

“I want to do just what I always wanted to do. I want to be a rancher, marry Margaret and have a family.”

“Here?” Laura asked. “You want to be a rancher here?”

“Right here!” Lucas replied. “I don’t want to leave my family again! Not ever, if I can help it.” They grew quite. Lucas saw the agony on Laura’s face. He carefully put an arm around her shoulders. “Laura, Margaret won’t forgive me right now, and neither will our brothers, so I’m not going to ask you to. I should have never asked you…that was wrong of me.”

“You hurt me really bad…”

“I know. I hurt Margaret really bad too.”

“She cried a lot.”

Lucas’ heart broke to hear those words. “You saw her?”

Laura nodded. “She came over here a lot. She’d help me with my homework sometimes and she’d start crying. Sometimes we’d talk about you and she told me that you’d come back.”

“She told you that?”

Laura nodded. “She said she knew you ran because you were scared.”

“Scared?”

“Is she really mad at you?” Lucas nodded. “So am I, Luke.”

Lucas turned and faced his sister. His eyes filled with tears. Suddenly, the stress from the past two days was overwhelming him. He began crying. Laura jumped up and hurried inside. Soon, Abe came out. “Luke?” Luke didn’t turn as he tried to push his tears back. “Laura said she upset you.”

“No!” Lucas’ muffled voice let Abe know he was crying. Abe came to sit down beside Lucas. “I’ve hurt everyone so much…I thought I was helping by running away but…I did nothing but…but hurt!”

Abe put a comforting arm around Lucas’ shoulder. Lucas burst into tears. He allowed Abe to comfort him as he cried his tears of guilt.

Before he left, Lucas did manage to get a small smile from Laura. And even Julie forced a smile on her face. She had every confidence that both she and Laura would come to forgive him as long as he stuck around and continued to prove himself. Lucas’ weak attempt of an explanation to Laura left Laura confused. After she got in bed that night, her parents sat in her room and did their best to explain what Lucas had said in a way she’d understand.

Abe took Laura’s hand. “It’ll just take time, Laura.” He looked up at Julie who was even more affected by Lucas’ leaving then either he or Laura were. She had not only held Laura while she cried, but she’d watched her husband and other family members try to understand what had happened. But Julie knew in time she would forgive Lucas for the hurt he’d brought to her family. She would forgive him because she was an understanding woman. She understood why Lucas left, but she couldn’t forget the pain his leaving had caused.

***

“Lucas! Lucas!” Lucas groaned as he sat up on his bed to see who was calling his name. In the shadow, he saw Peter. “Lucas, the baby’s coming. I need you to go for Margaret and bring her here. Tiffany’s asking for her.”

Lucas sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes. He was so tired, and as soon as church was over he planned to go back into the fields. Lucas hurried and put his boots on. “Are you sure?”

“Tiffany’s sure. She should know,” Peter answered. “Her contractions are really close together. She doesn’t think there’s time for the doctor.”

“It’s just that…I don’t much relish going calling in the middle of the night. You’re putting me in a sticky situation.”

“You want me to go and leave you here with Tiffany?” Peter threatened.

Lucas stood up. “Oh no! I’d rather face Scott Gibbs then that!” He harnessed his horse, then jumped on him bareback and rode.

Knocking on the Gibbs’ door in the middle of the night wasn’t something he was looking forward to. He could only imagine the look on Scott’s face when he opened the door. But Lucas knew little one’s needed help coming into the world, and he knew his brother was rather nervous since Tiffany had almost died the first time so he wasted no time in knocking on the door.

Lucas wasn’t disappointed. Scott opened the door as he buttoned his shirt. “What?” His voice was obviously annoyed. “It’s a bit late to come calling.”

“Early, actually. It’s two in the morning. I’ve come for Margaret.”

“Over my dead body!” Scott shouted suddenly.

“Scott, I’ve got no time for your rude comments! The baby’s coming. Tiffany says there’s no time to get the doctor.”

Margaret had come from her bedroom and heard. “I’ll get dressed as quickly as I can.”

“I’ll go saddle your horse,” Lucas announced as he hurried to the barn. By the time he had her horse saddled and waiting, she was out. Scott stood in the doorway with his arms crossed. “Think your brother’s afraid I’m kidnapping you and running off.”

Margaret giggled as she started her horse in motion. “He said as much inside. He told me I best be at the McCain house delivering a baby!”

They quickly rode to the house together. Lucas lifted Margaret from the saddle. They paused as he kept his hands at her waist and she stared into his eyes. Their closeness was almost too powerful, and his touch…

Lucas suddenly took his hands from her as if her waist was on fire. Then she started inside. Lucas started for the barn. “Come on in, Luke.”

“No, no…” Lucas shook his head nervously. “I don’t want…”

“I may need your help.”

“Oh no you don’t!” Lucas held up a hand.

“Not with the delivering!” Margaret rolled her eyes. “With the father!”

Lucas could hear Tiffany’s cries of childbirth coming from the house. He wasn’t sure he wanted to come in. His face grew white and he took a hard swallow. Margaret chuckled as she reached out for his hand. “Oh, come on, you ninny!” she declared. “This is good practice for when…” Margaret felt her face redden. She disappeared into the house.

Lucas stood nervously in the doorway as Peter left the bedroom. “Maybe you should go for the doctor,” he said. “I’d feel better if…”

Margaret hurried from the room. “She’ll deliver very soon.” She hurried into the kitchen and got a pan. “Lucas, you fill this with water and get it on the stove for boiling. I’ll need a knife and…”

“A…a knife?” Lucas felt the blood drain from his face again.

Margaret rolled her eyes. “You men are all alike! I’ll have to cut the cord with it.”

“The…the cord???” Lucas said with even more fear in his voice.

Peter laughed in spite of his worrying. “Don’t worry, Margaret. I’ll take good care of him.”

“You might explain a few things about birthing to him too!” Margaret shook her head. “Honestly! And HE wants to be a rancher???” Margaret hurried into the bedroom, leaving the men to follow her orders.

But Peter didn’t get far before they heard a very loud scream followed shortly by a loud slap and then a baby crying. Lucas watched Peter hurry to the door. “Is everything okay?” Peter asked anxiously.

“Everything’s just fine!” Margaret called.

“My wife? Is she okay?”

“You can’t hear her?” Margaret hurried to the door and opened it. “It’s a boy.”

“A boy?” Peter turned and looked at Lucas. “I got myself a boy!” Peter shouted joyfully! “I did it! I really did it!”

Lucas lifted an eyebrow as Peter hurried inside the bedroom. “I ‘spect his wife may have had something to do with it…” He told Margaret.

Margaret giggled as she stood beside Lucas. Lucas saw the smile in her eyes. It was a smile he’d never seen on her face before. “What is that?” he asked as he lightly brushed his fingertips against her cheek.

“What?” Margaret asked.

“That smile…”

“Oh Lucas, you can’t imagine what it’s like to bring a baby into the world…to know that you helped a little one find his way…It’s the best feeling in the world! Every time I help one, I can’t help but to wonder what it’s like to give birth. I want to lay there and hold that baby in my arms and know that he…or she…was created from the love that…”

Suddenly, Margaret blushed and turned from him. She just in that moment realized that he was touching her cheek. “I’m sorry…” Lucas said. “I didn’t realize…”

“Me neither.” Margaret sighed. “Luke…would you mind going into town and getting Jason? I’m sure everything’s fine, but I like him to check the mother and baby out afterwards.”

“Of course.” Lucas picked up his hat and rifle. “Will you…be here when I get back?”

“Yes.” She blushed. “I’ll be here.”

***

The sun was coming up as Lucas arrived back at the farm with Jason and Emily. At 5:30 in the morning, the entire McCain family was there to welcome the new life into the world. Abe had awakened and went to get a drink of water when he saw lights burning down at the main house. Em had been the one to need a drink of water in her house. With the entire McCain family inside, the house seemed rather small as Lucas stepped inside the door.

Margaret smiled and hurried up to him. She stated that she needed to get home before her brother came to find her. Lucas nodded as he led her out the door.

They were soon on their way toward the ranch. Lucas yawned, unhappy that in the time he’d been back, he’d yet to get a full night’s sleep. “You did great in there, Margaret. You make a great midwife.”

“Thank you.” Margaret slowed her horse, suddenly not wanting this ride to end. “There’s something special about…you know…helping to bring a life into this world.”

“You really love children, don’t you?”

Margaret smiled. “I really do…”

“How many you want?” Lucas surprised himself by asking.

“Children?” Lucas nodded. “As many as God blesses me with I suppose. I’d be happy with ten!”

“Ten?” Lucas grunted. “Ten kids?”

“The sound of small feet running up and down the stairs each morning, cooking breakfast while they sit around the table. You trying to make sure all the children are properly dressed and faces washed while I get breakfast on the table. And at night…when we’re having our final meal of the day, we bow our head in prayer than ask each child what they did that day.” Lucas heard the longing in her voice. “Then we tuck our children into bed…all ten of them…and kiss them goodnight, one by one…Then I would sit out on the front porch and watch the stars twinkle with you by my side. We tell each other about our day before we finally get up and go inside for the night. Then we go to…”

Lucas halted his horse as Margaret suddenly stopped talking. “What’s wrong?” His voice was teasing her.

Margaret blushed. “Well, I…We shouldn’t talk about such things!” Margaret declared as her blush deepened.

“We all sleep, Margaret.”

“I know, but…” Margaret rolled her eyes. “Oh, stop it Luke! After all, it’s not proper to talk to a girl you’re only calling on about such matters!”

“I can’t let you ride home by yourself!” Lucas declared.

“No but…” Margaret stopped at the edge of the yard. “I best say goodbye now, Luke.” She turned and saw the front door open. “I’ll see you in church.”

“Margaret, I’ve been up since just past one o’clock. You think you could…let me off the hook this once?”

“It’s Sunday, Luke!” Margaret declared. But she stopped when she saw Lucas yawn.

“Margaret! Get on back here now!” Scott hollered across the yard.

Margaret turned back to Lucas. “Alright, Luke. To tell you the truth, I’m pretty tired myself. You go on home and get some rest.”

“Thanks.” Lucas winked at her and watched her ride toward the barn.

When Lucas got back to the farm, he noticed the house was still packed with family members welcoming the new baby. He sort of felt sorry for Tiffany and that little fellow. They had worked so hard, and now they had to entertain the entire McCain family. Lucas paused at the barn door and turned to look towards the house. The front door opened. “You may come back tomorrow! Now every one of you out!” Jason demanded in a no-nonsense tone of voice.

Lucas chuckled as he went into the barn. As soon as he let his horse out into the pasture, he laid down on his cot and put his hat over his face. Then he went back to sleep.

***

It was a soft rustling that woke him up later that morning. Lucas sat up and stretched. Looking around him, he wondered what that noise was. He looked up to see that an old cat had come in to take a nap. “Awakened by a cat…” Lucas mumbled. He pulled out his watch and groaned to see the time – 11:30. He had meant to be up a few hours ago to get to work on the plowing.

Lucas splashed water on his face and ran a comb through his hair before putting his hat on. Then he went to ready the oxen for another hard day at plowing.

He worked for quite some time plowing the field and felt pretty good with the progress he had made. His stomach growled, reminding him he hadn’t eaten anything since the night before at… Abe’s. Lucas allowed his thoughts to drift, not to Saturday evening….but to the evening before that when he had dinner at Margaret’s.

Lucas paused in his work when he saw his little sister, Laura, make her way out into the field. She had a water dipper in her hand and allowed him to take a long drink from it. “Papa says you’re to get to his house on the double,” she announced in a bossy voice.

“Tell Papa…er…Abe…that I’m busy.”

“Papa said to tell you Margaret’s there and she’s madder than a wet hen. If you know what’s good for you, you’ll come!”

“What’s she doing there?”

Laura shook her head. “Huh uh! You ain’t getting me in the middle! I think Margaret will explain everything!” Then Laura turned on her heels and hurried away.

Lucas sighed as he unhitched the oxen and took them back to the barn. He was never going to get his work done if he had to keep getting interruptions like this!

Lucas washed up a bit then hurried up to his brother’s house. When he entered, he found the entire family there, save for Peter and Tiffany who were no doubt at home with their children. He smiled at Margaret who folded her arms and pointed for him to go outside.

Lucas cleared his throat and hurried out the door. He wondered what he had done wrong this time.

It didn’t take him long to find out. “Mr. McCain,” Margaret started. Boy, oh boy! He WAS in trouble! “I thought you were EXHAUSTED.”

“I was! I went home and slept until 11:30!” Lucas argued in a defensive tone of voice.

“Then why, Mr. McCain, were you PLOWING on SUNDAY?”

Lucas groaned. As a matter of fact, the fact that he was working on the day of rest never occurred to him. Now he knew he was in big trouble. “Honey, I…”

“My name is Miss Gibbs!” Margaret declared.

Lucas took off his hat and slapped it on his leg. “Oh now, I don’t believe this!” He pointed at her with his hat in his hand. “Now, I’ll admit that you have every right to be angry with me for all the hurt I put you through this last year. And I’m willing to take my punishment like a man. But I’m not going to stand here and allow you to make me feel like a heel for plowing a field that needs to be plowed last month so we can start planting!”

“God made the whole earth in six days, Mr. McCain. He…”

“…rested on the seventh day!” Lucas finished for her. “I understand that. But I’m not God, Margaret. I’m a man…at the moment, I’m a poor dirt farmer who is trying to not only please the woman I love more than anything else in this world, but I’m also trying to please three brothers, two sisters, a brother-in-law, three sisters-in-law, eight nieces and nephews, and a future brother-in-law who, by the way, is a thorn in my side!” Lucas saw Margaret’s eyes flash. “So if I have to do a little bit of work on Sunday to make up for my transgressions for a whole year, then so be it!”

“You can at least take Sunday off. God rested on Sunday because he wanted to show us that our bodies need rest…rest for the body, and for the soul!”

“Margaret, listen…” Lucas put his hands on her shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. “Sitting in a church and listening to Reverend Gentry preach a sermon is one thing…No matter how interesting the sermon is, I’m so tired I’d start snoring. But working in the field…” Lucas stopped and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “I’m sorry I disappointed you again.” Lucas turned away from her. “I’m just a fool…why do you want me?”

Margaret felt her heart melt at the sound of rejection in Lucas’ voice. She walked up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Oh Lucas…I DO want you! I love you, Luke.” Lucas lowered his head, not quite believing the words he heard. “I love you!”

Slowly, Lucas turned around. He placed a hand on Margaret’s cheek and looked deeply into her eyes. “I hate fighting with you.”

“Please…don’t plow anymore today. You can plow all you want next week, but please just take it easy today…for me?”

“Alright.” He lowered his face toward hers. Margaret used every ounce of strength she had to turn away from him. She grabbed a branch on the tree, as if she could gain strength from it. Then she sighed. She knew that if he tried to kiss her again she wouldn’t resist.

“Alright. I’ll rest today. But I’ll be out plowing that field first thing in the morning!” Lucas declared. “Besides, there’s something I want to talk to your brother about.”

“Oh?” Margaret suddenly turned around. “What’s that?”

Lucas smiled. “There’s a really special girl I want to take to the dance next Saturday night and I’m going to get on my knees and grovel at his feet.”

Margaret smiled. “You mean it, Luke? You really mean it?”

“I really do.” Lucas raised his eyebrows. “And I promise you I’ll be good as long as you allow me to call on you this week and…maybe give me a little kiss after the dance.”

Margaret smiled. “We’ll see.”

“Oh…” Lucas put a hand to his chest. “You are brutal!”

“But first…” Margaret turned and looked toward the house. “Come in and have some lunch, Mr. McCain!” She smiled up at him.

“Lucas to you!” He retorted back.

***

Lucas was eating out of Margaret’s hand by the time the sun started sinking in the sky that afternoon. After he and Margaret had quite a nice visit with his entire family, they made their way to the Gibbs’ ranch where Jennifer and Amanda had supper cooking. Lucas groaned and put a hand to his stomach, indicating he couldn’t eat another bite. The expression on his face brought Margaret to fits of laughter.

Lucas asked to speak to Scott in private; and though he didn’t have to go to his knees, it still took a lot of talking to convince Scott to allow him to take Margaret to the dance. Scott was aware the dance was a ways out of town, and he suspected Lucas wanted to go have a look at the piece of land that still amazingly was up for sell.

Lucas and Margaret declined supper and instead went to sit in the parlor again. This time, their conversation was light as they remembered their childhood. Margaret reminded Lucas of her mother’s strict rule that as children, they weren’t allowed in the parlor. The parlor was for ‘special company,’ according to Jennifer Gibbs. As children, however, the two would sneak in the parlor and have quite a time talking and laughing until they got into trouble.

Tonight as Lucas sat beside Margaret on the couch, he stretched his arms way back. Then, he could almost swear that Margaret scooted just a bit closer to him. He dared to put an arm around her shoulders, and this time she didn’t pull away. Lucas felt uncomfortable with the door being open, but knew that Scott, as yet, had not forgiven him. So he would allow the door to stay open – especially since he wasn’t given a choice!

The clock struck 8:00 pm too soon and Lucas stood up to say goodnight. Tonight, Margaret walked him to the front door. He turned after picking up his rifle and looked down at her. “I’ll see you tomorrow?”

Margaret smiled as she nodded her head. “Until then…Goodnight, my love.” Margaret allowed him to briefly take his hand, then he turned and hurried out the door.

***

Jennifer Gibbs came to stay with Peter and Tiffany while Tiffany recovered from the delivery of William Marcus. Like Tiffany, Jennifer insisted that Lucas come in for a nice, big meal before starting his work. As promised, Jennifer had breakfast on the table at sunup. Abe and Jeremiah joined Peter and Lucas for breakfast, all the men planning to put in a long week of work at both their own farms and in the fields.

Abe announced the wheat was all purchased and waiting in Peter’s barn to plant. The men looked forward to the planting being over so they could spend more time with their families. After clearing the rest of the trees and other obstacles, Lucas went back to his plowing. Abe and Jeremiah would begin the planting in the fields already plowed while Peter used another set of oxen, and a newly purchased plow, to help Lucas with the plowing.

All day the men worked until the sweat poured from the bodies. They were out of their shirts way before lunch and welcomed Laura as she brought around the water bucket to her thirsty brothers. Seeing as how this was a big spring planting for the McCain’s, Julie was teaching Laura at home so she could bring food and water to the brothers in the fields.

The men didn’t stop working until the sun began sinking low in the sky. Then the men, tired from their hard day’s work, went to their homes, had a quick bite, and then fell into bed.

Except Lucas.

Monday evening, Lucas forced himself to stay on his feet while he readied himself to go call on Margaret. He tiredly saddled his horse and rode over. After a knock on the door, Scott allowed Lucas in. Margaret, upon seeing the tiredness and hunger in Lucas’ eyes, ordered him to sit at the table while she got him something to eat. Then they went into the parlor to spend time alone.

Every day that week it was like this. But each evening when Lucas rode over to the Gibbs’ house, Margaret saw Lucas’ eyes grow more and more tired. She knew he was pushing himself too hard and she chewed on her lip while she carefully watched him eat and begged him to slow down. But Lucas was a stubborn man, and he simply refused to listen.

Friday evening, Lucas sat on the couch in the parlor with his arm around Margaret. Margaret laid her head on Lucas’ shoulder and soon heard his steady breathing. He was too tried to even snore. Margaret lifted her head from his shoulder and sighed. She hated seeing him work so hard. She hated what his calling on her every night was doing to him and she felt guilty.

Lucas suddenly opened his eyes and turned to look at Margaret. “Did I fall asleep?” he mumbled without moving his lips.

“I’m afraid so.” Lucas sat up. Margaret laid a hand on his cheek and turned him to face her. “Oh Lucas, must you do so much?”


“The land has to be plowed, honey. We’ve got to get the wheat in the ground.”

“I know, but…” Margaret chewed on her lip. “But…you’re getting up before sun up and going to work in the fields until the sun’s sinking…Then getting cleaned up and coming over here every night…Why, it’s got to be hard on you!”

Lucas lifted Margaret’s head from his shoulder and lifted his eyebrows. “Not nearly as hard as this year has been on you, my love. I intend to make up for every second I was gone, and if that means coming over here every night then that’s what I’ll do…unless you don’t want me over here every night?”

“I do.” Margaret sighed as the clock struck eight. “Oh Luke, can’t you stay? Just a little bit longer?”

“I’m afraid not,” Lucas answered. “It wouldn’t be proper.” He stood up and walked out of the parlor. Margaret stepped out onto the porch. She could feel Scott’s eyes on them. Margaret turned and closed the door, which no doubt left her brother fuming on the other side. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Lucas…Luke, I have a request.” Margaret folded her arms.

“Go on,” Lucas said with a nod.

“I want you to stop working at noon tomorrow.”

“What?”

“I want you to get ready so we can go out to Ann’s early. I want you to see the land and talk to that man…” Margaret found herself leaning in towards him. She could no longer restrain herself from his lips.

But she was surprised when Lucas grasped her forearms and pushed her away from him. “When I kiss you…it’s going to be because you forgave me and because I’ve earned back your trust.” Margaret could see the agony in Lucas’ face as he restrained himself. “Margaret, these past few days while I was behind that plow, I’ve had a lot of time to think and…I’ve began to understand that I was wrong for the way I left. I’ve always run away when things got too hard at home…you know that.” Lucas shook his head. “But no matter how tough things get, I’m never going to run away because…I know you are right here, and YOU, Miss Gibbs, are my strength. I love you, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

“Then you’ll be here? At three o’clock sharp to pick me up?” Margaret questioned as she raised her eyebrows.

Lucas nodded. “I’ll be here at three o’clock sharp.” He stared at her lips. “Now, you better get yourself inside before I forget what I promised myself.” Lucas released her arms and stepped away. Margaret put her hand on the door and started to go inside, but she turned around. “Lucas…I wasn’t ready to forgive you inside the house tonight, but after what you just told me….I forgive you.”

Before Lucas could react, Margaret hurried into the house and hurried to her bedroom. She took out her journal for the first time since Lucas returned. Margaret turned the pages, going past the war years and lingering only a second on the tear-stained pages of the year Lucas had abandoned her. When she got to the first blank page, she dipped her pen in the ink well, then gently and carefully wrote her words.

Tonight I forgave Lucas. And I’m more sure than I was ever before that someday soon I will become Mrs. Lucas McCain.

Margaret wiped her eyes. But this time the tears that fell on the page were tears of joy. As she closed her journal, a knock sounded on her door. Scott stepped inside and said, “You forgave him didn’t you?”

Margaret paused before answering for only a moment. In time, she stood up and turned to face her brother as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “Yes Scott, I did. Because tonight I saw the remorse in his eyes. He understands that what he did was wrong, and he promised to never leave me again.”

“How do you know you can trust him, Margaret?”

Margaret smiled as she walked up to her brother and kissed his cheek. Then she looked into his eyes. “Because, Scott…I love him. I love him with every beat of my heart. I think about him as the sun rises and the rooster crows; and as the sun sinks in the valley. I love him so powerfully that I imagine our future and…and I can’t see any future without him in it. I want to marry him more than anything else in this world, Scott. Can you understand that?”

Scott turned and looked out the door. Amanda was sitting in the rocking chair holding Baby Andy and singing softly to him. He turned back and smiled down at his sister. “Yes. You would be surprised to know I do, Margaret. There’s someone I feel that way about and I realized I couldn’t live without her so…I married her.” Scott smiled. “I’ll give him permission to court you at the dance tomorrow night. But I want you to wait on marrying. I want you to wait until he’s more established and settled.”

“He’s going to look at the land tomorrow.”

“Oh?” Scott raised an eyebrow. “What are his intentions?”

Margaret smiled. “He’s doing as I requested, Scott. I asked him to do this now.”

“Did you kiss him?” Scott cringed as soon as he asked the question. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know the answer to his question.

Margaret smiled. “No.” She hurriedly added, “But I plan to tomorrow night.”

“Now Margaret…”

“Scott, he wouldn’t kiss me tonight because I hadn’t forgiven him. I forgave him after he truly expressed his remorse, right before I came inside and we’re ready to take the next step. I trust him, Scott, because I can see his eyes. Please…trust me.”

Scott smiled. “Alright. Goodnight, sis.” He kissed her cheek then left the bedroom.

***

Everyone at the house heard Lucas when he rode back into the ranch that night. Lucas had not been blessed with a grand singing voice, and any of his family members would not hesitate to tell him so. But tonight, Lucas didn’t care how badly he sang. He sang loud and long as he dismounted his horse and started into the barn.

Peter, upon hearing the racket, stood up and walked toward the door. “What happened to him?” He wondered to himself. Tiffany looked up from where she was nursing baby Willie. “He MUST be drunk! Nothing else would make him sing like that!”

Tiffany smiled and reminded Peter that he had just come from the Gibbs’ house. There was no way he had gotten any liquor there. Peter made his way out to the barn. Lucas was sitting on the bed, signing to the cows, as he took his boots off. “Well…you trying to keep the whole McCain farm awake for some reason?”

Lucas stood and hurried over to Peter in his stocking feet. “She forgave me!” Lucas declared. He spun around as if he were a dancing girl on top of a music box. “She FORGAVE me!” He laughed out loud as if the announcement he had just made was going to leave them all rich. Peter raised his eyebrows, but couldn’t help but to smile at him. Something had a hold on him! “Well, did you hear me, big brother?”

“I heard you!” Peter declared. “Oh believe me, I heard you all the way from the house! “What’s gotten into you?”

Lucas laughed as he danced around the barn. “Love, big brother! Love! I’ve never felt more alive in my whole life! Not only am I taking the most beautiful gal in the world to the dance tomorrow night, but she’s requested we go early so we can talk to Mr. Morgan about the land! And not only that, my boy, but she wants to look at the land!!!”

“Which means she forgave you?” Peter asked as he cocked his head to one side.

“No! As she was going back inside, she said she forgave me!” Lucas went up to one of the horses and gave him a firm pat on the rump. He turned back around. “But don’t you see, boy? Margaret Gibbs wants to marry me!”

“So?” Peter shook his head. “You knew that already.”

“Hu…” Lucas grunted. “You weren’t there when she gave me what for the night I came home!” Lucas laughed as he spun around again. “She wants to marry me…Now tell me something, brother…Why would she want to marry an ugly ol’ cuss like me?”

Peter chuckled as he straightened up. “I’ve been asking myself that question for years!” He folded his arms across his chest. “So, did she ask you to marry her?”

“What?” Lucas shook his head. “She’d NEVER do that! And I’m not ready to ask her. I’ve got to buy the land and get a house built…before I take her as my wife, I’m going to have us a real working ranch! And she deserves the finest, so I’ll even have a well built and lots of room for flowers around the house.” Lucas started pacing. “I’ve got to get that asking price down a bit. Then Abe needs to give me my share of the inheritance. Then I need to buy some tools…Oh, there’s so much to do! But what’s most important is that Margaret Gibbs is going to marry me!”

“How do you know?”

“Don’t you see it, boy? Haven’t you been listening?” Lucas asked in half-frustration. “She asked me to pick her up early so WE could go talk to Mr. Morgan about the land! Then she wants us to SEE the land! Oh, this is just so perfect! She even wanted to kiss me tonight.”

“But you didn’t?” Peter asked.

“Of course not! I refused.” Lucas laughed as he hurried to the milk cow and patted her head.

“You’re acting like a giddy little school girl!” Peter declared suddenly. “And why ON earth did you refuse???”

“Because she hadn’t forgiven me yet!” Lucas declared matter-of-factly. "Haven't you been listening to a word I been saying?"

“Yes I have. But you wanted to kiss her a week ago!”

“Yes. That was before I realized just what a louse I was!”

“A louse? No…more like a jack ass!”

“Nevermind!” Lucas declared as he gave Peter a look. “I told her that I wouldn’t kiss her until she forgave me. But I reckon I’ll get my kiss tomorrow night!”

Peter shook his head. “If the woman I loved wanted to kiss me, I sure wouldn’t be refusing her!”

“Yes. That’s why you now have three mouths to feed instead of one!” Lucas declared.

Peter turned and picked up Lucas’ boot. Lucas ducked as it flew through the air and it hit the cow instead. “You know, that’s no way to treat your animals, brother!”

“Well, I’m going to bed!” Peter said. “You keep quiet and no more singing!”

“Yes boss.”

Peter had turned to leave, but suddenly turned back. “Oh…I guess now’s the time to tell you that…I reckon if Margaret can forgive you, well…I could maybe…possibly…” Peter stopped and smiled.

“That means a lot to me, big brother. Even if you couldn’t get the words out. But I’m not going to kiss you!”

“Thank heavens for small favors!” Peter declared as he hurried out the door.

Lucas laid down on his bed, but sleep was hard in coming. He wasn’t sure if he would ever sleep again. He had Margaret’s forgiveness and a lot of hope for the future. Yes sir, things were surly looking up for Wild Lucas McCain!

The Margaret Years ― The Dance

These stories are based on the TV series The Rifleman
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