The Rifleman
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The Next Step
Chapter 70 – The Shoot Out
Written by Deanne Bertram

Mark continued to recover and with the exercises his father paced him through, he slowly relearned how to use his body again. He was pleased as he recovered enough dexterity that he finally could feed himself, without dropping any food or spilling from the glass, and no longer had to rely on his family to feed him. Mark was especially pleased when Doc Burrage suggested that he should start using a wheelchair to get around the house and join the family at the table to eat.

Another exercise Thadd suggested Mark should practice had every intent of seeing him returning to his duties as a marshal. Lucas brought a box of cartridges on the table and Mark was to individually pick up each bullet and the load it into his rifle. Then he was to eject the cartridges, pick them up and put them back in the box, practicing the exercise with both hands.

Finally, the day came when Thadd arrived and stated Mark’s muscle tone and control over his legs was improving to the point where he felt Mark should start practicing walking, a little. Thadd brought a set of crutches with him.

Lucas pushed the wheelchair out to the barn where he felt it would be easier for Mark to use the crutches in relearning to walk. All of Mark’s sons and his oldest brother were sitting on the hay bales, quietly watching as Lucas and Thadd steadied Mark, the first time he stood from the chair.

“How’s it feel, son?” Lucas asked.

“Funny, sort of like that time down at Mission Springs,” Mark answered.

Seth handed one crutch and then the other to Mark. He leaned heavily into them as Lucas and Thadd stopped supporting him.

“Only a few steps Mark. Only a few,” Thadd asked.

With Thadd in front of him, and Lucas and Seth on either side, Mark moved the crutches and then moved one leg and then the other. The boys started clapping and cheering.

“Again, Mark,” Thadd encouraged. “Again.”

Mark was breathing hard, but he had managed to take ten steps before Thadd called an end to the day’s session.

“Papa, you did it!” Zach called.

Mark smiled as he looked to his sons.

“Thanks, I’ve got a good cheering gallery, so I can’t let you boys down.”

Thadd rolled the wheelchair up behind Mark, as Lucas and Seth assisted him to sit down.

“Well?” Seth asked.

“I sure don’t remember learning how to walk being so exhausting, the last time,” Mark answered.

“Mark, from what my uncle told me, the last time was more a matter of faith. This time, it was a matter of healing your brain and then retraining your body to do it again,” Seth replied.

*****

Hope entered the barn to hear Mark ask, “Where’s Copper?”

Mark turned when he heard Hope’s sharp intake of breath. He looked from each person, his eye’s asking ‘what?’

“Mark, the night Harry…” Hope started to answer.

“Hope, let me,” Lucas interrupted.

“No…” Hope stated as she walked to where Mark sat in the wheelchair and knelt by his side. “Mark, when Harry Chase came and took Ma, I knew I had to get to town to warn Pa. Copper was there, already saddled… Harry had brought him and Blue Boy back to the ranch… Ma was taken on Blue Boy. I didn’t realize how difficult Copper was to ride. You made it seem so easy, he...” Hope stopped talking as her emotions choked her.

“Hope, tell me what happened,” Mark stated as he put his hand to her chin and lifted her face to look at him.

“When we arrived in town, I barely had any control over him and with the storm… well, there was so much mud that he slipped and threw me when I tried to stop him.”

“He threw you, did he hurt you?”

“Not really, just bruised, but that’s long healed. Mark when he slipped, I found out later he broke a leg. I’m so sorry. Nils put him out of his pain. Please forgive me…” tears fell down Hope’s face.

“There’s nothing to forgive? I know you had to get to town, to warn Pa. I’m just sorry I wasn’t here.”

“Mark,” Seth spoke. “When Doc says you’re well enough, Ethan’s found some horses and he thinks a couple of them might make a good horse for you.”

“Thanks, Seth. You found a great mount in Blade. I’ll trust your judgment, when it comes time.”

“Well, seeing as how I’m not really needed around here anymore, I think I’ll bid you good day,” Thadd offered. “Mark, you’ll know when it’s too much, but you should be out here practicing, it’ll help rebuild your stamina.”

*****

A week later, Hope woke before the sun rose to find that Mark was no longer in bed with her, she reached for her robe from the end of the bed and pulled it on. From under the door she noticed a lantern lit in the front room. Quietly Hope opened the door to see Mark sitting at the front table, crutches leaning up against the table, his elbows on the table, hands folded, forehead resting against his hands. Hope saw a sheet of paper, a pen, and the ink well. Hope approached the table and looked at the letter he has written.

“Resignation?”

Mark raised his head as she pulled the chair out to sit down next to him. She saw that he'd also been crying.

“I’ve been thinking about it.”

"Why?" Hope asked.

"Look at what its cost this family," Mark quietly answered.

Hope remembered back to the summer, after the twins had been born, “Mark, remember Ezekiel?”

“Who?”

“You read his journals?” Hope paused giving Mark time to remember. She knew how her husband was feeling, she too still felt the guilt of her own actions. As Milly had been there for her, Hope knew she had to be here for Mark.

“I can’t very well run away when I have to rely on these crutches,” Mark answered.

“I’m not talking about you running away. I’m talking about what you learned in reading his journals. You realized where you belonged in your life. You chose to come back home and you chose to become a deputy U.S. Marshal.

"Hope, I wish I could just be a rancher, like my father. It’s what I wanted as a child. I wish I wasn't a lawman." Hope heard the despair in his voice.

"You can’t really feel that way. Mark, if you weren't a lawman, we may never have met!" Hope boldly stated.

"I was a rancher that day,” Mark stated as he tried to plead his case.

"But had you not been deputized as a member of Micah’s posse, had you not been injured… That day, that time, you may not have been out on the ranch to rescue me.”

“Are you telling me it was my destiny? To be there that day, because I was a lawman?” Mark asked.

“No, not because you ARE a lawman, but because you are Mark McCain, who just happens to be a lawman. But if events hadn’t happened as they had, the posse, your injury, your recovery… Would you have been out by the bluffs that day to rescue me?”

“Would you still love me if I weren’t a lawman?” Mark asked.

“I love Mark McCain, period. I don't love you because you are a lawman or a rancher. Mark, you already know who you are. ”

“How did I manage to fall in love with such a wise woman? Mark asked as he tried to convey to Hope that he was feeling better.

“It’s because you have compassion and have an inner strength that I needed those first few weeks, and that’s why I fell in love with." Hope smiled.

"Strength… I still feel so weak," Mark replied.

"Mark, you're not weak. You’re still recovering. You have an inner strength that has brought you through so much and will see you through..." Hope quieted and averted her eyes from Mark.

Hearing Hope stop speaking mid-thought, Mark looked to her, "Hope?"

"Mark, there's something that we haven't told you that happened, while you were in the coma."

Mark reached out his hand and placed it on Hope's folded hands, on top of the table.

"You speak of being weak, you were the one who was fighting to live. I'm the one who was weak," Hope quietly spoke.

"I don't understand."

Mark saw the tears falling down her cheeks, he reached his hand and lifted Hope's chin. "Tell me."

The compassion in Mark's voice broke Hope, she turned her head away and said, "I lost my faith, in you."

Mark waited for Hope to continue, with his hand still on her chin, he turned her face towards his.

"The longer you remained in the coma, Thadd stated the less likely it might be that you would recover. I couldn't see myself living life without you." Hope closed her eyes as she spoke the last words, "I tried to kill myself."

At first, Mark couldn't believe the words he had heard. "Hope, you wouldn’t..."

"I'm sorry. I..."

Mark struggled to stand to pull Hope close to him, "I'm the one who should apologize. I put you through all of this, because I'm a lawman."

Hope helped Mark walk to his overstuffed chair and helped him sit down.

As Mark pulled her to his lap, she spoke, "No, not because you are a lawman. Oliver Willdrow was someone from your father's past, long before you were even born, and Harry Chase, well, he knew you, as well as Lucas and Milly. Those events happened, and not because you are a lawman. Mark, please, it’s not your fault. I was wrong, I didn’t remember what Ma said."

"Hope, you tried to take your own life, because..."

"And that's the guilt I bear, alone. Mark you were coming out of your coma when I was trying to kill myself."

"How?" Mark asked, still hurting to understand.

"At first, I stopped eating, I was too worried to eat. Then that morning, I couldn't see your chest rising and falling any more. I saddled Two-Bits to go to the pond. I took a knife." Hope unbuttoned the cuff of her blouse and pulled back the sleeve to show the faint scar across her wrist."

"But, if you tried..."

"I was too weak to do it. Pa and Marshal Buckhart found me, after I had passed out." The next words came out in a rush, "Mark, I know I shouldn't have, but I remembered my best friend when I lived with the Kiowa's. She so loved her husband and when he died... I remembered the other women talking of others who had killed themselves because they couldn’t live without their husband.. Mark, I love you, but I lost my faith, I gave up."

“How could you bear this alone and not tell me?” Mark cried.

“I didn’t bear it alone, Ma knows. She wanted to understand how I could have even tried. She didn’t ask so she could judge me, she wanted to help me. She told me to wait until you were stronger before we told you. Now that you’re getting better, it’s time you know the truth and why.”

Mark pulled Hope to lean back against him, he cried as she cried. By the time they had finished crying their tears, Mark had made his decision.

*****

The middle of September saw Mark’s recovery almost complete. He still used the crutches, not that he really needed them, but he couldn’t bring himself to set them aside. Thadd Burrage was discussing Mark’s recovery with Johnny Drako and Seth Lane, there was only one thing left to determine, was he still as good with the rifle? Was his hand and eye coordination as good as it had been?

Johnny asked Thadd, “Just how are you planning to test his abilities?”

“A rifle match,” Thadd answered.

“A rifle match, between Lucas and Mark?” Seth asked.

“If you two would like to show up and just make it a good old fashion shooting match. This way it wouldn’t put that much pressure on Mark. I’ve always wondered who was better, between the two,” Thadd stated as he rubbed at his chin. “Hey, is Coltrane Walker still around? I think a shooting match would be just what the doctor ordered.”

*****

Saturday dawned with an air of excitement for the citizens of North Fork. Word of the impending shooting match had made its way around town. The shooting just wouldn’t just pit the McCain’s against each other, Seth and Johnny had already planned to shoot as had Coltrane Walker. Johnny Gibbs along with his wife, daughter, and sons, were already heading to the McCain ranch.

Before the marshals left town, the morning train arrived and they headed over to greet the train. There was only one passenger who stepped from the train that morning, “Tom?” Coltrane called.

“Didn’t expect the three of you to meet me this morning,” Tom replied as he saw the three walking towards him.

“Well, we really were on our way to the McCain Ranch,” Coltrane informed Tom.

“How’s Mark doing?”

“Well, we’re gonna find out today. Doc’s concocted a shooting match to test his hand and eye coordination. Based on what happens today, it’ll be up to Mark to give up on the crutches,” Drako answered.

*****

Lucas was walking from the barn when he looked up to see Johnny and Colleen Gibbs halting their team in from of his home.

“Morning Johnny, Colleen!” Lucas called. As he stepped to the buckboard he asked, “And how are you this morning Lillian?”

“Okay, Uncle Lucas,” Lillian answered as she allowed Lucas to lift her down from the buckboard.

“So, what brings the Gibbs family out here today?”

“Just thought we’d be the first to arrive, and warn you,” Johnny spoke as he tried to keep a smile from his face.

“Warn us?! What’s wrong?” Lucas demanded as he grabbed his rifle firmer.

“A good old fashion shooting match!” Johnny laughed.

“A shooting match? What are you talking about?” Lucas asked.

“Well, Doc’s wanting to test Mark’s hand and eye coordination. He said it was the final step to verify that Mark is fully recovered. Lucas, we know he’s not given the crutches up yet and Doc said something about this proving to Mark that he’s back to normal.”

“Not quite, he still has to wear glasses,” Lucas answered.

“Yeah, but you told me it was only when he was needing to read the newspaper or write a letter. Lucas, the boy is healed, help us prove it to him.”

“How many people are coming?”

“Probably the whole town,” Johnny laughed.

“The whole… And just how are we supposed to feed the whole town without any notice?” Lucas asked.

“Oh, Lucas, I brought a picnic basket and so are all the families,” Colleen answered.

“Lucas, this is going to be fun. I always wondered who was better,” Johnny asked.

“Better?”

“Who’s the better shot, you or Mark? Don’t tell me you never were curios.”

“It never mattered. Neither of us have anything to prove.”

“No, but it sure would be fun to find out.”

“Johnny, Colleen, Good Morning!” Milly called from the porch. “Lucas?”

Lucas looked down the road towards the direction Milly was pointing. He stepped to the porch and informed Milly of the day’s impromptu event.

“But I’ve chores, and…” Milly turn and rushed back into their home, flustered.

“Well, brother, guess you can help Colleen get your twins and Lillian inside, then you can get everyone parked and set up at shooter’s patch. I’m gonna go break the news to Hope.”

*****

“They what?” Hope asked.

“Doc’s scheduled a shooting match today, here. Our friends are already starting to arrive.”

“Who all’s coming?” Mark asked.

“Per your Uncle Johnny, the whole town.”

“I’ve chores to do and, and Mark has…”

“I know, seems everyone but the McCain families knew about this.”

Lucas returned to his home to help Milly get their children read for the day, while Mark assisted Hope.

“Mark? Can’t you put the crutches up? You don’t really need them,” said Hope.

“If we’re going to be walking out to where Pa taught me to shoot, it’s pretty uneven ground,” replied Mark.

*****

Both McCain families and their friends made their way out to where Lucas and Mark called ‘shooter’s patch’, followed by everyone who came.

Doc and Micah were in charge of confirming hits or misses as the matches progressed. Everyone from town who owned a handgun or a rifle was eager to participate. Cheers went up from those present as each participant made it to the next round or offers of ‘better luck next time’ as a participant failed to make the cut.

It was well after noon and the only participants still remaining in the contest were Tom Benton, Johnny Drako, Lucas McCain, and Mark McCain. Doc announced, “All six shots must be inside center circle or you are eliminated!”

A few shouts of surprise went up when the targets were placed an extra 25 feet away.

Tom Benton was called as the first shooter of the next round. Six bullets were to fired at the target. “Four bullets center, one bullet on the line, and one bullet in the first ring,” Micah called out. “Sorry, Tom, you just got knocked out of the fun,” Micah shouted out for all to hear.

“Well, I’ve had fun. Can’t remember when the last time I participated in shooting match!” Tom shouted back.

Johnny Drako was the second shooter called to the line. Micah called the shots, “Five center, one close to the line of the first ring, but definitely inside center. Johnny you’re still in the competition.”

Johnny let out a heavy sigh of relief.

Thadd called Lucas to the line.

Lucas took his stance, drew a deep breath, then slowly let it out as he fired his six shots. Everyone waited for Doc and Micah to review the target. “All six shots, center!” Thadd announced. A cheer went up from the crowd.

“Mark, you’re next son,” Lucas called as he walked to where Mark stood.

Throughout the competition, whether he realized it or not, Mark walked without the aid of the crutches. He approached the line and waited for Micah and Thadd to set the target and return to behind the line.

Like his father before him, Mark inhaled deeply, and slowly let out his breath as he fired his six shots. Looking from the target to those waiting for the results, Micah called all six shots center.

The next round, Tom Benton declared would be six shots closest to the center of the target.

“Johnny Drako, front and center,” Tom announced.

Johnny’s six shots placed four in the center circle and two in the first ring.

“Well Johnny, you gave it a good shot!” Micah hollered, “But two of your shots missed the center circle.”

“You sure about that?” Johnny hollered back. “Thadd’s eyes are younger than yours, maybe…”

“Sorry, Johnny! There’s no maybe about it,” Thadd called back.

“Oh, well, knowing that I was outshot by the McCain’s is of some comfort,” Johnny bemoaned. “Okay Lucas, see how good you do!”

Lucas took his position and when signaled, he fired.

“Six shots, dead center!” Micah called.

Lucas walked back to Mark, “Your turn.”

“Pa?”

“Yes?”

“If I outshoot you…”

“Then I say I was beat by the best, today and today only,” Lucas grinned and slapped a hand to Mark’s shoulder. “Good luck, son.”

When Micah and Thadd finished examining target the hollered, “Six shots, dead center.” Then they compared the two targets. After conferring they announced, “All six shots are so close to center on each target, that we can’t declare a winner,” Thadd called.

“Yet!” Micah stated.

“Well?” Johnny asked.

“Moving target, one can, six shots,” Benton declared. “Simultaneously! Anyone have two empty cans of that we can use?”

Several townspeople offered up empty cans of peaches.

Thadd and Micah each tossed a can up into the air and after the last shot was fired and both cans had hit the ground, Joshua and Zachariah ran out to fetch the cans and brought them back to Thadd and Micah. After looking the cans over, Thadd announced, “Lucas’ can has five shots.”

“What about Mark’s can?” Johnny Drako yelled as others also started inquiring about Mark’s can.

“Six,” Micah announced.

Cheers went up from everyone present.

“So Mark,” Lucas stated. “Seems you were the best today.”

“Honestly?”

“Yes, honestly. It wouldn’t do either of us any good for me to have pulled any of my shots. Now are you ready to admit that you are fully recovered?”

“Fully recovered?” Mark’s expression on his face indicated he didn’t understand the intent of question.

“This was Doc’s way to test your hand and eye coordination. Once we got out here, you never used your crutches and didn’t have to wear your glasses to shoot. Mark, this was Doc’s way to try to prove to you that you’re fully healed.” Seeing Mark’s expression change, Lucas quickly offered, “Son, I didn’t know about this until your Uncle Johnny arrived today.”

“This was all about me?”

“No,” Thadd stated as he came up behind Lucas and Mark. “At first, all I wanted to do was to figure out a way to test your eye and hand coordination. I knew it had to involve shooting, and ever since I got to really know you and your Pa, I always wondered who was better shot between the two of you. And then I invited Johnny, Seth, and Coltrane. Next thing I knew, word was around the whole town. Mark we didn’t do this to deceive you and believe me, no one pulled any shots. Everyone here had a good time and I’d say some people won some money and a few people lost some money. Marl, it’s up to you, when you decide to give up the crutches and return to your job, I just wanted to prove to you that you’re ready for it.”

“I wasn’t thinking about the crutches…”

“I know son. I’m glad our friends brought us this little… diversion today,” Lucas stated as he placed an arm around Mark’s shoulder. “Well, let’s hear it for the best shot, today!” Lucas called loud enough for everyone to hear.

Another round of cheers went up from the crowd.

*****

The following day was Sunday and that morning, Lucas hitched both teams. He drove his team to the front of his home and helped Milly load their family into the back. Next, he drove Mark’s team to the front of Mark’s home and helped Mark and Hope load their family into the back of their buckboard.

“You’re not using your crutches today?” Lucas asked.

“No. I found out yesterday that I didn’t really need them anymore.”

Lucas only gave Mark a steadying hand as he climbed into the front seat.

“You up to church this morning?” Lucas asked.

“It’s a little too late to be asking me that now,” Mark laughed at his answer.

Mark reached for the reins when Hope slapped his hands away.

“Not yet,” Hope admonished her husband. “Let me do this.”

Mark leaned back in the seat, crossed his arms, and smiled.

*****

After church services were concluded, everyone stopped and took time to tell Mark how happy they were to see him back at church and how much fun everyone had the day before. A few asked when he planned to return to being a Marshal.

Freddie and Carolina Toomey stopped next to the McCain families to proudly show off their newest son, who had been born the previous month, William Gates Toomey.

“Sorry I missed the shooting match out at your place yesterday. Young Will was colicky yesterday. Did you ever imagine that this is what fatherhood would be like, Mark?” Freddie asked.

“No, not with all the trouble I got into. I’m starting to worry, the boys are getting to that age…”

“Yes, they are, and you have two to deal with as four year olds,” Lucas stated as he watched Milly hand the baby back to Carolina.

*****

Hope let Mark drive the team into town to join their friends and family for lunch at the hotel restaurant.

“So, how do you feel?” Hope asked.

“After yesterday, I’m ready to go back to work. Talking to everyone and remembering who they are and knowing they really were happy to see me back in town and genuinely want me to be their Marshal.” Mark stopped talking as he heard Hope laugh. “What’s so funny?”

“I just remember not too long ago you were wanting to just be a rancher. Was it yesterday that made you finally decide?”

“No, I decided to stay a marshal some time back. Seems a gorgeous red-head spoke words of wisdom to me,” Mark smiled.

Hope laughed, “Well, you better remember Johnny is the town Marshal, you’re a U.S. Marshal.”

“Actually, Johnny better remember all the times he teased me about the Josh and Zach and such, I’m just happy to have my memory back and I soooo look forward to coming back to town.”

“Which Johnny are you talking about?” Hope asked.

“Both!” Mark laughed.

“You just behave yourself, today! I’ll not have you creating a scene our first day back in town.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Mark stated as he leaned over and gave Hope a kiss on her cheek.

*****

Before they leaving town to return to the McCain ranch that afternoon, Tom Benton asked Mark if they could talk in private.

“Sure Tom.” Mark and Tom walked to the porch of the hotel. “What do you want talk about?”

“Your returning to duty. I can really use Coltrane elsewhere.”

“How about Monday?” Mark asked.

“So soon?” Tom inquired.

“I’d say it’s about time. I realized yesterday that I was using the crutches as an excuse. I don’t know how long it’s been since I really needed them.”

“Don’t fret. I’m just glad you’re back. So, tell me Mark, do you believe your Pa that he didn’t pull any of his shots?”

“There’s only been one time where Pa ever pulled a shot in a shooting contest.”

“He admitted to you that he lost on purpose?”

“He never admitted it, he just said he wasn’t good enough that day. We had just arrived in North Fork, I was ten. I realized many years later that the only reason Pa had deliberately lost was because someone had threatened my life. I don’t know that he would admit it, even today, if you were to ask him. Tom, you know damn well that… Well, it was just the two of us and I was the only link he still had to my Ma.”

“I understand Mark,” Tom answered. “Did it surprise you that you won yesterday?”

“Yeah, but that was yesterday. The outcome could be totally different, the next time we try a shooting match.”

“I’ll see you at the Marshal’s Office tomorrow afternoon?”

“How about one o’clock?”

They said goodbye as they shook hands.

*****

After supper, while Hope was washing the dishes, Mark and the boys enjoyed rough-housing on the floor of the front room. Mark pretending he was the ‘tickle monster’ and the boys were trying to avoid being captured and tickled. The oldest of their three sons got smart and realized while Mark was after one of the three, the other two could sneak up on their father and try tickling him instead. Laughter abounded in their home that evening. Hope turned from putting away the last of the dishes and called for the boys to get ready for bed.

“Ah, Ma!” they all complained.

“Don’t ‘Ah, Ma’ me! It’s well past your bedtime as it is.”

“Okay, boys, best we listen to your Ma,” Mark stated as he got to his feet. “It’s bedtime.”

“Yes, sir,” they said as each one got to their feet and headed to their bedroom.

That evening Mark carried the crutches from the front room and placed them in a corner of the barn and fed their horses for the night. Mark paused at the empty stall that used to be Copper’s, he slapped the stall door, turned and left the barn. After returning to the house, he helped Hope put the boys to bed and then watched as Hope picked their daughter up from the crib and tucked her into her bed.

*****

“I’m concerned about Gwen,” Hope commented as she sat in front of her dresser, combing her hair.

“Why are you concerned?”

“Well, the end of next month she’ll have been with us for a year. Do you think she’s happy? I mean, she seems to enjoy living here and helping Ma and me, but today, she just seemed so reserved when she told me that she had asked Hattie if she could spend the night in town with them?”

“She’s happy, believe me. I saw the way Jake kept averting his eyes when he thought someone was watching him watch Gwen. And it doesn’t surprise me that she told you she was going to spend the night in town. I asked Gwen if she didn’t mind staying in town tonight.”

“And just why would you do that?” Hope asked as she looked at Mark’s reflection in the mirror.

“Because I have other plans for us. Why do you think I had the boys playing so hard after supper tonight. I wanted to make sure they would fall asleep and stay asleep.”

Mark turned the lantern down low, then walked up behind Hope and placed his hands on her shoulders and started rubbing them. “It’s been a long time since I proved to my wife just how much I love her.”

Hope turned on the stool, “You don’t have to prove anything to me, I know you love me.” She stood.

Hope reached forward and started to unbutton Mark’s shirt when he stepped closer to her and put his hands round her waist.

“I remember our wedding night together. The anxiety I felt as we stood in our room. I felt like a child at Christmas, and you were an exquisitely wrapped present. I remember how shivered as I felt the softness of your bare skin for the first time.”

Hope reached up and slipped Mark’s shirt from his shoulders.

“I have that same feeling tonight,” Mark said before he leaned his head forward and passionately kissed Hope and pulled her to him. As Hope responded, he gently started unbuttoning the buttons down the front of her dress, guiding her to their bed.

Slowly, Mark slipped Hope’s dress off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. As Mark slipped from his pants, Hope untied the top of her camisole and the pulled it up and over her head, next she removed her slip. She pressed her body against Mark and he gently lowered the two of them to their bed. Mark felt alive as he made love to his wife that night. In so many ways, it was as special as it had been on their wedding night.

*****

Mark woke early the following morning, with Hope’s head lying on his shoulder. He pulled the cover up over her shoulders after slipping from their bed without waking Hope. Mark dressed and then stretched his arms wide as he stepped to the front room. A feeling that everything was right in the world was all around Mark. He pulled his rifle from over the mantle and carried it and his cleaning supplies to the front porch. He spent the next half hour, disassembling and cleaning it, before putting it back together.

“Mark?” Hope called as she finished tying her robe and stepped from their bedroom. Seeing the front door open, Hope stepped to the porch.

“I told Tom I would return to work today,” Mark said as he heard his wife walk up behind him.

“I kind of figured that out when the two of you went to talk on the hotel porch yesterday. Is that the reason for last night?”

“No,” Mark said as he set his rifle down, stood and walked to behind Hope. He wrapped his arms around her and nuzzled at her neck. “Last night was me feeling… alive.”

Hope turned around in Mark’s arms and wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Since you’re feeling so alive again, why don’t you get Mykaela up and change her? Then you can get the boys up and ready.”

“Do I have too?” Mark teasingly asked.

“If you want breakfast between doing your chores and heading to town. If you want, you can ride Two-Bits…”

“She’s your mare.”

“But for right now, you can ride her. Until you find a horse of your liking.”

“Have I told you how much I love you?”

“No,” Hope teased as they kissed and returned to their home.

The Next Step – Young Love

This is a story based on the TV series The Rifleman
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