The Cowboy Chapter 2

Written By:Solo's Girl

Publicity Photo

Chapter 2
"Love, Respect, Honor and Sacrifice."

Lee and Cassie were so incredibly happy. She was the perfect wife. She fixed his meals and took care of their home. Lee was the perfect husband. He was a hard worker and had earned the love and respect of just about everyone in Capital City. But the love of his wife was all he cared about. He made sure she went without nothing. They always had food and comfort. There were times in his job that his life was in danger, but he was always as careful as he could be. He proved what an expert he was with horses. And there wasn't a better shot in the five surrounding counties.

Times he can home injured, Cassie put on a brave face and took care of his injuries, but late at night, he would hear her cry. Her fears disappeared at his touch. His arms around her made her feel safe.

It took the Judge almost two years to accept their marriage. But he loved his daughter too much. He knew that his wife had been to Capital City several times to visit them. He and his wife rode to Capital City one morning. As they came thru town they saw their young son in law sitting on his horse in front of the Sherriff's office. The Judge smiled as his wife squeezed his arm. She beamed.

Lee sat straight and tall on Chester's back. He was dressed in a beautiful grey shirt and trousers. The shine on his black boots was almost blinding. A black leather vest, fully buttoned and his black shooter gloves rounded out the outfit. The sunlight reflected off of his silver star. He smiled as the trap pulled up next to him. He looked at Judge and his wife He tipped his grey hat.

"Sir, Mame," he said, "Happy to see you again."

"First Deputy Malone," the Judge said impressed, "I want to apologize to you young man. I was so wrong about you. Can you forgive me?"

"Certainly ,sir," Lee replied, "I know you only wanted what was best for Cassie..I did too."

Lee told them he was on duty. He tipped his hat again and turned Chester up the street. The Judge and his wife watched him ride off. They turned the trap and the judge followed his wife's directions to the house.

Cassie was on the front porch when she saw them coming up the road. She ran out to the gate to meet them. Her mother climbed down and hugged her daughter tight in her arms. The Judge tied off the horse and came around to her. She hugged her father, tears in her eyes. They all stood and looked at each other awhile longer then they all hugged at once. Cassie took their arms and they walked up to the house. The Judge looked around at the dwelling.

"Nice house," the Judge said, "That young husband of yours must be doing well."

"Actually, Papa," Cassie said beaming, "He bought the house before we even got married. With money he saved from working his whole life."

The Judge looked dumbfounded. They went inside and looked around.

It was small, but it was home. Two bedrooms and a large living room. The kitchen was cozy and had room for a table and chairs with plenty of room to move around in. The Judge looked at the mantel. It was lined with books. The works of William Shakespeare, The Rubiyat of Omar Kyam and other books of poetry. The family bible lay next to these.

"Those are Lee's," Cassie said taking one of the poetry books down, holding it to her heart, "Oh mama. You should hear how well he reads. We sit sometimes for hours while he reads the poems and the other books. Sometimes it sounds like he wrote them himself. I've never heard anything like it."

She put the book back and finished the tour of the house and yard. They sat at the table in the kitchen and Cassie fixed them something to drink. She started dinner. The sun was going low on the horizon. Lee would be home for his supper soon. Her parents watched as their daughter worked. She was so intensely happy. Her love for Lee was immeasurable. Her mother helped with the meal while the Judge went around and began to light the oil lamps. He could see the Deputy coming up the road. Cassie heard him. She went out to the gate to meet him.

The Judge and Mrs. Morrison stood in the shadow of the doorway and watched their daughter. Lee leaned down from atop Chester and kissed his wife. She put her hand on his knee and talked to him, they saw him smile. Cassie opened the wide gate and they watched Lee guide his horse in and to the barn. Cassie went back inside and retrieved a clean shirt from the bedroom. She went out on the back porch. Her handsome husband was coming across the yard. The Judge noticed he was limping slightly. Lee came up on the porch and took the shirt from his bride. They kissed once more and she went back in the house to set the table.

The Judge stepped out on the porch. The young man removed his work shirt and cleaned the dust off his face and chest with the cool water from the basin. He took a ladle and poured the water over his head. Lee stood up and took the towel lying on the porch rail. He dried his skin and ran the towel over his hair.

"Noticed you limping there, Lee," the man said, "Everything alright?"

"Old injury," Lee said, putting on the clean shirt, "When I was about 12 almost 13 the old man got drunk and nearly killed me. He planted a couple of well placed kicks..Well.... long before I ever started running into hitching post, sir." his face blushed.

The judge nodded in understanding. He watched as Lee turned his back to the house. The judge heard him cry low in pain as the man gently tried to readjust his sore body parts. Lee turned back and finished buttoning his shirt. He picked up his hat, shirt and vest and the two men walked into the house.

"Besides it doesn't act up that often," Lee said.

He looked up to see Cassie looking at him. He saw a tear in her eye. She went into the bedroom. Lee followed her and shut the door. They sat down on the bed. Cassie put her arms around him.

"You're hurting again. Aren't you?" she said, kissing his cheek.

"It's not so bad this time," he said trying to comfort her, "I'll be alright..Come on. Smile for me. I want your parents to enjoy their stay."

Cassie wiped her eyes and stood up. She leaned over and kissed his lips. He felt his own body tremble. Lee stood up and they walked out into the living room to join her parents. Cassie's mother saw him limping. Lee tried not to but it was unavoidable.

"Is everything alright?" Mrs. Morrison asked.

"Yes mama," Cassie said trying to smile, "I guess I just worry about him too much. Dinner should be ready. Let's go in the kitchen."

They went into the kitchen and sat down. Lee said grace. Then they all dug in. The food was delicious. The conversation at the table ranged from Lee's job to plans for the future. He told the Judge he wanted to become a full Sherriff one day. Cassie beamed.

After dinner, her parents went into the living room and sat down. Lee helped Cassie clear the dishes and then they joined the older folks. They sat down on a little settee. Mrs. Morrison smiled.

"Cassie tells us you like to read poetry," she said.

"Yes Mame," Lee replied smiling, "I have always loved the written word and the way some people have of turning it into pure beauty."

She handed him one of his books. Lee blushed and took the book.

"Read something for us," she said.

Lee opened the book and looked thru the different poems. Cassie stopped him and pointed to one page.

"This one," she said, "It's my favorite."

Lee kissed her cheek. He moved the lamp closer and set back on the small sofa. Cassie leaned against him. He cleared his throat and began to read. The Judge felt his wife tighten her grip on his arm as the young man read. They watched him. At one point Lee's eyes left the page and they saw him look at Cassie as he continued with the beautiful poem. He looked back at the book and read the final stanza. His face blushed as he closed the book. The Judge and his wife looked at him. She had a tear in her eye as did Cassie.

"That was beautiful Lee," the Judge said, "I don't think I have ever heard anything like that before."

"Thank you, sir," he said looking at Cassie, "Somehow that one means more to me than any of the others."

He looked back at the Judge. The sat and talked a few hours more. Cassie showed her parents to the extra room.

Lee went out and took the trap to the barn and took care of their horse. He was coming out of the barn when the pain in his groin became so intense he doubled over and went to his knees. He tried to hold his pain in. Pounding his fist on the ground he tried to stand again. He managed to make it to the back porch. Cassie had seen him fall, but she waited till he got to the porch before going out. She bit her lip and knelt down behind him. Her arms wrapped around his shoulders, she playfully kissed his neck. Lee chocked back his pain and wiped his sleeve across his eyes. He reached up and touched her hands. Turning his head, their lips met in a kiss.

They sat like that for almost a half of an hour. Lee felt well enough to get up. Cassie gave him her loving arm and they walked in the house and went to their bedroom. Cassie cuddled him and playfully helped him undress. She could see that his body was swollen. She laid him back in the bed and retrieved a basin of cool water and a towel from the kitchen. She nursed his injury through the night, stopping only to refresh the water.

By morning he was back to his old self again.

Lee was already gone when her parents woke the next morning. Cassie fixed them breakfast and sat at the table with them. She noticed the way they kept looking at her. She smiled bravely at them. But they saw something in her eyes. Something sad. He father reached over and put his hand on hers. Cassie gently patted her father’s hand.

"What's wrong, Cassie?" her father asked.

"I'm just worried about Lee," she said, "He has to ride so much, it’s not good for..." She blushed.

"I have an idea," Mrs. Morrison said, "After breakfast why don't we walk over to main street and look around. We haven't been in Capital City in a long time."

Cassie and her parents walked into the heart of the city. They strolled up the wooden sidewalks looking in the shop windows.

The Sherriff came up and welcomed the Judge to town. The two men excused themselves and went into the saloon. The women walked down to the general store. They had received a new shipment of books and had promised Cassie they would let her pick what she wanted before putting them out. She spotted one book in a special box. It was absolutely beautiful. The clerk brought it over and opened the box. He took the book out using a handkerchief and laid it down on a bolt of fabric. Cassie's hands hovered just above the leather bound book.

"Real leather. Hand stitched binding and hammered guilt cover," he said showing off the volume, "Genuine gold gilding on the end and side of the pages. And the publisher sent a message saying it was the only one in this state."

""The Adventures of Don Quixote de La Mancha"," Cassie said reading the title page.

She took the handkerchief and gently turned the pages. Her eyes scanned the story and her heart jumped in her chest.

"How much is it?" she asked the clerk, "Lee's birthday is in two weeks. He would love this."

"I'm afraid it's twenty dollars, Mrs. Malone," the poor clerk said

The store owner looked over as the clerk showed off the book. He hear Cassie's question and saw her down look. It was a beautiful book, but twenty dollars was just too much. He watched her pull her hands back. The store owner walked over. He motioned the clerk away.

"Did you say Deputy Malone's birthday was coming up?" he asked.

"Yes. Two weeks from Wednesday,' Cassie said looking at the other books.

"He stopped a hold up here last month," the man said, "I'll let you have it at my cost....Ten dollars..Five now and two-fifty a week for the next two weeks. How would that be?"

Cassie's face lit up. She opened her purse and handed him a five dollar note. Mrs. Morrison smiled at the man.

"If you want," the man said, "I can keep it stored in the office until the big day. That way he won't find out about it."

"Thank you so very much," Cassie said. She looked at the magnificent book. It would be the perfect gift.

Cassie and her mother finished up their shopping and went to the jail to see Lee. He was sitting at his desk trying in vain to tune an old guitar he had found in the back room. He quickly stood up when the women came in. Cassie had brought him some cakes, a few sandwiches and something to drink. He pulled up chairs for the ladies and waited until they were seated before he sat down. Cassie was happy to see his appetite was good. After he finished, they left. Lee walked them to the door and watched then go down the street.

He sighed. The young man walked back to his desk. He took out his pocket watch and opened it. He smiled at the miniature portrait of Cassie inside. He clutched the watch to his heart.

The Judge and the Sherriff where discussing the future of the young Deputy.

"I'm hoping he'll stay in Capital City," the Sherriff said, "When I'm ready to retire I want that young man to be ready to step into the position. He is the best shot in the state and one of the best horsemen I have ever seen. I have to admit, when that lanky awkward looking kid walked in my office two and a half years ago asking for a job, I laughed more than anything. I offered him a second Deputy position and he took it. Best decision I ever made."

The men clicked their glasses. They drank and leaned back against the bar.

"He has already stopped two hold ups. One at the general store and one at the livery," the Sherriff continued, "He is incredibly intelligent. Everyone in this city loves him. But more importantly, they have the deepest respect for him. That's something you have to earn."

The Judge nodded his head in agreement.

"I do worry about his health though." the Sherriff said.

"How so?" the Judge asked.

"The boy was beaten, badly and often, when he was growing up. That kind of abuse causes problems later in life," he took a long drink, "I'll tell you this only because he's your son in law. His old man ruptured his privates in a beating when he was about 13. When his wife hadn't become pregnant he went to Doc Richards. He told me this because his wife wants a child. He doesn't know how to tell her they won't have any. I swear to you Judge I didn't know there was that much love in the world. What those to share is....well unique."

The Judge looked down at his glass. The swelling, the pain everything the poor boy endured. Now this. He thanked the Sherriff for the information.

The judge walked out of the saloon just as the women were walking past. He joined them and they went back to the house. Mrs. Morrison fixed dinner for the family. The Judge asked Cassie to walk out on the porch with him. He offered her a seat on the steps and then sat beside her. He held his daughter's hands and looked into her face. He had never seen her look more beautiful.

"Honey," he said, "I have something to tell you. The Sherriff told me something about Lee I think you should know..He..can't...."

Cassie looked at her father and gave him a sad smile. She touched his face.

"Lee can't father any children," she said, "I've known for months now. We've been together over two years and nothing happened, I went to the doctor to see if something was wrong with me. He told me about Lee. I love him papa. Whether we have children or not it doesn't matter. He is my soul mate. And nothing will change that."

"You are so much wiser than your years," the Judge said smiling at her, "I think you should let Lee know that you know. The Sherriff said it was tearing him up because he didn't know how to tell you. He really does love you. And so do I."

He kissed his daughter's cheek.

"Hey! That's my girl," Lee shouted from the gate.

Cassie jumped up and ran down the path to him. He leaned over and kissed her. They talked for a few moments then Cassie came back to the house. She ran inside and grabbed some cakes and bread. She filled a canteen full of cool water and ran back out to her cowboy. She handed him the supplies. Lee leaned down once more. Cassie put her arms around his neck. Their lips met in a long and passionate kiss. She stepped back and tried to put on a brave face for him. He tipped his hat at the Judge, turned Chester around and rode off at a smooth canter. Cassie stood by the gate until he was out of sight.

Cassie's father walked down and stood next to her.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Mr. Wilton, a cattle rancher about ten miles outside of town was killed. Ranch was burned and the cattle are gone," She said, "They are going after the killers. Oh Papa..I'm so scared." She began to cry.

They walked back into the house and into the kitchen. Mother was upset as well, but got dinner on the table. They all sat down. The Judge bowed his head.

"Dear Lord," he began, "We thank you for this wonderful meal and the day. But most importantly we thank you for the blessing of having Lee in our family. Watch over him Lord guide his actions and help him stay safe. Bring him back to those of us who love him. Amen."

Mrs. Morrison squeezed his hand. Cassie got up and hugged her father. She kissed his cheek and sat down to eat.

After dinner she went to the living room and put a single candle in the window for her handsome husband. Cassie fell asleep on the sofa.

Sometime around three am the Judge walked out into the living room. He picked Cassie up in his arms and carried her into her bedroom. He laid her down on top of the bed and pulled a blanket up to her neck. He kissed his daughter's tear stained face.


Cassie sat up in her bed. She looked around the empty room. She felt tears fall on her cheek. it was the first night they had ever spent apart since they were married. She threw some cool water on her face and went into the kitchen to fix breakfast. Her parents came in the room. No one spoke.

There was an eerie silence all over the city. People went about their daily business, but quietly. Some twenty men had ridden out the night before. Not a word had been heard from anyone. Cassie and her parents sat on the front porch of the house. Waiting, praying for his safe return.

The silence was shattered by the sound of the church bell ringing. The signal. Whenever a pose` was returning, the church bells were rung. Cassie jumped up and was halfway down the street before her parents could even react. They caught up with her as the first of the returning warriors came back.

Several men had been killed and more wounded. The Sherriff had the sad duty of returning the bodies of the fallen to their families. They had cornered the killers and made them pay for their crimes. But at what cost.

Cassie strained to see if Lee was with them. She couldn’t find him. The Sherriff informed the crowd there were more bodies to bring back. He asked the doctor to go with him. There were cries and screaming from the women whose men had paid the ultimate price for defending their homes. The Judge stepped up and asked if he could help. The Sherriff gave him the reins of a horse and Cassie and her mother watched as another of their men road away.

They went back to the house.

It was beginning to get late. The sun had made its slow journey across the sky and was dancing just above the rim of the mountains.

Cassie sat on the front porch railing, her head resting against the porch post. Her mother had gone in to fix dinner. She was trying to stay as optimistic as possible. She sat four plates for dinner. The older woman stepped out on the porch and looked at her daughter. Something flashed down the street. Lightning they thought. There was another flash. Then another. Cassie turned and looked down the road. Her hand grasped her throat. She jumped off the porch and ran to the gate.

The fading sunlight reflected off his deputy badge once more. Lee was struggling to stay upright on his horse. His head was bandaged and so was his arm. His shirt was splattered with blood. But he was there. He was alive. He stopped Chester at the gate and almost fell off the horse as he dismounted. Cassie grabbed him in her arms. She was crying and kissed him feverously. His hand gently brushed across her hair. He could see her. Feel her touch. The smell of her hair filled his lungs.

The judge rode up next to them. He looked at his daughter's face. Mrs. Morrison came down the steps and hugged her husband as he climbed down from the horse. She saw his face. So full of pride as he watched the young deputy with his daughter. Lee's legs were weak. He leaned on Cassie.

Cassie and the Judge helped the valiant man into the house. They took him into the bedroom and set him down on the bed. Mrs. Morrison had put a pot of water on the stove for coffee, but she instead poured it into a basin and brought it into the bedroom. She sat the basin down and went to get some towels. The Judge helped Cassie remove Lee's shirt. His poor body was bruised but no bones were broken. He cringed in pain as she gently moved his arm to take it from the sleeve. Cassie took the towel, soaked it in the water and carefully wiped his chest and back. The Judge left them alone.

He walked out and took his wife's arm. They walked out onto the porch.

"I've never met a man like Lee," the judge said, "We got back out to the ambush sight. He was standing watch over the wounded. The Sherriff said that he took a bullet to the arm but kept riding after the rustlers. He cornered one in the rock crag. Lee took a rifle butt to the head but kept fighting. The Sherriff said he wanted to bring him back with the first lot, but Lee refused, staying behind to try and help the other men who were hurt. Luckily the bullet only grazed his arm. He is one hell of a man. No wonder our daughter loves him so much."

He hugged his wife and they stood on the porch watching the sunset.

"Oh Lee," Cassie cried, "I was so scared when you didn't come back. I was afraid I had lost you." She laid her face against the bare skin of his shoulder.

"It's alright," he said slowly, "I'm home now." He kissed her forehead.

Then he lifted her face and kissed her lips. He looked at her.

"Are you hungry?" she asked.

Lee laid his face against her neck. He kissed her tender skin. She smiled.

"Let me rephrase the question. Do you want your dinner?" she said.

Her heart leaped in her chest as she saw his face blush. He smiled at her. It was a strong happy smile. She saw a sparkle once more in his eyes. Cassie propped the pillows up against the wall and had him sit back. She brushed her hand across his hair and down his cheek. Cassie went to the kitchen to get his dinner. She came back and held the plate while he ate. Cassie helped him lay down in the bed. She pulled the blankets up over him and kissed his cheek.

"Rest," she said, "I'll be back in a little while." She walked out of the room.

Lee lay in the bed. He took a deep breath and rolled over on his back. His injured arm folded over his chest. Good thing it was my left arm, he thought to himself. Before he knew it he fell asleep.

His eyes fluttered open. It was dark in the room. He felt Cassie's breath on his chest. Her arm lying across his stomach as she slept. He turned his head and kissed her forehead. She opened her eyes. She could just see the outline of his face in the moonlight coming thru the window.

"Did I wake you?" he whispered.

"No," she said smiling,” I was just laying here enjoying being next to you."

Lee turned his head from side to side and looked at her.

"You really do love me," he said.

"More then you will ever know," she said smiling, "Now get some rest."

They fell asleep in their tender embrace.

A few days later the Judge and his wife were getting ready to leave. He helped his wife up into the trap. The judge walked over and hugged his daughter. He took Lee's hand firmly and shook it. The two men exchanged smiles. The Judge climbed up in the wagon. He pushed his hat back off of his forehead and looked at the two young people.

"Is it always like this around here?" he asked.

"Oh no sir," Lee said, "Sometimes it's really crazy around here."

He smiled as the Judge laughed and clicked the horse into motion. They watched the trap disappear in a cloud of dust. It would be nice to have the house to themselves again.

Cassie stood in the kitchen fixing dinner. Lee came in the door and walked up behind her. She smiled as he gently pressed his face against her neck. He needed a shave and his face tickled her skin. She sighed as his lips carefully caressed her neck.

"Delicious," he whispered.

"You haven't even tasted it yet," Cassie said turning over the steaks.

"I wasn't talking about dinner," Lee said smiling.

He felt her temperature rise as her face blushed. Lee took his coat off and hung it on the hook by the door. He removed his hat and hung it with the coat. Cassie tossed him a towel so he could clean up. The young man picked up the pitcher of warm water and stepped back out on the back porch. He washed his face and hands, poured the water over his head to get rid of the days sweat. He looked in the small mirror. The knot on his head was going down finally. He stood up and shook his head vigorously, throwing water in every direction.

"Leon Francis Malone," Cassie shouted from behind him.

Lee turned around quickly to see her standing on the porch covered with water splatter. He smiled at her.

"Sorry," he said, "I didn't know you were behind me."

He walked over taking her in his arms and kissing her forehead. He used his sleeve to wipe the water from her face. Lee leaned towards her and looked into her eyes. She looked at him and smiled. His hair was in about a hundred different places. Water dripped down his face. She reached up and pushed his thick black mane with her hands letting the wet hair slide thru her fingers. She took his face and kissed him.

"Your dinner is ready," she said turning back and going inside the house.

Lee leaned on the porch railing awhile. His smile became a worried sadness. He had to tell her. But she wanted a child so badly. He was afraid the truth would break her heart. Or worse. She might leave him for a man who could give her lots of children. He picked up the comb from the table, ran it thru his hair and went inside.

Dinner was great. They ate and he helped clear the table. While they washed everything up, Cassie studied his face. Something was bothering him but she didn't know what. She tried to make conversation but he seemed distracted.

The kitchen in order they went into the bedroom. He felt her hands tenderly untie his tie and then they moved across the front of the shirt and unbuttoned his vest. Lee stood motionless. His heart was pounding in his ears. He felt her tender kisses fall on his cheek and neck. He felt his body react to her touch. Suddenly Lee took her hands in his. He kissed them as he carefully sat her on the bed.

The handsome cowboy sat next to her. He loved her so much. He trembled as he spoke.

"Cassie..I have something to tell you," he started, "I know that you want a child of our own..I..."

Cassie could see the pain he was going thru. She couldn't take it. She pulled her hands from his and took hold of his face.

"Lee," she said, "It's alright..I know. I found out a few months ago. My precious. I didn't say anything to you because I didn't want to make you feel bad. I guess I should have." She kissed his face, "I never dreamed it was upsetting you so much. Forgive me for not saying anything sooner."

"I was afraid to tell you," he said, "Afraid you might...leave me for someone who could..."

"My sweet, sweet lover, as long as I have you that's all I need," she said smiling at him.

He put his arms around her. A tear fell on his cheek.

"How did I ever get so lucky," he cried.

He wrapped his arms around her. They helped one another undress. The lovers fell back in the bed. Lee felt her hands gently caress his tired body. She heard him sigh as her kisses fell on his neck and chest. He trembled as she nipped at his earlobe. He looked at her. She sighed as he slowly entered her. She felt his lips kiss her tender breast. Slow and easy was his style and it was what they both liked. Their love making lasted for hours.

Two weeks passed.

Lee put Chester in the barn and stopped on the back porch to clean up. It was unusually cold out now. Even though it was November, in this part of the state, it always stayed around fifty-five to sixty. He shook as he picked up his hat and went in the back door. It was quiet. Too Quite.

Suddenly Cassie struck a match and lit the oil lamp. A beautiful cake was placed on a table in the living room. He had forgotten all about his birthday. Cassie walked over to him and took his hands in hers. She looked into his eyes with so much love.

"Happy Birthday, my darling," she said almost in a whisper.

Lee looked at the table. Dinner was ready and waiting. He saw the beautiful cake. He felt a knot in his throat. He took her in his arms and hugged her.

Cassie removed his coat and hat and hung them up. She playfully pushed him back on the sofa and removed his boots. His wonderful wife slid the table up to him so he could eat like a king. Dinner finished, they dug into the cake. Lee sat back and took a deep breath. Cassie smiled as he loosened his belt. He reached over and pulled her close. Cassie smiled. Lee couldn't see the large piece of cake she held in her hand. She lay gently against him and looked into his eyes. He smiled at her.

Suddenly Cassie brought her hand up and pushed the cake into his face. Lee laughed and grabbed at her with one hand trying to remove the cake with the other. Cassie squealed as she saw him grab another piece of cake and start towards her. Lee caught her around the waist and pushed the cake in her face. He held her tightly as they laughed and fell to the floor. Lee was laying over her. He moved his face to hers and began to eat the cake. She did the same. He gently laid his body on hers as their passions built. Lee took his finger and wiped the frosting from his eyebrow. Cassie took his hand and licked the icing away. She heard him sigh as she sucked his finger into her mouth.

He saw several neatly wrapped packages hidden under the sofa.

"Oh, presents," he said reaching out for the boxes.

Cassie laughed. He may be twenty years old, but he was still a little boy sometimes. She struggled to hold his arms as he tried to get closer to the gifts.

"Not until you clean up," Cassie said, "Go in the kitchen and get the cake off your face and make sure you wash your hands. They're sticky."

Lee gave her a pouty look. He stood up and helped her out of the floor. He turned to go to the kitchen. To his surprise, Cassie swatted his backside. He stopped and looked back at her. She just smiled. He had a silly grin on his face as he walked into the kitchen and got washed up.

Cassie put more wood on the fire and went into the kitchen with him. She washed her hands and face. They returned to the living room and sat down on the small sofa. She handed him the first of the three presents.

"My Papa and mother sent you this," she said, "With all of their love."

Lee tore off the paper. He swallowed the knot in his throat. He recognized the symbol on the outside of the wooden box. Cassie helped his trembling hands open the lid. Inside, a brand new, custom made, Colt 45. Silver inlay, mother-of-pearl handle. It was beautiful. He picked the gun up and held it across his hand. The balance was perfect. He stood up and held the gun at his side. He did a quick drawl and spun the gun in his hand. Cassie watched in awe at his skill. She watched him shuffle the gun from hand to hand and practice a few shots. He was so magnificent she thought.

Lee sat back down next to her and held the gun. She saw a tear in his eye.

"This is the most beautiful gun I have ever seen," he said, "Not even Sherriff Whitlow has a gun like this."

"Which reminds me," Cassie said handing him a second gift, "This is from Sherriff Whitlow and the boys at the jail."

Lee opened the package to find a brand new holster and belt. He stood up. Cassie stood in front of him and put the gun belt around his waist. She tied the stabilizer strap around his leg. Lee put the gun in the holster and drew properly. He took the belt off and sat it carefully on the sofa. Cassie handed him the last box.

"This is from me," she said kissing him, “Happy birthday."

Lee opened the box. He felt his chest tighten as he looked at the book. His hands carefully lifted it from the box. His finger gingerly moved over the cover and along the page edges. He had seen the book when it came into the General store and was disappointed when he found out it had been sold. Cassie saw a tear in his eye.

"Do you like it?" she asked, puzzled by his reaction.

Lee couldn't speak. He put his arms around her and held her tight. She felt him kiss her neck and cheek.

"This," he said laying his hand on the book, "Is the greatest present, next to you, that I have ever received in my life."

Cassie began to cry. He kissed her teary eyes. They sat back on the small sofa. Lee put one arm around his beautiful wife and sat the book in his lap. He carefully opened the exquisite volume and started to read. Cassie closed her eyes and listened to his voice. He read until almost 11:30. Lee put the book in a place of honor on the mantle.

He picked Cassie up and carried her into the bedroom. He pulled the blankets over them and snuggled his face into the back of her neck. Soon he too was sound asleep. It was the best birthday he had ever had.

Time passed all too quickly for the couple.

Lee had grown into a fine handsome man. Tall, always dressed well and still just as in love with his wife as he had been from the day they met. Cassie was his love, his life. She was there when things were good and bad. She was there to take care of him when he was injured. He was there for her when she was sick and hurting.

One winter she became so sick she almost died. Lee never left her side. He sat by the bed and held her hand. He talked about their love and he prayed for her to get well quickly. The handsome deputy held her hand and pressed his face against it crying.

"Please God," he said, "Don't take her from me. I would be lost without her. She is the only reason for my living. Please...Please.."

He broke down into tears. Lee felt something touch his head. He looked up to see her hand against his face. He wiped his eyes and looked at her. Lee pressed her hand to his face and kissed her palm. She gave his hand a weak squeeze and he cried out from the sheer joy. He laid his face on her shoulder and cried tears of joy.

It was several weeks before she was up and around again. Her mother came to stay with them for a while so Lee could work.

Life was wonderful for them. They made it thru the bad times with the strength of their love. Lee had had several close calls in his job. His body was scared and he had trouble sleeping sometimes from the nightmares, But Cassie held him and loved him that much more.

Then two months before his twenty eighth birthday, Lee asked Cassie to meet him at the Office.

She walked in and was surprised to see the her parents in the office. She hugged them both. She looked around the office. They were the only ones there.

The door to the back office opened. Lee walked out first, followed by the Sherriff and the Governor of the state. The Judge stood up and removed his hat. He shook hands with all three of the men. Lee introduced Cassie to the Governor. He graciously kissed her hand. She smiled.

"What's going on?" she asked.

The Judge walked over and picked up the bible laying on the desk. Cassie and her mother stood and watched as the Judge held the book. Lee put one hand on the bible and raised the other. The Governor stepped up and administered the oath of office. He removed the star from Sherriff Whitlow's shirt and pinned it on the chest of Sherriff Malone. Cassie clutched her mother's arm, tears welling in her eyes.

The ceremony over the Governor shook hands with them all again. Cassie put her arms around Lee’s neck and kissed him. She looked at the star.

"It's what you always dreamed of," she said, choking on her tears.

Lee laid his face against hers.

"No," he said, "You are what I always dreamed of. This is just a bonus." He kissed her cheek.

"Twenty-seven years old. Very young to be a Sherriff," the Governor said, "But after I read Whitlow's report on everything you've done since you started here; I knew we had the right man to take over. Good luck son."

The Governor patted Lee's shoulder, turned and left.

Lee's reign as Sherriff brought a new sense of peace to the people of Capital City. Time had brought more and more people to the town. It was a real city now and Lee was in charge of protecting it and the people who lived there. He had a crack team of deputies working under him. He saw to it that the set a good example for the people in town. He insisted they didn't drink. If they wanted to get married that was fine. But any man who disgraced his office or harmed a woman in any way was out of a job. His firm hand led them in posies rides and they had shown every criminal in the state that coming to Capital City would be a mistake.

The Jail was expanded and the reward money was often divided out to his deputies.

Time passed.

She woke up to the sight of a blood red sky.

Cassie felt a chill down her spine. She looked a Lee laying next to her. She gently woke her sleeping husband. He sat up and looked at her.

Thirty-three years old and still handsome. He stood up and stretched the stiffness from his back. She looked at his naked body. While he took his clothes out she got him some water to wash with and put a pot on the stove for coffee. Lee splashed the cold water over his body. He poured it over his head. Cassie came back in the room as he was putting on his boots. He stood up.

She walked over and buttoned his vest and tied his tie. Cassie picked up his gun belt and walked over to him. She suddenly felt scared. He saw this in her eyes. She put his gun belt around his waist and buckled it. He felt her hand tremble as she touch his chest. He took her hand and kissed it.

"What's the matter, my love?" he asked, pulling her close.

"I don't know," she said, "I just feel..I...Oh Lee!"

She tightened her grip around him. He let her hold him. Then he put his hand gently to the side of her face and looked into her eyes. He saw them sparkle with tears. Cassie walked with him to the barn and watched as he saddled up his horse. She watched him put his shooter gloves on. She handed him his hat. He looked so handsome sitting there. The morning light caught the silver badge on his chest and it glowed. He pulled her up on the back of the horse. She held him as they rode around the house.

She slid down and opened the gate. Lee leaned over and kissed her.

"I'll see you tonight," he said, "You really do love me don't you?"

Cassie smiled.

"I really do," she said.

"That’s good," he said smiling, “Because I love you too."

Cassie watched him ride off. She felt her chest tighten.

The woman turned and went back into their house. She looked at the books on the mantle. Her hand gently brushed across the photo of them hanging above the fireplace. She went into the kitchen and fixed a strong cup of coffee. She sat down at the table and began to cry.

Around lunch time Cassie went to the office with a basket of food for Lee and his deputies. Marcus was the only one in the office. He stood up when she came in. Cassie smiled and walked over to the desk. She sat the basket down and looked around the room.

"He's not here Mame," Marcus said, "They're out near Ragtop. Stage was held up this morning. Two men killed. A woman and her four year old daughter were…." he paused, "Assaulted, Mame. Four years old. How could anyone do that to a baby?"

Cassie felt a tear fall on her cheek. She knew Lee would not stop until he found those responsible. She looked at the youngest Deputy.

"How old are you Marcus?" she asked.

"Nineteen Mame," he said tipping his hat, "Sherriff Malone thinks I have the makings of a good full Deputy some day. He's a great man, isn't he Mame?"

"He is that," Cassie said, "I'll leave this here. Help yourself. Good bye Marcus."

The boy tipped his hat once more and walked her to the door. Cassie started up the sidewalk.

Suddenly all hell broke loose in the peaceful town. Three men rode in guns blazing. They shot out windows and store signs. Marcus stepped into the door of the Sherriff's office shotgun in hand. He got off two shots. Cassie watched in horror as she saw the boy’s chest exploded from the bullet. He fell back in the doorway motionless as the men turned on the innocents caught in the street. One took aim at Cassie.

She heard a shot and saw the man fall from his horse.

Lee and his two deputies were riding fast and hard in behind them.

The bandits dismounted and took cover behind whatever they could find. Shots rang out from all directions. Lee's horse went down, dead. He used the animal as a temporary shield. Cassie watched as the men exchanged gunfire. Then everything became quite. Lee looked at his deputies and motioned for them to go around and come up on the killers.

"Alright Sherriff," One of the men shouted, "It's you or us and it aint gonna be us."

Lee saw the dead body of Marcus in the office doorway. He felt his chest tighten. He saw one of his deputy’s take out one of the men with a blow to the head and the other was coming up on killer number two. A shot rang out as the deputy took a bullet to the gut he fired back catching the shooter in the face. Lee got up and went to his wounded man. The doctor was on his way. He looked at the wound and looked at Lee.

"Not as bad as it looks Sherriff," the doctor said, "He'll be fine in a few days."

Lee smiled. He stood up and walked towards the other deputy. He stepped around the man lying in the street. He walked a few more yards when he felt a prickly feeling in the back of his neck. He stopped and looked to the side. He saw Cassie watching him from the safety of the General store. A tear fell on his cheek.

What happened next was almost too fast for the eye to follow.

Lee suddenly turned towards the fallen rider and fell to one knee. His gun fired off two shots. The other shooter however got off a shot of his own. Lee's head flew back and he flipped backwards into the dust. The shooter was dead. The wounded Sherriff lay motionless in the dust of the street.

Cassie screamed and ran to her husband. She fell into the dust next to him. She cried out as she slowly turned his near lifeless body. The bullet had struck him in the temple. With each beat of his heart blood gushed from the hole. His face was covered in blood already as Cassie gently took him in her arms. She pulled his hat off. The doctor was checking him. He ripped a section of Lee’s shirt sleeve and tied it tightly around his head wound.

Several of the men had come out and took the mortally wounded lawman in their arms. They carried him to the doctor's house. Cassie stood up her dress covered in his blood. She held his hat in her hands and followed them.

The doctor came out. His clothes covered in blood. He wiped his hands on a small towel. Cassie stood up and looked at him.

"Right now," he said, "I just don't know. If he does survive, I do know he'll be blind in that eye. I'm sorry Cassie."

Cassie clutched Lee's hat in her hands. She tried to stay calm.

"Can I see him?" she asked.

"I don't know if that would be such a good idea," the doctor said, "The bullet caused excessive blood loss. He....Cassie!"

Cassie walked into Lee's room. She put her hand to her throat when she saw him. His skin was ashy. The area around his wound was swollen and badly bruised. She ran to the bed and fell to her knees next to him. His hands lay limp by his side. She gently brushed his hair back from his forehead. She leaned forward and kissed him. Her heart leaped when she felt him react to the kiss. She laid her face next to his.

Cassie could hear he was having a hard time breathing. She felt him cough. She saw him open his eyes and look at her. He reached weakly towards her. She reached over and wiped the blood from his mouth. She held her head up and looked at him.

"I love you, Cassie," he said, "You are the....only woman I have ever loved." He coughed again.

Once more she saw the blood on his lips.

"I love you too, Lee," she said, "You must rest my dear..Think about getting well. Think about us. I can't wait to make love to you again. My Love."

Cassie saw him smile. She gently slid her arm behind his neck and held his face with her hand, the other brushed thru his hair. Cassie felt her heart break as she watched his beautiful hazel eyes struggle to stay open. He was having trouble finding her. She saw a tear on his cheek. Then she saw his eyes close.


She laid her face on his and cried.

He was gone. Her handsome cowboy, her lover, her husband, her soul mate. She stood up and clutching his hat in her hand, she went back towards their empty house.

The entire town turned out for Lee's funeral. Even the new Governor came. He wanted to see this man who was the pride of Texas. Cassie's parents held her tight as they followed the horse drawn hearse up the street towards the cemetery. After the service, everyone walked away.

Cassie walked over to the coffin and opened the lid. She looked one last time at her handsome cowboy. Her mind raced with images of their life. The day he came to the house, the time he fell off the sidewalk, their wedding, the day he became Sherriff. She gently kissed his forehead and brushed his hair back. Cassie closed the lid and walked away. She heard the hammering as the coffin was sealed and then lowered into the ground.

She looked up into the bright blue sky tears streaming down her face.

"Take care of him for me," she said.

Cassie walked back home. She sat on the front porch of their house. Her father walked out and sat next to her. He put his arms around his daughter. He kissed her cheek. She broke down into tears.

"If you want to come back to Crystal Falls," he father began.

Cassie smiled at him. Her mother came out and sat down next to them. She looked at her parents. Her mother saw something strange in her daughters face. She looked closer and took her daughters face gently with her hand. Cassie gave her mother a sad smile.

"I thought he couldn't..." she began.

"About a year ago this fancy doctor from back east came thru," Cassie said, "Lee talked to him and he gave him some, ah, exercises to do. Things to eat that might help, medicines....That sort of thing...How did you know? I just found out a few days ago."

The Judge felt the tears well in his eyes as he held his daughter.

"I never even got the chance to tell him," Cassie said crying, "I'm so scared. This baby will never know what a wonderful man its father was."

"Oh yes it will," her father said, "We'll see to that."

The doctor walked over to the basin and washed his hands. He heard a knock on the door and opened it, letting the Judge and his wife in.

"She came thru it like a trooper," the doctor said, "She's really tired though."

"And the baby?" the Judge asked.

"A strong healthy boy," the doctor said smiling, "And as close to perfect as I've ever seen."

The doctor packed up his instruments and left.

The Judge and his wife walked over to the bed and sat down next to it. Cassie was tired but she managed a weak smile. They looked at the small bundle lying next to her.

Little Lee was the mirror image of his father. Dark hair, brown eyes he was perfect just as the doctor had said.

Cassie felt something touch her cheek.

Even though no-one was there, she knew it was her handsome cowboy.

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