This is an original story and reflects a loving relationship between two women. If you are offended by such a relationship, please do not read any further. Having said that, this story is a "PG" rating, nothing too graphic. And, there are one or two four letter words, but nothing worse than you probably hear during a bad day at work.
Please do not reproduce this story without my permission.
I would like to hear your comments (positive and helpful) please. hate mail will be zapped immediately). Please write me at email@example.com.
I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who wrote after my previous stories, Sweetwater and Bannack.
NOTE: Bozeman continues the story from Sweetwater and Bannack. I recommend reading those stories before reading this one.
The telegram's arrival had put a damper on their wedding's festive activities. And, as word of it's content spread through the celebrating citizens of Sweetwater, many, not knowing what to say to the upset women, had simply made a quiet exit.
Jesse had taken Jennifer and KC home and, after tucking the sleeping baby in her own bed, she had held her lover while she cried. It was almost dawn before sleep claimed the exhausted women.
Jennifer awakened after noon to find Jesse and KC playing on the cabin's floor.
"Come on, sunshine," Jesse encouraged the baby crawling tentatively towards her open arms. "Come get your pony."
KC reached out once more with a small arm and pulled herself forward. She found herself pressed against the inside of Jesse's thigh and wobbled on shaky arms and legs. Jesse gathered the child into her arms.
"You did it," Jesse kissed the grinning baby before swinging her up to Jennifer, who was now standing behind her.
"I love you, sweetie," Jennifer wrapped her arms around the baby and kissed her. Placing KC back on the floor, Jennifer watched as the baby picked up her favorite toy and began playing with it. Tears filled Jennifer's eyes.
Looking up, Jesse saw her wife's unhappiness. She stood and wrapped her arms around Jennifer.
"It's going to be okay, darlin'," Jesse soothingly told Jennifer. "I promise," Jesse tightened her hold. "You belong here, now. With your family. No one is going to change that."
"I'm so afraid, Jesse," Jennifer whispered. Since receiving the telegram from her father, Jennifer had been terrified of what the man would do when he arrived in Sweetwater. She knew that her father had been expecting to arrange a marriage for her that would serve to further the interests of his shipping business. By coming west, she had ruined those plans and he would be out to right that wrong.
"You don't know what he's like. Especially, if he thinks someone has crossed him. He might try to hurt you," Jennifer explained.
"He's not going to do anything, darlin'," Jesse used her fingers to gently wipe the tears off Jennifer's cheeks. "Once he sees that you have a family here, he'll go home and leave you be."
Jesse said the words even though she didn't believe them. From what she'd heard of Martin Kensington, she knew she would have a fight on her hands to keep Jennifer with her. But, it was a fight she was determined to win.
KC looked up at her mothers. She frowned when she saw their sad faces. Dropping back onto her hands from her sitting position, she crawled to where the women stood. Plopping down on Jesse's booted foot, KC pulled herself upright using the rancher's pant leg.
"Hey, sunshine," Jesse reached down to steady the baby. "Did you come to cheer up your momma?" Jesse smiled at Jennifer, "she doesn't like to see you sad, darlin'."
"I know," Jennifer dried her eyes with her sleeve. "Come on, sweetie," she bent down to pick up KC. "Help me get dressed. Then, I bet, we can get mommy to take us for a ride to see the cows you like so much."
Jesse nodded happily.
Jesse and Jennifer sat in the shade of a large cottonwood tree as KC played around and climbed on their legs. Several feet away, Dusty grazed on the grass at the edge of the small herd of heifers.
Jesse was leaning back against the rough bark of the tree, Jennifer sat between her legs watching the baby. "How do you feel?" Jesse was still concerned about Jennifer's reaction to her father's telegram.
Jennifer leaned back against Jesse and pulled the rancher's arms around her. "As long as I have you, I'm fine."
"You'll always have me, darlin'," Jesse kissed the top of Jennifer's head.
"Yep," Jesse strong arms wrapped around Jennifer and held her tight. "I promise," she whispered.
KC's tiny legs straddled Jennifer's thigh, she looked at the women and made smacking sounds with her mouth. It was the baby's new way of letting her mothers know she was hungry.
"Again?" Jesse reached out and tickled the baby, causing KC to giggle and loose her faltering grip on Jennifer's leg.
Jennifer caught the baby before she could fall. "Hold on there, sweetie," she sat the baby safely in her lap.
"I'll get her bottle," Jesse pushed herself up to retrieve the item from Dusty's saddlebag. Returning moments later, she handed the bottle of milk to Jennifer before resuming her position behind her lover.
Seeing the bottle, KC reached for it. "Come here," Jennifer pulled the child into her arms and held her as she drank.
"It's amazing how much she looks like you," Jesse said as she gently caressed the baby's soft cheek. "She has your hair color and I think her eyes are close to the color of yours. And," she laughed as the baby quickly emptied the bottle, "she definitely has your appetite."
Jennifer reached back and elbowed Jesse in the stomach, "seems to me that you're the big eater in this family."
"Oof," Jesse grunted. "Okay, I'll give you that one. But, she definitely has your hair and eyes."
Jennifer examined at the baby, "do you really think so?"
"Yep," Jesse said proudly. "Just like her momma's."
"Oh, Jesse," the schoolteacher turned her head to look into Jesse's eyes. "that's so sweet." Jesse blushed as Jennifer knew she would. She grinned at the rancher, "I love you."
"Dang good thing you do. Making me turn all red like that," Jesse kissed Jennifer's nose. "Kinda ruins my tough act, don't ya think?"
"Sweetheart," Jennifer returned the kiss. "I'd never do anything to ruin your tough act," she paused. "Besides, I think it's cute, too."
Jennifer laughed as Jesse's blush deepened.
"Come on, my big tough rancher," Jennifer patted Jesse's leg. "It's time we get our little cowgirl home to her nap."
"All done," Jesse said as she set her finished project on the table. Riding home, Jesse had noticed how hard it was for Jennifer to hold the baby when they all rode together on Dusty. She decided that they needed a way to carry KC that was safer for the baby.
After arriving back at the ranch, Jesse had taken a piece of deer hide and set to work making it into a carry sack for KC. Openings were cut for the baby's legs to drop through and shoulder straps were fashioned that would provide a way to carry the sack on their backs. Jesse sewed the bag's pieces together with strong rawhide cords.
With KC now awake from her nap, the carry sack was ready for testing.
"Think she'll sit in it?" Jennifer asked, as she carried KC from the bed where she had changed her wet britches.
"Only one way to find out," Jesse smiled. "Let's try it."
Jennifer handed KC to Jesse who sat her on the edge of the table. She carefully placed KC's legs through the openings than pulled the sack up around the baby. It stopped at her shoulders allowing the baby some freedom of movement. Jesse lifted baby and sack and held it for Jennifer to slip into the holding straps. Once the sack settled on her back, Jennifer turned to look at KC who was peering over her shoulder.
"How's that, sweetheart?" Jennifer asked the smiling baby. "Think you'd like to sit back there when we go for rides?"
KC started to bounce in the sack, giggling happily.
"Hold on there, sunshine," Jesse reached out to steady the baby. "You have to sit still. Don't want you falling out."
The baby stilled and looked at her mommy.
Jesse laughed at the pitiful look on KC's face, "if you promise not to bounce around, we'll go for a ride later". She bent down and kissed the baby.
"It's almost dinner time," Jennifer said. "Why don't I fix a basket and we can go down by the river. It should be a nice evening."
Jesse removed KC and the sack on Jennifer's back, "sounds good to me. I'll go get Dusty saddled."
"We need more milk," Jennifer told her.
"Okay," Jesse placed KC on the blanket they'd place on the floor for her to play on. "Need me to help?"
"No. I'm just going to throw together some sandwiches and such."
"Alright. I'll be right back," Jesse pulled Jennifer into her arms and kissed her. The casual peck quickly turned into something much more as the women pressed their mouths and bodies together. After several moments, Jesse pulled back but kept her arms tight around Jennifer. "I love you," she rested her forehead against Jennifer's.
"I love you, too," Jennifer breathed. She wanted to take Jesse to their bed and show her how much. But, the sounds of the baby playing reminded her that there was now another in her life. "You better go or KC might have to wait until tomorrow for her ride."
"Drat," Jesse playfully protested. She stole one more kiss before releasing Jennifer. "Be good, sunshine," she reached down and ruffled KC's soft hair as she walked by on her way to the cabin's door.
Jennifer hummed as she began to prepare the food for their picnic. She smiled to herself as she began to plan what she and Jesse would do that night after KC went to sleep.
The next morning, both Jesse and Jennifer were still asleep when KC woke. She rolled onto her stomach and pushed herself up on to all fours before plopping into a sitting position. Looking around the room, she was surprised not to see her mothers up and moving about the cabin. She was starting to panic when she spotted the women cuddled together in the larger bed. KC sat and watched her mothers sleep. It wasn't long before she saw her mommy opened one eye and look back at her. KC smiled and reached out with her arms.
Jesse felt someone watching her. She knew it was later than they normally awoke but Jennifer had kept them busy until the early hours of the morning. She wanted to ignore the feeling of being watched but she couldn't. Slowly lifting one exhausted eyelid, she saw KC smiling at her. As soon as KC saw she was awake, the baby reached out for her.
Jesse wiggled her fingers at the baby and was rewarded by a return wiggle of baby fingers. Chuckling, Jesse tried to slip out of the bed but stopped when she realized Jennifer had her wrapped up in a tangle of arms and legs.
"Darlin'," Jesse whispered, "you've got to let me go."
"Don't want to," a sleepy voice answered. Jennifer tightened her hold and started to kiss Jesse's bare shoulder. Her lips soon started on a path that would eventually lead to Jesse's breast.
"KC is awake."
Jennifer continued on her path.
"She's watching us."
Jennifer's lips halted. "She's what?" she mumbled against Jesse skin.
"Think she'd go back to sleep if we asked her to?"
"Nope," Jesse rolled Jennifer onto her back and stretched her body out on top of her lover's. After kissing Jennifer soundly, she smirked, "besides, after what you did to me last night, I'm too exhausted to continue this morning."
"Poo," Jennifer looked up at Jesse, she was so beautiful. "Then, how about we just lay in bed all day?"
"Jennifer Kensington, is that any way for a proper young woman to behave?" Jesse teased.
"Branson," Jennifer said seriously. "I'm no longer a Kensington."
Slipping off Jennifer to lay at her side, Jesse asked, "darlin', I know you said that the other night. But, is it really what you want?"
"Don't you want me to have your name?" Jennifer asked confused, and hurt.
"It would make me the proudest woman in the west," Jesse assured her new wife. "But, giving up your father's name..."
"I'm not giving up much, Jesse. I would rather be known as a Branson than a Kensington. It's who I am, now."
Hearing the resolve in her lover's voice, Jesse leaned down and softly kissed Jennifer. "Then, Mrs. Branson, what say we get up and spend the day with our daughter.
"I'd like that, Mrs. Branson."
"How much further?" Martin Kensington demanded of the man driving the carriage.
"'Nother day," Charlie Bassette answered.
"You're not suggesting that my wife spend another night sleeping on the ground in this god-forsaken country," Kensington was incensed. "Push the horses. I want to be in Sweetwater by nightfall."
Martin Kensington had hired Charlie and his carriage in Denver thinking it would be a faster way to travel than by stage. However, he hadn't taken into account that the stage exchanged horses at regular intervals, thereby allowing the stage drivers to push their teams harder. Charlie's pride and joy team of four matching chestnuts needed to travel slower and rest more frequently and the trip from Denver had stretched into another day.
"Ain't gonna happen. Horses are goin' fast as they can," Charlie would love to see Sweetwater by nightfall and be rid of his passengers. But, he knew the horses were tired and he wasn't going to push them any harder.
"Mr. Kensington said to push them," a young man riding with Kensington shouted at the driver.
Charlie turned to look at the obnoxious men riding in the carriage. One was an older man who looked to have done some hard work in his younger days. The other man was much younger and looked to have enjoyed a much easier lifestyle.
"That may be how you git folks to do somethin' in the east but out here that won't git ya nothin'. Can't make the distance to Sweetwater any shorter by drivin' the horses harder. So, I suggests you sit back and enjoy the ride. We'll get to Sweetwater sometime t'morrow."
Bassette spit tobacco juice over the side of the carriage. "'scuse me, ma'am," he nodded to the woman sitting next to Kensington before turning back around.
Charlie Bassette had been surprised when the autocratic Kensington strode into his small barn demanding his best team of horses and a driver to provide transportation to Sweetwater. Kensington did not blink when Charlie gave him the price. Instead, he pulled out a wallet and handed Charlie payment in full, then demanded they leave immediately.
Kensington's party consisted of himself, a small, demure woman that Charlie would later learn to be Mrs. Kensington, and Andrew Barrish, a young man barely into his twenties that carried himself with more authority than Charlie figured he had earned. The trip from Denver had been filled with complaints and demands from Kensington and the young Barrish. Charlie quickly figured out that he would never make them happy so he had given up trying.
On the other hand, Charlie did what he could to make the woman as comfortable as possible. In contrast to her husband, Mrs. Kensington was quiet, seldom speaking but always thanked Charlie for his efforts. He felt sorry for the woman who was generally ignored by her husband and the young man.
Charlie wondered who in Sweetwater was unlucky enough to soon be suffering Kensington's tirades.
Bette Mae was surprised to see Jesse and Jennifer enter the Silver Slipper's dining room so soon after their wedding.
"Goodness me," the older woman rushed to give Jennifer a big hug. "How are you doin', littl' one?"
"I'm fine, Bette Mae," Jennifer smiled but her eyes told another story.
"Come on," Bette Mae pulled a chair out from one of the tables. "Sit down and let me git ya some breakfast. Bet you could use a cup of my coffee."
Jennifer sat as instructed, "that sounds wonderful. I'm afraid poor Jesse had to do some of the cooking the past few days."
"Well, then," Bette Mae grinned at the schoolteacher, "you must be starving."
When Jesse started to protest, her friend cut her off. "Hush, I've eaten some of your cookin' and I must say it is lackin'."
"That's not far," Jesse plopped down in a chair and sat KC on the edge of the table. "You like my cooking, don't you, sunshine?" she asked the baby.
KC giggled, wrinkled up her nose and stuck her tongue out at the rancher.
Bette Mae laughed. "Looks like she's got your smarts," she winked at Jennifer before entering the kitchen.
Jennifer laughed as Jesse pouted. "Oh, honey," she reached over to take Jesse's hand, "she doesn't know what she's doing. And, if you hadn't taught her to do that..."
Jesse yanked her hand out of Jennifer's reach.
Jennifer chuckled at the rancher. "KC, tell mommy you love her," she instructed the baby.
KC stretched her tiny arms up and when Jesse bent down to her, she wrapped them tight around Jesse's neck. A sloppy kiss was planted on the pouting woman's cheek.
Jesse spoke into the baby's ear, "I love you, too, sunshine."
KC giggled as she always did when Jesse's breath tickled her ear.
"All better," Jennifer smiled at her new wife.
"Yep," Jesse smiled back and reached out a hand which Jennifer instantly took.
"Here ya go," Bette Mae placed a plate full of eggs, bacon, biscuits, gravy, and toast in front of each woman. She filled them each a cup of hot coffee and placed the pot on the table.
"Now, while's ya eat, let me visit with my littl' angel," she lifted the baby from Jesse and sat with KC at the table.
Sitting in Bette Mae's lap, KC started waving her arms and talking her baby gibberish.
"She gets that from you," Jesse smirked.
"Guess that means you'll be outnumbered then. Won't it?" Jennifer smirked right back at Jesse.
All three women laughed and KC joined them.
After breakfast, Jesse and Jennifer walked to the sheriff's office.
"Morning, Billie," Jesse greeted their friend as she carried KC into the small building.
"Morning, Jesse. Jennifer," the sheriff rose from his desk. "Morning, Miss KC," he smiled at the baby. He placed the chair he had just vacated in front of his desk and indicated Jennifer should sit. Jesse sat in the only other chair in the room while the sheriff perched on the edge of his desk.
"What's up, Billie?" Jesse asked. "Bette Mae said you wanted to talk to us."
"Thought you might want to know that I heard back from Virginia City," the sheriff informed them. He had written to the territorial authorities concerning the information Jesse and Jennifer had uncovered regarding the Bannack sheriff and his illegal activities.
Jennifer asked, "are they going to do something about Sheriff Plummer?"
"Yep," Billie picked up a piece of paper from his desk. "Says that the law-abiding citizens formed a vigilante group to take care of the bandits. Bannack is the first stop on their list. They figure to deal with Plummer and Skinner in the next few days. Already dealt with a couple members of his gang they found in Virginia City."
"What will they do with him?" Jennifer asked.
"Probably same thing they did with the two in Virginia City," Billie replaced the paper.
"What was that?"
"Without a trial?" Jennifer was surprised.
"That's vigilante law, darlin'," Jesse told her wife. "Ain't time to wait for a judge."
"Besides," Billie added. "Best to hang 'em and be done with it."
"But, what if they hang an innocent man?"
"Ones they hang are guilty of more than just one crime. So, even if they might not be involved with Plummer, they sure as heck have been involved with somethin' on the wrong side of the law. Ain't what you'd call 'honest citizens' that the vigilantes go lookin' for," Billie explained. "Don't worry, Jennifer. If the vigilantes decide to hang 'em, they deserve it."
"Doesn't seem right," Jennifer argued. "Man's entitled to a fair hearing."
"Sometimes, you have to take the law into your own hands," Jesse quietly said. "May not seem right but it has to be done. Once they clean up the territory, it'll be safer for everyone."
Jennifer sat quietly and considered what she had been told. The west was sure different than she had expected. You never heard of people taking the law into their own hands back east. But, then you didn't have bandits being led by the sheriff either. Maybe vigilante law was necessary to make the territory safe for everyone.
"So, what brings you into town today," Billie was asking Jesse.
"Thought we should let Bette Mae know we were alright. Things got a little confused the other night."
"Shame to ruin your party like that," the sheriff shook his head. "But, it was a right nice wedding," he smiled at the women.
"Thanks, Billie," Jennifer smiled back.
"Guess yours will be next, from what I hear," Jesse grinned at her friend. "You and Ruthie set a date yet?"
"Oh, hell," Billie stopped himself when he saw Jesse's frown. "Sorry, Jennifer," he apologized to the schoolteacher before continuing. "Heck, Jesse, I haven't even asked her yet."
"What you waiting for?" Jesse laughed.
"I get so nervous, I'm afraid I'll make a fool out of myself," the sheriff shyly told them.
"You love her?" Jesse asked.
"Then, you should ask her. Believe me, you'll be glad you did," Jesse beamed at Jennifer. "I know I am."
Jennifer looked at the woman who had become her life. Would it be possible to live without her? No. Never.
"Sweetheart, why don't you let me do that?" Jennifer watched as a frustrated Jesse toiled over the Slipper's bookkeeping.
After talking with Billie, the women had returned to the Slipper so KC could take a nap. As the baby slept on a blanket draped over the couch in Jesse's office, the rancher decided to catch up on the Slipper's paperwork. Jesse grumbled as she tried to get the numbers to balance.
"You have plenty to do with your teaching and taking care of me and KC," Jesse scratched out a number and tried again.
Walking to the desk and placing her hand atop Jesse's, the schoolteacher said, "honey, I want to help. You know you'd rather be working at the ranch than doing this. So, why don't you let me."
Jesse pulled Jennifer into her lap, she rubbed her cheek against Jennifer's. "Darlin', whether you do the books or I do, we still need to spend time in town. Unless, you're suggested you come to town without me," Jesse stuck out her lower lip in a pout.
"No, silly," Jennifer kissed the offending lip. "Why can't we take this stuff to the ranch and do it there?"
Jesse looked at the papers and ledgers spread over her desk. She thought for a moment, "guess there really isn't a reason we can't. But," she looked at Jennifer, "are you sure you want to do this? I mean, with all your teaching work, won't you be too busy?"
"Sweetheart, I'm not teaching right now. And, when school starts again, I'll have plenty of time in the afternoons while your out playing with your cows."
"Mooooo," Jesse did her best impression. "Okay, if you're sure." Jesse kissed Jennifer.
"Yes, I'm sure," Jennifer sighed as their lips separated. "Think you can do that again," leaning back towards Jesse's lips.
"Yep," Jesse nodded, then smirked as she added, "moooooooooo."
A soft moooooo was heard in response.
"What was that?" Jennifer asked.
"Wasn't me," Jesse looked around the room.
"Mooooo," came the sound again.
"You thinking what I'm thinking?" Jesse smiled at Jennifer.
The women peeked over the edge of the desk at the couch. Wide awake, KC was sitting up and smiling at her mothers.
"Mooooo?" Jesse repeated the call.
"Mooooo," KC answered right back.
"Wouldn't be my choice for her first word, but guess it'll do," Jesse laughed. "Mooooo."
Jennifer shook her head as Jesse and KC continued to exchange cow calls.
Charlie pulled the carriage to a stop in front of Sweetwater's stage depot. He was more than happy to be rid of his passengers.
"Here you are, Mr. Kensington," Charlie tied the reins around the carriage's brake handle. "Sweetwater."
"This is Sweetwater?" young Barrish snorted as he stood in the carriage and surveyed the few buildings that made up the town. "Why would your daughter have picked this place to live?"
Martin Kensington remained seated. "I've told you before," Kensington snarled, "she didn't come out here of her own free will. Why are you dropping us here?" he asked Charlie. "There must be a hotel in town for us to stay."
Frustrated that he wasn't quite done with his charges, Charlie told the man, "let me see if you can board at the depot." He quickly disappeared inside the old adobe building.
"Damn, Kensington," Barrish couldn't believe he had traveled the width of the country to end up in such a miserable looking town. "If this has been a wild goose hunt, my father will hear of your..."
"My daughter is here," Kensington narrowed his eyes at the fuming young man. "Don't worry."
Before Barrish could say more, Charlie reappeared. "Says you can get rooms at the Silver Slipper. Sweetwater ain't got no hotel."
"Fine," Kensington barked. "Take us there."
Charlie climbed back up into his seat and set the horses in motion before Barrish had reclaimed his seat. The young man was thrown towards the back of the carriage and almost landed in Kensington's lap before regaining his footing.
"Damn fool," Barrish swore at Charlie.
"Tenderfoot," Charlie muttered as he spit over the side of the buggy.
A few moments later, Charlie stopped the carriage in front of the Slipper's porch.
Kensington and Barrish climbed down from the carriage and immediately started up the steps to the Slipper's porch. Charlie assisted Mrs. Kensington to the ground while her husband and the young man entered the building.
Charlie removed the luggage and placed it on the Slipper's porch. His team of horses needed a good rub down and feed, and he wasn't going to waste any more time with the boorish men he had brought from Denver. As soon as the luggage was unloaded, Charlie climbed back onto the carriage and urged the horses towards the town's stables. His job complete.
"Ready?" Jesse asked as she finished cleaning up KC after her nap.
"Yes," Jennifer said as Jesse lifted the baby up. "Let's take our little 'moo' girl home."
"Moooo," KC giggled.
"I've think we've created a monster," Jesse tickled the baby.
"Let's hope she learns another word soon," Jennifer laughed as she walked out of the office.
When Jennifer entered the Slipper's dining area, she saw two men talking to Bette Mae. A woman stood off to the side and was looking around the room.
"Mother?" Jennifer asked, hesitantly.
"Jennifer?" the older woman looked at the young woman standing before her. She bore the features of her daughter but was dressed in men's pants, boots, and flannel shirt. Her beautiful ginger colored hair was covered by a stetson and her skin was darkened by the sun. If this was her daughter, she had changed greatly.
"What are you doing here?" Jennifer's throat was so thick she could barely get the words out.
"Jennifer Kensington, is that any way to talk to your mother?" the larger of the two men turned at the sound of his daughter's voice. "Jennifer, why are you dressed like that?" her father demanded. "That is no way for you to dress to meet your fiancÈ. Go put on some proper clothes. Then, you can tell me who forced you to come to this god-forsaken country. I'll deal with them before we leave for home."
Jennifer cringed at the sound and sight of her father. But, she was determined to tell him right away that she would not leave with him. "Father, I came here because I wanted to. And, I plan to stay here, Sweetwater is my home now. I have a family..."
"Family," Barrish spoke for the first time. "You mean to say that you are married?"
"Yes," Jennifer wondered if this young man was the 'fiancÈ' the telegram mentioned.. "Jesse and I were married a few days ago."
"Rubbish. What husband would allow his wife to dress in such a manner?"
"I would," Jesse joined Jennifer..
"Father, this is Jesse," Jennifer explained. Taking the baby from Jesse, she added proudly, "and this is our daughter, KC."
"A woman," the older Kensington sputtered. "You're married to a woman. Impossible."
"Actually," Bette Mae told the angry man. "They were married right here in this very room with the whole town watchin'. Right pretty ceremony it was, too."
"What is this, Kensington?" the young Barrish snarled. "You don't expect me to marry her now, do you?"
"Shut up, Barrish," Kensington stormed across the room towards Jennifer.
Jesse quickly stepped between her wife and father-in-law.
"Get out of my way," Kensington raised a hand at Jesse. Looking past Jesse to Jennifer, he commanded, "you'll come with me, now."
"Jennifer is not going anywhere," Jesse voice was cold as steel as she faced down the larger Kensington.
"Then, I'll just have to...," Kensington hand formed into a fist and started forward towards Jesse's face.
"I wouldn't, if I were you," Billie rushed through the Slipper's front door accompanied by Ruthie. Bette Mae had sent the girl to fetch the sheriff when she realized Jennifer's parents had arrived at the Slipper.
"Stay out of this, whoever the hell you are," Kensington told Billie.
"I'm the Sheriff here," Billie positioned himself in front of Kensington. "And, I'm telling you to back off."
Kensington looked at the sheriff, his badge in clear sight. "My daughter has obviously been forced to stay here against her will by this....... this.....," he sneered at Jesse. "I'm here to take her home."
"Since the day Jennifer arrived in Sweetwater, I haven't seen her do anything she didn't want to do," Billie answered the angry man.
"She claims to be married to this woman," Kensington bellowed. "You can't tell me you think my daughter would willingly do that."
"She looked pretty willing to me," Billie smiled.
"Father, if you would just listen," Jennifer tried to calm matters.
"NOOOOO," Kensington shouted.
KC had had enough of the shouting, her frightened wail filled the room and everyone froze.
Bette Mae had immediately taken control after KC's cry interrupted the impending melee. She quickly ushered Jesse and Jennifer back into Jesse's office. And, with Billie's help, she sent Kensington and Barrish to rooms upstairs.
A light tapping on the office door drew Jesse's attention. She cautiously approached the door and pulled it open. Mrs. Kensington stood outside the office.
Jesse looked at the woman. She was shorter than Jennifer and her hair was showing signs of graying at the temples. Yet, it was easy to see the resemblance between this woman and her lover. As Jesse studied her, the woman stood quietly waiting for Jesse to make the first move.
"Mrs. Kensington," Jesse acknowledged the woman.
The woman timidly smiled at Jesse, "I would like to talk to my daughter."
Jesse looked into the room where Jennifer was pacing, trying to calm KC and herself. Jesse waited for Jennifer to make the decision.
Tentatively, Jennifer nodded.
Jesse stepped aside and allowed Jennifer's mother to enter the room. "I can wait outside," she said more to Jennifer than Mrs. Kensington.
"No," Jennifer shook her head. "I want you to stay."
Jesse nodded and closed the door.
Mrs. Kensington walked slowly across the room, stopping several steps from where Jennifer paced, KC still whimpering in her arms.
"I'm sorry, Jennifer," Mrs. Kensington started.
"Why did you come with him, Mother?" Jennifer relinquished the baby when KC reached for Jesse who had joined them. KC snuggled into Jesse's shoulder and guardedly watched the unfamiliar woman in the room.
"I wanted to see you. It was such a shock to find you had left, without even leaving a note to explain. I was so afraid. I," she paused. "I wanted to make sure you were alright."
"And, Father? He obviously isn't concerned about that. He didn't even ask me," Jennifer said bitterly.
"No, you're wrong," her mother sighed. "Your father is very concerned, Jennifer. He has spent every day trying to find where you had gone."
"I'm not going back," Jennifer told her mother.
"But, your family," her mother began to protest.
"Jesse is my family. And, KC."
"I don't understand," the older woman looked at her daughter and the woman standing beside her.
"You don't have to understand. It's the way it is. This is my home now."
"What about Mr. Barrish? You're father has gone to great trouble..."
"Is that my 'fiancÈ's' name?" Jennifer sighed. "Oh, mother. Why do you accept everything father says and does? Is that really the life you want for me? Married off to some man I know nothing about and have no feelings for? I love Jesse. I'm happy here. Why can't you see that?"
"Your father is a good man, Jennifer. He has always done what he thinks is best for you. I don't know why you can't see that."
Jennifer realized that no matter how much she tried to explain, her mother would never understand. Would never even try to understand. She felt Jesse's arm wrap around her shoulders and she leaned against her.
"This is your granddaughter, Mother. Aren't you even going to acknowledge her?" Jennifer smiled at KC who was playing with her toy horse that she had discovered in Jesse's pocket.
"My granddaughter? But, how can that be? How could you...?" the older woman looked at the baby in Jesse's arms. As a thought occurred to her, a hand flew up to her mouth in shock. "Jennifer, you aren't telling me that you had a child out of wedlock."
"No, Mother. KC's parents were killed. Jesse and I decided to raise her as our own. She is our daughter now."
"But, you can't possibly expect your father to support this child."
"No. I don't expect Father to support KC," Jennifer's sadness at her mother's words was quickly turning to anger. "Jesse and I don't need anything from Father except to be left alone." Jennifer felt Jesse's hold strengthen and she wanted to be away from this room and her mother. "I think you should go, Mother. We need to get KC home."
"Home? You don't live here?"
"Jesse has a ranch outside of town. We live there."
"Is that safe? Jennifer, your father might not approve of such living arrangements."
"I don't care, Father doesn't care about me except for what he can gain by marrying me off in some business arrangement. He has never cared about me. Jesse does."
Turning to look into her lover's eyes, Jennifer whispered, "take us home, Sweetheart."
Before leaving, Mrs. Kensington told her daughter. "I love you, Jennifer. So does your father." Then, she left the room.
"Well?" Martin Kensington asked as soon as his wife entered the room Bette Mae had provided them during their stay in Sweetwater.
"I'm sorry, dear," Mrs. Kensington nervously told her husband. "She says her family is here and she is staying."
"Like hell she is," Kensington strode to the window. He fumed as he looked out over the small town of Sweetwater. He saw a horse slowly walking away from the Slipper and recognized his daughter as one of the riders. "What power does that woman hold over her?" he asked as he watched them ride out of town.
"I don't know."
"Well, I'm going to find out. I won't leave this town without my daughter."
"Are you sure about this?"
Turning to stare at his wife, "are you questioning me?"
"No, dear," she quickly assured him. "It's just that she seems so determined that this is the right place for her."
"She's a silly girl. How could she possibly know what's right for her? She'll return with us and marry Barrish as arranged."
The next morning, Jesse heard a horse approach the cabin. Grabbing her rifle, she went out on the porch.
In the yard, Billie Monroe sat astride his horse.
"Mornin'. Really think you need that?" the sheriff asked referred to the rifle laying across Jesse's arms. Knowing what Jesse and Jennifer had already gone through to protect each other, Billie was sure that Jesse would not hesitate to use the rifle if the need arose.
"Yep," Jesse frowned. "What brings you out this morning, Billie?"
"Your father-in-law. He's been raising a ruckus in town."
"Might as well get down and come in. KC's having a bath," Jesse turned to enter the cabin and tell Jennifer of their guest.
KC was happily splashing in the tub, her giggles filling the cabin.
"Might early in the day for a bath, ain't it?" Billie asked as he entered the cabin.
"Not, when you find the only mud hole in the territory to play in," Jennifer laughed. She had been out tending the garden when KC crawled to the water bucket and knocked it over. The ensuing mud puddle had become her playground. By the time, Jennifer saw what the baby was up to, KC was covered from head to toe in thick Montana mud.
"Coffee, Billie?" Jesse asked as she refilled her cup.
Jesse carried a cup to Billie and another to Jennifer. After handing Jennifer her cup, Jesse lifted KC from the tub and dried the squirming baby. KC tried to wiggle her way out of Jesse's grasp and ending up hanging upside down, held by one of Jesse's strong hands.
"Come on, sunshine," Jesse playfully patted the hanging child on her bare bottom. "Let's get you dressed so we can hear what Billie has to say."
Moments later, Jesse joined Jennifer and Billie. KC was placed on the floor to play with her toy horse.
"She sure likes that pony," Billie watched the baby play. "Say, KC, does that pony have a name?"
Looking up when she heard her name, KC smiled at the sheriff. She held up her toy and said, "Baze."
Jennifer and Jesse both stared at the baby, huge smiles spreading across their faces.
"Blaze," Jennifer corrected the baby.
"Baze," KC hugged the toy horse to her chest. "Baze."
"Well, guess she's got the important stuff down," Jesse stated.
Jennifer looked at her confused.
"Cows and horses. What else?" Jesse explained.
"You goof," Jennifer laughed. Billie looked at the two women, baffled.
Jennifer asked the sheriff, "I don't suppose this is a social call, Billie?"
"No, I thought you might want to know what your pop has been doing in town."
"I can just imagine."
"He came to me first thing this morning wanting me to declare your marriage illegal. I told him there weren't no law against it in the territory. Then, he went to see Mayor Perkins. Offered him a reward to do it. I think the Mayor might have accepted his offer if Mrs. Perkins hadn't chased him out of the house with a broom. Then, she gave your father a lecture on what a wonderful schoolteacher you were and how much you've done for her children."
"Doesn't matter if he does have the marriage annulled. I'm not going back with him," Jennifer told the sheriff.
"I know," Billie said. "But, he's telling everyone that he's not leaving Sweetwater without you. And, that Barrish fellow, has been talkin' up that your relationship is unnatural. That, you need to be taken back and re-taught to be a proper lady. Anyway, I just wanted to come out and tell you that it might be a good idea to stay out of town for a few days."
"It won't make any difference, Billie. If we don't go to town, he'll just come out here. At least in town, we have friends around to help us."
"Well, that's true. Bette Mae has got the girls keeping an eye on your pop and Barrish.
"Is there any way to force him to leave Sweetwater, Billie?" Jesse asked.
"Wish there was, Jesse. But, until he does something illegal, ain't much I can do but keep a watch on him."
"Guess we'll just have to go in and try to talk to him," Jesse told Jennifer. "Maybe he'll listen."
"No, sweetheart," Jennifer shook his head. "He won't."
"What do you want to do?" Jesse asked.
"Take KC and go south, back over the pass and get lost in the mountains where he'll never be able to find us," she sighed at the thought. "But, we can't."
"Yes, we can," Jesse solemnly told her.
Jennifer looked at the rancher. She knew if she asked, Jesse would take her to hide in the mountains. But, that wasn't the life she wanted for herself or her family.
"No, sweetheart. This is our home and this is where I want us to be."
Jesse smiled at Jennifer's words.
"Let's go into town and try to talk to him."
"Are you sure?" Jesse reached out and took Jennifer's hands into her own.
"Yes," Jennifer squeezed Jesse's hands.
"Alright," Jesse turned to the sheriff. "Guess we'll ride back into town with you, Billie."
Bette Mae and Mrs. Kensington were sitting at a table in the Silver Slipper when Jesse and Jennifer entered.
As soon as KC saw Bette Mae, she started to jabber. But, she instantly quieted when she spied Jennifer's mother and wrapped her tiny arms around Jesse's neck.
"It's okay, sunshine. I won't let anyone hurt you or your momma," Jesse rubbed the baby's back to reassure her.
"Hello, Bette Mae," Jennifer solemnly greeted her friend. "Is my father here?"
"He and that young fella hired some horses at the livery. Said they was goin' for a ride," Bette Mae answered.
"Where on earth would they be riding to around here?" Jennifer asked.
"Don' know. Didn' say," Bette Mae said looking at Mrs. Kensington to provide the answers.
When she remained silent, Jennifer asked, "Mother? Do you know?"
"Your father did not mention his plans to me."
"No, I guess he wouldn't. We'll be in Jesse's office. Would you ask him to join us when they return?" Jennifer didn't wait for a response. She walked into Jesse's office and plopped down on the couch.
Bette Mae stood and walked to Jesse. Whispering, she asked, "is she alright?"
"Yes. But, she'll be better when all of this is settled."
KC reached out to play with Bette Mae's hair and giggled when the woman tickled her tummy.
"I'll bring some hot coffee in for ya. And, some fresh milk for you, littl' angel," she told the baby.
"Don't think you would have said that earlier today," Jesse said. "Made herself a mud puddle to play in."
"Well, ain't you the clever one," Bette Mae tickled the baby then winked at Jesse.
"Uh, uh," Jesse smirked.
"Go on. Git in there with your bride. She needs ya, now."
"Thanks, Bette Mae," Jesse said as she followed her instructions.
It was dusk when Kensington and Barrish returned to the Silver Slipper. They tied the horses to the hitch and climbed the steps to the wide porch.
"This is a waste of my time," Barrish grumbled. "We've been all over this valley and there's not one man willing to help us."
"It doesn't matter," Kensington growled at the younger man. "We'll do it ourselves if we have to."
"Sheriff says their marriage is legal. If that's so, how can she marry me?"
"No one back east will know. You marry her and keep your mouth shut."
"I'm not sure I want to anymore," Barrish said. "After all, she's been living with that woman as if they were married. If they've been sharing a bed, she's spoiled. Not exactly the wife you promised."
"She's not spoiled. She hasn't slept with a man. I said you'd be her first and you will. Just do what I say and you'll be attending your own wedding soon enough. What you do after that isn't my concern."
Mrs. Kensington was sitting in one of the large overstuffed chairs provided in the Slipper for guests to read or visit. She'd been surprised to find the large library of books available, not thinking that anyone in the west would take the time for such diversions. She looked up when her husband and Barrish entered the building.
Bette Mae appeared from the kitchen and approached the two men.
"Miss Jennifer asked ya to join her in the office," she pointed to the door.
Without a word, Kensington, followed by Barrish, walked to the door. They entered without knocking.
Jesse was sitting on the floor playing with KC. Jennifer was working on the Slipper's books trying to keep her mind busy.
Jennifer raised her head when the office door opened. As her father strode into the room, Jennifer said, "it's customary to knock, Father."
"I was told you wanted us to join you," her father looked at the papers spread out on the desk. "You work for her, too?"
"No," Jennifer closed the ledgers. "I'm helping her as any good wife would do. Jesse owns the Silver Slipper."
"Ha," Barrish laughed. "Married to the owner of a saloon filled with ex-whores. It just keeps getting better."
"I would like to talk to my father, alone," Jennifer said to the man, ignoring his insult.
"I think that would be a good idea," Kensington agreed. He looked at Jesse, "leave us. And, take that brat with you."
"Jesse stays, Father. And, that brat, as you call her, is your grandchild."
KC crawled to Jesse and climbed into her arms. She didn't like the big man in the room.
"I understand you did not give birth to her. Therefore, she is not my grandchild. And, if that woman stays, so does Barrish. After all, he is your fiancÈ and has a right to be here."
Jesse stood with KC and moved to sit on the edge of her desk next to Jennifer.
"Father, I cannot have a fiancÈ when I'm already married. I don't even know this man."
"You will. Young Barrish comes from a fine family. Bankers. He'll be a fine addition to our family."
"Mr. Kensington," Jesse tried a different approach. "You may not approve of our marriage or of Jennifer living in Sweetwater. But, the fact is that whether you approve or not, there isn't anything you can do about either matter."
Ignoring Jesse, Kensington addressed Jennifer, "had I known what trouble this town would be, I would have brought your brothers with me. Be that as it may, you will return to the east with your mother and myself. We will leave in the morning. That should give you enough time to say your goodbyes." Kensington turned to leave, he stopped at the office door. "The brat will not be coming."
Barrish followed the older man from the room.
"Damn," Jennifer said as she laid her head on the desk's surface. "I knew he wouldn't listen."
Jesse rubbed Jennifer's neck. "Maybe by tomorrow, he'll feel different."
"No, he won't. Once his mind is made up, he never changes."
"Let's go home, darlin'."
"Jesse, I think we should stay in town tonight," Jennifer sat up and let the baby climbed into her lap. "I don't trust him and out at the ranch we'd be alone."
"Alright. We can stay upstairs."
"Can we stay here?"
"In the office?"
"Darlin', there's no bed in here."
"I know. But, we can lay blankets on the floor and sleep there. Please."
"Alright, I'll ask Bette Mae for some blankets and pillows," Jesse bent to kiss Jennifer. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
That night, as Jennifer slept in Jesse's arms with KC laying beside them, Kensington pulled his boots on in an upstairs room.
"Where are you going?" Mrs. Kensington asked from the bed where she had been awakened by her husband's activities.
"Go back to sleep."
"What are you going to do?" she asked afraid that her husband might mean to harm their daughter.
"Go back to sleep. Barrish and I have business to attend to," he stood and walked to the room's door.
"It's after midnight. What business could you possibly have in this town?"
"Don't question me," he hissed. "Go back to sleep."
Kensington exited the room and pulled the door shut behind him. Barrish was waiting in the hall.
"Let's go," Kensington moved past the younger man and down the hallway to the stairs.
The men descended the stairs and quietly approached Jesse's office. Opening the door, they found the room dark except for a single lamp burning low on Jesse's desk. Looking around the room, they spotted Jennifer and KC sleeping in the makeshift bed on the floor.
"Where's the other one?" Barrish whispered.
"Right here," Jesse said from behind the door. She had heard the men as they moved about upstairs and was waiting for them when they entered the office.
Kensington and Barrish whirled to see Jesse standing behind them, pistols in her hands.
"It's a little late for a visit," Jesse told the men.
"What's going on?" Jennifer woke to the commotion.
"Seems your father believes in late night visits," Jesse's eyes never left the two men. "I'll ask you 'gentlemen' to return to your rooms. Tomorrow, you'll leave Sweetwater and never bother Jennifer again."
"I'll not let you ruin my plans," Kensington snarled. In a lightening quick move, he swung a fist at Jesse and struck her on the side of the head.
Barrish joined in the attack and struck Jesse with another fist.
Surprised by the attack and not wanting to fire her guns and accidentally hit Jennifer or KC, Jesse absorbed the first blows. Then, she fought back. Using the pistols as clubs, she swung at the men.
Jennifer leaped from the floor and rushed to Jesse's defense. Barrish intercepted her, wrapping her in a bear hug. He began to pull the struggling woman from the room.
Kensington was too big. He struck Jesse with fist after fist and the rancher began to weaken. He pulled a gun from Jesse's hands and swung the barrel of the weapon down hard at Jesse's skull. She crumbled to the floor.
Jennifer screamed Jesse's name as she watched her lover collapse.
Awakened by her mother's scream, KC added her own.
In her room at the back of the kitchen, Bette Mae bolted from her bed. As she entered the dining room, she saw Jennifer being dragged outside. Chasing after her, Bette Mae ran onto the porch just in time to see Kensington force Jennifer onto a horse with Barrish.
"Stop," Bette Mae shouted.
Kensington mounted and the men kicked the horses into a gallop, charging away from the Slipper and Sweetwater.
Bette Mae heard Jennifer yell, "Help Jesse." Then, the horses and their riders disappeared into the dark night.
Ruthie and Sally ran out of the Slipper and skidded to a halt beside Bette Mae.
"Go get Billie," Bette Mae told Ruthie, who ran into the night for the sheriff's office. "Come on," she said to Sally.
Moments later they found Jesse unconscious on the floor of her office. KC had crawled to the injured woman and was huddled against her mother's still body. KC's small body shook as she cried for her mothers.
"Lord have mercy on those men when Jesse finds them," Bette Mae muttered as she knelt to attend to Jesse.
continued in Part II
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