Two years had passed, and the stone house was built in the little glade where they had stopped in the days when they fell in love with each other. It was a little way from the ranch house but still part of the main estate. The house was not finished, but that would take a long time. The part that was already made looked like a small version of a house that Reilly remembered from New York. It had stone pillars at the front and an impressive set of steps that led up to them.
Cate was sitting in a rocking chair on the veranda that extended from the front door and around the side. The little girl on her knee had the dark curls of his dad. She was just over one year old, and the joy of Cate’s life. She was called Nona, and Cate was never short of babysitters with Wynona the one she was named for always on hand.
Cate was enjoying a day off from the warehouse and making the most of the sunshine. Some days little Nona came into town in the buckboard and other days she stayed with Granny Wynona. In town she could be fussed over by Granny Ellie who had decided that town suited her better than the ranch. She and Jeannie Delaney had struck up a strong friendship, and when Jeannie saw the little wooden house behind the bank was empty, Eleanor jumped at the chance of a place of her own. She indulged her love of gardening and was making a beautiful setting around her new home.
Reilly looked in most days to see his momma, and she was happier than he had ever seen her. She had a group of good friends in town, including Carson Landers’ mom.
Cate smiled as she sat back and thought about the beautiful wedding that Carson and Claire had enjoyed only six months ago, and they were living in the Landers’ enormous stone home. She did miss having her sister around all of the time, but Claire was ecstatically happy, and that was good to know.
“True love is wonderful, my lovely daughter. One day I hope you will find it.” She stood up and balanced the little girl on her hip as she walked over to the corral. Thorn came eagerly across the paddock followed at a more leisurely pace by Bessie and the gelding they had bought to ease the many journeys that Coop made in and out of town. The gentle older horse that took the little carriage into town for her went on munching at grass.
The baby reached out a hand, and Thorn held out her nose to meet it. Nona gurgled happily, and Cate talked to the little mare. She had plans to teach the little girl to ride at a very early age but had wisely kept that from Reilly for the time being.
A voice called, and Wynona rode over to see them and slipped from the saddle.
“Too warm to walk over today,” she said and held out her hands for the baby.
“Shall we have a lemonade?” Cate asked, and they headed back towards the house. “I have to go into the warehouse tomorrow. Shall I take her with me?”
“Not a chance,” Wynona answered. “That is when I get to have my granddaughter all to myself.”
“Thanks,” Cate said. “Means I can ride in with Reilly.”
“I can’t believe that you taught Eleanor to ride, and she actually enjoys it,” Wynona said as she settled the baby on a rug on the floor with some toys.
“Thank goodness she has found some happiness,” Cate answered. “All of those years of fear and pain are thankfully behind her. She comes into the warehouse, and it makes such a difference to Reilly to see her out of danger.”
“I do miss Pierre around when he is back working in New York, but his business goes from strength to strength. Mags is turning into quite a star.”
“And another true love story.”
“We miss Tex around here. He was such a part of the place for so long,” Wynona said. “We need a get-together for everyone.”
“How Mags manages to do all of the sewing, feed the baby, and everything else, I really don’t know,” Cate added. “When Nona comes with me, and Jean Marie is in her cradle as well, I think we have a baby business and not a fashion warehouse at all.”
“You did get the extra helper as well as Mary Jane.”
“Tex is such a tower of strength to all of us. He is part of Mags dress design and does all of the ordering, moving, and other things that need doing, but he fills in when we need it as well, and last week, he looked after the store for Jim and Jeannie.” She laughed. “Two more sewing machines, and he keeps them running smoothly.” After a pause she added that he could even sew a seam with the machine. “He knows how the things operate and sometimes checks the movement. A cowboy who can turn a hem, who would have spotted that one?”
The two women decided that housework had to be done. Wynona rode back to her own house, and little Nona settled in her cradle and drifted into a peaceful sleep with her thumb in her mouth.
“I love you so much, little one,” Cate whispered. “I am the luckiest woman in the world.”
The next day, she left Nona with Granny Wynnie and enjoyed the ride into town with her husband.
They sometimes still reached across and held hands as the horses went at a sedate walk, and sometimes, Cate could not resist the urge to have a good old gallop down the road. She set off, and Reilly followed. They slowed down, laughing at each other as the town came into view.
Josh had opened up, and Mags and Tex were starting to sort out what needed doing for the day as Mary Jane and the newest seamstress, Lily, arrived together. Baby Jean Marie was wrapped up and asleep. The day swept into action as the group of workers called to each other and settled into a now familiar routine. Cate looked at the latest girl’s dress on a hanger.
“I wish Nona was old enough to wear this,” she said as she finished checking that the things ordered for the Blake ranch were all in stock, and then she went to go through the numbers and accounts that were her strong point. Then she remembered that she had not looked for another item and ran back up the stairs. There were a couple of customers downstairs but nobody on the first floor. She stood with her hands on her hips and gazed around. The shaft of sunlight from the loading bay flickered across the floor, and she looked around sharply.
“Grandfather?” she said quietly, and for a quick second, she saw his outline. He held up a hand and faded away. “Something is going to go wrong,” she said to herself and went back downstairs to find Reilly. She had just told him about The Owl, and they heard the whistle of the day’s railroad arrival.
“We will just have to watch out for anything going wrong,” Reilly told her and kissed the top of her head. “I need to go with Josh and collect the deliveries.” The two men went off in the wagon, but it was only minutes before the wagon arrived back empty of goods but with Pierre sitting inside.
“Pierre,” Cate gasped. “You are in New York and busy.” Mags had leaped up to see if there was something wrong. Pierre shook his head. He pulled out a newspaper.
“Your father is out of jail and has no money at all because Thelma has stolen everything and gone to live a long way away. Nobody seems to know where.”
“What?” Reilly took the newspaper and read through the article. He read out bits for the others, and everyone crowded around.
“Good Lord,” Tex said. “How did she manage that?”
“And what will he do?” Cate asked.
“He had given her permission to run the company whilst he was in jail. She just robbed him according to this,” Reilly answered.
“Will he turn up here?” Mags asked, and Pierre nodded.
“That is exactly what I thought,” Pierre told her. “I came to warn you all.”
“Thank you,” Cate told him.
“He won’t have money to hire guns and be nasty. He might not even have money to ride the railroad,” Reilly murmured.
“But he will turn up,” Cate said. “I saw The Owl this morning. He always seems to give me a warning when I need it.” Reilly nodded and told the rest that Cate had already mentioned that to him.
“I had best go and tell my momma,” Reilly added. “She needs to be warned.”
“And protected,” Tex said.
“I will stay a couple of days and then go back to New York,” Pierre told them. “Let me see how you are getting along,” he added to Mags and was introduced to Lily. He inspected her work and smiled, which was a relief all around, and Josh said that he would go for the delivery. Reilly went to see his momma, and Cate sat at her desk worrying.
When they were all back at the warehouse, Reilly said that Missus Lander was visiting his momma and that she offered for Eleanor to stay with them for a while.
“Momma is torn. She would rather face him in one way but doesn’t want to see him in another. Legally, he could say that everything she has is his and take it away.”
“We have today because there is not another train until tomorrow. That is the earliest he could arrive. Perhaps she should go to Landers’ and be safe. We could take what she needs in the wagon.” Reilly looked at Cate who nodded and said it was the safest thing to do. The two men went back to see Eleanor, and Pierre came and gave Cate a hug.
“We beat him before, and he will not win this time. He will end up with nothing, and it serves him right.”
“And Thelma showed her true colors,” Cate added. “Reilly will be fine. It is Eleanor that is at risk.”
The day was busy. Reilly and Tex were away for most of it, helping Eleanor to pack what she needed and driving the wagon to take her to safety. Pierre worked with Mags as he was on hand anyway.
“We have done everything we can,” Reilly said at the end of the day. Let’s go home and be on guard tomorrow.”
Wynona and Peter were dismayed at the news but said that it was right that Eleanor was safely out of town.
“Nona stays here as long as there is danger,” Wynona declared. “The man is deranged, and heaven knows what he might do.”
Cate agreed and silently made a note to pack a handgun where she could reach it. She and Reilly sat when the baby was asleep in bed and held onto each other.
“My father continues to bring trouble to your door, my darling. I am sorry,” Reilly told her. She turned and kissed is lips.
“We are together. We are strong, and we have beaten him before. There is not a man on earth that I would allow to hurt my family. Wynona will keep the little one safe. You and I can take him on.”
They slept holding onto each other and rode into town as usual. Tex met them and said that he was taking the work Mags was doing to the store because she had to feed the baby and they were safer at home.
“Good idea,” Cate told him. They organized the changes and closed the doors. Reilly had been down and kept Barney in the picture, and he knew that the warning would go around the town. There was nothing else to do but work and wait and stay alert.
The train whistle blew, and nobody appeared in the town to upset them. They breathed a collective sigh of relief and finished for the day.
“Might never happen,” Josh commented, and they locked up for the day.
The next day was much the same at the start. Mags came to see what the two seamstresses were doing and took her own work home. Nona stayed with granny and everything was normal.
Cate heard a carriage of some sort arrive at the door, and there were a couple of other customers already inside. There were items to be collected, and it was not unusual for people to bring carts to take away their goods. The door opened. Dollar walked across the floor, and she looked to see who was arriving.
William Shaw stepped inside and closed the door behind him. Cate stood up and faced him. The handgun was in a pocket in her skirt, and the weight against her leg gave her confidence. Shaw did not look armed and did not look angry.
“Mister Shaw,” she started. “I’ll call Reilly for you.” The man said nothing and didn’t move any further forward. The two women working with the materials had seen what happened, and Cate called to Mary Jane to find Reilly. The woman hurried outside and round the rear of the building where Josh and Reilly were taking stuff by rope up to the loading bay. It was seconds when Reilly ran in and stood in front of Cate.
“You are not welcome here, Father.” The man in front of him nodded wearily.
“I know that,” he answered. “I –” he hesitated and stumbled a little. Josh had followed Reilly in and slid a chair across. Mary Jane had the sense to take the customers outside. William Shaw sat down heavily.
“Would you like a glass of water?” Cate asked, and he nodded. She went to fetch it and handed it over.
“I would like to say,” Reilly told him, “that Thelma finally showed her true personality, and you must know by now that she was always after the money.”
William Shaw said that he did know, and he was left more or less penniless.
“I would like to see your mother.”
Reilly shook his head. “When I knew you might show up, I asked her if she wanted to meet you, and she said that she did not. She is safely with friends and well out of harm’s way.”
“Legally anything she has would be yours as she is still married to you, but she only has some furniture and things in the house. The little money she had was spent on a new home. Go away and leave her to a few years of peace.”
Shaw looked at Cate as if seeing her for the first time. She waited for the remark about savages and throat cutting, but none came. The man fell off the chair and lay on the floor.
“Doctor,” Reilly called, and Josh ran to find the man. They dripped some water onto Shaw’s lips and tried to lift his head onto a cushion. The doctor came and checked him to see what was wrong.
“He is exhausted, starving, and worn out. There does not seem to be any illness or wounding.”
“What should we do?” Reilly asked, and the doctor said that the man needed food, drink, and care for a few days to make him stronger. He left them to ponder what to do.
“Well, let’s try and get some food into him and some water,” Cate said. After some more water, Shaw opened his eyes, and they offered him soup from the hotel and fresh bread and chicken from home. He ate it and watched them watching him as he ate. Then he took a breath.
Reilly looked at Cate, and she knew what he was thinking. She took the initiative.
“We will take you home with us and let you stay until you feel better,” she said.
“Then I will give you what I think would be a fair amount of money for sending me to start this business,” Reilly added, and Cate finished for him.
“Then you will go away and never come back.”
Shaw nodded and slumped down as exhaustion took over. The man who brought him in the carriage knocked and asked for his money, and they paid him and sent him away.
“Well what now?” Cate asked.
“Sleep will do him good,” Josh said. “Leave him there, and I will go and tell Mags and Tex.”
“Then can you ride to Landers’ and tell them what has happened. Eleanor can stay there until he goes away,” Cate added. Then she looked at the two women. “Pack up and go home. We’ll close up for the day.” Tex and Mags arrived and looked at the sleeping man on the floor.
“Are you sure about taking him to the ranch?” Tex asked. They said that it was all they could do, and Tex went to bring the wagon around. They closed up, loaded Shaw onto the wagon, and Josh rode away to Landers’.
He is not in any state to cause trouble,” Reilly said, and they tied Bessie behind the wagon, and Cate climbed on the driving seat. With Coop walking alongside, they set off for home.
Wynona and Peter took the news in their stride as usual, and between Reilly and Peter, they got Shaw onto a bed.
“He is better here than with you and the little one,” Wynona told her, and they planned how to manage the man and then send him away.
Shaw slept for a few hours and then Peter sent a man to tell them that the guest was awake. They found him sitting up and eating. Reilly told his father again what he would do and the man simply nodded.
They heard the sound of horses arriving, and Claire, Carson, and Eleanor all came into the house.
“Where is he?” Eleanor asked, and they crowded into the bedroom.
William Shaw saw his wife and held out a hand. She shook her head.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Twenty years ago, you should have been sorry.” Eleanor turned to Wynona. “Your kindness is wonderful. Thank you.”
Cate was holding Nona on her hip and spoke up to say that he should know that he had a grand- daughter, but he would not be allowed to see her growing up. Claire put her arms around her sister.
“You are very brave, my sister, and very forgiving.”
“I have everything, and he has nothing,” Cate replied. “The least we can do is make him well and send him away. Wynona brought us up to be like herself.”
“I was wrong about you,” William Shaw croaked. They left him to think about his mistakes and went into the living room. Reilly and his momma talked about how much money was fair to send the man away, and Eleanor put her arms around her son.
“I am proud of you.”
“We came out of it all stronger, Momma,” he told her, and they waved off Carson, Claire, and Eleanor.
Nona needed to go home to bed and Cate sat with Reilly on the bed in their bedroom.
“Hold onto me, Reilly. I need to feel your arms around me.”
“You were right, Cate.”
“Again?” she laughed, and he smiled for the first time since his father had appeared.
“Right that we have everything and he has nothing. We have a lovely home in a place that I thought would be wild and horrible but is beautiful and the folk are real people.”
“You enjoy riding into work each day, and that was something you never expected.”
“I do enjoy the ride into work every day, and even though we could live in town, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Wynona and Peter are being the good people that they are once again and looking after somebody in need,” Cate said. “Thank goodness, Awendea left me on their doorstep.”
“With your head for figures and the contacts that he gave me, we are doing well. Pierre has been the best friend in the world and saved Momma as well as me.” He turned to Cate. “And I love you with all of my heart, my beautiful Indian girl. Always have and always will.”
“And against all the odds we are together. I love you too, Reilly Shaw.” They went hand in hand to look at the baby sleeping peacefully in her little bed, and Cate slipped an arm around his waist.
“There is one more thing I should tell you, and with all that has happened, it has been put on hold.” Reilly looked concerned.
“What’s wrong? I’ll fix it.”
“You already did.” She smiled. “Little Nona is probably going to have a brother or sister.”
“Oh, Lord,” Reilly said and folded her in his arms. “We really do have everything.”
“True love and happy ever after, Reilly,” she said and laid her head against his chest.
A little, brown feather floated out of nowhere and landed on her arm.
“Thank you, Wise Owl,” she whispered.