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The next few days passed quietly. Each morning Cassie and Victoria spent time together. Victoria tried to overcome the memories, but each time Corrigan's face would cloud her vision and haunt her. She pulled away. Every morning Victoria came down to check her rose. She watered it before the sun got to hot, pulled any weeds that threatened the flower. For those first several days there was no change in the tightness of the bed. Then slowly the tightness started to relax.
Each morning Victoria whispered, "I will be right back." And left their bed.
"Will you ever tell me where you go each morning?"
"Eventually, but not right now. Will you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you." Cassie told her and let Victoria leave to take care of her mysterious business.
After a week of bed rest, Doc gave Cassie permission to be out of bed. The bruises had started to fade. Her ribs were still sore, but she learned to deal with the pain. She no longer had a headache. Her world was still dark and she had to rely on others to get around.
Ranch life continued. Nothing would stop the work that needed to be done each day to keep the ranch running. The herd had been brought down and the men had started to cut those cattle that would be sent to market. Each man and woman went about their daily chores, as the sun continued to beat down on the earth below.
It had been ten days since Alex went to Virginia. He had only sent one telegram telling them when he would return. They had no way of knowing if his trip was a success.
Victoria woke early, even before Cassie did. She quietly left their bed and went down to tend her rose. In the early morning light, she found the rose fully opened. She went inside to find a vase. Maude had the vase ready for her when she walked into the kitchen. She had already check the rose and knew that this would be the day. She handed Victoria the vase and scissors. Victoria put water in the vase and went out to carefully cut the stem. She placed the rose in the water and sniffed the delicate fragrance of the flower.
She brushed the dirt off her knees and took her gift upstairs. She placed the flower on the table next to Cassie's head. She quietly lay back down next to Cassie and went back to sleep.
The birds outside the window sang their morning songs as the sun shown down on the two pure hearts that slept side by side.
Cassie opened her eyes and looked out the window. Her eyes moved to the rose by the bed, then to the woman by her side. She reached to take the rose from the vase and laid it on Victoria's cheek. She smiled at the sight. Then it hit her. She gasped and sat up quickly. The motion caused Victoria to wake.
"Is something wrong." She asked as she felt the rose on her cheek."
"Nothing is wrong." Cassie answered. "You are beautiful."
"I said you are beautiful. It is a gorgeous day out there. That red rose looks very nice next to your face."
"You can see? Are you telling me you can see?"
"That is exactly what I am telling you sweetheart. What I see is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen in my life." Cassie laughed and Victoria joined in.
Victoria threw her arms around Cassie and kissed her. A kiss that opened their hearts and left them both breathless. One kiss led to another until their breathing was ragged. Cassie let the younger woman control their actions, until her hand brushed Victoria's breast. Victoria stiffened and pulled away until she could look into Cassie's eyes. She saw love looking back at her.
"I am so sorry. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. That is the last thing I ever want to do." Cassie said softly.
"I know Cassie. I want you to do something for me."
"Of course I will do anything for you." Cassie replied.
"I am so very tired of feeling dirty. I do not want to feel this way anymore."
"What would you like me to do?" Cassie asked.
"The only way I can rid myself of that feeling is with you. I need you to help me erase those memories of his touch. Please Cassie, help me forget." She pleaded.
"Tory honey, are you sure you are ready?"
"Yes I am. I need you and the love I see shining from your eyes. I want your touch and your love to help make new memories. Will you do that for me, for us?" Victoria asked.
"Of course I will. I want this to be the first of many memories we will make together. You have to do something for me." Victoria nodded. "You have to let me know if this gets to be too much for you. Just say the word and I will stop. Okay?"
"I will. You also have to let me know if this hurts your ribs or head."
"I promise." Cassie told her.
They worried about each other, but this time when their lips met, all their fears and pains disappeared along with the world outside their room They let their hearts lead them. Just as Granny had promised, the bad memories could not withstand the love that emanated from the two pure hearts as they completed the journey to become one.
Maude stood outside the bedroom door her hand raised to knock. The dog lifted her head and looked at Maude, but did not move from the door. The sound of their voices could be heard and she knew they were both awake. With their breakfast tray in her hands, she heard another sound through the door. The sound of,... Oh!" She smiled and thought of the newly opened rose. She laughed softly as she thought, they will eat later and brought the tray back down stairs.
She noticed the rider approaching as she walked down the stairs. She brought the tray to the kitchen where she gave Granny a crossed fingers sign. Granny smiled and nodded. Maude went to greet their visitor. He had just tied his horse when she opened the door.
"Alex, when did you get back?" She asked.
He looked tired and dusty from the trip. He took off his hat and slapped against his arms and legs to rid himself of some of the dust before he entered the house. "Just a couple hours ago. I got in on the early morning train and came over as soon as I could. After I took a side trip to the jail to see Rebecca."
"Did you have any luck?"
"Come into the kitchen and have some breakfast."
"Thank you Maude. Is Cassie up to visitors?"
"She is, but, umm she is a little occupied right now. If you don't mind waiting, you can eat and tell us about your trip."
"In that case, I accept your offer of breakfast. I will need your signature on some papers while we wait."
Maude took Alex into the kitchen where Granny handed him a cup of coffee while Maude made him breakfast. "Thank you." He said. Maude placed the full plate in front him a few minutes later. He handed Maude several papers. In between bites he told them of his trip.
"I left for Virginia that same day. and arrived the next day. First thing I did was visit the Sheriff to inform him of Corrigan's death. He was not sorry to hear the news. In fact he was happy. The Sheriff took me to the Judge's home where I was able to talk to him. I will tell you Maude, Corrigan is one dead man that no one is grieving for. Seeing as how Corrigan has no living relatives, and had not paid a single cent in taxes for years, they were more than willing to sell his land for just the amount of the back taxes. The Judge wanted the taxes off the books.
"I thought he was a rich man?"
"He was. He was also a greedy man and very egotistical. He decided he did not have to pay taxes. It was beneath him. He preferred to threaten and blackmail his way out of paying them. Seems he had a great deal of very nasty stuff on several folks in high places in that town. A lot of people are breathing a lot easier now that he is dead."
"But the information he had is still out there."
"I am getting to that. I paid the taxes and the ranch now belongs to you and Cassie. You now own two thousand very nice acres in Virginia."
"How much were the taxes?"
"A little over a thousand dollars. The Sheriff took me out to the ranch where I did an inventory. I met the workers. Not even they were sad he was dead. He was one very nasty man. Most are willing to stay on. There are two very nice houses both of which are completely furnished. There are several barns and large lakes. Why that man charged his neighbors for water when he had more than he would ever need is beyond me."
"Greed pure and simple greed, Alex. You said it yourself." Maude replied.
"We found a safe in the original house. I had a locksmith come out and open it. We found all the deeds to the places he cheated his neighbors out of. Per Cassie's orders, those have all been signed back over to their owners. Those that I could find anyway. A couple had left the area. The Sheriff said he would try to locate them. We also found all the dirt Corrigan had on the good citizens. It was all destroyed."
"Good." Maude said.
"We did an inventory of the stock. Currently there are seven hundred head of cattle, seventy six very nice looking horses, not to mention chickens, hogs, lambs and goats. There are also wagons, carriages, farm tools and equipment."
"Good lord." Maude exclaimed.
"I don't know how Cassie is going to manage both places." Alex said. "How is she doing" Has her eyesight returned?"
"Why not ask me that question Alex." Cassie said from the door where she stood hand in hand with Victoria.
Alex turned and smiled. "You look a damn sight better than the last time I saw you."
"Feel a lot better, too." She replied as they entered the room.
"Cassie you did not just come down the stair by yourself did you?"
"Of course not Mama. Victoria helped me." Cassie smiled and released Victoria's hand. She walked slowly to her mother and put her arms around the older woman. She said softly, "you know I have always liked this color on you." She winked at Granny.
"What?" Maude gasped. "You can see?" Cassie nodded. Maude slapped her arm. "You should not surprise an old woman like that." Her scolding was spoiled by the smile he had on her face. "You know you could have just told me."
"Now where is the fun in that? I am sorry Mama, I really could not resist."
"Sit, both of you." Maude ordered. "I will get you both breakfast. You both look very happy. Anything either of you would like to tell me?"
Victoria and Cassie sat side by side and looked at each other before they answered together. "No." They both laughed. Maude caressed Cassie's dark head each time she walked past.
"You had a question for me Alex?"
"That question has already been answered."
"So how was the trip?"
"Maude can tell you all the details. The bottom line is that you are now the owners of some very fine land in Dillwyn Virginia."
"Dillwyn? My home town?" Victoria asked.
"The same one." Cassie replied. "How much?"
"A little over a thousand dollars. I did not use the bank draft you gave me, but paid the taxes from my personal account." He gave them the details of the sale while they ate. When he finished, he gave Cassie the papers to sign. She put her name under Maude's. He gave them one copy, kept one for his record and one to send to the land office in Virginia. "They were not sure about taking a personal check until they saw the amount of the bank draft. They were more than willing to take the money,."
"I will have the bank transfer the money to your account" Cassie said.
"I also have the contract you want me to draw up. Are you sure you want fifty percent?"
"Yes I am." She interrupted. Excuse me I need to make a few phone calls. I will be right back." She left the room. Victoria looked at Maude.
"What is she planning?"
"She has not told you?"
"No, she has been very mysterious."
"In that case you must wait for her. It is not my story to tell. It would not be right for me to say anything. I will say this much, I am in complete agreement with Cassie."
Cassie returned. "Alex the money has been put into you account along with some extra for all your work. The Sheriff will be here within the hour. Can you stick around?"
"Sure I can." He said.
"Would you care to tell me what is going on?" Victoria asked Cassie.
"Now I can. I did not want to say anything earlier in case things did not go as planned. Mama and I have bought Corrigan's property."
"That I was able to work out for myself."
"What you don't know is that the Sheriff is bringing your father out here."
"We have a business proposition for him. Now that we have all this extra land, we need someone to run it for us. I really do not want to spend all my time travelling back and forth between the two. We are going to offer your father the position of overseer of the property there. Between him, your brothers and the hands that will remain, they should manage just fine."
"I do not understand. Why would you do this?"
"Let me finish. In addition to his salary, he will get fifty percent of the stock sales each year. In addition all the smaller places will have free use of the water so that no one will ever have to worry about water or losing their places. So with the monthly pay and the stock sales they will have a nice income. Even if he sold," She check the figures, "Half of the cattle, at the going rate of thirty dollars a head, his share would be six thousand dollars. That is just the cattle. There is the potential for him and your family to come out of this in very good shape."
"You would do that for him? Why? When he treated you so badly, why would you do that for him?"
"First of all I am not doing this just for him. I am also doing this for myself. I have a few very selfish reasons." Cassie replied.
"Such as, you will be free to live your life, how ever you want, where you want and with whom you want to live with. You would never have to worry about being forced into doing something you do not want to do ever. But the most important reason is..." She stopped and looked at Maude and Granny. She looked at the love that shown from the sea green eyes that watched her. She took a deep breath and continued. "The most important reason is that I love you Victoria." She stated and opened her arms.
Victoria smiled with tears in her eyes and rushed into Cassie's arms. As she was enfolded in to the protective embraces she said loud enough for all to hear. "I love you Cassie." With that declaration, their two hearts became forever joined. Cassie bent her head and captured Victoria's lips. They remained lock in love's embrace until they heard Maude and Granny sniff. Even Alex took off his glasses and wiped his eyes. Hand in hand they walked first to Maude then Granny and hugged them both.
"Now the rains will come." Granny said softly.
Alex put his arms around Cassie. "It is about damn time Cassie."
The Sheriff arrived with Victoria's father and they were ushered into the office. He was greeted by the women and introduced to the lawyer. Daniel removed his hat as he entered the room and looked at the three women.
"Miss Jones, before you say anything, I want to apologize for what Corrigan did to you both. I hope you know I had no part in the attack on you. I know I am guilty of bringing him here and will accept what ever consequences if you decide to press changes against me."
"Mr. Montgomery, I believe you had no knowledge of what Corrigan had planned. Thank you for your apology. I have decided not to press charges against you. I do however have a business proposition for you. Please sit down."
He sat in the chair in front of the desk and rested his hand on the arms as he listened to what Cassie had to say. She handed him the contract. They were silent as he read each page.
"Is this some sort of joke?"
"I assure you, that is no joke. This is a legitimate business deal." Cassie answered.
"Why would you do this." He asked.
"The main reason and the only one that really matters, is that I love Victoria. I do not want her to ever feel that she has to run for her life again. I would like her to stay here with me and hopefully we can build a life together." Cassie replied.
He was silent for a short time as he looked Cassie in the eye. "Before I make any decision, would it be possible to talk to Victoria alone?"
"Of course." Cassie stood and followed Maude and Alex out of the office to leave the two alone. He looked at his daughter.
"Did you know about this?" He asked and held out the contract.
"I only found out about that this morning."
"Is staying here what you really want to do?"
"Yes papa it is."
"What are your feelings for Miss Jones?"
"I love her with every fiber of my being."
"While I was in jail, I had a lot of time to think about what I did. I was wrong. I should never have made that contract with Corrigan. I was desperate, but I should not have forced you into that position. No piece of land is worth what this has done to you. For that I am very sorry."
"Hearing you say that means a lot, papa."
"You do realize that staying here, you are giving up all hope of getting married and having children."
"I do. Getting married was never important to me. As for having children, I have a job teaching at The Settlement. I will have lots of children to care for. Cassie and her family are all I will ever need in my life, besides you and mama."
"Do you think you will be truly happy here?"
"I am happy." Victoria told her father.
He looked closely at his daughter and for the first time and noticed the sparkle in her eyes. "I can see the happiness in your eyes that I do not ever recall seeing before. You have the same look your mother had the day we were married. You have my permission to remain here with Miss Jones. What I mean is you have my blessing." Victoria felt her eyes fill with tears. She hugged her father. His voice cracked when he said "be happy."
"I will. I love you papa." Victoria said.
"You can have Miss Jones come back in now." Victoria opened the door. She smiled at Cassie as she walked into the room. "Miss Jones, I accept your offer." He picked up the pen, dipped it into the ink well and signed his name to all the copies of the contract. He held his hand out to seal the deal. "I do have a couple things to ask you Miss Jones."
"My name is Cassie." She said.
"Mine is Daniel." He stated. "I ask that you love and take good care of Victoria. And please, if you could, would you make sure she visits once in awhile? It would mean a great deal to her mother. Hell, it would mean a great deal to me. You see miss... uh, Cassie, I have five sons. Victoria is my only daughter and I want what is best for her. I know now that you are what is best for her."
"I promise you Daniel. She will never lack for anything, especially love. I will do my best to take care of her. I know you are worried and I will also promise to do my hardest to make sure she is happy. I also want you to know that you and your wife are welcome here anytime."
"Thank you Cassie. That means a lot to me."
"Daniel, it is almost lunch time. Stay and eat lunch. Hell stay the night. That way you can spend time with Victoria before you head back. Is that all right mama?"
"Of course." Maude stated.
"Thank you. I would like very much to spend time with Victoria.
They left the office and went into the parlor where Granny had cold drinks waiting for them. Maude turned to the Sheriff and lawyer. "Would you both like to stay for lunch?"
"I am sorry, but I will have to say no. I need to get back to the office, Maude. I am expecting the Judge on the next train. I think we will be able to get the charges dropped from murder to self defense seeing how she was protecting two others besides herself. We all heard Corrigan threaten her. I do not think there will be any problems, especially when the Judge hears of Corrigan's past." The Sheriff stated.
"I can not stay either Maude. I need to get these papers filed and sent to Virginia. Unless you want me to take them there myself."
"That will not be necessary Alex. Go home and see your family." Cassie said as she walked the two men to the door. She noticed the happy looks on Victoria's and Daniel's faces and knew she had made the right decision.
"Daniel, before we have lunch, there are a few things I would like to show you that you could do there to make you life a little easier."
"Cassie this is your first day out of your room. Your ribs are not fully healed yet. Doc said you were to take it easy." Maude protested.
"Mama I am fine. My ribs are strapped up. I am not planning of doing anything but show Daniel the pumps. I will take it easy." Cassie declared as Victoria and Daniel followed her out the door.
"Famous last words." Maude told her daughter. "I am going with you to make sure you take it easy."
Cassie rolled her eyes.
Cassie stood by her horse as she waited for the school day to end. The weather had gotten cooler over the past few days. The rain had finally come and was plentiful. The rivers were once again fast moving bodies of water. Lakes and ponds filled. The grass that was brown and brittle turned lush and green, with help from the sun's appearance in between days of rain. The temperatures fell back to normal levels as August turned into September. The cattle fattened on the sweet grass and sent to market. Despite the rocky start, they were able to see a profit from the sale. Not as much as previous years, but they did not lose money. Daniel and his sons did a good job with the land under their care.
The women of The Settlement enjoyed having a full time teacher and made sure their school house had everything it needed. The children flourished under Victoria's care.
With the cool air of the night before, Maude noticed Victoria shiver as the ate their dinner on the porch. Cassie brought her a heavier shirt to put on and was not surprised when Maude pulled her aside this morning and told her, "take Victoria into town and get her some warmer clothes." That was the reason Cassie now waited outside the school house. While she waited she thought back to that night in August.
Dinner was the start of a very pleasant evening. Daniel told us stories about when Victoria was younger and the trouble she would get into. He had us all laughing. Of course mama was not about to let an opportunity to embarrass me go by. She told them of some of my adventures. We had planned on taking him to the train the next day. It was after midnight when we all turned in. It was nice to be able to hold Victoria in my arms and know that she was safe. I don't know how long I had been asleep when I was awakened by a sound I had not heard in a long time. I woke Victoria and we both listened to the sound.
"Is that rain?" She asked.
"It certainly is. Come on." I said as I pulled her out of bed.
"Where are we going?"
"We are about to go play in the rain." We both dressed and went outside. We let the rain wash over us. It did not take long until we were both soaked. We acted like kids. We yelled and splashed each other as we jumped into the puddles that quickly formed. We ended up waking everyone including the ranch hands. Soon everyone was out playing in the rain. On the porch I saw Granny lift her hands and sing her thanks to the spirit gods that brought the rain and for joining our two hearts.
The bell rang and brought Cassie back to the present. The children ran from the building and waved to Cassie. She smiled and greeted each child as they ran past her. When the last child had left the building, Cassie entered. Victoria smiled at her.
"This is a very nice surprise." She said as she kissed Cassie. "What brings you out here?"
"Mama gave me orders to take you into town and get you some warmer clothes. So here I am."
"Why? Just because I was chilled last night. You brought me a warmer shirt. I let you buy my clothes when school started. I can not let you pay for them now. I got my first month's pay and can buy my own clothes." Victoria said.
"You are ready for Fall, but Winters here can be very cold. We need to get you a heavier coat, boots and..."
"Okay." Victoria said as she held up her hands. "I can get what I need."
"Fine, then you have to argue with mama. I have my orders and I really do not want to get into a argument with her. In case you have not noticed, I very seldom win one."
"Oh I have noticed that, so no thank you. Let me finish cleaning and we can go."
"Sure thing. I have some news about Rebecca."
"While I was waiting, Ellie told me she has left the area."
"Really? Was she forced to leave?"
"No. The women here do not work that way. She made a mistake, one that she has been forgiven for. Especially after they saw I was willing to forgive her. Rebecca told Ellie that she did not know where she was going, but where ever it was, she hoped she could find some peace in her life. I think she regrets that she sent that telegram and this is the only way she can live with what she did."
"It is really sad isn't it."
"She loved you."
"She thought she loved me. Oh she convinced herself that she did, but I think it was just because I was kind to her. Something that she never had the chance to experience. She had a very hard life before she came here. From what Ellie told me, Rebecca's father was worse than Corrigan. He not only abused her physically, but in other ways. Especially after her mother died. She mistook the kindness I had shown her for love."
"What is about some men, that they have to show their manliness by mistreating women?"
"I would not call it manliness. Some men are threatened by strong women and have to dominate them. Keep them in their supposed place." Cassie shook her head. "On a lighter note, Ellie also told me you were doing a fantastic job with the kids."
"I hope so. I really love teaching them. Well now I have thirty dollars that is burning a hole in my pocket. So maybe if you are good, I will buy you dinner in town." She teased. Cassie gave her a swat on the backside, then sat on the corner of a desk and watched Victoria work. Cassie smiled and thought, being in love is a good feeling. A very good feeling .
To be continued...
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