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Maude watched Rebecca ride off. She almost felt sorry for the woman. To offer love, just to have that love rejected, was very hard to accept. It was no secret how Rebecca felt about Cassie. Feelings she knew Cassie did not return. Maude knew what Rebecca was going to do, and what would probably happen as a result. She thought back to that fateful day when the two women met for the first time.
It was the middle of Spring, when the Settlement held their End of Winter celebration. It came at the time when everyone knew that winter had officially left for another year. The women of The Settlement would begin their preparations once the snow was off the ground. For that one day, all chores except for feeding the stock and milking was put on hold. They put a lot of effort into this party and was always fun to attend. Food and ale were always in abundance. Rebecca, we had been told had only been at The Settlement for a few weeks. From the moment they met, she had that hungry look. I knew Cassie was just being polite to the newcomer. A politeness that was greatly misunderstood, as Rebecca was never far from Cassie's side.
I had long accepted the fact that there would be no man in Cassie's life. No man could ever hold her. She had a big job running the ranch since her daddy died. She filled his shoes and kept the ranch running. Except for trips into town for supplies that we could not produce, Cassie rarely left the ranch.
This celebration was one of the few times men were invited to The Settlement. Some came with their wives and families, others came alone. From past experiences, I knew how long this party would last. Large amounts of food, ale as well as hard liquor were always consumed at this party. When the sun started to set, torches were lit and music and dancing began. I noticed Cassie and Rebecca as they danced together. I did not know why that sight could fill me with dread. I had only just met the woman and had no definite reason for my unease. Rebecca seemed nice enough so I shrugged off my unease. I was even able to enjoy the dancing once Doc showed up at my side. As Doc led me around the dance floor, I put all thoughts of Rebecca from my mind.
It was late and I knew this party was far from over. The families had left and only the single people remained to party on until the early morning hours. I accepted Doc's offer to escort me home. I went to find Cassie to tell her I was leaving. Rebecca was hanging onto Cassie's arm. From the distant look in Cassie's eyes, I knew she had consumed more than a little ale and would hate herself in the morning. I could not fault her for having a little fun. She worked long hard hours to keep the ranch running and deserved a little time off to relax with her friends. I turned down her offer to take me home. I knew she would if I asked her to. She needed to let her hair down once in awhile.
The ale took it's toll and Cassie woke up in Rebecca's bed.
"Who would have thought that from that one party, we would be faced with a jealous woman bent on causing as much trouble as possible." Maude said softly. She cleared her throat as the two ended their kiss. Maude smiled as they jumped apart, twin blushed coloring their faces.
"Mama." Cassie squawked. "We were just..."
"Just what dear? Checking Victoria for fever? Watering the horses the hard way? Kissing perhaps?"
"As a matter of fact, yes to all three." Victoria answered.
"Why are you both soaked? Did the water barrel spring a leak?"
"It is a long story, Mrs. Jones." Victoria said.
"Oh, I think this story is one I would like to hear." Maude said and smiled at the younger women. She watched them both relax. "Cassie, Rebecca was just here and also witnessed your little display."
"Damn. What did she want?"
"Who is Rebecca?"
"A woman from The Settlement. She thinks she is in love with me."
"I take that to mean you do not feel the same?"
"No I don't. She has not been there long, but I will tell you about it later. What did she want?"
"The same. She wants you. She came to offer you another chance to reconsider what you told her the other day." Cassie sighed. "Cassie, she had a telegram she said she would send. I think it was to Victoria's father."
"Then let her."
"WHAT?" Maude and Victoria said together.
"I said let her. Look the only way we can put an end to this is to tell Victoria's father where he can stick his arranged marriage."
"I could always leave. I do not want to cause you any trouble."
"Is that what you really want to do?"
"No buts. No more running. I told you that no one would be able to force you to anything you do not want to do. I meant that. If they show up we can handle it."
"I really do not want to leave" Victoria repeated. "The man my father wants me to marry is rich and powerful ,with a lot of hands to back him up. I do not want anyone getting hurt on my account."
"He may be rich and powerful in Virginia, but not here. In case you have not noticed, we also have a lot of hands here also. Please trust me. I do know what I am doing."
"All right I trust you."
"Good. There is no sense driving ourselves crazy with worry until it happens. How about supper? I don't know about you, but I am hungry."
Cassie draped her arm casually across Victoria's shoulders as they walked into the house.
Rebecca kept her horse at a full gallop until she reached the outskirts of town. She headed straight for the telegraph office. Without hesitation she stormed in.
"I want to send this out immediately." She ordered.
One look at her face the telegrapher hurried to send her message. She paid the bill, left the telegraph off and headed for the nearest saloon. She came out shortly after with two bottle of whiskey under her arms. With one of the bottles safely in her saddle bags, she jumped into the saddle and spurred her horse. She drank freely from the bottle in her hand as she headed for The Settlement.
Cassie called her men together to tell them of the trouble that was headed their way. They had a right to know. The four women of the house stood on the porch as Cassie addressed her men.
"I know most of you had heard about the runaway from Virginia. What you may not know, is that she is here." She motioned Victoria forward. "Gentlemen, this is Victoria Montgomery. She ran away from an arranged marriage to a very violent man. I have promised her that she will be safe here. What I need each of you to do is to look deep inside yourselves and decide if you will help me protect her. Ask yourselves what you would do if Victoria were your sister. Would you condemn her to a life of misery and pain with a man who is already suspected of murdering his first wife. I want volunteers only. No one will be forced into a position they are uncomfortable with. No one will be fired if they decide not to help. Each man must make their own decision without any pressure from me or anyone else. Think it over tonight and let me know in the morning what your decision is. Have a good night."
The women entered the house while the men milled about in the yard talking softly. One man quickly separated himself from the group and walked to the door. He knocked. Cassie opened the door.
"You can count on my support, Cassie." He said.
He was the first, but not the last as one by one each man came to the door with their decision. When the last man had left, Cassie turned to Maude with tears in her eyes.
"I knew they were loyal to daddy, and I hope I had earned their trust and respect. This gives me a really good feeling."
Maude smile at her daughter and turned out the lamps.
To be continued...
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