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.

Some of the events and names used in this story are based on the real thing.  However, I admit to taking creative license as Bannack is not intended to be an historical novel.  No harm or disrespect was intended.

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

I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who wrote after my first story, Sweetwater.  Your comments helped encourage me to continue with this story.

NOTE:  Bannack picks up where Sweetwater ended.  I recommend reading that story before reading this one.


a story by Mickey

@copyrighted  May 2003



Dusty walked up to the porch of the ranch house and stopped.  Only after the mare snorted several minutes later did one of her riders notice that they were no longer moving.  Jennifer, leaning back into the warm cocoon Jesse had created for her, opened one eye and looked at their surroundings.

"Um, Jesse," she tenderly rubbed the arms wrapped around her.  "I think Dusty is trying to tell us that we're home."

"Too soon," Jesse murmured in Jennifer's ear.  "Haven't been riding that long."  Jesse had spent the entire ride from Sweetwater with her head nestled next to Jennifer's.  Her eyes were open but all she saw was the woman sitting in the saddle in front of her.

"Sweetheart," Jennifer reached up and took a gentle hold on Jesse's chin, turning her head to the cabin.  "What would you call that?" she asked, teasingly.

Jesse was forced to break her gaze away from the woman in her arms, "um, sure looks like the ranch."  She squeezed Jennifer tight before releasing her and swinging down from the saddle.

Jennifer giggled as she swung her leg over the saddle horn and allowed herself to be helped to the ground.  After pulling the saddle bags free, Jesse led Jennifer to the door of the cabin.  She pulled the handle and the door swung open easily.

"Welcome home," Jesse stood aside to allow Jennifer to enter first.  "It's not much, still needs some work.  But, it's ours."

A lump formed in Jennifer's throat when she heard Jesse describe the cabin as 'ours'.  She stepped in front of Jesse and captured her lips in a tender kiss. 

"Do you know how much I love you?" Jennifer asked, looking into Jesse's deep brown eyes.

Jesse grinned, "got a pretty good hankering."

"Good," Jennifer smiled back and entered the house.

Jesse followed, she placed the saddle bags on a small table in the room.  "I've got to see to Dusty.  Make yourself comfortable, I won't be long."

"Can I do anything to help?"

"Nah," Jesse stopped as her stomach rumbled.  She smirked when she saw that Jennifer had also heard the noise, "unless you can cook."

"I think I can manage something edible," Jennifer realized Jesse probably didn't know she was a good cook.  She had always eaten in the dining room of the Silver Slipper, the rooming house Jesse owned in Sweetwater.  Jennifer thought to herself that this was a wonderful way to surprise her new love.

"Okay, I'll be back quick as I can," they heard Dusty whinny her impatience.  "Quicker, if you keep that up," Jesse told the horse as she left the cabin.

Jennifer stood by the door and took in the place she would now call home.  The few minutes they had spent at the ranch after she'd broken Jesse out of jail, hadn't given her much time to really appreciate the 'house'. 

Jennifer found herself standing in a large open room that made up the interior of a structure built of entire logs laid atop each other.  The log cabin was rectangular in shape with a fireplace at each end.  The door they used to enter the cabin was in the middle of the west wall and Jennifer saw a matching door on the opposite wall.  Windows had been cut into the logs between the doors and end walls, allowing plenty of light into the cabin's interior.

Under the window to Jennifer's left, a small, crudely made table held Jesse's saddlebags.  Two rickety chairs were tucked under it.  A larger, studier table was pushed under the window on the back wall, canisters and boxes of food stuffs underneath.  Shelves had been nailed to the log wall on either side of the table and held some plates, cups, and a few cooking utensils.  The fireplace at that end of the cabin obviously served as the cook stove and heated water for the tub sitting in the corner between the fireplace and the small table.

On Jennifer's right was the sitting/sleeping area.  A bed, piled with blankets, was positioned lengthwise under the window on the east wall.  Jennifer was pleased to see that the bed was bigger than the one in her room at the Slipper.  Which when shared with Jesse, she had been afraid to move least one of them was pushed off the mattress and unto the floor.  The trunk of clothes left by the ranch's previous owner, sat at the foot of the bed.  A small dresser stood against the wall next to the fireplace, a broken corner propped up by a piece of wood.  Along the front wall between the window and door, a neatly made bookcase provided space for several books.  Jennifer grinned as she realized that it had to be Jesse's handiwork.

The fireplace at this end was smaller than the other but plenty large enough to warm the sleeping area.  A chair, badly in need of having its stuffing repaired, sat facing the fireplace, a well-used quilt hung over the back.  The only other piece of furniture in the room was the tall cabinet near the back door that Jesse kept her guns and ammunition in.

"Well," Jennifer let out a long sigh.  "Jesse's right, it's not much.  But," a smile spread across her face, "it's home."


Jesse was greeted by the smell of frying bacon when she entered the cabin after rubbing Dusty down and checking on the other animals.  Jennifer was stirring a pot hanging on the cooking hook.  The rancher quickly crossed the room, wrapping her arms around the schoolteacher.

"Something smells awfully good in here," Jesse peered over Jennifer's shoulder.

"Glad you think so," Jennifer leaned back into Jesse's embrace.  "Go on, get washed up," Jennifer pointed to a bowl of warm water she had filled moments before.  "This is just about ready."

Jesse reluctantly relinquished her hold on Jennifer.  "You find everything you needed?" she asked as she rolled her sleeves up to wash her hands and face.

"No," Jennifer filled two plates with bacon, beans, and gravy covered biscuits.  "Honey, you really need more than flour and beans if you expect me to cook for you."

"Sorry," Jesse looked apologetically as she pulled one of the boxes out from under the table and sat down.  "Meant to get supplies at Ed's last week.  You best start a list."

Jennifer placed the plates on the table where Jesse sat and looked around for a chair but saw only the ones at the small table under the window.  And, they definitely didn't look safe to use.  "Jesse?" she asked.

"Hey, this is really good," Jesse said around a mouthful of biscuit and gravy.

"I'm glad you like it," Jennifer beamed, then returned to her quest.  "Jesse, don't you have any good chairs?"

"Damn," Jesse sprang from her box.  "I've been meanin' to make me a couple.  Just haven't found the time, yet.  Here you go," she pulled a second box out from under the table and gestured for Jennifer to sit.

"Guess we can add chairs to the shopping list," Jennifer chuckled.

"Yep," Jesse took another spoonful of gravy covering biscuit.  "We can take the wagon into town tomorrow.  You make out your list and I'll have Ed fill it.  Don't know if he'll have any chairs, though.  Probably can take a couple from the Slipper."

"Okay," Jennifer took a bite and was surprised at how good the food tasted considering what she'd had to work with. 

"This is really good," Jesse repeated as she finished off her biscuits.  "I didn't know you could cook."

"One of the few things my father thought was proper for a girl," Jennifer said.

Jesse heard the sadness in Jennifer's voice, "I'm sorry, Jennifer." 

Jennifer turned and saw the hurt in Jesse's eyes.  "It's okay," she said as she laid her head on Jesse's shoulder.  "I'm here and that's all that matters now."

Jesse softly kissed the top of Jennifer's head, "I'm glad you're here."

After several long moments, Jennifer sat back up and returned to her meal.  "Well, if I need to make a list of supplies, you're going to have to tell me what you like to eat."

"That's easy," Jesse said as she cleaned her plate.  "You cook it and I'll eat it."

"We'll see," Jennifer smirked.

Jesse looked at the schoolteacher suspiciously, "something you're not telling me?"

"Not really," Jennifer popped the last piece of bacon from her plate into her mouth.  "I just like to experiment."

"Uh, oh."


Jennifer finished her bath and stepped from the tub drying herself with the tattered towel Jesse had provided.  Jesse had filled the tub and offered Jennifer first use of the hot water.  Jesse was sitting in the chair near the bed waiting her turn at a bath and trying desperately not to turn around and look at what she knew would be Jennifer's naked body.

Jesse wanted to look.  She really wanted to look.  But, she thought it best to give Jennifer some privacy.  As Jesse sat, she remembered a moment a few days earlier when she had caught a glimpse of the schoolteacher's body.

"Where are we going?" Jennifer asked as she pulled on the denim pants.  They were too long for her legs and she bent to roll the cuffs up.

Jesse's breath caught in her chest as she turned to answer and her eyes fell on the half-dressed body of the schoolteacher.  She tried to look away but her eyes would not follow her commands and stayed focused on Jennifer as she rolled the pant legs up to free her feet.  "You're beautiful," Jesse said to herself, or so she thought.

"Jesse," Jennifer broke into Jesse's musing.  "I, ah," Jennifer was uncomfortable.  "I just realized that all my clothes are at the Slipper.  Do you have an extra nightshirt?"

Jesse rose from the chair being careful to keep her back to Jennifer.  "I'm pretty sure I have one in here,"  Jesse pulled open a drawer in the dresser and began rooting around until she found the requested item.  Moving with her back still to Jennifer, she made her way across the room and handed the garment to the schoolteacher.

"Thanks," Jennifer took the nightshirt.  She was disappointed when Jesse immediately retreated to the other side of the room without showing any interest in taking advantage of her current undressed condition.  She pulled the nightshirt over her head wondering if Jesse would ever look at her again the way she had only days earlier in this very room.  Jesse had said she was beautiful, had she changed her mind?  Tears sprang to Jennifer's eyes as she considered that possibility.

Sensing Jennifer's distress, Jesse twisted in the chair.  She immediately rushed to Jennifer's side when she saw the tears. 

"Hey," Jesse reached for the schoolteacher, "why are you crying?"

Jennifer let Jesse pull her into a warm hug.  Jesse may not want her but she craved Jesse. 

"When you didn't want to look at me.  Well," Jennifer blushed.  But, only seeing concern in Jesse's eyes, she continued, "I thought maybe you had changed your mind about me."

"Never," Jesse assured the trembling woman in her arms.  "I was, well," it was now Jesse's turn to blush.  "I wanted to look but I was afraid it would bother you."

"Oh," Jennifer relaxed and rested her head against Jesse's.  "It wouldn't bother me," she sighed.

For several minutes, the women stood in the embrace soaking up the other's affection.  It was a feeling that both found themselves to be liking more each time they did it.

"Jesse," Jennifer patted Jesse's side.


"You better get your bath before the water is too cold."

"Yeah," Jesse said but she continued to hold Jennifer until she was gently pushed away.


Jesse made quick work of her bath because the water was, indeed, cold but more so because Jennifer was in bed waiting for her.  She climbed from the tub, quickly drying off before pulling her on own nightshirt.  When her head popped through the shirt's opening she saw Jennifer watching her.  She felt a blush start in her toes and rise all the way to her face as she followed Jennifer's eyes in a long, lazy tour of her body.

"Ready for bed, sweetheart," Jennifer held open the blankets that covered her.

"No fair," Jesse groused climbing under the blankets to join Jennifer.  "You peeked."

"Guess you'll just have to wait until my next bath," Jennifer snuggled next to the pouting woman.

"I could start heating the water now," Jesse threw back the blankets.

"Uh, uh," Jennifer recovered their bodies.  "You lost your chance for tonight, honey."


"Hold me."

"With pleasure."



The next morning, Jesse was backing the draft horse into the buckboard's harness.  Except for pulling the buckboard when she brought supplies from town, she didn't have much need for the large working horse that had come with the ranch.  But, she liked the gentle giant and it provided a companion for Dusty.  Dusty, however, had a different opinion on the subject and complained loudly whenever Jesse left her at the ranch in favor of the draft horse.

"Stop it," Jesse told a snorting Dusty.  "You know you don't like pulling this wagon, so stop whining."

Dusty snorted again, shook her head several times, and stomped her front hoofs.

Jesse finishing attaching all the buckles of the harness and turned to face her normal ride.  "You want me to tie you to the back of the wagon and you can eat dust all the way to town?" she asked the annoyed horse.

Dusty whinnied, snorted, and stomped.  Then, took one last look at Jesse before running to the far corner of the corral and turning her rump to her mistress.

"Just once I'd like to take the buckboard to town without you throwing a fit," she mumbled as she led the big horse to the cabin porch. 

Jennifer came out of the cabin just as Jesse pulled the horse to a stop.  She was wearing the denim pants and flannel shirt Jesse had given her.  "I'm going to change when we get to town.  I can't teach school dressed like this."  Although, she thought, she would really like to.  Jennifer found she enjoyed wearing the denim pants, they seem to give her a sense of freedom that being bundled in a dress did not.  She had already decided that she would wear the more comfortable pants whenever she could.  After all, Jesse wore pants all the time and no one seemed to mind.

"Okay," Jesse helped Jennifer up into the buckboard before climbing up herself.  "'Course, now if I were one of your students, I wouldn't mind what you wore to class, just as long as I could look at you all day."

"Oh, really," Jennifer blushed and nudged Jesse in the arm. 

"Yep," Jesse slapped the reins and the big horse began to move.

"What's his name?"


"The big, bad, horse that has Dusty so upset."

"You noticed," Jesse grumbled.

"Hard to miss the commotion she was making."

"She hates being left behind."

"I'd never know," Jennifer laughed.  "So, what's his name."



"Yep, he's my big Boy."

"You'd think with all the books you read you could have come up with something more...," Jennifer's arms flailed wildly.  "Oh, I don't know.  Something more original," she shook in head in amazement at the rancher.

"I like 'Boy'.  So, does he.  Don't ya, boy?" she asked with a gentle slap of the reins on the horse's broad back.

Boy, hearing his name, raised his head and whinnied.  The women joined in the laughter.


Jesse pulled the buckboard to a stop in front of the Slipper.  She jumped down from the wagon seat, then helped Jennifer down.  As they entered the Slipper, Bette Mae was coming out of the kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee.

"Oh," Jennifer moaned.  "I've love a cup of that."

"Well," Bette Mae smiled at the couple.  "Sit yourself down and I'll pour ya one.  Didn' have any at the ranch this mornin'?"

"No," Jennifer settled into a chair at the nearest table.  "Jesse was out of coffee beans and just about everything else."

Bette Mae filled a cup with the hot liquid and placed it in front of the schoolteacher, then poured one for Jesse.  She saw the sheepish look on Jesse's face.

"Now, don' you be tellin' me you took this littl' lady home without any food in the place," she put her free hand on her ample hip and glared at Jesse.

"Hey, I was going to get supplies last week but something," she smirked at Jennifer.  "Or, should I say someone, came up."

"Don't worry, Bette Mae.  She'll be spending time with Ed today," Jennifer assured the older woman

Jesse patted the pocket of her shirt, "Yep, got me a nice, long list of 'essentials' to buy."

Bette Mae winked at Jennifer as she continued to tease Jesse, "good thing she's a smart one.  Now, what about breakfast?"

"Oh, yeah," Jennifer groaned as she patted her empty stomach.  "We are definitely having that."

Bette Mae chuckled as she made her way back into the kitchen.


After breakfast, Jennifer went up to her old room and changed into her one and only dress.  She carefully folded the pants and shirt and left them on the dresser.  Grabbing her bag of lessons and notes, she headed back downstairs.

Not seeing Jesse in the dining room, Jennifer knocked lightly on the door to Jesse's office.

"Come in, darlin'," Jesse called.  She knew it was either Jennifer or Bette Mae, and the older woman would have just entered after knocking.

Jennifer paused.  Jesse had never used that particular endearment before and Jennifer found that she rather liked it.

When no one entered, Jesse thought that maybe it wasn't Jennifer who had knocked and she rose from her desk.  Pulling open the door, she was surprised to see Jennifer standing in front of her.

"Didn't you hear me?" Jesse asked.

Jennifer looked at Jesse with a big smile, "oh, I heard you alright."

"Then, why didn't you come in?" Jesse was puzzled.

Jennifer leaned in and kissed Jesse.  "You've never called me that before.  And, I was just standing here considering how much I liked it."

"Oh," Jesse thought for a minute trying to think of just what she had called Jennifer.  Finally, remembering, she pulled Jennifer to her and returned the kiss.  "Then, darlin', I'll just have to remember that."

Jesse took the bag from Jennifer's hand, "walk you to school?"

"I'd love that."


After bidding Jennifer goodbye at the schoolhouse, Jesse walked to the general store.  Entering the building, she saw Sweetwater's sheriff and her friend, Billie Monroe, grab a handful of crackers from a wooden barrel.

"You paying for those, Sheriff?  Or, confiscating them as evidence?"

"Dammit, Jesse," the sheriff dropped the top of the barrel down on his hand.  "You could give a man a heart attack doing that," he smiled at his friend while he rubbed his hand.  Jesse noticed that he still maintained a firm grip on the crackers he had taken.

"Morning, Jesse," Ed Granger, the storekeeper, stood in his usual place behind the store's long wooden counter.  "Don't worry about Billie.  Anything he doesn't pay for, I just add to Mayor Perkins bill."

Jesse joined in the amusement at the expense of Sweetwater's pompous mayor.  "Knowing the way his kids eat, I doubt if he'd ever notice."

"They surely do keep the freight wagons between here and Bozeman busy," Ed laughed.

"How's the head, Billie?" Jesse asked when the laughter died down.  The sheriff had been injured the night of Jesse's jailbreak trying to control a lynch mob.

"Hardly bothers me any more.  How's yours?" Billie pointed at the very noticeable path of the bullet that had grazed Jesse's head.  A reminder of just how close she had come to being killed by the Slipper's previous owner.

"Twitch, now and again.  But, not enough to bother me.  Headache was the worst part of it."

"Yep," Billie nodded.  "I didn't think my head would ever stop ringing."

"Guess, we both came away lucky," Jesse patted her friend on the shoulder.  "Just, let's not do it again."

"Right with ya on that," Billie agreed heartily.  Johnson's plot against Jesse was the worst criminal act the sheriff had had to deal with since being appointed to the position.  And, he was more than happy to go back to dealing with the occasional drunk or card cheat.  "Well, I best get back to the office," Billie tossed a couple of coins on the counter to pay for his crackers. 

"Thanks, Billie," the storekeeper gathered up the coins before turning his attention to the rancher.  "Something I can do for you today, Jesse?"

"Yep, need some supplies for the ranch."  Jesse pulled the paper from her pocket and handed it to the storekeeper.

Ed began to read through the items.  "Gosh, Jesse, I didn't know you could cook,." he was surprised to read many of the spices and other ingredients listed.

"I can't," Jesse grinned.  "Jennifer made it out.  I don't know what half that stuff is."

"Well, that explains it," Ed said as he finished reading.  "Not sure I have all of this, Jesse.  If I don't, I can always order it from Bozeman."

"Nah," Jesse flinched at hearing the name of the town where her parents now lived.  It was almost a year since they had sold the family ranch and moved into town, leaving her to fend for herself.  And, yet the hurt was still heavy in her heart.  "Just give us what you've got.  Jennifer can decide if she wants it bad enough to special order."

"Okay," Ed nodded.  "You in a hurry for it?"

"Nope.  Jennifer won't be done at school until after noon.  Send word to the Slipper when you've got it ready."

"Sounds good," Ed was already pulling items off the shelves when Jesse exited the store.

Jesse stood on the boardwalk for several minutes.  Was it really such a short time since she had stood in this very spot and watched the town's new schoolteacher step down from the stage?  She smiled as she remembered seeing Jennifer for the first time and how unsettled she had been over her reaction to the newcomer.  Now, she realized she had fallen in love with Jennifer at that very moment. 

"Yep," Jesse said to no one in particular.  "She hooked me on the first look."

Whistling happily, Jesse made her way back to the Slipper.


It was after noon when Bette Mae knocked on the office door before carrying a tray into Jesse's office.  Jesse had spent the morning after leaving the general store, working on the Slipper's ledgers.  Bette Mae was responsible for the day to day running of the boarding house and saloon but Jesse did the books and paid the bills.  It wasn't that Bette Mae wasn't capable of doing everything, Jesse just didn't feel right asking the older woman to carry the entire burden.  So, even though, she would much rather spend all her time at the ranch, Jesse would came into town several times a week to take care of the Slipper's business.

Bette Mae placed the contents of the tray on the desk in front of Jesse before settling onto the couch Jesse used for sleeping if she had to work late at the Slipper. 

'Guess we won' be seeing the boss workin' late anymore,' Bette Mae chuckled to herself.

Jesse took a bite of the ham sandwich set before her, "care to let me know what you find so humorous?"

"Nope," Bette Mae smiled at the young woman then changed the subject.  "Didn' think I'd see the two of ya in town this morning."

"Why not?" Jesse washed down the bite of sandwich with a swallow of cold milk.  "You know Jennifer had to teach today."

"Just figured you'd have other things to keep ya busy," the older woman raised an eyebrow at the rancher.

Jesse put down the glass and looked at the older woman, "I love her so much, Bette Mae.  But," she stopped, too embarrassed to tell her that she hadn't been brave enough to try to make love with Jennifer.

"Want to talk about it," Bette Mae saw the distress in Jesse's face.

"I," Jesse started.  "I wanted to, you know," Bette Mae nodded.  "But, I... I don't know what to do."

Bette Mae looked across the room and instead of the confident business owner/rancher she knew, she saw a scared young woman who was experiencing love for the first time.  She smiled compassionately at Jesse, "come over here, child."  She patted the cushion next to her. 

Jesse rose from the desk and, on shaky legs, crossed to sit next to the woman she hoped could help her.  She had once before.  When Jesse had been unsure of how to act on her feelings for Jennifer, Bette Mae had told her to "follow your heart".  It was the best advice Jesse had ever received.  She hoped Bette Mae was up for a repeat performance.

Taking Jesse's hands into her own, Bette Mae asked, "what do ya want ta do?" 

Reassured by her friend's caring tone, Jesse began, "I want to hold her so tight I'm afraid I'll squeeze the breath right out of her.  I want to touch her, to feel every inch of her soft skin.  I want to kiss her, not just her lips but her neck, her shoulders.  I just...  I just want so much to show her how I feel."

"Then, that's what ya should do," Bette Mae encouraged her.

"But," Jesse hesitated.

"But, what?"

"What do I do?" Jesse asked.  She had never even kissed anyone before Jennifer.  Boys had never held any attraction for her.  She hadn't really avoided them but the idea of doing anything on the romantic side had simply never occurred to her.  She was completely unprepared for affairs of the heart.

Jesse's question was asked in a voice so pitiful Bette Mae had a hard time keeping a straight face.  "Believe me, once ya git started, ya won' have any trouble figurin' out what ta do next."

"I won't?" Jesse looked confused

Bette Mae lifted Jesse head and smiled at her doubting eyes, "no, ya most certainly won't."

Outside, the school bell rang sounding the end of the school day.

"Now, ya go wash your face before your sweetie gets here.  Then, ya take her home and show her just how much ya love her."

Jesse couldn't help but feel encouraged by Bette Mae's words. 


Jesse met Jennifer on the porch of the Slipper and planted a passionate kiss on her lips.

"What did I do to deserve that?" Jennifer was gasping for air but it was well worth the effort. 

"I've missed you, darlin'."

"Well, I'll have to make it a point to go away more often," Jennifer laid her head against Jesse's, foreheads touching.  "I've missed you, too."

"Come on," Jesse took Jennifer's hand and started off the porch.  "Ed's got the supplies ready."

"Wait," Jennifer tugged Jesse to a stop.  "I want to change first.  And, get my things."

"Already thought of that," Jesse pointed to the buckboard.  Jennifer noticed her small canvas bag under the seat.  "Thought you might like to have them at the ranch."

"Thank you, Jesse," Jennifer kissed the rancher on the cheek.  "That was very sweet of you."

Jesse looked down at her boots hoping Jennifer didn't notice the blush coloring her face.  Darn, the schoolteacher could sure turn her to mush.

Pretending not to notice Jesse's predicament, Jennifer told her, "you stay right here.  It won't take me but a minute to change clothes."  She disappeared inside the Slipper thinking how cute Jesse was when she blushed.

True to her word, minutes later Jennifer bounced back out onto the Slipper's porch wearing the more comfortable denim pants and flannel shirt.  Her dress folded neatly under her arm.

"Let's go."

Jesse helped Jennifer into the buckboard and then climbed up into the seat beside her.  She flicked the reins and Boy started down the street.

"Say, Jesse," Jennifer watched as a cloud of dust rose from Boy's hoofs.  "Does it ever rain here?"

"Yep," Jesse took off her stetson and waved it around in an effort to clear the cloud.  "But, when it does the dust turns to mud.  I prefer the dust."

Jennifer snatched the hat and placed it on her own head, "then you better get another one of these from Ed."

Jesse looked at her hat now resting on Jennifer's head, she liked the look.  "I think I can do that," she chuckled.

Boy stopped in front of the general store.  The boardwalk was stacked high with boxes and sacks of supplies.

"Wow," Jennifer's eyes fell on the huge pile.  "Are all of those ours?"

"Let's hope not," Jesse jumped from the wagon.  "We'll have to make two trips to get all of that home."

Jennifer climbed down from the wagon without Jesse's help.  She immediately regretted her actions when she saw the disappointment in Jesse's eyes.  It was at that moment she realized Jesse didn't assist her in getting down from the wagon or off Dusty's back because she didn't think Jennifer could manage it on her own, but because she genuinely enjoyed doing it.  And, she made a vow to stay put in the future so that Jesse could have her pleasure.

Jennifer reached out and grabbed Jesse's hand.  She gave it a loving squeeze as an apology and Jesse accepted it for what it was.

"Well, I was beginning to wonder if you forgot me," Ed said from the boardwalk.

"Sorry, Ed," Jesse turned her attention to the big man.  "I hope Jennifer's list didn't include all of this," Jesse indicated the pile of goods next to the man.

"Nope.  Freight wagon dropped a delivery.  Just haven't got it all put away, yet.  Yours is that stack there.  The rest is inside."

"Freight wagon," Jennifer was excited to hear the storekeeper had received a delivery.  Maybe it included the dress material they had ordered. 

"Sorry, Miss Jennifer," the storekeeper shook his head.  "Wagon was sent out before they got your order.  Should be on the next one, though."

"Oh," Jennifer was disappointed.  She had arrived in town with only one dress.  Bette Mae had taken one look at it and decided it was no longer fit for wearing.  The older woman had talked Jesse into buying new clothes for the schoolteacher but, unfortunately, Ed had only the one dress in stock and no decent dress material.  An order had been sent to Ed's supplier in Bozeman but the material had yet to reach Sweetwater. 

A thought suddenly came to Jennifer, "say, Ed.  You have any pants in your store?"

Both Jesse and Ed looked at Jennifer perplexed. 

"Well," Jennifer informed them as she crossed the boardwalk to enter the store.  "I need to get me some britches that fit.  And, a hat," she flipped Jesse's stetson back to her.

"You heard the lady," Jesse told the storekeeper.  "Best you get in there and see to her needs while I load the wagon."

An hour later, Jesse had the wagon loaded and Jennifer had found not one but two pairs of pants that fit her.  She had also added a couple of new shirts each for herself and Jesse.  And, a new stetson hat sat smartly atop her head.  Ed was tallying up the damage for the women.

"Thirty two dollars, Jesse."

Jesse whistled as she counted out enough bills to cover the tab, "darn it, woman.  That's more than I pay for supplies at the Slipper."

"The Slipper doesn't have bare cupboards in it's kitchen," Jennifer retorted.

"This better last you a while," Jesse winked at Ed.  "If not, I'll have to raise the prices in the dining room."

"That might not be a bad idea," Ed patted his ever growing paunch.  It was well known about Sweetwater that Ed loved Bette Mae's cooking and ate at the Slipper almost every meal.  "Just might encourage me to eat at home more often."

"Oh, don't say that," Jesse laughed.  "You're my best customer."

"It was just a thought," Ed assured her.  "A bad thought, but just a thought."  Ed's jovial laugh rumbled through the store and the women couldn't help but add theirs.

"Ready, darlin'," Jesse asked Jennifer who stood beside her. 

"Yes, sweetheart."

They blushed simultaneously as they realized their use of the endearments in front of the burly storekeeper.

"Ah," Ed smirked at the matching red faces.  "Now, ain't that just the cutest thing."

"Come on," Jesse grabbed Jennifer's hand and pulled her from the store.  The women started to giggle as soon as Boy pulled the buckboard away from the boardwalk.

The wagon passed in front of the jail, then the newspaper office.

"Stop," Jennifer pulled on Jesse's arm.

"What's wrong," Jesse looked around to find the cause of Jennifer's alarm.

"I completely forgot about Thaddeus," Jennifer told Jesse.. Thaddeus Newby was the Gazette's editor and had employed Jennifer when she had been desperate to find a second job.

"What about Thaddeus?" Jesse still didn't understand Jennifer's distress.

"I promised to work afternoons for the Gazette," Jennifer told her.

"I thought I heard voices out here," the door to the newspaper office opened and the man being discussed stepped out onto the boardwalk.

"I'm sorry, Thaddeus," Jennifer began to explain.  "I completely forgot about my commitment to you."

"What commitment?" Thaddeus asked.  Then remembering his offer to the schoolteacher only days before, he said, "Jennifer I don't expect to hold you to that.  I kinda figured you'd have other things to keep your afternoons busy now."

"No, Thaddeus," Jennifer protested.  "I agreed to work afternoons for you and, if my father taught me anything, it was to live up to my responsibilities.  Jesse, I'll meet you at the Slipper when I'm done here."

"Hold on there," Thaddeus held up both hands and waved them at the determined woman climbing down from the buckboard.  "You just go on with Jesse.  I'll get along just fine without you."

Jennifer stood in the dusty street and looked at the newspaper editor, "but, you said you needed help with the paper."

"Well," Thaddeus chortled.  "To be honest, Jennifer.  When I heard you discussing your problem with Bette Mae that day, you seemed so desperate that I made up needing an assistant.  You go on and don't worry 'bout me.  Not enough news in this town to need two people to write it.  Unless, Jesse gets herself in trouble again."

"Are you sure Thaddeus?" Jennifer was relieved but, if he wanted, she would hold up her end of their agreement.

"Yes, I'm sure.  Go on, now," he told Jennifer.

Jennifer started to climb back into the wagon and wordlessly accepted Jesse's offer of help.  Once she was resettled next to Jesse, she told the newspaper editor, "thank you, Thaddeus.  You keep whatever wages I have coming.  I don't really feel like I earned them."

"Doesn't seem fair but if it will make you feel better."

"It will."

"Alright.  Good to see you, Jesse," he nodded to the woman quietly listening to the exchange.

"You, too, Thaddeus," Jesse said as the newspaperman went back into his office.

Jesse sat and considered what she had just heard.  "Jennifer," she twisted on the bench seat to face the schoolteacher.  "Why were you desperate to find another job?  Isn't your teaching salary enough?"

Jennifer hesitated.  So, much had changed since the day she had arrived in Sweetwater.  She had barely known who Jesse was when the Slipper's owner arranged for her to have new dresses and paid for them.  She wanted to repay the woman's generosity and asked Bette Mae about the opportunities in Sweetwater.  She had even offered to cook for the Slipper but Bette Mae would have none of that.  Thaddeus overheard their discussion and offered to take her on as an assistant at the Gazette. 

But, now, Jesse was no longer a mysterious benefactor.  She was the owner of Jennifer's heart and, though, Jennifer still fully intended to pay Jesse back, she didn't know how Jesse would react to hearing her reason for accepting Thaddeus' offer.

Jesse waited patiently for Jennifer to answer.

Finally, figuring that the truth was the best course, Jennifer told Jesse, "I wanted to make enough money to pay you back for the dresses.  And, my salary, when I receive it at the end of the school year, is just enough to pay Matt back."


"He's the friend I told you about.  He paid for my ticket to Denver and gave me a little extra to cover my other needs until I received a position.  I promised to pay him back as soon as I could.  So, I had to find another way to pay you back." 

Jesse thought for a moment, then smiled at the worried face watching her.  "Well, darlin'," Jesse drawled out slowly, "I would say that you definitely found a way to pay me back.  In fact," Jesse flicked the reins to restart Boy, "I'd say that you have more than paid that debt in full."

Jennifer scooted close to Jesse and snaked her arm around the rancher's, "have I told you how much I love you?"

"Can't say I recall hearing it recently," Jesse teased.

"I love you."

"I love you, too, darlin'"

"Chairs," Jennifer slapped Jesse's arm.  "We forgot chairs."  She was not going back to the ranch without something decent to sit on.

Jesse pulled the wagon to a stop in front of the Slipper, "be right back."  She hopped from the wagon, ran up the steps to the porch, and quickly disappeared inside.  Moments later, Jesse reappeared with two chairs taken from the dining room.  She stood on the porch and held them up for Jennifer's inspection.  At Jennifer's nod, the chairs were added to the back of the wagon.

Jesse was climbing back up into the buckboard when Bette Mae came out on the porch.

"Hi, Bette Mae," Jennifer cheerfully greeted the older woman. 

"You headed home?" she asked as Jesse settled next to Jennifer.

"Yep," Jesse nodded.  She smiled when she felt Jennifer place a warm hand on her thigh.

"Good," Bette Mae said.  "No school the next two days.  Don' 'spect to see ya back around here 'fore Monday, you hear."

"Yep," Jesse smirked.  "I'll do my best to make sure that doesn't happen."

"Best make sure ya do," Bette Mae smiled back. 

Jesse slapped the reins on Boy's back.  "Come on, Boy.  Let's get home.  Dusty's probably chewed through the new corral fence by now."

"Jus' remember what I told ya," Bette Mae called after them.

"What does she mean by that?" Jennifer asked.

"I'll tell you later." 


That night when Jennifer stepped from the tub, Jesse was waiting with a brand new towel, bought that day in the general store.  Rubbing gently, Jesse dried the wetness from the schoolteacher's skin.  Jennifer body was on fire by the time Jesse had finished rubbing her dry.

"There," Jesse wrapped the slightly damp cloth around Jennifer.  "Now, go get in bed before you get chilled."

Jennifer didn't think that was likely.  Not with the inferno raging inside her from Jesse's touch.  She reached for the nightshirt she had placed near the tub before her bath, Jesse stopped her. 

Pulling Jennifer's hand to her mouth, Jesse gently kissed it.  "You won't be needing that tonight," she boldly informed her soon to be lover.

"Oh," Jennifer shyly retrieved her hand before leaving Jesse to her bath.  The bed sheets felt cool on her naked skin and she snuggled comfortably between them.  Jennifer watched Jesse undress and climb into the tub.  As she watched the rancher bathe, Jennifer worried about making love with Jesse.  She had been kissed by a few boys, mostly just pecks on the cheeks.  But, beyond that she really had no clue what two people did to make love, except for the whispered comments she had sometimes heard between the women in her mother's quilting circle.  And, many of them had not put a positive spin on the experience.

Jennifer's body came alive with new sensations as she watched Jesse rise from the tub, water cascading down her long frame.  She put aside her concerns and hoped that Jesse had some idea as to what to do because she definitely wanted a more intimate relationship with the woman walking towards her.  Oh, yeah.  A much more intimate relationship.

"Hi, beautiful," Jesse slipped between the sheets and pulled Jennifer close.  With a confidence she really didn't possess she began to put Bette Mae's words, 'show her how much you love her' into action. 

Jesse leaned down, tenderly pressing her lips against Jennifer's.  After a few moments of enjoying the soft lips, she began to place tender kisses around the schoolteacher's face and down her neck.  Discovering a sensitive spot at the base of her neck when Jennifer moaned in pleasure, Jesse gave it special attention.  She felt Jennifer's arms tighten around her and warm hands began to explore Jesse's back.  A fire began to burn in her belly and spread throughout her body.  The feeling was wonderful and spurred Jesse on, she threw off the coverings so that she could see the body beneath her.

"I want to see you," she whispered when Jennifer shyly tried to pull the blankets back over their nakedness.  Reaching a long arm down and placing a hand on Jennifer's leg, Jesse slowly caressed her way up to the hip and stomach.  "So soft," she sighed.  Hesitating for only a moment, Jesse's hand moved up and cupped a waiting breast.  Jennifer arched into the touch.

After that, Jesse had to agree with Bette Mae, she did indeed have no trouble in figuring out what to do next.


The moon's soft light shone through the window and fell on two entwined bodies.  Jennifer lay on her back, her hands running through the auburn hair spread across her chest.  Jesse's head rested between Jennifer's breasts, her arms wrapped protectively around the schoolteacher's waist.  Their legs were tangled together. 

Jennifer marveled at what had just occurred between them, their love-making had been tender, intense, mind-blowing.  She lay under Jesse wondering how long it was proper to wait until they could repeat their actions.  As she ran her fingers through Jesse's silky hair, she heard a quiet sob come from her new lover.

"Jesse," Jennifer asked concerned that even though she had found their love-making more than satisfying, it had somehow disappointed Jesse.  When she received no response, she tried again, "Jesse, please tell what's wrong."

A deeply inhaled breath, followed by more sobs her only answer.  Close to panicking, Jennifer reached for Jesse's face.  "Please, baby.  If I disappointed you, I'm sorry.  It was my first time, I'll do better..."

Realizing that Jennifer had misinterpreted her emotions, Jesse sat up.  Leaning against the headboard, she pulled Jennifer into her arms.  "Shh," she stilled Jennifer's words.  "I wasn't disappointed, love.  That was the most beautiful..."  Her words caught in her throat.  "It's just...," she couldn't continue.

Jennifer scooted around so that she could hold Jesse.  Silently, she rocked the sobbing woman, giving her the time to regain her composure.  When the sobs began to ease, Jennifer tried again, "tell me what's wrong, sweetheart."

Slowly, and between the occasional sob, Jesse began to speak.  "I never thought I would ever have this in my life," she explained.

Not wanting to do anything to cause Jesse to stop, Jennifer remained quiet while continuing to gently rock the distraught woman.

"I grew up so lonely.  Never had many friends, even when I started school.  I was too isolated on the ranch.  As I got older, I wasn't the kind of girl the boys wanted to ask to a social.  Once or twice, my pop took me so I could find a beau but the boys would never asked me to dance.  Guess I just came to believe that love wasn't meant for me.  I thought I'd learn to accept it but then I met you." 

A deep sigh stopped Jesse's words.  When she began to speak again, her voice was so full of emotion that she could barely get the words out.  "You....   you make me feel so much.  When I see you, I smile.  When I'm near you, I want to touch you.  And, tonight,...  tonight, you made me feel more loved than I've ever felt in my life."

Lifting her head from Jennifer's shoulder, Jesse looked into the sapphire eyes of the woman that had come to mean so much to her.  "I love you so much, Jennifer Kensington."

Tears streaming down from her own eyes, Jennifer choked out, "I love you too, Jesse..."  She paused, "um, Jesse, ummm." 

Thinking for a minute, Jennifer discovered that there was one thing, one very major thing, she didn't know about Jesse.  "Jesse, just what is your last name anyway?"

"Uh?" Jesse was surprised by the question.

"I just realized that I've broken you out of jail, helped your track rustlers, ridden a horse like a maniac to get you help, watched you get shot, fallen in love with you."  Jennifer pause to inhale a deep breath of much needed oxygen after her tirade.  "And, I don't even know your full name." 

Jesse's mood lightened at Jennifer's admonishment and she grinned.  "Sure you do.  I'm sure I told you."

Jennifer poked a finger into Jesse's chest above one very, lovely bare breast, "you have never, ever told me your full name.  Now, give."

Laughing, Jesse gave.  "Jesse Marie Branson," she proudly declared.

Cocking her head, Jennifer considered what Jesse just told her.  She nodded once, then again.  "Jesse Marie Branson.  I like it."

"Me, too," Jesse said as she snuggled back down on the bed, pulling Jennifer with her.  "And, now Jesse Marie Branson would like to show Jennifer," she paused.  "Any middle name?"


Jesse wrinkled her nose at the name.

"Don't blame me, it's a family thing," Jennifer explained.

"Ok.  Jesse Marie Branson would like to show Jennifer Stancey Kensington just how much she loves her."

"Well," Jennifer stretched her body out atop Jesse's and leaned down until she was nose to nose with her lover.  "Jennifer Stancey Kensington can think of nothing better than to have Jesse Marie Branson do just that."

Their lips met. 

The moon was on its way out of the sky when their cries of passion finally ceased. 



It was Sunday morning.  Saturday having been spent in bed getting better acquainted with each other's bodies.  Jennifer had been pleased to discover that propriety did not dictate a set length of time between acts of lovemaking.  At least, Jesse had assured her that they could do so as often as they wanted.

Jesse sat on the cabin's porch, her back resting against the logs that made up the cabin's front wall.  Jennifer sat between her legs and was wrapped in her arms.  Cups of freshly made coffee sat on the porch surface within easy reach, steam rising in the cool morning air.  Songs of morning birds began to fill the stillness as the sun peeked over the mountains to the east.

"We need more chairs," Jennifer said as she lifted a cup of the hot liquid to her lips.

"Well," Jesse watched a squirrel race across the yard and scamper up a pine tree.  "I was thinking that a swing might be nice."

Jennifer tilted back her head and scrutinized the porch roof above them.  "You sure that can hold a swing?" she pointed to the roof in question.

Jesse bent her head back and took a long look at the overhang.  Spotting numerous places where she could see the sky above, she said, "I see your point."  Looking back down at the woman in her arms, "chairs are good.  I'll pick up a couple more from the Slipper's next time we take the wagon to town."

"Until then," Jennifer snuggled back against Jesse.  "This is pretty nice."

"Yep, it sure is."  Jesse took a swallow of coffee.  "So, darlin'," Jesse was becoming quite fond of the endearment.  Especially, since she knew Jennifer was extremely fond of it.  "What would you like to do today?"

"Um," Jennifer thought as she took another sip from her cup.  "How about you show me the ranch?"

"Really," Jesse smiled.  She loved the ranch but had doubted the schoolteacher would share her enthusiasm.

"Yes, I would really like to see what you have here, Jesse.  I'd like to be a part of it."

"You already are a part of it, darlin'.  You already are."

Jennifer thought her heart would burst at Jesse's words.  How could she love this woman any more? 

Pushing herself up from the wooden planks that made up the porch floor, Jennifer told Jesse, "what say, you go do your chores while I make breakfast.  Afterward, you can give me the grand tour."

Allowing Jennifer to pull her to her feet, Jesse smiled, "okay."  She drank the last of her coffee before placing the empty cup in Jennifer's outstretched hand.  "I'll let Dusty know we'll be taking our lady for a ride later."

Jennifer shook her head at her lover, "go on, you nut.  I'll have breakfast ready when you're done."

As Jesse walked to the barn, Jennifer thought how nice it would be to eat on the small table under the window and look out across their yard at the neighboring forest and distant mountains.  Then remembering the condition of that particular piece of furniture, she called out, "a table, Jesse.  We need a table."

"Add it to the list," Jesse called back.  With the speed Jennifer was coming up with things the cabin needed, Jesse knew it wouldn't be long before she would be hooking Boy to the buckboard for another trip to town.


After breakfast, Jesse helped Jennifer wash the dishes before she led the schoolteacher outside.  She took Jennifer into each building and explained their purpose and use.  She demonstrated every piece of equipment and even let Jennifer try her hand at some of them.  She showed her the barn, corrals, tack room, chicken-less chicken coop - add chickens to the list - and told her of her plans for the ranch's future.  Having grown up in a more civilized environment, it was all new to Jennifer and she wanted to know everything.  She asked question after question, and Jesse patiently provided the answers.

Early afternoon found the women standing, hand in hand, at the rear of the cabin inspecting the long, neglected garden.

"It needs some work but we could grow our own vegetables," Jesse was telling Jennifer.  "Be real nice to have some flowers, too."

"We had a small garden back home," Jennifer stopped herself.  What was she saying, she was home.  "Well, back east," she revised.  She didn't want Jesse to think she considered the ranch less than what she had left behind.

"It's okay, darlin'," Jesse squeezed Jennifer's hand.  "I sometimes think that about my folk's ranch."

"It's so hard to know what to call...back east," Jennifer sat on the edge of the cabin's wrap-a-round porch.  "In only a few days," she swept her arms out encompassing their surroundings, "this has become more a home to me than back there ever was.  But, still.  It was my home... before."

Jesse joined Jennifer, "I know.  It's really okay if you say it."  After a few heartbeats, "do you miss them?"

Knowing who Jesse meant, Jennifer thought a few moments before answering. 

"It's funny, but since I arrived in Sweetwater, I really haven't given them much thought.  I guess I just wasn't that much a part of the family.  My brothers were older and they spent their days, for as long as I can remember, with Father at the business."

"Mother," Jennifer saddened as she thought of the woman who had, at one time, meant so much to her.  "When I was young, Mother used to spend all day with me.  She'd tell me stories and show me how to do things.  We'd take long walks to the parks around town.  But, as I got older and started to question some of Father's rules, we seemed to grow apart."

Jesse wrapped an arm around Jennifer's waist and the schoolteacher leaned into her.

"It was almost like she didn't know what to do with a daughter that asked 'why' so often.  She never questioned Father and couldn't understand when I insisted on doing it."

"Did you ever ask her?"

"Several times, but she would only smile and tell me that some day I would have a husband of my own and would understand.  Eventually, I just stopped asking."

"Do you think they miss you?"

"My brothers, no.  I was just a nuisance to them.  Mother, maybe.  Father...I don't know if he would miss me or miss the opportunity I represented to him."

"Do you want to send word to them?"

"No," Jennifer's response was quick and sharp.  "They have their life.  Now, I have mine.  And, I have no intention of letting them try to ruin it."  She took Jesse's hand into her own and clutched it tight.

"What about you?" Jennifer asked.  "Do you ever miss your folks?"

"Yeah," Jesse sighed.  "But, I think I loved them a lot more than they ever loved me.  I was a disappointment from the moment I was born.  They'd always wanted a son, Pop especially.  Even had the name picked out."

"Not...," Jennifer gasped.

"Yep," Jesse nodded.  "Never even thought of a girl's name, they were so sure I'd be a boy.  Guess it's lucky for me they had decided not to use my pop's name, Stanley," she chuckled sadly.  "Anyway, once they figured out they got a girl on their first try, they spent the next year trying again.  My brother only lived three days but my folks grieved for the next twenty.  The older Pop got, the more he seemed to hold it against me.

"I wrote them once I decided to stay in Sweetwater and got settled.  Thought they might want to come visit.  Never got an answer though.  Figured that kind of said it all."

"I'm sorry, sweetheart," Jennifer wiped her wet cheeks with the back of her hand.

"Thanks," Jesse tightened her hold on the woman she loved and placed a kiss on her forehead.  "But, I've got you now, and that's all I need."

The women sat in silence as they considered the life fate had dealt them.

"How about some lunch," Jesse brightened.  "And, then we can take Dusty out and introduce you to the girls."

"The girls?"

"Yep, fifteen of the sweetest heifers you'll ever meet."

"You goof," Jennifer swatted Jesse.


Dusty was standing on a small rise in a sea of gently rolling hills less than a mile from the ranch house.  Sitting atop the golden mare, Jesse and Jennifer surveyed the small herd in the field before them, the young cows were munching happily on the thick grass.

"Soon as we get a breeding bull, we'll be able to start a real herd," Jesse informed Jennifer. 

"How soon?"

"Hopefully, by the end of the year."

Jennifer turned her head and studied the land around them.  "How much do you own, Jesse?"

"Just under 100 acres.  McPherson's been talking about selling, now that his sons took off for the gold fields.  Told him to let me know if he decides.  His land would double what we have."

She used 'we' again, Jennifer told herself. 

"See that stand of trees over there," Jesse was pointing to the west.  "There's a small creek running behind them.  That marks the west boundary.  The dry canyons mark the south, the west boundary is about half mile into the pine forest.  And, the gate marks the north."

Jennifer knew that Jesse was referring to the archway they passed under every day as they traveled the road to and from town.  Two large logs stood on either side of the road with a third log arching from the top of one upright log to the other.  Jesse had smoothed one side of the top log and had carved J's Dream into it's flattened face.  It was the name Jesse had bestowed on the ranch after she'd purchased it and the inspiration for the ranch's brand.  Looking at the cows in Jesse's herd, Jennifer could make out the connected JD, the top of the J curving out and down to reconnect near the bottom of the J to form the D.

Jesse twisted in the saddle, "so, what do you think, darlin'?  Is it big enough for us?"

"Or, I think we'll manage," Jennifer laughed as Jesse headed Dusty back to the ranch buildings.

"I reckon we will," Jesse chuckled before calling out a warning.  "Hold on," .

Before Jennifer could question why, Jesse released Dusty from her lazy trot and the mare took off for home at a breakneck gallop.

"Not again," Jennifer moaned as she grabbed onto the saddle horn, thankful for Jesse's strong arms around her.


"Well, what do you think?" Jennifer leaned against the hoe she had been using most of the afternoon. 

After their ride to see the cattle, she and Jesse had tackled the job of putting the long neglected garden into planting condition.  It was still early summer and they decided to try to get a few vegetables and flowers planted.

"I didn't think this many weeds could grow in such a small space," Jesse said as she pulled another fistful of the unwanted plants from the ground.

"If the flowers grow as well as the weeds, we should have quite the garden," Jennifer lifted her stetson and wiped her brow before attacking another overgrown row.

Jesse rose from where she had been kneeling and stretched her long legs, "didn't know gardening was this much work."  She walked to a bucket set in the porch's shade and pulled a full dipper of water from it.  Carefully, so as not to spill the precious contents, she carried the dipper to the schoolteacher, "here, darlin'."

"Thank you," Jennifer took the dipper and tilted it up so she could drink.  When she finished, she handed it back to the rancher, "I'm not sure I'll ever get used to this heat."

Jesse walked back to the porch and refilled the dipper so she could enjoy the cool water.  "Sure you will," Jesse replaced the dipper.  "Come winter, you'll be wishing to have some of it back."

Jennifer had returned to her hoeing, "how cold does it get here, Jesse?"

"Cold enough.  And, if the wind is blowing, it'll freeze your words before you can get them out," Jesse pulled another fistful of weeds from the dry earth.  "But, it's not as bad in the valley as it gets on the east side of the mountains.  Wind blows over there all the time and the snow can build into pretty high drifts."  More weeds were thrown from the garden rows, "had a pretty mild winter in the valley last year.  Not too much snow and I hardly ever had to wear my heavy coat.  Which reminds me, you'll be needing some winter clothes."

"Oh," Jennifer was hesitate.  It was still several weeks until she received her salary from the citizens of Sweetwater.  "Um, Jesse," she paused.  "I, ah, I don't think I'll be able to afford any new clothes this year."

Looking up at the schoolteacher, Jesse was puzzled, "what do you mean, can't afford any?"

"Well," Jennifer stopped her work, embarrassed to have to again tell Jesse of her poor financial condition.  She studied the ground at her feet for a few moments before the words starting rushing out. 

"You know I don't get my salary until the end of the school term.  And, all of that I have to use to pay Matt back."

"Whoa," Jesse threw aside the weeds she had just yanked from the ground.  Brushing her hands free of the dirt clinging to them, she stood and walked to Jennifer's side.  Cupping a finger under Jennifer's chin, Jesse gently lifted it up until she could look into Jennifer's eyes.  "Don't you know that I'll buy you anything you need."

"I can't let you do that," Jennifer began to protest.

"You're not letting me, darlin'.  I want to."  Jesse leaned forward and placed a kiss on her cheek.  "Besides," she smiled at the woman she loved, "the Slipper makes enough for both of us."

"But, Jesse."

"Nope," Jesse laid two fingers on Jennifer's lips stifling her objection.  "No, buts.  Whatever I have, is yours," the rancher stated before resuming her weed pulling chore.  "Now, just how much money do you owe this Matt fellow?"

Jennifer stood in a daze, she couldn't believe what Jesse had just told her.  The rancher was willing to share all she had with the schoolteacher.  Jennifer's heart melted, again.


"Ow," Jennifer was brought out of her musings by a dirt clod striking her arm.

"Asked you how much you owed your friend."

"You didn't have to throw that at me," Jennifer whined as she rubbed her arm.

"Did, too," Jesse snickered at the frown on Jennifer's face.  "So, how much?"

"Jesse, I'll pay him back as soon as I receive my salary."

Figuring that she wasn't going to get an answer out of the stubborn woman glaring at her, Jesse tried a new tack.

"You know," Jesse pulled out another clump of weeds.  "Seems to me that Mayor Perkins can let loose of that money before the school year is over."

"But, that was the agreement.  Room and board would be provided and I wouldn't be paid until I finished the year."

"That's my point.  Sweetwater is no longer having to pay for your room and board," Jesse smirked at the blushing schoolteacher.  "So, there ought to be enough funds for you to get paid now."

"I don't know, Jesse.  That's not what I agreed to."

"I'll have a talk with the mayor.  I think he'll be more than happy to pay your salary early.  Then, you can pay your friend.  And, as for your clothes, you don't need to fret none about that.  I can't have my sweetie walking around without decent clothes, now can I?  Nope, Bette Mae would tan my hide if I didn't take proper care of you."

Jennifer laughed picturing the rancher spread across the older woman's knee, "I just bet she could do it, too."

"Oh, she most definitely could."

Jesse rose once again from the ground, "that's enough weeds for today.  What say we call it a day?  I'll check on Dusty and Boy while you fix dinner.  Then, we can have an early bath," Jesse grinned at her lover.

"Oh," Jennifer dropped the hoe.  "What say we skip dinner and go straight to the bath?"

"I'd say you were a baaaad woman," Jesse grabbed Jennifer around the waist and swung her around in a circle.  "But, you're my bad woman," she pressed their lips together.


continued in Part II

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