A Time for Love
By Jeanette
Chapter 13

"Well how did it go last night?" asked Lou as Victoria  tightened the saddle on Lollipop. "Saw you didn't come home until what; two this morning?" 

"We didn't mean to wake you."

"Who said I was asleep? Well don't keep me in suspense any longer. It's killing me." Victoria gave no answer.

"So?" persisted Lou.

"Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing." she replied in utter frustration.

"But I thought..."

"Damn Louise, the man drives me crazy. He stirs up all these feelings inside me, I feel like I'm going to explode," she let out a deep sigh, "then he doesn't do
anything about it."

"Maybe you should tell him the way you feel."

"I can't do that just yet. I know you're going to think me crazy but I still have to consider how this would affect Cody. I can't just throw this in his face when he gets back. I have to give him time to get over us. If he sees me with Jimmy so suddenly, who knows what a mess that would make things. It would make
things impossible."

"I understand."

"I have to go. I've an appointment to keep."

"You're ridin' alone?" Lou asked a bit concerned.

"I have to. Tell Rachel I'll be stopping in town. I'll see you later."


                                             ***************

Victoria met Taylor for his lesson as planned and was encouraged to see that the boy had completed the  assignments she gave. Taylor's enthusiasm helped her feel like she was doing something worthwhile with her life--contributing to someone less fortunate; making life a little more bearable. After all lessons were
done and homework given she bid the young boy good-bye and headed to town. 
She hadn't seen Jimmy today and wasn't sure if she wanted to. The awkwardness she felt was due to the uncertain and unresolved feelings from the night before. She wasn't sure how she'd react to his presence and was too frightened to see his towards her.

Reaching town she entered the General Store to purchase a journal and ran into Charlotte and her mother. "Ms. Sutton, how nice to see you again. Tell me, do you not attend church?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

"Mother!" cried Charlotte, obviously embarrassed.

"Charlotte you're right dear, such personal questions. I must mind my tongue for Pete's sake. She says I embarrass her too much."

"Mother." she uttered once again.

"All right dear. I must say, you looked absolutely lovely last night." complimented Mrs. Wilson regarding her beautiful gown at the dance.

"Thank you." Victoria responded a slight blush revealed.

"Not to mention that handsome Hickok fellow you were with. My...if only I were a few years younger." she said with a slight giggle.

"Mother please." begged Charlotte.

"There I go again. Well, I best go out and meet the Mayor before Charlotte here has a stroke." she said with a slight nod of her head at her daughter. "You
must promise to join us for tea one of these days and please do bring Ms. Dunne along. She was such a help last night. We've got to get better acquainted."

"I will certainly keep it in mind." Victoria said and with that Mrs. Wilson left their company.

"Excuse my mother. At times she doesn't realize the looseness of that tongue of hers."

"I'm glad for it Charlotte. At least she speaks her mind." 

"So...are you and Jimmy a couple yet?" inquired her friend.

"Pray tell, who has the loose tongue now?!" Victoria exclaimed in a lowered tone.

"It runs in the family. Well do tell. You can't keep us in suspense forever." urged Charlotte who was dying to hear of the night's results.

"And who may I ask is us?"

"The only people that know that you're interested in Jimmy." she pointed out.

"And how did you come to that conclusion?" asked Victoria with an innocent air.
"Please, it was written all over your face. You know that love-sick look in your eyes everytime you looked at him." Charlotte reminded her new friend and
Victoria had to concede that it was true.

"Then I wish it would've been more obvious to him." she said as she looked at a journal.

"No lip-lock huh?"

"Charlotte, you're terrible!" she cried softly, turning her full attention to her friend. "Are you  sure it's your mother you should be worrying about?"

"Actually no, but here comes someone you may want to worry about." nodded Charlotte towards the door.

Victoria turned to see Kate walking into the store. "Oh great." she said in a whisper.

"You better watch out. She may just have a bullet with your name on it." she whispered. Victoria rolled her eyes. "Here she comes." she alerted Victoria.

"Well what a pleasant surprise, Charlotte, Victoria--may I call you Victoria?" Kate asked in her usual smug manner.

"That is my name." she answered with a fake smile.

"We missed you at church this morning Victoria. I mean after a night of sinning I'm sure you would've wanted to cleanse yourself before the good Lord." said Kate, who wasn't one to hold back any punches and liked the confrontational tactics much better. In her eyes it was a way of getting into the mind of her rivals since such straightforwardness was never really expected. 

On the other hand, Victoria was not one to be fazed by such seemingly derogatory comments. She had grown up in an environment that bred that sort of attitude and she knew exactly how to deal with it.

"Unlike what you may think Kate; may I call you Kate?" Kate nodded snobbishly. "As I was saying, unlike what you may think, I have nothing to confess. As far as I know, anything and everything that happened last night should've happened." she said directly.

"Uhm, I think I hear my mother calling me, so...I'm going...over there." Charlotte said, excusing herself from the growing tension between the two women as they stood there sizing each other up.

"Let me make one thing very clear Victoria. You're entering extremely dangerous ground. Just because you had one night with Jimmy doesn't mean you've got any chance at him."

Victoria gave a small sly smile. "I'm sure you'd like to think so Kate so let me assure you, I've never met a man that I was interested in, that I didn't have a
chance with. Think about it and uh, enjoy the rest of your day." Victoria picked up the journal and walked off.

Kate could see that Victoria would be a dangerous rival. The one woman she finally felt could snatch Jimmy out of her hands. The others she had dealt with
were weak and easily discouraged. Not Victoria. She wasn't intimidated. Kate could forsee a fierce fight on her hands and only the stronger more determined one would be left standing. Her envy grew even more when she heard Mrs. Wilson re-entering the store and inviting Victoria for tea. Such a personal invitation had never been extended towards her but here Victoria comes walking into town and everyone is making a fool of themselves over her. Even her idiot brother. Still she wouldn't stop short of using her own flesh and blood to get what she wanted and she would see to it that Jimmy and Victoria would never become one.

                                             ***************

It was almost suppertime by the hour Victoria got back home. She took Lollipop into the stable, put him in a stall and started pouring some oats into the feeder.

"Where have you been?" said the voice from behind, demanding an answer. Her heart sank hearing Jimmy's voice. She didn't turn to face him but continued her
task. "You had us all worried." he said.

Victoria shook the last bits of oats from the bag into the feeder visibly annoyed at his lack of honesty. "Us or you?" she stated boldly.

"Us...Rachel, Teaspoon, everyone."

She turned to face him and said, "I went to town. I told Lou that." she responded harshly.

"You know you shouldn't be ridin' alone." he scolded.

"I'm a big girl Jimmy. I can take care of myself." she said with a frown.

"Not out here you can't!" he raised his voice.

"I'm not a child! I don't need anyone telling me what to do." she shot back.

"What is wrong with you?" he cried.

"As if you need to ask." she said storming out of the barn.

Jimmy threw his hands in the air perplexed at her sudden change in moods. "Women." he muttered. He couldn't understand how they were capable of such mood swings. He was determined to find out what was the cause behind Victoria's attitude and knew exactly the source to go to.

                                                 ***************

"So what happened Lou? I can't figure it." he stated, as the two friends sat outside on the steps of the bunkhouse porch. 

"No. I think you know."

"Then I'd wish you'd tell me so I'd know that I know."

"I'm sorry I can't help you Jimmy. Besides, you don't need my help. You have the answer right here." she said pointing to his heart. "Whatever your reasons
are, don't wait too long. If you have all these feelings for Victoria you gotta let her know. She could make you happier than I ever could."

Jimmy appreciated the friend he had in Lou. She was always fortright and honest even when he was a total fool. He loved her for that.

"Am I doing the right thing Lou? With Cody involved and all, I don't know." 

Lou saw the deep concern in his face. She gave him some words of reassurance. Cody was no longer a factor in the equation. He would get over it soon enough as he often did. The point now was that he loved Victoria
and that was the important thing. The rest would work itself out.

"You have to dance to the beat of the drum Jimmy or one day the music is just gonna stop. Don't let it pass you by." Jimmy took Lou's advice to heart. She
was right. Playing it out too cautiously could cost him dearly. Deep down he knew it wasn't a price he was willing to pay.

The next day he rode out to the flower field where he found Victoria sitting under the big oak tree. She had spread out a blanket and sat peacefully reading one of her favorite books. The sound of a galloping horse drew her to look up and she instantly identified the horse as Jimmy's palomino. Her heart leapt with
excitement and frustration all at the same time. She quickly sat on her knees and arranged her dress neatly around her, trying to look natural with her book in
hand.

She looked at him as he dismounted his horse, his masculine body dressed in all black. She loved when he dressed in all black; it made him look so dangerously
mysterious. He secured the horse next to hers and approached with flowers in hand. Victoria gazed at his handsome features, a smile on her face as he just
stood there holding the offering.

"Are those for me?" she asked.

"Uh, yeah, white daisies." he said embarrassed, as he handed them to her.

"My favorite. How did you know?"

He shrugged. "Just say I make it my business to find out about things I'm interested in." he replied, throwing caution to the wind.

A hot flash ran through her from his bold words. She tried to maintain her civility and said, "Thank you, they're lovely. Please, have a seat." He responded
obediently.

"Beautiful day isn't it?" he remarked.

"Yes it is; made better now by the company." she added flirtingly.

An awkward silence followed. Suddenly they both started to speak. They looked at each other and started to laugh nervously. "Let me first." she said.
"I'm sorry I blew up at you yesterday. I don't know what came over me."

"I'm sorry I made you feel you couldn't care for yourself."

"I understand."

"It's just we--I mean, I worry about you. I wouldn't want anything to happen to you." 

Every one of them was concerned about the situation with the Adams boys. There was no telling when this bad situation could take a turn for the worst.
Victoria knew and felt their worry but she wouldn't allow the Adams boys to keep her from living the life she so desperatly sought. She was flattered that Jimmy had taken such a personal interest.

"Have I been fortunate enough to secure a soft spot in the heart of the very famous James Hickok. I must say I am a very lucky lady." He managed to smile feeling it get rather hot under the shade of the massive tree.

"So what are you reading?" he asked her, nodding at the book.

"I don't think you'd find it very exciting. It's a romance novel."

"Romance?" he repeated with raised brows.

"I guess I'm just a sentimental fool. I find the concept of falling in love very exhilirating, don't you?" she asked directly, looking into his eyes.

"I'd say." he agreed.

"Just think...finding that one true love that stirs in you so much want and passion; such burning desire that you feel your very soul aching for..."

He interrupted. "I-I get the picture." 

"I'm not embarrassing you Jimmy, am I? A strong gunfighter like yourself." she teased.

"Well... I'm the kind that rather not read about it. I find it more enjoyable acting on it." 

Victoria's face felt as if it were on fire as he looked deeply into her eyes. She wasn't prepared for such a strong come on. "Wow, would you look at the
time." Jimmy smiled broadly at the fact that she didn't have a watch in her possession. "I've got to go." she said.

"So soon?" he asked, still smiling.

"Definitely." she responded nervously, picking up her things. "I-I have an appointment to keep."

"You want me to come with you?"

"Yes, I mean NO!" Her face turned bright red at the thoughts running through her head. He walked over and held the reins of her horse so she could mount up. 
"See you later?"

"Of course." she said, trying but failing miserably to regain her composure. She urged her horse to a gallop and was soon far in the distance of the warm
afternoon.

                                              ***************

Returning home later that afternoon after Taylor's lesson, she changed into the work clothes she had gotten from Lou and headed to the section in back of
the mainhouse where she had decided to start a small garden. Working laboriously to finish breaking in the ground, she could only think of Jimmy's actions at the tree. She felt so silly as she giggled and smiled uncontrollably to herself, her heart feeling a renewed sense of joy. 'What a man.' she thought. Unconciously she started to hum and sing a love ditty, her heart bubbling with the one person she had in mind. Victoria was down on her knees picking rocks out of the soil when she saw a pair of black boots before her eyes. She ceased her singing and looked up at the man who was inducing such girlish emotions from her. 

"Hi." she said shyly. "I didn't hear you walk up."

"I didn't want to disturb you. You looked like you were in deep thought."

'If you only knew.' she thought blushing.

"You have a very beautiful voice." he complimented. She blushed even more.

She stood and patted the moisture off her forehead with the back of her hand. Her face had smudges of dirt and the hair that had once been tightly held in a
bun had started drooping letting loose a few strands of hair. She looked to wipe her soiled hands but found only room on her pants. The shirt she wore was
unbuttoned close to her bosom. Jimmy's wandering eyes caught the sight right away and found pleasure in the sensual display.

"Excuse my appearance. I must be a sight." she said a bit nervously.

"A beautiful one." he replied with that smile she found so alluring. Victoria gave no response, a girlish giggle escaping her.

"I'm going to plant a garden with some vegetables over here and some flowers too over there. I love flowers. I had a garden full back home." she informed trying to say something to hide her embarrassment.

"Do you miss your home, back in Philadelphia?" he asked, hoping she didn't.

"Sometimes." she admitted as she took the hoe to pound the ground once again. "I mean, I'd much rather be here than anywhere else right now." she honestly felt. Jimmy was glad to hear it and blushed from her comment. 

"Do you need help?" 

"I'm sure you have more important..."

"No." he interrupted. "I don't." he continued as he took his vest off and began rolling up his sleeves. He took his pair of black gloves from his back pocket and
placed them on his hands. "May I?" He took the hoe from her and started pounding the chunks of dirt. A feeling of happiness overtook her, seeing him there working with her side by side. She could only imagine it being this way as they shared their lives together as husband and wife. 

An hour had passed which to Jimmy felt more like five minutes. He enjoyed the presence of her company and wished he could constantly have her at his side.
Victoria had gone to the house and returned with two glasses of lemonade. As she walked to rejoin him, he roamed the curved figure of her which had been made more outstanding by the pants and shirt she wore. She handed him the glass as he removed his gloves and sat next to him on a small pile of logs. 

"Not bad." she remarked, looking at the fruit of their labors.

"Yeah. It's amazing what you can get done with a little help." he said satisfied.

"And I am indebted to you Mr. Hickok. You came to my rescue once again." she teased. "This blasted sun though," she said covering her eyes as she looked up
at the blazing ball of fire, "makes a little garden work feel like a full day out in the field."

"Looks like we'll have a hot summer." he said, turning his gaze heavenward. "What you need is a hat. Makes a big difference." he informed, turning his attention to her.

"I don't..."

"I know, you don't like hats." he added, chiming in.

She smiled and softly asked, "How did you know that?"

"Like I said, I make it my business to find out about things I'm interested in." His warm brown eyes conveyed his message perfectly. Victoria's heart melted. "Let me see." he continued, taking his hat and placing it on her head. "Personally I think you look beautiful with this one on."

Their eyes locked unto each other's. Victoria felt her breath escaping her. Jimmy gently caressed her face, feeling her smooth velvity skin against his fingers.
Victoria trembled. Could this really be happening?--the question shot through her mind. Jimmy leaned in closer, his scent driving through her body. Their lips were set for contact. Suddenly, Jimmy let out a shriekish yell, leaping to his feet. Victoria had spilled her glass of lemonade right down the front of his shirt and pants. She couldn't help contain her laughter as he danced around trying to wipe off the sweet contraption as it ran down his leg.

"I'm so sorry." she said between hysterical laughter.

"You think this is funny huh?" he asked, a devilish smile appearing on his face. Victoria could see the 'I'm going to get you' look and darted towards the
front of the mainhouse. Jimmy ran after her getting a thrill of the cat chasing the mouse game. She was quick he had to admit, but even her nimble feet couldn't out run him. He caught up to her, grabbing her by the waist from behind and gave her three good spins as she raised her knees to contain the fluttering butterflies in her stomach. Her soulful laughter brought Teaspoon and Rachel out unto the porch.

"Did I happen to miss something Rachel?" he asked.

"You're not alone." They looked wondering at the actions of the two young people.

"I thought Cody and Victoria were you know...seeing each other?" he said still puzzled.

"So did I, but I'm gonna find out what the heck this is all about and puttin' a stop to it." she answered sternly. 

Victoria and Jimmy noticed a fast approaching Rachel who didn't look too happy. The two tried to straighten their act up, containing their playful glee though not very well as he gently tickled her sides. Victoria
giggled slapping his hands away.

"Jimmy," said a very serious Rachel when she finally got to them, "go chop some wood for the fire." she commanded.

"Rachel, I just did that yesterday." he protested.

"Go chop some more." she pointed toward the pile.

"Alright." he said throwing his head back. Jimmy knew better than to argue with Rachel when she wanted something done. "I'll see you later." he told Victoria, giving her a gentle squeeze on her hand. He left their presence, heading to the bunkhouse to change his wet clothes.

"We need to have a talk young lady." Rachel's voice was serious and it troubled Victoria since she had never spoken to her in such a tone before. They entered the house past Teaspoon who thought it best to let a woman handle the situation and didn't think to interfere.

Once inside Victoria asked worriedly, "What's wrong Rachel? What's going on?"
"I should be asking you that question." she retorted.

"What do you mean?" Victoria was still clueless as to Rachel's strange attitude.

"I mean you and Jimmy. What the heck was that all about?" she gestured towards the window signifying their little play outside.

"What was what?"

"Oh, don't you act coy with me young lady." she said, pacing the floor.

"We were just having fun. What do you want me to say? That I'm sorry?!" she cried, then honestly replied, "I'm not."

"You should be! D-Do you think that as soon as Cody leaves town, you can set your eyes on one of his friends?!" Rachel retorted at Victoria's seeming lack of concern about Cody's feelings. "This is my fault. I should've never told him to take you to that dance."

Victoria began to see why Rachel was carrying on in such a way. Her accusations made it quite clear. She became defensive. "Now you just wait a minute. Are you saying that I'm fooling around with Jimmy behind
Cody's back?!" she cried.

"Victoria, have you any idea what this could do to Cody once he gets back? Seeing the two of you like that!"

"First of all Rachel," she began visibly upset. "there is nothing; abosolutely nothing going on between Cody and me. You are the ones that conjured up this-this romance between us. I never, ever led Cody to believe anything more than what I felt for him which was pure friendship. I would've never misled him. I care about him too much. Sure, I've thought about how he might react to this situation but I'm going to deal with it in my own way. What really hurts Rachel is that you'd think I'd do anything to hurt these boys on purpose. I guess you don't know the real me after all." Victoria ended her sentence and stormed out of the house, tears welling in her eyes. She bumped into Lou as she ran into the barn. Lou could see the pain in her eyes as the tears ran down her dirty smudged face. 

"Victoria?" she called but the girl chose not to answer as her sobs became louder being heard as she climbed up to the hayloft.

Jimmy was met by Lou between the barn and the mainhouse. "What's wrong with Victoria?" she asked him. Jimmy looked at Lou not knowing what in the world she was talking about. Rachel joined the two puzzled riders. 

"She's upset with me. I said some things I shouldn't have said." she informed, remoserfully.

"What about?" asked Jimmy with a deep wrinkle in his brow.

"About the two of you and Cody." she confessed.

Jimmy was angry. "Damn it Rachel. That is my business."

"I'm sorry. Please, go to her Jimmy." 

Jimmy didn't need much encouragement. He ran towards the barn, his long brown hair flowing freely in the wind.

"Rachel, we need to talk." said Lou softly, taking the guilty feeling woman by her arm as they turned back towards the house.

Jimmy heard her sobs as he entered the barn. He looked up towards the loft but couldn't see her. "Victoria." he called.

"Leave me alone Jimmy." she answered loudly.

"I can't. Can I come up, please?"

"No. I don't want you to see me crying."

"It's okay. I just want to hold you." he pleaded.

His words tore her heart to pieces. How she wanted him to hold her; for his words to comfort her, to tell her everything would be all right. Jimmy felt a need for her. She was in pain and so was he. "I can't let you hold me Jimmy." she said sobbing. "Even though I want you to, I can't."

Jimmy clenched his eyes shut, feeling the agony through his body, not being able to hold her, to console her. He left the barn, his countenace fallen. He was met outside by Teaspoon who put his arm around him. "It'll be all right Jimmy."

"Why is it things can never be simple? It's alwayscomplicated."

"It's called life son. There are always those bumps on the road that'll knock you off your horse every time. The best of us just get up and keep ridin'. Now when
Cody gets back, you need to handle this man to man. A woman can tear two good friends apart easier than a piece of paper; I should know. Don't let it happen to you son. The sooner you handle it, the better we'll all be." 

Teaspoon knew his boys all too well. He could see that Cody wasn't the only one who had strong feelings for Victoria. Jimmy had also grown strongly attached. He knew the bitter hatred that could easily develop between friends when they fought for the love of the same woman. His experience with Cyrus had taught him such a lesson. He didn't want that to be the case
between these two.


                                            ***************


There was a deathly, eerie silence at the table that night. Teaspoon had been called into town over a brawl at the saloon involving Chet and Kyle Adams. Noah was dining at Cassie's tonight and Jimmy decided not to join them for supper. Victoria was still in the barn. Rachel couldn't eat; her fork crashing against her plate.

"It's all right Rachel." comforted Lou.

"I deserve it if y'all are mad at me. It's what I get for shootin' my mouth off without all the facts."

"You didn't know Rachel." added Kid sympathetically.

"Kid's right. You were just trying to do what you thought was best." consoled Buck.

"Thanks for tryin' to ease my guilty conscience but I didn't handle it properly. I should've asked questions, instead I basically attacked. Oh Lord, will
she ever forgive me?"

Lou had risen from the table and came back with a plate of food. "Here." she said, handing Rachel the plate. "She hasn't eaten. It's a good excuse for you
to go talk to her."

"What if she doesn't want to talk to me?" she asked worriedly.

"She can always listen." said Lou.

Rachel went ahead with Buck's, Lou's and Kid's encouragement to speak to Victoria.


                                               ***************

Victoria lay on the hay covered floor of the loft, her thoughts spanning the short length of her life. She missed her family. Her parents, her brother. How she
missed Arthur. It was at critical times like these that she wished he were there with her. He always knew the right thing to say. The right advice to give her.
Now she lay there in the dimly lit room, unsure of what steps to take next. 

She felt sick at the thought she had rejected Jimmy's consoling gestures. How she wanted him there with her now. His black hat lay on her chest. She focused on the item that made her feel his presence. Closing her eyes, she traced every bump and curve it possessed, letting herself become consumed with the words, the images and expectations of the man she so desperately loved. She opened her eyes, picking up the prized wear; softly kissing the brim of the hat, tears
pooling in her eyes.

"I love you so much James Hickok; if you only knew how much." she softly whispered.

"Victoria?" called Rachel. No answer. "I brought you some supper. Is it okay if I bring it up to you?"

"It's your barn." she responded sarcastically.

Rachel took the wry remark as an invitation. Hanging her lantern at the base of the loft, she started the climb up the ladder. She saw Victoria sitting against
the wall with Jimmy's hat in her hands.

"I was worried about you." she said taking a seat.

"There's no need Rachel. I'll be fine." she answered, not looking at the dusty blonde haired woman.

"I'm sorry. I didn't know about you and Cody." Rachel finally had the nerve to say.

"You weren't supposed to Rachel; not until the time was right but I guess there would've never been a right time. I don't want to hurt Cody anymore than I
already have, but I can't hide my feelings for Jimmy any longer. I tried, goodness you don't know how hard I've tried. I just fooled myself into thinking I could keep it up until Cody was over us, but I can't do it anymore. Jimmy has uncovered all these feelings and emotions in me; half of them I don't even know what to do with."

"You really love him don't you?"

"I've never loved any man that wasn't a part of my family. There have been many, many callers. I even came close to marrying once, but I didn't love him. I
guess I never thought I'd be one of those fortunate ones to find that special man until I came here to Rock Creek. The last thing I expected was to fall in
love for the first time."

"Jimmy is a wonderful man. You are a lucky woman to have found him and he is more than lucky to have found you. I am happy for you. I think I just got carried away with the possibility that you and Cody were meant to be together. I'm sorry about the things I said. I had no right."

"I understand why you did. These boys are like your own flesh. Believe me, I see why you care for them so much. It was only a natural reaction."

"Can you forgive me?" Rachel looked at her for a sign, any small sign of absolution.

"Of course I can." They shared a strong heartfelt hug which endeared them to each other even more.
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