Title: Forever Love

Author: Sierra Crane

Rating: PG-13 for some violence

Summary: A sequel to 'With Love.'

A/N: Be forewarned! Very, very sad in the beginning...but things will look up!!! Reviews are always appreciated.

***

Wyoming--July 1876

Jessica Coleman Kent hung the laundry on the line and breathed in the fresh scent of the country air as her three young children played behind here. There was the oldest, 9-year-old Liam Kenneth; and then the only girl, five- year-old Miranda Rachel; the newest addition to the Kent family was two- year-old Samuel Timmy.

Jessica glanced up to the fields where her husband of eleven years, Dan, was working vigorously; his shirt was unbuttoned and revealed a sleek, tanned chest. He looked down at Jessica and waved, giving her a little salute that brought a smile to her face.

The sounds of hoof beats brought Jessica's attention to three oncoming riders, all of whom she knew very well.

Jack Randall had greeted her and Dan immediately when they first arrived in Wyoming, and had helped Dan repeatedly with their farm. Isaiah Fuller was a friend of Dan's from when they served in the Civil War together; and 19- year-old Charlie was an orphan with no last name that Jessica befriended.

"Hello, boys," Jessica said, "what can I do for you?"

"Nothin' much, ma'am," Jack answered, "we're just here to lend Dan a hand."

"Ya' don't have to do that," Dan said as he slowly walked toward them, taking off his dirty gloves.

Jessica rolled her eyes and went over to look at her husband's bloody, blistered hands; she smiled and said: "It looks to me like you could use some help."

"We'd be happy to," Charlie said, picking up little Samuel and bouncing the boy on his hip.

"All right," Dan said reluctantly. "Ya' ride pretty good, Charlie, don't ya'?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good." Dan nodded. "I have a new stallion that is a wild thing, can't get 'im near a saddle. Care to give it a try?"

"With pleasure!"

As Charlie ran off, Jessica took Samuel and offered the men some coffee, they all gratefully accepted and followed her inside.

"Havin' fun in the dirt?" Dan asked his children, amused.

Liam smiled from where he sat against the log cabin, but he shook his head and said: "Ma told me to keep an' eye on 'em."

"Do a good job."

"I will."

Dan coughed roughly when he tried to laugh, but shrugged it off and stepped inside the cozy cabin where Jessica was already pouring cups of steaming coffee. "Dan?" she said.

"Yes, please."

She handed him a cup and he sat by the fireplace, launching into a conversation with Isaiah about the crops and how he expected them to fair this year. Jessica smiled and sipped at her own drink, staring at Jack over the rim of her cup with an amused glimmer in her eyes.

"Before we came here," she said, "Dan didn't know the first thing about farming. You remember, Jack."

"Yep," Jack said, "he learned fast."

"Course I did!" Dan said with a playful smile.

Again Dan broke into a coughing fit, this time doubling over and holding his chest and wincing involuntarily. "Dan . . . ?" Jessica said cautiously.

"I-I'm all right," Dan gasped, straightening slowly. "Think I'll get some more coffee." He rose, and all in one instant everything changed----

----the cup shattered as it fell to the floor, released from Dan's steady grip, he caught Jessica's eyes momentarily before his legs buckled and gave way, he fell . . .

***

"What is it?" Jessica demanded.

The doctor, Michael Rawlings, stepped out of the dark room Dan was sleeping in and avoided Jessica's gaze, his own eyes dark with sympathy and concern. "Doctor, tell me now!" Jessica ordered him.

"Pneumonia, ma'am," Dr. Rawlings answered, "must've developed from that nasty cold he had. Dang man shoulda' told me before an' maybe I could've helped 'im!"

"Lord Almighty," Jessica whispered, "you mean, you can't help him now?"

Dr. Rawlings faced her, the look in his eyes telling her all she needed to know before he spoke: "Gather the children," he said, "and compose yourself. You won't have a husband much longer."

A chill swept through the room at Rawlings' words, and Jessica shivered, wrapping her shawl around her shoulders tightly. Isaiah, Jack, and Charlie watched her carefully, as if expecting some sort of breakdown all of the sudden, but the young soon-to-be widow remained calm.

"Charlie," she said in a voice that wavered ever so slightly. "Please find my children and bring them to me, they need to say good-bye to their father. I'll be with Dan."

Jessica lost all sense of her surroundings when she stepped into the bedroom and sat beside Dan, taking one hand in hers and holding it to her cheek. "Dan," she whispered, "wake up, darling."

"Jessica . . . ?" Dan coughed and his eyelids fluttered open.

"The children will be in soon."

"It's that bad, huh?"

"I'm afraid so." Jessica leaned over and pressed her lips to Dan's feverish forehead. "Just try to relax for now."

Dan swallowed hard and gazed lovingly at his wife, he had cherished her and protected her for eleven short years---how could they say good-bye?

Then Liam appeared, followed by Miranda and Samuel, and their parents were forced to pretend nothing was wrong as Dan kissed the two youngest and embraced his eldest son fondly.

"What's wrong?" Liam asked quietly as the younger children left, "don't lie, I know there's somethin'."

"Your pa's sick," Jessica answered, "very sick. And---"

"He wasn't sick yesterday," Liam pointed out, confused.

"Yes, I was," Dan corrected, "we just didn't know it." He looked at Jessica quickly, then met his son's eyes. "There's nothin' Doc Rawlings can do for me, it won't be long before you're the man of the house. I'm countin' on you, Liam, to take care of your ma and little brother an' sister."

"I will," Liam whispered, it suddenly dawning on him what his father meant.

"I'm sorry, son," Dan whispered, "I wish I could be here for y'all."

Jessica's mind wandered during the heartbreaking conversation between father and son, after overcoming all of the odds to be together, Dan was being taken away by a cruel disease that was slowly killing him. She would always remember the better times . . .

ELEVEN YEARS EARLIER

. . . Dan jumped off the wagon seat and spread his arms, looking up at the sun with a broad grin on his face; Jessica hurried after him, scolding him: "Now, now, don't overdo it, Daniel Kent! You're still weak."

Dan rolled his eyes but laughed lightly, he scooped Jessica into his arms and kissed her, they were finally together and finally living their dream. No more war. No more family members trying to tear them apart. Only love . . .

"I'd say here's as good a place as any," Dan said, planting his feet on the soil of the land. "What'd ya' think, love?"

"For what?"

"For settlin' down an' raisin' a family!"

"Here?" Jessica squinted and looked around the vast prairie. "Where are we anyway?"

"Wyoming," Dan answered, "ain't it beautiful?"

"And you want to build our home here?" Jessica said.

"Why not?"

"Hey, y'all!"

They looked as one to the lone figure riding up on a large stallion, the man introduced himself quickly: "Jack Randall. Y'all new here, ain't ya'?"

"Yes, sir," Dan answered, holding out his hand. "Name's Dan Kent, my wife here is Jessica."

"Pleased to meet ya'," Jack said, "ya' thinkin' 'bout settlin' down here?"

Dan grinned. "Yes we are," he answered, "we've come from Virginia, got sick of it after all this war. You been livin' here long, Mr. Randall?"

"Better half o' ten years," Jack answered, "an' it's 'Jack'. Folks 'round here are mighty friendly, Dan, they'd be happy to help ya' get settled in."

"I'd appreciate that," Dan admitted, "I don't know the first thing 'bout farmin'."

"I can see that just by lookin' at ya'." Jack hopped off his stallion. "Lemme give ya' some pointers . . . "

A few weeks later, Isaiah Fuller arrived and lived with the Kents long enough to get them started. By the winter of 1865, Jessica and Dan were expecting their first child, and were living in a warm cabin built with the help of many newfound friends.

Of course, not everything that happened to them had been good, Jessica's first pregnancy ended with a miscarriage, and a prairie fire nearly destroyed everything they owned, but eventually things turned around completely.

Around the time Jessica became pregnant with Liam, she met young Charlie, who at the time was only nine or ten. Jessica was out hunting, which was rare for her but sometimes necessary, when she stumbled upon the child.

"Why, hello!" Jessica gasped, startled, "are you all right, young man?"

"Yes'm," he whispered.

"I'm Mrs. Kent," Jessica said, still liking to call herself by her married name. "What's your name?"

"Charlie."

"Are you hungry, Charlie?"

"Yes'm."

"Would you like me to fix you some rabbit stew?" Jessica smiled, holding up three rabbits she had killed. "I have plenty."

Charlie's face lit up, and from then on he and Jessica were close friends. Six months later, Liam was born, and he was followed by Miranda, and then finally Samuel, although the latter caused many difficulties in his birth.

It was January 13th, 1874 when Jessica gave birth in their cabin; they were snowed in, with no one to help with the delivery. Jessica nearly bled to death, and it was a plain miracle that Samuel survived at all.

But their family grew, their farm prospered, and their love blossomed from then on. Until . . .

PRESENT

. . . Jessica snapped back to reality at the sound of harsh breaths coming from Dan as he struggled to live, she leaned over him and felt the heat radiating from his body. Dr. Rawlings was already there, pressing a cool compress to his sweaty forehead.

"Not long now," he muttered.

"Dan, please," Jessica whispered.

Dan faced Jessica and gripped her hand. "It's all right," he assured her in a voice barely above a whisper, "you'll . . . do fine."

"I love you."

"I love . . . you too."

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

"Rock of ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in Thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From Thy wounded side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Save from wrath and make me pure."

As the hymn continued, Jessica sprinkled dirt on Dan's coffin and then walked quickly away, afraid of breaking down into tears in front of her children. She knew what she would do next, she had already sent a letter to Brianna.

It was time to go home . . .

TBC

A/N: Does it sound interesting? Let me know!