"Gavin! Where've you been?" Jack was waiting when they rode into camp. The large hood of Sadie's cloak covered her face and Jack seemed to overlook her presence. "Leroy's been asking about you and I've had no answer for him. He's not very pleased with either of us."
"He'll come off it soon enough." Gavin dismounted and then turned to help Sadie down. "Would you ask Bill to prepare some breakfast for us. We've been riding for a while, and it hasn't been easy for her…"
"For her?" Jack glared at the cloaked figure. "Gavin what did you do?"
"Look Jack, you're welcome to be angry and to lecture me or what not, but she deserved to know." Gavin took Sadie's arm firmly and steered her away from Jack. Sadie lifted her chin so that the slight moonlight fell on her face. Jack glared harder.
"Don't you think she's caused enough trouble?" Jack called after them as Gavin led her towards Leroy's tent. He held up the heavy door flap and she ducked to enter. Her father was lying on a mattress in the corner of the tent. An untouched tray of food sat on a short table beside him.
"Come on." Gavin tugged slightly on her arm and she reluctantly followed him to the bedside. "Hey Leroy, how're you feelin'?" Gavin knelt beside the mattress and folded the blankets down revealing Leroy's wounded gut. The wound was roughly bandaged with rags but they were stained with red and it was obvious that the bleeding had not stopped.
"Gavin? Where've you been son?" Leroy struggled to speak, and his eyes remained closed.
"I picked something up for you sir. I though it might cheer you a little…" Gavin stood and shoved Sadie forward and small whimper escaped from her throat.
Leroy slowly forced his eyes opened and squinted at her curiously. "I don't understand…"
Sadie took a deep breath and pushed her hood off so he could see her face. "It's me…sir…"
"Sadie?" He gasped.
"I'll go check on our breakfast." Gavin mumbled and quickly left the room, giving the father and daughter privacy to talk.
"Gavin came to me tonight and told me what happened." Sadie explained lamely.
"He shouldn't have done that. He shouldn't have disturbed you."
"I wanted to come."
Leroy's gray eyes seemed to brighten slightly. "You did?"
Sadie nodded. "I'm not sure what to…I mean, I don't know how I'm feeling right now…it was a terrible thing…" She shook her head. "I never imagined Daniel capable of this."
"He just wanted to protect you." Leroy gasped and his body trembled as he shifted his position. "It's a matter of honor. I'd have done the same if anyone had ever touched your mother, or you…" He added quietly.
Sadie blinked. "But you're…"
"I know. I'm a bank robber, a thief, an outlaw. How could someone like me care about something like honor? Right?"
Sadie nodded slowly.
"I wasn't always living this life Sadie." Leroy took a deep, shaky breath. "I lived a normal life once…when I was married and when you were born."
Sadie carefully sat on the edge of the mattress. "What changed you?"
"I lost the greatest thing in my life. Your mother." A small smile flattered his face as he remembered her. "She was an amazing woman. Beautiful in every aspect. She was so elegant, and kind, and generous…so much of what I lacked. I was an ill-mannered, troublesome young man who couldn't wait to start my own life. I never would have imagined I would have a chance with her. But she saw something in me that she liked and she gave me a chance, as long as I promised to try and behave." He chuckled softly. "And I did try. I tried so hard I even let her father get me a job at a well-respected trading company. But what I didn't know was that she had been promised to another when she had met me, and he had never gotten over the rejection." Leroy's voice caught. "Almost two years after we were married we had you, our treasure and our greatest joy. But once again he was jealous and angry. One day when your mother was home with you alone he came to visit. I came home to find you both missing and an obvious sign of struggle. I knew at once who to go to and found him at home keeping your mother tied up while trying to convince you, my baby girl, that he was your father. When I came in you fled from him and came straight to me. He was so angry that he tried to pull you from my arms. I knocked him down and took my wife and my daughter back home. Your mother cursed him as we left. I'd never heard her so angry in all the time that I'd known her. You were only three years old at that time. That night he broke into our house and stabbed her while she slept at my side. I woke and attacked him, breaking his neck in the struggle…"
Sadie had been silently crying since sometime at halfway through her father's story. She was overwhelmed with the emotion and sincerity in her father's voice. She had never heard her father's past before and she had never known how her mother had died. It changed her view of him in a serious way. He suddenly seemed to be more then just a man or an outlaw, he was her father, and he had a whole history with her that she remembered nothing about.
"Sadie, I can't pretend to regret my actions that night and you have to accept that. But at the same time I wish I could take a lot of my life back. A different reaction might have given me, us rather, a better chance at a good life, together." His eyes were tearing. "I regret more then anything not being able to have the love of my daughter…"
Sadie sniffed and tried to clear her voice enough to speak. "It's not to late to earn it back…"
Leroy's eyes shone briefly before a heavy mask of doubt fell over his face. "Maybe if we were a few weeks earlier…before my men took you from your fiancé, but not now…"
"If they hadn't taken me I would never have seen you…" She stood suddenly. "You need medical attention."
"It's too late my little flower…" Leroy coughed harshly and gasped for breath.
Sadie's eyes grew teary when he used the familiar nickname that had been established when she was less then a year old. "No, it's not too late yet." She left his tent in a rush and collided with Gavin who was waiting for her just outside.
"Miss Marrow, are you alright?" Gavin caught her before she lost her balance.
Sadie nodded. "I need a fresh horse, right away."
Gavin hesitated. "Is there something I can help you with?"
Sadie shook her head. "No, I just need a good, fast horse. There is something I need to do, alone."
Gavin sensed her desperation and nodded slowly. "Alright, wait here." He returned a few minutes later leading an enormous appaloosa, already saddled and bridled. "River is our fastest stallion. But he's quite intense. Are you sure you can handle him?"
Sadie nodded. "It will not be my first time on a strong horse." She grasped the saddle and pulled herself up, hoisting up her long skirts so she could easily sit astride. "I'll be back as soon as I can." Gavin only had time to nod before Sadie was riding away from the camp.