The plate was set in front of Tate, as Chris stared at him from across the table. Chris' family owned some land in the area, and had invited Tate to stay with them for the time being. His sisters seemed nice enough, though Tate had met them before, back in their law breaking days. Around that time, they hadn't been too accepting of him, even though they came to befriend him.
"So, what are you going to do now?" Chris asked as his sister put a plate in front of him.
Tate shrugged, "With any luck, Natalie will turn in my guns and that'll mean that Tatius Norcliff is dead. I haven't though much past that."
"Well, you can't be calling yourself Norcliff anymore." Chris took a bite of his pickled carrots.
"Don't suppose I can. Have to come up with a new last name." Tate began to eat his food.
Chris' dark haired sister-in-law sat down at the end of the table with her own plate. Anna was a mother of three small children, but it seemed that they were always off playing in the fields. "Use Thomson, our last name." Anna said, "You and Chris can say you are brothers, and we will be your family back here to prove it."
Chris nodded, "That's a good idea, most of the townsfolk know that there are some of our family they haven't met. Wouldn't surprise them none if we added another."
Tate chuckled, "Thanks, but I wouldn't want to put your family in danger."
"Nonsense!" He took a drink of water, "Tatius Thomson, you are. Doesn't sound too nice, but it'll do. My pa left an old cabin near the creek for me, has some good farm land around it. Think you can handle being a farmer?"
"Don't know until I try." Tate took another bite of his food, and sighed.
Anna heard the sounds of her children yelling, and went outside to investigate. Chris watched her leave, then turned his attentions back to his friend. "Strange feeling, ain't it?"
"Knowing tomorrow will never be the same as it was before. I've been waiting to get the old cabin up and ready, but couldn't do it alone. My brothers and sister are willing to help, but they have their own farms to keep up." Chris sighed, "Guess I am saying that I'm glad you came."
Tate slowly nodded his head, "Thanks for giving me the chance, Chris."
"Without you, I would of died a hundred times over. I owe you at least this much." Chris watched Tate begin to push his food around, "So, what was her name?"
Tate glared up at him as if deciding if he wanted to tell him, "Don't matter now."
"She die in Redrock?"
Tate shook his head, "No, only what we had between us."
Tate grinned and leaned back in his seat, "Penny. That woman never could leave well enough alone."
"She find out about you and Penny, then?"
"No, she already knew… don't really care to speak on it, Chris." Tate shoved his mouth full of food.
Chris gently nodded his head, "Where'd she go?"
"I said, I didn't want to talk on it." Tate snapped, before sighing, "California, took my sister with her. Can't say that it won't be right for her though. They are going to start a ranch out there… she thought I would be a good rancher."
He laughed, "Tough work, but I think you could handle it." Chris leaned back some, "You should of taken some of that money from your bounty though, we sure could of used it."
"Yeah, wasn't really thinking about that though. Wanted nothing more then to put some distance between me and her." Tate sighed again.
"Never seen you like this before, Tate. She must have been something." Chris stood up from the chair, "Come on, I'll show you the land and we can decide where we will build your house this summer."
Tate gave a nod and followed his friend out the front door.
Andy sat around the campfire, staring off into the distance at the shadow form on the horizon. Nick hadn't been herself since she had come face to face with Brody, the weight of the encounter was weighing heavily on her mind. She had looked exhausted throughout the two days that it had taken them to rid this far.
He wasn't certain if he should try to talk to her, but the more her eyes fell from the path ahead, the more he realized that she was lost. With a sigh, he looked across the fire to Rock and Natalie, they were having a discussion on their own matters. Mostly arguing about how they would hold their wedding. Andy stood from the ground, causing them both to look at him. He pointed towards Nick, before heading off towards the figure in the distance.
"Hi." Was the only word that formed on his lips as he approached.
Nick looked at him, as he came to stand beside her. In her hand was a long blade of grass that she was slowly pulling apart.
"You want to t-talk about it?"
She shrugged, "I… I don't know."
"D-don't know what?"
"I just don't know." She sighed before falling to her knees on the moist grass.
Andy followed behind her, propping himself up on his hands. "Wh-what is this about th-then? Brody or Tate?"
"Everything I thought would be just keeps slipping away from me. It's like trying to hold onto a fish that is just trying to jump back into the lake." She continued to pull apart the grass. "Not long ago, I was helping my father on the ranch, and all I could see was my life there. Then, it was ripped away from me. After that, I just wanted to kill Brody for what he had done, and along came Tate and I thought he would be with me. I thought we would all start a ranch together, and that we could set everything right again."
"Brody w-wasn't the man, you th-thought he was?"
Nick shook her head, "He was, but he wasn't. I should of known that, though. Pa always told me to judge a person myself after meeting them. I had no idea that he even had a daughter… I didn't know anything at all about him. I just decided to make him into something."
Andy ran his hands on his pants to get the moisture from the grass off of them. Sitting up straight, he reached out his hand and rubbed her shoulder. "It'll w-work itself out, Nick."
She frowned, "I don't know about that. Recently, every time I plan something out, it never goes right."
"N-not everything c-can go according to pl-plan, ya know?"
"Be nice if some things did though." Nick ran her hand over her face. "Guess it's no use to live in the past. I made my choice and I have to live with it until the end."
Andy swallowed and looked out over the setting sun, "W-we are all allowed to ch-change our minds."
She nodded her head gently, before throwing the blade of grass in front of her. "Even if we do, we still made the decision, and sometimes it can't be fixed no matter if we change our mind or not."
"We t-talking 'bout Brody or Tate now?"
Nick looked at him out of the corner of her eye, "He asked me to forgive him, told me that he didn't do it. I chose not to believe him… even though he never lied to me before."
"I don't like Tate, and I'm g-glad that he didn't c-come along. But wh-what I think about him d-doesn't outweigh what I think w-would be best for you." Andy stood up, and wiped his hands on the back of his legs. "Th-there is still time to ch-change your mind, we will be seeing him t-tomorrow. Don't do anything th-that you'll regret, Nick."
She looked up at Andy as he walked back to camp, and sighed as she turned her head back to the horizon. To be honest, she didn't know what decision she would regret, she was afraid of them both. Yet, there was no more time to decide, she had to be sure one way or the other. And so, she sat there in the dark, watching the sun disappear slowly behind the horizon. Tomorrow would be the last chance that she would have, and she still didn't know what she wanted.
"Plenty of nice girls in town. Nice marrying types." Chris said as he hammered another nail into the porches new stairs.
They had been working on getting the cabin ready to live in, hoping to get it down before winter time. Still in need of money, it would be a harsh winter for them. Luckily, Chris' family was more then willing to spare any excess food that they had.
"Feel lucky that you aren't going to California. Mountains are dangerous to cross, and it's real cold, especially during the winter time." Chris walked with him to get another plank of wood.
"Do you have to talk about this?" Tate asked, as the brought the wood to the stairs and began to put it into place.
Chris shrugged, "Never did tell me her name."
He sighed loudly to show his annoyance, "Nicolette."
"Pretty name." He said over the pounding of the nails. "After this, we should head into town and I'll buy us a few rounds."
"Alright." Tate began to hammer in another nail.
"Bet she hasn't gotten too far, I wouldn't feel betrayed if…"
"Chris, let's just finish up this cabin. Can't you see when a man doesn't want to talk on a subject?" Tate spoke the question calmly, but firmly.
"Just trying to offer you some advice. I remember how you hounded me for a long time about Natalie."
Tate chuckled, "I was trying to get you to stay away from her."
Standing up, Chris looked around for some more nails. "Looks like we used them all. Guess, we will have to pick up some more in town."
"I'll get the horses ready, you put the rest of the wood on the porch. We don't want it to get wet." Tate jumped to his feet and went around to the back of the cabin.
Chris watched his friend disappear, before beginning the chore set before him. He had never seen Tate so unwilling to talk about a woman. Though, it had been many years since they had last truly spoken to one another. He wondered what kind of woman could have this type of effect on his friend, and questioned how long it would take before Tate stopped torturing himself about his loss. He knew that Tate would eventually forget her, and if he couldn't, he would go after her.
Nick walked into the saloon, they had been asking about Chris and Tate all day. After finally finding Chris' family home, they were told that they had gone in town for a few drinks. Looking around the saloon, Nick saw the familiar hat laying on the table. Tate's head was turned away from her, as he slept with his face pressed firmly against the wood. His company was slowly sipping down a shot of tequila.
Pulling up the bag with Tate's share of the money and his guns, she smiled at Chris as she approached them. "Are you Chris?"
He nodded, "Yes, ma'am."
"My name's Nicolette Beldin. I… well, I worked with Tate back in Redrock." She dropped the sack of money onto the table. "Can you make sure that Tate gets that, it's his share."
Chris moved Tate's hat out of under the sack, "His share of what?"
"He'll know." With that she spun around, and headed out the door.
Chris kicked him underneath the table, "Looks like Christmas came early for you."
Tate slowly brought his head up, and looked at the beige sack on the table. He wasn't sure what Chris was trying to pull, but decided to play along anyway. Dragging the sack towards him, he opened it to find half of his bounty as well as his guns. "Who?"
"Pretty young thing, dressed like a man." Chris told him.
He had never before seen Tate move as quickly as he did then. Scooping the sack up in his arms, he ran out of the saloon and down the busy pathway. He wasn't sure if he was even going the right way, but could only see a single star beginning to sprout in the late evening sky. At the end of the pathway, he watched Nick mount her horse with the others surrounding her.
"Nick!" He barked and all eyes turned to him. Chris came running down the path behind him, wondering what in the hell was going on.
Tate dropped down off the edge of the wooden plank pathway, and ran over to the gathering of horses. Nick looked down at him, and frowned at the man holding the sack in his arms, but missing his hat.
"I want to talk to you." Tate finally said.
Chris walked up behind him and dropped the hat on his friend's head, before walking over to Natalie with a grin.
"Heard you were going to California." Chris said.
She grinned, "That's right. Jealous?"
Tate glared at them, "I need to talk to Nick alone."
Everyone nodded, and the horses began to move out of town. Chris walked with them as she talked to Natalie about their plans.
"What is it, Tate?" Nick finally asked when she thought the others were a good distance away.
He dropped the sack, "I wanted you and Natalie to have this money."
"I think that's more then enough for you to start a good life with." Nick began to turn her horse, but Tate grabbed the reigns.
"Chris and I are starting a farm outside of town, some real prime land. Bet cattle would do well out in those parts. His family has extra land that they aren't using, maybe you should talk…"
"No, Tate, I don't think that would be wise." Nick tried to pull the reigns from his grasp, but he wouldn't release them.
"I never touched her, Nick. She shoved herself on me." Tate tried to keep his voice calm, but the frustrated anger was apparent.
"I know, she told me."
Her words startled him, "Then why are you acting this way?"
"You never told me what kind of person Brody was. You let me believe that he was just some killer with no heart." Nick tried to hold back her tears. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Tate looked down at the mud beneath his feet, "Can't really say, Nick. I guess in my mind he became nothing more then that. Didn't even remember that he had a daughter until she was laying there in front of him… honest, Nick."
She nodded her head, "I need to catch up. We want to make it over the mountains before it gets too cold. Goodbye, Tate." She yanked the reigns from his hands.
Watching her turn the large horse away from him, Tate felt his heart drop. She began to ride out into the distance, and he couldn't for the life of him think of what to do. Suddenly, it was as if his heart won a battle with his pride.
"Nick!" He yelled as he ran towards her, to his surprise she slowed her horse and turned towards him.
Tate slipped in the mud, covering his knees with the wet dirt. When Nick saw him slip, she dismounted her horse to check if he was alright. Tate stood up, before she could take a step forward, and continued towards her.
"Tomorrow seems pretty empty this way, doesn't it?" He asked, placing his hands on her shoulder. "We both got prospects, and a good set plan. I just… I just want you to be part of the plan… of those prospects. Don't ride away from me, don't go somewhere that I can never find you."
Nick dropped her head, "There is too much going on in my head right now, Tate. I don't think that I can deal with everything and you, right now."
"Then don't, stay here or let me come with you." He pushed her chin up so that she was looking into his eyes, "I can wait in the shadows for things to work out. I love you, Nick, and you said you loved me. Are you going to take that back now?"
Her eyes dropped, "I don't know, Tate. There are just too many things to worry about right now."
"You once told me to either love you back and worry about problems when they come, or regret that I didn't for the rest of my life. I'm saying the same to you now." His slide his hands down her arms to hold her hands. "I want to be there to help you with your problems, not be one of them."
Nick looked up into his eyes, "I'm afraid that I'll make the wrong decision."
"Making the wrong one is better then making none at all, Nick."
Lifting her hands up, she wrapped them around him, pulling him closer. Tate wrapped his arms around her shoulders, and began to fill the tears saturating his shirt. Rubbing his hand down her back, he stood there and let her cry.
"Nothing worked out like it was suppose to, nothing." She sniffled.
"Had all of my plans worked, you would have been dead at the pass. Sometimes they work out for the best. Just because they didn't happen the way you wanted, doesn't mean that they didn't work."
She sniffled and lifted her head to see him, "Perhaps. Ugh, this is so awkward." She tried to step back, but Tate kept her close to him.
"Not suppose to be awkward, just do what comes naturally." Tate said with a grin.
"I said that too, didn't I?"
"I sure am wise." She smiled.
Tate began to laugh, "Sometimes."
Kissing her lips gently, he let her go and helped her mount Goliath. "I'll meet you outside of town." Nick said.
"Don't leave without me, Nick. I'll hunt you down."
Nick gave a smile, "I didn't think I could leave you before, and now I know I can't, Tate."
Author's Ending Note: I know it's a bit short of a last chapter, even though I don't write in chapters, but I think this was all that needed to be said and done. This story is not over though, look for New Hope Ranch in the future. This will tell the tale of Nick and Tate in their new home in California. Trouble with a land owner and trouble with their hearts. Look forward to this novel. Please help out with your comments and plot ideas at my forum, look at my main page here at fictionpress for a link.
The first scene to New Hope Ranch is available on my website! Please read it and tell me what you think in my forums!
If you liked this novel then I think you will enjoy the romance in my Crimon Moon Series: Broken Toy... and if you liked the type of romance in this novel, you will definately like Lies in the Blood: Inception and Ayrwan Series: The Children of Naaram. Both have slow moving romance stories, and both are completed work. Check them out, and please review this novel.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed this novel over the months, I am glad that everyone enjoyed it. Please remember that this is only a first draft, and will be rewritten several times over. Though it won't be put up here. There are grammar errors, and I apologize for them.