p class="p1"span class="s1"emIt had been the longest night of his life. Charles Bailey rode through the darkness, trying to wipe away the memory of what he'd just done. The man had had it coming, really. Leader of the notorious "Dalton Gang", Billy Dalton had been a marked man from his conception. Lawmen far and wide had been searching for Billy for years, with no avail. They had finally come to Charles, a well-known bounty hunter, for class="Apple-converted-space" /span/em/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"emFinding Billy Dalton had not been difficult for the seasoned bounty hunter. He had grown up in Nevada and knew the area like the back of his hand. He knew where all the hideouts were, all the favourite gathering spots, all the best places to achieve the high ground and have the advantage over his enemy. He was a master sniper, called upon often for his ability to detach from his target and accomplish his assigned task. The challenge for Charles had been to get Billy class="Apple-converted-space" /span/em/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"emWherever he went, it seemed like the ex-Marshal was constantly surrounded by family and women. After leaving the service in '64, he had spent the following years making life hell for those he had abandoned. His family was famous for arson, kidnapping and murder; the latter of which was a hanging offence in the state of Nevada. Luckily for Billy Dalton, Charles had cornered and shot him before having to suffer that particular class="Apple-converted-space" /span/em/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"emAs Charles rode his brown Quarter Horse, Dusty, back towards his family ranch, he felt something in the air shift. Along with the wind came the undeniable scent of ash and smoke. Riding cautiously closer, the sight of his home came into view. He knew that Margaret was expecting him home for dinner, and their son and daughter would want to regale him with accounts of their day. But as he rode closer and discovered the source of the flames, he knew that these familiar sounds of home would never be heard class="Apple-converted-space" /span/em/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"Charlie Bailey woke with a start and looked around, breathing hard. The nightmare continued to haunt him, even a year after the actual event had happened. Since fruitlessly searching for his family several months after his life had gone up in flames, Charlie had started riding west. Several months later, he rode into Wichita, Kansas and checked into the hotel where he now found class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"Charlie got out of bed and looked at himself in the mirror. He needed to stop running. At thirty-eight years old, he knew he still had a lot of life to live. Maybe this would be the town where he settled down and planted some new roots for class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"Making his way downstairs to the hotel restaurant, Charlie found an empty table and sat down, his back to the wall. As was his habit, he could never have his back to an entrance; he always wanted to be aware and ready for anything. The sight that walked in after he'd ordered breakfast, however, was nothing he could have been prepared class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Charles Wesley Bailey!" The forty-year-old woman explained as she ran over to him. "Why in the world didn't you tell me you were comin'?!"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"Charlie had barely stood before he was smothered in a tight embrace. "Well, for one thing I didn't know I was coming," he told his sister, still holding her tight to his chest. For another, I didn't know you'd be here! I thought you and George were livin' in Oregon."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""My darlin' husband was requested to serve here is Wichita… and you're lookin' at the town's newly elected governor!"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Well, I'll be!" Charlie shook his head in amazement. "That makes my decision to settle down here all the more simple to make."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""I've been worried about ya since I heard the news," Martha sighed as they sat down at the table. "I've been tryin' to send you telegrams with no response."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""I'm sorry, sis," Charlie reached over to hold her hand. "I've been kinda tryin' to get my head on straight. Ain't worked or anythin'… Just lived off the land and what money I had left, but it's runnin' out."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Well that stops now," Martha insisted, "and I won't have ya stayin' in the hotel upstairs neither. We have plenty of room over at the manor."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""With your three children already there, sis? I couldn't."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""You can, and you will." Her voice left no room for argument. "No brother of mine will be livin' in a hotel."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Yes ma'am," Charlie laughed as the waitress came over with his food. "As long as George is alright with it."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""As long as George is alright with what?" The man himself asked as he came into the restaurant. He blinked twice when he saw who his wife was seated with. "Charlie!"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Hey, brother!" Charlie stood, and the men embraced before sitting back down. "How the heck are ya?"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""It's great to see ya!" George smiled, leaning over to greet Martha with a kiss on her cheek. "I'm doin' fine, but what about you? What brought you out to Wichita?"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"They talked for the rest of the morning about everything that had transpired since last they'd seen each other. For the first time in a while, Charlie felt like he belonged somewhere again, like he had a purpose. Now he just needed a class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""You should head to Fort Leavenworth once you're settled in at our place," George suggested. "Edward Write is always lookin' for experienced folk to join the marshal service. You'd have jurisdiction across the country, like you did as a bounty hunter."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""I'll definitely have to think about that. It'd be good to be doin' somethin' useful again."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"The door swung open again and Charlie looked over to see who had entered the restaurant. "Uncle Charlie!" The eight-year-old's voice carried through the room as the girl ran towards him, practically leaping in his class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Well, hey there, miss Grace!" Charlie cuddled his niece close as she clambered onto his lap. "Boy, I've missed you, sweet girl!"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""I didn't know you were comin'!" she looked between her parents and asked, "Did you know he was comin'?!"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""It was a surprise to us too," Martha smiled at her daughter. "He's gonna stay in our guest room until he gets some work."span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Really?!" Grace turned back to Charlie. "You're stayin'?"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""I was thinkin' about it," Charlie grinned. "Is that okay with you?"span class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1""Uh huh!" Grace hugged him tightly class="Apple-converted-space" /span/span/p
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p class="p1"span class="s1"As they continued to talk about the family and the antics the kids had been getting into, Charlie was overwhelmed with love for them all again. His family still loved him, and still wanted him to sty closer to them. Charlie knew that at long last, he had come home. /span/p