Oh, I hate riding in a stagecoach…but then, she made a face. But I don’t know anybody who DOES like it…
     Robin Morrow was soooo uncomfortable. Hot, dusty, bounced and jolted incessantly, and cooped up for hours—sometimes days—with some of the most obnoxious and/or irritating people on earth. And it was even worse considering her destination. Her Aunt Martha’s. It wasn’t so much that she didn’t like Aunt Martha. It’s just that she had had a good job back in New York, and the pretty, dark-haired, brown-eyed young woman didn’t want to leave it.
     But she had to go. She was Aunt Martha’s last living relative. Which made her Robin’s last living relative. Aunt Martha and Uncle Ben had actually raised Robin from the time she was two years old until she went off to school back east when she was almost 18. Uncle Ben she had loved. He was a kindly, thoughtful old gentleman, round face with only a wisp of white hair covering his bald pate. He always had a smile on his face, and he adored Robin. And she felt the same way towards him.
     But Aunt Martha…
     Robin frowned in thought as she looked out the window at the passing countryside. It was mid-May, and the undulating—and rising—terrain was covered in waving green grass. She could see majestic mountains in the distance. Her destination would put her at the foothills of those mountains. The town of Whitewater. Where Aunt Martha lived.
     Aunt Martha wasn’t that bad. It had been seven years since Robin had left Whitewater to go to school back east, and she hadn’t seen her aunt and uncle since that time. But Robin remembered her aunt as somewhat cold, strict, and not terribly loving. She could be very harsh at times, insensitive, and callous. But then, maybe I’m just comparing her to Uncle Ben—who was the opposite of all of that. Well, he didn’t let me get away with much, either, but he was always kind and gentle. She just had better memories of Ben than of Martha. A few too many bad memories of her…
     Robin had stayed in New York when she finished school and gotten a good job. But then, a few weeks ago, a wire. From Aunt Martha. Uncle Ben had died of a heart attack and oh, Robin, I need you so badly. Please come back and live with me.
     Robin had cried at the news of Uncle Ben. She would have gone back when she had finished school, but the job offer came up. Aunt Martha had wanted her to come home, but Uncle Ben had counseled her to stay and accept the new job. So she had. But he was gone.
     And Aunt Martha wanted her home now. Again, Robin didn’t want to go, but felt duty-bound. Aunt Martha was over 60 and, well, she had raised and, with Uncle Ben, provided for Robin when she was growing up—fed her, washed her clothes, done all the things a mother would have done. For all her coldness—at least that’s the way Robin thought of it—Aunt Martha had taken care of Robin in her youth; now Robin felt she ought to take care of Aunt Martha in her old age. Family responsibility, and it had been instilled in her, mainly by Uncle Ben.
     So…stagecoach…Aunt Martha…no Uncle Ben…giving up her job and friends back east…
     Robin wasn’t in the best of moods.

     She was on the last leg of the long trip. In about four hours the stage would arrive in Whitewater. Aunt Martha had gotten Robin a teaching job there. Robin had been the executive secretary to the Vice President of a pretty large banking firm in New York, and that had been pretty exciting. Teaching wasn’t really something that she wanted to do. But the decision was made and she’d have to make the best of it.
     This stagecoach is so insufferable…for mid-May, it was a little hot and stuffy.
     There were three other passengers—a nice, plump old lady who talked too much, a pompous, fat middle-aged aged man who talked when the nice, plump old lady paused to take a breath, and a gambler who thought he was God’s gift to womanhood and ogled Robin like a wolf at a sheep’s convention. Well, he had found out verrrrry quickly that he wasn’t God’s gift to Robin Morrow. He hadn’t talked to her for 200 miles and that suited her just fine. He couldn’t have gotten a word in edge-wise anyway.
     The stage hit a bump in the road. Robin bounced and gritted her teeth. Only four more hours of this and I get to be with Aunt Martha…and then she felt a pang of conscience at her attitude towards her aunt. It’s just a change of life I’ll have to get used to…
     But…not immediately. A change of plans was in the works. At least for the immediate future.

     A little while later, the stage rounded a bend, and Robin heard a rifle shot. Then the driver yelled, “Whooooooaaa,” and the coach rolled to a stop. Robin was sitting at a window, looking forward, so she leaned her head out to see what was going on.
     “What is it, dear?” the plump old lady asked, a bit of a tremor in her voice.
     “A lone horseman. In the road. Coming this way. Rifle pointing at the driver.”
     “Oh, no. A hold-up.”
     Yep, that’s what it looked like to Robin. Well, at least a little excitement on this trip…She wasn’t terribly worried. She had lived in New York City for about 7 years…
     The horseman came riding up and Robin heard him speak. “You fellers please don’t do anything stupid. I’m really a nice guy and don’t want to hurt anybody. Just toss that gun to the ground…that’s it. We’ll get along fine if you do everything I ask you to do. And I’ll try to ask real nice. My momma always taught me to be real nice even when I was robbin’ people.”
     Robin actually smiled. She’d never heard such sarcastic drivel in all her life.
     “You folks inside the stage kindly step out, please,” the man called. “I want to relieve you of a few necessaries. Necessary for me, that is.”
     And again, Robin smiled.
     The brigand was on her side of the stage, so she got out first. She looked around. The first thing she saw was him sitting on a nice, brown bay. She looked the horse up and down and ignored the man on it; nice horse. Then she glanced around at the scenery—rolling hills of cattle grass. Boring. But the snow-capped mountains in the distance were pretty. Whitewater was in those mountains. She did like it there. She looked back at the outlaw. 30ish, maybe 6 feet, or not quite, it was hard to tell when he was sitting on a horse. Western clothes including light brown vest and gray, flat-topped hat. Dark blonde hair, blue eyes. Not bad. I’ve seen worse…
     Back to the robbery. The other three followed her out of the coach. The horseman tipped his hat. “Howdy, folks. How are you all doing this fine morning? ‘Scuse me, it’s afternoon now, isn’t it.”
     “Are you…are you going to rob us?” the plump lady asked.
     “The thought had occurred to me, ma’am. But not you. I don’t take from a lady. But that fat drummer there and that gambler. They probably have something I want.”
     The gambler was glaring at the thief with fire in his eyes. He was wearing a gun and his hand was poised over it, just waiting for the outlaw to look away so he could go for it. The horseman had his rifle pointed in the general direction of the stage, covering everybody. When he saw the gambler’s itchy palm, he slid the rifle into its saddle boot and stared back at him.
     “You want to go for that gun, gambler?” the robber asked him.
     It got tense in a hurry, and Robin and the other two travelers gave the two men some room. The gambler stood there, weighing the odds. He didn’t seem to like them. His hand move away from the gun.
     “Good idea, fella,” the outlaw said, and took the rifle out again. “Now, very carefully, with two fingers, take out that gun and toss it over here.”
     The gambler obeyed.
     “And the derringer up your right sleeve.”
     The gambler’s eyes blazed again. But he removed the derringer and tossed it away.
     “Good boy.”
     “How did you know he had a derringer up his sleeve?” Robin asked the man on the horse.
     “Every one of those jokers do. Along with a couple of aces,” he replied. Nobody appeared to catch the pun.
     The old lady pitched in. “Young man, why are you an outlaw? The good Lord put us on the earth to help mankind. ‘Thou shalt not steal’, the Good Book says. You should repent and change your ways or you will face the wrath of the Lord.”
     The horseman looked at Robin and rolled his eyes. She hid a smile.
     “Shut up.”
     “Oh!” she replied. Robin almost burst out laughing that time. She had wanted to say that at least 100 times to that woman on the trip, but she had bit her tongue each time. Thank you, she thought.
     “Tell you what I want you to do, ma’am,” the thief said. “I want you to relieve those two gents of their wallets and bring them to me.”
     “I will do no such thing, young man.”
     He fired the rifle and the bullet landed six inches from her right foot.
     “I’m already tired of visitin’ with you folks and that driver sittin’ up there looks like he’s about to do somethin’ stupid”—Robin glanced up and noticed that whatever stupid thing the driver was about to do he quit before he did it—“and I want to be on my way. Please bring me their wallets, ma’am. I said ‘please.’ Ain’t that nice enough?”
     The fat lady, who had nearly had a heart attack when he fired the rifle, immediately went over to the two men. They gave her their wallets and she brought them to the robber.
     “Thank ye kindly, ma’am,” he said, tipping his hat to her briefly. “Let’s see what we have here…” He spread the fat man’s wallet. “Oh, lookee here. A good wad.” He took out most of the bills and stuffed them in one of his front shirt pockets, then tossed the wallet back to the man. “I left you 20 bucks, fella, so that you could have a good meal tonight.”
     “You are too kind, sir,” the fat man said sarcastically as he picked up his wallet.
     “I know. That’s the way my momma raised me, God rest her soul.” He then opened the gambler’s wallet and wasn’t surprised to see a large amount of cash in it. He took most of it, stuffed it in the other shirt pocket, and pitched the wallet back to him. “Left you 20 bucks, too, gambler. Shouldn’t take you long to build it back up again, the way I’m sure you cheat.” He looked at the older lady and smiled at her. “I don’t rob ladies, ma’am, though that is a nice diamond you have on your finger.”
     She tensed, then tried to huff a bit. “My dear late husband gave this to me, and I would be very appreciative if you would let me keep it.”
     “Have no intention of taking it, ma’am. I think I’d look pretty dumb with a diamond ring on my finger.”
     Then the outlaw looked at Robin. “Where you headed?”
     “None of your business.”
     He scratched his chin. “Never heard of that place. Probably over around Hole-In-The-Wall. Would you prefer going with me?”
     Robin was a little surprised at her own thoughts. The man was actually fairly nice-looking, and not the typical New Yorker’s vision of a western outlaw. Yes, actually I would like to go with you. Anything to get out of that stagecoach and delay going to Aunt Martha’s….But, of course, she said, “Drop dead. I wouldn’t go to your funeral.”
     He smiled. He has a nice smile, Robin thought. “Well, miss, I’m not rightly plannin’ on going to my funeral,” he said. “In fact, I’m not rightly sure where I’m going next, but I’d sure be proud if you’d go with me.”
     “That would be kidnapping, sir!” the fat man said.
     The robber thought about it a moment, and grinned at the drummer real big. “Yeah, it would, wouldn’t it. Unless, of course, she came along willingly.” Then he looked at Robin again. “Come on, you’re going with me.”
     “I am?”
     “Yep. And I’m ready to leave, so climb aboard.” He patted the horse’s back behind him.
     “And if I refuse?”
     “Well, I’ll just shoot the four horses up there and you’ll have to walk to wherever you’re going. Would you rather ride or walk?”
     A gasp from somebody.
     “You wouldn’t,” Robin replied.
     He shrugged. “Of course, I could miss and hit the driver. Wouldn’t that be awful? So do you want to try me?”
     And again, Robin was a little mystified by her own thoughts. No, I want to go with you…But she had to put up a front.
     Robin sighed. “Ok. No, I don’t want to try you. But I’m going to make life miserable for you.”
     He smiled. “I’m sure you will.”
     “Sir, this is pre—“ the fat man started to say.
     “You shut up, too, fatso.” Another almost grin from Robin. Wanted to say that to him, too, a few times…
     “Do you mind if I get my bag?” Robin asked the outlaw.
     “Go right ahead. Just don’t pull a gun out of it, or I’ll do the world a favor and shoot the gambler.” A sneer from the gambler.
     “You think you’re funny, don’t you, mister,” he retorted.
     “Barrel of monkeys.”
     “Well, you just better hope we never meet again.”
     “Have no desire to ever meet you again, gambler. But the thought don’t scare me none.”
     While Robin went for her stuff, there was more mumbling and grumbling. The driver and shotgun rider threatened the thief with all kinds of pursuit by the law.
     “Yeah, yeah, yeah, they’ve been after my hide for a long time and they ain’t caught me yet. I doubt they will any time soon.”
     Robin showed up again with a suitcase in her hand and a purse hung over her shoulder. “You sure you want to do this?” she asked him.
     He smiled and shrugged. “Who knows? It might be fun.”
     Robin grumbled something under her breath but came over. “Tie your stuff on with that rope and climb aboard.”
     “Sir, I plead with you, if you have any decency—“ The fat man again.
     “I don’t, so don’t waste your breath, you blowhard.”
     It only took Robin a minute to tie her stuff to the back end of the horse. “I’m wearing a dress,” she told the outlaw.
     “So you are. Pretty one, too.” She gave him a dirty look. He reached a hand down. She took it, and he pulled her up behind him. She fiddled with her skirt, pulling it up almost to her knees to be able to straddle the horse.
     The outlaw touched the brim of his hat to the rest of the people. “Nice doing business with you folks. Have a safe trip.” He started backing the horse up.
     “You’ll pay for this, sir,” the drummer said.
     “Buddy, I’m probably doing you a favor taking this lady off your hands.” He huffed and puffed.
     The robber quickly turned the horse and took off in a gallop. “Hang on,” he said to Robin. Her arms were around his waist and she was holding on for dear life. This horse is fast….
     They rode like that for about three minutes. I don’t know what this creep has in mind, but it’s got to be better than anything Aunt Martha does

     He slowed the horse down to an easy trot. They were well away from the stagecoach now and there wasn’t going to be any immediate pursuit anyway. But he saw no sense in tempting the fates.
     “What’s your name?” he finally asked Robin.
     “Robin Morrow. Yours?”
     “Robert Conners. Rob, for short. Nice to meet you.”
     “You don’t expect me to echo that sentiment, do you?”
     Conners chuckled. “No, I reckon not.”
     They went silent for a few moments, then she asked, “Why?”
     “Why what?”
     “Why did you kidnap me?”
     He hesitated. “Well, I…I…well, I…wanted you to come with me.”
     And again, “Why? Are you lonely?”
     Rob thought on that one for a moment. “Maybe. Never really thought about it. I just liked the looks of you, I guess.”
     “Am I to take that as a compliment?”
     “Only if you like men liking the looks of you.” Then, he added, “And don’t tell me you aren’t just a little relieved to get away from that bunch you were riding with in the stage.”
     If you only knew, mister…After a few moments silence, Robin asked, “Where are we going?”
     “I don’t know. You’re fixing to find out what a drifter does.”
     Wonderful. “I suppose you’re going to rape me.”
     She saw him grin. “Well, of course. Multiple times.”
     Robin detected a note of playful mockery in his voice, so she wasn’t quite sure how to take his answer. “I’ll fight you,” she responded.
     “Well, I should hope so. Rape’s no fun otherwise.”
     “Are you an expert at it?”
     He laughed out loud at that one. Robin didn’t see anything funny about the question.
     Rob said, “The first thing we’ve got to do is find you a horse.”
     “You can’t rape me until you find me a horse?”
     “Oh, get off that, will you? Ol’ Paint here is a good horse, but carrying double will tire out the best of ‘em. There’s a ranch up here aways, but it’ll be getting dark before we get there. We’ll camp out tonight and I’ll get you one tomorrow.”
     “Steal it?”
     “Good heavens, no. What do you think I am, a horse thief?”
     That stopped her. “Well, I kinda got the impression that you did occasionally take things that didn’t belong to you.”
     He grunted. “Yeah, but never a horse. A fella could get hanged for that.”
    “But not for kidnapping and rape?”
     “Yeah, but they have to catch me first.” Robin didn’t quite understand the logic of that. “Besides, all I did today was rob from thieves. That drummer and gambler both cheat people out of money, so I don’t feel a bit of remorse taking from them.”
     He had a point there, Robin had to admit. “Yeah, you should have seen that elixir that fat guy was trying to sell everybody. Cure everything from tooth decay to menstrual cramps.”
     Rob laughed. “And that gambler, all he does is rob other gamblers. They sort of just pass the money around among themselves. I don’t feel too guilty about letting them share some of it with me. In fact, I don’t feel guilty about it at all.”
     “But sometimes you rob nice people.”
     He paused, a little uneasy. “Yeah, I guess I do, although I really haven’t robbed very many people.”
     “Why? Frankly, you don’t strike me as a criminal.”
     “I kidnapped you and I’ve threatened to rape you. What does a man have to do, in your eyes, to qualify as a criminal?”
     Robin thought a moment. “I don’t know, you just don’t seem to be the type, I suppose.”
     They rode on in silence for a time. “Where were you headed?” he asked her.
     “Pretty place. What takes you there?”
     “My Aunt Martha. She’s alone now since my uncle died a few weeks ago. She and he raised me, so I’m going to go back and help take care of her in her old age.”
     “Nice of you.”
     “I’m all the family she has left.”
     “Yeah, I don’t have any, either. Cousin back in Boston, I think, not even sure any more.” A few moments of silence, then he said, “I’m sure your aunt will be happy to see you again.”
     Robin replied, “I’m sure she will.” Then added in a sarcastic tone of voice, “Once I get there.”
     Again, they were silent for awhile. They rode north, towards the mountains, actually getting nearer Whitewater. Maybe I can escape tonight, Robin thought. Then she frowned. Do I really want to do that? This guy seems nice enough…Rape or Aunt Martha? I think I’ll take rape…and she smiled at her own playfulness.
     The sun was going down behind the mountains, and it was starting to get a little chilly. “There’s a nice place to camp up here,” Conners told Robin. “Stream and everything. We’ll stop there for the night.”
     “Aren’t you afraid I might try and run off?”
     He shrugged. “Well, if you want to try…” He smiled. “That might be fun, too.”
     Robin hmph’d. Then asked, “Were you always an outlaw?”
     “I didn’t think so. What did you do before and why did you decide to become one?”
     Rob sighed. “I was a rancher. And I became an outlaw because the law wouldn’t do anything for me. So why should I do anything for them?”
     “What happened?”
     He hesitated, not wanting to go into this. But he figured she had a right to know. “I had a small place not all that far from here. 160 acres, filed, bought, it was mine. Ran a few cows, horses, pigs, chickens, had a garden.” He paused. “A wife.”
     Robin winced. She had a feeling this wasn’t going to be good.
     “There was a big rancher whose land bordered my place. Wilson Brant. Thought he ought to own the whole valley. I never bothered him, I just wanted to be left alone. He tried to buy me out, offered me peanuts for my place. But I wouldn’t have sold, regardless of the price. Julie and I were perfectly content where we were and…” He paused again. “…expecting our first child.”
     Robin grimaced big time. She knew this wasn’t going to be good now.
     Rob continued. “Brant ran off most of the other small outfits in the area, but I didn’t scare. I’m pretty good with a gun. So he decided the only way to get rid of me was to burn me out and kill all my stock. I was gone to town one day and when I got back home, the ranch house was burned to the ground. With Julie inside.”
     “Oh, no,” Robin said.
     “Yeah. Killed all my cows and horses, too. I went to the local lawman, but he was in Brant’s pocket. Everybody and his dog knew who had done it, but the sheriff said he couldn’t do anything without proof. Well, I could. I snuck over to Brant’s place that night and put a bullet between his eyes. Took care of few of his hired thugs, too. Well, nobody—who stayed alive—saw me, or at least recognized me, but the law came after me.” He snorted. “Had no proof against Brant, but couldn’t arrest him. Had no proof against me, but were going to hang me.” He glanced back at Robin. “I didn’t have much choice but to become an outlaw.”
     “How long ago was this?”
     “Six months.”
     “I’m sorry.”
     Rob’s mood went very somber, and Robin thought, And I thought Aunt Martha was bad…she’s nothing compared to what this guy has gone through…
     They stopped at a place near some trees. Robin saw that it was a nice place—level ground, the trees, a stream maybe 50 yards away. Uncle Ben had taken her camping numerous times when she was young but she hadn’t done it in many years. This brought back some memories, happy ones, but the thought that Uncle Ben had died saddened her again.
     They dismounted and started taking things off the back of the horse. “Do you mind…if I go wash up in the stream?” Robin asked him. “Do you trust me?”
     He smiled at her softly. “Go ahead. I’ll trust you. I need to take care of the horse and then I’ll build a fire and get some supper going.”
     “Ok.” She walked down to the stream. She glanced back, but couldn’t see Rob or the camp. The thought went through her mind to try to get away, but she decided against it. I should. Aunt Martha will be worried about me. I don’t want her to be worried…But he’s nice, maybe he’ll take me there tomorrow…She undressed and went into the stream. It was cold, but refreshing. She washed up, shampooed her hair, and then dried off and put on some new clothes. Warm woolen shirt, jeans, boots. She combed her hair, but it was wet, of course. Hope he’s got that fire going…
     He did, with a coffee pot sitting on it. He was cutting up some potatoes and putting them in a pot. He glanced up at Robin. “Your hair’s wet,” he said with a soft smile.
     “Oh? I hadn’t noticed.” She went over to the fire and sat next to it, warming up and brushing her hair next to it.
     “The coffee should be ready,” he told her. “That will warm you up some. I’m sorry, but all I’ve got for supper is potato and bacon stew. I need to go get some water from the stream.”
     She was curious about him. “Where did you get the water for the coffee?”
     “My canteen.”
     “You could have gotten fresh water from the stream.”
     Rob looked at her, a little puzzled. “You were over there.”
    An outlaw and a gentleman…strange combination. “Oh, yeah, I forgot,” she replied.
     He made a face, then finished cutting up the potatoes. “Hang on, I’ll be right back.”
     He got up and walked down to the stream to get some water for the stew.

     Robin watched him go. She picked up the coffee pot and poured herself a cup, thinking, examining her feelings. Mostly sad. Sad about Uncle Ben, sad about leaving some good friends back east, sad for him—Rob. Life isn’t always fair, I guess…I wonder what I would have done if I had gone through what he did…She made a face…I would have gone and killed Wilson Brant, too…become an outlaw?…There were a few female outlaws, most notably Belle Starr. I don’t think I’m cut out for that kind of life…
     She saw him coming back. He said he was going to rape me. I can’t imagine him raping anybody…
     Then she smiled to herself. But I’m going to test him…

     They started eating and were quiet for awhile. Then, just to make conversation, Rob said, “I guess you’re anxious to see your Aunt Martha.”
     “Not especially.”
     That stopped him. “Why not?”
     “I had a good job and lots of friends back east. I wanted to stay. Besides, sometimes Aunt Martha can be kind of…kind of…well, you know. Arf Arf.”
     He was amused. “Well, maybe you didn’t mind so much going with me.”
     Robin looked at him, annoyance in her eyes. “Nobody likes to be kidnapped and raped.”
     Rob went back to eating. “No, I suppose not.”
     They became silent again. Then she asked, “What are we going to do tomorrow?”
     “First thing is, get you a horse. There’s a ranch a few miles from here. I’ll buy you one there. Then I thought about going up into the mountains. I like it up there.” He grinned at her. “It crossed my mind to go to Whitewater and get a few supplies, but that might not be a very good idea. So we’ll have to find another town.”
     “You’d trust me in a town?”
     “I don’t know. I might have to tie you up outside.”
     “Joy,” Robin said sarcastically.
     “Would you like some more stew?” he asked her. “There’s a little left.”
     “No, thank you. You go ahead and finish it.”
     So he did. It was fully dark now. Rob picked up the dishes. “I’m going to go wash them, then take a bath myself. I can’t stand being dirty. Be back soon.”

     Robin watched him go again, then looked into the fire. She absentmindedly threw a couple more sticks on it to build it up a little. It was chilly. I guess I could go steal his horse and ride out of here. She smiled. That would make me a horse thief, wouldn’t it. I could get hanged for that. Right along side him for kidnapping and rape…if he was a jerk, I’d do it. Then she frowned. But then, if he was a jerk, he probably wouldn’t have left me here all by myself with a chance to steal his horse…he probably never even thought about it…
     She picked up her brush and combed her hair some more. It was dry now. She brushed it for a few minutes, then put the brush back in her purse. She spotted something and smiled. A small bottle of perfume. She shrugged, Why not? She took it out, opened it, and put a dab on both sides of her neck. I wonder if he’ll smell it…I doubt he’ll get within 20 feet of me…Here he comes…She quickly put the bottle of perfume back into her bag and closed it.
     When he got back, she was sitting by the fire, idly playing with it with a stick…

     Rob was trying to get the water out of his ears, and appeared a little frustrated by the effort. He said to Robin, “That’s where I left you.”
     “Yeah, I didn’t feel like moving. I thought about stealing your horse and riding out of here, but I couldn’t get up the energy.”
     He stopped fidgeting with my ears and gave her a peculiar look. “Hmm, I never thought of that.” Ha, Robin thought. I knew it.
     “You’re a lousy kidnapper, Conners, you know that?”
     He grinned. “It would be terrible to get hanged for something I’m terrible at. Well, I’ll have to work on it some more, I guess. You planning on taking the stage again any time soon?”
     “Very funny,” Robin replied. “If I can help it, I’m never going to ride in another stagecoach in my life.”
     “Can’t blame you for that. Too many robbers and kidnappers out there.” He went over and picked up his blanket and found a nice spot to spread it out under a tree. “Here. You can have the blanket to sleep on. It’s a good one, so you should be comfortable. I don’t scrimp on sleeping stuff.”
     “I’m not going to take your blanket,” Robin said, almost in a huff. “What would you do?”
     “I’ll go find the nearest town and get a hotel room.”
     “Hmph, leave me out here all by myself.”
     “I have a hunch you could probably take care of yourself pretty well. I’d be more frightened for the wolves and bears.”
     She “hmph’d” at that, too, but then said, reflectively, “Uncle Ben and I camped out a lot when I was younger.” She smiled, thinking back. “It was fun.”
     “It gets old.”
     “Yeah, I guess it would.”
     Neither of them said anything for a while. Robin listened to the cicadas chirp. She heard an owl ask who they were. A whippoorwill echoed the owl. Stars were coming out. The fire was low, but burning warmly. It was a lovely night.
     Then Rob yawned. “Rough day. I think I’ll turn in early.”
     “Not afraid I’ll steal your horse and run off?” Robin asked with a pixy smile.
     He grunted. “He wouldn’t take you anywhere. He’s my horse and he knows it, and he’d throw you before you got 20 yards.”
     “Oh. I guess that’s why you weren’t terribly worried about it earlier.”
     “Well, actually, I didn’t think about it.”
     He stood up and then Robin did, too. “Let’s go ahead and get it over with, ok?” she said, her voice a little sharp.
     He gave her a puzzled look. “Get what over with?”
     “Oh, come on, quit playing so innocent. You’re going to rape me. I’d prefer you get it over with.”
     Her attitude piqued him a bit. “Well, now, I’ll rape you when I’m good and ready to, and not before. You don’t need to be in such a hurry.”
     She planted her feet and put her hands on her hips. Rob had to admit, she looked good, very seductive. “Well, Mr. Kidnapper, how about doing something I want to do for a change? I want to do it now so I can get to sleep and not have to worry about you getting in heat in the middle of the night.”
     Rob replied hotly. “Well, I don’t feel like it right now, so you’re just going to have to be pa—“Then he checked himself. He chuckled and scratched the back of his head. “Um, hold on here a minute. I think we’ve got this backwards. I’m the one who’s supposed to want to and you’re the one who’s not supposed to want to.”
    Robin saw the humor in it, too, but she didn’t laugh. “Well, I didn’t say I wanted you to…” She stopped as she saw him slowly walking over to her.
     He was shaking his head. “I’m the kidnapper, so we do what I say.” He leaned down and picked her up in his arms. Robin, immediately and instinctively, put her arms around his neck. He carried her over and laid her on the blanket. He knelt down at her feet and pulled off her boots.
     “You’re sleeping on the blanket,” Rob said, “and that’s final.”
     “And where are you sleeping?” she asked him.
     He pointed across the camp. “Over there. I’ve got another blanket, I’ll be fine.” And with that, he smiled at her and stood up. “Sleep tight.” And he walked away.
     Robin frowned. He could have at least TRIED…but it was nice that he took off my boots. With a shrug, she rolled her coat up and stuck it under her head for a pillow. Then wrapping the blanket around herself, she turned on her side and tried to sleep.

     Rob had an extra blanket. It wasn’t as good as the other, but it would do. He took off his boots, and using his saddle for a pillow, lay down on his back with a sigh. He pulled the blanket over him. It was a little chilly.
     He stared up at the sky. Sleep wouldn’t come…

     Robin turned over onto her other side. No sleep…he could have at least tried to kiss me…I could have slapped him…would have served him right for kidnapping me…
     I would have slapped him right after he finished kissing me

     Rob was staring up at the sky. Thinking. I wonder what she would have done if I had tried to kiss her…He made a wry face…Probably slapped me…

     Robin rolled again. He didn’t even try to shake my hand…

     Rob sighed again. Why did I take her? I should have just ridden off and left her with the stagecoach. Then, he frowned. She sure is pretty, though. A smile. Kinda feisty, but I guess I would be, too, if somebody kidnapped me…

     He’s really a nice man. It’s so sad what happened to him. He’s no outlaw…Then, I wish he’d come over here…I don’t want him to make love to me, I just…want him to come over here…

     Rob was flustered. I want to go over there. I wonder what she’d do if I did. Probably bite my head off…

     Robin was flustered. Don’t just lay there, you loghead, come over here…

     Rob was flustered some more. I wonder what she’d do…Then, he shrugged. Only one way to find out…He stood up…

     Robin could see him. What’s he doing? Oh, he’s coming this way. He better not…he better…not stop and go back

     Rob walked over with his blanket and spread it out next to Robin. She started to ask what he was doing, but she didn’t. She just watched him. He lay down right next to her. She was lying on her left side, he on his right, no more than a foot apart. They stared at each other, eyes searching…
     “What are you doing?” she finally asked him.
     “Watching you. Making sure you don’t try to escape.”
     “Oh. Good idea. I was thinking about it.” Not

     For a good thirty minutes, neither of them said a word. They just…stared at each other, trying to read one another’s eyes. She’s beautiful…

     He’s different…and handsome…and he’s really very kind…

     She reminds me of my Julie…The wind softly blew a strand of Robin’s dark hair over her eyes. Rob gently reached up and pushed it back. She just…stared at him.

    Finally, he reached over and pulled her to him. She didn’t resist, and curled up against his chest. He’s different…so different…I don’t know how I know that, but I know that he is…

     Rob was a little melancholy as he stroked Robin’s hair. I found Julie. She was…beyond wonderful. I never thought I’d ever find anybody like her again…but… he was flustered, flustered, flustered…how do I know about this woman? I’ve barely met her…
     I just know…she’s…she’s…there’s nobody like her…I just know
     They fell asleep.

     The middle of the night, who knew what time it was? Rob woke up, but kept his eyes closed. He sensed something strange…he opened his eyes…
     Robin was staring at him…
     For thirty minutes....they stared at each other…
     Then they fell asleep.

     The first light of dawn. Robin awoke. Opened her eyes. He was staring at her…She smiled. “Will you quit looking at me?”
     He didn’t smile back. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. Why would I ever want to look at anything else?”
     And Robin’s heart turned a flip…

     They got up when it was fully light. Robin was despondent. It had nothing to do with Rob. She had actually wanted to go with him, had enjoyed being with him, and, as strange as it had been, the previous night had been absolutely wonderful. How can I fall for a man just by staring at him…and him at me…? She knew, though, she just knew…I’ve never met anybody like him…will I ever again?…
     But…she had a strong sense of responsibility, drilled into her by her late Uncle Ben. And while she was angry at the world yesterday—the stagecoach, the idiots in it, having to leave her friends back home, her dislike for her Aunt Martha—she realized now that she needed to go and be with her aunt. That was what she needed to do, but she wasn’t quite sure how to bring it up to Rob.

     He could tell something was wrong, however, as they loaded everything up onto Ol’ Paint, his horse. Robin wouldn’t look at him, so Rob feared that she had regretted the previous night. I should have stayed on my side of the camp…but it was so…beautiful…SHE’S so beautiful…He figured he’d better get it out into the open.
     “Ok,” he said, just as they were fixing to mount. “Out with it. Tell me.”
     She still wouldn’t look at him. “I…it’s…” She appeared almost to be in agony. “Rob, I need to go home. To my aunt’s. She needs me. I just…need to be with her.”
     He looked down at her. He knew what she was saying was true, and that it was totally unfair of him to take her from her life. He had “kidnapped” her on a whim; she was pretty, he had wanted some company, it was, frankly, a totally selfish and stupid thing to do. Which, of course, was pretty much the way he had been living his life since he had been on the run from the law. He didn’t want her to go, but he knew he had to let her go.
     So he said, “Ok, Robin. Let’s go get you a horse and I’ll make sure you get safely to your aunt’s place.”
     She looked up at him then. “But…I thought you wanted me to go with you. You kidnapped me, remember? We haven’t even been gone a day yet.”
     “I know. But you’re right. You need to be with her, not me, and I’m going to see that you get there.”
     He put a finger over her lips in the classic “no talking” gesture. And then he chuckled. “Here we go again. Last night, we argue over the rape thing. Now we are arguing over me kidnapping you. I want to let you go; you are arguing about staying.” She smiled softly. “I’m going to do the right thing, Robin. But I’ll tell you this.” He put his hand under her chin and lifted her face to look at him. Their eyes met, and he said tenderly, “I have never in my life had a more wonderful night than I had last night. It was so…strange, but I’ll never forget it. I shouldn’t have kidnapped you, but I’m glad I did.”
     Her eyes searched his as if seeking confirmation of what he said. He never even kissed me, but…it was so beautiful…Rob thought he saw the beginning of tears forming in her eyes, but then she dropped her head and he wasn’t sure. “Thank you,” she said softly. “It was the most beautiful night I’ve ever experienced, too.” Then she looked back up at him, and indeed, there were tears in her eyes. She smiled softly, “Even if I wasn’t raped.”
     Rob couldn’t help but laugh at that. “I knew had something planned that I forgot to do,” and she laughed softly, too. Then, a little forlorn, Rob dropped his head, not wanting the moment to end, but knowing that it had to. “Come on, let’s go get you a horse.”
     Robin nodded, not wanting it to end, either. Why does he have to be an outlaw?…
     Rob helped her up onto the back of Ol’ Paint, and she protested, “I can’t let you buy me a horse.”
     He smiled at her as he mounted. “I’ll steal one then.”
     “Ooohhw,” she replied.
     “You need a horse. We’re a good 20 miles from Whitewater and I don’t want us riding Ol’ Paint double that long.”
     Robin started to protest, but only said, “Ok, I can understand that. But do you have enough money?”
     He smiled again. “That drummer and gambler did.” She laughed softly.
     The ranch was only about three miles from where they had camped and it wasn’t much out of the way to Whitewater. They topped a rise and could see it spread out nicely in the valley below. There was a big corral with a lot of horses. “Come on, let’s go get you one that you want.”
     The owner was more than happy to sell them whichever horse they wanted, though he tried to pawn a deadbeat off on them. But Rob and Robin were both too horse-wise to let him do it. Or maybe it was something else.
     “I don’t like that color,” Robin said. It was a gray gelding. “Too fat anyway.” That was true, and a good insight.
     Robin happily stood on the corral fence looking at about 50 horses. Some were stationary, some were running around, some were tossing their heads, showing off, as if trying to tell her “I’m the best, choose me.”
     “Do you see one you like?” Rob asked her.
     “Oh, they are all so beautiful,” she said. “It’s hard to choose.”
     “Well, pick out two or three and we’ll narrow it down from there.”
     “Ok. Hmmmm…I like that one…” she said, pointing, “…and that one…and that one…” The owner had a couple of his men lasso the chosen ones and bring them over.
     “Which one do you like the best?”
     She went up to each of them. “How much riding experience have you had?” the owner asked her.
     “I grew up on a horse,” she said. Her Uncle Ben and Aunt Martha had had a ranch and thus a lot of horses, so she’d spent a lot of time riding when she was young. Not so much back east, though.
     All three of the horses seemed to take to her. “Tell me about each one,” she asked the owner, and he did. She had picked out a strawberry red bay, a black gelding with three white stockings, and a spotted black and white Palomino.
     “That bay is three years old, and he’s a bit feisty. That’s why I asked if you knew how to ride. He might take some gettin’ used to. That gelding is about three, too, and he’s mighty gentle. The Palomino is two years old, good horse, best of the three in my ‘pinion.”
     Robin looked at Rob. She knew he knew something about horses, and of course, he’d been inspecting them as well. “Which one do you like the best?” he asked her. “They all three look like good horses.”
     “Which do you think is the best?”
     Rob examined them up and down, even the teeth. “’Course, none of ‘em are gonna come cheap,” the owner said. Then his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “By the way, there’s been talk of a stage robbery and kidnappin’ yestiddy down the road aways. Robber took a pound of money and a nice-lookin’ dark-haired female. Only one hoss.”
     Robin didn’t wait for Rob to speak up. “Are you trying to imply something?”
     “No, I’m just repeatin’ what I heard, and frankly, you two do fit the description. One hoss, good-lookin’ woman…” he left it hanging.
     Robin went back to scrutinizing the horses. “Do I act like I’ve been kidnapped?”
     “Well, no.”
     Rob spoke up, checking the Palomino’s hooves. “We lost her horse when he hit a rabbit hole yesterday. I hate to lose horses that way, but it happens.”
     “Yeah, that’s too bad.” The owner was apparently satisfied. Either that, or didn’t want to push the matter and maybe lose a sale.
     Rob glanced at Robin. “You decided yet?” he asked her.
     “Ooohhw,” she said. “I want them all.”
     He laughed. “I’m only going to buy you one of them. Which one do you like the best? They are all good.”
     She sighed. “The Palomino. She’s the youngest. And I like her coloring.”
     Rob nodded. “I think she’s the best of the lot, too.” He asked the owner. “How much?”
     He rubbed his jaw. “Well, again, she’s a mighty fine hoss.”
     “Cut the sales pitch and give me a price.”
     Robin’s eyes got big. She thought that was way too much. It was a little pricey, but not extravagant for a real good horse. And the Palomino fit that description. “Throw in a good saddle and blanket and you’ve got a deal.”
     “Done.” He held out his hand and they shook. “I’ll get you a bill of sale, too.”
     “Yeah. Thanks. I was going to ask you.”
     He yelled at one of his men. “Sid, go get that new saddle, bags, and blanket and come put it here on the Palomino.” Then to Rob, “Hang on. I’ll go into the house and write up that bill of sale.”
     He left and Robin looked at Rob. “Rob, that’s too much, isn’t it?”
     Rob smiled at her. “Not really. It’s a little high, but she’s only two and if you take care of her, she should be good for a long time. Plus a new saddle isn’t necessarily cheap, either. I’m happy with it.”
     “Do you have that much?”
     He gave her a wry smile. “You know, I never did count up all the money I ended up with yesterday.” He took both wads out of his pockets and quickly added it up. “Not a bad day’s work,” he said. “$1,450. That’ll buy a lot of booze and women.” He grinned.
     She grunted. “Sounds like you’re going to have a good time.” Then she said, “Thank you. You really shouldn’t buy me this horse, though. I still think she’s too expensive.”
     He smiled again at her. “I want you to have the best. Besides, it’s the least I could do for kidnapping and not raping you.”
     She started to say something, but Sid showed up right then with the blanket, saddle, and saddle bags. They were indeed new and looked solid. Rob nodded. “Good stuff,” he said.
     “You got you a good hoss, miss,” Sid said. “Woulda been my pick of the whole litter. Gonna hate to see her go.”
     The owner brought out a bill of sale, Rob gave him $400, Robin and he mounted, and off they went. The Palomino wanted to run a little, so Robin turned her loose and Rob followed on Ol’ Paint, who seemed like he wanted to stretch his legs, too. Robin’s Palomino was fast, and Ol’ Paint had trouble keeping up with her and he wasn’t no slowpoke. After about three miles, they slowed the horses down and settled them into a steady trot. Neither horse seemed the least bit winded.
     “Wheee, that was fun,” Robin said. “I haven’t done that in a long time. She’s easy to ride, too.”
     “Good. What are you going to name her?”
     She thought for a moment, then smiled a little wistfully. “I think I’ll name her Roberta.”
     Rob smiled in return. “Nice name.”
     They rode slowly, talking and laughing. Finally, they topped a hill and there below them lay Whitewater. It was a lovely setting. Long, narrow green valley, running east and west, with huge, pine-covered mountains behind it. The town got its name from the narrow river that came out of the mountains and ran about a quarter mile east of the town. Home to Aunt Martha. And Robin now.
     They both knew it was time. They glanced at each other, then looked away, neither one of them, at the moment, able to make the direct eye link.
     “Well, Aunt Martha is waiting,” he said.
     Robin gave a wan smile. “Yeah. Not sure yet what I’m going to tell her.”
     "Well, you were kidnapped. Raped four times.”
     “I don’t recall any of that happening.”
     Rob smiled softly.
     Robin said, “The kidnapping I’m sure she knows about. In fact, you probably need to be careful, there may be a posse out looking for you.”
     “Yeah, that’s possible. I’ll keep an eye out.”
     “I’ll have to think of something to tell Aunt Martha about how I got away and got this horse.”
     He shrugged. “You banged me on the noggin when I wasn’t looking and stole mine.”
     She made a face. “Kinda fishy, but it might work.” She sighed and glanced at Rob again. “Well, I guess I better go.” She paused. “Can…I ask you to do one more thing?”
     “I’ll do anything for you.”
     She closed her eyes as if fighting back tears. She didn’t open them, but said, “Please stop being an outlaw. You aren’t one and you aren’t any good at it.” Then she opened her eyes and tried to smile. “You can’t even kidnap and rape correctly.”
     Rob smiled sadly. “Ok,” is all he said.
     “Promise me you’ll stop.”
     Their eyes held again, and he nodded. “I promise. No more outlaw. But I still might end up in jail for what I’ve done.”
     “I know. But at least I’ll know you won’t do it again.”
     “I hope you’ll think of me occasionally.”
     “I will.” Then she looked down toward Whitewater. “I need to go.”
     “Yeah.” Their eyes met again. “I won’t forget you, you know.”
     “I won’t forget you, either.” She gave him a sad smile. “Be careful non-outlaw.”
     He smiled back. “I will.” He leaned over; she watched him, then closed her eyes as his lips met hers. He held it for several seconds. Please don’t break it, Rob…please never break it…
     But he did. He turned his head, not wanting to look at her because of the ache in his heart. “Get going.”
     She sighed, not wanting to leave, but nodded. Without looking at him again, she said, “Bye.”
     She walked Roberta down the hill towards the town. Rob watched her for a few minutes. Robin never turned around and looked so he finally kneed Ol’ Paint and they headed back the way they had come. I wonder if I’ll ever see her again. I guess not…
     But he was wrong—about her not looking back, that is. About 10 seconds after Rob had gone, Robin did turn back and look. I wonder if I’ll ever see him again. I guess not…
     And with supreme sadness filling each heart, Rob Conners and Robin Morrow rode in opposite directions…