Sunday, January 25, 2015

Plots and Twists

Okay and here, for your reading enjoyment, is my second contest story. Enjoy! :D

Dick walked confidently up the porch and knocked on the ranch door.
While some may have called him arrogant, those who knew him called him anything but that.
Life had been hard on 21 year old Dick, who was the eldest of the three Leslie children.
His mother had died on the way to Oregon and his father had died 2 years later in an accident, leaving him responsible for his two younger siblings. But Dick never gave up.  He had learned ranching and traveled around with his two younger siblings working at different ranches all throughout Oregon and California.
With the money he earned he was able to provide for his siblings and, carefully saving, he had scraped together enough money to send his younger brother Clarence to college. His sister Abigail Grace stayed with him and went to school for snatches here and there when Dick was able to find steady work for a few months.
He was a handsome young man, with unruly, curly black hair, a quick and ready smile, blue eyes that seemed to sparkle all the time, broad shoulders and a strongly built frame.
Dick also had the strength of character and faith in God's word, the Bible, that is truly rare in young men his age. He had a confident and determined personality that dared anyone to stand in his way.
It was a beautiful, spring Saturday. Dick walked around the porch while waiting for someone to come to the door. This ranch was nothing like the ranches he had worked on before. The tall, two-story hacienda-style house was more grand than anything he had seen, The large wrap-around porch provided an excellent view of the sunrises and sunsets, there was a large barn that stabled a large number of well-groomed horses, and the fences went on for miles and miles, while  the hills within them boasted numerous heads of well fed cattle.
Justin who was at home for the day opened the door. “May I help you, sir?” he asked.
“Hi, my name’s Dick. I'm looking for a job, and the sheriff in Fresno said this might be a good place to get one.”
“Well, I don't really handle the ranch matters. My brother Chad  handles it and he’s out on the range. Why don't you come inside and wait. They'll be home in about a half an hour for lunch.”
Just then, Andi bounded down the stairs. ”Are you ready for our ride to town yet, Justi-- Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't realize anyone else was here.”
“Andi , this is Dick. He's looking for a job, I thought he could stay for lunch and talk to Chad.”
“Nice to meet you.” Dick tipped his hat toward her and smiled. “You remind me of my sister, Abby Grace. She's always impatient to get going somewhere.”
Justin laughed. “That's Andi alright! Why don't you come in the parlor and we can talk. Mother and Melinda will be there as well. Andi , why don't we wait until Chad and Mitch get here and then you and I can pack a picnic lunch and eat it while we're riding to town?”
Andi grinned. “That would be great! I'll go ask Nila to make us some sandwiches, then I'll go saddle Taffy and Thunderbolt.”
“Andi , you can go ask about the sandwiches but don't go outside alone.  I want you to wait till I am ready to go with you before you go out. There are rumors that Hugh Baker escaped from jail and is back in this area so I don't want you to go out alone. Alright?”
Andi sighed “Alright, Justin.” Andi quickly went to the kitchen and asked Nila to make the sandwiches. That being finished, she went and sat in the music room and stared out the window. Just then, she saw Mitch ride up, tie his horse to the hitching post, and walk toward the house. Andi ran to the door. “Mitch, what are you doing back?”
Mitch grinned. “I came back for lunch. What did you think?”
“But you’re early.”
“Only about 15 minutes.”
“Where's Chad?”
Mitch laughed. “Aren't you happy to see me? I thought you'd rather see me then 'bossy Chad' as you call him.”
“I'm happy to see you. I just wondered where Chad was.”
“He'll be here in a little while,” Mitch replied.
“Say, Mitch, since you got back early, can you come outside with me to saddle Taffy and Thunderbolt? Justin said there are rumors that Hugh Baker has escaped from jail and is in this area so he doesn’t want me to go outside alone.”
“Sure. Are you and Justin planning on going somewhere?” Mitch asked.
“We're going to town, but we're going to go on a picnic first!”
Mitch opened the door. “Let's go! Why don't you saddle Taffy and I can saddle Thunderbolt? We'll get it done faster that way.”
“Sure.” Andi agreed, “By the way, there is someone named Dick here. He wants to talk to Chad about being hired as a ranch hand. Justin told him you would talk it over at lunch.”
“Well, I'll be sure to tell you how it goes. Oh, have you heard that Johnny is coming back from Military school?”
“No, I haven't. When will he be back? I sure hope he stays away from me!”
Mitch pulled her braid affectionately. “Don't worry. I'll make sure He stays away from my Little Sis.”
Andi grinned. “Don't tease me. That's Chad's privilege and he isn't here.”
Mitch turned serious. “I mean it, Andi.  I will never put anything past him after he stole a kiss against your will.”
Andi 's face flushed. “Don't remind me! I was hoping to forget about the incident.”
“Something like that you won't forget, Andi. Just try to forgive Johnny. Then don't let it bother you anymore.”
Andi nodded then suddenly stiffened.
“What is it?” Mitch asked, concern evident in his voice.
“Mitch, I think I just saw Hugh Baker!”
Mitch's eyes became alert searching every corner of the barn.
“Are you sure it was him, Andi? I don't see anyone.”
“Well, I don't see him now. Maybe I imagined it. This whole thing about Hugh Baker being back in town is giving me the creeps.”
“How about we go back inside and see if cook has the sandwiches ready. Chad should be back before long and you and Justin should be ready to go.”
“Sure. You go ahead. I'll be in in a minute.”
Mitch smiled knowingly. “Going to talk to Taffy about your problems?” When Andi nodded, he winked at her. “Alright. Chad should be back soon so you won’t be alone long.”
As Mitch left, Andi began to talk to Taffy about Johnny returning and the rumors that Hugh Baker was back in town. “And I really think I saw him just a minute ago, Taffy.”
Taffy snorted and stomped her hoof.
Just then, she heard a footstep behind her. Whirling around, she looked into the face of Hugh Baker and a colt 44. revolver.
“What do you want?” Andi asked, praying her voice didn't shake.
Hugh laughed a sickly sweet laugh. “ I decided I needed to have a little chat with the people who got me put in jail. You and your brother especially.”
Andi 's temper flared. “You cared about no one other than yourself!”
Hugh's smile came off his face, replaced with a sneer. He reached out to grab her arm. “Listen here, missy. I will get you and your brother one way or another. I thought you’d both made it real easy on me when I saw you were out here together and alone. But then that other brother of yours rode up. So I hid and when I came back just you were here.”
Andi, still struggling, exclaimed, “You leave my brother alone. Justin's coming out soon and he'll take care of you!” The moment the words left her mouth  Andi wished she had held her tongue.
“You have way too many brothers,” Hugh muttered in disgust. “Listen, you just make sure you're with your brother tomorrow when he checks the fence in the far south-east pasture.”
Andi gave him a startled look. “How do you know what Mitch is doing tomorrow?
Hugh gave an evil chuckle. “Let's just say I've been in the area for a while and I’m good at eavesdropping. It's just a little something I overheard Chad telling him to do it.”
“Let-me—Go!” Andi exclaimed, still struggling.
'I'll let you go. Just don't forget about tomorrow and don't say a word to anyone or you’ll be sorry.”
Just then the door of the house slammed and Justin began walking toward the barn.”
“Just remember.” Hugh said releasing her, then he was gone.
“Ready for our ride, Andi? I've got the sandwiches.”
“Thanks, Justin.”
“Andi ? What's wrong? Why is your arm red? Are you hurt?” Justin deposited the sandwiches in Thunderheads saddle bags, then walked over to  Andi .
“Oh, I'm fine, Justin.” Andi  answered, quickly mounting Taffy before Justin got a good look at her arm. “Let's go.”
“You don't sound too good. We can take our ride another day. The work at my office will wait,” Justin said, giving Andi a concerned look.
“No, no. Let's still go today.”
Reluctantly, Justin mounted Thunderbolt and they galloped down the lane.
All through the day with Justin, Andi  worried about what to do.
Justin noticed the difference and hurried through his business in town so they could get back to the ranch. After they had brushed down the horses and put the tack away, Justin turned to Andi, “Okay. I know something’s wrong. What is it?”
Andi fidgeted with her braids. “It's nothing, Justin. I'm fine.” Well, not exactly lying, Andi thought. I haven't been hurt and I am still fine.
“Andi, honey, I want to help you but I can't' do anything if you don't tell me what's wrong.”
Andi rolled her eyes. Justin knew all the tricks of getting people to talk, but they wouldn't work with her. “I'm fine. Just tired and I don't feel well.” She brushed past him and walked toward the house.
Justin sighed, closed the barn door and followed her into the house.
As she entered the ranch, Andi walked up to her room and sat on her bed. The day had looked so beautiful a few hours ago. What would keep Mitch home tomorrow?
She shuddered at the thought of what he might do to her if they didn't show up the following day. As she walked out of her room and down the stairs, Andi overheard the conversation in the parlor.
“I don't know what's wrong with her and she won't talk to me.” Justin sounded exasperated.
“She was fine with me earlier today. But, come to think of it, she did think she saw Hugh, ” Mitch said.
“Well, you can be guaranteed that if something has happened, Andi is in the middle of it,” Chad’s voice chimed in.
Andi walked into the parlor where they sat talking. “I heard what you were discussing. I guess I really should tell you, even though he told me not to.” Starting at the beginning, Andi told them everything that had happened since Mitch left her in the barn.
Chad's face clouded over and Andi knew he was angry. “How dare he lay a hand on you!” he exclaimed. “Let me see your arm, Andi.”
“No, It'll be fine.”
“Andi , let Chad see your arm,” Justin said in a quiet voice.
Andi lifted her sleeve up and held out her arm. “Just please be careful.” She winced as he touched it. “It hurts a lot.”
Chad's face turned livid as he inspected her arm. “How dare any man do this to my sister!” he exclaimed. “Well, by the time I'm through with him he'll wish he never saw Andi !”
“No, Chad. You can't let him know I told you or he'll do something dreadful to me,” Andi whispered.
“So, he threatened you also?” asked Mitch.
Andi nodded.
“We need to come up with a plan,” said Justin. “Something where nobody will get hurt, but where we are able to catch Hugh unarmed. Or, at the very least, be able to disarm him.”
At the supper table they talked about it with Mother. They still hadn't reached a decision when it was time for Andi to go to bed. "We'll tell you what we've decided in the morning," Mitch told her. "Oh, and by the way, we hired Dick as a ranch hand. He has a sister your age. You'll be able to meet her at church tomorrow."
Andi grinned. "That sounds fun! Goodnight."
Sunday was another beautiful spring day. Andi hurriedly dressed and rushed down the stairs, anxious to hear what her brothers had planned for Hugh after church. As she got to the bottom of the stairs, the breakfast bell rang. She entered the dining room and took her seat. Her mouth watered. Eggs, bacon, flapjacks and orange juice. One of her favorite breakfasts.
As she started eating, Justin turned to her. “So, do you want to hear what we came up with last night?”
Andi nodded.
“We decided to have you and Mitch go like he wanted. We are going to surround the pasture but be far enough away to be out of  sight. Anything that happens will be visible to Chad, the ranch hands and me. Chad and I will stay within shooting range so, if he does anything desperate, you and Mitch won't be on your  own. Mitch will wear his gun in his holster, as usual but he will also wear one inside his vest..”
“That sounds like it will work. I'm going to be so nervous until all this is over.”
Mitch nodded. “Same here. But it's time to go to church so we'd better all get into the buggy.”
As Andi  left the dining room, Mother pulled her aside and gave her a hug. “I don't like this at all, Andrea. I wish there was another way. I'll be praying for you this afternoon.”
Andi returned her mother's hug. “Thanks, Mother.”
As Andi and her family entered the church, Andi noticed that Dick, Chad's new ranch hand, was there as well as a girl her age. She also noticed that Johnny was back. When church was finished, Andi hurried over to where Dick and his sister were seated.
Dick looked up as she walked over and grinned. “Hey, Andi. It's good to see you again. This is my sister, Gail.”
“It's good to meet you!” Andi exclaimed. “It'll be so fun to have you at the ranch!”
Gail smiled shyly. “Hi, Andi, it's great to meet you. Dick says you remind him of me.”
“That's right. Andi and my little Abby Grace will get along well,” Dick smiled.
Gail rolled her eyes. “He insists on calling me that because he knows I hate it. My full name is Abigail Grace but it's too fancy for me.”
Andi laughed. “My full name is Andrea Rose, but it's too fancy for me too!”
Just then Johnny walked up. “Hey, Andi. It's good to see you again.”
Andi regarded him with a stony stare. “It's nice to see you back. How was Military school ?”
“Not too great. It was alright. Well, I'll see you later today. Bye, Gail, Dick.”
Andi stared after him, then turned to Dick and Gail. “ How do you know Johnny?”
“He's been my only friend since we came to Fresno. And he’s been a lot of help to Dick,” Gail explained.
“What? Johnny? You must be mistaken. He’s a bully! ”
Gail looked startled. “ No, he’s not. He's also going to help us move later today.”
“It's time to go, Andi. Dick and Gail will come to the ranch this afternoon. Dick is going to help us later on.” Chad said, coming up behind her.
Andi nodded. “Bye Gail, see you later.”
When they got back, they had a hurried lunch, then Andi and Mitch went out to saddle the horses. Chad, Justin and the ranch hands had already surrounded the pasture.
Gail and Dick had arrived. Sure enough, Johnny was there helping them move and he was able to talk his way into going with Dick to surround the pasture.
Andi muttered. “I can't believe Chad let him come along. I would never trust him with my life. He's probably working with Hugh. I don't believe Johnny can change as much as he has.”
Just then, Mitch walked into the barn. “Well, everything's ready, Andi. Let's go.”
Andi mounted Taffy while Mitch mounted Chase. It took only about a twenty minute gallop until they got to the south-east pasture. Sure enough, there was Hugh waiting on a horse, Andi recognized, as one from the livery.
Mitch motioned for her to slow the horses as they neared Hugh.
As they rode up, Hugh pulled his gun from his holster, cocked it, and pointed it at Mitch. “Well, Andi. Good to see you kept your part of the bargain. I've got a little surprise planned for you and your brother.”
“Get to the point, Hugh. What do you want?”
Hugh glared at Mitch. “I want $10,000.”
Andi gasped. “What would you do with that much money?”
“Well, the first half of it would get me to Mexico and the other half I could live off off comfortably for quite a while.”
Mitch returned Hugh's glare. “What if I say, ‘No’?”
Hugh face turned sickly sweet. “Then perhaps you would let me wed your sister here. How old is she? Sixteen? Plenty old enough to get married in my opinion.”
Andi turned a horrified face to Mitch.
“No, don't you dare touch my sister.  I'll get you the money.”
Hugh laughed. “Good. That should at least repay me for all that money you took from me up in the mountains that time.”
“That was stolen money!” Andi exclaimed.
Hugh laughed. “I like you,  Andi. You've got spunk and you’re not afraid to speak your mind.”
Andi glared at him.
“Well, let's go into town and you can get me the money at the bank.”
Mitch nodded.
“But, first you need to take your gun off. Just throw it on the ground.”
Mitch and Andi exchanged a knowing look. Mitch unbuckled the belt from around his waist, and the holster and gun slipped to the ground.
“Wait, it's Sunday. The bank won't be open.” Andi suddenly remembered.
Hugh laughed. A sound that made chills race up and down Andi 's spine. “We'll figure out a way to get in, won't we?”
“You don't need me to help you get money from the bank. Can't I stay here at the ranch?”
“No. You are my back-up plan, my 'hostage' in case Mitch tries anything stupid. Hand me your reins.”
Andi looked at Mitch. He nodded, and Andi threw the reins to Hugh.
Hugh wrapped them around his saddle horn. “Now you won't be getting away any time soon.”
He put his gun back in his holster and they took off at a gallop. As they neared  the trees, Hugh slowed the horses to a trot.
Just then Andi heard a gun cock behind them. And a voice Andi recognized as Johnny's said. “Don't move.”
Andi groaned. Of all the people Chad could have put to watch this area, it had to be Johnny.
“Don't move a muscle, Hugh Baker. Or I'll have a good mind to relocate this bullet into you.”
Hugh was sitting ramrod straight on his horse. One look at his face and Andi shuddered. He was seething with rage.
“Mitch, why don’t you go find Chad and Dick. They shouldn't be too far off.”
As Mitch rode off, there was a crackling explosion in the bushes behind them as two deer leaped from the brush. Startled, Johnny whirled around, giving Hugh the chance he needed. Ramming his spurs into his horse, Hugh galloped away. Taffy, whose reins were still tied around Hugh's saddlehorn followed.
Johnny, seeing that Hugh was getting away, mounted his horse and began to chase them. He was within shooting range. If he could only be sure he wouldn't hit Andi when he shot. Just then, Chad, Dick and Mitch appeared in front of Hugh and Andi. Hugh pulled the horses to a stop. There was no way he could escape.
Later, after Hugh had been taken to the town jail and everything had settled down, Andi walked out to the barn where Chad, Mitch, Justin, Johnny and Dick were.
'I'm sure glad that's over with!” Andi exclaimed.
“Me too,” Mitch agreed. “it gave me a real scare when I saw Hugh trying to run off with you.”
“Yeah, about that. Thanks Johnny. I wouldn't have thought you would try to help me but you did. Thank you.”
Johnny shrugged. “It was nothing. I'm sorry for how I treated you before. Can you ever forgive me?”
Andi thought a minute. “Sure, Johnny. If Jesus was able to forgive me for all my sins and love me limitlessly besides, I can forgive you. But it will be hard to forget.”
Johnny nodded. “I know. That's about all I can ask. Thanks, Andi.”
Dick leaned against the porch railing of the private bunkhouse the Carters had given for him and Gail to use.
The stars shone bright, twinkling in the clear sky as the crescent shaped moon rose ever higher in the sky.
The door to the bunkhouse opened then clicked shut as Gail joined him.
“It’s a beautiful night tonight.” she whispered as she leaned against him.
“Enchanted, almost.” he answered smoothing her hair.
“God’s so good, isn’t he Dick?”
“Yes,” her brother agreed. “And He truly does direct the paths of those who trust in Him.”

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Through times Unclear

Wow, it's been a really long time since I've posted on here! Unfortunately, There's been some things going on the past few months and I haven't had time to write any of Campfire stories or Beside still waters. :(
But, I do have a story to post today! It's one I entered in the CCA Contest. I hope y'all enjoy it! Without further ado. . .here it is!!

Through Times Unclear
Andi yawned and glanced out the window. It was a rainy spring day, and she was stuck inside the schoolhouse while Mr. Foster explained the finer points of English grammar. As her eyes traveled around the room, she caught Cory’s eye as he gave her a slow wink. He knew how much she hated grammar. She grinned at him, and looked up just in time to catch Mr. Fosters warning look.
Next to her, Macy was working diligently. They had become close friends ever since their incident with the stolen horses and Macy’s brothers.
She turned back to her slate. If she was going to graduate from eighth grade in 3 weeks, she would have to know enough to pass the final test. And,unfortunately, that included grammar.
                                                     *             *             *
Chad walked into the room and let the door close quietly behind him. When mother had gotten the telegram from Aunt Rebecca and Kate, he had been the one chosen to travel to San Francisco. He had hoped that the matter would be able to be settled quickly and without a lot of fuss or people knowing about it. He could see that would be impossible now. And how he wished Justin was here! He might know how to somehow make sense of the whole mess. With a sigh he sat down heavily on the bed and put his aching head in his hands.
                                      *                         *                    *
Justin sighed as he closed his file. It had been a long day and there wasn't much hope that it would slow down for the next couple weeks.  He was worried about Kate. When mother had gotten the telegram from her about Levi’s disappearance, he had known he couldn’t go. He was busy with a case as well as having to take care of Lucy who hadn’t recovered well from the birth of the baby and was still very weak. He smiled at the thought of the baby. His baby. James Earl Carter was a happy, healthy baby who  was his father's pride and joy.
A knock on the door interrupted his thought.
“Come in.”
Tim, his clerical assistant, entered. “A telegram for you, Mr. Carter,” he said, crossing the room and placing the piece of paper on his desk.
“Thanks, Tim. When you finish organizing the legal papers for this case,  you can go on home. I’ll lock up tonight.”
Tim nodded and left the room, closing the door softly behind him.
As he left, Justin unfolded the single slip of paper and, glancing to the bottom, noticed it was from Chad. He quickly scanned the three, short sentences and sighed. He dropped his head into his hands in a silent gesture of resignation as the single slip of paper fluttered to the ground.
                                               *                          *                      *
Andi bounded down the school steps. The rain had slowed down to a slight drizzle. She decided to head over to Justin’s office and see if he was finished. She had plenty of time, after all, school had gotten out an hour early because Mr. Foster had a teaching conference he was planning to attend. As she walked along, she thought about Chad’s sudden departure from the ranch.
“I wonder why Chad left so suddenly yesterday? Mother didn’t say and neither did Mitch...or Melinda.” She sighed. At fourteen she was sure she was old enough to be included in the adult conversations.
Turning the corner to her brothers office, she ran into someone and nearly fell over.
“Miss Carter, please do everyone the pleasure of watching where you are going.”
Andi looked up, annoyed. That voice could only belong to one person, Tim, her brother’s clerk. She got up, ignoring him and walked toward the door.
“Your brother is busy, I wouldn’t advise seeing him right now.”  Tim’s voice trailed after her as she opened the door and walked inside.
Slowly she tiptoed through the lobby and opened the door to the office, planning to surprise Justin.
What she saw made her gasp in surprise.
Justin, her strong, confident older brother, sat at the desk with his head in his hands looking dejected and lonely.  
“Justin, Justin are you alright?”
Justin looked up and managed a smile. “I’m alright, honey. I just heard from your brother.”
“From Chad? What’s wrong? What isn’t anyone telling me?”
Justin sighed. “Your mother got a telegram from Kate and Aunt Rebecca yesterday.  Levi had gone missing. There was a ransom note left on the front porch of your Aunt Rebecca’s house. It seems as though Troy kidnapped Levi and wanted a ransom for him.  So, Chad went to take the ransom. But I got a telegram today…” Justin trailed off.
Andi looked around and spotted the piece of paper on the floor. Quickly she snatched it up and read.

Troy left town with the ransom and Levi stop

Said to never expect to see either of them again stop

Not sure what to do next stop

The thought of Levi being kidnapped by Troy made Andi furious.
“Justin? We can’t just leave Levi with him!” Andi exclaimed, turning so quickly that she knocked a file of papers off her brother’s desk.
“Andi, calm down. We’re not planning on leaving him. I’m going to get Melinda to stay with Lucy and the baby. Then I’ll go to San Francisco and  Chad and I will try to figure something out. Right now we need to get home and tell everyone what happened,”  Justin said, picking up the papers that had scattered all over the floor and trying to restore some sense of order to them.
“Why don’t you go and hitch the horses up to the buggy while I go and reply to Chad’s telegram.”
Andi nodded and started off in the direction of the livery.

                                     *                           *                          *
Justin finished organizing the papers, then headed over to the train depot. As he opened the door, the clerks’ voice called out. “There’s another telegram for you here, Mr. Carter. I was just about to bring it over to your office. It looks like it’s from San Francisco.”
Justin nodded politely and reached across the counter for the slip of paper.
He quickly opened it and read.
Just got word that a man of Troy’s description was seen at a bar in Modesto yesterday  stop

Bartender said he had been there for two days stop

Police are looking but they aren’t anywhere to be found stop

Levi wasn’t seen with Troy stop

Justin quickly stuffed the paper into his pocket as he heard Andi’s steps on the boardwalk.
  •                                           *                                                      *

Andi sighed as she brushed Shasta’s mane. Once they had gotten home, things had happened quickly.
Justin had left for San Francisco and Mother had gone with him to be with Kate; they had dropped Melinda off to stay with Lucy before they left.
That left Mitch and Andi alone at the ranch.
Andi could tell that Mitch wasn’t sure if it would work out very well. With him out on the ranch all day, she would be on her own until supper.
She slipped the bridle over Shasta’s head and lead her out into the bright sunshine. Grabbing a handful of her mane, she mounted, then urged Shasta into a canter. Not really caring where she went, she let Shasta just gallop while her mind wandered.
How was Levi?
How was Kate holding up?
Had Justin told her everything?
Why did she still feel like there was something she hadn't been told?
She snapped back into reality when Shasta skidded to a stop, nearly throwing Andi off of her back.             

  •                                                           *                                                         *
Justin sighed as he leaned his head back against the rapidly moving stagecoach. Mother had fallen asleep after a the first couple hours. He was glad. She needed the rest and he didn’t mind having time just to think.
How in the world were they going to be able to find Levi?
Troy had at least a two-day head start. . .and they had no idea what direction he was traveling in or where he planned to go.
His thoughts wandered back home. He knew Andi was upset about being left at the ranch. He just hoped she wouldn’t find out about that last telegram from Chad. There was enough for her to worry about without having to know that Levi had been alone for two days, while Troy had gotten himself drunk at the bar.
  •                                                                    *                                                       *
Andi looked at what was lying in front of her and gasped. It couldn’t be!
She quickly dismounted Shasta and knelt by the still form in front of her.
Levi lay on the ground with his leg bent under him at a strange angle. His face was an unnatural purple color--as though he had been hit repeatedly--and his hands were cracked and bleeding.
Andi looked around. She had ridden far from the ranch and was at the edge of the Carter property.
I need Mitch. . .but I can’t just leave Levi here like this! Before she could decide what to do, she heard galloping hoofbeats coming across the field. Looking up, she saw Mitch riding toward her on Chase. She ran toward him. “Mitch, Mitch, it’s Levi! He’s. . .” her voice trailed off as the rider approached. It was Chase, but it wasn’t Mitch.  
“Well, it’s good to see you again, little sister.” Troy said in a mocking tone, as he dismounted.  “I see you’ve found my son. Rather unfortunate for you, since now I’ll have to take you as well as him.”
Andi clenched her hands. “You won’t take him. He’s sick and hurt.”
“At least I won’t have to fight him as well as you. You Carters sure are fighters. . .your brother Mitch can be violent!” He rubbed his jaw, which Andi noticed was turning a dark purple.
“Mitch? What have you done to him?”
Troy chuckled. “Oh, don’t worry, it wasn’t planned. I just came to the ranch looking for Levi. Unfortunately your brother saw me and--”
‘What did you do to him!” Andi interrupted.
“Well, he’s got a black eye and--”
“How dare you touch my brother!” Andi’s eyes flashed as she lunged at Troy who was now holding both Chase’s and Shasta’s reins, blocking off any way of escape.
Heeasily dodged her, then roughly pushed her to the ground.
“It seems you haven't changed. Still feisty as ever.”
Andi, who had landed on top of Levi, glared at Troy, then turned her attention to her nephew. Even when she fell on him, he hadn’t moved. She quickly grabbed his wrist and checked his pulse. For a terrified moment she could feel nothing, then, to her relief, she felt a slow but steady throb.
“He needs to get to a doctor.”
Troy shook his head. “You know how many sheriffs they’ve got out after me? I’m not going to get myself caught.”
“Just listen to his breathing. Do you want to get arrested for murder as well as kidnapping?”
Troy jerked Andi by her arm. “ You need to watch what you say and shut your mouth, girl. I’m not gettin’ arrested!” He let go of her arm and turned to Levi. Sure enough, his breath was coming in short, laboured gasps.
“All right. I’ll take you both with me into Visalia. There’s a doctor there.”
“Visalia. Why are you going south?”
“Why do you think? I’m a wanted man all across the United States. But Mexico. . .that’s where I’m headed!”
  •                                                               *                                                               *
Chad sat in the Wells Fargo office as he waited for the stage. So, Andi had been left behind. He chuckled to himself. she would have hated that, but it was the safest place for her.
“She always means well, but I have a feeling that if she had come we would be looking for two children, not just one. She does always seem to get into the thick of things!”
“What was that, sir?”
Chad turned to the clerk. “Oh, nothing. Just talking to myself.”
“Well, if it’s of any interest to you, the stage just pulled in.”
Sure enough, the jangle of the harness sounded just outside.
Justin had dismounted by the time he got outside, and he greeted his brother with a warm handshake.
“Don’t worry, Chad. We’ll find him.”
Chad nodded, then turned to help mother disembark.
“Aunt Rebecca and Kate will be happy to see you, mother.”
She turned to him. “And how are you doing, Chad?”
He sighed. “I’ll be alright. Just glad when this is over with.”                                                                       *                                                                *                                        *
The sun was low in the western sky as Troy stopped the horses just outside of Visalia.
“Alright, you go on into town and get the doctor.”
Andi stopped. “Get the doctor?”
“Well, you weren't thinking I was coming into town, were you?”
“And what if I decide to go get the police?”
Troy glared at her. “I’m not all that stupid. If you want to see your nephew alive and well you’ll go straight to the doctors and come right back.”
One look at Levi’s  face was enough for Andi. There was no way she could let him suffer because of Troy.
She quickly mounted Shasta and galloped off toward the town.
  •                                                           *                                                    *
Micah Wilson exited the Mercantile, then, walking to his horse, he placed the small bundle inside the saddle bag. Suddenly, a flurry of hoof beats sounded. Turning he saw a young girl ride up.
Must be a visitor. I don’t remember seeing her around here before,
he thought as he placed a foot in the stirrup and mounted.
“Sir, can you tell me where the doctor’s office is?”
Micah turned, suddenly realizing that she was talking to him.
“Sure, It’s the seventh building on the right,” he said. “Do you see it? The one with the light in the window.”
“Are you alright?”
“Well--it’s--I’m just trying to--”
Okay, something is going on here. Micah thought to himself.
“Are you in trouble?”
She looked at him, as though trying to figure out if she could trust him. “I--I  just have to get the doctor.” she yelled over her shoulder as she galloped down the street.
Micah wheeled his horse around and started toward the sheriff's office.
  •                                                   *                                                    *
Andi took no time in persuading the doctor to come, and soon they arrived at the makeshift campsite Troy had set up.
Before the doctor was able to dismount, Troy walked over, placing a loaded gun to the doctor’s back.
“Now, tell me Andi. Did you do anything else in town other than get the doctor?”
“No, I just asked someone for directions to the doctor's office and came straight here. Please, Troy, let him look at Levi!”
Troy lowered the gun and nodded.
“He’s over this way. An--and-- he’s not breathing too well.”
Andi turned to Troy, startled. Was that compassion in his voice?
“Oh, no!” the doctor sighed.
“What is it?” Troy asked.
“Well, apart from the fact that his leg is badly broken as well as his wrist, and his face is badly bruised, it seems he’s contracted pneumonia. There may also be some internal injuries, I can’t quite tell yet.”
“What? All that? How is it possible!” Troy exclaimed.
“Well, he obviously fell, which caused his wrist and leg to break. . .as for the pneumonia? Well has he been outside for a while? Its been rainy and damp, even a couple hours outside could have caused him to contract a cold, which in his case,  quickly deepened into pneumonia.”
“Is there anything you can do for him?” Andi asked tremblingly.
“Well, I can make him comfortable for now, but that’s about all.”
“Do it! What ever you have to do to save him!”
The doctor turned sympathetically to Andi. “I’ll do all I can, but I need to get him back to my office. There is little I can do here.”
Before anyone had time to answer, there were a flurry if hoofbeats in the distance.
Troy roughly jerked Andi’s arm and pulled her to him until his face was nearly touching hers.
“You told me you went straight to the doctors! Now what’s this? Did you invite the sheriff to the party?”
He threw her hard, causing her to land in a splatter of mud. Quickly, he mounted his horse, yanked his pistol from his holster, firing a shot toward the approaching sheriff and deputies then pushed his horse into a gallop.
What in the world? Andi thought as she stood and awkwardly brushed off the mud that clung tightly to her split riding skirt.
“Hey, you alright?”
Andi turned to see a young man ride up beside her. It was the same person she had asked for directions to the doctors.
“Y-yes, everything is fine. Was it you that got the sheriff?”
He nodded. “After you left in such a hurry for the doctor, I thought something might be wrong.”
Suddenly the doctor appeared behind them. “I need to get the boy back to my office. Micah, can you go into town and get a wagon to transport him?”
Micah nodded. “I’ll be as quick as I can.”
Andi turned at the sound of gunshots. The sheriff had caught up to Troy, who had fired off a startled shot, before his right arm got hit with a bullet. There was a short scuffle as the sheriff grabbed the reins of the horse, causing Troy to fall. Quickly one of the deputies landed on top of him and handcuffed his hands behind his back.
She turned from the sight. Much as she hated to see someone get arrested, she was relieved that Troy would, once again, be behind bars and unable to hurt Levi or anyone else.
  •                                                             *                                                     *
Justin jumped down from the buggy and hurried inside the doctor’s office while Chad tied the horses to the hitching post.
Just yesterday the telegram had come from Mitch saying Andi was missing, followed only hours later by another telegram saying Levi and Andi had both been found and were  in Visalia.
“Are you Justin? Justin Carter?”
Justin turned as the middle aged doctor walked over to greet him.
“That I am! How is Levi doing?”
“Oh he’s coming along alright! Andi’s been with him ever since he’s been here and Mitch has been here every spare minute as well. In fact, he’s here now.”
The doctor ushered him down the hallway then into a small room. On the bed lay Levi, Andi sat next to him, and Mitch was on the only chair.
“Justin you’re back!” Andi jumped up and gave him a hug.
Justin chuckled. “That I am. How’s our patient?”
Levi grinned as Justin ruffled his hair. “I feel much better today. The doctor said I could go home tomorrow, but I’ll still have to have these awful casts on for the next six weeks.”
Mitch then chimed in. “But when they come off you’ll be good as new!”
Justin agreed. “Healing takes time. God created our bodies in a wonderful way. They have the ability to repair themselves like nothing else on earth.”
He turned to Andi. “And how are you doing?”
“I’m alright. I’m just glad that Troy was arrested and can’t hurt us anymore. Is that wrong, Justin? To be thankful that someone is in prison?”
Justin sighed. “That is a complicated question. The Bible tells us not to wish anyone ill, but in this case I don’t think that’s what you’re doing. He got what he deserved, and you’re just thankful that no one else will get hurt by him. And it says in Proverbs 21:15 It is joy to the just to do judgment: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.”
Before Andi could reply, Chad entered the room. “I just have one question.” he said, crossing his arms. “Why is it that no matter what happens or where we are, Andi always ends up right in the middle of what we were trying to protect her from?”
Justin and Mitch both grinned, but Justin was the one who answered. “Because she’s our Andi, and I wouldn't want it any other way. Well, except for when it’s dangerous!” He said, giving her another hug.
  •                                                             *                                                                    *
Two days later everyone was re-united at the Carter ranch. Aunt Rebecca, Kate, Hannah and Betsy had taken the stage as soon as they had gotten the news about Levi.
Mother had decided that she wouldn’t let Andi out of her sight for fear of all the trouble she would get into.
After an early supper everyone retired to the parlor. Andi was quietly amusing Hannah and Betsy. Mother,who was holding baby James, Aunt Rebecca, Kate, Melinda and Lucy were talking together quietly, Mitch and Chad were playing a game of checkers while Levi watched intently, when Justin stood up.
“I’d like everyone's attention please.” he said, smiling. “This past week has been a whirlwind of events. First Levi missing, then Troy coming into the picture, and then Andi being kidnapped as well. I’m just so thankful that everyone is now back together and safe. It’s times like these that I truly see Romans, 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
“Thank you so much, Justin.” Mother said. “It is always a blessing to know that when times get tough, we always have the tried and tested Word of God to stand on. He always does make all thing work together for good to them that love Him.”

                                                              The End