Breathlessly, Shannon watched the street outside through the lower pane of glass in the window. "One of Everett's men just passed by," she told Rory and Sean. Then releasing her breath with a sigh of relief, she said, "He went on by. Ben's in the carriage with David and they're leaving."
Rory put his arm around her as she straightened up.
"I just hope they find Michael and that he's all right," she worried.
"I think we'd have known by now if one of Everett's men had him, Shannon," Sean assured her, putting a barrel near the door. "Well? How does it look?" he asked, indicating the still dark store.
Shannon smiled as she surveyed the once bare shelves now filled with stock. Not only was there fabric and hardware, but there was even a brand new jar of hard candy sitting proudly on the counter near the till.
New paragraph: "It looks like a store again. Thank you," she told Rory, putting her arms around him to give him a hug. Turning toward Sean, she moved to give him a kiss on the cheek as she told him, "And thank you for all your help, Sean."
Sean put a hand to his cheek where Shannon had kissed him, and Rory smiled as he noticed the red in his little brother's embarrassed face, even in the dark room.
"It was nothing," he insisted. "Is there anything else that needs to be done before we get some rest?"
"I have to get the wagon over to Mr. Fuller's stable," Rory told him.
"Where is the stable?" Sean asked. "It would be best if I take it over, since no one knows me. If I'm seen, I can say that I just got into town from Denver -"
Rory started to smile. "You know, Sean, that might not
be a bad idea, at that. Of course, it might be best to wait a
little while. If I'm not mistaken, Everett's probably got someone
out looking for Jennings on the trail. Next time one of his men
come back from that
way - " He paused for a moment and looked thoughtfully at Sean. "Yes," he mused. "It just might work, at that."
Sean looked at Shannon. "Why do I get a sick feeling in my gut when he smiles that way?" he asked.
"For the same reason I do," Shannon was forced to admit as she looked at her husband. "What have you got in mind now, Rory Manion?"
Jackson pulled back on the reins of his mount as he reached the bank. Getting out of the saddle, he tied the horse to the post and started inside to report to Everett as he heard a wagon coming slowly down the street. Stepping out, he watched as the driver brought it to a stop.
"Can I help you, mister?" Jackson asked.
"You can if you know where the livery stable is. I need a place to leave this wagon till tomorrow morning."
The door of the bank opened and Everett came out. "The livery is just down that way," he told the young man.
"I haven't seen you around here before. Are you visiting someone or just passing through?"
"Just passing through. On my way to Pueblo from Denver. It's taking me longer than I planned."
"I had to come the long way cause the main road was buried with rocks. And then I came up on a couple of dead bodies back up the trail."
"A man and a woman," the young man said. "They'd been shot. Since there was no one left to bury 'em, I did it for 'em."
Everett gave Jackson a triumphant smile before looking back at the driver of the wagon. "There wasn't anyone else, Mr.-?"
"John Carpenter," the man said, extending his hand in a friendly gesture.
Everett took the hand, shaking it. "Mr. Carpenter. Henry Everett." He lifted a hand toward the bank, adding, "I'm the banker here. You didn't see anyone else, then? Another wagon?"
John shook his head. "No, Mr. Everett. I was the only one. Except -" He paused as Everett looked at him. "I saw this other fella ahead of me awhile back," he said, nodding in Jackson's direction. "Looked like he was looking for someone."
"We were expecting a business associate to come that way this evening. I suppose he took another route instead," Everett said. "As I said, the livery stable is down the road and just to your right. Can't miss it."
John lifted the reins. "Thank you."
Once the driver of the wagon was out of hearing, Everett rubbed his hands together. "So Jennings was successful after all. Manion is dead. Very soon, the Clement ranch and the General Store will be mine. And I'm going to be a very rich man, Mr. Jackson."
"Just one question, Mr. Everett," Jackson said. "Where's Jennings?"
Sean left the livery stable and went to the hotel, checking in under his old name. He hadn't gone by the name John Carpenter in so long that it felt strange to sign the name to the register. He'd asked for a room facing the street, explaining that he had to be up early to get a start for Pueblo, and since the front of the hotel faced East -
The clerk had nodded sleepily and pointed him toward a suitable room.
Once upstairs, Sean cast a regretful eye on the bed and then planted a chair beside the window, where he sat down to keep an eye on the General Store, just in case Everett or his man hadn't totally believed John Carpenter's story.
Henry Everett was walking toward the bank the next morning when he saw Jackson. "Any word from Jennings?" he asked.
The man shook his head negatively and said, "But there's something going on down the street you might be interested in."
Everett turned to find a large number of townspeople milling around the General Store, as if they were waiting for something. Smiling at Jackson, he said, "They're in for a surprise when they find out-" He stopped as he saw the Clement family arrive in a carriage. "What are they doing here so early?" he asked.
"Morning, Mr. Everett," Sean said, coming out of the hotel.
"Mr. Carpenter," Everett said. "I'm surprised to see you still here. I thought you had to leave early for Pueblo?"
"Plans changed," Sean told him. "What's going on over there?" he asked, nodding toward the General Store."
"That's what we were just wondering ourselves," Jackson noted.
David and Deirdre Clement were just getting out of their carriage when the doors of the General Store opened to reveal a very much alive Rory and Shannon Manion. A cheer went up from the gathered crowd.
Seeing Jackson's hand reach for his gun, Sean pulled his. "I wouldn't if I were you. Be a shame to mar such a joyous occasion, don't you agree, Mr. Everett?"
Everett glared at Sean. "Who are you, Mr. Carpenter?"
"The name's Sean Manion. Rory's my brother. I'll take the gun, if you please," he said to Jackson.
Rory lifted his hands and addressed the crowd, saying, "Thank you all for coming. I'm sure you're all aware by now that there are big changes in store for Cuttersville with the coming of the railroad in a few months." There was another cheer, and again he lifted his hand to silence the crowd. "Let today be the beginning of a new chapter in the history of this town - a bright and shining chapter, unfettered by the greedy, grasping claws of the past." His blue eyes glittered as they sought out Everett, who was standing beside Sean.
Everett noticed several other people looking at him as well and started backing away. "Jackson, don't just stand there, do something," he said nervously.
Jackson shook his head. "Sorry, Mr. Everett. I don't think I like the way things are going. Time for me to leave," he said as he went to his horse. "Don't worry about the money you owe me, either."
Everett turned and started to run back toward the bank, but Sean was there with Jackson's gun.
"I really think Rory would prefer you stay, Mr. Everett," Sean informed him.
"Where's Jennings?" Everett asked.
"Buried on the trail between here and Denver, along with the other men he had with him. You really should try to hire better guns next time, Mr. Everett. Why don't the two of us go over and visit the jail?"
A cheer went up again as Sean pushed Everett toward the jail.
Inside, Sheriff Prescott fumbled for his gun but it was too late, since Sean already had his out.
"Give me the keys, Sheriff," Sean instructed him. When the old man hesitated, Sean shook his head, as well, saying, "Tell him to do it, Mr. Everett, or there won't be a need for one." He drew the hammer back on his gun.
"Do it, you old fool," Everett ordered Prescott.
Sean took the keys from Prescott, as well as his badge.
"Now into the cell. Both of you," Sean ordered.
"You can't keep us in here," Everett told Sean as the younger man locked the door.
"It's just until the Territorial Marshall arrives tomorrow," Sean assured him, polishing the badge on his shirt before putting it onto the desk. The keys he put into his pocket as he left the jail and went to the General Store.
The interior was filled with customers - *paying* customers - eager to support Shannon and Rory's enterprise.
Sean handed his brother the key to the cell. "They're both locked up," he reported.
"Good for you, Sean," Rory praised. "If you want, you could take the gentleman in the back and let him join them," he said, referring to Gardner, who was still tied up in the storeroom.
"Kerrigan and the others are bringing Cumbie in," David told them.
"I'll go get Gardner," Sean told them.
"Need some help?" David offered.
"I think I can handle it," Sean assured the older man.
* * * *
After dinner that night, Shannon entered the storeroom shaking her head. "We're going to need more stock," she told Rory as he counted the money from the till.
"At least, we'll have the money to pay for it," he said, pushing back from the desk and reaching for her hand to draw her to him. "I think we've done it, Shannon my girl." He pulled her across his lap, settling his arms around her. "How would you like a house? A real house, with lots of space for Michael and Shane to play and grow in?"
Shannon looked at him. "I thought you liked the rooms upstairs."
"Oh, I do. But Everett's house is going to be on the market - and it's a grand place, from what I can tell -"
Shannon shook her head, laughing. "Always full of plans, Rory Manion. And I love you for it."
"Not as much as I love you," he said, pulling her close for a long kiss.
She rested her head against his when the kiss ended. "You know they're talking about a town council," she reminded him.
"Hmm. I believe I heard some mention of it today," he said, pressing small kisses on her face.
"Someone mentioned that you might make a good councilman."
Rory stopped what he was doing to look at her. "Me? A politician? Never!"
Six months later, as the train made its first stop in Cuttersville, the newly elected town council, headed by one Rory Manion, was waiting to welcome the railroad officials who had made the trip.
But it was Sean that the Manion-Clement clan had come to greet. He had gone back to his surveying job after Everett's trial and while everything was being sorted out as far as who owned what in Cuttersville. But he'd promised to come back once the rail was laid between the towns.
"I don't see him!" Deirdre called to David as they stood on the platform, her eyes searching the cars for some sign of her younger brother.
"He'll be here, darling," David assured his wife as he led her toward a bench. "Sit down. You shouldn't have come at all," he said gently, placing his hand on her swollen abdomen. Even Dr. Walsh had advised against her traveling from the ranch so far into her pregnancy, but she had insisted that she had to be here to greet Sean upon his return.
"There he is!" Michael called, pointing. "Uncle Sean!"
Sean came down out of the car, laughing as he was set upon by Michael and Ben and Shane. When he finally disentangled himself from his nephews, he gave Rory and Shannon hugs.
"Where's Deirdre?" he asked.
Shannon pointed to the bench, where David was sitting, refusing to let her up. "Waiting for you," she told him. "Rather impatiently, I might add."
"Well, I brought a surprise for her," Sean said, turning back to the rail car as a thin, balding man came down the steps.
"Eamon?" Rory questioned. "Oh, you old Irish dog. What are you doing here in Cuttersville?"
Sean moved over to where Deirdre was sitting.
"I couldn't very well let Deirdre have that baby without my being here, now, could I?" the doctor asked, a broad smile on his face.
Rory brought Shannon forward. "This is Shannon. Shannon, I'd like you to meet Dr. Eamon Fleming. Best doctor this side of Dublin."
"Oh, high praise indeed, Rory," Eamon said, holding Shannon's hand. "It's a pleasure to meet anyone who can put up with this one," he said, nodding toward Rory. "If he ever gives you any trouble, let me know."
"I will," Shannon promised.
"I'd best go see my patient, I think," Eamon decided, frowning as an older man joined Deirdre on the bench to speak to her.
"I'll not go home yet," Deirdre was saying as Eamon approached. "Today's a celebration. I refuse to be in my bed while everyone else -"
"Mrs. Clement, you're risking an early delivery with your attitude," the older man admonished. "I tried to warn you against coming today-"
"I had to see Sean," she insisted, taking her little brother's hand.
"Still as stubborn as ever, I see, Deirdre," Eamon noted with a smile when she looked up at him.
"Eamon. Oh, I can't believe it!"
Dr. Walsh looked up at the Irishman. "Dr. Fleming?" he asked.
"You've heard of me?"
"I've spent the last six months having to listen to Mrs. Clement tell me that I'm not doing things the way Eamon Fleming would have done them," Dr. Walsh said, smiling as he held out his hand. "Dr. Eric Walsh." As Eamon shook his hand, the older man asked, "Has she always been this difficult?"
"Only when she's going to have a baby," Eamon said. "Deirdre, you must lie down. For the baby's sake, if not for your own."
"He's right, Deirdre," David agreed.
"Take her to our house," Shannon suggested. "We've more than enough room."
"Thank you, Shannon," David said, lifting his wife into his arms and carrying her through the crowd to their carriage.
"I'm not an invalid, David Clement," she insisted. "Put me down."
"I will," he assured her evenly. "When we get to the carriage. Eamon, Dr. Walsh? Are you coming with us?"
Eamon looked at Rory. "Are you coming as well?" he asked.
Looking toward the grandstand where the council was being seated, Rory said, "I have to stay for a few minutes, at least."
"Rory's head of the town council," Shannon told him proudly.
"So Sean informed me. I'll see you later, then."
"Eamon!" David called again, and the doctor turned toward the carriage.
Rory looked torn as he watched the carriage move away, but Shannon placed a hand on his chest as she said, "She'll be fine. She's just overdone things, that's all. And now that Dr. Fleming's here, I'm sure things will be all right."
"You know something?" Rory asked. "So am I."
"Rory!" Nate Fuller called from the grandstand. "We're ready for you!"
Shannon gave him a kiss on the cheek and picked up Shane as she prepared to listen to Rory's speech . . .
Four hours later, David, Sean, and Rory were all pacing the front room of the Manion house. Ben and Michael were sitting on the hearth, both with worried looks on their faces.
When Shannon came down the stairs, the men all stopped pacing to look at her.
"Go on up, David," she said. "You have another son. You go, too, Ben. Meet your new brother."
"Another son?" David asked, giving Shannon a hug. "And Deirdre?"
"She's fine. Go on. She's asking for you both."
"You're sure she's all right?" Rory asked as Shannon stepped into his embrace.
"Right as rain."
"Thank God," Rory sighed, causing Shannon to realize how terrified he'd been. As he sat down in a chair, he repeated, "Thank God."
Shannon knelt beside her husband, saying, "Sean, there's a bottle of whiskey in that cabinet over there. Michael, go and get your father and Sean a glass. I think they could both use a drink about now."
Rory eyed her curiously. "Shannon Manion? Suggesting that I have a drink?"
"Purely for medicinal purposes," she assured him as Sean handed him a glass. "Drink it." When he still hesitated, she said, "Drink a toast to your new nephew, then." When both men finally drank, she couldn't help smiling and saying, "God save me from stubborn Irishmen."
Eamon and Dr. Walsh came downstairs, fastening their shirt cuffs, discussing medical matters. "I'd never seen it done that way," Dr. Walsh was saying.
"It's something I came up with in my work in Philadelphia. I'd be glad to discuss it with you, if you'd like."
"Yes, I would like that," Dr. Walsh agreed as he put on his hat. "Well, I have to pay a call on Mrs. Harper. She sprained her ankle and is determined to make her poor daughter's life miserable. I'm sure Dr. Fleming will be able to attend to Mrs. Clement and her son."
"Thank you, Dr. Walsh," Rory said.
"Yes, thank you," Shannon echoed. "I'll see you out."
Eamon looked at the glass in Rory's hand and noticed the slight tremor. "She's fine, Rory. Believe me. Deirdre's as strong a woman as I've ever seen. I think that if she and David hadn't been parted as they were, they would have had an entire houseful of little ones by now."
"I know, Eamon. In *here*, I know that," Rory said, pointing to his head. "But in here-" he said, putting a hand to his chest, "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forget -"
David came to the railing and called, "Rory, Michael, Sean - she wants to see you."
"Are you coming, Shannon?" Rory asked.
"I'll stay down here with Dr. Fleming," she told him. "I've already seen the baby, remember?"
Rory nodded and followed Sean and Michael.
"Dr. Fleming. . ." she began, sitting down near where Shane was playing with his blocks.
"Eamon, please. You're the wife of my oldest friend. I'm not one to stand on formality."
She smiled. "Eamon, then. Are you planning on staying in Cuttersville?"
"I hadn't decided until I got off the train and saw Deirdre. I have a thriving practice back in Philadelphia, but there are enough doctors there now that can take over what I've been doing. Dr. Walsh and I are going to discuss my taking over his practice eventually. Why do you ask?"
Shannon pulled Shane into her lap before she answered. "Because I think it would nice if you were to deliver Rory's next child, since you brought Shane into the world," she explained. "And I think Rory would trust you to see that things go right more than he would Dr. Walsh."
"Are you sure that you're with child?" Eamon asked in a quiet voice.
"Shannon?" Rory called from upstairs.
"Rory, "she said as she turned in the chair to look up at him and saw the surprise on his face.
He came slowly down the stairs, never taking his eyes from her. Kneeling beside her chair, he said, "Are you -?"
She nodded. "Yes. Dr. Walsh confirmed it yesterday."
Rory pulled her to him as Shane protested being caught between. "Oh, Shannon," he sighed.
Eamon plucked Shane from Shannon's lap. "Why don't I take the little one up to see his new cousin?" he suggested, not really expecting an answer. "For what it's worth, Rory, I don't think she'll have a problem."
Rory gave his old friend a smile and looked at Shannon again. "When were you going to tell me?" he asked.
"Tonight. But with everything that's happened - you're not angry?"
"Angry?" he asked, running his fingers through her fiery tresses. "Oh, no. Right now, I think I'm the happiest man alive."
As he straightened the stock on the shelves for the hundredth time that morning and interacted with customers, Rory was working on instinct. His mind wasn't there- it was across town in a big, white house, where Shannon was resting in bed.
It wasn't that she wanted to be there - or that she even needed to be. It had been Rory's fear that had made him insist that his wife spend the last days of her pregnancy in her bed. He tried to stay calm and not let his old fears claim him - he really did. But the nearer Shannon's time came, the tighter those icy fingers of terror closed around his heart, forcing his fears to the surface once more.
He'd lost Rachel in childbirth, and he'd only barely managed to recover from that loss with Shannon's help. If he were to lose her now -
Rory dropped the box of nails he'd been holding on the floor when he jumped in response to the voice of Mrs. Harper.
"Oh, dear," the woman said, pressing a hand to her ample bosom. "Are you all right, Mr. Manion?" she asked, watching as he bent to retrieve the nails.
"I'm fine, Mrs. Harper," he assured the woman, putting the box on the counter as he stood up again. "What can I do for you?"
"I was wondering if the bolt of gingham I ordered last week had come in yet? Mrs. Manion said that it would be." When Rory nodded, she asked, "Is Mrs. Manion around?"
"No. She's at home, resting," he said, pulling the bolt of blue gingham from the top shelf, where he'd placed it on hold for Mrs. Harper. "Here you go."
"I do hope Mrs. Manion's well," the woman continued.
"There's nothing wrong. I just thought she should take it easy, with her time so near."
Isabel Harper smiled in approval. "You're such a good, thoughtful husband, Mr. Manion. I've often wished my Prudence would find someone like you to marry . . . "
As Mrs. Harper rattled on, Rory considered her words. A good, thoughtful husband? He doubted Rachel would have said that, not after all the things he'd done and said. But even so, she had forgiven him. She had risked everything for him - in the end, even her very life.
It never failed to amaze Rory how different and yet how similar the two women that he had married were. He'd been attracted to both at first sight and fallen in love with both very quickly. They had both had been strong emotionally, knowing what they wanted and letting nothing stand in their way. But where Rachel had been raised in a sheltered environment and had been the more fragile physically, Shannon had grown up in a far different environment, learning to survive on her own as best she could, first with an alcoholic father and then later with a wastrel of a first husband.
Rachel would always hold a special place in Rory's heart. She'd been his first love, the mother of his first born child. But Shannon had illuminated all of the dark places in his soul, making him feel - cautiously - that perhaps his brother Padriac's dying curse had been lifted at last.
His father had once told him that everything that happened in one's life happened for a reason. Perhaps all of the bad times and all the pain he'd suffered through during his marriage with Rachel and her death had happened so that he would be able to appreciate what he had now, here, with Shannon and his family.
"Isn't that so, Mr. Manion?"
Rory blinked, having no idea what Mrs. Harper had been saying as she stood there, waiting for him to answer her query. "Umm, I'm sorry, Mrs. Harper," he stammered. "What was it you were asking?"
"Whether you agree with me that my Prudence should set her cap for Dr. Fleming or your brother," the woman informed him impatiently.
"Oh." The idea of his best friend or his brother either one with Prudence Harper was something Rory didn't want to think about. "I make it a point never to involve myself with such things, Mrs. Harper," he informed her. "Best to let nature take its course. Besides, I -"
He was saved as Ben ran into the store, out of breath. Excitedly, he exclaimed, "Uncle Rory! You'd better come!"
Rory was already untying his apron and making his apologies to Mrs. Harper as he followed Ben out of the store.
"What about my gingham?" Mrs. Harper called after them.
"I'll put it on your account!" Rory said. "Have you gotten the doctor, Ben?" he asked the boy.
"Dr. Fleming's already there," Ben told him as they ran.
Fear increased Rory's pace and he reached the house before Ben, tearing open the door and rushing into the front room as Deirdre was coming down the stairs. He went still, searching his sister's expressive face for any sign of grief.
"Deirdre? How-?" he asked, so focused on Shannon's
welfare that he didn't even see David, who was holding young Daniel,
or Sean, who was now wearing the same badge that he'd shined with
such care that morning a year ago.
Deirdre's smile was like the sun rising on a new day as she informed him, "You've got a daughter, Rory. And Shannon's fine."
Rory took the stairs two at a time racing to the room at the end of the hallway.
Michael and Shane were standing on the far side of the bed, looking down at their mother and the baby laying at her side.
Eamon was fastening his cuffs. "The baby's healthy enough, and so are you," he assured Shannon as Rory burst into the room.
As he closed his black bag, he told Rory, "She'd done most of it on her own with Deirdre's help by the time I got here. If all my patients were this easy, I'd be out a job," he said, only half joking.
"Shannon?" Rory said, going to her side as Eamon left the family alone.
Smiling, she took his hand and said, "You see? Everything's just fine, Rory."
"You're sure you're all right?"
"Fine. I'll be out of bed in day or so." Looking at the wrapped infant laying on her shoulder, she said, "Meet your daughter."
Rory touched the baby's soft cheek, taking her tiny hand in his. Then he touched the red hair on the infant's head and his breath caught. "She does look like you. Thank you," he managed in a choked voice, leaning forward to place a light kiss on Shannon's lips.
"What are you calling to call her?"
"Maeve," he told her, and she nodded in agreement with his choice. "After my other sister." Holding out his hand, Rory invited the boys over to join them. "Come and meet your little sister. Maeve Manion."