AUTHORS NOTE: Please read …And So Ends Another Day in Paradise… first
and you'ill know why we HAD to write this! PTL and CTL
The Tahoe Ladies
Pam & Coyote

     There was something wrong. Adam just knew it. It wasn't the fact that Joe had ridden in, beaten up and robbed late that night. Nor that he had slept solidly for two days afterwards. Then there had been the fuzzy memory Joe claimed.  No, to Adam there were little signs all along the way: like how Joe had blanched when introduced to the new girl at the Bucket of Blood. Her name was Eve and was a strikingly lovely blonde that Adam knew Joe would have jumped at, or on, without any more than a "howdy!" But instead, Joe had turned about five shades of white, with his eyes round circles of panic while he choked over a swallow of beer without even looking in her direction. That had been the first clue. Others quickly followed. Some made Adam pause in thought then others made him want to burst out laughing. No, without a doubt in his own mind, Adam knew Joe hadn't been completely honest about what had happened on his trip to Fort Tejon. Or more to the point, what had happened on the way home to Joe, twenty-five hundred dollars and, curiously, Cochise.

     At first Adam had tried to pass Joe's little quirks off as his unhappiness at having lost the money. Their father, too concerned with Joe's health after the beating and subsequent robbery, wouldn't, and didn't hold it against Joe. Even when the money was not recovered, Joe still was edgy. Sure the horse operation would show a short-term loss but Joe assured his family that the fall sale would more than recoup the lost funds. So for a little while, at least, Joe seemed to relax but that was when Adam noticed something very odd about his brother.

    It happened one morning as they were preparing to ride out and check fences along the north range. It was the first morning Adam could remember in Joe's life since he had gotten Cochise that Joe didn't immediately go for the pinto. Instead, Adam found Joe saddling one of the spares, the gray mare with black stockings, from the paddock.
"Something wrong with Cochise?" Adam asked, at first truly concerned about the horse but then more curious about Joe's behavior.

    Joe snorted in reply, all the while looking at the black and white pinto standing with his head hung over the stall partition, watching Joe. "Nope," came Joe's swift reply and that was all Adam could get out of him for the rest of the day. At the end of the day, Adam again noticed how much attention Joe gave the gray in full view of Cochise. Was he trying to make Cochise jealous or something? For God's sake, Joe, that's a horse, not a woman!

    The next morning when Joe went again for the gray, Cochise took the golden opportunity when Joe came close enough and tried to bite Joe's backside. Adam saw the whole thing and thought that there were only two reasons why Cochise didn't succeed in getting a mouthful of Cartwright: how tight Joe's pants were and how fast his brother could move when he had to!

    Those little quirks might have been passed off by the elder Cartwright son except for one little incident. It happened at church the first Sunday that Joe was back to feeling up to attending since his unfortunate robbery. The sermon was one that Adam was ready to sleep through except that he was sitting between his father and Joe. Sleeping in church was a cardinal sin as far as Ben Cartwright was concerned so Adam tried to concentrate on the preacher's words. It wasn't hard when every time the man said the word "paradise" Joe jumped or twitched or somehow acknowledged that the word had an impact on him. Adam tried to piece it all together but got tangled in it until the preacher said "…and I don't mean that little place down south of here over the California border called Paradise. No! I mean the real one!" It was then that he saw his youngest brother go red in the ears then turned a lovely white with his Adam's apple bobbing convulsively.

    When the next opportunity came to be alone with Joe, Adam took it.

    "I know all about it," he lied easily, hoping to catch Joe by just the inference of knowledge. "About Paradise. About Cochise. About the money," he continued when Joe's head shot up. Adam almost wanted to warn him about doing that sort of thing while holding the branding iron but he didn't. Instead he took a wicked little pleasure when Joe held the iron in the fire too long.

    "What-what-what d'ya mean?" Joe stammered, trying to regain composure as well as the handle of the iron, now dropped into the flames as well.

    "Just what I said. I know all about it," and Adam handed Joe a heavy leather glove from his back pocket.

    "How could you? There wasn't anyone to tell anything about--" Joe demanded, slipping the glove on and tentatively reaching for the handle of the iron. Realizing he was backing himself into a deeper hole, he shut up abruptly.

    "You did." Adam didn't think it was lying if he didn't exactly lay it all out as to what he knew. And Joe had pretty much told on himself, if Adam could only figure out now just what it was his brother had done. "You talk in your sleep sometimes, ya' know." Again, it was the truth, just not the whole truth. After all, Adam hadn't said that Joe had said something about this in his sleep. And sure, Joe hadn't talked in his sleep in a long while. At least as far as Adam knew.

    "Okay, okay," Joe pleaded, the iron now cooling beside the fire instead of in it. "Are you gonna tell Pa?"

    Oooo, that serious, huh? Adam thought and wanted to smile but knew he couldn't. "Should I? Or maybe you should tell me your side of it. Then I'll decide if you need to tell Pa, or if it can stay between us," Adam oozed his best, trying to show his 'concerned' side for his baby brother.

    Joe took a long glance around before he gestured for them to leave the branding area. "Let's go over here," was all he said before he headed to where their horses stood waiting. Adam let Joe lead, afraid that Joe would have seen the triumphant smile threatening to break out on Adam's face otherwise.

    As Joe began to relate what had happened, Adam had an increasingly difficult time keeping a straight face. In the end, when Joe came to the part about the good people of Paradise taking nearly all his money, Adam couldn't hold it in any longer.

    "Stop that!" Joe hissed, looking back at the hands working the branding pit. "For one thing, it wasn't funny! And another thing: those guys don't need to hear you!"

    Adam tried to compose himself. Joe continued his tale but once again, when he got to the part about the would-be robber, Adam had to hang onto his saddle to keep from falling down laughing. Of course, the more Adam laughed, the more angry and distraught Joe became which in turn fueled Adam's fire.

    Finally, the sorry tale finished, and with his sides hurting from laughing so hard, Adam wiped his eyes, let out a gusty 'o', and chuckled once more for good measure.

    "Well, what are you gonna do about it?" Joe demanded, fearing Adam would want him to confess it all to their father. Joe was surprised when Adam draped a long arm over his shoulder and hung his head, still wiping at his eyes.

    "I think maybe we should see about getting some of that money back, Joe."

    Joe tried to off-load Adam's arm but his brother held it in place. "I am NOT goin' back to that place, Adam! I told myself I wasn't when I rode out and you can't make me!" Joe hotly contested. In truth, it was more the fear of a certain lady's libido than anything else in the town that made Joe unwilling to return for an encore.

    "Then I'll go. I have some time off coming to me. But the deal is this: whatever I come back with, I get ten percent. You give the rest of it to Pa."

    "But then I would have to tell him!"

    "Okay then, you put it in the collection plate at church. Quite fitting for sins committed in Paradise, I think," Adam suggested. "And we don't tell Pa anything." Like he would believe it? "Deal?" Adam stuck out his hand, still holding onto his brother's shoulder with the other hand.

    Joe gulped and felt the steady downward pressure on his shoulder. Reluctantly, he shook Adam's hand. "Deal," he said grumpily. "When you goin'?"

"I'll head out tomorrow morning. Oh, and Joe, you have to do my chores, all of them, while I am gone, too!" Adam pulled his hands off his now morose brother and let them set on his own hips, the stance daring the younger man to defy him.

With a heated glare, Joe simply turned away and headed back to the work of that afternoon. Adam let him go, afraid he would bust a gut laughing if his brother had stayed there with him another moment. He turned to mount his horse.

"What do you think, fella?" he asked Sport as he tightened the cinch. "Think this pair of Cartwrights can do a better job of taming Paradise?"
Sport danced as Adam mounted him. "See you later!" Adam called out as he rode from the branding pit.

    What Adam missed was the smile his beloved little brother wore. Watching Adam and Sport disappear in a cloud of dust, Joe tipped his hat back. Watch out Paradise, he said to himself then picked up the branding iron and called for another calf. Ol Adam sure fell into that one!

    With the crowing of the first rooster the next morning, Adam was headed out. The night before, his plans hadn't phased his father in the least since this was actually the slowest part of the summer season. Ben hadn't even asked anything more than how long Adam thought he would be gone and where did he have in mind to go. With a crooked smile at the direction of his brother's bowed head and reddened ears, Adam had simply said that he thought he would head south for a while and he shouldn't be gone any longer than two weeks at the most. Adam had trouble for the rest of the evening not laughing out loud, knowing the real reason behind his sudden wanderlust. He had wondered for just a brief moment if his father had caught wind of something but then decided he hadn't.

    He aimed Sport in the general direction of south and let the big chestnut pick the pace. Adam wasn't really in a hurry. In fact as he rode, he planned. There had to be a way to convince the townspeople to return the money they had "stolen" off Joe and Adam finally hit upon the way to do it. When he did, a sly smile accompanied the twinkle in his dark eyes. He would enjoy the little charade. The personal benefits would be the source of well earned elder brother smugness, maybe, but far overshadowing it would be the knowledge that when he told Joe, Joe would never again even consider going to Paradise.

    So for twice the time it took Joe to get home from Paradise, Adam took getting there. The reasoning was simple: he had to look like he had been on the trail far longer than he would have been. And he had to make up the tale of a lifetime. So, when he finally walked into the little town leading a tired Sport, his chin was heavily stubbled with dark whiskers, his clothes dusty. One look and he hoped the townspeople saw a tired gunslinger. Since he had purposely stayed up all the night before, the dark shadows under his eyes made him look, well, he hoped mean and desperate.

    Adam led Sport over to the center fountain. As the horse took a long drink, Adam dipped his hand into the cool water and splashed it over his hot face. Out of the corner of one eye, he saw the motion at the entrance to the saloon. Again he dipped his hand into the water and let it wet his face. There was someone watching him from the doorway of the sheriff's office too. Adam turned and took his canteen from his saddlehorn and while he filled it, saw the shadow in the stable step into the afternoon light and become a man.

 "Hot enough for you?" the grizzled old man asked and Adam simply glared at the man.

    The old codger tugged on his vest and eyed the stranger and the stranger's horse. "If you are lookin' for a place-" he started but Adam cut him off shortly.

    "Listen you old coot. I ain't got time to listen to you yammerin' away. I'm after a man, you hear me? Young lookin' fella, rides a flashy pinto. He would have come through here maybe two three weeks ago. Seen any body like that?" Adam's voice had a hard ugly edge to it. He hoped it sounded like the voice of a mean and very dangerous man.

    It must have since the stableman backed up a few paces before he answered him. With a hesitant little swallow, the older man asked, "Could be, maybe. What you lookin' fer him fer?"

    Besides being my cussed little brother who gets into more trouble than a --?  Adam couldn't decide what got into less trouble than Joe did but he quickly pulled his wandering thoughts back into line. "None of your business!" he barked. "Seen him?" To further the impact of his words, Adam took a half step towards the other man.

    "There was a fellow like that here a while back. Nice pinto he rode, like you said. Real personable young man, he was. But he left. Middle of the night just packed up and rode out."

    Adam turned back to Sport's side, making sure that he was prepared to follow through with his plan. He took a deep breath and let it go slowly. "Which way did he go?"

    To the stableman's surprise, the dark clad man, after he asked that question just fell to the ground real slow like, hanging onto the saddle until there wasn't any more saddle to hang onto. It was like the man melted in front his very eyes. For a moment, he stood there looking down into the haggard face. Then he decided that the man was out cold for some reason and that the bad hombre wasn't going to turn into a snake and bite him.

    "Sheriff! Got a man in trouble out here!"

    Adam had trouble keeping his face impassive. His plan was working marvelously.

    He played dead as the good people of Paradise carried him into what he assumed was the hotel and laid him on a bed. He cracked his eyes open a tad when he felt someone put their head on his chest to listen for a heartbeat. Adam was sure as he closed his eyes again that his heart had just picked up its pace. It had to be Eve, he said to himself. Well if nothing else, my little brother is an excellent judge of women!  He let her open his shirt up and had to admit that it felt good when she started wiping that cool damp cloth over his chest to cool him down. It was only when he felt her start to work on removing his pants that he decided he had to "regain consciousness." After all, losing his pants is what got Joe in trouble.

    Adam moaned and pressed his head and shoulders into the mattress. The insistent hands left his pants and came back to rest on his chest as the soothing voice from the young woman said "I think he's coming around, Daddy."

    When a rough hand lifted an eyelid, Adam gave up his pretense at being unconscious. Instead he did what he thought he should: he grabbed at the wrist and held onto it with a vise-like grip.

    "Easy there, young fella! Just tryin' to help you is all!" the man wearing a tin star pinned to his chest hollered and Adam let him go.

    "Sorry," Adam muttered and pulled himself up to sit on the bed. "I don't know what happened out there. I got dizzy for a spell and then-" He let his voice trail off as he got his first good look at Eve. With her dark hair pulled back, little tendrils broke free and framed her face, making her ivory skin glow in comparison in the thin light of the room. If anything, Adam decided he was going to sit Joe down when he got home and fine-tune his brother's vocabulary. This woman was more than the "pretty" Joe had described her as.

    "Well you like you seen better days. But you want to explain this?" The sheriff held up the folded piece of paper Adam had been carrying in his pocket for the last few days.

     Adam faked a snatch and allowed the sheriff to retain the paper.

    "Nope, explain this and while you are at it, explain yourself too."

    Adam took the glass of water that the woman offered him around the side of her father. The sheriff pushed her back, much to Adam's chagrin.

    "It is what it is. And I am what I am. Now if you'll excuse me," Adam went to swing his legs over the side of the bed as though he were about to get up. Then he wilted, his hand holding his stomach as though in pain of some sort. The lawman easily pushed him back onto the bed.

    "Looks like you need to stay a while. But before I decide to let you, you better explain this." Again the sheriff held the battered folded paper so Adam couldn't reach it.

    "You've looked at it. You know what it is. It’s a wanted poster. Says so right on it!" I know because I wrote it myself and the likeness on it isn't too bad. At least it halfway looks like Joe. Should have made his ears a little bigger but all in all, it'll do.

 "I know that but what I want to know is why you got it? You a bounty hunter? Lawman?" the sheriff pushed.

    Adam looked at his hands a long moment as though trying to decide on what to tell the sheriff and his daughter hovering in the background. He had practiced this part on the trail but here it was about to have a critical audience.

    "Not exactly. The man on that wanted poster," Adam paused dramatically and took a deep breath, "is my brother. I need to find him before he gets caught. If something were to happen to him, I am not sure I could look my father in the eye ever again." Adam inwardly cringed. What he was saying was true enough but the reason why was entirely not true. "See my brother fell in with a bad crowd. Got himself in a lot of trouble. I think if I can catch up to him, I can make him see the light; can make him come home."

    "Says here he is wanted," and the sheriff flipped the drawing open, tilting it towards the sunlight streaming through the window, "for larceny, counterfeiting and a list of petty crimes as long as my arm. What did he, um, larceny?"

    "I hate to admit it Sheriff but my brother is a small time thief. Not a lot of money or goods, you understand, but the people he has hurt…" Adam tried to remember all the broken-hearted girls in Joe's past and tried to think of them as having their hearts stolen by a handsome little brother with out-of-control hormones. "Tell me, please, has he been here? I have to find him and soon."

    The sheriff scratched his jaw. The amount of the reward was plenty but looking at where he had to go to claim it, back east in Boston, made him finally decide to let this fellow do the tracking and catching.

    "Yep, he was here all right. Fact is, he was right in that there bed you're in now." The sheriff turned and eyed his daughter who wisely stepped a little further away from him. "But he's been gone a couple weeks now so your trail is a little cold."

    "But at least I know now where to start looking again. Thank you, sheriff, oh sorry, I didn't get your name."

 "Webster. And this here is my daughter Eve. Listen, young fella, you need to rest a spell. And Sam over to the livery has already put your horse up so you might as well get it into your head to stay the night. I'll have something sent over to you for supper."

    "Thanks Sheriff Webster but I'm afraid I can't pay for any of this, so I'd better-" and again Adam made as though he were getting out of bed. Eve shoved her father aside and gently but insistently pushed Adam back onto the bed. He couldn't help but catch her none-so-subtle wink.

    "We never ask for money from a man obviously down on his luck," she crooned and taking up her cool wet cloth, wiped Adam's jaw with it.

      Adam considered, closing his eyes for fear that the woman would misread his intentions.

 For the remainder of the afternoon, Adam dozed, relishing the soft bed beneath him and the cool breeze that blew through the open window. If it weren't for why he was really in Paradise, he thought he could really like the little town. Especially the distaff portion of the population.

    He had just awoken from a light snooze when he heard the gentle tapping at the door. Before he could answer, Eve slipped into the room, carrying something cloth- covered on the tray she had.

    "I brought you some stew from over to the saloon. Also got a bottle of whiskey that ain't too watered down. Thought you might need a little bracer," she cooed, seeing him awake and sitting up in bed. Or was it because she could see his pants over the back of the chair?

    Pushing himself up in bed, Adam leaned against the headboard and wondered for just a split second how they had fixed it. With a smile for Eve, he allowed her to set the tray across his legs.

    "Glad to see you ain't such a mean man after all. I mean, now that we know you and all." She fussed with the napkin, flipping it open and placing it on his chest for him, her warm little hands making the briefest on contact with his flesh. "Here let me feed you," she started but Adam took the spoon from her with a half smile and a lift to his eyebrows.

    "I think I am feeling much better, Miss Webster. So tell me, what is this town? From what I saw when I rode in, there wasn't much here. What keeps things going around here?"

    Eve sat down on the side of the bed and let her dress and petticoat-covered thigh push against Adam's blanket covered one. When she crossed her arms under her breasts, they moved up and showed him that there was quite a bit there. She pushed her lower lip out as though to pout, her head cocking to one side as she did. "Well, actually not a whole lot. There's some ranches 'round here. But the stage don't come this way. We have to go into Bakersfield to get our mail once a week or so. All we got is the best water in the valley. And lots of it! That's why we call this place Paradise."

    The stew Adam was trying hard not to gulp down was rather tasty and listening to the young woman's velvety singsong made him want to hurry through the meal. He had had a plan in his head about what to do next but was having a little trouble making the actions of the folks Joe had been involved with match the ones he was dealing with. These were just good-hearted people, doing their neighborly best with what they had. So how had Joe wound up on the losing end?

    "I must admit, I kind of was taken by your brother. He talked real nice to me, he did, but he and my daddy didn't exactly see eye to eye," Eve said and Adam tried hard to hear wistfulness in her tone. It wasn't exactly there. No, he decided, it was more like a niggling little desire for something that you know you shouldn't have.

    "Like a second piece of pie," Adam whispered aloud and saw the confused look on Eve's face. "Nothing. Sorry, I didn't mean anything by that, Miss Webster. Don't know where that popped up from!" Good Lord but she was a pretty thing!

    She was flustered by what the man had said and the color rose in her cheeks. Did he want a piece of pie? Or something else entirely? "Are you sure you are feeling okay?" she queried and got his nod in reply. "Well you finish your dinner and I'll get you some good hot water in here so you can clean up some. How's that?" His lopsided smile told her that she was right on the money. She stood reluctantly. "And my name is Eve, not Miss Webster."

    "Most appropriate for there to be an Eve in Paradise," he said, inclining his head in her direction just a bit and she heard the culture in his tones that hadn't been there before. "And my name is Adam."

    The woman positively glowed as she walked from the room. A pitcher of hot water just became a whole bathtub full. After all, how else was she going to find out how far down that silky hair on his chest went?

    With the trail dust washed off and his black stubble gone, Adam felt better than he could admit to feeling. As he had scraped the whiskers away, he had considered just riding on, letting his plan go undeveloped. But then the laughing face of his brother popped into Adam's head and he knew he couldn't go home without at least some of the money. Like the Romans, I'll either go home with my shield or on it, Adam thought and after wiping away the last vestiges of his beard, strapped his gunbelt on, settled his hat on his head, and left the hotel room.

    Unlike the rest of the sleepy little town at twilight, the saloon was rather boisterous. As Adam stepped onto the rickety boardwalk, he saw what appeared as the entire town of Paradise, having some sort of gathering and arguing over something. There was the sheriff and Eve of course, the man he knew owned and ran the stable and there was a thin man that Adam took to be the bartender. The only other soul there was a dog that lay sleeping across the entrance to the saloon. Adam carefully stepped over him and went into the saloon. Funny, Joe didn't mention a dog, but there again, I don't see how a dog could've fleeced Joe.

    The little gathering quickly stopped talking when they heard Adam's footfalls.

    Nodding his head in their general direction, Adam headed for the bar and ordered a whiskey. The bartender showed himself to be a touch nervous as he sloshed the whiskey into a glass at Adam's elbow.

    "Sheriff, we were talking earlier. I need more information about where my brother might have gone," Adam broke the silence, tipping his hat back with his thumb.

    "Headed north he did," the stableman replied, proud to be the bearer of such important information.

    "North" Adam repeated once and turned back to the bar, sipping his watered down whiskey. "I'm surprised he went north."

    "Well, he was in a bit of a hurry when he left town so maybe he didn't stop to consider which direction he was headed," the sheriff suggested, rubbing his own stubbly chin, wishing for all the world that when he cleaned up he looked as good as the dark stranger.

    "No, you see my brother Joe is a very calculating individual," Adam said wistfully but only because he wished that it were true. "He'd already been north of here and played a few of his tricks in towns up there." Double talk, Adam knew was his best ally. Just give them enough information….

    The sheriff smoothed out the "wanted poster" he had taken from Adam earlier and pointed at the words again, his mouth moving as he read them silently.

    "Tell me, there, this here word counter--counter--feet--" the sheriff stumbled over the word.

    "Counterfeiting," Adam supplied the correct pronunciation.

    "Yeah that, ain't that where you make some money that ain't real money?"
 Adam couldn't help but see that all of the townspeople were leaning towards him, waiting for his answer. Even the dog, who had left its appointed station by the door and come to sit beside Adam. A mangier Irish Setter Adam had never seen in his life and the dog, its tongue lolling out the side of its mouth, leaned against Adam's leg, soulful eyes gazing up at him. Adam took another sip of his whiskeyed water and pursed his lips, watching the dog as it seemed to follow his every motion.

    "Yes, I am sorry to say that my brother is rather good at making money," again the half-truth," but he is also very good at getting rid of it. He'll ride into a nice quiet unassuming little town, show a fat wallet full of greenbacks, maybe get into a poker game or two. Buy the favors of a lady for a while. Treat himself to the best meals the town can offer, as well as the best bed. And he pays for it all with money that he has made." When Adam saw all of the others trade half-panicked looks, he continued as though reminiscing. "Yes, counterfeiting is the illegal printing of money. But it is rarely the counterfeiter who pays the price of the crime. No, the folks who pay for the crime are the ones who take the illegal currency, thinking it's real. They in turn take it to other places of business. Then, and only then, is the crime discovered and the honest person winds up in jail for passing counterfeit money." At the end of his little lesson, Adam sighed deeply and let his head hang morosely, as though ashamed of the telling. When no one said or did anything for a few long moments, Adam feared he had overplayed the bit. Then he felt Eve's gentle touch as her hand slid up his back and her fingers finally brushed across the nape of his neck.

    "Tell me he didn't…that he left this town untouched by his rapacity! His greed! His avarice!" Setting his now empty glass on the bar, Adam turned, and playing it for all he was worth, took Eve's dainty little hands between his own and looked deep into her eyes. He had to make them believe he was the tormented older brother, which he half decided wasn't really a lie, considering all the mischief Joe had gotten into over the years that had fallen to Adam to straighten out!

    Eve swallowed and batted those incredibly long lashes as she gazed up into his face. She had not a clue as to what he was saying but she thought she could see the pain in his eyes as he spoke, could feel the righteous anger making him tremble as he clasped her hands in his.

    "You poor, poor soul," she whispered and out of the corner of his eye, Adam saw the rest of the town commiserating with her.

    Time to lay it on thick, Adam decided. "No, please tell me he left you good people unharmed! I couldn't bear to go back to my father and tell him what has happened to you fair and innocent people. Oh the shame of having to tell him what his son has done!  It would surely lay him in his grave!" No lie there, Pa would die laughing and Joe of embarrassment!

     Adam wasn't sure but that he saw tears forming in Eve's eyes and he had a twinge of conscience. Such a lovely young thing, he thought and allowed himself just a moment to look into her face. He couldn't see the same woman Joe had talked about. This woman's face held such innocence. Adam lost himself for a moment then had to pull away from her as he felt his body responding to hers in a manner primitive and demanding.

    "I hate to say it, but your brother did just that! He rode into town, flashed a wallet full to bustin' with green. Threw money around like it was nothing! Now I guess we know why! It was nothing to him!" Sam, the stableman was moaning.

    "Well," the sheriff drawled and stood up, hitching his pants up as he angled towards Adam and his daughter. "I think this fella here needs to make his brother's money good."

    That was a turn Adam hadn't expected but he quickly answered, "Sheriff, you took that wanted poster off me so I know you looked into my things. You know I don't have more than a few dollars. But if my brother left his money," and Adam leaned heavily on the word money "there is something we can do! Since you can't spend it without fear of being arrested for passing phony money, give it to me! When I catch up to the scoundrel, I can use it as evidence and have him convicted of the crime."

    "You mean like use it as evidence?" The sheriff appeared to think things over twice and decided that the man had an idea. But then again, the fella didn't have any real money on him. The sheriff knew; he'd checked thoroughly while the man had slept the afternoon away.

    "That's right! And the reward, I'll see that you get half of what I get!" Adam smiled as he worked the sheriff's daughter into a more advantageous position against him.

     "What do ya'all say?" and around the near empty saloon, all nodded. Except for the dog who thumped its tail on the dirty floor.

 Adam let a pleased and excited look come to his face as though he had been handed the greatest gift in the world. In one way, he considered he had: Joe would owe him big time for this and just the thought of waving that money under Joe's nose….

    "Wa'll I can see that you're a good man, tryin' to help yer pa and all that," the stableman Sam drawled and scratched his head up under his hat and squinted one eye closed as he talked. "But do we have yer word? Ye'll give us half of that there reward money?"

    "I told you I would. Just as soon as I catch him! In fact, if you'll get it for me, I'll be leaving tonight. Like you said earlier, Sheriff, the trail is cold but now that I know what scam he is working, I can probably find him faster!" No one stopped to question how that would happen but the infectious optimism Adam displayed made them overlook a lot. "But right now," Adam called out brightly, "we celebrate! Bartender, whiskey all around!"

    As the good citizens of Paradise, all five of them, toasted their future wealth, Adam found himself being eyed speculatively again by Eve. She hung onto his arm and batted those eyelashes again.

    "Well, seeings how my horse was rather tired, maybe I should wait until morning to ride out," Adam admitted, letting his hand drop down to Eve's backside. She pushed back into his hand and smiled up at him. When he felt the wet nose of the dog on his hand, he batted it away without even looking at the source.

    "We'll have all that money gathered up for you by mornin'," the lawman explained and Adam missed the pained expression on the bartender's face.

    "Adam," Eve crooned and tugged at his arm. "you must be tired too. Why don't you and I go back over to the hotel and…" Her words, so softly spoken, caught Adam's full attention and as they dropped into a merely suggested tilt of her head, Adam caught himself being more than willing.

    "But your father-" Adam began a half-hearted protest.

    "Doesn't mind one bit. Come on," and again she tugged at his arm.
 Adam smiled, his dimples making their glorious appearance and Eve giggled when she saw them. Adam settled his hat on his head and carefully adjusting her hand on his arm, aimed them towards the door.

    They pushed through the batwing doors and Adam quickly looked behind him, seeing if anyone in particular was paying him any attention. No one seemed to care, except for the dog that watched as Adam and Eve departed then, standing on his hind legs, took Adam's place at the bar.

    As he watched Eve walking before him, tugging on his hand as they went to the hotel across the way, Adam had to swallow hard. It was alluring and he could see where his little brother might have been so tempted to indulge himself. But, Adam thought as Eve pulled him into the darkened room, I'm a different sort. I am just going to get the money and leave. Just get the money and leave.

    Once the door was closed behind them, Eve stretched up and kissed him, her lips soft yet demanding. Just get the money and leave. Pushed against him like she was, it was hard to ignore her full body. Just get the money and leave. He let his hands drop to her narrow waist and tried hard to not return the ardor of her kiss. Just get the money and leave. She knocked his hat from his head and he could feel her beginning to work on his gunbelt. Just get the money.  Her hands were insistent and that close to his more private body parts were giving him second thoughts. Just…get…the money…to Hell with money.

    Tangling his fingers in her long dark hair, Adam gently pulled Eve's head back and pressed his lips softly to her chin and the creamy flesh beneath it, then followed the path down her breastbone to kiss each of the enticing mounds peeking over the top of her low-cut blouse. Watching her reaction, he unfastened her blouse one pearl button at a time and applied exquisitely gentle pressure to every newly exposed inch of skin.

    Eve bit her lip against a throaty chuckle and arched her back encouragingly as his hands worked loose the closures of her corset, allowing her breasts to spring free only to be instantly captured by massaging hands and eager lips. Adam looked up, meeting her gaze as his lips and tongue worked together on the tender flesh, his eyes changing from their usual brownish hazel to a deeper color as his own passion began to rise.

    "More," she ordered, and he smiled around the concentrated motion of his mouth and complied. His hands moved lower, quickly unfastening her skirt and freeing her from her outer clothes and corset, then moving back up to fondle her smooth cool flesh. As he expertly worked her nipples to straining peaks, she again chuckled. "You've done this before."

    Abandoning his worship of her breasts, Adam came up to capture her lips, nudging them apart to taste her. Then, with a smile he drew back, hitching his dark brows and grinning wickedly as he replied, "Wait'll you see what else I can do."

    Eve squealed in delight as he stole an arm around her waist and flipped her over on top of him as he bounced onto his back atop the mattress. Skimming his knuckles down her belly, Adam's fingers moved to the drawstring ribbon of her cotton under-drawers. Eve's hand on his stopped him and he looked up at her in faint, disappointed surprise.

    "Now, this is hardly fair," she teased. "If I let you have your way, I'm going to be completely naked in the next few seconds and I haven't even started on you yet."

    Grinning at her, Adam pulled his arms up over his head in a gesture of classic surrender. "I wouldn't want to be accused of selfishness. By all means, do with me what you will."

    The predatory gleam in her eyes was answer enough as she straddled his hips, lightly scratching her nails over his chest as she freed him from his shirt and fanned her fingers out, slowly pushing them up his body. His skin was hot and the coolness of her fingers made it ripple with goose bumps. "You feel like you're on fire," she purred, lowering her head to brush her lips across his flesh. Stretching her arms up to run her palms over his biceps and forearms, she kissed and nibbled his neck, deliberately swaying her body to allow the hardened tips of her breasts to brush over him.

    "Oh," he sighed the word slowly. "Do you believe in spontaneous combustion?"

    Crossing her arms to lean on his chest, Eve laughed softly and kissed him hard on the mouth. "You've held together this long, lover. I think you can stand a little more."

    Adam smiled and wrapped both arms around her, rubbing her back in a motion both stimulating and tender as he brought his mouth back to hers. He took his time removing the last of her clothing, allowing his long fingers to slip past her waistband, exploring her hips and gliding along the smooth curves of her backside. Massaging their firmness in suggestive rhythm, he pressed Eve's hips firmly against his growing arousal, probing her mouth with his tongue in maddeningly slow imitation of what was yet to come.

    With a moan, Eve pressed down, grinding herself against that tormenting hardness. Clearly enjoying the reaction, Adam continued his exquisite teasing. He shifted beneath her and drew his fingers over the edge of her thighs, pulling them gently apart. His fingertips carefully stroked the damp velvet they encountered while his lips brushed her face with equal reverence.

    "Your touch is incredible," she breathed, arching her back as she leaned into it. "I could let you do that to me forever, but I want all of you."

    It was the straining note of impatience in her husky voice that convinced Adam he had better move things along. For as much as he was enjoying this game of arousal, he too wanted more. Carefully rolling so that he was once more on top, Adam finished removing the last of his own clothing. Freed from constriction, he instantly came to full arousal but did not immediately move toward possession. He waited, allowing the eyes traveling hungrily across his body to get the full effect of what he had to offer. Ben Cartwright had not skimped with any of his offspring in one particular area of inheritance and they were all justly proud of that heritage.

    Eve's lips twitched up into a smile, delighted to see that while Adam and the man he called his brother did not look much alike to the average viewer, they had some rather delightful resemblance in private.

    Seeing the eagerness in her eyes as she reached for him, Adam wasted no more time. He poised himself and entered her willing body, sinking deeply into that welcoming heat. He filled her completely and both of them gasped in satisfaction at the contact.

    Adam's breath left his lungs with a shudder as she ran her hands down his back to grasp his buttocks, writhing her hips against him as she adjusted herself more comfortably. It had been quite some time since he had last indulged himself in this kind of pleasure and it was obvious from the way she moved that this woman knew exactly what she was doing.

    "God," he said faintly, barely realizing that he was speaking aloud. "I'd almost forgotten how good it could feel."

    Reaching up to twirl her fingers through a few stray locks of his hair, Eve smiled and pulled his head down, kissing him with unfettered passion. Her eyes sparkled as she drew back and asked, "Is it coming back to you yet?"

    The corner of his mouth twisted upward making his cheek dimple and giving him an altogether mischievous look as he gave her but one shallow pump of his hips in answer. At her small gasp, the smile broadened and he repeated the motion, making it slightly more drawn out this time. "I think I'm starting to remember. Maybe you should give me a couple of hints."

    Eve was more than happy to comply. Her hands began to roam freely over Adam's body, feeling his hips where they narrowed into his waist, tracing the outline of his spine, the sharpness of his shoulder blades and the broad corded expanse of his shoulders before coming forward again to stroke the downy thickness of his chest hair. As he began to rock within her, pleasuring her without urgency, her questing fingers discovered the tiny mounds of his nipples, pink and delicate in odd contrast to the masculine darkness surrounding them. Adam raised himself up a bit to allow her access to the sensitive area, closing his eyes with a sigh as she applied her tongue. Petting her fingers down his stomach and back again, Eve frowned as she caught a strange sound, almost a squeak. She repeated the caress and the sound repeated as well. "Does that bother you?" she asked in surprise as she stroked his stomach a third time, producing an even more plaintive whimper.

    To Adam's chagrin, he felt his face instantly go hot and knew he was blushing. "I, uh, guess I should have warned you that I'm a little sensitive in that area."

    Eve's eyebrow rose, amusement springing up in her eyes as she said, "You don't mean you're ticklish!" Curiously, she skittered her nails lightly over his belly. An unexpectedly shrill laugh, almost a giggle, instantly resulted from the experiment and Adam flushed an even deeper shade of red. Completely charmed, Eve planted a kiss soundly onto the middle of his chest and several more on his flaming face. "You're just full of surprises, aren't you?" she laughed.

    Feeling it was well past time to regain control of the situation, Adam began to move deliberately within her, refocusing Eve's attention in record time. She leaned her head back with a cry of pleasure as he changed his slow pace to a more confident one, rolling through her in long smooth strokes that soon gave way to shorter, more urgent drives as the woman matched his rhythm, meeting each thrust of his hips with one of her own.

    It did not take long before Eve tensed and called out his name, clutching his shoulders until her long nails drove into him hard enough to cause his muscles to bunch with the pain. He ignored it, much too caught up in the sensation of his own approaching climax to care. Moments later, as the tension began to flow away, Eve flexed her hands, relaxing her painful grip with a breathless apology.

    "Don't worry -- about it," he panted. Adam reached under her to support her back as he began to move faster yet. His eyes were tightly shut, face beaded with sweat. His teeth clenched together and his breath sobbed through them, rapid and shallow until finally he gave one last powerful thrust and arched his back as his essence flowed into her.

    Adam's entire body remained erect and taut as a harpstring for a few seconds after the last of his passion was spent, then he suddenly went limp and heavy on top of her, his body trembling with exertion. Having clearly been prepared for just such a reaction, Eve rolled him over so that they lay on their sides, facing. She held him close, kissing his eyelids, his damp hair and his lips until the reaction passed and he roused again.

    "Are you all right?" he asked softly. Such intensity of lovemaking was rare in his experience, few partners being as willing to give themselves up to enjoyment the way that Eve had.

    She smiled and kissed the palm that had risen to caress her cheek. "Of course, and I am sorry if I hurt you by grabbing onto you that way. I'll be more careful next time."

    Brows twitching with interest, he asked, "Next time?"

    An almost feral smile touched Eve's lovely face. "You didn't think we were done already, did you?"

     When he awoke, the bright sunlight streaming through the window told Adam that it was later than he wanted it to be. Pushing the now exhausted Eve from him, he untangled his legs from hers and the blankets and tried to rise. Every part of him protested the motion and he nearly dropped back onto the bed. Only the fear of awaking the woman kept him upright and moving. Joe was right about her! Whew! I guess I need to apologize to him! If he outlived that and still managed to sit in the saddle half the night… Adam chuckled softly. Who could have guessed that the little town of Paradise held such a treasure?

     Quickly and silently he dressed, not daring to awaken Eve. There was a part of Adam that longed to reach out and kiss her, to start the fires burning anew. It had been a long while but then sanity reared its head and Adam followed its lead, slipping out into the hotel corridor. He closed the door behind him and headed across the street to the saloon for breakfast, stretching and hearing the gratify pop of things moving back into position.

     The bartender, a crisp white apron wrapped around him nearly twice popped up from behind the bar when Adam, stepping over the dog in the doorway, entered.

     "Good morning," Adam called out cheerfully, surprising himself by finding that it did seem to be true. He did feel awfully good but also awfully hungry. "Can I get something for breakfast?"

     The thin man, his face showing a bit of unshaved stubble on his chin, at first just glared at Adam. His lips were a tight line that if Adam hadn't felt so wonderful, he would have figured that the bartender was not happy about something.

     "I can rustle you up some eggs, ham and biscuits, iffen that'll please ya," the man grumbled.

     "Sounds great! But maybe some coffee too?" Adam sat down at the table closest to the window that looked out over the town fountain. He attributed the slopped coffee to the fact that the bartender seemed to be in a hurry to make his meal. So he sat sipping his coffee and looking out the window, content with his world and pleased that his plan had worked out so well.

     Something nudged his elbow, making him slop his coffee a little. He looked down into the large brown eyes of the dog.
 "Decided to get up, huh?" Adam queried, scratching the animal between the ears.

     The dog leaned into the man's touch, tongue lolling to one side and finally wiggling enough to lay its head on Adam's thigh.
 "Persistent, aren't you?" The dog just groaned and shifted a little further inward. "Which one of these folks own you? Shouldn't you be pestering them?" Adam looked up at the sudden sound coming from the back of the saloon and saw the bartender heading his way with a tray. "All right, that's enough. Go on now, you've had your ears scratched" and Adam pushed the dog away, noting the amount of fur the animal left behind on his black jeans.

     The bartender plunked the plate down unceremoniously in front of Adam and dropped the silverware with a clatter onto the tabletop. Mumbling, he stepped back to his station behind the bar and fetching up the coffee, left the pot sitting in front of Adam. He stalked away, his hands wiping on the front of his apron.

    "Thank you!" Adam called after the man and wondered why he was in such an obviously bad mood. Kind of like a brother I know in the morning. Adam chuckled abruptly then tucked into his breakfast. He could see the look on Joe's face when he told him about the marvelous time he had had in Paradise. Okay, well, maybe he would leave out some of the details. Like having to finally call "Enough!" to Eve and her wild passionate ways. That he would not tell his brother! But all in all, the town had been more than hospitable. Maybe you just need to know how to treat 'em, boy! and he could see himself slapping Joe on the shoulder and sauntering off with that older, more experienced brother swagger.

     He tried to slice through the ham on his plate, figuring it was just a little bit tough but that was okay. The eggs were a little runny but not everyone cooked his eggs the way Hop Sing did. The toast was cold and slathered with way too much butter, but Adam took it to mean that the bartender was being overly generous. Well, maybe he would just stick with coffee this morning after all. Adam didn't want to seem discourteous and shove the plate back barely touched so he softly called to the dog that was once again stretched across the doorway. Adam set the plate down on the floor and the dog popped up and ambled toward him. The dog sniffed once at the plate and returned to the doorway and the sunshine there.

     "Picky!" Adam mumbled, picking up the plate and sliding it to the other side of the table.

     "Well there, Mr. Cartwright!" the sheriff's voice boomed, entering the bar before he did, booting the dog out of his way roughly. Adam's first thought was to tell the sheriff that the dog didn't deserve to be kicked but then better sense caught up to him and he kept his mouth closed.

     "Morning, Sheriff Webster," Adam cautiously greeted, wondering how the man would feel towards him since Eve hadn't gone home last night.

     "We got most of that fake money your brother left here gathered up. Sam did pass a bit of it over to Bakersfield when he bought new lumber to fix his stable. But the fella was askin' too much fer it, so I kinda figure that he got what he deserved!" The sheriff pulled the chair out from the table and sat down opposite Adam. He took one look at the plate there and picking up a fork from another table that he wiped on his shirt sleeve, proceeded to devour the meal. At first, Adam was tempted to tell the other that the dog had turned it down but the man was shoveling in faster than Adam could form thoughts.

     "Why, thank you Sheriff. You certainly have been most helpful and I will certainly remember you folks fondly," Adam sipped at his coffee and gave what he hoped was a sincere looking smile.

     "Yep," the sheriff grinned back and pulled an envelope from his shirt pocket and laid it in front of Adam. "A young fella like you, doin' what yer doin' for the family name and all, protectin' yer pa and all. That's mighty noble! Wish we could help you a little more-"

     Adam jumped into the sheriff's speech. "No, what you have done is more than enough, sir." More than enough for me to get my chores done for a month of Sundays by one wayward little brother, Adam thought and had a hard time not chortling. He opened the envelope just enough to spot the green of the bill there. He didn't bother counting them, figuring that the best time to do that would be in front of a pair of green eyes. Instead he thanked the sheriff again and rose from the table.

     The lawman just nodded briefly and hollered for the bartender to bring him some coffee.

    Adam stepped out onto the walkway and stretched again. The ride home would be shorter and swinging his arms in front of him, he headed across to the stable. He hadn't gone more than a few steps when the saloon dog appeared at his side. Adam shooed the dog aside and went to the paddock area, whistling for Sport as he did so. The long-legged chestnut left the other horses he had been standing with and obediently came. Adam slipped a rope into the horse's halter and opening the gate, pulled him out and tugging on him, headed for the stable. Sport balked, whinnied loudly, but Adam fussed at him and the horse reluctantly followed. All during the time that Adam was saddling him, Sport kept looking at the horses left in the paddock. The two brown mares had now bunched themselves at gate and seemed to be watching as Adam and Sport prepared to leave.

     "Headed north, are ye?" Sam asked as Adam tied his bedroll on behind his saddle.

     "Yep, I've got what I need, thanks to you good folks here in Paradise. Listen, I promise, when I can, I'll send you half the reward for putting an end to my brother's---" Adam hesitated and saw the old man just smile up at him.

     "We don't need no reward money," the older man said and scratched at his side. "We talked it over last night and we feel right sorry fer you and yer family, havin' to put up with the shame like ya's doin'. I convinced them that we was doin' the right thing and that was reward enough for us!"

     Adam nodded his head and felt again a twinge of conscience that he was tricking these good people out of the money that Joe had lost to them. But then again, they had taken unjust advantage of his brother. For a moment, Adam's thoughts seesawed back and forth. These people had very little in the way of material goods and yet they had opened up their lives and taken him in when they thought he needed help. But yet they had cleaned Joe's pockets of nearly everything he'd had on trumped up charges and fines. No, he firmly told himself, he was justified in taking the money back. Something just wasn't making sense to him: these didn't seem the type of folks like Joe had described. Okay, well maybe Eve was. And Joe wouldn't have lied to him about that! Maybe it is just all in how you deal with people, he thought then swung into the saddle.

     As Adam rode northward, he went passed where the sheriff and the bartender now sat in the rickety chairs outside the saloon. He raised his hand to them and they did the same. When he came even with the hotel door, he saw Eve standing there, her hands, those delicate little soft things, clutching the front of a filmy wrapper closed. He tipped his hat and smiled at her, arguing with himself about staying a little longer in Paradise. Eve smiled and turning loose of the garment, wiggled her fingers coyly at him. Inwardly, Adam groaned as he shoved his heels into Sport's flanks.

     He hadn't gotten very far out of town, when he realized he had company. He pulled his horse up sharply and let the scroungy mutt catch up. As Adam sat looking down at the dog, the dog promptly sat down and thumped its tail in the dirt.

     "Listen," Adam began and felt a little foolish to be talking to a dog, "you need to head on home!" To further emphasize his point, Adam gestured back the way he had come. The dog turned and looked, as though understanding what Adam had said. But the canine remained seated and Adam could have sworn the dog was smiling. "Home!" Adam ordered and put his heels to Sport, determined not to look back, knowing that would encourage the dog to follow.

     After a short while, Adam pulled up to let Sport blow. He checked behind him. No dog could be seen. Throughout the rest of the day, Adam pretty much kept to the general direction of home, not bothering with roads but just riding for the pure relaxation. At dusk he camped by a small stream and after having caught a fine looking fish, proceeded to have himself a small feast. Tired from the near lack of sleep from the night before, and he smiled when he thought of that night's activities, he rolled into his bedroll and was asleep before the next coal died in the fire. During the night, he dreamed of Eve, feeling her long lush hair running through his fingers again, but when he awoke at dawn the next morning, he found he had himself a handful of hair all right. Long matted Irish setter hair. And the dog lay snuggled up next to him, snoring softly.

     In the end, the dog and the man compromised. The dog had a bath in the small stream and Adam seemed to have himself a dog. During the bathing process, Adam discovered that the dog was a female and once cleaned up, didn't look too bad.

    "Got to have a name for you," Adam said as he allowed the dog to shake herself dry before she dropped back onto his blankets. "I sure hope you don't have anyone that is gonna come looking for you." He yanked the bedroll from under her and began packing his gear up. "Do you? Great, now I am sounding like Hoss talking to stray animals! Okay listen, little lady, you can tag along but this isn't a permanent thing, you understand?" She wagged her tail. "Once we get home, I'll find some nice family that has a bunch of kids for you to go live with." She groaned and looked away.

     Still muttering to himself, Adam saddled his horse and making sure his small fire was completely cold, mounted up. Sport did his usual morning dance, eager to be gone. The dog just sat in the grass looking up at Adam, her soft brown eyes tugging at his heart.

     "Well come on, home is this way," and Adam let Sport go. He looked back and saw that the dog hadn't moved so he pulled to a stop. The dog loped up beside him and promptly sat down at his stirrup. "What? You think you need to ride?" The dog barked once and the tail began to beat a quick one two on the ground. "As big as you are, you can-" Before Adam could finish his sentence, the dog was up behind him, artlessly graced over his bedroll, her head tucking around to rest on Adam's thigh. "You can't hang on when I gallop!" Adam complained and as if to show the dog, went to gig Sport into a run. Sport merely walked forward.

     "Conspiracy! It's a damn conspiracy! Between my horse and a dog! Might as well throw in a brother as well…" and on through the morning man, horse and dog went, heading home.

     By the coming of the third evening, the dog had finally gotten rested enough that she had loped alongside of the horse but when she had tired, sitting down had gotten the man and the horse to return to her and let her ride for a while. It had also earned her a name: Princess since she acted like some sort of royalty while she waited. So as the unlikely trio were pulling into the front yard of the Ponderosa ranch house, Princess leapt from behind the saddle. There in the yard, Adam was pleased to see not only his father but also his youngest brother ending their day as well.

     "Well, looks like you found yourself a new girl friend, Adam!" Joe shouted, seeing the dog.

     "Welcome home, son," Ben greeted and the dog promptly stood on her hind legs and looked him in the face. "And I guess I should say hello to your new friend too!"

     "Down, Princess," and for the first time, the dog did as Adam commanded.

     "Let me take your horse, Adam. You go on in and get washed up. Supper will be ready soon!" Joe offered and Adam was none too happy but to oblige him.

     With the dog hanging close to Ben's legs, Adam and his father started towards the house with Ben asking Adam how his time off was.

     It wasn't until after dinner was over that Adam managed to snag Joe and drag him to the barn to discuss things with him. It wasn't hard since Joe seemed to be as anxious as Adam.

     "Did you get it?" Joe hissed as Adam took the moment to light a lantern. He had to see the look on Joe's face when he handed him the wad of bills from his saddlebag.

     "Oh, I got it all right, but before I give it to you, I want you to tell me one more time about those people in Paradise."
 Again, Joe told him how he had been hoodwinked, cheated and conned out of his money. As Adam listened, he kept shaking his head. The people he had met weren't the conniving underhanded type that Joe described.

     "It just doesn't make sense, Joe," Adam said, shaking his head as he pulled the money from the envelope. He slapped it down on the table between them. The gleam in his brother's eyes and his jaw dropping didn't satisfy Adam the way he had thought that it would. If anything, he felt dirtied by his part in all of it. "Those folks were good hearted people! Just trying to make a living and get by. I have half a mind to send this money back to them!"

     He could see he wasn't getting any where close to making an impression on Joe, who had picked up the stack of bills and had been counting them, fanned out in his hand, eyes slightly narrowed.

     Disgusted, Adam snatched them away from Joe. For a long moment, Joe just looked at his empty hands. "Uh, Adam," Joe said softly, not even looking in his brother's direction.

     "It's like Pa always says: you get out of people just what you put in to them!" Adam continued his ranting.

     "Adam?" Joe said again, so softly, still looking at his hands.

     "WHAT?" Adam exploded and whirled, his face hard, his eyes ferocious in the golden glow of the lantern light.

     Joe grimaced. "How did you get the money from them?"

     "I told them it was counterfeit! Now I feel like a heel -" but as Joe turned his hands so Adam could see his palms, Adam choked on his words.

     Joe's hands were liberally dotted with green ink. Breathing hard, Adam dropped the bills onto the tabletop and looked at his own hands and saw the same thing. Both brothers turned their attention to the money on the table and, quickly sorting through the pile, saw the same thing: the only real money there were the pair of fives on the outside of the stack. Inside, the 'bills' were anything but real. Adam couldn't seem to speak, only making little grunting noises as he inspected each.

     Joe put out a hand to stop Adam from his continued fruitless perusal. "Adam, face it. You got took by them too!"

     Desperation reaching a peak in him, Adam straightened his shoulders and stood tall. "Nope, at least I came back from Paradise with something. You came home empty handed!"

     "Oh yeah, ten bucks! Let's see ten percent of that is a dollar!" and digging through the fake money, Joe slapped a single bill into Adam's grabbed and held hand.

     "I came back with ten bucks AND a nice dog!"

     Joe started laughing when Adam said that. "Oh yeah, a dog that won't stay out of the house! You know how long before your dog -"

     "Adam!" came their father's shout from the house and both sons turned instinctively towards the sound. "GET THIS ANIMAL OFF OF MY LAP!"

the end
(we think)

 Coyote, ^..^
 Pam, Adam's Tahoe Princess
 With a little help from Irish
 (but not much)
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