Author's Choice
Walk Like a Man

Rating: (PG-13)
Description: I was messing around with Shakespeare's Twelfth Night and decided Adam would make a great Orsino.
Disclaimer: Except for Charlotte, Harry, Major MacTeague, and Olivia, none of these characters belong to or were created by me. I make no money from this.
Warnings: Um…some language and references. Nothing too serious.
Copyright © Wendybyrd

Charlotte had only taken one cautious step towards the open door when she heard the man begin shouting.

“Thief!” the shopkeeper hollered, brandishing a broom and calling for the sheriff. Charlotte didn’t stop to think, she just clutched the loaf of bread she had stuffed down her shirt tighter in her arms and ran outside. Once past the doorway, she glanced about wildly, unsure of what direction to take. She’d only arrived in this town less than an hour ago on foot. Hunger had driven her to the general store. Lack of funds had driven her out of it again.

Some men were beginning to respond to the store owner’s cries for help, running from all directions, and Charlotte wondered desperately how she was going to get out of this one. The men looked filthy, tough, and mean, reminding her that for all its grand name of Virginia City, this was really just a rough and tumble mining town.

She turned and ran blindly down the wooden sidewalk, her heart pounding. She was quite experienced at running now. She would bet that she was faster now than her brother had been when they’d raced each other as children. Her stolen prize shifted in its hiding place and she realized that the running had caused her shirt to come loose from the waistband of her pants. All this for a loaf of bread? The thought would have made her smile if she hadn’t been essentially running for her life. She couldn’t lose it; the bread would be her first real meal in two days. She glanced down at her shirt without slowing and so was running at full speed when she crashed into the wall.

Well, it felt like a wall. It was hard and immovable and it was definitely in her way. The wall laughed and grabbed her by the back of her shirt. Charlotte felt her feet leave the ground and realized dimly that the wall was in fact a rather large man and that he was now holding her aloft as easily as she would have held up a newborn kitten. She peered up at her captor carefully through the dirty curtain of her bangs. A giant with twinkling blue eyes smiled down at her.

“Well, what have we got here, Adam?” he addressed someone Charlotte couldn’t see, and turned her around so she was facing the opposite direction—and her approaching enemies.

“A thief!” The shopkeeper had finally reached them. He was wheezing and gasping for breath, which made her smile vengefully for a moment. Another man was close behind him, his tin star clearly naming him the sheriff.

“Well now, Hoss, looks like you caught yourself a thief,” he said with a smile to the big man.

“This little fellar?” The giant sounded unbelieving but she noticed that he didn’t put her down.

“What exactly did he steal, Mr. Wilson?” someone with a pleasantly deep voice asked from the sidelines. Charlotte tried to twist around to see who had spoken but the large hand at her neck didn’t exactly allow much movement.

“I saw the boy stuff something down his shirt before he ran out of my store.” The shopkeeper was smug as he reached out with a bony arm to unbutton her shirt and prove his word. Charlotte’s hand came up immediately to slap him away. The rest of her actions were just as desperate. Swinging around a little, she managed to kick him square in the chest with the heel of her foot. He fell backwards and landed on his backside. Safe from exposure for the moment she turned her attention to freeing herself.

She kicked out randomly, hitting the sheriff and someone else she couldn’t see. She only heard a grunt and a muffled curse. Ha! She thought with a rush of excitement and then yelped when her actions turned her about completely, twisting her shirt and nearly choking her.

Charlotte froze, gasping for air and heard a quiet thump, as if something had hit the ground. The angry men’s voices around her quieted. She sensed what had happened and reached down to feel her now untucked shirt with a little sigh. Her loaf of bread was lying forlornly on the sidewalk at her feet. She felt like crying.

“Just a loaf of bread” The big man whispered softly as he lowered her gently to the ground. His hand left her neck and moved to rest on her shoulder. Charlotte barely noticed; her eyes were on her lost meal.

Abruptly someone cleared his throat.

“I think this would about cover the cost of that bread, Mr. Wilson.” The owner of that nice voice spoke again and there was a rustle of paper. Charlotte looked up to search for whoever it was. She should not be beholden to a man without at least getting a good look at him first. Papa wouldn’t have liked her to be indebted to anybody, but he wasn’t here, and beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Then I guess there’s no problem now, is there?” The sheriff addressed the shopkeeper, who nodded and tucked his money in a pocket before wandering back to his store. He was rubbing his bottom, which made Charlotte smile again. “And as for you,” the sheriff looked her up and down, frowning. Her smile vanished. “I will have no more stealin’ in my town, son. You understand?”

“He understands.” Her as yet unseen benefactor answered before she could, and despite his actions she rather resented his high-handedness.

“I understand.” She answered the sheriff in a low voice anyway.

“Adam,” the big man said suddenly from behind her. “Adam, I’m awful hungry.” His comment seemed to amuse the sheriff.

“You’re always hungry, Hoss Cartwright.” He laughed.

“I reckon I am at that.” The giant, Hoss, did not seem offended, as Charlotte knew she would have been if someone had implied she was fat that way.

The hand on her shoulder relaxed and she edged away, thinking of escape.

“I think I’m hungry as well.” The answering agreement seemed a little too casual to Charlotte, as if these men were somehow plotting something between them. Then she realized who was speaking and spun around to get a look at the man who had saved her from an ugly situation.

He certainly wasn’t as tall as the other man, but he was large enough lounging against a hitching post he would have equaled most men. Maybe it was his superior attitude. He was dressed all in black, from his hat down to the rolled up cuffs of his pants. Even the holster for the gun resting at his hip was black leather. His hat brim was pulled low, hiding his face, but Charlotte could clearly see his self-satisfied smirk. She sniffed.

“I reckon the little fellar is ‘bout near to faintin’ away from hunger himself,” Hoss spoke again. The dark one, who must be the Adam they kept talking to, exchanged a quick look with Hoss and then looked back to her. His manner was so aloof, she thought as she stared back up at him, that she felt like the lowliest peon.

“There’s some good food on the Ponderosa.” His look was direct and she caught a glimpse of eyes the color of her father’s favorite Scots whiskey. “Good food for good workers. That was quite a fight you put up, boy. You seem strong enough, even as skinny as you are. Ever work on a ranch?”

At first the words made no sense. Then it sank in; he was offering her a job! Charlotte felt the urge to cry again, this time in happiness. A job meant a chance! It meant no more stealing. Her mouth was watering at the though of food and her head was beginning to swim just thinking of sleeping in a bed and not in the dirt. She would do nearly anything for these things, including working on a ranch and whatever that entailed. But the last month had been a hard one. She looked to the sheriff.

“The Cartwrights are good people, boy, well known and liked around these parts. I suggest you take the job.”

Charlotte looked down to her feet, at the loaf of bread.

“Room and board?” she asked, glancing at the dark…at Adam Cartwright. He nodded. Charlotte took a deep breath and stuck out her hand, to shake on the deal as men did. If it came to it, she had survived worse situations than this. His hand was warm and dry and engulfed hers completely for a moment before he took it back.

“What’s your name, boy?” It was less of a question and more of a command to speak. Charlotte’s chin came up at that, but she remembered just in time her precarious position and kept her temper in check.

“Charlie MacTeague, sir.”

“And how old are you? You look about sixteen.” He didn’t wait for her to answer. For which she was grateful as it meant she wouldn’t have to tell another lie. “I’ve got a brother about your age, Charlie. You two might become friends, but I’m warning you now, I don’t take any guff from Little Joe and I won’t take any form you. Are we clear?”

For some reason his words made both Hoss and the sheriff grin widely. She suspected that his statement wasn’t entirely true. Her brother Harry certainly had been eager enough to get into trouble at sixteen.

“Clear as crystal,” she answered, then, a second later, added, “Sir, “ with a slight smile.

“Doggonit, but ain’t he just like Joe? He ain’t scared of nuthin’” Hoss shook his head. Adam looked serious.

“Spirit. We’ll see how that lasts after a few day’s work on the Ponderosa.” There was a definite challenge in his brown eyes.

“Now, Adam, you can’t be expectin’ to work this boy right away. He’s skin and bones as it is.” The sheriff protested, gesturing to Charlotte’s thin arms and bony wrists. She flushed and moved her arms behind her back.

“I can do it.” She glared at him and then back at Adam. It would probably kill her, but she had to try. And anyway, she wasn’t about to let this man think ill of her. She remembered her history; Joan of Arc had had dressed as a boy and lead an army when she was younger than Charlotte was now; surely Charlotte could survive a few cows to teach this posing little lord a lesson.

“Well, all right then, Charlie,” Hoss took her arm and swung her around. “Let’s go home. I wasn’t lyin’. I’m starvin’ near to death.” His look was so pitiful that Charlotte found herself laughing for the first time in weeks.

 “Do you need some help?” Adam Cartwright asked with his smooth voice from the other side of the closed door of the bathhouse. Charlotte was quite sure he was hiding laughter. She hadn’t yet known Adam for the length of one afternoon and already she could imagine the lazily amused expression on his face. She was certain he was laughing when his voice quavered slightly as he spoke again. “You seem to have…annoyed our cook.”

There was a continuous, rapid spate of angry-sounding Chinese from behind the door the whole time he was speaking.

“I’m fine, really!” Charlotte tried to keep her voice from squeaking as she threw on her clothes. She ignored her damp skin as she carefully added the parts of her outfit that helped disguise her gender.

“He says he wanted to bring you some fresh towels and found the door locked. Then you wouldn’t let him in. Don’t you want towels? You know, so you can dry yourself?” He sounded like he was talking to an idiot and she almost didn’t blame him.

“Look, I’m fine!” she called out frantically. She unlocked and opened the door only to come face-to-chest with Adam Cartwright, who was lounging against the doorframe and blocking her exit with his body.

“You’re all wet.” His smirk had returned. Charlotte scowled at him and just managed not to snap something back in reply. She looked around him to his furious servant.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Sing,” she apologized to the man. “I’m just not used to other people being around when I’m bathing.”

“Or maybe you’re just not used to bathing.” Adam wrinkled his nose a little and she blushed, remembering how filthy she had been before. Of course, she had had a reason for that layer of dirt—it had lead more than one person into assuming she was a boy—but he didn’t need to hear this.

“No Mr. Just Hop Sing.” Hop Sing corrected her, quiet now after she’d apologized. He looked her up and down with shrewd eyes. Then without another word he vanished into the house, taking the unused towels with him. Adam watched the man go with the same look of detached observation and amusement with which he seemed to regard everything. Then he turned to her.

“Time to meet the family, young Charles.” He took her arm and began to steer her out of the room.

“Charlie!” she snapped at him and pulled her arm away. Adam just gestured her forward and said nothing.

He walked quickly, not bothering to look to see if she followed or not, and led her to a corral near the house where his brother Hoss stood with two other men. She corrected herself a moment later, a man and a boy. The man had silvery hair and fierce dark eyes. His sheer sense of presence marked him in her mind as being their father. The boy, who had to be the Little Joe that she was supposed to befriend, appeared to be taking no interest in her whatsoever. He was leaning over the corral fence, a few feet away from the others. She could hear them talking as she approached.

“About the same age as Joseph, you said?” Their father’s booming voice carried clearly.

“Near as we can reckon, Pa, bein’ as scrawny and little as he is,” Hoss answered, then saw her. His face lit up in a welcoming smile. “Here he is now, Pa.”

Charlotte stopped in front of Mr. Cartwright. She could see where Hoss got his build and the reason poor Joe had that nickname. They grew them big on ranches, it seemed.

“Welcome to the Ponderosa, Charles,” Mr. Cartwright greeted her heartily and shook her hand.

“Charlie,” Adam said and raised one eyebrow. He exchanged some sort of look with his father before leaning back to rest on his elbows against the fence. “He held out against an angry Hop Sing. I’ll bet he has a stubborn streak about the size of Little Joe’s.” He sighed as if there was nothing to be done with her. Little Joe perked up a bit, but otherwise gave no obvious sign that he had heard. Charlotte decided to follow his lead and ignore this comment.

“I am very grateful to be here, Mr. Cartwright. Thank you for my lunch.” Charlotte had eaten the better part a roasted chicken before Adam Cartwright’s watchful stare had reminded her of her manners. “Where would you like me to begin working?”

Mr. Cartwright looked startled and glanced from Hoss to Adam. She could feel Adam’s eyes on her, assessing, and couldn’t resist the urge to stare back at him for a moment.

 “Aw, we didn’t reckon on you workin’ right away, Charlie. You ain’t even met Little Joe yet.” Hoss gestured to the boy. “That there’s Little Joe,” he explained unnecessarily. “Don’t you mind him none, he’s just disappointed that he didn’t get to go into town today.”

“I’m pleased to meet you. Joe,” Charlotte responded automatically, then turned back to Mr. Cartwright when the boy nodded in her direction. “I won’t take charity, Mr. Cartwright. I will earn my keep,” she declared stiffly, remembering her father’s teachings. She had the opportunity to repay a debt now. Mr. Cartwright reared up magnificently, apparently taking offense at her words.

“I don’t give hand-outs here, young man! Neither do I expect exhausted and weak boys to kill themselves working on my ranch!” He barked in a tone so reminiscent of her father shouting to his troops that she actually responded by jumping into correct military formation without thinking. Her chin came up, her back straightened, and her hands went to her sides, the little finger on each hand perfectly aligned with the yellow stripe on her imaginary cavalry trousers. She was the image of a cadet receiving a dressing-down. The pose had never failed to amuse her father.

She relaxed the minute she noticed what she’d done. They were all staring at her like she was loony. She smiled self-consciously.

“Very well, Sir. I shall rest today. But I will work tomorrow?” She tried out one of Adam’s questions that weren’t really questions. She truly did intend to work tomorrow, whether they said yea or nay or it killed her. To her surprise however, her tactic worked.

“Hoss will you need help out at the north pasture tomorrow?” Adam spoke again and Charlotte realized that he hadn’t interfered for some time. He’d simply been observing. Was he always plotting something? She really wanted to know.

Hoss nodded and then clapped her on the back so hard she nearly fell over. He promptly apologized and helped her to stand upright again.

“You’ll stay in the house until there’s space in the bunkhouse.” Adam added. She wondered if she should protest, although she hardly wanted to sleep in the same room with twenty or so strange men. Before she could say anything though, Little Joe burst into the conversation.

“I thought I was workin’ the pasture with Hoss tomorrow,” Joe spoke with energy, directing an unfriendly look at her.

“I thought you and I could work together tomorrow, Little Brother,” Adam cut in. Charlotte watched curiously as Little Joe’s face seemed to brighten for a moment. Then he frowned again.

 “Not paperwork?” he groaned and looked anything but pleased when Adam nodded.

“And when we’ve finished, you can come into town with me, to collect some mail and to pay some bills.” Adam finished in an innocent tone, not looking at his brother. The boy’s eyes lit up at the mention of Virginia City and he seemed to forget his complaints once distracted by this promise.

Charlotte looked up at Adam Cartwright with narrowed eyes. No guff from Joe indeed! If that included bribery to avoid a fight then he’d spoken the truth to her earlier. Abruptly she remembered her inability to refuse her brother anything when he’d looked at her with those big pleading eyes of his. Adam caught her look and seemed to know what she was thinking and winked at her. If she hadn’t remembered just in time that it was a very unmanly response, she would have stuck her nose up in the air and sniffed to show her disapproval of his methods, and of that wink.

“Why don’t you get Charlie settled in, Joe?”

“Aw, but Adam, I was gonna…” Joe started to whine, but Adam looked at him sternly. “Come on, Charlie.”

Charlotte nodded to them all and followed Joe back to the house. Already the boy’s anger was forgotten as he began describing his horse, Cochise, and how fast it was. She grinned at his youthful enthusiasm, though to be truthful, he made her feel a little old, and she was only twenty-two.


 Charlotte sat on the edge of the bed in the room the Cartwrights had given her. It had been quite a day for her, even compared to the crazy events of the last month or so. Now she just wanted a quiet moment to think. She rubbed her stomach for a while, enjoying the pressure. It was sore, but it was also full for the first time in weeks. Then she studied her hands, which she had scrubbed and soaked until they were raw. Charlotte had nearly forgotten how it felt to be clean. But she had known that the layer of dirt had led as many people to assume she was male as her loose clothing.

Finally, she got up and went to check the door. The Cartwrights were downstairs; she could hear them laughing together even through the thick walls. Satisfied that no one would come up to visit her, she took off her borrowed shirt, loaned to her by Adam, though she suspected it was Little Joe’s, and began to slowly unravel the strip of cloth that kept her breasts down. The binding was uncomfortable, but not as painful as the tight corset she had worn before, though she wished, not for the first time, that she had a slighter figure.

There was a comb next to the basin on her nightstand. She slipped the shirt back over her head and stood in front of the looking glass while she combed out her hair. It took no time at all. She could remember when it had reached her lower back and had whipped wildly around her when she’d raced her horse across the prairie.  Her admirers had declared it to be the color of corn silk. True or not, they had said it. They had also praised the bright blue of her eyes and the few freckles sprinkled across her nose.

Charlotte had had many admirers.

Now a rather childish looking boy stared back at her in the mirror. She glared at her reflection for a moment, then stuck her tongue out at it like the child she was pretending to be. The action made her laugh. It must be this ranch and these people. She hadn’t laughed in far too long.

She peered at the reflected image of herself curiously. She really did look like a boy, though perhaps a very pretty one. She had looked more convincing covered in dirt. Luckily, her Papa had been right, people really did rely on their first impressions too much, and, at first glance, she had been a boy to the Cartwrights. Good. She wondered how long she could convince them. If she were to stay here for any length of time she would have to start becoming a boy in more than just looks. She had never stayed anywhere long enough for anyone to closely examine her disguise before.

Well, it should be easy enough; she would just do whatever they did. Although, from what she could gather from her limited experience with the opposite sex, this would involve a lot of very stupid behavior. She shrugged off the thoughts for now as a problem for another time and flopped backwards onto her bed.

A bed! She sighed in contentment and just laid there, letting all the ache in her tired body just seep out slowly. She sighed again and closed her eyes. A laugh from downstairs made her open them again. Somehow she knew that it was the oldest son, Adam, and that she was the topic of discussion. She sniffed disdainfully to herself. She had spent the evening in quiet, trying to study her new employers so she might better convince them. She had observed several things about that particular Cartwright.

He was dictatorial, and stubborn, and despite saving her earlier, didn’t seem to approve of her very much. Not like the big one, Hoss, who she had privately decided was a darling, or the youngest, Joe, who reminded her of her brother. They all reminded her of Harry. The thought sobered her. They had that often difficult but loving relationship that she had shared with Harry before…before everything.

She had only allowed herself to weep once since his death. Since that day the group of comancheros had robbed their wagon train and killed every last hopeful settler. Everyone but her. She’d been out alone, riding off her temper after another fight with Harry so she wouldn’t shoot the idiot for nearly getting them thrown out of the train for flirting with every available, and sometimes unavailable, woman. Miles away, she had still heard every gunshot, every scream. She had been too busy surviving after that to waste time with tears for the dead.

Now it all played back vividly in her mind. The bodies of her friends. The women…Charlotte choked back the rising vomit in her throat as she recalled what had obviously been done to them. And then, finally, the blood in the sand and Harry’s empty rifle next to their ransacked wagon. Tears filled her eyes and she fumbled blindly in her small bag that contained her few remaining belongings for the small photograph of him that had been left in their wagon.

A handsome young man stared back at her. Merry eyes that would have been blue had the picture had color peeked out from behind a wavy mop of hair that would have blonde, same as hers. Harry, her twin brother. Charlotte couldn’t help it, she burst into tears, barely remembering to hide her face in the pillow so the Cartwrights wouldn’t hear.


Little Joe and Hoss were the only ones already at the table waiting for dinner. Charlotte stopped on the stairs for a moment to make sure Adam and Mr. Cartwright weren’t there. Reassured that neither would witness her humiliation, she made her way slowly and painfully down the staircase and over to the table.

Hoss had decided that she hadn’t looked strong enough to do a lot of riding yet, so he’d taken her out in a wagon. A wagon that she would swear hit every single rock on this whole God-forsaken ranch. At first she’d been grateful that she hadn’t been forced to ride astride. Now, as she lowered her bottom onto the seat of the chair with an anticipatory grimace, she could only curse the Ponderosa, the wagon, and Adam Cartwright for hiring her.

The chair was unexpectedly soft and comfortable. She opened her eyes and saw Little Joe regarding her sympathetically. She looked down and saw that someone had put a cushion on her seat.

“How did you know?” She asked in amazement, touched by the thoughtfulness of the gesture. The boy shrugged and looked at his plate.

“Hoss said you had problems with the wagon. I just know what that can feel like is all.”

“Yea, I reckon he can.” Hoss began to laugh. Charlotte rather liked the way he laughed; he put his whole body into it. “Hey Joe, remember when you caught yourself that bitty little garter snake and let it loose in church under Betty Lou Tellford? Pa really laid into you that time!”

“Aw, Hoss.” Little Joe looked uncomfortable at this mention of his punishment, but his green eyes were sparkling. He was the image of Harry with a secret at that age.

“What happened?” she couldn’t help asking. Joe immediately launched into his story.

“So Betty Lou was sitting there all stuck up in her new pink dress and white stockings. She looked so nice I just had to rile her up a bit. So I took Barney, that was the snake’s name you see, and I slipped him under her seat.” He leaned forward eagerly. “It was real quiet for about a minute and then all the sudden she jumps on the pew and starts screamin’ and cryin’. I laughed so hard I thought I’d bust.” His excited glow dimmed a bit and he frowned. “Then Pa started yellin’ and took me outside. I still don’t know how he knew it was me.”

“Maybe because you were the only one laughing.” Adam said from the doorway and all three of them turned to watch him enter. Joe looked considering, as if this idea had never occurred to him. Charlotte had to fight to hold back her smile. Unfortunately, Adam decided to continue the story. “So then Joe comes back in with Pa, so sore he can barely sit on the pew and the good reverend decided to give a sermon on the devil in paradise in the guise of a snake. Pa was not amused.”

Charlotte giggled, then coughed abruptly when she realize how girlish it sounded.

“Sorry, Joe.” She apologized for laughing, but he waved it off.

“You don’t know the worst of it.” He seemed almost proud.

“Worst of what?” Mr. Cartwright asked from the staircase. He had seated himself at the head of the table before Adam answered.

“The worst of Little Joe’s…escapades.”

Mr. Cartwright humphed and gave Joe a very fatherly look. It managed to be both stern and proud.

“I doubt we know the worst of them either.”

“I made it up to Betty Lou later,” Joe confided with a smirk identical to his older brother’s.

“You mean you…” She couldn’t finish the question.

“Yes, sir, our little brother’s got quite the reputation as a ladykiller. Snuck a kiss from most of the girls in town, haven’t you Joe?” Adam continued on in his musical voice. Charlotte could see why Joe would have such success. He was a good-looking boy. She personally had never been a fan of dimples, but those as well as his large green eyes, curly dark hair and the most engaging grin, would set girls to sighing anywhere.

Little Joe, quite sensibly, didn’t answer Adam’s question.

“Although I think you might have some competition from young Charlie here now, Joe. Women always did have soft spots for blue eyes, and I have to say that Charlie’s are just the color of Lake Tahoe in spring.”

Charlotte blushed to think of herself as a ladykiller and grew a little irritated with Adam for making her turn so red.

“Now my eyes are blue and I ain’t noticed any such thing.” Hoss started laughing again.

Just then their cook came in with a huge platter. Charlotte didn’t think Hop Sing approved of her any more than he had after their first meeting yesterday. She tried smiling at him as he put the plate down but he only stared at her.

“That smells plumb delicious, Hop Sing.”

“Mistah Hoss appreciate Hop Sing. No one else. All think Hop Sing stupid.” He ranted to no one in particular and stalked back into his domain.

The Cartwrights for the most part ignored this, Charlotte noticed. He was a good cook, so maybe they didn’t care. There were a few minutes of silence as everyone eased their hunger, then Adam opened the conversation.

“So Hoss, how did our new hand get along today?” The question was casual enough, but Charlotte tensed.

“Oh, he did just fine, Adam.” Hoss looked up from his steak to answer. He grinned at her before scooping out another helping of potatoes. “Reckon tomorrow we could get him on a horse and run him all over if you wanted.”

Charlotte was suddenly less hungry. She peeped over to Adam, who was regarding her thoughtfully.

“Tomorrow we’re repairing the mill. Feeling up to it, boy?” It was a test; she just knew it was.

“I could die trying.” How she wished that statement wasn’t all too true. It made Mr. Cartwright smile though.

“Good. All this extra help, we might actually get ahead of schedule for once.”

All the men grunted in reply to this and started eating again. Charlotte blinked at how quickly they had turned their complete attention from one thing to another. There was no interesting dinner conversation. Is this, Charlotte though with disappointment, how men were when no women were around? How did they stand it? All this silence would drive her crazy.

Only when Hop Sing brought in coffee did anyone start speaking again.

“Anything of interest happen while you two were in town today?” Mr. Cartwright asked as Hop Sing cleared away the dishes. The question reanimated Little Joe, who had been a little subdued after Adam had teased him about having competition.

“Olivia Dewitt was in town today, shopping. I talked to her.”

“We talked to her.” Adam corrected.

“She is one pretty gal, smart too.” Hoss smiled shyly and blushed bright red.

“Yea, I guess she’s smart.” Joe was unenthusiastic about this, but he quickly regained his enthusiasm as he continued. “But she has a real nice face and a sweet figure.” His eyes glazed over and his mouth dropped slightly open.

“Joe.” Adam scolded absently, but his eyes had the same far-away look as his brothers’. Charlotte was very curious to know what they were thinking about. Little Joe illuminated her.

“I’ll bet that without her corset she has the tiniest waist and the fullest breas…”

“Joseph!!” Mr. Cartwright boomed furiously. “Such talk at the dinner table!”

Joe’s grin remained in place, though he ducked his head. Mr. Cartwright’s gaze fell on her.

“There now. You’ve embarrassed young Charlie.”

Charlotte choked. There was simply no way for her to hide her obvious blushes. Had men thought that about her? The idea made her warm all over. The Cartwrights were all grinning at her.

“So you’re courting Miss Olivia?” she asked Adam to cover her embarrassment. He nodded after a moment.

“I wouldn’t exactly say courting…” he began.

“I’m courting her.” Little Joe piped in, glancing at Adam. Charlotte stared at him in amazement. He was sixteen! This girl had to be two years older than him at least to attract the interest of a man like Adam.

“And will she have you?” she asked quickly so they wouldn’t ask what she was thinking. Again, Adam nodded, as did Little Joe a second later. She gasped at their arrogance. “You’re so sure?”

“She is a woman, therefore may be woo’d. She is a woman, therefore may be won.” Adam leaned back in his chair and looked superior. Charlotte was so furious at this on behalf of all women that she forgot to watch her words.

“A wise man indeed, to quote the words of an attacker of women. ‘She is Lavinia, therefore must be loved’” she finished the quote from Titus Andronicus. “Demetrius was a villain, if not for his assault, then for the arrogance of that statement. Not all women are convinced by flattering words.”

The people at the table got quiet and Charlotte winced, convinced she’d revealed herself with her sentiments or had offended her employers.

“Well how ‘bout that?” Hoss seemed delighted. “Someone else who reads all them books.”

Joe was laughing.

“Finally someone who can get Adam back with all his book talk!”

Mr. Cartwright just look amused, watching this over the rim of his pink china cup.

“Yes.” Adam dismissed both of his brothers with that word and moved on, leaning forward with sudden interest. “You know Shakespeare?” Adam asked another one of his questions-that-was-not-a-question.

“Yes.” She agreed cautiously and his eyes narrowed.

“How very interesting,” was all he said.


 Everyone was already standing next to their horses, ready to go, by the time Charlie finished eating and came outside. She would have been out sooner, but with Hop Sing glaring at her, she’d felt the need to clear her plate of every last morsel of eggs and bacon.

They were all waiting for her, so she walked out quickly and slipped on her borrowed hat to shield her eyes from the morning sun. She heard Joe mutter something about her keeping them, right before he yawned sleepily, as if he had been up and ready for hours and hadn’t actually risen after her. She ignored him and went to Hoss, who was holding the reins of an extra horse, obviously meant for her. Aware of everyone’s eyes on her, she reached out a hand for the horse to inspect then patted its neck. It seemed like a nice horse; she hoped it wouldn’t step on her if she fell off that ridiculously large saddle.

“A nice gentle horse. Sweetheart.” Adam said as Hoss handed her the reins. Charlotte jumped.

“Excuse me?” The question slipped out. There was an almost non-existent pause.

“The horse’s name is Sweetheart.” Adam explained in a dry voice and Little Joe snickered. Hoss seemed startled for a minute, then laughed good-naturedly.

“I reckon you’re a pretty fellar, but you ain’t that pretty.”

Charlotte blushed furiously, to the Cartwright’s obvious amusement.

“Adam figured you might not be too used ta’ horses after the you rode when you doubled up with him the other day when we brung ya here, so I picked you out a real Sweetheart.” Hoss explained with a grin.

“Oh.” Charlotte felt like such an idiot. She didn’t think her face could get any hotter.

“All right, enough of this foolishness. Let’s get going!” Mr. Cartwright mounted swiftly and headed out without another word. Adam followed suit immediately and got on his horse as well, as did Joe and Hoss. Charlotte watched all their movements carefully and then, with a tiny prayer, threw herself at Sweetheart.

She put so much energy into her mount that she nearly fell over the other side. Luckily Sweetheart was obviously an old plug who had seen everything and who wasn’t scared by her rider’s foolishness. Charlotte scrambled to keep her balance and grabbed the horse’s mane in a death grip to keep from falling off.

Adam appeared to be having problems keeping a straight face and he wasn’t the only one. Charlotte felt her blushes return. Eventually, when they’d controlled themselves he rode over to her and indicated she should put both her feet in the stirrups. She would have been offended if she hadn’t known that their jokes meant that she was accepted.

“You’ve never ridden before, have you?” Adam was clearly trying to be gentle, but Hoss and Joe were both still laughing. Charlotte settled for a shrug to avoid a direct lie. She’d never ridden astride before. “Why don’t you ride alongside me, in case you have any problems?”

After a moment she nodded.

“Good,” he aid and swatted Sweetheart’s rear. The horse obediently took a few steps forward. Charlotte gasped at the sensation. This was wonderful; she actually felt secure on top of the horse, riding this way, instead of feeling as if she might fall off at any moment. No wonder men rode this way; she thought with a grin and urged Sweetheart to go faster, past Adam. He regarded her with a faint smile.

“A natural rider, it seems,” he commented to his brothers before catching up with her.

It took well over an hour to reach the mill if you took your time, Hoss informed her. Adam chose a steady pace, which seemed to Charlotte with her new way of riding to a be a frustratingly slow speed, though she suspected it was chosen out of consideration for her, so she remained silent.

The men were as quiet as they’d been the night before at dinner for most of the ride until Adam spoke unexpectedly.

“For someone who seems to dislike Titus Andronicus, you seem to be pretty familiar with the dialogue.”

“My father loved reading Shakespeare’s plays to us.” Charlotte dragged her eyes from the beautiful scenery of the Sierra foothills to answer.

“Who is ‘us’?” Adam asked softly. She changed the subject.

“Anyway, I’ve never like that play, it’s too violent.”

“Good triumphs at the end,” he argued calmly.

“Except for those who are powerless. They just lose.” She answered sadly. “Poor Lavinia only suffers. Her husband and brothers are killed, then she’s attacked and is killed by the end.”

Adam got a considering look, but Charlotte was too preoccupied with her memories to really notice.

“I understand,” he said at last in a polite tone.

“No you don’t!” she snapped angrily and glared at him from under the brim of her oversized hat. “I doubt you’ve ever been powerless in your life. You’ve got this ranch to reign over and you’ve got your family. And you’re a man, so you’ll never…” she stopped abruptly. Adam was silent. For once the lazy expression had left his face; he looked taken aback. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” She choked on the apology. She had meant each and every word, but she probably should not have voiced them.

“Don’t be sorry.” Adam tipped his hat up to look deep into her eyes. “What you said is true. I’ve been overwhelmed before perhaps, but I’ve never truly been powerless.”

Charlotte was startled. For a while she couldn’t say anything.

“I was somehow under the impression that you did not apologize,” she said finally.

“I don’t.”

She couldn’t tell if he was lying or not. His smile could have meant anything. Before she had a chance to ask he changed the subject.

“So, I suppose you prefer Shakespeare’s comedies?”

“Oh yes,” she nodded, “Twelfth Night is my favorite.” She gulped as she admitted this, but he continued smoothly on.

“Finally I’ll have someone to discuss them with.”

“You want to discuss Shakespeare? With me?” Charlotte squeaked at the idea of a man actually seeking her opinion on serious matters, even if she was disguised as a boy when he did it. They came to the river, and the mill, and the building distracted her.

“Ingenious,” she commented, noting how the stream had been diverted to power it.

“Thank you.” Adam gave a half-bow from atop Sport.

“You built this?” She couldn’t keep the amazement from her voice and he apparently noticed.

“I designed it, yes.” His voice had lost some of its warmth.

“It reminds me of this bridge my father’s men had to build once at Fort Washington. The terrain was tricky but they needed it. So my father got together with this bright young officer that no one else would listen to and pieced together the idea for the bridge. It was a clever solution to a difficult problem, like this.” She gestured to the mill. A smile of appreciation crossed Adam’s face.

“You’ve got a discerning eye, Charlie. You’re a lot like your father, I imagine.”

She ducked her head at the remark, though she noticed that he’d accepted her compliment without any trace of modesty.

“Thank you,” she said softly.

“Now, we should get to work.” He changed the subject briskly, so like Mr. Cartwright in his manner that she grinned. They both dismounted and walked toward the spot where his father was waiting impatiently. “So, what else have you read?” he asked as they neared the site. Charlotte, with a wicked smile, decided to test his knowledge of history.


Later that day, Charlotte was wondering if would it be all right if she just fell out of her saddle and then laid on the ground for awhile. She wasn’t sure if she could lift her arms to remove her hat, much less get down from her horse gracefully. She settled for a combination of working to dismount and just plain falling off. In the middle of her struggling, a pair of hands suddenly grabbed her waist and set her on the ground. She spun around and saw Adam’s back as he strolled away, still wearing his chaps for riding. She was still warm where his hands had touched her through her shirt.

Charlotte shook her head to clear it, then took an unsteady step towards the bathhouse so she could wash up. Her legs failed her. Oh dear, she thought with alarm. She was so sore from that saddle she couldn’t seem to get her legs together. Is this why women have to ride sidesaddle? She worried, biting her lip.

She looked around a little desperately and her gaze fell on Tony and Sebastian, two hands she recognized by name, walking together. Both had the same almost bowlegged, rolling gait, like men who spent most of their time on horseback. She thought back to Adam’s slow way of walking and laughed at her foolishness. So this is what they meant when they said walking like a man. She would just take up as much space as possible. Though she couldn’t really see why. She had gotten just as much attention with a graceful sway. But it was worth it if it meant she didn’t have to ride sidesaddle anymore.

Charlotte puffed up her chest, raised her head, and tried to favor one leg a little and sort of strut like some of the hands did. She smiled; after a while she got into a kind of rhythm. Painfully, but with more confidence, she headed to the bathhouse to clean up.

There were a few men in there washing their hands so Hop Sing would allow them to eat. He insisted the men at least attempt cleanliness, something Charlotte was very grateful for, since she was sure most of them would have avoided water at all costs otherwise. Most of them greeted her as she came in and then continued their rather loud conversation. She went to a basin filled with clean water and began to carefully scrub the dirt out of her fingernails. Scraps of the men’s conversation drifted over to her.

It was about a woman. A remarkably limber one. Charlotte gasped and quickly began to wash her face to hide her blushes. These men were much more descriptive than Little Joe had been the night before. One even had a few gestures to go along with his story. She knew she should feel privileged to be hearing something it was unlikely they ever would have discussed around Miss Charlotte MacTeague, though just plain Charlie was another matter. It was amusing she supposed, but disheartening. Was that all they thought of? All men, good or bad, had but one thing on their minds it seemed. She realized again what a good idea her disguise had been.

A hand appeared in front of her, offering her a towel. She took it and looked up into Hop Sing’s knowing eyes. She had that sinking feeling again. Had she revealed herself? She glanced around nervously. The men had stopped their talk when the cook had entered the room. Though just the thought of what they had said was enough to make her turn red again. Had he seen her blushes and guessed?

But young boys often blushed. She had seen Hoss blush for goodness’ sake and he was older than she was supposed to be. That wasn’t it. One of the men threw down his dirty towel as he walked out and she wondered if perhaps she had cleaned herself wrong. Dammit! She thought and pressed a shocked hand to her cheek at even thinking the swear word. She threw down her towel too, though she still felt dirty. Harry had hated bathing with a passion until he’d realized that girls generally preferred a man who didn’t reek of horse. Goodness but men were disgusting creatures, yet they didn’t have to wear corsets or ride sidesaddle. It was so horribly unfair!

“Time for eat.” Hop Sing announced quietly and led the way to the dining room. If he had guessed, he said nothing of his suspicions and after a while she relaxed.


The door to Adam’s room wasn’t locked, but Charlotte entered tentatively just the same. She’d never been in a man’s room before, aside from Harry’s. And though she was eager to view this previously forbidden part of the male domain, the knowledge that this was Adam Cartwright’s room caused her to hesitate.

But her instructions from Mr. Cartwright had been quite clear, so she opened the door a fraction and slipped inside. The light was dim, due to the drawn curtains but she had no problem seeing. She barely glanced over at Adam; he was snoring softly. Charlotte stifled a giggle and walked over quickly to a small desk covered in loose sheets of paper and few obviously well read books.

She quietly looked through the papers; architectural sketches mostly, and a few drawings of his family. He was good. No Michelangelo of course, but he did capture Hoss’ grin and the light in Little Joe’s eyes perfectly. There was an incomplete sketch of her as well. She studied it curiously, wondering how he’d seen her when he’d drawn it. She looked…sad. Charlotte hurriedly put the picture down and moved on to the books on his desk. Poetry mostly, the English Romantics, Keats, Shelley, Byron, as well as some engineering texts, and some Greek and Roman histories. She was impressed. A large volume lay open on another table, next to a small portrait of a woman. Charlotte peered down at the book and then smiled, feeling pleased with herself.

It was a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, opened to Titus Andronicus. He’d been rereading it. Ha, she thought. Lord Adam wasn’t sure he’d been right in their discussion the other day. She knew enough of him now to know that he’d never admit it though, so she settled for one last quiet chuckle and looked at the portrait.

The woman in it was lovely and judging from its age, must have been his mother. From Boston or someplace back East, which would explain his aristocratic airs. The Cartwrights hadn’t talked much about the women they’d lost, but she learned that much when she’d asked Hoss why him and his brothers were so different. Three wives, it was rather remarkable.

Charlotte took her eyes from the portrait in its delicate silver frame and glanced quickly around the rest of the room, noting the painting on the wall of a Yankee clipper ship, the guitar resting on a chair, and the articles of clothing strewn about the floor, all in the same shade of midnight black. Then she turned her gaze to Adam.

He was lying on his stomach, his face turned into a pillow, but the blankets weren’t pulled up all the way, exposing his neck and shoulders. Charlotte stopped to consider him. His face was relaxed in sleep; the lazy expression and superior smile were gone. He looked boyish, almost like his much more mischievous youngest brother. Which might have something to do with the reason he had slept so late this morning that Mr. Cartwright had sent Charlie to wake him. Adam had gone to town the night before for a drink with some friends and hadn’t returned until the early hours of the morning. Perhaps there was a Cartwright tendency toward such things. She sniffed the air and picked up the definite odor of whiskey. Her lips thinned in disapproval.

Staying out all night! Drinking! And the Lord only knew who he had been with. That thought in particular made her reach out to push him roughly to wake him up. His snores just got louder, irritating her further. She glanced around the room and noticed the tightly shut curtains. A little light ought to do it, she reckoned evilly, remembering the few instances when Harry had been hungover. She couldn’t understand why in the world men would want to punish themselves this way, but, she thought as she drew open the curtains, they were men after all, and therefore subject to strange notions.

“Rise and shine, Adam!” she called out cheerfully, humming Reveille to herself. The snoring was replaced by one long drawn out groan of suffering.

“Joe, I’m going to kill you.” He pronounced each word slowly into his pillow.

“Better people than you have tried.” Charlotte answered gaily. At her words he raised his head and opened his eyes cautiously.


Charlotte just stood there staring at him, her arms crossed over her chest and foot tapping irritably on the floor.

“Enjoy yourself last night?” she asked sweetly. Adam groaned again and rolled over, draping an arm over his eyes. He yawned.

“Close the curtains, will you?”

“He must be feeling bad. He’s asking me.” She widened her eyes dramatically and addressed an imaginary audience. Adam removed his arm to look at her miserably.

“Just close the damn curtains! What’s the matter with you?”

She ignored this, full of a sense of self-righteousness; she would never be so foolish as to drink too much. She knew better.

“No. Mr. Cartwright told me to wake you.” Her voice was cold.

“You are more ruthless than Little Joe out for revenge,” he told her, as if that would bother her.

“Well I imagine Little Joe has often been in the same condition and sympathizes too readily.” she said with a smirk of her own. Adam didn’t appear to hear this.

“What time is it?”

“Half past ten,” she answered pertly. He sat up abruptly. The action caused his blankets to fall to his waist and Charlotte blushed, connecting for the first time what the clothes on the floor mean about the man in the bed. She gasped.

“Did Pa seem very angry?” Adam’s mind was clearly on different things. He sounded a little too casual as he asked and his expression seemed a little anxious. Unsure of himself like this, he looked…charming.

“Ummm, well he sent me all the way back here to fetch you, red in the face and yelling about how some of his sons obviously felt they no longer had to pull their own weight.”

“You’re enjoying this aren’t you?” Adam looked over at her with narrowed eyes. She just smiled widely.  He threw a pillow at her. It hit the door behind her and she grinned. The grin faded when she turned back around and saw that the throwing motion had disturbed Adam’s blankets. She hesitated a second before spinning around to face the door. Adam started chuckling.

“Boy, you blush more than Hoss.”

Charlotte sniffed.

“Such a pretty blush too. I’ll bet the girls love making you do that.”

If possible her face got even redder. A subject change was needed.

“Well, I guess you know a lot about girls, Old Man,” she said mockingly.

“I’m not yet thirty.” He seemed offended. She’d injured his pride apparently.

“Not quite yet,” she almost echoed him. He threw his other pillow. It hit her back and landed on the floor. “My, but you are spry for a man of your age.”

“I’m not…”he started angrily, then stopped and continued slyly. “Perhaps when you start shaving, boy, you can come back here and we’ll talk about age.”

Charlotte laughed out loud. For a boy, this was probably the biggest of insults.

“When I start to shave, Adam, we will definitely have a talk.” She moved to the door as she started speaking and was halfway in the hall when she added, “Hop Sing has coffee for you. I’ll be down stairs waiting.” She closed the door behind her and heard something, a boot? hit the door as she did.


Charlotte was walking to her room after another long day when she heard the hushed whispers. She looked down the hallway for the source and saw Little Joe and Hoss standing on either side of Adam’s door, both of them barely able to contain their mirth. Smiling slightly, she approached them. Joe saw her and put a finger to his lips, warning her to be silent.

Intrigued, she tiptoed closer and stood next to him and then had a hard time holding back her own giggles. Adam’s bedroom door wasn’t completely closed, and from inside they could hear him reciting poetry, to himself.

“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…”

She looked to Hoss for an explanation, who shrugged. Little Joe’s face was turning red and he was holding his sides. Inside the room, Adam stopped and began again, louder, and with the emphasis on different words this time. She clamped a hand over her mouth to hold in her laughter.

“He’s practin’ or somethin’ for Olivia,” Hoss whispered. Charlotte had the image of Adam posing grandly like a courtly lover from days gone by in front of a mirror as he recited the sonnet and couldn’t prevent her laughter from escaping this time.

The door swung open immediately and Adam stared at the three of them from inside. He seemed to be waiting.

“Well? Nothing to say, children?” he asked mock-pleasantly, looking at them in his superior way. It didn’t have the effect he probably wished it had.

“Oh Adam! You speak so perdy…” Hoss said in a falsetto and batted his eyelashes. Charlotte laughed so hard her stomach hurt. Adam’s sour expression didn’t help. Then Little Joe decided to add something.

“I think I shall swoon,” he declared dramatically with a hand to his forehead. Adam raised his eyebrows and regarded Joe with condescending amusement. Then he turned to her with a resigned sigh.

“And you, Charlie? Nothing to add?”

She bit her lip to hide her smile and shook her head.

“What? No comment on my choice of poems or my reading?”

“I’m sure Charlie’s got plenty to say about your danged poem.” Hoss pushed her forward. She’d noticed over the last few days that Hoss and Joe seemed to regard her as the one to get revenge for them against Adam and all his literary allusions at their expense. Adam inclined his head and stepped aside.

“Enter my chamber, Noble Sir, and please share with me, your humble servant, some of the vast knowledge you’ve acquired during your many years on earth,” he announced grandly, if sarcastically, and bowed and gestured for her to come in. “You too,” he said to his brothers after she did.

They sat down next to her on the bed, watching Adam rather like spectators at a play. He pulled up a chair then turned it around in one movement to sit across from them.

“Come, Sir. Surely you have something to say,” he addressed her, still in that stage voice.

“Are you planning to say this to Miss Dewitt?” she asked.

“In a letter possibly, but if she wants me to read it to her…”

Charlotte shook her head and he stopped.

“Isn’t it a little…I don’t know…cliché, to woo a girl with Shakespeare?”

“Yeah, you don’t wanna be cliché, Adam” Little Joe agreed with a smile.

“And what does Charlie think would be more original?” Adam asked softly, crossing his arms. She blushed; she knew she shouldn’t have said anything.

“I don’t know. Something with humor maybe, or passion,” she mumbled.

“Passion?” Adam repeated. Charlotte noticed the word had made Hoss blush as well. She smiled and looked back at Adam. He was staring into her face. “ How about…I arise from dreams of thee, in the first sleep of night -the winds are breathing low, and the stars are burning bright. I arise from dreams of thee- and a spirit in my feet has borne me- who knows how? To thy chamber window, Sweet!”

Shivers ran up and down her spine and she felt an insane desire to giggle. He was still staring at her, waiting for her reaction. Luckily, Hoss saved her.

“Oh, that tweren’t passion, Adam. Charlie meant like…you know.” He ducked his head when Little Joe laughed.

“He’s right, Adam. That poem didn’t even mention a girl!” Joe said in the same way Harry once complained about books with no pictures.

“Ridiculous.” Adam agreed dryly, winking at her. She gulped. “How about this then, Joe?” He cleared his throat. “License my roving hands and let them go. Before, behind, between, above, below…Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee, as souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be, to taste whole joys.”

Charlotte’s toes curled and she had to bite her lip to keep from sighing foolishly. Oh my goodness. She knew her cheeks were red, but she just wanted him to say it again in that smooth voice.

“Well?” Adam looked expectantly at his audience. Little Joe was frowning.

“You ain’t gonna say that to Olivia, are you?” his voice cracked as he asked.

“Nekkidness.” Hoss repeated with a shy smile. Charlotte licked her lips.

“Who said that?” she whispered.

“You don’t know?” His eyes were dancing. He was probably pleased that he’d out-quoted her. “It’s by Donne, To His Mistress.”

“It might work.” She tried to be dismissive.

“I don’t want something that might work. So that won’t do.” Adam sighed dramatically. “I’ll just have to find something else, with your permission of course.” He nodded at her, almost as an afterthought. The action was irritating, though she could understand, after that recitation, why he would be annoyed at their interference. She had a feeling he could handle his relationships more than well enough on his own.

“Of course, all of this depends on whether or not your Olivia is the sort to appreciate such poetry. I’ve never met the lady, has she a mind behind the pretty face?”

All three Cartwrights frowned, evidently pondering this. Charlotte rolled her eyes. Men.

“You do know this girl?”

“Well, shucks, Charlie, how can you expect a fellar to be thinkin’ about a girl’s mind when she smiles at him just so?” Hoss argued, jutting out his chin.

“What do you want from us? We’re only human after all.” Little Joe shared a very male grin with Hoss. Adam interrupted.

“What my brothers are trying to say, in their clumsy, inept way, is that while we find women delightful to converse with, there are other, more pleasant things to be doing with a beautiful woman besides speaking.”

Charlotte’s face felt like it was sizzling, but she refused to back down.

“Supposing that’s true…”

Little Joe interrupted.

“Supposing?” His tone was doubtful.

“Supposing that’s true,” she insisted doggedly. “What do you suppose the women think of you?” She watched with some amusement as all three of them thought this over. They looked worried. “Or did you never think about it? Since it would imply that women have minds of their own?” Her voice was sharp. They all looked suitably chastened for about a minute, then Hoss frowned.

“Charlie, you sure are about the strangest boy I ever met.”

Charlotte glanced at Hoss anxiously.

“Am I?” she tried to stay calm.

“You don’t talk like no boy I know, and I don’t mean them quotes from books.” He explained. Charlotte looked around her while she tried to think of an explanation for this and noticed Adam watching carefully. Was he plotting again?

“I’ve been around,” she said at last, not taking her eyes from Adam’s face.

“Whereabouts?” Joe piped in curiously. Hoss leaned forward eagerly. They looked like two army wives waiting for gossip. She realized it was first time any of them had openly questioned her about her past.

“Midwest.” Her answer was deliberately vague. Their faces drooped. Adam started laughing.

“You two look like a pair of basset hounds with those hangdog expressions. Leave Charlie alone. He’ll tell us when he’s ready.”

“When not if?” she couldn’t help asking. Adam stood up and nodded down to her.

“When,” he said definitely. Charlotte tossed her head.

“Come on Charlie. Ain’t you got no interestin’ stories to tell us?” Hoss wheedled with a gap-toothed smile.

“You were with the army, weren’t you?” Little Joe wanted to know. She looked to Adam, who had lights in his brown eyes. She felt the corners of her mouth turn up.

“Well,” she began reluctantly. “There is the story of the prairie wolf that was as a tame as a dog.”

The boys’ eyes lit up like children at Christmas. They must have had visions of an adventurous army life.

“Which you will hear, downstairs.” Adam pointed to the door. “My room is not a stage or a concert hall.”

“I thought you thought it was.” Charlotte couldn’t help referring to his earlier reading. Joe snickered and Hoss grinned.

“Ha ha,” Adam muttered sarcastically. “Out, Children!”

They obediently got off the bed and went out the door.

“You comin’, Adam?” Joe looked up at his older brother eagerly. Adam looked down at Charlotte.

“I think I just might.” He followed them out and closed the door behind them.

“Do you really think I’ll tell you all my secrets, Adam Cartwright?” she asked him as they walked downstairs.

“Yes,” he responded softly.

“Why?” her voice was just as soft.

“Because we seem to have that affect on people.”

“And why do you care so much about me?” She hadn’t meant to ask that question.

“I don’t.” His smirking answer made her long to punch him, until, at the bottom of the stairs, he added for her ears alone, “but if you ever want to tell us, Charlie, or you need help, I’m here.”

Charlotte shook her head, not quite believing him. He grabbed her arm, forcing her to stop. His expression was anything but lazy or bored.

“I mean it, Charlie,” he whispered intently and then gave her a gentle half-smile, completely unlike his normal smirk. Shyly, she smiled back. “Now lets hear this story.”


“Your move,” Adam reminded her after he’d pushed a pawn forward. Charlotte came back to the present with a start. She’d been reviewing the last few weeks in her head and had been unable to believe her good fortune in being befriended by the Cartwrights. She no longer thought of them as strictly her employers but more like friends. Especially Adam, who despite his biting sarcasm actually did the most to make her feel comfortable. They worked her hard, it was true, but it was nothing the daughter of Major William MacTeague couldn’t handle. In fact, at first she’d suspected they were going easy on her. Then she’d noticed that Little Joe did as much as she did, well, he did when he wasn’t sneaking out of his chores. He was fun to watch in action that one.

It was another surprise to Charlotte to discover that hard work was strangely satisfying. She went to bed tired, but happy more often than not. She yawned, thinking of how hard that day had been in particular. She should have been in bed hours ago but Adam had offered a game of chess and she had been unable to resist.

She took her feet off the coffee table where they’d been resting since Mr. Cartwright had gone to bed, to lean forward and squint at the board. It was dark in the front room. They were playing by the light of a dying fire and one flickering oil lamp.

She deftly moved her rook to take his pawn and added it to her growing collection of his men. She smirked in an exact imitation of him before picking up her crystal brandy glass and leaning back in her chair. Once again she propped her feet on the table in the most unladylike manner. Remarkable stuff, brandy, she thought and took a sip. It made her feel all sleepy and relaxed. It burned a little too, but it was a pleasant burn and had such wonderful results. She took another sip and noticed that only a few drops of this wonderful potion remained in her glass.

Adam was staring in concentration at the board. Charlotte, who had often played with her father, knew she’d already won the game, but was content to watch him squirm. At least, she thought she had won, for some reason her thinking was a little fuzzy tonight. She watched Adam roll her captured knight around in his hand while he thought.

Adam always looks so serious, she sighed to herself, especially now. The wavering light from the fire partially cast his face in shadows, making him look brooding and, she fancied, rather devilish. His black shirt only added to the effect. She sighed again.

“Are you alright? You must be tired. You’ve been working hard lately,” he asked, taking his attention from the board to look at her for a moment in concern.

“Oh no, I mean I’m fine.” She was quick to assure him. He looked doubtful, then snapped his fingers.

“I know what we’re missing.” He got up and went over to the big desk and pulled out two fat cigars. Charlotte’s eyes widened. He neatly snipped the end off of each one and lit a stick of kindling in the fire. Cautiously, she took what he offered and dutifully breathed in when he lit the end.

She tried to hold in all that hideous smoke, but it scorched her throat horribly. With one hacking cough she expelled it all and then stared with loathing at the evil thing in her hand.  Adam laughed then neatly tipped over his king, acknowledging defeat without actually having to say anything.

“Why don’t you let Joe smoke or drink?” she wheezed.

“Joe’s too young,” he answered immediately. Charlotte raised an eyebrow and to her surprise he flushed. “Well, you seem older.”

“I’m gratified to hear it,” she answered sleepily.

“In fact you remind me of myself at your age.”

That surprised her, but she hardly in the mood to debate.

“And what were you like at my age?” Charlotte had to ask. Adam seemed to be lost in thought. “Adam?” she reminded him when he didn’t answer right away.

“Tired,” he said at last. “I was very tired at your age.”

 “At twen…at sixteen?” she hoped he wouldn’t notice her slip. He nodded and turned back to the chessboard. Charlotte had the feeling he wasn’t seeing the little wooden pieces at all, but was remembering something else.

She guessed that Hoss and Joe would have been just kids when Adam was around sixteen or seventeen. And from what little they had dropped about Mr. Cartwright’s marriages, Little Joe would have just lost his mother. Mr. Cartwright would have been a grief-stricken widower and young Adam, she frowned, Adam would have had to shoulder a lot of responsibility at that young age. Such a young age to be expected to act like a man. Her heart went out to the boy he had been. It hadn’t been easy for her when her mother had died and her father had been there to take care Harry and her. Then when her father had died…

“So that’s why you don’t allow Joseph to drink? You feel you have the right to decide when he should become a man? Why do brothers always feel they can order you around?” she asked the last question absently. Adam froze momentarily and then answered smoothly,

“Perhaps because we know better.”

Charlotte snorted inelegantly.

“His lordship has spoken,” she sneered half-heartedly. “You’re just like Harry and he hadn’t a lick of sense to do the right thing unless I told him to. He was always getting into trouble I had to get him out of, and would have been in a lot more if I hadn’t prevented it. And then he would try to tell me when he thought I was being too rigid and uncompromising. I think it was because men think they own everything.” She raised her empty glass in a toast to nothing in particular. Adam refilled it and topped off his own. He was silent for a few seconds. When he spoke again he sounded like he had something stuck in his throat.

“Brandy and a cigar. Now all you need is one more thing and you’ll be a man too.”

“What’s left?” Charlotte was mystified. Adam smirked and stared at her with those knowing eyes. Perhaps it was the liquor, but she squeaked.


“’Oh’ is right,” he commented and lazily puffed away on his cigar. Charlotte had forgotten about hers. She sighed and tried again. This time she managed not to cough, but the taste did not improve. Her mind went back to his remark and despite her supposed feminine modesty, she was curious.

“So you’ve…before?” she blushed. “I mean you are not inexperienced.”

Adam didn’t answer, but his smirk definitely got bigger.

“Oh.” She squeaked again, and thought randomly that this was unfair since girls were supposed to be. “And Olivia?”

“Olivia is simply one of the more remarkable women I’ve ever met. She’s beautiful and intelligent. She’s run her father’s ranch since his death and still manages to look flawless every time I see her.”

“I see,” said Charlotte, already quite hating such an ideal woman. “Are you in love with her?”

“Love?” Adam seemed astonished by the question. “She is everything a man could want.” His eyes had almost reached that level of dullness that indicated a man was thinking those things about a woman. Charlotte knew that look well by now; men seemed to get it several times a day at least. Somehow this didn’t seem like love to her, or at least, it wasn’t how it was in the stories.

“Damn I forgot.” Adam swore suddenly in the growing darkness.

“What?” Her eyelids were getting so heavy. She put her brandy glass down and noticed that it had emptied itself again.

“I’m supposed to meet Olivia tomorrow, but I promised Pa I’d travel to Carson City with Hoss to pick up a late shipment of supplies. I was going to read her a poem I’d written.”

“You write?” Charlotte hadn’t known that, even after their many talks together.

“I dabble,” he answered shortly. “But what good will it be when no one’s there to read it?” he wondered to himself.

“Absence makes a heart grow fonder.” she quoted hopefully. His eyes lit up and she smiled in return before she remembered that usually meant he was plotting.

“You’re pretty well spoken for such a callow youth.” He smiled to let her know he was kidding. “Would you go for me?”

Charlotte sat up and shook her head.


“Go and deliver it to Olivia and convey my regrets, perhaps put in a good word…”

“You want me to woo your lady for you?” she pronounced each word slowly.

“No, of course not.” Adam laughed at the idea while she glowered at him. “I just want you to deliver the message to the lady in question.”

“Doesn’t it bother you that Joe likes the same girl?” she asked, trying to forestall the agreement she almost felt was inevitable.

“No.” He paused as if considering then shook his head and continued, “It might if Joe loved her.” Then he dismissed the subject. “You’ll get to go into town.” He added, as if that would persuade her, more people to lie to. “For me, Charlie, please?” he stared her in the eyes and for some reason, her resistance to something that would undoubtedly only be embarrassing for her melted away. If this was Adam trying to be convincing, she couldn’t imagine him actually wooing anyone.

“Oh all right, you heartless bastard,” she agreed, startling them both with her swearing, though for different reasons. Suddenly she giggled. “Thanks for the brandy, Adam.” She said very politely, barely slurring her words at all. “It was good.” She stood up too fast and stared at the staircase with apprehension. “Adam,” she asked faintly as her world started to spin around, “could you possibly help me up the stairs?” The last thing she heard was Adam’s rueful sigh as he carried her upstairs.


To say that Little Joe looked angry would be an understatement. The boy had glared at her without saying one word from the moment they’d left the house, and had continued to glare for the full half hour it taken them to reach one of the main roads leading into Virginia City. He’d obviously meant to look fierce, but his lower lip was sticking out petulantly and was ruining the effect. Charlotte figured he was angry that Adam was sending her to visit with Miss Dewitt, so she ignored him as best she could. She couldn’t understand why he’d offered to ride into town with her and then frowned at her whenever she tried to speak. After awhile, she decided that no matter their age, men were just irrational creatures.

After glancing quickly at Joe, who pretended not to notice, she leaned forward to pat Sweetheart’s neck. She was almost sure she could handle a more spirited mount now riding astride, but Sweetheart was a dear. All of the sudden Little Joe spoke.

“I don’t see what’s so great about you that Adam would want to spend so much time with you,” he said, jutting his chin out in challenge. Charlotte blinked. She had no idea what to say to that. Luckily the temper seemed to melt out of Little Joe once he’d said the words. He really was a nice boy once he stopped trying to act grown up. She studied him carefully and wondered at what he’d said. She and Adam had been spending a lot of time together, maybe he felt neglected. She decided to try to make him laugh.

“Well, I don’t see what’s so special about Adam that I’d want to spend all my time with him,” she said with a grin. He smiled, his bad mood apparently forgotten in a way that only adolescents can forget.

“What does he ever talk about besides work? Or books?” This was obviously ridiculous to Joe. Charlotte hid a smile.

“Some girls like a man who can talk about poetry. Perhaps that’s why,” she suggested, remembering how Adam despaired of Joe ever getting a full education. Joe appeared to think this over, then shook his head.

“Girls don’t like that” he said knowingly. Charlotte blushed again and decided not to argue with him.

They were reaching the outskirts of the city now and she stopped to say goodbye to Little Joe; she had to ride in a different direction to reach the Dewitt ranch. Joe frowned.

“You won’t tell Pa what I said, will you, Charlie?” His voice cracked ever so slightly as he asked.

“Nothing to tell,” she assured him with a soft smile. He nodded, grateful, and said goodbye. They way he rode that horse; you’d think the hounds of Hell were riding after him. She shook her head and started east, towards the house where the fair Olivia waited.

As she rode, taking her time, she examined the scenery. She didn’t think she could ever get tired of it here. When she’d first entered Nevada it had seemed one horrible, endless desert; she’d considered heading back. Now she was glad she’d continued on. She’d found friends in this beautiful country. She inhaled deeply, loving both the fresh cool air from the lake and the scent of pine. She could see why Mr. Cartwright defended his land so passionately. It didn’t have the extreme temperatures like back east and it had all these gloriously tall trees. Looking at them made her feel quite insignificant, but it made her problems seem insignificant as well. She sighed, remembering at last her reason for being out in the woods today and urged Sweetheart to go faster. She should get this over with.

Taking the indirect route with Joe had taken longer than expected, so Charlotte arrived at the Dewitt place a little later than she should have. When an old man answered the door for her and gave a pointed look at an equally aged clock nearby she shrugged. It wasn’t her date. Perhaps Olivia would send her away, she thought hopefully. The old man led her swiftly into some sort of parlor and left. Charlotte barely had time to get her bearings when Miss Olivia Dewitt stepped forward to welcome her with a rustle of skirts.

Miss Dewitt stopped short when she appeared to realize it wasn’t Adam Cartwright standing there. It gave Charlotte ample opportunity to look at her. What she saw was depressing. Olivia Dewitt was stunning. She had long, jet-black hair, arranged in soft curls around her pale face and shoulders. Shoulders revealed by the delicate bodice of her emerald taffeta dress that exactly matched the green of her eyes. She would look perfect, standing next to Adam, all in black. Charlotte wondered waspishly how tightly she had tied her corset to get such a tiny waist.

“Who are you?” Olivia asked, eyes wide, and Charlotte recalled the reason for her visit.

“My name is Charlie. I work for the Cartwrights.”

“Has something happened?” She did seem truly concerned. Damn. Charlie had hoped she would be cold and uncaring.

“No” she answered shortly, “Ma’am.” And thought how odd to be addressing another woman that way. Olivia sighed and seemed to droop a little.

“Why are you here then?” She seated herself gracefully on the settee and gestured for Charlie to do the same.

“Adam couldn’t make it, and sent me with a message for you. Do you want the message now?” Charlotte said rather abruptly. She was eager to end this interview.

“Oh.” Olivia sounded disappointed.

“It’s a very lovely message. There’s a poem.”

“I’m sure it is, but I really have no wish to hear it.”

“I assure you, it’s lovely.” Charlotte said stiffly, offended.

“And did Master Adam put his heart into this message? For I have yet to see it in any of his actions.” Olivia’s voice was suddenly bitter. Charlotte was surprised into speaking.

“He is a little aristocratic, isn’t he?”

Olivia snorted in a very indelicate way that she probably wouldn’t have done had Adam been around.

“A little?” Her voice was bitter. Charlotte decided to continue cautiously.

“It speaks of your beauty, quite eloquently.”

“Psh. I am sick to death of hearing of that.” Olivia got up and went over to a small mirror hanging on the wall. “Do you not think I am lovely?” She asked archly, and tilted her head back to expose her neck. Charlotte had done that particular flirtatious move plenty of times, though never quite so spectacularly. Charlotte nearly hated her.

“You are perfect.” She sighed the word.

“Looking, I have been told that often enough. In fact, it’s all I hear.” Olivia sighed as well.

“Is it natural?” Charlotte found herself asking.

“I was born this way.” Olivia’s eyes flashed fire at her veiled insult.

“Then you’re proud. Too proud to see who might…” she paused, “who might truly love you.”

“Who? Adam Cartwright?” Olivia laughed and sat back down. “He’s a good friend, and a good looking man, I admit, but…he does not talk to me.”

“Well, have you ever talked to him without posing and preening?” Charlotte asked sharply. Olivia frowned prettily.

“I didn’t think he was interested in my conversation.” Her eyes dared Charlotte to deny that.

Charlotte felt an unexpected burst of sympathy. She had often wondered if Adam would have talked to her if she’d first met him in skirts. She suppressed the feeling. That’s not what she was here for. She got up and sat next to her rival.

“A hard-hearted woman indeed to reject a man for appreciating what it is only natural for him to appreciate, even as she dresses for him to look.” Charlotte gestured to the dress, “Especially such a worthy man as Adam Cartwright.” She added this softly.

“Is he so worthy man?” Olivia challenged, regarding Charlotte intently, her green eyes opened wide.

“He is the worthiest.” She answered immediately. “Educated, intelligent, clever, yet caring enough to help raise his brothers.” She was nearly whispering the words, they were so hard to say, and Olivia had to lean in to hear, “and he cares for you.”

“He has a strange way of expressing his love.” Olivia seemed a little breathless. “How would express yourself, if you were in love?” She glanced down to the floor and then back up into Charlotte’s face.

“If I was in love?” Charlotte stood up and paced back and forth, thinking about this unexpected question. “If I was in love, I would want to shout the name of my beloved from the hills.” She looked over to Olivia and stumbled. “If I were Adam, I would climb the Sierras and cry out, ‘Olivia!’ into the air so that all the world might hear me.” Charlotte was suddenly miserable. Olivia seemed unaware of the rather foolish smile on her face.

“What do you do for the Cartwrights?” The question seemed to come out of nowhere.

“Me? I’m just a hand out on the Ponderosa. Why?”

“You are quite well spoken for someone of your age and position.” Olivia answered in a laughing voice. She rose slowly to stand next to her. “I wish you’d convince Adam I don’t regard him in that way. Perhaps,” she placed a slim hand on Charlotte’s arm, “perhaps you could come again though, to tell me how he takes this.”

Charlotte looked down at the hand on her arm and then back up to the emerald eyes that were regarding her anxiously…and flirtatiously. She had a sudden horrible suspicion.

“Oh, I doubt Adam will send me again if you say will not love him.” She spat out the last few words.

“Tell him he is all a woman could want, but a girl cannot make herself love someone.”

Charlotte pulled her arm away.

“Maybe you’re being too rash. Maybe you will grow to love him in time?”

“Perhaps.” Olivia’s tone was doubtful. “You will come again?” she asked hopefully, batting her eyelashes. Charlotte wanted to say no, but she truly didn’t know how Adam would react to this news. She settled for a manly grunt and headed out of the room. She turned back in the doorway.

“How could you hurt him in this way?” she asked coldly before stalking out the door.

It was sunset by the time Adam and Hoss returned from Carson City.  Hoss had gone straight inside to eat but Adam had immediately headed into the bathhouse. Charlotte, who was unsure of quite how to break the sad news to Adam, had found herself dithering like an idiot outside the bathhouse door. She’d nearly decided to put off the conversation as long as possible, discretion being the better part of valor, when he called out.

“Who’s out there?” His voice was muffled by the door, but she understood.

“Just me, Adam. Charlie.”

“Charlie, there don’t seem to be any clean towels in here. Could you get Hop Sing to bring me some?”

“Oh, uh, sure.” Grateful for anything that might delay their talk, she ran off immediately and returned a few minutes later. “Ummm, Adam? He was busy and sent me with some instead.”

“Whatever,” Adam seemed a little impatient. Charlotte bit her lip as she hesitated.

“I’ll just leave them by the door then.”

“What?” There was a splash from inside. “I can’t hear you. Bring them in here.”

Charlotte nearly fainted for the first time in her life at the idea. This was very different from her earlier, momentary glimpse of him.

“You want me to go in there?” she called out breathlessly.

“Just get in here will you?” He commanded irritably. “I’m turning into a raisin.”

She took three or four deep breaths and opened the door. At first steam blocked her vision. Adam apparently liked very hot baths, which reassured her. Cautiously, she took a few steps forward into the fog and promptly collided with Adam. He was warm and wet and very, very solid. Charlotte was so surprised she jumped backwards into a puddle of water, slipped, and fell on her backside.

“Oh, there you are.” Adam remarked calmly, apparently oblivious to her foolishness, as blinded by the steam as she had been. She stood up and thrust the towels out in front of her, ignoring her sore, and now wet, bottom.

“Here.” She said shortly and they were taken from her grasp. “I’m going now.” She needed air.

“Hey, leave the door open a little, will you?” Adam’s voice called out to her through the fog. “So we can talk while I get dressed.” These last four words were enough to send Charlotte scooting out of the room with a scarlet-hued face. “So, did you have fun in town today?”

She couldn’t believe he was holding a conversation with her now.

“It was fine,” she answered in a strangled voice. “I met Joe at the International House and he introduced me to some of his friends. They were nice.”

“Which friends?”

“Umm, Mitch Devlin was nice. We had a drink at the Silver Dollar and we had a long talk about all sorts of things. He is the most well spoken of Little Joe’s friends, I think. He’s funny too.” She was aware she was babbling but she couldn’t seem to control herself. Adam was getting dressed, which meant…

“Mitch Devlin?” Adam’s voice was sharp. There was a rustling sound. Then he spoke again. “And what else did you and little Mitchy do?”

“Oh, after the beers…”Charlotte suppressed a gag as she remembered the taste of those; she much preferred brandy, “we went to the outside of town and watched a horse race. Mitch and I bet on a stallion named Golden Nugget and won five dollars each. I’ve never bet before. It was exhilarating.”

“Well, wasn’t that fun for you and Mitch?” he sneered as he opened the door. She was going to ask what was wrong, but got sidetracked by his appearance. He was still damp and his half-buttoned shirt was clinging to his body. Little streams of water were running down his neck from his hair and Charlotte watched each and every one continue lazily on down over his chest and disappear under the black cloth of his shirt. “Did you and little Mitch make any more plans?” The question was casual enough, and Charlotte, distracted, didn’t take any notice of the odd light in his eyes. She shook her head, since at the moment she couldn’t seem to form any words. “So,” Adam began in a completely different tone, “how did your meeting with Olivia go?”

The question brought Charlotte back to earth with a thud.

“Oh, Adam,” she said softly, sadly. He froze. “Maybe she just didn’t like the messenger, but,” she paused, “she said that she felt you didn’t really love her and that she was very sorry. But she couldn’t love you.” Never mind that all of this was true, it still had to hurt to hear it. “I tried to persuade her, but she said…”

“That’s enough.” Adam stopped her. All the warmth in his face had disappeared. “Was it a ploy, do you think? One of those games women play.”

Any other time this would have infuriated her but she ignored it for the time being. She just shook her head and tentatively rested her hand on his arm.

“As I said, Adam. Maybe she was displeased that I wasn’t you. She did mention how she felt you weren’t truly interested in her.”

“And why did she feel that?” He asked the question abruptly, staring off into nothing.

“She said…she said you never talked with her. Perhaps she felt something was lacking from your relationship and she only wished to get your attention.” Charlotte didn’t think so, but it seemed to soothe him. “Then I’ll just pack my things to go. You won’t mind if I leave tomorrow?” She peeped up at him, hoping he wouldn’t send her away over this. Adam’s arm tensed under her hand.

“You can’t leave,” he said, commanding as usual, but this time she didn’t mind.

“Then I won’t.”

He looked down at her hand and then into her eyes. One hand came up to rest on hers.

“You’re a good man, Charlie,” he said and Charlotte’s heart sank. She felt a strong desire to scream.

“Adam?” Mr. Cartwright called from the porch. He looked at the two of them curiously, and, Charlotte imagined, with a touch of suspicion. “Are you coming in to dinner, Son?”

“I’m coming, Pa.” Adam answered a calm voice and moved his gaze to her. “We’ll talk more later?” he asked, then turned and walked proudly into the house. Charlotte watched him go with a sigh. Now, that was walking like man.


 Charlotte lay in bed later that night, unable to sleep. It could have been because the light from the full moon was streaming in through her window making the room nearly as bright as it was in the daytime, but it wasn’t. She was feeling guilty. Actually, she was feeling guilty because she didn’t feel guiltier. She sighed irritably and rolled onto her back to stare at the ceiling.

Adam was probably heartbroken and she was happy! Oh, she was sad that he was in pain, but what kept running through her heart was delight that he wouldn’t be with the fair Olivia. It was a cruel thought and she was supposed to be a better person than this, but the thought of Adam evens standing next to Olivia Dewitt made Charlotte want to scratch her eyes out, and then his as well!

She winced at her bloodlust. After all, it wasn’t Adam’s fault that men saw only pretty faces and figures. Or that they clearly couldn’t see when artifice was involved. She sniffed. As if anybody’s waist was that tiny naturally. She snorted. Although, the more she thought about the whole thing, the more she wanted to blame him. Men were only interested in appearances, the…the bastards! She was rather proud of her new vocabulary. Swearing could be so satisfying. Women weren’t like that. She had never thought of a man they way they thought of women, to make her mouth hang open and her skin get heated.

Unexpectedly, she remembered how Adam had looked earlier after his bath and how she had felt, looking at him. Her heart had started racing and she’d felt so, well, hot and slightly feverish. Kind of like when she’d drank the brandy, only without that horrible headache in the morning. The same strange excitement she’d felt when she’d doubled up with him the day they’d brought her to the Ponderosa. She’d sat there so stiffly he must have thought she couldn’t ride, but in truth she hadn’t wanted to touch him. It had felt so disturbing. Charlotte kicked off her blankets, suddenly much too warm. She’d had her suitors, but she’d never felt that before. How wonderful, she thought irrationally, and sighed.

Then she sat straight up in bed. How dare he think those things about that woman! It was so unfair when she could only think of him. She punched her pillow a few times then flung herself back down onto the bed to try, once again, to go to sleep. This got her nowhere. So after awhile she decided she was just going to have to accept things as they were, the way she’d realized they were when Olivia had asked her about love earlier. Since she had no hills to shout from, she tried whispering into her pillow.

“Adam Cartwright,” she said softly into the goose down, then said it again before a sound from down stairs caught her attention.

She got up and went to her door. She heard it again, the light strumming of a guitar. It had to be Adam; she’d seen the instrument in his room. She threw a blanket over her shoulders to hide her unbound state and slipped quietly out her door and stepped quietly over the spot in the hallway that Joseph had warned her about, the one that squeaked whenever he was sneaking out.

She paused at the top of the stairs when Adam started to sing. It was a song from Shakespeare, not a sad one, though he was singing it slowly and mournfully, making it a cross between a lament and a prayer.

“O mistress mine, where are you roaming? O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming. Trip no further, pretty sweeting; Journey’s end in lover’s meeting.” His voice was beautiful; deep and clear like the Scots whiskey she had compared his eyes to when she’d first met him. She crept quietly down the stairs and peered around for him in the darkness. “Then come and kiss me, sweet-and-twenty, Youth’s a stuff, will not endure,” he finished and the last chords echoed through the living room.

“Adam?” she asked uncertainly, worried that he hadn’t even made a fire for light.

“Yes, Charlie?” he responded politely from the shadows.

“Are you heartbroken?” she blurted out and cursed herself, but she needed to know. Maybe she could fix the situation. She didn’t want to, but she could try. He sighed and she heard him move around.

“No, I’m not heartbroken, boy.”

“Oh,” was all she said for a few minutes, then, “Why are you sitting down here in the dark?”

There was a sudden spark in the darkness as Adam struck flint to light the oil lamp. It flared up and seemed unnaturally bright. Once her eyes adjusted, Charlotte saw him sitting calmly on the settee, with his guitar on his lap and his feet on the low table, right next to a bottle of brandy.

“Why are women so foolish, Charlie?” he asked, staring into the cold fireplace. He put his guitar aside.

“Excuse me?” She could not have heard him right.

“Why are women so foolish? You heard me.” He squinted at her in the dim light.

“I hadn’t noticed them being foolish, Adam.” Charlotte managed to control her temper at this insult, though she was thinking women had never been as big of fools as men. That is, until she remembered her confessions into her pillow a few moments ago. “Well, no more so than men at least.”

“Men are logical.” Adam argued, sitting up to see her better. “We aren’t fickle with our emotions.”

“No men are not.” She sat down in the chair opposite him. “Men admire anything with a pretty face and call it love. That is hardly fickle.”

“Exactly,” he agreed, then stopped. “Wait, what did you say?”

“Did you ever talk to Olivia as you talk to me?” Charlotte asked, feeling that in this at least her rival had a legitimate complaint. “Or did you just admire her hair or daydream about the figure under the dress?” She was longing to knock some sense into his thick head.

“What’s wrong with admiring a woman?” He wanted to shout, she could tell by the way he tensed up. At the same time, she got the feeling that he was enjoying their debate; his eyes had lost the dullness she’s thought she’d seen when she’d first come downstairs.

“Nothing, if you admire all of her,” she snapped back. He shook his head.

“That isn’t what this is about. This is about a woman’s heart. Rejecting one day what she welcomed the day before. They are incapable of steadfast devotion.”

Oh, he was so sure of himself that now she to forcibly remind herself that it would get her nowhere to slap him. She settled for a furious whisper.

“A woman is capable of faithfulness.”

“You have proof of this?” he questioned unbelievingly.

 “Proof?” Her voice cracked. That he should question her devotion, even unknowing, hurt. “My father had a daughter that loved a man, but couldn’t tell him. Not wouldn’t, as you are probably thinking, she had almost no pride where this man was concerned, but couldn’t. He would never have accepted her as she was. So she loved him, and only him, in silence.” She was barely speaking in a whisper as she finished.

“I’ve respected your wishes, and never asked about your family, Charlie, but tell me, please, what happened to her?” His question was just as quiet. He seemed subdued, thinking over what she had said.

“I’m all that’s left of my family.” She avoided answering directly. Adam frowned to himself.

“Then you are saying I am too proud for any woman to love me?”

“Oh no,” she assured him immediately, then continued on more gently. “I am saying that perhaps you are too proud to love them in return. You concentrate too much on…”she paused to search for the right words, “on walking like a man, and not enough on the object of your affections, and how they might feel. You don’t even allow too much emotion to show with Little Joe.” This was not exactly the same thing, but Charlotte felt it was important. Adam was silent for a long time. When he spoke up, he sounded curious.

“Why I let you talk to me this way I’ll never know.” He shook his head. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe. You seem to be right most of the time, and you do seem to know what you’re talking about today.” Suddenly, he smiled. “Yes, you seem to know a lot all of the sudden. Has somebody caught your eye, young Charlie?”

Charlotte tried smiling back, but her smile was wobbly.

“Perhaps,” she answered. He glanced at her sharply.

“What is she like? What color is her hair?”

“Oh, about the color of yours,” she whispered, surprised at the questions and his intent expression.

“How old is she?”

“About your age.” She responded without thinking. He laughed and turned it into a cough.

“Just like Joe, aren’t you?” The tension seemed to leave him. He got up and ruffled her hair. She closed her eyes. “Coming up to bed?”

Her eyes shot open. Then she realized again what an idiot she was. She cleared her throat.

“Of course.” She stood up, but he didn’t move as she’d expected him to. She was standing in front of him with barely an inch between them.

“Good night.” Adam was so close she could hear the words rumbling in his chest. He was staring down into her eyes, and, perhaps it was the darkness or her wishful thinking, but she thought she saw a light in them.

Charlotte had been kissed before, by her eager beaux, and knew essentially how to indicate to a man that she wished his embrace. Acting only on her desires, she tilted her face up and opened her mouth, ever so slightly. Kiss me, Adam, she thought, and wondered if he could read this in her eyes.

After an endlessly long, tense moment, his head lowered towards hers fractionally. His lips were barely an inch from hers. Then, from upstairs came the sound of Hoss snoring. Adam moved away from her abruptly.

“You should get upstairs now, boy,” he said harshly and stepped back. Charlotte didn’t stop to think. She ran up the stairs to her room like she was running for her life.


Adam had been absent from the breakfast table that morning. But even without his presence it hadn’t been a peaceful meal. Charlotte couldn’t help but wonder if the tension that had developed between her and Adam had somehow become tangible and had remained downstairs all night only to stick in the throats of everyone in the household. Even Hoss had been unable to eat much, though to tell the truth, what Hoss had managed to get down would have fed Charlotte for a day and a half.

As no one had been inclined to linger at the table, she and Joe and Hoss had set out earlier than expected for Virginia City. The trip was supposed to be a day off for them. A reward, as they had finished the spring repairs a little early this year, partially due to Charlie’s help. She had been proud of her achievement, until last night, when she had been reminded of her lie. Now, whatever emotions she was feeling, pride wasn’t really one of them. She wasn’t sure if she could explain it to Adam, or even if there was anything to explain. How could she have been so stupid? She had lain in bed all night, mentally kicking herself.

Now, as she wandered alone aimlessly up and down the main street of town, she was thinking it was perhaps time she moved on. She had no idea where she would go, but she had some wages coming, and probably a reference as well. The only problem was, she didn’t want to leave the Ponderosa.

Charlotte suddenly realized she was standing in front of the general store where she had taken the bread that had led to her first meeting…the Cartwrights. She peered in through the window. The shopkeeper was occupied and wasn’t likely to make a scene if he saw her, so she looked at the window display. Some jars of calves’ foot jelly were on sale, and some candy as well, and a large floral print, ready-made dress. The design was plain and the material cheap, and she thought distantly that Olivia must have sent away for her fine clothes, but she stared at the dress hungrily.

She did love the freedom that wearing pants gave her. She liked being able to stretch her legs when she walked, and not having to worry about dirt or mud. But sometimes she longed for the feel of her old skirts swishing around her legs, several petticoats, silk stockings, lace, and a tight bodice that she knew now would cause men to spend their nights without sleep and their days dreaming. She grinned to herself at the thought. Although not her corset, frankly she was never putting that monstrosity on again.

Charlotte sighed. She was comfortable in her men’s gear, and she would never give it up entirely, but she did feel so beautiful in a dress. She pictured herself in a blue ball gown, dancing with Adam wearing his usual black, fair to contrast with his darkness, his hand on the small of her back.

“Why, Charlie, I thought it was you standing here!” Olivia exclaimed, bringing Charlotte out of the clouds. She tried frowning at the woman, but she seemed to take it as an invitation and just came closer. “If I’d known you’d be in town today, I would have worn my best dress.” She smiled.

“You look fine.” Charlotte answered irritably before she realized that that’s just what Olivia had wanted to hear. The girl blushed pink.

“Do you really think so, Charlie?” she asked softly, peering at her through her eyelashes.

“I thought you hated people talking about your looks?” Charlotte said stiffly, and turned her gaze ruthlessly back to the window, hoping Olivia would take the hint.

“And you don’t. It’s why I like you, you see.” Olivia confessed with a mischievous grin. Charlotte stared at her in astonishment.

“Miss Olivia,” she hesitated, then continued, “Olivia, if I ever gave you any hint that I felt that way toward you…” She couldn’t finish when Olivia hung her head and seemed to droop a little.

“Oh, why do I have to like you so much, when you obviously can’t stand the sight of me?” she whispered forlornly, all traces of the proud girl gone. Charlotte sighed, sharing her sentiment. Love was a cruel joke to everyone it seemed.

“I am sorry for you.” She reached out and tentatively patted the other woman on the shoulder. Olivia lifted her head immediately.

“That’s like love, isn’t it?” she asked hopefully.

“No.” Charlotte shook her head. “It’s a sad truth that very often we pity our enemies.”

Olivia flinched then hung her head and took a minute to compose herself. Then she smiled a brilliant smile that Charlotte did not for one second believe was real.

“I am wise enough to know that I am wasting my time.” She raised her chin and Charlotte envied her once more. She hadn’t handled her rejection last night nearly so well. “I will leave you now.” The woman stuck out her hand and she shook it respectfully.

“And you have nothing to say to Adam?” Charlotte had to ask.

“No.” Olivia said firmly. She half-turned away, then turned back. “And may we be friends?”

“Of course,” Charlotte agreed, though she doubted it would be possible, especially if she left. Then, before she could move, Olivia leaned over to press a quick kiss to her cheek.

“Good day, Charlie,” she whispered and walked away.

Charlotte stood there for a moment, staring after her and cursing her disguise. What had been a great idea when she was alone and frightened now only caused people pain. With a long drawn out sigh, she turned around and found herself facing a very furious looking Little Joe.


 The boy looked hopping mad, and Charlotte was in no mood for his uncertain temper. She reflected bitterly that a night without sleep because of a heart that felt like it was breaking and then a morning spent smashing another person’s hopes tended to make a person lose their patience a little more readily than they would have ordinarily.

“Yes, Joe?” she snapped.

“What kind of friend are you? To take Adam’s girl?” He puffed his chest out and she wondered dark humor if he was attempting to look bigger.

“Adam’s girl? Weren’t you trying to ‘take’ her before?” Charlotte shook her head at male foolishness. As if you “took” a woman. You went where she wanted to go. Her question seemed to stump Little Joe. For a moment the anger left his face to be replaced with puzzlement.

“That’s different!” He declared at last, having apparently come to some conclusion that allowed him to continue.

“I don’t see how.” She rested her hands on her hips and tapped her foot impatiently on the ground. It was a very feminine pose but she was too mad to notice. This didn’t stop Little Joe for a second.

“You hurt him! That’s why he was gone today. And he was supposed to come with me.”

Charlotte knew he was guessing, but it was too close to the truth for her like hearing it.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about, boy.” It was the wrong thing to say, she knew it the minute the martial light entered his green eyes.

“I’m not a boy!” His male adolescent pride was outraged; never mind that his brothers called him that all the time. He put up his fists. Charlotte blinked, startled and not quite believing this development.

“You want to fight me?” She squeaked in alarm and took a step back. “Um, can’t we settle this like men?”

“This is how you settle things like men.” He answered as if it were obvious and just like that, took a swing at her. She just managed to duck in time. Oh, Damn, but he was right, she thought frantically, and looked around them at the crowd that was gathering to watch. She as going to have to fight back; that was what men did after all, or they were branded cowards.

Charlotte hadn’t been in a fight since she was ten and Harry had broken her favorite doll. At ten, she’d been taller than him and had creamed him. Little Joe however, was not ten, and he looked like he knew what he was doing. She hoped it wouldn’t hurt too badly.

Charlotte watched carefully as he approached. His left fist came at her again and once again she ducked. On the ground she squeezed her eyes shut, said a tiny prayer, and threw herself at his knees. Joe landed with a grunt that she echoed a moment later when she landed on him. After a stunned moment, where they both stared at each other and tried to catch their breath, she made the first move, scrambling to get off him, but the boy recovered quickly and pulled her back down. Charlotte quickly changed her goal from surviving this fight to surviving and keeping Joe’s hands away from her chest and being, literally, exposed.

They’d been scuffling together in the dirt for some time when Charlotte had the familiar sensation of being lifted in the air.

“Aw, Hoss.” Joe complained, hanging from Hoss’ other hand. He was covered in brown dust and had a bruise forming underneath his right eye, and he actually looked upset that the fight had ended.

“Ain’t neither of you got enough sense to know not to get into a fight in the middle of the street?” he scolded fiercely.

“He started it.” Charlotte heard herself say resentfully, as if she was ten years old again.

“Just so it’s ended.” Hoss ignored her and began dragging the two of them toward the livery stable, to the crowd’s amusement. Several called out suggestions for what Mr. Cartwright should do to them later. “Just wait ‘till Pa finds out what you done now.” Hoss was genuinely upset and Charlotte couldn’t understand why. She was the one with the bruised knuckles and a sore stomach from where Joseph had kneed her. Suddenly she felt like giggling. It was too absurd. Poor Joe if he ever found out he’d hit a girl.

“You’ve got a pretty good right, Charlie.” Joe congratulated her stiffly as he saddled Cochise.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” she returned the compliment that was obviously required. It seemed to complete some sort of male ritual and, once said, all was forgiven and back to normal. She shared a grin with Joe. Men were idiots, but they had a lot of fun.

She amended this thought a while later at the persistent throbbing of her sore hand. Perhaps fun was not the word.

“Charlie?” Joe asked on the way back. For some reason he sounded very young.

“Yes?” she asked cautiously, surreptitiously cradling her hand.

“You would never hurt Adam, would you?”

“I would never hurt Adam on purpose, Joe,” she swore to him. He didn’t seem to notice her evasion.

“Good. My older brother might be a cold-blooded Yankee fool sometimes, but I wouldn’t like to see him hurt.” Just like that the child was gone again. She looked to Hoss for answers.

Hoss’ face looked cold and grim. She suddenly realized how difficult and yet how simple it would be to turn Hoss from his normal gentle self into an enraged giant. All she had to do was to hurt one of his family.

“I’m not interested in Olivia,” she asserted firmly. Hoss’ grin returned.

“So long as we’re clear, Charlie.”

“Do you two really feel Adam needs your protection?” She was curious. They both nodded.

“That’s what family’s for.” Little Joe explained, echoing his father she was sure.

“And if you have no family?” she asked quietly, but they heard her.

“I reckon that’s what friends is for,” Hoss said, and Joe nodded with a surprisingly shy smile. Charlotte pushed down the urge to cry and gave them each a very manly nod in return. Were all men like this? Or just the Cartwrights?


 Hop Sing was cleaning the living room when she walked in some time later. He took one look at her and started ranting in a mixture of Chinese and English. In under two minutes and over her objections he had her sitting at the table with her sore hand soaking in a bowl of warm water and had placed a cup of hot tea in her hand. He sat down opposite her and began to gently wash the dirt from her face.

“Little Joe do this to you?” he asked after a moment. She blinked.

“How did you know?” she asked, thinking foolishly of magic and the vague whisperings she’d heard back East about the mysteries of the Orient.

“Joseph my boy.” Hop Sing said proudly. “More than Hoss or Mistah Adam. I know them all. Joe best.” His face as he thought of “his boy” was so full of tenderness that Charlotte was reminded of her father and wanted to cry again.

“Lucky boy, to have two fathers,” she commented in a choked voice. Hop Sing laughed.

“He no think so.”

Charlotte laughed too, until he found a tiny cut on her cheek that stung a little. She winced.

“You gonna say what this about?” His question was calm, patient.

“Oh, Joe thought I was trying to take Olivia Dewitt from Adam.” She tried a shrug and a smile to show the humor of the situation. Hop Sing laughed again.

“You mean, Joe still don’t know you not a boy.”

Charlotte leapt out of her seat and his hand came down on her arm to restrain her so fast that she never even saw him move. One moment he was washing her, the next his hand was holding her down. She pulled but the little man had muscles like iron.

“Ah, no one know. You never tell?”

 Charlotte sank back into her chair reluctantly. Then she shook her head.

“Not even Mistah Adam?” His look was wise and she looked away. “He might like know, I think.”

“He’ll hate me,” she said miserably. “Look how hard he is on Little Joe for the smallest fib, and this is hardly a lie about not doing your chores,” she added in a huge understatement.

“Mistah Adam no raise you like Joe. Little Joe have three fathers.” This was probably meant as a joke, but she didn’t feel much like laughing.

“How did you know?” Charlotte took a calming breath and avoided the subject of Adam.

“Bah, I no blind like Cartlights. No boy ever look like you. Clothes, walk, no make man.” He resumed wiping the dust from her face.

“Then why didn’t you tell them? I thought you hated me.” She confessed her fears shyly.

“Hop Sing no like lie, but know you must have reason.” He refilled her cup as he waited and poured a cup for himself.

“After what I’d seen,” she paused and took a comforting sip of hot tea, “when I was alone, I knew this would be the safest way for me to travel, in disguise. Until I figured out what to do.”

“You people never look beyond surface,” Hop Sing commented, with the slightest touch of bitterness,

“Lucky for me,” she joked lamely. There were several moments of silence as they sipped their tea.

“You tell them now,” he ordered suddenly, and she sputtered, getting tea all over her shirt.

“I can’t. I’ll just leave tomorrow, or the next day…”

He began cursing at her in Chinese. At least, she assumed it was cursing. It certainly didn’t sound complimentary.

“You go now. O I tell.” He meant it. She swallowed dryly and bit her lip. “Charlie MacTeague not brave?” he asked, sounding disappointed. Instantly, Charlotte raised her chin.

“No MacTeague is a coward, we which just know which battles to fight.”

“Good. Mistah Adam home now. Fight this one.” He chuckled as he let her go and walked off in the direction of the kitchen. Charlotte listened carefully and sure enough, she could hear a rider approaching outside.

She knocked over her chair when she stood up, and tripped twice on shaky feet as she made her way to the front door. She stepped into the shade of the porch to watch Adam get off Sport and walk slowly towards her. Then she raised her chin and walked out to meet him halfway.


 “Hello Adam.” Her voice cracked and she cleared her throat roughly. Twice.

 “Charlie.” Adam was staring down at her, his expression revealing nothing. She knew now he did this whenever he was confused or vulnerable. Her stomach twisted itself in a knot.

“I…that is, I mean…I’ve got something I have to…I need to tell you.” She stuttered over the words and glanced up once anxiously into his brown eyes before settling her gaze on his boots. “A confession…”she began, only to stop abruptly when the perfect Olivia Dewitt crashed into her at full speed.

“Oh my darling! Are you all right?” Olivia sighed into Charlotte’s neck and ran her hands quickly over her torso, apparently checking for wounds.

“Darling?” Adam stared at them in shock.

“Adam! I have no idea what this crazy woman is doing, but I have nothing to do with it!” Charlotte pleaded, all the while trying to remove Olivia’s arms from about her middle. For a girl who looked so delicate, she was surprisingly strong.

Adam’s face looked harder than the granite of the Sierras around them.

“Is this your ‘confession’?” he asked icily.

“Adam, you don’t understand. I don’t even understand! Olivia what is wrong with you?”

“Oh, I understand. I understand only too well. Take her then, boy, and never cross my path again.”

Charlotte finally managed to free herself from Olivia’s grasp and threw herself at Adam, locking her arms around his chest.

“I won’t go. You can’t make me!” She vowed fervently, unable to imagine herself gone from this place even though she had suggested leaving only minutes before herself. It didn’t even occur to her to try to walk away proudly. Adam’s hand came to rest briefly on her back. She could feel it even through her bindings. They stood like that for two full heartbeats. Then he grabbed her arms and shoved her at Olivia.

Olivia tried to embrace her again.

“Oh, be gone, Olivia!” she ordered impatiently, staring at Adam.

“Why do you always push me away? You welcomed my attentions not too long ago!” Olivia seemed bewildered, though no more than Charlotte was at this moment.

“Are you faithful to no one?” Adam asked scornfully and turned his back on them. Charlotte was nearly in tears.

“At it again, Charlie?” Little Joe burst onto the scene furiously from somewhere. She was too distracted to really notice where he came from. She did see his swollen black eye right away; it completely overshadowed the tiny bruise she had given him.

“What’s wrong with your face, boy? Who did this to you?” Adam held Joe still to look at his face in concern. He touched the puffy skin tenderly.

“A gift from your friend over there, Adam.” Joe glanced at Charlotte.

“Charlie did that to your eye?” Adam seemed unable to believe this. He moved his gaze from his brother to regard her with amazement. “When?”

“It’s no more than you deserved, Little Joe Cartwright, attacking Charlie twice like that.” Olivia defended her.

“I barely touched him, Adam. I certainly didn’t punch him in the eye, though now I wish I had,” Charlotte added, with a furious look at Joe.

“What is going on here?” Mr. Cartwright demanded loudly from the porch, where he stood next to Hoss and Hop Sing. They were all watching this little drama in astonishment.

“Just now, I saw Charlie and Olivia kissing down the road a ways. So I went up and hit him.” Little Joe explained as if this was the most logical solution. “You sure didn’t punch like that last time, Charlie.” This seemed to be a side note, after a brief moment of contemplation, he returned to the important details. “After he swore to me, Adam, that he wouldn’t go near her, I had to.”

“A lie!” Charlotte huffed angrily. “I don’t know what you two are plotting, but I was in the house with Hop Sing just now. You believe me? Don’t you, Adam?”

Adam was silent so long she thought he wasn’t going to speak, but when he did he only commented quietly that he didn’t believe she had beaten up Little Joe.

“Then who gave me this eye?” Joe challenged with one wide angry eye. Charlotte looked around her at the unsupportive and confused faces and ran to the porch and Hop Sing.

“Tell them, Hop Sing, I was with you.”

The little cook stared at her and then looked beyond her, he looked startled. She looked to Mr. Cartwright, who had a similar expression on his face. What? she thought irritably and turned around. Her mouth dropped open.

Olivia Dewitt was in the arms of a tall blonde man and, Charlotte thought absently, looked to be enjoying herself. The Cartwrights all appeared to be about as shocked as she felt. Had everyone gone crazy? She blinked after suddenly realizing that she hadn’t done so for some time.

The kiss ended, and the man turned a very satisfied gaze on the watching group. His eyes were a clear, twinkling blue. Then he spotted Little Joe and some of his happy air seemed to leave him, but he looked Adam and up and down quickly and apparently decided to address him.

“I wonder if you could help me, Sir? I’m beginning to think there’s something in the air in this country that makes the people crazy. That or I am going mad.” He grinned as he said it, obviously not that concerned with the state of his sanity. “I arrived in your Virginia City a few hours ago and immediately two men said that they knew me and offered to take me back here. I said no, naturally, but as I had heard of the great Ponderosa and wanted to see what they spoke of. So I rode out here on my own. Then the moment I arrived here, this lovely woman,” he stopped to smile at Olivia.

Charlotte gasped.

“This woman rides up at the moment I get here, asks me if I’m well, tells me she heard I had a fight with Little Joe, who now that I think about it must be this little fellow, and kisses me. Though to tell the truth I didn’t mind that part at all.” He shared a quick male grin with Little Joe before each apparently remembered their fight and scowled. “Then the little fe…Joe, sets upon me with no warning and accuses me of betraying someone named Adam. Are you he?” he asked Adam politely.

Adam extended his hand without a word and they shook.

“By the way, my name is…”

“Harry MacTeague.” Charlotte finished from the porch and he turned to face her.

“Do I know you, Sir? Only my family ever called me Harry.” He peered into the shade with an uncertain smile.

“Your given name is William,” Charlotte said and stepped forward. “William Henry MacTeague.”

Harry frowned as he studied her.

“True. Only my Charlie declared Henry was a name for fat, lecherous kings, and as my father’s name was William, renamed me Harry.”  He smiled softly as he shared this. He took a few steps toward her until they were a few feet apart.

“Who is this young man?”

She heard Mr. Cartwright ask from somewhere; her eyes were on Harry’s face. Next to each other, she knew everyone could see how similar they were in coloring, though quite different in height and build. From a distance only did they look the same. Their relationship was clear.

“Two of them! How wonderful!” Olivia sighed to herself.

“What was our favorite play for our father to read to us?” Charlotte asked, needing to be sure, yet knowing that he would know.

“Twelfth Night, because of the twins, of course.” He grinned. She barely held back a sob. “Charlie?” Harry asked, and touched her face with shaking fingers. “I thought you were dead.”

Charlotte was unable to voice that she had thought the same of him. Instead, she burst into tears.

“I think it’s Charlie’s long lost brother. He has mentioned him,” Adam said in tones of satisfaction. Harry shook his head at Charlotte and pulled her to him with a laugh.

“Don’t cry, my Charlotte. You’re made of sterner stuff than that.”

Charlotte noticed his eyes weren’t completely dry either and gave a watery laugh before hugging him tighter.

“Charlotte?” All the Cartwrights asked in unison and Hop Sing gave a deep long-suffering sigh.


 Charlotte tensed, waiting for the explosion she felt was sure to come from the Cartwrights. Harry, typically, was unaware of any tension and continued talking, now addressing the stunned crowd.

“Of course Charlotte, my sister,” he turned back to her, “Tell me, Charlie, how is it you’re here? And what have you been doing? And why are you dressed as a boy?” He seemed to have at last noticed her strange attire. He held her at arm’s length briefly to look her up and down. Then he touched her short hair. “Your beautiful hair. It was just like Mama’s.”

“Sister?” Olivia repeated faintly. Her eyes were huge. They ignored her for the moment.

“It will grow back, Harry.” She hugged him once again to reassure herself that he was actually alive and standing next to her. Then she stepped out of his arms and faced The Cartwrights and Olivia Dewitt, who surrounded her in a half circle. Time to face the music, Charlotte thought. She would have laughed in any other situation. She raised her eyes to Mr. Cartwright and Hop Sing, near each on other on the porch; she wasn’t ready to look at Adam yet.

“A few months after our father died, my brother and I decided to join with all those crazy pioneers and head out West. We weren’t desperate. Our mother died when we were younger and she was from a good family, so despite Papa’s having retired from the army a while back, we had some money. We just didn’t want to live on the prairie anymore with Papa gone. We didn’t even have a destination in mind; we would just stop anywhere that struck our fancy, possibly California. A few weeks after starting out, we were attacked by comancheros.” Charlotte took a deep breath. “We were a small train, only a few wagons, nothing worth stealing really. I wasn’t with them. I’d ridden off. I was so mad at you…” She trailed off and turned to look at Harry, who was looking serious for once as she told their story. “I heard the gunfire and the screaming, but what could I do? I had no gun, and to tell the truth, I was scared.” She confessed this with shame.

“We understand, child.” Mr. Cartwright said gently and Charlotte blinked the tears out of her eyes. It took her a bit to be able to speak again. “I came back later and I saw everything. The women…” She didn’t finish, but they seemed to understand her reluctance. “All I found of Harry was his bloodstained clothes. I thought he was dead, so I grabbed a few things and ran, in case they came back.”

Harry came up behind her and took her hand.

“I decided to continue on West, but I soon found that this country is not the safest place for a woman alone. That’s when I remembered out favorite play, Harry, Twelfth Night, and how the heroine disguises herself as a boy when she finds herself in a strange, unwelcome land. So I stole some clothes off a clothesline and hacked off my hair and never stayed in one place long enough for people to start asking questions. And it worked. You gave me a job because you thought I was a boy, didn’t you?” She looked at Mr. Cartwright with a polite challenge. He nodded after a long moment. “It really was my only option.”

Then Charlotte took a deep breath and finally looked at Adam.

“My name is Charlotte Rosalind MacTeague, though friends do call me Charlie. I am twenty-two, not sixteen, and this is Harry, my twin.”

Adam’s expression didn’t change at all. He had never seemed so cold or so distant as he did to Charlotte now.

“Well, don’t that beat all?” Hoss said with one of his big grins. “Hey Joe! Can you believe that?”

Little Joe looked a little green and kept looking at her and then to his Pa. It would have amused Charlotte any other time. Surely his father wouldn’t be angry with him over the fight? After all, he hadn’t known her gender at the time and she wasn’t really hurt.

“So I take it you thought you were kissing someone else, Miss?”  Harry winked at Olivia, who blushed.

“Olivia Dewitt,” Olivia recovered from her embarrassment enough to give him a small flirtatious smile. Mr. Cartwright cleared his throat, drawing all eyes to him. Charlotte went up to him.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Cartwright, for lying to you and Little Joe and Hoss and Hop Sing for coming into your home under false pretenses.” Charlotte bowed her head. “But I want you to know that I loved it here.” She raised her head to look back at Adam. He stared at her for one long moment and then turned his back on her to remount Sport and ride off into the woods. She swallowed in a vain effort to clear the lump from her throat, then turned back to Mr. Cartwright.

“Thank you for our hospitality, Sir. I’ll get my things and Harry and I will leave now,” she said thickly.

“Now just a minute.” Mr. Cartwright harrumphed. “There’s no need for that. You’re still a friend here, Charlie…hmmm Charlotte, and friends are always welcome on the Ponderosa.”

Hop Sing gave him a furious look and poked him in the ribs.

“And your brother too of course. As long as you both need to get yourselves settled,” he added quickly, glancing at Hop Sing.

“Yea, of course you’re welcome, though I reckon we ought to be apologizin’ to you for some of what we might have said ‘round you.” Hoss lifted her in a huge bear hug. She squeaked a little and he released her. “Oh, sorry, ma’am,” he said and blushed. Their kindness was too much for her.

“Oh, Hoss, you don’t need to apologize for anything.” She threw herself at him and hugged him fiercely, making his blush deepen. His big hand patted her back. Little Joe came up and hugged her awkwardly as well.

“But you don’t have any breasts,” he said wonderingly then shot a quick look to his father when realized he’d said this out loud. Mr. Cartwright did not look pleased. Charlotte laughed softly and punched him lightly in the arm.

“They’re taken care of,” she said mysteriously, though with a small blush of her own, just to watch both him and Hoss grow confused as they tried to figure this out. Hoss even removed his hat to scratch his head. Then she got serious for a moment. “Thank you all.”

“Hey, where’d Adam go?” Little Joe finally looked around their little group for his oldest brother. Charlotte ducked her head again.

“I don’t think Adam is very happy with me.” She tried to laugh but it came out wrong.

“I see” Mr. Cartwright said heavily, giving her an assessing look. His remaining sons frowned, clearly not seeing anything.

“You know…Charlotte…I have some dresses I could loan you if you wish.” Olivia moved to stand next to her; her eyes were full of understanding. Charlotte didn’t think dresses would help the situation, but thanked her anyway.

“I’m sorry, Olivia, for misleading you.”

Olivia waved it away and looked at Harry with interest. Her look was returned.

“Time for tea.” Hop Sing announced. “Everyone inside.”

“Tea? I could use me a drink.” Hoss smacked his lips. Little Joe nodded.

“Me too,” Charlotte added, and they all gave her strange looks, even Harry.

“There will be no drinking in my house at this time of day.” Mr. Cartwright’s statement returned things to order. Everyone began filing through the front door.

“Are those clothes comfortable?” Olivia asked as they walked.

“No corset, you have no idea how comfortable.” Charlotte sighed just thinking about it.

“Really?” Olivia looked intrigued.

“Oh my Lord, it’s spreading,” Little Joe looked alarmed. “Leave us some girls, will ya, Charlie?”

Charlotte and Olivia rounded on him in unison.

“A girl is a girl no matter what she wears, Joseph Cartwright.” Charlotte scolded him.

“She was a better boy than you were any day of the week, Little Joe!” Olivia snapped. “She listened to me. You might try it some time.”

“I always listen to girls,” Little Joe insisted and shared a glance with Harry. Charlotte knew that look. It meant, women, what can you do with them? She punched Little Joe’s arm again, a little harder. After a considering look, Olivia did the same to Harry. And then, united as only women can be when angry with men, went inside and waited for their tea.


 Alone in her room at last, Charlotte sat on her bed to cry. Well, she’d meant to cry. She’d barely been able to keep herself from weeping downstairs, but for some reason, now that she was alone she just felt sort of empty. She was going to miss the Cartwrights when she left. Almost as much as she was going to miss Adam. Almost. They were such nice people and such a wonderful family.

Once everyone had moved inside the house it had been nothing but friendly questions and gentle teasing to show that they’d accepted her again. Though Hoss and Joe had nearly ma’amed her to death, as if to make up for failing to recognize her gender. But, even with their support, she knew she couldn’t stay on the Ponderosa. Staying here with Adam would be too hard. She’d agreed to stay one more night at Mr. Cartwright’s urging, but tomorrow she was moving into town with Harry. They would be staying in Virginia City until they decided where to go.

Harry! She was still having trouble accepting that he was alive. She’d seen his clothes, covered in blood. His tale of survival had seemed at least as bizarre as hers, when he’d told his story to everyone downstairs.

He’d ridden off after her, after their fight, and had come across a small band of Indians. They hadn’t seemed too pleased to see him but they didn’t try to kill him or run him off, and Harry, being Harry, had been distracted. He’d been attempting to talk with them for some time when he’d heard the screams. He’d ridden back immediately but he was miles away and it was over by then. When he hadn’t found her, he’d assumed the worst as she had and rode off after the bandits, determined to catch them or kill them.

Which, it turns out, he did. With the help of the local troop of cavalry eager to assist the son of the well-known Major William MacTeague. He’d looked positively grownup as he’d related this story, which made Charlotte feel very proud but a little sad as well. Olivia had been practically in his lap by the time he’d finished telling of his adventure. She smiled, thinking of that particular relationship. As Charlotte had excused herself from the group, she had heard Little Joe and Harry arguing over who got to escort Olivia home. She would bet good money that Harry won. Then the smile left her face. Adam hadn’t come back and after awhile Charlotte had tired of listening for the sound of a rider approaching. That’s when she’d left the merry group to come up here.

She gathered up her bag and began to put her meager possessions back into it: the photograph of Harry, her mother’s cameo, an old hair ribbon she’d never gotten rid of, her pay from the Cartwrights as well as the five dollars she’d won on Golden Nugget, and something new, a drawing Adam had made of his pans for the mill, which he’d made when she’d asked about the design one day. It was hardly a cherished token of a lover’s affection, but it would do as a memento. She gently placed it in the bag and began to get ready for bed. She had just started unbuttoning her shirt to change when a furious Adam pushed the door open and entered her room.

For a moment all she could do was stare. She had never seen him openly angry before. His eyes were burning as he stared at her.

“Adam!” she said unnecessarily and belatedly stood up.

“It’s time we had that talk, Charlotte.” He pronounced her name coldly. Then he kicked the door closed behind him and locked it without even turning around.

“Have you been drinking?” she asked suspiciously, sniffing the air for spirits.

“Why don’t I ask the questions?” He grabbed a chair and spun it around to sit in it in the same graceful move. “Sit,” he ordered and she did, regarding him warily. When he just sat for a few minutes, staring at her with a brooding expression, she decided to apologize.

“Adam, I’m sorry for lying to you, you have no idea how sorry.”

“Oh, I have an idea,” he interrupted sarcastically. “Either you didn’t trust me enough to tell me, or you were having a little joke at my expense. Which is it?” he barked at her and she started to get a little angry herself.

“I had my reasons! It wasn’t like that, Adam.”

“Wasn’t it?” he got up and casually threw the chair aside. It hit the wall with a loud crash. “Did you enjoy making a fool of me? Sharing my confidences, while telling me nothing? Why should I believe anything you say, you little liar? I won’t even believe you’re a woman until I see the proof for myself.” He looked her over; his gaze was coldly considering.

“What?” She couldn’t quite believe that he’s just said that and was completely unprepared when he grabbed her by the shirt and tore it open, sending buttons flying everywhere. Charlotte’s hands came up to cover herself even though she still wore her bindings. The sight seemed to shock him. He let her go and took a step back. His hands were shaking. Charlotte didn’t care if he suddenly felt guilty or sorry, she was furious. “Is this what you wanted to see, Adam?” she shouted at him and began to unravel the long strip of cloth from around herself. She wasn’t halfway through when his hand touched hers.

“Don’t.” He bit out the word.

“Why not? It’s all men are interested in, right? Why I had to wear this disguise in the first place, right?” She snarled at him and kept going.

“Don’t, I said!” he yelled and grabbed her hands. The move pulled her to him and they stood there just staring at each other and breathing heavily for several heartbeats.

 “Adam,” she managed to say and then his lips were on hers. Her legs were suddenly unable to support her. She fell backwards across her bed, taking Adam with her. He was a little heavy, but when he tried to raise himself off her, her arms encircled his neck to pull him back down. She knew it was shameless, but for the moment, didn’t care.

One of his hands was working its way through her bindings, to Charlotte’s great enjoyment, when there was a tentative knock at the door.

“Everything all right in there? You haven’t done murdered our Charlie, have ya Adam? Hoss worried from behind the door. Adam lifted his head to stare down at her with heavy-lidded eyes. His cheeks were flushed and his mouth was still slightly open. Charlotte just stared back; she could only imagine what she looked like.

“We’re fine, Hoss,” he said at last. There was a whisper from outside. “See I told ya they was fine, Joe. We didn’t need to come up here.”

“Well how I supposed to know?” Little Joe argued back. “What are you doing in there, Adam? Charlie?” he asked naively. Charlotte couldn’t keep the smile from her face, as embarrassed and angry as she was. Adam was smiling too.

“That is none of your business, Little Brother.” Adam couldn’t keep the exasperation from his voice. It was quiet for a minute and then they could hear an irritated,

“Dadgumit!” from Hoss and the sound of an unwilling Little Joe being dragged back downstairs. Charlotte blushed and looked away from Adam’s amused gaze.

“My brothers,” he said ruefully and stood up. He was rebuttoning his shirt and she realized with shock that she was must have opened it without being aware of it. She sat up and held her shirt closed with one hand. He cleared his throat.

“When I demanded that a minute ago, I was angry and forgot what you’d been through. It must have been horrible.”

Charlotte snorted.

“That’s an understatement.” There were a few seconds of silence, then she asked, in a quiet voice, “Do you think it was cowardly of me, not to run to help?” She was thinking of her father. Adam smiled gently.

“You’re one of the least cowardly people I know” he said simply. She looked up, surprised and touched at the same time. “I mean, you come to work on a ranch, and had to suffer even more, working for us overbearing Cartwrights.” His tone was half-mocking, half-serious.

“There’s only one overbearing Cartwright,” she sniffed.

“So you did suffer my presence?” It was impossible to guess what he was thinking or the motive for this question.

“I love our time together. Even our arguments.” She shook her head sadly; it would all be ending now.

“So why didn’t you trust me?” Adam moved to the corner of the room and leaned against the wall. He crossed his arms firmly and regarded her without expression.

“I did, Adam. I just…well, I was scared you would hate me for lying. And I didn’t think I would be here that long at first.”

He nodded, accepting this, then asked another question.

“Was it very hard for you, on your own?”

Cautiously, she nodded back. She wondered why he wanted to know this.

“I was hungry, of course, and scared, and cold all the time, even during the day. But the worst of it was that I’d never been alone before, without even a friend.” She stopped to glare at him defiantly. “But I survived.”

“Better than some men would have,” he commented.

“Is that a compliment?” Her tone was icy. Adam pushed himself off the wall, standing up straight to yell at her.

“Dammit, Charlie! I’m trying to tell you I think what you did was brave and you snap my head off!”

“Well, I’m just not used to much kindness from you, Adam Cartwright.” She sniffed again. He looked hurt.

“Is that true?”

Charlotte sighed grumpily.

“No,” she admitted. He sighed.

“Good. I thought we were friends.”

Charlotte winced. Friends.

“We were,” she said finally.

“Not are?” he asked blandly. Charlotte slanted him a look but said nothing.

“And why did you stay so long? Why not move on like you did before?” He stared at her intently. She didn’t answer this question either. Adam just kept on asking questions. “Who were you talking about when you mentioned your “sister” and how she had no pride where some man was concerned? Come on, Charlie, you owe me some answers.”

“Oh, all right! I was speaking of you! Happy now?” Charlotte huffed. A smile was beginning to play about Adam’s mouth.

“And that’s what last night was about?” Adam had obviously done a lot of thinking on his ride.

“Yes,” Charlotte said with a challenging tilt to her head, but avoiding his eyes. He let out a deep breath.

“You said to me once, that you’d never been closer to anyone than you were to me. Was that true?” He apparently wanted her to suffer more. She frowned at him.

“What do you want to hear? That I love you, you heartless bastard? Well, fine, I love you. I love Adam Cartwright!” She shouted at the top of her lungs and crossed her arms to glare stubbornly at him.

“That’s what I wanted to hear,” he said and lazily moved back across the room to her. She put up a hand to stop him in sudden panic.

“No, Adam. I won’t allow it. Not when it’s obvious you don’t care for me in the same way.”

His smirk returned and she rose up furiously, wanting to strike him.

“That’s what I’m talking about. I’m making all the admissions and your pride’s still intact. You never make sacrifices.”

“Men speak through actions, not words.” He looked extremely uncomfortable.

“You’re a man of both actions and words.” She smirked back at him.

“Walking like a man like you accused me of before?” he mused. She nodded. “So this is a test?”

Charlotte said nothing, just looked back at him, waiting. He regarded her for a moment in a standoff.

“Fine,” he said finally, then stood there doing nothing for a full minute. Abruptly he cleared his throat. Then he cleared it again.

“I’m…sorry…for what I said earlier and for not believing you before. I said I would help you if you ever needed me, and I didn’t.”

“What?” Charlotte was shocked, but he misinterpreted her reaction.

“I’m sorry!” he shouted crossly. There was the faint sound of laughter from downstairs. Studying his posture, Charlotte was charmed. He looked rather like a petulant little boy.

“And?” She tapped her foot and waited.

“And…” he drew out the word and pulled at his collar. “Is it hot in here?” he tried to change the subject.

“Adam Cartwright!” she couldn’t keep the hurt out of her voice.

“Oh, all right, I love you!” he snarled furiously and turned away. “I love Charlotte Rosalind MacTeague!” he opened the door and yelled it into the hallway. “Satisfied?”

“There’s hope for you yet, Adam.” Charlotte laughed and ran to him. The strength of her embrace knocked them both to the floor.

When Hoss and Little Joe came upstairs a few seconds later, they found a repeat of what had been going on only minutes earlier behind closed doors.

“Oh,” was all Little Joe said, then he grinned appreciatively. Hoss just blushed. Charlotte scrambled to stand up, blushing all the while, and ran back into her room. Adam sighed and got up too. The boys winced, obviously anticipating his wrath, but he ignored them for the time being and looked at Charlotte.

“Are you all right?” he asked her in concern from the doorway. She nodded firmly. The action caused the last of her binding to fall away with a little rush, too fast for her to do anything about it. Adam blinked and stared for a minute before turning to face his younger brothers. “Good night, boys,” he smirked and closed the door with a definite click.

As Adam waked slowly toward her, Charlotte could hear the whispers of the two youngest Cartwrights in the hall.

“How come Adam’s always so lucky?” A disgruntled Joe asked.

“I reckon it’s all them books he reads,” Hoss answered glumly. Charlotte exchanged a glance with Adam and burst out laughing. She decided that the characteristics of the Cartwrights were simply not typical of all men. The Cartwrights were unique. She smiled to herself as Adam held her. Good.

The End

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