The Distant Sound of Thunder Rumbling 14

"Mama, you look beautiful. Come on, Daddy is waiting." Lena was as excited as Kitty had ever seen her.

"Since when are you so excited about being out on the prairie. I thought you prided yourself on being a sophisticated city girl," her mother teased. Kitty was pleased that Lena had started calling Matt 'daddy.' She knew Matt was over the moon about it, in his usual subtle low-key way.

Her daddy had shown his affection by buying her the horse that she'd been riding around for about two weeks. He'd also taken her to Silver Creek fishing. Along with Festus of course.

Festus and Lena got along like a house afire. In his eyes, she could do no wrong. She was the result of the love of two of his dearest and oldest friends. She was lovely like her mother, full of Miss Kitty's fire and character. She was also no push over and tough as a pine knot just like Matthew. Miss Lena was a fire brand and fire cracker both.

The doctor had officially released Kitty today. She'd been resting in the Dodge House, eating well, and had plenty of visitors, if she wanted them.

Lena and Matt had been awfully secretive around her lately. It was endearing and kind of irritating. Kitty didn't like to be out of the loop, and she knew they were up to something. She recognized that 'who me' face on both father and daughter.

"Mama! Let's go! I see Daddy waiting down below; he's got a big buggy."

"Good grief, child, let's go."

Matt was waiting for them outside on the board walk. He was clean shaven, had a fresh haircut, and was wearing a new shirt and bolo tie.

Kitty elevated one eyebrow and gave him a crooked smile. "Now, I'm really worried."

"What?" Matt looked happy and uncomfortable at the same time. "A man can clean up, can't he?"

"Oh, a man surely can. You look right handsome, Cowboy."

He offered her his hand and helped her into the first seat of the buggy. Matt turned to help his daughter into the second seat only to find her getting up there herself. When she saw him looking at her with a quizzical expression on his face, she shrugged. "I'm not helpless, Daddy."

Matt smiled and said, "I see that. There is such a thing as etiquette, you know."

"Daddy, don't be so old-fashioned," she gave him a teasing smile. "Thank you anyway."

"Uh, huh." He climbed up beside Kitty. "Comfortable?" Ready to go?"

"Yes, I am." Kitty smiled up at him. "I used to dream about the three of us being together, Matt."

"This is no dream. It's the real thing."

Matt clicked at the horses and popped the reins.

Lena was quiet, listening to her parents discussing people they used to know and places where people they knew lived or the new people who had moved in. The young woman luxuriated in her parents' conversation; the easy comfortable way they had with each other. The love they still had for each other reblooming after being tamped down for so long. It was an awful thing to think, but maybe her father getting hurt could have been one of the best worst things that could happen to him. And, maybe, she should keep that thought to herself.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she wasn't aware they were growing close to turn off to their destination.

"Matt, isn't this the old Baxter place? What happened to them? They were very nice people."

"Well, according to Festus, Mrs. Baxter's son was elected mayor of a town back east. She wanted to be closer him and her grandchildren, and the prairie was not where she wanted to spend her later years. Mr. Baxter got tired of listening to Mrs. Baxter. The place has been up for sale for a while because they left last fall. It's still in good shape. A good-sized creek for stock and crops. Indoor pumps. The Baxter's put a lot into this place."

Kitty was struck dumb for once.

"Kitty? Are you—"

"Mama, do you like it?"

She finally found her tongue. "What are you saying?"

Matt stepped down and dropped the weight to hold the team. "Let's you and I take a look around. Please."

Kitty scooted across the seat, and he reached up and swung her to the ground. She looked hesitant.

Matt looked up at Lena's confused face. "Give me and your mama a few minutes."

She nodded and jumped down from the wagon and headed toward the creek.

"Why now, Matt," she asked quietly. "Because of Lena. You don't have to do this. She's a grown woman."

"Kitty, I think you know very well that I don't do anything that I don't want to, so why don't you accept that. Come with me to look at this house, especially since I just spent almost every penny I have to my name on it." He held out his big hand to her. "Kitty, I was always the stupid one walking away. Not you. Let's not ruin it now."

Twisting her mouth, she said wryly, "Is that a proposal, cowboy?"

"It's an invitation to look at a place that could be our home." Matt dropped to one knee, not easy to do considering past injuries. "This is a proposal. Miss Kathleen Russell, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

All the years of waiting, crying, and finally giving up hope, and now she found she couldn't speak.

"Kitty? Are you all right, honey?" His concern was obvious, the roadmap of his life drawn across his face. "Is it too late? Do you not want to marry me?"

Tears came unexpected and unbidden. "Yes, I'll marry you. You busted up old lawman."

"Thank you!" He grimaced before asking sheepishly, "Do you mind helping me up?"

Her mother's raucous laughter brought her back from the creek where she'd been waiting for some sign that she was welcome to return.

Lena rounded the house to find them laughing and holding onto each other.

"Did she say yes?"

"I did," her mother answered. Her father couldn't stop grinning.

"Yeee haw," Lena yelled and raced ahead.

"She got that from your side of the family," Kitty said.

"She learned that from Festus," Matt replied, shaking his head. "We're gonna have to watch the company she keeps."

Kitty laughed again, and then squealed as Matt picked her up.

"What are you doing? You're going to hurt yourself. Put me down!"

"Nope, I'm carrying you across the threshold. It's not too late for us to do something traditional."

Matt Dillon kicked the door open, and carried Kitty Russell across the threshold into the new Russell-Dillon ranch.