A/N: Wow, I haven't updated this story for over 4 years! Anyways, I don't know how many of my old NS readers are out there but I found this chapter lying around and decided to put it up for the heck of it. Pretty short read tata until next time! (hopefully not another 4 more years... ; )

Chapter Four

The sun shone down from a clear sky, streaked with wisps of white that speckled the heavens. Though a slow, cool breeze provided slight comfort from the heat, many escaped into the town stores for relief as the number of people loitering in the streets grew

"Did you see Charles' new prize from last night's gamble?"

"Why yes I did. Fine-looking mare."

The two men walked up the steps, pausing to nod their greetings to a passing crowd of young women. Out of this lively group, one of the ladies boldly batted her eyelashes at the taller man as the companion to the right of her giggled. Another smiled warmly at the men before stepping away from group to stop for an errand. Walking briskly towards the local bakery, she swept past a small boy.

The smell of freshly baked butter rolls drifted under the boy's nose. The young, scruff-looking youngster stared through the window as his watering mouth fogged up the dusty glass. His hungry eyes took in the steaming apple pies and generous slices of French bread. The baker brought more hot pastries out into the front, and the young'un began to check the pockets of his worn pants. Empty. He continued to look sadly onto the delicious display, his stomach grumbling loudly at the sight.

"Hush!" The ruffian glared at his noisy belly. "I know you're hungry but-"

The boy fell silent as a small argument erupted in the far corner of the bakery. The girl in the front stepped quickly around the desk to calm the two men as the baker slipped into the back for his sweeping broom to use as a weapon.

Using the situation to his advantage, the boy dashed in and whisked a couple of hot rolls into his pant pockets, feeling the heat from the goods warm up his thighs. He raced across the dirt road, plowing into a middle age woman. He ran on, dodging a couple of well-dressed gentlemen, and made it to the other side of the street at extraordinary speed. However, the ruffian stumbled over his feet, flying face-forward into a cowboy.

"Whoa now!"

The kid looked up in dismay. A woman?

He quickly stood up, grabbing the fallen rolls as hazel eyes stared down at him in question.

"Where's the rush?"

"I ain't done nothin' wrong," the kid said nervously. Despite his declaration, he looked as if he had just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar by his mother. Then without another word, the boy made a run for it, disappearing quickly into the growing crowd.

Maggie frowned after the boy, wiping the dust off her jeans. Suddenly, a memory began to play over in her mind:

The sharp cold pierced into her with each breath. Her head was throbbing madly and she struggled to open her eyes and her limbs but found she could not. She was paralyzed.

Moments passed and she recalled the feeling of small hands patting her down, checking her pockets.

Stop, she tried to say but only managed a groan.

Her eyes finally opened and she found herself face to face with a boy. He stared back at her with surprise in his dark eyes. He couldn't have been more than nine, wearing dirtied and torn clothing. His face was smudged with dirt and his blonde hair peeked out from the cap that was far too big for his head.

She wanted to sit up and ask where the boy's parents were. Or draw back and scold him. But she could do neither.

Without warning, the child's hand shot out and yanked something from her neck. She caught a glimpse of a flat, heart-shaped pendant, made of sapphire, hanging on a silver chain. A shot of pain sliced through her chest and she gasped, struggling to breathe. Before the curtain of darkness fell entirely over her, she watched the young boy dash past the green shrubs, disappearing from sight...

Sighing loudly, Maggie turned toward the town's gossipers, whose prying eyes had been staring at her long enough.

"What is it? Does my hat not match my shoes?" she snapped before stalking off. The two women huffed with indignation like ruffled mother hens before dissolving into loud and rapid chatter.

Hm… now what?

Maggie paused at the side of the inn, biting her lip as she stared off into the direction of a large, gray barn.

I've just left James thinking that he's done something wrong, when it wasn't him. It was all me.

She wrinkled her nose in disgust at her choice of wording. What is wrong with me? I don't sound like someone who had just met him yesterday. Something is very wrong…

"Must be that time of month," Maggie muttered to herself, reaching up to pull down upon the rims of the hat in hopes that she could magically disappear into it like a genie or miraculously transport to a paradise far away. A few moments passed and when neither wishes were granted, she let out a groan.

A loud thump sounded in the cool air. "Whoa! Easy girl, easy!"

Cocking her head to the side, she furrowed her eyebrows. She could hear disarrayed shouts and angered neighs echoing from the barn that was just a ways off. Curious, Maggie began to make her way purposely toward the old barn. She paused for a moment outside the doors, glancing over her shoulder. No one seemed to be around. With a deep breath, she stepped inside.

There was a beautiful Paint mare with a gleaming coat of white and palomino but was mostly a body of golden. A white blaze went down her forehead to her muzzle and there was a white sock on her front left leg. Her wide eyes were dark like the black of her tail, but glinted brown when she looked over at Maggie. She snorted in resentment, prancing and jumping around. The dust was kicked up in murky clouds.

Maggie frowned, examining the situation. It was a fairly large barn with several horses still in their stalls. Two teen stable hands were off to the side, hesitant in what they were supposed to do. They stood, watching nervously at the owner who was trying to calm down his horse. He was a well-dressed rather chubby man, seemingly who well off. His mustache and beard was well-groomed, his clothes were of fine material and his expensive shoes seemed to have been newly shined and polished. The man swayed on his feet, leaping forward to grab the reins. He only managed to snatch at the air, slamming into a stall door.

"Calm down, you stupid mare!"

The man was drunk, Maggie realized in disgust. It was most likely that this was not his horse. She watched in sardonic amusement as the man and stable hands circled around the creature to grab the reins. Their attempts were made in vain for the beauty was intent in knocking them over.

"That's a grand mare you have there," she spoke up warily. The three glanced in the direction of her voice in surprise. It seemed that she had slipped in unnoticed.

"Isn't it?" The man said happily, his moustache twitching. "Won her in a card game. Hah! I sure showed Bobby who he was dealing with!"

She watched him amusedly "Satisfaction of a game won fair and square is always the best feeling of all."

The man dismissed her comment with a vague wave of his hand.

Maggie's eyebrows shot upward. "You cheated?!"

"Yes, yes… was a waste of time for me. Such a terrible thing."

"How is it? You got what you wanted didn't you?" she replied coldly.

The man shook his head sadly in stupor. "Got what I wanted? I don't think so miss," he slurred, gesturing wildly at her. "Terrible, terrible thing. This mare jus' won't stop and behave! Jus' like women nowadays, going off being all independent. Terrible. So promiscuous. Need to know their place..."

Maggie stiffened. "Excuse me?"

The stable hands blinked back, sensing that an eruption was soon due.

The man squinted in her direction, waving indistinctly at the air. "You know. Stay home and cook. Have babies. That's all you do." He hiccupped at the end of the statement. Squinting in her direction—though Maggie wondered if the man could even see her—he continued on, "But then there are those troublemakers who jus' don't understand that. Like this horse. Can't it act tamed?" He picked up the whip hanging by one of the stalls. "Men like me, havin' to always clean up and take control. It's a shame."

He lunged, cracking the whip. Maggie stepped back, seeing the fear in the mare's dark eyes. The whip lashed at the sensitive hind causing the horse to kick out violently. The aggravated horse jumped, spun around and sprinted toward the open back doors.

"Stop her!" the drunken man yelled, putting the two boys into action. The mare whinnied in anger, whirling back around, coming fast upon the man. The whip snapped at the air. "You should've stayed still! Things are gonna be tougher for you now…"

Maggie had no idea what happened. The words that the stranger had said to her replayed over her mind and her lips tightened to a thin line. Hot, fiery anger swept over her and before she knew it, she had slammed her fist into the side of his face. The man stumbled over his feet, stunned, landing into a pile of hay with a thump.

"You can't be careless and not expect consequences," she growled. "You ignorant deadbeat! Everyone deserves respect. Shame on you for thinking that animals and women are objects that need to be controlled!"

Reaching into her jacket's pocket, the fuming Maggie pulled out a thick wad of cash and chucked it into the man's face. "Here. For your troubles."

The dismayed ex-owner of the mare and the animated stable hands watched in amazement as she raced after the horse. She let out a shout, swiftly grabbing onto the horn of the saddle. In a smooth, fluid movement, Maggie swung herself up upon the mare's back and grasped the reins, whirling the horse around. The duo sprinted toward the open gates of freedom, leaving behind a cyclone of dust and speechless onlookers of the barn.

James came down the familiar steps, lost in thought. Women. They baffled him. After Maggie had left, all he could do was stare blankly at the closed doors. He had taken a tentative step towards the doors but halted.

Maggie probably needs her space right now, he thought.

The hot water had become lukewarm but he didn't mind. At first he tried to relax, knowing well that he may not have a chance to bathe in a while. However, with much on his mind, James reluctantly stepped out and quickly got dressed. It was time for business.

The warm sunlight and bustling crowds greeted his eyes as he stepped out of the inn. He nodded in greeting, smiling politely at a passing group of ladies. They looked at him, giggling but James did not notice. His mind was preoccupied upon checking on Elysium.

As he made his way down there, the cowboy paused suddenly, aghast.

Don't tell me I left those notes…

James frantically searched his pockets, coming up with bills, receipts and lint. That must mean… Realization struck and he winced.


With a long sigh, he continued on. He was about to enter the barn when the doors abruptly flew open almost hitting him in the face. A red-faced man stormed out, cursing and swearing- a grand show of irony to his expensive clothing. James looked after him strangely. Shaking his head, he entered.

"Did you see that right hook on that lady?"

"I never thought anyone, man or woman, would have the nerve to hit Mr. Thomas, let alone talk badly to him! After all, he's the richest man around here."

James's ears perked. He approached the two stable hand boys, who were practically bursting with awe. "Excuse me son, what was it that you were saying?"

The two teenagers glanced at each other before talking at once.

"There was this lady who came in-"

"We were in the middle of trying to calm down Mr. Thomas's-"

"Who?" James interjected.

"This blonde woman," one of them answered excitedly and the younger one nodded his head fervently. "Mr. Thomas you see, was trying to calm his prized mare that he got from a card game. He was yelling about women and horses—"

"—and she was dreadfully angry! You should've seen it sir, she sure fetched him a good one in the face!" The second one piped up. "She threw money at him—"

The first one interrupted, shooting a glare at the younger one for disrupting his story. "Said something about watching consequences and ran after the mare! It was a grand show sir, she ran, swung onto the saddle—"

"—and then she shin out!" The two stable hand boys said simultaneously with awestruck expressions.

James stared down at the beaming faces not knowing whether he should smile at the thought of Maggie putting the rich man in his place or grimace because she had done so.

"He said slowly, "You mean to tell me, this woman came in, swung at Mr. Thomas and ran off with his mare…?"

He was responded back with enthusiastic nods.

Great, he thought grimly, maybe I need to stop planning my days because nothing ever goes as planned. Especially not with Maggie around.