TITLE:   The Hunted Woman

AUTHOR: SallyAnn



SUMMARY: Hoss helps a woman escape from her controlling and conniving cousins.  This leads to a blossoming romance, and danger!  Written for a friend on her birthday, so please excuse the quasi-Mary Sue nature of this fic!!

DISCLAIMER: The characters are the property of Bonanza Ventures, not me.  I do not mean to infringe upon any copyrights.

DATE:  7/19/09

“I think it’d be best if you just stopped right there, mister,” Hoss’ low drawl and a quick click of a gun cocking back was enough to make the other man halt for a moment.  Hoss breathed evenly and slowly--calm for holding a gun to the back of another man’s head.  “Just let the lady go, and undo your gunbelt,” he continued.

The other man slowly released the tight grip he held on the petite woman’s wrist.  Her eyes were wet with unshed tears and were open wide, full of fear and awe.  Hoss noticed the woman twisting her wrist in her other hand, nursing the bruise forming there.  He tried to give her a slight nod, wanting to let her know he would protect her.

“Now the gun belt,” Hoss directed, returning his attention to the man.  He pushed his gun a little farther forward, pressing a bit deeper into the man’s neck, just below the knot of his bandana.

Slowly the masked man leaned down to his right.  Hoss seemed satisfied that he was about to untie his belt when suddenly--

“Look out!”  A woman’s scream was muted by the gunshot blasts.  Instead of untying his gun, the man deftly removed the pistol and fired at Hoss.  Everything happened so fast.  Hoss had dodged the bullet and laid a solid punch to the man’s jaw.  The return blow sent Hoss reeling back.  Hoss could see the woman crouching not far, running her hands nervously through her dark hair.  His jaw clenched angrily as he thought of the new danger this young woman was now forced into.  This other fella would certainly pay.

Hoss’ wrath emerged through his punches.  The other man, being at least six inches shorter than Hoss, did not have the reach or staying power Hoss possessed--and especially had when angered.  It was not often that Hoss got this riled up, but the thought of any harm coming to this woman made him crazy.

With a loud “umph” the man fell to the ground and finally did not get back up.  Hoss breathed deeply, leaning his hands on his knees to recover.  A soft voice snapped him back to reality.

“Is he dead?”  The woman’s dark eyes were staring wide at the man, now unmasked and still on the ground.

“No, ma’am, just out for a while.  Which gives me time to find out exactly what is going on here.  Are you all right?”  Hoss replied.

“I’m much better now, all thanks to you, Mister, uh...” the woman realized she hadn’t caught her rescuer’s name in all the commotion.

“Cartwright, Hoss Cartwright.  And you are...” Hoss asked, extending his hand.

“Catalina Rosado.”

“It’s a pleasure, ma’am.  How’d you get mixed up with that cowboy, anyhow?”  Hoss had regained his composure and his hat.  Catalina was fixing her shoulder-length hair back into a riding bonnet. 

“He’s my cousin, Roberto.  He was sent to collect me.  No doubt he rode with others; they will be looking for me as well,” Catalina explained, without really telling Hoss anything. 

“Are you in trouble, Miss Rosado?”

“Please, call me Catalina.  And the only trouble I’m in is trying to avoid marrying a dreadful man in Tejás!”  She shook her head angrily.

“Well, Catalina--and please call me Hoss--I reckon once your other cousins see this fella here, they may think twice about messing with you!”  He winked, trying to put any of her fears or worries to rest.  Hoss smiled at the woman nearly a foot shorter than him.  Her dark hair was nicely tucked in a lavender bonnet, matching her light floral print gingham dress.  She lacked gloves and wore cowboy boots--not those crazy ankle lace-up shoes he’d seen ladies wear in Virginia City--but Hoss thought she was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.  His eyes started to glaze over as he watched Catalina prepare her dapple-gray horse.  A low groan from Roberto brought Hoss back to the present.

Hoss snatched the dazed man from the ground and shook him by his dirty collar.  “Now you’re gonna leave Miss Catalina alone, y’hear?”  he growled, his face just inches from Roberto’s.

Roberto barely opened his eyes to look at Hoss, unsure why his feet weren’t on the ground and not totally remembering who this angry man was.  Slowly he nodded, hoping he’d be returned to solid earth before he lost his lunch.

Hoss complied without knowing the request.  “Good.”  Gesturing to Catalina, he told her, “Let’s ride out before anyone else picks up our trail.”

“Where will we go, Hoss?”

“We’re not far from our spread, the Ponderosa.  We’ll start there then figure out what you should do.”  Catalina nodded briskly.  She was already in her saddle, sitting astride, paying no mind that her dress was bunched around her knees awkwardly.  She sat confidently, ready to face anything else that came her way--only hopefully no other cousins for a while.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

“Where is middle son?!”  Hop Sing thundered out of the kitchen, flailing his arms in despair.  It always irked him when one of the family was late for dinner--especially the best eater, Hoss. 

“I’m sure he’s just on his way back from Virginia City.  Let’s not let the beef get cold, let’s eat!”  Little Joe called from the table, knife and fork in hand.

“We can wait a few more minutes, can’t we?  Anyway, Adam’s not back in from stabling Sport, so, relax, Joseph.”  Ben sat calmly at the head of the table, though the enticing smell of roast beef, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables and a still-baking cobbler was testing his patience.


Adam came busting through the front door.  “Gonna wash up, then let’s eat, huh?” he called as he quickly crossed to the stairs. 

“Make it fast!” Joe shouted, practically bouncing in his chair. 

“Sit still, Joseph!”  Ben grumbled.  Even so, his hunger was beginning to surpass his trademark patience.  Two minutes ticked by and Adam was taking his seat at the table.

“Where’s Hoss?” he asked.  “He’s not usually the last one seated.”

“Dinner will be ruined--getting cold already!  You must eat now!” Hop Sing thundered back out of the kitchen, carrying a large platter of beef.  “Don’t worry--I have a second cow set aside for second son!”

Everyone shared a chuckle at Hoss’ infamous appetite.  Just as Joe was reaching for the beef, the front door flew open and two voices could be heard--a woman’s lilt and Hoss’ deep chuckle.

“And then I told her, oh, chica, he’ll never leave you alone now.  You be nice to Hugo once, and he’ll never stop--” the woman’s voice cut off mid-sentence.  Hoss stopped laughing, and realized that four sets of eyes were staring at the pair.

“About time you got back, brother!” Joe shouted, breaking the awkwardness.  “And you brought a lovely friend.  Glad to meet you, Miss...” Joe bent over Catalina’s hand, and looked to Hoss to introduce them.

“This is Miss Catalina Rosado.  That’s my Pa, and my brothers Joe and Adam.  I helped her out down the road, and figured at this time of day bringing her back here would be best.  And we were starving too!  Hop Sing--is dinner ready yet?”  Hoss quickly filled them in. 

Hop Sing threw up his arms and walked out of the dining room to fetch another plate.  Ben smiled and took Catalina’s hand.  “You’re more than welcome, Miss Rosado.  And it’s perfect timing, we were just about to sit and eat.  Please join us.”

Adam pulled out a chair at the table for their new guest.  He looked her over, noting her traveling clothes and road-wearied appearance.  He couldn’t help but wonder what she was running from.

Catalina had been so overwhelmed upon entering the house that she hadn’t even said a word to the rest of the Cartwrights.  She was often surrounded by men in her own family, but these Cartwrights were so different--welcoming, friendly, and handsome!  She could hardly form words for her appreciation of their generosity, taking her right in with no questions.  Catalina was deeply touched, so grateful that Hoss happened by that road with Roberto. 

She shook her head, wiping away all negative thoughts of her cousins and family obligations.  Catalina sat, not even realizing she was in a chair.  She sat facing four generous, open faces.  Their eager eyes were so friendly and unabashedly curious that she couldn’t help but laugh.  “You are all so nice--thank you!”

All the Cartwrights smiled and Hop Sing brought out the last heaping bowl of food.  Good thing he made four sides--between Hoss’ eating and another guest, there’d be just enough!

The Cartwright men allowed a little time for their guest to eat before the questioning began.  They inquired how Hoss helped her, and this launched Catalina into a tale of how she left her family’s home in Texas to avoid an arranged marriage.

“I do not know why they felt I could simply settle!  I have always been fairly headstrong, so they really should have seen this coming!  ¡Estúpidos!”  Catalina finished her story with a loud “humph!” and crossed her arms across her chest defiantly.

“Well, Miss Rosado--” Ben began.

“Catalina, please,” she interrupted.

“All right, Catalina.  Well, we would be happy to help you and you’re of course welcome to stay here as long as you would like, however it seems you are simply itching to move on!”

It had been true.  Catalina had even explained to them all of her desire to see the country and not be tied down.  She’d work when she needed to, and travel when she could.  As Ben spoke, her eyes drifted to the man to her right, a handsome, kind-hearted man that had risked his life to protect her...was she really ready to walk away from him?

Hoss noticed Catalina’s gaze fall upon him.  He shifted in his seat, not sure what she was staring at initially, then found himself gazing back into her dark brown eyes.  He lost himself in those eyes...

“Hoss?”  A voice sounded far away, but persistent.

“Hoss, I asked if you finished your business in town today or if you had to go back tomorrow?”

“Hmm?”  Hoss murmured distractedly, noting Catalina’s other fine facial features, a cute nose, soft lips, and small ears with lovely green gemstones hanging from them...

“Hoss!”  Ben’s voice cut through his son’s reverie, and made Catalina jump.  “Where were you, boy?”

Hoss blushed, willing himself not to turn back to look at Catalina, who was suddenly busy with the napkin in her lap.

“Sorry, Pa, I...uh...well, what were you saying?” 

“I was asking about your business in Virginia City.”

“Oh it went fine, Pa, just have to pick up the notarized papers from Mr. Robinson by Thursday.”

“Very good,” Ben nodded.  “Maybe you could take our guest into town for travel arrangements when you go next.”

Now, Hoss dared to look back at Catalina, not bothering to hide the disappointment on his face.  She was still fiddling with her napkin.  Without raising her head, Catalina spoke.

“That won’t be necessary, Sr. Cartwright.  Not yet--”  She looked up and stole a quick glance at Hoss.  “If your hospitality is still available, I think I might like a break for a while.  It might be nice to explore the Ponderosa.”

Adam and Joe exchanged knowing glances as Ben watched his middle son’s face light up at Catalina’s words.  “Of course!” he laughed, rising from the table.  “Please, stay as long as you like!”

“I think forever might suit Hoss fine,” Joe muttered to Adam, who kicked him to be quiet in response. 

Catalina smiled graciously back, her heart warming at the happy grin Hoss now wore.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

The following day, Hoss took Catalina out in the cushiest buckboard for a ride around Lake Tahoe.  They were gone before Joe was even out of bed.

“Joseph, please finish fixing the stable doors when you finish eating,” Ben requested as he cleared away his plate.  Joe was just sitting down for breakfast, always the late riser.

“Pa, I’m already finishing up the corral fence!” Joe whined.  “Wasn’t Hoss working on the stable?”

“Well he’s off with our guest, Catalina, so help him out,” Ben accentuated the last few words, combining them with a pointed look.  Joe knew there was no backing out with that deadly combination.  Leaning back in his chair, Joe sighed and rolled his eyes.  Really, he couldn’t complain about shirking chores to spend time with a girl.  After all, Joe had perfected that trick. 

“Where’s Adam?” Joe asked as he spooned eggs onto his plate.

“He’s picking up that paperwork in town,”  Ben said. 

Joe smiled to himself.  At least Adam has to do Hoss’ work too, he thought smugly, taking a big bite of scrambled egg.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


Hoss took Catalina all around Lake Tahoe.  Around lunchtime, he stopped at one of his favorite grassy spots near the lake bank.  It was shaded by a large tree, handy for such a warm day.

“It is so lovely here!”  Catalina exclaimed as she adjusted her skirts to sit on the blanket Hoss brought.  He was setting out food Hop Sing had prepared and packed in the buckboard in anticipation of a picnic before Hoss had even mentioned the idea.

“It is at that,” Hoss replied.  He watched Catalina and did not even notice the idyllic lake view in front of him.  He blushed as she caught his eye and she laughed, a light lilt that made Hoss’ stomach do flops.

“What did you bring us, Hoss?  I’m starving!”  Catalina eagerly dug into the basket.

“Finally--a woman that can match my appetite!  Will wonders never cease?”  Hoss laughed and bit into an apple to start.

A comfortable silence fell as the pair ate their extravagant picnic.  Hop Sing had packed sandwiches with leftover roast, apples, fresh cheese, and half of a cherry pie--baked fresh that morning.

After they had eaten, Hoss decided to bring up Catalina’s situation once more.  He was always more agreeable after he’d eaten, and hoped she’d not mind him asking.

“Catalina, I was wondering...” he began. 

“Yes?”  Catalina was quickly attentive and tilted her face towards Hoss.  The sunlight danced on her face as it peeked between the leaves of the tree.  Hoss was momentarily distracted, watching the light patterns in her hair.

“I was just curious--how long til you’re off again?”

Catalina hesitated.  She had quickly become very comfortable at the Ponderosa.  She enjoyed Hoss’ company so much it almost made her road-itchy feet want to rest for quite a while...if not forever.  This was a new feeling, one that simultaneously terrified and overjoyed Catalina.

“Well, Hoss, I’m just not sure,” she admitted.  “I don’t like running away, but I do like to travel, and at the same time...”  Her voice trailed off and she stared out across the lake.  “I could be so happy here.  I think,” she quietly added.

Hoss’ heart swelled.  He leaned towards Catalina, and said, “I’d like to have you be happy here.  For as long as you’d like.”

She turned her face to him and smiled.  Hoss leaned in for a soft kiss, and Catalina knew she was lost.  She could never leave the Ponderosa, never leave Hoss now. 

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


It was nearly dinnertime when Hoss and Catalina decided to leave the clearing and head back to the Ponderosa.  The air was calm as the sun began to sink lower in the sky, creating a beautiful sunset.  Everything seemed perfect to them both.

“Is that thunder?” Catalina asked, referring to the low rumble growing behind them on the road.

Hoss looked up to a clear sky.  Though it was slipping from daytime blue to deeper oranges and blues, there was not a cloud present.  He sniffed.  “It doesn’t smell like rain.”   

Catalina turned around as the thundering sound continued and got louder.  “Oh no,” she muttered.  “Rápido, Hoss.” 

Without needing any further explanation, he urged the horses on.  “Git up,” he encouraged.

The sound approached quickly even as the Ponderosa stallions broke into full gallop.  Hoss looked back for a quick moment, surprised to see half a dozen riders kicking up a cloud of dust and gaining on them.  They were outnumbered, two to one.  The group of riders pulled up beside Hoss and Catalina, leveling rifles at the buckboard.

Hola, prima.  Vamos.  Ahora.”  One rider spoke to Catalina.  Although Hoss couldn’t understand all the Spanish, he knew they were trying to take Catalina.  More cousins.

Catalina stood and began speaking in rapid Spanish to the six men.  She gestured to the guns, angrily shouting.  “¡Basta, primos!  ¡Ahora!”  She finished with a flourish, her hands on her hips.  The man who spoke before gave a slight nod and the guns were lowered.  Hoss let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding.  He looked at the an and noticed Roberto, the man he’d given a solid beating to just the day before.  Roberto looked a little puffy, and avoided Hoss’ eyes, not wanting to incite another fight.

“Catalina is everything all right?”  Hoss asked low, not wanting to alarm any of her cousins and put her in more danger.  His voice betrayed his true feeling--Hoss was internally raging.  At himself for not being more careful while these men were looking for Catalina, and at her cousins for being so reckless and callous towards Catalina.

Turning, Catalina gave Hoss a small smile that was meant to be reassuring.  “Yes, Hoss.”

Another one of the men began talking angrily.  He spoke to the other cousins, who unfortunately began to nod in agreement with him.  Catalina’s look of incredulity only confirmed Hoss’ suspicions.

“No!”  Catalina cried emphatically.  She spoke frantically in Spanish then looked down at Hoss with wide eyes.  “They’re threatening to shoot you if I don’t go with them.”

Hoss knew the threat was real--Roberto undoubtedly told the other what happened and they didn’t seem ready to settle this with a fist fight.  For Catalina’s benefit, he smiled.  “Aw, don’t you worry none about me.  I just don’t want you to get forced into marriage!”  His hand rested near his hip and gunbelt as he spoke.

“One more move and it’s over,” a thickly accented voice growled to Hoss’ left.

“I’ll go,” Catalina said, her chin high and expression resigned. 

“No, Catalina!”  Hoss cried out, distraught.  She had already climbed off the buckboard.  One of her cousins roughly hauled her onto a horse.

“Now wait just a minute, you be careful--” Hoss was up and reached instinctively for his hip.  As his arm moved, Hoss was distinctly aware of a sharp pain, warmth, screaming, and then...nothing. 

Roberto shot Hoss.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Catalina beat her cousin Jorge’s back as she was placed behind him on a shorter horse.  She rode behind him reluctantly.  She cried, tears running down her face.  Jorge muttered curses at her as Catalina kept trying to get farther away from him on the saddle.


The group began to move out, leaving Hoss’ still form behind.  He was slumped over the side of the buckboard, a bullet in his back, his gun not even drawn.  Catalina didn’t know if he was dead, but there had been so much blood.  She started sobbing again as the horse was spurred to a full gallop. 

As they rode, Catalina’s mind raced.  First, she was in painful shock.  What if Hoss was dead?  Then anger bubbled through her, thick and hot, all directed towards her cousins.  They weren’t defending her honor, that was for sure.  They wanted her to marry Don Geraldo for his ranchero and dinero, not anything that had to do with her happiness.  Now she didn’t know what to do.  If she ran, they’d simply continue to hunt her down, and it was apparent they had no problems hurting anyone in their way.  Still, if Hoss was badly hurt, or worse, she had to find help, had to tell the Cartwrights.  Plans and ideas were forming in her head, giving her hope and keeping her sane as they continued to ride full bore across the Ponderosa.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


“Not again!”  Hop Sing’s frustrated cry echoed through the ranch house.  Ben frowned, it was getting late.  He hoped that Hoss and Catalina had not run into any trouble.  Then again, Ben knew that faraway look Hoss wore.  It always meant he was smitten.  And Hoss had been looking faraway ever since he’d arrived home with Catalina.

“I’m not sure it’s just love, Pa,” Adam commented as if he had read Ben’s mind.  Hop Sing ceased his muttering to hear Adam out.  Joe even looked up from his new dime novel.  “If Catalina really is in trouble and being followed, they may have tracked her here.”

Ben looked contemplative, deciding if riding out after his usually sensible second son was a good idea or not.  It was possible they could have fallen into some trouble.  “Very well.  Let’s go.  Hop Sing--”

“I know, I know.  It will be warm when you get back.”  Hop Sing shook his head.  How many dinners had been left warming due to one calamity or another?

The three Cartwrights saddled up quickly.  “I think Hoss mentioned the lake last night.  I’d bet he took Catalina over towards the clearing, it’s one of his favorite spots,” Joe suggested after he swung into Cochise’s saddle.

Buck neighed and anxiously pawed the ground.  Ben patted his neck, equally anticipatory.  “Let’s start there then.  Come on Buck!”

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

It was very cold.  That was the first though Hoss had as he slowly returned to consciousness.  As he began to wake, he felt pain.  Lots of pain.  His back and arms hurt so badly he could hardly move.  Half of himself was slung over the side of the buckboard and blood was rushed to his head, making it hard to raise up.  As he woke, Hoss remembered.  Someone had shot him from behind just as he was getting up to stop Catalina.  Catalina!  Was she all right?  Where had they taken her?  Hoss tried to sit up, he had to follow her, had to save her, had to keep her safe...but a new wave of pain slowed his movements.  He was vaguely aware of the sound of hooves approaching.  Hoss tensed--if Catalina’s cousins were returning, they would likely not leave him alive this time around.

“Hoss!”  The sound of Hoss’ youngest brother’s voice rang out over the dusk. 

“Hoss!!”  The second call sounded more panicked, so Hoss tried to shift, so they’d know he was alive.  Mostly.

Joe reached Hoss first.  He pressed his neckerchief to Hoss’ back, sending new shots of pain through his body.

“My God...” Ben trailed off as he saw the amount of blood on Hoss’ back.

“Can you move, Hoss?” Adam asked, not unkindly.

“Is Chubb...?”  Hoss managed, confused though if he was expected to get on a horse.

“No, buckboard.  I’m driving.  Hang on, Hoss,”  Joe clarified as he took the reins.  Hoss appreciated his brother’s help and his family’s presence, but in a crisis, he wasn’t sure if Joe was the best one to drive.  Joe must have felt his apprehension because he winked at his brother, trying to allay both of their fears.  “Don’t worry, it’ll be the smoothest ride ever into Virginia City!”  Hoss wasn’t too convinced, but was in no position to put up a fight either.

Adam was investigating the area around the buckboard.  “Six horses it seems,” he noted.  Looking around, he could tell which direction the riders had come from and rode off towards.

“Can we catch up?”  Ben asked, diverting his attention from Joe adjusting Hoss.

“I think so, Pa.  One horse has to be doubled up with Catalina, and it’s getting to be too dark to safely ride.  They’ll camp soon.”

“Joseph, after you get to the doc, go to the sheriff.  Go, son,” Ben ordered.  Joe sped off, trying not to jar Hoss too much.  The Cartwrights split off then, and Ben and Adam rode into the woods, letting the twilight guide them.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


Catalina was exhausted--physically and emotionally.  She had finally stopped crying and her eyes hurt.  She had never felt so wiped out or lost.  But now, she knew what she had to do. 

Their party camped on the edge of Ponderosa land.  After her cousin Guillermo’s horse tripped and threw him, they had to set up camp.  Catalina had little sympathy, and had secretly been hoping his leg was broken.  Guillermo was the oldest and the one spear heading the whole plan.  Even with as much hatred as she had for him, Catalina still had more for Roberto.  Roberto shot Hoss, Hoss whom she loved.  She knew it before they had left the clearing, and now felt empty knowing Hoss could be dying at the hands of her own blood.

Her cousins had decided she needed to be bound and watched while they camped.  They were unwilling to lose her again, and thus, lose the monetary benefits they would receive by providing Catalina as the wife to Don Geraldo.  But Catalina had a plan.  While the youngest cousin, Francisco, was watching Catalina, she would get him to drink.  Catalina had grabbed Guillermo’s flask when they guided his horse back after it tripped.  Guillermo always had a little nip of tequila nearby.  Short and slight, Francisco could never hold his cerveza, and Catalina was going to use this to her advantage.  Spiking his coffee, Francisco would assume Jorge just didn’t make good camp coffee and drink it anyway.  Once he had drank enough, she’d slip away into the night and hopefully make it back towards the Ponderosa.

Once Tomás woke Francisco, Catalina knew it was time to try her plan.  Francisco immediately got some coffee, which Catalina managed to spike while he rolled up his blanket.  The rest of it was up to time...and for small Francisco, it was no time at all.

Twenty minutes later, Francisco was passed out, and Catalina was removing her ropes and sneaking out into the night.  It almost seemed too easy, but she was not going to complain.

Walking the exact path they had ridden from the lake, Catalina suddenly froze when she heard rustling.  It could either be people or any number of animals that frequented the area.  Frustrated she no longer had her small pistol, Catalina braced herself. 

“Catalina?”  A familiar voice whispered.

“Sr. Cartwright?”  She stepped forward, facing Adam and Ben in the moonlight.  They were crouched down, their horses not far behind some nearby rocks. 

“We were following your tracks.  Are you hurt?”  Ben asked her, pulling her down by them.

“I’m fine.  Please, how is Hoss?  Did you see him?” 

“Joe’s taking him to the doctor now.  He’s awake, but he’s lost a lot of blood.”

Catalina looked down, too upset for words.  Ben understood her anguish, and tried to comfort her.  “Don’t worry, he’s strong.  He’ll pull through.”  Ben smiled at her, and held her hand.  He could tell how much this young woman really cared for his middle son.  He was starting to feel pretty smart about reading his sons’ expressions. 

Catalina quickly told Ben and Adam about her cousins and their camp.  They agreed it was too dangerous to do anything with just them, and decided to ride right into Virginia City to get the sheriff.  Catalina rode Hoss’ horse Chubb.  He had been tied to the back of the buckboard all day, and Adam brought him when Joe sped off towards town with Hoss.  He’d hope they’d need a third horse to bring Catalina back with them. 

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

Joe flew into Virginia City and right to Doctor Martin’s private residence.  He started shouting, not caring whom he woke up at this hour.  Finally a light came on and the doctor came outside.  He took one look at Hoss and called for his wife to boil some water.

“This is going to hurt Hoss, so bite on this,” Doc Martin gave Hoss some thick gauze to chew on while the doctor prepared to remove the bullet. 

Hoss braced himself and nearly broke his back teeth biting on the gauze.  Joe had to leave the room, he nearly passed out himself from the gruesome wound.  It seemed like forever, but after only a few minutes, the doc was looking rather pleased with himself, holding a bloody bullet in his hand.

“Look at that,” he held it out for Hoss to see.  One look, and Hoss fainted cold.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

While the doctor was fixing up Hoss’ back, Joe rushed over to the see Sheriff Coffee.  He found him just locking up a drunk in the jail cell.  He was surprised to find his Pa, brother Adam, and Catalina all there as well.  They were waiting none too patiently in the front room for Roy to help them.  None of them noticed Joe first arriving in the office.

“Now look, Roy, you can’t expect me to believe that there’s nothing you can do!” Ben growled, leaning across Roy’s desk.

“Now, Ben, that’s not what I said.  But what it sounds like from your story, this is a family matter.  And the law doesn’t butt in on family situations unless it has to, you know that.”  Roy tried to explain. 

“They held me at gunpoint and abducted me against my will!” Catalina’s voice was increasing in octave and volume.  “They SHOT Hoss!  That’s attempted murder!”  By the word ‘murder’ she was full-out shouting at Roy.

Roy held up his hands to quiet everyone down.  “I understand that, and the fella that shot Hoss will be found.  We’ll round up a posse, but don’t you think it could wait until tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow?  Hoss may not have until tomorrow!”  Adam chimed in angrily.

“Doc Martin got the bullet out, looks like he’ll make it,” Joe joined the conversation from the doorway.  Everyone turned, startled to see him.

“Oh, thank goodness, I must see him,” Ben rushed past Joe, squeezing his arm in gratitude as he left.

“But I agree with my family and Catalina here, Roy.  We need to get a posse together, and now.  It can’t wait.  They’re a dangerous lot.”  Joe stepped forward, crossing his arms and standing firm.

“They are.  Now they’ll stop at nothing, the greedy...” Catalina agreed, and slipped into Spanish, cursing her dreadful cousins.

Roy sighed.  “Very well, boys, let’s get some men rounded up.  Then you can lead me to this spot they were camping.”  He herded Joe and Adam out, first heading to the saloon.  Joe took Catalina aside first, silently pointing to the one house lit on Broad Street--Doc Martin’s.  Giving him a grateful smile, Catalina took this opportunity to slip away and see Hoss.

Catalina knocked lightly on the door as she opened it, peering inside.  Dr. Martin’s wife greeted her as she came in.  “Hello, dear, please come on in.  Hoss has been asking about you ever since he woke up.”

Catalina couldn’t hide a smile at this information.  “Thank you so much,” she said.  Mrs. Martin led Catalina to Hoss.  He was lying on his stomach, holding his head up in his hands, talking with the doctor. 

“You mean I have to stay like this?  Sleeping on my stomach?  For how long?”  Hoss asked, irritated. 

“At least three weeks.  Then we’ll see how you feel, but I don’t want you putting undue pressure on this wound, understood?”  Doc Martin held firm.

“Fine, fine.  Oooh, won’t Joe love having to do my chores now?”  Hoss laughed, already feeling more like his old self, even with a gunshot wound in his back.  As he chuckled, he saw Catalina standing a little way from him.  “Catalina!  Are you--” he reached out for her.

“Oh, Hoss!”  Catalina raced forward, unable to hold back the tears any longer.  She grabbed his arm, the only part of him she felt she could hug without causing him pain.  Hoss smoothed her hair and hushed her.  “I am so sorry, so sorry, thank you,” she sobbed into his arm.

“Shh, now, don’t you worry none.  I’m just fine.  Doc got me all fixed up, in no time Pa’ll have me doing my own chores.  Well, Joe will at least,” Hoss tilted her head up, smiling at her.  “I’m just so glad you’re okay.  Did they hurt you at all?”

Catalina shook her head.  “No, Hoss, I got away.  I got the youngest drunk and ran into your father and brother Adam.  We all came here.  I’m so glad you’re all right.”

Hoss stared into Catalina’s eyes, unable to truly believe how much he cared for her, and she seemingly for him.  She nodded slightly, as if she also couldn’t believe how much they cared for each other after only knowing one another for such short a time.  Hoss brought her face forward and kissed her gently.

“Catalina, I was so worried about you,” Hoss said quietly.

“And I you.”

“I don’t want you to marry Don Geraldo.”

“I certainly don’t want to either.”

“I’d like you to marry me, instead, if you’d have me...” Hoss trailed off, suddenly unsure of himself.

“Oh, Hoss!  I would love to!  I love you!”  Catalina hugged his arm tighter and smiled so broadly she thought her face would break with happiness.

“I love you too, my dear, I love you too.”

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *


Sheriff Coffee, Adam, and Joe made short order of reaching Catalina’s cousins.  They resisted any questioning and tried to shoot their way out of arrest.  The Rosado men were all subsequently arrested for kidnapping, attempted murder, and attacking a law officer.  Catalina and Hoss would never have to worry about them again. 

And the rest of their story?  They lived happily ever after, of course!