Let it Rain

girl in field

Writers block, life in general as well as a lack of a muse has contributed to the sharp drop of stories. I hope that this story meets with those expectations that many who like my stories have had in the past; hopefully it will transport them into a place and time that they will remember fondly. Thank you, Anon Allsop

Let it Rain
By Anon Allsop

A shrill whistle woke the young woman. She raised her head up from the crook of her arm and took in her surroundings. The first thin light of dawn was breaking the horizon, golden rays of sunshine creating a strange glow within the car. The gentle rocking and steady rhythmic clacking of the train reminded her of where she was.

Sitting up slowly she adjusted her skirt, carefully brushing the dust from where it clung to the material. Folding her arms over her bag, she became aware once again to the small farms and towns that the train passed. She thought about how she came to be on the train, knowing that it was her own doing that resulted in her being there. Her past had been considerably different than what would be her future, almost like two parallel worlds each racing along its own separate path.

She sighed deeply, seemingly trapped in her own thoughts, absentmindedly picking at a biscuit her mother had packed for the journey. She thought back to something her mother once said about enduring hard times, 'Storms of worry, trouble and doubt will always build, that's why they say that in everyone's life some rain must fall.' She sighed deeply as she returned her gaze out the window. In a hushed whisper she found herself reply to her own thoughts, "It seems as though it's been raining most of my life!"

Glancing forward, she watched as the lead engine was rounding a slight bend, sunlight catching the windows of each car like a mirror. Her crystalline blue eyes taking the entire panoramic scene in, and yet her soul feeling none of it.

The rhythmic clacking of the locomotive, the bright sun streaming into the window warming the glass began to lull her into a troubled sleep once again. The sleep was an uneasy one, her dreams both terrifying and surreal. Always while she was sleeping they came, haunting her with their very presence. Her dreams repeating, playing over and over again the tumultuous play that had become her life. As her mind relaxed, the dreams formed into one she knew very well and had often.

One

Ashley Orville leaned into the railing as he watched his family head out of the barnyard toward their weeklong trip into town. Two huge black horses pulled the long wagon; his parents in the seat, sisters in the back. His father had business to attend in town, while his mother and younger sisters planned on doing a bit of browsing and minor shopping.

Ashley knew that the trip would take a full day just to get to Greybull and with the family gone that length of time, it was decided that he would stay behind and see to the farm and livestock. While the farm was near Worland, the actual business his father needed to do was in the city of Greybull.

Some might think it odd that a family would leave a youth of sixteen alone in the heart of Shoshone country, but for the last year there had been an unsteady peace existing between the white man and the Indian. On top of that, Ashley did almost insist that they all go and leave him behind.

His father took it as young man finally growing up to face the rough and tumble world of Wyoming, he was happy to allow the boy some 'man' time alone. Ashley, on the other hand just wanted all of them to be gone so he could play out his little idiosyncrasy without prying eyes stumbling upon him.

The youth gave the retreating wagon a wave as they entered the dusty path that would take them eventually into Greybull, then turned on his heel and headed toward the barn to do his chores. The mid June morning gave sign that it would be warm, while the light breezes which blew, carried upon them the scent of wildflowers in bloom.

Ashley busied him-self for half the morning cleaning stalls, feeding animals, and grooming and currying his horse. Once done, he stood in the doorway of the barn, removed his hat, shielding his blue eyes from the bright light outside. Surmising that it was almost noon, Ashley ran his fingers through his fine sun kissed hair and moved toward the trough he and his father had just finished to catch water spilled out from the hand-pump. As he approached the pump, he slid his suspenders down his arms and began to remove his sweat soaked shirt which he threw into the bottom of the pump box.

Placing his hat on a nearby rail, Ashley pumped the handle severely until water began to flow from deep underground. Leaning over, he allowed the liquid to run over his head, and then began to wash his face and neck before the pump would need to be manipulated again. Slowly standing, he pushed his blond locks back, squeezing the water out as he did and allowing it to race down his bronze back.

The wiry lad surveyed the surrounding area, the corral and barn, their small orchard all dwarfed in comparison to the majestic Big Horn Mountains to the west. Dotting the landscape closest to him were tall pines, towering high into the sky. Looking east, Ashley could see the slow rolling foothills down toward a stand of trees and a small creek, beside it grazed several elk. He squinted in the bright sun, he couldn't tell whether they were bucks or does, they were just too far away and looked no bigger than blackened dots. He made a mental note to attempt hunting later on in the week, at least he could provide meat for a few weeks should he be successful in getting one.

Turning, Ashley headed toward the house, climbed the steps and paused at the end of the porch. Even though he was out in the middle of nowhere, he was taking precautions and did not want to be surprised by anyone once he began his experiment. Satisfied, the youth retreated into the house and closed the door.

Hanging his hat on a hook, Ashley whetted his lips and climbed into the loft where he would begin his brief adventure. At the landing, he looked from the area he slept, toward that of his sisters. The loft was divided by a wall and no door, he slipped into his room and gently moved a board on his bed. Lying beneath the board was a small item wrapped in a dark cloth, he stood and carried it into his sister's room.

He paused at the doorway, working up the courage to enter. Ashley glanced at the cloth in his hand, the item it contained he had traded for his pocket knife. With a deep sigh he took a step into their room, it looked much the same as his own except for the little items which screamed 'female'!

He only hoped that what the peddler from town told him was true and it would allow him to alter his very body into the form of a girl. The man had said that if he wore clothing that had never been worn by someone prior, his body would alter into the shape to 'fit' that body. At the time, he used the example of larger clothing donned would make him transform older.

In the beginning Ashley was not interested, believing that the peddler man was only a charlatan after something much more valuable. The constant niggling in his mind though, kept Ashley returning to the corner throughout the day, and it wasn't until after he had concocted this plan, did he orchestrate the trade.

He pulled off his boots and socks, then proceeded to remove all of his clothing and tossed them into the corner in his own room. Ashley stood in his sister's room completely naked, then crouched and stretched out beneath his youngest sister's bed and pulled out a package held closed by a long string. He knew it contained clothing that his mother and youngest sister Beth had made for Rachael as a birthday present.

Rachael was fifteen, though only eleven months younger than Ashley, she was already blossoming into a spectacular beauty in her own rite. True, she was his sister, but of late, Ashley noticed her young, pert bosom filling out the bodice of her dresses. He knew from overhearing his mother telling Beth that this new dress would fit her sister well into adulthood as she made enough room in the bodice for her blossoming breasts.

After hearing that talk between mother and sister, his strange thoughts slowly swayed from wonderment of Rachael's changing body, to that of how and why her body was changing. Somehow he wondered what it was like for her as sometime she seemed so aloof and naive, when other times she was calculating and smoldering with an erotic vibrancy. Often, it didn't seem that she was really trying, but somehow he could see his sister slowly transforming before his very eyes and it was that development which confounded him.

The youth shook the thoughts from his head. If the item worked as the peddler said, he would know soon enough. Slowly, almost reverently, Ashley unfolded the item from the cloth. Within its confinement was a small pendant on a necklace. Neither was much to look at, but the power that it may wield would be awesome to experience...if it were true.

He knew that should the charm work, it could only be reversed after twelve full hours simply by touching something that he once wore against it. Glancing down toward the clock in their kitchen, he saw that it was almost one. Ashley knew that once it started the transformation, there would be no going back until into the early hours of the morning. He also knew that if it did indeed work, he wanted to spend a day or two in the form he altered himself into.

He paused a moment and pondered his chores. Should he stay for two days as a female, he would still have to do the chores. Ashley considered the extra effort it may be to complete those chores in a weaker body, but convinced himself that if other females he knew could do them...he could too.

He sat the necklace with the charm aside and gently pulled the strings on the package. He swallowed hard as it opened to reveal a pastel colored yellow gingham dress with white around the collar. He held it out and examined it. His mother's hard work and abilities were evident as the dress was very well made and quite beautiful to look at. The garment was just the perfect gift for a very feminine young woman that Rachael was becoming.

The dress went almost to the floor, ending in a plethora of ruffles which raced around the base of its skirt. Sandwiched among the yellow gingham ruffles, the central material was white. The sleeves were loose at the wrist and also had a slight ring of white ruffles among the yellow. A wide white sash was stitched into the dress and would tie off into a bow in the back.

As Ashley held it up admiring it, a bonnet fell from where it had been folded into the dress. It too was yellow trimmed in white lace. The youth picked it up and examined it; the stitching on the bonnet was not as well done but it was remarkably good for something that a youngster such as Beth could do.

As the youth laid down the dress, he noticed that also in the package was a pair of new bloomers, obviously made by Beth. He slowly pulled them up over his hips and tied the draw string. Gathering the dress he pulled it over his head and allowed it to settle downward toward his bare feet. It puckered out loosely where her breasts would have been. Carefully he placed the bonnet upon his head and tied the bow at his chest, then turned back toward the necklace.

Gathering it up, he allowed it to spin freely for several moments. Taking a hopeful sigh he allowed it to touch him ever so slightly. The resulting tingle caused Ashley to begin to search for the bee which had just stung him, apparent it had been hiding out in the loose folds of the clothing.

Shaking the material revealed nothing, bee or otherwise that could have stung the panicked youth. Remarkably, Ashley began seeing a subtle change to his hands and realized, perhaps the necklace might be the real thing! Carefully he re-wrapped it and returned the cloth to his hiding place.

Examining his hands even more closely, he watched in awe as his fingers became more slender and the nails elongated slightly into a more oval shape. He giggled and sought out his sister's looking glass, the reflection it returned was simply short of amazing.

His blue eyes seemed even bluer, almost crystalline in appearance. His lashes began to lengthen, even darken and curve ever so upward. Even the simple shape of his eyes seemed different, more open and rounder than before. The contours of his face softened as his nose narrowed slightly, his chin began losing its masculine square-ness right before his stunned eyes. All these changes were happening minutely before his astonished eyes.

Ashley carried the mirror back to Rachael's bed and sat, he glanced toward his feet and realized that they too were changing, growing smaller like those his mother and sisters had. Each foot slowly transformed; dainty digits small and petite replacing his former blocky ones.

Gently raising the hem of the dress he laughed aloud as what had been very hairy legs, were now much less so. Gone were the vast amounts of coarse male hair, replaced with a now sparse and almost non existent feminine variety. Running his dainty hands along the length of his leg, he shuddered at the softness of the skin and sleekness of what appeared there. No longer were they muscular and stocky, but rather femininely slender and lithe.

He felt his hips widening ever so slightly, his waist tapering almost in direct contrast. His maleness began to shrink, slowly being transformed into the female version like he assumed was that of his sisters and mother. He felt a momentary surge of panic, unsure of exactly what he was trying to accomplish going this far and whether it would return when he had to relinquish his ruse. Ashley knew that he had already gone well past 'too far', he must now wait until the early hours of the next morning if he lost his nerve and wanted to return to his old form sooner.

Again he held up the mirror and studied his face, his chin had tapered and softened, leaving him look like a female somewhere between that of his sisters and mothers age. Against the bodice of the dress, he felt a strangeness which could only be caused by now ever expanding feminine nipples. This movement caused him to look down quickly. Gently pushing out against the bodice he glanced down into what could only be described as a 'maturing cleavage' of a growing young woman.

Ashley's bosom began growing outward slowly at first, then as if being filled from within, swelling rapidly until they began to snug up the material of the dress. He again panicked as they started to draw the dress' bodice tighter and tighter, pulling against the buttons that held it closed, using all the room available until they slowed down and stopped altogether. As a female, he would have become the object for many a male suitor to try and woo, scarcely could he believe it was him confined within that gloriously beautiful shell of femininity. For another few agonizingly wonderful minutes Ashley could feel subtle changes working over his body until it finally subsided.

Slowly the former boy stood up and looked down, it was like looking at an older version of Rachael, only from this perspective it was on him. Ashley was now a spectacular vision of the female form, no longer a girl but rather a woman. He...no, this youth could never be considered in the male vernacular, now she was Ashley, a young and beautiful woman of the world. She laughed softly, tears rolling down her flawless cheeks.

Two

Ashley wanted to see the woman she had become in total, and the only way would be to go down to the creek and try to see her own reflection. Slowly Ashley climbed down from the loft and padded barefoot to the door and opened it just a crack. Peering out, feeling confident that he was alone, the once-boy slipped outside.

Picking his way down to the creek only took a few moments, he gingerly knelt beside the stream and gazed upon the girl he had become. "God, I'm very pretty!" He whispered, then laughed as he realized that his voice too had changed to the soft timbre of a female.

In the mirror image of the water, Ashley noticed that he was still wearing the bonnet. The girl in the reflection raised her demure hand and gently pushed it back. As it fell, copious amounts of golden tresses cascaded downward until they came close to touching the very ground she was kneeling upon.

"Oh my God!" Ashley gasped, "It's so long!" He straightened up and felt behind himself, the golden locks ended just above his now shapely bottom. Again leaning over his reflection he admired the beauty he had become.

She had full lips, large eyes which rivaled the color of the sky; thin arched brows, long dark eyelashes and tiny almost petite ears. Her skin was flawless, with a slight hint of the copper color that Ashley had as a male only now, entirely over her whole body. His mother and sisters all shared this light olive colored skin, being told that it was because of his great grandmother's Mediterranean heritage.

Ashley's hips were wider than they had been as a male. Perched above were a much narrower waist and a very full bosom which seemed to be the first thing that his former male eyes were drawn toward. It began as a giggle, erupting into a full blown feminine laugh. Ashley collapsed into the soft grasses and covered his face with soft hands, rocking back and forth in almost inebriated giddiness.

Stretching out along the bank, he lay quietly and stared upward at the clouds, watching them roll slowly by. All around him birds, crickets and the creek itself added to the litany of sounds. Ashley folded his lithe arms behind the back of his beautiful head, cradling the luxurious blond hair as he lay.

It did not take long for the former boy to succumb to slumber under the warmth of the sun, the creek gently babbling, lulling the beautiful changeling into a deep, deep sleep. High overhead two pairs of eyes studied what they thought was a prone girl, lying beside the water's edge.

Three

"Is she daid?" One greasy fellow whispered softly as he peered over the hill.

"Can't be...there, she just moved!" The other spat tobacco in mid sentence, his voice as low as his companion.

The first one looked toward the man at his side, and whispered, "Sure is damn pretty!"

"Where you supposed she's from?" He said hushed, looking around the surrounding area, the house well hidden over the rise by the hill and trees.

"I say, finder's keepers." He laughed, showing his blackened teeth. "And what I find, I plan on keeping!"

"Suppose she's old enough to poke? It's been a good long while since I poked me a pretty lil thing like that-un!" The man laughed softly as he climbed upon the back of his horse.

The other rose from his position and returned to his horse as well, "If she be bleeding, she's old enough for breeding! That's what Pappy always said."

"We'll have to grab her and go. That posse from Gillette isn't very far behind us and we still got to get into Montana afore they get wise on us for doubling back." He glanced back toward the sleeping girl, "We can take turns with the gal after we camp for the night."

The picked their way closer until they closed within half the distance, then they tied their mounts to bushes and continued their decent until they were almost on top the girl. In a bull rush of a move, they were on her.

Ashley felt a hand close over his mouth, the sudden weight on top of him forcing his air outward quickly. Upon opening his eyes he looked straight into the lustful gaze of a very filthy and unkempt man. He struggled and kicked about, until another greasy looking man grabbed at his feet and quickly tied them to prevent his movement. "I'm Clem and this here's Emmett, you quit your struggling and we won't be bringing any hurt on you!" He smiled evilly and spat, the blackened string of tobacco juice spittle threaded across his lower lip. "Well...not much." He began to snicker.

The former boy did the only thing he could at the time; he bit down hard on the man's leather gloved hand that was held over his mouth. For his efforts, he was backhanded hard. The impact caused Ashley's head to spin, sending him into a darkened spiral of unconsciousness.

As he came to, his hands and feet were tied and he was flopped over the saddle face down, held in place by one of his captors strong hands. A gag on his mouth prevented him from crying out. Ashley's only vantage was of the man's boot, the horses' legs and ground. The sky had darkened considerably, evident that night was closing fast and he had been out for quite some time.

"You see him up there?" the man with Ashley asked of his companion.

"I see him, been a tailing us for almost an hour. It's probably one of the scout trackers from that damn posse chasing after us! They must have figured out that we doubled back on them."

"Ya think you can dust him? I don't want anybody following us." He continued, "That-un gets away and he'll be bringing that damn posse on top of us afore long."

"You know I can. I'll make it quick; especially when we've got a pretty little girlie to bed down with us for the night!"

He rode up beside and Ashley felt a hard smack against his well-formed feminine backside, "Don't be a starting no festivities without me Honey!"

The slap caused tears to sting Ashley's eyes, so now besides worrying about escape, he had other reasons to fear for his life. He was now a woman and these men only wanted to do those things to him that a man and woman would do. And that scared the complete hell out of him.

The rider above Ashley reined his horse and climbed down, it became evident that he was listening. After almost ten full minutes, a sharp report echoed, bouncing among the rocks that surrounded them. He felt a hand slowly caress his feminine bottom, then squeeze slightly.

"Now sweet thing," he laughed, "you'll get to feel what a real man feel's like...and soon!" His laugh caused Ashley to shudder, a movement not missed by her captor.

He walked around the horse and faced the former boy, still hanging over the saddle and raised Ashley's head up, using the long blond hair like a handle. Ashley stared into the man's eyes, fearful of his captor as he worked the gag from his feminine mouth.

"How bout a quick kiss afore Clem gets back?" He pulled Ashley's face close and began to kiss lips that had no intention of being kissed. Ashley struggled to pull away but the man held onto the golden hair to keep the captive still and began an attempt at probing his tongue inside the girl's mouth.

Ashley bit down hard causing the man to jerk away quickly, once freed from the forceful hold, he spit blood from Emmett's tongue toward the ground. Emmett also spat his own blood. He stormed back toward Ashley as she still hung over the saddle. "You little Bitch!"

The dirty cowboy swung hard and struck Ashley with the backside of his hand, the force making the young captive go limp. He grabbed her by her hair and pulled her face first from the back of the horse. She struck the ground with her cheek and fell into the dust hard.

Four

Ashley woke well into the evening; both of her captors were snoring soundly beside the glowing coals of their fire. Rising up slightly, the youth began to look around for any avenue of escape.

Head throbbing with pain, dried blood clung to his feminine cheek. The youth was not trussed up far away from them, wrists tied behind his back and a long rope securely tied around a now slender throat. Using a tongue to probe, Ashley found his lip to be quite swollen. Overhead, the moon was almost full, riding high in the sky.

Ashley sat up, the bodice of her dress fell open, completely undone allowing her newly minted breasts to sway with the feminine movement. The skirt of her dress was up around her waist, the bloomers gone altogether and Ashley's inner thighs ached profusely.

The former boy glared toward the men who obviously raped him while in the throws of unconsciousness and began to dig at the binds that held small feminine hands secure. After all that has happened, the former male could not refer to himself as a he. What boy has breasts as large as these hanging from his chest? What male could ever look the way Ashley does and still believe of himself as a he. Sadly Ashley looked into the fire, he was nothing now...after being raped and possibly impregnated by these two captors, plunging themselves into his...his maidenhead, Ashley no longer felt he could claim that realm of manhood, for that was something which only could happen to a full fledged woman.

Beautiful, yet hardened eyes focused intently upon the sleeping men. She was working feverishly to untie the knots behind her slender back Ashley thought about what had been done this day and the stupid thing she had planned! Now out here in God only knows where, she was alone, had been beaten, raped and tied. She no longer had any idea how long she had been unconscious, was it only one or two days? Three days, possibly a week?

Her face paled, who would care for the animals? What would her parents say when they returned and found that Rachael's dress was missing. Her heart fell; tears began welling in her eyes. Redoubling her efforts she concentrated on the knot that held her wrists, she must return home and put things back the way they were before her family returned home. If it were at all possible; she must find a way.

Her heart skipped as she felt a knot slip slightly. Focusing her attention she began to feel more and more of the knot sliding, soon the rope fell loose enough for her to remove her slender wrists. Once free, she untied the knot that had been at her throat.

Stealthy she picked up a log about as thick and long as a man's arm. Carefully, holding it in her two diminutive hands, she approached the first sleeping man she knew as Clem. With a Herculean swing, she clove his face in, killing him instantly. No sound was made other than the cracking bone of the now deceased man. She now stepped toward the man Emmett, & swung hard.

As she was in her downward swing, Emmett opened his eyes and managed to get a hand up enough to deflect the blow. The swing was enough though that the glancing blow knocked him momentarily unconscious and allowed Ashley the briefest opportunity to escape. In a panic, she ran toward the horses with an eye still toward the men, grabbed up a handful of mane and struggled onto its back. Her dress making the movement onto the back so difficult, that she had to try mounting the horse twice.

That the horses were not tied up surprised Ashley, for only a trained horse will not roam unless tethered. It was apparent that these horses were ground trained. With a swift kick in the side, she urged the startled animal with her sense of urgency.

As she turned the horse, Emmett was slowly rolling over, struggling to gain his feet. Ashley rode by fast, striking the staggering man with the shoulder and chest of her stolen horse. He fell backwards and out of sight as she rode on into the darkness.

Five

Ashley picked her way along the trail in the darkness, the moonlight seemed to be enough light for now. She then turned and followed a clear path up to higher ground, that path led up and over the foothill of the mountain, then down into a flatter section that appeared to be the beginnings of a valley.

She was trying to find any recognizable landmark that would point her into the direction of home and allow her the chance of changing back to the boy she used to be. Nothing though revealed to the girl the location of where she found herself to be.

Pausing beside a small creek she climbed down from the beast and cleaned herself up. The horse stepped into the water and began to drink. While she refastened the hooks of her sisters ruined bodice, trapping the unfamiliar breasts in place once again. Ashley ran her thin fingers through the long unkempt hair in an attempt to comb it out. After several minutes doing this, she felt it decent enough to continue.

A slight noise behind her caused her to turn quickly, there coming out from the brush walked Emmett. His head bloodied, his look at her was of seething anger. She measured the distance between the horse, the vile man, and herself in her mind; escape once again prevalent in her thoughts.

She quickly scrambled toward the horse, this caused Emmett to move quickly to intercept. He caught up with Ashley as she was attempting to climb onto the back, and with a hard jerk, drug her back into the water. The bodice of her dress began quickly tearing under the stress of his attack; once again exposing her feminine form to her attacker.

As he was bending over her, he swung hard and slapped the flailing girl across the face. The force of the blow threw her head backward into the water. The man crouched above her and held her by her shoulders, forcing her head to beneath the surface of the water. The girl knew that unless she acted quickly, she would be drowned soon. Her hands fought and clawed at the face of her attacker, only causing him to redouble his efforts in drowning his victim.

Her small hands rapidly raced along the gravel, kicking up small stones and dirt on the floor of the river. Desperation crowed her panic stricken mind as she could feel her life slowly being eked out by this evil man. Above her, the water caused a distortion to the face of pure and evil hatred; her life now lay in the balance of immediate escape.

Somehow Ashley found a substantial rock, big enough to use as a formidable weapon, yet small enough for her to lift in her weakened state. She forcefully drove it into the man's head, again and again. After several blows to his head, the man fell into the water, blood coursing from his seemingly fatal wounds.

Ashley pushed him off and struggled to her feet. Staggering and coughing she made her way to the bank of the river, she cried in tired desperation as she lay half in half out at the edge and watched Emmett's body float away face down, pulled along by the current of the river.

Slowly she crawled back toward the horse, her dress wet and heavy from the vicious attack she just experienced. Ashley's muscles ached as she pulled herself onto the back of the horse; slowly drawing her weak legs over its back took supreme effort. The water ran down the horse's side as it dripped from her sisters wet and torn dress.

She lay prone along its back until she could gather her wits, long wheezing gasps came until she regained control. Her long golden hair dripping and stuck against her face; as she coughed up much of the water she had swallowed.

Ashley gently nudged the horse forward, following the creek & hoping that it would take her toward home. She struggled up, her shoulders sagged with exhaustion; riding slowly until she could regain her strength. After several hours, she heard horses and slowly raised her head up. Struggling into a better position she quickly began searching for an avenue of escape.

Panic once again reared her head as she felt fear racing throughout her system. "Oh, not again!" she cried as she attempted to guide her horse off the current path she was riding on. She reacted too late as within seconds the mounted horsemen rounded the bend and made a bee-line directly toward her.

Six

Her panic began to build the closer they came, her fingers gathering the torn material in an attempt to cover her nakedness. As they came into view she could make out a star on the foremost rider's chest, this must be the posse that had been trailing her attackers. She remembered hearing that mentioned while she had been tied over the saddle.

He held up his hand as the rest of the group reigned in beside him, "You okay?" he asked as he noticed the disheveled look Ashley presented.

Ashley nodded, tears of relief coursed down his cheeks. Her head lowered and blond unkempt hair spilled forward covering her sobbing face. The sheriff dug behind his saddle bag and untied a blanket, rode closer to the crying girl and draped it around her shoulders.

"We're searching for two men. They robbed a bank in Gillette...they killed two while getting away. Did...did they do this to you?"

Ashley nodded slowly, through her sobbing she told them what she knew. "They kidnapped...and then raped me," she cried for her violation, "I...I heard them say that a posse was after them."

The sheriff looked around to the other men on their horses. "What's your name honey?" The man spoke softly; the name he used was almost fatherly.

"Ashley...Ashley Orville," was her almost inaudible reply.

"Okay now, Ashley, can you remember the location of where you escaped them?" He leaned close to her as they talked; the girl rocked forward and began to cry harder. "Please honey, we need to catch these criminals before they do anyone else anymore harm."

"I heard them say that they killed your scout that you had trailing them," she looked down at her hands and lowered her head, her eyes adverting from those of the sheriff; she replied in a soft voice, trembling with fear. "They won't be hurting anyone...ever again."

He slowly pulled his head back, pushing his hat up as he scrutinized her expression, "Well that explains why we haven't heard from Old Blue Dog our tracker." He watched her as he realized what she had just said, "What do you mean by saying, they won't be hurting anyone again, Ashley?"

Ashley swallowed hard, hesitatingly looking upward toward the older man. "I...I killed them."

The sheriff looked backward toward his men, "The hell...how could a little bitty woman kill those two grown men? I mean, I ain't gonna cry for em at all but how did you do it?"

Ashley scowled at him and sat up, "After I was raped, I hit one in the face with a big broken branch while he slept. He died right where he lay."

"You sure he's dead?" he asked studying her eyes as a barometer of truth.

"He's dead all right," she looked away, ashamed for what she had done, "But he deserved it!" She regained her anger and threw it back. "He raped me!"

"You did the right thing little miss. What about the other one?" asked the sheriff.

"He attacked me at the river and tried to kill me...he almost drowned me, but I struck him in the head with a rock and watched him float away face-down."

"How far away was that?" He looked up at the men who surrounded him and the distraught female.

"This morning I think," she replied softly.

He glanced around. "Ike, help Ashley find her way home. The rest of you, lets go and find those two!"

As his horse turned he swung his head around to Ashley, "If what you told me is true, there'll be a reward coming for you." With that the horses thundered off in the direction from where Ashley had ridden.

Trailing Ashley's tracks till almost dusk, then starting up again in the morning; half of the posse going downriver, the other half following her horse's trail up into the high country. By mid morning, the posse came across Emmett's body snagged on a log, and by noon they had found her trail to where the body of Clem still lay.

Seven

As soon as Ashley recognized the terrain near the family's farm she broke off from the man called Ike, who was eager to return on the hunt for the two fugitives. Ashley picked her way up the trail until once again standing in the safe confines of the Barn.

Guiding the horse to a stall, Ashley struggled in her weakened state to remove the saddle and blanket. Quickly throwing grain into a bag, Ashley raced toward the house, altering her body back into the form she used to be her only thought.

Throwing her diminutive stride up and across the porch she launched her hand to the door and swung it aside. Ashley practically flew up the stairs and retrieved the odd little necklace from its hiding place. She struggled out of the shredded clothing and found the shirt she had worn when she was still a young male.

Closing her beautiful eyes in prayer, she pinned the charm to herself with the cloth and eagerly waited. After a full minute had passed, nothing happened. Ashley repeated the process again; in a panic, she grew fearful and distraught.

Terror pierced her heart, again and again Ashley desperately tried to evoke the change, but to no avail. She fell to the floor and bawled, tears cascading down her cheeks as she realized that somehow she was hopelessly trapped in this form...perhaps forever.

As if in a trance, she contemplated how she would explain her change to the family. The blow to her father and mother would be crushing, she wasn't even sure she could look them into the eyes again. Collapsing onto the floor she wailed at her predicament, wishing death before facing the wrath of her own family.

Eight

Upon their return, Ashley's parents found a very disheveled and distraught woman in their home. Although she claimed that she was their son Ashley, and had somehow transformed into this woman in their presence. Added to this preposterous notion, she was wearing the very dress that had been made for their daughter for her birthday! Now no longer suitable for anyone to be wearing, torn and ruined the way it was.

Ashley had underestimated the level of anger from her father, for no longer would he speak with his former son, effectively cutting him off from his world and shunning him as he might a mangy cur. Every fitful night since their return, Ashley would cry herself to sleep. No longer part of her family, but a transformed soul; like a ghost, just a stranger in the house.

Always she would return to the strange little necklace, but with each unsuccessful attempt to regain her once male body, she felt further and further an outsider in her own family. For almost two weeks she tried, each time becoming less and less hopeful to return to her true form.

By the end of the third week the sheriff from Gannett rode up to the house and asked for Ashley, and seated himself at the porch. It was a clear morning as Ashley's mother and sisters all found their way to the porch. Ashley stepped out of the house wearing one of her mothers cast off dresses; however only a sister stood near her.

"Ladies." He tipped his hat and smiled, "I told you that if we found the men who robbed the bank, and uh...kidnapped and raped you, we would see you got the reward. We did find them and the reward is yours. It ain't much, considering what hell you went through, maam, but the two of them together got you a tidy little sum of a thousand dollars."

Her trembling fingers took the money offered from the sheriff, but it was promptly, albeit gently removed from her hand by her mother. The man noticed and cleared his throat, "She alright?" He questioned the older woman.

"We..we don't know who she is! The girl keeps claiming to be our son," she replied perplexed.

"...Your son's girl then?" he asked, confused with her whole statement. "I'm not following your lead, maam."

"No sir sheriff, this girl thinks she IS my son." Her seriousness played out upon her concerned face as she eyed the oldest blond girl, the female claiming to be Ashley.

"Maam, I'm not sure if you've looked in the mirror lately, but this girl here is a dead ringer for you and these other two females on this porch. She was raped for God's sake and that sort of act has a way of addling a young gal's mind." He frowned as he looked from Ashley toward her mother.

Ashley's face deadened, she lost the expression she once had. "I might as well have died that..." She stopped in mid sentence and covering her mouth ran from the porch.

The sheriff scowled at the three women who watched Ashley running away, "I have never, ever witnessed cold hearted females as the likes of you. Are you so damned unfeeling that you can't help one of your own trying to sort her way through all of this! Christ almighty!" He strode off after the girl, but stopped at the end of the porch.

He slowly turned and walked back toward Ashley's mother. "I think your troubles may have just gotten bigger, she's out there puking up her guts right now!" He frowned and studied Ashley's mother for a moment. "She been sick long?"

The older woman slowly made her way to the end of the porch, seeing the female who claimed to be her son clinging to a fence rail in support. The girl in her view wiped her mouth with a trembling hand. Her mind retraced the past week, recalling how often the girl became ill. It was as though a complete realization went off inside this older woman's head, a recollection she herself had displayed early on at least three times long ago.

The sheriff walked up behind Ashley's mother, "She needs your help, with what that young gal is going to be through, she needs all the help she can get."

In confused silence she studied the ill woman, whispering in tired exasperation. "What of my Ashley...did he ever exist?"

The sheriff sadly shook his head, feeling like he was the only sane one on the property. "Maam, if there's anything else I can do...you can find me in Gillette. He hesitated, then turned and walked quickly to his horse. Tipping his hat to those on the porch he turned the horse and galloped away.

Nine

Over the week that followed the sheriff's visit, Ashley's illness returned again and again. Between her battles of the illness, the family's distancing of themselves began to take their toll on the girl. Often while she was outside and approaching the house, she could hear words of frantic discussion until she entered. Once inside, the demeanor changed to an eerie silence with apprehensive gazes were directed her way.

The few conversations she had with her sisters after that were as though she was a stranger, pleasant and courteous but aloof and without substance. She no longer felt as though she was a part of the family, more like an outsider staying with acquaintances.

Her mind was one of turmoil, having to accept what punishment that damn necklace had issued was bad enough; but dealing with the constant reminders of what she had become would have been enough. Every time she saw her reflection, used the privy, dressed for the day she was reminded that all of this was her own doing and she regretted it immensely.

The days grew worse for the distraught girl, as her father avoided her and began eating his meals when Ashley was not around. When their glances would meet, it was as though he was embarrassed, confused and in denial of what his son had somehow become.

After one particularly long day grew into an uncomfortable evening, Ashley found herself in bed. Tears glistened in her eyes as she listened to the conversation below between her parents discussing what was about to transpire with the young woman in their care, thinking they were alone. They spoke low, but with the absence of a full floor separating the loft, the girl could hear everything being said.

"It's done. I worked it out with Samuel in town," her father said as he entered the house from the barn.

"What's done?" the voice of his mother asked. "What have you done?"

"The girl...I found a place for the girl." He sighed, boots thudding as he walked to the nail where he hung his hat. "Samuel has a son living in the Dakotas; he's agreed to take her as his wife."

"Sight unseen?" she asked, shock written on her expression.

"He's probably lonely," he replied innocently.

"Does Samuel's son know she's with child?" the woman's voice asked with a hint of sadness. "Most men wouldn't want to care for a child that isn't their own. Lonely indeed! He probably looks like an Ogre!"

"He's no ogre, he is big, but no ogre," he replied tersely to his wife.

Ashley sat up, and rolled toward the edge of her bed, and tried to see all the way down into the kitchen. So unbelieving what her mother had just said. She felt tears burning her eyes as she realized that her own battle with the sudden illness had implications far beyond just simple influenza.

Her bottom lip quivered in the darkness as she felt the total loss of hope ebb from her body. Her hands once again flew to the medallion, in desperation she pressed it with an old shirt she had worn as a boy. Praying desperately she implored the little medallion to once again perform it's magic.

As had occurred countless times before, no tingle, nothing, just an absence of anything happening. The overwhelming feeling of hopelessness enveloped the girl. Trapped, alone and unloved as if in a house of strangers. The girl threw herself into her pillow and sobbed deeply.

Now a great multitude of demons swung through the troubled girl's mind, each far more hideous than its predictor. Ashley clutched at her pillow and bawled, burying her face in the cool material at the news. The deep sobbing from the terrified girl was subdued enough that those below heard nothing; they continued their conversation all the while, thinking they were alone.

The woman took a drink of her tea and Ashley could hear the clink of the cup as it returned to its place on the saucer. "Okay, so we send her off...that takes care of the girl but what about our son?"

Her father's voice rose in pitch slightly angry, "That girl ain't our son...get that right in your head woman...that ain't our Ashley! Our Ashley probably concocted this scheme to try and rattle us; he's always been trying that sort of stuff!"

"For a month?" Her mother's voice snapped back incredulously. "Then what's become of our Ashley? Somehow he's gone and there's a girl HERE saying she's him!" Her voice trembled and then grew almost hushed. "She knows so much of the things that our Ashley knew, much of it only things HE could know!"

Her father pulled his chair out, making a strange grating sound as it slid along the wood planking of their floor. Sitting down he sighed and ran his hands through his graying hair. "I honestly don't know what to do, or if what I just set up with Samuel is right. I want to believe the girl, but what she wants us to believe is impossible to fathom! She keeps claiming it's some damn necklace and we've both watched her try to use it but nothing happens every single time she touches it to herself."

"Have you tried using it on something?" she asked softly, to which her husband grunted in the negative. "I'm afraid of it...I don't trust it. You?"

"No. I won't touch it." She paled considering what he said.

"You talk like it has special powers or something?" He shook his head. "It's a damn excuse. We'll find Ashley soon, you'll see."

"And if we don't?" she asked sullenly. "What if somehow in a strange way, our Ashley has been twisted and contorted into that body of the girl?"

Her father began to nervously drum his fingers against the table. "Then that's a bridge we'll have to cross together as a family."

The sounds came out as though someone was pouring something, then she heard a spoon slowly stirring as it 'tinkled' against the side of the cup. "We could be sending our own grandchild away," the woman reminding her husband of the pregnancy involved.

"I thought about that," he said with a sigh, "Maybe after awhile, we can bring her back for a visit...and she could bring the youngin?"

"If she comes back here; people are still going to want to know who she is. If she IS our Ashley, won't they be wondering why our son and the girl have the same name?" She ran her hand over her mouth; her gaze was focused onto the floor in deep thought.

The silence between them grew deafening; nothing was said for several minutes. "Maybe we could visit her and the child then? Lord knows I don't want to lose the opportunity of knowing my grandchild if I am wrong." He at last whispered the fatherly tenderness once again prevalent in his voice. Ashley could tell that this whole issue was very troubling on her father, even though he wasn't showing it on the surface.

"You mean, if WE are wrong," she said as she moved her hand over to grasp his.

He nodded slowly as her words took on great meaning, lifting a weight from his shoulders by letting him know he was not alone in this decision. "..if WE are wrong," he sighed.

"I feel as though we're sending the girl away to prison." Her mother sighed and sobbed slightly. Almost a full minute passed before she wondered aloud, "Do you think that either...Ashley or Samuel's son will feel differently about the child knowing that it is the result of a rape?"

Movement downstairs sounded muffled as though her father and mother were in an embrace. "Is Samuel's son a good man?" she asked softly.

"For his sake, he'd better be!" was her father's reply. "I feel so damn guilty sending her away like we are that he had better be a good husband to her."

"How soon will she be leaving here?" the female questioned. "And what of the reward money?"

"It's her money, she'll need it...but, some will have to buy traveling clothes and a train ticket."

The woman cried, wiped her nose and reached out with a trembling hand and took another sip of her tea. "So, there's no way she can stay with us here?"

The man sighed deeply, "She isn't married, and she's with child...the folks around these parts would have a field day gossiping with all that. No. it's better if we send her off to be married. At least there she can have some sort of life."

"She's only with child because of a rape! That has to count for something!" she pleaded, knowing what his answer would be.

"No. She can't stay. The embarrassment of a bastard child will be all our ruin," he admonished his wife for her speaking out. "I'll miss the child...but this is for the best!"

"I think it's you that are embarrassed! You'll miss the child, you say...but which child is it that you will actually miss? Your son, the girl he became or the grandchild we may never know?" In her anger she spun and stormed into their bedroom, slamming the door behind her.

Her father stood alone in the room, mulling his wife's last comment and whispered, in a voice seeping deep with emotion, "I'll miss...all of them." Then Ashley listened as her father broke down sobbing.

She rolled onto her back as the room below grew quiet, tears rolled backward toward her ear. She had never heard her father cry before, it did show he cared. Somehow in his own strange way he really cared about what happened to her.

Slowly, the sounds below grew quiet and she heard him go into their bedroom as well. She could still hear talking but it was muffled because of the closed door. She settled back into her bed and thought about the conversation she had just heard. She felt another tear quickly roll back toward her ear, and thought of the times she will miss under the roof of this old home. Those times were about to abruptly end for her. Now her days would be filled with a child and a husband she had never met.

Ten

The impending marriage to the stranger and news of her own pregnancy was too much for the poor girl to fathom, she lay in the darkness and cry softly for her own actions which put additional weight of her predicament into motion. Often she heard the discussions of her parents and each time it drove home the fact that her days on that little farm were numbered.

Once again her night began with a discussion below; the sorrow in her parent's voice reminded her that while she was still loved; they as yet couldn't understand the terror she felt at being abandoned by her family. She began to feel like an orphan living among people who were her parents and siblings.

Ashley's emotions were a wreck, often crying for no reason. Her looming future though gave her a real reason to be tearful. As she lay in bed one evening, she pushed the tear away and turned toward movement nearby, it was her sisters as they approached the bed. "We heard momma and daddy talking earlier about you." Rachael whispered softly.

"Have you been crying?" Beth asked as she took her thumb and wiped away one of Ashley's tears. "You are crying."

"Poor dear.." Rachael maternally whispered as she hugged the young woman before her.

Ashley sat up in, Beth sat at the end and Rachael knelt beside the bed. "Is it true that they are going to marry you off?" asked Beth, handing Ashley a kerchief she had tucked into the sleeve of her nightdress.

"I guess so..I don't want to leave, but pa is probably for the best." Ashley sighed, dabbing the corners of her eyes.

Rachael pursed her lip and looked around. "You going to try using that little medal thing again once the baby is born?" Ashley could tell that her question wasn't out of concern, perhaps only small talk.

Ashley looked toward where she had stored the necklace, "I guess I will, if it'll let me."

"Then you can come back home!" smiled Beth. "But what if you don't want to change back?"

"I can't see that happening." Ashley said with a laugh, "The last thing I ever wanted was to be stuck looking like this for longer than a day or two!"

"What about the baby? You going to leave your husband with a child, a child you brought into this earth?" Rachael said, reminding Ashley of what was to come.

"I...I don't know. I have no clue what I'm going to do." Ashley sighed.

Beth looked toward Rachael as if there was something the two wanted to ask; finally Ashley spoke upon seeing their exchange. "Okay, out with it..."

"Why did you do it? Why did you want to look like this?" Rachael asked, indicating Ashley's body.

Ashley shrugged. "I just wanted to see what it was like to be a girl."

Beth replied without thinking, "Yeah. You found out the hard way, didn't you?"

Ashley frowned and looked away; Rachael glared at her younger sister and continued their questioning. "What was it like to have sex...you having started out life as a boy and all?"

Ashley laughed. "I wouldn't know...they did it to me while I was unconscious. Frankly, it couldn't have been too good for them as I didn't even struggle and must have just laid there like a dead fish."

"Guys like that just want to get off inside you and could care less whether you are participating or not," replied Rachael callously.

"And you would know this...how?" Beth shot back, a smug look on her face.

"And now I guess I'm pregnant." Ashley sighed, interrupting their spat. "I have a tiny, living human growing inside of me right now!" she said almost reverently, stroking the flatness of her stomach.

"What's that feel like? To be pregnant?" Beth wondered aloud.

"I really don't know, I have yet to feel a thing," Ashley said as she adjusted her pillow behind her back. "I suppose it's early...but I'm not really eager to experience it yet. Maybe momma is wrong and I'm not pregnant, that's possible isn't it?"

"It's possible, but not likely." Beth tapped Ashley's foot to get her undivided attention, "You've been this girl for what? It's been a month now hasn't it?"

Ashley considered her question then replied, "I've been one for a little more than a month, why?"

"If you haven't had your monthly cycle yet, most likely you are pregnant. All of that illness, the throwing up and nausea you've experienced...it's the early signs of pregnancy," her words were like a hammer to the forehead, Ashley sat in stunned silence. "The smells of things will clue you in as well; some of the things you loved will suddenly want to make you vomit! All that's been going on and missing your monthly are clues to pregnancy."

"I don't even know what a monthly is?" Ashley sighed, knowing that there was so much more that she would need to learn while trapped in this form. "If I haven't had one, how will I know I've had it?"

Rachael almost laughed and then held it after seeing the gravity of the situation in Ashley's frightened eyes. "Women get stomach cramps and bleeding once a month, from down there." She pointed toward the bed where she could make out the join between Ashley's legs and hips.

Beth added, "Momma always says, having a monthly...is a good thing, not having a monthly...very bad. Unless of course, you are trying to get pregnant...then it's the other way around."

Ashley stared at the covers in shock at what her sisters had just divulged, like some unwritten secret door into an ancient kingdom. However instead of walking through it as most 'real' women would, Ashley felt as though she was pushed through it. Rachael broke her trance as she gently touched her arm.

"I haven't had one of those, if I didn't...I'm pretty sure I'd remember," she sadly looked down, looking almost as though she wanted to cry again.

"We just wanted to let you know that no matter what happens, we're still your sisters and love you in any form." They each hugged Ashley and slowly stood up. "We want to be able to visit you when you're married off...that is, if you'll have us."

"You'll always be welcome. But I'm not sure I plan on getting married," Ashley added, thankful they changed the subject away from becoming a mother. "I don't think I am ready for that little step of womanhood."

"Ash, if you think that will be your biggest step - tell that to the baby while it's nursing on your breast." Rachael laughed, "Marriage will seem so easy compared to going through having that child."

Ashley looked toward her sisters with seriousness. "I'm not sure I want the baby, I didn't ask for it! It wasn't like I was a 'real' girl and wanted a child; I was raped and I'm not sure I can find a way to love a child conceived in that manner!"

"When the time comes, you'll know what to do." Rachael said as she hugged Ashley goodnight, Beth followed her sister's lead and headed to bed.

As they neared the doorway, Ashley softly called out to them. "I love you guys...thanks!"

"Love you too, Ash. You'll see, it'll all work out for you." With a slight wave they turned from their troubled sister and headed back toward their own bed.

With trepidation, Ashley closed her eyes and attempted to sleep, knowing that her time at home was drawing rapidly to a close. She rolled to her side, her breasts laying one over another. Ashley sighed, adjusting them for her comfort; longing for those days where this issue never reared its ugly head. It was going to be an awfully long night.

Eleven

Ashley stood in the kitchen and felt the flutter once again, it was a strange little twitching somewhere deep within her stomach. She could only compare it to if you had somehow caught a moth and was holding it against the window; the fluttering you would feel in your hand, was similar to what she was feeling inside. She had felt it twice before, the first only a day after she had heard the conversation between her parents. The second flutter was felt only yesterday.

The mood in the house seemed somber, although both parents were speaking to the girl once again. The realization that Ashley was leaving finally hit them as they were gathering her belongings for the ride to the train station. Ashley quietly folded the dresses donated by her mother into a bag and pulled the draw closed, her mother chattering away about this or that.

"Papa wired $750.00 of the reward money to the bank near where Samuel's son lives; you have $100.00 sewn into your bodice. Only get into that if you have an emergency. You have $150.00 cash money to purchase your ticket and have for the trip." So there, I think that about covers it."

"Momma, I know the ticket will be well under $50.00, and I shouldn't need more than a few dollars to get me where I'm going. I want you and pa to keep this for whatever you need." Ashley handed her mother a 100 dollar bill.

Her mother looked down at the offered money, slowly pushing it back toward Ashley. We can't take your money, Ashley, after the way we've been to you this past month or so...it wouldn't be right."

"It's because I love you, that I want you and Papa to have it; put it into the bank and use it someday to come and visit me." The girl forced a smile, trying to put on a brave front.

Hesitantly her mother took the bill and folded it carefully, when she looked up she had tears in her eyes. "I don't want to send you away..." she said as she began to cry.

"I know momma, but for the family, it's something I have to do." Ashley drew her close with a hug. "I'll write as often as I can, I promise."

While they were speaking, Beth slipped out of the room and climbed into the loft. After several minutes she returned to the kitchen. "Rachel and I want you to have this."

Ashley looked down; it was an ornate wooden box with a small lock. "You got that from mama and papa. You should keep it."

"We want you to have it. If you get lonesome or worried, write your troubles down and put them into this box and lock them away." Rachel smiled and gave Ashley a hug, Beth followed with a kiss, "When it gets full, bury it; that way all your troubles will be locked away and gone. Don't close the hasp fully though, if that gets closed it needs the key to unlock it...so I guess don't lose the key either."

Ashley smiled at her younger sister's naive wisdom; she would miss that optimistic reasoning from them. The four women stood in the kitchen, saying their last goodbyes, the door opened up, and in the doorway, stood her father. "Team's hitched up; I guess we're ready to go."

Ashley turned toward her sisters, tears of realization glistened her eyes, "I'm going to miss you two."

They both came to Ashley's side and hugged her. "I'll write you, Ash. I promise."

"I'll hold you to it." She wiped at her eyes in a very unladylike manner, turned toward her mother and gave her another hug. "Are you coming with us to town?"

"No honey. I don't think I could handle seeing you leaving." She dried her eyes and kissed Ashley's cheek. "Let us know once that baby is close, we can come to help if you need it." She sat down at the table and fidgeted with her kerchief.

Ashley looked toward her sisters; Beth had her arm resting around her mother's neck. Rachael looked quickly toward her mom, "We're going to stay with momma, as she'll probably going to need us." Ashley nodded as Rachael spoke.

Ashley gave her mother's hand a loving squeeze. "I love you momma." She locked onto her mother's sorrowful gaze, "No matter what's happened, I'll always love you momma." Tenderly she bent down and kissed her mother, straightened up and walked out of the house...not because she wanted to, but because it was something she had to do.

Papa pulled the door closed behind them and helped Ashley with her bag by putting it into the bed of the wagon. He hesitated and offered to help Ashley into the wagon seat; it felt strange for Ashley but she allowed his assistance. As soon as he had settled into the seat, he snapped the reins and they began to roll away from the farm.

Ashley looked back at the buildings until they had disappeared from sight. With a deep sigh, she turned around and faced forward. "It's going to be a mite strange without you being here," her father said softly.

"I know papa," she replied. "I know you and momma are doing what is best for me."

"It might be best, but I'll sure not like it," he grimaced. "It's one of the hardest things I have ever done."

Twelve

The chugging train sat at rest like some great iron beast, belching thick black smoke as it anticipated the start of the journey. Ashley sat and stared disbelievingly at her father as he stood on the deck of the station watching as it slowly began to move.

Tears were in his eyes as he waived goodbye to his eldest child, his lip was quivering as he forced a smile to his daughter. Ashley sat there and watched as the train began to roll faster, waived slightly to her father as her view was cut off by the window's edge.

Had she been able to see him entirely, she would have known that her father stood on that platform watching until long after the train chugged from sight. Lost in thoughts that were all his own.

Ashley hung her head for several minutes, and then returned to looking out the window. Not long after she felt movement beside her, and yet so focused on her innermost thoughts that nothing in her surroundings could break her steady stare.

"Maam. May I punch your ticket please?"

The words broke her from her trancelike gaze; she quickly retrieved her ticket and handed it to the man in the aisle. "There's a privy at the end of this car as well as a tank of clean drinking water if you have a need to us them. You can open the window to get some fresh air if you're hankering for it."

"I'll be fine, thank you." Ashley replied as he handed back her ticket. "Sir?"

He paused as he was punching another passenger's ticket, "How long will we be on the train?"

He smiled and took out his watch, "Barring any unforeseen problems, by this time tomorrow morning, you'll be in Chappel Ridge, North Dakota.

She thanked him and he moved off to the next passenger. She looked down at herself dressed in her mother's brandy colored dress and wearing a dark brown bonnet, the strings draped over her youthful breasts. Ashley sighed, knowing that she looked every inch the woman she portrayed. She moved her foot, trapped under a copious amount of feminine material.

She looked down the bodice of the dress she wore, buttons every three inches from her neck to waist. Still uncomfortable with seeing the swelling of her own bosom, she shook her head and returned to looking out the window. While not actually studying herself, she could feel the tightness of the material at her waist, drawn close and creating the feminine form she may have to live with for the rest of her life.

Her thoughts again were drawn back to the feminine swell of her breasts, held firmly in place by a soft corset that was also once her mothers. Only weeks ago, Ashley wanted to grope orbs such as those she now possessed. As the female, now were just another appendage that hurt if they were bumped too hard...and the unfortunate object of many a young man's attention.

She thought about the man whom she was traveling toward, she had never met him before and did not even know his name. All she knew was his father's name was Samuel. His father and her father were near the same age so that would make the son anywhere from 20 to 35.

She wondered what he would look like, or if he knew that she was expecting. Her mind began to race, was he tall or short, thin or fat? She felt herself breathing faster with anxiety, and forced herself to settle down and attempt to control her breathing. Ashley made a promise to herself, and that was; if he were abusive or controlling, she would slip away the first chance she got.

She reached into her bag and removed a cloth which contained one of her mother's biscuits and begin to idly pick at it. She could do this, she could be strong! If she was destined to be a female, she would be confidant and would let no man domineer her into being anything other than what she wanted to be!

Unfortunately for her, nature seemed determined to remind her that her body was that of a female and she must perform in every way the same as her gender would at that very moment. And that meant to use the facilities as all women do. It is strange that thinking certain things cause reactions as did this latest thought; with a groan she got up and struggled to the privy at the end of the car. Determined to not let normal, albeit alien bodily function slow her down, she steeled herself and entered. About to do one of the myriad of feminine things once again; she has done seemingly often since that fateful day.

Thirteen

Feeling jarring as it recoiled throughout the cars; Ashley woke up with a start. The train was slowing down and appeared to be on the outskirts of a town. She sought out the ticket taker, he was moving back through the car, announcing the arrival of the town.

"Chappel Ridge everybody! We'll be at the station in about ten minutes," she heard him say, and then repeat it as he passed and entered the rear of the car.

She sat up, yawned loudly, and stretched unladylike but quickly returned to her demure self once she realized that she had slipped out of character. To Ashley, that was all this past few weeks have been, like a strange play where she was cast as the wrong character. Gathering her bag she scooted to the end of her seat and waited for her turn out.

An older gentleman smiled and motioned for her to go ahead, Ashley thanked him and moved forward. Working her way toward the front, she turned and with the help of the conductor, gracefully climbed down the stairs. Stepping out onto a box resting on the wood planking of the station, she arrived.

Several people were milling about her, each one waiving and talking with each other until only a handful were remaining on the deck. Looking across, she saw an older man, perched on a cane, a woman searching for her baggage, a rather large man far back in the shadows, a cowboy with graying temples, a tall skinny youth, and the conductor.

The old man entered the station and closed the door; thankfully he was not the man she was to meet. One by one they retreated away from the station; she turned and looked up and down the street. Behind her the train was taking on water and wood, puffing steam from within it's bowels like a great beast.

She felt a gentle tap on her shoulder, as she turned her body seemed to freeze with a slight start. Before the startled girl loomed a large man. He had a great barrel chest; tapering down to narrow hips and his bulging arms were as thick as one of her legs. She inadvertently took a backward step as he reached gently out to prevent her from falling.

He possessed a very firm jaw line, almost square. His black hair was cropped short and he was clean shaven, the massive muscles of his neck flared outward and rose slightly from his shoulders. She allowed her eyes to take him in without appearing to make him think she was frightened. To her, he appeared to be well over seven foot tall, but realistically she surmised that he was near six and a half feet in height, perhaps close to seven but defiantly not over. His thighs were massive, stretching his jeans to their limits.

He seemed to tower over her and the few passers by, his dark eyes were set below a very distinct, and yet intelligent brow. Even dressed in the old shoes of her mother, she barely came up to his chest. He stood silently and said nothing; it was as though he was gathering his thoughts. Finally he found his voice; to her it sounded soft, but like a deep bass which rumbled from within his huge chest.

"Sorry to...ah...startle you maam," he replied softly, his voice low and kind.

"That's okay; I hadn't realized that anyone was behind me." Ashley replied, shielding her eyes from the sun to look into his face. If her were not so huge, he had a very shy persona that belied her first impression of him.

The name's Cody. Cody Irons," he smiled and rotated his hat in his hands. "I'm the local blacksmith. Are...are you Ashley Orville?"

Her heart sank suddenly, she tried all she could to hide her fear. "I am. However, you have me at a disadvantage," She replied softly, praying that this was not the man she was betrothed to.

"My father is Samuel. My father...and your father spoke about you coming to...to live with me." His face grew very red as he spoke, and his eyes lowered slightly.

Ashley inwardly sighed; this news was not what she had hoped to hear. Cody tried to smile but was hesitant as he continued to rotate his hat within his nervous grasp. He cleared his throat and gently took the bag from her hand, and indicated that they should walk toward the main part of town.

"I must...be a sight for you maam," he looked away, seemingly embarrassed at himself. "You are probably right in your thinking about me."

"My thinking?" She replied thoughtfully, "I really don't know what to think."

"I'm figuring that after you seen me; you now know why your father would send you out here with me, sight unseen," he frowned and looked down. "There are no two ways about it, I'm a monster and what woman would deliberately marry a hideous beast like me."

She stifled her laugh, "You are indeed rather large, but you don't seem to be a monster, I knew monsters and you defiantly aren't one. So...did your father tell you about me? Did he tell you that I was pregnant?"

His eyes darted quickly to hers, "You are?"

"I am. I was kidnapped and raped," she replied matter of fact.

He rubbed his huge hand along his jaw, "The fella that raped you, did the law catch them?"

She stood her ground; Ashley wanted to see how he would handle what she told him next. "There were two of them, one I hit with a stick while he was sleeping...the other tried to drown me and I knocked him out...they found him floating in the river."

As she told him, his head began to nod slightly at first then more and more as she finished telling of it. Finally as she finished, he replied. "That's good. I like to know that my wife can take care of herself."

She laughed nervously, "And that doesn't bother you?" She looked at him in surprise as he shrugged the news off. "If that little bit of news doesn't seem to bother you; then, perhaps as we get to know each other better, I'll try and tell you the rest of my story."

"You can tell me now if you want," he replied with ease.

Ashley took a deep breath, unsure of what his reaction to her being a transformed male and thought better of it. Frankly, she was afraid of his sheer size and the anger that news like that could bring. "No, I think not yet; perhaps another time?"

He grinned and left it at that, "Okay, well then, I'll look forward to hearing it." They continued to walk on, the girl was confused on exactly what to think of this big man. As they crossed a street, she found herself studying him even more.

His strides were long but the pace was slow; Ashley watched the little tassels at the tops of his large boots swing with each step. She imagined that his slow walking was an effort to allow her to keep up with him. He placed his huge hand at the small of her back and guided her into the first building they came to. As soon as they had arrived, he held the door for her to enter.

Ashley pulled up short, an elderly man and woman stood as if waiting, the man was wearing a dark suite and puffing on a pipe. The man smiled at them as they waited for Cody to close the door.

"Pastor Wilson." Cody softly said, then nodded at the woman who was also in the room. "Mrs. Wilson. This is Ashley."

Ashley felt her heart drop at the word 'pastor', the finality of that word spoke volumes to the young woman. Fear caught in her throat and she began to search for an avenue of escape.

"Ah my dear, Cody here has explained your situation and we will make this as brief as possible for you," he looked toward his wife and smiled, "The missus here will be your witness so are you ready to begin?"

The big man smiled and then realized that he was still holding Ashley's bag, he quickly but gently sat it on the floor. He stood at her side and reverently removed his hat and with coaching from the pastor; he took her hand in his.

Ashley glanced down at her hand; it was dwarfed within his massive but gentle grasp. Her fearful eyes glanced to each of the performers in the wedding arena, not really believing that she was even involved. Somehow, she heard him repeating vows as he threaded a simple gold band onto her finger. When it came to her turn, she found her mouth moving but no sound was entering her ears, other than the throbbing of her racing heart. She must have repeated the vows as eventually she heard him pronounce them husband and wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Cody Irons were their official married names now. Those words rose up inside of the girl's addled mind, like the barrier to all escape. However the words spoken next drove home that she no longer had a claim of her old life.

"You may now kiss your bride," she looked upward as Cody hesitantly kissed her forehead, and then looked sheepishly at the pastor and his wife. He handed him a few coins returned his hat to his head and gently ushered his young bride out of the little building.

Fourteen

Ashley walked with her husband down the little side street where his...no THEIR wagon was tied. As he gently saw her to the seat, he climbed up and sat her bag in the back. Ashley sat beside this mountain of a man and contemplated what had just happened; what would happen in the very near future.

"There will be talk," she commented softly reminding him of her predicament. "Folks here will put two and two together and realize that I was pregnant prior to our marriage."

He considered her comment thoughtfully and smiled. "Let them." Slowly bending down he picked up the reins and released the brake.

"You aren't worried about your reputation?" She asked, unbelieving that he wouldn't care what people thought about him.

He spoke without looking at her, "Ashley, I've been called quite a lot of things...most of them aren't good. They've called me a monster, a freak, a giant; so insinuating that I got you pregnant before marrying, won't hurt me any more. I say, let them think what they will."

He snapped the reins and they slowly began to roll down the little street. "I do care about what they think of you and the baby though," he turned toward her and smiled boyishly.

Ashley smiled back and nodded, "Thanks Cody," her husband returned his attention to driving the horse down the street. Pleasantly they rode on past the businesses and into a tree lined residential area; a few larger homes were interspersed on each side of the street. Still they rolled past these stately homes and several more like them.

Ashley looked up at the big man finally, hat tipped backward slightly his dark hair gently moving in the breeze, "I guess we could say that the baby was early, but that won't keep them from talking."

He nodded slowly, and smiled at her concern about all of their reputations. "With your help, we'll raise it as our own. I won't have our child thinking that I am anybody but his or her father," he replied then glanced her way to see her reaction.

Ashley sat quietly and pondered what he was offering; he seemed genuine in what he asked of her. His intent was extremely honorable, knowing that he didn't 'have to' accept the news of her pregnancy, but rather embraced it wholeheartedly.

Ashley was about to respond to his comment when she realized that they were slowing down, Cody guided the horses past a little white picket fence entered a lane and drove on toward a small building. "Ashley, this is our home."

Beyond several small buildings was a thin patch of trees, a pond reflected glistening sunlight back to her eyes. Glancing closer, she studied a small barn; its doors were open and inviting. She looked past the little barn and attached corral, the smaller two-story house was painted a light bluish gray. On all the windows were stylish shutters painted a brilliant white, all of the trim was white as well. As the wagon finally stopped, Ashley climbed down before Cody could get around and assist her.

"For a pregnant woman, you're still pretty fast," he said laughing as he removed her bag from the back of the wagon. By the time he turned, she had already approached the house and was standing on the herringbone brick walkway facing the wraparound porch.

"It's so beautiful!" She whispered aloud.

He caught up to her and again laughed, "I guess I'm going to have to run to keep up with you."

She smiled nervously, "I'm sorry, I just can't believe this is where you live!"

"This is where WE will live," he reminded her. "You, the baby and me."

She smiled uncomfortably and attempted to take it all in. "My home was about half this size, and so simple compared to this," she waived her arm, indicating the home before her.

He explained how he came to own such a nice home. "I answered an ad in the paper to become the town's blacksmith," he smiled and looked down at Ashley's demure feet. "One of the perks was that they would provide me a house if I moved here, it's a lot better than I was expecting though. It used to belong to a shopkeeper that moved back east."

"The town gave you a house just for being their blacksmith?" She said with astonishment.

"No, not gave. He said chuckling, they're providing the house, but I still have to buy it," he slowly walked with her as they approached the porch. "The payments are low, and after I make them, there's not much cash left. I'm probably going to have to take on more work once the baby is born."

"I might be able to help us out with the house..." Ashley suddenly remembered the reward money her father had wired to the bank. "Those men who raped me, they had robbed a bank and there was a reward that had been offered for them."

Cody stiffened slightly, his face flushed with embarrassment. "I'll not use your money, Ashley. I'm the man and I'll provide for my family."

Ashley angered somewhat at being reminded of her gender. She put her tiny fists on her hip and pointed out to her new husband, "The house is OURS now, and since we are married, this is one thing I can do for us and the child that I carry! You have to let me help!"

He laughed and looked away, "We can talk about it in due time. You will have to understand that where I come from, the man is the provider...so this will take me awhile to wrap my mind around it."

Ashley looked him directly in the eye, "You sir, will have to understand where I come from, the husband and wife work together as a team. So take all the time you need to get comfortable with wrapping your mind around that particular piece of fact."

He slowly smiled and gave her a gentle hug. "Ashley Irons, I think you and I are going to get along just fine!"

Ashley laughed and hesitantly returned his gesture of affection. After they broke their embrace, Cody assisted his wife up onto the porch and unlocked the door. "I guess this is where I carry you in."

She shrugged, "I guess so. I'm not too familiar with the custom though."

With an awkward lift, he carried her across the threshold and sat her down. "Ashley, welcome home."

She closed her eyes and raised her face slightly upward in prayer; Cody quickly removed his hat and closed his own eyes. "Lord let this house be filled with love and laughter."

Without skipping a beat, Cody quickly included, "And children."

Ashley heard and sighed deeply, knowing that the child she carried would be the first, those that came after if any, would be the natural result of sex between both of them...and that scared the hell out of the woman she had become.

Fifteen

Cody hung his hat on an ornate hook near the door, he placed Ashley's bag on the kitchen table. "This here is our kitchen; I suspect you will be spending a fair amount of time in here."

Ashley laughed, and then slowly strolled around the table. "I'm not going to lie to you Cody, I know nothing about cooking."

He laughed at her comment, "I just figured that being a female and you grew up cooking and all..."

She covered her mouth demurely and laughed even harder, "My so called cooking experiences could be counted within a one month time span. I guess you could safely say that I'm pretty much a novice at all things feminine. I guess I could learn though, but I'd have to practice on you."

The big man scratched his head and shrugged, "I guess I'd like it if you'd practice on me." Again he smiled boyishly as his face reddened slightly.

Ashley studied his face, not sure of why he would react the way he was. Cody quickly changed the subject and stepped off toward an adjacent room. "This here's the sitting parlor."

"There isn't any furniture in here." Ashley replied as she entered the room, her voice echoing off the bare walls.

"Yeah, well um...I guess I haven't got around to sitting just yet," he responded, looking around the vacant room. "There is a door at the end so we can invite our guests straight in there without making them go through the kitchen."

She stepped past her husband and walked deeper inside the room, her tiny steps echoing against the wood floor. The room had cheery yellow wallpaper with white painted trim around the windows, door, baseboard and chair rail. She looked up toward the ceiling, there was a wide ornate board that ran around, it too was painted white.

"I guess with some curtains and lamps, this will be a very nice room. I'll leave all of that to you though; I'm not a very fashionable fella," he looked down at her; she was untying the bonnet she had on.

"I'm not sure how much better I'll be, but I can try," she glanced up as she pulled the bonnet off and saw that he was looking at her, "What?" She asked noticing him smiling.

"I've never seen prettier yellow hair; and so much of it too. It's a shame you have to knot it all up in a bun; it makes you look like a schoolmarm," he hesitated for a second and then added, "Could I see what you look with it down sometime?"

Ashley shrugged and reached back behind her head and removed the hairpins, allowing the long blond hair to cascade down. Cody's eyes drank her in, what he could see was causing him to smile.

"Oh gosh...I like that," he sighed softly, as he reached out to touch the golden tresses of his wife. "Please wear it like that when we are home."

Ashley felt her stomach churn with anxiety, the last thing she wanted to do was have this big man enamored with seeing her. The fear grew even more as he placed his huge hand upon her cheek, and caressed her. Seeing her expression, Cody quickly removed his hand and stepped away slightly.

"I'm sorry, I've frightened you," he looked away shyly.

"It's not that," she lied.

Surmising her recent rape, Cody assumed that was reason enough for her fear. He sought for words of comfort but none came quickly.

"So, let's see the rest of the house," she asked, hoping that he would continue his tour.

"Uh, sure...we can do that," he motioned for her to follow. Down a small hall he led her, thankful that he didn't have to speak to her about her attack.

"This uh room is our indoor privy," he pushed the door open and allowed her to pass and enter the room before him. "Over there is a chair with a hole in it, if you lift the lid, you would see that below is where we store the chamber pot. You can use it year round but of course it has to be emptied."

"Where do you empty it?" She asked, never having seen an indoor privy before.

"We have an outhouse in the back; I've been dumping it in there," he moved toward a large cabinet with several drawers. "Know what this is?"

Ashley laughed, "Looks like a linen cabinet to me."

He gave her a puzzled look, "What's a linen cabinet?"

"It's a cabinet where you store your sheets and towels and items like that. She moved to the beautiful wooden cabinet to open one of the drawers, they seemed stuck to her touch. "It appears that the drawers have been varnished shut."

He gently moved her back, "I bought this especially for you," he slowly moved a latch and it allowed him to drop down the entire face of the cabinet, as he lowered it she realized what she was seeing.

"Is that a bathtub?" She asked in wonderment, touching the galvanized steel of the tub.

"Sure is. I think it's the only one in town like it," he smiled at her, very proud of his purchase, and continued to show it off. He crouched down and reached inside the tub. "You put this little plug in here and fill it with water. When you're done, pull the plug and it drains into this tube which I ran to a drain that leads outside. He slowly stood up and closed up the tub. "You can bathe, and have your privacy all in a room inside our own house, year round!"

As he looked around, "There's a basin over there with a pitcher and bowel. On the rod there is where I hang our towels to dry off...and that's pretty much it for in here."

Ashley rubbed her hands together, "So what's next?"

"I guess that would take us back into the hallway, down at the end just before the stairs is another small room," he spoke as she followed. "When the shopkeeper owned it, he used it as his office," he pushed the door aside so she could see into the room.

"You could use it for your office too," she suggested.

He laughed, "A blacksmith doesn't really need much of an office; I suppose you could use it to write letters and the like."

She nodded as she poked her head further into the room, "I could I guess."

"Maybe we could scrounge up one of those new Singer treadle machines and you could use it for sewing?" He wondered aloud.

Ashley smiled at his comment, "I've never sewn a thing in my entire life. My sisters and mother did all the sewing at our house."

"Your sisters and mother sewed but not you? Just what did you spend all your girlhood doing?" He asked innocently.

She raised her eyebrows as she walked past him, "Not sewing or cooking that's for sure."

They started their ascent of the stairs, "Up here is all of the bedrooms; there are three of them, one big room and two smaller rooms."

He stood at the top of the steps as Ashley began to open the doors and look inside, "That's one of the smaller rooms, the other is behind your back."

She saw that there was a bed in the room and it was unmade. She glanced at him questionably and he shrugged then replied. "I'm not so naive that I expected to sleep with you directly, I have set up your bed in the big room."

Ashley was a bit taken back by his willingness to sleep in separate rooms; especially after being recently married. She turned the knob and slowly opened the door. Inside was a large bed with a matching tall dresser, a large quilt covered the bed. Against the wall at the end of the bed she saw a wardrobe closet, its dark wood matching those of the rest of the room.

"This room here can be a nursery if you want," he said as he pushed the other bedroom door open. "It's small like the one I've got, but it'll do for our baby."

Ashley nodded and peered inside the empty room, it was exactly as the other room that Cody had. He looked in towering over her shoulder, "So, what do you think?"

"The house is lovely; it will be a beautiful place to live," she replied looking up into his face.

He smiled, "I got us the house, it's up to you to make it our home."

Sixteen

Nausea woke her up; it was still dark outside. Slowly Ashley dressed herself in a new gray dress she had purchased from a store in town which catered to women like Ashley. How strange she felt going into the store and purchasing something she never would have dreamed of during the entire first part of her life. Now, it had become a necessary fact that she regretted since that day long ago.

She thought back over the last two months, her morning sickness reared its ugly head only occasionally now, but most often all it would take is warm tea and dry crackers to alleviate the symptom. She was just beginning to show, a slight rounded baby bump which could be observed in the location of her lower belly.

It troubled her that as the baby grew her ability to hold back her bladder diminished. More and more so, would she feel the need to rush into the privy, thankful that it was indoors instead of outside as had her childhood home been. Then to fight through the copious amounts of fabric that she wore as a female, drove home her regret even further.

Often, she could also feel a strangeness come over herself as one moment she would be smiling and laughing, the next she would become sullen and tearful. Her mother had warned her that this was to be expected, she despised the loss of control she had with her emotions but knew that the wide variation of mood swings was all part of this life of motherhood she had been dealt.

Ashley had come to the realization long ago, that using the medallion was a moot point as long as she carried this child; she would have to be resigned to the fate of waiting until after the infant's birth. Hiding it wrapped in a piece of old cloth that used to be her shirt while she was a male; and burying it within the confines of one of her drawers. In her own way, she tried to just accept and perhaps embrace the changes she experienced as they came.

One such way was the strange fluttering within her womb, it was as her mother had described long ago of what to expect. Only this special feeling could actually be felt by others in placing a hand over the portion of her belly where it seemed to be concentrated the most.

Carefully she walked past the bedrooms and down the stairs, she gently padded into the kitchen where she struck a match and lit the lantern that had been on the table. Hanging it from a hook in the ceiling she bent down and opened the door to her stove. Packing it with kindling and paper she lit it, as soon as the fire was established decently, she added bigger pieces of wood to it.

Setting the tea kettle on the stove, she waited for the water inside to boil. Removing a cup from the cupboard, she got her tea spoon and carefully measured out some of the powder. She placed the lid over the teaspoon and lowered it into the empty cup. Beside it she placed three dry crackers she had removed from a can on the shelf.

This was a routine that Ashley had performed countless times before, most of them for the same reason. The warm tea seemed to calm the child, the crackers helped with the nausea that occurred due to the pregnancy. She sat quietly and waited for the water to become hot enough to seep the tea, as soon as it was ready she poured herself a cup and stirred until the water became dark.

She removed the spoon and added a drizzle of honey, settled back and savored the flavorful warmth with each gentle swallow. There she sat in quiet solitude until she could see the beginnings of light outside the window; she knew that Cody would be up soon. She yawned into her hand and quietly stood and removed an apron from a hook on the wall; she slipped it over her head and tied it off at her waist. Being domestic wasn't a choice she graciously took on herself, it was a job she felt obligated to do since she really had nothing else to occupy her time.

One of the newer changes that occurred was that Ashley had begun to cook, finding it enjoyable to be able to concoct something that was both palatable as well as interesting. She cooked from memory of what her mother had done, remembering the ingredients of those things she liked to taste in her youth. Cody seemed to relish the experiments, although was quick to point out which ones she created that were not to his liking...and again which ones he enjoyed rather well. Returning the kettle to the stove she poured some of the hot water into a coffee pot and began brewing Cody's coffee to go with his breakfast.

She gathered herself up and carefully removed three potatoes from the bin, humming softly to herself she returned to the table with a knife. Carefully she peeled and diced each one and placed them into a skillet that had bacon grease slowly melting in it. Returning into the kitchen she removed a small onion, peeled and diced it up throwing it into the skillet as well. This skillet she seasoned with salt and pepper and covered it, pushing it to the rear of the stove top, the vegetable scraps were placed in a bucket for the pigs out back.

Another skillet was set at the front of the stove; about a teaspoon of bacon grease was allowed to melt inside. Carefully she cut two ham steaks from a cured haunch that hung in the corner of the kitchen. One of the steaks much larger than the other, each of these was placed into the skillet to sizzle and darken.

She sought out several crisp slices of bacon, they had been overcooked the night before but not burned, she had wrapped them in a cloth and deftly removed them from the old cabinet where she had them stored. Removing the lid on the potatoes, she crumbled the bacon into the mixture. The smell that wafted to her senses as she stirred left no doubt in her mind that Cody would enjoy this strange concoction of hers.

She knew that it wasn't something she had invented, she wasn't that silly. It was just to come from knowing nothing about cooking to actually being successful was quite an accomplishment. On top of that was the fact that if Cody liked it, she was even more proud of her little successes.

As the ham finished cooking, the potatoes were stirred and by tasting one, she knew that they would be done within a few minutes. She placed the ham over the potatoes and returned the lid, covering everything. In the newly vacated skillet, she added a slight bit more of bacon grease and allowed that to melt.

Into it she cracked four eggs and waited for the clear part of the egg to harden, becoming white and opaque. Carefully she seasoned them and attempted something that she had never tried to do before...flip them.

With great caution, she worked her flat turner under them and coaxed it over. She giggled like a small school girl when one by one they were flipped onto their yellow tops. She gleefully clapped for herself as she quickly raced to get plates from the shelf. Gently and almost reverently she removed two without an issue, the third broke and its yellow contents oozed from the collapsed bubble.

"Shoot!" She groaned, and then carefully removed the unbroken one and placed it on the same plate as the other two. "Well, three of them aren't too bad," she reasoned with a laugh as she heard heavy steps coming down from the bedrooms and walk into the privy. She quickly scrambled the one left in the skillet and placed it into her own empty plate.

Carefully removing the lid on the back skillet, she took the bigger steak and placed it on the plate with the three eggs, beside it she piled some of the potato mixture. She carefully carried that to the table and returned to fix her own plate. Once done, she sat this plate at the side of the table next to Cody's and returned to fill his cup with coffee and hers with water for tea.

She stood at the end of the table and quickly turned to pull two forks and knives from the drawer for them to eat; and pulling down a cup for her husbands coffee. She had just finished filling his cup, and had just placed them when Cody walked into the kitchen.

"I've been cooking." Ashley smiled, stating the obvious, her arms spread out showing the work she had just finished.

"I know, the smells pulled me right out of bed!" He said adjusting his suspender. "Good Morning, Ashley," he said as he tenderly hugged her and kissed her cheek.

Prior to the last several days, she may have trembled at this loving advance but she knew he meant well by his sign of affection and she really had come to appreciate it for what it was. "Thank you, and good morning to you too, Cody."

He held her chair out and waited for her to sit, even though she never thought she would be used to it she finally relented and allowed him that luxury over the last week or so. Scooting her in, he took his seat and smiled.

"Wow...and you said you couldn't cook?" He said with a laugh. "The smells are just intoxicating!"

"Hopefully they will taste good too," she added, waiting for him to taste what she had made.

"Oh gosh, this is delicious!" He excitedly said as he tasted her potato concoction.

She smiled broadly as he dove into his breakfast; with each mouthful he made sounds of delight. It made her feel appreciated by his reaction; it was something that she could really become used to.

As they both ate, they made small talk about what their day would consist of. "I have a long day today; have a wheel of the doctors that I have to repair, and then put back on his buggy. I'll probably have my lunch in town."

Ashley thought for a moment, "It looks like a nice enough day for a walk, I could bring your lunch in to you later on today if you'd like?"

He smiled, "Really, are you sure that the walk wouldn't be too far?"

She laughed, "It's only just a little over a mile. I can walk it; I'll fix something for both of us."

"Like a picnic then, if you're sure, then it's a date," he smiled and drank the last of his coffee and pushed himself back from the table. Standing up he removed his hat from the peg and held it. He just stood there watching her as she carried the dishes into the kitchen.

"There is one thing I'd really like to do before I leave the house today," he commented as he helped carry dishes to the washtub.

"And what's that?" She said as she took the dishes from him.

"Well, I guess...this," he said, leaning over and kissed Ashley gently on her mouth for the first time, his lips lingering longer than ever before. His arms snaked around her waist as they slowly broke from the kiss, "I just want you to know that I love you."

Ashley's heart beat rapidly, she was afraid that it would burst clean through her chest. She began to feel light headed and strange little tingles raced throughout her body, she was too stunned to speak. Cody gave her a smile as he put his hat on his head, turned and headed out the door.

Seventeen

She stood watching the door; her slender trembling fingers were upon her lips where he has just kissed her. Her heart raced as she slowly pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down in stunned silence. Gradually she came to realize that her body reacted to being kissed as most any woman would have, and the fact that he had left her body in a tizzy had scared the hell out of her.

She recalled the feeling of her pulse in almost every place within her body, the kiss he bestowed on her young mind left all dizzy and perplexed. She could still hear his words as he pulled back from that lightning laden kiss...'I love you.'

She repeated those three words over and over in her mind, contemplating the meaning of them as a total commitment to her as a woman. Woman - something she was only just coming to grips with recently. For him to say he loved her was a strange turning point in his behavior to her, until that point, she knew he liked her but to come outright and say it was beyond belief.

Then as if with dread, she realized that she did not say anything in return. She had just responded to his words with a stupefying look upon her face. "What must he think" she wondered aloud. He didn't seem upset by her lack of words; in fact, he did smile as he was leaving. But surely he must have expected some sort of affectionate words in return.

And she sat there dumfounded on how to react, she grew angry and forced herself to get up and get busy. Slowly she made her way into the kitchen to clean up from breakfast, all the while she mulled his kiss over and over into her mind.

As they day progressed toward the lunch hour, she slowly began to prepare sandwiches for them to eat. In the basket with the sandwiches she placed two apples, boiled eggs some trimmed up radishes from the garden and more of the potatoes she had made from breakfast. A jar of cold water was also there for them to share, the cap tight to prevent leakage.

The sun was bright and warm as Ashley made her way into town; her pace was slow and easy. As she neared Cody's shop, she could hear the sharp 'ting, ting' of his hammer against the hot steel. She entered through the back of his shop and paused to watch him work; in the heat he often removed his shirt wearing only the leather apron which covered his wide chest.. His great biceps flexed with each powerful stroke and his broad shoulders recoiled from the strength of the blow. His hips turned ever so slightly, with each swing as he brought down the heavy hammer. Sweat glistened on him as he rotated the tongs over to examine the underside of the steel he worked on.

She was quite sure that she would never want to have sex with this man, but there was some sort of possessive pride she felt knowing that what she was observing, was for her eyes only. Slowly she worked her way into his peripheral view; he looked up at her and smiled. After several more blows against the sparking steel he tossed the item into the bucket of cool water, it sizzled as the hot steel hit.

He removed the leather apron and hung it from a nail; he took a drink of water from a bucket with a ladle and slowly walked to where Ashley was sitting up their lunch. Sweat and dirt clung to him as he moved toward an open area and allowed the soft breeze to cool him down. Ashley got up and dipped a rag into clean water, as her husband sat and ate she carefully wiped his back and neck of the dirt and sweat.

After several minutes she rinsed it out and moved to the front of him and began to work on his face and chest, obviously enjoying her efforts he closed his eyes. She carefully rinsed the rag and continued to clean and cool him down. "Mmmm...you're good at this," he sighed
contentedly.

She laughed. "I'd do it for my best horse."

"So I'm a horse now am I?" He laughed. "I guess I've been called worse."

"...Probably.." she added with a laugh.

He looked at his demure wife; even sitting he was slightly taller. His hands gently rested upon her splendid hips, he slowly pulled Ashley in and once again he kissed her mouth. The kiss was even longer than the one they shared that morning, as they parted, he felt lost in her crystalline blue eyes. So beautiful was Ashley that he could scarce believe that she was his wife, and his alone.

Her soft lips trembled slightly as though she was about to speak, but he would have none of it. Again he tenderly pulled her close and kissed her even more deeply than before, his arms caressing her slender back with need. He began to pull away, as he did, her small hands glided over his broad shoulders and gently pulled him into another kiss, this time her lips parted ever so slightly and he felt her tongue hesitantly caress his own.

As they finally parted their lips, he could see that her face was quite red and she was breathing heavily. He looked down and softly spoke, "S...sorry Ashley."

She raised his head to force him to look at her, "That was not just you...I...did it too," she again kissed him, trying to see if there was truly something there. Strangely enough, she did feel an odd excitement, almost an eagerness to continue their kiss. She carefully began to repack their basket; leaving his water, sandwich, apple and eggs for him as he sat wondering why she would not eat with him.

She paused, seeing the questioning in his eyes, "I need to go. There are some things I want to take care of while I'm in town and I need to allow you to work, before we do something that might really get the town's people talking."

He smiled, "I don't mind." As he finished, he wiggled his eyebrows.

"I do," she said with a laugh, kissed him and hurried out of his shop flushed through and through with a strange alien excitement that only a woman could ever experience.

Eighteen

Ashley walked out into the street and towards the bank, she felt strange as the men who passed tipped their hat in respect for her being a woman. Thankfully the golden ring she wore would hold them from making passes, well, that and knowing who her husband was would deter any one of them.

She paused at a shop and mulled at the glass looking at the goods offered inside, behind her a man paused and was talking to another.

"Hey Charlie, are you still offering up that old buckboard of yours?"

"To own or just borrow?" the man replied.

"I just need it for the day, I got a load of wood to fetch from my mother in laws and I don't want to use my carriage to move it."

"I'd rather sell the dang thing but if you need it, you can pick it up later today I guess. You'll need to bring your team to pull it though."

"Thanks Charlie, I'll owe you a beer sometime."

"What's wrong with now? It's just about fifteen minutes past thirsty o'clock."

The two men laughed and stepped off the walk and headed toward the saloon, through the reflection in the glass, Ashley watched. Her eye drifted back to the blacksmith shop to her husband swinging at the hot iron once again, the pinging sharply ringing out over the normal street noises.

She turned and walked toward a rail and looked down the street proper, beside the blacksmith shop stood a building that seemed abandoned. She began to stare and study the simple distance between the shop and abandoned building.

Looking back toward the bank she quickly headed into that direction, lifting her skirts to assist in walking faster. She slowed as she approached, reaching the door at the same time as another patron. The man held the door for her to enter.

Looking up, an older man with graying temples smiled as Ashley strolled into his bank. He stood respectfully as she walked toward his desk "Well hello Mrs. Irons, what may I help you with?"

He stood and quickly assisted her in moving a chair close to his desk. She demurely sat down, folding her skirt beneath her as she settled in. "I want to talk about an investment."

"Oh, yes indeed," he said with a smile, "Are you considering investing in our fair little town?"

"Yes," she said nodding.

"Ah a dress shop then, the ladies here can always use another dress shop...perhaps you could bring new styles from back east and..." He began to prattle.

"I want to invest in a livery stable," she interrupted him bluntly.

"A Livery?" he replied with a laugh. "But you are a woman."

"Thank you for reminding me, Mr. Gentry, but I am quite serious," she gave him a stern stare.

His eyes began to blink rapidly, he stammered in disbelief, "What would your husband say with you squandering your savings in that way?"

She stared at him unblinking, "He would say that it is my money and I can spend it any way I want."

Sitting with his mouth agape he fumbled with the papers on his desk, "Surely you must have talked this over with Cody?"

She looked at the young apprentice where he sat at a desk in the corner, "Send Marcus to get him, I know exactly what he'd say."

The banker, more worried of losing an established customer gave a quick nod to the youth which scrambled to his feet and hurried out the door.

Ashley flushed with anger, feeling frustration with how people perceive decisions made from someone about her gender. She glared at the banker who tried to ward off her visual attack by appearing busy. Finally after several minutes she could hear the heavy thump of Cody's step on the wooden walk as he approached.

He stepped inside and walked to Mr. Gentry's desk "What's up?" He asked looking down at his wife.

Mr. Gentry stammered nervously, "Your wife wants to invest in a Livery?"

Cody shrugged and looked down at Ashley, "It's a good idea."

"But...but...she's a woman!" He replied in shock. "She has not obviously thought this through!"

"That's good that you noticed that she's a woman." Cody said with a laugh. "As far as thinking it through...have you asked her?"

Ashley smiled and gently reached out to Cody's hand and gave him a squeeze. "No...we never got that far," she folded her hands and placed them into her lap, Cody leaned against the rail that surrounded Mr. Gentry's desk. She smiled as he crossed his arms, his biceps strained against the thin shirt he wore.

She pointed through the window toward where Cody's blacksmith shop stood, "There is an abandoned building next to my husbands shop."

"The old granary building..." Cody replied assisting his wife.

She nodded and continued, "Does the bank possess the deed for that building?"

"I believe we do, Mrs. Irons." The banker replied. "It's been sitting idle for almost a full year."

"I purpose purchase of the building, and since it is in close proximity to Cody's shop; connecting them into a full service Livery stable." Ashley finished, and looked up toward her husband.

He smiled approvingly and asked, "Are you sure you want to do that with your money? It's a big step owning a business."

"Mrs. Irons, setting up a business like that is not easy; you need to purchase supplies for upkeep," he glanced toward Cody, hoping he would help dissuade Ashley from removing money from his bank with a foolish venture.

"Mr. Gentry, you keep looking at me...when you need to be talking to the Missus," he indicated Ashley with a nod of his head. As the banker turned, he locked on to the cool blue eyes of Ashley.

"I was raised on a farm. I know exactly how to pick out horses; my husband knows how to pick out good wagons and buggies. If anything needs repaired, who would know more than a blacksmith?" She mulled over what she had just said and then added, "Mr. Gentry, when folks come into town for a stay, where do they go to find a horse or wagon? If they ride in from a long trip on the trail, where could they bed down their horse? You seem to be worried about what we'll remove from our account; you should be thinking of the money that we will be reinvesting in your bank."

The banker looked up quickly, and slowly smiled. "How much money will you need to withdraw?"

Nineteen

Ashley waited around for Cody to finish his day. As she waited, she studied the interior of their buildings that were to become the family business. A noise behind her caused Ashley to turn, it was her husband as he slowly strolled into the empty building.

"I never in a million years would have thought of a Livery stable...it makes sense though," he spoke as he placed his arm around her waist. "I'll work on getting a buggy and wagon tomorrow. I also spoke with one of the ranch owners, a Mr. Hanson about bringing us some decent horses to look over."

"I want gentle ones," she reminded him, "The kind that any woman would be unafraid to ride. Perhaps a couple with some spirit left in them would be okay."

"Some good pullers would be nice to pair up with the wagon or buggy too," he said thoughtfully.

"There is a man named Charley here in town who has a wagon for sale, he might be eager if the price is right," she then told him of the conversation she had overheard.

He nodded as he listened to her story, upon completion; he began to look around the interior of the building. "The room over here could be a tack shed; we'll have to purchase harnesses, saddles and blankets for them," she opened the door and peered inside, "It should work, it seems big enough to me?"

"Ashley, you are completely unlike any woman I have ever known," he laughed as he pulled her into a hug. The things you come up with are amazing...you seem unafraid of anything!" He bent down and gave her a quick kiss on her forehead, it caused her to giggle.

"Will all of this be too much for us to handle?" She asked, looking around. "Did I bite off more than I could chew?"

"I think we'll be okay. I'll talk to Hanson about some feed and grain for the horses...some bedding too," he slowly walked to the opposite side of the room, "I can build some stalls in this area for bedding the horses. We can open up the shop's corral and make it connect to the back of this building for a decent area to exercise the horses during the day."

He moved over to what used to be a small office from the former business and climbed up their short stairs. Walking inside the room he tapped against the piping for the kettle stove. "We could put a cot in here for someone we hire if we need one. It could be quite warm and cozy."

"We'll be fine; I can run this side of the business." Ashley said as she climbed the stares and looked in. "It needs a good cleaning."

Cody hugged her lovingly, "You are almost four months along, and how much longer would you be able to work? Then, once our baby is born, how will you work here and take care of our child?"

She frowned, "I guess I didn't really think about that. I suppose we could hire someone," she gave him a disappointed smile, "Do you know anyone? Someone you can trust?"

A gloom crossed her face as she walked out of the little office, "Sometimes I forget that I'm even pregnant...its times like this that I wish I was a boy." Ashley felt her heart jump at the omission; she kept her back to him and hoped he didn't hear.

"Well you're not a boy thank God," he said with a laugh, "Being our child's mother is the grandest job you could ever hold," he slowly climbed down the stairs and stood behind her, "This venture is a great idea, but...but a Livery is no place for a genteel lady like you, Ashley."

She looked at the dirt floor as he placed his hand on her hip, and turned her to face him. "You're carrying our child, and will be due sooner than you think. If we're lucky, there'll be more. I'd rather have you doing a job of being my wife and the mother to our children than working anywhere in this whole world."

She forced a smile. "Thanks Cody; that does help."

He took the back of his finger and carefully wiped away her tears, "Maybe we could just forget about it if you want, talk to the banker and get your money back?"

She lifted her hand to his and gently pressed her soft cheek into it, "No. I'm pretty certain that a Livery will go good in this town; and you being a blacksmith will fit hand in hand with it."

"Well, there's good money to be had and I'm sure it'll be a moneymaker," he smiled and hugged his wife, "I do know a man that could help us out. I trust him and he needs a place to live." Cody said as he walked his wife out the back door of the building.

"Does he know how to care for horses?" She asked, as they started walking on the road toward their home.

"I think he does, but I'll be sure to ask before I hire him.," he placed his arm around her and gently squeezed.

They continued to walk, as they neared their home she looked up at him and smiled. He was a very handsome man, gentle and honest. She glanced down at her hand in his and admired the strength in them. Thinking back to what he said to here while in that little building gave her pause. On one hand she WAS having a child; and he just accepted it as though it was his own filled her with a pride that she never had known before.

In her periphery, she could see broad chest, thick with sinew and sheer strength. It was as though a new light was shined upon this man at her side. She laughed inwardly as she thought of her old self, walking and holding hands with this tower of a man. With her oft hand she stroked the gentle swell of her stomach, that part of her was very real; the day she changed seemed so long ago.

Twenty

He rode into the drive as the hot sun was easing down over the treetops, she smiled to him and he waived. Ashley was well into her sixth month, her figure was full and all baby. She walked to the end of the porch as she waited for her husband to put the horse in its stall and feed it. "How was your day?" She asked as he slowly strolled up, his long stride belaying the speed he walked.

"We were pretty busy. Sold two horses today! Looks like your Livery idea is a real hit!" He said as he climbed the stairs and stood beside his wife. Cody lowered his head down and gently kissed her, then continued down to kiss the swell at her waist.

Ashley giggled and playfully pushed him away, "You need a bath, your sweaty and smell of dust."

He straightened and laughed, and gave his wife a mock frown. "Yes I'm hot, sweaty and covered in dust. I think I'll treat myself to a cool bath in our beautiful indoor privy."

She laughed at him and walked into the house, Cody followed. "I already have some water hot for you; I figured you'd want to add it to your water and warm it up a bit so it isn't too icy," she said as she made her way into the kitchen. From experience she knew that the water pulled from the pump was from deep underground, was very cold to drink but almost frigid to bathe in.

She giggled at him as he made several trips to the pump outside for cool water and carried them past her and into their privy. After he was almost finished, he came back out and handed her the empty pail he had been using to transport the icy water, she in turn handed him the big pan with the hot water.

She busied herself in the kitchen while he bathed, then slowly made her way down the hall to gather the soiled clothes he had worn. Walking up to the door she tapped against it softly, an empty wicker basket for his dirty clothes hung from her small hand "How's the water?"

"It's cool and feels great!" He said laughing. "You should join me."

"I think I'll take mine later," she replied as she slowly opened the door a crack. "Are you decent?"

He looked over his shoulder at her peeking in, "Always am," he said with a laugh.

"You know what I mean," she admonished as she pushed the door open wider. "I need the clothes you were wearing."

"I'm still in the tub...the clothes you want are over in the corner," he said pointing.

He watched as she sat the basket down and started to gather his dirty clothing, "Hey Ash, if you have a minute, can you wash my back for me?"

"Use the brush; that's what I do," she said without looking up.

"Oh come on...this way is more fun!" He spoke; she could almost hear the smile in his voice.

She was kneeling and shot him an exasperated look, even living with this man all this while she had never seen him anywhere close to being naked. She shook her head with embarrassment and continued to pick up his clothing. She realized that there was much more to him, other than what she had seen with his shirt off, no, she knew there was so much more to be seen.

A noise caused her to turn; it was the sound of the soap as it hit the floor and slid across the room to her knee. "Woops," he said laughing.

"Now you're throwing things at me?" She said sarcastically. "I suppose you want this back?"

"It would be nice," he smiled broadly, showing the whiteness of his teeth.

She tossed it toward him and it struck the heel of his hand and fell just out of his reach. "You planned that." Ashley said with a laugh.

"Please?" He said with a nod in the direction of the soap.

She sighed, shaking her head and threw the last of his dirty clothing into the basket where it sat on the floor. Slowly regained her feet and walked to where the soap lay. She picked it up, thankful that the soap residue was enough to create a opaqueness and shield her eyes from his nakedness. Ashley stood just beyond reach of his arm. "What do you give me for it?"

"Give?" He asked, laughing. "You already have all I got to offer!"

"I suppose then you can have it," she held it out to him. As he reached for it, he moved past the soap and gently but firmly grasped her wrist. "Oh no you don't...Cody!" She said squealing and laughing loudly.

Slowly he drew her close and pulled her into the tub with him, fully dressed, and careful to keep her from injury during their play. "Looks like you're all wet," he said as he untied and pushed off her shoes in an attempt to keep them as dry as possible. Water ran over the side and onto the floor as Ashley screamed and laughed at the same time.

He held her in the water with his powerful arms around her, "Your clothes are a mite wet."

"And they are, only because you just tried to drown me!" She said as she attempted to get up.

He pulled her back with a small splash. "You're getting the floor all wet!" She squealed girlishly.

"I guess we need to put something down to soak up the water then!" He said, looking at the water lying on the floor. "This dress should do," he began to unbutton the dress, the burgundy one with the buttons going down the front, her mother had given to her.

She slapped at his hands and attempted to refasten the ones he had just undone. It became a playful game as she could not keep up with him, he was much faster undoing them as she was putting them back. All the while, water continued to splash over the side.

"Cody Irons, you are impossible!" She said with a groan, throwing her hands up and letting him finish. He pushed it off of her shoulders and she squirmed from under the soaked garment. She wasn't too worried as she still retained her underclothes and petticoat.

He tossed the dress down and it fell on the majority of the water, "Looks like that'll take care of that spot...now the one over there..."

"No you don't mister!" She squealed as he began to attack her petticoats. He started to tickle her, causing her to laugh hysterically. By the time he was done, it too lay in the puddle on the floor.

Finally she lay in his arms panting and trying to catch her breath from laughing. He hugged her and kissed the top of her head. "The water feels pretty good doesn't it?"

She lay with her head upon his chest; the deep reverberation from his speaking tickled her ear. "Yes it does actually." Looking up at him she smiled, strangely enjoying their brief moment of rest.

She could feel the baby moving within her stomach, and for the first time she noticed actual movement of the baby just under its surface of her belly. The material of her underclothes was stuck tight to her skin, the paleness of her own skin showing slightly through the transparent and wet material.

"Give me your hand," she said to her husband. Taking his hand she placed it in the area where she saw the movement. 'Can you feel the baby move?" She had a huge smile as she asked him.

With wonderment he slowly smiled, "That's our baby!" He said as he hugged Ashley and kissed her upturned face. "And to think of it; in three months, we'll actually be able to hold him...or her!" He said with pride.

Looking down at his wife he smiled broadly, staring into her crystalline blue eyes. "God I love you!" He sighed, lifting her chin up to him and kissing her deeply.

Ashley pulled herself up and ran her wet fingers along his cheek, and behind his head drawing him in even more. He raised her slightly so that she could swing around in the tub to face him, a knee on each side of his hip, the gentle swell of the baby between them. Lying along his thick chest she snuggled comfortably as she could so they were able to kiss.

As she lay enjoying his gentle embrace, she became aware of his arousal slowly growing more ridged underneath her. She felt a moment of worry, but realized that she was already pregnant and nothing he could do at that moment would change that. She knew that there had been many times that they neared the realms of passion, but as yet never went beyond a passionate kiss.

And knowing that they most likely would go beyond that kissing at some point, she ignored what she was doing to him and just enjoyed the moment. Deciding that if it were going to happen, so be it.

"Heh...I think you had better get out of this water," he whispered with a slight embarrassment.

She lay against him and closed her eyes, "I know what's going on down there..."

He said nothing, aside from kissing her face again; the room grew even quieter with each passing minute. Ashley accepted that since she had so stupidly transformed herself into a woman, that she would have to embrace the roles as they presented themselves to her. She ran her fingers along his thick chest and sighed contentedly. Had their situation been reversed, she could imagine what he was going through; being naked and having a desirable woman straddling him.

Since her transformation, she had been raped, thankfully though she had no recollection of that coupling. The male side of the experience could not relate to the true extent of what was going on within the female side's mind. Sure she knew that her rape was painful and forced beyond measure, and she was pregnant due to the very act. But at the time, her mind was still mostly male and was still filtered by male thoughts.

Now though, she had been trapped in this feminine body for a half of a year; she could feel her mind slowly turning her thinking toward that which matched her form. That which would have made the male Ashley cringe, the female gladly accepted as though it were normal. Her thoughts slowly returned to the two of them in the bathtub alone, as she gradually opened her eyes.

He had his head back and eyes closed, pure contentment etched on his face as she kissed him softly on his lips. His eyes opened and he smiled. Reaching up he pushed a lock of long blond hair from where it covered her face, she leaned back creating a momentary bit of separation. Cody then returned his hand to the gentle swell of her stomach.

Ashley slowly dropped her hand onto his, and then carefully directed him to her breast. Cody, though surprised, allowed this to happen; she manipulated his hand until he began to follow her lead. He heard her sigh with pleasure as he continued to gently massage her creamy breasts through her undergarment with his fingertips.

She suddenly sat up; her eyes staring steadily into Cody's. In one fluid move, she peeled the wet undergarment from her upper body; the movement allowed her pert breasts to sway freely. Her husbands gaze was unblinking; he slowly raised his hands to cup each orb tenderly in his palm and manipulate them as she had shown him earlier.

Ashley had come to terms with herself; she realized that as long as she remained in this body she would live the life of this female as complete as it was meant to live. If that meant for her to be fondled...or to fondle this man as a female; she would embrace it totality. She may never get the chance to see this side of womanhood ever again, so embrace it she did.

Leaning inward, the gentle force of her body and his manipulation of her breasts caused the young woman to gasp with desire. The gentle rotation of her hips pressing against her husband's swollen penis caused a stroking action that caused him to draw in a sudden breath. Realizing what she was doing to Cody and seeing the pleasure it gave, she continued it, becoming steady and repetitive.

They began to kiss deeply, their tongues each sought out position of dominance over the other. He dropped his hands to the soft flair of her hips and began to work her wet bloomers down. She leaned forward and assisted him of their removal. Stepping out of them, and returning to the position on top of him as he tossed them onto the floor beside the rest of her clothing.

Her desirous body left her once male mind behind, no longer worrying about why she was without clothing and straddling a naked man, she began to thank God for that very fact! He sought out her hips and adjusted her in line with his ridged throbbing penis. She sought out the firm organ beneath the water's surface and guided him into her opening, slowly lowering herself upon his thick penis.

Still kissing him he pulled his head back for a brief moment. "Will this hurt the baby?"

She laughed her voice slight and sexually charged. "Just go at it easy; it'll be fine."

He held her hips firmly as she continued to roll them on top of him, gentle gasps of pleasure emanated from her mouth, between their kisses. Her body slowly accepted his entire length, the pain was slight and well worth it for the transformed girl. Realizing that she now held a strange power over him, she began to slightly rise, and then drop in unison to the rocking of her hips. From his response she could tell that her efforts were pushing him closer to the brink of expelling his seed. She smiled inwardly, it wasn't that long ago that she encountered those of her own; of course, as a male...every one of them were self manipulated.

Cody pulled her close and began to suckle at her breasts; the nipples became swollen and pointed outward like two little towers. Soft grunting gasps echoed as Cody began to squeeze his eyes tight to prevent early release; still he continued to tongue her nipples and draw them deeply into his mouth.

She was taken back with the strange feeling that his kisses were doing to her, it was as though her entire body was filled with some sort of electric energy that pulsated between her breasts and nether regions. She doubled her effort to bring his release forth first, but the strange little jolts of pure energy were causing her momentary lapses of rhythm.

She could feel herself losing concentration and the little tingles were starting to win her over. Her breath became labored and her head heavy, she began to pant heavily as the first of the strange tingles permeated throughout her system. Her legs began to twitch uncontrollably as her husbands hands began to forcefully hold her against him; his penetration was deep and filling. Her need to scream out began to bubble upward through her throat; it started as a small wave washing against her entire body. It began building and building until it washed over her in a great tidal surge, sweeping her entire body under its passionate wave.

Before her eyes thousands of tiny sparks erupted, completely enveloping both her husband and the room they were in. Her slight squeals were reverberating within the confines of the room, echoing and intermixing with the deep grunts of the man beneath her. From deep within her body she felt a great spasm, and again those tiny sparks washed over her, like waves against a rocky shoreline.

He held her firm; his seed began pumping into her with a force she could clearly discern, washing deep within her already pregnant body, claiming it for his own. She fell forward, her breath coming in short soft gasps, her hips slowly and involuntarily rocking in an attempt to continue the feeling she was having. Slowly the tingling subsided, she no longer felt the little bursts rise up, yet she remained still impaled on her husband.

"God...that certainly was worth waiting for!" he said softly. "I hope I didn't hurt you."

She kissed him, gently pulling his lip with her own as she backed away, "Not at all," she looked down to where her vagina had his softening penis comfortably confined.

"So...If I were to touch you as a husband touches his wife; you would be okay with that?" He smiled and gently caressed the side of her soft breast causing her to playfully wince from the tickle and giggle.

"I'd expect it from now on. As long as you're gentle, do anything you want," she said as she rolled her hips forward, seeing if he were still stiff enough for continued play. "In fact, tonight...I think you can sleep with me."

"Only tonight?" He said with a laugh.

"Well, we'll see how you do...if I like it, you can stay," she giggled.

Twenty-One

Months passed, the baby was born on a crisp winter morning at about two am. Ashley's mother and sisters were there to help with the delivery. which went as well as was possible. Although the former male had never felt a pain as what she felt giving birth to their daughter, but it was a good sort of pain. One which helped her relate to her own mother in ways that her sisters had yet to do. She was thankful for their being with her to help but she was confident that she could succeed as a mother from here on alone.

The three women had remained with her for the entire winter, leaving her father to fend for himself at home until the warmth of spring began to melt the winter snows. Thankfully they left for home early that week, their visit was nice, but Ashley longed for the return to normalcy in her young family's lives. Hearing a stirring in the nursery she padded down the hall to peek in on their little girl. She was lying awake and began to grin and kick profusely as soon as she caught sight of her mother.

"Hey there honey, I thought you were going to sleep all morning." Ashley cooed as she picked up her daughter, kissed her and then carried her to the changing dresser. Once she had her in a fresh diaper, they walked back into her own bedroom where she could nurse her in comfort. Laughing to herself, she imagined what she would have thought when she was still male, at the notion of nursing a small babe as she was about to do.

She held the infant up to her engorged breast; and watch her began to suckle in earnest at her mothers' teat. Sitting at the edge of the bed she began to wonder how much longer she would remain in this form before wanting to change back into her old male body. She looked down as her daughter nursed; did she even want to change back? Long ago that thought would never have risen inside her mind.

She thought of the men who savagely raped her, impregnating her with this child she nursed. While she vehemently hated those vile men, she felt only love for her child. She had nothing to do with what one of her biological fathers had done; the fact that Cody loved her as his own was enough for her to accept his offer to be the child's father. It would be easy enough, she had dark hair like his so that resemblance would be there.

The infant held tightly to one of Ashley's slender fingers, her mother kissing and smelling the soft, natural scent of the baby. Could she leave this life that she had grown to love so much? What would happen to little Emily Rose, named after Cody's Grandmother? She knew that Cody would still care for their child, but he would be devastated beyond belief by her sudden disappearance.

She glanced over to her dresser, safely hidden inside was the strange little transformation necklace, the necklace responsible for all of this. She pondered at this latest thought, it was true that it had caused her change, but without it, she would have never met Cody nor would she have the satisfaction of being a mother to Emily Rose.

Her slender fingers held her baby tenderly, kissing her dark hair and bonding with her daughter as only a mother could. She hummed softly to herself until her daughter exhausted the supply of milk in that breast. Carefully, she rotated her to the opposite side and continued to hum with contentment. The song all too familiar as one her own mother hummed while she was little, and nursing her own sisters.

After almost fifteen full minutes of suckling, Emily Rose dropped off in slumber. Ashley pulled her to her shoulder and gently began to pat the infant's back. Not long later, an audible burp could be heard as it passed from Emily's mouth. Carefully Ashley walked her back into the nursery and placed her into the crib to finish her nap.

Glancing to the bottom of the stairs, she could see that the clock was just slightly past nine in the morning. Carefully she returned to the bedroom and opened her drawer; hesitantly she pulled out a cloth and gradually unfolded it. In its center lay a medallion, the very one which changed her so long ago. The material it lay in was once a portion of cloth worn while she was a male.

Holding it up she watched the little medal swing and rotate at the end of the chain, amazed and terrified at the same time. Totally bewildered about what she contemplated doing to both her and her family; like some sort of perverted addiction, a need she felt compelled to experienced.

Somewhere deep within her grew an understanding of what she must do, it was as though a great light permeated through the darkest clouds to shine forth through the fog of her mind. With a deep satisfied sense of commitment, and understanding, she returned the object to the cloth and slowly covered it up.

Quietly she began to refasten her dress, buttoning up the bodice and once again confining those attributes which reminded her of motherhood. Looking toward a small mirror she sighed, her once slender body showing subtle signs of the changes that birth of a child brings on. She stood up and walked out into the hallway, hesitating a moment at the door to the nursery. As she heard only the soft slumbering sighs of little Emily Rose, she continued to the stairs where she could continue through her day as wife and mother.

Twice throughout the day the little medallion seemed to beckon her back to the dresser like some sort of evil temptress, filling her mind with those same odd wants and needs as it had so long ago. Playfully demanding she should return herself to her once male form, to again experience her lost boyhood. At that brief moment in time, she nearly succumbed to its demands; so close to touching the cloth to the medallion she had come, before throwing it back as though it was a hot piece of coal.

It began to play upon her innermost thoughts, laughing at her from some darkened recesses of her mind, mocking her form as though she had become a lesser human. She stood at the top of the stairs and cried for the loss of her boyish youth, but she blamed no one but herself for the hand she was dealt. She wiped her tears and moved closer, just outside the room where Emily Rose slept comfortably.

Again she stepped into her own bedroom, like a great dark beast, it begged Ashley to release herself from her self induced prison. The young mother felt herself opening the drawer, gently touching the cloth that held the object. The material was so light in her hand, so easy to open it begged into her troubled mind.

Behind her she heard Emily Rose begin to cry, the sound broke through the darkness that seemed to engulf Ashley. Slowly her hand closed tightly on the cloth and continued, until her anger caused her to slam it down on the dresser's surface. She struck the dresser so hard that it knocked several of her own things onto the floor. She quickly left the room, leaving the contents of the dresser top in disarray on the floor.

The items lay behind her as she walked straight into her daughter's bedroom, picking up Emily she padded down the stairs and took a seat in an old rocker Cody had purchased for her. Taking her place within the room she sat down, and admired their purchases since she had concentrated on filling the empty room.

Deftly, with accomplished practice, she began to undo the buttons of her bodice and pulled it aside to allow her daughter to nurse. It was as though she had sensed a strange change had overcome her, a change she felt she was determined to accept no matter what the results may be.

She gently attended to her daughter's needs, all the while her mind fighting the urges to run up the stairs and open up the cloth. Again it was as though it was calling out to her, she could feel her resolve lessening; almost to the point of surrender.

Her torment grew to almost ghastly proportions; she returned to the stairs with Emily and scaled them as though she was climbing the gallows. Laying a sleeping Emily Rose down, she faced her demons once again, their calling and tempting her with each step she took. Slowly she approached her bedroom door, gently pushing it open she once again faced her demon in the dresser.

Her hand pulled the drawer open; she sought out the cloth which contained the medallion which changed her so long ago. She began to cry, soft tears trailing down her cheeks. Carefully she opened the cloth and picked up the chain, the strange cherub on the medal spun and swayed gleefully below her grasp. With steeled careful determination, she sought out what she needed with her left hand, where it lay among the items on the floor. No longer listening to the demons within her mind, she became determined to end its pull on her once and for all.

Her hand found what she had been looking for, the little wooden box that had been given to her by her sisters. Into it was dropped the strange medallion, the cloth from days as a male long ago and the key. Before she could change her mind, she slammed the hasp closed until it clicked. To be sure, she attempted to open it using her thumbnail. It would not budge.

Hurrying outside while Emily Rose slept, she walked among the sun as though it was her first time; the great burden she carried was trapped inside the wooden box. She walked straight out to the shed and removed a shovel, and picked her way into the woods for a few feet and began to dig. In the open area beyond, the sun reflected and danced on the surface of a small pond. There in the woods, beside the pond on their property, she hoped it would remain forever. With each shovel of the soft earth, it was as though she was somehow liberating herself from her own prison.

Throwing the wooden box into the deep hole she covered it with dirt and patted it flat using the back of the shovel. She knew it was there, she could still feel it calling out to her; muffled though it was and almost inaudible to her mind. But still it called, trapped in a prison of its own.

Her purposeful stride toward the house took her right over the buried wooden box; her step was on the very grave of the medallion as it pleaded and called out to her mind. Without looking back, she headed into the house determined that this very night, she would hear its desperate calls no more!

Twenty-Two

It was late in the evening; Cody was just stretching out under the covers as Ashley made her way in from the nursery. She blew out the lamp and sat at the edge of the bed and looked back at her husband beginning to drift off to sleep, his rugged frame silhouetted in the moonlight. Ashley slowly removed the fashionable hair pins she used to hold her hair. With an erotic sultriness, she shook the copious blond locks free and allowed them to fall down where it almost touched the bed. She quietly began to remove her robe, following it was her nightdress; these were tossed into a chair. Completely naked, she climbed under the covers and sidled up to her husband. His warmth was comforting to her chilled body.

Hidden beneath the covers, Ashley's diminutive hands began to gently manipulate his penis. Slowly it twitched then started to become more firm under the caress of her soft touch; rising and pushing against the covers as it grew. She listened to his breathing, he was caught somewhere between waking and sleeping. Her lips began to kiss his thick chest; her long blond hair spilling around her face like a shroud.

She knew he was awake once she felt the touch of his hands, his fingers running through her long blond hair, slowly guiding her mouth up to his. They met with a fury of lust, their tongues danced together with passion. Slowly her kisses began to trail down his chest once again, pushing the covers aside; she began to cradle and kiss his penis with reckless abandon.

He began to draw her upward, reluctantly she allowed him. In the moonlight, he looked at her questioningly. "Remember your mother said that we should refrain from...this until after Emily Rose is six months old."

"You don't like it?" She asked, returning to kissing the tip of his swollen penis. Her tongue glistened in the moonlight as she begun to make love to him with her mouth.

"I love it and you! But this is something new that you have never done to me before!" He said panting under her gentle manipulation.

She smiled, "I'm just trying to exorcise some demons."

"I really like what you're doing down there; but I'm pretty sure that isn't how you get rid of them," he said laughing.

"Oh I'm pretty sure this will work for the ones I have," she replied coyly, gently stroking him faster as she spoke.

With reluctance, Cody removed her hand and pulled her back up beside him on the bed. "We've been married for almost a full year, I've never seen you behave this forward before...so, what are you really after?" He rolled her onto her side of the bed and propped his head on his arm.

She looked at him in the darkness, his face shielded in shadow. "I want you to get me pregnant. I want it to happen this very night!"

"Are you sure?" He asked, surprised she wanted another child so soon after having their first daughter. "Their birthdays would be only a month or so apart!" He was leaning over her, studying her eyes and the tears that clung to the lashes.

"Please! For the sake of our family; I need to become pregnant now!" She pulled at Cody's shoulders, causing him to place his hand on each side of his wife to catch his balance.

He smiled at her desperation, and then allowed his eyes to trail down her beautiful body. Slowly he lowered his head and began to kiss her breasts, gently tonguing her nipple into a little erect tower. She had moved her leg so he was straddling her, and with two hands she was holding onto his erect penis, trying to guide him into her eager womb.

"You want to be pregnant again, I'll oblige...but we're going to take our time at getting there!" He began to kiss her other breast, then lower and lower the kisses drew until he was at the soft hair of her nether region. She gasped as she felt him insert his tongue deeply into her; involuntarily, her knees parted and fell against the bed in opposite direction.

A cry of passion began to build within her lungs, hesitating to come out. Her legs began to twitch uncontrollably, as he grasped her hips and pushed his face deeper into her body. Sweat beaded her upper lip as she turned her head toward the window, the muffled cries of the medallion echoing in her mind.

Strange little white lights began to burst before Ashley's eyes, tingling forcing her womanly teats to stiffen like two sentinels guarding the entrance to her fertile womb. Her breathing became haggard, soft mewing grunts expelled with each breath she released. The deep kissing gradually became nestled within the soft pubic hair between her thighs, slowly inching upward with each erotic touch from his lips.

Slowly forgotten was the dark pleading of the medallion, erased by what her husband was doing to her. They reluctantly began to regress into the void of her oblivion, immersed in the erotic passion her husband performed upon her.

Ashley held onto the sheets, the material balled in each fist; writhing under the passion of what her husband was doing to her. Like a long lost artisan, he began to gently massage her breasts as though she were the clay of his next great sculpture. Her head began to press backward into their pillows as her husband's engorged penis danced at the gate of her maidenhead.

She clenched her eyes tightly, knowing that once their lovemaking had run its course, she would be forever entrenched in her role as a mother and wife to this glorious man. She knew that the lure of the medallion would still be out there, but once this second child begins to grow in her womb, the call of it would be heard less and less.

Gradually at first, he pushed into her until the slickness of her opening allowed him eager access. Ashley began to grunt and spasm, squeals of delight rocked her from deep within as a wave of pure bliss washed onto her over and over again.

Deeper and deeper he penetrated, until she was taking his entire length. Their unison rocking began to cause the springs of the bed to groan with them; soft grunts began to harmonize to the rhythm. Her lithe, sleek legs were against her lover's thighs, gently pulling at him with each thrust of his strong hips, their slow dance of passion seeming to meld them into one writhing being.

From deep within the female, a tingling permeated outward, growing in magnitude until she could no longer contain it. Her breath seemed to have failed her as she felt a quake roll through her husband. Rapidly he began to piston into her, another shudder shook him from head to toe, yet he continued only momentarily hesitating.

The woman beneath her man was holding her breath, her body recoiling under the strokes of her young lover. With one powerful thrust, he pressed forward, she locked her feet as best as she could behind him and held him there. From within her body she felt a subdued but steady throbbing as his seed was racing toward her womb.

She expelled the breath she had been holding, together they gasped for air in the last throes of their passion. As her breathing became more controlled, she lay there beneath him, accepting of his kisses that were gently falling on her neck and chest. Deep within her body, she could feel the instrument of her obsession slowly begin relaxing. After several minutes it became flaccid and withdrew entirely from her moist opening.

He rolled to her side and they kissed; her head nestling and resting on his firm shoulder. Ashley could no longer hear the pleas of the strange necklace beckoning her to remove the lid; its seduction to her mind, broken by her resolve.

She knew that its call could never really be silenced; the continued pleading would be like a cacophony of chorus' each singing their own songs of desire. She new that to remove her want of it she must eradicate it completely from her thoughts; leaving no chance of it ever calling out to her again.

Tomorrow, she would discuss with her husband, a plan for the little wooded area just behind their home. The building would be beautiful, a permanent marker for the grave that would forever seal her away from the dangerous little pendant.

Twenty-Three

The picnic was lovely, visiting family and friends surrounded the happy couple, now just showing signs of their age. Cody stood beside two of their handsome sons, both strapping and tall like their father. A beautiful young woman held the hand of her eldest son, wearing her love like sunshine; she smiled and looked up at the man whose child she carried.

Emily Rose watched contently as her oldest two children played along the pond, picking flowers and creating chains with their stems. On her lap sat her youngest, a beautiful bright eyed son, content to chew on the homemade cookie his mother held. In the corner her youngest son was opening a case, removing a beautiful guitar from within.

The summer sun was warm that anniversary day in 1905, the gazebo for all its years still looked as wonderful as it did the day that Cody first built it. The herringbone pattern that the dark bricks of the smooth floor set off the stark whiteness of the wood structure incredibly well.

"Excuse me! Excuse me everyone!" Ashley's youngest son called out, "Today is Mom and Dad's twenty-fifth wedding anniversary!" He paused while those in attendance all clapped and cheered. "On this special occasion, I thought I'd give Mother a treat!"

Ashley smiled as her son picked up his guitar, "She had to twist your arm, Charles!" His brother teased, slowly walking his father toward his mother's side. Cody raised his hand out to his wife, his eyes reflecting the love he still had for her.

Ashley looked up at her husband with tears glistening in the corner of his eyes, "Would you care to dance?" Their son, an accomplished classical guitarist began to play a soft song, one perfectly suited for their waltz. She smiled at her youngest as his fingers diligently strummed across the strings, playing the very song that was her favorite.

She smiled and took the hand Cody offered, stood up and they walked to the center of the large gazebo. As the music began, the couple started to dance. In their minds the years slowly washed away, they were young newlyweds once again.

"Are you enjoying yourself?" He asked as they elegantly moved across the floor.

Ashley nodded, "The day has been simply beautiful," she said smiling.

He smiled, leaned in and kissed her tenderly. "You're beautiful." His smile was genuine, the same one that made her fall in love so long ago.

"We've had some very good times, haven't we?" she whispered and allowed him to turn her gracefully under his outstretched arm. As they returned to each other's arms, she looked up at him.

"We've had our share of bad times too." His eyes looked sadly down, remembering the child that they lost to illness. As they continued to dance he finally glanced upward, as if shaking the painful memory loose. "What was that you used to always say? Into each life some rain must fall?"

She nodded, her eyes glistening with tears at the sorrowful time of their lives. "My mother always said that too. It's painfully true, but our love saw us through all that rain."

á¤He hugged her tightly, "We've done okay for ourselves, and I say the hell with everything! Let it rain!"

Smiling she hugged him tightly as he leaned down and kissed her. The family and friends all began to cheer loudly and continued to clap for the lovely couple. There were happy tears in her eyes as they broke from their kiss, "I couldn't have said it better. Life is short...let it rain!"


The End



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