9 Finding Mrs Darkly


Finding Mrs Darkly
(The Elizabeth Darkly series #9)

By Maz McCoy

In the aftermath of Elizabeth Darkly’s kidnapping, Kid Curry sets out to find her.

The present

The echoes of six gun shots resounded through the trees; metal on metal. A bird shrieked its disapproval, wings flapping frantically amongst the branches and then the wood fell silent once more. Six cans lay on the ground beyond a fallen tree, their sides dented or holed by the bullets that had hit them. A hand deftly twirled the Colt .45 and, in one easy movement, returned it to its holster. Satisfied, the man replaced his left arm, carefully, in a sling, grimacing as he did so. Then, turning, he limped back along the trail towards the house.

***

Lom Trevors watched from the front porch, as Kid Curry approached. Lom knew Kid’s right leg was still paining him, but he was healing, slowly. The men exchanged a nod of greeting as Kid reached the house.

“Hit anything?” Lom asked, jovially. Kid shot him a look but did not dignify the question with a reply. “I’ve just made some coffee,” the sheriff told him with a smile and Kid followed Lom into the house. In the kitchen, Lom poured two cups of coffee and handed one to Kid.

“Any word?” Kid asked, as he took a sip.

“Nothing. The Brinklemeyer’s haven’t had any message at all. Nor any ransom demands. The Bannerman men they hired set out from the cabin but lost their trail. They have no idea who has taken Elizabeth or why.”

“You still convinced it has nothing to do with Kramer?”

“I don’t know. But taking her won’t help his cause. He’s already in prison. No one is going to let him out even if they did make any demands. And Kramer certainly doesn’t need the money from a ransom.”

Kid leaned back against a cupboard and gritted his teeth.

“Your leg still hurting?”

“Yeah.” Lom took the now empty cup from Kid and poured two more coffees.

“You’re not thinking of riding out are you?”

“Well I can’t do much hanging around here.”

“You’re not fit enough yet.”

“I can sit a horse.”

“Heyes might have something different to say about that.”

Kid sighed.

“If it was all for nothing, Lom…”

“I know. I feel the same way.” He studied his young friend’s grim face. “Why don’t you go and get some rest?”

“Yeah. I think I will.” Kid picked up a cup of coffee and headed for the stairs, the sheriff watching him, as he remembered.

***

Previously

A fist of fear closed around Lom Trevor’s heart when he pulled his horse into the clearing in front of the cabin. His eyes fell instantly to the bodies of two men lying in the dirt. Blood stained their clothes. They showed no sign of life. The blond man lay on his side next to his dark-haired friend.

“Oh no!” the sheriff exclaimed, dropping from the saddle. His deputy, Seth Curtis, was quickly beside him. With feet like lead, Lom ran towards the men. He hoped they would be alive but in truth expected the worse. Dropping to his knees, his eyes took in the blood covering the front of Heyes’ shirt and the small, blood-soaked square of cloth, placed over the wound. Lom reached out a hand and touched Heyes’ neck. Relief washed over him when he felt a faint pulse. Turning to the blond man, he gently turned him onto his back. Kid groaned, as the sheriff moved him. Lom exhaled. They were both alive. For the moment, he could ask for no more. Kid’s belt was pulled tight around the top of his right thigh, a bloody bandana stuffed beneath his shirt at his left shoulder.

“Seth, go get the doctor. Ride as fast as you can, send him out here then go fetch a wagon.”

“Yes sir!” Seth was on his feet, running for his horse. He was young and eager, always keen to learn and to help. Lom knew he would do as he was asked.

The sheriff took off his own bandana and headed for the well. He nursed their wounds as best he could; tearing the sheets from the bed to use as bandages. Made them as comfortable as possible and waited, for what seemed like an eternity, for the doctor to arrive. Unconsciously he watched his friends breathe. He let out a sigh of relief when he finally heard a horse approaching, and saw the doctor’s familiar black hat.

Doctor Edwin Colby was a grey-haired man in his early fifties. Having untied his bag from the saddle horn, he was quickly at Lom’s side. His face was grim as he studied the two still forms.

“How long ago did this happen?” he asked, as he knelt beside Heyes.

“I don’t know Doc. I sent Seth back as soon as we found them.”

The doctor sent the sheriff for a bucket of water as he busied himself. Seth arrived with a wagon, as Doctor Colby was finishing bandaging Kid’s leg. Between them, the three men lifted the two wounded ex-outlaws into the back of the wagon and headed into town. It had not been a comfortable ride for anyone. Kid groaned every time they hit a rut in the dirt road but at least it meant he was still alive. Heyes remained ominously silent and Lom knew from the doctor’s demeanour that he wasn’t hopeful for his survival. How was he supposed to tell Kid, if Heyes didn’t make it? How would he stop him from doing something stupid to avenge his best friend’s death; something that might easily result in Kid’s own hanging? And, in truth, would he want to stop him? Lom cast a quick glance at the two injured men; all that assumed Kid survived. Lom flicked the reins and the horses moved on.

They took them to Lom’s house. Kid was placed in the room he had occupied on many occasions. Heyes was laid carefully on Lom’s bed. Margaret Wetherby was waiting at the house to assist them. She was in her forties with a kind face and soft blue eyes. Lom had taken a special liking to the widow and received a few friendly taunts from the boys about his relationship with her. He watched now as she sat beside Kid, wiping his forehead with a cool, damp cloth. She gave him a reassuring smile and he went to look in on Heyes.

He found the doctor preparing to remove the bullet that was still lodged in Heyes’ side. Margaret joined them and then left to collect the things the doctor needed; hot water, towels, and a basin. Seth arrived with medicines the doctor had sent him for and the operation could begin. Lom watched as Doctor Colby cut into his friend, saw the metal instruments probing inside and listened to the sickening sounds of bloody human flesh being searched. He sighed with relief when he heard the clink of metal in the basin and looked at the distorted bloody shape of the bullet. He watched Heyes’ face and said a silent prayer as the doctor stitched the wound and wrapped a bandage around his body. Margaret placed a reassuring hand on Lom’s arm.

The doctor transferred his instruments to Kid’s room. Applying anaesthetic to a face mask, he placed it over Kid’s nose and mouth. Slowly Kid stopped struggling and Dr. Colby could proceed with the task of removing the bullet from Kid’s left shoulder. The one that had struck Kid’s thigh had gone straight through. The doctor worked fast to complete the task before his patient woke. Soon another bloody bullet landed in the basin. Dr. Colby wiped the sweat from his forehead and went to wash his bloodstained hands. Then he turned his attention to Kid’s leg wound. As the anaesthetic wore off, Kid muttered incomprehensibly but all they could do was wait.

Margaret, the Doctor and Lom had taken turns to sit at their bedsides. They bathed fevered foreheads and made coffee to keep each other awake. The hands slowly circled the face of the grandfather clock that stood in the hall. Time became an endless wait to see if the two young men would survive. It had been a long few days; ones Lom never wanted to repeat again. Then, one morning as Margaret was getting ready to go home, they heard Kid say, “Ma’am?”

The sheriff and Mrs Wetherby turned to see two tired blue eyes focusing on them. Margaret heard Lom’s sigh of relief and placed a comforting hand on his arm.

“Good to see you awake,” the sheriff said with a smile.

“How’s Heyes?” Kid didn’t like the expression he saw on his friend’s face. A knot tightened in his gut. “Lom?”

***

Kid leaned against the doorframe and took a deep breath. He placed his hand on the doorknob but did not turn it. For one of the few occasions in his life, Kid felt a wave of fear pass over him. He suppressed it quickly but it scared him. He turned the door handle and entered the room. The curtains were closed, the glow from a single lamp cast shadows on the walls. Heyes lay still in the bed. Kid limped slowly towards his friend.

***

Kid was not in his room when Lom went to check on him. The bedclothes were pushed to one side. Kid’s freshly washed clothes were still laid out on the chair, his gun in its holster hanging from the bedpost. Lom had a good idea where Kid would be. As he expected he found the blond man in Heyes’ room, asleep in the arm chair, Heyes’ hat resting on his chest.

Hearing footsteps approach, Kid’s eyes opened as Lom entered the room.

“What are you doing out of bed?” the sheriff asked.

“Just keeping an eye on him.”

“Kid…”

“I just wanted to sit with him for a while.”

“Kid you can’t do anything for him.”

Before Kid could protest they heard someone downstairs and a man’s voice called out.

“Lom? You there?”

The sheriff went back outside and called down the stairs.

“Up here, Doc.”

A short time later Doctor Colby put his head around the door. He frowned when he saw Kid.

“What are you doing out of bed?”

All eyes turned to the blond man.

“I wanted to sit with Joshua.”

“Well, now you’ve seen him, get back to bed. You want to heal don’t you? You need to rest. I’d have thought you’d have learned that last time. Or did you think an arrow wound would be different?”

Kid looked at Lom but he’d get no sympathy there.

The doctor headed towards the bed as Kid eased himself onto his feet. A sudden groan caught everyone’s attention. It was Heyes.

“Kid?” he said, although his eyes didn’t open.

“It’s all right Mr Heyes, he’s here.” Kid’s mouth dropped open. He looked at Lom, who met his eyes briefly, before turning to the doctor.

“Kid?” Heyes eyes opened.

“Mr Heyes, can you hear me?” Dr. Colby saw the anxious expressions on the faces of the two men standing at the foot of the bed. “It’s all right Lom, I’ve tended these two enough times now, to know who they really are. I won’t say anything. I’ve always assumed you have your reasons for helping them.”

“Lom?” Heyes asked, weakly, and the sheriff stepped into view.

“Joshu…I’m here Heyes.”

“Kid?”

“He’s here. He’s all right.”

“S’good.”

“Heyes.” Kid stepped into view.

Heyes smiled, then his eyes closed again. The doctor felt the pulse in Heyes’ wrist, then looking up gave Kid a glare.

“Are you still here? I thought I told you to get back to bed.”

“How is he?”

“As well as can be expected, now get!”

“But is he gonna be all right?”

“It’s too early to tell. Go back to bed! I need to examine him.”

Reluctantly, Kid turned towards the door. He took one look back at his partner before limping along the corridor to his room.

“Edwin, I…” Lom wasn’t sure how to express his gratitude to the doctor.

“It’s all right Lom. Why don’t you go and make some coffee and we can talk later. I have a bandage to change.”

***

The present

Kid opened the door and crept quietly into the bedroom. He walked over to the bed and placed the coffee cup on the bedside stand.

“Good morning,” a familiar voice said. Kid looked up to where Heyes was sitting in bed, propped up on several pillows.

“Actually it’s afternoon,” Kid replied. “I thought you were asleep. I brought you coffee.” He picked up a book from the floor beside the bed, glanced momentarily at the cover and placed it on the stand.

“I guess I dozed off,” Heyes said, easing himself into a more comfortable position.

“Can’t be much of a story then.”

“It is, I’m just tired.”

Kid limped towards an armchair and sat down. Even to Heyes, he looked tired too.

“Where have you been?”

“Just doing a little target practice.”

“I thought the Doc said…”

“I know, Heyes.”

Heyes studied him.

“What are you planning?”

Kid looked at his friend but said nothing.

“What are you planning?”

“I figured that whoever took her must have followed us from Fury. So if I go back there I can ask around and maybe pick up some information.”

“That’s a good idea. Just give me another day and I’ll be ready to join you.”

“Heyes, if I gave you another week, you wouldn’t be ready.”

“I could sit a horse.”

“Not a moving one!”

“If we’re too late…” Heyes couldn’t finish but Kid knew what he meant.

If, Elizabeth Darkly was already dead. Then what? Would they hunt down whoever had taken her?

“You’re not strong enough to travel,” Kid told him.

“Oh and you are?”

“More than you.” Heyes looked annoyed by his own physical weakness. Kid met his friend’s gaze. “Is she worth killing yourself for?”

“I’ve got to help her Kid.”

“I know.”

“Help me up, huh?” Heyes threw back the bedclothes.

“No.”

“Kid please…”

“I’ll go.” Brown eyes met blue ones. “I’ll find her. Bring her back. You just get better, okay?”

Heyes pulled the covers back over his legs.

“Just make sure you come back, and don’t do anything stupid.”

“I won’t.”

“Hmmm.”

“I’m going to get some rest. We can talk later, then you can tell me how you’d handle this.”

“I will.”

“And I can ignore you as always.” Kid smiled, then got up and headed for the door. He stopped in the doorway, looking back at his friend. “You look better.”

“Thanks.”

Kid left the room.

***

Despite Lom’s protestations, Kid was determined to ride out the following morning. After breakfast he saddled his horse, and then went back inside to see Heyes.

“Don’t get yourself killed.”

“I’m not planning to.”

“And don’t take any unnecessary risks.”

“I won’t, Ma.”

Heyes gave him a look but continued.

“If there are too many of them come back for help.”

“There might not be time.”

“Find time.”

“To get you?”

“Just get help.”

“I’m wearing clean underwear, in case you’re worried about that too.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear it.”

Kid smiled. Heyes looked thoughtful.

“I mean it, Kid.”

“I know.”

Kid headed towards the door. The partner’s exchanged a look and then Kid left.

***

Kid eased himself into the saddle, trying not to let Lom see the pain it caused him. He failed. His eyes met the sheriff’s. Lom smiled his encouragement.

“You could wait…” he suggested.

“Not any longer, Lom.”

“I know. Well, take care of yourself.” He held out his hand and Kid shook it. “Don’t rush into anything. I don’t want to have to come and rescue you too.”

“You sound like Heyes.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I’ll be careful. Just look after him, okay?”

“I will.”

He watched as Kid rode away. Lom headed back into the house.
He sat for a while in the kitchen, swirling the coffee around in his cup. Should he have ridden out with Kid or at least sent someone with him? Knowing how Kid was feeling, was he condoning an act of violence by not going along to ensure the law was not broken? He had a job to do in Porterville and, with Seth and Deputy Harker escorting some men trial, no one to take over from him. Lom didn’t like watching Kid ride out alone.

***

Despite his assurances to Heyes and Lom, after a few hours in the saddle, Kid had to admit he wasn’t as fit as he hoped. His shoulder ached, a pulse throbbed in his leg and the thought of spending the night on the hard ground was not an appealing one. When he reached a small lake, surrounded by trees, he pulled his horse to a halt and eased himself down from the saddle. The horse drank at the water’s edge. Kid lowered himself onto a larger boulder, took of his hat and wiped his brow.

“I hate to admit it but Heyes might be right,” he told the horse. Being a good listener and not one for conversation, the animal carried on drinking. Kid stood up and stretched. “I guess I’ll just figure out what I can do when I get there.” He walked to the water, knelt down and scooped up a handful of water. He drank, then splashed water on his face and around the back of his neck.

“If I don’t find her…” Kid left the rest unsaid. The horse looked at him. “Yeah, I know.”

Kid stood, patted the animal’s neck, caught hold of the reins and climbed back into the saddle.

***

There was a loud thud and Lom took the stairs two at a time to reach the bedroom. Opening the door he found Heyes lying on the floor, one leg in his pants.

“What the heck are you doing?”

“Trying to get dressed.”

“What for?”

“Right now I can’t remember.”

“Let’s get you back up.” He helped Heyes to his feet and sat him in the armchair. Heyes put his other foot into his pants and pulled them up to his knees. He didn’t have the strength to stand up and finish the job.

“I shouldn’t have let Kid ride out alone.”

“You couldn’t have ridden with him.”

“I should have stopped him.”

“Any idea how?”

“I don’t like being useless, Lom.”

“You’re not. You’re just recovering. You know for a while there we didn’t think you were gonna make it. I lost a lot of sleep trying to work out how I was going to tell Kid or stop him from riding off seeking revenge.”

“Sorry to have kept you awake.”

“You know that’s not what I meant. I’m just saying this was a serious wound.”

“I’m sorry Lom. I’m grateful for what you’ve done for me. For us both, but what if that’s exactly what he’s doing now? Seeking revenge.”

“I don’t think so. You’re alive. You’re recovering. He’s calmed down.”

“But when he meets the men who did this? Do you really see Kid controlling his temper?”

“So you were planning to ride out after him?”

“Well I’ve narrowed my sights a little, now.”

“Oh.”

“I thought getting my pants on might be the first milestone.”

Lom smiled.

“Okay. I’ll stand by just in case you fall again.”

Heyes stood up and pulled up his pants. He gave Lom a triumphant smile.

“Where are my boots?”

“You’re not having those.”

“Lom, I can’t ride barefoot.”

“That’s right, you can’t.” Lom smiled and headed for the door.

“Lom.”

“I’ll call you later for dinner. Margaret will be here so behave yourself.”

The sheriff left and Heyes sat back down in the chair.

***

The last time Kid Curry arrived in Fury, it was night time and they were escorting Elizabeth Darkly to Lom’s hotel room. The town looked the same to Kid as he rode down the centre of the street, this time without a false beard. He pulled his horse to a halt in front of the saloon and eased himself from the saddle, flinching as the scar tissue on his leg stretched. He cast a glance up and down the street, and then headed up the steps. Kid pushed through the bat wing doors, walked up to the bar, placed some coins in front of him and ordered a whiskey. The bartender picked up a bottle, placed a glass in front of the blond man and poured, studying the stranger as he did so.

“You just rode in?” he asked, conversationally.

“Yeah.” Kid downed the drink, then asked for another. The bartender poured again. “Do you remember the Kramer trial, a few weeks back?”

“Sure. That’s the biggest one we’ve had here for a while.”

“I’m looking for some men, who may have been in town around that time. Probably asked questions about the woman who was a witness.”

The bartender eyed him, curiously, waiting to hear more before he spoke.

“I wondered if you remembered anyone like that?”

“There were a lot of people around at that time.”

“I’m looking for a man or a group of men, who were asking after Mrs. Darkly.”

“The woman who was the witness?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there was a bunch after the trial was over.”

“How long after?”

“Just a few days.”

“What else d’you know?”

“They showed me an article from a newspaper about the trial. I figured they were just curious.”

“But?”

“Hmm.” The bartender scowled, clearly pretending not to remember. Kid placed a coin on the bar.

“That help your memory?”

“The boss man asked about the woman. About Mrs. Darkly.”

“The boss man?”

“Yeah.” He looked at Kid. Another coin was placed on the counter. “Looked like they were used to being together and taking orders. Riding for the brand, most likely.”

“Any idea where they were from?”

“Hmm.” Kid placed a third coin in front of him. “Well the newspaper was an out of town one.”

“What town?”

“Hmm.” This time ice blue eyes met his. No more coins were offered. The bartender smiled and knew enough not to push things further. “The Waterford Herald.”

“Anything else?”

“No. That’s all I can remember. I think they called the boss man, Riker or something like that.”

“Thanks.” The bartender headed along the bar to another customer. Kid looked around the saloon. There were a couple of men chatting in a far corner and a couple of girls sitting with a well dressed man near the window. Kid pushed off the bar and headed out the door. He was eager to head for Waterford but knew he should ask a few more questions around town first. He led his horse across the street to the hotel.

***

Following the first shot, Kid dropped to his knees. The second propelled him backwards. Heyes’ hand went to his side but he didn’t have his gun. He watched as another bullet, then another tore into his friend’s body. He couldn’t get to Kid, he couldn’t help him. He couldn’t save him. Kid writhed in agony and he could do nothing but watch his life ebb away.

Heyes eyes opened and gasping for breath he looked up at the familiar walls of Lom’s bedroom. It had been a dream, or more accurately, a nightmare, and not his first since he’d been shot. Clad only in his pants, Heyes lay on the bed where he had shuffled back to after Lom had left him. Kid was alive, he knew that but it could have ended so differently. Heyes turned his head and came face to face with a young girl. She couldn’t have been more than fourteen years old, her dark hair was tied back, her small frame accentuated by her navy blue dress. Her brown eyes met his and she smiled, nervously.

“I think you were dreaming,” she said. Heyes gave her a dimpled smile. She blushed and looked away. “I’ll tell my Aunt you’re awake, Mr. Smith.”

“You have the advantage on me.” She looked confused. “You know my name but I don’t know yours.”

“Catherine, Catherine Wetherby. Margaret is my Aunt. I’m staying with her for a while. She asked me to let you know dinner will be ready soon and to find out what you felt you could eat.
Maybe I should get her?” Catherine headed for the door and slipped from the room.

***

Kid sat in the hotel dining room. Despite his hunger, nothing on the menu had appealed to him. However he had to eat, so he ordered the steak. The waitress, who brought it, tried to engage him in conversation but when his replies turned out to be monosyllabic, she gave up and turned her attention to other , more responsive, customers. When Kid finished his meal, he headed for his room.

***

Despite the promised dinner, Heyes had fallen asleep again. Catherine Wetherby stood in the doorway watching him. He had been shot, bravely trying to save someone called Mrs. Darkly. There was a bandage over the wound at his waist. His bare chest rose and fell in a steady rhythm. She hoped, one day, someone would love her enough to risk their life. He must be so brave. A genuine hero. She moved quietly into the room, towards the bed.

A strand of dark hair had fallen across his eyes and she wanted to reach out and brush it aside. He was so handsome; so beautiful, if you could describe a man as being so. She felt something fluttering inside her and her hand reached forward, towards his forehead and the strand of hair. She stopped herself. It would be wrong to touch him and yet she wanted to; almost to check that he was real.

Hearing her Aunt approach, Catherine took a step away from the bed.

***

Waterford was a pleasant town on the side of a river. As Kid rode down the centre of the main street he cast a glance at the jail and the name above the sign. He didn’t recall ever meeting a Marshal T. Roberts before. He headed across to the saloon, hoping to find someone who could identify the man named Riker.

The saloon was empty apart from the bartender and a man sweeping the floor. The bartender headed towards Kid.

“What’ll it be?”

“Whiskey.” Kid placed a coin in front of him as he leaned on the bar. He downed the drink placed before him in one go and ordered another. “D’you know a man named Riker?”

The bartender studied him.

“You a friend of his?”

“No. I was told to look him up and he might be able to find me a job. I heard he worked on a ranch around here.” Kid kept his tone casual.

“Yes he does. The Halliday ranch.”

“D’you know if they’re hiring?”

“They’re always looking for good hands.”

“How do I get there?”

The bartender gave Kid directions.

***

Margaret Wetherby had made an appetising stew the previous evening. Heyes heard her laughing downstairs with Lom and her niece, Catherine. The delightful young girl had come to collect his plate when he had finished eating and Margaret had joined her, chastising Heyes for getting out of bed earlier and for attempting too much too soon. Perhaps that’s what he had been doing but he had to get fitter and lying about in bed wasn’t helping him do that.

Maybe today he would be able to do more. Heyes swung his legs out of bed and stood up, groaning as he did so. He held his side and shuffled in his long johns to the end of the bed. The floor was cold beneath his bare feet. Having made it successfully to the far bed post, he turned and set off towards the window.

He pulled open the curtains and watched two small birds chase each other in the branches of the trees. Looking around he spotted his pants on a chair and headed towards them, hoping to get dressed without Lom’s help this time.

***

Kid sat on his horse looking down at the ranch. Lights shone from the windows of the main house and bunkhouse. There were a few men on watch but Kid Curry was used to avoiding guards. He dropped from the saddle and led his horse into the trees, tying the reins around a trunk. Quietly he crept down the hillside towards the buildings. Not wanting to head out into the open, he made his way behind the bunkhouse towards the barn. As he moved, cautiously, through the shadows between the buildings, the door to the bunkhouse opened and two men stepped outside, momentarily silhouetted in the lamplight. Kid slipped quietly through an open doorway into the darkness of the barn. He waited beside the door, his eyes watching through a crack in the wood as the men headed towards the barn and then stopped outside. Kid saw the glow from a cigarette.

“Just what the heck are you doing here?” a voice asked behind him. Kid spun quickly around and came face to face with a shotgun.

***

Heyes had managed to dress himself unaided. He walked out into the hallway and looked at the stairs as if they were a mountain to climb or, more accurately, descend. Hearing Margaret arrive at the house, he knew Lom would appreciate some time alone with her and shuffled back into his room, lowering himself into the chair. There was the sound of footsteps on the stairs and moments later Catherine put her head around the door. She smiled.

“Hello, Joshua.” The dark blue shirt he wore suited him so.

Heyes smiled.

“Hello, Catherine.”

She held up a book.

“I thought you might like me to read to you.”

“Thank you.”

Eagerly, Catherine entered the room.

“What is it?”

“Moby Dick. It’s about a whale.” She pulled a chair closer to his.

“I know that one.”

“Oh, should I get another?”

“No, it’s fine. It’s a good story.”

This pleased her. Catherine opened the book.

“Are you ready?”

“Whenever you are.”

“Catherine cleared her throat.

“Call me Ishmael…”

***

Several men dragged and shoved Kid Curry towards the main house. The door opened but Kid had no time to take in the décor before he was hauled into the study and shoved into a high-backed chair. Four men stood in front of him, glaring. Kid’s eyes focussed on his gun, shoved into one man’s belt. The men stepped back as another man entered the room. Kid looked up as a tall, elegantly dressed man, in his late forties, stood in front of him. His dark neatly trimmed hair showed signs of grey at the temples. His beard was cut close.

“Who are you?” the man asked.

Kid didn’t reply fast enough for the foreman and a hand slapped him across the face.

“The Boss asked you a question!”

“Thaddeus Jones.” Kid met the man’s gaze.

“What were you doing in the barn?”

“Who are you?” Kid received another slap, but the Boss, decided to reply.

“Randolph Halliday. You’re on my ranch, Mr. Jones. So why were you in the barn?”

“I was lost.”

“Lost?” The man’s eyebrows rose. “Where were you hoping to be?”

“I was looking for someone.”

“Who?”

“A friend.”

“Does this friend have a name?”

Kid looked from one face to the next, thinking.

“Burt,” he decided.

“I don’t believe we have a ‘Burt’ here.”

There was a commotion at the door and a man entered the room.

“Mr. Halliday, we found his horse up on the ridge.” He stopped beside the chair, casting a glance at the man sitting there. His eyes met Kid’s. His expression changed to one of recognition. “Hey, I know him.”

All eyes were on him, waiting. Kid didn’t need any clues. This was the man who had picked up his gun as he lay bleeding.

“Well?” Halliday prompted.

“He was at the cabin. One of the men we shot.”

All eyes turned back to Kid. He felt like the prey, waiting for the cougar to pounce.

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. I reckon I killed the other one.”

Suddenly Kid sprang from the chair; lunging at the man. The man took a step backwards as hands grabbed Kid, surprised by his strength, and forced him back into the chair. Kid struggled, a punch caught him on the jaw and they held him down, his mouth beginning to bleed.

“Would you like to change your story Mr. Jones?” Halliday asked.

Kid glared at the hired hand as he replied.

“I guess I don’t like being shot and not knowing why.”

“So you tracked us down?”

Kid didn’t answer. He didn’t need to.

“And the man who was with you?”

“He won’t cause you any trouble.” Finally, he met Halliday’s eyes, the anger he felt all too obvious.

“I see.” Kid knew they thought Heyes was dead and that was how he’d like to keep it. He didn’t want anyone turning up at Lom’s while his partner was too weak to defend himself.

“What happened to the woman?” Kid asked, casually.

“Do you care?”

“I’m just curious to know what it was all about. And she never got the chance to pay me.”

Halliday gave him a satisfied smile.

“I see. So it’s money you’re after?”

Kid didn’t reply. Halliday nodded to a man at the door. The man left the room.

“I suppose I shall have to decide what to do with you.” Halliday looked at Kid. “We can’t very well let you go, can we?”

“Why not? I don’t know anything to tell.”

“Not yet you don’t.” he door opened and someone entered the room. “Ah, my dear, come in. We have a guest.” The men stepped to one side to allow the newcomer to pass. Kid looked up as a woman came into view. His mouth dropped open in shock when he saw Elizabeth Darkly standing before him.

“Mr. Jones, allow me to introduce my future bride.” Halliday took Elizabeth’s hand and placed it on his arm. Elizabeth smiled at him, then looked down at Kid’s bruised and bloody face. The glare he was giving her was enough to make a weaker woman’s blood run cold.

“Hello Mr. Jones,” she said, politely, as her eyes searched his. “I’m glad you’re all right.”

“Unlike my partner.” Kid’s words hit home. He saw her jaw tighten.

“How is he?”

“What do you care?”

Another blow to the face caught Kid by surprise. He ran his tongue over his lip, tasting blood.

“Watch your mouth in front of the lady!”

Kid kept his eyes on Elizabeth.

“She ain’t no lady.”

Another blow made Kid’s head spin.

“Enough Riker!” Halliday commanded. “I’m intrigued as to why you are really here Mr. Jones and what makes you so angry at Elizabeth?” He turned to another of his men. “Gibson, take him upstairs. Lock him in the attic room, until I decide what to do with him.”

Kid was dragged to his feet and pushed out of the room. His gaze fixed on Elizabeth as she watched him go.

***

At the sound of someone descending the stairs, Lom looked up from his newspaper. He placed it on a nearby table and went out into the hallway, in time to see Heyes, clinging to the banister rail, halfway down the stairs. He was dressed, but there were no boots on his socked feet.

“What the heck are you doing?” Lom demanded.

“Walking downstairs.” Sweat glistened on Heyes’ forehead.

“You should be in bed.”

“No, Lom, I shouldn’t. I need to get moving.” Heyes descended another step and Lom knew better than to protest anymore. When Heyes reached the ground floor he paused, breathing heavily. He looked at the sheriff.

“I could use a drink,” Heyes stated.

“Coffee?”

“I meant a drink.”

“Okay. Kitchen or parlour?”

Lom stood to one side as Heyes shuffled into the parlour, then held his side as he lowered himself carefully into a chair. He closed his eyes against the pain.

“What’ll it be?” Lom pointed to two decanters. “Whiskey or brandy?”

“A brandy would be good.”

Lom poured and handed a glass to Heyes. He sat in the chair opposite him.

“Are you going to give me my boots back yet?”

“Nope.” Lom took a sip of brandy and reached for his newspaper. Heyes sighed and leaned back in the chair.

***

Kid was dragged through the house and up several flights of stairs, to an attic room. It was dark and sparsely furnished. The previous occupier was no doubt a maid, the lowest in the domestic hierarchy. There was a bed, with a worn, bare mattress, a battered chest of drawers and a basin with a jug standing inside it. The only light in the room came from a solitary skylight, high in the roof.

Kid’s hands were bound behind him. He was shoved into the room, landing painfully on his knees, as the door was locked behind him. After a struggle Kid pulled himself to his feet and let his eyes adapt to the gloom. Kid tried to get his hands free but the ropes only cut deeper into his flesh. He looked around for something to cut the ropes on but saw nothing he considered useful. After a while he sat on the bed, waiting.

***

Hearing a buggy approach the house, Lom put down his newspaper and crept quietly from the room. Opening the front door, he placed a finger to his lips, silencing Margaret and Catherine. He pointed to the parlour and they moved quietly into the house. The women smiled when they saw Heyes asleep in the chair. Margaret followed Lom into the kitchen but Catherine remained in the doorway, watching as Heyes slept. She sighed, resting her head against the doorframe.

***

A key turned in the lock and Kid cast a glance towards the door as it opened.

“You sure you don’t want me in there with you ma’am?” a voice asked. “I don’t think Mr. Halliday will be too pleased; you going in there alone.”

“I’ll be fine,” Elizabeth assured him and entered the room. Kid sat with his back to her. The door closed. Kid knew who was there and didn’t get up as she approached. She moved in front of him. The hateful glare he gave her told Elizabeth all she needed to know about how he was feeling.

“Kid…”

“I’ve got nothin’ to say to you!” He stared at the floor.

“Then just listen.”

“I’m not interested in anything you hafta say either.”

“Well, you’re going to hear it anyway.” She knelt on the floor in front of him. Now he could not avoid seeing her. “It’s not what it looks like.”

“It’s exactly what it looks like! You’re looking after yourself, as always!”

“I didn’t have much choice.”

“There’s always a choice.”

“Well I didn’t like the alternatives!”

“Are you all right ma’am?” the guard called through the door.

“I’m fine. Mr. Jones won’t hurt me.”

“Don’t be too sure of that!” Kid told her.

“You wouldn’t hurt me, I know you.”

“Not where Heyes is concerned, you don’t.” Finally Kid met her gaze. The anger in those familiar blue eyes startled her. “You’re enjoying yourself while he…” Kid shook his head and looked away. Elizabeth reconsidered a softer approach.

“How is he?”

Kid said nothing.

“Kid, please? How is he?”

Kid sighed.

“Kid?”

“Alive.”

“Will he be alright?”

Kid looked up at her, his words dripping with venom.

“What do you care?”

“You know I care.”

“No, not anymore I don’t; seems you’re to be married.”

“Please. Will he be all right?”

“I don’t know!”

“What does the doctor say?”

“He said we have to give it time.”

“Well they always say that.”

“He’s still in bed, Elizabeth. He can’t walk far unaided. I don’t know when he’ll be able to ride a horse, if ever. Do you know what that means for him?”

“I’m sorry.” She put her hand on his leg and, without thinking, used it to support herself as she stood up. As she placed her weight on his thigh he flinched. She removed her hand as if touching a hot plate. “You’re still hurt.”

Kid gritted his teeth, trying not to show the truth in her statement. Elizabeth sat beside him on the bed.

“And yet you came to find me.”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I did this for him, not you.”

“I might deserve that.” Her eyes searched his face. “Does your leg hurt all the time?”

“No, sometimes my shoulder takes a turn.”

“I wish I could untie you but I can’t. It would get us both in trouble.”

“And you wouldn’t want trouble would you?”

Not saying a word, she leaned closer and undid his bandana, her eyes meeting his as she pulled it slowly free of his neck. Kid said nothing. Elizabeth dabbed gently at the blood around his mouth and his split lip. He flinched.

“Sorry. You need to take more care of yourself.”

“Like you’ve been?”

“Can we call a truce, please?”

“Why? You’re with Halliday now.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Well it sure looks that way.”

“It’s not as simple as you think.”

“Isn’t it?”

“No. I’ve met him before, back East.” Kid was surprised by this and she knew she would have to explain.

“Who is he?”

“A man I was supposed to marry, years ago. I didn’t love him but my family thought the…merger…would be good for our families. I was young and believed in romantic love, Romeo and Juliet. So I refused.”

“Is that when you ran off?”

“One of the occasions. Anyway, he saw my name in the newspaper, in an article about the trial. He sent his men to get me. ‘Bring her back at any cost.’ That sort of thing. Once I was here, I decided it was better to play along. I pretended to be delighted to see him again. He thinks you two were just hired hands. I thought if I could persuade him to give me more freedom, I’d take the first opportunity to get away. Unfortunately, I’m still followed everywhere by his armed gunmen.”

Kid looked at her, trying to read her expression.

“What does he want?”

“My money, or rather Nathaniel’s, what’s left of it. He thinks he’s owed it as he lost out when I refused to marry him. He wants anything he can get from my family. He has threatened their lives. He has some very powerful friends. What do you expect me to do?”

“So why hasn’t he just shot me and why are you allowed to see me now?”

“Curiosity. He wants to know who you really are and what you’ll do. And I think it’s a test for me; to see if I’ve been telling the truth. He likes to play games with people.”

“So what’s he planning next?”

“I don’t know but I have to get you out of here.”

“You mean us.”

“I’ll stay here if I can help you get away.”

“That’s real heroic of you, but I came here to get you. To take you back to Heyes.”

Elizabeth patted his knee.

“That’s very sweet but likely to get you killed. I don’t see how we can both get away, but I would like to warn my family and I do want to see Hannibal again. I want to know he’s all right.”

“You’ve told too many good stories in the past, Elizabeth. Why should I believe you now?”

“Because you know I care for Hannibal.” Kid met her gaze. “And for you.” Her hand rested on his leg, gently this time. He raised his eyebrows.

“Not the same way.”

“No.” She smiled. “Although I have a feeling you’re tempted.”

Kid smiled but didn’t reply.

“I’m telling the truth, Kid.” He considered all she had told him.

“Heyes wants you back. Right now I have no idea why.”

“Let’s just work on getting you out of here first.”

“No. Let’s work on a plan for both of us.”

“All right. If I can I’ll go back with you and nurse him.”

“I was kinda hoping you’d let him get better first.” Kid smiled. She leaned forward and kissed him softly on the lips.

“Thank you.”

“I need my gun.”

***

Heyes walked slowly, hand holding his side, out onto the porch. Lom still hadn’t given him his boots back and his socked feet made hardly a sound as he shuffled along. He placed a steadying hand on the rail and turned his eyes to the distant hills, hoping for a sign of his friend returning. He wanted to see two riders. Instead he saw only the clouds moving across the moon.

Lom found Heyes asleep in a chair on the porch when he rode up to the house, having escorted Margaret and Catherine home. Heyes’ sleepy eyes opened as he heard the sheriff dismount and walk onto the porch.

“How long have you been out here?”

“I don’t know. I fell asleep.”

“You didn’t find your boots then?”

“I didn’t look. I can’t ride a horse.”

Lom sat in the chair beside him.

“I’m glad you finally admit that. I got this, it came this afternoon.” He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out a piece of paper. He handed it to Heyes who opened it and read.

HEADING FOR WATERFORD. HALLIDAY RANCH. TJ

“I know the Marshal in Waterford. He’s an old friend of mine. I sent a telegram asking him to keep an eye out for Thaddeus and offer any help he can.”

“Thank you.” He looked at the sheriff. “Have you heard of Halliday?”

“No.”

“Can you find out about him?”

“I asked Tom what he knows.”

“Tom?”

“Tom Roberts, the Marshal.”

Heyes looked into the distance.

“I wish I was with him.”

“I know.”

***

When Elizabeth left, the man who had been on guard duty came into the room to check Kid’s hands were still tied. He found them bound behind his back. Satisfied, he left, locking the door behind him.

Elizabeth descended the stairs and headed towards the dining room. Randolph Halliday was already seated at the dining table. He stood up when she entered the room.

“Ah, my dear, is everything all right?”

“Everything’s fine, Randolph.” She sat and he followed suit.

“You appear a little flustered.”

“I’m fine, thank you.”

“How did your meeting with Mr. Jones go?”

“Not very well. He’s still angry with me.” A servant entered the dining room and placed a plate in front of them both.

“He wasn’t violent was he?” Randolph looked up at her as she adjusted her napkin.

“No.”

“What did you do to rile him so?”

“He didn’t get paid and your men shot him.” Elizabeth met his gaze.

“Touché, my dear, but I think it is more than that. Tell me about his friend.”

“Mr. Smith?”

Halliday looked amused.

“Oh Elizabeth, please tell me you didn’t hire two men named Smith and Jones? How gullible can you be?”

“That happens to be their names.” She picked up a bread roll.

“So be it. Now, tell me about Smith.”

“He was shot.”

“Is he dead?”

“No, but he is very badly hurt. He won’t be able to cause trouble if that’s what worries you.”

“Everything worries me where you are concerned, Elizabeth.” His gaze met hers and had she been a different sort of woman she would probably have felt afraid. As it was Elizabeth just smiled and spooned up some soup. “Did you like him? This Mr. Smith.”

“He seemed a nice man.”

“And what about Jones? How much do you like him?”

“I am not romantically involved with him, if that’s what you are intimating. They both helped me, protected me from Kramer’s men and yes, I do care about what happens to them.”

“It’s how much you care that troubles me.”

“Enough to see that they are paid well enough to afford a decent doctor. Does that meet with your approval?”

“I’d prefer you not to take that tone with me.”

“And I’d prefer you not to insinuate that I had a relationship with a hired hand!”

She met his gaze, matching it until he smiled.

“I believe you, Elizabeth. I will see he is paid well and send him on his way.”

“Thank you Randolph. He won’t cause you any further trouble.”

“Oh, I know that.”

***

Kid struggled with the ropes around his wrists. He couldn’t loosen them. His wrists were already sore. Looking around the room, Kid searched for something to help. He saw something glistening and spotted the remains of a broken mirror on the floor behind the chest of drawers. Getting to his feet, he walked towards it. Using the toe of his boot, he managed to slide a piece of mirror from behind the furniture. Bending down, he felt behind him on the floor, picked up the broken glass and returned to the bed. Holding the shard in one hand he began to cut at the ropes. Several times his hand slipped and the glass cut his flesh. The ropes were soon wet with his blood, but he persevered. If he could…just…get…the… Kid sighed with relief when the ropes finally fell off and he was free.

Kid stood up, and walked to the skylight. He wouldn’t be able to jump up high enough to climb out. As quietly as he could, he pulled the bed across the room until it was beneath the skylight. He waited. No key turned in the lock. There was no sign that the guard had heard. Climbing onto the mattress Kid reached up and pushed the window open. He hauled himself into the tiny space and squeezed out onto the roof. Balancing precariously on the edge of the skylight, he looked down. Some of the ranch hands were heading towards the bunkhouse. Kid carefully made his way across the roof towards a large tree growing beside the house. There was no easy way down. His only hope looked like a leap into the branches from where he would no doubt plummet to his death. He looked down; there was nothing soft to land on either. With trepidation Kid launched himself off the roof, landed in the branches, twigs scratching his face as he began to fall. He caught hold of a thick branch and clung on tight. He allowed himself a smile of satisfaction that he was still alive. No one seemed to have heard him or noticed a flutter of falling leaves. So far his luck was holding.

Kid clambered down through the branches as quietly as he could. He hid in the shade of the tree trunk watching the area between the house and barn, waiting for the right moment. The barn door was ajar when he reached it. Kid slid into the shadows once more. He made sure no one was about to sneak up behind him. Kid stood still, letting his eyes adjust to the dim light. The barn was empty except for a single horse standing quietly in a stall. He smiled. It was his horse, still saddled. Maybe things were going his way at last.

“Psst!”

He stood perfectly still.

“Up here!” Elizabeth hissed. Kid looked up. Elizabeth was in the hay loft.

“What are you doing up there?” he whispered.

“Hiding.”

“You’re supposed to be in the woods!”

“I got cold.”

“Come down.”

“All right.” She headed for the ladder just as Kid heard footsteps outside.

“Go back!” he hissed and started up the ladder.

“Make your mind up!”

When he reached the top, he caught hold of her hand.

“Oh Kid, at last!”

“Shh!” He dragged Elizabeth deeper into the hayloft. Pushing her down he began to cover them both with hay.

“I knew you’d succumb one day, but I really don’t think this is the time, do you?” He put his hand over her mouth. Elizabeth heard someone enter the barn. They lay side by side, listening. Male voices murmured below.

“I don’t see anyone in here,” someone said. “You musta been mistaken, Hank.”

“Take a look up there.” Feet climbed the ladder. They waited, holding their breath as they did so. Feet descended the ladder.

“No one’s up there either. Come on, I wanna get back to the game.” The barn door closed.

Kid let out a sigh.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done this,” Elizabeth said.

“Hide from someone?”

“No, lie beside a man in a hayloft.” She reached out a hand. “Maybe I was wrong. We could risk a little…”

“NO!” Kid got to his feet and held out his hand. “Let’s go.”

***

Just as they were leading Kid’s horse around the side of the barn a man stepped around the back of the building.

“Hey what the…?” was all he managed to say before Kid bundled him to the ground, removing the man’s gun from his holster in the process.

“Wait for me in the woods,” Kid told Elizabeth, as he dragged the man into the barn. Kid pushed the man into the stall previously occupied by his horse. He bound and gagged the ranch hand, tucked the gun into his own waistband and headed for the door. He opened it just enough to check that it was clear only to find two men heading straight towards him.

“Damn it!” Kid turned and headed up the ladder to the hay loft. The men did not enter the barn but he could hear their voices outside. Kid moved to the far wall and pushed open the loft door. He was up high again. He could see Elizabeth waiting at the tree line. Kid looked down. There was a pile of hay beside the barn door. If he jumped at an angle he should be able to land in it, breaking his fall rather than his neck, although he didn’t relish the prospect of landing on his injured leg. There was nothing for it. Kid jumped. A pain shot through his leg as he hit the hay except it wasn’t exactly a pile of hay. It had been hay at one time but now it was mixed with…Oh sheesh! He stumbled out of the pile, stood up and brushed as much…stuff…off himself as he could. The sound of voices and running footsteps made him forget the smell on his clothes.

Kid ran, or rather limped, hopped and hobbled. Before he got to the trees a shout went up from the house. His escape had apparently been discovered. Men were soon running about as orders were given. At the edge of the trees Elizabeth sat on her horse, Kid’s beside her. Kid pulled himself into the saddle.

“What’s that smell? Kid you stink!” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “You’re going to have to ride downwind. They won’t have to see us; they’ll just point their noses in the air and sniff.”

“Shut up and ride!”

Turning his horse away, he kicked it into a gallop and Elizabeth followed him.

***

Dawn was just breaking as Hannibal Heyes walked slowly back towards the house.

“How far d’you get?” Lom asked.

“The fallen tree.”

“That’s good.”

Heyes placed a hand to his side as he climbed the steps onto the porch. Lom resisted the urge to offer a hand to help him. Heyes eased himself into a chair, groaning as he sat down.

“You know bounty hunters in this State are missing a real opportunity at the moment. They could just ride in arrest me.”

Lom leaned back against the porch rail.

“I got a telegram from the Governor.” Heyes looked up. “He’s sorry to hear what happened to you two.”

“I bet he is. Another inch and he wouldn’t have the embarrassment of giving us amnesty to worry about.”

“I don’t believe he meant it that way.”

“I don’t expect the railroads and the banks will be so happy.”

“But imagine how the Governor will feel if he’s the man who made Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry hand in their guns.”

“We never agreed to hand in our guns.”

“It was a figure of speech.”

“I’m glad cos’ I’d like to see you try and disarm Kid.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll look forward to seeing you do that when he gets back then.”

“Piece of cake,” Lom told him, confidently.

Heyes smiled and Lom didn’t look so comfortable.

“Speaking of cake, how about some breakfast?”

***

Halliday’s men pursued them relentlessly. Kid didn’t know the terrain and had no idea where the dangers or the safe havens lay. He just rode by his instincts.

The sun was just rising above the horizon, as Kid and Elizabeth descended a hill. They spotted several men on horseback up ahead, but Kid didn’t think they could be more of Halliday’s hands. They couldn’t have got a message to anyone that quickly. A sudden glint, of early morning light on metal, sent a shiver through the blond man. Were things about to get worse?

As Halliday’s men closed the gap between them, there was nothing Kid could do but lead Elizabeth towards the lawmen. Finally, they pulled their horses to a halt, coming face to face with the man with the badge. He was a stout man sitting confidently on a large black horse.

“Are you Thaddeus Jones?” he asked and Kid felt a knot tighten inside his chest.

“I am.”

“Is this Mrs. Darkly?”

“Who are you?” Kid asked, not about to let the man have it all his own way.

“I’m Marshal Roberts, out of Waterford. Lom Trevors asked me to look out for you. He thought you might run into some trouble.” His eyes met Kid’s. “Is this Mrs. Darkly?”

“Yes.”

“It’s kind of you to meet us Marshal.” Elizabeth pulled her horse closer to Kid’s. “And just at the right time.”

Riker and several ranch hands appeared at the top of the hill.

“I think you’d better explain what’s going on before they get here.” Although the Marshal looked to Kid, it was Elizabeth who replied.

“Mr. Halliday, was holding me against my will. Thaddeus rescued me.” She cast an admiring glance in Kid’s direction.

“Why was he holding you?” the Marshal asked.

“Randolph, fell in love with me many years ago. He hoped we could rekindle our relationship, I fear by force. He was mistaken about my feelings; my heart belongs to another now.” She cast her eyes towards Kid and gave him a sickly sweet smile. He rolled his eyes. “Thaddeus rode to my rescue. He’s my knight in shining armour. When I saw him, all handsome on his horse, thighs pressed firmly against the saddle, I knew there would never be anyone else for me.” There was the sound of a snigger from one of Robert’s men. “He’s my hero.” She gazed at Kid with undying admiration.

“Will you cut it out,” he whispered out of the corner of his mouth.

“I think you’d better come back with me to Waterford and make a statement, Mrs. Darkly.” The Marshal kept one eye on the approaching riders.

“Oh, no Marshal. I don’t want to press charges against Randolph.” The lawman looked surprised. “It was just a misguided act of love.”

“Kidnapping’s a pretty strange way to show someone how much you love them,” Roberts observed.

“I won’t give evidence against him.”

“Elizabeth…”

“No, Thaddeus. I don’t want you to have to stand up in court either.” Her eyes met his and he understood what she was doing.

“She’s a pretty determined woman, Marshal,” Kid told him and the lawman considered this.

“All right, but I may need to speak to you two again. Can I reach you through Lom Trevors?”

“Anytime,” Kid assured him.

“I may ask him to give me away,” Elizabeth informed the Marshal, as she cast another admiring glance at Kid.

“Can we ride on?” Kid asked, hopefully.

“I’m gonna have a word with Riker when he gets here. I’ll keep him busy so you two lovebirds can get away.”

“Thank you.” Elizabeth’s horse was beside the lawman’s and she placed a hand on his arm. “You’re a kind man Marshal. We’ll send you an invitation to the wedding.”

“Get going.” The Marshal told them, kindly. Elizabeth moved her horse away. “Oh, Mr. Jones.”

Kid turned back to face Roberts.

“If I had a woman like that in love with me, I’d make sure I took a bath. I don’t know what happened to you young fella but we smelled ya before we saw ya.”

Kid nodded, understanding, then kicked his horse after Elizabeth’s, before Riker and his men reached the Marshal’s party.

***

Lom sat down next to Heyes on the porch. He handed his friend a cup of coffee. Heyes thanked him.

“What do you think of Catherine?” Lom asked, conversationally.

“She’s a sweet kid.”

“Young.”

“Yep.”

“Makes me feel old.”

“You are old.”

“Not that old!”

Heyes smiled.

“She just asked if she should call me Uncle Lom.”

“Oh. So are you thinking of marrying, Margaret?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“So is that a yes?” Heyes turned to face the sheriff. Lom looked decidedly uncomfortable.

“It’s a…I don’t know.”

“She’s a nice woman.”

“She’s a lovely woman.”

“So what’s stopping you?”

“Being married to a sheriff won’t be easy.”

“She’s a sheriff?”

Lom rolled his eyes.

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t imagine living alone is easy for her either, Lom.”

“Hmm.”

“Have you talked to her about this?” Heyes took a sip of coffee and watched his friend.

“No.”

“Sheesh, Lom!”

“Well how do I bring up something like that in a conversation?”

“You just find a way.”

The sound of a buggy approaching drew their attention. Margaret and Catherine had arrived.

“Now’s your chance,” Heyes told his friend.

***

When Kid was happy the Marshal had been true to his word and no one was following them, he slowed his horse and Elizabeth did the same.

“Invite you to the wedding?” Kid looked at Elizabeth. “What were you thinking?”

“I was creating a cover story.”

“Embarrassing me more like.”

“It got us a way from him didn’t it?”

They rode, cautiously, down an incline, between a series of large rocky outcrops. The wind blew in Elizabeth’s direction.

“I don’t know what you fell in but you smell awful,” she observed. “Can’t you ride downwind?”

“No.”

“What happened to you anyway?”

“I jumped from the barn.”

“Into what?”

“What it smells like.”

Elizabeth smiled.

They rode into a wooded copse and then alongside a stream, entering a clearing to find a small lake before them.

“I think it’s bath time,” Elizabeth said with a smile. Kid gave her a look. “Well you’ve got to wash that smell off some time and we’ve been riding all day and I need a rest.”

“We’ll camp here tonight,” Kid relented, pulling his horse to a halt. He climbed from the saddle and tied the reins to a tree. Elizabeth did the same. Kid looked around and then began to gather some firewood.

“I can do that. I can make a fire,” Elizabeth told him. “You go wash up.”

“All right.” Kid untied his saddle bags and searched in them for some clean clothes. Elizabeth watched him out of the corner of her eye as she picked up a broken branch. When Kid had what he needed he studied the lake, looking for a more secluded spot.

“Stay here,” he told Elizabeth.

“Nothing I haven’t seen before,” she reminded him.

“Yeah, well I’d rather you didn’t see it again.”

“Spoil sport.”

“Stay here, agreed?”

“I’ll keep out of your way.”

“All right.” He headed further along the bank.

“Keeping out of your way, doesn’t mean not watching,” she said to herself.

***

A blond head broke the surface of the water and Kid Curry swam, with confident strokes, across the pool. From her vantage point Elizabeth admired the view of the naked swimmer and praised the transparency of water. At the far edge of the pool, Kid stood up, brushing wet hair from his face. The water was waist deep. Elizabeth watched as glistening droplets cascaded down his torso.

“THERE’S NEVER A SUDDEN DROUGHT WHEN YOU NEED ONE!” she called.

Kid frantically scanned the undergrowth, but he saw no one.

“ELIZABETH?” There was no reply. “Darn woman!” He set off back across the pool. From her hiding place, Elizabeth glanced at the rocks below. Her eyes fell on the pile of clean clothes he had left on the shore. She smiled.

***

The swim had done Kid the power of good and removed all traces of the…stuff…that had stuck to him. When Kid reached the shallows he stood up and waded through the water towards shore. As he drew closer, he realised, with some alarm, that his clothes were gone.

“Damn it!” He gritted his teeth. “ELIZABETH!”

As if on cue, she stepped out of the undergrowth, holding his clothes in her arms. Kid’s gun belt hung over her shoulder.

“You bellowed?”

“Give me my clothes!”

“If you want them, come and get them.” She sat down on a rock and patted the clothes, running her hand over the fabric of his shirt. “I always think blue suits you best. It brings out the colour of your eyes.”

“Put the clothes down, please.”

Elizabeth looked at his damp torso. Her eyes fell on the scar of the bullet wound at his shoulder, then followed a single droplet of water as it ran slowly down his chest, over his waist and then down to…join others in the lake.

“Have you noticed how transparent water is?”

Kid let out a patient sigh.

“You must be getting cold in there,” she observed.

“I am!”

“So I see.”

“Damn it. Give me my clothes!”

“Come and get them.”

“Put ‘em down.”

“Oh, so demanding!” Kid glared at her. “Nothing I ain’t seen before Kid, remember?”

Kid sighed.

“What will it take to make you give me back my clothes?”

“Oh, you stepping towards me another three or four feet…into the shallows. I like things that are…shallow.”

Kid gritted his teeth once more. Somehow he wasn’t convinced that stepping closer would satisfy her.

“You’re not gonna leave me my dignity huh?”

Elizabeth stood up, still holding the clothes, and walked towards him.

“Humour me Kid. A woman has needs.”

Kid gave her another disdainful look and took a step forwards. Then he began to run. Startled to see him approaching so fast, Elizabeth took a step backwards. Kid caught hold of her and they went crashing to the ground. Kid lay, dripping, on top of her.

“Oh my!” Elizabeth gasped. “Well, this is more than I could have hoped for. What will Hannibal say when I tell him you lay naked on top of me?”

“You tell him and I’ll hafta shoot ya!” He held her down long enough to pull his clothes free. Kid eased himself off her, picked up his clothes and walked away. Elizabeth raised herself onto her elbows for a better view. Kid kept his back to her as he began to dress and she admired a pert butt.

“Aren’t you going to dry off first?” she asked.

“With what? I’m not gonna lie around giving you a free show while that happens.”

She smiled.

“Don’t flatter yourself. I’m hard to impress.”

“Hmph!”

“Anyway, I like the view I have just fine. It’s not hard…but I’m impressed.”

He was sure his cheeks were blushing.

“You are one irritating woman, d’you know that?”

“I’ve heard it said a few times. Mostly by you.”

“Oh, I wonder why!”

Kid pulled his long-johns up, then reached for his socks. He sat down on a rock as Elizabeth got to her feet. She brushed down her dress and came to sit beside him as he pulled on his pants. He glared at her.

“Don’t be so grumpy!”

He said nothing and she smiled.

“What are you scheming about now?” he asked.

“I’m just thinking about something I saw…recently.”

“Sheesh!”

***

As the ladies cleared away the dinner plates, Heyes gestured to Lom.

“Ask her now,” he whispered.

“No!”

“Why not?

“It’s not the right time?”

“When is?”

Margaret returned to the room. She smiled at Lom. The sheriff stood up. Heyes had tried to do so once before and Margaret had insisted that he stay seated, so he did the same this time.

“Lom has something to ask you,” Heyes told her. He received a glare from the sheriff.

“Lom?” Margaret waited, expectantly.

“I should lock you up and throw away the key,” Lom whispered, loudly, to Heyes.

“He wants to ask you out for dinner,” Heyes told Margaret. She smiled.

“Oh, Lom, I’d love to.”

Heyes grinned, annoyingly.

“Chaperoned of course!” Lom told her. “I wondered if you were free tomorrow evening?”

“I believe I am. Shall we say, six o’clock?”

“I’ll call for you.”

“I’ll look forward to it.” She turned as Catherine came into the room. The young girl smiled at Heyes. “Catherine let’s go and make the coffee.” The two women headed back to the kitchen.

Heyes turned to the sheriff. “Now that wasn’t so difficult was it?”

“If you weren’t still hurting, I’d flatten ya!”

***

“Will you stop smirking!” Kid pleaded as he laid out his blanket.

“I’m not smirking. I’m enjoying a memory.”

Kid gave a heavy sigh and sat down on his bedroll. Elizabeth immediately laid hers next to his, lay down and snuggled close to him.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Snuggling close.”

“Why?”

“For warmth.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“Look, we can go though the charade of me lying way over there shivering. Then you can ask me if I am cold and I give a pathetic reply, then you’d ask me to share your blanket…and I’ll end up beside you anyway. So why don’t I just snuggle up close from the start and save us time?”

He looked at her, thinking.

“Keep your hands to yourself, all right?”

“Your reputation is safe with me, Mr. Curry.”

He closed his eyes and she snuggled close. He felt a gentle breeze on his ear. There it was again.

“What are you doing?”

“Blowing on your ear.”

“Why?”

“Because you told me to keep my hands to myself.”

“Just go to sleep, Elizabeth.”

“I thought you had a reputation with the ladies?”

Kid said nothing.

“One flash of…”

“Elizabeth.”

“…those blue eyes!”

“Go to sleep, woman!”

She smiled and lay quietly, pressing her body against his. She listened to him breathe. Kid began to drift off to sleep.

***

Cigar smoke drifted into the chilly night air as Lom stood on the porch. Heyes stood leaning his weight on the porch rail.

“I guess I did need a push,” the sheriff admitted. He looked at Heyes but the dark-haired young man wasn’t paying any attention. Instead his eyes were turned away from the house. Lom understood. “Maybe he’ll be back tomorrow.”

“Yeah, maybe.” Heyes didn’t sound convinced.

***

The blood was pulsing from the wound. Kid placed his bandana over the bloody flesh and pressed down. Heyes groaned but Kid kept his hands there, trying desperately, to stop the life blood seeping from his friend’s body. Kid’s hands were covered in blood; Heyes’ blood.

“Hold on, partner,” he pleaded.

“I can’t. I’m sorry Kid, I can’t.”

Heyes was fading, his life slipping away.

“Don’t you die on me! Damn it Heyes, don’t die!”

Kid opened his eyes. It was the dream again. The same one he’d had several times since they’d been shot. The one Lom had woken him from, when he’d been calling out in his sleep. It was a nightmare. He had failed his friend, failed to protect him when he needed it most.

He sat up. Elizabeth lay quietly beside him apparently still asleep. His eyes drifted to the fire and the glowing embers. He should have seen the men sooner, should have kept his eyes open. He’d let down his guard and let down his friend. Heyes could have been killed.

“Are you all right?” Elizabeth asked. He took a deep breath then turned to face her.

“Yeah.”

“You were dreaming.”

“Was I?”

“Yes.”

“Go back to sleep, Elizabeth. We have a long ride tomorrow.”

“What was it about?”

“What?”

“The dream.” She was not about to be put off.

“I can’t remember.”

“Yes, you can.” She sat up and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Kid?”

“Just leave it okay?”

“Was it the shooting?”

“I said leave it!” He got to his feet and walked over to the fire. Crouching beside it he picked up a stick and stabbed angrily at the embers. Elizabeth was glad she wasn’t that piece of wood. She had obviously hit a nerve. Elizabeth watched him. Kid shifted position, taking the weight off his injured leg. Wrapping the blanket around her shoulders she went to sit beside him.

“I don’t imagine it’s been easy for you.”

“No.”

“If…”

“I’m not going to talk about this, Elizabeth.”

“All right” She leaned against him. “We can just sit here and freeze to death, unless you’re going to do more than poke about with that stick?”

Kid smiled.

“I’m sorry.” He put some more wood on the fire and they watched as the flames began to grow. Kid stood up. He held out his hand to her. “Let’s go back to sleep?”

Elizabeth took his hand and he pulled her to her feet. She stumbled, deliberately, into him and he caught hold of her arms.

“We could do something else.” She gave him a wicked smile.

“No, we couldn’t.”

“I won’t tell if you don’t.”

“It’s not gonna happen.”

“Are you sure I can’t tempt you?” she asked. “Give me the chance to find out how fast you really are.”

Kid gave her a look.

“Oh well.” Elizabeth caught hold of his hand and led him back to their bed rolls.

***

Where was Kid? What was keeping him? How long did it take to saddle a horse? Elizabeth set off to where they had tied their mounts. As she rounded a bush she spotted him and stopped dead in her tracks. Kid was leaning against a tree, one hand on his right thigh, doubled over in pain. She watched, saying nothing. He didn’t seem to have noticed her presence. Elizabeth stepped quietly backwards into the bushes. Slowly Kid straightened up, breathing heavily. He leaned his head back against the tree, eyes closed as he fought the pain. Elizabeth’s brow furrowed as she watched. She had not realised it still hurt him so much. Quickly she returned to the campfire. Elizabeth poured a cup of coffee, then set off back to Kid.

“As you seem to be taking so long, I thought I’d bring you your coffee,” she announced, loudly as she approached. Having composed himself, Kid was standing beside his horse. “Are you all done?”

“Yeah.” He took the coffee she offered him. “Thanks.”

“I’ll go clear up.” Elizabeth turned towards the campsite.

“Sometimes it just catches me,” he announced. Elizabeth stopped and met his gaze. “My leg. The pain. I know you saw me.”

“I didn’t realise it still hurt so much.”

“The Doc said it’ll take a while to fully heal.”

“Too slow for you though?”

“Yeah.”

“What about your shoulder?”

“The same.”

“Before, I…I didn’t want to…intrude.”

Kid smiled.

“That doesn’t sound like you.”

“Well I have my moments.”

“Yeah, you do.”

Elizabeth smiled accepting the compliment and for once, not needing to reply.

***

Heyes lay still on the bed, his eyes closed; taking what had become his regular afternoon nap. Sounds drifted up from downstairs. Voices raised in excitement; Margaret calling for Lom. There were hurried footsteps on the stairs. The door opened. Heyes kept his eyes closed, enjoying his last few moments of rest, as someone approached the bed. Lips pressed softly against his in a kiss.

“That had better not be you, Kid,” Heyes said. His eyes remained closed.

“I would hope you’d know the difference!” Elizabeth replied.

“I’ve never kissed him.” He opened his eyes and smiled. “Hello, Elizabeth.

“Hello, Hannibal. How are you?”

“Healing.”

“You?”

“I’m fine.”

He studied her face and found the truth in her words. She nodded. “I’m fine. So are you in need of some serious nursing?”

“It couldn’t hurt.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.”

Heyes smiled and she leaned in and kissed him again. This time he kissed her back. A cough interrupted them and they broke apart. Elizabeth rolled her eyes.

“I hate to interrupt…” Kid began.

“So don’t!” she snapped, keeping her eye on Heyes’. “Go polish your gun or something.”

Kid approached the bed and she moved away.

“You all right?” Kid asked his friend.

“Yeah.” Heyes spotted the bruise on Kid’s temple. “You have trouble?”

“Nothing I couldn’t handle.”

“Hmmph,” added Elizabeth.

“I’ll tell you about it later. I need to clean up and get some rest.”

“That’s a great idea,” Elizabeth told him with exaggerated enthusiasm. She began to shoo him towards the door.

“Thanks, Kid,” Heyes called. Kid nodded. His eyes met Heyes’ holding them for a brief moment.

“Go, go,” Elizabeth urged. “Go eat. You need to keep up your strength for all that gun twirling and I need to show Hannibal some of my special nursing techniques.”

Kid stopped in the doorway.

“I could drag her out, if you want?”

“I think I can handle her.”

“Don’t be so sure of that.”

“We’ll talk later,” Heyes told him. Kid nodded and Elizabeth closed the door, leaning against it.

“Now where shall I start?”

***

“I thought you were dead,” she said suddenly. Elizabeth wasn’t joking or teasing when she looked at him. She sat beside him on the bed. “When I saw you lying there. I thought they’d killed you. Both of you.”

Heyes put his hand on top of hers, not saying anything.

They heard footsteps in the hallway and Margaret knocked on the open door.

“Sorry to disturb you two.” She smiled at the young couple. Elizabeth certainly seemed to care for Joshua and appeared none the worse for her ordeal. “I wondered if you would be joining us downstairs for dinner, Joshua?”

“I will, Margaret, thank you.”

“Good. It’ll be nice to have us all together.” She smiled and disappeared downstairs.

“I’ll help you get dressed,” Elizabeth told him.

“I can manage.”

“I didn’t ask if you could manage.” She smiled wickedly.

***

Having taken a basin of soapy water downstairs to empty, Elizabeth returned to Heyes’ room to find a young girl sitting in a chair beside his bed.

“Who are you?”

Catherine turned her head and smiled.

“Oh, hello, I’m Catherine Wetherby.” She stood up. “Margaret is my Aunt. I didn’t know you were back; I was picking berries when you arrived. I was just sitting with Joshua while…”

“I’m Elizabeth Darkly.” Her eyes focused intently on the girl. Catherine held out her hand and Elizabeth shook it, firmly…very firmly.

“I’m pleased to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you.”

“What has my beloved been telling you about us?”

Heyes rolled his eyes.

“He told me you had been kidnapped by ruffians.” Elizabeth looked at Heyes and mouthed, Ruffians? Heyes smiled. “And he was so worried about you. Lom was worried too. And of course I know that he was shot when you were taken; bravely, trying to protect you.”

“He is brave isn’t he?” Elizabeth shot another glance at Heyes.

“Yes, he is.” Catherine couldn’t hide the admiration in her voice, as she too cast a coy glance at Heyes. Elizabeth missed nothing.

“Well, my dear why don’t you run along. I’m sure your Aunt could use your help with dinner.”

Catherine turned to Heyes.

“I’ll bring a different book next time I come. Perhaps I could read some more to you?”

“I’d like that.” Heyes smiled.

Catherine Wetherby smiled and left the room.

“I’d like that?” Elizabeth questioned, Heyes. “Has she been reading to you?”

“Are you jealous?” Heyes asked.

“Of her?”

“Yes.”

“She’s nothing I can’t handle.”

“You’re jealous of a fourteen year old girl? Elizabeth there is nothing going on between us.”

“Not in your head there isn’t, but there is in hers.”

“She’s just being nice.”

“Hoping that you’ll like her.” Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and took Heyes’ hand in hers. Heyes smiled as she examined his palm. “I don’t blame her, I’d have been the same at her age. You are quite something. If I was fourteen I might have a crush on you, especially if you looked at me with those big brown eyes.”

“I thought you did have a crush on me.”

“I’d like to crush you, that’s for sure.”

“Well, just leave her alone, she’s a nice girl.”

“They’re the worst kind. All those pent up emotions! She hasn’t been releasing them on you has she?”

“She’s just a kid.”

“And you need a woman’s touch.” Her hand rested on his chest and slowly moved below the bedcovers.

“Elizabeth, don’t…Elizabeth!”

Outside the room, Catherine leaned back against the wall and let out a heavy, disappointed, sigh.

***

Heyes opened his eyes the following morning, when Elizabeth entered the room. He pulled himself up on the pillow and yawned. Elizabeth perched on the bed beside him and, reaching out, ran a finger down his cheek.

“You need a shave.”

“I know.”

“Although, I do love it when you’re all rugged and dirty.” There was a mischievous glint in her eyes as she met his. “You could do with a wash too.”

“I’ll have one before…”

“It’s all right,” Elizabeth interrupted. “Catherine is fetching some hot water. I thought she’d enjoy helping me wash you.”

“WHAT?”

“Well you need a good scrubbing.”

“That’s not what I meant and you know it. I can wash and shave myself.”

“Oh, but we’ll do it so much better.”

“She is not washing me!” Heyes swung his legs over the edge of the bed.

“I am sure Catherine will be very gentle.” Elizabeth received a glare. “Hannibal, she is old enough to be married. She’ll have to learn sometime what…”

“Not from me! Elizabeth, I know what you’re up to.”

“Up to?”

“Yes, up to! Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“That girl is not washing me.”

“But she’d love to help. You know she’s sweet on you.”

Heyes stood up.

“All the more reason for her, not to help!” He reached for his pants and, angrily, pulled them on, flinching as the scar tissue stretched at his waist. Sitting down he tugged on his boots and then began to pace.

Elizabeth watched and suppressed a smile.

“Well can I help wash you?” He stopped pacing and turned to face her. The brow furrows disappeared and Elizabeth stood up, walking towards him. “Of course we might both end up, wet.”

Heyes’ eyebrows rose.

“And then what would we do?” She placed a hand on his shirt.

“Where do you want it?”

Their eyes met and Elizabeth smiled. They turned to see Catherine standing in the doorway, holding a basin of water. Elizabeth smiled, wickedly at Heyes. The ex-outlaw waited.

“Just put it over there, Catherine.” Elizabeth pointed to the chest of drawers. “I’ll see to Joshua.” The young girl did as she was asked, but could not hide her disappointment. When the girl had left, Elizabeth closed the bedroom door and leaned back against it.

“You’ve disappointed her, Hannibal. I hope you won’t disappoint me.”

***

After breakfast Heyes, Kid and Lom sat on the front porch. Heyes and the sheriff occupied the chairs; Kid leaned against the porch rail.

“Lom, didn’t you have something you wanted to ask Kid?” Heyes reminded the sheriff.

“Um…er…”

“Lom? What is it?” Kid asked, concerned by the lawman’s hesitation.

“Something about his gun?” Heyes prompted.

“No. There is nothing,” Lom insisted.

“Oh, I’m sure there was.”

“Drop it, Heyes!”

Kid watched in fascination but was none the wiser. Heyes just gave his friend a smile enjoying watching Lom squirm.

***

Heyes sat in the chair on the porch, watching Kid brush down his horse. Elizabeth had gone into town with Lom. The main door opened and Catherine came out.

“Elizabeth said this was your favourite book,” she said, as she pulled a chair closer to him. She held it up but before Heyes could read the title, Catherine sat down and began flicking through the pages. “She told me to start at Chapter fifteen. You do want me to read it to you, don’t you?”

Heyes nodded.

“Chapter fifteen.” Catherine gave a cough and began to read. “They had ridden hard all night to escape the posse.”

Heyes looked up. If this was a Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry dime novel, he’d seriously consider strangling Elizabeth. As he contemplated what he might do to Mrs. Darkly, Catherine kept reading.

“Harvey helped her down from her horse. She felt his hands on her tiny waist…” Catherine shifted uncomfortably and cast a glance at Heyes. He seemed lost in thought. “They headed into the cave, out of sight of watchful eyes.”

Heyes watched Kid shake the horse blanket and throw it over the back of the big bay. Kid liked this horse. It was a sure footed animal and…Heyes ears pricked up suddenly when he heard Catherine say… “In the dim glow of the campfire, Harvey removed his shirt. Diane’s eyes fell on his muscular torso…” Catherine gave a nervous cough. “Harvey reached out a hand and pulled her towards him.”

“Catherine.”

“Removing his…”

“Catherine, I think that’s enough for today.”

The young girl looked up, her face flushed.

“Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, definitely.”

Catherine closed the book.

“I could continue tomorrow, if you’d like?”

“I think I need to rest for a while.”

“Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to tire you.” She stood up. “You rest, Harvey…I mean Joshua. I’ll go and help my Aunt.” She blushed and disappeared quickly into the house.

As the door closed Heyes saw Elizabeth returning in a buggy. Seeing him sitting on the porch, she waved. Heyes watched and waited for her to draw closer.

“How’s my favourite brown eyed fella?” she asked as she walked onto the porch.

“Fine.”

“Something wrong?” Elizabeth knew that look in his eyes.

“You gave Catherine a book to read to me.”

Elizabeth sat in the chair beside him.

“Did you like it?”

“You told her it was my favourite book.”

“Did I?”

“Yes, you did.”

“And you told her which chapter was my favourite too.”

“Did she read it well?”

“Harvey, the rugged outlaw?” His eyes met hers.

“You weren’t embarrassed were you? He reminds me so much of you.”

“No, I wasn’t embarrassed,” he lied.

Elizabeth stood up and walked towards him.

“You mean when he removed his shirt, revealing his muscular torso? That didn’t bother you? When he turned to find Diane watching him? Or when he could contain his ardour no longer?” Placing her hands either side of him on the arms of his chair she leaned closer.

“I didn’t let him get any ardour.”

“That’s a pity. When I was her age I wore those pages out. It was and probably still is, considered quite scandalous. I remember Harvey pulled her towards him, wrapping his bare arms around her.” She leaned seductively towards Heyes. “He lowered her to the ground and…” She covered his mouth with hers. Heyes resisted for a moment, letting her know he wasn’t pleased at her trying to embarrass Catherine. However, like Harvey the rugged outlaw, Heyes couldn’t resist a beautiful woman, for long.

***

“Have Joshua and Elizabeth set a date for their wedding?” Catherine asked, as she cut slices of bread.

A mouthful of Kid’s coffee went shooting across the kitchen table and he began to cough.

“What?” he asked, as he wiped his mouth and caught his breath.

“I wondered if Joshua and Elizabeth have set a date for when they will get married.” Catherine picked up a cloth and wiped the table.

“What makes you ask that?”

“Well, they are going to get married aren’t they? I mean, they are obviously very close. I assumed…”

“They are…close. They like each other a lot.”

“Enough to get married?”

“I don’t think they’ve discussed that.”

“Why not? Doesn’t Joshua want a wife?”

“One day…I imagine…if he finds the right woman.”

“Do you think Elizabeth is the right woman?”

Kid thought for a moment.

“I don’t think that’s for me to decide.” He looked at Catherine. “You seem awfully interested.” Catherine blushed and turned away. Kid understood. He smiled.

“It’s real nice of you to help look after him.”

“I’ve enjoyed it. I like to help.”

“I’m sure Joshua appreciates it.” He saw her smile at the thought. “You like him don’t you?”

“He’s a nice man.”

“Yes, he is.”

Catherine placed the bread knife on the table and sat down opposite Kid.

“If he and Mrs. Darkly…”

Kid held up a hand to stop her.

“Joshua and I have to travel a lot. He’s not likely to be settling down, with anyone, for a while yet.”

“Oh.” This wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear.

“Isn’t he a little old for you?”

Catherine looked up quickly and met two understanding, blue eyes.

“Oh, I didn’t mean…I mean I’m not…I…” she flustered. Catherine drew a deep breath. “All the men at home are so dull.”

“And Joshua’s not?”

She looked up, surprised. “No! He’s smart and…” She suddenly, realised he was teasing. “I don’t think so. He reads and is really interesting to talk to. He knows a lot about so many things.”

“He likes to think he does, but he’s an old man, compared to you.”

“He is not! Anyway you must be the same…Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you. I don’t mean you’re old…I mean…”

“It’s all right. You’ll find someone, Catherine. It just isn’t Joshua.” He smiled, kindly. “Now, Margaret said you’d made a cake. Is it all for the man outside or do I get a slice?”

Catherine smiled.

“I think there might be a small piece for you.”

***

The next morning, Elizabeth sat on the front porch, a blue shawl wrapped around her against the early morning chill. She was watching Heyes, standing beside his horse, trying to pull himself into the saddle and failing repeatedly. His side was hurting too much for him to tolerate the final lift. The front door opened and Kid walked out of the house, carrying two cups of coffee. He handed one towards her, casting a glance in Heyes direction as he did so.

“Thought you might like a cup.”

“Thank you.” She took it from him, wrapping her fingers around it.

“He got on that horse yet?”

“No. He should give up. Try again another day.”

Kid chuckled.

“I’d rather you tell him that than me.”

“Why are you two so stubborn?”

Kid didn’t answer, but she saw him keeping a watchful eye on his friend.

“You do believe I’m sorry? Sorry you both got hurt.”

“It goes with the territory.”

“Meaning me?”

“Meaning you.”

“I do care for him you know.”

“I believe you do.”

“More than I realised.”

Kid looked at her, watching his partner. He lowered himself into the seat beside her and they sat in companionable silence for a while. Heyes put his foot in the saddle, hopped on one leg, then tried to raise himself enough to…He doubled up in pain instead. Kid put down his cup, stood up and headed down the steps. Elizabeth watched as he sauntered, casually, towards his partner.

“Need a hand?” Kid asked. “Someone to hold the reins?”

Heyes looked at him, sweat covered his forehead. He looked exhausted but there was grim determination on his face.

“Thanks.”

Kid picked up the reins, holding the horse still as Heyes placed his foot in the stirrup once more. He took a firm hold on the saddle horn. Hop, hop, hop. Pull. He cried out, cussed and fell on the floor. Resisting his instincts to help, Kid walked slowly to his friend’s side. He stood, arms folded across his chest, looking down at his friend.

“Elizabeth reckons you should call it a day and try again tomorrow.”

“And what do you think?”

“She might be right.”

Heyes left out a groan.

“It hurts, Kid.”

“I know, but you doing more damage won’t help it heal any faster. If we need to ride out I’ll getcha in that saddle, you know that.”

Heyes considered this.

“Tomorrow, huh?”

“That’s what she said.”

“You two friends again?”

“Oh, we’re more than that.” Kid grinned at him.

“What’s that mean?”

“Well, heck Heyes, you’re too sick to…you know.”

Heyes’ eyes opened wide.

“You haven’t?”

“The lady needs looking after.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t. I mean you don’t like her that much.”

“Well a woman has needs. It’s only right that she’d look to the more…capable man.”

Heyes struggled to get to his feet. Kid held out a hand, which he took gratefully.

“It was only a matter of time before she realised what she was missing.”

“And you spoiled her for all other men, huh?”

“Yep.”

Heyes looked Kid in the eyes.

“You’re lyin’!”

Kid maintained his serious expression…but slowly broke into a smile.

“Had you going for a while though.” He looked at the horse. “You done here?”

“Yeah.”

“Tomorrow?”

“Yeah, tomorrow.”

“Come on, partner, the lady’s waiting.”

They headed back to the house.

THE END

Elizabeth Darkly will return in ‘Wife on the Mississippi’

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