A Gunsmoke Story
Spoilers: "The Wedding"
Disclaimer: Matt and Kitty aren't mine – dadgummit!
A single beam of sunlight sliced between the opulent curtains and window
frame, interloping into the otherwise dark room and falling directly upon the
sole occupant of the bed. Groaning, she mumbled an annoyed curse and
yanked the covers over her head.
Kitty Russell, proprietor of the Long Branch Saloon, was not a morning
person. If there ever had been a time when she was, she had overcome the
tendency long ago. Of course, she didn't know many people in her business
who were. Late nights – which usually turned
into early mornings – dictated that she rarely made it to bed before three
a.m. As a result, the sun shone high in the sky by the time she roused
herself the next day.
If those late hours happened to end with a certain lawman staying for
the evening, the sun might have peaked and headed toward afternoon by the time
she recovered enough to rise. Occasionally, she
managed to drag her protesting body from the bed to partake of an early
breakfast with that same lawman. Recently, though, she had shared neither
bed nor breakfast with him. The increasing population of Kansas meant that the
U.S. Marshal's job drew him into those growing areas more often, keeping him
away from Dodge for days and even weeks at a time. When he was in town,
he spent large portions of his evenings policing the heavy – and rowdy – crowds
of cowboys that poured into the "Queen of the Cowtowns."
This particular morning, as she indulged herself with a few more minutes
in bed, Kitty remembered almost a week back, when she had determined that
enough was enough: He needed a day off – they both needed a day off.
He had been gone – again – dealing with the dregs of society, dragging
in after dark. His first stop, as was often the case to her great
satisfaction, was the Long Branch.
Kitty noted that he hadn't even bothered to take off his coat when he dropped
his long frame into a chair, body slumped in fatigue,
the endless days and nights showing clearly in the deeper lines of his handsome
face and the weary slouch of his shoulders.
Without a word, she poured him a beer, for the moment content simply to
enjoy being close to him again. Later, she would help more by being even closer
"Thanks, Kitty," he murmured, taking a long pull at the golden
"You look tired, Matt," she noted, trying to make it sound
more casual than she really meant.
"Well, I can't say I'll be sorry to see this day end," he
admitted, allowing the exhaustion to show. She knew that revelation was a
concession only to her. If anyone else had walked up, he would have
straightened his back and shoved the power back into his voice. It warmed
her to know that he shared this bit of vulnerability with her alone.
"You know what we haven't done in a long time?" she asked,
pretending as if the thought had just occurred to her.
"Taken a whole day off and done nothin'."
He laughed, and answered wistfully, "Sure I wish I could,"
before raising the glass to his lips again.
"Why can't you? Festus is here, and Newly
and Burke." Granted, Burke's help probably wouldn't be too
persuasive. But certainly Festus and Newly could
handle things for one little day.
Matt cocked his head, and she felt a quick thrill to think that he might
actually be considering her suggestion.
Upping the ante, she prodded, "Spring Creek. Cold
chicken in a basket. Bottle of champagne chilled in the stream.
Like we used to."
After a moment, his eyes flashed, and he leaned toward her. "By golly, Kitty. You know somethin'?
You've just made yourself a date."
She beamed at him. A date! A real date! It seemed
almost too good to be true.
He smiled at her, and she was so caught up in the intoxicating blue eyes
that she didn't hear the jangling visitor approach.
"Miz Kitty. Matthew."
Glancing back, she pushed down a flash of irritation, determined that
not even Festus' untimely interruption of one of her rare moments with Matt
could make her angry. She was going on a date!
"Hello, Festus," Matt acknowledged, and Kitty added her own
"When'd you git back?" the deputy
"Oh, just a few minutes ago. How's things?"
Kitty reflected that "things" had been better just a few
"Oh, everything's real quiet, Matthew. I didn't think you'd
be back `till late."
"Yeah, well, I finished up a little early there."
Not taking a hint, as usual, Festus continued. "I told ol' Doc an' Burke that you wadn't
gonna be home `till later."
She caught Matt's subtle smirk of amusement and knew her irritation
wasn't completely invisible, but she was a good sport and, when Matt invited
Festus to sit with them, she was able to add her own genuine acceptance,
offering the deputy a beer, which he, of course, took. It was in the
process of topping off Matt's glass that the moment fell apart.
"Want a refill, Matt?" she had just asked when Festus
stretched out his hand, which held a piece of paper that looked ominously like
a telegram. Kitty hated telegrams. In her experience they rarely
brought anything but bad news.
"Uh, Matthew, this here come fer ya' a little bit ago."
Kitty's eyes cut toward Matt, and he shot her a chagrined look, the kind
he always got when he knew she wasn't going to like what he was about to have
to tell her. After reading for a second or two, he sighed, his expression
falling into even more apologetic lines.
"Sorry, Kitty," he murmured, those two simple words destroying
the joy that had only moments before surged through her heart.
"I figured as much. Where to this
"Salt Flat. Gotta pick up a prisoner." Stuffing the damned thing
in his shirt pocket, he said, "Festus, I shouldn't be gone more'n a day or two."
Another day. Or two.
Then he gave her a final, rueful glance as he gathered his hat in his
hands. "Well, Kitty, maybe when I get back –
With a weak smile that didn't fool either of them, she let him go.
He rose a little stiffly, giving into the limp more than usual, the
fatigue betraying him. As he disappeared into the night, she wondered how
much worse it would be after another day or two of hard riding and little
With deeper perception than he sometimes got credit for, Festus asked
softly, "What wuz thet
there all about, Miz Kitty?"
Wistfully, she told him. "It's called daydreaming,
Festus." And she had done way too much of it recently.
That had been a week ago, and even though Matt had returned in the time
he promised, he had barely found time to do more than nod toward her as he
strode through the Long Branch
breaking up scuffles and jailing drunks. If things had been quiet while
he was gone, they certainly livened up when he got back. Once or twice
they had managed to share a beer, but duty pulled him back onto the streets of
Dodge before he even finished his first glass.
And now she lay under the covers, dreading the day, already halfway to
dark, wondering if she would spend her evening alone once more. She had
wondered that very same thing each night for the past week.
Each night she had lain in bed, thinking about
their last visit to Spring Creek, her body shivering with the sensations
provoked by the visions. Each night as her eyes fluttered shut, she had escaped to the memories of the security of his
arms, the ecstasy of his touch. Each night, she had concentrated on the
taste of his lips, the warmth of his hands, the weight
of his hips.
And each night, the sharp retort of gunfire had shattered her passionate
dreams, jerking her from him, the all-too-familiar sensation of dread shooting
through her trembling body. Heart pounding, she had waited for the knock
at her door, for someone to call to her, to cry out that she was needed at
Doc's office – or worst of all, at Percy Crump's.
But each night, just before she thought she couldn't stand it any
longer, Matt's strong voice would echo past her window, ordering the disruptive
drovers back to their rooms and bedrolls. Eventually, her heart would
slow to normal, and she would whisper another heart-felt prayer of thanks to
the Heavens before trying in vain to re-gather her dreams.
With a rueful sigh, she shook her head and scolded herself. Lying
around wallowing in self-pity would do her no good, and would certainly not
change whether her evening was spent alone or with him. With forced
energy, she dragged herself from the warm covers and prepared for the day,
taking her time with her toiletries and paint, knowing it would be hours before
the crowds swarmed the Long Branch.
Maybe tonight would be the night. Maybe tonight he could stay for more
than just one glass of beer.
The clock was just striking noon when she descended the familiar stairs,
her sharp eyes noting the few early customers, most of whom were nursing
solitary drinks or engaging in card games continued from the night
before. As usual, Sam saw her immediately and nodded a greeting, his calm
countenance telling her that things were normal.
"Morning, Miss Kitty."
The bartender started to say something else, but both of them were
distracted by the familiar stomp of boots outside on the boardwalk. After
a few moments, Festus' scruffy face peered over the doors, and the deputy
cracked a smile at them and walked in, his spurs jingling happily.
"Festus," she greeted, peering behind him in the vain hope
that perhaps she might glimpse a tall shadow darkening the doorway. But
the deputy was alone this morning. As casually as possible, she asked,
"Matt at the jail?"
Festus cleared his throat, cut an uneasy glance toward Sam, and looked
down. "Uh, naw, Miz Kitty. Matthew ain't
– well, he ain't chere.
Disappointment and anger rushed through her.
"Gone?" Matt hadn't mentioned anything about having to go off
again. Of course sometimes things came up suddenly, she knew, but he
usually found some way to get word to her that he would be leaving.
"Yes'm. Told me an' Newly he wuz gonna be gone all day
t'day and weren't gonna be back `till tomorra. Sed we wuz in charge."
With effort, she tried to suppress the intense hurt that spread through
her chest. Apparently, tonight wouldn't be the night, after all.
And Sam saw, too, she noticed. With a familiar look of sympathy he
couldn't quite hide, the loyal bartender smiled encouragingly at her.
"Oh, Miz Kitty, there's a delivery out
back. Came a little while ago. Thought
maybe you'd want to check it and make sure everything's there that's supposed ta be."
Bless Sam's heart. He knew she needed something to distract her
from the pain of yet another disappointment. Nodding her silent
gratitude, she sighed and stepped through the office door, making her way down
the short hallway to the outside entrance where most deliveries were
The bright sun blinded her for a moment, drawing tears to her eyes until
she was able to adjust. Squinting, she glanced around to determine which
of the shipments she was expecting waited for her. But there were no
crates of glasses stacked by the door, nor were there any barrels of
whiskey. In fact, there was nothing out in that alley – except a very
patient horse hitched to one of Moss Grimmick's
finest buggies, which was freshly rubbed down so that
the leather seats shone ebony. Squinting again, she looked for the
driver, but didn't see a soul.
Strange. Sam had definitely said there was a delivery.
She started to turn back into the saloon to see if the bartender had meant
something else when the delicious smell of fried chicken wafted past her.
A closer look revealed a woven basket resting on the passenger side of the
"What on earth?" she murmured, stepping onto the bottom of the
buggy so that she could peek inside. Her eyes fell to a note that had
been carefully placed so that it protruded from under a blue checkered
napkin. Underneath the napkin, a generous serving of cold fried chicken
waited. Corn pones and roasted potatoes provided the very satisfactory
accoutrements. Heart pounding, she slid open the envelope, a thrill of delight
surging through her at the sight of his bold script:
"The champagne is chilling in the creek. All I need now is
Tears welled in her eyes, and she was pretty sure she actually squealed
with the delight those words brought her. Spinning on one heel, she
clutched the note to her heart and rushed back toward the door of the saloon,
but her determined path was blocked by a very big, very solid barrier that she
plowed right into.
"Whoa!" the barrier laughed, long arms coming up to steady
She caught her breath as she looked up into those lovely blue eyes, the
pleasure he felt about his surprise clear in them.
"Oh, Matt," she breathed.
He wore his gray dress coat and held his hat in one hand, grasping her
arm with the other. A half-smile curved his lips, and his gaze held hers
solidly, if a bit ruefully. "I was hoping, Miss Russell," he
declared, voice smooth and full of cordiality, "that you would do me the
honor of accompanying me on a picnic this afternoon. That is, if you're
free." He stopped for a moment, then added
quietly, "And I'm not too late."
He looked so innocent and so boyish that she couldn't keep the laughter
from her throat. "Well, Mister Dillon, I don't know. I'll have
to check my social calendar. There are other gentlemen in this town who
have interest in me, you know."
Unexpectedly, the boyish expression fell, a frown drawing down his
brow. He stepped toward her in earnest. "I do know that,
Kitty. I'm just hoping maybe you'll overlook my shortcomings and allow me
Despite his seriousness, Kitty raised a brow in mischief, looked him up
and down, lingering just a bit at the delicious view below his belt, and noted
archly, "There's nothing short about you, Matt Dillon."
She shook her head and let the saucy smile creep to her lips. "And
believe me, the pleasure's all mine."
"Kitty!" He cast an embarrassed
glance over his shoulder.
It wasn't until then that she noticed Sam and Festus in the hallway,
wide grins stretching their mouths. Despite her own slight chagrin over
the two overhearing that intimate exchange, she couldn't suppress a laugh at
the deep flush that splashed across her lover's rugged cheeks.
Decisively, she nodded proudly toward the eavesdroppers, slid an arm
through Matt's, and tugged him toward the buggy. "Marshal Dillon, I
would be delighted to accompany you on a picnic. And I feel certain that
there will be enough pleasure to go around."
He leaned closer, shielding their conversation from any curious ears
that might still be tuned their way. "And around
and around and around."
Heat rushed through her body, settling with a delicious tingle deep
within. Regulating her breathing as best she could, she accepted his help
to climb up onto the buggy seat, snuggling next to him when he joined her and
took the ribbons.
She remembered her rueful comment to Festus when Matt had left a week
before. Sighing, she wondered aloud, "Am I daydreaming?"
He shot her a bemused frown. "What?"
But she just smiled secretly and shook her head. "Nothing."
"That champagne ought to be cold by now," he noted, clicking
at the horse and bracing her body with his as the buggy jerked forward.
"Probably," she agreed, then looked
up at him slyly, sliding her hand slowly up his hard thigh. "But I
think I'm more in the mood for something – hot."
The muscles tensed under her fingers, and she heard him suck in a quick
breath. "Yes, ma'am," he murmured.
As she snuggled closer to him, she sighed happily and tried not to think
about what would happen when they returned the next day. Chances were he
would have to head out again. Chances were there would be a prisoner to
pick up or a horse thief to track or a fugitive to recover. Chances were
she would sleep alone again in that big bed and wake up with the sunlight
laughing at her plight.
But today – and tonight – she would lose herself in the most beautiful
daydream she'd had in a long time. And she'd take her chances that it wouldn't
be the last time.
to MAHC's Gunsmoke