A Gunsmoke Story
By Amanda (MAHC)
Chapter Eleven: It’s Your Funeral
Rating: PG (Teen)
Disclaimer: Of course, the regular Dodge citizens are not my creation, but I’ve thrown in a few guest stars, including Sam Dillon and Coy Brennan.
“He’s a fine, healthy baby, Kitty,” Doc said, just as pleased as Kitty that he could give her that news. “Gonna be almost as big as his daddy, I think.”
His daddy had reluctantly deposited his family at Doc’s office earlier, claiming he would return in just a few minutes after taking their bags to the room Mr. Dobie still held for him at the Dodge House. Doc had to smile at the hesitancy in the usually decisive man’s actions over the brief separation from his wife and son, still not quite able to believe everything that had happened since Matt had first begun his tenacious search for Kitty eight months before.
“I coulda told ya’ that,” she smiled, taking Sam and easing him into the bassinette Doc had dragged out from the back of his office. The child had been fed and checked out, and now he was more than ready for a nap.
And it was Kitty’s turn for Doc to inspect.
business issues from personal issues, he handed her a sheet and turned away so
that she could undress. “Hop up on the
table and let me know when you’re ready,” he said, then
busied himself with getting his instruments prepared. “Matt won’t want to wait too long, I’ll
bet. It’s none of my business, of
course, Kitty, but what happened between you and Matt, in
He heard the hint of amazement in her voice. “He came after me, Doc. He asked me to come back.”
She breathed out, almost a laugh, but not quite. “He passed out.”
The doctor spun around, forgetting about Kitty’s state of undress. Fortunately, she had already slid under the sheet. Matt Dillon passed out? “What?”
She smiled ruefully. “Well, actually he fainted because he’d lost so much blood and because he was so exhausted, but I don’t figure finding out about Sam helped him stay conscious.”
“Exhausted?” Doc asked, his physician’s ears perking up.
her face darkened as she admitted, “The doctor in
Torn between honesty and putting more guilt on her, he shrugged. “It wasn’t – it wasn’t easy for him, Kitty,” he said. “When he came back from Hays and you were gone – “
“He told me he got drunk,” she said, eyes sad.
Doc’s brow rose in surprise that Matt would have admitted to that rare bout of weakness. “He did. My fault. I offered it to him.”
“Tell me what else,” she urged.
“Kitty – “
“I need to know, Doc. Even if – even if it’s bad.”
He nodded and braced a hand on the edge of the table. “He was like – well, like a shell of who he used to be. He went about his business, did his job, but Matt Dillon was missing. His heart was gone, Kitty. It was out there looking for you, even when his body was in town.”
She nodded, accepting what he said, tears welling in her eyes.
“He’d go out weeks at a time on some assignment, but we all knew he was looking for you at the same time. Sometimes he’d come back hurt, but it didn’t seem to faze him. That last time – that last time he was in bad shape.”
“Shot?” she guessed.
“No, not that time,” he said, indicating it had happened on other occasions.
“His leg, then,” she surmised.
“And his back. Plus, he’d gotten into it with an outlaw. A few cuts and scrapes.”
“I saw them,” she whispered, looking past Doc as if she were envisioning the new marks on the lawman’s generously scarred body. “And the others.”
“But it was his spirit that was injured the most. I was afraid – “ He broke off, voice cracking.
She placed her hand on his arm. “Afraid of what?”
“Afraid it was too far gone to heal.”
She absorbed this observation with poignant silence, her eyes shimmering. After a narrowly-won struggle to maintain control, she asked hoarsely, “What changed?”
know. He just appeared at my office
later that day, shaved and in his Sunday clothes, saying he was going to
“He had. I was actually kinda surprised it took him so long to figure out that I’d used his name.”
“Well,” Doc allowed, “he wasn’t thinking too clearly there for a while. Used his name, huh?”
“I guess I wanted to hang onto him somehow still. And I wanted Sam to be a Dillon.”
He chuckled and leaned over the bassinette, thrusting a finger into the strong grip of Matt’s son. “He is that,” he agreed. Doc studied her for a minute, then said, “Kitty, you know I can’t help but ask how that ring finally ended up on your finger.”
She smiled in memory, and he was warmed by the pleasure that softened her face. “When Matt could get up and about, Ira arranged for the wedding. He and Charlotte are Catholic, but he knew an Episcopal priest who could make it short and sweet.”
Doc raised an eyebrow. “Is that what you wanted?”
“I didn’t want to leave too much time between the askin’ and the gettin’!” she joked.
“Matt wasn’t going to change his mind,” he told her, his serious tone breaking through her lightness.
smiled. “I know. He came to
“New coat?” Doc asked.
“The old one – wasn’t salvageable.”
Of course, he realized. The knife. After Matt had left them, Kitty had related a brief version of the events on The New Orleans Lady. “I wouldn’t think going through a fitting would be too comfortable for him with that shoulder.”
She grimaced. “You’d be right.”
Not wanting to lose the joy of the reunion, he prompted, “So, you found an obliging priest – “
obliging Episcopal priest,” she
reminded, stressing the difference. “He
was a little hesitant to marry us at first.
I think he wanted to make sure we were really in love or something.” She smirked.
“Couldn’t be ‘cause we were too young. Anyway, that was until Sam decided to pipe
Doc chuckled, imaging the scene and wishing, for more than one reason, that he had been there.
“Good thing he wasn’t Catholic,” she decided.
“We probably wouldn’t have gotten out of there without saying at least twenty Hail Marys and a dozen Our Fathers,” she laughed.
Doc had to admit that was probably pretty close to the truth.
“And it wasn’t because of Sam,” she breathed, “although I thought it was at first. I was afraid – I didn’t want him to – to feel obligated. I didn’t want him to ask just because – “
“He didn’t,” Doc assured her.
“I know.” She held up her hand and gazed at the shining band. It looked much more at home on her finger than it had in his hand those months ago.
“It’s a beautiful ring, Kitty,” he told her sincerely.
“Isn’t it? He won’t tell me where he got it, but it’s too fine for Jonas’ store.”
her for a moment. “He got it in
She glanced toward him. “He told you about the ring?”
“What do you mean?”
He hesitated, wondering how much he should tell her. “Kitty, Matt got that ring in Hays – eight months ago.”
Her eyebrows drew together. “Eight months – “
“He came back with it on that last trip before you – before – “ He dropped off, seeing pleasure retreat with the advance of horror across her fine features.
“Doc, what are you saying?”
Sighing, he just shook his head. It was already clear.
“You mean Matt – if I hadn’t left, he was going to – “
He saw the realization of eight lost months smash through her, the thoughts of those irretrievable moments. Chances forever gone. The chance to see his face when she told him she was pregnant. The chance to share their wedding with their friends. The chance to have him there for the birth of his child. The chance to watch him hold his newborn son in his hands.
“After he found out you were gone,” he continued, “he came to my office to see if I knew where.”
“That’s why I didn’t tell you,” she murmured ruefully.
“He was – I’ve never seen Matt like that. I figured if any man ever needed a drink, he did. I told him how long you’d been gone and added what you’d told me before you left.”
A groan slipped past her lips. “Oh, Doc.”
“You know Matt only drinks a couple of beers at most. Maybe a shot or two of whiskey. But that flask was about empty by the time he passed out on my bed.”
She closed her eyes, and he saw she couldn’t even manage a response. Despite the pain he knew it was causing her, he continued, realizing she needed – and wanted – to know.
“I saw that he had taken a bullet across the ribs a few days back, so I did my best to clean that up.”
Automatically, her eyes opened, the ubiquitous worry clear in them. “Was it – “
“Not bad,” he said, already knowing the questions from years of experience with both of them.
“That’s where that came from,” she whispered, more to herself than to him.
“His clothes were pretty rough from the trail, so I figured I could at least have them cleaned for him. When I picked up his pants, the jewelry bag fell out and I found the ring and realized what he had planned. He doesn’t know I knew about it, so don’t say anything to him.”
“Oh, Doc,” she groaned. “He was going to – and I was gone – “ She dropped her head, burying her face in her hands, oblivious to the sheet that fell. “Oh my God. What did I do?”
Clearing his throat, he eased the corner of the sheet back up so she could cover herself again. “Now, Kitty, it’s all right. It turned out all right, didn’t it?”
“But, he was going to – and I – oh, Doc, what did I do?”
“You did what you thought was best for you and for him – and for Sam.”
“But – “
“No buts. Is he happy now?”
“Then that’s enough.”
“Kitty,” he asked carefully, not wanting to bring up any more worries for her, but not able to shake the nagging and disturbing reminder of Coy Brennan. “How’s his arm?”
She sighed. “The right one?”
He nodded. Her question was just conversation. She knew which arm.
“Okay, I guess. It worked well enough to shoot and kill the guy that threw the knife at him.”
Doc frowned, unsure of how to phrase his question without making her suspicious. “Kitty, did he seem – was he as fast – “
She shook her head. “I don’t know. It was hard to tell. The knife was already thrown before Matt even knew to draw.”
“If the man had had a gun, could Matt have outdrawn him?”
“I don’t know.” She frowned, eyes narrowing. He had pushed a little too much. “Is there a reason you’re asking this now?”
He dropped his gaze, unwilling to tell her that what they had all feared might be happening – that a fresh, cocky, talented, young, gunslinger had come for Matt, to test the veteran lawman, to see if he could beat the legend – a challenge that would end only in death. And after Doc had seen Coy Brennan in action, he was all too afraid it could be Matt’s death.
“Doc?” she asked, a little more forcefully this time.
Shaking his head, he hoped he appeared casual. “No,” he said, accepting his own cowardice for the moment. “No reason. I was just wondering.”
Her expression told him she didn’t buy it, but he pressed on quickly before she could prod him more. “Since you’re back, does that mean you’re okay with him being marshal?”
It was her turn to surprise him. “He took care of that, too.”
“What do you mean?”
A tender smile curved her lips. “The ring wasn’t the only thing he gave me, Doc.”
“No?” he asked, curiously.
“He gave me his badge, too.”
“He’s retiring, Doc. The War Department asked him to stay on until the end of the year, but after that – “
Retiring? Son of a gun. After all those years of nagging Matt about
putting himself in the line of fire, the physician thought he’d be completely
relieved by that news. Instead, Doc felt
a strange regret with the realization that Matt Dillon would no longer be the
driving force of sanity and order in
Suppressing that selfish notion, he pushed a genuine smile to his face. “Well, my goodness! Congratulations, Kitty,” he offered. “It’s about time that big knucklehead came to his senses.”
“Yeah,” she agreed, but to his surprise, the tone was only half-hearted.
“Isn’t that what you’ve wanted?”
“Sure. Of course it is,” she confirmed, the smile returning. Taking a deep breath and lying down, she said, “Now, get on with this check up. This table’s not the most comfortable, you know.”
Suddenly uncertain, he nodded and began the exam.
A few minutes later, Doc carefully slid the sheet back up over her breasts, satisfied with the results of his inspection.
He turned away to give her privacy, a little ironic, considering the thoroughness of the exam he had just conducted. “You can get dressed now, Kitty.”
He heard the rustle of clothes behind him for a second before she asked again, “Well?”
An exasperated sigh preceded her clarification. “Well, how am I?”
“Oh!” he answered obtusely. “Oh, well, you’re fine. Just fine.”
“So I can – I mean, Matt and I can – “
on him abruptly why she was so anxious for the exam. Suddenly understanding, he turned back to
her. “You mean your doctor in
Kitty stood in her underclothes. Even though she didn’t seem to mind, he turned away again. “A couple of weeks ago,” she said, “but not recently. He spent most of his time checking on Matt, and by the time I felt like – well – Ira and Charlotte were there, and – and we were in a hurry to get back here, and – the train didn’t have sleeper cars – ” She stopped suddenly and glared at him. “Well, it’s been almost two months, so I figure that – that should be long enough, right?”
She shook her head, the misery apparently too deep to worry about embarrassment.
Doc dropped his head, turning again so she wouldn’t see the smile he couldn’t hold back. “Well, I don’t know, Kitty,” he said, taking his time putting away the instruments. “I think maybe you’d better wait just a little while longer.”
“What?” Frustration edged her voice. “How much longer?”
Somehow, he managed the answer, but only by not looking at her. “Oh, no more’n two or three weeks – “
“Two or three weeks!” she exclaimed in sheer disbelief.
With effort, he said, “Well, you want to be sure. I mean, a woman’s body goes through a lot having a baby – “
“I know what a woman’s body goes through,” she snapped.
“So you’ll agree that you want to be sure that – “ He looked at her, clothed again, and found himself joking only a little now. Considering who her lover – her husband – was, he realized his teasing held more than a little validity. “Kitty, Matt’s – well, he’s – “
“He’s what, Doc?” she asked, frowning in confusion.
He sighed, not sure exactly how to phrase his concern. “Well, Matt’s a big fellow, and – “
Aghast, he exclaimed, “Doc!”
“This is strictly medical advice, Kitty,” he insisted, coloring.
Agony marred her beautiful features. “Doc,” she groaned, then leaned a little closer, as if she were speaking in strict confidence, even though Sam was the only other occupant of the room. “Doc, you don’t understand.”
“I can’t wait. Do you know how long it’s been since Matt and
I – well, do you have any idea how hard it’s been this past week on the trip
He felt true sympathy for her – and maybe even more for Matt. “Kitty – “
“I mean, you have no idea.”
He was a man, so he figured he had at least some idea. “It’s only for a few more weeks, Kitty,” he pushed, falling back into the ruse.
“A few more weeks is about a few weeks and a minute too long.”
“It’s been hard, has it?” he asked, chuckling.
“Let me assure you, Doc, it’s been hard.” Then her eyes twinkled, and she leaned closer. “I mean real hard.”
The innuendo he had missed the first time slapped him right in the face. Realization of what she was saying burned in his cheeks, and he fumbled with a jar on his desk, knocking it onto the floor where its content scattered in white puffs. Coughing roughly, then clearing his throat, he said, “Well, for Pete’s sake, Kitty. You don’t have to – I mean I didn’t need to know – “
That marvelous laugh erupted from her, the sound he loved and had missed for so many months. “Serves you right, Curly. Don’t tell me you weren’t having a little fun yourself. Two or three weeks?”
He eyed her, then he relaxed and allowed a smirk to flatten his lips. “Well, I was mostly kidding. Still, as your doctor, I want you to be careful at first. Nice and easy, okay.”
“Doc – “
“I’m serious.” He thought about the look in Matt’s eyes when the marshal had left her earlier. “You tell Matt, nice and easy.”
But this time he was really serious, and let his expression show it.
“All right,” she conceded. “But Matt’s not the only one who’ll have to be reminded.”
“I don’t doubt that at all,” he said, knowing Kitty was just as anxious to – well, to – From the look in Kitty’s eyes, maybe she wasn’t the one he should be worried about. Grunting, he swiped his mustache and made a mental note to take a long look at Matt in the morning – assuming she actually let him out of bed while it was still considered morning. “Just – “
“I know. Nice and easy,” she agreed amiably, even though he knew she was probably just patronizing him.
“You tell Matt I want to see that shoulder tomorrow, and don’t make it worse tonight.”
“You,” she declared, carrying Sam out the door, “are a dirty old man.”
“I resent that!” he bristled, calling after her. “I’m not that old.”
Chuckling, he had barely turned back to clear up the office, when her terrified cry propelled him as fast as his aging legs could carry him to the door. When he reached the landing, he saw Kitty standing on the third step from the bottom, Sam clutched protectively to her breast.
“Kitty?” he asked, confused.
didn’t answer, couldn’t pull her attention away from whatever was happening on
A scene he had hoped never to see again.
Slowly, he climbed down the steps, passing Kitty and standing so that he had a better view of the situation. Matt Dillon stood, still in his dress clothes, the right tail of his new wedding coat brushed back over the butt of his pistol for easier access. The stance was one they had seen hundreds of times before: long legs braced wide, right arm hanging at his side, eyes forward and set. He had slipped his left arm out of the sling so that it hung straight as well. Twenty-five yards away, another man stood, a slender man whose cold eyes stared out from a young face, whose gun belt rode his hips low.
“Oh, Matt,” he thought, trying to force the words across the distance from his mind to the marshal’s. “Don’t do it. Let the kid go. This time, let him go. Dive behind a wagon or a horse trough, or something. It’s not worth it.” He heard Sam whimper in Kitty’s arms. “Dear God, it’s not worth it.”
“Dillon!” Brennan called. “They say you’re fast. That true?”
The eyes of Dodge shifted to the marshal.
“You don’t want to find out, son,” Matt said, his body still unmoving, his eyes still fixed on the target. He’d given the warning many times before, but Doc wondered if it was still backed by the same skill.
“Heard you fell into some misfortune a while back,” the young man taunted. “Maybe you ain’t as fast no more. Maybe you’re just too old and shot up.”
Matt didn’t respond, merely continued to hold his position. Doc’s heart felt as if it were coming right through his chest. Stepping back, he stood next to Kitty, slipping an arm around her waist to brace her, not sure what would happen if she saw Matt gunned down right in front of her and their son.
“Why don’t you just back away and head on out of town while you still have the chance,” Matt suggested calmly.
That just drew a harsh laugh from Brennan. “Why don’t you, old man? Admit you’re beat, and I’ll let you walk outta here. Saw ya come into town with that pretty wife of yours and that baby. Be a shame fer her ta watch ya die screaming in the dirt there with yer guts spillin’ out.”
Kitty groaned softly, and Doc tightened his grip on her. Matt remained silent, a defending champion standing ready for the challenger to make his move.
“Whadda ya say, Dillon?” Brennan pushed.
Again, Matt didn’t move or speak, apparently understanding that the moment was inevitable.
Brennan smiled in approval, a calculated, confident, thinning of his lips over white teeth. “All right, lawman. It’s your funeral.” The gunslinger grew serious then, his hungry eyes narrowing in focus on the man he faced. His hand hovered menacingly over his holster, his body hunched slightly forward.
If time could freeze, Doc knew in that moment that no clock hand moved, no breeze blew, no spectator took a breath. Dodge stopped. The world stopped. He wondered briefly if it would ever start again.
Then, both Dodge and the world erupted with the shocking double-retort of gunfire, and the physician’s heart leaped into his throat with nauseating terror as he watched Matt Dillon’s big body jerk violently and hurl backward to crash onto the dusty street.
“Please, God, no,” he prayed as he stumbled out into the street, ignoring the fact that Brennan might be trigger-happy and gun him down before he could even reach Matt. Over and over, he beseeched the Almighty. For Matt, for Kitty, for Sam. For all of them.
But the lawman lay unmoving, the dirt under his body already damp and clotting with his blood, the once-sure and unerring pistol lying useless by his limp hand.
After all those years, after everything he had survived, after finding Kitty and discovering Sam, it couldn’t end like this. It just couldn’t!
“Please, God!” he pleaded, falling down beside the son he wished he had. “Please!”
Chapter Twelve: All Over Again
Spoilers: “There Was Never a Horse;” “Kimbro;” “Disciple”
Rating: Teen (PG)
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
The kid was going to draw, there was no doubt about that. For the twenty-plus years Matt Dillon had been facing down gunslingers and outlaws, he had become an expert at reading the eyes of his opponents. It had kept him alive – at least so far. And he knew without a doubt that this boy, no more than twenty at the most, more peach fuzz than whiskers, was going to draw.
was on his way back to Doc’s office after depositing his and Kitty’s bags at
the Dodge House, anxious to be near his family again, the ache in his chest
with even a brief separation a new, but not totally unpleasant, sensation for
him. He had just stepped back onto the
street when the call of his name stopped him abruptly. Just the tone alerted him to the intent of
its owner, even before he turned to see the slender young man standing in the
As he always did, the lawman squared himself, remembering with irritation to ease his left arm from the sling for balance, wincing at the pull on the tender shoulder. Carefully, he pushed his coattail back over the handle of his gun, hoping it didn’t look like he was drawing, yet. But his opponent just waited patiently.
A crowd had formed almost immediately, made up of the curious, the anxious, the horrified, and the amused. Mostly, though, it was made up of tense citizens who had just greeted him a couple of hours before at the train station, their friendship and support overwhelming. It was not his intention to die in the street in front of those people.
“Who are ya?” he called to the kid.
“Brennan,” came the reply. “Coy Brennan.”
He’d never heard of him, and wondered which one of the many possible reasons this boy had chosen for coming after Matt Dillon. Opening his mouth, he started to ask what Brennan wanted, but a startled cry stopped him just as a flash of color and movement to his left caught his eye. Not taking his focus off the gunman, he still was able to discern that Kitty now stood at the bottom of the stairs going up to Doc’s office. Sam was in her arms.
In all the years he had faced down enemies, he had never worried about the distractions around him, had never really had distractions. His death meant only his death – even though deep down he always knew how it would have affected Kitty. Now, though – now he had made the commitment to her and to his child. His death meant more – much more.
Another figure moved just within his line of sight. Doc stepped past Kitty, and even though he didn’t dare turn to look at the physician, Matt could feel the older man’s eyes on him, could almost hear the plea for him to back off, to let the kid take the day. But Matt knew he couldn’t do that – and it had nothing to do with pride. He was still a U.S. Marshal, still the law, still committed to duty.
Painfully, he blocked the thoughts of Doc, and even Kitty and Sam, from his mind and concentrated on the man whose sole purpose at the moment was to kill him.
“Dillon!” Brennan called. “They say you’re fast. That true?”
He felt the town watching him, waiting for him to respond.
“You don’t want to find out, son,” he promised, believing it. He had to believe it, or he was doomed already.
“Heard you fell into some misfortune a while back,” Brennan taunted. “Maybe you ain’t as fast no more. Maybe you’re just too old and shot up.”
The veteran lawman almost laughed at the kid’s voicing of the very suggestion he had been mulling over recently himself. Too old and shot up. He most probably was, not that it mattered. “Why don’t you just back away and head on out of town while you still have the chance,” he advised, knowing the advice wouldn’t be heeded.
The boy laughed, not a pleasant sound. “Why don’t you, old man? Admit you’re beat, and I’ll let you walk outta here. Saw ya come into town with that pretty wife of yours and that baby. Be a shame fer her ta watch ya die screaming in the dirt there with yer guts spillin’ out.”
The thought of Kitty and Sam as witnesses to his death tore at him, but he fought to keep himself calm. Brennan wanted him distracted, needed for him to be worried, to lose his edge. Well, he wouldn’t give him the satisfaction – couldn’t give him the satisfaction.
“Whadda ya say, Dillon?”
Matt was through talking. The time for action had arrived, and he just waited.
Brennan smiled, and Matt saw reluctant approval in the young man’s cold eyes. “All right, lawman,” he conceded. “It’s your funeral.”
Matt stared into those eyes, ignoring every other part of the boy’s body. He never watched the hands twitch, never checked for the feet to move. A man’s eyes told the whole story and gave away his draw a hundredth of a second before it happened.
He knew, maybe even before Brennan, when the kid was going to go for the gun. But the blur of the young hand surprised even Matt, and his gun was up and firing quicker than the marshal had anticipated. His own hand had drawn automatically, his finger squeezing the trigger as soon as the iron cleared the leather. His ears heard the double-retort, and he knew that Brennan’s bullet had beaten his. The burst of pain at his temple was mercifully short before the survivor of twenty years of gunfights was jerked into a world of total darkness.
The first sensations Matt Dillon knew were a throbbing stab in his head and a warm trickle down the side of his face. Those were hardly ever good omens. He was pretty sure he wasn’t dead; although, having never been in that state before, he couldn’t rely completely on the assumption. In fact, the next thing he noticed might actually support the possibility that he had gone on to meet his maker. Somewhere close by someone was praying, not the soothing, calm tone he would have expected from angels, however. This prayer sounded desperate and persistent.
“Please God. Please God.”
Pain, blood, and prayer. The three combined to indicate that something unpleasant had happened, something extremely unpleasant – and it had happened to him.
After a moment, he became aware of the rough ground beneath his back. Having found himself lying on a Dodge street more than once over the years, he conceded that being there once more wasn’t a comforting sensation. Concentrating past the pain, he managed to squint open his eyes in an effort to increase his information about the situation and found himself looking up into the agonized face of Doc Adams. As soon as blue eyes met gray, though, the expression changed, and a broad, relieved smile broke across the doctor’s weathered features.
“Thank God!” he exclaimed. “Thank God!”
At least Doc’s enthusiasm lent support to the theory that he was still alive.
“Doc?” he asked, irritated that his voice sounded so weak. He attempted to push up on his elbows for a better view, but the burn deep in his shoulder forced him back down.
He turned his head, grimacing at the new bout of torture that movement caused. It was worth it, though, to see Kitty kneeling beside him, fear and tears streaked across her cheeks. She smiled suddenly, bending to kiss him and run her fingers through his hair. But behind the relief, he saw the old haunted look, and it twisted deep inside him to know he put that look there.
“You’re all right, Matt,” she told him, the tears still falling.
He thought so, but it was nice to have confirmation. “Sam?” he asked.
She leaned a little to the side and he saw Hannah standing behind her, his son in the saloon owner’s arms.
“Your boy’s fine, Marshal,” Hannah assured him, smiling. “Just fine.”
A hand touched his chin and turned his head straight. “That bullet grazed you pretty good across the temple, Matt,” Doc said, voice more than a little shaky, “but you’ll be okay.”
The marshal crossed his right hand over and up to probe at the aching side of his head, drawing back fingers sticky with blood. “What hap – “ he began, but with sudden clarity, he knew, he remembered. Almost desperately, he struggled to rise, frantic to know where Brennan was and what danger they all might still be in. “Help me – up,” he ground out, extending his right arm to whoever might take it.
Doc laid a hand on his chest. “You just stay right there,” he cautioned quietly, leaning in to explain. “Festus and Newly can take care of that kid. You just stay down.”
But Dillon wouldn’t let someone else take a bullet meant for him. If Coy Brennan was going to give him the chance to stand again and draw, he’d wipe the blood out of his eyes and do it. He shook his head, regretting that choice immediately as the world spun dizzily. When his vision cleared, he gritted his teeth and dragged his aching body to a half-sitting position without any assistance.
“Matt,” Kitty urged, “please stay down and let Festus and Newly handle it.”
This time, he grunted out a “no,” hoping the kid would at least let him get to his feet before he fired again. “Move – Kitty,” he managed past the sudden nausea. “Out of – the way.”
“Matt, don’t,” she begged, trying to hold him down.
“Please,” he said, not looking at her, shoving all of his energy into trying to stand. He had managed only to crawl to his knees when a firm hand pushed down on his shoulder.
From behind him, Festus’ twang cut in, voice strangely unconcerned. “Ain’t no need fer thet.”
Doc looked up over Matt’s head. “What are you talking about?”
“Ain’t no need fer Newly an’ me ta tek care of nothin’. Thet boy’s arreddy bin took care of.”
The physician stepped back so that the marshal could see. At least a dozen men stood like breastworks in the middle of the street. Matt’s jaw dropped with the comprehension that these Dodge citizens had purposefully positioned themselves between Brennan and him to draw any subsequent fire that might come from the outlaw. When they saw him staring at them, they parted to reveal the scene beyond. A figure lay crumpled in the dirt, unmoving, a crowd of onlookers hovering over him. A tall, gaunt man bent with the nonchalance of an undertaker, a measuring tape stretching between his hands. Matt realized it was Percy Crump, almost always the first one on hand after a shoot-out.
Doc pushed himself to his feet. “What happened, Festus?”
Haggen shrugged. “As soon as Matthew went down, Floyd an’ Burke here an’ some of the rest of us weren’t gonna let thet boy git away with what he done.”
“So you killed him?” Doc surmised, his tone a conflict of accusation and approval.
But the deputy shook his head. “Weren’t no need to, Doc.”
Newly O’Brien stepped up beside Festus and explained, “The marshal’s bullet drilled him right through the heart.” He lifted a brow and nodded toward the downed gunman. “Brennan might have been faster, but he wasn’t better.”
Matt became aware of dozens of eyes on him, staring at him with relief and pride and awe, even those who knew him best. Quickly, he let his gaze drop. As it always had, hero-worship made him uncomfortable.
Nathan Burke stepped toward them. “I saw that fella earlier. He was fast. Real fast. But I knew he couldn’t take you, Marshal.”
“Congratulations, Marshal,” Floyd offered.
The strange satisfaction couldn’t quite overcome the regret that filled Matt’s chest. “There’s nothing to congratulate, Floyd,” he said, voice heavy.
“’Cept bein’ alive,” Burke noted. Others in the crowd nodded their agreement.
Except being alive. And he was. Somehow he’d managed yet again to escape the fate he had anticipated since he was seventeen and had lied about his age to be Adam Kimbro’s deputy. He wondered how long it would be before fate got tired of giving him chances.
Accepting Festus’ and Newly’s help, Matt climbed to his feet, despite Doc’s protests, swaying slightly with the pounding of his head and the continuing throb of his shoulder. Vaguely aware that half the town followed close behind, he stumbled the twenty-five yards to the prone figure. Brennan lay, slim legs twisted beneath him, crimson blood soaking his shirt through the single bullet hole. Standing over the body of the boy, who was barely old enough to be shooting at rabbits, much less men, Matt pressed his lips together and lamented the waste, even as he gave thanks that he was still around.
Remembering the casual comment the kid had thrown at him just before he drew, Matt sighed deeply and muttered, “No, son, I’m sorry. It’s your funeral.”
“All right, this is gonna sting some,” Doc warned a second too late.
Matt sucked in a quick breath at the touch of the alcohol swab against the raw gash Brennan’s bullet had cut across his temple.
“Yeah,” the marshal agreed, voice tight. “You did.”
“That’s gonna need a few stitches, Matt. I can deaden it some, but – “
right,” he grunted, as anxious as always to escape the physician’s
But the first prick of the needle into his skin drove him to re-evaluate that decision. “Ow!”
“Well, you said – “
“I know. Just do it.”
The doctor clucked his tongue against his teeth, but continued the torture. Matt decided that the process of tugging the ragged ends of the wound together was worse than the needle going through.
mind tellin’ you, I thought that boy might be the
Matt shrugged. “Any of them could be the one, Doc.”
“Hold still. Yeah, I guess you’re right, but he was ‘bout as fast as I’ve ever seen. Killed Ben McClagg just this morning.”
The name startled the marshal enough to jerk him away from Doc’s hands. “Ben McClagg was in town?”
“I said hold still,” the physician scolded. “Yep. I figure he was here for the same reason as Brennan. To kill you.”
“Now they’re both dead.”
“And you’re not.”
“No one’s happier about that than me, Doc,” Dillon joked.
But the physician didn’t find it funny. “I think I know at least one person who is.”
Guiltily, Matt cut his eyes toward Kitty, who stood silently in front of Doc’s desk. Now that his thoughts came more clearly, he realized she hadn’t spoken since they left the street and climbed the steep stairs to the physician’s office. He also noticed that Sam wasn’t with her, and he vaguely remembered hearing Hannah offer to take the baby until they were finished.
“He’s going to be all right, Doc?” Kitty asked quietly, not meeting her husband’s gaze.
Without further comment, she turned abruptly and was out the door before either man could say anything to her. As he and Doc stared after her, Matt felt as if he had been kicked in the stomach. He had seen that look too many times before not to know what it meant, not to realize the world that he had just managed to claw back together was on the verge of bursting apart again.
There it was. He figured it was coming sometime or another. “You’ve told me that before, Doc,” he reminded stiffly, swallowing the nausea her departure had churned up.
“I’m serious, Matt. You go through hell for eight months without her, almost get yourself killed after you find her. Discover you have a son. You go to all the trouble of marrying her and bringing her back here – just to let it start all over again?”
The passion on the older man’s face startled the marshal into momentary silence.
“Do you have any idea what Kitty goes through when you’re standing out there just inviting the world to take shots at you?”
“Doc – “
“Can’t you see how it tears her up? You can say that’s why you told her all those years you’d never marry, but it didn’t matter to her. She was in just as much agony before you put that ring on her finger.”
“Doc – “
Anger finally drew down Dillon’s brow, creasing the injury and making him flinch, but he ignored it. In an uncharacteristic moment of ire, he snapped, “Yes! I know what Kitty goes through. Yes, I know it tears her up – it always tore her up. And yes, I know what I’d lose!” He caught his breath, the next words slipping out before he realized what he had said. “Why the hell do you think I resigned?”
Doc stared at him, and the marshal grimaced. He hadn’t meant for his friend to find out about it that way.
“Doc, I’m sorry – “
But the physician didn’t seem surprised. Quiet again, he admitted, “No need. Kitty told me about it. I guess I should say congratulations.”
“Yeah.” The rage vanished just as quickly as it had arrived.
“Look, I’m – I’m sorry about – well, not much you coulda done about Brennan, I guess.”
“Not much,” Matt sighed. “The War Department wants me to work through the end of the year. I’ll turn in my badge then.” Turn in my badge. He twisted those words over in his head, not quite able to grasp the finality of them.
Then what, indeed? “Don’t know. Ranching, maybe.” His eyes stared ahead past the man who knew him better than anyone else – except Kitty.
“Ranching’s not a bad choice,”
“The Pinkerton Agency has been after me the past few years to come work for them,” he revealed, wincing when Doc was the one who jerked this time. “Ow!”
Matt pursed his lips. “Not the same. Detective work. Protecting important people.”
“You don’t agree?”
you’ve put yourself in danger for over twenty years protecting the people of
The marshal looked at his old friend in surprise. Surely, Doc knew that wasn’t possible. Resigned to something he’d have to deal with for the rest of his life, Matt said gently, “There are going to be folks after me forever, Doc. Don’t you know that? Men I sent to prison five, ten, maybe twenty years ago. Men who haven’t thought of anything else but paying me back first chance they get. My retiring might make Kitty feel better, but it won’t change anything. I’m still a target. I always will be, and there’s no changing that.” His eyes closed against the old fear, the fear he had fought so long, the fear that had kept that ring off Kitty’s finger for so long, the fear that was now reality. His voice broke on the next words. “And now Kitty and Sam will be targets, too.”
his teeth, he saw the revelation hit Doc with the force of a gut punch, watched
Lips pressed as tight as he could get them, Matt managed to make it through the rest of the process without a groan – at least outwardly.
Doc announced, leaning back and surveying his work. “Not bad.
Not bad. I don’t expect any fancy
Matt appreciated the gesture. “I don’t expect he could,” he agreed graciously, fully believing it.
The final move was to place a protective bandage over the stitches. That done, Doc turned his attention to other injuries. “Let’s get a look at that shoulder, now. Kitty told me that knife went pretty deep.”
Not admitting to the ache that persisted, the marshal shook his head and slid off the table. “It’s fine.” But the move jarred him and brought a new grimace to his face.
“Yeah, I can see that,” Doc said sarcastically. “You got somewhere to be?”
He glanced toward the door that Kitty had swung through, wondering if she would be at the hotel waiting for him, or if she had just realized what a terrible mistake she had made and was already waiting at the station for the next New Orleans-bound train.
Doc’s eyes followed the marshal’s gaze. “Oh, well, sure. I understand. Okay, I want to see you first thing in the morning about that shoulder.”
“Yeah,” Matt agreed, entirely too quickly. Not bothering to put his coat back on, he simply draped it over his right arm and headed for the door.
“Matt,” Doc called before he walked out.
He turned, more than a little anxious to leave.
“Put that arm back in the sling.”
Dillon pressed his lips tight but complied.
“Matt?” he heard again.
“What?” He winced. He hadn’t meant to be quite so sharp. “What?” he repeated, more politely.
The doctor stepped toward him, eyes cutting up in clear warning. “You just barely missed a serious injury to your head, and you’re still recovering from one to your shoulder. Take it easy.”
“Sure,” he agreed, turning.
But the voice stopped him once more. “I don’t guess I need to ask you about that arm.”
Matt frowned. “I told you, it’s – “
“I meant your right arm, Matt.”
He stopped, not having even though much about the gun arm. It had worked. That’s all he asked of it. “Oh.”
“Coy Brennan’s proof you’re still just as fast.”
“He was faster, Doc,” Matt pointed out.
“Not by much. Plus, faster doesn’t mean so much when you can’t hit the target.”
The marshal winced against the pain in his head. “He hit the target,” he said ruefully.
Normally, the Dodge House was a quick walk from Doc’s office, but it took Matt nearly ten minutes to make it. Scores of townsfolk stopped him to welcome him back, to congratulate him on his marriage and his son, to express their relief that he was okay, to convey their confidence in his abilities. By the time he finally escaped through the hotel doors, he was almost frantic to get to Kitty. He tried to assure himself that she still waited for him, but the few moments in Doc’s office and the haunted look in her eyes as she knelt beside him on the street stole most of his forced confidence.
“Marshal!” Mister Dobie welcomed as he entered. “Are you all right?”
The marshal nodded his head gingerly, still aware of the throbbing temple. He hadn’t let Doc give him any laudanum. “I’m fine,” he assured the hotel owner, even though he figured he probably didn’t look fine at all. A long-buried memory nudged at him, though, and he smiled genuinely. “Mister Dobie, I don’t believe I ever thanked you for your kindness in providing me with a room here.”
The older man shrugged away the appreciation casually, but Matt read the pleasure in his eyes. “It was no problem, Marshal. I’m glad I could help.”
“Well, I know you were generous in the one you chose. Thank you. And I know Kitty will be comfortable here until we can get a place of our own.” He turned to stride up the stairs.
Dobie’s smile faded slightly. “Oh, Marshal, Miss Kitty’s not up there.”
Matt almost stumbled on the step, the blood draining from his face, a sudden sickness churning in his stomach. With effort, he forced his body around to face Dobie. “W – what?”
The hotel owner offered a perplexed smile and handed Matt a folded piece of paper. “She left a message for you.”
Oh, God. A message.
He held the
paper in trembling fingers for a long moment, heart in his throat, dreading
what he would see. She’d had
enough. She’d realized things weren’t
going to change. She’d made a mistake
and was taking Sam and going back to
Almost choking on the possibilities that his mind cruelly conjured, he steeled himself and slid his fingers into the folds of the note, opening it. Kitty’s firm, no-nonsense script greeted him as he read the few words she had written. Their impact weakened his knees and took his breath. He fought to remain upright.
“Oh, Kitty,” he murmured, closing his eyes.
“Marshal?” Dobie’s voice asked, concern sharpening the tone. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
Dillon’s eyes opened and met the hotel manager’s, but he couldn’t answer.
Chapter Thirteen: None of My Business, But –
Spoilers: “Hostage!;” The Disciple”
Rating: PG (Teen)
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
celebration at the
Stepping from the back room, she contemplated the possibility of shushing the rowdy cowboys and townsfolk, but one look at the gleeful chaos told her that wasn’t going to happen. Besides, it was her celebration, too – at least she had thought it would be. Easing the office door closed, she stepped up next to Floyd, who had barely taken a breath since the rush began.
“Good night tonight,” he noted, shoving a glass under the tap to dispense another few gulps of beer for a boisterous patron.
nodded, letting her tentative smile meet the barkeeper’s. “That it is.”
And it was, but her thoughts refused to stay on the profitable evening,
as pleasant as that might be. Instead,
her mind kept driving back to that marvelous and terrible scene on
in all the months she had been in
For months the townspeople had spun almost unbelievable stories for her about the legend of Matt Dillon, but none of those tales could hold a candle to the real thing right before her eyes.
Those few horrifying moments made it easier to understand the agony that had forced Kitty from Dodge, from the fear that gnawed at her continually, from the burden of knowing that any moment might bring death and devastation. Still, this time, as before, Dillon had survived. This time, as before, his challenger lay dead. This time, as before, all was right again in Dodge.
But all wasn’t right, and Hannah knew it. She had learned too much about Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell, had seen too much, had witnessed too many deep emotions from both of them not to understand and fear the significance of that scene on the street. It was why Kitty had left in the first place. Her words still haunted Hannah’s memory.
“For twenty years I’ve watched him go after men – and a few women – and I’ve watched them come after him. Not one of them came who didn’t intend to kill him.”
And now, she had been faced with it again almost as soon as they stepped off the train. Hannah had seen the same old fear in the younger woman’s eyes as Dillon squared off against the gunman, had seen the consequences in the marshal’s eyes as he looked up at his wife from the dust of Front Street. Their moment of idyllic welcome had shattered all too quickly. And Hannah was afraid for what that meant – for all of them.
the chaos of the room, she reflected on those months after Kitty had gone the
first time, on the marshal’s silent but visible anguish. They had all watched him retreat behind that
badge, emotions disappearing beneath a stoic, hardened mask. She had seen his true feelings only
twice: first, when he entered the
How could she forget the weary despair that ravaged his body as he had lain on that jail bunk, teetering on the edge of physical and emotional surrender? How could she forget the rage that exploded from him with the memory of what Jude Bonner had cost him and Kitty? How could she forget the tragic sparkle of that lonely ring as she emptied it onto the table? How could she forget the strength it took for him to drag himself back to his feet and risk his heart one more time?
And how on earth could he survive being left twice?
what was about to happen. Even now, the
As Festus and Newly had helped the marshal up to Doc’s office, Hannah assured Kitty she would take care of their child until she came back for him, figuring that would be a good, long time, since the new bride would certainly want to remain with her husband until Doc released him. But, to her surprise – and considerable concern – Kitty had entered the saloon only a little while later, eyes troubled, brow down, the weight of decision bowing her head.
“How’s the marshal?” Hannah had asked, hoping Doc’s initial prognosis remained true.
Kitty’s eyes shifted, looking away. “He’ll be all right,” she said, voice low. “A little dizzy for a while, maybe.”
“Well, good to hear. Good to hear.” Hannah studied the other woman carefully, weighing whether or not to push. “Matt Dillon’s quite a man, wouldn’t you say?”
Blue eyes snapped for a moment, then lowered. “He is,” she agreed, almost in a whisper. It didn’t reassure the saloon keeper.
She wanted to tell Kitty just how much of a man he was, but she figured the redhead knew better than anyone else – and certainly in more ways than anyone else. Still, she wished Kitty could realize just what the town had seen those months, the pain that he fought both in his bones and in his heart.
Instead, she observed simply, “You came back.”
“He brought me back,” Kitty clarified.
“I don’t figure you would have come if you didn’t want to.”
Kitty didn’t reply.
Figuring she really had nothing to lose, Hannah drew in a breath and said, “Look, this is none of my business, but I can tell you right now that man loves you deeper than any man I’ve ever seen. I know what happened this afternoon scared ya’. I know it was just what you’ve lived with for twenty years. I know you don’t know if you can keep on livin’ that way.”
“Hannah – “
But she plowed on, digging as deep as she could before the bedrock broke her shovel. “I ain’t never seen a man so torn up inside as Matt Dillon was all the time you were gone. And I ain’t never seen a man so proud as when he stood with you and your boy there at the train station. And what about your boy? What kind of man will he become if he doesn’t have the chance to know his pa? My goodness, who in the world could better teach him how to be a man than Matt Dillon?”
Kitty had straightened her shoulders, her eyes glaring at the older woman. “You were right.”
“It is none of your business, just like before.”
If that was the worst she could do, Hannah would risk it. “All the same – “
“All the same,” Kitty repeated, then let her voice soften. “All the same, I know you mean well. You’re not telling me anything I haven’t already thought about.”
“Then – “
“I’d like to ask for another favor,” she said, smile forced. “I know you’ve done quite a few of them for me since – “
Despite their disagreement, Hannah didn’t hesitate. “What do ya’ need, honey?”
Gratitude softened the younger woman’s features to match her voice. “Can you keep Sam a little while longer? I have – I have some things to take care of.”
Hannah felt her heart sink. Even though she could understand Kitty’s decision, she couldn’t agree with it. In fact, if she had been fifteen years younger herself, Hannah would never have let him go. She would have latched onto Matt Dillon with all her might, bullets, bad guys, and badge be damned.
Kitty added tentatively, “Would it be all right – that is, do you have a room
here at the
Sighing, Hannah nodded sadly. “I have my room – your old room.”
“Oh, no. I couldn’t do that. I’ll just – it’s okay.”
But Hannah realized she wanted to do it, wanted to help the woman some way, to ease at least a little of the turmoil she had stepped right back into. “No. I insist that you take it. After everything you’ve been through, the least I can do is help you be comfortable. It’s your furniture, after all. Maybe it’ll help.”
“Really, you don’t have to – “
“Didn’t ya hear me insist?” Hannah smiled. “Insistin’ means you don’t have a choice. “ Then she lowered her voice a bit. “Look, it’s none of my business, like you said, but are you really sure you want to do this?”
Kitty nodded once, a curt, determined motion. “I’ll need to get my bags – “
“I’ll send Floyd.”
“No, I’ll go. I need to – I have to do something else there, too.”
And she had disappeared through the doors, only to return in ten minutes, the gangly bellhop from the Dodge House in tow with three formidable pieces of luggage. Hannah had used the brief time to transfer a few necessities to a smaller room, her mind still working through ways to change Kitty’s mind. Maybe staying in her old room, surrounded by memories of what certainly must have been very good times would make her think twice about leaving, would help her decide that she was making a horrible decision. Maybe Hannah would go after the marshal, bring him back and somehow lock them in the room together until they worked it out.
She chuckled at the ridiculous sight of her trying to make Matt Dillon do anything. Still, she’d had some success before, hadn’t she?
When Kitty returned, she took Sam back into her arms, placed a tender kiss on his cheek, and started to climb the same stairs she had no doubt climbed hundreds of times before.
“Kitty,” she said on impulse, not completely sure what she would say next.
The other woman turned halfway up the steps, face expectant.
“Kitty, I – why don’t you let me keep Sam a little longer? Take yourself a nice, hot bath, and relax. I’ll bring him up in an hour or so.”
“You don’t have to – “
“Don’t have to, want to. Figure you could use it.”
A strange look cross Kitty’s features, suspicion, perhaps, followed by acceptance. “Well, maybe that is a good idea,” she decided finally, stepping back down far enough to hand the baby back to Hannah. “Thank you.”
“Glad to.” And she was.
The redhead started to turn back up the stairs, then paused. “Hannah, if – if – “
“If Matt comes in – “
The saloon keeper nodded reluctantly. She knew what Kitty wanted, but she wasn’t sure she could flat-out lie to the marshal, not after everything she’d seen him go through, not after the deep feelings he had admitted in her presence.
If Kitty left, she wondered what would happen to her, to the marshal. She wondered what would become of their child, the one she had suspected all along was what had really driven Kitty from Dodge. Without his father, what kind of man would Samuel Dillon become? Of course, maybe that’s what Kitty feared all along. Maybe she would rather have Sam never know the man who helped create him than have him ripped away in violence when the boy would be most vulnerable to such a loss.
Instead of voicing any of those fears, however, she had taken the child and watched Kitty continue up the stairs, wondering if this would be the last time she did.
A rowdy laugh rammed into her thoughts, jerking them back to the present. Hannah sighed and watched the gleeful crowd for a few minutes. She had taken hot water upstairs only a few minutes earlier, and hoped Kitty was soaking peacefully by now – soaking and thinking. Clucking her tongue, she shifted her gaze back toward the office, wondering how on earth the baby slept so soundly with that racket going on.
“He’s still sleepin’?” Floyd asked, startling her, even amid the din.
“Still sleepin’,” Hannah confirmed, managing something close to a smile.
“I guess that’s what they mean by ‘sleepin’ like a baby’.”
“Miss Kitty say how the marshal’s doin’?”
“All right, I think. At least he will be in time.” Physically, anyway.
Wiping out a glass, the barkeep narrowed his eyes and asked, “You think he will – “
But he had barely started his question when the swinging doors practically exploded open. Even over the noise, the customers heard the bang and turned as one to stare at the arresting presence that had suddenly appeared. Matt Dillon stood, shoulders filling the doorway, apparently oblivious to the fact that every eye in the place was focused on him. Even when the group erupted in cheers to greet him like the conquering hero, he didn’t seem to notice the accolades. With only a second’s hesitation, he pushed his way in and scanned the room, his gaze sweeping across it in one thorough motion perfected by years of practice.
“I reckon he will,” Hannah muttered, affected just like everyone else by the energy that surrounded the imposing lawman. Taking a breath, she raised her voice over the crowd and greeted, “Evenin’, Marshal,” as if she knew nothing, as if all was well and normal.
She wondered briefly if he saw through her mask, then realized he wasn’t even looking at her. Instead he threw a perfunctory nod in her general direction, but didn’t remove his penetrating gaze from the milling crowd. As commanding as he was, he nevertheless looked a bit the worse for wear. A mop of wavy hair blossomed up over the bandage that wrapped around his head. He was coatless and hatless, his shirt still bearing the bloody stains that soaked his collar and splattered down the chest and sleeve. If they hadn’t known Coy Brennan was laid out stiffening in Percy Crump’s window, the townsfolk might have figured Dillon had come up short on that draw.
“Can I help you, Marshal?” she tried again, hoping he would ask, begging him to ask.
Finally, his gaze leveled on her, and she caught her breath at the intensity that snapped from those eyes, their normal sky blue darkened with purpose. “Where is she?”
There it was, almost exactly the same question he had asked her at this same bar months before. She had waited too long then, had sat on her suspicions until it was almost too late. Despite her nod to Kitty earlier, Hannah felt no guilt over her next actions, didn’t even need to mull them over.
Jerking her chin up sharply, the saloon keeper said, “Upstairs. My room. It’s the last door on – “
“I know which door,” he interrupted, and she realized that, of course, he knew which door. She easily forgave him the uncharacteristic rudeness, and silently wished him luck.
Their eyes met again, and Hannah almost smiled at the hard determination that sharpened his gaze. It was the same determination she had seen that day weeks before when he strode out of his office on a mission to the Delta to retrieve his lover. Maybe this was the conclusion of that mission.
Breaking away, he crossed to the stairs, his long legs chewing up the distance in only a few strides. His eyes lit on the upper level and didn’t deviate. Despite the arm he still rested in a sling, despite the bandaged head, despite the ubiquitous limp, he took the stairs two at a time, his heavy footfalls pounding out even over the noise of the crowd. A few onlookers watched him sprint up the steps, their smiles indicating they knew what propelled him with such haste.
Hannah fervently prayed they were right.
He gained the landing quickly, freeing his left arm so that he could shove through the curtain that separated the back apartments from the front hallway. Then, he was gone.
After they watched Dillon disappear, Floyd raised a brow in question. Hannah could only shrug, having no idea what was about to happen up there behind that curtain. Slipping back through the office door, she stood next to the make-shift crib she had created with a whiskey crate and blankets. The infant still slept peacefully, oblivious to his parents’ trials.
She had told the marshal the child was a fine looking boy, and she hadn’t just said that out of courtesy like some folks did no matter what the babies looked like. At two months old, Samuel Dillon was already a sturdy, handsome fellow with soft swirls of rust-colored hair and clear blue eyes. Hannah had heard that all babies were born with blue eyes, which changed in the first few months of life. She had no doubt, however, that Sam’s eyes would remain blue, their depths a mirror of both mother’s and father’s.
She hoped he would have the chance to grow up with both parents, would develop his own character from the steel and compassion of both parents. If ever a child had the potential to be something very special, it was a child of Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell. Hannah hoped he had the chance.
“You just keep sleepin’, now, Mister,” she cooed to the baby. “Everything’s gonna be all right.”
It was none of her business, of course, but she hoped. Oh, how she hoped.
Chapter Fourteen: Nice and Easy
Episodes Referenced: “Tap Day for Kitty;” “Hostage!;” “Kitty’s Love Affair;”
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
Kitty Russell Dillon laid her head back against the enameled tub and closed her eyes as the warm water swirled gently around her, scented with bath salts she had brought back from New Orleans. She was making the right decision – she knew it. Regardless of the pain it caused, she knew she was doing the right thing. For herself, for her son – for Matt. It had been only a few hours since those horrible moments on the street – and yet it seemed like decades.
She had stood there, clutching Matt’s son to her breast, desperately echoing Doc’s uplifted prayer, wondering how many times she had seen him face off against some low-life outlaw in the past twenty years, wondering how many more times she could survive such sights. As dusk settled over the town she had watched his blood spill out onto the dust, felt the terror that after all those years, after everything she had endured, had lost, then found again, this was the end.
But it hadn’t been the end. Somehow, once again, Matt Dillon had survived – survived to face another day, and to face another gunman. It was inevitable. It was his lot. And for any woman who risked a relationship with him, it was her lot, too.
She glanced around at the familiar walls of the dressing room and considered with a humorless grunt that, once again, she was waiting – as she had waited for 19 years before. Raising her hand to brush away wisps of hair that tickled her face, she saw the dim glow of the lamp flash mutely from the ring that circled her finger. His ring – the one he had finally placed there, the one that signified his eternal love.
Sighing, she prayed for the strength to do what she had to do.
nosing into the situation had irritated her, had hit closer to home than she
cared to admit. She certainly didn’t
need anyone telling her what kind of man Matt Dillon was; she knew very well
herself exactly what kind of man he
was. He was stubborn, and driven, and
duty-bound, and frustratingly
responsible – and noble, and good, and kind, and tender. It was those things that she loved most – and
hated most – about him. She shook her
head. No, not hated. She could never hate Matt. Be furious with him, irritated, disappointed,
but never hate him. The older woman
meant well, Kitty knew that, but this was something she had to do on her
own. She would set her own path, make
her own decisions, and square up and take the consequences. Hadn’t she always? Guilt pricked at her conscience, reprimanding
her for her impatience with the new
Breaking into her soft reverie, familiar footsteps sounded hard on the stairs, too few, too fast, and she realized he was practically running up them. That, alone, startled her. She wasn’t sure when she had actually seen him run lately, especially with the almost-constant pain from his leg. Nevertheless, he was running; she was sure of it.
She had been expecting him, of course, and drew in a measured breath in the vain attempt to keep her heart from pounding right through her chest.
The footsteps stopped outside the door, but no knock came right away, as if he was contemplating whether or not to ask for entry. She counted the seconds in her head, tried to imagine what he was thinking, what he was doing. Finally, just when she feared he might leave, she heard his knuckles rap firmly on the wood.
“Kitty?” His tone was low, measured.
She opened her mouth to answer, but found she couldn’t make a sound.
He knocked again, a little harder this time. “Kitty, it’s me.”
“Yeah,” she managed, finally, loud enough to reach beyond the bedroom. “Door’s unlocked.”
She heard him enter. “Kitty?”
The footsteps paused again, then moved toward the dressing room. With a squeak, the door cracked open, spilling light from the bedroom, silhouetting those broad shoulders in the door frame. Kitty didn’t bother to rise from the tub, didn’t move to cover herself. That would be silly after all the years they had been together.
After only a moment’s further hesitation, he stepped inside, breath coming faster than usual. He had lost his coat somewhere, she noted, and was hatless, although that was probably because of the bandage. She winced at the sight of the bloody splotches that spread from the once-white collar across his shoulder and chest and down one sleeve. Darkness had settled over the town by now, and only one dim lamp glowed in the room, but its light was enough to reflect the intensity of those blue eyes that almost burned right through her.
“I can wait outside,” he offered, but made no move to leave.
“You don’t need to.”
He nodded. “Fine.”
The curt response took her by surprise. For the past twenty years, Kitty Russell had come to know Matt Dillon well, better than anyone else knew him – or would ever know him, she figured. In that time, he had never treated her with anything but tenderness and deference. Even when they fought, he remained the gentleman. Not that they hadn’t had their spats, but Matt was nothing if not irritatingly even keeled, even then. Tonight, though, as he stood before her, there was something different about his stance, the set of his jaw, the flash of his eyes. Almost as if he were about to issue a command. But surely she read him wrong. Matt Dillon had never commanded her, had never chosen to command her. Of course, she had never commanded him, either. Theirs was a mutual relationship, bonded by trust and true respect – and, of course, love.
But on second look, she was almost positive that’s what it was. This man, her gentle lover, towered over her, left arm ignoring the sling so that both hands could brace on his hips, legs planted wide and solid, lips pressed hard together.
“Matt?” she asked tentatively, suddenly unsure.
He thrust out a hand, the note she had left with Dobie crumpled in it. “You said we need to talk. All right. Let’s talk,” he began, his tone refusing any defiance.
“Okay,” she answered, trying not to frown. It was her message, after all.
He sucked in a breath that caught in his throat, then ground out, “You’re not leaving.”
Mouth dropping and eyes narrowing, she felt a clash of astonishment and anger. That definitely sounded like a command, all right. She frowned at the tone, so uncharacteristic from his usual gentleness with her. Even after Will Stambridge, he had bowed to her desires, left the decision to her, had been willing to accept what she wanted. “What?” she snapped.
His jaw hardened, as if he were physically bracing himself for battle. “I said you’re not leaving. Look, you’ve always been your own woman, right? Made your own decisions.”
“Yes,” she acknowledged warily, eyes still glaring.
“And you knew how it had to be with us.”
She damn well did.
“I was always very clear with you about that. Even though you didn’t like it, I figured you knew that was just the way it was.”
The way it was. God, she hated that phrase.
thickened his voice. “I had to be
careful in public not to show how much you meant to me, not to show how much –
how much I loved you.” He reached up to
run a hand through his hair, pulling it back with a wince when the touch
reminded him of the raw bullet graze.
“You don’t know how many times I walked into the
Swallowing to push down the sudden lump in her throat, she whispered, “Matt – “
His gaze unfocused, looked past her, as if he was replaying those moments in his head. “And I wanted to go to you and kiss you and hold you right there in front of everyone and let them know you were mine. Let them know that for some reason you had chosen a big, gangly, clumsy public servant over all the rich gentlemen you could have had.”
She wanted to stop him, to tell him that he was more gentleman than all of the shallow, moneyed Eastern dudes put together. Instead, she let him continue, seeing from his eyes that he needed to say it.
“But I couldn’t,” he continued, letting his gaze return to her face, “in case someone was watching or listening who wanted to get revenge, who wanted to hurt me. Because even if they put a bullet right through my heart, they couldn’t hurt me more than they would if something happened to you.”
Heart aching, she grabbed the side of the tub, wanting to face him, to stand with him.
“After Bonner – “ His voice broke on the name, and his head dropped.
That drew her up and out instantly, reaching for the robe she had folded next to the tub, not bothering to tie the sash. Placing a hand on his arm, she urged, “No, Matt, don’t. Bonner’s over, in the past. He doesn’t matter. He’s nothing.”
But he shook his head, struggling for control. “After – him – I started thinking that maybe my bright idea hadn’t worked so well. Maybe everybody knew about us anyway.”
She almost smiled, knowing both of them had realized that years ago. They stood in silence for a long, long moment.
Finally, taking a deep breath and managing a crooked smile, he said, “So, it might have taken me twenty years to ask, but I did it without the buckshot. You gotta give me a little credit for that.
She couldn’t suppress the grin at his reference, marveling that he remembered.
Not giving her any chance to respond, he continued, “But the fact is I asked, and you accepted, and we’re married, and we have Sam – “
“Matt – “
“So,” he repeated, his eyes not nearly as secure as his words, “you’re not leaving.”
She looked up at him, lips pursed. After a few beats, she raised a brow and asked, “Are you finished?”
He nodded, warily, as if suddenly he wished he weren’t finished, as if suddenly he couldn’t stand to hear her response.
back to him, she stared across the small room, bracing again for the pain she
knew her decision would cause. “When you
“Kitty – “
“Hear me out?” she asked, turning back to him.
Teeth gritted, he nodded, shoving his hands into his front pockets.
“And I knew I had been fooling myself, thinking I could get you out of my system. I knew then I’d tell you about Sam, and I guess I knew deep down that if you asked, I’d come back with you. Then, you surprised me with the ring, and even more with the badge. I couldn’t believe that after all these years it was finally happening. I guess I figured it could really be like you said. I guess I thought you could give up the badge and we could live a normal life.”
The intensity of his expression faded into earnestness. “We can – “
She shook her head. “No. You’re Matt Dillon. I’ve accepted now that we’ll never have a normal life.” He attempted to mask it, but the heartbreak that bled through tore at her, hurrying her to continue. “There will always be someone after you, Matt. You already knew that, but I guess I just wanted to pretend we could get away from it.”
can’t change the past. I can’t undo
what’s been done. But I made a promise
to you – a vow. If you want, I won’t
wait until the end of the year. I’ll
quit tomorrow. Newly and Festus can do
the job until a new marshal is appointed.
I’ll quit, and we’ll move away from here.
Oh, how she wanted to do it, wanted to take his offer and escape into the fantasy she had always imagined. But she knew better. It was only a fantasy, after all. It would always be only a fantasy.
“Matt,” she reasoned, unable to look at him in her attempt not to lose her hard-fought calm in the face of his rare emotion. “You know it won’t matter. You know that wherever we go, Matt Dillon will always draw a crowd. You’ll always be a target. And I understand what you were trying to tell me all those years. A wife and child only make things worse.”
Any pretense at stoicism collapsed. “No – “
She swallowed hard, willed herself to continue. “I’ve been thinking about things. It’s why I left Doc’s before – well, before I should have. After – after that boy shot you, I had to do some thinking about what was best for me and for Sam.” She lifted her eyes. “And for you. That’s why I – ”
“I don’t want you to leave,” he announced abruptly, the hard line dropping from his tone, falling into a raw, open plea.
His face darkened with regret, guilt. “I know what you’re afraid of, and I know it could have happened easily this afternoon, but I don’t want you to leave. I should have told you that two years ago – with Stambridge. Didn’t figure I had the right, but I should have told you, anyway.”
“Matt – “
“Maybe now I have the right. So I’m telling you, I don’t want you to leave.” Jaw clenched, he looked straight at her, his heart and soul plain in the depths of his eyes. “Please don’t leave Kitty.”
“Oh, Matt,” she whispered, reaching up and letting her fingers skim across his cheek. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you. I’m not leaving.”
Slowly, his brow furrowed, and he cocked his head. “What?”
“I said I’m not leaving.”
“You’re not – “
She shook her head.
Instantly, the breath left him, his shoulders slumping, hands falling, solid stance faltering. He drew a shuddering breath, the mask of command gone, replaced by raw relief.
“Matt,” she murmured, unable to give him the rest of her decision, wanting to hold off that pain a little longer, to pretend this was all there was – this moment.
Ignoring the water that plastered her robe to her body, she reached around his neck and pressed against him. Instantly, almost desperately, he wrapped his long arms around her, lifting her so that her feet dangled off the floor, clutching her hard to him as if he never planned to release her. Maybe he didn’t. That would be all right with her.
“Matt,” she breathed against his shoulder, “I never intended to leave you. That wasn’t – ” That wasn’t what she’d had to tell him.
“I was afraid.”
She cocked a dubious eyebrow. “Afraid? You’ve never been afraid of anything in your life,” she challenged. Except maybe a preacher.
“I was afraid of losing you,” he admitted.
Sliding to the floor, she placed her hands on her hips and peered up at him. “Listen to me, Matthew Dillon, I can’t say it wasn’t just horrible seeing you out on that street again. And I sure as hell thought I was going to be torn apart when that bullet hit you and I didn’t know if you were dead or alive.”
The groan echoed deep in his chest, and she hung on to him tighter.
“But I’m not leaving. I’m not Matt Dillon’s woman now. I’m Matt Dillon’s wife and mother of his son. And that’s who I will be from now on. I don’t have the option to leave anymore,” she said softly, her fingers threading through the curls at the back of his neck. “I will never leave again.”
He caught his breath, and she watched him fight for control, struggle to keep the emotion from tearing away his layer of dignity. Finally, voice still tenuous, he whispered, “I love you, Kitty.”
She reached up, arching onto her toes to let her lips meet his, putting all the love, all the desire, all the assurance she could into the kiss. Even though she hadn’t intended for the touch to be anything more than loving and reassuring, it had been too long for them, and she found her dripping body pressed against him provocatively.
“Matt?” she murmured.
“I got you all wet.”
“Maybe we need to get you out of those clothes.” Yes, that was definitely what they needed to do.
“Kitty,” he groaned into her hair. “I want to – oh, I really want to – but can we – are you – “
Reluctantly extricating herself from his embrace, she stepped back enough she that he could see her from head to toe, robe hanging open, skin glistening from the remaining water, glowing from the heat of her bath and the closeness of her man.
The deep emotions of the past minutes gave way to overwhelming desire. She had been without his touch for months – suddenly, one more minute seemed too long to wait.
“Kitty,” he groaned, his eyes snapping as he looked at her, and the months apart exploded into a conflagration of desire, and she could think of nothing she wanted more than for him to take her right there, to fill her emptiness, to quench her thirst.
Nice and easy. Doc’s warning nudged into her thoughts, and she swallowed. Nice and easy wasn’t going to be so easy.
Her hands ran all over his body, trying to be careful at the shoulder, but not really able to slow down. The few buttons he had secured slipped easily through the holes, and she quickly shoved the bloody shirt down his arms, tugging the sling over his head along with it. When she had his beautiful, broad chest bared completely, she ran her hands over it and down his abdomen, swirling through the light hair. Her lips followed, trailing over his skin until he trembled.
She loved making this giant of a man tremble. She loved knowing she was the only one who could.
“I think you need a bath, yourself, mister.”
“You already got me half wet,” he noted wryly.
“I want you all wet,” she purred.
Grunting, he teased, “I’ll need help. My shoulder, you know.”
She pouted like a little girl. “I know. Poor baby.”
Her slender fingers tickled their way across his stomach, then eased down between them, pushing against the hard ridge that throbbed insistently against his trousers. “Oh my. Ya’ miss me, Cowboy?”
He gasped, throwing his head back, and she couldn’t stop the shiver of excitement that shook her body at the sight of her man so overwhelmed by her touch.
“God, Kitty,” he croaked, “don’t you know how much I missed you? Can’t you feel how much I missed you? I ache for you. I’ve ached for you since – “
“Me, too, Matt,” she whispered. “I don’t want to wait. Don’t make me wait, Matt.”
“Not a problem,” he ground out, teeth clenched hard.
Hastily, she helped him pull off his boots and discard the remaining clothing before he climbed into the tub, the water almost tepid now. He didn’t seem to notice. They would heat it back up soon, anyway. Leaning over the side, she rubbed the dried blood from his jaw and neck, down his chest and shoulder, circling gently, leaning in to place soft kisses over the clean skin. With the bandage around his head, he looked like a wounded soldier waiting for the ministrations of his nurse. Now that could be a fun little scenario one day. Tonight, unfortunately, they didn’t have the patience for role-playing. As her hands moved lower, cleaning other parts of his body, she realized things were close to being out of control.
“Kitty, come in here with me,” he urged hoarsely, tugging at her arm.
She didn’t need to be told twice. Lowering herself into the water, she straddled his waist, taking his face in her hands. Trembling, he raised his mouth to hers, and she moaned in relief and pleasure as their lips met, softly at first, then harder, hotter. She had waited so long for this moment and now she almost couldn’t grasp that it was here. Her arms clung to his neck, her breasts pressed against his chest. His tongue pushed into her mouth, tasting her, claiming her again.
When he slid his hands up her body to let her full breasts rest in his palms, she groaned again, the familiar sensation of stimulation triggering her natural responses. Before she realized it, she felt the warm trails of milk trickle down her body to splash gently on his chest and dissolve in the water. Eyes widening, he stared in awe and jerked his hands away.
“Kitty, I – I didn’t realize – I’m sorry – “
But she guided his long fingers back. “It’s okay, “she assured him.
“Do you need – should I get Sam – “ His head turned to the side, looking for the child. “Where is Sam?”
“Hannah has him. Don’t worry. And I don’t need to get him.”
“But – “
“It’s okay. A natural reaction.” Then she stopped, realizing suddenly that he might be uneasy with it, might find it unpleasant – or even disgusting. “Unless you mind – “
But his eyes were filled not with revulsion or disgust, only with love and warmth. “Kitty, how could I mind anything about your body, especially something that’s for our child?”
Our child. The lump in her throat grew, the tears in her eyes burned.
“Oh, Matt,” she whispered.
“Kitty,” he asked, a little timidly, looking at her in mild amazement, “may I – “
Understanding, she nodded, then gasped as he leaned forward and took a nipple into his mouth, suckling her for a brief moment before he drew her down onto him.
“Sweet,” he murmured.
Sliding her hands across his wide, hard chest, she arched her back as his lips found her other breast and caressed it in the same way. His groan told her that neither of them would last very long. Too many lonely nights lay between them. A surge of desire deep inside told her that she wouldn’t be able to stop her body from taking what it yearned for.
And it yearned for Matt.
“Matt,” she breathed. “I can’t wait. Please – “
“Are you – sure?” he managed, voice so strained it was almost cracking. “We can stop, if – “
But she knew they couldn’t stop. Not any more. “No, I can’t stop.”
“Thank God,” he groaned, lifting her up slightly so that their hips were aligned.
“Wait – “
“Wait? Kitty, I don’t think I can – “
“The bed. I want to be in our old bed.”
“Uh,” he groaned, his voice straining, and she would have laughed if she hadn’t been in almost as much discomfort. “Uh – yeah – okay.”
With more than a little difficulty, they extricated themselves from the tub, the cool air rushing chill bumps across their skin. Not bothering to dry off, Matt swept her into his arms and strode into the bedroom.
“You shouldn’t be lifting me. Your shoulder – “ And back, and leg –
“Doesn’t ache nearly as much as other parts of me,” he told her.
Still, knowing his knife wound continued to bother him, she coaxed him onto the bed so that she could straddle him. He was ready for her – more than ready. Too aroused to wait herself, she lowered her hips, slowly and tentatively at first, unable to suppress the grimace at the slight pain his generous thickness caused.
“I’m sorry,” he began, and tried to pull back, but she shook her head.
“No. It’s wonderful. Just give me – a minute.”
“I’ll give you more than a minute,” he breathed, pulling out anyway and turning her so that his broad shoulders pressed open her thighs. His touch was light, gentle, and his tongue caressed her with care until she writhed beneath him, soaring on the pleasure he brought, her body opening and inviting.
As incredible as it felt, she wanted them to reach their peaks together, so she somehow gathered enough strength to push him off, then straddled his hips again and sank back onto his pulsing erection, moving with confidence when there was no longer any sign of pain or discomfort. As he stretched her again, she was overcome with an urgency that neither of them could quell.
“Kitty!” he gasped through gritted teeth as she pushed down, pulled back, then sank in a little deeper the next time.
Oh, he felt so good. No man had ever felt as good as Matt Dillon felt to her. He was shaking with the effort to let her set the pace, not to thrust up hard and bury himself. He started to pull back, and she groaned and locked her legs around him, desperate not to lose the extraordinary feel of him inside her again.
But he shook his head and smiled tightly. “Kitty, I can’t – I’m not going to last if – you feel so good, too good – ”
Understanding, she let him turn them so that she lay beneath him and he could set the pace of his entry. Bracing his arms on either side of her, he lowered his hips until he probed her center again. With infuriating care, he eased in, just the tip, then a few more inches. As soon as she tried to squeeze around him, he would withdraw almost all the way until she was shaking with need.
“Matt,” she groaned, grabbing vainly at the flexing muscles of his back and hips.
“Something wrong?” he asked, eyes full of innocence.
Managing to steady her breathing, she ground out, “You – are – bad, Matthew – Dillon.”
“You always told me I was good.”
But she couldn’t play any longer. “Matt, I need – I need – “
Now the voice was softer, coaxing, urging. “What do you need, Kitty? Tell me. Tell me what you need.”
Her head fell back and her chest arched. “You. I need all of you. Please.”
He breathed her name and pushed forward with his hips, his heat burning to her core, filling her again, completing her again. She squeezed around him hard, smiling in satisfaction at his agonized groan. She opened to him, and he pushed in a little farther, his jaw hard, his eyes closed. She could tell he was working hard not to let the sensations overwhelm him. He wasn’t the only one.
Finally, when she realized her body couldn’t take any more, she grabbed at his hips and pulled. “Now,” she gasped. “Now!”
At her demand, he allowed himself to sink deep inside her, grunting in relief and agony. His attempt to go slow vanished as soon as her heels dug into his back, and her hands pulled his head down so that her tongue thrust into his mouth in the same rhythm as he thrust into her.
Nice and easy, she reminded herself, even as she found her body arching into his faster and faster. He felt so good that she couldn’t hang on to even the semblance of control. Their hips met, hard and furious, pushing against each other, burning and demanding. His strokes were deep and powerful, and she moaned at the almost unbearable pain and pleasure. She tore her mouth from his, her breath coming in pants now, and cried out.
Nice and easy, Doc had said. Right.
Matt faltered, pulled back, and she looked up. Sweat trailed down his jaw, his wavy hair, wild and damp, fell into his eyes, clouded now with desire and worry. He was absolutely beautiful.
“Kitty?” he asked, voice rough.
She shook her head, gasping. “No! I’m – fine. Please don’t stop. Please – I can’t stop.”
“Are you sure – “
Desperately, she bowed up to pull him back inside, clutching at him, her fingernails raking wildly down his strong back and over his hips, drawing blood, her pelvis arching up over and over. He must have been too far gone to feel any pain, because he gave in and thrust into her, his body surging and throbbing.
She almost couldn’t believe it. This was Matt, her Matt, here with her again – inside her again. Love and passion and ecstasy throbbed between them. Deep inside, she felt the exquisite sensation take hold, building and building until she could no longer hang on. It took only a few more thrusts for her body to convulse in violent spasms that sucked him in and squeezed around him like a vise.
Nice and easy flew right out the window.
“Matt!” she cried out, bucking against him, clawing at his shoulders. “Oh, yes!”
He grunted as she writhed beneath him, driving as deep inside her as she could take him, swelling and pulsing until she felt the climax rip through his body and join hers, flooding her with heat and bliss and love. Over and over, he emptied inside her, and with each powerful surge the months of despair and fear and loneliness poured out, cleansing their souls, making them whole again. She moaned as her own body continued to seize around him while he thrust in and out even after they had both spent themselves completely. Gradually, his movement slowed to a gentle rock, the easy motion soothing after the furious pounding. Almost like a chant, he murmured tender words of endearment in her ear, of her beauty, of his love.
With a gasp, he collapsed, pinning her to the bed, but she didn’t protest. It was heaven to lie beneath him again, to feel the pounding of his heart, to feel the heat of his skin. There was a time she had thought she had only the memories of such pleasure. Now, the tears burned her eyes with the feeling. After a few minutes though, needing to breathe, she reluctantly pushed against him. Groaning, he managed to brace on his elbows and ease his hips away from hers. She felt a sharp loss, a sense of emptiness as he withdrew, allowing the warmth of their releases to spread over her, but she snuggled into his broad chest almost immediately, the smells of perfume, leather, soap, sweat, and passion swirling around them.
It was at least another ten minutes before either of them could conjure the energy to speak. Matt managed first, placing his lips against her hair and breathing, “My God, Kitty, I missed you so much.”
“You’re not the only one, Cowboy,” she told him, letting her fingers play in the dusting of hair on his chest. Her body still shuddered with after-shocks as she drifted into a deep, satisfied sleep.
opened her eyes slowly to the dim light of her room – her old room, anyway – at
Placing a soft kiss on his shoulder, she slid carefully from the warmth of Matt’s embrace, slipped on her robe and tip-toed to the door. “Who is it?” she whispered.
Hannah? Yes, of course. It was her room, after all. With a start, Kitty remembered the most probable reason Hannah would be knocking.
Sam. Oh, dear. The poor child must be starving.
Taking a breath, she did her best to maintain some miniscule appearance of calm before opening the door. Beyond the crack of hall light, Hannah’s smile faltered a bit as she held a whimpering baby out toward his mother.
“Kitty, I’m – I’m awful sorry to disturb you.” The saloon owner’s face reflected true regret. “He was frettin’ and downright disappointed that I didn’t have anything to offer him.”
Kitty reached to hold her child, smiling when he grunted and rooted for the nourishment he desired the instant he was in her arms.
“I rocked him, jiggled him,” Hannah explained. “I even tried to sing to him, but I’m not too sure that didn’t hurt more’n it helped.”
“Thank you, Hannah,” Kitty told her, anxious for a little privacy so she could nurse.
But Hannah didn’t take the hint right off. Instead, the older woman’s gaze took in Kitty’s appearance, and frowned. “I hope everything’s all right – “
“It’s fine,” Kitty assured her.
“Because if – “ But she broke off as her gaze shifted to look deeper into the room. The frown burst into a wide smile. “Well, I’d say everything is fine. I’d say it’s mighty fine. Mighty fine, all right.”
Kitty glanced back, suddenly worried that her very masculine husband was not sufficiently covered by the quilt. It was close. His upper body lay completely bare, giving both women a generous view of his wide chest and long-muscled arms. One leg thrust out from under the covers, the strong thigh still well defined even relaxed.
“Yes’m,” Hannah repeated, gleefully. “Mighty fine.”
Not particularly liking the close perusal the other woman was giving her husband, Kitty stepped into her line of sight. Knowing there could not have been any misunderstanding about what she and Matt had done, she issued her own repentance. “I’m so sorry about – well, I sort of – forgot – this was your room. We shouldn’t have – “
“Honey,” Hannah assured her, “that’s the most fun this place has had since you left. I’m just – well, I can’t tell ya’ how good it is to see – well, you know.”
Kitty smiled, truly grateful. “I know. We’ll get back to the Dodge House later – ”
“You’ll do no such thing,” Hannah scolded. “You’ll feed that baby and put him down and get right back in that bed with that fine looking husband of yours.” Leaning in, she whispered, “If ya’ need me ta’ take the baby again in the morning, while ya – well – just holler. I figure you two ain’t gonna get completely reacquainted in just one night.”
Cheeks flaming now, Kitty couldn’t help smiling. “Thank you,” she said sincerely.
“Don’t mention it. Does my heart good to – well, it does my heart good.” With a wink, she backed out of the room, floating a “Goodnight, Marshal,” over her shoulder as she went.
Easing the door closed, Kitty turned back to the bed, surprised to see Matt stirring, one eye peaking out at her. “Kitty?”
“Hey, Cowboy,” she whispered. “Go back to sleep.”
“Was that – “
“Hannah. She brought Sam back.” She laughed. “She didn’t have what I have to offer him.”
“Well, I’ll sure agree with you on that,” he smirked.
She threw a mock glare his way and eased onto the mattress next to him, exposing one breast for the eager infant, who latched instantly. Briefly, she considered telling him the rest – what she had intended to tell him when she left the note with Mr. Dobie. But now wasn’t the time, either. Now, she just wanted to bask in the moment of warmth with her husband and child, not bring up the pain.
She shrugged. “I had to get her out of here before she tried to seduce you.”
Horror spread across his face and he sat suddenly, wincing slightly and touching his head. “What?”
“She sure was eyeing you with more than just good will,” she noted as casually as possible.
“Kitty!” he declared, looking rather sick. “By golly, you can’t mean that Hannah – I mean she’s as good as gold, but – “
“But I’m the only woman for you, is that what you meant to say, Cowboy?”
He smiled then, more than a little relief in his eyes. “Absolutely.”
The baby sucked greedily – grunting in satisfaction with every swallow.
“He needs a little work on his manners,” Matt observed wryly, turning onto his side and propping his head in his right hand.
a little of
Her husband laughed at the mention of their old friend. “Yeah, he sure could put away some grub.”
“Is Samuel hungry?” Kitty cooed to the baby. “Is mama’s big boy hungry?”
Matt grunted. “Say, uh, I think mama’s other big boy is hungry, too.”
“It’s the middle of the night, Matt. Delmonico’s isn’t open – “
But one look at his eyes told her he wasn’t interested in any kind of nourishment Delmonico’s could give. “Oh,” she breathed, heart pumping with the unspoken invitation.
“But I’ll wait my turn,” he assured her, his face softening as he watched his wife and son in the closest mother child bonding nature created, staring, mesmerized as the baby latched on hungrily, the little fists clenching and unclenching in satisfaction. Losing all teasing, he breathed, “My God, Kitty. He’s beautiful.”
Her eyes lifted to his, filling with tears at the sheer joy of having the two men she loved the most with her. “He is, isn’t he?”
Matt watched them in silence, his expression awed.
Even as her body reveled in the unique sensation of giving life to a child, it also yearned to feel again the touch of the father of that child. Doc’s advice had been forgotten in the throes of passion earlier, but this time, maybe, she could heed his caution.
Nice and easy.
When she put Sam down, she’d show Matt how nice and easy she could be.
Yep. They’d be sure to go nice and easy.
She let her gaze linger appreciatively on her husband’s brilliant blue eyes and wild, thick hair. She lowered it to follow the hard planes of his chest and stomach. She drifted lower over the loosely covered hips and groin.
Nice and easy, she reminded herself.
He shifted, unaware that the move left him completely bare to her view, every impressive inch of his body open to her – and only her.
Nice and easy, she tried to think.
Nice and easy.
Then, he looked up at her and smiled, that beautiful, toothy, genuine, crooked Matt Dillon smile, and her heart leaped beneath her ribs, and her loins burned in anticipation.
Nice and easy? Nope.
Doc would just have to get over it.
Chapter Fifteen: Something That Should Be Said
Spoilers: “Kimbro;” “Disciple”
Rating: PG-13 (Teen)
“Well, that gash across your head doesn’t look quite as bad today,” Doc said, replacing the cumbersome wrap with a smaller bandage. “Keep it dry and covered for another few days, at least. Now, let’s get a look at that shoulder.”
When he glanced up, he caught Doc studying him critically.
Sighing, he asked, “What is it?”
answer surprised him.
“Matt, for a man who’s been shot up more times than any of us can count, you’re in pretty good shape.”
“Well, thanks, Doc,” he answered carefully, wary of a following comment that contradicted the first one.
“No, I mean it. You’re fit. Muscles are lean and hard. If I were to be checking you out for the first time, I wouldn’t guess you’re coming up on fifty right fast.”
“Forty-eight,” Matt corrected gamely, even though the age didn’t really bother him. He figured it was a miracle he had gotten that far.
“Well, you look ten years younger than the last time I saw you,” he said, voice suddenly serious.
Matt lowered his gaze, not sure how to react. He knew what Doc was talking about, knew what toll losing Kitty had taken on his body. There were no words at all to express how he felt about finding her again – and about Sam. So he just swallowed and nodded, clenching his jaw to keep his emotions tight.
moment, Doc tugged on his ear and cleared his throat. “All right, let’s check out this
Doc clicked his teeth once, then lifted Matt’s arm, gently manipulating the socket. The marshal couldn’t quite avoid the quick grunt that escaped him with the flash of discomfort from the injury. It had still been sore yesterday, and after his and Kitty’s rather energetic encounters last night –
Matt tried to shrug it off. “Not too bad.”
“Well, it’s not completely healed yet, ya’ know. You going over to the jail after this?” he asked, his tone making it plain he didn’t approve.
“For a little while,” Matt admitted, his own voice firm. “Things pile up over a month, ya’ know.” He didn’t mention that Newly had done a better than fair job keeping the paperwork up, and he really didn’t plan to stay very long – especially with a certain beautiful redhead waiting impatiently for him back at the Long Branch.
“Hmph. Well, you keep takin’ it easy. Maybe see if you can stay away from people tryin’ to shoot ya’ for a while.”
“I’ll do my best,” Matt answered wryly.
“I’m not holdin’ my – “ The physician was just about to tug off his spectacles, when something else apparently caught his eye. Frowning, he leaned over Matt’s shoulder and let his gaze move down the broad back.
“What’s wrong?” the marshal asked, confused.
“What on earth did you get into, Matt?”
He still didn’t understand. “What?”
“Looks like you had a fight with a wildcat – or maybe you wallowed around in a briar patch.”
Matt started to protest that he had no idea what the doctor was talking about – until he suddenly realized. Oh boy. A deep flush raced over his face and down his chest, as he understood what Doc was seeing. Matt coughed and cleared his throat, reaching for his shirt. “Don’t worry about that, Doc. It’s fine.”
The doctor pushed his arm back. “No, looks like ya’ need a little salve, maybe. Could get infected.”
Dillon leaned away from his touch, almost frantic to escape before Doc figured out what he was looking at. “Really, Doc, I’m fine. You finished?”
“Matt, what on earth’s wrong with you?”
“Absolutely nothing. Can I go now?”
“Listen, some of those are kinda deep. I’m tryin’ to figure out how – “
The big man slid off the table over the physician’s protests. “I didn’t wallow in a briar patch. And I didn’t tangle with a wildcat – well, not exactly.”
“Well, for Pete’s sake, I figured that much. I just wondered what on earth you’d done to get those scratches all the way from your shoulders to your – well, some of ‘em go kinda low.”
“Just give me the salve and I’ll put it on myself.”
“I’ll give it to ya’, but it’d probably be easier if you let Kitty – “
Matt felt his face burn and started to turn away, but Doc had seen his reaction already.
The doctor paused, eyebrows soaring almost to his hairline. He looked up at Matt, a terrible smile playing at his lips. “Wouldn’t be that Kitty – “ He ran a hand over his mouth and mumbled, “Maybe you did tangle with a wildcat, after all.”
Hastily, Matt shoved his arms into his shirt and slapped his hat on his head. “That’s none of your business, Doc.”
The physician’s brow drew down. “By golly, I told her to take it nice and easy.”
“Yesterday, she was – well, she came in to make sure she was healed enough to – “
The flush that had begun to fade now rushed back even deeper. Kitty had been talking with Doc about – about that? He fumbled with the buttons on his shirt, missing more than one hole as he went. “I’ll see ya’ later.”
Matt felt logic and pride battle within him. If he hung onto his pride and refused the salve, it might mean that he and Kitty couldn’t –
Doggone it. Logic won out – logic and the memory of their previous evening’s activities. Sighing, he extended his hand, open palmed, toward the doctor.
“What?” Doc asked, and Matt pressed his lips together at the physician’s obtuseness.
“The salve?” he answered, his tone long-suffering.
“Oh – sure.”
He tried to
Just before the marshal stepped outside, not even bothering to finish buttoning his shirt, Doc ran a hand over his mustache, unable to suppress the grin that popped to his mouth. “Guess this explains why it was almost lunchtime before you got over here to me. Did Kitty mention anything at all about takin’ things nice and easy?”
Dillon winced, dropping his head, but figured Doc saw his smile. “It – uh – it never came up, Doc,” he admitted, then gave in to the little mischievous urge that prodded him and let the smile turn into an outright grin. “Not after other things did, anyway.”
He couldn’t help but laugh at the astonishment on his old friend’s face. It was rare that Matt Dillon uttered anything even the least bit suggestive – at least to anyone other than Kitty. That made this moment all the more effective.
Still chuckling, he dropped down the stairs, not even noticing the twinge in his knee or the ache in his back.
The razor scraped down his jaw with steady, confident motions, its path the same as it had been for thirty years’ worth of shaving. Bending, as usual, so he could see into the mirror, Matt lifted his chin to reach the stubble that scratched his neck, then swished the sharp instrument in the waiting basin. As he looked back up, he caught her image in the glass, and his heart pumped a little harder just from her beauty.
“You just gonna just sit there?” he asked, knowing very well that was exactly what she was going to do – and more than happy to let her do it. The very simple task of shaving while she watched filled the emptiness that had gnawed at his gut for so many months, the scene a symbol of Kitty’s presence and her love – and his deep need for her.
She smiled lazily at him, her elbows resting on her knees as she perched on the end of the bed behind him. “Um hmm.”
“What did Doc say about your head?” she asked casually, but he heard the concern behind the tone.
They hadn’t taken the time to talk about his visit to Doc when he returned from the jail earlier. They had been occupied with other things – deeply occupied.
“The usual,” he answered lightly. “That it’s hard.”
“That’s what I said.”
“Matt – “
“He said it looks good.” Catching her dubious glance in the mirror, he added, “Really.”
“Yes. And my shoulder’s coming along fine, too, since you’re going to ask that next.”
Her smile revealed his accurate prediction. “I was just going to tell you to hurry up. The party’s about to start.”
weren’t sure if it was Hannah’s doing, or just a mutual idea among the whole
town, but all of Dodge was headed to the
He lifted the blade and started on the other side. “You gonna go to like that?”
Eyebrows rising, she glanced down at the rather skimpy undergarments she wore. “What’s wrong with this?”
Smirking, he held the blade away from his jaw. “Oh, nothing. Nothing at all. In fact, I, uh, I like it a lot.”
“I know you do,” she assured him, voice husky.
Party, he reminded himself ruefully. But at that very moment it would have taken very little encouragement from her for him to disregard any public celebration – at least for another half hour or so.
“It’s just that I figure every man in Dodge would like it a lot, too.”
The frown pulled down his brow before he could stop it. “Yeah. And I’d hate ta’ have ta’ shoot ‘em all down for ogling my wife.” He was kidding, of course. Mostly.
“I guess that’d be a shame,” Kitty agreed, cocking her head. “Sure would narrow down the selection pool for all the other girls.” Her lips pursed. “And they already look at you way too much for my likin’.”
That drew a grin to his mouth. “That so?”
A true scowl darkened her face. “Hey, now. Don’t you go gettin’ all swelled up.”
He chuckled at her involuntary touch of jealousy and turned. “Honey, when I’m around you, I can’t help but get all swelled up.”
The scowl lightened. “Well, as long as it’s just around me – “
“You’re the only one, Kathleen Dillon,” he said, making sure enough seriousness colored his voice for her to know how much he meant it.
Her eyes smiled at him. “All right, then, Cowboy.”
After a beat, he turned back to finish shaving, knowing that if they were late, he’d never hear the end of it from Doc.
“I got a scolding from Doc, by the way,” he told her, still flushing slightly with the memory.
“About the – the gunfight?”
He heard the hesitancy and winced at the pain that lingered from the fear of the previous evening. “No.”
Her reflection frowned. “No? What about then?”
“I suppose it was really you he was scolding.”
“Me? I didn’t do – “
“He got a look at my back and wondered if I’d been wrestling a wildcat.”
Her reflection flushed deep red. “Oh. Oh, Matt, I’m sorry.” She slid off the end of the bed and stepped up behind him, her hands running gingerly over the red marks her passion had left. “I didn’t realize I’d – well – “ Her voice dropped from remorseful to sultry. “You made me lose control, Cowboy. I can’t be held responsible for my actions.”
Dropping the razor onto the marble top, he turned so that her face was eye-level with his bare chest. “That’s too bad,” he told her.
“How come?” she asked, letting her fingers run through the light hair that trailed down his abdomen.
The sensation shot straight to his groin, and he slid his arms around her, lifting and depositing her back on the bed, then stepping in between her thighs. “Because I was hoping you were completely responsible for your actions. Matter of fact, I was hoping you’d repeat those actions later tonight.”
Bending, he nuzzled her neck, letting his hands ease up to caress her breasts. Abruptly, he remembered the results the last time he had done that, though, and pulled them back. The amazing experience of her milk letting down was something he’d never forget, and something he certainly wouldn’t mind doing again, but this wasn’t the time or the place. Smiling to balance any concerns she might have had, he turned back to the dresser to finish shaving.
Besides, they were expected downstairs any minute. Plus, it had been a while since Hannah came to get Sam. Matt wasn’t quite an expert yet on babies and their feeding schedules, but he knew enough by now to realize it had been a couple of hours since Kitty last nursed – and Sam seemed to have just as big an appetite as his father. Either way, interruption seemed eminent.
She smirked, wiping away the shaving lotion he had left on her neck. “I guess he figured out we didn’t take it nice and easy.”
“Yeah. I think he did.”
“He scold you for that?”
“I think it’s you he’s gonna give the talkin’ to.”
She sighed, but didn’t look too remorseful.
“He gave me some salve to put on my back.”
“It’s that bad?” she asked, her eyes narrowing in guilty concern.
Toweling his face dry, he turned to her. “He said if the scratches get infected, I won’t be able to lie on my back and – “
“Oh dear.” She clucked her teeth. “That would certainly mess up my plans for tonight – “
He felt himself blushing, even though it was just Kitty. Grasping her upper arms, he tugged her up to stand before him. “Kathleen Dillon, I ought ta’ – “
“Ought ta’ what?” she challenged, eyes intense and eager.
His body urged him on, prodded him to meet her challenge, to plunge them both right back into that bed and spend the rest of the evening wrapped up in her passion and heat and love.
The clock chimed seven, its unwelcome interruption announcing that they were now late for the party. He let his lips move on hers gently and slowly, promising much more later. When he pulled back, she moaned.
“Matt, please don’t stop,” she begged, her tone breathy. “Please, make love to me again.”
God, he wanted to do just that. He ached to be with her again. But he shook his head. “You want Festus to clomp up those stairs and walk in on us like this?” Half-clothed and aroused.
He figured it was the mention of his deputy that did it. Exhaling hard, she stepped away. “Damn.”
Chuckling, he nodded. “Yeah.”
“Oh, yes.” Definitely later.
Letting her hand slide down his chest and brush teasingly over his trousers, she twirled away toward the wardrobe where she had hung her gown for the evening. “Well, I guess I should finish dressing, then, to protect the men of Dodge from my charms.”
down the renewed craving her touch had brought, he threw in a bit of charm
himself. “Honey, you could be wrapped in
flour sacks, and the men of Dodge would still be in danger. Hell, there wouldn’t be a man in
Her delighted smile lit up the room. Oh, how he loved that woman. As he shrugged into the crisp white dress shirt she had laid out for him, he found himself fighting back an abrupt and disturbing swell of emotion. Never really comfortable showing his feelings, his recent revelations to her had loosened that lifetime hold on them, and he worried now that he wouldn’t be able to suppress his impulses as well. That could be dangerous, he knew, in the wrong situations.
Still, it had liberated him, in a way, and brought him closer to the woman he had loved for twenty years. He supposed it was a small price to pay. Kitty was back. He had a son. And the world that had almost collapsed on top of him only a few months before seemed eager and ready to embrace him again.
The ominous tone crashed into his pleasant thoughts. He had known her too long not to recognize the hint of sadness, of fear. He looked up to see her emerge from behind the curtain, gown draped over her arm. One look at her face twisted his heart. Pain tightened the beautiful features.
Oh God. In his chest, his heart raced, pushing at his throat. She was not leaving him, he reminded himself. She had told him so. She was not leaving. “Kitty?” he managed.
Head down, as if she were gathering strength for her words, she said, “Yesterday, when I left the note with Dobie, I said we needed to talk.”
He wondered if it was possible for someone’s heart to pound right through his chest. “Yeah?”
Her fingers grasped the fine material of the dress, kneading it, showing her nervousness. “I put it off last night, but before we go downstairs, there is something I – I need to tell you. Something that is – hard – for me to say, but that should be said.”
She’s not leaving, his brain repeated, trying to convince his heart. It wasn’t successful.
immobile, waiting for the dire news, waiting for her to tell him that it didn’t
matter that he was giving up the badge, that they would never be free of
enemies who wanted to kill Matt Dillon, that she couldn’t raise her son in such
an environment. He waited for her to
announce she was sending Sam back to
Suddenly, weakness swept over him, and he forced his knees to lock so he could remain upright. “I thought – “ His voice broke, and he took a breath to smooth it out. “I thought it was – to tell me you weren’t leaving.” Please be that.
Her eyes lifted to his, soft and guilty. “Oh, Matt. Like I told you last night, I never intended to leave you. Not again.”
Somehow, he kept standing, somehow, he didn’t just collapse there on the bed in relief. With more strength than he thought he had, he cleared his throat, drew in a deep breath, and nodded. “Okay.”
“I’m not leaving,” she repeated.
Yes. He knew that. He would always know that now. Gaining more control, he let his fingers reach out and swirl over her shoulder. “Okay. “
“And you’re not leaving,” she announced abruptly, tears in her eyes despite her obvious effort to smile.
The caress stopped. Matt pulled back, a confused smile curving his lips. “What?”
“I said, ‘you’re not leaving.’”
He sighed, understanding. She wanted to stay in Dodge, then, or thought he wanted to stay, anyway. “Kitty, I appreciate the thought, but I meant it when I said we could move wherever you want. If we stay in Dodge – well, it wouldn’t be wise to stay here after I turn in my badge. Too many risks. And too hard on whoever comes in to replace me.”
“I know,” she assured him surprisingly.
His hands rested on her hips, as if holding her still so he could figure out what she was saying. “I don’t understand – “
“You’re not making this any easier, Cowboy,” she laughed, but the sound was tight.
He had always prided himself on his quick perception and ability to comprehend, but this time he couldn’t decipher all the clues. Of course, that rarely worked with Kitty, anyway. “I’m sorry, Kitty. I just don’t know what – “
Drawing a deep breath, she lifted her chin and said evenly, “You’re not turning in your badge.”
He frowned and shook his head, disappointed. Surely she didn’t think he would go back on his promise. “I told you I would, Kitty. Don’t you believe me?”
“I believe you,” she assured him, then took another breath and said quietly, “but I don’t want you to.”
His jaw dropped and his eyes widened. The hands that held her hips slipped away. After several seconds of silence, he whispered, “What?”
want you to resign.” She couldn’t have
stunned him more if she had told him she was going to be the organist at the
Patiently, she said, “I don’t think you should resign as marshal.”
“Kitty – “ he began, stepping forward, still not truly comprehending what she was saying.
But she held him at arms length. “Let me finish. It’s hard enough to say it as it is.” She braved a smile. “Being a lawman is so deep in you. If you were to give that up, what would you do?”
“I’ve thought about that,” he assured her. “Ranching, maybe.”
But she shook her head. “You would be lost. Mister Matt Dillon, not United States Marshal Matt Dillon? You would be lost.”
“I wouldn’t, Kitty,” he promised. Oh, God. Maybe she was still sending Sam away.
“I know better. And if you were lost, I guess I’d be lost, too. You have to be who you are. And I wouldn’t want to be with someone who wasn’t.”
The pain beneath her brave front tore at him. “Kitty, I don’t know what you’re saying. You’ve wanted me to give up that badge for twenty years, and now you’re telling me – “
“I know. Don’t you think I’ve told myself the same thing? Twenty years is a long time, Matt. And you’ve been a lawman for longer than that. Close to thirty years, counting your time with Adam Kimbro, I would guess. I’ve known all along how much it means to you, how much it means to Dodge, even to Kansas and maybe the whole country, now. It’s entwined in who and what you are. I tried to imagine what you would be after you turned in the badge. Farming was out, of course. Too boring. Banking? Ridiculous. Like you said, ranching, maybe, but I don’t think so. I realized that being a lawman is so deep in you, Matt, you’ll never get it out.”
“I can try, Kitty,” he assured her earnestly, still fighting to understand just what she was telling him.
“Damn it!” she cried, confusing him even more. “Don’t you see what I’m saying? I’m not leaving, and you’re not leaving. We’re staying. Here. In Dodge. Where I’ll be Kitty Dillon, wife of United States Marshal Matt Dillon.”
His eyes glistened, his breath caught. Surely, she wasn’t offering – she wasn’t telling him not to – Grasping her shoulders, he drew her closer. “Kitty, do you know what you’re saying? That means more gunfights and more barroom brawls. The risk – “
“You’ve risked more than that for a long time,” she said softly. “You’ve risked your heart twenty years ago, after you’d been hurt before. That wasn’t easy. I know from experience.”
“I didn’t have a choice,” he admitted, leaning in and running the backs of his long fingers against her cheek, the surge of love for this woman almost overwhelming him. “I couldn’t not love you, Kitty.”
She didn’t try to suppress her tears, and they rolled down her cheeks.
But he had made a promise. He saw what she was doing, and he wouldn’t allow it. Not now. Not anymore. “You’re not going to do this. I made you a promise. I – I gave you my badge.”
“And I’m giving it back to you.” Turning, she shoved her hand into one of the carpetbags that rested on the floor, pulling it back out with the shining metal resting in her palm.
He swallowed hard at the poignant gesture. “I’ve already sent in my resignation.”
“Get it back.”
“What?” Surely she wasn’t serious. “Why?”
“Maybe I figured it would be a mistake.”
“But – “
“And maybe I figure you’d be a lousy rancher.”
“Kitty – “
“And just maybe I figure we’d be safer with that badge still on your chest than with it off.”
“What about Sam?” he asked.
Her face softened at the baby’s name. “Matthew Samuel Dillon has a right to grow up knowing his father, and knowing just what kind of man Matt Dillon is. He’ll be proud of you, Matt. Just like I’ve always been proud of you. I hope he can be half the man his father is.”
Stunned, he pulled her to him, and she let him, buried his face in her hair, unable to stop the emotion from wetting his cheeks. “My God, Kitty,” he breathed raggedly, overwhelmed by her gesture.
“I love you, Matt,” she answered, wrapping her arms around his waist. “I love you so much.”
Her closeness, her touch, her scent all attacked his sense of logic, and he found himself responding with a pulse against her. Grimacing at the inappropriateness of his lack of control, he tried to withdraw, but she shook her head and held on tighter.
“No, Matt. I want this now. I want you now.”
“Kitty – “ But his resistance vanished as she tossed the badge back into the bag and ran her hands between them.
They were involved again almost immediately, the months of separation impossible to make up for in only a few hours – no matter how incredible they were – clothes ripping, bodies moving frantically against each other, lips and hands bringing moans and cries. In fact, they were so involved that neither of them heard the knock. It took a second, then a third knock to break through to them.
Chest heaving, Kitty tried to push away. “Matt, stop, I think – someone’s – at the – door.”
But he wasn’t interested in the door. His lips continued their delicious caresses of her most delicate areas.
“Matt,” she moaned as he held onto her, wanting her to do anything but answer the damned door.
“Kitty?” a voice called tentatively.
Something pushed at his memories. Something relatively important. Something he was supposed to be doing. But he really didn’t want to be doing anything else but making love to Kitty right then.
“Marshal?” the voice called again, a little louder.
“Go away,” he murmured, not sure at all that he could pull back from the edge he found himself perched on.
But Kitty’s voice broke through, the urgency different enough from her passion to drive into his consciousness. “Matt,” she whispered frantically, “get up. Get up.”
“I’m up,” he assured her. Surely she could feel that for herself.
“No. I mean move off me. I have to answer the door.”
The door? Oh, hell. The party.
Even as he fought through the haze of desire, it took another a hard shove for her to coax him back enough to slide out from under him. He watched as she shrugged into a robe and reached for the knob.
Glancing back at him, she noted pointedly, “Uh, you might want to get out of sight, big man. You’re giving Hannah quite a lot more to see this time. And last time she was more than interested – “
The threat sent him scrambling off the bed in such haste that his legs tangled in the covers and dumped him unceremoniously onto the floor.
“Are you okay?” Kitty asked, eyes both amused and a little worried.
He grunted in response, still aching from the discomfort of interruption, and stumbled into the dressing room, knowing Hannah would have to be blind and deaf not to realize what had been going on. Then he realized it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter at all that Hannah knew they had been intimate. It didn’t matter if the whole town knew anymore.
The burden of twenty years lifted from his shoulders in that one moment of realization, and he fell back against the wall, his body slumping from the sheer relief. As he listened to Hannah’s muffled, but clearly amused, conversation with his wife, he reflected on what Kitty had told him, on her unselfish sacrifice.
Maybe he would let her do it. Maybe not. They would talk about it, anyway, but he had brought Kathleen Russell enough heartache the past twenty years. It was time for him to bring her some joy.
With a nod to his own conviction, he tugged on the pants and shirt he had grabbed on his way into the dressing room. The bustling noises that rose from below told him the party was already going strong – even with the guests of honor conspicuously absent. He would take considerable ribbing from Doc about the cause of their tardiness. Still, it would be in good fun.
Their private party would come later. The people of Dodge awaited their arrival – not as the Marshal and Miss Kitty, but as Matt and Kitty Dillon. A new beginning.
He just hoped it was the beginning Kitty had wanted all those years.