A Gunsmoke Story
By Amanda (MAHC)
Chapter Sixteen: One Step at a Time
Spoilers: “Seven Hours to Dawn;” “The Jailer;” “The Pillagers;” “The Bullet;” “Morgan;” “Mannon;” “Hostage!”
Rating: PG-13+ (Teen+)
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
Matt groaned as he moved against Kitty’s welcoming softness, engulfed by her sweet warmth, embraced by her gentle arms. He continued to be amazed that this beautiful creature still wanted a tired, scarred up lawman, but she showed him over and over that she did want him – she wanted him very, very much. He felt the build of climax at the pit of his belly, fought to hold off, to wait for her, his jaw hard with the effort.
He counted his blessings every day, grateful that God – and Kitty – had given him a second chance, that they had each other again, and that they had Sam, so much more than he could have ever imagined for himself. He wouldn’t waste it.
Her writhing quickened, a tell-tale sign he knew very well, just like the soft moaning of his name and the tightening of her fingers on his forearms as he held her above him. She was near her peak, and he could let go just a little more. A few more thrusts and she would be there. Then he could –
The ugly crack of a gunshot startled him, jerking him violently away from ecstasy. To his horror, he felt the hot splatter of blood, saw grotesque scarlet blossom across Kitty’s lovely breasts. She stared, open-mouthed, at him, her expression incredulous.
“Matt – “ she whispered, but it was all she could manage before her body collapsed, her lifeblood – his lifeblood – draining from her veins.
“No!” He cried out in anguish, in despair, scrambling to cover the dire wound with his hands, to stop the destruction of his world. “Oh God! No! Kitty!” But it was too late. Without a sound, her tender heart that had held him for 21 years stopped, tearing away his own heart with it.
He cradled her in his arms, his face buried in those fiery tresses he had so recently caressed, his stunned brain sluggish and numb.
“Marshal?” A hand fell on his shoulder to pull him from her, but he shook it off roughly.
“No!” He felt her die in his arms, felt himself die with her.
“Marshal!” The hand grabbed him, and he swung out wildly, furious at the intrusion into his grief.
“Get the hell away from me!” he snarled, his tone like an animal, ferocious and dangerous.
“I said get away from me!”
Matt Dillon’s eyes opened suddenly to stare into the gray-black of pre-dawn. In the faint light he could make out the shaken features of Newly O’Brien looming before him.
“Matt?” The deputy knelt at his side, eyes wide.
Matt wiped the sweat from his face with a trembling hand and twisted frantically to search around him, almost collapsing in relief when he realized where he was and what had happened. A dream. Only a dream. A terrible, terrible dream – but just a dream. Thank God.
With a shuddering sigh, he fell back onto his bedroll, chest heaving, heart pumping. Another dream. Oh God.
“Marshal?” Newly asked quietly, mumbling a bit. “You okay?”
Matt swallowed the nausea back down his throat and nodded curtly, turning his head to hide the flush of embarrassment that raced up his face.
“Must have been a nightmare,” the deputy observed, his voice a little muffled. “Sounded pretty intense.”
Intense? Hell, yes.
He gritted his teeth to force some control through his shaking body, a struggle
that was, unfortunately, not at all foreign to him. Last night it had been gnarled-teeth
fugitives snatching Sam right from Kitty’s arms while he watched impotently,
locked in his own jail cell. The night
before that, both Kitty and Sam had gotten in the way of a gunfight on a hazy
Of course, he was no stranger to nightmares. He had been haunted by them periodically for most of his professional life, had re-fought battles, chased after outlaws, and re-lived shoot-outs on and off since the first time he’d had to take a man’s life in the line of duty. Through the years, he had learned to deal with the paradox of a job that demanded he protect lives by sometimes taking them.
But he had never learned to deal with those times when his dreams shifted from his own danger to threats on Kitty. What tore him up most were the visions that had come not from his imagination but from real life itself: Mace Gore, and Etta Stone, and Manez, and Morgan, and Mannon.
And Bonner. Bonner.
And more – all because of him. All because of him.
torturous memories had acquired new strength recently, had hit him full force
since he and Kitty had returned from
That had been nine months ago, and the nightmares had only gotten worse. He wasn’t sure why exactly, had never put much faith in omens or soothsayers, but the persistence of those dreams stirred an uneasiness deep in his bones, an uneasiness that something was about to happen. As much as he berated himself for the foolish notion, he couldn’t quite shake the disturbing thought.
After a minute, he became aware that his deputy watched him closely, waiting for a response, and he found that he couldn’t meet those dark eyes for fear that he might glimpse pity in them.
What was the question? Intense?
“Yeah,” he muttered, hoping that was sufficient.
“Sure.” Newly took a breath, wincing. “Be dawn soon. Maybe we should just get on up, head for home.”
Home. Kitty. That’s exactly where Matt wanted – needed – to head.
“Yeah,” he agreed. “Yeah.”
“I’d say it’s another twenty miles to Kinsley, then thirty-five or so on to Dodge. We won’t make it back tonight. Tomorrow for sure, though.”
Working to slow his heart, Matt pulled himself up to sit cross-legged on the blankets, resting his head in his hands, still fighting the sick feeling that boiled in his belly. Newly – bless him – slipped away to give the marshal a moment to regain his composure.
When he felt like he had avoided a complete collapse in front of the other man, Matt raised his head and saw that the deputy busied himself with dragging his saddle over to the sturdy bay, pausing once or twice to work his chin gingerly. Matt frowned and flexed his hand, guilty suspicion nudging him with the slight protest of pain across his knuckles.
The younger man turned quickly, eager to please his mentor. Matt knew the sometime-gunsmith and deputy idolized him, and he was more than a little uncomfortable with the hero worship he saw in those dark eyes way too often. Still, he was a good deputy, and a man of strong principles. Matt was lucky to have him.
In the light of the coming dawn, Matt saw the swollen jaw and bloodied lip. “What happened to you?” he asked automatically, even though he was afraid he already knew.
Newly grinned ruefully and rubbed at the injury. “Well, Marshal, I’ll have to say I hadn’t ever intended to be on the receiving end of one of your backhands. I figure I’m right lucky not to be spittin’ teeth.”
Damn. “Newly, I’m – I’m sorry,” Matt said, pushing up from the bedroll to check on his deputy. He forgot about the stiff knee until he planted it, and the pain that shot through his leg almost drove him back to the ground. Waiting out the wave of dizziness, he braced himself and limped toward the other man.
“Marshal – “ Newly began, concern tightening his features.
But Matt waved off any questions. “I’m fine,” he declared, his tone clearly accepting no argument. “Let me take a look at it.”
Taking his cue, Newly nodded, even though his eyes couldn’t hide the doubt. “It’s not too bad, Marshal. Besides, you didn’t mean to. You were having a nightmare.”
“I can still be sorry,” Matt insisted, taking the deputy’s chin in his hand and studying the red, swollen flesh. “Beefsteak would be helpful,” he noted.
“You got one handy?” Newly asked, laughing, then wincing.
“Sorry. Don’t figure jerky would do the same thing.”
Satisfied that the injury was not dangerous – although it certainly looked painful enough – he relaxed a bit. “We’ll have Doc take a look when we get back to Dodge.”
He knew it was coming. “Yeah?”
“Are you sure you’re okay?”
“You seemed a little – distressed.” That was an understatement.
“I’m okay, Newly.”
“I just – “
“I’m okay.” The last assurance came out sharper than he had intended, but, even as much as he trusted his deputy, he was not about to discuss his dreams – his nightmares – with him.
Newly cleared his throat and nodded. “Okay. Sure. I’ll just – I’ll just get Buck saddled for ya.”
Suddenly irritated at himself, Matt caught the younger man’s arm. “Newly, I, uh, I appreciate it, but – “
A compassionate smile was his answer. “I understand, Marshal. It’s okay.”
Again, Matt thought about the young man. Who would have thought the green easterner who carried his gunsmith tools in a medical bag would have turned into a right decent deputy? No, Matt amended, much more than just decent. As he watched Newly go about the task of saddling his horse, the marshal took more care, more depth, in contemplating exactly how good a man he was, and a thought began to form, a thought that grew and sank its roots into a plan he had already taken steps toward completing.
Slipping his hand into his vest pocket, he pulled out the reply he had received from his earlier telegram to the Attorney General. Kitty would probably be mad at him, but she would get over it – he was pretty sure about that. And even though the decision wouldn’t do anything about ridding him of old enemies, he figured at least it might keep him from acquiring new ones.
Dragging a deep breath into his lungs, he held it a few contemplative seconds before taking the final step. “Newly?”
The deputy turned immediately. “Sir?”
“Don’t saddle Buck, yet.”
If Matt Dillon could believe in one thing, it was his instincts. They had served him well for 48 years, and he figured there was no reason to stop now. Smiling, and as sure about anything as he’d ever been – he motioned for the younger man to sit.
“I have a proposition for you – ”
Kitty Dillon smiled in delight as she watched her eleven-month-old son take a wobbly step in Hannah’s firm grasp toward his mother’s outstretched arms. Overwhelmed with the power of her love for the child, she wondered how on earth her heart didn’t just explode with it, wondered how people possessed the capacity to deal with more than one child.
“He’s gonna git it soon,” Hannah noted confidently.
“He has his father’s determination,” Kitty said.
“And his mama’s impatience,” the older woman added, laughing as Sam abruptly plopped down on his rear, his familiar blue eyes widening in surprise only momentarily before he wrapped familiar long fingers around her thumb and climbed back to his feet. “He’s tryin’ ta’ take too many steps at a time. Wants ta’ do it all at once.”
He might have some of her disposition, but Matthew Samuel Dillon looked more and more like his father every day, Kitty decided, enjoying the handsome sight of the boy’s long, chestnut curls and toothy grin. He already had a mouthful of teeth, which had turned out to be more liability than asset. Kitty had been forced, reluctantly, to wean him two months earlier when nursing became too much a game of chance.
The hair, which she adored, was a point of small contention between Matt and her. He had voiced his opinion that the generous mane made his son look like a girl. Kitty resisted the idea that the child have his first hair cut before he was a year old, but after a well-meaning old woman had commented on how pretty Sam was, she decided perhaps she would concede the point.
“”Wael, thar he is. I declare, Miz Kitty, thet boy’s done grow’d annuther two inches since yesstidy.”
She let her eyes shift from her child to watch Festus clink through the saloon doors, his teeth showing through the scruff of beard as he looked down toward his best friend’s son. Sam ignored him, concentrating instead on his tenacious attempts to take his first steps under his own power.
“He’s gonna be big as his daddy,” the deputy told them – about the fiftieth time he’d prophesied that since he first glimpsed the child at the railway station those many months ago.
“He could be,” Kitty allowed, having a hard time imagining anyone being as big as Matt – even his own son.
“My Aint Clarence sed ya’ kin tell how big a feller’s gonna git by his hands.” He thrust his own index finger into the child’s free hand, the one that wasn’t hanging on to Hannah’s supporting finger. “Looky thar at them hands. Yep. Big as his daddy.”
Sam rewarded the compliment with another grin – so much like his father’s that
Kitty felt her heart pound with the anticipation of Matt’s return. He was overdue – again – but at least he had
wired her from
Before she could tell him.
Twenty years of waiting had not necessarily given her patience, but it had at least provided her the practice of masking her impatience. Smiling fondly at Festus, she rose and patted him on the arm. “How ‘bout a beer?”
As expected, the deputy’s eyes lit. “Wael, I reckon a beer’d be rite welcome.”
“I figured it would,” she said, sliding behind the bar. “Come on over.”
He followed eagerly, smacking his lips in anticipation. “Did I tell ya yer pertikularly looksome this mornin’, Miz Kitty?”
“I already offered you the beer, Festus,” she laughed. “No need to butter me up.”
He managed to look affronted. “If I’m lyin’, I’m dyin’. Ya do look mighty handsome today.”
Twisting her lips in amusement, she avoided Hannah’s suddenly curious gaze and said, “Why thank you, Festus.” Then she let her brow furrow slightly. “But does that mean I’m not looksome every day?”
The poor man sputtered over his first sip of beer. “Wael, no – “
“I mean – yes – “
“Yes? You mean I’m not looksome every – “
“Aw, fiddle, Miz Kitty. Don’t you go a mixin’ my words up. You know’d very well whut I meant.”
Smiling to let him off the hook, she agreed. “All right. I’ll just say, ‘thank you,’ and leave it at that. At my age, I shouldn’t question any compliment.”
“Yer age?” Festus declared. “Shorely Miz Kitty you kaint be more’n – “ He faltered, at a loss.
“More than?” she prompted, curious and wary all at once. What if he overguessed?
“Twenty-five?” Festus squeaked out wisely.
Kitty couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe the deputy had finally learned the nuances about women’s ages. “Close enough,” she figured. Truth was, he was seventeen years off, and they both knew it – but who was she to correct him?
“You heerd from Matthew lately?” he asked, the relief on his face a clear indication that he was glad to escape from the trap she had set for him.
Allowing him the diversion, she nodded. “He wired me yesterday. The trial was delayed. He and Newly ought to be back in a couple of days.” She hoped.
Her disappointment must have shown because he pushed a smile to his lips and offered cheerfully, “Two days ain’t bad. I’ll be glad ta’ see him, though.” The smile faded a bit as he grew serious. “Not thet I kaint handle these yea-hoos round ‘bouts, of course, but it ain’t easy bein’ on the job all day an’ all night, too, dontcha know.”
Kitty refrained from mentioning that those were the very hours Matt had kept for over 20 years as a marshal. As much as he had the reputation for malingering, Festus really was a good man, and both she and Matt owed him their lives three times over.
The beer foamed nicely on the refill. The deputy nodded his thanks to her and lifted the glass for a second helping.
Kitty glanced past him to see a rough-looking man peering over the tops of the swinging doors, a tattered hat perched a little sideways on his head. “Yes?” she acknowledged.
Taking that as invitation, he stepped into the room, and she saw that the rest of his clothing was only minutely less worn than the hat. “Mornin’, ma’am,” the man greeted, touching his hand to the brim.
“Mornin’,” Festus acknowledged briefly before taking a generous swig of ale.
“Uh, could any of you tell me if the marshal’s around?”
As much as she tried to quell it, Kitty felt the surge of fear in her veins with those words. Most of the time when someone came looking for Matt it didn’t end up pleasantly.
“He ain’t in town rite now.
Done gone up ta’
The man seemed disappointed. “Oh.”
Eyes narrowing, Festus asked, “How come ya’ need ta’ know?”
“Oh, I don’t need ta’ know. Don’t matter none ta’ me if the marshal’s here or not.”
Festus’ frown deepened. “What’s yer name, mister?”
“I don’t remember seein’ ya in Dodge before.”
“Ain’t been here for long.
Just passin’ through ta’
“Why do ya’ need the marshal?”
“Like I said, I don’t. But there’s some feller around lookin’ fer him, and I told him I’d ask.”
Kitty’s heart clenched suddenly, and she caught Hannah’s wide-eyed glance. Even Festus stiffened.
“A feller, ya’ say?” he asked.
“Who is he?”
“Ain’t never seen him before.”
“Whut does he want with the marshal?”
Jenson shrugged. “Don’t know. Business, he said.”
Kitty’s fingers dug into the edge of the bar. Business? Too many men had come into town with “business” for Matt Dillon. She didn’t like the sound of it – never had.
Festus apparently didn’t, either. “Whar is this feller?” he asked, plunking his glass down and frowning.
“Over at the Dodge House. Said he’d get settled, then come lookin’ for the marshal.”
“Did he say whut kinda bidness he had?”
“Whut’d he look like?”
“Sorta young, in his late 30s, I figure, maybe early 40s. Right smart dresser, not fancy mind you, but neat and fairly clean, considerin’ he’d been on the trail. Oh, and he wore his gun like he was used to it, you know? Like he weren’t no stranger to usin’ it.”
“Show me,” Festus ordered, abandoning his beer, and the two left the saloon abruptly.
An icy tingle ran up Kitty’s spine and plunged into her chest from behind. She let her hand drop to her abdomen in a vain attempt to squelch the sudden nausea that roiled there. “Please God,” she prayed. “Please don’t let it happen now. Not now.”
Ever since Coy Brennan had breathed his last in the dust of Front Street, Dodge had remained mercifully quiet, and Kitty allowed herself a glimmer of hope that Matt’s reputation – and maybe the encroachment of civilization into the West – had finally proven convincing enough to persuade the remaining gunslingers to give the town – and its marshal – a wide berth. She should have known it was too much to expect.
For once, she found herself wishing that Matt wouldn’t come back soon – that he’d stay away until this latest challenger got tired of waiting and moved on. But the very fact that the man was there practically guaranteed Matt’s expedient return. It was her lot in life to be forever at the mercy of irony.
“Papa – Papa – Papa – “
Her son’s innocent chanting drew Kitty back from a brief wallow in self-pity with a silent scold at herself for allowing the dip. Forcing cheer into her voice, she swung around the bar and over to Hannah, sweeping the child into her arms and kissing him soundly.
“Yes, Sam,” she told him, “Papa is coming back soon. He’ll be so proud of you. Maybe you’ll walk all by yourself for him, hmm?”
The boy smiled at her. “Papa come home?” he asked, patting his mother’s cheek. He had recently taken to putting together simple sentences, and Kitty marveled at the capacity of children to absorb knowledge.
“Yes, sweetheart,” Kitty assured him, exchanging a worried glance with Hannah. “Papa’s coming home real soon.”
Just not too soon, please, Matt, she pleaded silently. Just not too soon.
Newly O’Brien winced when he accidentally cocked his jaw the wrong way. He had told the marshal he was lucky not to be spitting teeth – and that was the absolute truth. Dillon’s blow had been softened by the haze of sleep or else he figured his head would still be reeling.
He didn’t have to imagine too hard what kind of dream had held the marshal in its clutches. He had heard the anguished cry of her name, had seen the perspiration bead on the grimacing face, had definitely felt the power of the thrashing arms.
Even though he would never let the marshal know it, this wasn’t the only time he’d seen Dillon struggle with nightmares. Over the years, Newly had awakened more than once on the trail to the big man’s mutterings and groans, his subconscious re-living some of the horrors he had experienced – or creating new horrors. It came with the territory, the deputy figured, at least for a man whose basic nature was to value life but whose job it sometimes was to take life.
More recently, he had heard Dillon shout out two nights before in Hays City, had almost burst into the marshal’s room, fearing that his mentor was in physical danger and needed assistance. But just as he reared back to kick in the door, he heard the deep voice choke out her name, and realized what was happening. He hadn’t mentioned anything about it, knew that the very private man would have been embarrassed if he thought anyone had been witness to his vulnerability.
no secret anymore, of course, about Matt Dillon and Kitty Russell, not since
they had returned from
He had to
laugh at himself when he though about just how naïve he had been on that first
trip to Dodge. His first glimpse of
Kitty Russell would be emblazoned forever in his memory – an enchantingly regal
creature amid a bevy of common hoodlums and cowboys. Her beauty was ageless, and he couldn’t help
but take interest in her – at least until he realized that his competition
would be a six foot, seven inch, 240-pound
That trip had been detoured to the lair of the border cut-throat Manez. At the time, he had mentioned to Kitty that if they got word to “that marshal in Dodge,” it “might could be” that he’d help. She had smirked a little and agreed that it “might could be.” Newly later realized that there had been no “might could” to it at all – it was a sure thing all along that Matt Dillon would come after them – after her.
From then on, it was easy to catch glimpses of them sitting close, talking low. Even when they were the most discreet, the sparks that snapped between them could not be disguised. He counted it as privilege that for the next few years he was privy to a few rare moments.
with subtle interest at the marshal, noting how he rode Buck with the surety of
years of practice, he thought about that dreadful trip to
As bad as that had been, though, worst of all was Jude Bonner. Newly still shuddered when he thought about that time, still felt the blows the dog soldier and his men had inflicted, still saw the fear on Matt Dillon’s face when he had to tell him that Bonner had taken Kitty, still heard the rage in Dillon’s voice when he slammed an unrepentant Virgil Bonner against the cell bars. He had thought the marshal was going to kill the outlaw right there – figured he would have if the sheriff hadn’t apologetically interrupted so that the law could take care of the scum for them.
And then, when he stepped out onto Doc’s landing, after spending the night in vigil by her bedside –
Newly’s eyes had lit on the bare shirt first, only two tell-tale holes left where a badge had hung for so many faithful years. Alarmed, he searched Dillon’s face, stunned at the silent but determined fury that seethed on those strong features. In that moment, Newly knew the depth of Matt Dillon’s feelings toward Kitty Russell. He had no doubt, later, that the marshal would have killed Jude Bonner – and then been killed himself by Bonner’s men – if Festus and the posse hadn’t ignored Dillon’s instructions and rode on after him.
Somehow, throughout it all, they had survived – even past the last crisis when Kitty had left. But fate – or the good Lord – had intervened and brought her back – with interest. And now Matt Dillon had another chance. A chance to untangle himself from the tight bonds of duty to the law. A chance to live his life on his own. A chance to be happy.
Newly considered what Dillon had talked with him about that morning. Stunned, the deputy had asked for a little time to think things over, to ponder his choices. Now, though, as he looked over at the lawman, he realized there was no choice at all. Not for Matt Dillon and not for Newly O’Brien.
He watched the big buckskin canter along for a moment, the front legs kicking high and sure, as they always did with Matt astride him, as if the confidence of the horse matched that of the rider. “Marshal?”
Dillon turned, face expectant.
“Marshal,” Newly asked tentatively, “are you sure?”
The older man nodded, immediately understanding what Newly was talking about. “I’m sure.”
“I just don’t want you to regret it.”
“If a man lives by regrets, he won’t ever risk anything. What kind of life is that?”
He looked up into those vivid blue eyes, only imagining the untold things they had witnessed through the years. “It’s just that, well, I know you don’t like to hear stuff like this – but you really are a legend.”
Dillon breathed out a small, humorless laugh. “Legends aren’t real people, Newly. As soon as soon a gun takes them down – or the years do it for the gun – another legend will take their place.”
Newly shook his head, unconvinced. “I don’t think anyone will ever take Matt Dillon’s place.”
“Matt Dillon doesn’t really exist,” the big lawman muttered, looking out over the prairie, momentarily lost in some distant thought. After a few seconds, he cleared his throat and turned back to the deputy. “Not the legend, anyway,” he added with a rueful smile. “You just be the best Newly O’Brien you can be. You’re a good man. Be a careful man, too. One step at a time.”
One giant step, Newly observed. Overwhelmed by the confidence this man – this legend, he insisted in his mind – had shown in him, Newly sucked in a breath, nodded, and said, “All right, then.”
The legend rewarded him with a rare, genuine grin. “All right.”
As they continued riding, Newly’s veins surged with alternating excitement and terror. He had always set quite a store by Matt Dillon’s decisions. He sure hoped the marshal was making the right one now.
With Dodge only a day’s ride away, it wouldn’t be long before they’d find out.
Chapter Seventeen: He Watched
Spoilers: “Ten Little Indians;” “Disciple”
Rating: PG-13 (Teen)
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
This particular morning, as he had done many mornings before, he hovered over his coffee, pretending to sip at it while actually watching Kitty Dillon. There were many reasons to watch her – not the least of which being that she was a beautiful woman.
wasn’t quite the slip of a girl who had trudged through the mud and into their
lives that rainy day so many years ago, but she was even better now: a real
woman whose compassion and strength and goodness had impacted the lives of more
than one person in
But he did figure it out, and now, as Doc watched her play with the child that long-awaited union had produced, he offered up a silent prayer of thanks that they had come through crisis after crisis finally to reach this point.
He had made it his practice to watch Kitty ever since that first day, when his eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the exquisite creature in the café. Through the years, though, he had watched her for other reasons, sometimes out of sheer admiration for her skills with a deck of cards, sometimes out of amusement at her witty banter with Chester and later Festus, sometimes out of deep interest in her subtle eye contact with a recalcitrant marshal, sometimes out of fear for her life and concern for her health. And sometimes out of a mutual angst created by their shared love of a man who stubbornly placed himself in danger for them, for Dodge, for anyone he thought he could and should protect.
He had watched her fret, despite her valiant efforts to mask it, while they waited for an overdue Matt to return. He had watched her barely hold it together, hovering behind him, while he dug yet another bullet out of the marshal’s body. He had watched her grieve over the excruciating decision to leave everything behind and do what she thought was best for all of them.
And after she had left, and he couldn’t watch her anymore, he had watched the man torn apart by that decision. He had watched the strong, stoic lawman – survivor of uncounted battles – slowly disintegrate in the absence of the other half of his soul. He had watched the town that had counted on their formidable protector’s steadfastness and reliability for twenty years suddenly find a common bond by making sure they had Dillon’s back – emotionally and physically. And – thank God – he had watched that man set his jaw, gather the steel that ran deep in him, and finally go after what he wanted – what he needed.
When they had stepped off that train – Matt and Kitty, with the incredible addition of their child – Doc knew he wasn’t the only one watching over them. A power much higher than he was had intervened.
thanked God – literally – that he could watch her once more. So he had for the past several months – and
he did now in the
“How ‘bout a beer this time?”
His thoughts dissolved at Hannah’s question. Pulling out his watch to see if he was close enough to noon for propriety, he nodded. “Well, sure. Okay.”
“If ya’ don’t mind me sayin’ so, Doc, ya’ look a mite tuckered.”
“I was up with Maybell Printley all last night. She had a hard time with the baby. Didn’t want to leave her until I was sure things were stable.”
“Is she all right?” Kitty asked with a touch more concern than usual.
“She’s fine. Has a beautiful little girl.”
A chuckle came from the bar. “Girl? Makes five of ‘em now for Hank, don’t it?” noted Hannah.
Doc shook his head. “Yep. He said he was going to call her ‘Henry’ whether she was a boy or girl.”
Kitty’s eyes widened. “Did he?”
“Well, I guess ‘Henrietta’ is close enough,” Doc figured.
“Better than ‘Henry’ anyway,” Kitty observed.
He looked at her closely and frowned at the tight strain around her eyes. “You must have come into town mighty early this morning.”
She cocked an eyebrow, and he saw that his subtle probing hadn’t fooled her. “Hannah was gracious enough to let Sam and me stay with her the last couple of days. We thought Matt was coming back earlier, but – “ Her voice fell off in disappointment.
“What are partners for?” Hannah interjected. “Besides, we hadn’t had a chance ta’ spoil that boy recently with ya’ livin’ outta town.”
“I’m afraid he’s already too spoiled as it is,” Kitty said, but her smile softened the mild accusation. “And we’re not very far out of town. I just thought maybe we could be here when – “ She faltered, but Doc knew what she wanted to say.
Patting her hand lightly, he nodded. “Matt’ll be along soon.”
But a disturbingly dark shadow crossed those fine features. “I hope not, Doc.”
Her voice little more than a whisper, she repeated, “I hope not.”
“Well, whatever for?” he blustered before he saw the true fear on her face.
The familiar jingle of spurs interrupted her answer as Festus clanged down the steps and up to their table. “Mornin’ Miz Kitty,” he greeted, then bent over to let his hand scatter through Sam’s curls. “Hey thar, Mister Dillon,” he added. “Ya’ cotched enny outlaws t’day?”
“Festus!” Kitty scolded, her tone uncharacteristically harsh toward the deputy. They all jumped a little in surprise.
Silent for a moment, Festus managed to gather himself. “Shucks Miz Kitty, I didn’t mean – “
Visibly softening, she sighed. “I know you didn’t. I’m sorry.” She was instantly forgiven.
Doc continued watching her, his concern for both her physical and emotional well-being. As much as she agonized over Matt’s being in constant danger, he figured it would be ten times as hard on Kitty for her son to grow up to be a lawman.
Her hand dropped to her waist, a move he wasn’t sure she even realized she had made. “I guess I’m just worried about – “
“I bin a’ keepin’ my eyeballs on thet feller whut’s waitin’ fer Matthew, now, Miz Kitty,” Festus assured her. “Don’t you go ‘bout frettin’ over that.”
Alarmed, Doc pushed his beer away and turned to face Festus. “What fellow? There’s someone waiting for Matt?”
Festus threw a worried glance toward Kitty before he lowered his voice and explained. “Wael, yestiddy this drifter come in here a lookin’ fer Matthew. Only he wusn’t actual lookin’ fer Matthew, he wuz lookin’ fer him fer some other feller. Leastways he sed he wuz lookin’, only I ain’t shore th’ feller actual sent him. More like he wuz jest curious – “
“Festus, what in tarnation are you talking about?”
“Stranger’s in town looking for the marshal,” Hannah clarified. “Says he has business with him. Nobody seems ta’ know who he is, but he sure looks like he can handle a gun.”
Kitty flinched, and Doc saw Hannah grimace at her own words.
“Well, what’s his name?”
“Don’t nobody know, Doc,” Festus said. “He ain’t sed.”
“Where’s he staying?”
“Dodge House,” Hannah supplied.
“Why don’t you just go over there and look at the register?”
Festus scowled. “Wael, ya’ kaint jest walk in an’ – “ He stopped, eyes wide, then turned on his boot heel. “I’ll be back terrickly,” he announced before stomping out of the saloon.
Shaking his head, Doc turned back to Kitty. “I can see why you’re worried.”
She didn’t bother to deny it, simply nodded.
Touching her wrist as casually as possible, he let his fingers find her pulse. “You feeling okay? You look a little pale.”
“She was sick this mornin’,” Hannah volunteered, ignoring Kitty’s sudden glare. “Got a bit of coffee and toast down her, but that was all.”
“You don’t have to tell everything you know,” Kitty scolded half-heartedly, slipping her hand from his grasp.
“No. It’s just normal, like you said the other day.”
“Does Matt – “
She shook her head. “You just confirmed it the morning he and Newly left. There wasn’t much chance at privacy out there in front of the jail. I wish – I was hoping he’d be back by now.”
He smiled reassuringly and patted her hand again. “He’ll be back soon.”
“Just in time for that gunslinger to – “
His hand closed on hers, holding it tightly. “Now, you don’t go worrying about that. It’s not good for you. Festus already told you he’s keeping an eye out. You saw what happened with Coy Brennan. Nobody in this town is going to let somebody get to Matt. You just count on that.”
She allowed a grateful smile, even though he saw that she didn’t really believe what he said. Of course, he didn’t believe it, either.
“Miss Kitty! Miss Kitty!”
Burke’s yells burst into the
Before they could stand all the way, Burke followed his voice, out of breath and pointing. “They’re back, Miss Kitty. The marshal and Newly. They’re back!”
“Well for Pete’s sake, Burke, do ya’ have to come in here like a wild man just to tell us that?”
“But Doc, you don’t understand. That fella’s still waiting. He’s leaning against the rail over at the Dodge House, just looking. You think he’s going after the marshal?”
to tell him he was crazy, but he couldn’t.
As much as he hated it for Kitty – for all of them – it appeared that
there was a real possibility they were in for yet another showdown on
As soon as the two men came into view, Doc quickly assessed their conditions, just as he had done for Matt since that first time the new Dodge marshal had returned from the trail so many years ago, bloodied and barely hanging in the saddle. Little had he known it was a harbinger of 20 years of such returns. This time, he noted with a sigh of relief, neither one looked injured. In fact, both horses and riders cantered in at an easy pace. As they neared the saloon, the marshal looked up expectantly, a smile spreading his lips when he saw Kitty waiting on the boardwalk. Doc couldn’t help but grin at the big man’s involuntary reaction. They pulled up, both tipping their hats to the ladies.
“Matt,” Doc greeted. “Glad to have ya’ back.”
“Glad to be back,” Matt returned, throwing a leg over Buck and stepping to the ground. Doc watched carefully for a grimace, but either the marshal wasn’t hurting today or he was masking it well.
Newly didn’t dismount. Instead, he took the big buckskin’s reins from Matt. “I’ll get the horses stabled,” he said, swinging around. But he wasn’t quite fast enough.
“Hold on there, Newly,” Doc ordered, frowning and scooting around to the other side of the deputy’s bay.
The younger man tried to turn his head away, but it wasn’t any use. It didn’t take the practiced eye of a physician to see the ugly, swollen bruise that discolored most of his jaw on the left side. The lip was bloody and busted, too. Someone had slugged the young man, but good.
“Well, my goodness son, what happened to you?” he exclaimed, as those watching craned around to get a look.
“Uh, Doc – “ Matt began, and
But before Dillon could finish, Newly said quickly, “It’s nothin’ big, Doc. Comes with the territory.” He caught Dillon’s eye and both men exchanged some sort of message, intriguing Doc even more. “Right, Marshal?”
After a long beat, Matt pressed his lips together and nodded. “Right.”
With a click of his teeth Newly tugged on the horse. “Come on, Buck.”
“Matt, what on earth happened to New – “ He started to ask, then stopped at the rare, but delightful, sight of the reserved and very private man greeting his wife with a tender kiss, right there on the boardwalk in front of everybody.
When Kitty pulled away, slightly breathless, Doc heard Matt whisper, voice urgent, “I missed you, Red. I missed you a lot.”
“I missed you, too, Cowboy,” she returned, her smile rather bemused. “You must be tired. I’ll have Floyd bring some hot water up to the room.”
“Sam and I have stayed with Hannah for a couple of nights.”
Regret crept across the marshal’s face. “I’m sorry we were late, Kitty.”
But she brushed at the dust across his shoulders and smiled. “Nothing you could help. How about that bath?”
Her ploy worked, erasing the regret and drawing a flush of color to his cheeks. He lowered his voice even further, and Doc had to strain to hear him ask, “Join me?”
Now it was Kitty’s turn to blush. Her only answer was a sultry look from under hooded eyes. Doc thought – certainly not for the first time – that Matt Dillon was one lucky man.
“Papa! Papa!” The delighted cry delayed any reunion, as Hannah emerged from the saloon, Samuel Dillon wiggling furiously in her arms, reaching out toward his tall father.
Grinning, Matt took a step toward them, his own long arms held out to take his son. “Sam! Boy, you’ve grown half a foot since I left.”
The child lunged for him, unconcerned about being practically air-born. The marshal caught him with both hands and lifted him high into the air, a spectacle that drew the attention of several Dodge citizens as they passed, fond smiles gracing their faces. Doc reminded himself that this town had suffered right along with their marshal those dreadful months after Kitty left. It was only fair they should be able to rejoice with him, too.
“Papa come home!” the child announced, patting his father’s chest happily as Matt pulled him close.
It seemed to Doc that a bit of regret crept into Matt’s eyes, but he smiled anyway and assured his son, “Papa’s come home.” Twisting to look down at Kitty, he suggested, “Why don’t we go inside and – “
“Matthew!” Festus called from across the street. “Ain’t you a site fer sore eyeballs!”
“Festus,” Matt greeted, grunting slightly as Sam squirmed in his firm grasp.
“It is shorely good ta’ hev’ ya’ back. ‘Course it’s been quiet. These rascals ‘round chere knowd not ta’ mess wi’ Festus Haggen.”
“I have no doubt,” Matt assured him.
“Thang is, though, thar is somethin’ mebbee ya’ need ta’ know about.”
Instantly, Matt’s manner grew more serious, and he shifted Sam in his arms, leaning closer to Festus. “What’s that?”
Taking a breath and shooting a quick, apologetic look toward Kitty, the deputy said, “Stranger’s in town, lookin’ fer ya’. Sez he has bidness with ya’.”
“You know his name?”
marshal’s eyes narrowed. “
“I bin keepin’ a eye on him, and I hev ta’ say, he looks like a feller pretty handy with a gun.”
“You say he’s been looking for me? Did you talk with him?”
“Wael, no. Some drifter come in yesstidy a’talkin’ ‘bout him.”
“Scrungy feller name of Link – “
halted instantly at the call from across
“Matt – “
He repeated his order, voice still level, but clearly accepting no argument. “Get back inside.”
Doc watched the dread cross her face, knew the same feeling himself. Lane continued to advance, arms to his side, stride cautious.
It never got any easier, watching the showdowns, waiting to see if he would be digging another bullet out of Matt, praying that if he did, the marshal would still be alive to make it necessary.
The marshal shifted carefully to look back, his hand close enough to his holster to draw, but falling short of the motion. Once again, the eyes of Dodge rested on him.
Along the boardwalk, the men of Dodge gathered, their eyes glancing around, sending messages silently among them. Doc felt a thrill of both excitement and fear to realize that those with guns had now brushed their hands over the handles and were ready to draw. They had Matt’s back – in spades.
But Doc wasn’t the only one who saw. The marshal stepped down from the boardwalk so that he was away from any spectators. With only a quick glance at the men, he shook his head, a curt move that sent his orders: no interference. Doc knew he would never put anyone in danger if he didn’t have to – except himself.
The physician ached to run out and stop the tragedy – because it would be one for sure. Someone was about to die. He prayed as hard as he ever had that it wouldn’t be Matt Dillon. Lane continued to walk steadily toward the marshal, his eyes never leaving the big lawman. Matt squared, a move they had all seen many, many times.
“You looking for me?” Dillon called out.
Suddenly, Lane stopped, his step unsure. Time slowed. Doc imagined he could hear the seconds tick past, matching the beat of his heart. No one moved. No one breathed.
Then, Lane yelled, “Marshal!” as his hand flew to his gun.
A shot split the air before Doc’s eyes stopped blurring from the action, its dreadful echo reverberating off the store fronts for another couple of seconds. Another blast followed, this one louder and heavier. Ignoring her husband’s earlier instructions, Kitty burst through the saloon doors, empty-armed, hand at her throat.
“Matt!” she groaned, rushing toward the street. Doc threw his arms out to stop her and hung onto her ask they both looked, hoping – praying – that they would see the tall form still standing.
Eyes burning, he squinted, first scanning the ground where Matt had been, then swallowing in relief as his gaze had to move upward. The marshal was still standing, tall and steady, but strangely enough he wasn’t shooting. Instead, he held his gun up, almost over his head, the iron spinning fast around his finger for a few seconds before the pistol butt slapped back firmly against his palm. It was an impressive display that Doc had seen him do only once before, but the physician knew it wasn’t to show off any firearm prowess. The marshal had done it to keep himself from firing.
Frowning in confusion, Doc looked over to where Lane had been, expecting to see the outlaw sprawled out dead in the dust. But the man still stood, as well, his own gun drawn in readiness. No puff of smoke drifted from it, though, and Doc found himself even more perplexed.
“Doc, look!” Kitty pointed to their right toward Moss Grimmick’s stables.
He blinked at the sight of Newly O’Brien gazing casually back at them, the Greener in his hands still smoking slightly. Across the street, a crumpled figure lay half-on/half-off the boardwalk. Drawing enough calm into his bones to move, Doc exchanged glances with a frowning marshal, then brushed past Kitty and shuffled toward the younger deputy.
Blood had pooled beneath the dead man, the hole that killed him blown dead center in his chest, his eyes staring vacantly into the sky. Doc realized the only man who could help him now was Percy Crump. Looking up, he caught Newly’s eyes, pained, but steady.
“You okay?” Doc asked.
Newly nodded, an unexpected air of confidence gracing the motion.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to gather. Matt pushed through the throng to stand over the body, his own gaze locking with his deputy’s, a look of gratitude and approval passing from blue eyes to brown.
Newly drew a breath and explained. “This fellow tried to shoot you, Marshal. He was hiding at the corner of the stables over here, waiting until you stepped out into the street.”
Gazing again on the sprawled body, Doc sniffed. That scruffy looking fellow had tried to kill Matt? He didn’t look capable of such a thing. Of course, Doc reflected, few dead men looked capable of much.
Festus peered down at the dead man, eyes un-squinting for once. “Why thet thar’s Link Jenson, thet feller whut told us ‘bout the man lookin’ for ya’, Matthew.”
The other gunman just hooked his thumbs in his belt and cocked his head to get a look at the man on the ground. “His name ain’t Link Jenson,” he observed.
Matt looked down himself then grunted. “No, it’s not,” he agreed, straightening. “That’s Butcher Cole.”
A ripple ran through the crowd. The name of Butcher Cole evoked visions of plunder and rape and murder from almost twenty years back. Doc remembered the terror that had swept through the county – even the whole state – as that outlaw and his band of marauders ripped viciously across the territory. As the physician recalled, a young marshal, the badge still shiny on his chest, had tracked down the killers and brought them all to justice – and acquired himself two serious bullet wounds for his trouble. Butcher Cole had been dragged out of Dodge screaming his intentions to finish off that young marshal if it took twenty years.
No one was
quite sure why he was never hanged for his crimes, but, as far as they all
knew, he had spent the past twenty years in federal prison in
Dillon rubbed absently at his chest against the memories of long-healed injuries. After a beat, he lifted his brow toward Newly. “I owe you, marshal,” he said.
Another ripple ran through the crowd at the unexpected title.
Newly shrugged. “Comes with the territory, Marshal.”
“What in tarnation – “ Doc began.
toward Lane, and to everyone’s surprise, thrust out a hand to the man it
appeared he had been ready to draw on. “
“Now, I’d be a right ignorant deputy if I didn’t know Matt Dillon.” The man smiled and took the hand. “Seems you already know who I am.”
“I’m assuming the Attorney General sent you,” Matt said.
Doc’s head was spinning almost a quickly as Matt’s gun had a minute ago. “Matt, what’s going on?”
“You assume right,” Lane said. “I was supposed to be your temporary replacement.” He looked over toward Newly. “But I see maybe you already have one.”
Matt looked back at Newly and nodded. “Did he send anything with you?”
“Oh.” Lane shoved a hand into his vest pocket and pulled out a bulky envelope. “Said just let him know when you were ready.”
“Thanks.” Matt took the envelope.
Still baffled, Doc repeated, a little more urgently, “What’s going on?”
Before the marshal could respond, though, the crowd parted, and Kitty came through, her eyes wide. She stopped just in front of Matt and placed a hand on his arm, as if she had to touch him to make sure he really was all right. “I’d like to know, too. What does he mean by ‘replacement’?”
The marshal grimaced a bit and blew out a breath. “Well – “
But before he could finish, she cried, “Matt, you’re hurt!”
Instantly, Doc squinted at the big man, alarmed to see a spreading stain of red on the sleeve of his upper right arm. He cursed at himself for not noticing it earlier.
“I’m okay, Kitty.”
She frowned, unconvinced. “Doc?” she called, lifting the arm so the physician could take a look. Even though he had insisted he was okay, Matt couldn’t suppress a hiss of pain.
“He got off a shot before I realized what he was doing,” Newly said ruefully.
winged me, Doc,” Matt insisted, tugging his arm away from
“Winged you, huh?” the doctor echoed doubtfully, his practiced eye taking in the generous amount of blood that soaked the torn sleeve. “You let me be the judge of that.”
“Marshal,” Burke asked loudly, “what’s this about a replacement?”
Several others in the crowd echoed Burke’s question, but Doc saw the slight paleness that had crept into the marshal’s cheeks and knew he was hurt more than he let on.
“Arrite!” Festus stomped about, scattering the crowd. “Ever-boddy git on back ta’ whut you wuz doin’. Nothin’ ta’ see here.”
Of course, there was plenty to see, but for the seasoned citizens it wasn’t anything particularly unusual, so they acquiesced, still glancing back occasionally as they moved on about their business.
“Replacement?” Kitty repeated, as Doc fussed over her husband’s arm. He heard the word continuing to be echoed down the boardwalk as the citizens dispersed.
Dillon smiled down at her, his stance suddenly a little unsteady.
“All right,” Doc ordered, “You can talk all you want to after I’ve gotten a look at that arm.” He snorted in irritation. “’Winged,’ my foot.”
The marshal perched on Doc’s exam table, shirt and vest draped over a nearby chair so the physician could get to the wound that was high on his arm – almost at his shoulder, pleased that it had not come close to the scar that was an eternal reminder of the injury that almost took his forearm. This one wasn’t nearly as bad, even though it would have put most men in bed for a week. Doc figured Dillon would favor it the rest of the day, then discard the sling he would only pretend to use even for that long.
“See, Doc?” the big lawman insisted, “I told you I was just winged.” Once he was seated, Dillon had regained his color and now protested the doctor’s ministrations.
“It’s not too bad, though, is it?” Kitty asked, her face paler than it had been a few minutes before.
Doc frowned, noting her pallor. “Well,” he conceded, “I wouldn’t say he was ‘just winged,’ but it could have been worse.”
“See?” the marshal said.
The door to the office opened, and Hannah entered, a squirming Dillon baby in her arms. “He’s gonna bust if he don’t get to see is papa,” she declared.
Matt grinned and slipped off the table while Doc was still trying to secure the bandage.
Ignoring any pain from the wound, the big man extended his arms to take his son, but the boy shook his head and pushed against Hannah. “No, Papa,” he insisted. “I walk.”
Lowering the child to the ground, the older woman let him wrap his fingers around her thumb to gain his balance, then gently withdrew her support. His legs, chubby but still long, planted firmly on the floor before he took one, toddling step. Surprised when he didn’t end up on his rear, he chanced another, then another until he had wobbled over within easy reach of his father’s outstretched arms. With a triumphant grin, he allowed the big, strong man to swing him up high again, the deep laugh rumbling in his chest.
“By golly!” Matt exclaimed, bracing the child in his left arm. “Look at that. Kitty, did you see that?”
“I saw,” she said, laughing.
“When did he learn that?” he asked, his expression a little sad that he had missed yet another significant event in his child’s life.
But Hannah’s words lifted the sadness. “Just now,” she told him. “Been tryin’ for a while now. Guess he needed some incentive – like seein’ is daddy again.”
tightened, and Doc realized the marshal was clamping down on a swell of
emotion. Swiping at his own eyes,
“Well, now,” Hannah declared, her own expression decidedly sentimental. “This calls for a celebration. I’m buyin’!”
“Sounds fine,” Doc agreed.
But Kitty waved off the invitation, a move that drew everyone’s immediate attention to her. “Count me out,” she said, voice too weak.
“Kitty?” Doc asked, but suddenly she was sliding down the wall, the blood draining from her already ashen face.
out to her, but Matt had shifted Sam back to Hannah and lunged to catch his
As fast as
he could lower his aging body,
She opened her eyes, raising a shaking hand to her forehead. “Sorry,” she mumbled. “Guess I got – a little dizzy.”
Matt asked, then lifted troubled eyes to meet
If he hadn’t been a little worried about Kitty, Doc would have smiled at the look of something akin to panic on the normally controlled marshal’s face. It was endearing to see the concern he had for her – always had been.
“She’s okay, Matt,” he assured the worried husband. “It happens sometimes in her – well, it happens.”
“In her – what, Doc?” the marshal snapped, pouncing on the unfinished sentence. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, nothing’s wrong, really,” the doctor began.
“She almost fainted here,” Matt declared impatiently. “What do you mean nothing’s wrong?”
“Well – “
Sighing, Kitty placed a hand on her husband’s arm. “I’m fine, Matt. It’s just that – “ She glanced at Hannah and Doc, who didn’t give an indication of budging.
“Kitty?” Matt urged, voice hoarse and anxious.
She smiled at him. “Well, Cowboy, it’s just that – I’m pregnant.” She paused, then added, “Surprise.”
As Doc had told him before, there were times that Matt Dillon could put on the best poker face of anyone he knew. But this wasn’t one of those times. On the contrary, the shock was plastered plain to see all over his rugged features. His jaw dropped, his bright blue eyes opened wide, and he stared at his wife until she couldn’t help but laugh.
“You okay, Matt?” she asked finally when he still hadn’t spoken in almost half a minute.
“I – what?”
“She’s pregnant, Marshal,” Doc provided, chuckling a little himself. “That means – “
“I know what it means. I just – how – when – “
“Doc!” Kitty scolded.
Dillon glared at the doctor, lowering his voice so that his conversation became exclusive between his wife and him. Doc took the hint and backed away, although he couldn’t help overhearing them anyway.
Taking her hand in his, he murmured, “Kitty, I didn’t expect – I mean, you always, well – we were – at least I thought we were – I mean we were careful – “
The redhead smiled slyly, a mischievous tone touching her voice. “Picnic. Silver Creek.”
A furious blush swept across Matt’s rugged cheeks. “Ah.”
When Doc stepped toward them again, he didn’t bother wiping the grin from his mouth. The marshal quickly overcame any embarrassment, though, and stood to his full, considerable height.
Still holding Kitty’s hand, he let his intense gaze bore down on the doctor’s. “Doc, is this – I mean is it safe?”
“I mean – “ Dillon threw a wary glance toward his wife, then decided to risk the wrath his comments were sure to invoke. “I mean, Kitty’s forty-two – “
“Doc knows how old I am,” she interrupted, glaring at her husband.
He ignored her and pushed, “Is it safe? Is Kitty going to be all right?”
“Thanks,” Kitty said flatly.
“ – but she didn’t have any trouble with Sam, and this is not her first pregnancy, so I don’t see why we should anticipate any problems.”
Relief washed over those strong features, and Doc sniffed back a sudden swell of emotion as the big lawman sank to his knees, gathered Kitty into his arms and held her tightly, his lips finding hers in a loving, gentle kiss. The physician indulged himself for a moment with the tender scene, then cleared his throat and looked away. He noticed Hannah had no qualms about observing them, though. The saloon owner was grinning widely as she watched the couple.
“Hey!” Doc protested, finding his voice and cringing as he envisioned the marshal’s leg or back or shoulder or still-bleeding arm – or any untold number of old injuries – giving way and pitching both of them to the floor. But Dillon didn’t even grunt as he carried her past the doctor and into the bedroom, easing the door closed behind them.
Wide-eyed, Hannah nodded in their direction. “They’re not gonna – why, they’re not gonna – not in broad daylight – “
Doc shrugged. He didn’t think so, but Matt had done some uncharacteristic things the past year or so. He found himself both relieved and a little disappointed when, after a couple of minutes, the marshal appeared at the door, Kitty visible behind him, tucked into Doc’s bed.
“What?” Matt asked at the look on both Doc’s and Hannah’s faces.
“Oh, nothing,” Doc assured him, chagrined at even having considered the thought.
quickly toward Hannah, who finally took a hint and turned slightly, offering
Sam a set of keys to play with, the marshal tugged
“Galen,” he began, voice cracking.
“She is gonna be all right, isn’t she?” Dillon asked, with such heart-breaking earnestness that Doc had to swallow before he responded.
Of course, even though Kitty was strong and healthy, no doctor could guarantee something only God had complete control over. His hesitation wrenched a hard breath from the big man.
“Isn’t she?” he pushed, then looked at Doc, his eyes raw and honest. “She has to be,” he ground out softly between clenched teeth. “You know that, Doc, don’t you?”
Looking up into the anguished face of the man who was the closest thing he had to a son, Adams saw twenty years of regret and six months of despair and almost a year of redemption all hinging on his words, all waiting for him to proclaim them to be counted as gain or loss. Regardless of what his physician’s training told him, he knew what he had to say.
Smiling, he placed a hand on the broad shoulder. “She’s going to be fine, Matt. I promise.” He issued up a prayer that his prophesy would be true. “I promise.”
Doc watched the anxious man fight to hang onto the gush of relief that threatened to embarrass him. After a few seconds, their gazes met, the marshal’s rich with both gratitude and demand. He had no doubt Matt Dillon was going to hold him to that promise.
Clearing his throat roughly, Dillon stood straight and turned so that Hannah wasn’t blocked from the conversation anymore. “She wants to go home. Is it – would that be all right for her?”
Gently, Doc said, “I think so. Take it easy, though.”
Matt nodded, taking two long strides toward the door.
But Doc had to do one selfish thing before he let them go. “Just a minute, Matt. You haven’t explained what Lane was talking about out there in the street. Replacement?” Narrowing his eyes, he asked pointedly, “What have you gone and done?”
Dillon let his hand drop from the knob, cocked his jaw, then said quietly, “Something I should have done ten years ago, Doc.”
A grin breaking the tension on his face, Matt took the child and held him close. Voice husky, he repeated, “Something I should have done ten years ago.”
“Are you resigning, Matt?” he asked flatly, not completely sure what answer he wanted the marshal to give him.
Dillon paused, a curious smile crossing his lips. After a moment, he said, enigmatically, “Yes and no.”
“It’s – kinda complicated.” He sighed and looked at his son, who jingled Hannah’s keys happily. Gently extracting them from the child’s grip, he handed them back to the saloon owner. “And I’d like to tell Kitty first. You understand.”
Doc did, indeed, understand that. Matt had learned from experience that Kitty didn’t like being the last one to find out about significant revelations. “Well, okay. I’ll come out later and check on her.” And you, too, he told himself silently.
“Thank. I’ll get the wagon from Moss.” He turned back for a moment, teeth tugging
slightly at his lower lip. “Uh, can you
watch her for a while, Doc?”
Could he watch her for a while? Compared to twenty years, a while was a piece of cake.
He smiled. “I sure can, Matt,” he said. “I sure can.”
Because whether Matt asked or not, Doc Adams knew he would be watching her – watching them – for as long as the Good Lord gave him that ability.
Chapter Eighteen: Home is Where the Heart is
Spoilers: “The Badge;” “The Bullet”
Rating: PG-13+ (Teen+)
Disclaimer: The original GS characters aren’t mine, of course, but I created Sam. (Well, Matt and Kitty created him in my story.)
Kitty Dillon swung her legs over the side of Doc’s bed, pleased that her head had decided to cooperate and stop swimming. In fact, she felt just fine, thank you, a fact that she figured would mean absolutely nothing the instant the physician saw her standing. Nevertheless, she was fine, and as soon as they returned, she would take her husband and child and go home. She and Matt apparently had some things to talk about.
He hadn’t said a word to her about resigning, at least not since she had insisted he retract his letter to the Attorney General months ago. He had merely gone about doing his job as usual, although she did notice that Festus and Newly seemed to pull more out-of-town duties than before. Of course, that suited her just fine, even though she was the one who had pushed him not to resign, wanting him to be happy – in a way trying to make up for the agony she had put him through after she left. As usual, the thought of those terrible months without him twisted her heart. All the what-ifs haunted her. What if she had waited for him to come back, like Doc asked? What if she had told Hannah flat out where she would be? What if she had told Matt about the baby? What if –
head, she shoved those painful, frustrating, and fruitless ponderings
away. Didn’t do any
good now. As Matt had told her,
that was water under the bridge. They
were finally sailing together in the same vessel toward the same destination,
or at least they had been until
Regardless, she regretted his not being there when Sam was born. With a private smile, she let her hand rest on her stomach, feeling the subtle swell there. This time it would be different. This time he would see his child come into the world. She would make that up to him, at least.
Having suppressed the troubling memories, she drew in a deep breath, nodding in satisfaction when her legs held her steady. Maybe she could sneak down the stairs before Doc –
“Here, now!” The startling, but not unexpected, scolding stopped her at the threshold between the bedroom and office.
“I’m perfectly fine,” she proclaimed to the physician who stood scowling before her.
“What do you know about the Can-Can?”
Momentarily distracted, as she had hoped, he bristled. “I’m a man of the world, I’ll have you know. I’ve been to – “ The gray eyes narrowed as he caught on and he continued in a wheedling tone. “Now, Kitty, you just go on back and lie down. Matt’ll be here in a minute and you can get up then.”
“I promise you, I really do feel all right now. Not dizzy. Not queasy. I promise.”
He frowned, and she read the doubt on his face. After a beat or two, his shoulders rolled in a resigned shrug. “Suit yourself,” he growled. “Nobody listens to their doctor, anyway, especially that hard headed bullet magnet you married, by the way. He didn’t just get ‘winged,’ you know. He lost a lot of blood, should be in bed himself. But I suppose all those years of medical training I took were wasted since everybody around here diagnoses themselves anyway.”
Kitty ignored the ubiquitous fussing and placed a pacifying hand on his arm. “Want to check me out?”
“Miss Russell,” he confided with a smirk, “I checked you out that first day you waded into the café, and I’ve been checking you out ever since.”
“Is that so?”
“Trouble is, that big cowboy you’re waitin’ on was checkin’ you out, too. If I’d just been twenty years younger – “
“Or if I’d just been twenty years older,” she offered generously.
He smiled wistfully, and she was surprised to see that he really seemed to be considering that “what if.” Then he cleared his throat and looked down, flushing a bit.
“Well, somebody needed to keep that overgrown galoot straight.” He ran a hand over his mustache and shook his head. “Too late now, anyway. Guess you’d better stay with him – for the boy’s sake.” His voice fell, hardening into seriousness. “He’d be lost without you. You know he would, don’t you, Kitty?” He left the rest unsaid: “You know he was.”
She let her tone match his. “Not any more than I would be lost without him, Doc. You know that, too, don’t you?”
“Almost,” she emphasized, the ache brushing over her heart again. “Almost. But that’s past us, now.”
“So it is.” He let the heavy moment linger a bit, then smiled up at her. “I’m not sure I’ve said this to you since – well, it’s awful good to have you home, Kitty.”
Tears sprang to her eyes at the depth of emotion in his rough voice. She kissed him softly on the cheek, and returned, with equal sincerity, “It’s awful good to be home.”
He sighed; then she saw him push a smile to his face. “You know,” he said, his tone lighter, “that big oaf was so excited earlier that he headed out the door without his shirt on.”
Her eyes widened at the vision – a very nice one, but one she preferred to keep private. There were already too many appreciative female eyes following him down the boardwalks as it was. “He didn’t!”
Laughter erupted from Kitty’s throat at the image. She would have sacrificed a bottle of her best whiskey to have seen that. “Oh, Doc,” she gasped. “Poor Matt!”
And lucky Mrs. Pry, she thought. The old biddie didn’t deserve such a treat.
door opened and Kitty half-expected to see the biddie
herself come storming in, cackling about civil servants and indecent
exposure. She was mildly disappointed
me,” he said, eyes taking in both Doc and Kitty in a quick sweep, a habit she
had observed from Matt many times. It
came with the job. “I was looking for
Marshal Dillon. Miss – “ He faltered a bit and frowned. “Uh, the lady that runs the
A pang of
regret touched Kitty. For so long she
had been the “lady that runs the
back in a minute,” Doc said. “You can
wait, if you’d like,
The younger man’s brow rose, as if he were surprised to learn Doc knew who he was. “Thanks. I’m sorry I don’t know your – “
Despite her attempt not to, Kitty flinched a little at the unpleasant reminder.
toward her and tugged at the brim of his hat.
You must be Marshal Dillon’s wife.
I heard he got married a while back.
It was kinda big news. Friend of mine up in
She arched a brow, and he blushed suddenly, as if he realized he might have been improper. “Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am, if I – “
But Kitty saw the amusement in that loaded observation and just smiled. “I guess I did,” she agreed, still a little surprised about that herself.
Emboldened by her kindness, he added, “If I may say so, ma’am, he’s a fortunate man, the Marshal is.”
“I wouldn’t dream of disputing you.”
“Now, Kitty,” Doc said, taking her arm, “why don’t you at least sit until Matt gets back? “
Gently, she turned to the hovering physician. “Would it make you feel better?”
In concession, she eased herself into his office chair, refusing to give him the satisfaction of hearing her relieved sigh.
“Did I hear you tell Matt you were sent here as a replacement?” Doc asked the deputy, his attempt casual, but not enough to smooth the sharpness of the underlying interest.
Lane answered, suddenly tugging his hat from his head, as if just now
remembering his manners. “I was over in
“Just temporary, though, I think you said.”
right. I was just going to be here until
they assigned someone permanently. From
the looks of things, though, the Marshal already decided on that fella that took out Butcher Cole. I’ll head back toward
Kitty’s thoughts spun with confusion, curiosity, hope – and irritation. It seemed Matt had made a decision – perhaps the most important decision of his life – without asking her. Well, without telling her, anyway. She didn’t necessarily expect him to seek her permission, but she would have appreciated a little notice before the whole town found out. The edge of anger knifed through her, and she took a breath to suppress it.
“I hafta say I never expected to meet Matt Dillon,” Lane continued. “He’s – well, I guess it sounds kinda corny to say, but he really is a legend.”
“Oh, no,” Doc assured him, gray eyes lit with mischief, “not corny at all. In fact, why don’t you tell him that yourself? I know he’d love to hear it.”
Lane raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Oh, sure. Get a big kick out of it.”
Kitty threw the older man a scowl, half-serious, half-amused. He knew very well Matt despised the term “legend” when it was applied to him. It embarrassed him.
Heavy footfalls on the steps drew their attention.
“The legend approaches,” Doc noted with more than a touch of drama. Kitty couldn’t help but smirk at the devilish anticipation on his face.
Then, they heard the giggles of Sam Dillon drift delightfully up to them. Kitty’s anger vanished completely, replaced by a smile that was instant and uncontrollable.
Instead of Matt’s deep tones, though, the voice they heard carried a distinctive nasal twang. “Doc!”
Festus appeared in the doorway, his mouth curved in a familiar grin. Behind him, Matt ducked low to keep the child on his shoulders from hitting the frame. He was hatless, his son’s hands clutching generous locks of gray-brown curls like make-shift reins within the chubby fingers.
“Kitty!” he declared, his expressive face both pleased and startled. “Should you be out of bed?’
“She’s fine, Matt,” Doc assured him, and Kitty threw the physician a look. As she figured, he’d only been mother-henning her earlier – mostly, anyway. “Just irritating. Why don’t you three stop botherin’ me and head home?” But the warm twinkle in his eye belied his rough words. “I’ll be around for lunch tomorrow, if anybody’s cookin’.”
“You just come on by, Curly,” Kitty said, spirits lifted by the return of her two men and the thought of going home with them. “I’ll make some of that steak stew you like.”
“By golly, I will.”
Lane greeted, his voice firm, but softened in respect. “I was just telling Mrs. Dillon and Doctor
Adams here that since you seem to have found a temporary man I’ll head on back
Lane’s comment wiped the easy smile from Matt’s lips. He darted an uneasy glance toward Kitty. “Oh. Uh, sure.”
“I’ll send a telegram to let them know about the change in plans. Be glad to get home, anyway. I miss the mountains.” He grinned. “Guess we’re comfortable with whatever’s home, huh?” Turning to Kitty, he asked, “Is your home originally Dodge, Mrs. Dillon?”
she said. “I’m from
“Guess that’s true enough,” Lane agreed.
“Besides,” she smiled, catching her husband’s gaze and holding it, “my mother used to say ‘home is where the heart is’.” It was one of the few memories she had of the woman who had died so young.
Something flickered behind Matt’s clear blue eyes, something that resembled an intriguing mixture of joy and regret. She longed to be alone with him, to ask him what he was thinking, what he knew that she didn’t. But Lane’s next words snapped her attention back to him.
“That’s a good way of thinkin’, ma’am,” the deputy said. “Maybe you won’t miss the prairie too much, then.”
Miss the prairie? “What do you – “
“I guess I should explain,” Matt offered, wincing as he swung Sam down to the floor where the child immediately resumed his experiments with the newly-acquired skill of walking.
“I guess,” Doc agreed with a nod, eyes suddenly sharp and narrowed.
With a chagrined flush, Lane shifted nervously. “I’m sorry, Marshal. I thought that – ” He glanced at Kitty. “I sure didn’t mean to – “
“It’s all right,” Matt assured him. All right? Kitty reckoned he was a bit premature in that assessment.
The broad shoulders lifted in a deep breath, then fell. “I guess you’ve already figured out that I’ve recommended Newly as the new marshal of this territory,” he told them.
She nodded. “Newly’s a good man,” she said, almost smiling at the flash of relief on the handsome face. Almost. He still had a lot of talking to do.
“He shore nuff is,” Festus agreed, teeth showing through his scraggly beard. Kitty had almost forgotten the other deputy was there. She was glad he seemed to accept the situation without resentment – not that she’d ever figure Festus to begrudge his friends anyway.
“Hold on,” Doc interrupted impatiently. “When I asked you if you had resigned, you said ‘yes and no.’ If Newly’s replacing you, that sounds like a ‘yes’ to me.”
“I did send in my resignation,” Matt confirmed.
“But?” Kitty asked, knowing there must be more to it.
“But,” Lane interjected, a touch of awe in his voice, “the attorney general wouldn’t accept it.”
Doc frowned and sputtered, “He can’t do that, can he? You have the years.”
“It’s not exactly that he didn’t accept it,” Matt told them. “It’s more like he – “ She saw the hesitation in his eyes as he looked up. Flicking his thumb toward the door he said, “Doc, uh, don’t you figure maybe Deputy Lane might be interested in a drink?”
physician frowned. “What?” But comprehension dawned quickly enough, and
he stepped forward, tugging at Lane’s sleeve as he passed. “Come on, son. I’ll buy you a beer at the
“Oh, sure,” Lane agreed, shoving his hat back on.
The two started toward the door, but stopped when they heard the pointed cough. Kitty hid a smile at Festus’ naked hint.
Without the time to allow the development of their usual banter, Doc just shook his head. “Well, what are you waitin’ for? I’ll buy you one, too.”
“Well, now, thet’s rite good of ya’, Doc. ‘Sides, I figger ol’ Matthew mite need hisseff some privit-like time with Miz Kitty – “
you just hush?”
The door closed behind them, leaving her staring up at her husband, unsure about what awaited them, and still angry – and a little hurt – with him for not telling her. She glanced around to see that Sam had plopped himself down in the midst of a set of blocks Doc kept handy for just such visits. The little boy would probably keep busy another few minutes, anyway. Long enough, perhaps, to find out what on earth was going on.
“Kitty, I’m sorry I didn’t – “
She held up a hand to stop him. “You had your reasons, I know, Matt. And I’m sure they were good. It’s just a little hard to find out your husband is doing something as – as monumental as giving up a job that was so important for twenty years he couldn’t – ” She stopped, regretting the words as soon as she saw the guilt cloud his blue eyes again.
Damn it. She had promised herself she wouldn’t bring that up. It didn’t matter anymore. “I didn’t mean – “
A large, but gentle hand closed around her arm. “Kitty, I’m sorry. I was going to tell you as soon as Newly and I got back, but then Lane was there – and Butcher Cole. I just didn’t have the chance.”
All true, she had to acknowledge. Softening, she nodded, gripping his hard biceps automatically, not remembering about the bullet wound until his quick, involuntary hiss reminded her, and she jerked her hand away. “Oh, Matt, I’m sorry.”
He shook his head and smiled, but the expression remained strained. “It’s okay.”
“Really, Matt,” she urged, “I’m sorry about – about the other, too. I didn’t mean to – well, I know you would have told me if you could.”
“I have resigned, Kitty, but – there’s something else. Something we need to talk about.”
Something else. Something besides resigning? Wasn’t that enough? Her mind raced back to Lane’s comment. “Maybe you won’t miss the prairie too much, then.”
And suddenly, she realized.
“Kitty?” he asked abruptly, his hands going to her shoulders. “Are you feeling okay? You’re not going to faint again, are you?”
She knew her face must have reflected the shock of comprehension. “I’m fine,” she assured him softly.
He frowned doubtfully and gestured to Doc’s chair. “Why don’t you sit down?”
“I don’t need to,” she insisted, anxious for him to continue.
But a closer look showed her that, even though she didn’t need to sit down, Matt apparently did. A thin line of sweat beaded on his forehead, his cheeks were pale under the deeply-burned tan.
“On second thought,” she decided, “maybe I do.” She took his hand, alarmed that it was slightly clammy. “Let’s sit on the bed.”
“Bed?” His brow rose and he leered at her, a move that helped dispel the nudge of worry. If he could flirt with her, he was okay. Just tired, and – of course – he had been shot.
“Just to talk, Mister,” she teased back easily.
He pressed his lips together in mock disappointment.
“Look, Marshal Dillon, I’ve forgiven you for not telling me before about resigning. Don’t push it.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he agreed meekly – or as meekly as Matt Dillon could sound, anyway. “Not pushing it.”
them as they passed his elaborate construction masterpiece, too focused on building
a structure that might have been a miniature version of the
“Matt,” she began, determined to make him level with her. “Are you all right?”
His head came up quickly, his eyes questioning. “What?”
“Are you all right?” she repeated, her tone insisting that he be honest about that, for once.
“Well, sure, Kitty. I thought you were the one not feeling well.” He grinned a little, and laid his hand across her stomach. “Although I guess I’m partly to blame for that.”
“I’m serious, Matt. You look – well, you don’t look so hot. “
His brow rose, and he feigned insult. “Well, thanks.”
“You know what I mean. You’re pale, you’re sweating, and you look like you haven’t slept in a week.”
“Oh.” Sheepishly, he dropped his gaze from hers. “Well, maybe I understated a bit when I told Doc that Cole just winged me,” he admitted, rubbing gingerly at the wounded arm. She knew how much it took for him to admit to that. He looked back up at her, eyes sincere. “But it’s not that bad, really, Kitty. I’ve had much worse.”
God, didn’t she know it.
“As for sleeping,” he smiled disarmingly, “I’ve discovered it’s hard to do without a certain beautiful, hot redhead in my arms.”
“I’ve discovered you don’t do much sleeping when that redhead’s in your arms,” she countered, grateful for it. Still, she wasn’t letting him off the hook completely. “Nightmares?” she guessed.
A shadow crossed his face, his voice hardened a bit. It was his defense against the turmoil of emotion the dreams brought. “I’m just tired, Kitty,” he said. “It was a long trial and a long trip. And I’m just tired.”
Years of experience had taught her to let it go when she heard that tone. Even now, as his wife, she knew when to push and when not to push. Satisfied that he was just hurting from the wound and tired from the trip, she let her right hand cup his jaw, silently telling him she understood. He relaxed slightly with her touch.
“You had something we needed to talk about?” she prompted gently. “What did you mean when you said the Attorney General didn’t exactly not accept your resignation?”
Blue eyes regarded her evenly, the intensity in them letting her know this was serious. “He offered me another job.”
Surprised at first, she realized the announcement wasn’t really unexpected. In fact, it seemed rather obvious when she thought about it. “Another job?”
“I told him no, but he was – well, he asked me to think it over.”
A sudden fear clutched at her throat, a feat that it could be worse, that he could be placed in even greater danger.
“It would mean still wearing this badge,” he told her, tapping the damnable bit of metal on his chest. “That’s why – Kitty, I know what you’ve sacrificed for me. I won’t do this if you don’t want me to.” Pain twisted his features just briefly before he conquered it, and she wasn’t sure if it was emotional pain or physical pain – or both.
She started to tell him it was no sacrifice, but realized it had been, of course. A sacrifice she had willingly made, but a sacrifice, nonetheless.
“I thought he’d be glad to see me finally step down. I was once the youngest marshal; I figure now I’m probably the oldest.”
Kitty raised an ironic brow. “Just because everyone else is dead.”
Smiling ruefully, Matt agreed. “Most likely.”
He sounded a little bewildered about the whole thing, but Kitty wasn’t surprised at all. Whatever the offer was, it surely involved him still working for the marshal’s service. Of course the Attorney General would want to hang on to Matt Dillon tooth and nail if he could. She considered Lane’s description. To many people, he really was a legend. How could they let a legend go?
Warily, she asked, “What’s the job?”
“We could forget it all and just start that ranch,” he hedged.
“What’s the job?”
He sucked in a breath and finally told her. “The War Department is starting a program to prepare new marshals, and he wants me to – “
Thank God. Relief coursed through her body. “He wants you to help train them,” she finished for him, her throat relaxing. A training program. So other men could go out and get shot instead of Matt. Well, he had paid his dues. Thank God.
But Matt was wincing. “Actually, it’s a little more than that. He, uh, he wants me to – “
“To what?” she prompted, afraid again.
“To run it,” he said simply.
Kitty stared, wide-eyed, at him. “Run it? For the territory?”
His lips pressed together hard for a second. Then he cocked his jaw and shrugged. “For the country.”
For the country? For the entire
She felt her mouth drop, amazed – even knowing how unique Matt was in his talent – that he would be in charge of a national program. “For the country,” she repeated, still slightly bemused. Then, as the notion rooted itself into her mind, she said it again, this time with confident acceptance. “For the country.”
But of course. Hell, who on earth would be better to train marshals than the best of them all? With a firm nod, she asked, “When do you start, Marshal Dillon?”
Swallowing, he leaned forward to take both her hands in his. “Like I said, I told the Attorney General I’d think on it – and I’d have to ask my wife.”
Even though they’d been married for almost a year, she still felt that thrill dash through her heart when she heard him use those words, words she had never really believed she would ever hear. Words that were now almost as precious as the other words he whispered to her late at night when he drew her to him and entwined their bodies in the most intimate of dances.
She lifted her head, pushing the distracting vision to the back of her mind. If she let it take over now it would be quite some time before the conversation was finished. Here was a chance for Matt to remain a marshal, for him to do the job he had devoted his life to – and at the same time a chance for her to live a little more normally, not waiting for that dreadful moment she had feared so many years. Could fate have dealt them any better hand?
“When do you start?” she asked again, her voice warm with pride and support.
His lips turned up in a smile at the implication. “Don’t you want to know more about the job?”
But she shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. If it’s what you want – “
“Is it what you want, Kitty? Because if it’s not – “
“If it’s what you want, Matt, it’s what I want.”
She saw his jaw muscles clench. “Kitty,” he whispered, voice rough. “Are you sure? I just want you to be happy. I just want – “
Sliding her hand to cup his cheek, she leaned forward to brush his lips with hers. “I am happy, Matt. I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”
His mouth accepted her kiss, moving on her lips in a gesture that began lovingly and sweetly, but that instantly exploded into a fire of desire, shooting to her core. He had been gone for almost two weeks, and she ached to be with him again. She forgot about where they were, about their child playing innocently in the next room. Her body took over as his mouth pressed more firmly, opening her lips so that his tongue could ease inside.
His muscles tensed, as if he thought about pushing her away, but that ephemeral move gave way to the sensations that quickly engulfed them. Lying back on the bed, he pulled her on top of him, fitting their hips together. She moaned his name.
His breath came faster. She heard his heart pounding beneath her ear as she laid her head on his chest. “Kitty, we need to stop,” he whispered hoarsely, making no move whatsoever to do anything about it.
“Okay,” she gasped, fumbling with the buttons on his shirt, anxious to run her lips over his bare skin.
He groaned, his fingers wrapping around her arms as if to pull her off, but instead, he held her firmly and arched his hips so that she could feel him swell against her. “Kitty.”
“We shouldn’t be – doing this – here,” she managed to choke out, even as his large hands caressed her buttocks, pressed her harder into him.
“No,” he agreed, tugging at the buttons down the back of her dress.
“Sam’s in the next room,” she reminded him, her tongue trailing across the strong planes of his chest while her hands pushed the shirt away from his body.
“Uh huh.” Smoothly, he turned her on the bed so that he knelt between her thighs, hands pushing up her skirts, his earlier fatigue apparently forgotten.
“And Doc could come back any minute.” Her hands slid down his stomach and beneath the waistband of his pants to close over the burning shaft, sighing with pleasure when he pulsed hard in her grasp.
“Kitty,” he groaned, thrusting into her grip. “D-don’t – I can’t – “
But she was almost too far gone to listen, wanting nothing more than to open to him, to feel him fill her again and again. Nothing could stop them now. Nothing could keep them from satisfying the overwhelming need that swept them.
Nothing except the jarring squeal of their eleven-month-old child.
“Papa!” Sam’s call from the other room cut through the heat of desire enough to bring them back to semi-sanity.
With a rare, but fierce, expletive, Matt rolled off her and fell back on the bed. Kitty sat up, gasping, her heart racing, her body surging.
“Matt Dillon!” she tried to scold, but in reality she had barely kept in her own snap of profanity.
“Oh, God,” he groaned, eyes closed tightly.
She winced as her gaze ran down his body and saw the urgent need straining against his pants. “That’s gotta be uncomfortable,” she sympathized. “And hard to take care of now.”
Teeth gritted, breath coming fast, he opened his eyes and looked down at himself ruefully. “Hard is the operative word,” he muttered. “And I thought I was taking care of it.”
“I thought I was taking care of it,” she amended, just as ruefully.
Dragging in a gulp of air, Matt closed his eyes in an attempt to calm his body. Wincing in failure, he opened them again and looked toward his child, who had toddled into the doorway. “Son,” he declared, “we’ve got to work on your timing.”
“Nap, Papa?” the boy observed, seeing his father on the bed.
Kitty laughed. “That’s right. Papa’s taking a nap.”
“No nap,” Sam frowned, then smiled again with innocent glee. “Bocks, Papa. See bocks.”
Matt raised his head and glance past the partially open door at the stacks of blocks beyond. “He wants to show us the blocks,” he declared sarcastically to Kitty.
But after a moment, he let a pained grin touch his lips. “Yes, Sam. I saw the blocks. They look real fine. Maybe you’re gonna be an architect.”
Pleased at that thought, Kitty smiled at her husband. It was probably rare for an architect to be in a gun battle in the middle of the street. Sam seemed satisfied with the response, toddling back into the outer room to resume his construction.
Resisting the urge to place a hand on his chest, knowing that would counteract any attempt at recovery, she said, “Is it too much to hope that there’s no shooting at each other?”
“When you’re training people,” she clarified.
“There’s shooting, but only at targets,” he assured her, rolling onto his side.
“Targets don’t usually shoot back, do they?”
An understanding smile curved his lips. “No, Kitty, they don’t.”
“Matt,” she asked, giving him another chance to get out of the decision. “Are you sure you’re ready to do this?”
“I’m sure, Kitty. It’s time. It’s time for me, and it’s time for Newly.” His voice fell almost to a whisper as he drew her close again, brushing his lips with hers. “And it’s time for you.”
Reluctantly, she sighed, feeling her body start to surge again against his unabated arousal. “As much as I hate to say it, you’d better stop that. It’s how we got started before.”
He kissed her once more before pulling away. “Kitty, there’s something else you need to know about the job. It means we’ll have to – “
“Well, hello there, Sam!”
Kitty felt the unexpected greeting shoot through her, propel her from Matt’s grasp and off the bed as if she had gunpowder under her. She stood panting as Doc’s familiar shuffle stopped while he talked with her little boy in the outer office.
Hastily, she ran her hands over her body, checked her clothes, relieved that Matt hadn’t succeeded in unbuttoning her. Satisfied that she wasn’t too disheveled, she looked at her husband and grimaced. Disheveled didn’t even begin to describe him. His hair curled wildly over his eyes, his shirt hung half-off revealing a chest reddened from her fevered caresses, his pants – well, his pants failed miserably to hide the very obvious evidence of his continued excitement.
“You’d better stay in here,” she told him. “At least until you can comb your hair and tuck in your shirt, and until – “
He nodded. “I’ll be out in a minute,” he said, voice strained.
“A minute?” she asked skeptically as she eyed the substantial bulge at his groin.
“I’ll think about Mrs. Pry,” he told her.
“That oughta do it,” she agreed with a smirk.
Sam looked up, handing her a block as she pushed open the door. She accepted with lavish thanks. He seemed satisfied and turned back to building his metropolis.
Doc eyed her suspiciously as she entered. “You okay? You look a little flushed.”
“You complained that I was pale before,” she reminded. “Isn’t this better?”
“Depends on why,” he insisted.
“Well, I feel just fine.”
“Matt go somewhere?”
“What?” she asked, knowing her tone fell well short of convincing.
“Matt Dillon. Big fellow. Hard to miss. He was in here when I left. I was wondering if he went somewhere.”
“He – uh – he’s lying down. He was a little shaky.” That was the truth, although not all of it.
The physician jerked. “Is he feelin’ bad? His arm bothering him? I told you he lost a lot of blood.” He reached for his bag, but Kitty stepped between him and the door.
“He’s okay, Doc. Just tired.”
“But – “
“Why don’t you check me out before we leave?” she suggested, knowing he’d be hard pressed to deny an actual voluntary exam.
“Well,” he hesitated. “If you’re sure he’s okay – “
“I can’t imagine why I fainted earlier,” she began, effectively regaining his attention.
“What have you eaten today?” Doc asked, his expression telling her he already knew.
From years of experience, she realized it wouldn’t do any good to try to elude him. “A half a piece of toast and some coffee,” she confirmed, almost defiantly.
“How much coffee?” he pushed.
Frowning, she admitted, “Four sips.”
“Uh huh. Kitty, you know you have to eat.”
“Doc – “
“I’m serious. You’re eating for – “
“Two. I know. Otherwise, am I okay?”
Reluctantly, he nodded.
Glancing over to the closed bedroom door and remembering how close she and Matt had come to making love a few minutes before, she asked, a little shyly, “Does that mean that – well – can I – we – that is, can Matt and I – “
“Is it okay for us to – “ She faltered, waiting for him to get it.
After a moment, his eyes widened, and then quickly narrowed. “Oh, for Heaven’s sake. Is that all you think about – “
“Well, can we?” she pushed, her eagerness trumping her embarrassment.
He sighed and rubbed at his mustache. “Yes, I suppose, but make sure it’s – “
“Nice and easy,” she supplied sweetly.
He grunted. “I seem to recall giving those same instructions before without either of you payin’ any attention to them.”
He rolled his eyes and grunted again. “I’ll leave some salve.”
At that moment, Matt emerged from the back, looking reasonably intact, although his hair remained a little mussed, and he had missed the third button from the top on his shirt, giving a nice view of his broad chest. Kitty let her eyes drop to his pants, relieved to see no blatant display there. One look at Doc, however, let her know they had not fooled him a bit.
The big lawman blinked at the frown the older man plastered on him for no apparent reason. “What?”
But the physician just shook his head hopelessly. “Don’t blame me if you end up with a passel of young’uns by the time you’re fifty.”
Matt’s lips pressed tightly together in confusion and consternation, but Kitty just smiled and patted the older man’s arm.
“Don’t worry.” Her eyes cut toward her husband. “I’ll know who to blame.”
The big man lifted his chin suspiciously. “Well, I’m not sure what I did, but I have a feeling I should just keep my mouth shut.”
“And your pants,” Doc added in a mumble that was remarkably clear.
“What?” He looked down self-consciously, confirming Doc’s suspicions.
“Doc!” Kitty exclaimed.
“I’m gonna have to burn those sheets, now.”
Crimson flushed across Matt’s face at the doctor’s pointed observation.
She placed her hand on her hips. “We didn’t – “ But the truth was, they came damn close. “Oh, you can believe what you want. Come on, Matt, let’s go home.”
The smile that crept to Doc’s lips softened his grumbling. “Oh, listen, I know you didn’t – well, at least I figured you wouldn’t – for Pete’s sake, I’m kidding, Kitty.”
“Well – “
“You do take it easy, though. Both of you.” He turned to deliver a pointed, accusing glare at the marshal, who had the grace at least to blush and nod obediently. “And I mean that.”
Swinging Sam up into his arms, Matt rolled his eyes.
“Bye, bye, G’pa,” the child called out, waving toward his adopted grandfather.
Kitty watched the physician try to hide the sudden well of tears and noticed a telling exchange between the older man and Matt. “Doc?” she asked, perplexed.
Matt stared at the doctor for a long minute. “Zeke?” he asked simply.
Doc nodded, a sad smile touching his lips.
The two men regarded each other silently until Matt broke the moment and nodded once. “We’ll see you tomorrow, Doc,” he said, his hand catching her elbow and guiding her toward the door.
mounting anxiety, Kitty smiled at the old man’s teasing. Even Matt allowed himself an embarrassed smirk when
But she realized in that moment that it didn’t matter. Doc knew as much as she did, perhaps more. “No,” she said, placing a hand on Matt’s chest. Before we – “ Her eyes darted to Doc. “Before – you were going to tell me the rest of your news.”
Matt’s arm slid around her waist, tugging a little harder. “I’ll tell you on the way home,” he said.
Home. Shaking her head, she looked up into the handsome face of her cowboy, knowing already what that news was. The distant sound of her mother’s voice returned to her.
about all those times she had tried to leave
“Where?” she asked simply.
“Kitty, if you want to stay here, if you want to stay home, I understand. I told you already that we can start that ranch – “
“And I told you, Cowboy, that home is where the heart is.” Her hand pressed warmly against his chest, right over that big, generous heart. “And this is where I’ll always be.”
His jaw muscles worked hard, clenching and unclenching in an attempt to keep his emotions in check.
“Now,” she smiled, “where?”
long beat, he let a tender smile touch his lips. With a quick glance toward Doc, he sighed and
squared to look her straight in the eye.
bittersweet smile made her heart ache.
She had meant what she said to Matt.
And she would follow him to
But this time, she wouldn’t be alone.
Chapter Nineteen: Neglected
Spoilers: “Hostage!” (minor)
groaned and fell back hard, his muscles suddenly leaden and uncooperative, his
breath heaving from him, his energy exhausted.
He had hung on as long as he could, but the forces that pounded his body
proved too powerful to overcome, and now he lay, unmoving, arms flung out to
his side, legs stretched uselessly. If
one of his many enemies had chosen that instant to attack him, he doubted he
had the strength even to raise his head in acknowledgement of the assailant. At that moment, the formidable
And he had gotten himself into that condition with perfect willingness – eagerness, even.
A soft moan drifted from beside him, a gentle hand slid across his ribs to rest at the center of his chest. He envisioned it bouncing with the hard pounding of his heart. Her body turned to press against his side, her breasts burning into his skin, sparking the embers that still glowed despite the fire she had recently allowed him to extinguish inside her.
“Nice and easy,” Doc had said, and Matt had tried. He really had tried, but the slow, sensuous burn that began their lovemaking had exploded into a conflagration that consumed him. At least he was comforted to know – judging from her heavy sigh and languid body – that Kitty had been just as consumed as he was.
Now, climbing up from the smoldering ruins, he mustered enough energy to twist his body, prop on one hand, and peer down at her. A contented smile curved her lips, and he couldn’t resist leaning over to kiss them.
“Mmm,” she murmured.
“Mmm? Is that all?”
“That’s all you’re gonna get from me, Cowboy.”
“You wore me out.”
His satisfaction faltered with the alarm that shot through him, jolting him from the haze of serenity. “Kitty, are you – “
Shaking her head, she opened her eyes long enough to roll them at him. “I’m fine, Matt. If you’re gonna become a hovering mother hen until this baby is born – “
But he couldn’t shake the seriousness of her health. “I mean it, Kitty. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Doctor Dillon,” she scolded. “Better than fine. I just had a very big, very handsome – and very talented – man give me the most pleasure I’ve had since – “
She paused, and he smiled, prompting, “Since?”
“Since the last time that very big, very handsome, very talented man pleasured me.”
“And that,” he declared in between nibbles on her smooth skin, “was much too long ago.”
Arching her neck to allow him better access, she murmured, “Much too long.”
He clucked his tongue against his teeth. “Very neglectful of him.”
“Very,” she agreed. “How do you think he should make up for that neglect?”
“Hmm. Give me a few minutes to think.”
Her hand strayed down his abdomen and lower, making him suck in a quick breath. “I do believe,” she purred, ”that you are already coming – up – with something.”
He moaned and grinned at the same time, nudging her onto her back so that he could lay his head on her shoulder and let his eyes close, his thoughts drifting pleasantly over the previous hour he had spent in her arms as her touch readied him again.
It had taken him longer than he wanted to unhitch the horses and dutifully rub them down, the frustrating ache in his arm slowing him. But he had managed to complete the task in only a little more time than usual, while his redheaded incentive rocked their child to sleep and waited impatiently for him inside their house, just as eager for his touch as he was for hers.
Although Festus had offered to accompany them home from Dodge, he had politely refused the deputy’s good intentions, a wise decision, because the way Kitty greeted him at the door was a sight meant for his gaze alone. Clothed only in a flimsy bit of black lace that revealed more than it hid, she let her eyes pierce him, draw him to her with not even a flick of a finger. His heart jerked against his rib cage, desire he had only partly managed to suppress in Doc’s office surging through him and settling with an ache at the pit of his belly.
“Kathleen,” he breathed, stepping toward her and letting his hands slide up her arms, his fingers almost trembling with the need to touch her. It had been much too long.
Trying to heed the physician’s instructions, he had clamped down on the urge to sweep her into his embrace and take her right there, fast and hard – even though Kitty’s steamy expression told him that would have been just fine with her. Instead, he bent to kiss her softly, his tongue sliding over her lips and into her mouth with measured tenderness. His hands pressed against her back, pulling her so that their bodies just grazed, the lace over her breasts brushing his shirt. But, in spite of his efforts, his arousal surged between them, pushing and pulsing against the slight roundness of her stomach.
“You sure are taking your time, Cowboy,” she scolded gently, her own trembling fingers reaching up to unbutton his shirt and push inside, dancing over his bare chest.
“You keep doing that, I won’t be for long,” he admitted, swallowing a gasp as she grazed a flat nipple.
Her hands made quick work of removing his shirt, then reached lower, a heated smile lifting her mouth as she pressed into the insistent ridge that strained against the material of his trousers. With a joint effort, they shucked the rest of his clothes, and soon he stood before her, his strong body bare except for the bandage Doc had wrapped around his arm. She looked him up and down, her eyes sparkling, their blatant admiration drawing a rare blush to his cheeks.
“My, my,” she murmured, her gaze lingering at his groin. His cheeks flushed deeper crimson.
He didn’t know how he was going to keep control much longer. With a single touch of his hand, he swept the bit of lace from her, bending his head to take the tip of a breast into his mouth, to suckle gently, to caress.
Gasping, she took his hand, urging him toward the bed. “No more taking your time.”
But he tried anyway, still giving good faith effort to follow Doc’s instructions. It sure as hell wasn’t easy, though, not with her hands shoving him onto the mattress and roaming boldly over his body, rubbing and scratching, and squeezing, bringing him to the point of surrender then easing him back down.
His entire body was throbbing as he turned onto his side and nestled against her, then pressed forward almost hesitantly, aching for her, yearning to surge ahead and be surrounded by her. She reached between them, her fingers brushing over the satin-steel flesh, tearing the moan from his throat. With one leg wrapped over his hips, she guided him so that he was in position. Her own gasp followed his as he slid forward then paused to let her accommodate him.
“You don’t have to be so careful, Matt,” she assured him breathlessly.
Clenching his jaw, he reminded, “But Doc said – “
“Okay, look, Doc is about the last person I want to be talking about right now.”
He smirked. “Don’t want to get fussed at tomorrow.”
“Is that worse than being fussed at tonight?”
He considered it for a moment until she let her body open for him, and he felt himself slide deeper into that delicious, overwhelming heat. “Oh, God,” he groaned.
“You still worried about Doc?”
then, Cowboy, why don’t you remind me why I married you?”
“I thought it was because you loved me.”
“Oh, yeah. That, too,” she teased, then gasped as he moved again, letting his thickness slowly stretch her. “Oh, yeah,” she groaned, not teasing at all anymore.
Sensation erupted through him, and he squeezed his eyes shut and gritted his teeth, struggling not to surrender to the almost overwhelming need to move.
Opening his eyes, he saw Kitty watching him, concern darkening her lovely features. “You okay?”
If he weren’t working so hard not to lose control right then, he would have laughed ironically. He certainly was okay – more than okay. “I’m fine, Kitty,” he assured her hoarsely, then admitted, “Just trying to keep this from being over in about a minute and a half.”
Her concern curved into a grin. “I have faith in you, Cowboy.” Slowly, she pulled back until he slid from her body, a move that did little to help his situation.
“Kitty,” he groaned.
Nudging him onto his back, she straddled his hips, her slender fingers curving around him and drawing him back to her.
“I’m ready, Matt,” she breathed. “Please don’t make me wait any longer.” Her hands braced on his chest as she let her body sink onto him.
No waiting? He could certainly accommodate that request. Released by her appeal not to hold back, he joined them completely, grunting as she closed tightly around him. All thought of nice and easy melted as they strained against each other, caught up in an irreversible plunge toward the explosive culmination of their conflagration. Teeth gritted, he shook with the desperate effort to wait for her, grunting in relief when her wild contractions finally gripped him. His body let go then. The powerful surges pulled him deep into her over and over, until the final waves ripped the last of his energy from him, and he collapsed onto the bed as she collapsed into him.
He lay in her arms, his head pillowed on her breasts, completely content as only her embrace allowed him to be. Her fingers had moved from his lower body to play through his hair, tugging gently at the wild curls.
After a few more minutes, he heard Kitty shift in the bed. “Matt?”
His chest rose only enough to draw in a quick breath for his response. “Hmm?”
A frown of
consternation furrowed his brow. “Kitty,
you’re asking about
She grinned playfully. “Well, you’ve stimulated my – interest.”
“Your interest, huh?”
“Oh yes.” But her light tone melted into seriousness. “Really, Matt.”
He sighed, contemplating how to answer. In truth, he had only visited the nation’s capital a few times himself. Even though it was the seat of government, it had the reputation of being muddy and coarse. In the summer it was so stifling and riddled with Yellow Fever that only the poorest or most foolish of citizens remained.
“I guess it has its good points and bad points.” He looked down, his heart still uncertain about what all this meant for her. “Kitty, are you sure about this? Dodge has been your home for so long – “
Her fingers caressed his cheek, the warmth of her touch sinking into his skin. “I told you, home is where the heart is. And you and Sam are my heart, Cowboy.” Her hand dropped to her stomach. “And this little one.”
He swallowed, his jaw hard with the effort to control his emotions. “I love you, Kathleen Dillon,” he whispered, pulling her to him again, holding her tightly against his body, warm secure in his embrace.
“I love you,” she returned, her voice trembling.
They lay still for a long moment, their hearts beating almost in unison, the aching void of the months apart now filled with that love. Finally, he felt her body tense slightly as she braced to sit beside him. That usually meant she wanted to talk, and he prepared himself for just about anything.
Sure enough, after a few seconds, she asked, “Matt?”
“What really happened to Newly’s jaw?”
He flinched and swallowed hard before he sucked in a deeper breath. Slowly, his eyes opened and he stared up at the ceiling for several long beats.
Newly’s jaw? He fell off his horse. He got into a fight with a renegade Indian. He tried to kiss a saloon girl in Hays.
“I hit him,” he admitted quietly, an uneasy, rueful smile curving his lips.
Shocked into sitting all the way, she stared down at him, obviously not expecting that answer. “You hit him?”
He nodded regretfully.
“Why, what on earth for?”
Matt figured Kitty was wondering what unforeseeable event prompted him to haul off and slug his deputy. She knew the young man practically idolized Matt, a fact she sometimes liked to tease him about, much to his chagrin.
“Well,” he said, putting on his best marshal’s tone, “you know Newly’s been askin’ for it, loud and rowdy. I finally just got tired of all his carrying on.”
“Matt,” she scolded, not letting him divert her.
He sighed, and worked his jaw a second or two before he finally spoke. “I didn’t mean to,” he said, but figured his eyes gave away enough to let her know it was more than just a random accident.
Softening her voice, she asked, “What happened?”
His lips pressed together tightly, then he mumbled, “He tried to wake me up and – “
Her eyes widened in instant understanding. “Oh, Matt,” she breathed, lying back down to rest her head on his shoulder.
Both relieved and regretful, he drew her close, knowing that their intimacy for the past twenty years had given her plenty of occasions to witness the nightmares he fought. He couldn’t even begin to describe how soothing and secure her arms felt once he had broken away from the horrible, vivid dreams. Sometimes he felt like sharing them with her; other times, he just lay in her arms until his heart rate slowed enough to return to sleep. And yet other times he allowed his thoughts to be diverted by her lips and fingers, and they ended up loving the harsh memories away.
“Which one was it this time?”
He had told her enough in the past so that she knew that his worst dreams were filled with those torturous seconds before he was forced to kill a man in a gunfight. In a moment of weakness, he had admitted to her that after he killed his first man in a gunfight as Adam Kimbro’s deputy, he had been physically ill. He learned quickly that that was part of the job, but it didn’t make the battle any less sickening to him. But she also knew that he dreamed about her. He had confessed to it after Bonner, but later she told him that she had known years before, when he called out her name in the middle of the night, bolt upright in the bed and wide-eyed, sweat dripping off him, yelling for the unseen villain to spare her, to take him instead.
But he shook his head, unable to share the torturous vision of her being ripped from him in the midst of heated lovemaking by a gunman’s bullet. “Not yet, Kitty. Not yet.”
“It’s okay, Cowboy,” she assured him, letting her hand rub across his bare chest. “You don’t have to tell me, yet – or ever. Just know that I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
I’ll always be here. Thank God he could really believe that, now. He took a quick breath, struggling for control.
“I love you, Kitty,” he told her again, knowing he hadn’t said it often enough over the years. “I want you to be happy, now. I want this to be what you want.”
“It’s what I want, Matt.” Her eyes welled with tears, and he brushed the moisture with a thumb.
“I can’t make up for twenty years. I won’t try. I had made that commitment a long time ago, and I’m proud of what I’ve done. But it’s time now for another commitment.” A gentle smile lifted his expression. “You’ve been very patient with me, Miss Russell,” he teased.
“I’ll say,” she mumbled through her tears.
“I figure that patience ought to be rewarded.”
Tears gave way to seduction. “Really? And just how do you plan on rewarding me, Marshal Dillon?”
“Slowly,” he murmured, leaning down to brush his lips against hers. “Very, very slowly.”
His mouth closed on hers, the heat re-igniting the fire inside him, but this time his body was ready for the nice and easy, ready for the slow burn. Even though pain shot through his wounded arm as he braced on his elbows, he held the position that let him take things gradually, teasing her, taunting her.
“Matt, please,” she moaned, her fingernails clawing at his broad back. He wondered vaguely where they had put Doc’s salve.
“Easy, Red,” he soothed. “This time I’m following orders. This time, you’ll just have to wait.”
Her hips arched upward, but he reached down and held her steady with one hand, still supporting his weight with the other. He let his teeth nibble at her smooth jaw, slipping down her neck and across her breasts, pressing hot kisses onto the freckles she despised, but he adored. His lips burned as they glided over the generous swells.
Despite his earlier release, he felt his body fighting him, challenging the patience he had committed to. Pushing up with his arms, he gritted his teeth to slow the rush of urgency. As gradually as he could, he joined them again, jaw muscles working furiously to hold back the need to drive deep with a single thrust.
“Matt!” His name was wrenched from her throat in an agonized plea.
With a gasp, he felt her legs squeeze around his back and her body thrust up, completing their joining with a swift jerk that almost sent him over the edge. He groaned her name, sweat trailing down his face and chest with the effort to stem the imminent flood. It wouldn’t be long now. He knew he couldn’t resist the overwhelming pull. With just a few more –
“Kitty? Matt? You there?”
Something deep in his brain registered the call from outside, but he couldn’t acknowledge it, had no strength to stop his body from its dedicated course.
Fortunately – or unfortunately – Kitty was able to respond. “Damn it!” She swore as she pulled away from him.
Trembling with the abrupt and painful interruption, he took in gasping breaths, not completely sure he could control the crushing need that gripped him. “Oh, God,” he moaned miserably.
“Who the hell – “she snapped, scrambling off the bed. “Somebody’s gonna pay for this.”
“It’s Doc!” came another call, and even through his desire the marshal realized that the older man was announcing his presence from a fair distance, no doubt giving them time to make themselves presentable on the chance they weren’t already. Doc knew them well.
“Doc? What is he doing here?” Kitty asked as she grabbed a robe and shoved her arms into the sleeves. He figured she didn’t really need an answer – or hoped she didn’t, since he wasn’t sure he was capable of coherent speech just yet. “Tomorrow. I invited him to dinner tomorrow.” Then she paused and looked back at him, suddenly unsure. “Didn’t I?”
Pressed to respond, he managed a nod, even though he really didn’t remember when she had invited Doc to dinner. He’d had other things on his mind.
“I thought so,” she said with a satisfied nod. “Not that I don’t want to see him, but his timing stinks.”
Still aching from the sudden disruption, Matt couldn’t help but agree.
“Kitty! Matt!” Doc called again loudly. “Hello the house!”
Her hand on the doorknob, Kitty turned to Matt and smirked. “This is familiar.”
“Too familiar,” he grunted.
“Come on out,” she told him, then, getting a good look at him, winced and added, “when you can.”
As the door closed behind her, Matt sat on the side of the bed, steadying his breathing. If Doc had driven out from town, he would expect to visit a while at the least. A resigned sigh lifted his chest, and, with concerted effort, he tugged on his pants and shirt, letting the tails hang down over his waist, satisfied with remaining barefoot and vest-less. He found Doc and Kitty sitting at the table, two cups of coffee in front of them. The physician looked up when Matt appeared from the bedroom, his eyes squinting as he studied the tall lawman.
“Doc,” Matt greeted, not bothering too much to hide his irritation.
The grayish-white head cocked wryly. “Well, Matt. Kitty said you might be a while. Said you were still in some discomfort.”
Matt shot an alarmed look toward his wife.
“From your arm,” she emphasized pointedly.
“Oh. Uh, yeah. That’s right.”
“Good thing I came by then.”
“Yeah,” he growled, the sarcasm heavy in his voice.
But Doc seemed oblivious to his annoyance. “I actually came to check on Kitty.”
“I’m fine, Doc,” Kitty declared.
“Me, too,” Matt offered quickly – a little too quickly, opening the outside door in eager encouragement. “Well, guess that’s what you needed to know, huh? So, see you tomorrow for supper.”
“Matt!” Kitty scolded.
Doc’s eyes widened. “You just said the arm was giving you trouble,” he protested, then frowned. “I told you you weren’t just ‘winged’. You need to be in bed.”
“Which is exactly where I was,” Matt muttered ruefully.
“Were you? Well, good, good.” Chuckling, he said, “I was afraid maybe you and Kitty – “ But he stopped abruptly, glancing at Kitty’s robe and then back to Matt’s bedraggled appearance. After a moment, he shook his head in defeat. “Well, I should have known. I gave you three hours, for Pete’s sake. What have you been doing with it?” He held up a hand. “Nevermind. I don’t want to know.”
Matt felt his own face tighten in exasperation. “Doc, what a man and woman do in their own home – “
“Better your home,” he quipped, “than my office.”
Jaw cocked, Matt asked curtly, “Was there something you needed besides messing up my afternoon?”
“Matt – “ Kitty laid a hand on his arm.
But Doc didn’t snap back. Instead, he smiled at them, his countenance softening. “Yeah, Matt, there was. Sit down here with Kitty.” He gestured at the table.
Immediately reading the change in Doc’s tone, the marshal lowered his long frame into the chair, working to keep the grimace from his face as pain sliced through his wounded arm. Now that he wasn’t distracted by Kitty, the damn thing really was bothering him. One glimpse of the older man’s lifted brow let him know he hadn’t quite succeeded in masking the discomfort.
“What can we do for you, Doc?” he asked sincerely, all bantering and irritation aside.
The doctor reached out with both hands, one resting on Kitty’s arm, the other on Matt’s. Surprised, the lawman exchanged glances with his wife, who gave him a bemused smile.
“I’ve want you to take that offer, Matt. I want you to take it and get away from a job that makes you risk your life every single day and makes those who love you risk their hearts.”
It wasn’t at all what Matt had expected his old friend to say, and he found himself at a complete loss for words. He suspected his mouth probably hung open in shock, but he couldn’t register enough focus on that to close it. Instead, he stared at the physician and waited for him to continue.
“You owe it to Kitty and your children, but you also owe it to yourself. My God, Matt, how many bullets have I dug out of you over twenty-one years? How many more has someone else dug out when I wasn’t around? There’s only so much a man should be expected to give. You’ve given enough, Matt. Take this chance.”
“Doc – “ he began, but
His pale eyes regarded them both with a depth of love that drew a lump to Matt’s throat. “You two are like my own. More like you really are my own. I’ve watched you for a long time now. You were just raw kids at first. Two young people so full of energy and hope and dreams – and so full of each other that you couldn’t see straight.”
Matt opened his mouth to dispute the observations. He and Kitty had been discreet back then, hadn’t they? But Doc held up a staying hand.
“You were careful, Matt, I know. But you can’t hide that kind of love.”
The marshal felt his face warm.
“I hate to burst your bubble, but everybody knew it.”
Kitty erupted in a hearty laugh. “I don’t guess I really figured we fooled anybody.”
“Not with all that eyeballin’,” Doc said, chuckling. “Anyway, like I was saying, I’ve watched you two for a long time. There have been lots of good times. There have been some tough times, too.”
Matt swallowed, his mind bringing up unbidden memories of the worst of those tough times.
“But I think the best of times are before you now. Go after them, Matt.”
Reluctantly, the marshal leaned back in the chair and smiled sadly at his very dear friend. “We are going, Doc. Kitty wants me to take the job, so – so we’re going.”
The physician smiled and nodded, but his eyes were melancholy. “You’d better not even think about keeping those grandchildren to yourselves. I’ll be comin’ out from time to time to make sure you’re spoilin’ ‘em properly.”
“Oh, Doc,” Kitty breathed, catching his hand in both of hers and kissing him on the cheek. In seconds, they were clinging to each other, her tears falling freely, his shedding carefully. Matt stood awkwardly, jaw clenched with the effort not to join them.
“Too bad that training center’s not in Dodge,” Kitty choked out between sobs. “That would be – just about perfect.”
“Just about,” Doc agreed, patting her on the back.
watched them, the ubiquitous guilt pounding him again,
guilt over all Kitty had sacrificed for so long, over what he had asked of her
these twenty years. Would she be happy
But would she be happy?
A strange sensation played in his chest, tickling to life the beginnings of an idea.
Swiping at his nose noisily, Doc turned red eyes on Matt. “Well, that’s all I came to say. Sorry if my – timing – was off.” He swung a hand toward the marshal. “At least let me re-dress that arm before I leave.”
“It’s all right, Doc,” Matt started to protest. After all, he had just bound the wound that morning. But a quick glance revealed a tell-tale fresh splotch of red staining the sleeve of his new shirt. Acquiescing to the physician’s instructions while Kitty wiped her eyes, Matt stripped to the waist and settled back into a straight chair.
Clucking his tongue, Doc set about checking the torn flesh and muscle. Matt occasionally flinched as he hit a particularly tender spot. “How’d you get this thing so unraveled?” the doctor complained, the old grouch in his tone. “Looks like you’ve been wrestling a wildc – “ He stopped and cocked an eyebrow toward Kitty, then rolled his eyes and grunted.
“How is he?” Kitty asked smoothly, face still splotched from crying.
“Well, he’s just as stubborn as ever,” Doc answered, then fixed her with a point glare. “And it seems no one in this house understands the concept of ‘rest’.”
But she just grinned back unapologetically.
With a final tie on the new bandage, Doc replaced his instruments and turned toward the door. “I’ll head back to town. I’ll re-dress it again tomorrow.” Throwing another accusatory glance at them both, he admonished, “Try not to destroy it completely between now and then.”
“No promises,” Kitty smirked.
Doc grunted. “I’ll be back for dinner tomorrow, and I don’t expect to be delayed because you two can’t keep your hands off each other.”
Grinning, and over any embarrassment, Matt called after him. “See you at five, Doc. And Doc?”
His face kind and soft, their dear, old friend gave them his trademark blink and closed-mouth smile that conveyed a much deeper message than just goodbye.
When they were alone again, Matt laid his hands on Kitty’s shoulders. “Did you mean that, Kitty?” he asked softly.
“That you’d rather stay here.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You told Doc it would be almost perfect if the training center was in Dodge.”
Leaning into him, her hand pressing against his chest, she shook her head. “I was just trying to make Doc feel better. I’ve already told you, home is where – “
“I know.” But would she be happy?
Glancing at the mantle clock, he realized Sam would most certainly be waking soon. Not much time. “Let’s talk about it later,” he suggested, gathering Kitty in his arms. “Now, where were we?”
“Well, let’s see” she breathed, sliding her hands up under his shirt to run her nails over his broad back. “I seem to recall something about neglect and trying to make up for it.”
Chills ran over his flesh in anticipation. “Ah.”
“Matt?” One hand slipped lower, behind the waistband of his trousers to rest against a firm hip.
“Hmm?” he asked absently,
“I’m feeling neglected again.”
His lips brushed her ear, blowing gently across it. “Really?”
“Well,” he murmured, sweeping her into his arms and smiling at the sheer delight on her face. “We can’t have you feeling neglected. We’ll just have to see what we can do about that.”
And he was true to his word. By the time Sam awakened from his nap, Matt didn’t figure Kitty could have named one tiny spot on her body that was the least bit neglected.
Chapter Twenty: He Who Hesitates
Rating: PG-13 (Teen)
watched as his wife stared glumly from the window of their hotel room out
across the muddy streets of
“Oh, Kitty,” he breathed. “I am so sorry.”
“What?” She turned from the window, a sad, questioning smile on her face.
“I said that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for bringing you here. I’m sorry for making you leave Dodge. I just wanted you to be happy – and safe. I thought – “
grew more knowing. “But I’m not, am
I? It’s just as dangerous in
His gut tightened at her words. “Kitty, what can I do to – “
But before he could finish, the door of their room burst open, a sudden swirl of dust and dirt that should not have been there surrounding the weather-beaten forms of Jude and Virgil Bonner. Kitty screamed, falling back against the wall.
“How the hell can you be here?” Matt yelled, hand already on his gun, trying frantically to drag the iron up to fire at the vicious dog soldiers, but he couldn’t move his right arm, couldn’t flex his fingers at all. He looked down. The ugly scar that slashed across his forearm glared at him, angry and red, as if the injury were newly made. Groaning, he tried to throw himself toward them, but pain exploded in his bad knee, dropping him to the floor.
The murderous brothers lunged forward, malevolent sneers on their faces, ignoring Matt entirely and focusing on Kitty. She called out his name, pleaded for him to help her. Grimacing fiercely against the searing pain, he tried to claw across the floor, yelling out desperately as they dragged her down and ravaged her again.
“Let her go, you bastards!”
But they continued, teeth bared in evil glee as they violated her right in front of him, punching and biting and tearing, her swollen stomach, ripe with his child, rippling as they brutalized the baby and her. Amid the horror, Kitty’s eyes found his, begged him to save her, but he could only watch helplessly, his heart torn from his chest in sheer anguish.
“Kitty! I’m sorry! Oh, God! I’m sorry!”
“Matt!” she called out frantically.
His eyes flew open, staring into the blackness of the room, the sounds of her screams still echoing in his ears. “Kitty!” he choked.
“I’m here, Matt,” came the answer, calm and soothing, not frantic or desperate at all.
Her hands caressed his shoulders and neck, reaching up to run gently across his face. Slowly, he became aware that he sat in their bed, trembling and gasping for breath, the covers wrapped around his legs, his right knee throbbing, his union suit drenched with sweat.
In the dim light provided by the approaching dawn, he could see her face, unmarred and lovely as always. Unable to keep himself from the action, he twisted and pulled her to him. She let him hold her as long as he needed to, let him press kisses along her jaw and over her lips, let him bend to lay his ear over her heart, to convince himself she was alive and well, let him spread his hand over the slight swell of her stomach. Finally, the keen pain from the nightmare began to dull, leaving only a deep ache in his chest. As his embrace loosened, she sat back and looked at him.
“You okay?” she asked quietly, her palm cradling his cheek, her thumb brushing his lips.
He managed a nod, flexing the fingers of his right hand, relieved to find that they worked just fine.
“That was a good one, huh?”
Another nod, curt and silent.
“Bonner?” she guessed.
His face darkened as it always did with the vile name. He wanted to tell her she never had to say that name again, wanted to make it so she didn’t even need to think it.
She caught his face in both her hands, turned it to look directly at her. “Listen to me, Matt Dillon. It was just a dream. What happened then is long behind us. Bonner is dead. He can’t hurt me – us – anymore.”
There’s where she was wrong, though. Jude Bonner hurt Matt Dillon every time he thought about not only his miserable failure to protect Kitty, but also his role in causing the attack in the first place. And no assurances from his wife could ever fully absolve him of the guilt he would take to his grave.
But it wouldn’t do her any good to know that, so he nodded again and forced a weak smile to his lips. “Yeah,” he breathed, lifting a shaking hand to wipe the perspiration from his eyes.
“I mean it, Matt.” Her eyes held his with intensity, and he was again struck by the power of her love for him.
“I know,” he whispered. “I’m okay.”
Although her expression remained doubtful, she let him by with the ruse. “It’s way too early to be awake,” she noted, even though her face was becoming more visible with the sunrise. “Is there something I can do to – help you go back to sleep?”
Her hands brushed over his chest; her lips followed. Although still shaken, he couldn’t refuse such an offer and followed her down, her arms cradling him first with comfort, then with a passion that eventually wiped out the torturous thoughts – at least for the rest of the night.
Morning brought cleansing freshness to the air, drifting across his face and stirring his hair until he woke. A leisurely glance out the window drew a quick double-take as he realized the sun had risen hours before, and there he was sleeping half the day away. It was the first time in months he had awakened after dawn.
Throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he winced at the pain that clenched his knee, and pushed the covers from his bare body, remembering that Kitty had disposed of his union suit in the midst of their passion. His first item for the day was to get into town and finish the paperwork that would complete Newly’s appointment. The next item – He laughed ironically. His next item was to find a new job.
He pushed up from the bed, irritated with the stiff knee, but pleased that there was only a twinge of pain in his bicep now. It had been one week since Butcher Cole tried to kill him, one week since his decision to resign became common knowledge, and one week since he had sent a personal letter – not a telegram – to the Attorney General refusing the offer.
One week with no answer to that letter. One week to ponder over what exactly he was going to do. One week of wondering how to tell Kitty that he was unemployed. As much as she had always wanted him to give up the badge, he figured she might not be so keen on having a loafer of a husband
He smiled at the thought, knowing she’d rather have him loafing than serving as target practice for every outlaw that came around. He didn’t regret the decision. Dreams like the one that had haunted him a few hours before had convinced him it was the right decision. In fact, there had been few things in his life Matt Dillon regretted. Hadn’t he told Newly O’Brien only a week before that if a man lived by regrets, he wouldn’t ever risk anything?
Still, there was one regret. One overwhelming regret.
He regretted And he was damned if he was going to make the same mistake again. He would just do what he’d planned in the first place and get that ranch Kitty never thought he’d get. Surely she would be happy about that, after all those years of wanting him to give up the badge. But that wasn’t it. The fact that he’d made the decision without her was the point – and a point of contention it would most certainly be. Perhaps that was why he had put off telling her. the hurt that he had caused Kitty throughout the past twenty years.
The delighted giggles of his son broke through the musings and enticed a smile to his lips. Beyond the close door of the bedroom, muted clangs of pots and pans danced with the uplifted, happy voices of his family. Chest rising in satisfaction, he drew on his trousers, not worrying about the sweat-stained union suit that lay crumpled in the corner. Shrugging into a worn, blue shirt, he stepped into the warmth of the next room, smiling as he saw Sam, now much more secure with his walking talent, toddling as quickly as his legs could carry him from chair to table to chair to china cabinet and back, Kitty’s encouragement following him with each leg of his journey.
“I think he’s ready for the hundred yard dash at the spring fair,” Matt declared.
He was rewarded with a sudden smile from his wife, who abandoned her cooking to greet him with a deep, loving kiss. “Morning, Cowboy,” she murmured against his lips.
His answer was simply to kiss her back.
Matt laughed and swung the child up into his arms, enjoying the belly laugh that action provoked. “Yes, your Papa’s a sleepyhead, Sam. Why did you let Mama keep me up so late last night?”
But the child wasn’t paying any attention anymore. Instead, he squirmed in his father’s strong arms, wanting to resume his game with the furniture. Obligingly, Matt bent to return him to the floor, barely letting him go before the boy was off and running.
“Are you sorry that Mama kept you up so late last night?” Kitty asked, eyebrow arched.
“Did I say I was sorry?”
“Well – “
His arms slid around her, tugged her against him. Her hands rubbed down his back and over his hips. He felt her linger at his rear, then grinned as she pulled back and looked up at him in surprise.
“Missing something?” she asked slyly.
“My union suit wasn’t exactly clean,” he explained, trying to give her that innocent look that very rarely worked.
“Oh. And you don’t have any other underwear?”
“Well, if you really want me to – “
“No!” she said, a little too quickly, then smiled seductively. “Not at all. This suits me just fine.” She pinched him.
“Ouch!” he protested.
“Less in the way,” she noted, her hands moving from back to front, pressing against the sensitive area that was now protected by only a single layer of clothing.
“Kitty, you’d better not start something unless you are prepared to finish it.”
“Ooo. Mighty bold words, Marshal. What makes you think I can’t finish it?”
Twenty years of experience gave him the instant answer, and he smiled. “Absolutely nothing.”
As her fingers played over the tightening material, he caught his breath, wondering if he was going to accomplish anything at all that day besides taking her back to bed. He decided that wasn’t such a bad goal.
“You are a wicked one, Kathleen Dillon.”
“And I’m awful glad about that.” He bent to press his mouth to hers, pulling her against him. But the conscience that had nagged at him all week prodded once more, and he decided he had been a coward long enough. Reluctantly, he lifted his lips from hers. “Kitty, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Her arms tightened around his neck, and she pressed her breasts into him. “Tell me later,” she murmured, reaching up on tiptoes so that her mouth met his again.
For just a moment, he allowed himself to surrender to her touch, to her heat, and to her taste. But she quickly overwhelmed him, shattering his resolve. Clutching her to him, he lifted her from the ground so that her body rested completely against his, groaning as her weight pushed heavily into his swollen need.
“Later,” he gasped, his surrender now unconditional.
“Much later,” Kitty amended, hanging on.
A sudden jingle of horses and wagons from outside shattered their negotiations, the sound close enough to mean they were coming to their house and not just passing by. Matt grunted in irritation, his hope for a little after-breakfast loving scattering with the growing noise.
“For Heaven’s sake,” Kitty breathed, her own frustration audible.
Matt’s mind conjured up a stronger comment, but he kept it to himself, mindful of Sam playing around them. Sighing, he stepped to the window and eased the curtain aside to look out. To his astonishment, he saw that a large group of at least two dozen citizens was gathered in his front yard, including some of the most prominent: Doc Adams, Bodkin from the bank, Dobie from the hotel, Jonas from the general store, Percy Crump, Moss Grimmick, Hannah, Burke, even sour old Edsel Pry.
“Who is it?” Kitty asked, rescuing their breakfast before it burned.
“Half of Dodge,” he mused.
“What?” She put the pan down again and hurried over to him. “My goodness!” she exclaimed at the sight.
“Yeah.” Realizing abruptly that he was in his bare feet, he said, “Can you meet them while I get on my boots?”
“Just your boots?” she teased, but he just smirked at her.
A few seconds later, Matt sat on the side of their bed, tugging his left boot on, stomping firmly on the floor to shove his foot all the way in. Beyond the bedroom door Kitty greeted their unexpected visitors.
“Well, hello,” he heard her say, surprise clear in her tone.
The cultured voice of Mr. Bodkin, the bank owner, answered. “Miss – I mean, Mrs. Dillon,” Bodkin greeted.
“Mister Bodkin,” she returned courteously, but Matt sensed the underlying curiosity.
“Is the Marshal here, as well?” Bodkin asked, the frown evident even through his tone.
“He is, but he’s – uh – “
“If he’s still recovering from his wound, I understand, but we had an issue we wished to discuss with him. With both of you.”
“Well,” Kitty allowed, “he is recovering.”
A chuckle shook Matt’s shoulders. He was recovering, all right, but not necessarily from his wound. Knowing he still looked suspiciously disheveled, the marshal decided he’d better save Kitty the trouble of making up something ridiculous. Running a hand through his uncooperative waves, he emerged from the bedroom to see the prominent citizens gathered in his parlor, their eyes widening at his entrance.
Hannah’s knowing smirk brought a flush to his cheeks. “Sorry to – interrupt, Marshal,” she said, not really sounding sorry at all.
“Hannah.” He quickly pulled his gaze from her. “Mister Bodkin,” he greeted as casually as he could, as if they were at the bank. “Mister Dobie. Mister Jonas.”
He smiled slightly as he saw Festus crouched in the corner, helping Sam stack blocks. It was quite possible that Sam recognized the colorful ABCs that decorated them better than his overgrown playmate.
“What can I do for you?” he asked, more than a little wary about their purpose. The last time half the town had shown up at his door they had thrown Kitty and him a belated shivery – and he had ended up half frozen in Silver Creek, wearing only his trousers. Of course, when he finally managed to shiver his way back home, Kitty had warmed him up right fast –
Swallowing, he forced his thoughts back to the present, his body still too sensitive from her earlier touch to risk tempting it with heated memories.
Clearing his throat, Mr. Dobie nodded toward him. “Marshal, we’re terribly sorry to rouse you from your sick bed. I had thought your wound was not so dire as to keep you invalided for – “
“No, no. I’m fine. Just winged.”
Doc grunted loudly, and Matt swung a glare at him, but the physician merely returned the glare, plainly refusing to take back his grunt.
Dobie looked mildly scandalized. “Marshal, I assure you, we aren’t – “
“He’s joking, for land’s sakes,” Hannah interrupted, rolling her eyes.
Resuming his duty as group spokesman, Bodkin stepped forward. “I’ll get right to the point.”
Matt almost commented that it was too late for that.
we have been considering the issue of your reassignment to
That didn’t really surprise him. Even though he had no ego to feed – not much of one, anyway – he thought perhaps there would be some distress on the part of the citizens, if only because it meant a change, and most people feared change. He mentally kicked himself for not going ahead and telling Kitty he had turned down the job, and wondered if he could get her alone for just a minute before the news came out in front of everyone. “Mister Bodkin, that’s an issue that involves the War Department, not – “
Festus stood and clanged forward a step. “Fiddle, Matthew. We ain’t grudgin’ ya’, that’s fer shore. Ain’t one leddle biddie person in Dodge what’d say you didn’t deserve it ten times over long ago. ‘Sides, we figger it’s ‘bout time you an’ Miss Kitty – well, it’s only right you an’ her finally – “ The deputy stumbled over his words a bit. “Well, anyway, we figger it’s only right, and we figger Newly’ll do a rite fine job. ‘Course we all know there ain’t never gonna be another Matthew Dillon – “
A flush of consternation and embarrassment colored Matt’s face. “Festus – “ he began, shaking his head.
“Festus’s speakin’ the truth, Marshal,” Hannah interrupted, then threw an irritated glare at the deputy. “In his own way.”
to reassert his leadership, Bodkin interrupted.
“What we are trying to say, Marshal, is that you are a valued citizen of
Matt felt the flush deepen. “Mister Bodkin, really, I don’t – “
“And, although we despair over seeing you move on, we cannot deny that you are overwhelmingly deserving of it.”
Completely uncomfortable now, Matt resigned himself to the moment and braced to get through it. From the corner of his eye, he saw Kitty smiling with both pride and amusement.
cleared his throat importantly and held out an envelope. “Therefore, we, as citizens of
Taking the bulging paper, Matt nodded, hoping that his expression could relay his feelings better than his words would. “I thank you, Mister Bodkin, and everybody. I’m – we’re – truly grateful.” He swallowed. “Twenty years – more, really – is a long time, especially in the life of a lawman. And Dodge – you people – you friends – have meant a great deal to me – and to Kitty.”
He paused briefly, realizing that he had probably just confirmed the years of speculation about the true nature of his relationship with Kitty since the beginning. Catching another glimpse of Sam playing happily with Festus, he decided that was a moot point.
“But there’s no need to give me anything. It was my job.”
Mister Dobie leaned in, his hound dog face sincere. Matt smiled kindly, having always appreciated what the hotel owner did for him after Kitty left. “Maybe no need for you, Marshal, but there is need for us.”
“Well, I thank you,” Matt told them simply.
“Open it!” Hannah said.
Nodding again in gratitude, Matt slid a long finger down the sealed edge. Noting that there were several thickly folded sheets of paper stuffed inside of what he suspected was some sort of proclamation, perhaps the ubiquitous key to the city, he pulled them out.
“What – “ he began, scanning the contents quickly
“I’m not sure what kind of pension a U.S. Marshal draws,” Bodkin said. “Certainly not enough to merit the risks you have taken for us through the years.”
“We’ll be fine,” Matt assured him absently, still reading.
But Bodkin continued. “There’s no telling how many bank robberies you either stopped or recovered money from these past twenty years.”
“What does that have to do with – “
He interrupted as if Matt hadn’t said anything. “There were rewards on a number of those robberies. They add up to quite a bit of money. Money nobody ever collected.”
Matt frowned. “The government doesn’t collect rewards, Mister Bodkin. You know that. And I was the government in those situations so you don’t have to worry about – “
“But there’s no law against a regular citizen collecting the money, is there?”
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“As soon as your resignation is final, they’ll be five thousand dollars in reward monies deposited in your name at the bank.”
The usually unflappable marshal blinked once, then twice, vaguely aware that he stood there, mouth open. He felt Kitty’s hand press into his forearm, and he tried to turn to look at her, but found himself unable to do even that. What had Bodkin said? Five thousand dollars? Last time he checked he barely had five hundred in the bank.
Finding one gasp of breath, he asked, “What? “
“There should be more, really, but many of the rewards have been withdrawn past a certain time limit.”
“Mister Bodkin, I can’t accept – “
Dobie nodded, pride touching his voice. “That’s not all. Along with that there’s ten thousand more that the good people of Dodge collected as a – well, I guess as a retirement present.”
“And a thank you,” Bodkin added, “for – “ He stopped, looking directly at Matt, his expression, for once, free of the banker’s façade, full of the warmth of genuineness. “—for so much that we don’t even know where to begin.”
Hannah smiled at them, her eyes proud and kind. “Marshal, one thing I’ve discovered since I’ve been here, the people of Dodge take care of our own – and you’re one of our own. You and Miss Kitty and your boy.” She nodded pointedly toward Kitty’s abdomen. “And the one on the way.”
“Oh, Matt,” Kitty breathed, looking up at him.
woman glanced at her fellow citizens for a moment. Then, she shrugged. “I’m just gonna say it right out. We don’t want you ta’
Matt swallowed again, overwhelmed by the generosity and love they were showing them. “I – I’m – grateful,“ he managed, wincing toward Kitty, who would be finding out with everyone else – and probably not happy about it, either. “But, I – we – can’t accept it.”
disappointment on their faces struck him hard.
Through the years his relationship with the citizens of Dodge had
undergone several evolutions. In the
beginning they had been resentful of the limits the brash, young
He glanced down at Kitty and saw the same feelings in her eyes. Patting his arm, she smiled warmly at the group. “You are all so – so generous,” she said, her voice sincere. “Matt and I will miss – ”
Matt slid his arm around Kitty’s waist, a rare show of intimacy in front of other people. Leaning down, he whispered in her ear. “Uh, Kitty, there’s something I need to tell you.”
“Now?” she whispered back.
maybe you should know, Marshal,” Hannah continued quickly, “that
there’s something else we, uh, have for you.”
“Hannah – “
“We’ve been tryin’ ta’ figure out how ta’ keep ya’ here, but not stand in your way for that job.”
“There’s really no need – “
“So we had this idea. It was Edsel’s really.”
“You see, I’ve already – “ He stopped, his ears running back over what Hannah had just said. “Edsel?”
Edsel Pry stepped from the crowd, her haughty expression somehow more subdued, although not completely masked. “It seemed a particular waste, Marshal, to devote all those years to training you,” she said, “only to have you leave us.”
Surely that wasn’t a glint of humor in those beady eyes. Matt blinked twice to clear his own faulty vision.
“What have you done?” he asked, suddenly more than a little uneasy.
Clearing his throat, Doc Adams looked up at the towering lawman. “Well, Matt, we got to thinking that maybe it didn’t matter where that training facility was located. We figured maybe – well, we all got together and decided the city could donate those two hundred acres out toward Cimarron that Widow Hanlin left the town in her will.”
not much to it,” Jones acknowledged, “not very good farm land, that’s for
sure. But the
“You know, of course, that the Attorney General is a friend of mine,” Mrs. Pry reminded primly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Matt said in a long-suffering tone. “You’ve mentioned it before. Several times.”
“I wired him about Mrs. Hanlin’s land.”
“Mrs. Pry, you shouldn’t have – “
“That’s right. And we figger on hearing from him any day now,” Jonas volunteered.
Matt pressed his lips together, a little irritated at their audacity, but also touched at their generosity and sorry for their inevitable disappointment. If they even heard back from the Attorney General at all, it would be to decline their offer. Taking a heavy breath, he regarded the people he had known so long. “Folks, I’m – well, I’m grateful for the thought. But the Attorney General’s not going to change the entire plan for this program just for – “
“Don’t you think you should let the Attorney General make that decision, Matt?”
The marshal jerked up his head, his height letting him see past the crowd to the door that stood open, framing a rather stocky man, his dark hair streaked with gray, his face rounded, his body thick with the evidence of fine living.
He would have greeted the visitor – if he’d been able to find even one gasp of breath to form a word. As it was, he could only stare, along with the rest of the crowd, as the United States Attorney General Augustus Garland himself strode into the room.
“Good morning, Marshal Dillon,” he greeted, and although his face was pleasant enough, his tone was guarded. “Pardon my intrusion.”
After several long moments, Matt managed, “Uh, yeah – “
“Have I interrupted something?”
No one provided the obvious answer.
A rather breathless Newly O’Brien hustled in behind the cabinet member. “He came to the jailhouse looking for you,” he explained, his voice revealing more than a little awe.
a few years, Matt,”
“You, too, General,” Matt agreed, memory flickering back three years to his first meeting with Garland in Washington. A meeting that had brought him a commendation and personal letter of thanks from the Attorney General himself – to go along with the two broken ribs and knife wound he had managed to acquire in the process that earned him recognition he had certainly not sought.
The older man stopped close to Matt and squinted up at the marshal. “Have you gotten taller?”
“Not that I know of. Uh, General?” Matt asked tentatively, not at all sure he wanted to know the answer, “what brings you to Dodge?”
“What is it?” Kitty asked, confusion drawing down her brow.
“Oh.” Grateful for the reprieve, he grasped Kitty’s
elbow and nodded toward
A grin of true delight spread over the full face. “Indeed? Well, I am honored to meet you Mrs. Dillon. I had heard, of course, that Matt had finally come to his senses. I’m happy for you both,” he said gallantly, his lips lingering over her hand – lingering a bit too long, as far as Matt was concerned.
Her tone a bit bemused, but pleased, Kitty answered graciously, “Thank you, General Garland. I’m rather happy for us, too.” But she was not to be distracted. “Now, what is that you are holding?”
Matt winced, his moment of reprieve over.
Pursing his lips, Matt blew out hard, almost wishing there might be a sudden eruption of pugilism among them so that he could wade in and break it up and distract the Attorney General from his appointed path.
Unfortunately, no fisticuffs ensued.
Kitty shook her head, bemused. “I thought he’d already sent his answer.” Turning to Matt, she asked, “Didn’t you?”
“Kitty – “
“Wael,” Festus prodded, his curiosity merely a vocalization of what everyone else was feeling. “What’s it say?”
The crowd turned as one to plaster their gazes directly on Matt. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again, pressing his lips together in an expression that was part grimace, part flinch. Every eye in the room bore in to him, but there was one set of eyes that skewered him straight through.
One set of very blue, and very beautiful – and very mad – eyes.