The West Wind
A Gunsmoke Story
By Amanda (MAHC)
“O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Percy Bysshe Shelley
“Ode to the West Wind”
Chapter One: Miss Satterfield
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
tugged the collar of his coat higher over his neck, slouching a bit against the
brisk wind that whistled through the stagecoach
windows. The flaps proved woefully
insufficient to keep nature’s forces from touching the passengers. It was early for a cold snap – not that it
had never happened in
They were almost in Dodge, though, and Matt kept his body warm with thoughts of what awaited him. A two-week absence usually earned him a very sincere welcome home from Kitty. He could use it. Joe Kendall had not been easy to track and even harder to take. The marshal shifted, wincing at the pain that shot through his bruised side where the outlaw had slammed a rather substantial piece of firewood in a futile attempt to avoid capture. A brutal left hook had taken care of any further resistance, but Matt wasn’t too sure his injury stopped at just a bruise. He’d suffered enough cracked ribs before to suspect that he might be dealing with that, as well. Each jolt of the coach reinforced his suspicion.
to him, not for the first time, that maybe he should have stayed in Ellsworth
one more day to rest. But Dodge lay only
ten miles ahead, and if it got too bad he always had the option of letting Doc
bind his side for him. Although, as much
as the marshal liked to avoid the doctor’s ministrations, it would have to be a
lot worse before he surrendered to him.
The marshal looked up to find one of his fellow passengers looking at him, slender gloved hand extended in the offer of a shake. He had, of course, noticed her already. It had been hard to ignore the striking figure she made as she boarded the stage at Ellsworth. At that time, she had given him an inviting nod and made room next to her on the seat. Matt had chosen the opposite side of the coach and contented himself with looking out through the window flaps, thoughts of Kitty occupying his interest. Still, he wondered why she chose now, when they were almost to Dodge, to initiate introductions. Nevertheless, he took the hand, trying not to grimace at the discomfort the strain of shifting his body caused.
“Matt Dillon,” he returned simply.
The woman’s smooth brow rose. “Matt Dillon? Marshal Matt Dillon?”
After 13 years as a U.S. Marshal, Matt had grown accustomed to such recognition, forced to accept that his reputation stretched farther than he would have preferred.
He nodded. “That’s right.”
Her face, already bright and pleasant, lit further. “Well now, it’s certainly a pleasure to meet you, Marshal. I’ve heard a lot – well, of course who hasn’t?”
Matt pressed his lips together and tolerated the stares the other two passengers now locked on him.
“You have quite the reputation where I come from, Marshal,” she continued. “Yes, indeed.”
Not completely sure how to respond to that, Matt asked, “Where’s that?”
“Where you come from – where’s that?”
“Oh, why Saint Louis,” she said. “I’ve come out West to see if it really is as wild as folks say.”
Matt watched her carefully, judging the genuineness. “What’ve you found out?” he wondered.
Her eyes took on a calculating look and raked over his broad chest before returning to his face. “There are, indeed, some wild things out here.” Her tongue darted out and licked at her top lip. “Of course, the extent of the wildness depends on where I am.”
Matt nodded and shifted uncomfortably at her blatant invitation.
“I don’t suppose I should expect much action in Dodge, though” she said, her voice falling in disappointment. “I imagine you have things – under control.”
“It has its moments,” Matt assured her, ignoring the suggestion in her voice.
“Maybe, but I’ve heard a man would be a fool to drawn down on Matt Dillon. End up on that Boot Hill of yours.”
His expression didn’t change, but inside Matt braced himself. The seductive tone had sharpened to sound more like accusation.
“How many men you figure you’ve killed, Marshal?” Satterfield asked, calculation hardening her soft features.
Dillon’s jaw tightened, and he met the woman’s eyes in a hard gaze that he held steady until she blinked and broke.
“I don’t mean anything by that,” she assured him, patting nervously at her hat. “Just curious.”
“I don’t keep count, Mrs. Satterfield. My job’s to protect the citizens of this territory.”
“It’s Miss Satterfield,” she corrected pointedly, her voice warm and inviting again. “And I’m sorry I brought up such unpleasantness.” Casually, she stretched out her arm and laid a hand on his knee.
Matt glanced at it, then at the faces of the two other male passengers, who suddenly became interested in the passing scenery. Working his jaw a bit to distract his body from the involuntary sensation a woman’s touch created, he gently nudged his leg away. Despite his complete loyalty to Kitty, it had been entirely too long since he had felt her caresses, and his knee wasn’t distinguishing whose soft fingers rested on it.
With a rough clearing of his throat, he smiled politely and tugged his hat down farther over his eyes, trying to indicate that their conversation was over. But Solana Satterfield ignored his hint and shifted in her seat so that she could give his leg one more squeeze before she leaned back. Matt considered it fortuitous that a certain saloonkeeper was not accompanying him on this particular trip. Of course, if she had been, he had no doubt that Miss Satterfield would have been put in her place from the start.
“Did you have business in Ellsworth, Marshal?” she asked, her innocent voice contradicting the interest in her eyes.
Unable to ignore her without being flat-out rude, he kept his gaze aimed toward the window as he answered. “Yes, ma’am.”
She let a beat pass, then prompted, “Well?”
He glanced out from under his hat. “Well what?”
“Well, what was it – or is it a government secret?” Her eyes lit again in delight. “Oh, that would be so exciting, wouldn’t it? Something you can’t tell us? Something of national importance a United States Marshal has to handle?”
He noticed the other passengers cutting their eyes curiously toward him again. “No, ma’am. Just a man who made some foolish choices and had to go to jail as a result. I’m sorry it’s not any more exciting than that.”
“Is he the one who injured you?”
His head jerked up before he could cover his surprise.
“You’ve been favoring your right side since we left Ellsworth.” At his frown, she hastened to add, “I’m an observer of people, see. You’ve been quite careful not to grab the side of the coach with your right hand when you’ve gotten in and out. And you’ve been bracing your ribs with your left hand, on and off, since we left.”
Self-consciously, he dropped the hand that had been, indeed, pressed against his side, and pursed his lips.
“And you have a rather nasty bruise on your jaw,” she added.
“He resisted a little,” Matt admitted in explanation, stifling the impulse to run his fingers over the tender spot.
Miss Satterfield sighed dramatically. “We are just so fortunate, Marshal, to have such a brave, strong man as you protecting us out here.”
He almost laughed, envisioning the eye rolling Kitty would have given him at that comment. Instead, he nodded politely and returned, “It’s my pleasure, ma’am.”
For his courtesy, he received a brilliant smile. “Fortunate, indeed.”
Less than an hour later, the stage pulled up to the Dodge House, and not a moment too soon for Marshal Dillon, who was beginning to wonder if he could keep up the ruse that his side was only a minor bother. In the last few miles, the dull throbbing had strengthened into a disturbingly sharp prod. It was beginning to look as if that visit to Doc’s might not be optional. Assuming his best lawman’s mask, he climbed out of the coach, closing his eyes momentarily against the sudden swirl of lights before him.
He opened them again to see Solana Satterfield looking out at him from inside the stage, genuine concern darkening her gaze. “Are you all right?”
Shaking off the remaining dizziness, he forced a smile and extended his left hand toward her. “May I help you down, Miss Satterfield?”
Her frown lingered only a moment longer before she brightened and rested her hand in his. “I’d be so grateful, Marshal. Thank you.” She stepped down lightly, her skirt bouncing with her movement, her hand remaining in his grasp a bit longer than necessary. “It doesn’t seem quite so cold here in town,” she noted, taking the opportunity to untie her cloak and reveal a neckline that plunged more than a bit too low for decency.
“It’s – uh – the – uh, the buildings block the wind,” he explained hoarsely, dragging his eyes away from her exposed cleavage.
And just in time, too. As they stood next to the boardwalk, Matt looked up and saw a familiar and very welcome figure walking toward them. Her smile shot straight through him, triggering an explosion of emotion that he struggled to control. Even so, he couldn’t keep the grin from escaping onto his lips as she neared. Following his gaze, Solana Satterfield narrowed her eyes and frowned.
“Welcome home, Matt,” Kitty Russell greeted, stopping close but not touching him.
“Good to be
home, Kitty,” he answered, wishing he could show her right there just how good
it was. Still, a casual demonstration
might not be too obvious, and he took the liberty of placing a hand at her
back. Then, remembering his fellow
passenger, he added, “Uh, Kitty, this is Miss Satterfield. She’s from
Kitty turned toward the other woman, outward appearances completely courteous and pleasant, but he had known her long enough to feel the tension in her body. With a polite nod, she extended her hand. “Welcome to Dodge, Miss Satterfield. I’m Kitty Russell.”
“Oh, call me Solana, please, Miss Russell. It is Miss Russell?” she emphasized.
Kitty’s smile tightened. “Yes, it is.”
“Well – ” the marshal began, attempting to move on. But neither woman intended to follow.
“You just staying the night, Miss Satterfield?” Kitty suggested.
“Solana, remember?” She shrugged. “I’m not sure. Depends on how – interesting – Dodge is.” Her eyes cut suggestively toward Matt, who wondered if it was too unethical to wish for a bank robbery at that moment.
“I assure you,” Kitty said, “Dodge can be very interesting.”
Slipping his hand from her waist to grasp an arm firmly, Matt stepped up onto the boardwalk, tugging her with him. “I missed breakfast this morning, Kitty. How about I buy us lunch, huh?”
After one more beat, she let her gaze break with Solana’s and turned toward him, smiling. “Sounds good,” she agreed, turning her back on the other woman and sliding her hand into the crook of his arm.
He gave one final glance behind him, and was more than a little worried to see heated calculation in Solana Satterfield’s eyes. Maybe he should have stayed in Ellsworth one more day.
Chapter Two: Young and Foolish
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Russell tried not to smile too widely and broadcast her joy to the entire town,
but the electric touch of Matt’s warm hand at the small of her back challenged
her tenuous hold on control. It was as
if every nerve in her body surged, taking power from that one connection. He had only been gone two weeks, she reminded
herself, and here she was acting and feeling like a school girl, yearning to
leap into his arms right there on
“What?” he asked.
“What, what?” she returned innocently.
He didn’t answer, but the spark that heated his gaze made it hard to keep up the tease. Her instincts screamed at her to do something that would set the tongues of every busybody in Dodge wagging.
“Miss Satterfield is quite pretty,” she noted disarmingly, trying to distract both herself and Matt, but the way the wind had lifted his collar against his neck, pleasantly framing the strong jaw, claimed her attention. She wasn’t sure she could wait through lunch to touch him like she really wanted.
With a tone just as innocent as hers, he claimed, “I hadn’t noticed.”
Her brow arched. “Really?”
“Not much,” he amended, his sheepish grin shattering any minor ire she might be even remotely entertaining. The lunch offer, so welcomed earlier, was quickly becoming a stumbling block to her body’s urgings.
“As long as it’s not too much.” She smiled indulgently at him and slipped her right arm around his waist, frowning when his own grin tightened into a grimace. “Matt?”
But with a quick shake of his head, the grin returned. He lowered his voice and confided, “There is one pretty lady that I‘ve noticed an awful lot.”
“There is?” she said coyly.
“Yep.” The grin grew mischievous. “In fact, I’m noticing her so much right now that I’ve decided I’m not really all that hungry, after all. At least not for Delmonicos.”
“You’re not?” she asked, not bothering to hide her delight that he had the same thoughts.
“Uh uh. You know anywhere I could find other – nourishment?”
A thrill of anticipation shot through her, and she lowered her gaze, her eyes sultry. “Yes,” she breathed. “Yes, I think I know just the place.”
The afternoon sun seemed to delight in its surreptitious peek into Kitty Russell’s boudoir, its rays warming the contrasting skin of the two lovers, creamy alabaster against burnished tan. The golden light caught the reddish highlights of Matt’s dark curls, and Kitty couldn’t resist running her fingers wildly through them as he pressed her body to his and claimed her mouth in a kiss so deep and so hot that it melted away any pretense of patience either might have tried to summon.
Heart pounding beneath her breast, Kitty clung to him as desire throbbed within her. He had already stripped off his shirt, and now she was desperate to feel her own body unencumbered against him, so she twisted an arm around her back, fumbling with the buttons of her dress, too anxious to be rid of it to take her time.
“Let me help,” Matt offered, his voice husky as he turned her and let his long fingers deftly work the smooth circles of pearl through the slits until he could push the fabric from her shoulders. They were both breathing harder when he turned her back, his eyes darkening at the sight of her half-clothed body. His hands ran up her side, his touch barely dancing across her skin, drawing chills with each caress. By the time he let his huge palms cup her breasts, she was trembling.
“Kitty,” he groaned, abandoning subtleness to slide his hands to her shoulders and pull her against him hard.
Her arms stretched around and up his back, her face burrowed into his chest, the light spread of hair tickling her nose and chin. She felt the firm surge of his arousal against her.
“I missed you, Cowboy,” she murmured, letting her teeth tug at a few tufts of hair.
The surge grew stronger, more insistent. “Kitty, I – it’s been a long two weeks,” he croaked. “I don’t know how long I can wait – “
“Me, either,” she assured him, adding emphasis to her words by reaching between them to press against the thick, hard ridge now burrowing into her stomach.
His gasp was answer enough to let her know there would be no waiting at all. Without being completely sure of how it happened, she found herself freed of all remaining clothes, straddling his trim waist, his arousal liberated from its own restraints but eager to be restrained again inside her. Shaking with anticipation, she welcomed him home, her hand bracing against his torso to steady them, her body arching as he entered, ripping a gasp of pleasure from her throat.
“Oh, Matt!” she moaned when he grasped her hips and pushed deeper.
This was what she had dreamed about every night he was gone. The sensation was so overwhelming that her body trembled over his, and she thought she might collapse. Desperately, she thrust out her hands, catching herself hard against his ribs as she fell forward. Through her haze of desire, she saw his head snap back, heard the harsh grunt and sharp hiss.
Matt was not a particularly vocal lover. He tended to express his pleasure through actions more than words. But he wasn’t completely quiet, either. On the occasions when she pried a groan or gasp from him, Kitty always felt more than a little proud. This time, though, the sharpness in his voice warned her that this response was definitely not one of bliss.
The realization dampened her passion, and she looked down, alarmed to see a fierce grimace clenching his handsome features, his hands pressing against his side.
“Matt?” She slid off him instantly, her breath catching as she noticed the mottled bruises and swollen flesh over his ribs. Arousal must have clouded her vision not to have seen it before. “Matt, what happened?”
“It’s – nothing – “ But he could barely get the words out between gritted teeth.
“Nothing, my foot.” It took her only a few seconds to hop off the bed and retrieve her robe. “I’m going to get Doc.”
“No!” Matt snapped, trying to rise, but the movement only slammed him back down onto the bed, a groan slicing from his lips.
“Matt, you’re hurt.” And hurt pretty badly, she feared, if he couldn’t keep from crying out. “I’ll just be a minute. You lie there. Don’t move.”
She was out the door before he could protest further, if he even had the breath for it. As she pushed through the heavy curtain at the end of the hall, it occurred to her that her appearance might cause more than a little speculation, but that worry seemed inconsequential to the pain Matt was suffering at the moment. Disregarding any gossip she might create, she peered over the balcony and onto the main room of the saloon.
A huff left her lips as she leaned a little too vigorously over the railing, clutching the wrap at her throat and calling out just loudly enough for the bartender to hear. “Sam?”
The loyal head came up immediately, his kind eyes finding her without trouble. Moving from behind the bar, he stepped just below her perch. If it surprised him to see her clothed in such a way in the middle of the afternoon, he kept it to himself. Instead, he asked simply, “Yes, Miss Kitty?”
“Can you go get Doc and tell him I need him up here?”
Instant concern shadowed the weather forehead. “Is something wrong, Miss Kitty?”
“The Mar – “ She glanced around the room at the handful of customers, none of whom probably would have so much as blinked to see Matt Dillon walk down the stairs at that very moment. Still, she was hesitant to announce to everyone that their United States Marshal was currently doubled-over in pain – and naked – in her bed. “Just tell him,“ she instructed, keeping her voice calm, “to bring his bag, please.”
With a nod that indicated he understood she would offer no more information, he turned toward the door.
Spinning on her heel, she hurried back through the separating curtain and into her room, gasping at the sight that greeted her. Matt lay, not on the bed anymore, but sprawled on the floor, pants tangled around his long legs, one long arm stretched out to grip the waistband, the other wrapped around his side.
“Matt!” she cried. “What on earth – “
His long bicep muscles bulged as he tried to tug the resisting fabric up. “Help me – before Doc – gets – here – “
“Just lie there. You could make things worse.”
“No,” he ground out. “Just – help – “
Kitty felt a tingle of surprise as she realized what was bothering him. Sighing in fond irritation, she knelt beside him. “That’s ridiculous. He’s seen you buck – “
“Not here,” the big man snapped.
Oh. Still, Doc could be discreet – sometimes. “Matt, for goodness sakes – “
But he interrupted her once more, a rare note of warning in his voice. “Kitty!”
Knowing it would only delay things to argue, she shook her head and reached for the pants. “Oh, all right. You are the most stubborn man.”
His only response was a grunt as she tugged at the twisted material. Between the two of them, they managed to pull up the trousers the rest of the way, taking only enough time to fasten a couple of buttons so they wouldn’t fall back down. With effort, he struggled to his knees, fingers white around the bedpost.
“Please, Matt. Maybe you should just stay on the floor until Doc gets here,” she urged, concerned about how pale he had become and how the sweat beaded on his upper lip.
“I’ll – make it,” he insisted.
And he did, but only barely, and not without an agonized groan when he finally managed to stagger to the bed.
As best she could, Kitty smoothed the covers and helped him ease down until he rested on his back.
The knock on the door was discreet, but firm. “Kitty?”
She pulled the robe tighter around her and opened it for the figure whose extra-rumpled suit and scattered hair gave testimony to the continued fierceness of the wind outside.
“You okay?” Doc asked immediately, his eyes roaming up and down her in a quick professional assessment.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, then jerked her chin toward the bed. “It’s Matt.”
She knew very well that Galen Adams had no illusions about her relationship with Matt. In fact, on more than one occasion, he had been witness to touches and murmurings that were intended to be private. The most telling moment had occurred a few years earlier with a brief and unintended interruption in his office when a recovering marshal and his comforting visitor had allowed a chaste kiss to develop into some not-so-chaste groping. Since then, the physician had been diligent about knocking before he entered any room the two occupied alone.
Despite that experience, she saw the older man blink at seeing Matt Dillon sprawled out on her bed, trousers only half-buttoned, chest bare. Even though he was aware of just what kind of relationship existed, they had been careful to remain discreet, and now here he was being allowed into her bedroom with their Marshal just one piece of clothing shy of being completely naked. Surely, he could have no doubts about their activities. To his credit, though, the physician took only a moment’s pause before he brushed off any surprise with a swipe at his mustache and shuffled purposefully to his patient.
Matt’s chest glistened with perspiration now, and his face had drained white beneath skin permanently tanned by years under the sun. He pressed a hand against his side, taking shallow breaths.
“How bad’s the pain?” Doc asked, not giving him the chance to deny there was any at all.
Teeth clenched, Matt managed to rasp, “Not – too – “
The physician grunted skeptically. Kitty watched as his sure, experienced hands eased over the ugly bruises marring that beautiful torso. More than once, the marshal grunted, even under the gentle touch. Finally, Doc straightened and clucked his tongue.
“How’d this happen?” he asked as he dug into his bag.
Kitty winced at the thought of the outlaw smashing a solid piece of wood against Matt’s ribs. Suddenly, her worry doubled.
you, all right,”
“How bad is it, Doc?” Kitty asked, her eyes flitting over her lover’s tense face.
“Feels like at least two ribs are broken, maybe another cracked.” He fixed his pointed gaze on the marshal. “How long ago was this?”
“Four days,” Matt admitted, too miserable to deflect the doctor’s accusation.
The bushy eyebrows rose sharply. “Four days! And it never occurred to you to see a physician about this?”
“How in tarnation did you even tolerate a stage ride all the way from Ellsworth?”
But the Marshal just pressed his lips together, choosing to devote his energy to remaining conscious.
“It didn’t seem so bad until – “ Her voice suddenly faltered as she realized what she was about to reveal. Despite Doc’s awareness about them, neither she nor Matt relished sharing more of the intimate details of their relationship with their old friend.
“Until what?” Doc asked, eyes narrowing.
“Until we – and then I – uh – ”
Doc raised his head and stared at her, comprehension coloring his cheeks. “Well, for Pete’s – you mean, you two – “
“What can you do for him?” she urged, feeling guilty enough without his scolding.
Doc cocked one eyebrow and considered her for a long, uncomfortable moment before shaking his head. She thought she might have glimpsed a hint of a smile, but when he spoke, his voice was all business.
“Well, wrapping them’s about it. He’ll need to stay very still the next couple of weeks.”
Not unexpectedly, Matt grunted. “Couple – of – days,” he groaned, “will be – enough – “
“You tell me that two days from now,” Doc challenged as he unraveled a roll of bandages and started winding the cloth around Matt’s broad ribcage. “Hell, you tell me that ten days from now.”
“Don’t worry, “ Kitty assured him, “he’ll stay still.”
Doc snorted. “Oh, I don’t doubt that. I don’t doubt that at all. Those ribs’ll take care of that.” When Matt gasped as Doc pulled a little too tightly on the bandage, the physician paused and withdrew a dark bottle from his bag. “You have something I can pour this in, Kitty?”
“Sure,” she answered, her eyes still focused on her suffering man even while she pulled a cup from her cabinet and handed it to the physician.
Doc poured a generous amount of liquid into the cup, holding it out for Matt. “Drink this,” he ordered without explanation.
Obediently, the Marshal took it and choked it down, unable to suppress a shuddering cough at the end. “Ugh.”
“You’ll be sayin’ that laudanum was mighty tasty when your side’s not pounding you so much.” He turned to Kitty. “That oughta knock him out for a while.”
“Thanks, Doc,” she said, not worried about how it looked anymore to have Matt almost naked in her bed. They certainly wouldn’t be finishing what they started earlier – at least not tonight.
completed the wrapping,
Despite his pain, Matt frowned. “What’s that – supposed to mean?”
But the older man merely chuckled lightly and shook his head as he left, repeating the phrase softly.
When the door closed, Kitty gingerly perched on the bed and brushed a hand over Matt’s chest just above the bandage. “You heard what Doc said.”
His face flushed, a welcome change from his pain-induced pallor. “I guess it was kinda foolish, but I never think straight when you’re – well, when I – when we’re – “
She laughed. Of all the adjectives that could be used to describe Matt Dillon, “foolish” was definitely not on the list. “I was talking about him telling you to stay still, but I’ll take the other as a compliment.”
His hand reached to pull her closer. She allowed it, at least until he slipped his fingers under the robe. Reluctantly, but firmly, she eased him away, clasping his hand instead. “Down, young man,” she scolded.
“Young?” he asked, his smirk letting her know the laudanum was beginning to work.
“Well, I’m certainly still young, I’ll have you know, and I don’t mess around with old men – at least not yet – so that makes you young, too.”
“Young and foolish,” he reminded, his voice slurring.
“You just go to sleep now. I’ll be here.”
“Don’t – want to – “ he mumbled, but the fight was sliding from his grasp, as his hand was sliding from hers.
“If you’re good,” she promised, “you can be young and foolish again real soon.”
Tonic and fatigue tugged his eyes closed. “With you?”
“Oh, yes, Cowboy.” Then, as she thought of the calculating eyes of Miss Solana Satterfield, she added firmly, “and only with me.”
The smile that touched his lips as his breath grew heavy made him look truly young, and Kitty found it difficult to resist being very foolish with him right then and there.
Chapter Three: If Only I Thought You Were Serious
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
slouched in a chair at his usual table in the
Up in Kitty’s bedroom, he had managed to maintain his professional demeanor, mainly because the ashen color and cold sweat of Matt’s face gave him immediate evidence that the Marshal was in genuine distress. But now that the crisis was over – or at least subdued, his brain could not rid itself of the sight of Kitty in that robe, the silken material clinging to the incredible curves of her body.
That was another fact that convinced him Matt was truly in pain. No sane man would have forfeited an encounter with that alluring creature without overwhelming cause; that fact convinced him, and the fact that he had been allowed – invited even – into an intimate situation. Oh, it wasn’t that he had been blind to their relationship before. On the contrary, there wasn’t a person in Dodge who didn’t assume the Marshal and the saloon owner were together – at least nobody who had been in town any length of time. It took only one glance between the two to see the spark, feel the heat, no matter how much they tried to dampen it in public.
So, of course, Doc knew about them. And they knew Doc knew about them. And he knew they knew he knew about them. Still, that didn’t mean he wouldn’t respect their desire – their need, really – to remain discreet.
Sometimes, though, that was easier said than done. He blushed deeper with the memory he kept safe, the memory of a moment’s impulse when he had interrupted them in his office. And even though it was his office, damn it, he felt like an intruder at the sight that had filled his vision for the few seconds he stood immobilized in the doorway. From the look – and sound – of things, Matt Dillon’s skills weren’t limited to upholding just the law. The confirmation of what the physician had suspected for years came as a bit of a shock, but a pleasant shock. After another second’s hesitation to enjoy the view, he mumbled an apology and left the startled lovers to themselves.
He doubted, however, that any such activities would be occurring upstairs now. In fact, he doubted they would occur for some time. Matt had taken a good shot to the ribs, hard enough to break two and bruise up his side nicely. The average man would be in bed for a month, recovering. But, of course, Matt Dillon was anything but the average man. Doc figured a week would be all he could count on to keep the hardheaded lawman convalescing.
Smiling to himself, he lifted the glass of beer to his lips and took a healthy swig.
A voice as
“Evening,” he greeted, when he could find his voice. After a moment, he scrambled to his feet, berating himself for forgetting his manners. “Won’t you sit down?”
She beamed at him, as if he had just offered her Queen Victoria’s throne. “I do thank you so very much. It was such a long trip, and I’m just a bit weary.”
“You came in on the stage?”
“Yes. From Ellsworth.”
“What brings you to Dodge?”
“Be careful what you wish for,” he warned, in good humor. “How long are you staying for this adventure and excitement?”
“A week, and I’m delighted to meet such a distinguished citizen so soon after I’ve arrived. Are you perhaps the mayor of this metropolis?” she asked, settling in at the table so that her breasts billowed over the top of her dress.
“Uh – no – no, I’m – uh – “ What was he, again? “I’m a doctor.”
“A doctor!” she declared, as if that was the most impressive of all occupations. “How noble.”
“Well, now,” he blushed. “And here I am forgetting my manners. May I buy you a drink, Miss – “
“Satterfield,” she supplied, offering her hand. “Solana Satterfield.”
“Galen Adams.” Doc took the hand, holding it a bit longer than necessary, before he turned and motioned for Sam. “Sam, could you get the lady a - “ Turning back, he raised a brow in question.
“Oh, I’ll just have a little pick-me-up. Perhaps a glass of wine?”
Sam shrugged. “We don’t get requests for wine that often, Miss, but I’ll see if Miss Kitty has some in the cellar.”
Doc saw Solana’s eyes narrow slightly. “Miss – Kitty?”
“Kitty Russell,” Sam explained. “She owns this place.”
“Really? A woman owner? Isn’t that interesting,” she noted blandly before returning her full attention to the doctor. “You know, Doctor Adams, it’s rather a coincidence that I’ve met you so soon in my visit.”
“I shared the stage with one of your fellow citizens, and he certainly could have used your expertise.”
He sat up, his professional instincts suddenly activated. “Who was that?”
“You know Marshal Dillon, I’m sure.”
Her smile broadened. “Yes. Matt. The poor man was trying bravely to hide it, but I could tell he was suffering a great deal during our journey. It looked as if he had been in some sort of altercation. I was quite worried about him.”
“I found a bottle of wine,” Sam announced, reappearing from the cellar. Throwing a warning glance at Doc, he added, “But it’s kind of expensive.”
“I’m sure it will be delightful,” Solana said confidently, turning her charms toward the craggy barkeeper. “Thank you so much for going to all that trouble for me.”
Doc's hand slid into his pocket to finger the few coins there. Good thing Kitty let him keep a running tab.
“You’re welcome, ma’am,” the bartender replied politely, dipping his head as he set a glass in front of her and popped open the bottle.
As the rich, blood-red liquid flowed into the glass, she asked Doc, “You’ve seen him, then?”
“The marshal. You’ve seen him?”
“Oh, I’ve seen him.”
“And he’s going to be all right?” Smiling up at Sam, she took a sip of the wine. “Oh, this is delicious. Just delicious.”
“I’m glad you like it.” Leaving the bottle, he retook his usual position behind the bar.
“Yes, indeed.” And just as smoothly, she was talking with Doc again. “Well, that is good news. About the marshal, I mean. I was so worried. A man like that – “ Her lashes fluttered. “So strong and robust – “
Doc chuckled. “He’s not too robust right now. In fact, he’s – “ He stopped, frowning with a sudden realization that he had been close to betraying a doctor/patient fact. “Well, right now he’s taking it easy.”
“As well he should.” Looking up over the rim she asked, “Maybe I could take him some chicken soup later.”
Doc caught Sam’s raised brow. “I – uh – maybe.”
“A man like that needs tending. Taking care of so that he can recover and return to his valiant protection of our citizenry.”
The physician cut his eyes toward Sam, and the two men exchanged bemused glances. “Oh, of course,” Doc agreed, pursing his lips.
“I suppose he has – a wife to do that, though?”
Clearing his throat, Doc said, “Uh, no – no. He, uh, no, he doesn’t have a wife.”
“He doesn’t?” she exclaimed in astonishment. “I can’t imagine why not. Such a fine male specimen. You would think some woman would have claimed him years ago.”
“You would think,” Doc agreed wryly.
“Of course, there was someone who met him at the stage – as I recall.”
“Was there?” He knew, of course, what someone had met him at the stage, knew that someone had probably been watching the clock all morning waiting for that stage.
“A very attractive redhead.”
“Why, that would be Miss Kitty,” Sam offered innocently from behind the bar.
“Yes,” Solana agreed after a moment’s reflection. “Yes, I believe she did say her name was Kitty. She and the Marshal seemed – close.”
Doc just smiled. Despite his willingness to be a little manipulated by her beauty and her charm, Solana Satterfield didn’t fool him.
“Well,” she said after a moment, barely masking her disappointment with his lack of confirmation, “thank you so much for the lovely glass of wine. I’d best get myself registered at that fine hotel down the street. If you see the Marshal, please tell him how concerned I have been.”
“Well, I sure will,” he agreed, wondering if Kitty would appreciate that message as much as Matt.
She rose, and Doc remembered his manners this time, standing with her. “I guess I’ll be seeing you around town, Miss Satterfield,” he said.
“You most certainly will, Doctor. You most certainly will.”
After taking a pleasant moment to admire her exit, Doc heard a door close upstairs. Turning to his right, he glanced up to see Kitty Russell emerge from the curtained area that marked the beginning of her private quarters.
She smiled tightly at him as she walked down the hallway and descended the stairs. Mild disappointment tugged at him when he noticed she was clothed much more completely than she had been upstairs. Not that he really expected her to waltz through the barroom in her robe. Still, it was an agreeable fantasy.
“How’s Matt?” he asked when she slid tiredly into a chair beside his.
“Sleeping like a log. You give him an extra dose of laudanum?”
Doc smirked in guilt. “Couldn’t take a chance on him – well, you and him – well, dagnabit, if Matt isn’t going to use common sense, someone has to do it for him.”
That was ironic. Matt Dillon had the most common sense of any man he had ever known – except when it came to Kitty Russell.
With a rueful smile, she admitted, “It was me.”
“The common sense, or lack of it, anyway. I was the one who, who started – things. I – encouraged him to –
Doc rubbed a hand over his mouth and shook his head. “You can’t tell me he didn’t want – I mean he could have stopped things if – “ He took a good look at the stunning face, those riveting blue eyes, that creamy skin, those smooth cheeks, and sighed. “No,” he decided, “I don’t suppose he could have. Not with you.”
“Don’t guess I can blame him, either. He’s paying for it, now, though.”
Her indignation gave way to real concern. “Is it really bad?”
“Those ribs are busted good. It’s a wonder they didn’t tear into a lung. We’d have really been in trouble, then.”
She paled a bit at that news. “If I’d known – I mean, I could tell he was sore, but – but that’s nothing unusual. A few bruises have never stopped us bef – “ She faltered, her cheeks flushing deeply.
Doc’s coloring matched hers as he cleared his throat. “Yeah, well – he just needs some rest.” His eyes sharpened. “For two weeks, but I know he won’t take that long, so if you can get him to stay still for at least five days, he should be able to get back out. But it’ll be slow going. Real slow.”
“I’ll do my best, Doc.”
“If anyone can keep him in bed, you can,” he murmured.
“What’s that?” she asked, her eyes suspicious.
“Nothing. Say, I met a woman who rode the stage with Matt.”
That did it. The pretty face frowned with an entirely new concern. “That so?” she asked, feigning nonchalance.
“Yep. In fact, she was just in here a minute ago. I bought her a glass of wine.”
“You bought – “ Kitty glanced over at Sam, who confirmed with a nod and a broader-than-necessary smile.
“Oh, yeah. And she’s pretty, too,” Doc picked.
Those blue eyes flashed. “Really.”
“Askin’ about Matt.”
“Yeah. Said she might bring him some chicken soup later.”
Another flash, this one a little brighter. “She did?”
“Asked if he was married.”
He could almost hear the thunder rumbling with that flash.
“Just being friendly, I’m sure,” he said, innocently.
“Oh, I’m sure.”
Doc let her stew on those thoughts for a long moment before he laughed aloud and shook his head.
“What?” Kitty asked.
“As if you think that overgrown civil servant has eyes for anyone but you.”
A frown swept her brows down. “It’s not that overgrown civil servant I’m worried about,” she confided. “It’s the female citizens who have it in mind to serve him.”
His ploy worked. Kitty’s face brightened in laughter. “Curly, if only I thought you were serious.” Pushing up from the table, she gave him a loving smile. “I’m going back to check on Matt. And don’t worry. I’ll make sure he stays in bed – asleep. I’ll see you later.”
A bittersweet smile curved his lips as he watched her walk up the stairs. If only.
Chapter Four: The Right Other Woman
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Relieved that the persistent prairie wind had taken a rest, even if it was only temporary, Solana Satterfield paused long enough to push a wayward strand of hair back into her otherwise perfect coif before she strolled over the threshold of the U.S. Marshal’s office. As was her practice, her dark eyes took in the surroundings with a simple glance, noting the sparseness of the room. It was neat, clean, and efficient – much like its inhabitant, she figured.
She, of course, did not expect to find the Marshal there, having heard from the town doctor – a rather charming, but frustrating gentleman – that he was convalescing from the wounds he had grudgingly admitted to her on the stage. She was surprised, then, to find that the outer room was not empty.
On a cot that butted the wall, a crumpled figure lay, his beard scraggly, his eyes closed, and his mouth open. His snores resounded impressively throughout the jail, so much so that she was amazed she hadn’t heard them outside. At first she thought he might be the town drunk sleeping it off, but a closer look revealed a silver badge on his chest. With a mental shrug, Solana accepted this little surprise quickly and moved on.
“Excuse me,” she tried, in between snores.
The figure was not phased.
Moving closer, she touched his shoulder gently. “Excuse me.”
Still nothing. With a little more force, she pushed at the shoulder. “Excuse me!”
And almost jumped out of her skin when the man bolted upright, pulling his gun from the holster and pointing it right at her.
Eyes wide and glazed, he asked, “Whaizzit?”
“Oh, dear!” she exclaimed, clutching at her chest in a genuine attempt to calm her pounding heart. “Oh, I am so sorry to have startled you, sir.”
The eyes that had widened now squinted, and the man stared at her for a moment before his brain seemed to comprehend the situation. Frowning, he re-holstered the gun, which afforded her more than a little relief.
“Wael, thet’uz a fool thang ta’ do,” he fussed. “I cud’a drilled ya’ plumb through. If it’d bin Matthew – “ He paused, getting a better look at his guest. His voice softened. “I mean, ya’ need ta’ be more keerful, ma’am.”
“Oh, I assure you, Marshal – “
“Deputy,” he corrected. “Deputy Festus Haggen. Pleased ta’ meet ya’.”
“Likewise, Deputy.” She extended a hand. “I am Solana Satterfield.”
“Miz Satterfield,” he returned. “You wuz lookin’ fer th’ Marshal, wuz ya’?”
“I was,” she lied. “Is he not in?”
“Oh, no ma’am. He come in yes-terdy a mite roughed up from tekkin’ in a no-count.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” Solana professed passionately. “He’s not terribly hurt, I hope.”
“Ol’ Doc sez he’s got hisseff some busted ribs and sich.”
“Oh, Matthew’s had worse.”
“Poor man. How long will he be invalided?”
“Unable to fulfill his duties as Marshal.”
“Oh. Doc sez two weeks, but Matthew don’t never listen ta’ Doc. I figger he’ll be back up an’ around in a couple of days.”
“A couple of days? That doesn’t give me much – “ She stopped herself abruptly, irritated at the lapse. “Uh, is that wise?”
“Ain’t nobody kin talk Matthew outta nothing onest his thankin’s on it.” He smiled slightly. “’Ceptin’ Miz Kitty, I reckon.”
Solana narrowed her eyes. Kitty again. Brushing past that bit of irritation, she awarded Deputy Haggen her best smile. “I’ll bet you have lots of interesting stories about keeping the peace in this rowdy town.”
“Wael, I reckon I cud spin a yarn er two.”
“This seems like such a depressing place to talk, though. Perhaps we could – share a beverage at one of your local establishments?”
“Uh – “
“May I buy you a beer, Deputy?”
“Oh! That’d be jest fine.”
“You have a suggestion of where?”
good enough for Miss Kitty,” she said, trying not to grit her teeth. “The
He glanced down at the delicate hand on the rough material of his shirt and flushed. “I don’t s’pose I do, ma’am.”
“What are we waiting for, then?”
“I’ve heard a great deal about Matt Dillon,” she noted casually, ignoring the stares. “The papers back East seem to paint him as a great heroic figure, but sometimes when one finds out the truth, one realizes the papers occasionally – exaggerate.”
”Oh, no, ma’am,” the deputy assured her. “Them papers is rite as rain. Marshal Dillon is the best lawman I ever seen – an’ I seen plenty, I kin tell ya’.”
“I’ve heard he’s ruthless in bringing in prisoners,” she prompted.
“I’ll tell ya’ one thang, I shore am gratified ta’ be on Matthew’s good side, thet’s fer sartain. He don’t abide too much by ones whut run afowl of th’ law.”
“He’s pretty rough with them, huh?”
“Rough?” Festus echoed, warming to his subject. “I seen him tek on five outtielaws an’ shoot ‘em all stone dead without even breakin’ a sweat.”
She took a breath. “My. That is remarkable.”
“Other times I seen him tek two er three bullets an’ still be standin’ to plug th’ other feller rite through th’ heart.”
Despite her vow not to get emotionally involved, she couldn’t help but be impressed. “Goodness. I wonder why anyone would even think of crossing him.”
“There’s fools everwhar, Miz Satterfield.”
“I suppose there are. How do the citizens of Dodge feel about having such a – violent man among them?”
Festus blinked. “Violent? Wael, I guess you cud say thet, but this ‘chere part of th’ country is rougher n’a porcupine’s backside. Teks a hard feller ta’ tame it.”
“And Matt Dillon is a hard fellow?”
Festus shrugged. “He kin be, ‘ceptin’ when it come ta’ Miz Kitty. I reckon she’s ‘bout th’ onliest one whut kin soften him up some.”
“Miz Kitty? By Miss Kitty, you are referring to Miss Kitty Russell, proprietor of this fine establishment?”
“She and the Marshal – “
He hesitated, and she sensed that he realized he had perhaps said too much. “Wael – “
“I saw them together yesterday,” she added quickly, smiling. “They certainly make a lovely couple.”
“Wael – “
“How does she feel about her man – about the marshal being in such a dangerous job?”
“Uh – “
“Well, I can just imagine. How about another beer, Deputy?” She had heard enough not to keep pushing – for now.
His teeth showed under his beard. “Thet’s rite genrus of ya’, Miz Satterfield.”
“Not at all.”
By the next afternoon, Solana had talked with enough Dodge citizens to gather a fairly complete picture of Marshal Matt Dillon. She had almost grown weary of hearing the countless tales of his courage and honor and strength. Only the occasional sour note was sung by some disgruntled shopkeeper or visiting drover – but those were the ones that interested her the most.
had no confirmation of her suspicions about the nature of his relationship with
Kitty Russell. Everyone just hinted at
it, talked about their “friendship.” For
that reason mainly, she found herself sitting at a side table in the
Delia was the only name the girl would share, but Solana didn’t mind. Her story was much more important than her name. She was a typical dove, from what Solana had read about them: heavy make-up, gaudy clothes, coarse language. Still, there was something almost eager about her voice. Perhaps Solana’s interest in her was enough, or maybe the small monetary token had helped warm up her vocal cords, as well. Whichever the reason, Delia seemed more than happy to talk about Dodge, Matt Dillon, and especially Kitty Russell.
“Miss Kitty treats us girls well,” she volunteered before Solana could ask. “Real well. She pays the best of any place in town, and she don’t make us do nothin’ we don’t want to do – if you know what I mean.”
Solana cocked her head. “Does Miss Kitty – uh – do any business personally?” Her brow rose to make her suggestion clearer.
“Oh, no.” Delia cut her eyes toward the bar where the bartender – Sam, she remembered – was serving the few customers that had wandered in early. “Well, I don’t guess it’s any real secret, even though it’s supposed to be.”
“What’s not any real secret?” Solana asked, trying not to leap eagerly at the lead.
“Miss Kitty and the Marshal, of course.”
Feigning ignorance, Solana prompted, “Marshal Dillon? And Miss Kitty? You mean, they – “
Delia nodded. “For a long time, now, since way before I started here, even.”
At last. She smiled in satisfaction at the affirmation. “How do you know, then, that they’re – “
The woman laughed. “How could I not know? You seen ‘em together? You can feel it in the air.”
Indeed, Solana had experienced those sparks personally at the depot, but she feigned innocence. “Really?”
“Sure. Oh, they’re real careful.”
Not that careful, Solana mused silently, since everybody in town seemed to know about them.
“They don’t do nothin’ too obvious in public, but – “ She leaned in, lowering her voice, conspiratorially. “But I’ve seen things.”
Skin tingling with the possibility of some valuable insight, Solana asked, “You have?”
“Oh, yeah. Sometimes, I help Miss Kitty close up. You know, when I’m not – uh – occupied. Anyway, if the Marshal’s in town, the
“He leaves late?” Solana guessed.
“More like he leaves early,” Delia amended. “Early the next morning.”
“You don’t say.”
“Yep. ‘Course, I don’t blame Miss Kitty none a‘tall. No, ma’am, none a’tall. Ain’t a female in Dodge, who does, I suppose. Even those high falootin’ biddies who put on airs that they’re better than other folks. I see their eyes following him when them long legs take him down that boardwalk.”
It was an appealing vision, Solana had to admit.
“Fact is, if I thought that big man would pay me any mind a’tall, I’d forget Miss Kitty was my boss and go after him right fast. He sure is some more good ta’ look at.”
Despite herself, Solana felt the blush creep into her cheeks. “Yes,” she agreed quietly. “He sure is.”
Delia’s voice grew even softer. “Once, I’d been – occupying – a gentleman over at the Dodge House, and I was coming in late. I used the back way ‘cause Sam had already locked the front. Soon as I got in the hallway, I heard these noises comin’ from Miss Kitty’s office. I was worried something might be wrong. Not everybody around here is a Christian person, you know,” she confided.
Solana raised a sardonic brow.
“Anyways, I eased open the door, and – “ She blushed, a reaction contrary to her station. “Well, let’s just say I won’t look at Miss Kitty’s desk the same way ever again.”
Mouth dropping, Solana asked, “Her desk?”
“Oh, yeah. I got a big old eyeful – and I mean big. I know why Miss Kitty ain’t gone lookin’ for nobody else all this time, that’s for sure.”
“Oh, my.” This was more than she could have expected. Swallowing, Solana savored the image that swelled in her mind before she asked, “What – what did they do?”
“Oh, they didn’t see me.” Delia smirked. “They were – busy. I slipped back out quick as I could.”
“Anyway, to answer your question, Miss Kitty don’t entertain nobody except the Marshal. And even though other women have tried, he don’t want to be entertained by nobody except Miss Kitty.”
Solana arched her brow suggestively. “Maybe he hasn’t met the right other woman, yet.”
With a raucous laugh that drew a few too many glances, Delia said, “Honey, even if he did, I’d pay good money ta’ see what she looked like when Miss Kitty got through with her. Yes’m, good money.”
And despite her determination to do whatever it took to reach her goal, Solana couldn’t suppress a flinch at the thought. After another drink, she thanked the chatty woman, sent her on her way, and sat back to muse over the various stories she had heard.
Some were told with admiration, some with awe, and some with accusation, but all led to two clear conclusions. First, Matt Dillon was not a man to have as an enemy; second, if you did make an enemy of him, there was just about only one area of vulnerability you could target:
Miss Kitty Russell.
Chapter Five: Bait
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
The first thing Matt Dillon noticed when his eyes squinted open was the bright daylight that streamed through the window into the room. The second thing was the room itself: not the jail, not Doc’s office. Kitty’s room. That usually meant that he had enjoyed her company the previous night and was waking relaxed and, more often than not, slightly aroused. Something told him, though, that wasn’t the case. Maybe it was the daylight, since he usually eased out of her arms before dawn. Maybe it was the pounding in his head, a sure sign the evening had not gone well.
He blinked a couple of times and pushed up with his elbows.
Or maybe it was the knife-like pain slicing through his ribs.
With a gasp, he collapsed back onto the bed, his teeth gritted against the burning rush that clenched his muscles.
Like rapid fire, visions of Joe Kendall slamming a stick of wood against him flashed into his memories, conflicting with more pleasant thoughts of Kitty draped over him, her back arching in ecstasy, her mouth open in pleasure. Then, cruelly, the images snapped as she fell forward against him.
He winced, and ran a hand over his side, confirming what had happened with the feel of the firm bandage that wrapped around him. It wasn’t difficult to recall how his desire had significantly diminished when Kitty’s open palms crashed into the already injured ribs.
He blinked hard and shook his head gingerly in a vain attempt to clear the fuzziness, an all-too-familiar after-effect from laudanum.
Damn Doc and his overdeveloped sense of protection. With an ironic chuckle, which he quickly re-thought at the pain it caused, he figured Kitty would have told him he was the pot calling the kettle black on that point.
The sound of footsteps outside the door cheered him with the prospect of her return, but his eyes widened at the sight of his visitor who entered carrying a china bowl, the rich smell of chicken soup wafting from it. The blonde woman from the stage smiled warmly at him, her gaze sweeping appreciatively over his bare chest. Clearing his throat, he tugged the covers up higher.
“Marshal Dillon,” she greeted, her tone warm and familiar, as if they were long-time acquaintances.
“Miss – uh – “
He watched those eyes narrow in irritation before she managed to hide the response. “Satterfield. Solana Satterfield. Oh, surely you haven’t forgotten me that quickly, Marshal,” she pouted. “That’s not very flattering. Of course, you have been terribly hurt, so I can understand. Why, I knew on the stage that you were just being brave.” Just as quickly, her mood brightened. “I’m so glad to see that you are recovering.”
He stared at her as she placed the tureen on Kitty’s table and stepped closer to him, still chatting away.
“When Doctor Adams told me you were in such a bad way, I was so very distressed,” she confessed, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Pressing his lips together, he decided he and Doctor Adams would have a little talk later.
“Tell me, Marshal,” she began, and Matt swore her voice sounded almost like a purr. “What’s it like having to live in constant danger, wondering what evil men might be hovering around the corner just waiting to steal your soul from this world?”
Still working to clear the fog from his mind, he said, “Sometimes, Miss Satterfield, it’s evil women who are waiting to steal my soul.”
His candor brought a blush to her cheeks, and, even though he was wary of her intentions, it was not an altogether unpleasant look. “Why, Marshal Dillon,” she protested, her voice sugary, “surely you’re not insinuating that I –“
“Nope. Nope. Not at all. I was just – clarifying.”
“I see. Yes, I suppose it could be women, too. In fact,” she noted, leaning closer to him, “I’d bet you’ve had to fight off more than your share of – evil women, Marshal. Or maybe, you didn’t fight them off, at all.”
Before he could figure out how to answer, she continued, “Have you made many enemies? I would imagine there are men out there – and women, of course – who might be interested in revenge.”
“Probably,” he conceded.
“People who have lived with the consequences of your actions – oh, justified, of course – feeling they weren’t given a fair chance, perhaps?”
His gaze hardened. “I uphold the law, Miss Satterfield,” he told her. “If someone chooses to break that law, they pay the price.” Where the hell was Kitty? Or Doc, for that matter? Normally, he couldn’t get away from their hovering when he was hurt. Now, they had left him to the wolves.
“And I hear that many have, indeed, paid the price with one of your bullets in them.”
He felt his jaw harden to match his gaze. This visit wasn’t nearly as pleasant anymore – if it ever had been. “Miss Satterfield – “
“But you had no choice, I realize. The hard-nosed lawman who lets nothing come between him and his job.”
“Miss Satterfield – “
“Except perhaps a woman,” she added, laying a gentle hand on his bare shoulder.
Teeth gritted, he tried once more. “Miss Satt – “ But the effort to push up only succeeded in shooting pain through him, and he froze, a grimace tightening his features.
“Oh, I am so sorry,” she said, sounding only mildly distraught. “Broken ribs, I understand.” Her tongue clicked ruefully. “How awful.” Her hand stroked over his shoulder. “Is there – anything I can do to make it – feel better?”
Swallowing, he opened his mouth to ask her to leave, but before he could manage it, the door opened again, and his rescuer, or his executioner – depending on her mood – arrived.
“Figured you might be up to taking a little soup – “ Kitty Russell’s voice faltered, as did her footsteps, when her eyes settled on the scene in her bedroom.
Valiantly, Matt gave her his best Cowboy grin, knowing the gesture was futile. “Kitty, look who’s come to visit.”
Although her demeanor remained cool – too cool, perhaps, Matt could feel the fury crackling beneath the cordial façade.
“Miss – Satterfield,” Kitty greeted, her voice rising a bit with the last syllable. She carried a tray with a bowl similar to the one Solana had already placed on the table, and now she rested it next to the first one.
“Miss Russell,” Solana returned just as coolly. “I was bringing the Marshal some chicken soup. After talking with Doctor Adams, I was afraid he didn’t have anyone to take care of him.” She bestowed a syrupy smile on Kitty. “Obviously, I misunderstood. How Christian of you to see to his – needs.”
Matt winced at the fire that lit Kitty’s eyes. He’d most likely have to wait in line for that little talk with Doc.
“Yes,” Kitty agreed, lingering a bit on the “s” so that it sounded vaguely like a hiss.
“I had no idea he was injured so badly when we shared the stage. I mean, I could tell there was some distress, but – “
“The Marshal is tough,” Kitty said bluntly.
Solana’s eyes sparkled. “Indeed.”
Shifting, Matt wasn’t sure which was more uncomfortable: his ribs or the tension in the room.
Solana squared up with Kitty, finally letting her hand slip from Matt’s shoulder. “How long have you been a nurse, Miss Russell?” she asked, voice dripping with innuendo.
With a dangerous look, Kitty asked, “How long have you been a – “
“Kitty!” Matt interrupted quickly. Looking up at Solana, he said in a polite but firm tone of dismissal, “Thank you for the soup, Miss Satterfield. I think I’d better get some rest, now.”
Stiffening, Solana nevertheless took the hint and nodded at him. “Of course, Marshal. We wouldn’t want you tiring yourself out.” She arched a pointed brow at Kitty. “I’ll just come by later and pick up the tureen.”
“I’ll be glad to take it back to Delmonico’s for you,” Kitty offered generously.
“How kind.” The smile vanished as soon as it appeared.
“Don’t mention it.”
With chin lifted, the woman strolled from the room, and Matt relaxed, only then realizing he had been bracing the busted ribs.
It took only a second for the anticipated explosion to occur.
“Oh! Of all the nerve!”
“Now, Kitty – “
“How dare that woman come in here – to my room – and – and there she was all sugar and – and with her hand on your shoulder, and – and how the hell did she know you were here in the first place?”
He didn’t really figure Doc would have blabbed, but Solana Satterfield was a beautiful woman, and probably quite persuasive to men who didn’t have Kitty Russell to occupy their attentions.
“Don’t you eat that soup, Matt,” she instructed, pointing at the bowl as if it were poison.
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he assured her wisely.
Perhaps it was the amused tone of his voice, but after another moment of outrage, Kitty turned to him, her beautiful mouth suddenly curving into a reluctant smile. “Hussy,” she declared, bending over to fluff absently at his pillows.
“She’s up to something.”
“You think so?”
“Besides trying to seduce you, I mean.”
“Oh, she wasn’t – “
“Are you blind, Matt? She was fawning all over you. And while I don’t blame her, I’ll kill her if she tries it again.”
He chuckled lightly, conscious of the aching ribs, and reached for her hand. As his long fingers entwined with hers, he said, “I think maybe that won’t be necessary.”
“No?” she asked, sitting gingerly on the bed and tugging their clenched hands to her breast.
His breath caught as his thumb brushed the enticing swells. “No,” he managed hoarsely.
Swallowing, he said, “Because I’m not blind, Kitty. In fact, I see very well. Right now, I see an intelligent, beautiful, charming redhead, who is more woman than I deserve.”
That comment – uncharacteristically effusive for him – earned him a kiss so deep that he had to pull away to catch his breath.
“Kitty,” he gasped.
But she just smiled and pressed a breast into his palm.
“Kitty,” he moaned, caressing her and wondering just how much activity his ribs would take. “I’m sorry about last night.”
“About not finishing – “
Her fingers brushed his cheek softly. “Oh, Matt, that was my fault. You made me so, well, so – oh, it felt so wonderful to be with you again, that I couldn’t – well, it was my fault.”
“No – “
“It was my fault. But it wasn’t last night.”
Sighing, he asked, “How long?”
“What?” Damn Doc.
“You needed to be still, Matt, and Doc knew you wouldn’t – well, he said it could have punctured a lung when I – “ She swallowed, tears brimming in those clear eyes.
His hand ran up her arm, then cupped the back of her head to pull her toward him. After a gentle kiss, he whispered, “It wasn’t your fault, Kitty.”
“It was – “
Another kiss silenced her. “No. If anything it was my fault. I knew those ribs were in bad shape, but you were so beautiful, and it had been two weeks – “
“So, it was my fault,” she said, but her smile let him know she was teasing – mostly.
“I guess it was.”
“So you won’t eat Solana Satterfield’s soup?”
By now, he was kissing her again, so that he had to murmur. “I won’t ever eat anyone’s soup but yours, Kitty. You never have to worry about that.”
“Because mine is the best,” she fished, her lips moving against his.
“Even if it wasn’t,” he assured her.
The sudden stiffening of her body let him know he had made a mistake. “What?”
“But it is,” he added, hastily.
“Matt – “
His mouth covered her once more, and he felt her relax, giving into his caresses. With soft but determined moves, her fingers stroked over his shoulders and chest, twirling the fine tufts of hair over his breastbone. He wondered if she could feel his heart pounding beneath her touch. When she brought her body close enough for her breasts to press gently against him, he groaned. In addition to the throbbing of his side, he felt other parts of him throbbing, as well – for an entirely different reason – and started planning out how they might follow through with their desires and still keep from hurting –
Abruptly, her lips tore away, leaving him with raw, aching desire. “What the – “ But his words stumbled to silence when he saw who their intruder was and got a glimpse of the consternation that darkened his face.
“Now I know you haven’t got any sense.”
“Doc,” Kitty scolded, pushing her fallen tresses back in place. “You’ve stopped knocking?”
The physician shook his head in dismay. “Hell, I knocked five times already. I thought I saw you a few minutes ago at Delmonico’s so I – well, when I didn’t get an answer, I figured Matt was asleep, and – well, dagnabbit, what are you two doing in the middle of the day – and with Matt barely awake from – for Pete’s sake!”
“Well,” Matt fumbled, completely guilty and searching for a distraction. Then it occurred to him. “Yeah, well, what are you doin’, goin’ around telling folks I’m up here, anyway?”
The flank worked. Doc reared his head back and stared. “What are you talkin’ about?”
“Solana Satterfield,” Kitty interjected, joining forces as she sensed a shift in advantage. “That’s what he’s talking about.”
“What about her?”
“Why’d ya’ tell her I was up here?”
“Well, what do ya – I mean, I didn’t!”
“You didn’t?” Kitty echoed, her tone skeptical.
But Doc’s answer was in earnest. “’Course not. What do you think – well, you two know I’d never – “ He sounded genuinely wounded, and Matt felt even more guilty for suspecting him.
Kitty shook her head, the accusation gone. “How did she know, then?”
“Well, I sure don’t know, but – wait, you mean she was up here?”
“She was,” Kitty snapped.
“And you were up here, too?”
For a moment, Doc’s eyes crinkled. “Say, I’m awful sorry I missed that.”
“Doc – “ Matt warned. He didn’t want to get Kitty riled again, and it wouldn’t take much.
the woman, Matt,”
Kitty snorted. “She’s fishin’ for Matt.”
He felt his ears warm. “Kitty – “
“Could be,” Doc allowed. “Could be. I hope that’s all it is.”
“Well, if she’s fishin’ just for Matt, I don’t figure she’s gonna have any luck.”
“Why’s that?” Kitty wanted to know.
He chuckled and cocked his head toward the marshal. “Because I happen to know that that big ol’ bass there has already been caught by a much better fisherwoman with a lot better bait.”
Despite the flush that reddened his cheeks, Matt couldn’t argue. Doc was right on the nail with that one. He felt confident that whatever Solana Satterfield was up to, Matt Dillon wouldn’t be part of it.
Chapter Six: Waiting on Lede
Episode References: (not telling, yet)
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Solana groaned as pleasure tingled through every nerve in her body. She really couldn’t believe this was happening, even though she had imagined it from the moment she boarded that stage in Ellsworth and got a delicious look at that big, beautiful man. Even after discovering there was a woman waiting for him at the end of the line, she had decided that she wanted him. And now –
Her breath caught as his lips left hers, and he pulled her hard against him, his long body solid with muscle.
“Oh, Matt,” she breathed when his arms enveloped her. He was everything she had imagined, and she let herself press into him, unable to keep from gasping when his strong arousal pulsed against her stomach. How she yearned to feel that strength deep inside her, taking her again and again until she screamed in ecstasy.
What would Kitty Russell say now if she could see them? Solana almost wished the smug redhead were there to watch her man get thoroughly bedded by a woman who knew how.
Heart pounding, she ran her hands over his shirt, tearing through the buttons to feel the hard planes of that broad chest beneath her fingers, to rub over the light hair that trailed down his abdomen. Effortlessly, he lifted her into his arms and carried her to the bed, his blue eyes burning with desire. She somehow managed not to cry out with longing as his large hands stripped her of her garments and laid her bare and open to him. Those same hands worked quickly to unbuckle his belt and push the straining trousers to the floor, evoking a startled gasp from her at the sight of his need, generous and eager – and all for her.
After that, he wasted little time, bracing his big body over her and joining them, his firm entry bringing both pleasure and pain. When he felt she was ready, he began moving, slowly at first, but then with increased power. Finally, his thrusts grew so hard that the bed started to knock against the wall, over and over, harder and harder. Solana clung to him, her body alive with sensations she had never imagined she could feel, building and building until she knew they were both almost at their peaks.
“Miss Satterfield!” he cried out, and she smiled at the formality. Surely he could call her Solana in this intimate moment.
The headboard continued to pound against the wall with a steady beat. “Miss Satterfield!”
“Yes, Marshal!” she answered, carried away by the intensity of her pleasure. “Yes! Yes!”
More pounding, again and again. “Miss Satterfield!”
“Miss Satterfield, are you awake?”
“Are you awake?”
Abruptly, Solana Satterfield’s eyes snapped open, and she stared into the early light of her hotel room. Her body surged with desire, her legs and arms trembled with passion, but one look around told her that even though she still burned with the pleasure Matt Dillon brought her, she was alone in the bed.
The knock sounded again – the door, not the headboard. “Miss Satterfield?” came the voice from beyond it in the hallway. “It’s Howie, the hotel clerk, ma’am. You asked to be wakened at seven?”
Oh, damn it to hell.
“Are you awake?”
Still panting from the very, very vivid dream, Solana took in a deep, disappointed breath and answered, as calmly as she could. “Yes. Yes, I am.” Damn it. “Thanks a lot.”
“My pleasure,” Howie said, his voice muffled as he retreated down the hall.
Falling back into the rumpled bed sheets, she closed her eyes and tried in vain to recapture those rapturous moments. Dear God, they had been intense. She wondered if that big marshal was anywhere close to as incredible a lover in real life as he had been in her dream. If he was, how she envied Kitty Russell.
She had to admit that whore Delia had been right. Matt Dillon was “some more good to look at.” More than anything, Solana regretted that the Marshal’s injury would prevent her from having time to work on him a bit more. No man she had seriously turned her sights on had ever turned her down, and she had every confidence she could tempt Dillon if she put her mind – and body – into it.
Besides, Paul Hill hadn’t mentioned that the lawman was so very attractive. Of course, she didn’t figure Paul would have noticed that, anyway. And it had been five years since he had been to Dodge – five years he would just as soon forget, she knew.
She would do what he wanted in the end; she would give him his revenge, but in the meantime, there was no harm in enjoying herself, was there? Even though she and Paul had an “understanding,” she knew he didn’t restrict himself when she wasn’t around. Why should she, then? Previously, her flirtations with the marshal had been superficial, but after that heated dream, she began to wonder just how easy a mark Matt Dillon would be. Still savoring the warm feeling those visions had left her with, she decided that it might be quite satisfying – in more ways than one – to give Miss Kitty Russell a run for her money.
Despite her request for an early wake-up, it was nearly noon by the time Solana stepped out onto the Dodge streets again, finding it necessary to clap her hand over her hat to keep it in place against the best efforts of the whipping wind, freshly returned from its brief hiatus. She wondered how these people could stand the dust and dirt that swirled into their eyes and noses and mouths, and she was grateful that her exodus from Dodge was imminent.
Sauntering into the small telegraph office, she awarded the wrinkled operator with a smile, hoping that not too much sand clung to her teeth. “Good morning.”
Glancing up, he smiled back. “Well, good morning. What can I do for you, ma’am?”
expecting a telegram from
He sat upright. “Oh, sure. Came just a few minutes ago. Kinda strange, but then I don’t mess with others’ messages. No sirree.”
“I’m sure you are the epitome of discretion,” she agreed.
“May I have it, please?” Solana asked, itching to jerk the paper from his hand.
“Oh.” He held it out toward her. “Yes, ma’am.”
Anxiously, she looked down at the words, cryptic to the Dodge telegraph operator, crystal clear to her:
WAITING ON LEDE. STOP. HAVE TO KILL IF NOT RECEIVED THREE DAYS. STOP. COUNTING ON YOU. STOP. PAUL
Three days. Damn. And she was already behind.
“Problem, Miss?” A quick glance up revealed the concerned face of the old telegrapher staring at her.
Pushing down the flash of irritation, she granted him a grateful smile. “Oh, no, not at all.” Damn fool. “Can you send a reply?”
“Okay. How about, uh, ‘Message received. Stop. Do not kill yet. Stop. Lede will come soon. Stop.’ And sign it ‘Solana’.”
The telegrapher glanced up at her, his crinkled eyes curious, but he didn’t question. “I’ll send it right out, Miss. You want to wait for a reply?”
“No. That’s fine.” Laying a hand on his arm, she smiled again. “Thank you so much. You are very kind.”
He cleared his throat, a bit flustered. “Oh, no problem. No problem, at all.”
As soon as she turned away, she allowed the insipid grin to fall from her lips. Damn Paul and his deadline. She just needed a little more time. Besides, it was all for him, now, wasn’t it? What did she care about Marshal Matt Dillon and his almighty reputation? But she did care, and she had to admit that her interest had become personal. That could play to their advantage, though. Surely Paul wouldn’t mind a little bonus, would he? In fact, she figured maybe Paul owed her. After all, he had sent her to do his job, the coward. She deserved a bonus, herself.
Her excitement waned when she considered that her bonus was currently under the protective – irritatingly protective – watch of Kitty Russell.
Damn that idiot who had broken Dillon’s ribs.
stepped back into the blustering day, though, her mouth dropped at a sudden and
completely unexpected sight. Standing on
the boardwalk in front of the
Just as she started to walk toward him, she saw Kitty Russell step through the swinging doors and stand beside him. Even from down the street, Solana could see the tenderness in her gaze. And even worse, it was clear the marshal returned that tenderness. Without touching, their bodies leaned close to each other, communicating in that universal language. Russell said something to him, resting her hand on his chest. Solana felt her eyes narrow. Dillon smiled down and said something back, letting his hand cover Kitty’s. She saw him raise his eyes to glance around as if checking to see if anyone was watching, then lean down to give the redhead a quick, but gentle kiss before Russell returned to the saloon.
dust flew into Solana’s mouth, and she closed it quickly, stamping out the
flame of jealousy so that it didn’t deter her from watching him walk down the
boards between the
“Oh, Marshal!” she called, one hand bracing her hat against the persistent wind as she crossed toward him.
He turned, perhaps a bit too quickly, because the movement drew a grimace to his features. Still, he had wiped it away by the time she reached him.
“Miss Satterfield,” he greeted, touching a couple of fingers from his left hand to the brim of his hat.
Satisfaction tingled in her stomach. He remembered her name that time. Other feelings tingled in other places. She tried not to flush at his closeness.
“Why, what a surprise to see you up, Marshal,” she drawled, not having to work too hard to be genuine. “It was my understanding that you would be invalided for two weeks.” Leaning in conspiratorially, she confided, “But I should have known a big, strong man like you couldn’t be kept down by a couple of little ol’ broken ribs.”
The amusement on his face warned her she might have taken that a bit too far, and she reminded herself that this was no gullible rube she was dealing with. Paul had warned her that Matt Dillon was tough, intelligent, and skilled. She had already found out most of that herself – although she really would like to test some particular skills more thoroughly.
“I guess it was my soup that did it,” she teased, taking the liberty of placing a hand on his forearm.
“Maybe so,” he acknowledged politely, stepping back just enough for her hand to drop. “Now, if you’ll excuse me – “
Before she could protest, a frantic call drew his attention. It came from across the street, one of the seedier establishments that Solana had avoided.
“Marshal! Come quick!”
Dillon stepped off the boardwalk, and she was pretty sure she heard him grunt as his right boot hit the ground hard, but he continued without faltering. Catching up her skirt, Solana followed instinctively, forced to run to keep up with his long strides.
By the time they reached the doors of the saloon, the fracas was in full swing, with cowboys and drifters alike throwing punches, bottles, chairs, and tables. Solana considered herself a worldly woman, but she had never had the opportunity to observe a honest-to-goodness, all-out brawl. A thrill of excitement mixed with more than a little anxiety shot up her spine.
Dillon didn’t hesitate to wade into the melee. “All right!” the Marshal yelled, his voice commanding. “Break it up!”
A few of the scrappers fell back with the order, but some were so absorbed in their fight – or so drunk – that they didn’t pay any attention to the warning. To Solana’s astonishment, Dillon stepped between them, tearing men apart and slamming them back to splinter tables and the few remaining intact chairs. She had never seen anyone manhandle other human beings so completely. Of course, he was at least a half-foot taller than any other man in the room. As she watched him subdue the crowd, her eyes flickered with interest and calculation.
When everyone finally stood or sat or lay submissively, he shook his head and said, “Boys, it’s too early for roust-a-bout. Now, go get some sleep and sober up before you come back tonight. And if I have to come back for you, you’ll spend the rest of your stay in jail.”
The few who could still walk nodded obediently and helped their companions out the door, apparently heeding the formidable lawman’s threat. She watched them shuffle out, carrying various assortments of scrapes and bruises as their warnings. When the room cleared, Solana peeked back through the doors, her impressed smile fading as she saw Dillon leaning against the bar, a grimace tightening his handsome features, a hand pressed to his side. Not sure whether she should go to him, she waited. After a moment, he opened his eyes and met her gaze. The hand fell abruptly; he straightened, not quite able to suppress a wince, and pushed past her to walk back into the street.
But he had barely made it to the center of the dusty road when another voice called to him, this one familiar and clearly agitated. Solana turned to see Doctor Adams shuffling as quickly as he could toward the marshal.
“What in tarnation do you think you’re doing?” he asked, pale eyes flashing with anger.
It was possible that the larger man actually flinched. “Now, Doc – “ he began, his own tone pacifying.
“Don’t ‘now, Doc’ me, Marshal! I told you to stay in bed for two weeks and it’s only been four days. All you’d have to do was turn the wrong way and one of those ribs could snap right into a lung. And then see who’d come to help you!”
Solana’s brows lifted. Obviously, the doctor had no idea that only a few moments before his patient had done quite a bit more than “turn the wrong way.” If he was mad at seeing the marshal simply walking down the street, how furious would he be to know Dillon had just broken up a fight in a saloon?
Not surprisingly, the marshal didn’t confess to anything. He merely smiled at the physician’s tirade. “I have every faith in your dedication to your oath, Doctor.”
But the threat remained unfinished because once again, the marshal’s name was called, this time by a dark-headed man with a mustache, one of the townspeople Solana recalled having noticed a couple of days earlier. He hurried down the street, waving a folded piece of paper in his hand.
“What is it, Burke?” Dillon asked wearily, and Solana saw that when he turned to face the other man, he took extra care in the move.
“Marshal,” Burke greeted, holding out a piece of paper. “This here telegram come for ya’. Barney says it’s real important.”
Nodding, Dillon took the message. “Thanks.” She noted that he used his left hand.
“Nathan, Matt’s supposed to be convalescing. What are you doing bringing him work?”
Burke looked confused. “Well, he’s right here in the middle of the street, Doc. Don’t look like he’s convalescing to me.”
Frowning up at the marshal, Doc muttered, “No, it doesn’t, does it?”
“It’s from the sheriff over in Ellsworth,” Burke volunteered.
Ellsworth? Solana watched, her interest piqued, as Dillon’s eyes scanned over the contents, his jaw hardening.
Helpfully, Burke added, “Had an escape.”
“This ain’t mail, Doc,” he argued. “It’s a telegram.”
“Well, it’s the same – “
didn’t read it. Barney told me. Some fella named
Tugging at his lower lip, Matt sighed. “Yeah, Doc. Joe Kendall was the man I trailed and took in to Ellsworth.”
“And now he’s escaped? All that for nothing.”
“Oh my,” Solana interjected. The others glanced at her as if they had forgotten she was there, which was a bit insulting. “You don’t think he’s going to come after you, do you, Matt?”
“Don’t know why he would,” Dillon figured, acting as if he didn’t hear her use his given name.
But Doc waved a hand. “Oh, no. No. ‘Course not. It’s not like anybody else you’ve caught has tried to get revenge on you or anything.”
Solana decided Doc Adams did sarcasm well. Suppressing a smile, she made a mental note to check out this Joe Kendall a little more deeply.
Stuffing the telegram in his shirt pocket, Matt took a deep breath – apparently too deep, the gritted teeth and tightness around his eyes betraying his discomfort.
“I’ll see you later, Doc,” he said, cutting off the older man’s fussing. He gave Solana another perfunctory touch to his hat – left-handed again – before he turned back toward the jail.
As she watched him disappear through the jail door, she calculated how much time she had before Paul’s deadline forced her hand. Probably not as much as she needed, and certainly not as much as she wanted.
Sucking in a determined breath – and paying for it with another mouthful of dust – she clapped her hand over her hat again and headed toward the office of the U.S. Marshal.
Chapter Seven: Hero or Heel?
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Fire burned unsuppressed across Matt Dillon’s long torso, forcing him back against the closed door of his office, no longer able to fight through the pain that had pounded at him since his ill-advised disruption of the fight at the Oasis. He hadn’t been at all sure he could make it out of sight before the flames doubled him over, but somehow he had managed to bluff his way past Burke and Solana Satterfield – and even Doc – to take refuge inside the jailhouse.
Wrapping his arms around the throbbing ribs failed to bring even minor relief, and he tried in vain to blink past the needles of darkness that pricked at his vision. He ground his teeth together in an effort to avoid passing out, at least long enough to stumble to his narrow bunk. The last thing he wanted was for someone to saunter into the office – Heaven forbid it would be Kitty – and find him sprawled out on the floor.
Those few feet seemed like miles as he dragged his battered body toward the haven of the bed, the long legs, usually strong and solid, giving way just as he reached his goal. He couldn’t keep from gasping at the abrupt contact with the mattress, and it was a long, long moment before he caught his breath. Lying as still as possible, he tried to snatch at any bit of logic to deter his mind from the searing agony that threatened to pull him into oblivious blackness. Doc was right – as much as he hated to admit that. He should have stayed in bed, maybe not for two weeks, but at least another few days. Hauling apart those reprobates in the saloon had done something – he didn’t know exactly what, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t good – and he was pretty sure Doc would be mad.
Concentrating on each breath, he let the air ease between gritted teeth. In. Out. Slowly. Slowly. Trying to regulate the movement, to minimize the expansion of the unforgiving bone and sinew. After a few moments, the intensity seemed to diminish, not much, but enough so he was relatively sure he wasn’t going to lose consciousness. The steady rhythm of his breathing began to lull his struggling body to sleep, enveloping him mercifully in its murky depths, and he decided that perhaps that kind of unconsciousness was welcomed.
The pumping of his heart echoed in his ears, loud and hard at first, then easier as his muscles unclenched and relaxed. Relief washed through him. His thoughts swam lazily until he was back in Kitty’s bed, in her warm, loving arms, her lovely body pressed against him, those soft lips tracing over his chest and down his stomach until they teased at his pulsing arousal. Soft, talented fingers caressed him, soothed his old aches and created new aches that brought pleasure instead of pain. Overcome, he called her name, reached out to guide her, to hold her, arching up in growing desire.
“Kitty – ” he gasped.
Something about that voice wasn’t right. It didn’t sound like Kitty, at all. It sounded like –
Reality jerked him rudely from the pleasant vision of his beautiful redhead hovering above him, doing delicious things to him. His eyes opened abruptly, squinting at the door of the office – at the open door of the office. Solana Satterfield stood in the threshold, her eyes disturbingly hungry and fixed on one spot. Following her gaze to that particular spot, he felt the hot flush sweep over him as he realized just what held her undivided attention; his dream Kitty had been impressively successful in her efforts to arouse him – most impressively successful.
Instinctively, he bolted upright, only to find his face against his knees when his shoulders snapped forward, snatching the air from his lungs. Fresh pain ripped through him, so intense that he was afraid he might be physically sick right there in front of her.
Hiding his arousal was no longer a problem – not at all.
“Marshal?” Her voice was not sultry now. In fact, it sounded rather alarmed.
Vaguely, he felt her arm slip around his back, but he was in no condition to accept or reject her attempt to comfort.
“Marshal, are you – you’re really not all right, are you?”
No, I’m fine. Go away. Leave me alone. Had he managed to say that aloud? He didn’t think so.
“You let me take care of you,” she cooed, letting her hand brush through his hair.
“No, really,” he tried to say, but the words emerged only as a low groan.
Her arm tightened around him, and he wasn’t sure if it was in genuine sympathy or convenient manipulation. It didn’t matter, anyway. It was completely superfluous to his attempt at overriding the pain.
Somewhere in the midst of the haze that clouded his thoughts, he felt her fingers slip down his shirtfront, fingering open the first few buttons and sliding in to skim over his chest. What was a welcome sensation when it was Kitty’s touch merely irritated him now. Even through the pain, he managed to grab hold of her wrist and pull her hand away.
“Miss – Satterfield – “ he ground out. “Don’t – “
But she wouldn’t be put off that easily, and he found himself at a disadvantage as the pain continued to throb through him, robbing him of the ability to process clearly what she was doing.
“There, now, Marshal,” she whispered, her free hand straying lower over his stomach. “Let me take care of you.”
The caress continued lower, and he couldn’t mistake what her destination was. With a focused effort – at considerable cost – he dragged his body up and used his left forearm to push her away.
“I can make you feel better, Matt,” she assured him, reaching for him once more. “So much better.”
“I don’t – want you to – make me – feel better. I – want you to – leave.” After taking a moment to swallow down a fresh wave of nausea, he added, “Now.”
Her full lips pursed into a pout. “Oh, you don’t mean that.”
“Yes,” he snapped, unable to dampen the response with his usual courtesy.
Those sympathetic, coaxing eyes hardened instantly as she straightened. “You are making a serious mistake, Marshal.”
“No,” he told her. “You – are, Miss – Satterfield.”
Fury darkened the beautiful features, and her hand drew back as if she might slap him. He braced for the sting, not willing to pull away the arm that cradled his ribs. But it didn’t come. Instead, the voice softened again, deceptively calm.
Sliding her arm back around him, she purred, “I still don’t think you really meant that.” She took the liberty of propping on the bunk next to him, leaning into his body, her lips close to his ear.
He tried to tell her to go away, tried to move his own body from hers, but it suddenly seemed like too difficult a task. His head pounded, his ribs groaned with each slight movement. Through the distractions, he heard footsteps outside, followed by an audible gasp.
“What the hell is going on?”
Now, that voice did, indeed, sound like Kitty. Ice hard. Quietly furious. He opened his eyes and couldn’t keep from grimacing at the look on her face. I warned you, he wanted to tell Solana, but one glance at Kitty convinced him that discretion was the better part of valor in this case. He would be content to let her do the talking.
“Oh, Miss Russell,” Solana acknowledged boldly, her arm not budging from its possessive position around the broad shoulders. “I was just – comforting – the Marshal.“
“I can see that,” Kitty noted, voice dangerously quiet. “Now, if you would be so kind as to back off.” The last two words shot out as if they had been propelled from Matt’s .45.
Bristling, Solana began, “I will not – “ but her words broke off abruptly, accompanied by a dull thump and a sharp grunt. At first, Matt wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, since he was focusing on just breathing at the moment, but a quick glance revealed that Solana had been expediently and unceremoniously booted from her perch and now sat, open-mouthed, on the floor.
Another arm slid around him, this one truly comforting and familiar. “Hey, Cowboy,” she whispered, the calm clearly forced. “What happened?”
“Stupid,” he confessed, able only to get out one word at a time with the limited amount of air he could take in. “Fight – Oasis – I broke it up.“
“Well, why did you think you could do that?” she fussed, her sympathy breaking slightly. “Never mind. Because you’re Matt Dillon – indestructible.”
Not hardly, he thought. “Stupid,” he repeated, willing to admit to the truth.
“Stupid,” she agreed, but her voice was soft and sympathetic again.
“I’ll tell you what’s stupid,” Solana screeched. She had recovered enough to pick herself off the floor and now stood glaring at them, her beautiful face screwed into an ugly, red scowl. “How you could want this – this – trollop over me!”
“Trollop!” Kitty echoed, her body stiffening as she stood.
“Kitty – “
His redhead leaned forward in clear warning. “Look, sister, I haven’t fought a woman in a very long time, but if you don’t get out of here now I’ll forget my manners and tear out those bedroom eyes you’ve been batting at him since you flounced off that stage.”
Solana flinched, and Matt saw her back up – which he considered a prudent move on her part – but before Kitty could make good on her threat, the other woman fled through the doorway, pausing only long enough to spit back, “You’ll be sorry for this, Marshal Matt Dillon, even more than you were already going to be. Paul was right, you are stubborn.”
Paul? Matt’s lawman’s brain flashed in alert, but before he could process anything, she was already out the door, her final vow snapped over her shoulder.
“Rest assured, you will be sorry.”
The office door slammed shut as she rushed into the street, her own furious tornado whirling with the wind that already whipped outside. Matt knew he should probably be concerned on some level about the threat, but he couldn’t quite think past the misery that demanded most of his concentration.
“Paul?” he repeated, trying to sift through 13 years of enemies for a connection.
A calm, soothing voice eased through the pain, gave him some measure of focus. He clung to it and fought down the nausea that had returned. After a moment, he found that he could open his eyes. The sight of Kitty’s beautiful eyes, concerned and loving, buoyed him further.
“I’m – okay,” he whispered, an attempt at reassurance that neither of them believed.
“Sure. Just lie back, Cowboy,” she urged gently. “I’ll go get Doc.”
No, he wanted to say. I don’t need him. But even his own stubborn brain chided him for the bravado. It was pretty clear that he did, indeed, need Doc. So he acquiesced to her, and simply nodded, almost smiling when he saw the alarm that his rare concession created.
As much as he hated laudanum and usually fiercely resisted Doc’s forcing it on him, Matt decided that sometimes – on the rare occasion – it could be a wonderful thing. Of course, he would never admit that to the physician, but lying on his bunk, drifting in and out of consciousness, he considered the benefits of a pain-free – or at least pain-reduced – existence. During his more lucid moments, he caught bits of conversation between the two people he was closest to in the world.
“ – don’t know what the hell he was thinking in the first place, throwing himself in the middle of that bunch of hell raisers,” Doc fussed.
I didn’t throw myself, Matt wanted to interject, but he couldn’t muster the energy. Plus, some clear thinking brain cell deep inside told him he would be better off just to keep quiet.
“Damn fool thing to do. If he’d a punctured a lung – “
“But he’ll be all right, won’t he, Doc?” Kitty’s question cut through the bluster, seeking the most important piece of information.
“Well – I think so. ‘Course, just because he has such a fine – “ But he didn’t finish. Instead, he wiped at his mustache and repeated, almost to himself, “I think so.”
“Wouldn’t he be better off back in – “ She hesitated, even though it was just Doc. “ – well, in my room?”
That sounded like a good idea to Matt, but Doc said, “Normally, I would say yes, but he needs to stay here for a while. I’m still worried about a puncture.”
“Doc, you think – “
“No, no. He’ll be fine, if he stays still like I told him to in the first place.” His voice softened. “You gonna stay here with him, Kitty?”
“Yeah.” No hesitation.
“All right, then. I’m gonna check on the Widow Parsim. She’s got the ague again – “
But his words were trampled by the flurry of activity outside on the boardwalk and the sudden wham of the door crashing back against the wall. Matt jerked, grimacing at the fresh flood of pain, even past the laudanum buffer. Squinting, he peered up and saw Nathan Burke standing in the middle of the room, hatless, his hair ruffled, his eyes wide.
the buildings of
“Burke!” Doc yelled. “What in tarnation do you think you’re doing? Matt’s tryin’ to – “
“I gotta see the Marshal!” the freight clerk declared, eyeing Matt on the bunk and striding toward him.
Doc tried once again, but the younger man ignored him. Matt noticed for the first time that he waved a piece of paper. Setting his teeth, he pushed up from the bunk, keeping one arm carefully around his ribs until he managed to brace his back against the wall behind him.
“Matt!” Doc’s ire broadened to encompass his patient. “Here, lie back down. Damn it, Burke, you see what you did? Matt, lie down. Burke, close that door!”
“Matt,” Kitty cajoled, her hand resting on his shoulder. “Do what Doc says – “
But he was up now – at least partially, suddenly realizing as the gush of wind rushed in and chilled him, that the shirt Solana had so brazenly unbuttoned earlier was now completely gone, and new, uncomfortably snug bandages wrapped his ribs.
“What – is it, Burke?” he asked. Even knowing the other man’s tendency toward drama, Matt could see real alarm in the dark eyes.
“It’s this,” Burke said, shoving the paper into Matt’s left hand. “You gotta see it. It says that you – well, you just gotta see it.”
Blinking away the spots that danced in front of him, Matt attempted to focus on the words, but they kept leaping off the page. Finally, he gave up and handed it to Kitty.
For a moment, she kept her eyes on him, but then shifted to the paper, and he saw them widen as she read.
“What?” he asked.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, her face flushing. “Why, that’s ridic – of all the – oh! Oh, how dare they! How dare they!“
Panic was not in Matt Dillon’s nature, but he did allow some alarm to creep into him at her reaction. “Kitty?”
“What is it?” Doc asked, stepping closer to her.
She swallowed, as if to regain some control. “Where did you get this, Burke?”
“Some fella just tried to put it up by my place. I set him straight right quick, but he claimed it wasn’t him that wrote it. Wouldn’t tell who put him up ta’ posting it. On my way over here, I saw more all over town.”
“What?” Matt asked again, the heaviness in his chest forcing him to take deeper breaths, which only caused more pain. “Kitty, tell me. “
“Okay,” she agreed, even she didn’t sound at all as if she wanted to share the contents of the notice. “It starts – it starts with a title: ‘Matt Dillon: Hero or Heel?’”
Hero or heel? That didn’t bode well.
shaking with rage, she continued, “The people of
A red fury swept through him as she read the last part. He didn’t care what was said about him, but once Kitty was involved, the game changed completely, and someone was about to be in real trouble. His teeth grated together as he fought to maintain control.
“Find out what (or who) this hard lawman’s only soft spot is. Find out what some people don’t want you to know. Find out what the ‘real’ Matt Dillon is like.”
She finished and looked up, her eyes blazing. “How dare they!” she spat again.
“Who do you s’pose done this, Marshal?” Burke asked.
Although he had no doubt there were untold numbers of lawbreakers who would have delighted in discrediting him, Matt didn’t have to wonder in this case. Pressing his lips together, he glanced at Kitty and saw that she thought the same. Together, they answered, “Solana Satterfield.”
Doc ran a hand over his mustache and grunted, whether in disgust or agreement, Matt couldn’t tell. The “who” of the matter was clear; the “why” – not so clear. Surely there was more to it than just the ire of a woman who didn’t get her way.
Suddenly, the haze of laudanum lifted, and even though stark pain returned, he gladly accepted it. He would most certainly need a clear head and a sharp eye to deal with whatever else awaited him either from Solana or from Paul – whoever he was.
He sighed gingerly and reflected – not for the first time – that he really should have stayed in Ellsworth one more day.
Chapter Eight: Soft Spot
POV: Joe Kendall
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
squinted as the bits of dust and dirt, whipped to sharp pellets by the prairie
wind, stung his face. He briefly considered
nudging his weary mount west toward Garden City and forgetting the revenge that
had seemed much more appealing in the calm weather of Ellsworth. But hatred welled in him anew as he thought
of all the trouble caused by that damned giant of a marshal who had dogged him
for over a week. If it hadn’t been for
the assistance of an underpaid dove who now had stage
fare to greener pastures,
Absently rubbing his jaw, he cursed the man again. He still couldn’t figure out how the big man’s ribs hadn’t been crushed by that formidable chunk of firewood. And he was damned if he knew how he’d let Dillon get in that sucker punch that knocked him flat.
gratitude for you. Fine thanks for not
shooting the guy point-blank when he first rode up to the cabin
collar higher around his neck, he wondered if Dillon was even in Dodge,
yet. Despite his initial strength after
the fight, the lawman had shown definite signs that the blow to the ribs had
hurt him more than he originally let on.
The way he had stayed bent over in his saddle those last few miles into
Ellsworth, Kendall figured he’d be laid up for a month or so. It gave him some minor satisfaction. If he was, it might be a bit of a wait. Still, from what he’d heard,
It was just
past ten in the morning when
His horse needed tending, and he saw a sign advertising a stable a few buildings down. Clicking to the mount, he guided the animal toward it.
“Mornin’,” greeted a wizened fellow as he approached.
“Looks kinda lame,” the old man noted, jerking his chin at the horse.
“You reckon on stayin’ a while or you gonna need another mount?”
“Not sure. Can you tend him?”
“Sure. Where’ya stayin’?”
House is the best.” Then the man took a
closer look at
tugged out a couple of coins and tossed them to the man before turning back to
Pausing just outside an oily spot called the Oasis, he was about to enter when he noticed a fluttering piece of paper, half-ripped by the wind from the nails that tried to hold it in place on a post. He wouldn’t have paid any attention to it, not being a man that paid much attention to advertisements – or writing, for that matter – but a name caught his eye.
He placed a hand over the tatter that seemed close to tearing away completely and read, his minimal reading skills taxed.
“…people of Dodge City…won’t want to miss the upcoming article…about their own Marshal Matt Dillon…hero or heel…supposedly upstanding lawman’s brutal treatment…bullying…and most especially his not-so-secret…with none other than the owner of a gaming house…find out what (or who) this hard lawman’s only soft spot is…”
The Oasis was about as sleazy as
He paused to spit out the dust that had swirled into his mouth as soon as he left the saloon and was almost plowed over. Steadying himself from the collision, he looked up to see a dark-haired, mustached man doing the same thing.
“Oh, I’m sorry, mister,” the man said, looking as if he actually meant it.
“Can’t keep my head up too well in this wind. Get a mouthful of dirt.”
“You new in town?” the man asked.
“Just passin’ through.”
The man offered his hand. “Name’s Burke. Nathan Burke. I run the freight office here.”
“Joe – Smith,”
Burke snorted. “Maybe at noon, but you just wait ‘till sundown. That’s when things really pick up. ‘Course, Marshal Dillon keeps things in hand nowadays.”
The thrill that shot through him was hard to conceal, but
The freight clerk raised a surprised brow. “Surely you heard of Matt Dillon.”
He squinted in feigned thought. “Seems like maybe I have. He’ll, uh, he’ll be out tonight?”
“Well, not tonight. Marshal’s laid up a while,” the man revealed. “Pretty bad case of broken ribs, I hear. Supposed to be down for a good two weeks, but ain’t much can keep him off the boards for that long. I figure we’ll see him out and about in a few days.” Burke cocked his head and raised a brow. “’Course, if I was set up in Miss Kitty’s room to convalesce, I might be inclined myself to take the healin’ a little slower.
“Just what I’d do,” Burke confirmed. “You got business with the Marshal?”
He certainly did. “Nothin’ that can’t wait,” Kendall shrugged.
“Well, nice to meet you, Smith. If I can doing anything for ya’ – “
“You got any gaming houses in town?”
Burke laughed. “One or two.”
“What’s the best one?”
“That’s easy. The
“Miss Kitty? ‘Course. I told ya’ it’s the
best one around. Maybe
the best this side of
“I am tellin’.”
“Well, maybe after I get me a bite, I’ll pay Miss Kitty a little visit later.” He offered his hand. “I’m obliged for your help.”
Burke smiled and accepted the handshake. “Sure. Hope you enjoy yourself.”
“Oh, I aim to. I aim to.”
Stuffing his hands back into his coat pockets, he watched
as Burke hurried down the street, head lowered against the force of the
wind. So Dillon was back, but he was
laid up a while. It pleased
Maybe Dillon’s ‘soft spot’ wasn’t going to be hard to find at all.
Chapter Nine: Compliments of The Constitution
Rating: T (PG)
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
“So, what can you do about it?”
Matt sighed lightly, laying his head back against the pillows on Kitty’s bed and contemplating Doc’s simple question about Solana’s article. What could he do about it? There were laws to protect journalists, laws to allow freedom of the press. Good laws, he believed usually. But this time –
“Don’t know,” he admitted, hating it.
“Well, it’s – it’s libel, that’s what it is!” Doc exclaimed, and Matt had to smile a bit at the older man’s ire on his behalf – and Kitty’s, of course.
“Hard to prove.”
“Hard? Anybody who knows you knows that stuff is rubbish.”
“Not the stuff about Kitty being – “ He let his sentence fall unfinished. Doc knew.
Just as the older man opened his mouth to speak again, an urgent knock at Kitty’s door stopped him. Exchanging a wary glance with Matt, he stepped across the room and let his hand rest on the knob.
“Who is it?” Doc called, and the marshal wondered if he was being protected from Solana or outlaws. Or maybe they weren’t much different.
“Barney. Got a telegram for th’ marshal.”
Matt winced. If Barney knew where he was, everyone else in town did, too. Still, he nodded toward Doc’s questioning look to let the telegraph operator in.
The old man hurried inside, his eyes widening a bit as he allowed himself to take in the opulent surroundings. At Matt’s frown, though, he cleared his throat and turned his attention on the marshal.
“Sorry ta’ disturb ya’, Marshal, but I been thinkin’ on this a while, and I figure you really need ta’ know about it.” The tone of his voice dispelled any irritation Matt might have felt at the intrusion.
“What is it, Barney?” he prompted.
“That female that come in on the stage a few days ago – “
“Miss Satterfield?” Doc asked.
“That’s the one.”
Matt felt the short hairs stand up on the back of his neck. “What about her?”
“Well, couple of days back she come into the office lookin’ for a telegram from Saint Louie. Now, you know I try ta’ be all confidential with the messages that come across my desk.”
“Well, anyways, I can’t help but know what’s in them, seein’ as how I’m the one taking down the words – ”
“What’d it say, Barney?” Matt asked, his patience wearing thin.
“That’s why I’m here. Just didn’t seem like I should keep that to myself.”
“Barney!” Doc snapped.
He pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper. “When I wrote it down for her, it made an imprint on the page beneath, so I know exactly what it said.”
“And – “
“’Waiting on Lede. STOP. Have to kill if not received three days. STOP. Counting on you. STOP. Paul.’”
Alarm flashed across Doc’s worn features. “Barney, why the hell haven’t you brought this to Matt sooner?”
“Well, telegrams are confidential – “
But Matt wasn’t listening anymore. Waiting on Lede. Who was Lede? And who was going to kill or be killed? And there was the name Paul again. Looking up, he asked Barney, “Did she send a return telegram?”
“Oh, yeah, she did. Thought you might be interested in it, too.”
“You thought right. What’s it say?”
received. Stop. Do not kill yet. Stop. Lede will come
And she sent it with her name.”
“Who’d she send it to?”
“Fella named Hill.”
And there it was in an instant. Matt pressed his lips together and swore softly, drawing surprised looks from both of the other men.
“What is it?” Doc asked.
“I should have figured it out sooner.”
“Figured what out?”
Matt gritted his teeth and tried to push up from the bed, completely ignoring Doc’s sudden frown. “I gotta get up.”
“No you don’t.”
“I’ve gotta send a telegram.”
“Telegram?” Doc stood and laid a hand on Matt’s shoulder. “Barney’s standing right here. You just write it out and give it to him. I don’t want you movin’ around.”
“I have other things to check on too, Doc. Besides, it’s been five days, and I feel fine.” Of course, he was lying through his teeth, and they both knew it.
been two days since you pulled that stunt at the Oasis – “ The furrowed brow came down suddenly, then
The physician swept an arm in front of him. “Be my guest. Get on up and do what you’ve gotta do.”
The blue eyes narrowed in suspicion. “Really?”
Gingerly, the lawman threw his long legs over the side of the bed and started to sit, but something got in his way. Something like a bayonet plowing straight through him. When the stars stopped flashing before his eyes, he found himself flat on the bed again with an unsympathetic Doc shaking his head.
“Now, stay there and don’t move.”
“I’ll take care of that telegram, Marshal,” Barney offered helpfully, his face grimacing in empathy.
Matt breathed. “Just send a message to –
chief of police in –
The old man’s eyes widened as he scribbled down the requested message. “Sure thing, Marshal. I’ll get right on it.” Without another word, he rushed from the room, the importance of his job hurrying his pace.
“Listen, Doc,” Matt managed tightly after Barney left, “you remember – Newly O’Brien mentioning that he worked – for a newspaper when he was – back in Philadelphia?”
The physician ran a hand over his mustache. “Seems like maybe I do.”
“Get him – for me, okay? I need to – ask him something.”
The pale eyes softened a bit, but the voice remained firm. “If you promise you’ll stay right there and not move while I’m gone.”
He ran a hand over the throbbing ribs, closed his eyes against the pounding in his head, and decided that Doc didn’t need to worry about his patient trying to escape, at least not anytime soon.
The sun’s rays cast long shadows in the room the next time Matt was aware of anything. Blinking awake, he glanced about, noting that he seemed to have been left to himself, at least for a while. He had no doubt Kitty wasn’t far away. With a bit of surprise, he noticed that a fresh set of clothes lay folded neatly in one of the chairs near the fireplace. A smile touched his lips when he saw the blue shirt in place of his usual bugger-red one. He knew Kitty preferred the blue, said it brought out the color of his eyes. And while having his clothing match his eyes meant very little to the lawman, the fact that Kitty liked it was reason enough to wear it occasionally. Of course, he had never told her that he usually stuck with the red one because dirt and blood didn’t seem to draw attention so easily on the darker color. No need for Kitty to know that. Still, he didn’t anticipate any rough and tumble activities this afternoon, so he was glad to oblige her.
Certainly, it was not Doc’s intention that his patient drag himself out of his sick bed anytime soon, but Matt had things to do. Find out about Solana Satterfield, for one. And solidify the connection he suspected she had with Paul Hill. Bracing the ribs, he eased upright, pleased to discover the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been just that morning. He gave himself a moment to adjust to sitting, then made the final move to stand, his hand automatically grasping the bed post as his head swam suddenly. After a beat, though, he was able to take a few cautious steps toward the chair. As he struggled into the clothes, he let his mind filter back through the years – five years, he figured – to his encounter with Hill.
started with a trip to
He shook his head at the waste. Hill had gotten probation from a lenient judge and left Dodge as quickly as he could. Matt hadn’t heard what happened to him since, but apparently the journalist wasn’t through with him, yet. Barney’s revelation about the telegram Solana had sent and Newly O’Brien’s clarifying information had helped the puzzle pieces come together. Still, he wasn’t completely sure how Solana was involved, wasn’t certain about what her true motives were. Maybe it was time to find out.
considered himself fortunate that he had made it to the Dodge House without
being spotted by either Kitty or Doc, and wondered how long it would take one
of them to figure out he had sneaked out.
It wasn’t that he sneaked out – exactly.
He had just been careful not to be seen.
Of course, all his stealth wouldn’t do him much good if he ended up
face-down in the middle of
Howie’s long face dropped in surprise when he looked up to see Matt enter the hotel lobby. “Marshal! Well, I sure didn’t expect to see you anytime soon. Burke said – “
“Thanks, Howie,” Matt cut through, completely uninterested in what Burke had said. “Miss Satterfield in?”
The clerk’s eyes widened, as if that was the last person he would have expected the marshal to come looking for. “Uh, yes, sir. I think she is. Want me to get her?”
Matt let his gaze trail up the stairs and winced, thinking they hadn’t seemed quite so steep the last time he had climbed them. “No thanks.”
“Room Eight,” Howie offered helpfully.
Matt could feel his curious stare at his back as he took the first step, clenching his teeth together to push back the groan that threatened. Somehow, he managed to gain the top without having to stop to rest halfway up. That wouldn’t have inspired much confidence from anyone – especially from himself.
Fortunately, Room Eight was just past the banister. Sucking in a fortifying – but careful – breath, he rapped firmly on the door.
“Yes?” The reply was guarded.
“It’s Matt Dillon.”
There was an audible gasp from behind the closed door, then a rustle of clothing. After a moment, he heard the lock click and Solana appeared before him, a bemused half-smile on her full lips.
“Why, Marshal,” she declared, pushing a strand of hair back into place, “I certainly didn’t expect to see you here.”
“May I come in, Miss Satterfield?” he asked, his tone courteous but formal.
Her brow rose, and he thought he saw a light pink flush her cheeks. “Oh, well, of – of course.” Sweeping an arm back, she nodded him into the room. “What can I do for you?”
No need to draw it out. “Miss Satterfield, I came to talk to you about those flyers you posted.”
“Oh, but I didn’t – “
“You might not have posted them, but you wrote them. Didn’t you?”
“Well, why do you – “ But his steady gaze cut through any pretense at innocence, and her demeanor hardened. “What of it? It’s a free press, Marshal, is it not? Compliments of The Constitution you are sworn to protect.”
“How do you know Paul Hill?” he challenged, rewarded by the shock on her pretty face.
“What – I – I don’t – “
have time to play games with you, Miss Satterfield,” he said, the throbbing of
his side and his head alerting him that he was overreaching his endurance. “You said something about Paul. You were talking about Paul Hill, weren’t
you? I just sent a telegram to
To his surprise, anger flashed in her eyes, and she took a deep breath. “All right, Marshal. Doesn’t matter anyway, now. I haven’t done anything wrong. Truth is, I’m a newspaper woman.”
That was no scoop. “You don’t say.”
“I do. And I’m out here to do a story for my paper.”
“A story about me,” he summarized.
She held his gaze boldly. “About you. Marshal Matt Dillon. Champion of Law in the Wicked West.”
He grimaced. “I don’t seem like much of a champion in those flyers.”
“That just sells papers, Marshal.”
“Uh huh. What about your threat that I’d be sorry – ”
“Oh, I was simply – hurt that you spurned my affections. I didn’t mean –
“I think you did. And I think this is more than just getting back at me for turning you down.”
“Turning me down!” she snapped before she could stop herself. With a calming breath, though, she amended, “Of course, that’s all it is. The finished article – “
“Will probably be much worse. The telegraph
operator came to see me earlier. Seems
you got a telegram a couple of days ago from
“Kill you? Oh, no, Marshal, lede’s not a person. You see, in the newspaper business, that means – “
“I know what it means.”
“Yes. And you’ve
sent your ‘lede’ to
“But it was,” she said, not denying his theory.
“Paul Hill caused the deaths of two men and almost got a United States Senator killed. He played with people’s lives – on a bet. He was fortunate to get away with just probation. Any other judge probably would have given him much worse.”
“He did get worse,” she snapped. “No paper will hire him anymore. He was ruined because of you.”
“No, he did that to himself. Hill was a fool, and you’re a fool to be involved with him.”
Her eyes narrowed coldly. “I don’t think that’s what’s really bothering you, Marshal. I think you’re worried about what that article will reveal about you.” She paused, then added, “And about her.”
He tugged off his hat, fighting a grimace at the discomfort that move caused. “Miss Satterfield, you can write whatever you want about me, but – leave Kitty out of it.”
“Kitty? Miss Russell, you mean? Worried about your reputation, Marshal? Or perhaps hers?”
Anger gathered between his brows. “I don’t care about any reputation. And Kitty Russell is too strong a woman to let something like that bother her. It has nothing to do with – propriety.”
“No? What, then?”
He took a breath and lowered his gaze for a moment. After a hard exhalation, which he cut short as soon as his ribs protested, he looked up again. “Miss Satterfield, a lawman lives a dangerous life, an uncertain life. At any moment, any place, a two-bit thief could pull the trigger of a cheap pistol and I’d be history. I chose that way. I accept that way. Most lawmen do, or they wouldn’t be lawmen. But a lawman’s family – that’s a different thing altogether.”
“Family, Marshal? Are you saying you and Miss Kitty – “
“I’m saying that she didn’t choose that life, but my line of work puts her at risk. I have enemies, Miss Satterfield. Enemies that are constantly looking for any weakness. Any vulnerability.”
“And is Kitty Russell your weakness, Marshal?”
His head snapped up, eyes burning. “If certain people found out she was my – “ He hesitated, gritting his teeth.
“Your woman?” Satterfield supplied.
Matt didn’t confirm it, but he didn’t deny it, either. “She would be in danger, and I can’t – “ He stopped suddenly, calming the emotions he had almost allowed to surface. When he spoke again, it was with absolute conviction. “I can’t allow that, Miss Satterfield. I can’t allow that.”
at him for a long moment, her beautiful eyes open wide and knowing. After several seconds of silence, she tilted
her head toward him and smiled coldly. “I
thank you for your hospitality, Marshal.
I’ll be headed back to
She stormed out into the hallway, leaving him staring after her, his stomach clenched with both pain and the prospect of what her public revelations about him – and about Kitty – would bring. The embarrassment wouldn’t matter. He figured most of Dodge knew anyway. But those beyond, those who might be searching for anything to get him for –
A wave of
dizziness swept through him, and he caught the bedpost to keep from pitching
forward onto the floor. Blinking back
the black spots that threatened to merge into complete darkness, he found
himself on his knees by the bed. He had
to get out of there, had to stop her some way.
Through sheer willpower, he dragged himself to his feet and stumbled to
the door, bracing against the frame for an agonizing moment before thrusting
his body forward again. It would be a
miracle if he made it back to Kitty’s without help, but the vision of being
Chapter Ten: Death Packs a Powerful Punch
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Solana Satterfield flounced out the doors of the Dodge House and onto the rough boardwalk, not even pausing to ask for her messages or even to acknowledge the clerk’s meek but hopeful greeting. Normally, she would be the epitome of courtesy, whether she meant it or not, but this time that infuriating marshal had inflamed her with rage – and, if she admitted it, uncertainty.
It had been
easy to be caught up in Paul’s encompassing bitterness toward the lawman, had
been simple to create in her mind the picture of a swaggering, hardened,
dictatorial, self-serving braggart who twisted the law to fit his needs. That had been the Matt Dillon she had
expected when she headed out from
That had not been the Matt Dillon she met on the stage from Ellsworth. That had not been the Matt Dillon who practically pleaded with her – in his own way – to spare not him but the woman he so obviously, and exclusively, loved.
Things had seemed so clear before, but now they were jumbled around in her head. Solana had been many things in her life, but very rarely had she been uncertain. She prided herself on independence, on her powers of observation and deduction, on her ability to manipulate most men – and a few women.
But Matt Dillon hadn’t bent to her desires. And she wasn’t sure if she was madder at him or at herself.
She drew in a deep breath before she remembered about the wind, choking on the gulp of dirt that impulse earned her. A drink would be welcome – for more than one reason. Now that she knew exactly how her little announcement had affected the marshal, it might prove interesting to see Miss Kitty Russell’s reaction – from a safe distance, anyway. Besides, on a practical note, it hadn’t taken Solana long to realize that the redhead did run the best place in town.
By the time
she had crossed
“Ma’am,” he greeted, his head ducked slightly as a deterrent to the dust.
He was of average height, but not bad looking, if you didn’t study his clothing too closely. The smile he gave her might have been pleasant, if it didn’t possess the slightest leer.
“Sir,” she returned, forcing her manners to the surface.
help noticin’ yer fightin’ th’
dust. Can I help ya’ inta’ th’
“Well, now, that’s exactly where I was headed. You’re right about the dust. Some folks just might be in need of a little – refreshment.”
He laughed. “Yes, indeed, they might. Good fer business, too, huh?”
A puzzled frown drew down Solana’s smooth forehead. “I – suppose.”
But he didn’t seem to notice. “I’d be right proud, ma’am, if you’d join me fer a beer.“ The leer pushed on through to dominate the smile.
Solana relaxed. This type of man she could handle. “I’d be so appreciative.”
“Well, it’s jest that I’m – new in town,” he confided, taking her arm. “Don’t know many folks.”
Solana fell easily into the conversation as they neared to saloon. “Are you, now?”
“Yes’m. Been meanin’ ta’ come over to th’
She gave him a grudging nod. “That’s what they say.”
He smiled knowingly. “’Course, I guess you’d have to say that, wouldn’t you? They told me the owner was the prettiest woman in town.”
It took effort to maintain pleasantries. “Really?”
stretched into a grin. “Yes, ma’am. ‘Course
I also heard there might be a
“Marshal Dillon,” she confirmed, pleased that her flyer had apparently been noticed by the newcomer. Smiling coyly, she started to add that Miss Kitty might have some competition, but she never completed her sentence.
To her irritation, she realized that he was staring past her shoulder to something behind her. Turning, she saw the marshal himself walking – or trying to walk – across the dusty street. He was none too steady, though, his gait halting, his steps faltering. Solana stared at him, shocked. In her hotel room, she had noticed that he still appeared rather drained, but now the man looked like he had just run a horse race – without a horse. Sweat darkened the front of his shirt and curled his hair against his neck. The blood had drained from his face. Where before he had been pale, now he was downright ashen. She opened her mouth to speak, but the other man beat her to it.
“Well, well, well. The great Marshal Dillon,” the man sneered. “Shore don’t look sa’ great now, do ya’?”
head snapped up, despite his condition, and he squinted at them through the
He snarled back at Dillon, his words vengeful, malicious. “From th’ looks of ya’, I can tell ya’ still remember ol’ Joe.”
Solana’s eyes were white around the irises.
“Drop yer gun, Dillon, or I’ll kill her. You know I’ll do it.”
His teeth clenched. “Don’t be a fool, Kendall. Let her go.” He drew in a ragged breath, and Solana wondered what was keeping him on his feet.
“I would be a fool if I did that.”
“I mean it, Dillon. Drop it or yer woman gits it.”
Shocked comprehension slammed into Solana. She raised her eyes to meet Dillon’s, saw the mirrored shock in them.
pounding, Solana stared at the marshal, conjectures racing through her
mind. She wondered if he would give in
But after a quick breath, he merely shook his head. They stood there, all three of them, for a good ten seconds, no one moving.
“How’d you get loose,
“Good to have friends,” the outlaw allowed. “Don’t look like you got none right now.” His head nodded to indicate the deserted street, the whipping wind the only sound other than them.
“Arrite, enough stonewallin’. Drop yer gun or I swear I’ll kill her.”
Raw terror clawed through Solana. For the first time in her life, she felt genuine fear. This man wasn’t a character in a novel, he wasn’t the topic of a feature story for her paper. He was real, and he was going to kill her because he thought she was Matt Dillon’s woman.
She watched the marshal consider his choice another few seconds, then saw reluctant confirmation cross his face, and sighed both in relief and despair as he slowly drew the Colt from his holster and tossed it to the ground a few feet in front of him.
Breath held, Solana let her eyes dart between the two men, the wind whistling past her ears until the sudden squeak of saloon doors jarred them all.
“Matt! There you are! Oh, for Pete’s sake, what do you think you’re – “
swung to the interruption, and Solana saw the beautiful, redheaded Kitty
Russell step from the
“Get back inside,” Dillon barked immediately, his gaze quickly returning to its lock on the outlaw.
stopped short, suddenly seeing the gun in
Carefully, Dillon repeated his command. “Get – back – in.”
But the other woman didn’t budge. “Who are you?” she demanded of Kendall, who stared at her for a minute, then laughed.
“Red, I’m a man who’d like to buy you a drink after I take care of this marshal and his woman.”
Solana saw Kitty look askance at the marshal.
“He doesn’t want you,” Dillon emphasized pointedly. “He wants Kitty.”
The outlaw grinned, squeezing harder around Solana’s waist. She fought not to be sick. “Yep. I want Kitty.”
Her expression guarded, the redhead allowed only her eyes to betray the shock. Solana thought Kitty was about to say something, but once again the swinging doors intruded onto the moment and Doc Adams emerged, his face screwed up in clear consternation.
“Stubborn fool,” he was muttering, his head bowed to shield against the wind. Lifting his chin just enough to see the saloon owner standing on the boards, he added, “Kitty, you stay here while I’ll check the jail. That big oaf of a civil servant is probably – “
“What the hell?”
doctor’s head came up at
“Get back, Doc,” Dillon ground out through gritted teeth, then added with a jerk of his chin toward Kitty, “and take her with you.”
“Kitty?” he breathed, looking back and forth between Solana and Kitty. “Kitty? But I thought – “ Fury darkened his face. “Damn you, Dillon!” Whipping the gun from her head, he swung it toward the marshal.
the whole scene go by as if she were an innocent onlooker. He would kill Dillon for sure, and she
realized suddenly that she would very much hate for that to happen. Besides, he’d probably kill them all after
Dillon was dead. Without contemplating
the possible consequences, she sank her teeth into
“Solana, move!” the marshal yelled.
The outlaw’s gun fired again, but his bullets veered wide as he jolted with the impact of Matt’s shots, his body contorting almost as if it were caught in the wind before it dropped to the ground, its final seconds of life flowing out to wet the dust with a crimson pool.
Stunned, Solana stared at the dead man, then let her eyes shift to the other figure that lay face-down twenty yards away.
“Matt!” Kitty cried, rushing into the street to fall down beside him.
Solana heard him try to take a breath, but he managed only a rasping gasp that didn’t sound as if it provided any air at all.
“Oh my God!” the redhead yelled. “Doc! Doc!”
Dirt clung to the marshal’s face as they eased him onto his back. His breathing was labored, his eyes unfocused. Solana’s heart pounded when she saw the flecks of pinkish blood on his lips.
“Why not yer office, Doc?” Festus asked.
But Doc shook his head. “Not sure he’d make it that far.”
“What – what’s happening to him?” Kitty’s hand closed around the physician’s arm as six men hauled the long, limp frame toward the saloon.
Solana stepped closer, her newspaper instincts blaring that she could be witnessing history here – a terrible, tragic history, of course, but wasn’t that the best kind in her business? Somehow, though, she couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to pull out pencil and paper and record the moment. Until a few minutes before, she had never seen a man die. Now she was beginning to realize she might very well see another.
Doc’s answer was muttered while he hurried after his patient. “Pneumothorax. Collapsed lung. I was afraid of this.”
“Doc,” Festus asked, struggling with his share of the heavy load, “whut does thet mean, actual?”
accumulates in the pleural cavity and – “
“Doc!” Kitty choked.
His pained eyes turned to her. “Kitty,” he said, unable to soften the news much, “I’m gonna do my best, but – “
At the moment, Dillon made a horrible, gasping attempt at breath, his broad chest heaving with the futile effort to draw in enough vital oxygen.
“Stop! Stop!” the doctor yelled. “Just put him on a table. We can’t wait.”
Obediently, their eyes wide with fear, the men placed the marshal as gently as they could on one of the green felt gaming tables. His long legs hung off the end, and someone dragged over another table to stretch them out. He tried to cough, the nominal success speckling reddish-pink across the front of his blue shirt.
Kitty bent over him, tears streaming down her face, one hand wiping his lips, the other hand tearing at the buttons of his shirt, as if the material was somehow restricting the airflow. “He can’t breathe!”
Doc shook his head, looking helpless. Somehow, Solana understood it was a rare expression on him. “There’s air in the pleural cavity, so he can’t – ”
“Do something!” Kitty snapped, and Solana knew she was seeing this strong woman as close to breaking as she had ever been.
“I don’t know – there’s just nothing I can – “ He ran a hand over his mouth and looked down at the marshal, tightening his jaw. “Unless – “
Kitty pounced on the glimmer of hope. “Unless what?”
“Something I read about a few months ago. A new technique, experimental. Theoretically, you can re-inflate the lung by inserting a syringe into the cavity between the third and fourth ribs to remove the air.”
Festus frowned. “Doc, that sounds dangerous.”
“It is. I wouldn’t even attempt something like that unless – “
Dillon’s body bucked up, forcing the men nearby to hang onto him wildly. Just as suddenly, he went limp again, and Solana saw that his lips had begun to turn blue.
“Doc!” Kitty urged. “Hurry!”
Solana glanced at the people gathered around the prone man. It seemed that all of Dodge hovered, equally worried expressions from the affluent to the bum. The bank president stood next to the chatty saloon girl Delia. Both wore wrinkles of genuine concern. It was apparent to every one of them that Dillon was dying. Doc’s treatment couldn’t make it any worse.
“Yes,” she breathed. “Do it.”
And with the decision made, the doctor snapped into action. “Get his shirt out of the way,” he ordered as he turned and thrust a hand into his bag, extracting a glass syringe.
As the broad chest was bared, Solana stared at the array of scars that slashed and puckered the skin. She had first noticed them when she had brought the marshal soup in Kitty’s room, but their meaning hadn’t seemed as relevant then. Now she clearly saw the years of duty, of pain, of sacrifice etched into his flesh.
Still, somehow, even their ugliness couldn’t diminish the physical beauty of his strong body. If it had been any other moment, Solana might have enjoyed the view. But this wasn’t any other moment.
This was the only moment Dillon had. Perhaps the last moment he had.
The marshal’s ragged breathing suddenly stopped completely, and Kitty cried out. At the same time, Doc ran a hand along Dillon’s side, then shoved the needle of the syringe into him, pulling the plunger back with agonizing slowness, murmuring the entire time.
“Come on, Matt. Come on, son, you can do it. Breathe boy. Breathe.”
The room froze as they waited for several tense seconds, then several more.
The soft, sad twang of the deputy joined the doctor. “Come on, Matthew,” he urged. “Git back in th’ buggy.”
“Matt,” Kitty pleaded, her tortured voice painful for all of them to hear. “Please, Matt. Please.”
And still they waited, every eye on the formidable figure that lay in unaccustomed vulnerability before them. More seconds ticked by. Doc sighed heavily and withdrew the needle.
Finally, Solana let her gaze fall from the beautiful, scarred, unmoving chest and turned away, tears stinging her eyes, nausea bubbling in her throat.
Death, she realized with a soft sob, packed a powerful punch.
Chapter Eleven: Even One
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
A dagger, piercing straight through her heart.
That’s what Kitty Russell knew must be happening. She had never felt such pain, and she wondered if that vulnerable muscle could actually be ripped in half, because that’s what it felt like to her as she watched Doc withdraw the useless syringe from Matt’s side. Aching deep inside, she stared at that broad chest that she loved so much, willed it to move. Not since Mace Gore’s men had pumped four bullets into his body had she been so scared, so heartsick, so empty. But she had been granted a reprieve that terrible, terrible night; a miracle had occurred, had rescued her from despair, had brought Matt back to her.
Now, though, as her eyes blurred from the tears that burned them, she fought back all sorts of urges wrestling inside her: the urge to scream, the urge to throw up, the urge to sob, the urge to beat on that still chest and make it rise again. Surely there would be a miracle again. Surely he wasn’t – gone. Not now. Please God, not now.
But the seconds ticked by and there was no miracle, no reprieve. Matt was dead.
A cry of disbelief was wrenched from her throat, and she threw her arms around his chest, burying her head against the firm muscles that had held her, soothed her, ignited her passions for so many years. Vaguely, she felt Doc’s hand on her shoulder, and knew that even his strength would not be enough.
Matt was dead. Dear God. Matt was dead.
What would they do? What would she do?
The stunned onlookers had not moved or spoken, and the silence lengthened, the sheer lack of noise accentuating the blunt impact of death. His death. She felt herself spiraling away from reality, her disbelieving mind seeking solace in some dark, removed corner, as if she could escape the terrifying finality of what she had always feared.
Her head spun as grief pulled her deeper and deeper into that vortex, so deep that she almost didn’t feel the body jerk beneath her. Almost. As the dimming ember of comprehension sputtered back to a flame, she fought her way out of the darkness, clawed her way back into the world of reality.
And just as she broke through, the body beneath her jerked again – followed by a gasp.
A harsh, labored, ugly gasp – but a gasp. And it was the most beautiful sound Kitty Russell had ever heard.
Because it came from him.
Her head snapped up, her eyes focused, staring down at him, watching as the broad chest filled, listening as the air rushed into his lungs, wheezing and hard, but there. And then it happened again.
In. Out. In. Out. Until it became a steady rhythm.
“Oh, my God!” She pushed up, her eyes searching his face, her hands caressing the thick, scattered waves of hair. “Doc! Doc!”
“Thank God,” Doc sighed, not bothering to hide the tears that slid down his cheeks.
It was as if the entire room could finally breathe as well, and they all took a common gasp of relief and joy.
Kitty closed her eyes and buried her face against Matt’s chest, reveling in feeling it rise and fall. “Oh, Matt,” she whispered. “Oh, Matt.”
As the overwhelmed citizens of Dodge gathered around their marshal – and their friend – she felt another hand on her shoulder. Looking up, expecting to see Doc’s kind face, she was startled to find herself staring instead into Solana Satterfield’s eyes. This was just about the last person she wanted to see at the moment, but even the sight of that woman couldn’t quell the elation of Matt’s revival.
The blonde woman nodded to her, her face devoid of its usual calculating mask. “Miss Russell,” she began, and Kitty was surprised not to hear any sarcasm at all. “I’m glad he’s all right,” Solana told her, truthfully. “I’m glad you’re both all right.”
That might be a nice sentiment at any other time, but at the moment Kitty Russell didn’t give a damn what Solana Satterfield thought.
“Look, I didn’t – realize,” the woman admitted. “I didn’t know it would – turn out this way. I just wish it hadn’t – “ She lowered her eyes, an uncommon expression of something akin to humility crossing her fine features. “Anyway, I just wanted you to know that.”
With a tight nod, Kitty acknowledged the half-apology. “I hope you understand now why you can’t write that article.”
Raising her head again, Solana held Kitty’s gaze steadily. “Marshal Dillon undoubtedly saved my life, and I’m grateful.” She sighed, a regretful smile crossing her smooth lips. “But despite all this, I am a newspaper woman. And I hope you understand now why I have to write that article.”
Kitty stared at her, incredulous, but before she could say anything – or slap her, Solana gave another courteous nod. “Goodbye, Miss Russell.” Kitty could only watched in disbelief as the other woman pushed her way through the crowd and out the door of the saloon.
But her ire, clashing with disappointment, shattered when another ragged breath drew her attention back to the man who still lay beneath her touch, and she decided she couldn’t worry about Solana now. Suddenly, the woman’s advances and her threats didn’t seem nearly as important anymore. Matt was alive. Matt was alive!
There was yet another touch at her shoulder, and she turned to smile at Doc, but when she looked up, she saw a new crease in the furrowed forehead.
“Doc?” she asked quietly.
“Let’s get him upstairs, now,” the physician urged, motioning to the men who had placed the marshal’s body on the tables a few moments – an eternity – ago.
“He’s all right, isn’t he, Doc?” she asked, reluctantly letting go of Matt as he was carefully lifted into the capable hands of his fellow townsmen. Her gaze sought the reassurance of the older man.
But Doc’s hesitation was anything but reassuring. He sighed, and rubbed at his mustache.
Finally, following the men up the stairs, he said, “Wait until we get him settled, and then – then we need talk about some things.”
Things? The surge of joy that had lifted her now receded with the somber tone of his voice. “What – what do you mean?” she asked.
But Doc merely shook his head. When they reached her quarters, she stepped in front of the men with their burden to fling open her door, not paying any attention at all to the wide-eyed looks her opulent furnishings received from everyone except Sam and Festus.
Once Matt was settled on her bed, Doc instructed two of the men to remove his boots. “I’ll cut his shirt and vest off,” the physician told them. “No need to jostle him any more than we have to.”
Finally, she and Doc stood alone next to Matt’s bed, and she realized that these two men who meant the most to her in the world were both suffering – just for different reasons. Placing a hand on the older man’s arm, she asked, more calmly than she would have thought she could, “What is it, Doc?”
Her dear old friend turned to her, and the sorrow in his eyes almost broke her heart. “Kitty, we don’t – know much about the brain and how it works, but we do know that it needs oxygen on a regular basis. If it goes too long without – it starts to shut down.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that – that Matt wasn’t breathing for – for a long time, Kitty. I just hope it wasn’t – too long.”
“What if it – was too long? What does that mean?”
“When the brain goes without oxygen, there can be – damage.”
“Damage?” she managed to echo, somehow hearing him over the sudden pounding of her heart. “What – kind of damage?”
“You mean like he might not be able to – to ride a horse or shoot a gun or – or— “
Gently, the doctor said, “Those might be the least of his worries, Kitty.”
“What – kinds of abilities, then?”
“Memory, maybe. Or reasoning. Speech. Mobility. He might not be able to talk, or walk, or to – think clearly.”
Stunned, she sank into a chair by the bed and stared down at the man who was considered by many to be the strongest, sharpest, most courageous, and most skilled lawman in the country. He was certainly the most impressive man she had ever known. How on earth could he not be those things anymore? How on earth could he not be – Matt Dillon?
“Of course,” Doc allowed, his voice even heavier, “that’s assuming he – wakes up.”
She swallowed. “Assuming?”
“He could – he could be this way for the rest of his life, Kitty. There’s no easy way to tell you that, but you have to know.”
“What are the chances that – that he’ll be perfectly fine? That there is no damage?”
The gray head shook. “Don’t know. The brain is such a mystery, still. He could come out of it just fine, just like himself again. Or – “
“What will we do if – “
“I don’t know, Kitty. I just don’t know.”
Dragging in a decisive breath, she said, “I’ll be here.”
“I’ll be here with him. No matter what. If – if he doesn’t wake up, I’ll take care of him. If he does, but he isn’t – the same, I’ll take care of him.”
“Kitty, you can’t – “
“I can.” She raised her eyes to look directly into Doc’s pale ones. “And I will.”
It was difficult night. Kitty spent most of it shifting from her uncomfortable perch in a chair to her place by the bed, wiping Matt’s fevered brow. Except for an occasional groan, the marshal had not made a sound beyond the harsh wheezes that at least let her know he was still breathing. Sometime just before dawn, sheer exhaustion took over and threw her into a fitful sleep, which lasted only until the irritatingly persistent squeak of a milk cart shook her from dreams she would much rather not remember.
She shrugged the heavy drape of sleep from her shoulders and blinked, her first sight Matt’s long body, still lying motionless in her bed. The sunlight caught the stubble that scratched over his strong jaw, and she took a moment to notice the interesting play of colors, mostly dark brown, but some red, and even a few blond. She wondered how long it would be before any of them turned gray, wondered if he would live long enough for that to happen. He needed a shave, something that had come second nature to him before, something she enjoyed watching him do. A pang of sadness touched her as she considered the possibility that he would never be able to shave himself again.
An abrupt feeling of selfishness swept over her. She had wanted Matt Dillon to live – no matter what, regardless of his condition, but as she watched him lying there, helpless, she realized at what cost she might have her wish. A man like Matt, strong, controlled, independent, could not bear such a fate. She knew he would rather be dead than live as he was. She knew that.
But, God help her, she was not ready to let him go. Not yet.
His mouth was slightly open, the breath he had fought so hard for a few hours earlier finally coming easier now, almost like normal. Her own breath caught at how the expression made him look like a little boy. If he could have smiled, she knew the grin would be toothy and endearing. She loved his grin.
him to open his eyes and grin at her now.
The first time they met she had decided that she had never seen eyes so
blue, and she hadn’t changed her mind in the 13 years since. And when those eyes held hers, whether it
was with the mask of casual courtesy in the midst of the
His right hand lay on top of the covers, the fingers long and slender, but strong, capable. She thought of his hands, could still feel their touch on her body, sometimes gentle and tender, sometimes firm and insistent, but always exciting, always loving.
And she wondered. Would her breath ever catch again with the thrill of his grin? Would her heart ever pound again with the flame in his eyes? Would her body ever tremble again with the touch of his hands?
She wondered about these things – and more. Would breakfast yesterday morning become the last meal they would share? Would the kiss she had given him as he slept become their last kiss? Would the night before he left for Ellsworth become the last night they made love? There were too many “lasts” to think about.
Even one was too many.
Chapter Twelve: As Long As It Takes
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
after Matt’s collapse, Kitty Russell sat in the chair by his bed, her fingers
stroking the back of his right hand, tracing along the strong veins that
carried the blood that nourished him, blood that he had shed much too often,
blood that might not flow through him much longer. The long shadows of dusk had begun to stretch
Softly, she called, “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Miz Kitty.”
Relief and sadness touched her as she opened the door for the deputy. Festus entered, tugging the ragged hat from his head as soon as he cleared the threshold. Despite his best attempts, he couldn’t hide the pain in his eyes when he looked at Matt.
“Ain’t thar no change?” he asked quietly, disappointment heavy in his voice.
Kitty shook her head. No need to give false hope.
After a moment, he pulled his gaze away from the bed and gave her a valiant smile. “I come ta’ see whut kinda vittles ya’ might cud eat. Doc sed ya’ ain’t had nothin’ since yesterdy.”
The mere thought of food roiled her stomach, but Kitty simply tilted her head at his kind gesture. “Thank you, Festus, but – not right now.”
“But ya’ kaint keep a’goin’ like this chere.” A knowing brow arched. “Matthew’d not want ya’ ta’ make yerseff sick.”
Matthew. She had always found it rather charming that Festus used Matt’s full Christian name, and she wondered why he had started in the first place. Certainly no one else did, unless it was the occasional old acquaintance who knew him from a life before Dodge. Kitty envied those people, coveted the experiences they’d had with Matt, experiences she didn’t have, and she fought back a sob at the realization that there may not be any more experiences for any of them.
“Miz Kitty?” Festus asked, alarm on his rough features.
Patting his hand in an attempt to sooth herself as well as him, she managed, “I’m all right, Festus. It’s just – I’m all right.” She wiped quickly at the tears that had slipped down her cheeks and sucked in a fortifying breath. “Maybe I changed my mind. Why don’t you bring me something to eat, after all? Whatever the special is at Delmonicos will be fine.”
Of course, she had no desire at all for food, but at least it would give Festus something to do, some way to feel as if he were helping.
With an eager nod, he said, “Yes’m. I’ll be back quicker’n you kin say rat-run-over-th’-rooftop-with-a-piece-o’-raw-liver-in-his-mouth.”
She could almost smile at that, but he was gone before she had to make the attempt. Turning back toward the chair, she intended to continue her vigil, but another knock stopped her.
“Festus, I said anything was fine – “
But the voice beyond was deeper, more gravelly than the deputy’s. “It’s Sam, Miss Kitty. You need anything?”
She opened the door for her loyal bartender – her loyal friend. Did she need anything? A miracle would be nice. “No, thank you, Sam.”
His brow rose in doubt. “You sure?”
Acknowledging her wishes, he nodded and said, “I’ll check back in a bit.”
“I’ll check back, anyway. Just in case.” He didn’t say just in case of what, and Kitty refused to let herself think about just what kind of case might necessitate a check.
She had almost turned again when the sound of taffeta swishing caught her attention, and Delia peeked around his shoulder, her face devoid of the heavy paint she usually favored. Sam frowned and took her elbow as if to guide her away, but the woman looked at Kitty, her eyes sympathetic.
“Please, Miss Kitty, may I have a word with you?”
“You can come back later,” Sam suggested, his hand still on her arm.
Something in the other woman’s expression prompted Kitty to say, “It’s all right, Sam,” even though she would have preferred his way.
“What is it, Delia?”
“Well – “ She glanced uneasily back at the barkeeper, who took the hint and stepped away.
“I’ll be back, Miss Kitty,” he promised as he left.
Despite her willingness to let Delia talk, Kitty wasn’t as willing to let her into the room and perhaps satisfy her curiosity about Matt’s condition, so she remained in the doorway, blocking the other woman’s view. Delia didn’t seem to mind.
“Miss Kitty,” she began, fingering the gaudy ruffles of her dress, “I just – well, the girls and me wanted you ta know that – that we hope the marshal’s gonna be all right.”
Kitty allowed herself a weak smile. “Thank you, Delia.”
“He’s a good man,” she said, then after a beat, continued, “I hope you don’t git mad at me, but – I just gotta tell ya’. It’s bin botherin’ me ever since.”
She found herself at least slightly curious, even though Delia was prone to be a bit dramatic. “What’s been bothering you?”
“Oh, Miss Kitty, I’m sorry, but I – I talked to that lady reporter. Didn’t know what she was then, or I’d – well, I just hope I didn’t cause – “
“You didn’t cause anything, Delia,” Kitty assured her graciously. “Matt – the marshal’s job places him in danger every day. Things like this – “ She swallowed, fighting back the well of emotion. “Things like this – happen.”
Delia’s face softened so that she was almost pretty. “I know how ya’ feel ‘bout him, Miss Kitty.” She lifted her chin in Matt’s general direction, even though Kitty knew she couldn’t see much past the door. “Ya’ might not think I’m a prayin’ woman, but I figure the Good Lord knows I’m as sincere as anybody, and I jest wanna tell ya’ that I bin keepin’ the marshal right there at th’ top of my list.”
Kitty allowed a shuddering breath to escape before she smiled her acknowledgement.
“I mean it. All us girls are, well – “
“I know. Thank you.”
“I just wanted you ta know.”
Delia nodded once, then turned and left. Sighing, Kitty closed the door, letting her weary body fall back against it.
The night had been rough, not because Matt was feverish or restless, but just the opposite. He lay still and quiet, and that was worse than any delirium she could have imagined. By morning, she figured she had slept maybe two hours, the rest of the time spent just staring at his face, wondering – as she had wondered too much recently.
Doc’s arrival was both welcome and dreaded, but when her dear old friend walked through the door, she put on a brave face and gave him a smile.
“Morning, Kitty,” he returned, his eyes going first to Matt, assessing quickly that there was no change, then to her. “You eat what Festus brought last night?”
He grunted. “I have a feeling Festus got more nutrition just smelling it walking from Delmonicos to here than you did.”
Her expression revealed that he was too close to the truth. “I’m all right, Doc.”
“Sure, sure.” But he mercifully let it go and looked toward Matt again. “Anything?”
She shook her head, wishing with all her heart that she could give him a different answer, that she could say Matt had opened his eyes, or spoken, or even just moved. But she couldn’t.
A heavy sigh lifted the old man’s chest. Her body automatically braced for what he was going to say. “Kitty, I know you don’t want to – to think about this right now – “
Never. She never wanted to think about it.
“But we have ta’ look at what we’re gonna do if – if Matt can’t, well, if he doesn’t come out of it. He can’t just – lie here forever.”
“He can,” she whispered. “If he – “ She swallowed, bracing herself to say the words. “If he doesn’t ever – wake up, he can stay here.”
“Kitty, I don’t think you know what you’re saying. Somebody in that condition has – special needs, needs that are – hard to deal with.”
“You don’t think I’ve already thought of that? You don’t think I’d do anything for him? Anything, Doc. You know what Matt means to me.” Her eyes held his, her soul bared within them. “I don’t have to pretend with you, do I, not with you, of all people?”
He blinked but didn’t back away from her intense gaze. “No, Kitty, you don’t have to pretend. I know what Matt means to you, and I know what you mean to him. I just – wanted to make sure you understood what – what you were getting into.”
“I understand. I understand that this man has been my life for thirteen years. I understand that he’s risked his own life for me. I understand that he’s given me trust, and loyalty, and – “ Her voice broke. “And love. For me, Doc. He doesn’t care about my past. He doesn’t care about what other people think – at least not about him. He is the only man who has really known me, the only man I’ve ever let know me.” Her chest heaved with emotion. “I understand.”
Gathering her into his gentle embrace, Doc held her for a long moment, and Kitty drew the strength she needed from the man who was more her father than Wayne Russell could ever dream of being. As he let her go, he wiped roughly at his eyes and cleared his throat.
“I’ll – I’ll be back in a few minutes. Gotta check on – I’ll be back.”
“Thanks, Curly,” she whispered, her gratitude for his friendship and his love too deep to express adequately. Turning back to look at Matt, she sighed, the enormity of the situation close to overwhelming.
Reality was forcing its way into her thinking, much as she tried to combat it. Doc was right. It was time to make some decisions, time to think about what they could do – what she could do – for Matt. Leaning her head against his hip, she succumbed to the swell of tears that had been pushing at her mercilessly for three days. She had been strong – and she would be strong again, she had to be. But for a few moments, at least, her body needed the release, and she gave in, the sobs wracking her chest and throat, her tears soaking the bed linens.
“Oh, Matt,” she choked out. “Oh, Matt.”
She felt something tug through her hair and was horrified to think that Doc had returned and was now witnessing her break down. Desperately attempting to control her weeping, she wiped at her eyes, still fighting the gasps that jerked through her.
But her old friend didn’t answer, and she lifted her head and blinked a couple of times to clear her sight. The touch in her hair grew heavier, then fell. Startled, she sat straight, her gaze instantly seeking Matt’s face.
It was as if someone punched the breath right from her lungs. Those blue eyes held hers. Still glazed from fever, still tight with pain. But they looked at her.
It took only a second for her body to act, and that act vaulted her to her feet so that she leaned over him, her face close to his. “Matt? Matt!”
The door flew open behind her. She didn’t spare a glance to look at the visitor, but it was only a second before the doctor’s voice announced him, anyway.
“Kitty? Kitty, what is it? I heard you call out – “ He stopped suddenly. “Is he – “
Beaming, she twisted toward him. “Doc, he’s – “ Unable to keep her eyes from Matt any longer, she turned back to him. “Matt?”
His eyes shifted between Doc and her, their beautiful blue clouded, uncertain, confused.
“Matt?” Doc asked, his voice tight. “Can you hear me? Can you say something for me?”
He blinked slowly once, then twice, without a verbal response. Kitty caught her hand to her throat with the impact of the sickening realization. “Oh, Matt,” she whispered, unable to avoid reaching out to caress his rough jaw. “Oh, Cowboy.”
He regarded her blankly for a moment. Kitty felt Doc’s supporting hand on her shoulder, bracing her to deal with what fate had dealt them, what fate had dealt Matt, and she knew without doubt that she could do whatever was necessary.
Finally, she forced a brave smile to her lips and let her hand slide from that strong jaw to thread through the tousled hair, ready to give him calm reassurance that she was there, even if he didn’t understand what she meant, even if he couldn’t respond to her comfort.
She took heart to notice that he continued to look at her, and she hoped it meant he had some recognition, some memory. With time, perhaps, she could bring him back, help him remember.
As long as it takes, she vowed. As long as it takes.
She saw him swallow and draw a shallow breath, and she realized with a twist of excitement that he was trying to speak. She prayed he might say her name, or maybe his own. Would he know that much? Could he remember? And she promised she would be happy with whatever little success he might have.
But to her complete astonishment, the faintest smile hinted at his lips, and he whispered, his voice soft but crystal clear, “That was – some speech, Red.”
If she hadn’t been afraid she would seriously injure him – again – she would have leaped into his arms, even with Doc standing right there. “Matt!” she cried. “Oh, Matt! I thought – ”
“I’m – all right – Kitty,” he murmured, and even though she knew he definitely wasn’t, she also knew now that he would be. Thank God.
Doc stepped up to the other side of the bed, his own delight unmasked. He raised one hand, fingers spread. “How many fingers am I holding up?”
Matt blinked and squinted. “Eleven.”
“Funny boy.” But his tone remained pleased as he took Matt’s right hand and pressed their palms together. “Can you push against my hand?”
It was only a second before Doc’s own hand was thrust backwards firmly. He grunted. “How about the other?” The left one performed equally well. “Move your legs for me, too.”
The covers shifted cooperatively, and Kitty almost screamed in triumph when Doc nodded to her, satisfaction on his face.
“You two gonna – tell me what – happened?” Matt asked, somehow managing to sound irritated despite the weakness in his voice.
Through her tears, Kitty said, “I’ll explain later. It’s just – oh, welcome back, Matt! Welcome back!”
She stared into that rugged, handsome – and slightly confused – face, almost giddy with the joy that pumped through her veins, and suddenly she couldn’t stop herself. The whole town could have burst in on them at that moment and she wouldn’t have given a hoot. With a girlish squeal, she threw her arms around him and showered him with kisses.
And he endured them all without one murmur of protest.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
The wind tugged at his vest as Matt Dillon drew in a deep breath, satisfied with that renewed ability, and eased down Kitty’s back steps, feeling better than he had in two months – albeit a little sore, a condition that had nothing to do with his injury. Conscious that eyes could be on him as soon as he emerged onto the boards, he tried not to smile too broadly at the memory of how he had just spent a very pleasant couple of hours. The timing was unusual for them – middle of the afternoon in broad daylight – but the opportunity had presented itself, and after two months neither had the willpower or even the inclination to wait. Doc had been the instigator, whether premeditated or accidental, Matt wasn’t sure. Despite the marshal’s assurance that he was well enough to work again, the physician had insisted that the convalescing lawman do only part-time duty, then went so far as to instruct Festus and Thad to relieve him at lunch, ignore his anticipated protests that he felt fine, and threaten to tell Kitty if he didn’t leave. That being the case, the banished marshal figured he might as well spend his time productively. And he and Kitty had been extremely productive that afternoon. The smile spread into a bona fide grin as he thought about their time together.
For a minute, he couldn’t see. Spots danced before his eyes, taunting him, threatening to rob him of consciousness again, but he fought them, struggled to stay awake even as his body argued against him. Not that the sensation was uncommon, or even particularly unwelcome, at least in the present situation, because at the moment he lay in Kitty’s bed, in Kitty’s arms, his muscles stripped of strength and trembling from the intensity of the release she had just brought him. Gradually, the spots faded, and he looked down at the gorgeous redhead who lay on top of him, their bodies still intimately joined.
“How ya’ doin’, Cowboy?” she whispered, the tone light but the question serious.
When he felt like he could draw in enough oxygen to speak, he murmured, “I’m fine – real fine.”
Her chuckle shook them both. “Oh, I’ll definitely agree with that.”
He was too spent to muster even a modest protest, but he managed an answering grunt and drew his long arms around her, cradling her against him.
She didn’t wait long before she asked again. “You really okay? Having trouble breathing?”
This time his laugh shook them. “I’m having a lot of trouble breathing, but not for any bad reason.”
“A good reason, then,” she teased.
“A very good reason,” he confirmed.
“Okay. I was a little worried. Your breath was coming pretty hard there.” With a delightfully sensuous laugh, she added, “Of course, that wasn’t the only thing coming pretty hard.”
Heat rushed to his cheeks. “Kitty!”
“And I enjoyed every minute of it.”
“More like every second of it,” he conceded, his face flushing even redder.
“You might have noticed, Cowboy, that I was right there with you.”
Oh, he had noticed, all right.
“Two months is a long time.” Sliding her legs on either side of him, she pushed up, and he saw that she was careful to keep her hands braced on the bed instead of his ribs.
“Kitty,” he tried to assure her, “really, I’m fine – “
“I know, but it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”
“Really – “
Sliding her smooth body off his, she snuggled down beside him, her hair fanning over his shoulder, her soft breath tickling his neck, her gentle fingers playing with the hair that trailed down his abdomen, her slender leg draping across his thighs. He drew in a satisfied breath, intending to relish the moment as long as possible, not even aware when he fell into a relaxed slumber, but very aware when she woke him again to continue their afternoon.
the edge of the alley by the
Matt cringed at the sound of Nathan Burke’s call, and he resisted the urge to duck into an alley. At least the irritating sound might provide the inspiration he needed to push back the dangerous images of Kitty lying there on the twisted covers, her creamy skin bared, her full breasts inviting him to –
Damn. Exhaling hard, he tugged the hat from his head and tried to look casual as he held it in his hands. Turning, he waited for the freight clerk to catch up with him.
“I bin lookin’ for you all afternoon,” came the accusation.
“That so?” Matt didn’t offer any additional information.
Holding out a large brown-wrapped package, Burke said, “This come for ya.” His voice lowered as if he were divulging a state secret. “It’s from Saint Louie.”
Matt hesitated only a moment before he took the package, not even remembering to thank Burke, a courtesy that usually came second nature to him. Matt Dillon was not a fatalist, but he knew there were some things that were just going to happen, especially in his line of work, so he had long ago decided not to worry about things he had no control over. Of course, as a United States Marshal, he exercised a significant amount of control over quite a few things. One of those, apparently, was not Solana Satterfield.
They had not heard a peep from her since she left Dodge,
and he had begun to wonder if she had actually listened to his reasoning there
at the Dodge House not to get involved in Paul Hill’s vengeful scheme. The package he held gave him his answer –
most likely not the one he wanted.
Nodding to Burke, he shoved the hat back on his head, no longer needing
its strategic placement elsewhere, and tucked the parcel under his left
arm. He should tell Kitty, he supposed,
but the fortification of a whiskey before that conversation sounded like a good
idea. Pressing his lips together, he set
his long strides toward the front door of the
It took him a good ten minutes to cross those few yards, though. As soon as his tall frame was spotted by one citizen half the town crowded around him, pumping his hand, slapping him on the back. Ma Smalley even dared to rise on tip-toe and kiss him on the cheek.
“Sure is good ta have ya up and around again, Marshal,” Moss Grimmick said, the lines of his face stretched in a grin. “Sure is.”
Wilbur Jonas nodded, clicking his teeth. “We were surely worried there for a while. Glad you’re better.”
“I’m kinda glad myself,” Matt acknowledged, warmed by their sincerity but – as usual – ill at ease with the attention.
Even Mr. Bodkin, who generally stayed away from the more common elements of a saloon, stepped up and proposed that Matt’s return to duty called for a drink. “I’ll treat,” he offered, then quickly amended, “the first round only, though.”
he knew it, the marshal was ushered ceremoniously and noisily into the
“What on earth?” spluttered Doc Adams from his previously quiet seat in the corner.
Matt shrugged, accepted his beer, and waded through the crowd that was clamoring at the counter for their share, much to Mr. Bodkin’s growing regret. He folded his long body into a chair next to the physician, smiled a bit helplessly, and explained, “My welcome back.” Then he hoisted the glass for a slow draw.
“Ah.” Slyly, Doc leaned in and, with a bold glance toward the upstairs rooms, said, “I thought you’d already had your welcome back this afternoon.”
Caught in mid-gulp, Matt sprayed a good portion of the cold ale across the table. When he had swallowed what was left in his mouth, he scowled. “Doc!”
But the old man just shrugged and brushed a few drops of beer from his sleeve. “What’s in the package?” he asked, pointing to the parcel Matt had dropped onto the table.
sigh, Matt clunked the glass down once more and shook his head. “It’s from
Matt shook his head. “Burke just gave it to me after I left – uh, Burke just gave it to me.”
“You know what it says?”
“I can guess.”
“Good to see you back, Marshal.”
They both looked up in response to the craggy voice. “Thanks, Sam,” Matt said, knowing that the barkeeper had seen him on more than one occasion during his convalescence when he wasn’t in the role of marshal.
“You want me to tell Miss Kitty you’re here?”
Matt cleared his throat, certain that Sam was aware that he had spent the afternoon in Kitty’s room. “Uh, well, if she’s available.”
“You know, it’s just too bad,” Doc murmured.
“How a lady who’s so beautiful on the outside can be so ugly on the inside.”
The physician nodded and started to say something else, but movement from above them turned his head, and he looked back, grinning. “Now speaking of beautiful ladies inside and out – “
Matt’s head tilted up, a smile spreading his lips as Kitty flowed down the stairs, graceful and lovely and breathtaking – as usual. He sensed Doc’s grinning gaze on him, but didn’t care.
“Hello, Matt,” she greeted casually, giving no indication that her slightly swollen lips were from his fevered kisses.
“Kitty,” he returned, trying to sound just as cool, but still able to feel her hands on him, running over his chest, down his stomach. Staying strategically seated, he cleared his throat and motioned for her to sit next to him, her knowing look drawing a blush to his cheeks. Doc’s smirk was incorrigible.
Mercifully, the clanging spurs of his deputy shifted attention before Matt embarrassed himself. They saw the tattered hat and scruffy whiskers emerge through the crowd.
“Matthew!” Festus greeted, jangling over to their table. “Whut’s all th’ hoohah about chere?”
“Oh, uh, well, that’s my welcome back. Mister Bodkin set everybody up with a drink.”
The squinty eyes gleamed. “Wael, he did now?”
“I’m sure he’d want you to have one, too, Festus,” Kitty said, generously extending the banker’s offer.
“’Course,” Festus agreed. But before he left to claim his gift, he nodded toward Matt in satisfaction. “Thet thar nap musta done ya good, Matthew. Yer lookin’ mighty refreshed.”
Doc nodded slyly. “I’m not sure he napped, Festus, but he did find something to occupy his time for a couple of hours.” He fixed his blue eyes on Matt.
Matt threw a glare at his friend and torturer.
“Wael, shore,” Festus agreed. “Thar’s lots a thangs ta’ do besides nappin’: checkers, poker, fishing. You go fishin’ Matthew?”
“Don’t forget that beer, Festus,” Kitty reminded, and Matt let a mix of embarrassment and amusement reflect in his eyes when he gave her a quick glance.
The tactic worked as the deputy hastened over to the bar with a quick “’Scuse me.”
“Did you?” Doc persisted.
“Did I what?”
“Doc, so help me – “
“Oh, don’t go getting your back up. I’m just meddling you. Besides, weren’t you going to show Kitty, uh – ” He gestured at the package lying on the table.
Well, frying pan into the fire. But Doc was right; he needed to tell her.
“Show me what?” she asked.
“Uh, this came today,” he said, nodding toward the brown parcel and lifting it.
Curiosity lifted Kitty’s pretty eyebrows. “What is it?”
felt guilty about bringing it up so abruptly, but there wasn’t much he could do
about it now. With a deep breath, he
revealed, “It’s from
It took only a couple of seconds for the impact of that statement to change Kitty’s expression. Her lips pressed together as she swallowed, staring at it. Finally, she eased into the chair next to Matt. “Well, might as well get it over with.”
“It doesn’t matter, Kitty,” he told her gently, knowing he was wrong. It mattered a great deal.
She smiled back, her eyes tender and thankful. Reaching forward, she picked it up and slid the string from around it, revealing exactly what he expected her to reveal: a neatly folded newspaper proclaiming itself to be the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Kitty,” Matt urged, resting his hand over hers, “it doesn’t matter. Don’t.”
But she shook her head. “It does matter, Matt. It matters if what she’s written is going to bring danger to you. It matters if she’s writing lies about – about us.”
Or the truth, he thought.
“You open it, Doc,” she decided, handing the paper over to their dear friend. Matt gritted his teeth against the words he – and Kitty – would have to hear.
Rubbing a hand quickly over his mustache, the doctor unfolded the paper, the odor of newsprint assailing them. He didn’t have to look far, apparently, because he glanced down at the front page, his eyes widening. Looking up at them once, he then lowered his head and began reading.
Matt wanted to tug Kitty against him, to enfold her in his protective embrace, or at the very least to hold her hand and lend her strength to deal with the spiteful accusations. Instead, he made sure he caught her gaze and sent a message of love that she could take to bolster her.
Doc’s voice began tentatively, as if he were wary of being too blunt. As the words of the article unfolded, Matt found himself frowning, but not in anger or pain. Instead, he frowned in confusion – and growing astonishment.
“’To those who have heard of his daring exploits for years
now, Marshal Matt Dillon, stalwart protector of Dodge City and beyond, may seem
larger than life. Before I met the real
man, I considered this description to be in the abstract. Now, however, I realize it is quite concrete.
Marshal Dillon, the legend, towers over his adversaries. Matt Dillon, the man, does the very
same. At over six and a half feet tall,
with shoulders broad and chest wide, he is a veritable giant among men from all
sections of this great land. But his
stature isn’t limited to physicality alone.
What became crystal clear as I followed this dedicated lawman around
“What?” Matt managed to ask.
Doc shrugged. “That’s what it says.”
Her expression equally shocked, Kitty lost any trepidation and pulled the newspaper from Doc’s hands, continuing to read it herself.
“Let’s see – crystal clear – dedicated lawman – tall in character. Okay, here it is. ‘And you don’t have to take my word for it. The citizens of Dodge are more than willing to share their opinions. Those who have never run afoul of him use words like honest, brave, noble, compassionate. Those who have prefer tough, unbending, fearless. Both groups are accurate, and both groups have their own reasons for looking up, both literally and figuratively, to Marshal Matt Dillon.’”
A grin lifted the physician’s lips beneath his mustache. “Well, I’ll be.”
“But no one truly knows the real Matt Dillon – at least no one who’s going to share. Those closest to him are almost frustratingly closed-mouth, especially on the subject of his personal life. Surely even a man like that – or especially a man like that – needs someone to lighten the load at the end of the day. Rumor is he has a woman – which I’m sure comes as a disappointment to all our lady readers out there. What kind of woman would this man want – or even need? She would have to be quite remarkable, a woman whose strength matched that of the intrepid lawman.’”
Matt found himself staring at Kitty. What kind of woman would this man want – or even need? His need for Kitty almost overpowered him sometimes. Had Solana seen that? Had he convinced the reporter of it somehow throughout the ordeal? Still stunned, he could only listen.
there such a woman? You won’t hear it from this reporter, who has to admit to
being rather taken with the handsome marshal, herself. Still, if there were, one might imagine he
would be as protective of her as he is of the law – and he is VERY protective
of the law. This reporter’s advice to
anyone inclined to run outside of the law is to do it outside of
There were a few more lines devoted to a brief history of his career, and a final comment that proclaimed them all to be immeasurably fortunate to have him as their protector. As he listened to the effusive compliments, Matt felt the usual flush of chagrin, but he didn’t stop Kitty from reading. When she finished, the three friends stared at each other for a long, long moment, their astonishment complete. It was almost impossible to believe that Solana Satterfield had actually printed this article.
“I just can’t – “ Kitty stammered.
Matt shook his head slowly. “Me either.”
“Who would have thought?” Doc added with a cock of his head.
Finally, Matt shrugged and said, “By golly,” which was all he could think of at the moment.
When he glanced up at Kitty he was greeted with a relieved grin, one which was mirrored on Doc’s face, and – he knew – his own. If they hadn’t been surrounded by most of the town, he would have allowed himself to kiss her – or at least give her a solid hug. Instead, he reached out and squeezed her hand. Her return squeeze conveyed more emotion than most people’s kisses, anyway. But he’d still make sure he shared one – or many – with her later.
Laughing out loud, Kitty scooped up the ripped brown wrapping paper to ball it up and discard. As she did, a square enveloped dropped out, the fancy script on the front spelling out “Marshal Matthew Dillon.”
Without a word, she handed it to him, her eyes trusting. Slipping a long finger under the edge, he tugged out the single sheet of paper and read the message from the woman he had been certain was determined to ruin his life.
I suppose sometimes things aren’t as they seem, or at least don’t turn out as we initially envision. I hope that this note finds you in good health. I, myself, am alive and well, thanks to you. I want you to know that it was truly my pleasure to meet you and discover that there are men in this world who are honest and true. I now know there are some women like that, as well. Just so you will not worry about him anymore, I want you to know that Paul is no longer in the newspaper business. Last I heard he was in the Orient trying his hand at promoting a traveling prizefighter. Although it is unlikely to occur, if the occasion ever arose again to share a stage with you, it would be my privilege. I assure you that your knee would be safe this time.”
He fumbled over the last few words, uncomfortably aware of Kitty’s suddenly raised brow. Clearing his throat, he managed to continue without a comment from her.
“Please accept my wishes for a long and happy life.
my regards to the owner of the
He had not imagined he could have been more astonished than he was when Doc and Kitty read the article. He was wrong. And he wasn’t the only one. All three of them stared at each other again. Even Doc found himself at a loss for words.
After a moment, Festus’
reappearance broke their silence. “Thet beer shore whet th’
whistle,” he volunteered. “Thet thar wind’s bin a twistin’ th’ dirt all around in my mouth. I ain’t
bin able ta’ swaller
without chokin’ down half of
“You don’t have to worry about that anymore, Festus.”
They looked up to watch the tall, gangly figure who had squeezed through the crowd and now walked toward them.
“Thad,” Kitty greeted warmly.
“Missy Kitty,” the young man acknowledged, touching the brim of his hat. “Matt. Doc.”
“What air ya’ talkin’ about, Thad?” Festus asked.
“I just walked over from the jail. Looks like the wind’s gone.”
“Gone?” Doc asked, his tone incredulous. They had been fighting the swirling dust for two months.
“Not even a breeze,” the young man assured them. “It just all of a sudden quit.”
Matt felt Kitty’s eyes on him and looked up at her. As impossible as it seemed, he saw the same thought written on her face.
“When did it stop, Thad?” he asked as casually as possible.
“Well, I saw you head into
“Stopped?” Kitty repeated, clearly having trouble believing it.
“Stopped,” Thad confirmed.
“’An ill wind blows no man
to good,’” quoted
But Matt let his gaze sweep over the elaborate handwriting that graced the letter he still held and smiled slightly, shaking his head. “Maybe not always, Doc. Maybe not always.”
“An ill wind that bloweth no man to good.”
Proverbes. Part ii. Chap. ix.
“Except wind stands as
never it stood,
It is an ill wind turns none to good.”
A Description of the Properties of Wind.
“Not the ill wind which blows no man to good.”
Henry IV, Part 2, Act 5, Scene 3
Epilogue: Fair Winds
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Matt Dillon shifted on the hard seat of the stagecoach, knowing from experience that he wouldn’t find a more comfortable position, but giving it a shot anyway. Winter had ensconced itself firmly into the air, biting at his bones. From the tight expressions of his fellow passengers, he could tell he wasn’t the only victim of the weather. Tugging the collar of his coat higher, he crossed his arms over his chest and accepted that he would just be cold until they reached Dodge. It was certainly not the first time.
Prospects of how he would get warm again made the wait more bearable. And this time he wasn’t nursing broken ribs. This time, nothing would stand in the way of their reunion. Not if he could help it.
The marshal looked up to find the woman who had boarded at Wichita looking at him, her once-clean traveling suit chalked with the dust of the trail, just like the rest of them. She might have been thirty; she might have been fifty. He couldn’t decide if life had been pretty good to her or pretty bad.
“Matt Dillon,” he returned simply.
The woman’s brow rose. “Matt Dillon? Marshal Matt Dillon?”
Matt sighed wearily. “That’s right.”
“My, my. I never figured I’d – well, I read about you in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Of course I’d heard about you before – and I should have recognized you, certainly. ‘Shoulders broad, chest wide. A veritable giant,’ I believe was the description.”
He pressed his lips together and tolerated the stares the other two passengers now cut to him. Her eyes moved over Matt from boots to Stetson, and he shifted, his discomfort having nothing to do with the hard seat.
“That article surely was right,” she noted boldly. “You are mighty tall, Marshal – and those shoulders are broad.” Before he could think of a response, she continued eagerly, “Tell me, is Dodge really as wild as they say?”
“Once was,” Matt allowed. “Can still be at times.”
“I’ll just bet!”
He gave her a tight smile. “You headed to Dodge?”
“Well, I was
Good, Matt thought, then felt guilty. “I wish you safe travel.”
“Of course,” she amended, “I just might linger a few days
in your fair city.” Her hand reached out
as if she might place it on his knee.
With a feeling that was disturbingly familiar, he crossed his left leg
over his right, smoothly avoiding her uninvited and unwelcome touch, and
wondered if he should have stayed in
When the stage pulled into Dodge two hours later, he practically leaped from the coach, eager not only to see Kitty, but also to escape the fawning admiration of Miss Sierra Cimarron, who had been ogling him the entire time. His legs cramped from keeping them as far away from her wandering hands as possible.
“Aren’t you going to help me down, Marshal?” she asked, perched expectantly at the door of the stage.
He cringed, but ever courteous, turned and extended his hand for her to take, which she did – after letting her fingers caress down his forearm first.
“Uh, Miss Cimarron – “
Just as she lighted on the ground, he raised his head to look into the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Desire jolted through him, and he reined it in for proper appearances. But those eyes didn’t belong to the woman who now pouted slightly as she lost his attention. They belonged to the woman who had his attention. Completely.
A fine eyebrow arched upward, a mixture of joy and irritation flashing across her lovely face. Despite that, he grinned at her, not caring who saw.
“Welcome home, Matt.” Kitty gave him her customary public greeting, but her eyes promised much more when she offered him her private welcome back.
“Good to be
home, Kitty,” he answered, as usual, fighting to control his body’s immediate
reaction to her presence.
At the pointed throat clearing by Sierra, he tugged his lower lip between his teeth and said, “Uh, Miss Cimarron, this is Kitty Russell. Kitty, this is Sierra Cimarron. We met – “ He sighed, then finished, “On the stage.”
“You do have a knack, don’t you, Marshal?” Kitty observed wryly. He winced.
“Miss Russell,” Sierra greeted formally. “It is Miss Russell?”
Here we go again, he thought and braced himself, feeling Kitty tense. Experience – recent and painful experience – prompted quick action. Matt slid an arm around Kitty’s back and pulled her against him, making his motion deliberate and clear. With a courteous but firm tone, he said pointedly, “If you’ll excuse us, Miss Cimarron.”
comprehension widened the other woman’s eyes.
For a moment, she shifted her gaze between Matt and Kitty, but then,
just as suddenly, a rueful smile curved her lips, and she arched a brow. “I see. You know, I told the Marshal that I
had read about him in the
Matt felt her arm reach around his waist snugly. Relieved, and eager to run while his pony was in the lead, he touched the brim of his hat in farewell to Sierra Cimarron, vowing that next time he boarded a stage he’d make sure there were no windy women on the passenger list.
still a pleasure, Marshal,” Sierra told him, her sigh more than a little
regretful. “I’ll tell my sister about meeting you when I get to
“Good luck to you, Miss Cimarron.”
“To both of you,” she returned, more graciously than Matt had expected, before she turned back to the driver. “Just leave my bags up there,” she instructed, disappointment weighing down her tone.
Alone with Kitty – or at least mostly alone – he resisted the urge to swing her into his arms and press her hard against him, compromising by keeping his arm around her as they stepped onto the boardwalk. They walked a few feet in silence; then he looked down at her to find those beautiful eyes on him and that sensuous mouth smiling toward him.
“What?” he asked.
“Nicely done, Cowboy. I think you should get some kind of reward for that.”
Reward? His heart pounded at bit harder at the prospect. “How about you buy me some lunch?” he asked, in a vain attempt at nonchalance, knowing that he was very close to embarrassing himself. If she moved her hand a bit lower –
But she shook her head slowly. “No, I don’t think so.”
“No? But you said I should get a reward – “
“See,” she said, “I wasn’t thinking about – food.”
“No?” he asked hoarsely, swallowing hard at the insinuation in her tone.
“Uh uh. You have in mind any other – reward?”
His body throbbed in anticipation, and he let the fire burn through his gaze. “Yes,” he murmured, voice deep and husky. “Yes, I think I do.”
He thought for a moment she might leap on him right there in the street, but she just squeezed him hard and urged him forward. “What are we waiting for?”
Absolutely nothing, he decided.
He wasn’t sure how long he had slept, not too long, he hoped, wondering if anyone had tried to find him while he indulged in the pleasures of Kitty’s embrace. Her head rested against his shoulder, her hair tickled his cheek, and he felt a swell of emotion at his good fortune. He would not have dreamed 13 years before that he would have someone like Kitty in his life, would not have even thought he would still have a life. When he was brutally honest with himself, he knew he wasn’t fair to Kitty. What he told Solana Satterfield was true. The woman of a lawman lived in constant worry, constant fear, and he had told himself numerous times that Kitty would be better off without that – which meant without him. But as strong as Matt Dillon was, he didn’t have the strength to push her away – even for her own good. He needed her. Independent, self-sufficient Matt Dillon needed her – more than he had ever needed anyone else in his life. But the thought of what she had been prepared to sacrifice for him tore at his heart – and at his conscience.
A sigh lifted her chest, and he smiled, admiring the lovely view. “You awake?”
“I’m awake, Cowboy.”
“I probably should go.”
“We’ve been here all afternoon.”
“There’s something we need to talk about.”
Abruptly, her body stiffened and she propped on an elbow and regarded him with those amazing blue eyes for a moment. “What?”
He didn’t remember much about those few days after Joe Kendall came back, but he had seen enough in Kitty’s eyes to know it had been a near thing.
“It’s about what you said to Doc when – “
Her fiery waves danced as she shook her head and straightened so that she sat cross-legged next to him. “We don’t need to talk about that.”
“We do,” he insisted, sitting as well, his hands gripping her shoulders both to support her and to keep from crushing her to him. “We both know that something like this could happen again.”
“Matt – “
“It’s not going to change things to ignore it.” Lifting her chin with his thumb and forefinger, he held her gaze. “I want you to promise me you won’t give up your freedom, your life, if I’m – if I end up like you and Doc thought – ”
“Matt Dillon,” she snapped, “don’t you dare ask me to let you die – or to abandon you if – ”
“Kitty – to live like that – I’d rather – “ He gritted his teeth at the thought of what might have been – what might still be. “There are things worse than death. I don’t want you to be tied down with me if – “
“Matt, how could you think – Oh, Matt, I couldn’t leave you like that.” Tears streaked her face now, and he felt guilty for bringing up the subject. “You’d need someone to take care of you, someone who – who knows you, who loves you.”
He ran a hand down her arm in comfort and said softly, “Kitty, it won’t matter. If I’m – if I’m in that condition, I won’t know if it’s you or someone else taking care of me.”
Softly, with absolute conviction, she said, “I’ll know.”
The love and deep promise in her eyes stole his breath. When he got it back, he pulled her against him with a surge of emotion so fierce he thought he might actually pass out from the sensation. She clung to him, and he felt warm tears trail down his chest. Fighting back his own tears, he swallowed once, then again, in a vain attempt to form some adequate response to her declaration, deciding that the best thing he could do was just hold her. Finally, when he had gathered the ragged edges of control together enough to speak, he made an effort to share with her – really for the first time – how very deeply he felt. Oh, he’d told her he loved her before. He’d certainly shown her, physically, many, many times. But he was, admittedly, a man who kept a tight hold on his feelings. Unaccustomed to letting them go, he struggled for the right words.
“Kitty, I – surely you know that I – “
Automatically, she started to interrupt, to save him the discomfort of confession, but he placed a long finger over her lips and shook his head.
“I love you,” he told her, allowing the extent of his emotions to color his tone with richness and truth. “I love you so very, very much.”
This time, it was he who stole her breath. Tears streamed down her cheeks again as she fell into his arms, and he cradled her against him. After several minutes, her body relaxed, and he became aware of how close he was to being completely overcome by the moment. Swallowing, he searched desperately for some topic, some diversion to bring them back to a state he could control, a state that didn’t threaten to undo him.
“Kitty, about before – uh, earlier. I mean, when we – well, I hope I wasn’t too – rough,” he apologized hoarsely, praying that she understood his motive. “I know how you like it slow and easy – “
Kitty sat, regarded him for a long moment, wiping her eyes dry. He let his gaze hold hers, asking her to let him have this moment. Finally, she smiled gently, her fingers touching his lips. “I like it lots of ways, Cowboy.” He knew that, too. “Did I sound like I was complaining?”
Relief lightened his features, lifted his brow. “Well, now that you mention it, those moans didn’t sound like you were in pain – “
trailed sensuously over his chin and down his chest. “The only pain is when I want you so badly
that – well, when you walk through the doors of the
“Yeah?” he asked, her steamy confession making it difficult to keep the touch of satisfaction from his voice and impossible to keep the swell of arousal from another area.
“Yeah. A real hard time.” She threw a leg over his pelvis and wiggled seductively against him, encouraging his reawakening desire. “And since we’re speaking of hard – “
“Kitty!” he gasped as she let her hand trail past his abdomen to sheathe his revived erection.
“So hard,” she murmured, her voice husky, her gentle grip sliding down the iron shaft, then up again.
Matt wondered vaguely if a heart – or anything else – could pump so hard it exploded. Certainly there was some powerful explosion awaiting him. Intense pleasure flooded his body as his neck arched, and his head snapped back against the pillow. “Oh, Red, that feels good, but you’d – you’d better stop now.”
But she didn’t stop. In fact, she eased down his long frame to replace her fingers with something warmer and softer – and wetter. He couldn’t keep the groan from his throat as the moisture from her tongue cooled on his enflamed flesh.
Just when he was about to surrender to her seduction, she moved over him, spreading her thighs so that he was poised at her entrance.
Another groan pushed past his lips as her snug heat enveloped him, squeezed him, and he surged within her again. Grasping her hips, he rolled so that she lay beneath him, moving into her with slow, deliberate strokes, the relief of his earlier climax granting him more control, despite her torment. Her delicious moans rewarded him and inspired his movements to grow even more measured, teasing her by pausing just at her entrance, then inching back in with agonizing leisure. He felt her writhe beneath him, arch up in an effort to make him move faster, harder, but he held strong, taking her to the edge again and again, then remaining still just as she was perched to go over. After a while, he was drenched in sweat and trembling with the effort to draw it out, to build up her need until she cried out to him. But he was beginning to wonder who would cry out to whom first.
Finally, her voice deep with desperate passion, her body arching madly beneath his, she pleaded, “Matt, please!”
And so he had mercy on her – and on himself as well since she wasn’t the only one barely hanging on at this point. With a relieved grunt, he thrust forward, swinging into a firm, steady rhythm that drew gasps from both of them. Kitty’s legs wrapped around his back as she pushed against him, her fingernails biting into his shoulders, her cries inflaming him, ripping away the last of his control.
“I love you, Kitty,” he whispered, his eruption imminent, burning between his legs.
With a ragged groan, he felt the powerful waves break over his body, felt his hot release rush through him to punch hard and deep within her, again and again, welcomed by her own eager contractions. She bucked against him, and he kept coming, certain he had no more to give, yet giving still. Finally, when his arms could no longer support him, he collapsed on top of her, breath heaving, chest pounding, groin still throbbing inside her with the lingering sensations. Barely able to make a coherent sentence, he murmured his love to her again, brushed his lips across a lovely, damp breast, and used the last of his strength to withdraw and fall to her side.
warm confines of Kitty Russell’s bedroom in the