Where the Danger Lies

By Quale

I see forever in your deep blue eyes
And I know where the danger lies
Tell me what’s a girl to do
When she’s up against the likes of you...

Old Enough to Know Better by Jeff Silbar & Glen Clark

I’d only been living in Blue Sky, Montana for about six months and I was finding it a nice quiet little town. It was certainly better than most places I’d been lately, and the Blue Sky Saloon was a cut above the hog ranches I’d fallen to working in the last few years. In fact, one reason I’d chosen to move to Blue Sky was its distance from the forts. Soldiers were the worst kind of customers: they drank too much; they didn’t like to pay; and they almost always got rough with us girls. Oh, there were a few good ones, now and then. There was even a soldier I thought I loved once… but it turned out he was married back East and had a little boy waiting for him. He didn’t tell me the truth until it was time for him to leave the army and go home. I guess he figured he might as well have me for free until it was time to go, and maybe he wasn’t intending to tell me even then. I caught him waiting for the stage, though, and he finally fessed up. That was the last time I let myself get involved with a customer. It was also the last time I allowed myself to trust a man—they were all liars and cheats, as far as I was concerned.

Being such a small town, just about everyone in Blue Sky knew something about everyone else—even those of us on the shadier side of the street. For instance, everyone in town knew about Miss Ella Hart and the story of how she’d lost the love of her life years ago just before the wedding. I’d heard the tale only my second day in town, and several romantic variations of it since. Miss Hart and her doomed love affair seemed to have caught and held the imagination of the townsfolk, no doubt kept alive by her unusual position as a lady lawyer. I can’t say I’d ever heard of a lady lawyer before coming to Blue Sky, although I once worked in a town that had a lady doctor. The townsfolk there hadn’t been near as accepting of a woman doing a man’s job as the folks hereabouts seemed to be.

In any case, knowing the story of the ill-fated Billy and Miss Hart, and remembering quite well the parts where everyone swore Miss Hart had never looked twice at another man since, I was surprised one evening to see her in the company of a young man. They were standing in the doorway of her office, which doubled as her home, and I could have sworn they were kissing. After a moment, they broke apart and I knew they’d been kissing. Being curious by nature, I couldn’t help myself. I stopped across from them, ducking slightly behind a convenient pole and watched.

In the dim light from the moon, I recognized the young man as one of the drifters who were in town. They’d been guests of the sheriff for a short while, I knew, but then some sheriff in Wyoming had vouched for them and they’d been released. The fellow across the street was the one with the dark hair and eyes and the quick smile. I’d seen him playing poker earlier in the day; he and his friend had been winning big and annoying the local cowpokes, I remembered. One of the other girls, Sally Parker, had told me she’d seen Miss Hart having dinner with the two men this evening. Sally liked to watch the “fine folks,” as she called them, as they went about their business, and she often stood outside the saloon when she wasn’t busy and watched them go by. She’d seen Miss Hart and the two drifters going into Austin’s, a fancy restaurant not frequented by the likes of us. Miss Hart was their lawyer, though, so that didn’t seem so out of the ordinary to me. Sally seemed to feel there was more going on, but I thought, at the time, she was just jealous. After all, the strangers were both nice looking young men, from what I had seen, and handsome men were in short supply around here—especially the type of men who might be wanting our company later in the evening. Sally was rather put out that Miss Hart was taking up the strangers’ time.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t hear what Miss Hart and her companion were saying, but I did see them go inside. I waited a while to see what would happen, but the young man didn’t come out again. Frankly, I didn’t think he was going to anytime soon. It looked like Sally had been right, after all…and Miss Hart wasn’t such a model of virtue as the townsfolk thought. I couldn’t blame her for wanting to have her own taste of fun, and I couldn’t blame the stranger for taking her up on her offer. She was a fine looking woman. On the other hand, she’d just stolen some trade from those of us less fortunate.

After a few more moments of staring at the dark house, I shook myself and realized I’d better be getting back to the saloon. I’d only stepped out for a few moments to get some fresh air. Sometimes the smoke in the small room really bothered me and the boss didn’t mind if any of us girls wanted to take a short break now and then. The saloon had been crowded earlier in the evening but as it thinned out, I’d decided to take a quick walk to clear my head.

Now, as I went back into the saloon, I found myself immediately searching the room for the dark stranger’s partner. I’m not sure why I was so determined to make his acquaintance, but it was suddenly incredibly important to me. I remembered he was tall with curly blond hair and blue eyes. As my eyes swept past table after table, I’d almost given hope of finding him, but there he finally was, at a corner table, all by himself. I was surprised Sally or one of the other gals hadn’t already staked him out for herself.

He was a fine looking man with a face that was both hard and soft at once. It’s kind of difficult to explain, but I prided myself on my ability to tell a man’s nature by his eyes. He had a hard look to him that told me he’d been through a lot, even though he couldn’t be more than thirty years old. He wore his gun tied down, like a gunfighter, and I had the feeling that he knew how to use it. His movements were easy and relaxed, but I didn’t doubt he was constantly aware of everything going on around him The glass of whiskey at his hand was more than half full. His back was carefully placed to the wall. But his nature was at odds with that hardness in his eyes, I thought. I doubted there was a truly mean bone in his body.

I paused in my study of the man to laugh at myself. I’d been wrong before. Look what had happened when I had trusted Bradley, my soldier friend. Maybe the man against the wall was the meanest son of a bitch to ever come down the pike. But I knew I wanted to find out. Mr. Ingers, the headmaster at the orphanage where I spent twelve years until I ran away, used to always say “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

I started edging around the room, heading toward the blond stranger. The boss caught my eye from a poker table where he looked well occupied. He nodded at me, figuring out right quick what I was up to, and gave his head a little jerk toward the blond fellow. He was probably mad that the stranger wasn’t drinking more or at least doing something to spend money.

I was fairly confident the drifter would like me. I wasn’t the prettiest girl in town—my face was already showing the signs of my lifestyle, though I was only twenty—but I could definitely hold my own. Besides, most men liked blonde women, especially out here in Blue Sky, Montana, where it was hard to find any kind of woman, much less a pretty one with wavy blonde hair. Sometimes I fretted that my mouth was a little too wide, but I knew my large green eyes, my upturned nose, and the clear complexion I worked so hard to keep more than made up for it.

“Waiting for someone?” I said as I approached the seated man. He’d been staring down into his drink, hardly touching it.

He looked worried and distracted another moment, and then he turned those big blue eyes on me and his whole face lit up. If I hadn’t been a working girl since the tender age of fourteen, I swear that smile would have sent me weak-kneed to the floor. Luckily, I had built up a good resistance to cowboys and soldiers trying to charm me out of a free poke. I wasn’t going to be fooled by anyone.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Did you say something?”

He really must have been thinking about something else far away from Blue Sky ‘cos it was obvious he truly hadn’t heard me. “I said, are you waiting for someone?”

He stood and pulled out a chair for me, inviting me to sit down. “My partner,” he said. “But it appears he isn’t coming. I suppose he got delayed somewhere. Care to join me?”

My, he was a polite one. Most men, even men used to associating with “respectable” women, didn’t bother being so polite to a common girl like me. A lot of them simply pulled me into their lap and started in pawing without so much as a by-your-leave. Of course, we had Sam to take care of the ones who got troublesome. I’d seen him whack a cowboy on the back of the head and knock him out cold with nothing but one balled up fist. Sam was a huge man, at least six foot four, and pure muscle. He wasn’t bad looking, although his features were rather square and plain. I’d never seen him smile, but sometimes I caught him watching me. It made me shiver a little inside and I let myself dream that maybe someday Sam would want to take me upstairs. And then, of course, he’d fall in love with me and I wouldn’t have to be a whore anymore. Sam seemed like the kind of man who’d take good care of a girl and keep her safe. There wasn’t a man in town who would dare face off against Sam, except for Deputy Sven, the Swedish giant, who even towered over Sam. But then, it would take a stupid man to mess with Deputy Sven, and Sam had more brains than that.

I took the chair the blond stranger was offering, and I returned his smile. “I don’t think your partner is coming at all.” I wanted him to know, right off, that he was free to spend some time with me.

“Why’s that?” He sat next to me and leaned close so we didn’t have to raise our voices over the sound of the tinny piano music, but he still didn’t touch me. He looked a little bit worried and I remembered that he and his friend had only recently been liberated from the town jail.

“I saw him out in the street,” I admitted, feeling suddenly spiteful and petty. Why should someone “respectable” like Miss Ella Hart have all the fun while folks like me were called “soiled doves” or “whores,” when all we were trying to do was survive? “He wasn’t alone,” I added very deliberately, hoping my meaning was clear. In fact, I was hoping he’d ask me for some details.

He shook his head, a strange smile flitting at the corners of his lips. If I had to guess what his expression meant, I’d say he was amused. “Oh,” he said, and he didn’t question me about his partner any more. Instead, he asked, “What’s your name?”

“Lorna,” I told him and didn’t add a last name. He wouldn’t be expecting one.

“Thaddeus Jones,” he said, tipping his hat back with one finger. “Pleased to meet ya.”

I blinked, surprised again by his manners. But maybe he hadn’t had much to drink yet. Even the men I’d known who started out polite tended to lose their manners when they’d had a few shots of whiskey.

“Would you like a drink?” he asked, motioning at Ed, the bartender.

Ed was a small, weaselly sort of fellow with greasy black hair and little narrow dark eyes. He gave me the shivers sometimes, but he really was a nice guy once you got used to him. He’d never given me any trouble although I’d heard Sally complain about his attentions a time or two. I suppose he had a case for her so he left the rest of us alone.

Ed brought a whiskey bottle and a glass with him, and poured for me without asking. It was the standard drink served to us girls when a customer was buying. The whiskey was watered down so’s we could drink a lot more without getting drunk…and that way the customers ended up spending more money on us. I choked the drink down quickly and tried not to grimace. Whiskey was one of the worst parts of my job, as far as I was concerned. I’d always hated the stuff.

“You don’t really like that,” Jones said, noticing my expression in spite of my efforts to cover it. “Let me buy you something you like.”

I winced, hoping I wouldn’t get in trouble. “I have to drink it, Mr. Jones—”

“Thaddeus,” he interrupted.

“Thaddeus,” I dutifully repeated, although I hated to call potential customers by their first names. It made it all seem too personal and I didn’t want to fall into that trap, ever again. “It’s the rules of the house.”

He shrugged and I could tell he understood. I didn’t doubt he’d been in more than a few saloons and bawdy houses in his day.

“Where ya from?” I asked, figuring why should he be the only one asking all the questions?

“Kansas. Been drifting around a lot since the War was over. You?”

I hesitated a moment, but something made me feel I could trust him. Maybe it was because he seemed so interested in getting to know me. Most cowboys didn’t want to waste any time talking. They were more interested in getting down to business and then getting back to their cards and their whiskey. I did wonder what he meant when he said he’d been drifting since the War. He hardly looked old enough to have been on his own by then. Of course, I’d been on my own, like I said, since I was fourteen.

“I’m from Texas originally,” I said. “But I’ve been in Montana a few years. I spent some time in a place called Curtis Wells before coming here. You ever hear of it?” I said it casually, sort of feeling him out. I’d had a little bit of trouble in Curtis Wells and had left in a hurry.

He nodded slowly. “Been there,” he said, staring at me intently for a moment.

I shifted uncomfortably, hoping he wouldn’t ask me any more questions about Curtis Wells. But he seemed to be more interested in some bad memory of his own. I cleared my throat and that seemed to break him out of whatever past he was contemplating.

“Not my favorite place,” I admitted.

“Mine either,” he said bluntly, and we dropped the subject. I don’t know what had possessed me to ever bring it up.

He drank a shot of whiskey in one long gulp and then carefully placed the glass on the table. “It appears you’re right about my partner. You want to go upstairs?”

I was confused for a moment or two because he’d phrased it as a question. He was watching me carefully and he really did look like he cared what my answer was. I think if I’d’ve said “no” he would have simply nodded and we would have gone on talking.

“Yes,” I finally said, “Yes, I do.” And I realized it was true. It wasn’t often I felt true desire for a man, but this one was intriguing me. It didn’t hurt that he was also handsome and polite. In my business, I don’t usually get to pick and choose who I sleep with. Some of the men who came through Blue Sky were…well, let’s just say that Jones was a big improvement in just about every way possible.

Jones stood up and held out a hand to me. I took it and smiled up at him. He hadn’t even asked me the price.

“Don’t you want to know how much?” I said, knowing from long experience that we better get it straight right up front so there were no misunderstandings later on.

He shrugged. “I’ve got money. Okay. How much?”

“Five dollars.” For some reason, I had to force the words out past a lump in my throat. He was staring at me with eyes so dark blue they almost looked black. It made me shiver, although I wasn’t sure why.

“Fine,” he said and started for the stairs, my hand still tucked into his much larger one. “Which room is yours?”

“Third door on the right,” I pointed as we reached the top of the stairs. I wondered if his manners were going to finally disappear once we got inside the privacy of my room. It had happened to me before.

But he didn’t change in the way I expected when the door closed behind us. His expression got softer and he trailed one hand down my back as he pulled me against him. I’m five foot five or so and he must have been close to six feet, so he had to bend his head to kiss me. His lips were warm and he tasted surprisingly good, considering how much I disliked whiskey. I opened my mouth without too much urging and let his tongue slip inside. He deepened the kiss, wrapping his arms around me and pulling me even closer. I could feel his muscles, hard and strong, through the material of his shirt and pants.

When I could catch my breath, I worked a hand between us and began to unbuckle his belt. “Don’t you think you’d better remove that gun before it goes off?” I whispered against his ear, blowing lightly there and smiling at the resulting shudder.

“Which gun?” he teased, but he began to undo the buckle of the heavy belt. He sidled sideways, still holding me against him, so he could hook the gunbelt over the bedpost, leaving the gun where it would remain in easy reach even after we lay down.

I took careful note of that very deliberate move on his part. I knew what it meant: he was probably a gunfighter, exactly as I’d suspected, and he didn’t feel safe, even here alone with me. I remembered again that he and his partner had been in jail because they were suspected of being a pair of notorious outlaws. I’d figured it wasn’t true since they were both released. Now, I was beginning to wonder…not that I would dare to voice my doubts.

Jones shifted slightly and I could feel him hard and ready against my thigh. He was already working at the fastenings of my dress and lowering it past my breasts. Once past that obstacle, the garment dropped freely to the floor. I wasn’t wearing much underneath. I’d learned over the years that less was better, even if I did tend to get cold in the winter months. Wearing too many clothes usually ended up getting both me and my clothes into trouble. Sooner or later, some cowboy in a hurry would give up on unwrapping me and just start ripping.

It wasn’t long before both of us were naked and Jones tumbled me onto the bed, wrapping me in his arms and rolling us over so that I was lying on top of him. “Look, I like to take my time,” he said, somewhat breathless already. “I’ll make it worth your while, okay?”

I threw my long hair back over my shoulder with a quick toss and smiled down at him. I was feeling a little bit breathless myself. “Sure,” I said. “Whatever pleases you.”

He ran his hands down my back and then rolled again, so that I was underneath him. He propped himself up on one elbow and studied me for a moment. It made me slightly uncomfortable and I squirmed, trying to urge him on.

His lips twitched at my useless efforts and then I felt his free hand trailing down my side, across my stomach, and then downward. I began to shiver, but not from the cold. I was anything but cold. Within moments I was raging hot and I damn near came right off the bed when he slipped a finger between my legs and began to stroke me lightly there. In short order, I was gasping in pleasure.

He looked incredibly pleased with himself at my reaction and I couldn’t find it in my heart to resent his smugness. “You don’t have to…” I tried to tell him, but he shook his head.

“It’s more fun if we both have a good time,” he whispered, never stopping his stroking and petting of me for a second.

Before long, I was twisting under him and begging him to stop, all the while praying he’d never stop. He knew what I really meant, because he simply stroked me harder and faster until I thought I’d die from longing and reaching for something just out of my grasp if he didn’t quit. It was a hell of a way to go, though.

Finally, my nerves couldn’t take it any longer and they seemed to burst, centered in my lower parts and then scattering into a thousand pieces, leaving me shaking and moaning and wondering what the devil was happening to me. It felt so good, so much better than any time a man had ever touched me before, that I thought I must have truly died in his arms for those few moments.

I don’t know how much time passed before I came back to myself, but there I was, alive and well and laying cradled in Jones’ arms. He was watching me with that smug look still on his face. I cleared my throat a little and wondered if I should tell him I’d never… but then I decided, no. I’d sworn to never trust a man again, and I knew Jones didn’t care about me any more than any of the ones who’d come before him had. I wasn’t going to fool myself or give him that kind of weapon to use against me.

“Feeling okay?” he asked huskily.

I nodded, still not trusting my voice completely. Well, actions speak louder than words Mr. Ingers always used to say. I grinned wickedly, winked at him, and lowered my hands to his manhood.

He jerked in surprise, his eyes going wide and round, and then he relaxed and let me pleasure him. I knew a few tricks of my own. After all, I’d been a whore in half a dozen towns for almost six years. I stroked him lightly with both hands and then lowered my head to take his rod in my mouth.

I could hear him moaning and his legs quivered as I stroked up and down, up and down, with my mouth, paying special attention to the head of his manhood, licking it occasionally when I paused to catch my breath.

“Come here,” he finally demanded, and I did as he asked, releasing his rod from my mouth and moving to lie beside him.

He stroked my face with two fingers and then bent his head to kiss me hungrily. Gently, he turned me so that I was lying on my back and then, before I knew it, he was inside me and stroking in and out. He moved slowly and gently at first with a deep thrust every once in awhile.

I found, to my surprise, that I was growing aroused again. Soon I was rising to meet each thrust and then I found myself gasping out his name as an intense feeling of joy and pleasure shot through me for the second time that night. I went limp underneath him and when he found his own completion moments later and slumped on top of me, I could only lay there and try to catch my breath.

I was still floating on a cloud of delight when I realized Jones was kissing the side of my face and then softly trailing kisses down my neck. No one had ever done that to me before—kissed me after having their way, I mean. When it was over, it was just over, and usually they got up and they got dressed. If I was lucky, they left a little tip for me with their payment on the dresser. If I was unlucky, they tried to argue about the payment. Somehow, I didn’t think money was going to be a problem with Jones.

I smiled and let him kiss me. It was a sweet good-bye, especially considering what we’d just done and that he’d just slipped a double-eagle into my hand. He must have laid it on the dressing table when we were getting undressed earlier, and now he’d had it ready to give to me. I was trying not to think too hard about the fact that him paying for what we did was actually bothering me. It had never bothered me before. Not even when I’d slept with other men I thought I was in love with.

“It’s way too much,” I protested automatically, and then could have bitten my tongue. He’d be asking for some back, no doubt.

But he just shrugged. “I can spare it right now. I took up practically your whole night. There won’t be many fellows left downstairs.”

I knew everything he said was true. He’d won big at poker earlier that day. Several of the girls had been talking about it and wondering if he’d want a little company tonight. They were going to be jealous when I came downstairs tomorrow, especially that prissy Mary Jacobs, who thought she was better than the rest of us. She’d had some education before she’d fallen on hard times, so she figured she was a step above the average whore. Me, I knew it didn’t matter. Men don’t care if a whore can read or write or do much more than pleasure them. I knew how to read and could even write a little, but I’d yet to have a man ask me if I could read before we got down to business.

I’d been at my trade so long I knew better than to hope I’d ever see Jones again. He was obviously a drifter and not looking to settle down any time soon—not that I expected he would have ever wanted to settle down with the likes of me, anyway. I just figured if he were to stay in town, maybe work at one of the ranches, I’d be seeing him again. But he had that wandering look in his eye and I could tell it was bothering him to even stay in my room for so long. He was anxious to get back to his own hotel and check up on his partner.

I spared one last spiteful—or maybe it was pitying—thought for Miss High-and-Mighty Ella Hart who was probably busy making the same mistake I’d just made. Only she wasn’t used to dealing with it like I was. Jones’ partner had a look about him every bit as inviting as Jones himself. Somehow, I didn’t think he was the settling down type, either. When this whole thing had started, back in the saloon, I’d surely intended to tell Sally about Miss Hart and her less than respectable behavior, but now I wasn’t so certain. A piece of gossip like that didn’t fall into a gal’s lap every day, but…

I suppose, in a way, I’d wanted to take Jones to bed to prove to myself that I was just as good as someone like Miss Hart—or maybe that she was no better than me. But, now… now I didn’t think I wanted to share what had happened—to her or to me—with anyone. Not even Sally. Maybe, in times to come, I’d feel different. Until then, I’d keep a little bit of information to myself; it might come in handy someday.

Jones smiled back at me, that heartstopping brilliant smile, as he ran his fingers through his mussed blond curls and finally got out of bed. I lay there and watched him get dressed, amazed at how far we’d managed to spread his clothes—and mine—around the room. I suppose we’d been moving around as we undressed. I finally got up and helped him buckle on his gunbelt, letting my fingers linger just a little while against his stomach and brush ever so lightly across his hips. He pulled me against him—me naked and him fully clothed, sporting that gun—and kissed me hard, one last time.

I told him how wonderful and special he was as I showed him out the door. But the truth was, I wished to hell I’d never met him. The next few weeks, trying to forget him, were going to be pure hell.

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