Retire deep into the
Take this chance with me,
'Cause it's your last.
-- Yo La Tengo, "Decora"
It was the middle of the afternoon, that dry, sunny day in Blue Sky, Montana, when Rick Johnson, my esteemed opponent in just about everything, stopped by my office to offer me a case. When Rick does that I know it's a case he doesn't want himself. After all, we are the only two lawyers in town.
"Two boys locked up down at the sheriff's office, name of Smith and Jones," he said. "Bounty hunter brought 'em in, claims they're a notorious pair of outlaws called Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, worth ten thousand dollars apiece. They deny it, and they're demandin' to see an attorney."
"Why aren't you representing them?" I asked, suspicious about the reasons behind this sudden generosity. I'd heard of Curry and Heyes, but not much about them, recently.
"Didn't really see eye to eye with 'em. Besides," he grinned complacently, "I think there's a good chance that they really *are* Heyes and Curry, and I thought I might like to represent the bounty hunter. More money in it." That smile on his broad, red face showed just how pleased he was with the prospect. Rick was an honest man -- honest about his greed, anyway. And he knew that he was attorney of choice for a certain type of client. The kind that paid the best. The type of folks I'd care to represent tended to gravitate towards me, anyway. Unfortunately, sometimes two money-hungry cattle barons came to blows, and then I was stuck with one of them. But their generous fees made up for some of the folks I was anxious to represent, but who couldn't afford to pay my regular rates.
And there was Sheriff Delany. Even though he'd respected my father, he somehow just couldn't see me in the old man's shoes. I knew why, and it didn't make me happy, but there you were. He was a good-hearted man, considering what he saw and sometimes had to do in his line of work. But I'm getting away from the story . . . I'll let the tale tell itself.
"So you told them I was coming?"
"I told 'em Lawyer Hart would be in to see 'em, that's all."
I gave him one of my patented "Now, Rick, really" looks, but then we both smiled. So, with a few words to my clerk, I straightened my tie, slipped on my coat and hat, and headed on down to the sheriff's.
There were two of them, like he said, one Mister Joshua Smith and one Mister Thaddeus Jones, a dark-haired man and a blond, both about thirty, both lean and handsome, and both with that look that tells you they'd ridden a lot and seen a lot. They looked like they'd lived more than their years would indicate, but that could make them outlaws, or it could just mean they were restless drifters, like they'd claimed to Rick they were.
"Someone here to see you boys," said the deputy, clearly relishing the fact that he was in on something.
They both smiled. The blond one had an open, friendly look, but the dark-haired one, Joshua Smith, lit up the room with that broad smile of his. "Well, hello, ma'am," he said. "It's nice of you to come and call. But we were expecting . . . "
"You were expecting Lawyer Hart, weren't you? Well, that's me, Ella Hart."
Their smiles faded quickly. They thought it was a joke on them. A lot of folks that aren't from around these parts do. That's the other reason the sheriff always calls Rick in first.
"No rule against it in this territory. My daddy was Lawyer Hart before me, and he didn't have any sons to clerk for him, so I'm carrying on the family profession." I crossed my arms and looked squarely at them, the way I've learned to do when anybody expects me to simper and blush. "Ask anyone around here . . . right, Deke?" I glanced at the deputy, who winked at me.
"Right," he said. "And she's a fine lawyer, too." Deke was young, and none too clever, but he always took my side.
"Besides," I added, "Rick Johnson doesn't want the case, so it's me or no one. Your pick."
The two men glanced at each other for a moment, and then Mr. Smith spoke. "You'll do for us just fine, ma'am. We apologize, it's just that . . . "
I waved my hand so he'd know he didn't have to say the rest. It got pretty tedious hearing it. Lady lawyer, indeed. When's the last time anyone said anything about a "man lawyer"? To mark my professional status, I always wore a neat-fitting little black jacket over my shirtwaist, and sometimes a little silk tie. Of course, most of the ladies in town dressed that way for day anyway, quite honestly. I suppose it was only my big leather bag full of legal papers which set me apart. "So, tell me about your situation."
Smith looked a little uncomfortable.
"Shall I come in and sit down?" I asked. I signalled to Deke, who unlocked the door and let me inside the cage. "You gentlemen don't look like you're about to bolt on me, now are you?"
"Why no, ma'am," said Mr. Jones, who was clearly a very polite boy. Whether he was an outlaw was, of course, another story.
"All right, then, why don't you begin?" I seated myself and took out my notebook.
Smith began the story. "Well, you see, ma'am, we bear this unfortunate resemblance to a pair of notorious outlaws -- superficial resemblance, of course."
"Of course," I nodded, keeping my tone of voice deliberately noncommital.
He went on. "Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Why, we saw 'em once, and we don't look anything like them, but if you take a look at those wanted posters over there, you can see the reason for the confusion."
I nodded to Deke, who took down the two posters and brought them over to me. "Hmm, Hannibal Heyes, age 29, dark brown hair, I guess that one would be you. 5'11" . . . surely not." I'm tall for a woman, and as I'd walked into the cell, I'd noticed that the man standing in front of me wasn't much more than a couple of inches taller than me. Still, men tend to calculate their own height a little more generously than women do. I was surprised to hear he was a couple of years younger than me. Due to his outdoor life, and my indoor one, it looked more like the other way around. I continued to read. "But the rest of this sounds about right, though the description is a little vague. And Mr. Jones does fit the description of Kid Curry to perfection -- what there is of it." And his small, even features, what's sometimes called a "baby face," were probably the reason for the nickname "Kid" for a twenty-seven year old man. "So that's what you're claiming? A case of mistaken identity? We should be able to clear that up easily enough, if you've got any identification with you."
Smith shook his head ruefully. "No, ma'am, we don't." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "Like you pointed out, those descriptions are pretty vague. Why is everyone so anxious to believe a bounty hunter, anyway? It's not exactly the most honorable profession, is it?"
"No," I said, "but Rick Johnson is convinced that Mr. Larkin is telling the truth and . . . "
"Larkin?" asked Smith. "Fred Larkin?"
"No wonder he wouldn't tell us his name. He said just to call him John." He shot Jones a look I'd have almost described as triumphant. "Deadeye Fred Larkin, huh? He's a notorious liar. Even me and my friend have heard about him, honest citizens that we are. Well, ma'am, like I was saying, we don't have any identification with us, but if you wire Sheriff Lom Trevors in Porterville, Wyoming, why, he'd be happy to tell you who we are."
"Don't know if that'll be enough for the judge. How would we know this Sheriff Trevors is for real?"
"Well, you could check him out first, if you like. We're not going anywhere," said Smith.
"Guess we could, at that." I turned to the blond man. " Don't you ever talk?"
"When I've a mind to," Jones replied. "But Joshua here is better at lawyers and stuff than me."
"Ah. More the litigious sort," I said, and I noticed that Smith smiled at that but Jones looked puzzled. I guess he didn't know what the word meant. Maybe that was one of the reasons that Smith did most of the talking. "We'll see about getting bail set. How much money you two have?"
They conferred for a moment, and Jones spoke up, clearly nettled by my earlier comment. "About sixty-five dollars between us."
"Well, that doesn't look too good, set up against a twenty thousand dollar reward, but let me see Judge Clayton and I'll see what I can do."
And with that I rose, shook both their hands, and signaled for Deke to let me out of the cell.
It was evening by the time I returned, and Deke had been replaced as deputy on duty by Sven Rasmussen, a taciturn Swede who was so big and so quiet that he scared a lot of folks. Not me, though, since he sang in the choir at the church I went to on Sundays. Most men would take a lot of grief about something like that, but not Sven. He scared too many folks, like I said. He had a beautiful voice, too. He brought tears to nearly everybody's eyes when he sang "Amazing Grace" as a solo, though what he really loved were those old Swedish and German hymns. Once he told me that Bach had harmonized a lot of them.
"Hello, Sven," I said. "I'd like to see my clients."
He nodded. This time I just walked up to the bars, since I wasn't staying long.
"You on a first-name basis with every deputy in town, Miss Hart?" asked Jones by way of greeting.
"It's a small town and there aren't too many deputies," I responded.
"Lots of towns we been through are even smaller. Only *one* lawyer instead of two."
"One lawyer will starve. Two lawyers make work for each other. It's the logic of the business." I mentally filed away the fact that they'd done an attorney count on small towns, for whatever that was worth. "I'll give you the bad news first. Judge Clayton just doesn't see his way clear to that bail. I'm afraid Rick Johnson was a little too persuasive about protecting his client's property rights to the bounty on you two, if you should really turn out to be who he says you are."
"And there's good news?" asked Smith, with just the slightest undertone of sarcasm.
"He's wired the office of the governor of Wyoming, who confirms that Lom Trevors is indeed the sheriff of a town called Porterville."
"Did you say why?" Smith looked worried, which he showed in his dark eyes, and in a certain tension between his eyebrows. Another fact to file away.
"Not at all. Just that we thought we might have a transaction with him soon, and we wanted to be extra cautious. Judge Clayton isn't known for his trusting nature." I'd like it just a little bit better if he didn't trust Rick Johnson so readily, but I guess you can't have everything. "We've got a wire in to Porterville, so it's pretty much a matter of hearing back from Sheriff Trevors."
"So all we have to do is wait for the telegram, and this Fred Larkin can't do anything with us until the Judge says so?"
"That's about the size of it. Have a pleasant night. I'm sorry you have to spend it here."
"So am I, Miss Hart," said Smith, and there was something in his brown eyes that I wished I hadn't seen, especially not in a client, and an alleged outlaw at that. Nonsense, Ella Hart, I thought to myself, there's no one so unsusceptible to men as you. Not since Billy died.
Well, I'd like to say it was my brilliant legal mind that got Smith and Jones sprung from jail the next day, and that I wiped old Rick Johnson off the map, but I can't. Not on this occasion, anyway, although it's an ongoing battle between Rick and me. What happened was that Sheriff Trevors got back to us, and confirmed the identity of Mr. Joshua Smith and Mr. Thaddeus Jones, and the bounty hunter rode out of town muttering things not fit for a lady to hear. He didn't even pay Rick's bill.
As for me, I didn't feel right charging for such easy work, at least not when business was good like it was right then, so I accepted my clients' invitation to take me out to dinner that night, making it clear it was in place of a fee. I lived over my office, so I asked them to call for me that evening about seven.
I'll have to admit I put on my nicest dress, and I did my hair up the softer, more flattering way that I save for holidays and special occasions. I wasn't much used to worrying about whether I looked pretty, anymore, but when I looked in the mirror I was pleased. The blue dress brought out the blue in my eyes, and made a nice contrast with my light blonde hair. I examined my features critically, trying to pretend I was a stranger, and I decided they'd do. I guess I knew that people still called me pretty, although usually in sentences that had a "but" in them, as in, "Ella Hart is still a very attractive woman, but --" I examined my small straight nose with some complacency, and tried to ignore my too strong, too square jawline. Daddy always said it was an indication of my firm character, but then, Daddy was biased.
I laughed at myself all the while, making such a fuss over a pair of drifters, but after all, I figured I had the reputation of lady lawyers to uphold. Especially since there aren't that many of us to begin with. It's on special occasions like this when I think about those aristocratic English ladies in books, with their lady's maids who specialize in taking care of their clothes and hair, and I wish I had more than just Sandy, the girl from the orphanage who helps me with cleaning and cooking. I guess I was in a holiday mood, because I gave Sandy the night off, and let her go out to the ranch to visit with her friend Charlene, who lives there and works for my sister Rosa and her family.
Anyhow, when the drifters got here, I was pleased to see that they cleaned up and dressed up nicely. The bounty hunter had already left town, so nobody much except Rick and me and the Judge and the deputies even knew who they were, and they looked like perfectly respectable gentleman dinner companions. Besides, everyone knew all about Ella Hart. I couldn't create a scandal if I wanted to. It was a pity about Joshua Smith's hair, though, he'd slicked it back or something and it wasn't all nice like it was when he was in the prison, when you just wanted to run your hands through it and . . . Ella! What's got into you? I asked myself. I wasn't certain I wanted to know.
There are a few places to eat in town, but one of them is really nice, and I was getting my money's worth on this one. The cook there is quite good -- he calls himself a chef -- and his idea of fancy food runs to more things than just steak and potatoes. Fresh vegetables were in season, so I was more than pleased with the dinner. Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones were, too, although they did choose the steak and the potatoes. There was even some good wine in stock -- sometimes they run out, since supplies like that don't come through here too often -- and we had a bottle of that. I think my companions would have rather had whiskey -- they finished off the dinner with a couple apiece while I drank some tea -- but they indulged me and pretended they enjoyed the red wine along with me.
As for the company, well, it had been a long time since I'd enjoyed myself so much. They told me tales about their wandering through the West, and I told them courtroom stories, and the evening passed more quickly than I thought time could out here in Blue Sky. Well, there was one moment where Jones slipped, and referred to his friend as Hey . . . hey, Smith, remember when? But I'd suspected it, and anyhow I'd had a separate, private wire from Sheriff Trevors answering some rather pointed questions I put to him. Whatever they'd been once, and I still wasn't sure what that was, I knew they were honest, law-abiding citizens now.
Besides, if Rick had taken the case, I wouldn't have been sitting at dinner with two of the handsomest strangers to pass this way since the town was first settled.
At the end of the evening, Joshua Smith offered to see me home. Thaddeus Jones started out along with us, but soon excused himself by saying something about a poker game. That was all right with me. I was becoming more and more aware of Smith's presence, if you know what I mean. Our eyes had met several times during the course of the evening and the way he looked at me gave me that funny feeling that runs right down your insides. The funny feeling I hadn't felt since Billy . . .
He was surprised to find out I lived in a flat above my office, rather than in a boarding house or with a respectable old lady somewhere. I suppose he thought they'd called for me there because I was working late or I didn't want my chaperone to insist on joining us or something.
"I feel perfectly safe on my own right here in the middle of town," I explained. "My sister Rosa wants me to move out to her husband's ranch, but it's too far from town for me to get to the office when the roads get bad in winter. Besides, I'm afraid she'd keep wanting me to help her mind her children every time I turned around. Anyway, I'm not so far from the sheriff, or the hotel, or lots of other places where there are plenty of people, and Sandy, who keeps house for me, sleeps here." I stopped, remembering that Sandy wasn't here tonight. I didn't want to tell him about the other reason, about my ironclad respectability, about how my mourning for Billy had carried on for years and years until everybody practically forgot Ella Hart was still an attractive young woman and figured no man would come near her anyhow because none of them had a chance. That famous "but."
I didn't want to tell him that because I was hoping he would kiss me. And, suddenly, he did. Kissed me gently, and pulled back, looking at me to see if I wanted it. I guess he could tell by the look in my eyes, and my suddenly heavy, shallow breathing, that I wanted it as much as he did, because he leaned in and kissed me again, harder this time. And this time I kissed back.
But not for long. "Somebody will see us like this, " I whispered, "and I've just remembered that Sandy is out at the ranch tonight."
He looked at me as though he were seeing an entirely different person -- not someone he liked more, or less, just someone different. I tried to look as though I had no idea of what I'd just implied. I really hadn't planned things this way, but I was certain Joshua Smith didn't believe that for a moment.
I took his hand and led him through the office, to the back staircase and up the stairs into my parlour. My fingers were tingling all the while.
We'd barely entered the room when he kissed me again, more deeply than before. And now the kisses were openmouthed, and we stood pressed close together, our tongues playing as well as our lips, and I felt as though that part of me was alive again, as though it hadn't been thirteen years since . . .
He pulled back -- I think we both needed to catch our breath -- and we stood there, looking at each other. The brown suit didn't actually flatter him quite as much as the dark shirt and the vest and snug-fitting pants he'd been wearing when we first made acquaintance, but I was still intensely aware of the lean, powerful form underneath. The planes of his face were sharply defined, intriguing, and his eyes were dark brown, with a look of mingled delight and sadness in them. Whoever he was, he was a lot more complicated than he liked people to know.
"I'm not going to ask you what a pretty girl like you is doing working as an attorney, because you've already told me that, and showed me that you're a good one. But I am going to ask what you're doing living here all alone?"
"I was to have been married, when I was nineteen. Billy Callaghan was his name. He was my daddy's law clerk. He was going to get admitted to the Bar, and then we were going to get married. But on his way back from the capital, which was Virginia City in those days, from being sworn in, he got caught in a snowstorm. He got pneumonia, bad, and he died, just two weeks before the wedding was supposed to be."
"So you decided to carry on in his place?"
"Well, I didn't want anyone else, and Daddy didn't want anyone else, so it seemed to make a lot of sense. And as I told you, there's no law against it, in this territory. Although . . . " I paused, sorry to ruin a romantic tale, "once Billy was admitted to the Bar, I was going to become law clerk for both of them and learn the business, anyway. It's what I always wanted, and Father and Billy wanted it for me, too. Besides, Mother and Rosa were there to help mind any children that might have come along."
"But leaving that part out helped the people around here to accept your decision?"
"I was sacrificing my youth, and what they saw as a young woman's only chance at happiness, to honoring Billy's memory. That was something folks could understand. It would have been a lot harder for them to understand that I'd been planning to grow up and do what Daddy did ever since I was a little girl."
"And since then?"
"Folks see me as carrying on for Billy's sake. And for Daddy's, too, since he's been gone. No man in these parts has thought he could compete with that. Besides, I never could see myself with a man that wasn't as smart as me, and quite honestly . . . " I smiled, and this time I did blush. "You're the first man I've met in a long time who fills that description."
Joshua took a deep breath. "I'm going to be leaving town tomorrow."
"I know. If you weren't, we wouldn't be here right now."
He raised an eyebrow.
"I mean, if I liked a man as much as I like you, and he was staying around, I'd make him come courting me. But you're not the staying around and courting kind. You're leaving tomorrow, and well . . . it's been thirteen years. And even though it's been that long ago, I have . . . done this before," I trailed off, suddenly beet red.
"I understand," he said softly, and he looked at me for a moment with those sad, joyful eyes, and then he took me in his arms again, and kissed me, hard. And I kissed him back, with all the fervor that went along with the fact that I knew he was going away tomorrow and I'd never see him again.
After awhile, his mouth uncovered mine, and he began showering kisses on my forehead, my temple, my cheekbone, my jawline, my neck . . . the pretty blue dress I was wearing had an open neckline, and I felt his kisses trailing down my neck, to my collarbone, while one of his hands had come up to cup my breast. As his kisses went lower, I reached back to unfasten the bodice of my dress, and soon he was assisting me, unbuttoning it and pulling it down, helping me slip my arms out so that as the top of my dress fell down to my waist, I was clad above in only my camisole and my corset. "It's kind of a project," I apologized.
"I'm enjoying it," he whispered, and began kissing my bare shoulders, as I shuddered from sheer pleasure. He unlaced the front of my camisole, baring my breasts, and his kisses moved down to them, pausing at the pink of my nipples, where he gently sucked and bit. I was getting damp between my legs, the way I used to feel with Billy, when we knew we were going to be married soon and we were only waiting for that trip to the capital and then finally we'd stopped waiting. I'd only felt that way in dreams since. I took his hand and placed it right on my secret parts. Of course, I was still wearing all my skirts and petticoats and drawers, so one by one, they had to go. Meanwhile, he'd removed his jacket, tie and vest, and I could feel his tight muscles through the smooth fabric of his shirt as I ran my hands up and down his back. He reached up and unloosed my hair, and it tumbled down around my bare shoulders and down my back, as he stroked it gently.
"You are certainly the prettiest lawyer it has ever been my privilege to meet," he said his deep voice husky.
"I'm the *only* pretty lawyer it has ever been your privilege to meet," I pointed out, as drily as I could in my current state. "I'm glad. It means you'll remember me."
That was the wrong thing to have said. He pulled up short. "I would remember you no matter what."
I hadn't meant it that way. I just didn't think it was the same for him as it was for me. It surely hadn't been thirteen years for him. Probably not even a couple of months. But I knew what he meant. Saloon girls and willing widows there might be and plenty, but I wasn't exactly a type he was accustomed to running into. I didn't suppose I was a type too many folks were accustomed to running into. So I just said, "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it," and this time I reached up and kissed him. He pulled me to him, tightly, and we held each other for a moment, feeling each other's breathing.
And then he'd unlaced my corset, and rolled down my stockings, and slipped them off my feet one by one, and I'd unbuttoned first his shirt, then his trousers, enjoying the feel of his chest and his strong, slim legs . . . through an entire other layer of long underwear that I guess made sense when you never knew whether you were going to be sleeping under the stars. The leggings were close fitting, and although there was a little . . . obstruction . . . at first, I enjoyed the sensation of rolling them down, down his legs, the way he must have felt removing my stockings. And I helped him pull the top over his head, leaning in to kiss his bare chest as I did it, and suddenly, he was as naked as I was.
The feel of flesh against flesh was a luxury I'd never known -- Billy and I had had to be so quick and careful, and those final delights had been reserved for the wedding night that never came. My nipples tingled where they brushed against Joshua's chest, as our legs intertwined, and I felt his manhood rock hard against my thigh. "Come on," I whispered, and took his hand again, leading him into my bedroom, where we toppled together onto what was usually my cold, lonely bed.
He lay on top of me, kissing my face and neck and mouth, and I could feel every inch of him, muscle, flesh and bone, pressed against me, feel it when he shifted slightly, feel even the hairs on his legs as they rubbed against mine. "Are you ready?" he asked me, and I murmured my assent as he entered me, the sweet hard pain of it as he penetrated me, my private place as tight as if I'd become a virgin again after all these years of aloneness. I sighed as he thrust, thrust, thrust, the rhythm of it getting harder and faster as he grew nearer and nearer and he began to moan aloud, to call my name, "Ella! Ella!" and then, with a final spasm, I felt him shudder and release inside me, and I held him to me as he withdrew himself, spent.
He lay back, completely relaxed, when he suddenly turned his head and gave me a horrified look, as he realized . . . "Don't worry, " I said. "My married sister has told me there are certain times that are pretty safe. Let's just say it's a good thing we didn't meet a week ago."
"A week ago, I was in Wyoming," he said, in that deep, rough, resonant voice of his. "And a week from now, who knows?"
"Shhh," I said, and put a finger to his lips. "Right now nothing matters outside this room. And . . . this . . . " I took his hand, and put it between my legs, brought it to that sweet spot. "Touch me," I ordered.
"Touch you? . . . Oh!" He smiled as he felt that small, sweet, sensitive bit of flesh harden to his touch, and heard my moaning and my short shallow breaths. Touch me where Billy touched me all those years ago as we used to explore each other silently, in the dark. Touch me where only I have touched myself ever since, over and over in the past years. Touch me so I can remember you touching me when I touch myself there again when you've gone.
And soon I didn't know anything except the sweet sensation that rocked me as I cried out in my ecstasy.
I guess seeing me reach that peak again must have excited him, because as I lay back, enfolded in his arms, I felt his hardness pressing against my leg once more. He gave me a few moments to recover, then he slid me around so that I was on top and he was in me, and I rocked back and forth on top of him as he thrust into me and it was sweet, so sweet and this time we went to that place close together.
"Joshua," I whispered, and I couldn't help but notice there was a short delay before he responded. I continued, "Stay tonight. You can leave just before dawn." In answer, he kissed me again, gently this time, and drew me close to him, so that I lay with my head on his chest. I fell asleep for a little while, but I woke up again, suddenly, frightened by the thought that I was wasting any of this precious night.
I felt his fingers stroking my hair, and I looked up to see that his eyes were wide open. He smiled when he saw that I was awake, and I pulled myself up even to his face. "What are you thinking?" he asked.
"How happy I am at this moment. How I wish time could just stop here, now."
He smiled in answer, that broad, dimpled smile that could light up a whole town the size of Blue Sky, and he ran his hand against my shoulder, my arm, my breasts. Whatever he'd slicked his dark hair back with must have worn off by now, because it was soft and fell forward again and I touched it and it felt as good as I'd imagined back there as I talked to him through the bars. Which reminded me . . .
"I have to ask you this, Joshua. What's your real name? Mr. Jones started to call you by another name in the restaurant tonight. He covered it pretty well, but . . . "
He stiffened and pulled away from me. My mistake. He'd been seduced and betrayed in the past, and he thought that's what I was doing. But I knew with one phrase I could put things right, and so I whispered it. "There's a little thing called attorney-client privilege. I couldn't tell even if I wanted to."
He laughed, then, long and hard and loud enough that I began to wonder if maybe the neighbors would hear and scandal could touch me, after all. Finally, when he was completely winded, he stopped and he said, "I never *have* met a woman like you before, and I never *will* meet a woman like you again. Yes, my real name *is* Hannibal Heyes." And he told me the story of how he and his partner had been trying to get themselves right with the law for a bit over a year now, with the promise of a full pardon from the governor of Wyoming.
"So that's why you were so nervous that he might have heard you were in trouble."
"Exactly. But no one is supposed to know, except the Kid and me, the governor, and Lom Trevors."
"The sheriff of Porterville. And he's the one who brokered the deal for you, isn't he?" The pieces had all fallen together now. "Just one more question, though. Why did it make such a difference when you found out who it was who'd brought you in?"
He smiled. "Lying for us was never part of the deal with Lom. But I knew he'd had some troubles of his own in times past with Fred Larkin. I knew under those circumstances, he'd feel obliged to help us out." He reached over and touched the side of my face. "You can't tell anyone about that. We don't want to get Lom in trouble for helping us out."
"My lips are sealed."
"Your lips are . . . wonderful," he said, and then he was kissing me again and I think time did stop because it seemed like we touched each other a thousand different ways in a thousand different places, until finally dawn did begin to break, and I had to send him away.
"It's funny," he said, as I sat there in my dressing gown and watched him pull on his boots. "If I *were* still an outlaw, I'd rob a bank and take you away with me to South America. And if I *weren't* an outlaw, if the pardon had come through, I could stay here with you. But as things stand, I've got to be moving along."
I laughed. "My Spanish is dreadful, and I can't see you settling in Blue Sky, Montana, as some lawyer's wife, er, husband. Maybe someday you'll be back this way, and maybe things will be different for us then. And maybe I'll never see you again. But tonight I got back a part of me that I thought was long dead. And I'll always," I paused. The hard word. "-- love you for that." I'd said it.
"Me, too," he said, looking right at me, his brown eyes serious. "Me, too." It was dawn already, lighter than we'd anticipated. "Now, is there a back way out of this place?"
And I showed him, and he held me close one last time, and then he was gone.
Free counters provided by Honesty Communications.