ASJ Book Two Continued

Comfort’s in Heaven Continued

They arrived in Fort Collins well after dark which was probably a good thing since the Devil’s Hole Gang had robbed the local bank not once but three times and once in broad daylight. That incident had occurred during Heyes’ showy days. He figured they robbed trains in broad daylight, never bothered to cover their faces and even announced who they were – why shouldn’t they do the same in a bank. They pulled off four jobs with this new scheme but gave up the idea after the Hanford job where Curry took a bullet in the leg and the whole robbery netted them less than ten dollars. After that they went back to cracking safes under the cover of darkness.

“Wouldn’t be any progress at all if people didn’t try something new,” Heyes had said. And that’s what Curry was thinking when they drove past the bank. As they continued down the street, he noticed that the town had grown by leaps and bounds. There were dozens of new buildings and on each corner, a brightly glowing lamp.

Jamie took the carriage down the main street then pulled up in front of huge building with a front door arranged on the exact corner of two streets. It was a three-story structure with a steeple at the peak. Big enough to have fifty rooms and likely top style, too.

“I like the way you do things,” Curry said as he offered Christina a hand down from the coach.

“Well, strange as it may seem, it’s easier to hide in a fine hotel than in a flop house.”

“Because no one expects to find you in a fine hotel,” Heyes finished for her.

They entered the lobby together; Jaime then went off to retrieve the key from the desk clerk. A few people passed them, even at this late hour. They smiled at Christina, gave the dirty Curry and Heyes a disapproving eye but no one said anything more than ‘good evening’. When Jaime rejoined them they went up two flights to a corner room, which turned out to be a fancy suite: sitting room with a bedroom on either side.

“Make yourselves at home, boys.” Christina said as she flopped on to a massive brocade couch and began yanking off her boots.

Jaime locked the door behind them then pocketed the key. “I asked the clerk to send up some food. I know it’s late but I imagine that you two must be hungry.”

“Kid’s always hungry,” Heyes said, trying for a light tone but not quite making it.

“If it’s all the same with you,” Curry replied. “I think I’m going to go to bed.”

Such a simple sentence and yet it gave Heyes a pain in his chest. “Never known you to turn down a free meal.”

“I’m just more tired than hungry. Where do you want me?” Curry asked Christina.

She pointed to the bedroom to her right. “But before you go, there’s one thing I need to say to the both of you.” Barefoot now, she stood – just about Heyes’ height and with the same confident stance. “I just want to make one thing perfectly clear. If you think that you’re going to pull one over on me. That you’re going to take off the first chance you get. Think again. You double-cross me and you will understand the true meaning of being hunted. I have resources that you can’t even imagine and I will have you tracked down and hauled back here by your balls. I will drag you back to that prison myself, slam the door and you will never see the light of day ever again. Is that clear?”

“Like crystal,” said Heyes, voice tight.

She looked to Curry and he said, “Yes, ma’am. Clear.”

“As long as we understand each other, everything will work out fine. Good night, Mr. Curry.”

“Good night.”

When he disappeared into the bedroom, Heyes was struck by the inane need to follow him. But that wouldn’t do. Not right now. Christina Harkness might be in charge for the moment, but he had to show her that he wasn’t going to be bullied. It wasn’t going to be all her way – not if she wanted to capture the real prize like Frank Barclay or Evan Thompson. Murderers – the both of them. And Heyes could finger them easily – if he wanted to. Those two were aces and he wasn’t about to waste them on a nice bed and a hot meal. He’d save them, pull them out when they’d be of real use. He was a poker player, a patient man. He could wait.

* * * *

The hotel sent up a decent meal of roast beef and cheese and bread and the last of the chef’s famous oxtail soup. Heyes ate more than he planed to surprised by his own hunger at the sight of such a tasty spread. But as he ate he thought about Kid, about how thin he was and how he had passed up the meal. It made the food taste a little off, but still he filled his stomach and then some.

When Jaime was through, he excused himself then went into the left bedroom, presumably to sleep.

“Does that mean you get the couch?” Heyes asked.

“We sleep in shifts. One of us has to stand guard.”

“You don’t trust us?” Heyes lifted his bowl, poured the last of his soup into his mouth then wiped his lips with a napkin.

“Should I?”

“We agreed to your deal. Gave you our word that we’d stick to it. What more do you need?”

“Time.” She lifted the top piece of bread off of her half eaten sandwich, looked at the meat underneath like she expected something else to be there. “Heyes, I know this isn’t the bargain you were hoping for. I know you both tried hard for that amnesty. But I can’t make a no-strings-attached deal. It’s not in anyone’s best interest.”

Heyes laughed. “Sure it is. It’s in ours. The Kid and me. It’s in our best interest.”

“Maybe not.”

Heyes picked up a fork, toyed with it, turning it end over end on the table. “You’re going to have a hard time convincing me of that.”

Christina pushed back her chair, sighed. If she were a man, she would have pulled out a cigar just now. “Do you really think that the world would have stopped chasing you once you got that amnesty?”

“Okay, sure, it might take a little while for word to get around.”

“To the law men, certainly. But what about the bounty hunters? What about the desperate people who need to believe that you’re still worth $10,000 each – dead or alive. That’s the part that always bothered me about your warrants. You never killed anyone, but the judge who issued them set the reward as dead or alive. Frankly, I’m surprised some bounty hunter never took advantage of that fact. Ambush – two quick shots. Throw your bodies across your horses and ride right in to the nearest sheriff’s office. $20,000. No questions asked.”

Heyes shivered. “I’m glad you’re on our side.”

“What you said earlier about the governor’s deal giving you a chance to start a new life? It’s not true. Not here in the west. Maybe not anywhere in America. Because no matter what the governor says – you two will always be Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry – the two most successful outlaws in the west. And there will always be people who want you to pay for what you did.”

Heyes dropped the fork so it hit his plate with a clatter. The thought had always been there in the back of his mind. The image of Kid as a husband and father, living a decent, respectable life in nice little town. And then one day he’s recognized and the challenge is there all over again. Put up or shut up – just like a hundred other wannabe gunslingers before him. Kid would protest, say he’s out of the biz. He’s not wanted anymore. But the man would insist. And Kid would be forced to fight or flee or let himself be hauled away in front of his family and friends. Ugly. Nothing but ugly.

“So what you’re saying is, we made our beds and now we have to lie in them the rest of our lives. No matter how sorry we are. No matter how much we want to change. We’re to be forever punished for our crimes.”

“Do you read Shakespeare, Heyes?”

“I’ve been known to.”

“Richard the second. I quote; comfort’s in heaven, and we are on the earth, where nothing lives but crosses, cares and grief.”

“That’s depressing. With a philosophy like that why bother getting up in the morning?”

“I’ll tell you why I bother. On June 10th, 1864, the steamer ship, Athena was set on fire. It was thought to be an act of sabotage by confederate troops, just like so many other ships during that period. Three hundred passengers on board – most of them civilians, some union troops, but not that many. The fire broke out at one thirty in the morning. Miles from land. Ninety-eight people, men, women, children, burned to death or drowned trying to escape the flames, including my mother and my baby brother. I was there. I survived. Don’t me ask me how, I don’t know. In the investigation afterward, it was found that the fire was not a military maneuver. It was the work of two greedy grifters, Stanton and Meeks, who saw an opportunity to grab two million dollars in army payroll money. They set the fire to cover their tracks. Escaped in a rowboat they had dropped over the side. My father hunted them down and made them pay for everyone of those ninety six stranger’s lives and double for the lives of his wife and son.” She picked up her fork and jabbed it into her sandwich so it stuck straight up. “During their trial, they said that they hadn’t meant to kill anyone. The fire simply got out of hand and there was nothing they could do to stop it. When asked about why they did it, they said that they were broke and they couldn’t find work and that the union army had plenty of money, so why shouldn’t they help themselves? And that is why I get up every morning. That’s why I do what I do. Because this world is full of men like Stanton and Meeks. Full of men who think it’s okay to take what they want because somehow they’ve imagined it to be their god-given right!” She looked right at him and in a second she realized what she had just done. With a strangling sort of sound in her throat, Christina pushed up from her seat, stalked away from the table. “I can’t believe I . . .”

Heyes said nothing. He knew exactly what she was feeling, thinking. She opened herself up to him and now she was mad at herself for doing it. Interesting. Very, very interesting. And oh, how he could relate. The human instinct was to tell her so. Tell her about how the marauders murdered his own parents right before his eyes. About how he could do nothing but watch as the only home he’d ever known went up in flames. But he didn’t. And not because he didn’t want to give that part of himself away as she had. No. She already knew those things about him. Knew the catalyst that had set him down the crooked road. He didn’t tell her because it would have taken from her. To say he understood. To say he’d been there himself. He knew from experience that those phrases only made it worse. So he said nothing, except goodnight.

* * *

Curry was asleep, sprawled across the double bed on top of the blankets, still fully dressed.

Heyes sat down beside him. Gave his shoulder a gentle shake. “Kid? Kid?”

He startled awake, scrambling back from the Heyes’ touch. “What? Don’t. I. . . ” Frantic blue eyes scanned the room, saw nothing much in the dark, then landed on Heyes. “What? Where are we?”

“Easy. We’re at the hotel in Fort Collins. Remember?”

Curry dragged in a couple of ragged breaths, then slowly sank back down to lying on the bed. “Yeah. I remember. Is it time to get up?”

“No. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I’m coming to bed and you fell asleep with your clothes on. They’re filthy. I thought you’d be more comfortable undressed.”

Curry snuggled down against the pillows. “No. I’m fine. I’m tired. Doesn’t matter.”

“Well, at least take your boots off.”

Curry shook his head. He was drifting away, pulled back down into sleep.

Giving up the fight, Heyes got up, went around to the foot of the bed then yanked off Curry’s boots. With a bit more effort he freed the blanket from under his friend’s body then unfurled it over him. That done, Heyes stood there a moment, watching the rise and fall of Kid’s chest as he slept.

The last few weeks filtered through his brain in a flash – images of Kid writhing with the pain from his appendix, bleeding on the operating table while the sheriff banged on the door, sullen and pale on the train out of town, the last look before they were separated in the prison.

“Haven’t done a very good job of taking care of you lately, have I?” Heyes brushed a damp curl away from Curry’s closed eye. “I’ll try to do better. Pleasant dreams.”

* * *


The one meal Curry wasn’t likely to turn down. He didn’t disappoint. He sat down at the table and plowed through two eggs, steak and two biscuits before Heyes could even finish his cup of coffee.

“First order of business,” said Jaime, making a sandwich out of his eggs and ham. “New clothes for the both of you. The ones you are wearing should go straight into the incinerator. And, I hope you’ll take this as kindly advice, you’re both in dire need of a bath and a shave.”

“We are in complete agreement,” Heyes said, just starting in on his food. “I can’t wait to get this hair off my face.”

“I’ll pick you up a shaving kit at the general store,” Jaime offered. “In the meantime, you’re welcome to use mine. Guess we should hit the haberdasher first. Christina, darling, I really should bring one of them with me. I’m no good at all about body shapes and measurements. Send me alone and I’m liable to buy everything two-sizes too big.”

“Bullshit,” said Christina as she chewed. “You’d come back with six outfits and they’d all fit like tailor-made suits.”

Heyes and Curry exchanged amused glances.

“You must forgive her lack of manners,” said Jaime. “Her father raised her like one of his soldiers so she often forgets that she’s a lady.”

“Well, good grief, Jamie, one of us has to wear the pants around here.”

“Oh, the abuse I take.” He rolled his eyes and waved his napkin in front of his face like a fan. “Now then. As I was saying. We finish eating. I’ll have the clerk set up a bath. Kid can soak and shave. Hannibal and I will go shopping. By the time we get back, Kid will be all scrubbed and pink again. He’ll have fresh, clean clothes to change in to. We’ll get another bath running. Hannibal can soak, dress, time for tea and then we’re out of here.”

“Out of here?” Heyes asked after a beat. He’d been so caught up in listening to the cadence of Jaime’s voice it took an extra second for the actual meaning to set in. “Where are we going?”

“To meet Marcel. But Jaime, as usual, is being optimistic. We’re way ahead of schedule here and I’m not sure the train will be ready for us by this afternoon.”

“Ready for us?” said Heyes. “What are you doing, having cells built inside a boxcar?”

Christina hit him with a flat smile. “No, they’re installing a huge oven with a spit so I can roast you over an open fire if you don’t do what I say.”

Jaime leaned over and tapped Curry on the arm. “They’re not going stop sniping at each other any time soon, so it looks like you and me will have to learn how to duck.”

Curry smiled – big and wide and it lit up his blue eyes. Heyes didn’t miss it. It had been so long since he’d seen it. That look of innocent amusement.

“All right,” said Heyes. “A truce. For now. Anything that will get me into that bathtub sooner.”

Jaime drew in a sudden breath, set his hand over his heart then sighed. “Forgive me. I had a sudden palpitation.”

Christina threw a spoon at him. “Get it together, Bauer and GO!”

* * *
It was pure heaven – a hot bath and time alone to enjoy it. It had to be a dream. Curry closed his eyes and slipped down so the water came up over his chin. It was still warm, and sweet smelling and it felt so good on his bare skin – now. When he first climbed into the tub the hot water and soap had played havoc on his raw wounds but he pushed past the pain, sank down into the depths and slowly all that faded away. Now it was just warm and wonderful and if he had a way of keeping the water from getting cold he’d plan on staying there for the rest of the week.

Muscles relaxed, mind drifting – then the door opened and Heyes came charging in with a stack of boxes and paper-wrapped bundles.

“You’re still in the tub? Come on. Hurry up. I want my turn.”

“Well, I didn’t have anything to wear,” Curry protested. “Didn’t expect me to sit around here naked, did you? What you get me?”

Heyes dumped the boxes on the bed, then began ripping the paper off of the bundles. “Jeans. Long Johns – in red, your favorite color. And…” He tossed the papers aside, opened a box. Found what he wanted. A starched, bright white button-up shirt. “This and. . . ” One more box. This time he pulled out a jacket – dusty brown with sharp lapels and a tuck at the waist. “What do you think?”

“I think it looks expensive.”

“Jaime picked it out. It’s all expensive. He wouldn’t buy anything that wasn’t expensive. Anyway, there are gloves in here, too somewhere and. . and. . ” Heyes’ eyes narrowed. “You shaved. Everything. No mustache for the changed man, nonsense. Good. I like it.”

“Obviously the two of you went drinking in addition to shopping.”

Heyes laughed. “No. I’m just feeling better about everything, that’s all. Spending other people’s money has that effect on me.” He sat down on the bed and began ripping into the remaining packages. “Come on, get out of that tub. They’re heating the water for my bath as we speak. Let’s go.”

Curry didn’t budge. “Don’t rush me, the water’s not even cold yet.”

“Found the gloves. I didn’t buy you a hat though. I didn’t see one I thought you’d like so maybe when we move on to the next town. . . ” He looked back at Curry. “Will you get out of there already?”

“Sure, as soon as you get out here. I mean, geez. Can’t I have a little privacy?”

“Privacy? Not like I never seen you naked before.” Heyes stood up, came closer to the tub. “Maybe you’ve been sitting in there thinking about the lovely Christina Harkness and now you can’t get up. Or should that be, you’re already up?”

“Will you just leave me alone for ten minutes, please?” There was a serious tone to his voice, not the usual response to Heyes’ brotherly teasing.

“Sure. Okay.” Heyes left the room and closed the door behind him.

Curry waited a few seconds, a minute, two. Slowly, carefully, he stood then climbed out of the tub. He grabbed the towel from a pile that had been left on the bedside table.

“I’m sorry to interrupt but. . . ”

Curry whirled, trying to open the towel quickly over himself, but he was clear from the look on his Heyes’ face that it was too late to hide.

“Heyes, just let it go.”

“Are you crazy?” Heyes moved toward him, his eyes and mouth both wide open. “What is that? It’s like a game of tic tac toe on your back. Turn around. Let me see.”

“It’s done. Over. Just leave it alone.”

“No! I will not leave it alone.” He circled around behind Curry and this full-on look took his breath away. There were twenty or more raw, red stripes crisscrossing his back and thighs in different directions. Fresh wounds over older wounds – some short, some long, some already gone to scab. “This is why you slept in your clothes last night. So I wouldn’t see this. How long did you think you could keep this hidden?”

“Heyes, please,” Curry moaned as he dropped down to sitting on the bed.

“That’s what that was,” Heyes continued, having a conversation with himself. “Back at the prison when they gave us our old clothes back, you dragged your feet until I was dressed and out of the room before you took off your shirt.”

“When you took off your shirt. . . ” He turned sideways on the bed, dug through the packages to find the new long johns.

“What?” Heyes pushed. “What were you going to say? Kid?” He moved around to the other side of the bed so he could look him in the eye. “Why can’t you talk to me anymore?”

“Because!” Curry snapped. He sucked in a huge breath then blew it out. “When we were in the warden’s office, talking to Christina and you were like. . .ready to just say no. . .to just go back to your cell and serve your sentence. . I was amazed. And I felt so stupid because here you were able to handle the pain, the abuse. It was like it didn’t bother you at all. And even though, I know I’m the one with the thinner skin, I felt like such a fool because I couldn’t take anymore.”

Heyes sat down on the other side of the bed, one knee pulled up on the mattress. “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”

“I’m saying I didn’t understand until we went to change our clothes. You stripped off your shirt and I saw. . . nothing. And that’s when it hit me. You weren’t braver or stronger than me. You were clean. Untouched. And then I had to wonder why. Why did this to me but not to you? Why? How is that fair?” He found the long johns, stuffed his legs in then stuck his arms into the sleeves.

“Kid, wait. Those wounds look really bad. Let me get you something to put on them.”

“YOU can’t get me anything. You’d have to ask Christina or Jaime and you’d have to tell them what you wanted and why you wanted it and forget it. The hot water and the soap – that was all I needed.” He buttoned up the front of the suit then grabbed the jeans and shook them out. “I don’t want to think about it anymore. Or talk about it anymore. I just want to get dressed and go out there and move forward. Understand?”

Heyes nodded. “I understand. I don’t like it. But I understand.”

A sharp rap on the door startled both of them. Christina’s voice followed.

“The attendant is here to empty the bath.”

“Come on in,” Curry called back. He stuffed his legs into his jeans, pulled them up to his waist then put on the crisp white shirt. “Feel almost human again.” Then he looked at Heyes as if he hadn’t meant to say that out loud. “Heyes,” he said softly, aware of the man emptying the tub down the drain behind him. “Maybe later. I just can’t do it right now.”

“I understand,” said Heyes. But it was clear that he didn’t.

* * * *

“My, my, don’t you clean up nice.” She hoped that her words came out sounding light and playful and not dripping with lust, which was how she really felt. There was something about Curry that drew her in from the first moment she saw him. And when he’d laughed at Jaime’s jokes over breakfast, his blue eyes sparkling with a smile – well that had nearly done her in. But now, to see him emerge shaved and bathed and dressed to the nines – he was downright heart stopping. And that was not a good thing. Not in their present circumstances. She couldn’t afford to show favor, to let her guard down because he smiled so pretty.

“Most of the credit goes to Jaime,” Curry said, which confused her for a moment until she realized he was talking about the choice of clothes. “He has very good taste.”

“That he does. And the fit. . . ” Oh boy, the fit. It was all Christina could do to keep her eyes off the snug of his jeans. “Like I said. Tailor made.”

Curry pushed back the right side of his jacket, brushed his hand over his hip then let it slip away. “Use to having a holster there to lean on. Feel funny not to have it.”

“Well get used to it. Because you’re not going to be carrying a gun on your hip for some time to come.” There, that sounded like she was in charge. “Jaime was also right about the train. It’ll be here in about two hours.”

Curry dropped on to the couch, grabbed a satin pillow and pulled it into his lap. “A train, huh? Trains, coaches, wagons – there was a time when I thought I’d keel over if I had to spend one more hour in a saddle. Now. . . it’s been over a month since I’ve ridden and I miss it.”

“You’ll like the train. It’s private – just the four of us, the engineer and his assistant.”

“Really? That’s it? On the whole train?”

“My Uncle Sam is a generous man. When it suits him. We’ll head out of here and head over to Denver to pick up Marcel – he’s the artist. Spend maybe a week churning out some sketches then on to Porterville.” The name of the town had exactly the effect on him she’d expected. He sat up straighter, his body stiffened.

“Why Porterville?”

“Because it’s near Devil’s Hole, right?” No reaction there. He had it under control now, the poker player who had let one slip. He wasn’t going to let her have anymore.

“There’s nothing you’d be interested in Devil’s Hole. I was thinking about Silver Springs. Evan Thompson has a girl there. I know her and with the right kind of pressure she might be willing to roll over on him.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. But I think that we should christen our relationship with a show of good faith on your end. I want the remaining members of the Devil’s Hole Gang.”

Curry forced a laugh, tossed the pillow aside then stood. She couldn’t quite read what was on his face. Frustration, certainly, that was to be expected. Some anger at her and. . . something else. “Boy, you just get right to it, don’t you?”

“What’s the problem? You’re on the side of the law now, right? So what does it matter if you turn in Evan Thompson or Wheat Carlson?”

“It does matter,” Curry shot back, his blue eyes gone icy cold. “With the lives we’ve led, we don’t have that many friends. And those guys, granted, they’re not exactly the kind of people you’d use as a reference but they’ve done right by us. Helped us when they could, stood by us even when we decided to go straight. You can’t ask us to put them behind bars.”

“You’re right. I’m not asking. I’m telling. You want this deal? Prove it.”

Curry growled deep in his throat, threw up his hands as he pirouetted on his heel. “I knew this was too good. Too, too good. You might as well ask me to give up my own brother.”

“You don’t have a brother.”

“Heyes then! Why didn’t you ask me to turn on him? Or ask him to turn on me? Huh?”

“I don’t see why you’re getting all upset about this,” Christina said calmly. “They’re common criminals. And as far as I know, they’re still up to their thieving ways even without you two to lead them.”

Suddenly the bedroom door flew open. Heyes was standing there with nothing but a towel wrapped around him, soapsuds still clinging to his chest and arms. “What’s going on out here?” He glanced at Curry who turned his back, then at Christina – standing firm, arms folded. “What’s this all about?”

“I just thought,” she said softly, “since I’ve held up my end of the bargain so nicely – good hotel, fine food, expensive clothes – the next move should be yours. Proof that you intend to carry out your end of the deal.”

“I said we would. I’ve told you that twice already,” Heyes said, his voice low and menacing. “What more do you want?”

“She wants Wheat and the boys.” Curry spoke so softly, Heyes asked him to repeat it. “She wants us to take her to Devil’s Hole. She wants us to give up Wheat and the boys!”

Heyes laughed. Laughed! But it wasn’t funny. It was scary. “What did I tell you? Isn’t that what I said right at the beginning? Are you willing to give up Wheat and Kyle and Lobo just for a shot at a clean slate? Isn’t that what I said? And you said, oh come on. What does she want with the likes of them? We’ll give her Thompson or Barclay and-”

Curry whirled to face his partner and the look on his face made Heyes close his mouth and back down a peg. Christina saw it but she didn’t believe it. Heyes was the strong one. The leader. But with one look, Curry had him wrapped up tight!

“We’ll talk about this later,” Heyes said. “Right now, I’d like to finish my bath in peace if you two could manage to keep it down.” He went back into the bedroom and slammed the door behind him.

“He won’t do it.” Curry’s knees folded and he ended up sitting on the arm of the couch.

Divide and conquer.

Christina moved closer to him, close enough to reach out and fix the collar of his shirt, pick a bit of lint off of his lapel. Sitting as he was, they were eye to eye. Pale, bowed lips so tempting and inviting. If she was sure he felt the same way she’d use it but right now he didn’t seem to care that she was a woman. Too busy thinking of her as a nasty witch.

“Kid. Heyes isn’t the only one who knows the way to Devil’s Hole.”

It took a second, then her meaning sunk in. “I can’t. Christina, I can’t.” He sounded so sincere, so genuinely hurt that she actually felt bad for him. But duty and country came before comfort and love.

“Then I hope you had a good night’s sleep, because as of tonight, you’re back in the Wyoming State Pen.”

* * *

He seriously considered ending it all right then and there. It would be simple enough. He’d strangle Christina. Drown Heyes in the tub. Then shoot himself with the gun he knew she had strapped to her leg. Leave poor old Jaime to clean up the mess.

It was a thought. And the fact that he gave it more than a second of consideration scared him to death. So he ran – into her bedroom, since he couldn’t trust himself in the bedroom with Heyes. Slammed the door. Opened it. Slammed it again. Then he kicked Christina’s carpet bag from one side of the room to the other alternately pretending it was her and Eagle and Creighton and even Heyes. Even Heyes.

God damn it. Curry flopped down on the bed coming close to tears.

Even Heyes.

Never. He had never, ever felt so hurtful and hateful toward his best friend and partner. Sure they’d had their fights. Like that one about Briggs and the gun and Danny Bilson. Lots of fights even a fistfight when they were younger – but never, never had he ever felt like he wanted to do Heyes harm – until now.

Curry dropped his head into his hands, rubbed his forehead with shaking fingers.

He couldn’t go back. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. And he couldn’t believe that Heyes would let that happen. Not now that he knew. . . knew. . . some of it. Not all of it. Enough to want to keep him out of harm’s way. But at what cost? To send their friends to the same fate?

But would they suffer the same fate? Curry pushed up to his feet, kicked the leg of the bed, again and again. Why only him? Eagle’s boys had made such a big deal out of his reputation, his name. Famous outlaw – see what that’ll get you here? But Heyes was a famous outlaw, too. Not a gunslinger. Something bigger. A leader. The man in charge. So why hadn’t it been necessary to put him in his place!

Growling like an animal, Curry fisted his hands in the blanket that covered the bed, ripped it off then went back for the sheet. He tore that off too, tossed it aside. Whirled around, ready to trash everything in the room and saw Heyes in the doorway.

He was dressed now, black pants and an ivory shirt. Shaved, clean, hair still wet and slicked back from his face. And his eyes – oh god. He could see inside Curry with those eyes just as easy as cracking open a Dunn and Windsor safe.

Heyes came all the way in. Closed the door softly behind himself then picked up the sheet that was lying in a ball at his feet. “Feel better?”


Heyes nodded. “Who you got in there?”

Curry followed his gaze, down to his own hands that were clenched so tightly together, not even an ant could squeeze through. He let go, stuffed his hands high up under his arms. Needing to keep them trapped somehow. Not trusting himself not to use them to hit.

“Maybe for you,” Curry began, talking slowly and quietly. “Being in that place wasn’t so bad. You never really been bothered by being cooped up, alone. Hell, if you ain’t got a book to read, you just make one up in your head. But not me!” That last word came out as a shout. “I’m not like you!”

“I understand that,” Heyes said, keeping his voice calm and even. “But it wasn’t easy for me, either.”

“Oh, oh, my mistake. I must have missed those whip marks on your back when you had your shirt off earlier. The bruises around your ribs—”


“The rope burns around your wrists!”


“Don’t call me that!” Curry scooped up the blanket from the floor, balled it up, threw it at the bed. “I don’t want to be Kid Curry anymore! And I don’t want to be Thaddeus Jones or Hotchkiss or Gaylord or anybody! I just want to be left alone!” He dropped to his knees at the side of the bed. Pounded his fists on the mattress like a two-year old having a temper tantrum. “Just leave me alone!”

“NO! I will not leave you alone! Ever!” Heyes sat down on the bed and grabbed hold of Curry’s wrists. Noticed for the first time, the fading rosy red rope burns. No. Not for the first time. He noticed them yesterday, in the warden’s office. Noticed them when Curry had scrubbed his hands over his face and finger combed his hair. But he thought nothing of it. They had been cuffed and shackled on and off over the course of three weeks – that was bound to leave a mark. “I am sorry that they hurt you. And if I could make who ever did it pay – I would and dearly.”

Curry pulled his hands free, crossed his arms then dropped his head down so his face was hidden. A second later, he was struggling to catch his breath. Struggling to hold back the tears.

Heyes laid a hand on his friend’s convulsing back, mindful of the wounds that lay just under his shirt. “Kid—” he caught himself. “Jed. I won’t let her send you back there. And I can’t believe that you thought I would.” He circled his hand in lazy circles, like the way you soothed a skittish horse. “Not after I saw. . . oh God, Kid, not just those marks on your back. When I saw you come into the office yesterday – you looked so thin, so breakable and hollow. I couldn’t help but wonder where we’d gone so wrong.”

Curry sunk down to sitting on his heels, then rolled to the left so he was sitting on the floor. Heyes waited a moment then slowly sunk down to sit beside him.

They sat, next to each other, knees pulled up, both of them staring straight ahead. Heyes could wait. And so he did. He said nothing as Curry fidgeted and huffed and wiped the sleeve of his brand new shirt over his eyes.

“What are we going to do?”

“You just leave Miss Harkness to me. I’ll convince her that chasing the Devil’s Hole Gang would be a waste of her time.”

“I don’t think she convinces easy.”

Still staring straight ahead, Heyes slung his arm around Curry’s shoulders. “She’s trying to play us against each other and we can’t let her do that. She gets between us and it’s all over. But if we stick together – there’s no way we can lose. Trust me.”

“With a bottle full of nitro, sure. But Christina Harkness is a whole lot more volatile.”

Heyes laughed softly, gave Curry’s shoulders a tug. “Volatile, huh?”

“Yeah. I read, too you know. Got that one from a dime novel. Kid Schelleen and the Pouty Princess.”

“Ah. I missed that one.”

“Shame. Good story. Lots of action. Sex.” Again Curry fidgeted, obviously ready to stand up. Heyes didn’t let him. Wasn’t ready to let go.

“Kid, it’s gonna be all right. I promise.”


Christina spent the time searching the sitting room for personal belongings to pack. Jaime had a tendency to leave a trail wherever he went so she found a glove, several notes, a pen and book without even looking hard. She stopped when Heyes came out of the bedroom. Alone. He crossed the room with long purposeful strides and demanded her attention with just the look in his eyes.

“When we took this deal, we had every intention of helping you find and capture some of the deadliest outlaws in the west. The kind of captures that would make the front page as far away as New York City. And that is exactly what we’re going to do. We are not going to turn over the Devil’s Hole Gang. There would be no point. They’re small potatoes, not worth the time or the money it would take to haul them out and house them in jail. Second thing. I’m the one with the memory for details. Kid, he knows his share but I’m the one who can make this work. Only problem? I have a hard time remembering things when he’s upset. I’m funny that way. Brain just shuts right down and I tend to forget things like that brand new scar Evan Thompson has over his left eye. Or the fact that his mother, whom he still visits, lives in a boarding house outside of Yuma. And if I get really distracted, I might do something strange like send a telegram to Washington explaining how you could have had the murderer of two federal marshals in jail but you blew it on childish games.” He took a breath, expected her to bite back. She didn’t so he went on. “And finally. If you hurt him again, I will take. . . you. . . apart. And if you think that’s a bluff, you just go ahead and call it.”

Then he walked – into the bedroom to pack up his gear and was damned surprised when she didn’t follow him.

* * *


Again Curry jolted awake. It was becoming the norm. He scrambled up to sitting, got tangled up in his coat. Asleep with his clothes on again – also becoming the norm. But this time it wasn’t Heyes sitting on the edge of the bed, it was Jaime.

“Train’s here. We’re checking out.”

Moving before his brain really kicked in, Curry slid off the bed and got to his feet.

“Must have been a hell of a party,” said Jaime as he picked up the castoff sheet and blanket. “Next time, invite me.”

“Next time I will.”

Christina’s carpetbag was gone as were her toilet items from the dresser. She must have come in to pack her things while he was sleeping. It was odd that he hadn’t noticed. Odd that he had fallen asleep so easily in the middle of the day.

“You ready to go?” Jaime prodded.

Go? Something about that sent shivers up his spine. “Where are we going?”

“To the train. To meet Marcel.”

Curry nodded. “Just checking.” Jaime reached for him. He pulled away, brain still foggy with the remnants of sleep.

“Kid, Christina’s damn good at what she does but being a woman she’s always had to work twice as hard, be twice as tough just to get the level of respect you and I get just being men. And I hope that you can the genuine irony in that statement.”

Curry looked at him blankly. It would come to him later.

Jaime sighed. “Sit down a second, would you? I’m gonna do something stupid.” He closed the door then went to sit beside Curry. Didn’t miss it when the other man scooted over to the far edge of the bed. “Christina has, what psychiatrists would call, a deep seated resentment toward thieves of all kinds. And that is why it is completely perplexing her that she has taken an instant liking to the two of you. She should dislike you. She should align you with the thieves that killed her mother and brother but instead she feels somewhat simpatico. I suspect, having read your file, that she feels this way because your families were murdered when you were children as well. Now personally, I can’t relate at all because I never had a family. I was born exactly as you see me and this is how I will stay until I die.” He slowed, waiting for Curry to catch up.


There it was. “All I’m saying is, hang in there. You’ll be surprised how things work out. I always am.” Then he winked, got up and headed for the door.

* * * * *

The train was a house on wheels. The main car served as a parlor and dining room, with a couch and a table and chairs just perfect for poker. Working forward toward the engine there was a long sleeping car cut up into two roomy compartments with washroom facilities on either end. The third car in the line was a combination kitchen and housing for the engineer and his assistant and finally, just behind the engine, was a boxcar for horses and storage.

The décor was rich and masculine and Heyes seemed to become part of it as soon as he stepped inside. He was like that – had the ability to blend in with rich society or a room full of miners, either way, he could pull it off. Curry, on the other hand, didn’t feel quite so comfortable. It was traveling in style, that was for sure, but he missed the outdoors. Missed riding in the mountains, watching the sun go down, swimming in a cold, clear lake.

He tried not to let it show. Tried to be a part of what was going on, particularly once Marcel joined the party. The young Frenchman was immediately taken by Heyes keen eye for detail and amazing, almost magical, memory. Curry sat with them as they worked on the first few sketches, but mostly he ended up playing the ‘test’. Marcel would show him a range of pictures – some Heyes had helped with, some he’d made up on his own and Curry would see if he could name the faces. In the first week he was able to pick out three of five. The fourth one was a man he’d barely ever met and the fifth was an actual miss. That one was tossed and work began anew.

After his initial reluctance, Heyes began to enjoy the process and it soon seemed like he and Marcel were communicating without words. Heyes would point and nod and Marcel would sketch and it all kept coming out just right. And the more involved they became in the work, the more Curry shied away. The details he added seem to be nothing but gratuitous – Heyes’ attempts to make him feel needed. So he would excuse himself from the table, earlier and earlier in the evening, then retire to his compartment, alone. There he would lie in bed and stare at the top bunk, listening and lulled by the wheels on the track. Then his eyes would close and sleep would grab him but it was never easy, never peaceful. Memories that should have been fading with time becoming more vibrant, more powerful with every passing day. And so he wondered if he wasn’t going crazy.

* * *

The train was stopped for the night, parked on a private siding giving the engineer and his assistant a much needed break, not to mention giving Heyes the extra hands he needed for poker. Christina refused to ever play and Curry turned him down as well. Jaime was in, as was Marcel, so with Carlo and Albert they had a real game going. Christina had been kind enough to stake Heyes in the game – calling it an advance on his allowance. He didn’t care for the image her words invoked, but he wanted to play too much to complain. He took the money, planned on parlaying it into at least double, then he’d give her back her “advance” in full.

He had tripled her “advance” by the time she came into the parlor car to see how things were going.

“Heyes is cheating,” Jaime declared in response to her question of ‘who’s winning’.

“I am not.”

Christina stood behind Jaime, then set her hands on his shoulders as she leaned forward to examine his cards. “You raised with that? He doesn’t need to cheat.”

“Hell, woman.” Jaime tossed his cards in.

“I really didn’t come out here to mess with your game, that was just a delightful side benefit. I was looking for Kid. He’s not in his compartment.”

“I haven’t seen him for hours,” said Heyes, studying the faces of the rest of the players. “I’ll see you and raise you ten more.” He tossed a handful of bills into the center of the table.

“I’m surprised he’s not playing,” said Christina.

“It’s me,” said Marcel, adding his bet to the pot. “I don’t think he likes me very much. Every time I try to engage him in conversation he finds an excuse to break away.”

“I think it’s your accent,” said Heyes. “Call.” More bills on the stack. “He was madly in love with this French girl once. Michelle. . . something or other.” Then to Christina he said, “He’s probably taking a walk outside. He’s been complaining about being cooped up. But don’t call out the posse yet, Christina. I’m sure he hasn’t run off.”

She gave Heyes a thump on the back of the head. “Just remember who staked you in that game.”

“Oh, I remember. Wait.” Heyes did a quick count of the cash in front of him. “Two hundred.” He leaned back in his chair then stuffed the money in the pocket of her skirt. “I don’t like to owe anybody, anything. Oh, and I gave you a little bonus there, too. Call it interest against the principle.”

“If the rest of you were smart, you’d quit now while you still have your shirts.” Christina continued on through the car and out the door into the night.

It was lovely out – a big bright moon, a gentle cool breeze in the air – all fresh and clean. She walked down the length of the train, scanning the area for any sign of Curry. As she neared the boxcar just behind the engine, she heard the soft sound of a male voice. The car door was open about a foot and a half. Wide enough for someone to climb inside. Moving silently, she stepped closer then peaked in.

“So pretty and I’ll bet you can run, can’t you girl?”

There were four horses in the car, each inside of a short walled stall. Curry was standing beside a chestnut brown mare. He had his face right up next to hers as his hand caressed her strong, silk-covered flank. “No fun being cooped up in here, is it, pretty? Takes the spirit right out of you, don’t it?”

The horse whinnied, shook her head tossing the tips of her mane into Curry’s face.

“You like that? How about I get a brush? Huh? Wouldn’t that feel good?” He turned toward the door and saw her.

She thought he might complain about her presence, but instead he offered her a hand up into the car.

“How’s the game going?”

“Heyes is winning. Big surprise there.”

Curry didn’t comment. He found a brush in a bucket in the corner, then went back to the horse. With great care and reverence he began to stroke the animal’s flank.

“Her name is Belle,” said Christina. “Southern Belle, actually. Jaime gave her to me as a birthday present three years ago.”

“She’s beautiful.” He kept on brushing, the long fluid strokes calming him as much as the horse. “And I’ll bet she’s fast. I can see it in her legs and the way she breathes. I’d love to ride her.”

Christina joined him, gave Belle a caress along the length of her forehead. “Why don’t you take her out in the morning. The way Carlo and Albert are going, I doubt we’ll be leaving at the crack of dawn.”

A skeptical frown tugged at his lips. “You’re actually going to trust me to ride off on her and come back?”

Christina stepped in to him, slipped her hands up behind his head then pulled him down to her for a kiss. A brief one at first. Then the words, “I trust you.” Her fingers combed up through his hair, lips caressed, tongues searching. He circled her with his arms, keeping her tight to him as he pressed for more. The feel of her, the smell of her, it aroused him to the point of pain. It had been so long since he’d been with a woman. So long since he’d allowed himself to let go this way. She turned her head giving him access to her neck so he nipped her there, sucked and kissed, worked his way down to the curve of her shoulder. He felt her hands stroke over his jeans then up again to his shirt. She tugged on the fabric, pulled it loose from his waist. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath and the anticipation of her fingers on bare skin sent his head spinning. And then he remembered – remembered just as she felt the nearly healed welts across his back.

He dropped the horse brush, grabbed her wrists and pulled them around to his chest. It was all over. The sweet arousal, the desperate need, the longing, the ache. No. Wrong. The ache was still there, deep in the pit of his stomach.


“No. I don’t want to do this.” He turned from her, slapped his palms against the side of the train car.

She touched him. Laid her hands on his back, gently caressed upward toward his bunched shoulders. A sweet, easy touch but all he could feel was the whip coming down over and over again stripping the skin off, nerve endings exposed – an endless fire burning inside and out.

“Why did you wait so long?” He whirled around caught her wrists again, wished she would fight him so he could show her what it was like. “Why didn’t you pull us out of there that first day? You were there. Heyes saw you. Cozying up to Creighton. He told me.”

“Yes, I was there but I was giving Creighton orders, not cozying up.”

“Orders? What kind of orders?”

“I didn’t tell him to hurt you, if that’s what you’re thinking. That was all Eagle’s doing. Creighton didn’t even know about. Should have known but didn’t want to know. He turns his back on every rotten thing that happens in that prison.”

“You knew that and you left me there!” He shook her, turned her, pressed her back to the wall with his body holding her in place.

“I didn’t know. Not until later. That’s why I came to spring you early. You were supposed to stay for three months but an informant told me what was going on.”

Curry set his palms on the wall on either side of her, lowered his head, face nearly buried in her shoulder. “Told you. With words. There are no words.”

Her hands came up and around his neck, keeping him there so close. “Tell me what I can do to make it better,” she whispered in his ear. “Tell me and I’ll do it.”

“I just want it out of my head. I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

“Then put your mind on something else.” She turned his head toward her, caught his mouth, kissed him over and over – short and fast until the fire caught then he took over.

Curry knotted one hand in her hair, held her still while he ravaged her mouth, one, long, deep kiss with no chance to take a breath or say a word. His other hand was free now to touch and roam, caressing her curves. There was nothing gentle about his moves but he wasn’t concerned about hurting her. It was his own pain that stayed foremost in his mind. The need was so strong. Shaking, and desperate, he gathered the material of her skirt, pulled it up so he could reach beneath. Any chance for rational thought was long gone by the time he dug his fingers into the soft flesh of her thigh.

Bare skin. That’s what he found and it nearly finished him. Chest heaving, breath erratic, he grabbed her hand and guided it to his groin.

“Feel that? That’s what you’ve done to me,” Curry whispered harshly in her ear.

Christina’s only vocal response was a deep-throated moan. Physically, she was able to do more. She pressed her palm tight against his jeans, then rubbed in short, tight circles until he was bucking like a wild horse who didn’t want to be broke. Shaking, she worked the buttons on his fly. Fingers slipped and nudged and started over until he was growling with frustration at her lack of skill.

“Let me.” Curry backed off, got his arms beneath her and lifted her off her feet. He laid her in a pile of hay in the corner of the boxcar then dropped down with his knees straddling her hips. He worked the buttons loose, freed himself, then stopped. Not this way – not like some soiled dove he’d paid two bucks for. He leaned forward, careful now – restraint as heavy as an anvil. His hands were on either side of her head, supporting his weight as he lower himself down to kiss her. Gentle, this time. Caring. Sweet. He kissed her lips, then took her mouth. Enjoyed the tiny, shuddering sounds that were sneaking out past the kisses. She adjusted herself beneath him, moved her skirt out of the way, then pulled up her knees.

“Please. Jed. I want you.”

No reason to hesitate now. He slipped inside of her and was instantly overwhelmed by the tight, warm place. He drew back, pushed in again. She bucked beneath him, a cry of surprise on her lips. He was a lot for her to take but he couldn’t stop now, couldn’t even go slow. As much as his mind wanted it to last, his body had other ideas.

“Christina. . ” There was more to that thought but he lost it when she lifted her hips to match his drive. Forget talking. Forget breathing. Forget the whole, goddamn world except for this right here, right now. He pistoned against her, hard, knew he was probably hurting her but there was no way out. Faster. Deeper. He lifted her hips so he would be sheathed to the hilt. And by then his muscles were trembling from the exertion, his chest on fire with the need to take a breath.

A little more. A little longer.

She was crying out, gasping, fingers knotted in his shirt to keep him doing what he was doing. Vaguely he heard the horses whiney as they pawed the deck with their hooves. They didn’t like what was in the air. He tried to say something. To form actual words but his brain didn’t work. And then he was at the peak. He lifted her hips higher, drove in impossibly deeper still. Then some strange sense of honor made him pull free of her as he released. She tried to hold him back but her strength was sapped, as was his.

Curry fell forward again, found the will to kiss her once more – to let her know it was more than just lust that had made him do what he did. Then he collapsed into the hay beside her, chest heaving, pulse racing. Too late to take it back. Too late.

* *

Outside the boxcar, Heyes dropped down into a stoop and stared out into the moonlit woods. If a passing stranger had spotted him, they would have gone out of their way to avoid him. Fist pressing into his palm, jaw set so tight like a snapped bear trap.

He didn’t like it. Not one little bit, but if he said so Curry would just get mad at him. Never could reason with The Kid where women were concerned. No. He’d have to go slow. Think it out. Let Christina hang herself and she would. He was confident of that.

Heyes rose to standing, then walked back to the parlor car.

* * * *

Heyes figured he had laid in bed an hour before Kid came into the compartment. He waited, listened to the sound of boots hitting the floor, clothes being shed. He expected Kid to ‘wake him’ to tell him everything that had happened, but he didn’t and that disturbed Heyes enough to make the first move.

“Where you been?”

“Took a walk to get some air.” Curry climbed into the lower bunk which creaked and squawked until he settled in.

“Christina was looking for you,” said Heyes.

“She found me.” And that was it. That was all he was going to say.

Heyes debated with himself – to disclose what he knew or not? He kept coming back to not, simply because Kid hadn’t spoken of it himself. This was just so wrong. Never in all their years together had they kept secrets from each other. Even when they were both interested in the same woman they were above board and honest. What was a partner if you couldn’t trust him to tell you the truth?


“Hmmm?” Curry’s voice, thick with sleep.

“You know I’m here for you. What ever you need.”

The lower bunk creaked and squawked again. “I know, Heyes. Good night.”

“Night.” Heyes rolled on to his back and stared at the ceiling wishing he were back at the Billings’ Ranch two days before Tommy showed up with that poster. Two days earlier they had talked about moving on. But there was a dance coming up and Lydia had hinted around about Heyes taking her and Tommy needed help building that fort model for school. “Damn.”


“Ever think what would have happened if you took the left fork in the road instead of the one on the right?”

“All the time, Heyes. All the time.”

* * * * *

Curry made two attempts to tie his tie but both attempts were hampered by Heyes watching him in the mirror. He’d been staring at him with sort of a faint smile on his face ever since they arrived in town two hours earlier. At first, he assumed it was Heyes’ response to being on a shortened leash. Christina had received a telegram from her boss saying that the information he and Heyes had provided on the Red Rock Gang had led to the arrest of the leader and his top man. Bonus coming your way – keep up the good work, said the telegram. And so she decided to reward them with a trip into town for dinner and gambling.

Though Jaime had gone with them to shop for clothes and other necessities, Christina had done the favor of allowing them their own hotel room. Jaime and Marcel had the room across the hall, and Christina had the adjoining to herself.

That was another reason Curry was having trouble with his tie. He had begun to imagine, to let his mind wrap around the possibilities of her and him and a big bed for a whole night. It had been two days since they’d made love in the boxcar. Two days with him avoiding her as much as possible in the confined space of the train. He knew he’d hurt her, physically hurt her with his lack of restraint. She started it and she didn’t stop it – still he felt like a molester of the worst kind. He ached to be with her again, knew he’d be more careful. A gentle and giving lover if she’d only give him another chance. He closed his eyes for a moment and drifted – remembering how tight and warm she was. The sounds she had made when he. . .

“Are you going be done anytime soon?”

Curry came back to the present. “Can’t seem to get this tied.”

“Let me.” Heyes took him the shoulders, turned him from the mirror then proceeded to fix the tie for him. “I don’t know why you’re all thumbs all of sudden.”

“I just want things to go well.”

“They’re going well. Better than well.” Heyes straightened Kid’s collar under his new, fancy jacket. “Keep up the good work! Isn’t that what the telegram said?” Though his words were cheerful, his tone was just the opposite.

“I wish you’d make peace with our situation.” Curry turned back to the mirror, combed his fingers through his hair. “You have to admit it’s nice not having to worry about being recognized. And didn’t you just love the look on that sheriff’s face when Christina tore down our wanted posters. I don’t think he believed her, though. I’m sure he went right to the telegraph office to confirm her story.”

“Yeah, I’m sure. Since it’s not like the real Heyes and Curry would waltz into a sheriff’s office with a bunch of freshly printed wanted posters and they certainly wouldn’t stand around and let a woman do their talking for them.”

Curry sighed as he sat down to pull on his boots. This argument was becoming more and more frequent. Heyes always put some new spin on it, but basically it was the same. “Heyes. I know you don’t like what we’re doing.”

“Correction,” Heyes said, turning away from the mirror. “I don’t like the way we’re being forced to do what we’re doing. I don’t like being forced to do anything.”

“I know, but it’s not always going to be this way. Once she learns to trust us. . ”

“Trust us? I didn’t think we were going to be here that long. I mean, she can’t make us do this forever, right?”

“Why not? What’s really so wrong about this situation?”

“This is not the way I wanted to spend the rest of my life. I have places I want to see. Things I want to do.”

Curry sighed, picked up his hat, dusted it off even though it was spotlessly clean. “So if she cut you loose, right now, no strings attached. You’d go?”

“Sure I’d go.”

Curry paused, then softly said, “Even if it meant going without me?”

Heyes huffed, rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Oh, I see. Known each other since we were kids, partners, what, eight years now and you’re going to throw it all away because she makes your trousers tight?”

“That’s not fair,” Curry snapped. “I deserve a life, too!”

“Fine!” Heyes shot back, throwing his hands in the air. “If you’re comfortable with being ‘kept’ like some common gigolo, fine! I’m not! Being told where to go and what to do. And I especially hate the way she doles out the money to me like I’m some child collecting his allowance. At least you’re getting paid for services rendered!”

Curry was across the room in a second and then Heyes was on the floor, knocked there by a strong right cross. He stayed there. Didn’t move. Just sat there with his heart pounding in his chest and his eyes wide open in surprise.

“Oh, Heyes, I’m sorry.” Curry said, his own voice filled with a level of shock. “I didn’t. . . I’m sorry.” Then his mouth kept moving like a fish in a glass bowl.

Slowly, Heyes got to his feet. Touched his jaw. It was tender and already beginning to swell. “That’s it. I’m done. She can send me back to prison, I don’t care.” He started toward the adjoining door but Curry moved to block the way.

“Don’t do this. Heyes, please. I’m begging you, don’t make trouble.”

“What are you worried about? She’s not gonna send you back. You’re her prized pet! You make a run for it, and the worst thing she’ll do is chain you to her bedside.” Heyes tried to dodge but Curry grabbed him by the arms, forcing him to either hold still or fight back.

“I can’t let you do this. You have no idea what they’ll do to you. He said he’d get to you and he will. He’ll find a way. He used to tell me, over and over – all the little details. He’d whisper them in my ear like some perverted lover’s secrets – everything he planned to do when he got his hands on you. Please don’t push her!”

Heyes was stunned beyond words. He’d seen a taste of this behavior that day Christina met them both in the warden’s office. But this time the fear in Kid’s eyes wasn’t for himself. This time it was for Heyes and that somehow made it ten times worse.

“Oh, God, Heyes I feel like I’m losing my mind.” Then he was gasping for breath, tears welling up in his eyes. Curry let go, found an empty corner in the room and hid his face in it. “I can’t keep this up. One minute I’m fine and the next minute I want to break something. Hit something.” He turned, pressed his back into the corner. “I can’t believe I hit you. I’ve never hit you. Not like that. Kid stuff, when we were younger but never since. And I just want to hurt somebody so badly and I’m afraid it’s going to be you.”

Heyes reached for him, thought better of it and let his hands fall to his sides. “Kid. Kid, I want to make it better, but I don’t know how. I don’t know what I can do to help you.”

Curry slid down the wall and sat with his knees to his chest as he had done in the warden’s office. Like some horrible time loop only they weren’t in Wyoming. They were in Colorado, in a nice hotel, getting ready to go out to a luxury meal, all expenses paid. But now the mood was gone. Shot to hell. Heyes blamed himself for pushing too hard, but deep down he knew that he was only the spark – someone else had set the fuse. A short fuse attached to 180 pounds of dynamite.

“When we first got out, all I could do was sleep. It’s all I wanted to do and now I can’t sleep at all. I lay there and toss and turn and when it finally comes – I’m back there and they’re dragging me out of that cell but this time it’s you they’ve got tied to the bars, you they’re whipping and they make me watch. Listen. And I’m screaming obscenities at them and it only makes it worse. So when I do wake up, I’m afraid to go back to sleep because it’s so real and it makes me so sick!”

“Easy. Take it easy,” Heyes soothed. “No wonder you’re cracking up. A body needs rest. It’s a proven fact.” He lowered himself to sitting on his knees on the floor. “Maybe we can get a doctor to give you some pills to help you sleep.” He took a chance; reached out, set his hand on Curry’s raised knee. “Come on. Pull yourself together. You were looking forward to tonight. Let’s go have a nice dinner, play some poker and it’ll all be just fine.”

Curry nodded, sucked in a huge breath. He started to say something but was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“It’s me. Let’s go.” Christina.

Heyes got to his feet, offered Curry a hand up. “Let’s just forget it for now and have a good time. Tomorrow, you and I’ll talk and we’ll figure this out. I promise.”


“Come on, fellas.” More knocking.

“Impatient little minx,” Heyes muttered as he went to the door. He unlocked it with the key, yanked it open and was instantly stunned. There was a woman in the hall. A beautiful, classy woman with hair piled high on her head and a jewel blue gown that fit her like melted candle wax. “Look at you.”

Christina stepped inside, did a little twirl. When she stopped she was looking at Heyes and her eyes narrowed. “Look at you!”

The bruise on his jaw. Heyes tested it with his fingers. “I made a nasty comment about you so Kid hit me.”

She laughed and so did Heyes. There was no value in lying when the truth was not to be believed.

“Jaime and Marcel are waiting for us in the dining room, if you gentlemen are ready?”

Kid, finally finding himself, offered her his arm. “If I may have the honor?”

Heyes offered his as well. “Let’s make it two.”

Christina looked from one to the other, the faintest smile on her lips. “Well now, all duded up, spit and polished, got your gentleman’s manners on. . . makes me want to reach for my gun.”

This time when Heyes laughed, it was genuine. Dancing brown eyes and dimples like the Grand Canyon. “We’re going to have a good time tonight.”

To which Curry added, “Even if it kills us.”

* * * * *

It was like running a con. Fancy clothes, fine wine, gourmet food and phony conversation. Heyes was a master when he wanted to be and right now it suited him to play nice. If only for Kid. The incident in the hotel room had them both shook up but Heyes hid it better than his partner did. Kid was mostly quiet, replying when directly asked a question but offering nothing more. He ate his food and drank his wine and showed only the slightest twinge of jealousy when Marcel invited Christina to dance.

“Kid only reads dime novels,” Heyes said to Jaime, completely able to think and speak about two different things at the same time. “What was that one you were telling me about? Kid Scheleen and the Pouty Princess?”

“What is it with outlaws named Kid, anyway?” asked Jaime. “The word ‘kid’ implies someone who is young and inexperienced and I don’t see how that translates into deadly gunslinger.”

“Dramatic irony, maybe?” Heyes suggested as he took another bite of the most delicious prime rib he’d ever tasted. “Our ‘kid’ here, got that name because of that baby face of his. If he wasn’t so tall, I could pass him off as eight-years-old.”

Curry got to his feet. Heyes feared he’d said something wrong again, then saw it was just Christina returning to the table. He stood as well waited for her to take her seat but she didn’t.

“I simply wore Marcel out. But I’m still in the mood to dance. Who’s next?”

When all eyes turned to Curry, what else could he do. “Subtle, aren’t they?” He skirted around the large table, took her hand then led her back to the dance floor while the other men took their seats.

With Marcel back, the talk soon turned to art, which delighted Heyes to no end. Intelligent conversation – it was a godsend. Not that Kid wasn’t bright, but he had never been interested in books or art or music. All things that interested Heyes even if he’d rarely had the chance to experience them. Oh, he’d heard plenty of dance hall crooners in his time – but never the real greats like Jenny Lind or Louise DeFranco. Never had he stepped foot inside a real museum or a library – these were the things he wanted to do before he died. And suddenly it hit him – like a revelation from up above. The people he’d been fighting, were the very people who could give him what he most desired.

“Of course a museum in Paris is going to be top notch,” Jaime was saying. “But I don’t think you can automatically discount our museums here, particularly in New York City. Hannibal, have you ever been to New York?”

The use of his first name threw him for a moment. “No, I’ve never been east of the Mississippi.”

“Oh, well, we’ll have to correct that. You must see New York and Philadelphia, but neither truly compares to my old stompings grounds of Atlanta, even Richmond and New Orleans. . ”
At that Marcel jumped in and they were off on another deep discussion. Heyes was in heaven for the first time in a very long time.

* *

“I want to apologize for what happened the other night,” Curry said as he waltzed across the dance floor with Christina on his arm. “I was out of line.”

“No, it wasn’t your fault. I tempted you and that was wrong. Jed, I spend half my life trying to prove to people that I’m as good as any man at what I do and then I go and blow my whole case by falling in love with you.”

“Falling in love?” Curry stopped mid-movement and was plowed into by another couple on the floor. “Sorry.” He pulled her closer into him, one hand holding hers, the other around her waist.

“Scarier than going to prison, right? And I don’t know what to do about it. I can’t stop how I feel – I don’t even understand how I got here.”

“I know how I got here,” he said, gazing down at her, pure lust putting a blush on his cheeks.

She moaned. “That’s how I got here. Those blue eyes. Those lips. That whole, vulnerable, ‘I-need-a-hug’ look. Anybody who says Kid Curry isn’t a killer obviously hasn’t spent more than ten seconds looking at that face. Not to mention those arms, and well the whole package is pretty nice.”

Curry laughed, leaned down, kissed her in public and didn’t give a damn. “Your package is pretty nice, too.” He let go of her hand so he could wrap both arms around her, no longer moving just swaying to the music. Getting lost in her eyes. And then it was quiet except for the sound of a soft snicker.

The music had ended and the dancers had left the floor – all except for one couple – who were now attracting quite a bit of attention.

Kid’s cheeks grew even rosier with embarrassment, which she seemed to find inordinately funny.

“Let’s get out of here,” said Christina. She wiggled out of his grip then led the way back to the table. “Jed and I are going to go for a walk,”

“Upstairs,” Jaime mumbled.

“If you’ll excuse us, please,” Christina said even louder. “Oh, and I hear there is a major poker game going on in the casino.” She opened her small drawstring purse, which was hanging on her arm, fished around inside then came up with a wad of bills. She tossed the money on the table in front of Heyes. “That ought to be sufficient to buy you in.”

Curry tensed, but he was behind her so she didn’t see it. Heyes picked up the cash, glanced at his partner – knew what he was thinking. ‘I especially hate the way she doles out the money to me like I’m some child collecting his allowance.’

“Thank you, Christina. I’ll pay you back in the morning out of my winnings.” The relief on Curry’s face was visible; at least it was to Heyes. “Have a good night.”

“I will.”

Heyes watched them both as they walked away. Watched Kid pull her close, sneak a small kiss. He knew what they’d be doing tonight. And maybe after all that exercise, Kid would get his first good night’s sleep – wrapped in her arms. He felt a pang of what could only be called jealousy. Not that he had feelings for Christina, he didn’t. What he had was a need to solve Curry’s problems, to listen to him when he was upset, to make it all come out right again. But something had changed between them. Kid didn’t want to talk – to him. Didn’t want to confide in him his fears and his pain. The little bits that had come out over the last few days were just remnants that escaped before he could stop them. They’d reached another turning point and in a room full of people Heyes suddenly felt very, very alone.

End Book Two

Continue to Book Three: Reproof of Chance

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