# 13 Silver Lady

The Silver Lady

By Patty Wilkinson

(Adult themes, strong language and violence)

Chapter 1

It was a hot summer’s morning at the Sherman Ranch and Relay station and as Slim Sherman the tall, blond handsome owner of the ranch walked out of the house and across the yard he felt the sun beating down on his back and he put a couple of fingers into the tight starched collar he was wearing to loosen it a little. He was hot and uncomfortable dressed up in his Sunday best, a smart frock coat over a sparkling white starched shirt and black string tie .He also wore his good dark trousers tucked into highly polished boots all topped off with his best Stetson.

He walked over to the corral and grinned at his best buddy and partner in the ranch, Jess Harper. In contrast ,the dark haired cowboy with the arresting deep blue eyes, was dressed for work and right then the work in hand was mustang breaking. He slid down from the back of the green broke horse he was currently schooling and wandered over to the fence.

“Well don’t you look smart Mr Sherman all done up like the dog’s dinner,” he said giving his friend a little mock salute.

“Now you just be careful none of this nasty old dust gets on your fancy duds,” he continued, removing his hat and making a great show of using it to beat some of the dust from his own denims and pale blue shirt.

Jess had been hard at work with the horses since first thing and his clothes bore evidence to that as he was covered from head to toe in the fine yellow dust that abounded around the ranch at the height of summer. He had also had a couple of falls and was now bearing a vicious cut to his cheek and a bruise just above his right eye making his dark good looks even more interesting. He was a man with a past and the hint of danger about him which was irresistible to the good ladies of Laramie, many of whom had gone out with him, but none able to tame him thus far.

He had landed at the Sherman ranch over six years ago with, as he freely admitted, trouble in both pockets and a greased holster. After a horrendous fire back in Texas where the majority of his family had been wiped out, by a gang raid, the then ,15 year old had drifted, been on the wrong side of the law more than once, was familiar with the inside of a jail and had even felt the hangman’s noose around his neck.

He had lived by his fast gun and had been prepared to die by it at one time, but as Doc Sam, their good friend and physician often said, ‘ol’ Jess has got nine lives and is going through them all real quick.’ Well he’d packed a lot of living into his short life that was for sure, what with the war and then going on the drift for 5 years, and it had seemed like the right time for him to settle down and the Sherman Ranch was just the place for him to do it.

Jess figured it was probably the best thing that had ever happened to him when he met up with old Hard Rock as he affectionately referred to Slim Sherman. Gee Slim had been so darn straight laced and particular in those days though, always worrying about his kid brother Andy, who he’d been left to bring up after his folks had died, plus the running of the ranch.

Once Jess arrived though things changed, Slim became more relaxed and fun loving and Jess schooled him well in poker, drinking and especially women, three of the things Slim had little experience of. By return Slim taught Jess about responsibility, family values and mostly about living a hardworking life that could produce something positive and worthwhile at the end of a day’s work. Jess finally gave up his old gunslinger ways and was almost domesticated, as he often said, a touch of shocked amazement in his voice whenever he proclaimed it.

Right now though he looked anything but domesticated Slim thought as his buddy tipped his hat back and ran a sleeve across his face to rid it of the sweat that he had worked up, and jamming his hat firmly down he looked across at the pretty little Palomino he’d been riding.

“Thought she might make a good mount for young Mike,” he said now glancing back at his partner,” he’s got a Birthday coming up soon.”

Jess was referring to the small blond boy they had adopted as joint guardians several years ago when he had landed at the ranch after his parents had been killed in an Indian raid. No kin could be found and as neither rancher wanted him to spend his life in a children’s home they had made the decision to adopt him.

With Andy now back east at school the ranchers had room in their home and their hearts for the young lad and he was a very welcome addition to the family. Shortly after his arrival they had employed Mrs Daisy Cooper as their housekeeper, but she was now much more than that to them and was really like a Ma to them all and she loved them just as dearly as if they were her own sons.

Just then Mike ran out from the barn and stopped in his tracks when he saw Slim.

“Gee Slim you look real smart, does everyone wear their Sunday best in Cheyenne?” he asked with a little giggle.

“Well, I guess they do when they’re going to see the Bank Manager for another loan,” he said grinning down at the child.

Just then their attention was taken by the sight of the Stage rushing down the track to the ranch.

Jess looked up, a hand shielding his eyes from the brilliant sunshine.

“Old Mose sure has got a turn of speed on this morning, must have a female on board he’s a tryin’ to impress!”

As the hens fled clucking in protest, Mose brought the Stage to a standstill right beside the two cowboys and giving them his toothless grin said, “see you’re a travellin’ with us this morning Slim, unless you’ve started dressin’ up to do ya chores?”

“Nah, I’m traveling alright, come on in, the coffee’s ready Mose.”

“That sounds good,” and then glancing down and tipping his hat to the Stage coach door, “got a passenger, lady, figure she’d like a break too. “

The two men rushed to the door to open it and it was Jess, who had vaulted the corral fence like lightening at the mention of a lady, that got there a whisker before his friend and opening the door offered a hand to the woman within.

She peered down at the handsome, but very dusty Jess and took his hand with a small nod of thanks before casting eyes on Slim in all his finery and beaming at him.

“Oh, a gentleman at last,” she said breathily,” I was really beginning to think I had left them all back east,”and ignoring Jess she took Slim’s proffered arm and walked towards the ranch house turning her beautiful face up to his and smiling into his eyes.

Jess and Mose just stood there transfixed and Jess figured she was probably the most stunning woman he had ever seen. She was dressed in a silver grey suit topped off with a cute little silver hat with blue and white flowers and a small net veil. Her hair was of the palest blond looking almost silver in the strong sunlight and she had the most amazing large grey eyes which in the split second they had made contact with Jess’s seemed to see into his very soul.

He looked across at Mose and gave a soft whistle, “that’s some woman.”

Mose removed his battered hat and scratched his head before returning it and looking over at Jess.

“Sure beats me as to why a lady like that should want to fetch up in Laramie and be workin’ in the saloon too…just don’t seem right for a lady.

Just then Mike who had been taking all this in pulled at Jess’s sleeve, “who is the Silver Lady?” he asked.

Jess thought that was a real good name for her, “I don’t know Tiger, but I sure aim to find out,” and with that he marched over to the ranch house.

When he entered he wasn’t surprised to see the Silver Lady sitting at the table enjoying her coffee and chatting away to Daisy with Slim sitting next to her with his tongue virtually hanging out and taking in her every word.

Here we go thought Jess, love at first sight, but I guess ya can’t blame the guy, she sure was something special.

He cleared his throat and Slim looked over and feeling a little guilty at monopolizing their guest said,” Miss Goodson, may I introduce my friend and business partner, Jess Harper, Jess this is Mary Goodson. “

Jess touched his hat,” Miss Goodson,” he said with a smile,” welcome ta Laramie, I hear you’re workin’ at the Saloon?”

She looked back at him with a cool expression.

“Well you hear right, Mr Harper, I was in need of work, some difficult family issues,” she said looking over to Daisy who smiled and nodded encouragingly, “and I am merely passing through, will stay for a while I guess and then head on for California.”

“Oh really,” said Slim looking impressed,” so you are heading West then?”

“In time, Mr Sherman, in time…but if I like what I see here,” she said casting him a bold look, “then I guess I’ll be staying indefinitely.”

Slim beamed across at her,” well you are more than welcome Ma’am and I would be happy to show you around once I return from my trip to Cheyenne.”

She simpered at him,” oh that would be delightful Mr Sherman; I’ll look forward to it. So you are travelling on the Stage as far as Laramie with me then,” she asked with an eager look.

“That he is,” said Mose,” and I figure if you folks have finished your drinks we should be heading off”.

Slim immediately leapt up from his seat and took the Silver Lady’s arm and escorted her back to the Stage, but just before she climbed up she turned quickly to where Jess was standing watching her and gave him a tight smile, before turning back to Slim and accepting his help back up into the Stage.

Jess walked over to the Stage and started making a final check on the tracers and once Slim had made sure the Silver Lady was comfortable turned to say goodbye to his buddy. Jess was still checking the harness and as Slim came over, Jess gave him a wicked look and in a parody of Mary Goodson said softly,” Oh a gentleman at last”

Slim went to give him a clip around the head which Jess neatly ducked.

“You’re just jealous,” whispered Slim to his buddy,” figure she favors us tall blond business men over yer average working cowboy.”

“Um,” said Jess thoughtfully,” well you just watch yer back partner, I figure our ‘lady’ there ain’t quite what she seems.”

“Oh quit your worrying,” said Slim playfully, “figure I can handle the lady, after all I had a good teacher,” and with that he shook Jess’s hand, “see you next week, and try not to fall off those mean ol’ mustangs too much,” he finished laughing before jumping up on the Stage and Mose drove the team out at full speed, Daisy, Mike and Jess waving them off.


By the time they reached Laramie Slim was totally besotted, to the extent that he would willingly have cancelled his trip to Cheyenne if it hadn’t been so darn important. As it was he made a definite date with her on his return and he just hoped she would wait for him.

On the journey from the ranch she had been friendly and very interested in Slim… .but also everyone else at the ranch including Jess.

“So the dark haired man is your partner?” she had asked.

“Yeah, Jess is my buddy and the best darn horse whisperer you’ll find this side of Texas,” he replied.

“He seems vaguely familiar,” she went on, “has he been here long?”

“About six years, but he hails from Texas and been about everywhere in between,” said Slim,” was on the drift for over five years.”

“On the drift, really, well I imagine I wouldn’t know him then,” she said rather prudishly.

“He’s a good man,” said Slim softly,” sometimes folk don’t get the same start in life……you know, but I guess Jess is finally making the best of the cards he’s been dealt.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” she said quickly and then looking deeply into his eyes,” anyway, if he is a good friend of yours I am sure he will be one of mine.”

Jess went about the business of running the Stage and Relay while Slim was away and he was sure looking forwards to his buddy’s return at the end of the week.

He had been into town just the once during Slim’s absence, taking Daisy shopping and had only been able to spare a few minutes with his friend Millie at the Saloon.

Millie and Jess went way back, he had known her in Texas and their paths had crossed over the years and they were real good friends. In fact Jess had once told Slim that she was probably the very best female friend he had ever had. He trusted her completely, with his innermost secrets and she felt the same. But more than that they were real close and if Millie chose to share her bed with Jess on occasion, well that was nobody’s business but their own. The truth was that they had a very open and understanding relationship and if they were not dating anyone else, then they could usually be found together.

Now Jess breezed into the bar and grinned at his friend, the owner and barkeep, old Tom.

“Hey Tom, Millie about?” he asked as the older man pushed a beer towards his friend.

“Sure,” he said,” out back, Mill, friend for ya.”

A few minutes later Millie arrived and beamed at Jess.

“Hi, been a while, you OK Honey,” she asked lovingly.

“Sure, been busy, Slim’s out of town, sure missed you though, what are you doin’ come Saturday, should be let off the leash by then,” he said with a laugh.

“Yeah, sounds good to me. I have to work a little, but figure Tom will let me off early, if I smile real nice,” she joked.

“So, you’ve gotta new girl started then?” asked Jess, curious as to what the Silver Lady, as Mike had dubbed her would be doing.

“Oh La de da Mary from back East,” she said with a laugh,” well I guess she’s settling in OK, she’s doin’ some work on the poker table and some bar work, but truth be told Jess I sure don’t know what her business here is.”

“What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, well she sure ain’t no run of the mill saloon worker, not sure what she is…but I’ll tell you this, she sure isn’t what she seems. “

“Yeah,” said Jess softly,” I’d kinda figured that myself, but I guess ol’ Slim ain’t yet.”

Soon after that he had to make his apologies and take Daisy back to the ranch, with the promise that he would be back on Saturday to wine and dine his lady friend.

Slim was due back on the Thursday afternoon Stage and Jess was really looking forward to his buddy’s return as he had , had to take full responsibility for all the work around the place and whereas young Mike was a real big help there were certain jobs he was still too young to cope with.

Anyway Jess didn’t like him to do too much work as he figured the youngster needed some time to himself to just play and revel in being a kid. Jess had never really had a proper childhood, brought up on the panhandle in Texas, the son of a poor share farmer, he and his siblings had to work the land almost as soon as they could walk and his sometimes cruel, desperate father was all too free with the whip or cane if any of the youngsters got out of line or didn’t pull their weight around the place.

His poor Ma was old before her time after frequent childbearing, of which five children had survived and if Jess wasn’t working the land he would try and do his best to help his Ma. That was why he insisted Mike should have time out to enjoy himself, to have the childhood Jess had never experienced and Slim was in full agreement.

However the young boy had made a real effort to help over the last week when Slim was away and Jess was truly thankful for his support.

The day after Slim had taken off on his business trip Jess had been sitting a big Buckskin, who Jess said later was the Devil incarnate and it had thrown him off several times, the last fall winding him badly and before he could get up and away the angry horse had stomped down hard on the cowboys left arm.

Jess knew he sure was lucky not to have broken anything, but as it was he was in a lot of pain and the arm which had been badly cut and bruised was bound and put in a sling by Daisy, making his work even more onerous .Yes he sure was looking forward to Slim’s return.

As the Stage arrived on the Thursday Jess and Mike ran out to greet it, and were surprized when ol’ Mose reined the team in and on jumping down from the box started walking towards the ranch for his customary coffee while Jess and Mike changed the team.

“Hey aren’t you forgettin’ something,” said Jess gesturing to the Stage door, “ain’t you goin’ to let your passenger out then Mose?”

“Ain’t got any,” replied the old timer.


“Ain’t got any, Slim got off in Laramie and said to tell ya t expect him when you see him.”

“What!” exploded Jess,” what’s that supposed to mean, will he be back later today”?

“I shouldn’t think so, not with that pretty little filly on his arm, she’s sure got him hog tied,” he said with a wicked chuckle.

Jess glanced down at Mike and saw the hurt look in his eyes.

“Ain’t Slim coming home today then?” he asked sadly.

“Don’t look like it,” said Jess trying to conceal his anger from the boy, “come on Tiger, give me a hand with the team and guess old Hard Rock will be home tomorrow.”

The following day was Friday and Jess was up at first light as usual and worked hard all day and against Daisy’s advice had removed the sling and got back to the Mustang breaking, much to the elderly housekeeper’s dismay.

“Jess dear must you do that today, can’t you at least wait until Slim gets back and he will be around to help you out if you get into trouble again.”

“Can’t do that Daisy, we promised old Ben Waters that we’d have these last three broncs green broke for him when he comes by in a couple of weeks and they ain’t gonna be ready iffen I stand around all darn day waiting on Slim to show up.”

She shook her wise old head,” you’re very angry with him aren’t you Jess?”

He looked down for a moment and then back up into her gentle kind eyes.

“Guess I am Daisy, it ain’t like Slim to go gallivanting off into town with a woman when there is work to be done and apart from that Mike’s real worried, he was looking forward to him coming home and I hate to see the kid upset.”

“Yes I know dear, and it is out of character for Slim, but well ….may be we can let him off this once, he must be awfully taken with this new young lady for him to act this way.”

“I figure you’re right,” he said with a faint smile,” anyway I guess we’ll find out when he lands home tonight.”

However supper came and went and there was still no sign of the tall lanky rancher.

At bedtime Mike had stood looking out of the window, before turning to Jess and saying”, he’s OK isn’t he Jess, you don’t think he’s had an accident or something?”

Jess went over and ruffled the youngster’s hair and looked down kindly at him,” don’t you worry about that Mike; he’s fine, just gone a courtin’ ‘tis all.”

“Like you and that Suzy Morgan?” asked the boy his innocent gaze looking up at his friend.

Mike was referring to the very much, love/hate and on/ off relationship Jess had with a local girl and at present it was very much off. She was a tease and tended to string Jess along and date other boys to make him jealous and instead of reacting as hoped he usually went off and left her to her own devices, much to her chagrin.

“No not like me and Suzy Morgan, least I sure hope not,” was his heart felt reply. Then seeing the puzzled look in the youngsters eye, he smiled,” never mind Mike it’ll all make sense when you’re a mite older, now come on off ta bed and I’ll send Slim in ta tuck ya up as soon as he lands home, “and with that the youngster went sadly off to bed.

Jess sat up until nearly midnight, telling himself he wasn’t waiting up as he looked through the local paper, glancing up at the clock on the mantle every few minutes.

Eventually he banked up the fire and leaving a night light burning retired to bed.

The following morning when he awoke he immediately looked across at Slim’s bed and saw it hadn’t been slept in again and quietly cussed under his breath,’ so who’s bed have you been keepin’ warm pard’ he said softly to himself, before dragging his weary body out of bed to the prospect of yet another long hard day.

Then he remembered it was Saturday and he had a hot date with Millie and brightened considerably and whistling cheerfully went to start the early morning chores.

When Slim had still not even been in touch by Saturday evening Daisy was beginning to get slightly annoyed too, Jess noticed when he put his head round the kitchen door to say goodbye on his way out to town.

“You look nice dear,” she said, taking in the fresh white shirt, smart, silver and black brocade vest and Sunday best trousers and Stetson.

“So who is the lucky girl tonight?”

“Takin’ Millie out for supper and then on ta the dance,” he said happily.

“Well, if you bump into a certain tall, blond young rancher just remind him where he lives,” she said rather acerbically.

“Sure,” he said grinning across at the elderly lady, “I’ll bring him home with me tomorrow if I have ta hog tie him to do it!”

When he arrived in town it was still early and after he had booked a table at the hotel he walked over to the saloon to keep Millie company as she still had a little while to work. When he entered the saloon there was no sign of her so he walked over to the bar and ordered a beer, from Tom and then looking around saw Slim standing over at the other end of the bar and quickly walked over.

Slim looked up and gave his partner a sheepish grin,” come to drag me home buddy?”

Jess smiled back and the two men shook hands.

“Yeah well I was kinda wondering when you was thinkin’ of landing back,” he said dryly.

Slim looked down and said,” sorry Jess…but its , well its Mary, I promised I’d take her out when I got home and then well…one thing sort of led to another…... “he finished lamely giving Jess a pleading look, hoping he would understand.

“Ended up in a hotel room and forgot where the door was then did ya?” he said with an evil grin.

“Jess!” exploded Slim flushing up and then after a minute, more quietly, “well yeah something like that, but there is no need to be so darn right uncouth about it. “


“Crude Jess,” he whispered,” Mary, she’s a real lady and I guess she wouldn’t like to think we were talking about her this way.”

“Oh yeah, guess she doesn’t do uncouth,” said Jess sarcastically, “her bein’ such a lady and all……. So when are you thinking’ of comin’ home then Slim, ‘cos I’m getting pretty darn sick of doin’ all the work back there,” he finished giving his buddy a hard look.

Before he could answer Mary suddenly appeared, dressed in a low cut silver grey gown, her hair swept up into a sophisticated style and a silk shawl draped elegantly around her shoulders.

She smiled up into Slim’s eyes and said,” oh darling am I awfully late, I’m afraid I had a little spat with that awful girl, said she’d got a date or something, but I convinced her that Tom said I should have the evening off.”

Then she was suddenly aware of Jess’s eyes boring into her and looking over took in a sharp breath.

“…..Mr Harper isn’t it, well you sure scrub up well, for a ranch hand don’t you,” she said patronisingly.

Jess looked like he was going to explode and Slim unconsciously put a restraining hand out to his buddy, resting it gently on his chest and whispered,” steady partner.”

“Yeah, well I guess I’m all scrubbed up because I’ve got a date with that ‘awful girl’,” he spat.

Just then Millie came in and walked over to Jess an apologetic look on her face, but before she could say anything Jess marched down the bar and leaning over had a quiet word with Tom and then walking back took Millie’s hand and said firmly,” come on sweetheart, tables booked,” and then ignoring Mary said, “see you at home tomorrow Slim, and giving him another hard look walked out with Millie on his arm.”

“Well!” said Mary bridling,” he can’t do that.”

“Looks like he just did,” said Slim hiding a smile.

Mary charged down the bar,” Tom…..! “

“Now don’t you start young lady, I’d no idea you had asked to go out tonight and you know it. Millie asked to go early last week and that’s the end of it. Now I suggest you change out of your finery and get to work washing those glasses please.”

Mary just glared at her boss before flouncing off without a backwards glance to change.

Chapter 2

Jess and Millie enjoyed a pleasant evening in each others company and as he walked her back home, holding her hand, he paused and pulled her gently into the ally at the side of the saloon and taking her in his arms kissed her deeply.

After a moment she drew gently away so that she could look him in the face, “you stayin’ tonight then Honey?” she said her cheeks flushed and her deep brown eyes sparkling.

“Thought you’d never ask,” he said grinning down at her thinking he had never seen her looking more beautiful.

He tipped her chin up with a finger and studied her heart shaped face with the huge brown eyes, her dark wavy hair cascading around her shoulders, the low cut scarlet dress moulded to her voluptuous body and taking a shaky breath he kissed her again before clasping her hand and walking towards the rear of the alley.

“Back door then,” she said with a little giggle and they went round the side of the building and up the outside staircase that led directly to the first floor where Millie’s room was located, to the front of the saloon, overlooking Main Street. They had deliberately sneaked in, not wishing to run the gauntlet of ribald comments from those still drinking in the bar as they made their way upstairs together, and Jess fleetingly wondered if Slim was still drinking, or if he had finally decided to return home.

Millie unlocked her door and turned up the lamp she had left burning low, and it illuminated the place she called home.It looked warm and welcoming from the glowing fire in the grate and couch in front covered with a colourful blanket, to the feminine drapes and fripperies around the place. The large double bed was set in the window, covered with a patchwork quilt and there was a comfortable welcoming feeling about the whole place.

Jess sat down on the low bench set by the door and pulled off his boots and then removing his gun belt, hat and frock coat hung them up on the hook just to the right of the door, before padding across to the couch in his stocking feet.

Meanwhile Millie had taken herself off behind the screen in the corner of the room to change, and called out to Jess, “coffee by the fire, pour one for me will you?”

He strolled into the little kitchen off the main room and went to the cupboard to find a couple of cups and returning, poured out the strong brew placing the cups on a little side table near the couch. When he looked up from his task he saw Millie sashaying over dressed in a black silk dressing gown, loosely tied at the waist and cut low, revealing a black silk strappy nightgown beneath it.

Jess gave a low whistle of appreciation as she did a little twirl in front of him before dropping down on the couch beside him and saying,” isn’t it wonderful, an admirer gave it to my friend Lily, but it was way too small so she passed it on to me…. and guess what, it’s come all the way from Paris France!”

Jess sat back in his seat admiring her,” you sure do look beautiful tonight sweetheart ,”he said softly, before leaning across and running a finger down her cheek, and looking deeply into her eyes.

“Coffee Jess,” she said giggling and he gave her a little smile and a shake of the head before leaning across and passing her drink and picking up his own.

“So, what do ya think of Madam Mary?” he said conversationally.

“Well, after the stunt she tried to pull tonight not that much,” she replied.

“I can’t believe I fell for that stupid story she told me, saying Tom had given her the night off and I was to work…but she was just so convincing, I figure she’s been on the stage, she sure is a damn good actress” she finished grinning bitterly across at Jess.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he replied,” she’s got Slim sold on all her stories too.”

Millie nodded,” oh yeah she’s got him right where she wants him, under her thumb. Gee, they’ve hardly been out of her room these last few days you know Jess, she told old Tom she was sick and he believed her too…like I say she should be on the stage. “

Jess shook his head sadly.

” Well I guess Slim will wake up to her ways sooner or later.”

“Well let’s hope it’s sooner,” she said giving Jess a sincere look,” before she breaks his heart.”

Jess just nodded and then placed his empty cup back on the table and reaching across took Millie’s from her and did likewise before turning back to her, his eyes alight with mischief.

Very slowly he leaned in for the kiss and as he did so he ran a hand down her satin clad arm, reveling in the feel of the sensuous material.

She returned his kiss and raked a hand through his black hair, moving closer as he gently untied the belt of the dressing gown and it fell away revealing the low cut nightdress beneath. He bent his head to kiss her again, moving down from her lips to the base of her throat, and she ran a hand down his back pulling him closer, so that their bodies were moulded together.

After a moment he swept her up and carried her to the large bed and laid her gently down before lying down beside her and taking her in his arms…………

When he awoke sunlight was streaming through the window and he looked over to where Millie lay next to him still sleeping. He leaned up and studied her sleeping form for a little while, a gentle smile playing across his handsome features, before bending his head down and waking her with a kiss. She stretched languidly before opening her eyes and smiling up into his face.

“You’re still here,” she whispered, “thought you were riding back last night, I fell asleep before I could say goodbye.”

“Couldn’t leave ya,” he said his voice husky with emotion, before taking her in his arms and kissing her again, more firmly this time and she gave a little giggle and responded eagerly……..

When the love making was over he sighed deeply and looked down into her beautiful eyes.


She knew exactly what he was thinking and she shook her head gently.

“No Jess we decided we wouldn’t date on a regular basis, we’re best friends and I don’t want to risk losing that.”

“What about……. “

She gave him a little smile. The previous year when they had attended a friend’s wedding Jess had got carried away with the moment and proposed, but once they had really thought it through, both of them had decided that they were not ready to settle down yet.

Now looking up into the intense deep blue eyes that she loved so much, she said gently,” we decided Jess neither of us is ready to settle down yet…you agreed that and we are happy as we are……… aren’t we?”

“Sure….but well, the idea of waking up to you every morning is kinda appealing.”

“Yeah, but me cooking breakfast afterwards isn’t,” she said with a laugh, her cooking being a standing joke between them.

“I’d probably poison you within the week; we’d have to keep Miss Daisy on to look after us.”

“That we would,” he agreed grinning down at her.

Then sobering,” we are OK though ain’t we Millie?”

“Sure,” she said, gently running a finger down his cheek,” you’re my best friend and I love you…. OK”

He nodded……”love you too.”

Then he reluctantly left the bed and washed in her small kitchen, before dressing and walking back over to her bedside.

“Like me to shout ya breakfast over at Miss Molly’s Café?”

“No thanks darling, I’ve got the morning off so figure I’ll stay put and get me some beauty sleep, seem to recall I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she said with a wicked wink.

He grinned down at her.

“ OK, I’ll try and get over next Saturday if I can, we’re not too busy at the ranch just now, goin’ logging, fetching timber for the lean to, should have it all finished by the end of the week, that’s if ol’ Slim pulls his weight,” he said with feeling.

“Don’t be too hard on him Jess; he’s in love you know.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he said with a cheerful grin.

“See you soon sweetheart,” and bending to give her one last kiss he strode from the room.

As he turned from closing the door, he was surprised to find Mary Goodson, the Silver Lady, standing right behind him.

Her pale blond hair was piled up on her head in the same sophisticated style of the night before and she wore a loosely tied, pale blue, lacy dressing gown, showing rather more cleavage than was decent Jess thought as his eyes glanced down, almost of their own accord ,before they came up again to rest on her beautiful face.

He gave her a stony look remembering how rude she had been the previous night and as if she had read his mind she said,” Mr Harper…Jess, I think I owe you an apology.”

He continued to glare at her,” guess it ain’t me you should be apologising to, it’s Millie,” he said, turning to leave.

She reached out and grabbed hold of his left arm to stop him and saw him wince in pain.

“What is it, are you hurt?”

“I’m OK, just got stomped on by a mustang I was breaking, bruised my arm some that’s all,” he said quietly.

She kept hold of his arm, albeit more gently ,and placed the other hand on his chest before running it suggestively down to his belt, “looks like all that horse breaking keeps you pretty darn fit Jess,” she said softly.

He looked uncomfortable and tried to back off but she kept her fingers hooked onto his belt and looking up seductively said, “You sure seem to keep littleMillie happy anyway,” and then turning to gesture to where she had left her bedroom door open, next door to Millie’s room.

“The walls are mighty thin you know honey.”

Jess blushed deeply at what she was implying and taking her hand removed it from where it was still lingering on his belt buckle and took a step backwards.

“Oh, now I’ve embarrassed you,” she said with a girlish giggle.

He again turned to go, but she called him back.

“Now what?” he asked looking exasperated.

“I just wanted to say, well….…if you get bored with your, err….…little friend there,” gesturing to Millie’s door, “I’m just next door and I figure I could show you a real interesting time,” she said, looking at him from under her lashes.

Jess took a shocked intake of breath, before looking her in the eye,” I thought you were in love with my partner,” he said, “what about Slim, where does he fit in?”

“Oh yes, Slim is a sweet man and who knows I may marry him, but ….…well I haven’t decided yet, maybe you would suit me better,” she said giving him a quizzical look.

Jess was practically incandescent with rage,” you really are a prize bitch ain’t ya,” he spat, before turning on heel and leaving her staring open mouthed after him.

She was unused to being crossed and now she too was furious,” you’ll be begging for me by the time I’ve finished with you Jess Harper,” she whispered before turning back to her room.

When Jess landed back at the ranch it was still quite early and he was pleased to see Slim in the yard going about the morning chores.

He drew Traveler, his horse, up by the corral fence and hopping down walked over to his buddy.

“See you managed to find your way home then pard,” he said quietly.

Slim gave him a weak smile,” yeah, sorry about that, guess she’s got me so as I’m acting like a love sick fool,” he said giving his friend a rueful look.

They went and leaned on the corral fence looking over at the green broke mustangs and after a minute Jess continued, “Um, guess you’re right….so, well…… what do ya actually know about her Slim?”

“What is there to know……. I love her and she loves me that’s all that matters isn’t it,” he replied turning innocent eyes on Jess.

After the recent scenario with Mary, Jess felt he could hardly look his buddy in the eye.

“Well, what’s her background?” he persisted.

“What is this,” he replied irritably,” thinking of writing her life history are you?”

“No, I’m not thinkin’ of writin’ her life history….. I just don’t wanna see ya hurt is all,” he finished gruffly.

“And why should you think that?” replied Slim looking surprised.

“Because maybe she’s not what she seems, I’ve gotta bad feelin’ Slim.”

“How so, you’ve only met her for a few minutes, sure there was a bit of a ruckus last night with Millie, but that was all a misunderstanding.”

“Says who?”

“Well Mary of course, she just misunderstood what old Tom said, you know how vague he can be.”

Jess shook his head angrily,” Slim I saw her this morning when I was leaving the saloon and she…well, she was just kinda familiar, is all,” he finished lamely. Not wanting to upset Slim by repeating exactly what had happened.

Slim beamed across at his buddy,” you’re imagining things Jess, she’s a real lady, she was probably just teasing you or something, most likely just a bit too sophisticated for your taste.”

Jess muttered something under his breath, that sounded like ‘none so blind as won’t see,’ and strode off in search of coffee before he really lost his temper.

He entered the ranch house and found Daisy in the kitchen brewing up and he sat down at the kitchen table and after a moment she brought them both a cup over and sat down opposite him.

“Did you have a good night dear? “

“Yeah,” he smiled warmly at her,” sure did, always do with Millie,” he said wistfully looking down into his coffee cup.

“And you want more,” she said perceptively.

His head shot up and then a slow smile spread across his face,” you don’t miss much do ya Daisy.”

“Well, I know you dear and Millie too and I think I understand her. You are her oldest and dearest friend and I think she figures that if you go out properly and…well it doesn’t work out…… she would lose that friendship for ever and it’s a risk she just isn’t prepared to take.”

Jess turned soulful eyes on her,” I’d never hurt her Daisy. “

“Not intentionally no dear….”

He seemed to just mull over what she had said and drank his coffee.

“See old Hard Rock landed home then,” he said changing the subject.

She beamed at him,” yesterday evening, said Mary had to work and so he figured it was time he showed his face…he was truly sorry though Jess, I think he’ll be a bit more considerate from now on.”


“What’s the matter dear, don’t you like her? She seemed perfectly charming when I met her here the other week.”

“That’s not the way I’d describe her,” he said bitterly.

“Do you want to tell me about it dear?”

He thought what Slim had said, about her sophisticated sense of humour. Had she just been kidding him all along to see his reaction? Now in the cold light of day he just didn’t know.

He shook his head sadly, “guess not, maybe I’m wrong about her, time will tell,” and with that he went off to get changed into his working clothes and went out to help Slim with the chores.

By the end of the working day Slim had nearly driven Jess mad. He might have been at the ranch in body, but his spirit and his mind were blatantly elsewhere. Jess constantly had to repeat himself as Slim was miles away,’ off with the fairies,’ as Jess said laughing, but as the day progressed and his buddy was even more distant and uncommunicative, Jess’s patience was sorely tried.

They had started the logging the following day with a neighbour’ s sons and although the timber was on Sherman land they had done a deal that if the youngsters would help with felling the trees and supply the large lumber wagon and heavy horses then they would be entitled to some of the timber. They all worked well together and Jess was glad of the company of the boys as they brought Slim out of his introspective mood with their teasing and banter.

On the evening of the third day however it was clear to Jess that Slim was really suffering. They were grooming their mounts at the end of the day and after Jess had asked Slim the same question for the third time he finally exploded.

“For God’s sake Slim will you ride to town and see the girl, ‘cos you sure ain’t much help around here.”

Slim’s head shot up,” sorry,” he said with a sheepish grin,” I was just thinking.”

“Yeah,” said Jess with a wicked grin,” and I know what about.” Then more gently, “go on Slim go and get it out of your system….but you get back tomorrow, I sure ain’t shiftin’ all that timber for the new lean to on my own.”

Slim beamed at his friend and without further hesitation he saddled up Alamo, his mount, and rode out of the yard at speed, Jess watched him and shook his head a tired grin on his face,” have a good time buddy,” he said softly before turning to finish the evening chores.

Jess had just stretched out on his bed that night when he heard the front door open and a minute later Slim entered their room.

“You asleep?” he whispered

“No”, said Jess and leaning up lit the lamp on the nightstand, “you’re home early Slim, everything alright…thought you’d be stayin’ over.”

“So did I,” said Slim, slumping down on his bed and looking over at his friend…”she’s sick, well they said she was sick.”

“Oh…and you don’t believe it?”

Slim was silent for a moment.

“Yeah I guess so, Lily came down and said she was asleep in her room and not to disturb her…but it was something Millie said.”

“What was that?”

“Well I guess she didn’t mean me to hear it, but she said to Lily that she thought Tom had given her the evening off, then Lily saw me listening and said no, she had this real bad headache and had gone to bed.”

Then turning a worried gaze on Jess said, “you don’t think she’s real sick do you Jess, maybe I should have insisted on seeing her…”

“Hey whoa there, the girls got a headache, ‘tis all ,and anyways, Doc Sam is just across the street, now will you quit your worrying Slim and let a body get to sleep, busy day tomorrow pard. You’ll see her in a couple of days anyway, nearly Saturday,” he said happily, looking forward to his own date with Millie.

“Yeah, guess you’re right,” said Slim reluctantly and got ready for bed and soon all that could be heard were the gentle snores of a sleeping household.

The following morning the men were up early and back with the Barlow brothers Fred and Charlie out at Ridge Point cutting the last of the timber. It was another very hot summer’s day and the men were all sweating profusely and made sure they topped up with water from their canteens regularly. They had just finished lunch and gone back to work when it happened.

Slim had again been in a world of his own all morning and Jess had thought he might get himself hurt as his concentration was practically zero and so he made sure he did some work well away from the dangerous tree felling, just stacking the ready cut logs ready for transport back to the ranch.

Fred and Charlie were working together one on either side of a huge pine, cutting into it with their axes and as the tree was about to fall they yelled, “Timber!”

Jess looked up from where he was working nearby to watch the magnificent tree fall and then he suddenly spied Slim making his way slowly to where they had lunched and he had left his canteen.

“Timber! “yelled Jess realising Slim hadn’t seemed to heed the warning.

His buddy continued walking slowly towards his canteen and Jess could see he was directly in line of where the tree would fall.

“Slim! “he screamed and sprinted towards his buddy just as the ear splitting crack of the falling tree rang out.

Within a few seconds he was at his partner’s side and pushed him out of the way as the tree fell, but he was not in time to save himself and the mighty pine crashed on top of him throwing him to the ground beneath its heavy branches.

The silence was deathly as the tree settled and all three men stared in shock at the spot where Jess was trapped under it. Slim had been thrown to the ground and it took him a few seconds to take in what had happened, then he was on his feet,” Jess… oh my God….Jess!”

He ran over to the tree and started trying to lift it with his bare hands , but then Fred the older brother was there, “no Slim, we’ll need ropes and the team to haul it off I reckon.”

The men worked quickly and once the rope was around the tree the horses took up the slack and as Fred worked the critters, Slim and Charlie gently pulled Jess’s mangled body from beneath the tree.

Slim very carefully turned him over onto his back and surveyed the bloodied mess that was his best friend.

“Oh buddy,” he whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

After a second Jess’s eyes flew open and he groaned, and cussed under his breath.

Charlie who was peering at his good neighbour over Slim’s shoulder said,” well at least he can still cuss,” in a relieved voice.

There was blood pouring from a wound to the back of his head and as he tried to sit up he grabbed hold of his chest and fell back swearing again.

“Take it easy, don’t try to move,” said Slim, removing his bandana and mopping up some of the blood from the head wound.

One of the larger branches had caught the back of his head, but it was mostly lighter brushwood that had hit his back and had he not fallen on a protruding rock the damage would have been much less severe. As it was, the tree had cannoned him into the rock which had struck his chest hard causing internal and external bleeding and several damaged ribs.

Jess felt sick to his stomach, it was agony to breath and as he felt the sticky, warm blood trickle down his neck from the gash on the back of his head he felt dizzy and after a minute he closed his eyes and sank into oblivion.

“He’s passed out,” said Slim,” let’s move him while he’s out of it, be less painful that way,” and all three men quickly lifted him up onto the lumber wagon. Slim sat up in the back supporting his still unconscious friend as Charlie led the horses very slowly and carefully back towards the ranch.

When they arrived Mike, who was on school holidays, ran out and turned pale when he saw his best friend carried gently in to the ranch by Slim and Charlie.

Daisy came running out from the kitchen when she heard Mike’s cries of anguish and as soon as she saw the young cowboy she said,” has someone ridden for Doc Sam?”

“Yeah,” said Charlie quickly,” my brother Fred has already gone for Doc Baker Ma’am.”

She nodded and while Slim made his partner comfortable on the couch in the big room she ran to the kitchen, returning a moment later with water and cleans cloths and then shooed the others out of the room.

When Jess came round a little later he was violently ill and as he lay back exhausted apologised to Daisy.

“It’s alright dear, I think you have quite a nasty concussion from the bang to your head which is making you sick….…not to mention the chest wounds,” she said softly to herself, looking over at her charge with a worried expression.

Jess closed his eyes and then whispered, ”Slim OK?”

“Yes, I asked him to wait outside with Mike until I had looked your wounds over and the doctor will be here soon…do you want to see him?”

Jess just nodded, and then groaned at the pain the action caused.

A minute later Slim entered looking totally contrite and kneeling down by the couch he looked into his friend’s eyes, “Jess I am so sorry, this is all my fault.”

Jess looked across at his friend,” figured you’d think that,” he whispered, “it’s OK Slim…just one of those things…don’t wanna……”


“Don’t want ya ta feel bad,” and then he lapsed into unconsciousness again.

Doc Sam Baker, their physician and good friend arrived in record time and as he breezed into the room he saw Daisy’s worried countenance as she sat next to the young cowboy she thought of as a son.

“What’s the boy done now?” he said in a voice of mock resignation,” I swear Jess and trouble , just go hand in hand,” he continued, trying to lighten the mood as he could see the good housekeeper was very upset.

“A logging accident, was hit when a tree was felled,” she said standing up and vacating her chair by the couch for Sam to sit on.

“Lacerations to the back of the head, causing vomiting and acute head ache…he’s severely concussed I think Sam,” she said glancing at their kindly middle aged doctor.

“He’s also damaged his chest, fell badly across some rocks, he kept clutching his chest and couldn’t breathe deeply then he just passed out,” she finished.

“How long has he been out for?”

“Oh…about half an hour or so, he complained he felt dizzy and seemed really confused, didn’t seem to know where he was, then he started coughing and the pain in his chest was too much and he fainted.”

Sam just nodded grimly, and then gave Daisy a brief smile; “you sure haven’t lost your touch Daisy, once a nurse always a nurse eh. I think your diagnosis is spot on, I’ll dress the head wound and bind the broken ribs and let’s just hope to God that there isn’t too much internal damage…too early to tell at this stage, just watch out for him coughing up blood…hopefully he should come round soon and I’ll be able to tell how bad the head wound is.”

All the time he had been speaking Slim had been hovering in the background.

“He will be OK though Sam?” he suddenly blurted out.

Sam looked over at his good friend,” you know ol’ Jess, usually bounces back …but I’ll need you to keep an eye out for him Slim, this head injury is nasty, really nasty, guess it will take a while to heal…and well, in the meantime he has to rest and be sensible.”

“When was he ever that,” said Slim ruefully, shaking his head and casting his best buddy a worried look.

“Well now would be a real good time to start,” said Sam seriously.

Just then the deep blue eyes flickered and opened wide,” you talkin’ ‘bout me?” he whispered with a weak grin.

“Well, he’s not lost his sense of humour,” said Sam smiling down at his friend,” been arguing with one of those big ol’ pines have you then Jess? “

He went to nod his head and then stopped groaning and cussing loudly, then seeing Daisy peering anxiously over Sam’s shoulder whispered ,”sorry Ma’am.”

She smiled back at him,” I think this is one time a little swearing is justified dear,” relief in her voice. He had been so disorientated before, hardly seeming to recognise her and now he was much more his old self she thought.

Sam made ready to leave, “do as Miss Daisy tells you young man,” he smiled and turning she walked him to the door.

Outside on the veranda he stopped and turned back to the elderly lady.

”Keep a close eye on him Daisy, anymore sickness and there could be a serious problem, some bleeding in the brain maybe. Keep him in bed and still for the next few days and I’ll pop by and see how he’s doing,” and with that he sped off to his next call.

Jess was surprisingly well behaved and went off to bed as soon as the doctor left. He didn’t want any lunch though and then during the afternoon he was really ill again. Slim was sitting with him and saw the pain he was in, throwing up and clasping his ribs in agony. When he’d finished he laid back on the pillows his face ashen and sweating.

Slim gave him a drink of water and then gesturing to the bucket, “you done?”

“I guess,” he said softly, “sorry about that Slim.”

Slim leaned over and squeezed his shoulder gently, “you haven’t got anything to apologise for Jess; it’s me that is sorry,” and with that left with the bucket.

“Has he been ill again?” asked Daisy giving him an anxious look.

He nodded;” think I should ride for Sam?”

She thought for a moment.

“Does he seem alright in himself, talking OK no slurring or anything?”

“No he’s fine, just normal you know, apart from chucking up and having one hell of a sore head.”

“Let’s leave it until tomorrow then and if he’s no better we’ll call Sam back.”

Jess refused supper and fell asleep and so Slim left him for a while and went to eat with Daisy and Mike, but he wasn’t hungry and merely pushed his food around the plate before abandoning it completely.

Mike went off to bed and Daisy and Slim sat on at the table with their coffee.

“What’s the matter dear, you hardly touched your meal, you mustn’t worry too much, and he’s resting now which is a good sign.”

Slim sighed deeply. “You don’t understand Daisy this was all my fault. “

She looked up surprised,” I asked him how it could have happened, I know he is so careful around tree felling, but he just said it was an accident, wouldn’t say more.”

“It was me, I was daydreaming again… .about Mary and I didn’t hear Charlie and Fred shouting timber. I walked right in the tree line and then Jess yelled apparently and I didn’t hear that either, next thing I knew the tree was coming down…… Jess threw me out of the way and then there was this sickening thud”…he swallowed hard….”and the tree was down, with Jess under it.”

“I see,” she said quietly,” you were in that world of your own again weren’t you dear, it’s been that way ever since you met Mary, she has had a very strong effect on you hasn’t she?”

He just nodded bleakly,” it’s like a sickness Daisy, I can’t think of anything but her and now I’ve let down my best buddy… I feel so darn bad about it all.”

“Now, now there is no point in feeling that way. What is done is done and you can’t change it Slim. Why don’t you go and sit with him, you can make it up to him by looking after him, and knowing Jess he won’t bear you any malice because of it.”

“I know,” he said shaking his head sadly;” I wish he’d just be mad at me… but he even tried to cover up for me, I really don’t deserve his kindness after the way I’ve been lately.”

“Oh Jess understands dear, look at the number of times he’s been in love and driven us all mad, it will all blow over. And maybe you should move your relationship on Slim, bring Mary out to the ranch for a visit, I should love to see her again.”

“Oh I won’t be seeing her for a while, not until Jess is better, but then maybe I will,” he said, smiling across at her before saying goodnight and going off to the room he shared with his buddy.

When he went in Jess was awake again and from the way he was rolling his head around on the pillow he could tell he was in some pain.

“Head hurting you buddy?” he asked sinking down on his bed and looking over at his friend.

“Something fierce,” he whispered.

Slim went over to the chest of draws and fetching the bottle of strong pain killer the doctor had left he poured a dose into a tumbler and leaning down he supported his friends head as he drank the draft.

“Thanks Slim,” he whispered as he sank back onto the pillow.

Slim sat down on his bed again,” Jess I’m so damn sorry about all this,” he said softly.

“Will ya quit apologising all the time, just have a good time on Saturday at the dance,” he said looking across a weak grin on his face.

“Not going,” said Slim quietly.

“Sure you are, you’ve been looking forward to seein’ yer lady love all darn week.”

“Can’t go and leave you like this Jess.”

“Hell I’m fine, be right as rain in a few days. Besides I want you to ride into town and tell Millie I’m OK. She’ll be worried when I don’t show and I sure as hell don’t want ol Mose tellin’ her all about the accident. You know how he loves to build up a good tale, never lets the truth get in the way of a good story.”

Then looking more serious,” I don’t want Millie upset, tell her I’m OK will ya Slim and I’ll see her real soon”

He finally nodded, “Ok if that’s what you want partner.”

Then thoughtfully,” you really care about young Millie don’t you?”

Jess just nodded, “she’s my best buddy…after you he said with the ghost of a smile, “and shortly after that he fell asleep again.

Chapter 3

Sam visited Jess a few days later and was a little worried about his condition, the headaches were still as bad and he often became dizzy and lost his balance if he stood for just a few minutes. His ribs were beginning to heal well though and he was able to breathe almost normally.

“Can’t I get up Sam,” he moaned,” I’m goin’ crazy lying here lookin’ at that damn ceiling.”

“Well I’m still a little worried about that ol’ noggin of yours Jess; I figure that old brain took a fair bashing when the tree landed and well….it’s taking a mite longer to heal than I first thought.”

“What do you mean Sam, it will get better soon won’t it, these headaches are drivin’ me mad and all the medicine does is knock me out and I’m so dang short tempered, the least thing sets me off….”

“Nothing new there then buddy,” he said smiling down at his patient, “the Harper temper is legendary around these parts you know Jess.”

Jess responded with a weak smile, “yeah, I know that, but I usually have somethin’ to gripe about, now I’m just soundin’ off for no reason, figure I’m goin’ loco Sam,” he finished and although he gave a little laugh, Sam detected a ring of apprehension in his voice.

“It’s quite common to feel this way after a severe head injury such as you’ve had Jess and really nothing to worry about. You just have to try and rest and keep calm, don’t go getting worked up about things and I guess you’ll be feeling more your old self in a week or two.”

Jess rested back on his pillow and sighed deeply,” OK Sam, I’ll do my best.”

The weekend came and Slim rode off to town after Jess had spent another hour or so convincing him to go.

“For goodness sake Slim, there ain’t no point in us both mopin’ around here, go and enjoy yourself for both of us and give my girl a big hug OK?”

“OK partner…thanks Jess,” and he left soon after, dressed up’ like a dog goin’ a courtin’’ according to Jess.

Daisy shook her head at such language in front of Mike, but hid a little smile; her boy was on the mend she was sure.

Jess had been confined to bed for yet another week and he was lying dozing on the Sunday morning when he heard the front door go and the sound of voices.

After a little while the door opened and Slim’s smiling face popped around,” you feeling up to visitors Jess?”

“I guess,” he said quietly, pulling the covers up a little to cover his naked chest.

Then the door opened fully and Mary flounced in beaming down at him,” well who’s a wounded soldier?” she said in her posh accent.

Jess gave her a weak smile remembering their last meeting when he had called her a ‘prize bitch’ and walked off… and then he remembered why he had said that, the fact that she had propositioned him. Not only running roughshod over Millie’s feelings, but Slim’s too.

He looked over at his buddy now and gave him a pleading look, but Slim either didn’t notice or decided to ignore it and sitting Mary down on the edge of his bed he stoodbehind her a hand possessively on her shoulder “,so how have you been Jess?”

“OK I guess,” he said quietly.

Mary had her back to Slim and he couldn’t see the lustful expression in her eyes as she looked down at Jess,” well you sure look well enough,” she said with a little laugh, the innocent statement made much more significant by the look in her eye and the salacious way she licked her lips.

“Actually, I’m kinda tired and my head is real bad….do ya mind Slim,” he said again giving his friend a significant look.

This time he seemed to understand,” oh yeah, sure Jess sorry, and the two left to seek out Daisy.”

That was the first of many visits over to the ranch and whereas Mary always appeared as nothing but charming and friendly as far as Slim was concerned, the other members of the household were soon to have a completely different view of Miss Mary Goodson.

The trouble began on just her second visit to the ranch, the following Saturday. Jess was well enough to be up out of bed and as such studiously tried to keep out of her way. Every time they came in contact there was some innuendo in what she said and where as it sounded completely innocent to the others Jess knew it was not, from the way she looked at him and the accidental touching every time she brushed past him.

On this particular day when they sat down to supper and started eating it was obvious that the vegetables were so heavily salted as to be almost inedible.

The ranchers made light of the event, but Daisy was devastated,” how could I have done that?” she kept saying.

Mary simpered and said,” oh well Daisy, you must remember you are not getting any younger and I guess absent mindedness is just one of the things we must all face once we reach a certain age.”

She said it so kindly that Slim didn’t think she was being offensive, but Daisy was furious. She hid it well for Slim’s sake, but Jess could see she was upset.

After Slim had driven her home, Jess sat with Daisy, “hey, don’t take on so,” he said kindly,” it could happen to anyone. Heck Daisy, you’ve had all the extra work of caring for me, I guess you are just kinda tired.”

Then he beamed at her,” anyways ain’t ya fixing ta stay with your sister with Mike at the end of the month, figure that will be the rest you need.”

“I’m not in need of a rest,” she said more sharply than she meant. Then,” I’m sorry Jess, yes we are off in just three weeks and I am looking forward to the change of scene I must admit”

The following weekend Daisy was making apple pies and Mary was again visiting. She breezed into the kitchen where Daisy was hard at work and said,” Oh Daisy, Mike wants you outside, he’s just lassoed his first horse or something, anyway wants to show you.”

Daisy wiped her hands on a cloth and went to leave the kitchen a smile on her face. She got as far as the front door when she suddenly remembered she had left the stove door open and hurried back, just in time to see Mary with the pepper pot vigorously shaking it over the pies.

“What on earth are you doing?” she gasped.

“Oh just a little creative cookery,” she said laughing harshly, “thought your wonderful boys might like some pepper with their pie.”

“But why?” asked Daisy looking aghast.

“Because my dear I am now number one with Slim, I will be the mistress of the house soon and you will be taking retirement, because it is all getting a little bit too much for you …isn’t it?” she finished savagely.

Daisy just stared at her unable to believe what she was hearing…..”do you think you will get away with this?”

“Oh yes, you see Slim is completely crazy about me, will hear absolutely nothing against me and so it is my word against yours. And you see my dear; I have been poisoning his mind to you for weeks now, he already half believes it would be doing you a favour to let you retire to live with your sister in Cheyenne. And as for that Brat out there I figure I’ll be able to convince dear old Slim to parcel him off to school back east…and then that just leaves Jess…but you know what…… I think I might just keep him around, he’s kind of cute isn’t he?”

“You are a very sick, woman,” said Daisy quietly, “I won’t play your little games, I won’t say anything to Slim either, I wouldn’t want to see him hurt. Tell them I have retired for the night with a headache…and as to the pies, do what you think best, but I can promise you, no good will come of this, or any of your other idle threats” and with that she marched out of the room.

It was the following day before she had a chance to speak to Jess about the happenings of the day before. It was a Sunday and Slim had ridden to town to spend the day with Mary.

After breakfast which had been conducted almost in silence Mike went off to start the early morning chores,” you coming Jess?” he asked.

“Sure Tiger, be with ya in a minute, just gotta talk to Aunt Daisy about something,” he replied.

Once the boy had left the room he turned to Daisy, “wanna tell me about it then?”

She looked down into her almost empty coffee cup and then looking up into Jess’s concerned blue eyes suddenly made a decision.

“It was Mary,” she said softly, “she has been poisoning Slim’s mind against me, saying I should be pensioned off, all this fooling with the food was part of it all, she did it Jess, the salt in the vegetables and pepper in the pies, “she finished looking tearful.

Jess took a minute or two to take it in, and then he said,” hell Daisy why didn’t ya say something before?”

“Oh Jess, he is so besotted with her, I can’t turn him against her, he has to see through her himself, because otherwise he will never believe us… in fact could hate us if we try and show him what she is really like.”

“Maybe,” he said looking troubled……”but she won’t get away with it Daisy… .she won’t.”

When she went on to say what Mary had said about Mike, Jess got a determined look on his face.

“Well she may have Slim in her pocket, but not me and as I have joint guardianship, she ain’t got a hope in hell with that one,” he concluded firmly.

They saw little of Mary over the next couple of weeks and finally Doc Sam gave Jess the all clear to ride to town.

He rode in one Saturday afternoon, alone as Slim and Mary were at a friend’s engagement party out on the Cheyenne road.

He walked into the saloon and suddenly Millie was there beside him and throwing her usual decorum to the four winds took him in her arms and kissed him long and slow, to the background of cheering and laughter from the drinker at the bar.

“Oh Jess it’s so good to see you, are you OK?” she asked with a huge smile, once she had disengaged herself from him.

“I’m fine now sweetheart,” he said grinning down into her loving eyes,” missed you something fierce though.”

“Tom do you mind?” she asked tipping her head to the stairs.

“No, you go ahead,” he grinned back,” guess we will be pretty quiet tonight with everyone off at that big Engagement Party, you take the night off.”

Once they were settled in Millie’s room with a bottle of Red Eye and a couple of glasses on the little coffee table in front of them, they relaxed back and after a while Millie said,” so how is the romance of the year going then?”

Jess shook his head sadly, “she’s totally crazy you know Millie,” and went on to explain how she had propositioned him and then made poor Daisy out to be a sad old woman who was losing her mind.

Millie shook her head sadly,” there is more,” she said softly,” I didn’t… I really didn’t want to say anything Jess, didn’t want to hurt Slim, but well I guess I have to.”

“This sounds pretty serious, what are ay saying Mill?” he asked gently.

She took a deep breath, “you ain’t going’ to like this Jess…but, well Mary is a hooker.”

He just stared at her for maybe a minute then he finally exploded, “What!”

“She is a prostitute…a real well healed one, her clients are top draw, usually business men passing through and she takes them over to the hotel, got young Stuart the new night porter eating out of her hand. Always uses number 4 ground floor back, they come and go via the back door and nobody sees a thing.”

“So how did ya find out?” he said looking at her in shocked amazement.

“Well she has brought some of them here and …as she was so happy to point out to you, the walls are very thin, “she said with a knowing look. “Then when she started taking them over to the hotel she asked Lily to cover for her for a percentage of the takings…. And that is huge money Jess; she really is in the top end of the market. “

“Top end of the market,” spat Jess,” have you any idea what this is gonna do to Slim?”

She looked down quickly,” yes, I guess I do…but I had to tell you Jess, he has to know.”

He looked down,” yes he does…and sorry sweetheart, I didn’t mean to be harsh with you, it’s just such a shock…. I knew she was a bad one…but I never figured anything like this.”

“What about old Tom, he’d be furious if he knew, he runs a clean house here, yeah I know you girls are supposed to flirt a bit with the customers, get them to buy you drinks and the like, but none of you are workin’ girls…..guess that’s down to old Harry’s place down the road.”

She nodded, “that’s right, but since Tom moved his bedroom down stairs well, anything could be going on up here and he’d never know.”

Then a thought came to his mind, “the other week, when Slim rode into town midweek and she had a headache…was she with someone then?”

She nodded her head sadly,” yes…. In her room here, I tried to say something, but Lily covered up for her, then you had that dreadful accident and well I just didn’t know what to do,” she said, suddenly tears breaking through,” I’m so sorry Jess.”

He took her in his arms at once, “hey, none of this is your fault sweetheart,” he said softly,” I just appreciate you telling me…and guess it’s down to me to deal with it now, so don’t you fret no more….you hear.”

She nodded gratefully, then snuggling up on the couch,” so are you stopping over?” she asked raising a finely arched eyebrow.

He gave her a broad grin,” if you’ll have me.”

“I’ll have you,” she grinned.


He rode back to the ranch the following morning with a heavy heart, knowing what he had to tell his best friend.

He found Slim in the barn grooming Alamo and he went and stood leaning by his stall.

” So, had a good time at the party then Slim?” he said conversationally.

The tall rancher turned to his friend his face aglow with joy,” sure did…and well, I want you to be the first to know Jess, all the excitement of the engagement party kinda rubbed off on us too…….. I asked Mary to marry me and …well she said yes!”

Jess face was a picture of horror, his jaw dropped open and he just stared at his best buddy and then after a moment he said softly, ”no.”

“Huh…what’s the matter Jess aren’t you going to congratulate me?”

Jess just shook his head and looked down at his boots.

Slim put down the brushes he was grooming Alamo with and walked out of the stall and went and stood directly in front of his partner.

When he spoke his voice was icy,” what is it Jess… .could it be you’re jealous…you wanted her for yourself?”

Jess’s head shot up,” What! Are you plumb loco?”

“Oh don’t try and cover up Jess I know all about this crush you’ve got on her. Mary told me about you sweet talking her and making suggestions, but she convinced me not to say anything…it was only because she was different from the other girls and you were just infatuated, would get over it she said.”

Jess reeled back like he had been hit….”she said what!” he exploded.

“Come on Jess, I’ve seen how uncomfortable you are around her, didn’t want me to notice your feelings for her eh?”

Jess shook his head, “oh buddy you couldn’t be further from the truth.”

“Jess I won’t have you lying to me, I love her and I’m not having you, or anyone else, upset her that way, you understand?” he concluded pulling himself up to his full height and glaring down at Jess.

Jess’s head began pounding, he still got the headaches when he got stressed out and he felt his temper rising, but he tried to rein it in and be patient.

“Look Slim, you have to believe me, none of that stuff is true and….. “

“Jess!” Slim yelled,” you’re out of order. What is wrong with you, if that’s true then why don’t you like her?”

Suddenly Jess could bear it no longer, his temper went and his eyes flashed a dangerous dark blue.

“ I ‘ll tell you why,” he spat, “‘cos she’s no good Slim, she’s a manipulative liar, all that stuff about me lusting after her, it was the other way around and as to poor Daisy, it was Mary that ruined the cooking made out she was too old for the job….”

“I don’t believe you, you’re lying,” yelled Slim growing red in the face, his hands clenched into fists.

“Well you’d better believe it, ‘cos she just ain’t no good for you Slim.”

“Why, why are you being this way?” yelled Slim, grabbing hold of the front of Jess’s shirt and glaring at him.

Jess looked desperately into his eyes and shouted back,” because she’s a hooker Slim, she’s a Goddamn prostitute and she’s takin’ you for a fool.”

Slim stared for a full minute before he literally roared with anger and pain like a wounded animal and threw a punch so hard at Jess’s jaw that he flew across the barn hitting the wall of Traveler’s stall hard before sliding to the ground.

He ran over and picking him up by the front of his shirt he landed another hard blow to his jaw.

Jess shook his head to clear it,” ain’t no good Slim,” he growled,” you can beat the shit out of me, but it ain’t gonna change anything.”

Slim swore and landed another punch that made Jess stagger and fall and at that moment Mike came running in looking terrified.

“No, no stop it!” he shouted and then he ran for the house,” Aunt Daisy come quick, they’re fightin’,”

A moment later Daisy ran into the barn and saw Slim and Jess exchanging blows, then Slim threw a vicious punch to Jess’s chest, he fell forwards clutching his still painful ribs and then Slim threw another one to his face sending him sprawling in the dust.

Daisy ran forwards screaming,” Slim stop it, for God’s sake, you’ll kill him.”

Slim stood up panting before looking at Daisy like he had never seen her before. He shook his head and raked a hand through his blond hair. Then he entered Alamo’s stall, threw a saddle on his mount and led him out.

“I’m going to town,” he said harshly to the elderly woman, “tell him I don’t want to see him around here when I get back,” and with that he rode out without a backward glance.

Daisy stared after him in consternation for a moment before turning and running over to where Jess was still lying on his face on the barn floor. She fell to her knees beside him, Mike standing just behind her his eyes open wide in horror.

Very gently she managed to turn him over and reeled back in shock at the bloody mess that was Jess’s face. He had a rapidly darkening black eye, a split lip and blood was pouring from his nose.

He groaned and wiped his sleeve across his face, and then tried to sit up and fell back, cussing quietly and clutching at his chest in obvious pain.

“Oh Jess, lie still for a moment dear and then Mike and I will help you to the house.”

Jess closed his eyes and then opening them again focused on young Mike,” I’m sorry Tiger,” he whispered, “sorry ya had to see that.”

The youngster said, “it’s OK Jess, but what happened, I ain’t never seen Slim that way, what’ ve you done?”

“It’s a long story,” he said, glancing over at Daisy,” I’ll explain when you’re a bit older Mike.”

“Aw, it’s always when I’m older,” said the youngster in disgust.

“Hey buddy, quit yer moanin’ and help get me up,” he said, with the glimmer of a twinkle in his eye.


Once Jess was seated at the kitchen table and Mike had gone about the morning chores Daisy started to tenderly bathe his face, before unbuttoning his shirt and gently running a hand across his ribs.

“I don’t think any have been broken again, but it’s a miracle more damage wasn’t done the way he was laying into you Jess…I’ve just never seen him like that before…was it over Mary?”

He nodded, before looking up into her anxious grey eyes, I didn’t know what to do Daisy, I had to tell him about her …didn’t really have any choice…….knew he’d take it bad, but….”he put his head in his hands and groaned again.

“Just tell me dear,” she said softly.

He looked over at her,” when I went to town yesterday I saw Millie and she was real upset, she said……she said that Mary is a working girl Daisy.”

Daisy just stared at him in shock, and sat down quickly on the chair opposite Jess.

“No,” she whispered,” but she is an upper class lady from Philadelphia, from a good family, she told me.”

He shook his head sadly,” I ain’t got nothing against workin’ girls Daisy, everyone has to earn a buck anyway they can I guess, but you have to be honest about it. Way Mary is lookin’ down on the rest of us like we’re somethin’ less than her …hell she looks down on Millie just because she’s a saloon girl and all the time she’s workin’ as a hooker….”

“What do you think Slim will do?” she asked looking worried.

“Confront her maybe…and she’ll lie her head off…and no prizes for guessin’ who he’s goin’ to believe Daisy, seems like he’s forgotten who his real friends are.”

“And what about you dear, he told you to go…you won’t will you?”

He shook his head ,” no I ain’t goin’ nowhere Daisy, don’t fret…might just move my gear to the bunk house until things calm down some though.”

He rubbed his chest thoughtfully;” figure I don’t want round two with him, that’s for sure.”

“Oh Jess must you move out, all this seems so unfair, I could really lose my temper with Slim, he seems to have got so thoughtless since he met that girl, not like himself at all.”

He gave her a weary smile,” it’s OK Daisy, just until things settle down and I want you and Mike to still visit your sister, don’t want the boy around the way things are.”

“Oh I really don’t want to go and leave everything like this dear, you’re hurt and in pain and as for Slim…well I just don’t know what he will do next.”

“All the more reason to get Mike away,” he said patiently,” I can handle old Hard Rock, he’ll see sense eventually Daisy, now go and get your packing done and you can get the Stage tomorrow as planned.”

She shook her head looking sadly at him, “alright dear if you think it for the best and maybe you are right, Mike needs to be away from all this…he’s just too young to understand.”

Slim rode back to the ranch long after supper and everyone else had retired to bed. He noted that Traveler was still in his stall, but then when he entered the bedroom he saw Jess’s bed had been stripped and all his personal possessions were gone.

He sank down on his bed and looked over to Jess’s and put his head in his hands. Never had he felt so wretched or so pulled in two directions. Jess was his best buddy, hell he loved him like he was his ownbrother and in his heart he knew Jess would never do or say anything to hurt him, would never lie to him.

On the other hand he loved Mary with a passion so strong that she had completely taken over his life, his every waking thought was of her and he would have done anything for her. She had sworn that everything Jess and the others had said about her were just lies and he believed her, hell she was so darn convincing.

“It was Millie that told him,” she said softly, as they sat in her room talking.” I told you Jess had…well strong feelings for me, the dear boy,” she said with a sophisticated tinkling little laugh,” he is just completely infatuated; guess he’s never met anyone…well quite like me before.”

“So,” said Slim, “where does this tom fool notion that you are…well a working girl come from?”

“Well, Millie caught Jess and me together, it’s OK sweetie, nothing happened he was just pestering me to spend the day with him and Millie went ape apparently,” she laughed.

“That’s when she concocted this silly story about me, thought it would really put him off me. She even involved Lily and Stuart at the hotel to say I was a Hooker as well, the stupid girl. Anyway he swallowed the story, but it sure didn’t put him off. I guess he figured it would put you off me though so that is why he told you Slim, don’t you see, with you out of the picture I’m all his, or so he thought, ”she said quickly.

Slim sprang up from the couch where he had been sitting next to her;” I’ll kill him,” he shouted, clenching his fists.

“No,” she said firmly,” no you won’t, please Slim, if you really love me then let’s work this thing out, all I want is for you two to make your peace and for us to be happy together. In fact I really don’t think I can stay with you if you can’t forgive him. “

That was when he had agreed to try and make things right with Jess, hell he would do anything Mary wanted he thought to himself and what was Jess playing at? Who should he believe…what should he believe, he just didn’t know anymore and throwing himself back on his bed he stared up at the ceiling a look of abject misery on his face.

In the morning he awoke to the bustle of Daisy getting Mike ready for their proposed trip to Cheyenne. When he finally showed his face at the breakfast table, he gave Daisy an embarrassed look, before putting a hand on Mike’s shoulder”, I’m sorry about yesterday,” he said looking from one to the other,” I just don’t know what got into me.”

Mike gave him an uncertain look, “you scared me Slim.”

“I’m sorry Mike,” he said ruffling the boy’s blond hair,” and truly it won’t happen again.”

He looked across at Daisy including her in his little speech.

She just nodded curtly at him,” Mike go and gather your things together in your room if you have finished dear,” and he left, giving Slim a little hug as he passed.

Slim sat down and accepted the coffee she gave him,” breakfast?” she asked coolly.

He shook his head,” no thanks, not hungry,” he said quietly.

Then, “where is Jess?”

“In the bunk house, he thought it better to keep out of your way,” she said stony faced.

“Did I hurt him very much?”

“Oh yes, his face is a mess and you have set off his ribs hurting again, but the worst hurt is you not believing him Slim…please , can you try and settle you differences, I hate to see you like this.”

He looked down and swallowed deeply,” sure I promise I will try…it’s just so hard Daisy, I really don’t know what to think.”

She leaned over and patted his arm; “you must just follow your heart Slim, but please remember who your friends are and you know Jess would never deliberately do anything to hurt you.”

He just nodded unable to meet her eye.

“I must finish my packing, we are taking the early morning Stage, I think you should go out and see Jess,” she said softly before retiring from the room.

After a few minutes Slim swigged back the last dregs of his coffee and then walked out to the bunk house. He paused for a moment outside, before taking a deep breath, tapping on the door and entering.

He was standing by the washstand, his shirt open and a towel in his hand, looking like he had just finished washing. As Jess turned to look at him Slim took in the black eye and bruising to his friend’s face and then glanced down to his chest which was black and blue with more bruising. He sucked in a shocked breath, before shaking his head and saying, “Jess… I’m so Goddamn sorry; I shouldn’t have beaten you that way.”

“Ain’t the beatin’ that bothers me Slim,” he said quietly,” it’s you an’ me…when did I ever lie to you about somethin’ like this, how could you think that I would?”

Slim looked across at his partner,” I guess you do believe what you said, but maybe you’ve been lied to Jess, ever think of that?”

“Who by……Millie, yer kiddin’ she wouldn’t do that.”

“She might if she was trying to save your relationship, if she felt threatened because of…well your infatuation with Mary, then I guess she might make anything up to put you off her.”

“What are you crazy, ”yelled Jess,” how many times do I have to tell you Slim; I don’t fancy your woman!”

“Look OK, OK ,let’s just simmer down buddy, the bottom line is Mary wants us to get over this , so I’m willing to meet you half way …let’s just say the jury is still out and keep an openmind about everything yeah?”

“Oh well, if Mary wants it that’s just fine and dandy,” said Jess sarcastically.


“OK, OK, guess we’ll just have to forget it for now,” he said and reaching over offered his hand.

Slim took it and shook it firmly,” thanks,” he said sincerely.

Jess just nodded,” better go and check on Mike, make sure he ain’t packin’ the Racoon to take to Cheyenne with him”, he said with a hint of a twinkle inhis deep blue eyes and Slim smiled back, glad of the olive branch that had been offered.

They walked back to the ranch just as the early morning Stage romped in with Mose driving the horses extra fast.

”I believe I’ve got a certain lady on board with me this morning,” he said beaming down at the two ranchers, the smell of his hair oil practically felling them. It was well known on the ranch that Mose was sweet on Daisy and he usually took quite a lot of good natured teasing from the cowboys.

Slim smiled up, “yeah Daisy and Mike are off to her sister’s place in Cheyenne for a break.”

“I believe congratulations are due,” he said jumping down from the box as Jess went off to fetch the fresh horses.

Slim nodded, “yeah, just engaged, no plans for the wedding as yet though, so how do you know Mose?”

“All over the town this morning Miss Mary full of it! I figure she’ll be out here measuring the place up for new drapes as soon as Daisy’s out of town,” said the old timer grinning across at his friend, “not to mention measurin’ you for your weddin’ suit…no date set,” he said shaking his head ,” guess you’re hog tied and the weddin’ will be when the good lady says so!”

“Could be right Mose,” he said quietly casting an anxious glance at Jess as he returned with the new team and started harnessing them up.

He appeared not to notice any of Mose’s banter, until the old man turned to him and said,” so you’re the best man then Jess?”

Jess just stared at him for a moment and then turning his back muttered, “I’ll go tell Daisy you’re ready to roll.”

Mose cast a quizzical look at Slim, who merely shrugged and said, “don’t ask,” and opened the door of the Stage as Daisy and Mike arrived.

Both men hugged Mike and Jess lifted him on board before turning to kiss Daisy on the cheek, she smiled at him and then kissed Slim too.

“You boys will be alright won’t you?” she said looking from one to the other anxiety etched onto her sweet old face.

“Sure, “said Slim.

Jess nodded,” have a good break Daisy, see you in a couple of weeks,” and with that Mose urged the team off at speed, the two men waving , before turning back to the ranch house.


The following week Jess worked with the mustangs while Slim started preparing the timber for the new lean to and so the only time the men were together was at meal times, which were much quieter than normal, without the usual banter and Jess even ate Slim’s cooking stoically, without the usual insults.

After the first day Slim suggested Jess move back in to his room.

“Was Mose right, will ya be havin’ Mary to stay while Daisy is away?” he asked.

Slim looked uncomfortable,” well it is her weekend off and she did ask to come over…”

“OK,” said Jess quickly,” but figure I won’t move back in until Daisy and Mike get back… I wouldn’t wanna be in the way”.

“Jess…. “

“Just leave it Slim, you don’t believe me when I tell you stuff…well I guess that’s down to you, but just don’t ask me to sit around playin’ happy families with her, ‘cos I just can’t do it buddy,” and with that he had marched off to the barn, leaving Slim feeling exasperated and sick at heart.

The week end rolled around and almost as soon as Mary arrived on the Saturday morning Stage, Jess rode off on the pretext of checking the fences over on the northern pasture. Slim knew it was just an excuse, but something in his friend’s eye made him resist saying anything and he was secretly happy to have Mary all to himself.

When Jess returned he took a quick shower and then rode to town.

Just as he was leaving Mary had sidled up to him and said,” hey stranger we’ve hardly seen anything of you today, where are you off to tonight?” she asked running a hand suggestively down his shirt front.

“Town,” he said succinctly, casting an eye over towards Slim, but he was busy working on the ranch books and hardly seemed to notice the little scene being played out in front of him.

Mary looked at Jess from under her lashes, “doing anything exciting then cowboy,” she whispered seductively, Slim still not reacting.

“Yeah, got a hot date with Millie,” and then raising his voice so Slim finally looked up and took notice, “stayin’ over, back Sunday night Slim,” and turning to Mary removed her hand that was still hovering on his chest and said, “excuse me Ma’am,” and with that he was gone, leaving Mary with a small frown on her beautiful face.

When he got back on Sunday evening it was obvious that Mary was still in residence as he could hear her tinkling false laugh as he rode in.

They were sitting with their coffee out on the veranda and Jess felt a sudden spasm of real jealousy for the first time, at this woman usurping his place. She sat on his seat, smirking at him, a possessive hand on Slim’s arm.

“Had a good time with your sweet girlfriend Jess?” she said patronisingly and then he noticed she was more than a little drunk.

Slim looked embarrassed,” you sitting a while buddy,” he said hopefully,” coffee’s not long brewed.”

Jess threw Mary a cold look and then turning to Slim, said,” no kinda tired, heavy night ….you know,” and with that he turned to the barn put up his horse for the night and after a while Slim saw the light go on in the bunk house.

He turned to look at Mary, her make-up was smeared and she was looking her age for once. The fact that she was a good five years older than Slim had never bothered him, but tonight she had lost her usual elegant appearance and sparkle.

“You’re tired Mary,” he said softly, “shall we turn in?”

She cast him an irritated look, before glancing back at the bunk house, a glint in her eye as she secretly imagined Jess stripping off, washing and lying down on the bunkhouse cot. His naked tanned torso relaxing, his deep blue eyes looking up at the ceiling, the dangerous moody look on his face, and suddenly she longed to be lying beside him.

She sighed deeply and forcing a smile said,” sure honey,” and taking his hand they disappeared into the ranch house together.

Chapter 4

As it was, she stayed the whole week. On the Monday morning she got Slim to send word to Tom at the saloon, that she was sick and would not be in for a few days.

“Hung over more like,” muttered Jess, but Slim didn’t appear to hear him.

When she was still at the ranch two days later and obviously in rude health Jess queried as to why she had not returned to work and she merely gave her false little laugh and said she was having a well-earned break.

“So what about them that’s left pickin’ up yer work for yer?” he said angrily.

“Oh, little Millie I suppose you mean, well I’m sure she will be glad of the extra cash darling,” she said batting her eye lashes at him,” after all it’s not as though she has any other income.”

The suggestion that she did have a second income, and the fact that she and Jess both knew what it was, was almost too much for him to handle. She had strenuously denied the allegations of prostitution in front of Slim and now here she was bragging about it behind his back.

A muscle twitched in Jess’s cheek and he clenched and unclenched his hand, before walking away from her, telling himself to calm down and that she would be gone soon.

But she was not. One day led into another and she was still in residence at the ranch. Jess was again left to deal with the majority of the work as Slim took extended lunch breaks or failed to rise until all the morning chores were completed and Jess was getting more and more riled with the situation.

When not working he tried to make himself scarce and had not eaten any meals with the couple, preferring to prepare something in the bunkhouse and then he either went off to visit a local rancher, or turned in early. However by the end of the week he was running out of excuses and as both Slim and Mary had insisted he have supper with them, other than to seem completely churlish, he had no way out. He had told Slim he wouldn’t sit around and play happy families, but it was obviously so important to his buddy that he finally relented.

It had been obvious to him earlier in the week that Slim had been drinking more than usual and as he sat down to supper on the Friday evening he realised why. As he entered the small larder of the kitchen to fetch something he saw flagons of beer and several bottles of Red Eye whiskey, he wandered back to the sitting room and said jokingly to Slim, “set up yer own still then buddy?”

Slim looked a bit embarrassed; “Mary brought some stuff over from the saloon as a gift for us.”

“A gift from Tom more like,” said Jess softly, aware that Mary was just next door in the kitchen,” I’ll warrant he doesn’t know about it either.”

“You saying she took them?” asked Slim in an angry whisper.

Jess just raised his eyebrow, but said nothing.

During the meal Mary opened a bottle and Jess noticed she filled all their glasses several times. After the second top up Jess refused more, wanting to keep a clear head, but he was surprized to see Slim accepting glass after glass and by the end of the meal he was quite tipsy.

Mary had had several drinks too, but still seemed reasonably sober as they took their coffee to the fire side. Jess again noticed she liberally laced Slim’s coffee with the strong liquor and as she passed it to him, Jess turned towards her and said gruffly,” don’t ya think he’s had enough.”

She gave him an innocent look and said,” he’s just relaxing after a hard day, and so when did you get so prim and proper Jess Harper, I’ve seen you after a few drinks in the saloon, don’t kid me you don’t like the stuff. Here have another, you want it really don’t you”, she said looking over at him… the innuendo falling into the silence as Jess threw her a disgusted look.

She filled a glass up until it slopped over and leaning across him, one hand on his knee pushed the glass towards him.

Jess ignored the offered glass and looked over at his buddy and saw he was almost unconscious.

He stood up at once, and Mary said,” oh where are you off to, the evening has only just begun, here don’t you want your drink, waving the full glass at him and spilling more of it.”

“No,” said Jess heading for the door.

“Why ever not,” she said with a little pout, staggering to her feet and making to follow him.

“I’m kinda particular about who I drink with,” he spat, no longer worried about upsetting Slim as he was obviously completely out of it, and with that he marched out and back to the bunk house.

He walked into the bunk house slamming the door behind him, breathing deeply, trying to calm himself down, knowing that the outburst of anger had been to hide the rising desire he was feeling for her.

He wandered over towards the cot and leaned down to light the lamp on the nightstand next to it and removing his gun belt hung it on the bedhead within easy reach, before stripping off his vest and unbuttoning his blue shirt placing them on the back of the old wooden chair next to the bed.

Then he went over to the washbowl in the corner and washed up, before returning to the cot. He started unbuttoning his denims and then stopped having second thoughts, if Slim needed him in the night he sure wasn’t wandering over to the ranch house dressed in his under shorts. It was a mild night so he crashed out on top of the bed and left the light burning dimly just in case Mary came over wanting him to help get Slim to bed.

He lay on his back, one arm behind his head, the other lying across his firm tanned belly and staring up at the ceiling considered the last few hours. Mary had been doing what she had started shortly after he had turned her down on that Sunday morning as he left Millie’s room, covertly flirting with him at every opportunity. Tonight though, it had reached new levels as if taking advantage of Slim’s lack of attention as he became more a more drunk.

There was no denying the fact that she was an incredibly beautiful woman Jess thought and even though he didn’t like her he had to admit to the way she made him feel physically.

Earlier, she had been trying to attract his attention and had rested her hand lightly on his forearm and it felt to Jess like a red hot poker had touched him as the shockwaves went up his arm, sending a stab of desire deep within him. He had shrugged her off and blushed deeply and she had merely smiled at him, like a lazy cat biding its time to attack its prey.

He had looked across at her, dressed in a tight fitting silver grey gown of soft silk, the low cut bodice revealing a gentle curve of cleavage. The thin straps on her alabaster shoulders occasionally fell down and were absently replaced and then she had given a little glance in Jess’s direction, to see if he was noticing and he had looked quickly away.

Later he was watching her and his eyes fell to her wrist, the blue veins noticeable against her pale skin, making her look vulnerable and fragile and it took all his willpower not to reach across the table and caress her there.

Lying on the cot now he suddenly had a vision of his tanned body lying with her pale one, their limbs entwined and he closed his eyes and groaned and flipping onto his side desperately tried to think of something else.


As the door had slammed behind him Mary stared at it, a look of consternation on her face. She had been sure that if she got a few drinks down him she would finally be able to seduce him. She had planned to ply Slim with drinks all night so he passed out leaving the coast clear for her to make her move on Jess. Now she stared across at her fiancé and thought wryly that at least the first part of her plan had worked.

He was slumped on the old leather couch in the window and was obviously out of it for the foreseeable future. She walked across and looked down at him, an irritated expression flitting across her beautiful face, before covering him roughly with a blanket. Then she turned and topping up her coffee cup went and sat staring into the glowing embers of the fire and started thinking back over the last few weeks.

She had started relentlessly chasing Jess because she was seeking revenge for the way he had spurned her when she had propositioned him early that Sunday morning as he had left Millie’s bedroom. She wanted him to be attracted to her…chase her, so that she could have the pleasure of turning him down. But as the weeks passed and he seemed completely impervious to her womanly wiles, she became more and more besotted with him. The more he showed his anger and distain the more attractive he seemed to her.Equally the kinder and more loving Slim was the more she saw it as a weakness and had become bored with his predictability and stable conventional outlook, longing for the danger and excitement that seemed to surround Jess.

Her need for him had really become almost an obsession. A few nights earlier, he had ridden in looking drowsily satiated after a weekend of making love to Millie, like he had just tipped out of bed and got on his horse and ridden home. Then she had longed to just go and lie beside him on his lonely bed over in the bunk house. To kiss his tired frown away and look into those deep blue angry eyes and see the light of passion in them instead of aggression.

He still had the bruising to his face and a black eye after his fight with Slim, and just looking at him gave her a frisson of excitement, that he had fought Slim over her. Even though she knew the fight had started because Jess wanted to turn Slim against her, because he hated her and everything she stood for, a tiny bit of her still believed that once she just kissed him, then she would be able to make him hers.

Things had really begun to fall apart with Slim after a conversation they had had earlier in the week. Part of Mary’s game plan was to marry Slim and once she was mistress of the Sherman ranch, to get him to sell it and move back east. She then had plans for the money…but not necessarily for Slim, not with her anyway, she had someone else in mind for her future.

They had been talking about their future.

” So what do you think Jess will do after we are married? ” she had asked casually.

Slim turned and gave her a quizzical look,” why nothing, what do you mean?”

“Well I expect he’ll think it time to move on?”

“Why on earth should he do that?”

“Well he won’t want to be stuck around us love birds will he?”

Slim grinned at her, “I guess not, we always figured who ever married first would build out on the west pasture, we’ve got a lovely spot picked out by the stream, figure maybe Jess and I can start work on it real soon,” he finished grinning at her.

“But…surely we will live here,” she said looking surprized.

“Well like I said we reckoned it best for the newly married couple to leave the ranch for the family and have their own place.”

“The family…what do you mean?”

“Well, Daisy and Mike and in this case Jess, they’ll have the ranch house.”

“What a house keeper and an adopted child who will be going off to school soon and your ranch hand?” she said her voice rising in anger.

“Now wait a minute,” he said looking equally angry,” for a start Miss Daisy is a hell of a lot more than our housekeeper, she’s been like a Ma to me and Jess and this is her home as long as she wants it.

“As to Mike, well he won’t be going back East to school for another few years, if then. He’s got a real interest in the business and so Jess and I are going to teach him all we know and he’ll inherit the place one day.”

She just gasped in shock, but said nothing.

Slim cast her another cool look and continued quietly,” and as for Jess , he’s not only my best friend, but he is also my business partner and owns half the ranch…. you see Mary he isn’t going anywhere and I figure you’ll just have to accept that if you want ‘you and me’ to work.”

She gave him an icy look,” well maybe I’m just having second thoughts about ‘you and me’,” she spat before marching off to bed and for once choosing Daisy’s room, locking the door against him.

They made the row up the following morning, but that was when the rot had set in as far as she was concerned and she decided to hedge her bets with Jess after all. As the week went on and she became moody and withdrawn towards Slim, so his unaccustomed drinking had started and that was why he was the worse for drink that night.

She shook her head to clear it of all the thoughts that had been running around and peered over at Slim. He was snoring gently and would be doing so until the next morning she thought.

She rose slowly from her seat by the fire and walked over to the table and picking up the glass of hill whiskey that Jess had refused , downed it in one go, before shuddering slightly. Then she threw her shawl around her shoulders and with a determined look in her eye went out of the front door and made her way across the yard towards the bunkhouse.

She entered quietly without knocking.

There was a low light shining from a night lamp near Jess’s bed and she saw him clearly, stripped to the waist, still wearing his denims, lying on top of the cot.

A moment later he awoke, his gun which had been hanging on the bed head, in his hands in seconds and in one fluid movement he was out of bed, the gun pointed at her head.

As soon as he saw who it was he holstered it and said gruffly, ”sorry”.

“You scared me!”

“Well ya shouldn’t go creepin’ up on people in the middle of the night …don’t you knock on doors back east?” he replied acerbically.

“I figured maybe you wouldn’t let me in if I knocked,” she replied, the hint of a twinkle in her eye.

He turned from her and sat back on the edge of the bed, a small smile playing around his lips, “could be right,” he agreed.

She walked over to him, shrugging her shawl off and stood looking down at him her figure at its best in the tight fitting, revealing grey dress and after a second she sank down on the chair beside the cot, looking distressed.

“I’m sorry Jess I didn’t mean to upset you its just Slim… I’m worried about him.”

Jess sat up and leaned over to the table by the bed and turned the night light up.

“What’s wrong “he said,” is he sick, do you what me to help you put him to bed?”

“No…no nothing like that,” she said putting a gentle restraining hand on his arm,” he’s had a drop too much tonight and he’s sleeping like the dead, but he will be OK. “

“What then?”

“I can’t do it anymore Jess, can’t live a lie.”

At last he thought, she’s going to be honest and admit to her other life.

“What do you mean?” he asked giving her an encouraging look.

“I mean I can’t carry on with Slim as his fiancé….. I have to finish it, there is someone else.”

“Oh, who?” he asked after a long pause.

“You must know… .after tonight.”


“Come on Jess, you’ve seen the sparks between us, the way you jumped like a startled colt when I touched you tonight ….I…I know you want me.”


Jess jumped up from where he was sitting on the edge of his bed and walked towards the window, looking out into the moonlit night, his hands thrust deeply into his pockets, his expression unreadable.

Mary followed him across the room and ran a sensuous finger down his naked back.

He turned and suddenly she was in his arms, and his kisses were hard and brutal, so unlike the tender, gentle way he kissed Millie, Suzy and other girls, instinctively knowing that, that was what she wanted.

The kissing became more and more passionate and abandoned as he moved from her lips to her neck and then gently slid one of her straps down, caressing thesmooth naked skin of her upper arm with his lips.

Then she kissed him back, one hand raking through his thick black hair, the other running down to his lower back, pushing him towards her, so that their bodies moulded together and she could feel him through her thin dress as he pushed even more firmly against her……..

Suddenly he knew it was wrong…oh so wrong and he had to stop, not just because of Slim, but for himself too. This was just pure lust and he felt disgusted and embarrassed that his body…his basic male instincts had led him to this.

He pulled away, “No!”

“Jess please you have to understand……”

“I understand you’re plumb crazy,” he said, pushing her aside.

“Jess please we could be so good together….I know what you are like, we are kindred spirits…..the same, believe me……. please.”

“Believe you,” Jess spat…….”hell that’s the last thing I’d do…the way you’ve treated Slim… and I’m just as bad the way I’ve behaved tonight. God forgive me,” he said, casting his eyes down and looking anguished.

She leaned towards him again her voice soft and cajoling,” come on Jess, you know you want me…..”

“No,” he spat, now really angry…….”anyways you’d probably charge me for it,” he finished giving her a furious look.

She reeled back like he had struck her, shock and hurt registering in her eyes.

Then she leaned forwards and slapped him hard on the cheek.

He rolled with the blow, his eyes dangerous and almost black with anger.

He knew much of this anger was focused at himself, for the way he had behaved, and the only way he knew how to deal with it was to take it out on her.

“Get out,” he whispered furiously.

She stood her ground glaring at him.

“Get out! “he bellowed,” or do I have to pick you up and throw you out?”

She glared at him one last time, before tossing her head and making for the door, where she stopped and turned back.

Then giving him an icy stare said,” you’ll live to regret this Jess Harper……… and you’ll die regretting it! Oh yes and if I were to charge you……well you just couldn’t afford me!” and with that she swept out.


The following morning when he awoke he brewed himself some strong coffee and then went into the yard to start the early morning chores and as he reached the hen house near the back door he heard the sound of raised voices.

He steered clear of the ranch house until he heard the early morning Stage rattling in and then he called out for Slim to come and help him change the team.

He was shocked at his buddy’s appearance when he finally dragged himself out, he looked pale and red eyed.

Mose looked down from the top of the Stage , where he had decided to remain , seeing as Miss Daisy wasn’t home, and called down to Jess , who was unhitching the team.

”It sure looks like ol’ Slim tied one on last night.”

Jess looked up at him with a twinkle in his eye,” could be,” he said softly, for Mose’s ears only.

Then his attention was taken by Mary walking out of the ranch house, carrying her bags and making for the Stage Coach door.

Jess quickly left his task and moved to open the door.

“You leavin’?” he asked trying to keep the grin from his face.

“Like you care,” she spat.

“It ain’t me that does care,” he said softly…”it’s Slim, what are you doin’ to him?”

“I told you last night,” she said firmly……”we’re through me and Slim and you know why too…and if you want to do anything about that you know where I am, but I’m telling you now, you’d sure have to beg me for it, and even then I reckon I’d be saying no,” and with that she swept aboard without a second glance at either him or Slim, who was standing back, watching the proceedings.

Jess turned and threw his partner a wary glance, before finishing off hitching the team and then standing back as Mose rushed the Stage out of the yard.

After he left the silence was deafening and finally Jess looked over to Slim who was still watching the dust cloud left by the Stage his face a picture of despair.

Then he turned angry eyes on Jess and walking over he towered over his friend.

” It was you wasn’t it Jess, you’ve been running after her all along……that’s why she’s left me because of you,” he spat.

Jess just shook his head and then looking his buddy in the eye, said,” you got it all wrong Slim, I admit last night when she came after me I did cave in for a minute…but just for a minute and that was all. Before that she’d done all the running and Hell Slim I ain’t interested, I told you that and I meant it …last night, well it was just pure lust…and I ain’t proud of that,” he said looking down in embarrassment.

Slim looked even angrier, just wanting someone to blame for the way he felt and Jess was to hand.

“It’s you,” he said again furiously,” did you sleep with her last night…Jess did you?” he yelled almost crying in pain and anger now.

Jess reached out and put a hand on his buddy’s chest, looking him deep in the eyes,” No, Slim, I didn’t I swear.”

“Ain’t what she’s saying.”

Then Jess lost his temper…

“You believed her over me once before…about the prostitution and I was tellin’ you the truth…well I let that go. But this time Slim, I’m tellin’ you the truth again…and you have to believe me…because if you don’t pard well then …we’re through. I can’t have a partner that doesn’t trust me. We’ll dissolve the partnership and I’ll ship out…if that’s what you want,” and with that he walked off to the barn , leaving Slim reeling, looking after him with fear and pain in his eyes.

It was sometime later and Jess was engrossed in grooming Traveler when he heard Slim enter the barn and he came over and leaned on the stall watching his buddy.

After a while Jess turned and looked at him, “Well?”

“I’m sorry Jess for doubting you…and I don’t blame you for having a moment or two of weakness either, I guess she’s pretty hard to resist” he finished his voice husky with emotion as he turned away and walked over to the barn door , looking out to the horizon.

Jess put down his brushes and went and stood beside his friend, looking off to the distance too.

“So want are yer gonna do?” he asked softly after a few minutes.

Slim just shook his head and was silent for a while, then he turned to Jess.

”I can’t see as there is much I can do,” he said sadly, “she doesn’t love me Jess, maybe she never did… I figure she was just after me for what she could get…..after the ranch, or money from the sale, she as much as admitted it.”

Jess patted him gently on the arm;” I’m sorry Slim, real sorry. “

“The other stuff too,” he said casting Jess an anguished look,” about her being a hooker, it was true Jess I should have listened to you… she almost boasted about it……. I feel such a Goddamn fool.”

“Hey Slim, she had you under a spell. You couldn’t help it, sometimes a woman can do that to a man, make him forget where he started from, who his friends are……it’s almost like they are some kinda drug.”

Slim nodded,” yeah that’s it exactly…How did ya know Jess, you….. getting kind of wise in your old age or what? “

Jess gave him the ghost of a smile before saying, “nah, isn’t that Slim, it was the effect she had on me …last night, I can’t stand the woman for the way she was with Daisy and Mike, way she’s been with you too. But she sure cast her spell on me too. I came to my senses in time, but it was a close run thing, I have to be honest, she sure knows how to work a man that’s for sure.”

“Well, it’s her job”, said Slim with a note of irony,” guess you can’t fault her for being good at her chosen profession anyway,” a tiny twinkle in his eye.

Jess saw it and said quietly,” so are we OK now partner?”

Slim reached over and shook his hand,” sure we are. I guess we’ll just put these last few weeks down to experience and put the ‘Silver Lady’ behind us,” he said with a sad look.

And so it was that the two buddies tried to settle back down to life on the ranch.

Daisy and Mike returned from their holiday with Daisy’s sister and the two ranchers were delighted to have them back, not just because of the relief at being able to enjoy Daisy’s cooking again rather than their own, but because of her calm soothing presence and understanding of the delicate situation.

Chapter 5

The men had seen little of Mary, but surprisingly she seemed to have taken up riding and occasionally they would spy her in the distance galloping across their land, on a beautiful grey she rented from the livery. Slim had point blank refused to visit town and if business took him there then he studiously avoided the saloon where Mary worked and so he had no more dealings with her.

As for Jess he also had nothing to do with her, although he did run into her on the odd occasion he visited the saloon or stayed over with Millie.

One night a couple of weeks after the show down between Slim and Mary at the ranch, Jess had arranged to ride into town and spend time with Millie. It was a miserable evening in early Fall and it had been raining since daybreak and Jess was wet and cold by the time he arrived in town and he rode into the livery. He insisted on rubbing down his horse himself and then stood watching as Traveler enjoyed a bran mash, before he left him for the night and wandered over to the saloon. When he arrived there, there was even worse to come, not only was he cold and wet, but Millie had to work all evening as Mary was sick.

He exchanged looks with Millie,” sick huh?”

She just nodded casting a sideways look at Tom, “don’t say anything Jess, it’s OK,” she said looking frightened.

“What’s up sweetheart, you looked spooked,” he said immediately catching her mood.

She just looked down and said,” Just leave it Jess please.”

He heard the fear in her voice however.

”OK ,”he said at once, but he was determined to get to the bottom of things later.

The evening wore on and in between serving drinks and acting as hostess to the many drinkers in the saloon; she still found time to lean on the bar opposite Jess and share snippets of news and a few jokes. Every so often he would touch her hand or their eyes would lock and it was obvious to anyone how close the couple were. The young studs flirted with her but they were all aware of the relationship between Millie and Jess and none of them would take it too far, wary of the blue eyed Texan, propping up the bar.

It was nearly the end of the evening when Tom said he and Lily could finish off if Millie wanted to retire for the night, giving Jess a sly wink.

He came over to Jess a little while later and tipping his head for Jess to join him at the end of the bar said quietly, “Will you be here all night Jess or are you planning on riding home later?”

“Well, I’d planned on stayin’ iffen that’s OK with you Tom?” he said.

“Sure, sure you know you’re always welcome here son, it’s just that I was planning on wandering over to old Charlie’s place after I close up here, he’sgot a card school goin’ and it should be an all- nighter, just don’t like leavin’ the place without a man about, with all the girls upstairs an all.”

“That’s fine,” said Jess grinning across at his friend”, you go and lose your money and I’ll look after the girls for you.”

“Um, I’ll bet ya will,” said the older man grinning at him, before going back to his duties.

Millie went upstairs and then a little while later Jess said his goodnights and left through the saloon main entrance. It was even worse outside than it had been earlier and he pulled his hat down firmly as he made his way around the back of the saloon and up the outside staircase to the rear, the rain pouring down and the wind howling.

He ran lightly up the steps and banged on the door and a moment later Millie ushered him into the draughty dark corridor leading to her room.” I don’t know why you bother,” she said, turning back and grinning at him,” everyone probably knows you are staying with me.”

“Just preserving your reputation,” he said returning her grin and removing his hat, before shaking the rain off it and wiping a sleeve across his soaking face.

As they entered her cosy room she turned the lamp up and Jess removed his gun belt and hat and hung them on the hook by the door as usual before removing his boots and then turning to Millie who had been watching him an indulgent smile on her face…

”I figure I’ve finally house trained you Jess Harper,” she said with a little laugh.

“Oh no you ain’t,” he said quickly reaching for her and pulling her into a close embrace before kissing her tenderly.

After a moment she pulled away laughing again.

“Aw , you’re all wet Jess,” and she started unbuttoning his blue shirt and he stripped it off along with his vest and she took them and hung them on the back of a chair in front of the crackling fire,” be dry by morning,” she said casting him her beautiful smile, “coffee?”

“Rather have another kiss,” he said advancing towards her.

She kissed him again, before pulling away,” you’re freezing Jess, come and sit by the fire and I’ll get you that coffee, before you catch your death,” she said looking concerned.

Once they were on the couch in front of the fire with their coffee, Jess turned to her and said,” what’s all this with Mary then …she ain’t sick tonight is she?”

She shook her head,” no.”

“Then why don’t ya stand up to her, tell Tom what’s going on, she can’t get away with it Mill, it just ain’t fair on you and Lily and the others, her earning her living on her back,” he spat, “while you girls are coverin’ for her.”

“Jess, leave it, you don’t understand,” she said sharply.

He looked surprised at her tone;” well sure I don’t Millie unless ya tell me,” he said.

She looked down,” darn you and your stubborn streak Jess Harper,” she said softly,” OK I’ll tell you. Mary had got herself a pimp, and he’s said if any of us girls gives her away, well he’ll make life pretty difficult for us.”

“What, this guy threatened you?” he said, jumping up from the coach where they had been sitting holding hands.

“Jess, don’t start, just leave it…it’s OK.”

“No it ain’t OK…where is he? Millie is he here tonight?” he said starting for the door.

“No, he isn’t, honestly, he just visits every so often, he’s based in Cheyenne, he’s got a few other girls there too.”

Jess came and sat down beside her again, staring moodily into his coffee cup,” I don’t like it Millie,” he said after a while,” these pimps can be dangerous, not only to innocent bystanders like you , but to the girls too…is Mary scared of him do you think?”

She nodded,” I guess that is one of the reasons she came out here, to try and escape him but he tracked her down.”

“Then there is old Tom, he’d been furious iffen he knew what was goin’ on and I feel real bad not tellin’ him, he’s been good to you Mill…to both of us,” he said , looking over at her.

She looked down embarrassed,” yes I know, but she very rarely brings anyone back here now Jess, she works out of the hotel.”

He gave a deep sigh.

”I guess we’ll worry about it tomorrow, but I’m tellin’ you Millie, I ain’t havin’ anyone threatening you. I’m gonna deal with this pimp of hers and that’s a promise…..now come here,” he said much more softly and she melted into his strong arms.


They were in Millie’s, big comfortable bed and she was lying naked in his arms as he kissed her passionately on her lips, her neck and then gradually moving lower. She ran a hand through his black hair, feeling his strong firm body move even closer against her and she gave a little gasp of pleasure…..

Suddenly there was a banging on the door and Lily’s voice calling out,” Jess… Jess, are you there?”

He froze looking down at Millie as they exchanged half amused looks. Lily had a talent for interrupting them at the most inopportune moments, usually on the pretext of borrowing some perfume or a similar silly excuse. Millie’s theory was that she was just plain jealous and didn’t like to think of Millie enjoying herself.

She called out again, and Jess gave a deep sigh,” I’m kinda busy right now Lily,” he called, thinking that fixed as he was, that was probably the understatement of the year.

“Please Jess,” she called desperately, “its Mary I think there is something wrong.”

And then they heard the screaming coming from the room next door.

Jess leapt out of bed and searched around on the floor for his denims, which he had discarded earlier and pulling them on ran to unlock the door, buttoning up his pants as he went. He pushed past Lily and made for next door.

Mary’s door was unlocked and as he burst in he was just in time to see a tall lanky man, with balding hair dressed in dirty trail clothes, lean forwards and give Mary a stinging backhander across the face,” no good whore,” he yelled,” I ain’t payin’ and that’s the end of it.”

Jess leapt forwards and grabbing the man by the shoulder turned him around.

“How about trying that on someone your own size Mister,” he yelled before delivering a crashing blow to the strangers face, sending him flying clear across the room.

He ran after him and dragging him up by his shirt front sent another fist into his face and was gratified to see blood pouring from his adversary’s nose.

Another couple of punches to the man’s face and chest were all that was needed to render him unconscious.

Jess looked down on him with disgust before striding across the room to where Mary had collapsed sobbing on the bed.

He sank down beside her and threw a comforting arm around her shoulders and she immediately responded by throwing herself into his arms, grabbing him around the neck and sobbing desperately.

He spoke gently to her trying to calm her as he would to Mike if he had, had a nightmare and after a few minutes she calmed down a little.

“What happened?” he asked.

“He just went mad, when I asked for my money, thank God you were here Jess,” she said looking up at him seductively from under her lashes and then she leaned forwards, her flimsy wrap falling open to reveal her nakedness beneath. She seemed not to notice and pushed herself against him,” stay with me tonight Jess, I’m so frightened.”

He looked away for a moment and then stood up and looking down at her said gruffly”, cover yourself up Mary,” before striding over to the washstand and returning a moment later with a damp cloth. He knelt down beside her and gently bathed he red painful face, the imprint of the blow she had received clearly visible.

Then he said firmly, “don’t know what yer game is girl, but I ain’t playin’ it,” and with that he went to the door where Lily and Millie where waiting, unaware of what had taken place within.

“Can you bunk in with her tonight?” asked Jess looking across at Lily.

“Sure,” she smiled entering the room and heading towards Mary who still sat on the bed, looking more thana little annoyed at the turn of events. Jess ignored her and turned his attention to the man on the floor that had come to and was now shaking his head and looking around him in a dazed manner.

Jess leaned over and hauled him to his feet and the taller man shrank back from him. Jess gave him a speculative look,” want some more or are we done?” he asked gruffly.

“Oh we’re done Mister, guess she ain’t worth it,” he said tossing his head towards Mary.

“Just watch yer mouth,” Jess spat and grabbing hold of the other man’s arm escorted him none too gently from the premises, locking the door behind him and then double checking the all the other doors were locked.

When he returned to Mary’s room Millie was fussing around her and Lily was making up a bed for herself on a spare cot in the corner.

When he entered Mary cast him an anguished look, which he chose to ignore and speaking to the room in general, he said,” well if you an’ Lily are OK now Mary, guess I’ll turn in,” and then looking over to Millie and ignoring Mary’s furious eyes boring into him, said,” you coming sweetheart?”

She nodded and saying her goodnights the two left the room.

Once back in Millie’s room, Jess kicked the door closed behind him and gently pulling her towards him, loosened the tie of her silk dressing gown so that it fell open, and he pulled her into a passionate embrace, “so where were we?” he whispered in her ear, before picking her up and carrying her back to bed.


In the early hours of the morning Mary checked that Lily was sleeping before dressing and silently letting herself out of her room she ran along the corridor and out onto the external staircase.

A few minutes later she arrived at the Livery and on entering stood in the dark shadows for a minute before calling out softly,”Jack, hey Jack you there?”

After a minute she saw the light of a lamp and the tall lanky man from the attack was suddenly at her side, holding a storm lantern. He placed it down on the floor between them and rubbing his chin said,” Guess I’ve more than earned my money Mary, you never said he was so handy with his fists, he darned near tore my head off.”

“Never seen him in action before, ”she said lightly,” and anyways there was no need to hit me so goddamn hard either.”

“Thought you wanted it to look authentic,” he drawled.

“Authentic…”she spat,” listen to yourself, you sound like what you are, a no good two bit out of work actor.”

“Well I’d darned well rather me doin’ a play back east that trying to catch you a boyfriend that’s for sure, ”he said.” And anyway what are you doing here so early, didn’t expect you until mid-morning, thought you were bedding him after all the ruckus was over.”

“So did I,” she said bitterly,” turns out that he’s a harder fish to land that I thought.”

“Looked to me like he’s got a good lookin’ woman already, I should give up on him.”

“Oh no,” she said…”but if I can’t have him then I’ll make damn sure nobody else does,” and with that she threw a purse at him,” here’s your money,” and with that marched off into the night, leaving him looking after her shaking his head,” sure wouldn’t wanna get on the wrong side of you lady,” he said quietly to himself.

The following morning when he awoke Jess was aching all over and had chills running down his back. He lay there feeling sorry for himself for a few minutes and then he looked over to where Millie should have been, only to see the bed was empty. Sitting up and glancing around the room he saw her kneeling by the fire, setting a log in place, she was fully dressed and as soon as she was aware Jess was awake she wandered over and smiled down at him.

“Morning sleepy head,” she said softly, sinking down on the bed and looking down lovingly at him.

“You got up,” said Jess sadly.

“Yeah, well when I awoke you were shivering something fierce and so I thought I’d make up the fire, to warm you up some.”

“Didn’t have to go to all that trouble,” he said his eyes twinkling,” could have just cuddled up…guess that would have done the trick.”

“Oh no,” she said grinning back and shaking her head. ”I know all about you and your love in the morning Jess Harper, tends to go on to lunchtime and I’ve got work to do.”

Then she looked concerned,” anyways I figure you’re not too well, reckon you’ve caught a chill sitting around in all those wet clothes yesterday.”

“Oh I’m fine,” he said swinging his legs out of bed, “nothing that a good hot coffee and some bacon and eggs at Miss Molly’s café won’t cure, you comin’?”

She smiled indulgently at him, “sure, you bet.”

Molly poured out Jess’s second coffee and turning to the couple, said, ”I hear you had a bit of a ruckus at the saloon last night.”

Jess gave her a surprized look,” yeah how did you know?”

“The guy responsible for the scam was here for his breakfast earlier, had the full works,thought it was strange a scruffy looking drifter like him having a purse full of money, then he said he’d had this acting job over at the saloon and earned it fair and square, turns out he’s an out of work actor.”

“Go on,” said Jess quietly his eyes narrowing.

Molly topped up their coffee cups, enjoying being the centre of attention for once.

“Well apparently one of the girls there was trying to get some man into her bed, so she arranged for this guy to come to her room and pretend to attack her and then this knight in shining armour was supposed to race in and save her and then she would be so grateful that she took him to her bed. Anyway turns out that he went off with someone else leaving this girl high and dry and she still had to pay the actor off…he said she was real mad.”

“I bet she was,” said Jess softly exchanging a look with Millie.

“So didn’t you two hear any of this going off?” she said casting them a quizzical look.

“Nah must have slept through it,” said Jess lightly.

After a while she wandered off to attend to another customer leaving Jess seething.

Millie looked across at him, “Jess don’t go getting mad.”

“I ain’t mad,” he spat,” I’m dang furious.”

“You sure are all flushed up,” she said, then leaning over she swept his unruly hair back from his forehead and ran a cool hand over it.

“Jess you’re burning up,” she said,” just forget your argument with Mary for now, only place you’re going is back to bed.”

“Aw Millie….”

“Never mind aw Millie, come on,” she said and virtually frogmarched him back to her room and tenderly helping him to undress laid him back on the bed, and smoothed the cool covers over his shaking fevered body.

She leaned over him looking really concerned,” you’re real bad Jess, if you’re no better come lunchtime I’m running for Doc Baker, now try and sleep a while huh?”

He just nodded; feeling exhausted and he closed his eyes and was soon asleep.

When he awoke he looked up into the concerned eyes of his old friend Doc Sam Baker.

“You’re awake are you then young man,” he said smiling down at his friend, “you’ve had Millie here worried, sweating and swearing and a real fierce fever on you.”

Jess looked up at him, memory suddenly flooding back,” ain’t the fever that’s been makin’ me cuss; it’s that darn woman in the room next door!”

“Yeah, Millie’s been telling me all about it,” he said grinning down at his friend, then he sobered,” its poor ol’ Slim I feel sorry for she sure gave him the run around.”

Jess nodded and then stopped quickly as a violent pain stabbed behind his eyes.

“Just take it easy boy,” said Sam, putting a gentle hand on Jess’s chest,” you’ve got a real bad chill and if you’re not careful it could turn into lung fever, so just you stay put and do what Miss Millie tells you and I’ll send word back to the ranch to say you’ll be laid up for a couple of days…OK?”

“OK,” said Jess resignation in his voice,” if you say so.”

“I do say so,” he said firmly before winking across at Millie and taking his leave.

It was only a matter of minutes after the doc left that there was a tap on the door and Mary walked in. Millie went over to her and said, “Now is not a good time Mary, Jess is sick.”

Mary strode in pushing Millie to one side,” yes, that’s why I want to see him,” and then marching over to the bed, she said,” we need to talk Jess and I need to look after you if you’re sick.”

Then she turned to Millie,” will you give us a minute?” she asked, giving the other girl a hard look.

“Stay where ya are Millie,” said Jess dragging himself up in the bed and giving Mary a cool look.

“What do ya want,” he drawled.

She sat down on the edge of the bed ignoring his less than friendly tone.

“Why to come and care for you and to thank you for last night,” she said batting her eye lashes at him,” I imagine you saved my life Jess, I just don’t know what I’d have done without you,” she simpered.

“Oh you imagine that do ya?” said Jess dryly.

“I just can’t thank you enough, I’m so grateful and relieved you were there for me,” she said, reaching out a hand and placing it on Jess’s naked chest, letting her finger snake down towards his belly.

He pushed her hand away and gave her a hard stare.

“Well that ain’t the way I heard it,” he said icily,” way I heard it was that you we’re real mad at having to pay out good money to that actor when things didn’t turn out as you wanted.”

“What!” she said looking shocked.

“Yeah, we know all about your little scam, now if ya don’t mind I’m feelin’ kinda tired and had enough of your foolin’ around, so will you go…. please?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she blustered, “I don’t understand….. “

“Sure you do, now will you just go?” he said wearily.

She looked white as a sheet and getting up she walked towards the door which was still standing open and she was embarrassed to see Lily and a couple of the other girls standing there looking on as the drama unfolded before them.

Then Jess rallied and yelled, “and you can tell that pimp of yours to watch his back, because I ain’t havin’ him scarin’ Millie, you tell him, I’ll be comin’ lookin’ for him next time he comes to town,” and with that he lay back sweating and exhausted.

Millie went and closed the door before returning with a bowl of cool water and a clean cloth and went about bathing him with the water in an attempt to lower his temperature.

After a while she sat back looking at him a worried expression on her face.

“Jess you wouldn’t do anything…well anything silly would you?”

“How do yeou mean?” he asked his head laying back on the pillow and a look of unease on his face.

“I mean about this pimp whoever he is, don’t go getting in a gunfight, into trouble on my account please Jess.”

He looked up at her,” it’s OK sweetheart, I won’t go getting’ into trouble if that’s what you’re thinkin’, I’ll deal with it real subtle, the guy just won’t bother you again OK? “

“OK,”she nodded reluctantly.

Chapter 6

Jess was well enough to ride back to the ranch a couple of days later and he didn’t visit town again for a few weeks as work kept him at the ranch bringing all the stock down to the lower pastures for the winter. Plus Slim was very disinterested in their usual trips to town to enjoy a few drinks or a dance, still licking his wounds from the sorry business with Mary.

Mike’s Birthday came and went and he had a wonderful time, with a picnic party by the lake for all his school friends. And although it was early Fall and the weather could be unpredictable, they were currently enjoying an Indian Summer and so they were able to swim in the lake which was greatly enjoyed by the youngsters.

The very best presents Mike had were from the family though. As Jess had suggested the little Palomino he had been breaking was an ideal pony for the young boy and by the time his Birthday came round Jess had got her completely broken and gentled and she was a safe easy ride.

Daisy and Slim had clubbed together to by a brand new saddle, instead of the old hand me down one of Andy’s, and Jess had bought the rest of the tack and Mike was pleased as punch. He decided to call the pony Sunbeam, because of her golden colouring, Sunny for short and he was so delighted with her he would have slept out in the barn with the animal if allowed.

Along with the new pony came a little more freedom and now he was a year older it had been agreed that he could play with his best friend, Jackie Brown, on Saturdays, providing all his morning chores were completed, and the very best bit was that he was now allowed to ride the half mile journey on his own and return by himself too, with strict instructions that he was to land home by the afternoon Stage. He had been told that his help was needed to change the team and help wait table for any passengers requiring refreshments, but really they just wanted him home well before nightfall.

On this particular Saturday as the ranchers went about their chores they could hear the sound of distant thunder.

“Sounds like our Indian Summer is over,” said Slim looking across at his partner as he stood holding a fresh plank of wood to mend a break in the corral fence.

Jess nodded absently looking out to the distant horizon where the storm clouds were gathering.

“I might just ride out to Pete Brown’s place and take Mike’s rain slicker, looks like we’re in for one hell of a dousing.”

Slim nodded, “yeah, you get off, I’ll finish here and you should be back to help with the afternoon Stage if you go now.”

Jess nodded and went off to saddle Traveler and a few minutes later rode out of the yard, just as the first drops of rain started to fall.

By the time he arrived at the Brown’s ranch the heavens had well and truly opened and it was as dark as dusk, although it was still only mid-afternoon.

As he rode into the yard Pete Brown came running to meet him a look of surprized pleasure on his face.

“Hey you OK now then Jess?” he said.

“As Ok as I ever am,” he replied with a puzzled look,” a mite wet, but otherwise I guess I’m fine.”

Pete pushed his hat back and scratched his head,” well that ain’t what the little lady said.”

Jess looked down from where he still sat his horse, an expression of worry suddenly on his face…”what little lady?”

“Well the one that took Mike of course…that what’s her name , one that was going with Slim a while back… Mary is it? She rides around here sometimes on a handsome big grey.”

“What you let Mary take Mike off?” said Jess, fear making his voice harsh.

“Well, I’m sorry Jess, way she was talking, sounded like an emergency, she said you’d been hurt and was callin’ for the boy… I offered to ride for Doc Baker, but she said Slim had already gone and the boy was to hurry with her right then.”

“Where…where did she say she was goin’?” asked Jess urgently.

“Well she didn’t say, but they headed opposite way from the ranch, looked to me like she was heading towards the lake….”

Before he could say more Jess turned Traveler and spurred him out of the yard at speed.

By now the rain was lashing down in earnest, making tracking pretty near impossible, so Jess just decided to head towards the lake and hope for the best. He cursed himself for not stopping to ask what sort of head start they had on him, but it was too late to head back, so he spurred a reluctant Traveler on through the torrential rain and mounting wind as he set a course for the lake.

He hadn’t been going long when he heard the sound of an advancing Stagecoach and reining in at the side of the road; he waited until it veered into view and then flagged it down.

Mose pulled the team up and gave Jess his toothless grin,” bit too wet for ya is it Jess, want to ride in side and hitch ol’ Traveler behind?”

“Nah, nothin’ like that Mose, I’m lookin’ for Mike, riding a little golden Palomino along with Mary Goodson, on a big grey not seen ‘em have ya? “

“Sure I have,” he nodded ,” couple of miles back, looked like they was headin’ towards the cave on the far side of the lake, struck me as kinda funny they should be out in this weather, but she caught sight of me watchin’ and set off like grease lightening, young Mike following…so what’s wrong boy? “

“Dunno, for sure Mose, but when you get to the ranch just tell Slim what you’ve told me, tell him I’ll find ‘em, but may not be back tonight OK?”

“Sure, I‘ll tell him,” and with that Mose urged the team on and Jess started cutting across land making directly for the cave.

It was heavy going fighting the elements and as it was nearly dark now Jess had to take his time worried Traveler would stumble and break a leg on the muddy uneven ground. He skirted the side of the lake and continued until he reached the small area of woodland just below the cave and he tethered Traveler in the shelter of one of the large pines before making his way on foot up to the cave.

As he got to the entrance he called out, but there was silence within. Jess walked into the inky depths of the cave and called out again and then struck a match on the seat of his denims and peered around him in the dim light, but he was completely alone, the cave was empty.

He shook his head sadly and made his way down to where he had left his horse, anger and fear mounting, his heart pounding in his chest as his mind ran riot as to what had happened to the boy. She wouldn’t hurt the child……would she?

He quickly remounted Traveler and started quartering the immediate area calling Mike’s name, but all he could hear was the roaring of the wind and the rain cascading down.

He was now beginning to feel cold and wet in spite of the rain slicker he wore, which only protected his top half, his denims soaking and cold against his skin, and he dreaded to think how Mike must be fairing.

He had urged his mount up the hillside constantly calling and now he had reached the top he surveyed the view in the failing light, then he saw a movement in the far distance and focusing his eyes he could just make out Sunny’s golden rump as he grazed beneath the cover of a huge pine.

He spurred Traveler down the far side of the hill and soon caught up with the little pony, but there was no sign of Mike. He again quartered the area around where he had found Sunny, but this side of the hill was open and exposed and it was obvious that there was nobody about and so after an hour or so Jess reluctantly returned to the wooded area beside the lake and tethered both mounts in the shelter of the trees. He removed their saddles and dried them off as well as he could and then he returned to the cave carrying the saddles and built a huge fire in the mouth of the cave in the hope that Mike would see it and come to investigate. He was just glad that there was plenty of dry wood stored at the back of the cave, because this was a popular picnic spot with the ranchers. They often slept out in the cave by a cosy camp fire and so they always left a goodly supply of wood there.

Once the fire was blazing Jess decided to take one final look around although he was beginning to think that maybe Mike was riding double with Mary and they had headed back to town, as he really couldn’t conceive that she would leave him afoot in this weather, a young child alone.

He shuddered at the thought and climbed down the steep track from the cave once more and started skirting the lakeside. At last the wind had dropped, although the rain was still falling relentlessly.

After another good hour of calling Jess was just about to return to the cave when he thought he heard something. He froze and then called out louder,” Mike that you?” and after a second was rewarded by a weak cry,” Jess… Jess oh where are you?”

Jess ran towards the sound and after a few minutes the youngster ran into his arms crying piteously.

“Jess, oh Jess she’s taken Sunny…..she’s taken my horse.”

Jess knelt down holding the boy tight, tears of relief springing to his eyes and finally coursing down his cheeks mingling with the driving rain.

“No Tiger, she ain’t, I’ve got her ,” he finally managed,” she’s dried off and tethered up along with ol’ Trav, come and look, “and holding the boy’s hand tightly he led himto where the horses were sheltering beneath the pines.

The boy ran to the pony flinging his arms around her neck and crying afresh as the horse gave him an unconcerned whinny before puttingher head down to graze again.

“See Mike, she’s happy as a clam and dry and safe here with Traveler, so lets you and me go up to the cave an’ get dried off some too….OK?”

Reluctantly the boy left his pony and Jess picked him up and carried him up the steep path to the cave as he was obviously utterly exhausted.

Once they arrived at the cave, Jess threw some more branches on the fire and helped Mike to strip off his wet clothes, then Jess stripped off his warm undershirt and shirt, which were still bone dry, thanks to the slicker and put them on the boy, before putting the wet clothes to dry by the fire. He got the bedrolls from their saddles and laid one by the fire for Mike to lie on and slung the other one around his now naked shoulders to offer a little warmth.

“So, you up to tellin’ me about it?” he asked as the boy, sat by the fire his pale cheeks now aglow and looking much more himself.

“Well it was that ol’ Mary,” he started throwing Jess a dark look,” she came to pick me up from Jackie’s place and I weren’t gonna go. I know as how I ain’t allowed to go with strangers and I know she ain’t really, but guess you and Slim have fallen out with her…so she’s kinda a stranger ain’t she?” he said turning innocent blue eyes on his friend.

“I guess,” said Jess hiding a smile at the child’s logic.

“So anyways, then she said you were hurt , out here at the cave and as how Slim had gone for doc Sam and I was to go with her and help tend you until the doc came,” at this the child looked sadly at his friend, “well I was real upset and so I went with her…and then…”

“Go on Tiger, and then?”

“Well we got to the edge of the lake down there and it was blowin’ and rainin’ something fierce and so she said as how she would tether the horses and I was to go onup to the cave where you were, said she’d be along in a minute.”

As the child continued with his tale Jess could feel himself getting more and more angry.

“Go on, ”he said, very quietly.

The boy shot Jess a wary look and then continued, “When I got here I couldn’t find ya and after a little while I went back down and…well she’d gone Jess and so had the horses the big grey from the livery an’ Sunny, they’d both gone.”

Jess took a deep shuddering breath hardly believing what he was hearing….

”So she left you afoot, in this storm?” he said, a muscle twitching in his cheek and his eyes narrowed.

“Yeah, I guess she did,” whispered the little boy.

“Then I started searching for Sunny, I figured maybe she had just taken her off a little way, she was maybe playin’ a game or somethin’…. So I searched, for hours Jess I searched and searched and I just couldn’t find her,” and then the boy began crying softly again at the enormity of thinking he’d lost his beloved horse.

Jess went and pulled the youngster onto his knee and held him tightly until the sobbing finally eased and the boy fell into an uneasy sleep. Then Jess laid him down by the fire covering him with a blanket and gently stroked his floppy fringe from his eyes,” by God she’ll pay for this boy,” he whispered before settling down for the night himself.

The following day Mike seemed none the worse for wear to Jess’s amazement and they set off for the ranch shortly after first light, feeling hungry and tired after a night on the hard floor of the cave.

As they hit the Laramie road heading for the ranch, Jess wasn’t surprized to see Slim heading towards them, a grin a mile wide on his face when he saw them riding out of the chilly mist that had replaced the rain and wind.

He reined Alamo in as the two riders approached and cast a concerned look over them,” hey you OK?” he asked.

“Sure,” grinned Jess,” we got kinda wet last night didn’t we buddy,” he said casting a look over to Mike and then back at Slim,” but figure we’ve survived OK.”

“Sure have,” beamed Mike,” but heck Slim we sure are starvin’ hungry.”

“Well come on then,” laughed the smiling rancher,” what are you waiting for, Daisy’s got the bacon and biscuits on, lets go,” and the three of them galloped back down the road and into the yard.

Jess sat with the others and ate a little breakfast, but Slim and Daisy exchanged looks as he finally stopped eating and stared down moodily into his coffee cup.

Then Mike begged to be allowed to go and pet his horse and smiling indulgently at him Daisy agreed, “but then you come in and get your head down young man, I want you to have a good nap before lunch,” she said.

Once the boy had gone Daisy and Slim turned their attention to Jess, ”are you OK buddy?” asked Slim quietly.

Jess finally looked up from his cup, “no I ain’t,” he said,” I’m so damn mad, I don’t think I should ride into town…...don’t know what I’d do…ain’t never hit a woman Slim…but hell I’mreal close to it right now.”

Then he turned to Daisy and ducked his head, “sorry Ma’am, guess it’s time for some plain speakin’ though.”

She reached out and took his hand,” it’s alright dear, I understand and I think we are all feeling exactly the same…how could she….how could she leave that poor innocent boy afoot in a storm like that ?”

He shook his head sadly, “just can’t figure it Daisy.”

In the end the decision as to whether to ride to town to confront Mary, or not, was taken out of their hands as there was suddenly a hammering at the door and it was a neighbour with news that one of the Sherman fences was down and some prime steers had wandered dangerously near some boggy land adjacent to the river. The two ranchers rose as one and had their horses saddled up and were riding at full tilt out of the yard within minutes.

Rescuing the steers was a dangerous and arduous task and by the time they were all safely back in their pasture and the fence mended both men were exhausted and filthy dirty covered in mud from head to foot. They rode wearily back to the ranch just as dusk was falling and then took it in turns to use the outside shower before even thinking of entering the house.

It was some hours later when they were enjoying a last coffee in front of the fire, before turning in, that the subject of Mary was finally raised again.

“Well she can’t be allowed to get away with it,” said Jess firmly and although they hadn’t been discussing the matter Slim knew to what he was alluding at once.

He shook his head mystified,” I just can’t figure why she’s been so goddamn nasty. It isn’t like we have done anything to her is it?” asked Slim, turning a puzzled face to his friend.

Jess squirmed in his seat suddenly feeling very uncomfortable; the only thing he could think of was that she was somehow trying to pay him back for him steadfastly refusing to fall for her charms.

Slim must have noticed his discomfort because he suddenly glanced at his partner and said…”unless…..”

“Unless what?” asked Jess very quietly.

“What’s that phrase I’m looking for,” said Slim,” ah yes….. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”


“Come on Jess, you know very well what I mean, she’s been coming on to you and you’re refusing to play aren’t you?”

Jess just gave his friend a pained look.

“It’s OK pard,” Slim said finally,” I’m over it now, can see her as she really is …and I guess she’s a real bad lot, if she can vent her feelings of frustration out on a young kid like that…figure you need to watch your back Jess, she’s dangerous…real dangerous.”

“I’m sorry,” said Jess, giving his friend a sincere look,” I ain’t encouraged her, honest I ain’t.”

Slim looked down, like he was completely beaten and then back at Jess and gave him the ghost of a smile, “it’s Ok, I know she’s been doing all the running…she took great pleasure in telling me how much she wanted to be with you when we broke up.”

Jess gave a low whistle and shook his head,” she really is a nasty piece of work ain’t she,” he said softly.

They were silent for a little while and then Slim said,” I figure it’s best if I deal with it Jess, feeling the way you do…well if you really lose your temper it could get you into a lot of trouble.”

Jess’s head shot up, “I guess you don’t want any dealings with her either?”

“No, I don’t that’s why I aim to let Mort Cory take care of it for us Jess, not only is the Sheriff a very good friend to us, he knows Mike, knows he wouldn’t lie about a thing like this.”

“So what are ya sayin’?”

“Just that she will try and lie her way out of it and this time I want the full force of the law going up against her. Mort might not be able to get child abduction to stand up in court , but he sure as hell can read her the riot act and…well if she does anything else, he’ll be in the picture, know what she’s like.”

Jess just nodded,” I guess you are right Slim, after yesterday’s little game, God knows what she might get up to next.”

With that they turned in for the night and the following day Slim rode into town to meet up with Mort while Jess continued checking the fences out on the north pasture, where the steers had escaped.

Slim marched into Mort’s office and was pleased to find him sitting at his desk doing some paper work and he looked up and grinned at his friend.

“Hey Slim, ain’t seen you in town for a while,” then suddenly remembering why his buddy hadn’t been around he said more gently,” how are ya doing?” gesturing for Slim to sit.

He sat in the chair opposite the desk and accepted a coffee from Mort before replying.

“Yeah, guess I’m OK now Mort, feel every kind of a fool the way that woman played me like a prize fish, but well, I figure we all learn from our mistakes,” he finished sadly.

Mort just nodded.

“Anyways, it’s her I’m here about, you see it’s this way Mort, the woman up and took Mike off , a couple of days ago, and then left himafoot in that bad storm we had, well Jess and me are real mad, wondered if you could do something?”

Slim continued to fill his friend in on the details and Mort was really shocked and upset by the turn of events, having a real soft spot for Mike himself.

“Trouble is, he’s a minor, doubt it would stand up in court of law, but I surely will go and have it out with this Goodson woman.”

Then more quietly he looked thoughtful, “don’t know what it is Slim, but there sure is something that just don’t ring true with her.”

Slim nodded,” yeah, I know…at first she was posing as a lady and she was really a hooker, but there is more to it than that I’m sure Mort, she’s hiding something, but I just don’t know what it is.”

“Leave it with me then Slim, I’ll give her a real dressing down and threaten to throw the book at her, if she does anything like that again…..but Slim, keep Jess away from her, I sure don’t wanna have to haul him in for a breach of the peace, on top of all this.”

“I’ll do my best, but you know Jess he’s good and mad and if she pulls anything else then I guess there won’t be any stopping him,” he finished and with a little salute left Mort to his paper work and headed back to the ranch.

Chapter 7

When Slim got back from town after visiting the Sheriff, Jess was still out checking all the fences as several posts had come down, due to the exceptionally wet and windy weather and he again arrived home cold tired and very muddy.

Daisy had held back supper for him and he landed for in the ranch house with his black hair still wet from the shower and his clean clothes thrown on as he made haste to the table.

“Sorry Daisy,” he said as he finished buttoning up his shirt, “guess there’s more mud than grazin’ out there right now and most of it stickin’ to me.”

She beamed across at the young cowboy,” that’s alright dear, I’m just sorry about all the extra work this is making for you both and with all this dreadful weather I shouldn’t be surprized if the last dance of the season were cancelled too.”

“I sure hope not,” he replied a look of worry on his face,” I’m lookin’ forward to a hot date with Millie tomorrow, it seems ages since I saw her.”

Then he turned to Slim who was helping himself to the excellent rabbit stew Daisy had just placed on the table.

”How about it Hard Rock, ya can’t miss the last open air dance, they’re so much better than those ones in the town hall, too darn hot in there and not enough space….. “

“No quiet trees to wander off amongst with your date either,” replied Slim with a small smile.

“Err,” Daisy cleared her throat and cast an eye towards Mike, and Jess quickly changed the subject and it wasn’t until Mike had retired that the subject was reintroduced.

“So you coming to the dance tomorrow?” asked Jess again, once they were sitting by the fire enjoying a post supper coffee.

Slim looked sadly into the fire and started to shake his head.

“Slim Sherman,” said Daisy briskly,” it’s way time you snapped out of this now, that dreadful girl has upset you I know, but you can’t let her ruin your life for ever. What is it you cowboys say, have to get back up when you’ve been thrown?”

Jess grinned to himself at the rather inappropriate turn of phrase, but agreed with the sentiment.

“Daisy is right Slim, come to town, we’ll have a couple of beers and I know for a fact that Millie’s friend Lily would be real happy to be your partner at the dance.”

There was a spark of interest in Slim’s eye,” you think so?”

“I know so buddy…so are you on? “

“I guess,” he replied with a reluctant smile, “and if I remember rightly it was your round.”

Jess grinned over at Daisy,” he’s sure got a good memory ain’t he Daisy,” and she chuckled back, pleased that Slim finally seemed to be on the mend.

The following morning dawned bright and clear with the promise of a perfect Fall day and so they were pretty sure the dance would take place. After all their chores were completed for the day the two cowboys got washed and changed and were ready to ride out by late afternoon, thinking that they would have a couple of drinks at the saloon when they went to pick up their dates prior to the dance.

As they emerged from their room in their best clothes, Daisy came out of the kitchen, drying her hands and beamed at them, looking them over from head to toe,” oh my, you both look so handsome,” she said happily,” if I was twenty years younger I’d go to the dance with you myself!”

Jess stepped forward and gave her a peck on the cheek,” heck no Daisy 10 years younger I guess.”

“Oh you,” she giggled,” save your charm for Millie,” and after adjusting Slim’s string tie and brushing some imaginary fluff from Jess’s frock coat, she waved them off as they rode out of the yard at a fast pace.

When they arrived in town they booked their mounts in to the Livery and then headed straight for the saloon. This was the moment Slim had been dreading as he really didn’t want to see Mary and so he was pleased to see that there was no sign of her as they entered. Jess bought the first round, as promised, and looked over the two part time bar maids Tom had working for him.

“Millie and Lily getting ready?” he asked as Tom came over for a chat.

“That they are boy, been preening and prettying up for hours, used up all the hot water in the place and plumb refused to do a tap of work after lunch, had to get these two in ta help me,” he said tipping his head to where the two young girls were eyeing up Jess and giggling at the far end of the bar. Then leaning forwards he whispered, “mighty easy on the eye, but don’t know as much about bar work as the cat.”

Jess grinned at his friend. Slim had gone over to a nearby table to grab some seats for when the girls finally came down, so Jess took the opportunity to ask about Mary. Tom’s expression changed,” oh she’s workin’ later I guess, unless she comes down with one of her mystery ailments, I’ll tell ya Jess I’m real near the end of my patience with that one… “

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Jess with feeling, before picking up the beers and wandering off to join his buddy.

They didn’t have long to wait before the girls entered, to a stir of interest and plenty of admiring glances from the drinkers at the bar.

Jess and Slim stood up immediately and helped Lily and Millie to their seats and Slim went over to the bar for more drinks.

“Well you two were sure worth waitin’ for,” drawled Jess, casting both girls an appreciative look.

Millie was dressed in her favored scarlet, low cut dress with the black lace trim, topped off with a beautiful black silk wrap and Lily looked pretty in a light mauve dress enhancing her pale blond hair and blue eyes. Both girls had their hair up in a sophisticated style and looked happy and relaxed.

Once Slim came back and engaged Lily in conversation Jess took Millie’s hand and giving her an adoring look said,” gee it’s good to see ya Millie, I’ve missed you something fierce.”

She smiled up into his eyes,” me too,” she whispered,” guess I’ll show you how much later… “

He threw her a cheeky wink and then Slim suggested they head off, and after some banter and laughter with old Tom ,they left the salon and headed down Main Street, for the little dance floor and bar at the edge of town.

They had a magical evening which seemed to pass far too quickly and a few short hours later found Jess and Slim wrapped around their girls in the slow dreamy last dance of the night.

Jess tenderly kissed the top of Millie’s head as she rested it on his chest and pulled her even closer to him, feeling her soft form tremble a little as he did so. He put a finger under her chin and tipping it up , looked deeply into her dark brown eyes before looking down at her full red lips and leaning in kissed her passionately. She gave a little gasp of pleasure and then pulling gently back said, “do we have to have that drink with Mort and Lon, I’d rather go straight upstairs Jess.”

He gave her a warm look back,” well Mort did come over specially to invite us, it’s a sorta a goodbye drink with Lon, he’s deputizing over for the Sheriff in Cheyenne for a couple of weeks. How about we just have the one and then head off…yeah?”

“OK……just the one,” she smiled, then looking over to where Slim and Lily were holding each other close said softly,” guess those two won’t want to be hanging about drinking all night either.”

Jess grinned over at his buddy relieved that it looked like he was finally over the Silver Lady as Mike had called her.

Once back in the saloon they had enjoyed a drink with the Sheriff and his deputy Lon, wishing him a safe journey, and after a little while Millie made her excuses and went up to bed. For conventions sake Jess stayed down stairs a little while longer before taking his leave through the front door, giving Slim a covert wink and whispering ,” see yer tomorrow pard.”

He walked along the side walk and then down the back alley beside the saloon before turning to make his way up the external stairway, and suddenly stopped in his tracks. There was a little bench just at the base of the stairway where the girls sometimes took their ease on summer evenings, enjoying a cigarette and a gossip between shifts.

Now as he approached the stairs he could make out the glow of a cigarette and as he came closer he could see it was Mary sitting out on the bench, a solitary figure, drawing deeply on the cigarettes and then exhaling, the smoke floating up into the dark night sky. She wore the very low cut grey dress without a wrap and Jess wondered briefly if she was cold as the evening had turned chilly.

She peered up at him not looking at all surprised to see him there,” so we are alone at last,” she purred, “long time sinceI’ve seen you cowboy,” licking her lips and giving him a provocative look from beneath her lashes.

“Not long enough,” spat Jess making to walk past her.

She stood up quickly and put out a restraining hand to his arm and he again felt a spasm of desire in his gut at her touch.

She looked up into his dark blue eyes,” not lost my touch then, have I Jess, so when are you just going to give in…you know you want to…..you want me don’t you?”

He wrenched his arm away from her and looked furious, “do you think I’d really have anything to do with you after what you put Mike through,” he yelled.

She looked hurt,” that was just a misunderstanding, I tried to explain to the Sheriff, the boy just didn’t understand…. “

“He sure as hell understood you stole his horse and left him afoot in a storm… a little 10 year old kid, what in Hell were you thinkin’?” he spat.

She turned furious eyes on him,” I was thinking how much I wanted to hurt you,” she screamed and I guess I succeeded.”

“Why you……..” he raised his hand to slap her, then pulled back, “you bitch……. ” he whispered, before pushing her roughly out of his way and running lightly up the stairs.

She looked after him a mixture of pain and hatred etched on her face…..

”You’ll pay,” she whispered under her breath…..

Suddenly a tall grey haired man was at her side, “what’s this talking to yourself now my dear,” he said in an educated eastern accent.

She threw him an angry look.

“So who was that?” he asked, looking up the staircase where Jess had disappeared.

“Nobody … .nobody at all,” she said.

“Oh come my dear, you forget… I am your manager and I get a percentage of everything you earn, so has that gentleman got an arrangement with you…shall we be seeing him later maybe? “

She shook her head, “oh no, I think I can guarantee that we won’t be seeing him later,” and with that she showed her, pimp up to her room. But as she walked up the stairs his comment had suddenly sparked an idea and as she walked she made plans…plans for Jess and plans for her pimp too……


Jess tapped on Millie’s door and she answered at once, peering down the length of the corridor before ushering him in.

“I thought I heard voices,” she said before turning to look at him, what she saw made her gasp in shock, Jess was pale and shaking with anger.

She leaned forwards and put a gentle hand to his chest,” hey honey, what’s wrong?” she asked.

He looked down breathing deeply before looking at her, his eyes almost black with anger,” that woman!” he spat.

“Mary, you’ve seen her?”

“Sure have, she had the damn nerve to start foolin’ about out there after what she did to Mike,” he said shaking his head in disbelief.

He collapsed on the bench by the door and after a minute tugged off his boots, unbuckled his gun belt and hung it on the hook by the door, as usual ,and then did the same with his hat and frock coat, before looking up at where Millie was standing looking uncertainly down at him.

He sighed deeply and then standing up took her in his arms, “I’m sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t let her get to me.”

She gave him a loving smile and taking him by the hand led him to the big old couch in front of the blazing fire where he threw himself down and undid his tie and top button before accepting the glass of Red Eye she offered him.

She sank down beside him and he was suddenly aware that she had changed into the slinky black negligee he so liked, and he tipped back the drink in one, before turning his full attention on his best girl.

They were lying on the couch together, Jess was whispering in her ear and she was gently unbuttoning his shirt and so neither of them noticed that the door opened a few inches and a female hand with long blood red finger nails snaked around the opening and stealthily removed Jess’s colt .45 from its holster before silently closing the door again.

Things were just getting ‘real interesting’ ,as Jess said later, and he was thinking of suggesting they might be more comfortable in Millie’s bed… .when the two shots rang out.

He stopped what he was doing and stared down at Millie, the shock in his eyes reflected in hers.

He let out an expletive before jumping up from the couch and buttoning his pants, headed for the door. He hesitated for a split second beside the door noting his gun was missing, before charging out unarmed.

The gun shots had come from next door and without pausing he crashed into the room and was shocked to see Mary standing there, his gun in her hand, still smoking, the smell of cordite hanging inthe air and a tall grey haired man, lying dead on the bed , two gunshot wounds to the chest.

As Jess entered she shouted,” catch,” and threw him the gun…and that was how Mort Cory, Lon , Slim , Lily and several other worthy citizens of Laramie found him a few seconds later, the gun…still smoking in his hand and a look of total shock on his face.

As the others entered Mary shouted out in anguish,” Jess…oh God………Jess you’ve killed him.”

It took a moment, for him to to come to his senses,” What,” he yelled,” I never”…then turning to look the Sheriff in the eye,” Hell Mort…it weren’t me, I never did this.”

Mort reached over and took the gun from his hand,” OK boy, figure we’d better discuss this back at my office,” and gently taking Jess’s arm he led him out of the saloon, and down the street, still looking totally shocked.

When they arrived at Mort’s office Jess just stood there shaking his head as if trying to clear it of some dreadful nightmare.

Slim had accompanied them to the office and now he took his partner by the shoulders and shook him, “Jess talk to me, what in Hell is all this about?”

Jess turned stunned eyes to his best friend;” I dunno,” he said,” I just dunno.”

Mort turned on him then,” come on Jess you can do better than that, I want to help you here son, but you ain’t making any sense, I’ve just come from a room where there is a dead man and you were holding a smoking gun with a hysterical woman shouting,’ Jess you’ve killed him,’ now what am I supposed to do, other than throw you in jail on a murder charge?”

“It weren’t me,” was all Jess would say.

“OK so if it wasn’t you then I guess there was only one other person it could have been…was it Mary, Jess did she take your gun and kill him?”

Jess just looked down, and said nothing.

Suddenly Slim was furious,” Hell Jess you and your dad gum warped sense of fairness, if Mary is guilty just say so…don’t matter that she’s a woman if she’s responsible………………..”

Jess looked down and then whispered,” yeah, she done it alright, stole my gun while I was with Millie and when the shots went off, I ran in and then she threw me the gun… that’s what happened and that’s the way you found me Mort.”

Mort gave a sigh of relief”, now all we have to do is prove it Jess…. but I just can’t see as how we can do that,” he said sadly.

“You may have Millie as your witness, but half the good men of Laramie saw you with the gun in your hand, and it’s going to be mighty hard to convince a jury of your innocence, they’ll have you branded as guilty, no matter how much Slim, Millie and I know different! After all you’ve been seeing Millie, so she would lie for you, that’s the way folk will see it. And I’m sorry Jess but I haven’t got anything else I can do, gonna have to lock you up and hold you for a trial.”

Slim looked furious,” what about Mary, she gets off Scot free does she?”

“No she does not Slim. As a key witness she has to remain in town and rest assured I’ll be watching her mighty closely.”

Just then the office door flew open, and a now a fully dressed Millie ran in and straight into Jess’s arms

” Oh honey, they can’t believe you did that,” she said looking up at him with anguished eyes and then turning to look at Mort,” please Sheriff, he’s innocent.”

Mort patted her gently on the shoulder,” well you and I may think that girl, but guess the rest of the town will take some convincing and until then I figure he’s safest holed up here with me.”

Jess held her close and then looked at Slim over her head and gestured for him to take over, and his buddy gently pulled her away from Jess’s embrace, and taking her arm said softly,” come on Millie, I’ll see you back to the saloon, we’ll visit Jess in the morning,” and very reluctantly she allowed herself to be led away.

Whenthey had gone Mort gestured for Jess to enter the cell and after closing the door behind him gave his friend a sad look,” guess I’ll make us both some coffee he,” said turning away.


The next morning Slim and Millie visited and Slim promised to get the family lawyer, Matt Benson, on the case and he marched into the jail a little later that morning.

“Here to see your prisoner Sheriff,” he said in his pleasant brisk manner,” how’s he holding up?”

Mort shook his head,” not too good, mad as a wet hen …and who can blame him, he’s been framed by a real pro and I guess it’s your job to prove it,” he said frankly.

“Um and that’s not going to be an easy task, nobody seems to know much about this Mary Goodson, except that she hails from back east and with the circuit judge due next week for the trial, there isn’t much time to dig out any dirt on her…if indeed there is any,” and shaking his head he made his way towards the cells at the back of Mort’s office.

Jess was sitting on the edge of the hard cot looking a picture of dejection, but he leapt up as soon as he saw Matt Benson and waited while Mort unlocked the cell and let the tall striking looking middle aged man in, before starting a tirade of angry words, most of them Mort noted wryly were of the four letter variety, and shaking his head he backed off and left Matt alone with his client.

Matt Benson was a patient man and he listened to Jess protest his innocence and defile Mary’s character until he eventually slowed down and throwing himself back down on the cot lapsed into silence.

“OK young man now simmer down, you’re not doing yourself or anyone else any good carrying on like this. Now let’s start again. I need to know all about your relationship with this woman.”

“There ain’t no relationship with her,” Jess said sullenly,” only in her head.”

“Right so let’s start there then, she has been wanting a relationship with you and you have not been……shall we say cooperative.”

Jess just nodded his head.

“And this woman has taken it in bad part, to the extent of abducting your ward, young Michael, purely to cause you worry and anxiety is that correct?”

“Yeah, I keep tellin’ ya she’s a real bad lot Mr Benson, real bad.

“So tell me exactly what happened last night, from the point when you left the salon bar.”

“Well I went out and then turned down the alley to come in by the back entrance.”

“And why did you do that pray?”

“Well I was goin’ courtin’ of course.”

“And you didn’t want the people in the saloon to be privy to the fact.”


“You didn’t want them to know you were visiting this err…Millie in her room?”

“Yeah that’s right, its private our relationship, nobody else’s business and I was tryin’ to keep her reputation intact you know?”

“You really are a very moral person aren’t you young man, in your own way.”

“Try to do what’s right,” he muttered.

“So you went round the back of the saloon to gain entry via the rear fire escape yes?”

“Yes…and then I saw her sat on the bench outside.”


“Mary Goodson, looked like she was waitin’ for someone.”

“And you had words?”

“Could say so……. yeah.”

“She propositioned you again and you refused her?”

“Darn right I did, surprized she had the nerve to pass the time of day considering what she’d done to young Mike.”

“You were very angry?”

Jess was silent for a moment looking down, before looking Matt Benson in the eye,” nearly hit her,” he growled,” damn near thing, but I walked away.”

“Good man, and then you went up to Millie’s room. Did you tell her about this incident?”

“Yeah, she could see I was upset, we talked about it some and then …..”

“And then?”

“We stopped talkin’ about it, ”he said softly.

“So what exactly were you doing when the shots rang out?”

“I told you I’d gone there a courtin’”, Jess replied coldly.

“Ah, yes but what exactly were you doing?”

Jess sighed in exasperation,” well, we was makin’ love, what do yer want me to do, paint a picture?” he spat, flushing and giving the older man an angry look.

“I’m merely trying to ascertain whether your attention was distracted enough that you would not have noticed Mary slipping into the room and removing your gun from the holster, which I understand was by the door.”

“Oh my attention was good and distracted,” Jess agreed.

“Good, good said Mr Benson, we have the name of the deceased now, Miss Goodson admitted it was her manager.”

“Manager…pimp more like,” Jess spat and then he turned pale,” oh God…..”

“What is it man, what is the problem?”

Jess was silent for a long time before turning troubled eyes on the lawyer,” I promised to sort him out. He’d been threatening Millie and the other girls and I told Mary that she’d better tell him to watch his back, ‘cos I’d be seeing him…said it in front of witnesses too.”

Benson shook his head,” Oh dear…..”

“That along with what Miss Goodson said in her statement…well this isn’t looking too good son.”

“Why what’s she been saying now?”

“Just that you and she were secret lovers; you wouldn’t admit it because you didn’t want to upset Slim. You saw the man, Clay Jackson, meet up with Miss Goodson as you went up the stairs to meet your girl and you knew Jackson had been threatening to expose Miss Goodson’ s err……profession unless she offered him her favours. She said you made an excuse to Millie to leave the room and went to her room, where in a fit of insane jealousy you shot the man.”

“What!” yelled Jess, unable to believe his ears,” are you crazy…that ain’t the way it was, for God’s sake Mr Benson, you gotta believe me it weren’t that way.”

Matt Benson looked deeply into the young cowboys face,” yes I do believe you,” he said at last, “but I reckon we’re going to have one Hell of a job getting a jury to believe you Jess. She’s one good little actress and you also have the Sheriff and Deputy as key witnesses, saw you there with the gun in your hand… and we can’t change that.”

Jess suddenly sank his head in his hands,” I’m done for ain’t I,” he whispered.

Benson leaned forwards and clapped Jess on the shoulder,” don’t give up son, I figure we’re praying for a miracle here…but they do happen sometimes.”

He left a little later saying the trial would be scheduled for Wednesday of that week a mere three days away as that was when the circuit judge was due to arrive.

Slim returned an hour or so later to sit with his buddy and was devastated to see the state of him, looking pale and drawn. He had refused all food since the incident and was just drinking Mort’s gut rot coffee and looked really strung out.

“How’s it going pard?” he asked softly as he sat down on the edge of the other cot in the cramped cell.

Jess just shook his head miserably, “she’s tellin’ everyone we are secret lovers now”, he spat…”can ya believe it.”

Then suddenly he sat bolt upright,” Hell ya don’t believe it do ya Slim?”

The blond rancher looked across at Jess,” sure I don’t…anyways, I can always tell when you’re lying,” he said with the ghost of a smile.

Jess breathed a sigh of relief,” Millie OK?”

“Sure, she’s stronger than I realised, won’t hear a word against you, determined to speak up for you at the trial and she’s convinced you’ll get off.”

He nodded, then,” you ain’t though are yer Slim?”

“Sure I am….. “

Jess laughed coldly and gave his friend a hard look,” you forget I can always tell when you’re lying too, buddy. And when your lawyer is praying for a miracle, then I guess there ain’t much hope.”

“Jess you can’t be this way, you have to believe it will be OK.”

“Look Slim there are only three people who are one hundred per cent sure I’m innocent, me Millie and Mary…. I hate to ask you pard, but could you talk to Mary try and get her to tell the truth, cos I figure she’s the only one that can save me now.”

Slim threw him a hurt look,” there are four people that believe one hundred per cent that you are innocent and don’t you forget it.”

Jess flushed and looked down with embarrassment.

”Thanks,” he whispered,” and I’m sorry Slim.”

“Yes I will speak to Mary….. I’ll do my best for you, but guess she’s going to be a pretty hard nut to crack, reckon she’s half-crazy you know Jess,” he said shaking his head sadly.

As it happened it wasn’t until the following day that Slim managed to see Mary as she had locked herself in her room, refusing to come out. When she finally emerged though he was sitting outside where he had been keeping vigil for several hours. As soon as she saw him she backed into her room and tried to shut the door in his face, but Slim was too fast for her and putting his foot in the door wrenched the handle from her grasp and pushed past her into the room.

She gave a resigned sigh and followed him in, closing the door behind her.

“Well what is it…let’s get this over with Slim.”

“It’s real simple Mary; I just want you to tell the truth at the trial.”

“Oh I will,” she smiled viciously “’I’ll tell it like it is, Jess and I are lovers, he couldn’t bear the thought of another man having me and so he killed Clay in cold blood…that’s what happened and that is what I shall be swearing to in court.”

“You’re lying through your teeth,” he spat angrily,” and guess you’ve forgotten Millie’s evidence.”

“Oh nobody will believe that little trollop, she’s so besotted with Jess she would say anything he asked her to and everyone knows that.”

“You really are crazy aren’t you,” said Slim quietly.

“OK,” she yelled so here is the truth, I wanted Jess so badly…… and he wouldn’t have anything to do with me and that made me so damn angry. Then the night of the killing when I saw him by the fire escape, I practically begged him…and nobody turns me down and gets away with it. Then Clay said something, thought Jess was a client, he would be coming to my room later…… .so I decided I would get him in there one way or another. I hated Clay with a passion,” she continued quietly,” he used me, abused me and he was also blackmailing me, insisted on more money or he would disclose a… a little secret I have. So he had to go. He was pretty drunk and dozing on my bed when I slipped out and went to Millie’s room. For once they had forgotten to lock the door and I sneaked in… I could hear him talking to her real low and when I peeped in they were lying on the big old couch……together…... So I took Jess’s gun and crept back to my room. I wanted to kill Clay, that’s for sure, but I wanted to stop Jess making love to that woman even more. I was so mad I wanted to see him hang…….and that’s exactly what’s going to happen to him Slim, because if you breathe a word of anything I have said today, I shall just deny this conversation ever happened.”

Slim’s head shot up and suddenly he felt a white hot anger rush through him and lifting his hand he slapped her hard across the face,” you lying bitch,” he spat.

She reeled back a look of shock on her face…”you… you hit me,” she gasped.

“Jess nearly hit you the night of the killing, he was so mad about what you did to Mike, but he managed to walk away……..you thought I was the gentleman and he was the rough ranch hand didn’t you. Well you sure as hell got that wrong, looks like Jess is more of a gentleman than I am,” and with that he strode from the room.

Chapter 8

Slim had been away from the ranch for a couple of days now and whereas he had got word to Daisy that he and Jess had to attend to some business in town and would be home soon he knew he couldn’t put off telling her the truth any longer, for fear that she found out from a neighbour. Old Mose who had delivered the message to Daisy had also called at their good neighbour’ s ranch and arranged for the two sons Charlie and Fred to help out with the chores.

So it was that Slim headed home later that day after his confrontation with Mary. He had returned to visit Jess and had to tell him that his quest had been unsuccessful and when he reached the point where he had slapped her he saw the shock in his buddy’s eyes.

“I was just so goddamn mad, guess I wanted to kill her,” he said hanging his head in shame. “The way she was talking, telling the truth for once, bragging about it Jess, sayin’ she would just deny everything…..and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.”

Jess just shook his head sadly,” I guess that’s it then………. But Slim, please try and make it as easy as you can for Daisy and Mike, hell I don’t want them hurt by all this.”

“Well they’re going to be Jess, there is no other way, they’ll hear the truth sooner or later, I figure they’ll just have to face up to it. At least Mike is on half term, so he won’t have heard about it at school. I’ll get him to stay at his friend Jackie’s place for a few days, guess Daisy will want to come into town for the trial.”

“No,”shouted Jess at once, I don’t want her to, it’s no place for a woman, besides if it goes… .goes badly, well I don’t want her to see it, please tell her to stay with the boy… …”and turning away he went and stood with his head bowed and Slim could see he was struggling with his emotions.

He walked over and squeezed his friends shoulder,” I’ll do my best pard, see you later,” and he left, but Jess didn’t turn round or say goodbye and once he heard the cell door bang behind his departing friend he lay down on the bunk, throwing an arm across his face and gave in to the raw emotions he was feeling.

Slim rode home with a heavy heart and as soon as he had attended to his horse he strode across the yard and into the ranch house.

“Hey it’s kind of quiet around here,” he said as Daisy entered the main room from the kitchen.

He walked over and pecked her cheek,” you been OK? “

“I’m fine dear, Mike is playing over at Jackie’s house and you have just missed Fred and Charlie, they will be back for the afternoon Stage”, then looking around,” so where is Jess?”

“Any coffee going?” he replied, avoiding her eyes.

She raised a quizzical eyebrow,” don’t tell me he can’t tear himself away from Millie,” she said with a little chuckle. She disappeared into the kitchen and returned with the coffee pot and two cups, which she placed on the table.

Slim went and sat down opposite her and once she had poured out their drinks he looked her in the eye and said quietly, “we need to talk Daisy.”

“Oh”, she said glancing up at him, suddenly realising how serious Slim was looking,” what is the matter dear?”

He sighed deeply, looking into his cup;” this is real hard for me Daisy…..”

“Go on dear”, she said with an encouraging little smile.

He reached across the table and took both her hands in his, “its Jess, he’s in jail on a murder charge Daisy, and I don’t think there is anything we can do to help, I really think he’s going to hang……”

Her head shot up and she stared into his white anguished face.

” Oh God no,” she whispered, a hand flying to her mouth.

“I’m sorry, I should have broken it more gently, but there is no easy way Daisy and I thought you’d like the honest truth of it all.”

“I understand dear, now just tell me the whole story from the beginning.”

Once the sorry tale was out the elderly woman sat there looking completely stunned.

“What about Matt Benson, what does he think? “

“That it will take a miracle,” he said softly.

“Oh Slim…”she whispered,” I must go to him.”

“No, he doesn’t want you to Daisy, he said especially, he doesn’t want to see you or Mike, figures it would be too upsetting all round.”

She was silent for a while, looking down into her untouched coffee,” um I think you are probably right about Mike; there is no need to tell him, until the trial is over. You must ride over and see Pete Brown, ask him if Mike can stay and meanwhile I will pack a bag and we’ll go to town as soon as you return, I am not leaving him to face this alone and that is final, “she said firmly, and with that she left to pack.

Slim smiled inwardly, she sure could be a stubborn old bird he thought fondly and went off to do as he had been bid.

In the end Jess was glad of Daisy’s good no nonsense presence and she managed to boost his spirits and make him feel that maybe he did have a chance after all.

He had a variety of visitors on the run up to the trial all trying to cheer him up and offering kindness and support in his troubles. The general feeling of the towns folk seemed very positive as Jess was popular, known for his role as deputizing for the Sheriff, and they just couldn’t believe he would shoot a man down in cold blood.

The night before the trial Millie had visited after the saloon closed and Mort had turned a blind eye to the no touching rule and left them alone for a little while. When he returned later he was not surprized to see them in a passionate embrace and he rattled his keys noisily to give them a bit of warning before unlocking the cell.

“Sorry Millie got to chuck you out now; time the prisoner was bedded down.”

She gave Jess one last lingering look before taking her leave, “see you tomorrow honey,” she whispered as she left.

Once she had gone, Jess gave Mort a hard look,” you could have given us some time Mort, ”he said crossly.

The older man shook his head a faint grin on his face,” no point in startin’ somethin’ you can’t finish son,” he said quietly.

“Who says I wouldn’t be finishing it?” Jess said with a wicked wink, regaining his good humour.” Given a bit of privacy that is.”

“Hell, this ain’t a hotel room Jess,” laughed the sheriff, “tell ya what, I’ll let you stay up a bit longer and we can play a game of checkers.”

Jess sank down on his bunk,” OK Mort……..but it just ain’t the same ……ya know,” he said sadly… and after a minute the two men burst out laughing, Mort put the coffee on and they ended up playing checkers long into the night.


The day of the trial dawned cold and wet, the rain lashing down and looking out of his cell window, Jess shivered, having a gut feeling that the weather was a harbinger of the doom to come.

Slim arrived first thing and offered to go over to Miss Molly’s for a full breakfast, but Jess couldn’t stomach it and asked for strong black coffee. Just before he left for the Court , which was held in the Town Hall, Daisy arrived and kissing him briefly onthe cheek said, “walk tall, you are innocent Jess and we all believe in you, you know that don’t you?”

He nodded,” yeah, I do Daisy, thanks”.

Then Millie was there and just squeezed his hand,” see you afterwards honey,” she whispered.

Once everyone had left, Mort handcuffed Jess.

“Sorry about this son, I guess we’ve got to do it by the book,” and with that they left the office and walked the short distance down the street to where the Circuit Judge was holding his Court.

Judge Hanson was a good man, known to be fair and honest and he knew Jess well as he had often given evidence after apprehending felons and he was sorry to have to be in attendance today, knowing that the evidence seemed to be stacked so much against the young cowboy.

Slim was there sitting between Millie and Daisy on the front row and indeed most of the town had squeezed into the chamber, with standing room only.

The two lawyers were sitting close, but studiously ignoring each other. Edgar Carlin was probably the opposite of Matt Benson, he was a sharp shooting, wily man who took his clients for what they would pay him, regardless of whether he thought them innocent or not, or in fact he felt he could win the case. Today though with the overwhelming evidence against the defendant he had the look about him of the cat who is about to partake of the cream, and he was seriously getting on Matt Benson’s nerves.

The Court suddenly hushed as Jess was marched in and took his place at the front of the room flanked by Mort Corey and then someone called out,” all stand,” and Judge Hanson entered , was seated and the trial began.

Turning to Jess the Judge said,” Jess Harper you are charged with the crime of the murder of one Clay Jackson on September 27th 1875 how do you plead?”

Jess looked the Judge in the eye and said firmly,” Not Guilty your honour.” Then he looked across at the jury, 12 good fair men, many of whom he knew, had ridden posse with, surely they would believe him he thought.

Then the prosecutor was introduced and Edgar Carlin came to the stand and throwing Jess a malicious look said ,”I will prove beyond all doubt that the defendant did indeed kill Clay Jackson in a passionate rage, the murdered man being completely unarmed, the motive being the love affair the defendant was involved in with Miss Mary Goodson. “

Jess turned pale and gripped the arms of his chair tightly, but said nothing.

Carlin called his first witness, Mary Goodson.

Jess hardly recognised her, she was demurely dressed, wore no makeup and he hair was tied back from her face giving her an almost nun like appearance.

He looked down and shook his head gently, waiting for the act to begin…and he didn’t have long to wait.

Edgar Carlin smiled at her,” can you please tell me the events of the night of Saturday 27th,” he said.

“Well I was working in the saloon…” she started in a breathy, little girl’s voice.

Carlin smiled indulgently at her,” can you please speak up my dear, no need to be nervous now”.

Mary looked down and then across at the Judge, “sorry your honour,” she whispered and then in a slightly louder voice she continued to give her evidence.

The morning wore on and as Mary’s lies got more and more unbelievable to Jess’s ears, so his anger rose.

“We were so desperately in love,” she simpered, looking down shyly,” I guess he was so crazy about me he’d do pretty much anything…even murder,” she said with a little sigh.

Jess could stand it no longer and sprang to his feet,” that ain’t damn well true and you know it,” he spat, “every goddamn thing that comes out of her mouth is a goddamn lie!”

Mort hauled him down back in his seat and the Judge said,” order, Mr Harper, another outburst like that and you will be in contempt of court.”

Jess stood and apologised, but it was obvious his heart wasn’t in it.

Next Carlin brought up the issue of the drifter who had attacked Mary in her room.

“I believe this is not the first time Mr Harper has come to your rescue Miss Goodson, did he not burst into your room to defend your honour recently?”

She looked shyly down again before replying, “Yes the sweet man did. I had dinner with a gentleman, but …well he expected more, forced his way into my room and attacked me and Jess, he came and really laid into him.”

“He attacked the man?”

“Oh yes, beat him black and blue, knocked him unconscious… it scared me I thought….. “

“Thought what Miss Goodson?”

She paused for effect before looking up at the jury,” I thought he might kill him,” she whispered,” he was so angry…out of control.”

“Out of control you say?”

She nodded.

Jess went to leap up again, but Mort restrained him, “easy son, you’ll have your say later.”

When the time came for Matt Benson to cross examine Mary, he asked her what relation Clay Jackson was to her.

“He was my manager,” she said in her newly adopted little girl voice,” I was on the stage, back east.”

“First bit of truth we’ve heard,” muttered Jess darkly.

“Silence in court,” said the Judge firmly.

“I believe he was actually your pimp and you have been working as a prostitute for many years, is that not so?” continued Benson, giving her a cold look.

She blushed prettily and looked down before casting an appealing look at the jury,” well the acting work dried up… I was on the streets destitute, my poor parents dead of a fever and Clay… …Mr Jackson that is, found me work as an escort, entertaining gentlemen… I know that can be misunderstood, but it is quite innocent really she continued, I just dine with them, keep them company really,” she finished with a girlish giggle.” That was what I was referring to before the man that attacked me, the one Jess nearly killed,” she said again.

Benson ignored the last remark.

“I put it to you,” he continued, undaunted by the innocent act, “that you stole the defendant’s gun on the night of the killing and shot Clay Jackson, because he was blackmailing you, and knowing Mr Harper would come to your aid, waited until he burst into the room and then threw him the gun, so that he was caught holding the weapon when the other witnesses arrived.”

“No, no,” she said earnestly,” that is not so… I would take the blame for Jess if I could… I want to save my darling so much…… …but I just can’t do it,” again casting an anguished look at the jury… “I just can’t lie under oath.”

Jess just groaned and shook his head, not believing his ears.

At that point Benson wearily decided to gave up and he sat down hard, with a deep sigh.

The next witness to be called was Mort Corey, and fixing him with his steely glare, Carlin said, “you were one of the first people to arrive after the shooting can you tell me exactly what happened?”

“We were in the bar, heard two shots, ran upstairs and into Miss Goodson’ s room and I saw Jess holding his gun,” he said succinctly…”but that doesn’t mean……”

“Just answer the questions please sheriff. And what was Miss Goodson saying?”

Mort sighed deeply,” can’t remember exactly.”

Carlin smiled at him, his attitude for all the world like a cat playing with a mouse,” oh please Sheriff try and remember.”

Mort looked at Jess and then quickly down before muttering,” she said Jess… oh God you’ve killed him…somethin’ like that.”

“Thank you Sheriff,” said Carlin, now grinning broadly.

Mort moved to leave the stand, but Carlin hadn’t finished with him yet.

“Err just a moment Sheriff; I haven’t quite finished yet…. I believe you have written a glowing character reference for the accused?”

“Yes that’s right.”

“Saying how he has deputised for you, ridden posse is a force for good in the town?”

“That’s right,” Mort agreed.

“But you emitted to say how Mr Harper has had more misdemeanors in his past than probably any other citizen in Laramie, how he has spent time in jail, even been ,as the term goes, at the business end of a rope, before being reprieved.”

“That’s because he was innocent of that crime,” yelled Mort,” and the other stuff was years ago, he’s changed settled down now.”

“Oh really,” smiled Carlin,” so are you telling me you did not have to keep him in jail overnight last year because the defendant was drunk and got into a bar brawl?”

Mort looked down,” Jess was going through a real bad time his Ward young Mike Williams had been abducted, we all thought he was dead, Jess took it real bad…someone in the bar started the fight….” * See Runaway.

“None the less, I think maybe Mr Harper is not the paragon of virtue you make out,” thank you Sheriff that will be all now.”

Benson cross examined the Sheriff, but the damage had been done and it was looking more and more like Jess was in the wrong and the poor little innocent Mary was just a victim of circumstances.

The next witness to be called was Slim.

He walked up to the stand like he was the condemned man himself, knowing he would have to give evidence under oath that could be the final nail in his best friends coffin.

“So Mr Sherman can you tell me how long you have known the accused.”

“Six, no …… I’ve known him nearly seven years.”

“And in all that time would you say Mr Harper was a quiet gentle patient soul?”


“Patience, Mr Sherman does he display that virtue at all?”

Slim considered the question for a while and then smiling over at Carson said,” well yes I guess he can be, he certainly shows it when breaking mustangs, takes his time, gentles them, real patient he is.”

“Tsk…. You know perfectly well what I mean; does or does not Jess Harper have a reputation for having a short fuse and a truly terrifying temper when roused?”

Slim looked down and said very softly…” I guess.”

“Pardon, louder if you please Mr Sherman.”

“Yes…he does!”

Jess flinched, but continued looking at the floor as he had done ever since Slim took the stand, unable to bear seeing his buddy’s discomfort.

“And is it not true that this alleged ‘best friend’ of yours came to blows with you because you were going out with Miss Goodson, but he wanted her for himself, so that he tried to poison your mind against her, by declaring false information about her employment saying she was a prostitute, instead of merely a gentleman’s escort?”

“Yes… no … well we did have a ruckus yes, but I started it …. I hit Jess first, he was just looking out for me, trying to tell me what she was really like,” he spat, giving Mary a furious glance.

“Did you not think it strange that he should say these things…thinking maybe he was after her himself?”

“Well, yeah, I guess I did at first, but later when I found out the truth…well I realised he was only trying to help me.”

“Oh really and was he trying to help when Miss Goodson was staying at the ranch as your guest…as your fiancée, and he got you totally drunk and then seduced your girl? “

“That ain’t true,” yelled Jess jumping up again and pulling away from Mort’s restraining hand, “she’s lying….I never slept with her… I never did and she was the one pouring drink down Slim’s neck!”

“Order, Mr Harper, I shall not be telling you again, reprimanded the Judge, “no matter how frustrated you are I cannot have you disrupting my Court in this way…do you understand?”

“Yes Sir,” said Jess softly sinking down into his seat again.

“Well Mr Sherman?” said Carlin.

“I know she tried it on with Jess, he told me, he was also honest enough to say he nearly gave in to her…..but he didn’t …….he resisted her and I believe him.”

“Do you Mr Sherman,” he said with a cruel smile… “I wonder if the jury does.”

The final witness to be called was Jess and by the time he walked to the stand he was feeling so mad he could hardly focus on what was going on.’ Come on Harper get a grip,’ he said to himself, taking several deep breaths and trying to calm down.

“So Mr Harper I put it to you that you have been totally infatuated with Miss Goodson since the day you met and all the time your…err best friend had been courting her, you have been pestering her to go with you. She finally submitted to your wishes, but you were unable to cope with her role as escort and thinking to put an end to her career you did on 27th of this month kill her manager Mr Clay Jackson, in a fit of jealous passion when you found them together in Miss Goodson’ s room.

“No,” yelled Jess,” none of that stuff is true; I don’t love her, hell I don’t even like her and I sure as Hell never killed Clay Jackson ”

“So you deny, holding her and kissing her passionately while she was staying at the ranch and Mr Sherman was the worse for drink?”

Jess looked down, blushing deeply, but said nothing.

“Come along Mr Harper, remember you are under oath.”

After a minute Jess looked him in the eye,” yes I did, God forgive me, but she’s one hell of a persuasive woman and I’m just an ordinary man… I guess I lost my way for a little while there. But only for a minute,” he said more firmly,” I sure as Hell didn’t do any of that other stuff…..one kiss and that’s all.”

“So you were……. are, attracted to her? “

“She’s a very beautiful woman,” he replied quietly.

“So you are….attracted?”

Jess sighed deeply,” physically yeah, I guess, but that’s all… like I say I can’t stand the woman and she’s a liar if she says any different.”

“I suggest to you that you were having a passionate affair with this woman, made more reprehensible by the fact that you were betraying your best friend and cheating on your long term…err shall we call Miss Millie Johnson, you companion…cheating on your long term companion …….”

“You bastard,” yelled Jess leaping up and glaring furiously at Carlin,” I never did that…… I wouldn’t ever do that to Slim…or Millie, never!” he yelled, breathing heavily and looking anguished.

“That lying bitch… it’s all her Goddamn fault,” he snarled, now white and shaking with anger, his eyes flashing almost black.

“I think you have now witnessed the Harper temper in action ladies and gentlemen,” said Carlin with a smug smile, “a man more than capable of a crime of passion I believe, I rest my case, thank you Mr Harper, no more questions.”

Jess sank back down, his head in his hands realising that he had been tricked.

There was a ripple of whispering in the court and the Judge looked over his glasses at the room in general, “silence in court,” he said sternly.

Matt Benson went over to the Judge and said quietly,” might I ask for a short recess in which to speak to my client please your honour?”

The Judge cast a glance over to where Jess was sitting, still shaking a sheen of sweat on his now ashen face.

“I think you better had,” said the Judge dryly, then more loudly,” the court will adjourn for 15 minutes, clear the court.”

At that he arose and left followed by all the townsfolk, eager to make their way outside for a welcome break from the tensions of the court and to discuss the latest turn of events.

Slim and Daisy stayed in their seats but made no move towards Jess as Matt Benson went over and sat down in the seat recently vacated by Sheriff Corey.

“Jess,” he said softly and after a moment the cowboy took his head out of his hands and looked over at the elderly lawyer….” It’s all over ain’t it Mr Benson…guess I blew my chances when I lost my temper there.”

Benson shook his head ruefully;” well it won’t have done you much good. You see Jess most of the people here are on your side, they know you are an honourable man that wouldn’t kill in cold blood. They have also seen today that you are a passionate man with very strong feelings and …well I think that many of them now really believe you are capable of a crime like this…….if you were pushed too far.”

“Maybe I am,” he said softly,” I just don’t know anymore.”

“Jess!” said Benson harshly,” pull yourself together and listen to me. I need to cross question you next and then it is my turn to call witnesses and we have Millie and I think we can get it back as long as you keep calm.”

Jess just nodded.

They heard the public coming back in at that point and Benson threw Jess a hard look,” remember whatever I ask you, well it’s for a good reason, just answer honestly, no matter how hard you find it…understand?”

Jess nodded again, “yes sir.”

Daisy gave him an encouraging look and Slim a wink and he gave them both a little nod.

Benson went over and stood by Jess and then turning to the jury said ,”my learned colleague,” nodding disparagingly at Carlin, “has attempted to convince you that the relationship between the defendant and Miss Mary Goodson was the cause of the alleged murder, in fact a crime of passion committed by a man desperately in love.”

Turning to Jess he said,” tell me how long have you known Miss Millie Johnson?”

Jess looked surprized by the question and thought for a minute, “since we were kids out on the panhandle in Texas,” he said,” guess we grew up together, then we’ve met up on and off over the years, seen a lot of her the past four years since she moved to Laramie.”

“And how would you describe your relationship?”

Jess smiled over at Millie, “she’s a best friend.”

“And you are lovers too are you not?”

Jess looked shocked by the question and just nodded.

“For the court to hear, if you please, more loudly Mr Harper.”

Jess’s head shot up and he looked Benson in the eye,” yes we are,” he said.

“And in this extremely close relationship, you wouldn’t do anything to hurt Miss Johnson… like see another woman behind her back?”

“Hell, no of course I wouldn’t, we’ve got a real easy, open relationship, sure I see other girls sometimes and she see’s other men, but not without the other knowing…never.”

“Now cast your mind back to the night in question, it was your usual habit to enter the Saloon via the back steps if visiting Miss Johnson’s room so as not to cause any embarrassment or ribald comments in the bar is that correct?”


“And on the night in question did you see anyone as you made your way to the external stairway?”

“Yes Mary Goodson was sittin’ out, smokin’ lookin’ like she was waiting for someone.”

“And what did she say to you as you approached?”

“That she hadn’t seen me in a while and I said it couldn’t be too long as far as I was concerned.”

“And then?”

“I tried to pass her, she grabbed by arm, started sayin’ as how I wanted her… I should give in…”

“And you replied?”

“I was darn mad at her, she had abducted my Ward, Mike Williams, left him afoot in a storm, hell I was so dang mad I nearly hit her…but I walked away, went off to find Millie.”

Then turning to the jury he said,” I put to you that Mary Goodson on having her advances once more spurned was furious and decided to take her vengeance out on the defendant by setting up this scam to make it appear that he was the murderer and her motive was revenge and I will now proceed to enlighten the jury as to how she managed that.”

Then giving Jess a firm look he said,” now can you tell me exactly what you were doing, leading up to when the shots rang out.”

“I was on the couch with Millie, in her room.”

“Go on.”

Jess sighed deeply, we were lying down together, she was unbuttoning my shirt, I was sweet talkin’ her.”

“And then you started making love?”


“Now consider this carefully, in the position you were in, lying together on the couch, could you have seen if someone had opened the door a few inches and removed your gun?”

“No the back of the couch is too high and anyway I was lookin’ at Millie… .kissing her…….”

“And then the shots rang out, what did you do?”

“I leapt up, ran to the door, saw my gun was missin’ and ran next door to Mary’s room. “

“And then what happened?”

“She was stood by the bed, her…manager was lying there with a couple of bullet holes in his chest and as I came in she said,’ here catch,’ and threw me my gun, then Mort and the others rolled in and she started shoutin’ sayin’ I‘d killed him,” then turning to the jury he said,” and that’s how it was, I swear to God.”

“Thank you Mr Harper, I now call my witness for the defense, Miss Millie Johnson.”

Millie took the stand and beamed over at the Judge and jury.

Benson asked her about the events of the 27th and she was able to corroborate everything Jess had said and she made an excellent witness and for the first time in the whole proceedings Jess thought that just maybe he had a chance.

Then it was Carlin’s turn to cross examine her.

“So Miss Johnson, the defendant has described you as a best friend, would you say you felt the same?”

“Oh yes sir,” she said firmly,” we go way back and Jess is the best friend I have and I love him dearly,” she said softly, looking down and blushing a little.

“And as such, you would do anything for him?”

“Why yes sir of course,” was the innocent reply.

“Including lying under oath for him?”

Millie looked confused….”well no, I guess not…...but then I don’t need to do I ?” she said looking defiant “because he is innocent.”

This caused a ripple of laughter from the public gallery and again the judge called for order.

Then he turned to the lawyer and giving him an icy stare,” just where are you going with this line of questioning Mr Carlin?”

“I aim to prove that this… .this saloon girl has no moral conscience and would lie, say or do anything to save the man she loves.”

“Carry on,” said the judge in a resigned voice.

“Did you, or did you not offer a bogus alibi for the defendant in Cheyenne, several years back when he was accused of beating a local man?”

Millie turned deathly pale and looked to Jess for assistance, but he just looked equally shocked.

“Well, I’m waiting Miss Johnson, remember you are under oath.”

After a good minute in which Millie had been chewing her lip she eventually said,” yes, I did…but he had been wrongly accused, I bought him some time and he was able to find the real culprit and bring him in.”

“You may have been acting, as you thought, in the best interests of the defendant, I believe that my dear,” he said patronisingly,” but the fact is you have lied for him before and I have no doubt that you have lied for him again today and your evidence should not be taken into account when the jury make their decision…that is all you may stand down.”


“You may stand down, Miss Johnson,” he said loudly, and casting an agonised look in Jess’s direction she ran back to her seat where Daisy put a comforting arm around her as she began to sob quietly.

The two lawyers then made their points again and even to Jess’s ears it was more than obvious that Edgar Carlin’s case sounded much more plausible, a rough diamond, who had a temper and was also a very passionate man, so obsessed with Mary Goodson that he would even lie to his two best friends in the world. And an innocent girlfriend that would lie for him…indeed had done so in the past; Jess shook his head as he listened to Carlin summing up and had to admit it sounded pretty dang likely.

By contrast, although Matt Benson did his very best and stressed Jess’s moral and honourable ways, it still sounded pretty thin compared to Carlin’s argument.

Finally the Judge summed up and asked the jury to leave and make their decision.

They were out deliberating for neigh on three hours and they were the longest of Jess’s life, confined as he was alone in a small room behind the chambers.

Eventually a court official came to fetch him and he was once more sitting beside Mort.

He glanced over at Slim, Daisy and a now red eyed Millie and saw the fear and stress reflected on their faces. He looked down and closed his eyes summoning all his courage for the ordeal to come.

The judge turned to him, “the Defendant will stand please,” he said giving Jess a kindly look.

Jess stood and turned to face the jury and was suddenly struck by the fact that not one of the men would look him in the eye.

“Gentlemen of the Jury do you have a verdict?” asked the Judge.

“We do your honour”.

“What is the verdict, guilty or not guilty?”

“We find the accused Jess Harper……….. guilty of the crime of murder,” the spokesman said almost apologetically.

There was a sharp intake of breath from Slim and Daisy gave a little cry,” dear God no”, and a ripple of surprise and consternation ran around the court house.

“Order,” said the Judge loudly.

Then turning to Jess he said almost sadly,” the jury has found you guilty of the murder of one Clay Jackson, on 27th instant of September 1875.”

“I now sentence you to be taken from this place and within three days to be hanged by the neck until dead… .and may the Lord have mercy on your soul.”

As the words were spoken Jess felt his knees buckle and it was only Mort’s strong supporting hand that kept him upright. He felt a wave of nausea threaten him and for a terrible moment he thought he might faint. There was a rushing noise in his ears and the court room tipped alarmingly, but he took several deep breaths and managed to stay upright.

Slim looked over at his best buddy, shocked to the core and saw him nearly fall, his face deathly pale, sweat now pouring freely down his face.

He moved over to him in one stride and stood waiting for the judge to leave and the court room empty, before going to his friend and placing a concerned hand on his shoulder,” oh buddy,” he whispered,” I’m so sorry.”

Once the judge had gone Jess sank to his chair again and looked bleakly at Slim, just shaking his head wearily, too upset to utter a word.

Then Daisy came over a protective arm around a now weeping Millie.

Jess stood up again and she fell into his arms,” I’m so sorry,” she cried,” I let you down.”

He held her close before pulling back and tipping her chin up with a finger so that she was forced to look up into his sad blue eyes, “no you ain’t ,”he said softly, “it was that damn lawyer, Carlin, guess he tricked us both….. …you did the best you could Millie and I appreciate it.”

Then he turned to Slim and gently pushed Millie towards him,” Slim will see ya back home,” he said softly, glancing at his friend and receiving a nod of affirmation.

Then looking across at Daisy he said,” it’s OK Daisy, I’m alright, just go home now will you, see to the boy…tell him……….. tell him I love him and I’m sorry,” he finished gruffly.

“Oh Jess,” she whispered, giving him a hug and pushing his hair back gently from his forehead, a motherly gesture he had become used to, but now it was the last straw and he felt his emotions welling up.

“Slim please……..”he whispered and his friend understood at once and said quietly, “be back to see you tomorrow,” and with that he led the womenfolk away.

When they had gone Mort apologetically replaced the handcuffs and made ready to leave, “you OK son?” he asked gently.

Jess just nodded and they walked the short distance back to the jail, where Mort was forced to lock him up again. As he turned the key he gave his friend an anguished look, I’m so darn sorry about this Jess,” he said softly….”can I get you anything?”

“Nah, thanks Mort, I’m OK …just like to be alone a while if that’s OK?”

“Sure boy, you won’t be disturbed,” and with that he closed the adjoining door between the cells and the office and left his friend in peace.

It was only about half an hour later when the door from the street opened and Mary Goodson waltzed in, back to her old self, immaculately made up and dressed in a low cut revealing grey silk dress, her hair up in a sophisticated style the absolute antithesis of the woman who had given evidence just a few short hours ago.

“I’d like to see the prisoner,” she said breezily.

Mort fixed her with a hard stare from where he sat behind his desk,” come to gloat have you?” he asked bitterly.

“Oh Sheriff, now why should you think that,” she asked with a little laugh,” I just want to see my darling Jess for a little while, say goodbye, I’m off to California, as soon as the hanging is over. “

He just shook his head, “you really do take the biscuit don’t ya,” he said looking astonished.

She looked annoyed and started tapping her foot,” come along Sheriff, just show me in , I haven’t got all day.”

“No,” he said bluntly, “the prisoners resting said he didn’t want to be disturbed.”

“What!” she shrieked,” I know my rights, you show me in there now.

Mort sprang up from his desk, his patience finally worn out.

”Now you look here Ma’am,” he said advancing on her,” as far as I’m concerned you ain’t got any rights. Jess is right you really are a low two timing lying bitch and what’s more if you ain’t out of my office in 5 seconds flat I might just think of a reason to throw you in one of my cells …understand,” he spat, his now red angry face just inches from hers.

She jumped back and made for the door…”I’ll see him later,” she replied, “after all there are a whole 3days before he hangs,” and with that she made her escape.

Chapter 9

Jess stayed lying on his bunk, face to the wall for the remainder of the day, feigning sleep whenever Mort came to check on him. Eventually the Sheriff decided he must care for his prisoner even if that care wasn’t needed or wanted.

By mid-evening when Jess was still failing to respond he went over to Miss Molly’s café and returned with a plate of Jess’s favourite Chicken and dumplings and on entering the cell placed the tray carefully on the other bunk before reaching down and gently turning Jess over on his back. After a minute his deep blue eyes opened and looked angrily up, “what,” he muttered.

“Brought ya some supper,” said Mort gesturing over to the tray and there’s some coffee on the go.”

“Don’t want anythin’,” said Jess moodily.

“Come on boy, you’ve got to eat, you ain’t had anything since it happened, you’ll make yourself sick.”

Jess just gave him a pained look and closed his eyes again.

Mort looked down,” well, guess I’ll leave it there in case you change your mind,” and with that he went out locking the door behind him.

The following morning it seemed that Mort’s prediction was true; he had removed the untouched supper and then brought in some good hot coffee and sat down on the other bed, refusing to move until his friend at least had something to drink.

Wearily Jess did as he was bid, but a minute later he just made it to the bucket in time as he chucked it all back up again.

He lay back on the bunk groaning and holding his stomach, “told ya I didn’t want anythin’,” he said faintly.

Mort shook his head and left, and Jess fell into a fitful sleep.

He was awoken half an hour later when his good friend Doc Sam Baker walked in. He stood for a moment surveying his friend lying on the bunk, white as a sheet, visibly having lost weight in just a few days. The deep blue eyes suddenly opened and looked up at the Doctor and he gave a ghost of a smile,” come to doctor me have you, Sheriff concerned that he can’t hang a sick man.”

Sam sank down onto the other bunk,” Jess, please don’t be this way,” he said gently,” Mort’s concerned for you, we all are.”

“What concerned like those men on the jury…some of them friends Sam…. Concerned enough to convict me of a crime I didn’t do.”

“Jess, the evidence was stacked against you and what with that slick lawyer, you didn’t stand a chance, they just did what they felt they had to, given the evidence.”

Jess lay looking up at the ceiling, and after a few minutes he responded, “Yeah I know,” he said softly,” and old Mort there is looking out for me I know that really.”

“Let’s have a look at you then,” said Sam, coming over and sitting on the edge of the bed and unbuttoning Jess’s shirt, he listened to his chest and then gently probed his stomach. When Jess jumped and winced, he stopped and looked concerned,” I figure your stomach is really inflamed,” he said, “lack of solid food along with Mort’s gut rot coffee has given you a real bad belly ache son. I’ll leave some medicine with Mort that should fix you up in a couple of days and then….. “

“What’s the point” Jess shouted, his eyes welling up with unshed tears,” I’ll be dead come Saturday, what’s the Goddamn point in fixin’ me up Sam? “

The doctor just shook his head sadly, there was no answer he knew that.

“Guess I just want you to feel better,” he said softly.

Jess closed his eyes, desperately trying to keep the tears back.

Sam got up to leave,” I’ll come back and see you again soon,” he said, “make sure you’re taking that medicine…OK?”

Jess opened his eyes again and nodded.

Then he said quietly, “you’ll be there …in attendance, on the day won’t you Sam.”

He nodded, ” sure I will.”

“Only these things” …he struggled to get control,” these things sometimes go wrong, ya know…. It would be good to know you’ll be there if I need… .anything.”

Sam knew to what he was alluding, how the hanging sometimes went wrong a man could hang there and be slowly strangled, or suffer an agonising death at the hands of an inexperienced hangman.

He was so moved he could hardly speak.

”It will be OK Jess, Mort will get it right…and if not….if anything goes wrong, I’ll be there to help you.”

Jess just nodded,” thanks,” he whispered.

As Sam left he bumped into Slim on his way in.

“He OK?” he asked anxiously.

“Yes, just a touch of bellyache, too much of Mort’s coffee,” he said with a little smile at the Sheriff.

” Here he said, giving him a bottle of medicine, “make sure he gets a couple of spoons of that every three hours, and when he feels better some milk, a light diet, I’ll come back tomorrow,” and with that he left, feeling drained and totally unable to offer Slim any words of comfort, feeling there was nothing he could possibly say.

Mort showed Slim into the cell and locked the door behind him leaving the two friends together, “just holler if you want anything,” he said as he left.

Jess made a valiant effort to look cheerful,” hey pard you OK? ”he asked.

Slim sank down on the opposite bed.

”You don’t have to make an effort for me,” he said quietly,” doc says you’ve been sick, left some medicine with Mort for you.”

“Yeah, just what I need,” he said sarcastically,” gotta get fit for the big event on Saturday I guess…”

“Jess…..don’t please,” said Slim casting his buddy an anguished look.

“What…… don’t talk about it, or don’t joke about it?” he asked giving Slim a hard look, “I guess we’ve got to face it…can’t just pretend it ain’t gonna happen buddy.”

Then looking across at his friend,” how is Daisy bearing up?”

“Oh she’s been fantastic; it was her that broke it to Mike… I, I just couldn’t do it,” he said looking down and then back up at where Jess was now stretched out on his bunk, one hand lying protectively across his belly.

“Hurtin’?” he asked.


“I’ll get Mort to bring your medicine.”

“No, I’m OK don’t go Slim we have to talk.”

“Go on.”

“What about Mike, does he understand what’s gonna happen to me?”

“He understands yes.”

“I don’t wanna see him or Daisy again Slim.”

He shook his head,” guess they’ve got other ideas; they plan to come into town tomorrow, Friday… say good bye.”

Jess closed his eyes tightly his face contorted in pain,” I can’t Slim… I can’t do that.”

Slim leapt up from the bunk and went and sat on the edge of Jess’s looking down into his troubled blue eyes as they snapped open again.

“Daisy seems to think it would be good for the boy, says he will regret it forever if he doesn’t see you one last time. Same for her, she said you’d say that you didn’t want to see them,…but she says you’re to be brave, says you’ve never backed down in your life and now isn’t the time to start. “

Jess gave him the ghost of a smile,” sounds like Daisy,” he said.

Slim slapped him gently on the chest and was surprized to see him wince.

“I’m getting that medicine,” he said and went and called for Mort and the conversation about the hanging, finished for the moment.

Later on after Slim had been over to check on Millie at Jess’s request he came back and settled down to spend the evening with his friend before retiring to a hotel room.

Jess was still stretched out on his bunk, but looked a slightly better colour after taking the medicine Sam had left.

“So how is she?” he asked as Slim sank down into a chair Mort had now kindly provided for visitors.

“She’s upset buddy, real upset, still saying she let you down.”

Jess shook his head sadly,” silly kid, she’d never do that,” he said quietly.

“So what else did ya get up to?”

Slim looked down and said nothing.

“Don’t tell me, you’ve been off romancin’ Miss Lily.”

“Jess!” yelled Slim angrily”, how could you think I’d do that at a time like this…I…. “

“Hey, life goes on pard,” Jess said with a slight twinkle in his eye”, it’s my life that’s over ……not yours.”

Slim leapt out of his chair and strode over to Jess looking down at him in anger,” will you quit joking about it!”

Jess was silent for a while and then he said softly, “sorry…guess it’s my way of coping.”

Then, “so what did you get up to?”

He went and sank back into his chair and then after a moment he said quietly,” if you must know I paid old Charlie a visit, made the arrangements.”

Jess looked shocked and gave a low whistle, knowing he meant Charlie the undertaker. “So what did he say, guess I won’t be welcome lying alongside thegreat and the good in the Laramie graveyard,” he said, “convicted murders have to be on the other side of the wall don’t they?”

“It doesn’t matter,” said Slim quietly, “cos I’ll be taking you home, you’ll be laid to rest in the family plot beside my Ma and Pa.”

At first Slim thought he hadn’t heard him as he said nothing for so long and then he heard him reply so softly he had to strain his ears to hear it……..

”Thanks Slim.”

Seeing how emotional his buddy was he said goodnight shortly after and retired to the hotel.

The following morning he was back early and offered to get Jess some breakfast from the café, but he was still refusing food and just accepted a weak milky coffee from Mort.

Other than obviously still feeling sick, Jess seemed in good spirits and Slim was amazed at the way his buddy was holding it all together. It kept flashing through Slim’s mind that this was his best friend’s last full day on earth as the hanging was scheduled for 8am the next day, and he wondered if Jess was having the same thoughts.

He had several visitors, mostly old friends come to see him for the last time and Jess remained unemotional, almost detached from the situation and Slim marvelled at his willpower although he knew the raw emotions were just below the surface.

It was when Daisy and Mike finally arrived during the afternoon that Jess’s strength of character was truly tested. Slim took Mike off to the Livery to check on Traveler, while Daisy visited.

Daisy entered the cell and saw her dear boy lying still on the bunk staring at the ceiling, unaware of her presence. Her heart nearly broke at the look in his eye, of abject misery and despair. Then he suddenly saw her and jumping up from the bed came to embrace her. As he released her and she looked him in the eye again, she saw the look had been replaced with one of loving care as he asked after her and chatted as naturally as if she were visiting him in a hotel room.

They sat back down on the bunk together and she took his hand and looking into those deep blue eyes she said softly, “you don’t have to pretend to me dear.”

He looked down and then looking her in the eye, said softly,” I’m OK Daisy, what’s done is done; guess I just have to accept it.”

“Jess, that’s not like you, I thought you’d go down fighting, be angry…fight for justice.”

He just shook his head,” ain’t nothin’ to be done, Slim’s seen Matt Benson and the Circuit Judge to ask for a retrial, give us time to find out more about Mary…but he drew blanks all round, just nowhere to go Daisy, he’s done his best for me. Now…..now I guess it’s down to me to just deal with it all as best I can, with dignity.”

“Yes…yes I can see you are right dear, of course.”

“Anyways, guess that’s the way I want you to remember me Daisy, being strong and facing up to things the bestway I can,” then suddenly embarrassed he changed the subject.

“How is Mike, are you sure its right to bring him here?” he asked, casting a worried look at the elderly woman.

“I believe so dear, he so desperately wanted to see you…to say goodbye and well, children are more resilient than we think……..”

“I won’t be there for him anymore Daisy,” he said suddenly giving her a deeply saddened look,” when he’s hurt or sick, when he needs me I won’t be there,” and for the first time his resolve faltered and he had to close his eyes tight to hold back the threatening tears.

Daisy knew the truth of it, it was always Jess the small boy turned to if he was sick, or frightened and Jess was always there to comfort and care for him, she was moved to tears too and just took his hand and held it tightly, unable to offer any comfort.

Then the cell door banged open and Mike pelted in and straight into Jess’s arms, “Jess, oh Jess,” he said, before sobbing piteously.

Jess held him tightly , now his own tears streaming unheeded down his face as he rubbed the child’s back and tried to calm him.

After a long time the heaving sobs finally lessened and the boy settled.

Jess wiped a sleeve across his own face and looked down at the boy, “Hey Tiger, there ain’t no point in us takin’ on so…eveythin’ will be OK”

“No it won’t , ”the boy cried,” how can you say that?”

“Well, I figure you ain’t getting rid of me that easy, you may not see me anymore, but I guess if there is a God up there looking out for us all, then he’ll let me still look out for you. I’ll be close to you boy, whenever you need me, I’ll be there looking out for ya still…. I promise.”

“Really Jess…how will I know?”

“Guess you’ll just have to have faith Mike. And remember stuff, the things we’ve done together, things I’ve taught yer, you remember and then I’ll still be with ya see?”

“Like you said Ma and Pa are…looking down from heaven and how they are real proud of me, and how they live on in my heart, because I have all those memories of them?” the boy asked.

“Yeah, just the same,” said Jess softly.

The boy just nodded seeming to accept this simple truth.

“There is something else Tiger, I want you to have Traveler, look after him for me …real good, can ya do that?”

The young boy’s eyes lit up for the first time since he had been given the devastating news about his friend.

“Really Jess, I can keep him as my own?”

“Sure, he’s a bit big for you yet awhile, but you tend him real well, so he gets to know you and in another few years he’ll make a real good mount for you.”

Jess was beginning to feel he could not go on much more and he cast a glance up at Slim who had quietly entered the cell and had been listening to the conversation.

Jess looked back down at the boy again,” old Traveler has been holed up at the Livery for a week or so now and I know they spoil him rotten, extra rations and the like, he’ll be getting’ fat as butter and in real need of some exercise. Now it’s time you and aunt Daisy went back to the ranch, if you’re going to be home by nightfall, and I guess you can ride Trav back, as long as you stay real close to the buckboard.”

“Will he let me Jess, he don’t let anyone ride him but you.”

“I guess he will Tiger, just tell him I said it was OK,” and then searching in his shirt pocket he pulled out a couple of sugar lumps,” here he said, give him them from me,” his voice suddenly husky.

“Jess I don’t wanna go,” the boy wailed, picking up on the cowboy’s raw emotions.

“You gotta Tiger, go with Slim now and saddle him up, and you ride out of town with your head high boy, you show everyone you got guts…..yeah?”

Mike looked up into his friends eyes for the last time,” yes I will,” he promised.

Jess stood up to see them out and Mike threw his arms round his waist,” love ya Jess,” he whispered before turning and running out of the cell.

Slim followed him and Daisy turned to go, fighting the rising tears.

“Daisy,” Jess said softly.

She turned back, fighting for control,” yes dear”.

“Out of us all at the ranch, you are the strongest…always have been, look after the boy…and Slim for me will ya?”

She came back and threw herself into his arms, and he held her tightly, before she looked back up into his eyes, gently stroked his cheek and nodded, walking quickly away without looking back.

After they had left Mort left him alone for a little while and then wandered back into the cell, seeing his friend sitting on the edge of the bunk, looking totally defeated.

“Want to come out into the office and watch them go?” he asked quietly.

Jess stood up and followed the Sheriff out and went and leaned on the window frame looking out onto the busy street.

All the day men had been working hard building the gallows and now the high structure dominated the end of the main street .Jess tore his eyes away from it and looked the other way, towards the livery and after a few minutes he heard the sound of Daisy driving the buckboard down the street.

She was driving slowly along, sitting bolt upright and neither looking to the right or left and alongside the buckboard rode Mike on Traveler, his back ramrod straight, his head held high. But as he passed by a ray of sunlight suddenly shone down from between the clouds and Jess saw the boy’s cheeks were wet with tears.

As they passed the gallows neither turned to look, they just rode on down the street and turned the corner and rode out of town. As they passed many of the townsfolk stopped to stare, some of the men touching their hats and the women hiding a tear at the sight of the elderly woman and the child, their grief born so bravely.

Jess turned away from the window and headed back towards his cell, before turning,” don’t wanna see anyone else Mort, just Slim.”

“OK boy,” the Sheriff replied, “can I get ya anything…something to eat maybe?”

Jess ran a hand across his belly and shook his head, “no thanks, just some of your gut rot coffee eh Mort,” he said with the ghost of a smile.

“But the doc said……”began Mort.

“Guess it don’t really matter anymore …”

Mort gave him a look of deep compassion, “coffee coming up Jess,” he said gently.


At about the time Mort was brewing the coffee for his prisoner in Laramie, his Deputy Lon Deacon who was deputising for the Sheriff over in Cheyenne, was sitting with his feet up on the Sheriffs desk, his hat pulled down and emitting gentle snores. Suddenly the door of the office flew open and Sheriff Matt Dawson strode in.

Lon jumped up at once a look of shock on his face,” Matt I wasn’t expecting you today,” he said quickly.

“I can see that son,” grinned the older man.

“So how are you, what are you doing back so soon?”

The older man gave him a grim smile and took the seat so recently vacated by his temporary replacement.

“Well the minor op on my leg went real well,” he drawled,” but truth of it is I just can’t stand anymore of my wife’s fussing. Sawthe doc and he said I was OK to come back to work this afternoon, so young man you can hi tail it back to Laramie, start off now and you’ll be back for breakfast,” he said with a little chuckle.

Lon sank down into the chair opposite and pushed his hat back,” guess I’d rather finish my shift, ride back late Saturday, got that big hanging tomorrow first thing and I’d just as soon miss it,” he said sadly.

The Sheriff looked across at him,” oh yes, I’d forgotten, Jess Harper isn’t it… a really good man, nasty business…especially when the word on the street is that he was framed.”

Lon just nodded, feeling awful that he had had to write a statement for the prosecution, but he had seen Jess with the gun …. had that Mary done it he wondered now.

“Oh well, if you’re set on staying you can wade through that lot,” Matt said, throwing a large brown envelope at the deputy.

Lon gave him a questioning look.

“Just met the Stage, saw the Circuit Judge to his hotel and then the mail was in , guess these are the latest wanted posters from back east, doubt if we’ll see any of them in these parts but you never know…have a quick look will ya?”

Lon opened the envelope and started scanning the contents and then he suddenly stopped and cussed loudly.

“Hey boy what’s got you so fired up?” asked the older man looking across.

Lon just stared at the poster mesmerised for another minute before looking up at Matt, “it’s her,” he said incredulously, “Mary Goodson, says her name is Sadie Dyer…but I’d know her anywhere, it’s the same darn woman as was in the room when Jess allegedly shot her pimp.”

Matt took the poster from the younger man and scrutinised it,” says here she was a known prostitute in New York; apparently she murdered one of her clients when he refused to pay. There was a murder trial and she was convicted, due to hang the following day, but escaped, been on the run ever since, thought to be heading out West. Well, I guess if she’s murdered once she could do it again,” said the old Sheriff reflectively.

“Dyer……..that rings a bell, wasn’t Carl Dyer married to this posh New York hooker, the guy that robbed the bank here three….no four years ago?” asked Lon.

“Yeah, sure was and what’s more it was Jess Harper and Slim Sherman that brought him in…. Hell she could well have a good reason to frame Jess.”

Lon turned pale,” he’s due to hang first thing tomorrow Matt what can I do?”

“Well, send a wire to Mort Corey for a start, then…… .oh no, you can’t.”

“What do ya mean I can’t?” asked Lon giving the Sheriff a desperate look.

“Wires to Laramie are down, all this rain and wind, came down in the storm last week, guess your only chance is to see the Circuit Judge get him to postpone the hanging until another trial can be fixed and then ride like hell to Laramie… .but the way the roads are right now, mud a foot deep in places, well reckon you’d be having your work cut out to make it in time, even if you ride through the night.”

“Guess I’ll take off now then,” said Lon quickly,” see Judge Hanson, get him to write a reprieve and then hope to God I’ll make it in time.”

“Good luck son….”


Back in Laramie dusk was falling as Slim came back into Mort’s office.

“How is he?” he asked gesturing to the closed door between the office and the cells.

“About as you’d expect, he doesn’t want to see anyone else now except you. Been drinking my coffee like it’s going out of style…strictly against doctor’s orders…but like the boy said, guess it doesn’t matter now,” he replied sadly.

Slim suddenly sat down on the chair opposite Mort’s desk and said,” and how are you doing Mort, guess we’ve all been feeling so sorry for ourselves, so worried about Jess, guess we’ve forgotten about what you’re going to have to do tomorrow, that won’t be easy.”

“I nearly handed in my badge last night, that’s how darn hard it is Slim,” his old friend said honestly.

“But then I got to thinking, well if it wasn’t me doing the job it would be some no hoper off the town council, who doesn’t know one end of a rope from the other…so I figured it was the last thing I could do for a good friend, give him a clean, painless end… .as good as I can make it anyways.”

“Thanks Mort,” said Slim with feeling.

“You wanna see him now?”

“Yeah…….if he wants me to, would it be OK for me to bunk down on the other bed tonight, I figured maybe he could use the company.”

“Sure whatever you want Slim and I’ll sit with ya a while too, bring my bottle of Red Eye.”

And so it was that the three friends wiled away the evening drinking the odd glass of whiskey and exchanging tales and memories and surprisingly there was quite a lot of laughter amongst the sadness and regret.

“I’ll never forget the first time I met you,” grinned Slim,” laying in the sun by the lake and Traveler hitched up to the no trespassing sign, should have known then you were a bundle of trouble.”

Jess grinned back.

“You should have seen your face when you found me back at the ranch later, my feet under the table teaching young Andy to deal from the bottom of the pack,” and all three men laughed loudly.

Mort shook his head,” we sure have had some good times the three of us and some hard ones. Gee I guess there isn’t anyone I’d rather have watching my back in a tight spot than you Jess, ”he said, sobering suddenly.

They were silent for a little, sipping their whisky reflectively and then Slim changed the subject, trying to keep the conversation in a lighter vein.

“I didn’t know you knew Millie back in Texas.”

“Sure we grew up together,” Jess looked off into the distance his eyes misting as he remembered the past like it was yesterday.

“She was a real skinny little thing, with those huge brown eyes, real cute even as a kid. Her Pa was a share farmer like mine and we were both a pair of ragamuffins. Me with the seat outer my pants and a runny nose and her in her sisters hand me down dresses guess…..… .we had nothin’ in those days ‘cept friendship.”

Then looking across at Slim he smiled sadly.

“I guess it forges a real deep bond when you’ve experienced that kinda poverty.”

He sighed deeply, ”anyways Millie and me and her little brother Tad used to run around together. Used to go hunting with our sling shots,” he said with a smile,” after rabbits, pigeons for the pot and out of the three of us little old Millie was the best damn shot,” he said shaking his head and smiling at the memory.

Then suddenly coming out of his reverie he looked over at Mort, “strange she’s not been by, ya haven’t sent her away have ya Mort?”

Mort and Slim exchanged an embarrassed look, which Jess saw immediately.

“What,” he said,” is she alright.”

“Yeah, she’s fine…just couldn’t come, she sent her love, ”said Slim.

“Wadya mean couldn’t come …is she sick……..Slim?”

Slim sighed,” she didn’t want you to know…..but well she got into a bit of a ruckus with Mary.”

Jess’s head shot up,” a fight, she had a fight with Mary,” and let out a low whistle. “She won…of course.”

“Oh yeah, she won alright, but during the cat fight Mary pushed her and she fell badly, sprained her ankle, Sam’s got it bound up, but says she’s to stay in bed and Tom is ridin’ shot gun on her,” he finished with a little laugh.

Jess shook his head,” poor kid, I’m sorry she’s hurt,” but then grinning, “but hell she whopped Mary, that sure is good to hear,” and the other men nodded in agreement as Mort topped up their glasses.

“I had thought you and Millie might have made ago of it, you know,” said Slim after a little while.

Jess looked down ruefully into his glass,” not for lack of askin’ ,”he said sadly, “she seems to think we’re not ready to settle downright now,” then looking up at his buddy,” maybe she’s right. Anyways she reckons we are too alike to make a go of it.”

Mort laughed loudly,” well she’s sure got that one right, she’s definitely got your temper and your left hook, she knocked Mary unconscious with it!”

All three men laughed uproariously; “gee I’d loved to have seen that,” said Jess.” So what set it off?”

“According to Tom it was Mary started it. Millie was upset, real upset, just stayed in her room sobbing all the day after the trial. Then Tom persuaded her to come down, thought the company would do her good. Well she was just minding her own business washing glasses when that harridan started on her bragging about her relationship with you Jess and then how she hoped you’d rot in hell and she was lookin’ forwards to Saturday and that’s when young Millie saw red and landed her one and all hell was let loose,” Mort finished.

It was nearly midnight by this time and Mort got up stretching and said he was going to turn in for the night.

Glancing over at Slim he said, “if you want out, just holler I’m only in the end cell down the corridor”.

Jess gave him a wicked grin, “well why didn’t ya say that before Mort, I coulda been long gone.”

Mort grinned back and then looked suddenly serious.

“ Don’t think I didn’t consider it son. Leaving the keys around and taking off for lunch…but then I guess I’d have had to take off after you with a posse, so it would have all been the same in the end,” he said shaking his head sadly.

“Hell Mort, I never expected that,” said Jess sincerely, “you’re just doin’ your job. Besides my running days are over, did enough of that as a youngster with the law or some Bounty Hunter always on my tale…..nah guess I’ve just used up my nine lives and this is it,” he said looking up at his friend.

Mort was obviously upset, he closed the cell door and locked it, “night,” he said softly and walked sadly away.

After he had gone Slim stripped down to his denims and lay down on the other bunk, but Jess was restless and wandered over to the barred cell window and stood there looking out at the moonlit night. The window looked out of the back of the Sheriff’s office and on to open countryside and Jess could hear the sound of an owl off in the distance and he sighed deeply.

“What is it pard?” asked Slim softly.

Jess glanced across at him, seeing him clearly in the moonlight flooding in through the window.

“It’s the big open,” he said,” missing it something fierce…just wish I could spend my last night out there under the stars.”

He came and threw himself down on the other bed and stretched out staring up at the ceiling.

Then after a little while he said,” I’m sorry Slim, for all the troubles I’ve caused you, for taking off all the time on some crusade or other……..leavin’ you with all the work.”

“Jess…don’t…it’s OK”

“No let me finish…for all the times I was asleep up in the hay loft or took off fishin’ when there was work to do……guess you were right I was a barrel of trouble back then…….not so much better now.”

Slim looked over at his friend,” right now even the bad times look good to me. And you’ve been a good friend to me buddy… the best.”

“Oh yeah?” said Jess laughing, trying desperately to lighten things.

“You taught me a lot….. “

“Sure about how to romance women, drink whisky and win at poker,” he said, with a grin, looking over athis friend.

“And about loyalty and true friendship,” said Slim very softly.

“And you taught me all about families and learning to trust again,” said Jess equally quietly.

There was a long silence and Slim thought Jess had drifted off and then he heard him say, “do you think she’ll be there waiting for me Slim?”

Slim knew at once that he was talking about Jess’s fiancée who had been brutally shot down and killed in front of him a few years back.* See Loved Lost Survived.

“I guess she will,” he said softly.

“You think I’ll make it to Heaven then?” he asked with a little chuckle.

“Sure you will.”

“Be good to see Maria and my Ma and the kids again, he said sleepily and a little while later Slim heard his gentle snores.


The following morning Mort woke them up with coffee and offered breakfast, but none of the three could face it.

Jess sat up in bed, took a sip of the coffee and then clutched his belly and groaned quietly. Mort was in the outer office with the door still ajar, but he didn’t hear anything. Slim was instantly alerted though and he jumped off his bed and ran over to Jess’s side,” what’s wrong buddy is the pain worse?”

Jess had put the coffee down and now he lay back on the pillow looking ashen and sweating, one hand still clutching his stomach,” I’m OK,” he said weakly,” guess I just had one glass too many last night.”

“You need to see Sam, Jess you look real sick to me.”

Jess leaned up and grabbed hold of Slim’s arm, “don’t say anything, please buddy, I don’t want everyone fussin’… .Hell have ya any idea how I’m `feelin’ right now, I just wanna get it over with.”

Slim sat back on his heels and looked into Jess’s eyes,” I can’t begin to imagine,” he said quietly, “but I know how goddamn bad I’m feeling and I guess it’s worse for you.”

Jess closed his eyes”, I’m sorry Slim,” he said softly,” but just let it lie…huh.”

“OK,” nodded Slim giving his buddy a light pat on the arm, “we’ll do it your way.”

A little while later Slim went over to his hotel room, on the pretext of freshening up, but really he needed time out to prepare mentally for the ordeal ahead.

Chapter 10

Jess washed and shaved and he was just finishing when Mort put his head round the door.

” Padre to see ya Jess, do you want I should send him in?”

Jess gave him a pained look and then seemed to rally.

” Why not,” he said with a weak grin,” guess it can’t do any harm.”

Jess knew Revd. Myers well, as he attended Church with Daisy on occasion, but they had really become close after Maria’s death when the Padre had offered understanding and support, weathering Jess’s initial furious anger at God, the murderer and seemingly anyone else that crossed his path. However things eventually settled down and Jess started to listen to the elderly clergyman who helped him come to terms with the tragedy.

Now as the old man entered Jess grinned across at him.

” Hope you’re not expecting to save my soul, ‘cos I sold out to the Devil years ago,” he said.

The Padre came in and sat on the chair beside Jess’s bed and returning the smile said,” I don’t believe that any more than you do.”

Jess sat back down on his bunk.

” So what are you goin’ to say to me, seein’ as how I’ve only gota fewmore minutes left to live, how are you gonna make it all OK?” he asked throwing the old man a challenging look.

“Help you make your Peace with this world”, he said softly”, maybe you would like to make a confession son?”

Jess felt suddenly angry, after all he’d been through with this man in the past, and did he still think him capable of cold blooded murder?

“Yeah, sure,” he drawled, “I stole from the cookie jar as a kid and then I grew up and had way too many women, drank too much whiskey and gambled away too much money.”

Then he leaned forwards his eyes darkening with anger as he glared at the aged padre, “but I never killed a man that wasn’t trying to kill me first and I never shot Clay Jackson in cold blood…so if yer waitin’ for me to confess to that, then you’ll be waitin’ ‘till Hell freezes over…… The Good Lord knows I’m telling the truth and I guess that’s good enough for me.”

“I’m sorry Jess,” said the Padre with a deep sigh,” I just needed to be sure, to hear you say it.”

“Well you heard it, guess you can go now,” replied Jess bitterly.

“Not until I’m through,” said the elderly man fixing Jess with a determined look.

Jess lay back on the pillows a hand resting on his stomach, the gnawing pain now making him feel nauseous,” go on,” his said in a resigned voice.

The Padre knew that Jess had a simple, but strong faith and although his appearances in church were somewhat sporadic and generally at the behest of Daisy, the priest valued Jess and thought him to be as good a member of the congregation as any and a lot better than some of the more seemingly pious ones.

“You are feeling very angry and hard done to right now aren’t you my boy.”

“What do you think? ” asked Jess giving him a hard look.

The priest ignored the sarcasm and continued, “this anger and hatred is blocking your eyes and heart to the Lords love and care of you my son, if you can just relax and open your heart…… pray maybe.”

“What do ya think I’ve been doin’ these past weeks?” asked Jess angrily,” guess the man upstairs just ain’t listening to me right now.”

“I beg to differ. I think He is listening and waiting…waiting for you to listen to him.”


“His love is all around you son, if you would but see it.”

“The way your friends, family have rallied around you. The strength He gave to Daisy and little Mike yesterday.”

Jess’s head shot up and he started to listen.

“Oh yes I saw the way they conducted themselves, such quiet bravery and dignity, the way that young boy rode your horse out so proudly, even though his heart was breaking.”

“And finally Jess, the strength to cope, the Good Lord will give to you today, because I can promise you He will…….. Now may I give you a Blessing?”

Jess merely nodded and bowed his head.

The old man laid his hand gently on the Jess’s head and said, “May the living God walk with you and remain with you this day and ever more. And may the Lord have mercy upon your soul…Amen.”

“Amen,” whispered Jess, and soon after the old Padre took his leave.


A short while later Slim walked back in, just as Jess was buttoning up a clean shirt that Daisy had brought the day before and looking over at his friend said with a faint smile, “well, will I do?”

Slim just shook his head, wondering how his buddy could still crack jokes at the 11th hour.

Then Mort came in and glanced over at them both.

“It’s time,” he said sombrely and threw Jess his hat.

He put it on and pulled it down firmly a look of determination in his eyes.

How many times have I seen that look wondered Slim. When he was advancing on a mustang, aiming to remount after a bad fall, during a fist fight…when he was darn mad about something…… and when he was fighting to stay in control, thought Slim bitterly as he followed his buddy out into the office.

At the door Mort turned and put the handcuffs on Jess, apologising as he did so.

“You ready?” he asked.

Jess looked him straight in the eye,” yeah… I’m ready.”

As they walked out onto the street Jess was amazed to see that pretty much all the townsfolk were gathered there and as they walked forwards the crowds gave way and Jess flanked by Mort and Slim made his way down the centre of the street, now lined with bystanders.

There was complete and utter silence though, none of the usual cat calls or baiting that usually accompanied the last walk to the gallows.

Then one person started clapping and it was taken up by another and another person until by the time Jess reached the foot of the gallows there was tumultuous applause.

Jess couldn’t believe his ears,” what’s goin’ on?” he asked looking over to Mort.

“Guess they’re showing you their support son,” he said quietly,” everyone thinks you got a real rough deal and they don’t want you to hang.”

Jess just looked down and swallowed hard.

When he looked back up again Millie was standing nearby and she limped towards him.

She stopped in front of him her big brown eyes brimming with unshed tears.

” I had to come and see you,” she whispered, before reaching up and taking his face between her hands and kissing him tenderly.

There was now silence again and as Millie turned away, Jess looked after her, pain and longing reflected in his eyes, wishing his hands were not bound so he had been able to hold her one last time.

When he looked around again he saw that most of the crowd had drifted away, just leaving a hard core of low life that thought of hangings as good entertainment. There too, standing aloof was Mary, the Silver Lady, looking immaculate in her grey suit… .just staring at him.

Finally Slim came over and took Jess’s hand and shook it, then embraced him, feeling his friends body trembling, but with cold or fear he didn’t know, both probably he thought, before turning sadly away to throw a protective arm around Millie, too upset to speak.

Jess understood and just gave him a little nod.

Mort took him gently by the elbow and the two started the long walk up the steps of the gallows.

When they got to the top, Jess tried to empty his mind, to not think of his buddy and his girl down below, of Daisy and Mike back at the ranch……………..

He looked down one last time and made out Sam standing close to Slim, and the Padre over by old Charlie, his undertaker’s wagon standing close by. It all seemed so surreal to him, like some strange detached dream, but then the pain in his belly kicked in again and he was suddenly completely aware of everything around him, but somehow it was OK. His heart was pounding so loudly he felt it would deafen him, and a cold sweat had broken out and he felt it trickle down his spine, but he didn’t feel afraid, just resigned to his fate.

He closed his eyes and prayed and then looked over at Mort who had the noose in his hand, but was seemingly unable to move.

“Let’s get it over with Mort,” he said quietly.

The older man came forwards and put the noose carefully around Jess’s neck, making sure the knot was in the right position for a clean break.

“I’m so sorry son,” he whispered, and then almost to himself,” may God forgive me,” and he turned towards the lever of the trap door.

His hand was on the lever and he was just about to pull it back when a volley of distant shots rang out.

He ran back towards Jess, his gun in his hand.

“What the Hell,” and he looked down thinking someone was shooting at his prisoner.

At the first shots Jess’s head snapped up and he looked down from the vantage point of the gallows and could see a rider coming in hell for leather down the centre of the street, the odd bystander running out of his way as he let off more shots.

As he neared they could hear him shouting, “Stop Mort, stop the hanging, reprieve I have a reprieve.”

Then they saw who it was, Lon Deacon, Mort’s deputy, his horse so lathered in sweat and mud to be almost unrecognisable and Lon looking little better.

He pulled his mount to a sharp halt at the base of the gallows;” I have a reprieve from Judge Hanson and an order for a new trial and also an issue for the arrest of one Mary Goodson,” he yelled up to Mort.

A ripple of shock ran through the crowd, that had now mysteriously returned, alerted by the gun shots, and then a couple of worthy citizens had a struggling Mary by the arms dragging her forwards, as she complained loudly.

Mort who had been standing still, almost mesmerised by the turn of events, quickly removed the rope from Jess’s neck and suddenly it was all too much and the young cowboy felt his knees buckle and would have fallen if it had not been for Mort’s strong arms supporting him.

“Easy boy,” he said quietly, “take some deep breaths.”

Jess did as hewas bid and gradually the dark mist, that had been forming, cleared and he was able to carefully make his way down the steps where an over joyed Slim and Millie were waiting to receive him.

He literally fell into Slim’s arms and the Sheriff threw the handcuff key across and fumbling in his rush to free his friend, Slim finally got the cuffs off. Then Millie was in Jess’s arms and he held her close, like he would never let her go. She could feel him trembling and his heart pounding and then he leaned down and kissed her so tenderly that the tears sprang to her eyes again and ran down her face. He pulled back and gently wiped them away.

“It’s alright sweetheart,” he whispered.

Then Sam was there beaming at them both and he put a hand under Millie’s elbow.

“ I’m taking this little lady back to her couch before she damages this ankle anymore,” he said,” and then I’ll come over to the Sheriff’s to check you out Jess, you’re looking a mite peaky.”

Millie and Jess exchanged smiles at Sam’s usual brisk manner.

“See you later,” Jess promised as Sam escorted her away, and she gave him a little wave and blew a kiss.

Then the crowd surged forwards all wanting to see the action as Mary was dragged unceremoniously back towards the Sheriff’s office by Mort and Lon, while, Jess and Slim followed on behind at a more sedate pace.

As he walked along nearly everyone wanted to slap Jess on the back or pump his hand, their happy friendly faces wishing him well, some of the womenfolk in tears of relief.

Slim had a protective arm around Jess and as they walked he was aware that he was bearing more and more of his buddy’s weight until he was practically carrying him as they moved forwards and he could feel him trembling, his face pale and sweating.

As they neared the Sheriff’s office they saw the early morning Stage just about to leave, but at the scene playing out before his eyes Mose leapt down and came running over. He took one look at Jess, noting how sick he looked but rejoicing that he was still alive.

Once Slim had explained about the reprieve and the new trial Mose was like a dog with two tails,” I’ll tell Miss Daisy and the boy on my way out,” he said joyfully, pleased as punch to be the bearer of good news to his would be sweetheart.

Slim grinned at him,” figure we’ll still have to stay in town a while longer , but I’ll be in touch once we have some definite news……tell her it’s looking mighty positive though Mose,” and with that the old timer hurried the team off down the street.

At the office Mort shooed the town’s folk away and went with Lon to the cells where he cautioned Mary, after being put in the picture by an exhausted Lon, who showed his boss the wanted poster and explained the alias.

Meanwhile Jess slumped down in the chair opposite Mort’s desk and suddenly started shaking violently, looking white as a sheet.

“Hey pard, are you OK?” asked Slim, crouching down by his friend and giving him a concerned look.

“I’m OK, just feelin’ kinda sick and dizzy you know? “

Slim spotted the bottle of Red Eye from the night before.

” Just a bit of reaction to everything I guess,” he said and pouring a glass held it to his buddy’s lips for him to drink.

Jess drank it back, in one and seemed a little calmer.

“You want to lie on the couch a while?” asked Slim gesturing to the old leather couch pushed up against the back wall of the office.

“Yeah…. Slim I feel……..” then he made a dash for Mort’s waste paper basket and was violently ill. He finally sank back into his chair and Slim who had run to his side gasped in horror as he saw that the front of his friend’s shirt was splattered with bright red blood.

At that moment Doc Sam breezed in and took in the situation at once.

He leaned over taking his pulse and looking him over carefully, noting Jess was clutching his stomach and seemed in great pain,” take it easy son,” he said quietly, “try and take a few deep breaths.”

Turning to Slim,” get him some water will you?”

After Jess had sipped the water the two men carried him over to the couch.

“Lay him on his side,” said Sam,” in case he chucks up again, don’t want him choking.”

Jess lay quietly, still clutching his stomach, but he seemed slightly more relaxed, the shaking having stopped and he closed his eyes.

Sam went and sat over on the chair recently vacated by Jess and Slim perched on Mort’s desk.

“Guess we’ll leave him to recover for a little, then we’ll carry him over to my office,” said Sam, speaking quietly so as not to disturb his patient.

“What the hell is wrong,” asked Slim in a concerned whisper,” has he been shot or something?”

All he was able to think of was that one of Lon’s shots had somehow gone astray.

“No, no nothing like that,” Sam reassured him.” I was treating him for an inflamed stomach…but I figure it was something more serious than that, could be an ulcer or just a bleed in the stomach lining.”

Slim gave a low whistle, “sounds serious.”

“Could be…could be life threatening…or it could be treated OK with the right medication and diet…..too soon to tell.”

Slim reeled at the news; his buddy had just been dragged back from the jaws of death, only to be reclaimed minutes later. Slim couldn’t cope with the roller coaster of emotion from the despair as the rope was put around his friend’s neck, to his miracle reprieve and now this.

He leapt from the desk and strode across the room cussing loudly and banging a fist down hard on the table by the stove, rattling the cups and coffee pot, in his anger at the unfairness of the situation.

Jess stirred and groaned at the noise and Slim rushed over, kneeling down by the couch, “sorry buddy didn’t mean to wake you.”

“What’s goin’ on,” asked Jess drowsily,” what are ya takin’ on for Slim?”

Slim couldn’t answer, “nothing pard, you just rest back yeah, and then we’ll go over to Sam’s for a while.”

“Don’t wanna,” said Jess waking up properly now and sitting up, “I want to go home Slim, please I’ve had enough buddy just wanna go home,” and then the effort seemed too much and he sank back closing his eyes again.

Slim was distraught and came and sat down in Mort’s chair opposite Sam and sunk his head in his hands.

“Look it might not be as bad as we think,” said Sam, looking over at his friend,” tell me, has he been skipping meals prior to this sorry business?”

Slim thought about it, remembered all the scratch meals Jess had out in the bunkhouse when Mary was in residence at the ranch. Then how Daisy had said that Jess seemed to have lost his appetite and how he had commented just the other week that his friend was getting skinny. Jess had been dressing and pulled his belt in a couple more notches, but just said,” I always lose weight at this time of year, all the exercise I get sitting those ornery mustangs.”

He looked back at Sam,” no been going on for a while and he’s lost weight too.”

“It’s been very stressful all this business with Mary Goodson hasn’t it…caused a lot of bad feelings all round.”

Slim looked down and flushed slightly,” yes it has……… so what are you saying the stress of the situation has made him sick?”

Sam shook his head,” well I guess it sure hasn’t helped, that and a combination of lack of good food and too much gut rot coffee, not to mention whiskey,” he said casting a glance at the nearly empty bottle on the desk between them.” I don’t suppose he took my medicine or advice over the last few days either,” he said dryly.

Slim’s head shot up.

”Can you blame him, he had a death sentence hanging over him, I guess getting fit and healthy was the last thing on his mind.”

It was Sam’s turn to look embarrassed now,” yes I guess you are right.”

“Anyway,” he smiled,” looks like he’ll be acquitted any day soon, so let’s start getting him well again eh?”

Slim nodded, ”sure thing Sam.”

Sam went over and checked on the patient and was concerned to see he was completely out of it.

“He’s not looking too good Slim,” he said softly,” guess we’d better carry him over to my office, I can make him more comfortable there.”

They picked him up as gently as they could and he groaned softly, but didn’t open his eyes.

Just then Mort came through from the cells and was distressed to see the state of his friend.

“That woman sure has a lot to answer for,” he said darkly as he opened the door allowing Slim and Sam to carry Jess across the road.

Once he was comfortably settled in the hospital bed, in the room behind Sam’s office, the doctor gestured for Slim to follow him out and they sat down at his desk, the doctor looking troubled.

“What is it;” asked Slim….”he’s real bad isn’t he?”

“Like I said it’s too soon to say, he’ll need watching round the clock for the next day or so and he really needs to heed my words Slim and do as I say or….well things could get real tricky and I guess it’s down to you as much s me to convince him to behave.”

“I’ll do what I can Sam.”

“That’s all we can do. Now I need to check him over thoroughly, run some tests, why don’t you come back in a couple of hours and then you can sit with him a while.”

Slim went back over to Mort’s office and saw a slightly cleaned up Lon helping himself to coffee and Mort was at his desk studying a wanted poster.

Slim went over to Lon and shook his hand,” I can’t thank you enough for what you’ve done,” he said, “and I know Jess will want to thank you himself, soon as he’s feeling better.”

“How is he asked Mort?”

Slim shook his head,” not too good right now.”

Then he came over and sat opposite his friend, sipping the coffee Lon had just poured him.

Mort passed the wanted poster over, “take a deep breath Slim, you ain’t going to like this.”

Slim looked down at the poster and turned pale as his ex fiancée stared back up at him,” Sadie Dyer, wanted for the murder of Sandy Jones in New York State,” he read.

Slim’s mouth hung open and then he stared up at Mort, “this Carl Dyer’s wife?”

“The very same, she was convicted of the murder over six months ago. Escaped and went on the run the night before the hanging.”

“And you think she targeted me and Jess because we brought her old man in?”

“I’m pretty sure of it, he died in prison a couple of months ago, just before he was due parole. Sadie never made it to the funeral, everyone thought she had gone down to Mexico ,but then the word was that she was so darn mad she was coming back to get her revenge. Unfortunately that gossip never got this far, but someone must have heeded it back East and that’s why the wanted posters were sent over. “

“And you saw it, just in the nick of time,” said Slim turning to Lon…”thank God.”

“Sure was a close run thing,” said Lon,” wouldn’t wanna go through that again.”

“Neither would I,” said Slim with feeling and then as an afterthought with a faint grin…”guess Jess wouldn’t either.”


After a while he went back across the road to the doctors and was shown into Jess’s room.

He sat down by the bed,” how are you doing partner?”

“OK, so what’s going on with Mary being arrested?” he asked weakly.

When Slim explained the whole thing Jess was as surprized as his friend,” gee guess that accounts for a lot,” he said.

“Makes me look every kind of fool,” said Slim angrily.

“Yeah, well you weren’t to know and she sure was a good actress, had pretty much all that jury fooled that’s for sure.”

Slim was feeling awful and changed the subject.

” Thought I’d bunk down in here tonight, keep an eye on you. Make sure you don’t high tail it off to keep Miss Millie’s bed warm,” he said, grinning down at his friend.

“If only I had the darn strength,” he replied with a rueful look.

“The doc seems to think I’m pretty sick, but hell Slim I sure wanna go back home, can’t Daisy look after me?”

Slim shook his head firmly,” listen buddy, I hate to tell you this after all you’ve been through, but…. well Sam seems to think it could…just could be life threatening.”

“What!” said Jess sitting bolt upright and staring at his friend,” I just escape execution and now you’re tellin’ me this sore belly is gonna kill me, damn it, I’d have been better off with the goddamn rope, at least that’s quick.”

“Ha! That got your attention didn’t it,” said Slim with a grim smile. “Most likely you will be OK if you do exactly what Sam and Carrie tell you and that means behaving and not moaning ya want to go home all the time……understand?”

Jess sank back on the pillows. “Yeah, I suppose.”

“No suppose about it,” said Slim firmly,” you just behave, cos my nerves just won’t stand much more OK?”

Jess gave him a weak grin back,” OK buddy.”

As agreed, Slim stayed over sleeping in the other bed in the room, frequently used by Sam, or his daughter and nurse Carrie, when they had a serious case that needed regular monitoring.

Sam popped in a couple of times during the night and was pleased to see his patient sleeping soundly. Not so Slim though.

“You OK?” Sam whispered.

“Yeah ….it’s just that we came so dang near to losing him today Sam, guess I still feel kind of protective towards him you know.”

Sam looked down at the sleeping figure,” yes I know what you mean I feel the same Slim and so does Carrie, you know how close those two are, she was devastated when she heard the news he was going to hang.”

Slim nodded;” I imagine she would have been.”

Jess and young Carrie had some history. When she was just a young girl she had a monumental crush on the much older Jess and nearly drove him crazy running after him. Now she was older and they could both look back on those days and laugh about it, but they were still very close. *see the Doctor’s Daughter.

“She feels real bad,” said Sam softly,” she wanted to go and visit him in the jail, but she just couldn’t face it …just too darn upset.”

“Well that’s nothing to be ashamed of,” said Slim stoutly, “it was hard…...real hard seeing him that way. Anyways if she feels like that she can make up for it now by caring for him.”

Sam smiled across,” that’s just what I said,” and soon after he left Slim he finally fell into a restless sleep.

The following morning when he awoke he checked on Jess and was pleased to see him awake and looking a little better.

Jess’s deep blue eyes looked up at his friend and said, “Gee Slim, you look rougher than I’m feelin’.

Slim smiled back, “well thanks…guess I didn’t sleep too well last night.”

Jess nodded,” look Slim I want ya to go back to the ranch, rest up some and tell Daisy everything that’s happened”.

“I don’t know Jess, don’t want to leave you right now, you being so sick and all.”

“I’m fine and it ain’t helpin’ me any worrin’ about Daisy and Mike frettin’, please Slim go and tell ‘em everything’s gonna be OK and maybe Sam and Mort will let me home by the weekend”.

“OK Hot Shot, if that’s what you really want…but you behave yourself…alright?”

“Yeah, yeah I’ll be good…ain’t no choice with Sam and Carrie on my case anyway,” he said laughing.

Chapter 10

Slim made his way over to Mort’s office and accepted a coffee before perching on the Sheriff’s desk.

“I’m thinking of heading back to the ranch for a few days. Jess looks to be in good hands and he wants me to go and look out for Mike and Daisy.”

“Good idea, they must be wondering what’s been going on,” replied Mort thoughtfully.

“Yeah, Mose took them the message about the reprieve, but you know the way he embellishes a story?”

“Sure do, he’d never allow the truth to get in the way of a good story that’s ol’ Mose for you,” grinned the sheriff.

“I’ll be off then.”

“Just a minute Slim…there is something, the prisoner; well she wants to see you.”

“What! You’re joking there is no way on God’s earth I ever what to even clap eyes on her much less….”

“Easy Slim, I said as how you wouldn’t be interested, but well I got to thinking, if you could persuade her to make a complete confession to the Jackson murder then we could draw a line under this whole sorry business and save Jess all the upset of havin’ to stand trial and give evidence again, now what do you say?”

Slim shook his head.

” I don’t know…you really think she’d do that, confess and let Jess off the hook?”

“Maybe….she said it was important she speak with you, something to your advantage,” she said.

Slim shook his head again.

”I must be crazy,” he whispered, almost to himself. “Come on then Mort let’s get this over with.”

Mort let him into Mary’s cell and then withdrew locking the door behind him,” holler when you’re ready to go,” he said and leaving the adjoining door ajar went back to his desk

Mary was looking her usual immaculate self, still dressed in the very low cut provocative dress, her hair and makeup perfect.

Slim looked over to where she was seated on the bunk, so recently slept on by Jess and all the anger and pain of the situation flooded thorough him, but also , God help him, the old feeling of arousal as he looked into that beautiful face. How could someone so breathtakingly stunning be so evil he thought?

She patted the bed next to her,” will you sit Slim, you’re making me nervous towering over me like that.”

He reluctantly sat beside her and after a moment she placed a hand on his knee, “there that’s better isn’t it?” she said with the charming little giggle Slim remembered so well.

He stared down at the hand lightly resting on his leg, so delicate and white and he felt as if it were burning into his skin.

“What do you want?” he said gruffly, trying to hide his emotions.

“What I’ve always wanted,” she said softly, snaking her hand up his thigh towards his groin, the feeling suddenly driving Slim crazy.

He turned and looked into her clear grey eyes, “what?” he whispered.

“You,” she said and leaning across kissed him, at first gently and then one hand moving further up his leg and the other pulling his head down she kissed him more passionately.

Slim felt all his senses raging as the old familiar desire rose and the only thing he could think of was her lips soft against his, her body suddenly moulding itself to him and he groaned softly.

Then suddenly he realised what he was doing and wrenching himself away from her grasp leaped up, “what in hell are you playing at?” he yelled.

“Well what do you think my love, it’s not as though we haven’t done this before.”

Slim shook his head violently as if trying to clear it,” what do you want of me,” he whispered,” haven’t you had enough, brought me to my knees……made a total fool of me , hurt my family and nearly had my best buddy hung…what more Mary?”

She ignored his temper and standing up came towards him and ran a finger suggestively down his chest to his belt buckle and grabbing hold of it pulled him close so she could feel his muscular body hard against hers.

“I want just one thing, to get out of here. You and I could be so…so good together,” she whispered seductively licking her lips, “just get me out and we’ll take off for California… I know you can trick that old sheriff, he’s a friend, he trusts you…please my darling, you love me, and you can’t let me hang…….”

Slim stared at her in shocked amazement and then finally his anger overtook his lust.

” Oh can’t I,” he spat and then moving quickly to the cell door he yelled for Mort.

He was there in a second and unlocking the door let his friend out.

Slim strode into the office without a backwards glance.

“Well,” said Mort giving his friend a quizzical look,” is she willing to confess?”

Slim looked white and was shaking with anger.

“ No she ain’t ,”he yelled, “and don’t you ever”…then bending so his furious face was inches from his friends,” don’t you ever ask me to speak to that bitch again,” and with that he marched from the office slamming the door hard behind him.


Meanwhile across the road Carrie was in attendance with Jess gently taking his pulse.

After a few minutes Jess smiled at the girl,” hey you’re kinda quiet Carrie, you OK?”

She sank down on the edge of the bed, before looking at her friend, her beautiful brown eyes troubled.

“I feel so bad Jess,” she said softly,” I should have visited you… I tried, but I just couldn’t, the thought of you in that place waiting to die…it was just too awful,” she finished a solitary tear sliding down her soft cheek.

“Hey sweetheart,” said Jess a look of concern on his face,” it’s OK.”

He leaned up on one elbow and gently wiped the tear away with his finger.

“It didn’t matter, in fact I was glad you didn’t come over. “

She looked surprized, “how so?”

He was quiet for a while trying to find the words, then holding her handand looking into her soft kind eyes he said,” well it was hard for me you know…real hard holding it all together. Guess the only way I got through was making stupid wise cracks…nearly drove Slim mad. But I knew, if I caved in, started getting upset, well then I’d be lost …. and I figure iffen I’d have seen you I’d have been real upset.”

She nodded understanding exactly what he meant.

“It must have been difficult for you when Mike and Daisy visited, “she said softly.

A fleeting look of pain crossed his handsome features,” that it was,” he whispered.

Then needing to change the subject said,” so how is the romance of the century goin’, ya still seein’ that collage boy? “

She grinned from ear to ear.

“I sure am…we’ve no set plans yet, but I guess when he qualifies as a doctor he’ll be taking over from Pa and then we’ll marry.”

Jess looked pleased and then,” heck that won’t be anytime soon will it, I sure would miss old Sam patchin’ me up.”

“Oh don’t worry,” she said with a grin,” Adam has another three years before he qualifies. Anyway when Pa retires you’ll probably see even more of him, he’ll want to spend all his time fishing on your lake.”

Jess grinned,” well that’s OK, guess I see way too much of him in a professional capacity anyways, be a lot happier just fishin’ with him.”

“Well, if only you’d keep yourself out of trouble,” she said a twinkle in her eye,” Pa says you’re his best patient…well most frequent patient anyway,” she amended with a little laugh.

“Now how are you feeling?” she asked looking serious and taking on her nurse’s role again.

“Just fine sweetheart, why are ya thinkin’ of bedding down here tonight?” he said gesturing to the other bed.

She smiled back,” no I think you can be trusted on your own, Pa is happy with your progress and one of us will pop in during the night to check on you. Now I’ll go and fetch you some light supper and then an early night OK?”

“Yes Ma’am,” he said with his cheeky grin and she batted playfully at his head, before going off to fix his meal.

Sam came in and checked on him before turning in.

“It’s kinda warm in here can ya open the window a bit Sam?” he asked.

Sam did as he was asked and then went and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“Guess you’d rather be sleeping out under the stars instead of a hospital room smelling of disinfectant,” he said with a grin.

“You know me,” said Jess, “so how long before I can go Sam, or do I have to get Slim ta spring me?”

Sam smiled down at his buddy,” you behave, end of week…deal?”

“Deal,” Jess agreed and he happily settled down for the night.

Sam handed him a tumbler containing some medicine.

“Aw do I have to Sam?”

“Sure you do, something to help with the belly ache and something else to help you sleep like a baby, now get it down …or do I have to set Carrie on you?”

Jess grinned, “No sir…”and downed the foul tasting medicine in one.

“I’ll leave the door open, just yell if you need me,” said the good doctor and retired for the night.


Across the road at the Jail Mort Corey was finishing off his paper work when Lon his deputy wandered in. “Come to relieve ya boss,” he said with a grin, going to help himself to coffee and top up Mort’s cup, “prisoner behaving?”

“No she ain’t,” said the older man with feeling,” she’s ruffled ol’ Slim’s feathers something fierce. I don’t know what she said or did but he charged out here like a mad bull, never seen him so dang furious.”

“Really, I thought you said she might be gonna confess to the Jackson murder.”

“Don’t look like it……anyways I’m off to get my head down. Will you be OK with that vixen? “

“Sure I will don’t you go a frettin’”

“Umm, I ain’t, still think I’ll pop by later though, just don’t trust her… .night Lon, catch you after I’ve had a good nap,” and the sheriff left.

All was peaceful for a couple of hours; Lon had checked on the prisoner and then settled down to read the local paper. After a while he put his feet up on Mort’s desk and tipping his hat over his eyes settled down for forty winks.

Sometime later he was suddenly woken by an ear splitting scream coming from the cells and he ran in, the keys clutched in his hand.

What he saw made him stand stock still in shock, Mary was standing up on the bed, her dress held up in her hands, exposing a goodly length of shapely leg and screaming at the top of her voice. As soon as she saw Lon she yelled, “oh Deputy thank God, there is a rat here in the cell…..…it’s under the bed, please get it now… .now!”

Lon, who had not been privy to her acting skills before was completely taken in and unlocking the cell he immediately ran in and drawing his gun fell to his knees, peering under the bed.

The second he was bending down Mary pulled a heavy chamber pot from under her blanket. She had insisted on this one luxury item saying she just couldn’t mange with a bucket, and the men being too embarrassed to discuss the subject further had relented and Lon had been dispatched to borrow one from the hotel. Now she raised it up and brought it crashing down on the back of Lon’ head sending him sprawling on the floor, unconscious before he hit the ground.

She lost no time at all in removing his bandana and gagging the deeply unconscious man, before running out of the cell, locking it behind her.

She went over to the rack near the door and removed Lon’s Stetson and jacket and put them both on before opening the door to the street a crack and peering out. There was nobody about as it was now well after midnight and taking her chance she tore across the street and up the alleyway beside the doctor’s house.

She went round the back to the window of the hospital room, knowing Jess was in there from the conversations she had overheard at the jail. Seeing the window open she couldn’t believe her luck.

Mary crept up to the window and looking in was just able to make out Jess’s sleeping form on the far bed, his features illuminated by the soft glow of a nightlight on the table by the bed.

Very quietly she raised the sash window a little higher and then climbed in over the low window ledge.

Instead of advancing on the bed she went over to the far side of the room where she knew the doctor kept his instruments, remembering the visit she had made here, at the insistence of Tom, after she had once more said she was sick. She smiled to herself remembering the way she had played the good doctor, claiming to have women’s problems and he had seemed to accept her illness with sympathy and understanding, giving her a tonic which he said would help.

Bringing her mind back to the here and now she finally found what she was seeking… a razor sharp scalpel and she turned back towards the bed, where Jess still slept, one arm thrown across his eyes and the other held protectively across his belly, as though even in sleep he was still insome discomfort.

He was stripped to the waist and she gently pulled back the single sheet to see that he was just dressed in his white undershorts, and smiled to herself knowing how embarrassed he would be to think she was invading his privacy this way. She was actually surprized that he was still sleeping as Slim had commented once on what a light sleeper he was, but then she thought he had probably been given some pain relief, hence the deep slumber.

She sat down very gently on the edge of the bed and watched him breathing, seeing his chest rising and falling, his handsome features somehow looking much younger in sleep, almost like a boy. Then he stirred and his head rolled on the pillow and he muttered an endearment, obviously dreaming.

Watching him for a moment more Mary slowly leaned forwards and oh so gently brushed his lips with hers. Even in sleep she felt him start to respond and imagined it was all part of the dream he was having.

She kissed him more firmly and was rewarded by him putting his arms around her and pulling her closer.

Then she suddenly knew he was awake, something in the kissing changed and then after a second he gently pushed her away saying softly…….”Millie?”

He peered at her in the dim light and then all at once reality kicked in and he realised exactly who he had in his arms and recoiled back…

”What in Hell are you doin’ here?” he spat.

“I would have thought that was perfectly obvious,” she replied softly…” I am making love to you at last.”

“No you ain’t,” he said,” get the Hell out, “pulling himself up in the bed, before groaning and clutching his belly.

“It’s alright,” she said softly, “I want to help you, all you have to do is just relax back and let me take over,” and with that she gently pushed him back on to the pillow.

Jess felt weak as a kitten, knowing he had taken a heavy dose of painkiller mixed with a sleeping draft and he desperately tried to clear his head and gather some strength together to fight off this woman, who he knew in his heart wanted him dead. Then it occurred to him that in his present state all he could try to do was to reason with her and hope help would arrive shortly, knowing Sam would be coming by to check on him sometime.

“Do ya wanna tell me about it,” he said quietly”, about this whole thing, why you wanted to ruin all our lives?”

She looked mildly surprised at his change in attitude, the fact that he wasn’t cussing her or exhibiting the usual Harper temper, however after a moment she responded.

“It was all about Carl at first,” she said. “When I heard he’d died just before he was due out I went crazy, we’d been looking forwards to being together for so…so long. Anyway, I was on the run after that…err business inNY …couldn’t even pay my last respects, that was the worst thing…..and that was when I decided to catch up with you and Slim and makeyou pay.”

“Hell, Mary…..Sadie, we were only doin’ our job, Mort had deputized us, Carl had robbed the Stage three times for God’s sake…it had to end sometime, he was lucky he didn’t hang.”

She ignored this and continued,” so I landed at your place, figured Slim was the most gullible, where women are concerned anyway.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yes, I could tell from day one you knew women…real well. Something in the way you looked at me, kind of weighing me up, that knowing look, it’s all in the eyes Jess…… Anyway Slim was a pushover. But Miss Daisy was not so easy; she’s a shrewd old girl isn’t she?”

Jess nodded the ghost of a smile on his face.

“The idea was to breakup the family, get the kid off to school, Miss Daisy retired and thento play you and Slim off against each other…guess I managed that some,” she said with her little girlish giggle, that so irritated Jess.

Then she looked deep into his eyes, “that’s when my plan went horribly wrong.”


“Yes, I was supposed to get Slim to sell the ranch, leaving you back on the drift and then after we were married I would have dumped him and used the money to go to California……”

“But, so what stopped ya?”

“But I fell in love with you.”

He just shook his head…”No.”

She again ignored his comment and looking intently at him said, “the more you pulled away the more I wanted you…..knowing you were just on the other side of the wall with Millie was torture to me.”

He flushed slightly remembering what she had said about the thin walls.

“Then I had the plan to get Slim drunk and come to you in the bunk house, I felt sure as soon as we kissed you would be mine…… and you so nearly were weren’t you Jess?” she whispered.

She ran a finger gently down his cheek stopping at his lips, and Jess felt an involuntary shudder of desire run through him.

He reached up a hand and pushed hers gently away.


“Why… .because you like it…like it too much?”

He closed his eyes and swallowed,” Sadie…don’t do this…….”

She leaned forwards and kissed him oh so gently, one hand snaking down his naked chest to rest on his belly, she leaned up slightly and said so softly…”tell me, tell me you don’t want this Jess”.

“I don’t want this, goddamn it!” he yelled, trying to push her away.

Then she shifted her position and that was when it happened….. There was the metallic chinking noise of something falling to the floor.

It was enough to break the spell and he pulled away and looked down at the floor and saw, by the light of the bedside lamp, the scalpel Mary had secreted in her dress pocket and which had fallen out as she moved position.

Jess stared at it for several seconds and then he looked back at Mary, his eyes wide with shock…

”You were gonna kill me weren’t you,” he whispered…”iffen I didn’t play ball with you…you were gonna finish it?”

Quick as a flash, she stooped and picked up the scalpel holding its vicious blade to his throat.

“Don’t move an inch,” she whispered harshly, “this is razor sharp and so help me I will slit your throat if you make one wrong move.”

Jess just swallowed and said nothing staring into her eyes in horror.

She leaned down and he felt the blade touch his throat and a tiny drop of blood trickled down his neck.

“See… .see how sharp it is Jess.”

Then she gave a little whimper as though shocked by her own actions, before taking a deep breath and continuing,” in answer to your question, I intended to have you and then once you were lying there sleeping when we’d done… I was going to slit your throat…but now well, guess I’ll just kill you anyway.”

“Slim was right,” he whispered, “you really are crazy ain’t you? “

Just then there was a hammering at the front door and for that split second that her attention wavered Jess made his move, throwing his arm up to deflect the blade and then rolling over, out the way, off the bed so he was standing facing her, with the lethal scalpel still in her hand.

They heard the banging continue and then the noise of someone pounding down the stairs to let whoever it was in, and a moment later the door was flung wide and Mort entered, followed closely by Lon and Sam. Jess took his chance, and as she looked up in shock, he lurched forward and easily wrestled the scalpel from her hand and she fell to her knees, sobbing.

Jess staggered backwards and all but fell on the bed and Sam gasped and rushed to support his friend.

“Jess, are you hurt? “

He shook his head.

Mort hauled Mary up from the floor, quickly hand cuffing her and escorting her towards the door.

Then he paused and looked back over at his friend,” I’m so, so sorry son,” he said,”I guess she got the better of us … sure you’re OK?”

Jess nodded.

“Be by tomorrow, get a statement,” said the Sheriff and then was gone.

Carrie came running in looking pale and scared and sank down on the bed where Jess was now stretched out on the covers, sweating and shaking.

She took his hand,” oh Jess, how on earth did she escape?”

“Beats me,” he said softly,” figure she managed to pull off one of her little acts with Lon.”

She took his pulse and looked anxiously up at her Pa,” its racing,” she said looking worried.

Jess wondered how much was due to the recent conflict and how much to the passion of earlier, but said nothing except,” I’m kinda bushed Sam,” giving his friend a pleading look.

“Sure, sure you are, come on Carrie, Jess is fine just shook up some, a good night’s sleep should sort that out,” and winking at his friend he led his daughter away and left him in peace.


The following morning when Sam looked in on Jess he was surprised to see him up and dressed.

“Hey, where do you think you’re going?” he asked, looking surprised.

Jess sank back down on the bed and looked up at his good friend.

“Back to the ranch, I’ll catch the afternoon Stage…can’t stay here anymore Sam, I just can’t. Daisy can care for me real good, she’s a nurse and all.”

Sam was silent for a while.

” I guess this last business with Mary…. Sadie has spooked you, real bad, huh Jess?”

“Sure it has,” he replied angrily,” you don’t know what happened last night Sam….. “

“I can make a pretty good guess; she tried it on with you again didn’t she….”

Jess looked down and nodded and then his head shot up and he looked his old friend in the eye.

“Hell Sam, there is only so much a man can take… I really need out of here right now. I figure that woman is plumb crazy…ain’t a jail as can hold her iffen she sets her mind to it and I don’t intend to be anywhere nearby if she gets herself out again, ‘cos way I’m feelin’ right now…well I sure can’t guarantee her safety.”

The older man looked at him and smiled kindly.

“It’s OK son I understand, guess we can let Miss Daisy keep an eye on you. Now come and get some breakfast, let Carrie spoil you a bit longer,” and with that the two men went off to eat.

Later in the day Jess made his way over to Mort’s office, feeling real uncomfortable being anywhere near Sadie, but knowing he had to make a statement and gain Mort’s permission before leaving town as strictly speaking, he was still being held for the murder of Clay Jackson, until proven innocent.

When he walked in, Mort jumped up from his desk to greet him.

” Jess, are you Ok?”

“Sure, but Mort I really wanna go back home is that alright?”

The Sheriff thought for a moment or two and then said,” I guess that would be reasonable. I can deputize Slim; put you under his jurisdiction for the time being.”

“Thanks Mort, I appreciate that.”

“So I just need to know what happened with Madam last night, do you want to write or call it out?”

“I’ll write it,” said Jess quickly and Mort passed him some paper and a pencil across.

Jess got down to the task at once and before too long was finished and pushed it over the desk to the Sheriff.

“This it?” he asked, after reading the brief statement.

“I ain’t much for writing you know that Mort,” he said casting him his shy look.

“Come on buddy, I’ve read your reports before. You’re as good as the next man…but this …well its kinda basic ain’t it Jess?”

“Let’s just put it this way…what I’ve left out…well you really don’t wanna know about. Everything you need for the prosecution is there Mort …so let’s just leave it…huh?”

Mort looked over at his old friend and suddenly the penny dropped.

”Alright son, whatever you say.”

Jess rose to leave,” be back for the trial,” he said.

“Yeah, sure.”

He made it to the door before Mort called him back,” Jess… “

He spun around and was just in time to catch the Deputy badge his friend threw across,” for Slim, tell him he’s deputized…you’re his problem now OK?”

“Sure,” said Jess with a grin……”guess I usually am.”


Before he went to catch the Stage he made his way to the Saloon and was greeted by Tom.

“It’s’ so good to see you boy” he said grinning from ear to ear,” will you have a drink on the house?”

Jess grinned back,” no thanks Tom, under Doc’s orders not allowed strong drink right now.”

“Well that’s a shame; sorry to hear you’re sick Jess.”

“How’s Millie doing?” he asked changing the subject quickly, not wanting to get Tom on to one of his favourite subjects, other people’s ill health.

His move worked and Tom was happy to turn his attention to Millie’s ill health instead.

“Oh the poor girl, Doc Sam has said she’d to keep off her feet for another week and I guess she’s going stir crazy stuck up there on her couch.”

“Mind If I go up?” he asked.

“No, go along Jess, see if you can cheer the girl up some, “he said with a wicked wink.

“Do my best,” he replied with a cheeky grin before taking the stairs two at a time.

He tapped on her door and a few seconds later she threw it open, giving a little squeal of delight when she saw Jess standing leaning against the door frame a huge smile on his face.

“Hey honey,” she said,” I thought you were real sick; Carrie came over yesterday, said you’d be in the hospital bed for a few more days”

“Nah, I’m fine…. got under the wire anyway,” he said with a laugh……”so can I come in?”

She got hold of both his hands and pulled him in, “of course.”

Then she stood back looking at him.

”Gee Jess it is just so good to see you, I thought……”and then the tears sprang to her eyes again.

He moved forwards and took her in his arms.

“Sweetheart, that’s all behind us now, everything will be OK, at the trial I’ll be acquitted, you’ll see.”

“Yes, I know, I believe that too, it’s just the memory of seeing you standing on the gallows and then Mort put the rope around your neck…I’ll never forget that …never……I thought I’d lost you Jess.”

“Hush, don’t…… it’s OK,” he said softly kissing the top of her head and taking her by the hand they went and sat on the couch in front of the crackling fire.

She had no makeup on and was wearing an old blue dress and he thought she had never looked lovelier. Her feet where bare and he lifted them gently up and put them on his lap, massaging the still swollen ankle carefully.

“How is it?” he asked cocking an eyebrow at her.

“It’s still kinda sore, but getting better.”

“I guess you got hurt sticking up for me,” he said ruefully, then a grin burst through,” sure would have like to see you whop Mary though,” her said.

“She was askin’ for it, and anyways…. I guess I was kinda jealous,” muttered Millie darkly.

“Oh, so why is that sweetheart?”

Millie looked down, embarrassed, before eventually looking back at him, “what you said at the trial.”

“What was that?”

“When you were being cross examined…about you being attracted to her…. saying she is a very beautiful woman….”

“Hey that’s not like you to get jealous,” he said in surprise.

“She is real beautiful though…”

“So are you,” he whispered,” and you’re worth 10 of her to me. I don’t have to tell you just how important you are in my life do I?You know how I feel?”

“Sure,” she said softly,” I guess I was being silly, it was just the way she taunted me, saying you had been with her.”

“You know that’s not true,” he said,” sure I see other people, so do you, but I would always tell you…… Millie………. come here.”

He put her legs down and threw his arm around her, gently pulling her close.

Then they were kissing at first tenderly and then more passionately, their need for each other so great that suddenly nothing else mattered and he picked her up and carried her to the big bed.

Never had their love making been so sweet or so poignant and at the final they both broke down in tears.

Jess lay holding her in his arms and they finally slept, feeling comforted and soothed by their closeness.

When they awoke some time later Jess could see the sun had moved around and it was late afternoon.

He looked down at Millie,” I’m gonna have to go sweetheart. I promised Mort I’d take the afternoon Stage home.”

She threw her arms around his neck,” OK …...just a few minutes more….”

He grinned down at her and kissed her gently…….

Sometime later he heard the Stage hurrying down the street and knew he had barely five minutes before Mose turned and came back up on his journey out of Laramie.

“Hell, I gotta go,” he said, leaping out of bed and desperately trying to find all his clothes, scattered about the room.

Millie sat up in bed, pulling the covers around her and laughing in delight at his antics.

Eventually he had denims and boots on, his shirt open and flapping and grabbed his gun belt and slung it across his shoulder, before swooping down and holding her one last time, kissing her deeply,” see ya real soon sweetheart,” and with that he was gone.

He ran lightly down the stairs and tore out of the saloon just as Mose was passing and he threw himself out onto the street desperately waving his hat,” Mose….hey Mose wait for me,” he yelled.

Mose saw him and with a great deal of fuss brought the galloping team to a standstill, the horses prancing and shaking their heads at this unexpected turn of events..

“Hell Jess what are ya tryin’ t do…you got a death wish boy?” he yelled, much to the interest of the passengers who were now enthralled watching the half-dressed young cowboy standing there with a stupid grin on his face.

“Sorry Mose,” he said, “guess I got kinda held up…got room for me?”

The old timer gave him his toothless grin,” sure, up here on the box with me son,” and gave him a hand up.

Then giving him a quizzical look said, “You might want to button up boy, it gets a mite draughty up here.

Jess blushed to the roots of his hair and finished fastening his pants and then buttoned up his shirt.

“So how is Miss Millie’s ankle?” asked Mose conversationally.

Chapter 11

When the Stage arrived at the ranch Mike and Slim came running out of the barn to change the team and stopped in their tracks when they saw Jess sitting up on the box with Mose.

“Brought yer prodigal back,” chuckled the old timer as Jess jumped down and picked up Mike as he ran into his arms, throwing him up and then holding him tight in a bear hug.

“Gee it’s so good to see you,” yelled the youngster,” Slim said you were sick an’ Sam wouldn’t let you home yet awhile.”

Then Slim came over and slapped him hard on the back, his twinkling eyes making a liar of his stern words, “hope you’re not here against doctor’s orders…….you know what we said….”

“Yeah, yeah… I know , but Sam said it was fine for Daisy to care for me, here ,” he said pulling a note out of his vest pocket,” everything she needs to know and she’s got the medicine in her special medical box, so stop yer frettin’.”

Just then Daisy came running out,” oh Jess,” she said and he ran over and hugged her, “oh my, thank God you are home again,” she whispered her eyes filling up.

“Hey, you’ve no idea how good it is to be back Daisy… .guess I thought I’d never see this old place again,” he said softly, looking over to the ranch house and then out to the horizon, drinking it all in, gently rubbing her arm and then looking back down into her kind old eyes, nearly moved to tears himself.

Then Mose jumped down demanding coffee and pie, if there was any, and the moment passed and things seemed a little more normal to Jess.

Once the Stage had left, he made his excuses and went off to the barn to check on Traveler.

He found him in excellent condition, his coat gleaming and as he went over and rubbed the horse’s ears, the tough little bay whinnied in welcome, and Jess found him a sugar lump and patted him on the neck, whispering soft endearments.

A few minutes later he was joined by Slim. He leaned on the stall, looking over at his buddy reveling in the fact that he was finally home.

“So what made you run for the hills,” he asked after a while, “thought Sam wanted to keep an eye on you a while longer?”

“Aw, don’t ask,” said Jess, still fondling his horse.

“And aren’t you supposed to be in jail if you’re not in the hospital bed?” he asked with a grin.

“Oh yeah, that reminds me,” he said fishing in his vest pocket and throwing the deputy badge over to his buddy,” Mort says you’re to consider yourself deputized and says I’m your problem now…until the trial anyways.”

Slim shook his head and smiled at his buddy,” that sounds about right,” he said…”so are you gonna tell me what happened?”

Jess sighed deeply and then recounted the happenings of the night before. When he got to the part about the scalpel to his throat, Slim gave a low whistle,” thought you’d just caught yourself shaving,” he said.

Jess shook his head, “if Mort hadn’t decided to check on Lon and the prisoner and found poor old Lon locked in the cell… .then I guess she’d have cut my throat. I wasn’t thinkin’ straight Slim, what with the pain relief and sleeping draft, I was half out of it and too weak to put up much of a fight.”

Then he looked serious,” guess that’s why I needed to hightail it home, I felt so darn defenseless stuck in bed at Sam’s place…… I needed some space and to put some distance between me and that woman,” he finished bitterly.

“Can’t blame you on that score, guess I never want to clap eyes on her again myself.”

“Well, you’re gonna have to…trials set for next Friday, Mort heard just before I left town.”


Life settled down to normal, or as normal as possible for the ranchers, with the retrial still hanging over them.

Jess took his medication and even the special diet as prescribed by Sam without too much complaining and went about light duties on the ranch, although he was still in some pain.

On the Sunday morning after he had done the early morning chores he retired to his room and emerged a little later dressed in his Sunday best.

“So where do you think you are off to,” asked Slim raising an eyebrow, “hope you’re not thinking of going courting Jess, ‘cos I’ve got to remind you that I’m not supposed to let you out of my sight…..and I’ll tell you now, we maybe best buddies, but I’m not playing gooseberry for you!”

Jess grinned at him, “don’t worry pard just thought I’d escort Daisy to Church, figure you can come along too iffen you want to.”

“What,” said Slim in amazement,” don’t tell me you’re going to Church without Miss Daisy bullying you……it isn’t Christmas you know Jess.”

Then he looked thoughtful, “so all this business, has it made you catch religion then?”

Jess looked down embarrassed, “guess I just wanted to say thank you,” he muttered…”for still bein’ alive an’ all.”

“Who to,” asked Slim, the teasing note gone “God or Rev. Myers?”

“Both I guess.”

Just then Daisy bustled in,” now Slim stop teasing Jess, there is nothing wrong with church going and seeing as how he is still in your custody you had better hurry and get ready yourself, we don’t want to be late.”

Slim cast Jess a long suffering look and went off to get changed and ten minutes later Jess drove the buckboard containing Daisy and Mike out of the yard, closely followed by Slim riding Alamo.

In church Jess was warmly greeted by everyone and had many good wishes for his retrial scheduled for the following week.

At the end of the service Rev Myers took Jess to one side and asked if he could have a quiet word.

Jess looked on enquiringly as they sat in a back pew together in the now empty church.

The elderly man took a moment or two to collect his thoughts.

”It’s like this Jess; I have been visiting Mrs Dyer daily since she was arrested and she is really a very complex character.”

“You can say that again,” said Jess bitterly.

“What I mean is she is driven by her emotions and she seems to have little control over them…that is until recently when she has found some solace in the Bible and we have discussed her past and her future.”

“She don’t have a future,” said Jess heatedly, “she’s gonna hang padre, if not for the murder of Clay Jackson, then the guy in New York.”

“Yes indeed, I have no doubt you are right Jess, all the more reason for her to confess and repent now. She is truly sorry for what she has done to you and everyone at the ranch.”

“Oh so that makes it alright does it?” spat Jess.

“She just wants to see you and tell you herself, that is all.”

“I bet she does,” muttered Jess to himself.


“Hell, padre, that woman darn near killed me twice, she put that rope around my neck with her wicked scheming and lies, then she tried to cut my throat and she’s almost brought Slim to his knees, broke his heart that’s for sure.”

He paused for breath,” and when I think what she did to Miss Daisy and Mike, well it makes my blood boil. No, I guess forgiveness is down to you padre, because she sure ain’t getting none form me.”

The old man looked down sadly, “well if that’s the way you feel son…. do you think Slim……”

“That’s the way I feel,” said Jess darkly getting to his feet, “and as for Slim, well I ain’t even going to ask him. I’m sorry padre, but I just can’t see her…..not right now anyways…………”and with that he walked off.

They returned to the ranch and Jess was very quiet all day. After supper when Daisy and Mike had retired for the night Jess and Slim sat on in front of the fire, Slim with a strong coffee and Jess sipping a very much watered down version.

After a while Slim looked across at his friend and said,” what’s the matter Jess?”

Jess raised his cup,” have you tasted this stuff?” he said.

Slim smiled at him,” ain’t that bad…so what’s really bugging you, it’s not just the coffee, you’ve been quiet since we got back from church… .what did the minister say?” he finished, casting his friend an inquiring look.

Jess was silent for a while looking deep into his coffee cup before replying quietly,” he wanted me to see Mary…..Sadie, said she wants to repent…apologise to us for what she’s done, he wanted me to see her.”

Slim took this in, “so what did you say?”

“What do ya think I said,” replied Jess angrily,” no, of course…said no for you too.”

Slim looked up quickly; “she wanted to see me too?”

“I guess…why would you see her?”

Slim looked deep into the fire,” no…I guess not.”

“Anyways, he wanted me to forgive her…an’ I can’t, I just can’t do that Slim. I know the padre thinks I should, after the way he treated me…….”

“Yeah, but you didn’t confess to anything Jess, because you were innocent, that’s the difference.”

“Yeah, I know, but well, I think the way the padre figures it is iffen she confesses her sins, then he can pardon her and maybe she’ll get a fresh start in Heaven or somethin’…..can’t say as I understand really.”

“Me neither, sounds to me like she wants to see us just to clear her conscience and maybe she doesn’t deserve that…..”Slim shook his head,” I just don’t know.”


The day of the trial dawned cold and wet and Slim and Jess rode into town feeling as miserable as the weather. They had finally convinced Daisy to stay home and as Mike was off school with a cold she was really unable to argue her case as she knew it was her place to stay and care for the boy and to comfort him too. Everyone at the ranch was hopeful of a successful outcome, but it was by no means guaranteed and Slim and Jess knew well that Mary might have one final trick up her sleeve.

Once they were all inside the courthouse and the proceedings were underway, Jess stood in the dock, waiting for Judge Hanson to speak.

He looked over to Jess and with a smile said,” in the light of new evidence the case against the defendant is dropped, you are completely exonerated Mr Harper, you may leave the stand.”

Jess looked so shocked that Slim thought he would collapse, but he seemed to pull himself together and Mort took his arm and guided him to a seat next to Slim, before winking and going to fetch the prisoner.

He returned escorting Mary by the arm and she was sworn in. She looked her usual beautifully groomed self, if a little pale and there was a ripple of comment as she had entered; now looking so different from the almost frumpy woman who had given evidence at Jess’s trial.

“Silence in court,” rapped the judge.

Then he turned to Mary and said,” Mrs Sadie Dyer, you are charged with the brutal murder of one Clay Jackson, in the town of Laramie on the 27th September 1875, how do you plead?”

Mary stared straight into Jess’s eyes, “Guilty your honour,” she replied clearly, her eyes not for one minute leaving Jess’s.

The courtroom exploded with joyful chatter and again the judge had to ask for silence.

Finally the trial was over and turning to the defendant, Judge Hanson said,” in as much as you have confessed to the murder of Clay Jackson, it is my duty to pronounce sentence.”

Again Mary did not look at the judge, but just locked eyes with Jess.

“Sadie Dyer, in so much as you have admitted to being guilty of the crime of murder of Clay Jackson, you will be taken from this place and at 8 O’clock tomorrow morning you will be hung by the neck until dead, and may the Lord have mercy upon your soul.”

“All rise,” said the court official as the judge made to leave.

She showed no emotion until Mort escorted her from the court and as she passed Jess she put a hand out and touched his arm gently,” please….” she whispered, looking desperately into his eyes, before Mort pulled her away.

After she had gone Jess sank back down into his seat looking pale and shaken, but he had no time to recover before seemingly everyone in the courthouse wanted to pump his hand or slap him on the back wishing him well and it was sometime before he was able to escape with Slim.

They walked quickly to the saloon where Jess had promised to meet up with Millie to tell her the verdict. She had been under strict instructions from Jess not to attend. He knew how upsetting the last trial had been and she was still not able to walk well due to her damaged ankle and he had finally convinced her to stay with Tom, on the understanding that he would call as soon as the proceedings were over.

As he entered the saloon, she was suddenly there in front of him and he took her in his arms holding her close, “its OK,” he whispered softly in her ear, “it’s all OK.”

She burst into tears and at a nod from Tom he took her by the hand and led her upstairs to her room.

Slim went over to the bar and was bought a few drinks by towns people celebrating Jess’s acquittal and before too long Jess joined him at the bar.

“Millie OK?” asked Slim. Giving his partner a quizzical look surprised to see him back down so soon.

“Sure, just a bit emotional you know, said she didn’t sleep last night, she’s exhausted, so I just tucked her up and she’s sleepin’ now.”

Slim said,” she’s really taken all this business badly.”

Jess just nodded, before another well-wisher came over and started buying drinks.

To Slim’s surprise after the first couple of drinks Jess made his excuses and said they should be heading back, to let Daisy and Mike know the outcome.

Slim knew perfectly well that Mose would already have passed on the news when he drove the early afternoon Stage in, but said nothing until they went to collect their horses from the livery.

“Not like you to turn down free drinks,” he said glancing across at his friend as he saddled his horse.

Jess looked over,” it didn’t seem right somehow celebratin’ when Mary’s waitin’ to hang.”

Slim thought about that and then said,” well I guess we were celebrating your freedom, not her death.”

Jess gave him a hard look,” same thing though ain’t it,” and at that they mounted up and headed for home in silence.

When they got back both Daisy and Mike where delighted to see him and wanted a big celebration, but Jess just thanked them and said maybe another time as he was kinda beat.

“Of course dear,” said Daisy looking solicitously at him, “it’s been an ordeal, I understand.”

However as the evening wore on Jess became more and more morose. He had hardly touched the special meal Daisy had insisted on providing and before she retired for the night she went over to where Jess was sitting in his rocker, by the fire, mending a bridle. She ran a hand over his forehead, sweeping his black wavy hair back as she did so. It was a comforting familiar gesture, but somehow Jess felt incredibly touched.

She looked down into his suspiciously bright blue eyes and said softly,” well you haven’t got a fever Jess, so won’t you tell me what is wrong?”

He glanced towards Mike’s bedroom door where Slim was reading him a story, before replying.

“I feel kinda bad Daisy, about refusing to see Mary when the padre asked me.”

She sank down on the other fireside chair and said, “I can understand your feelings Jess, she tried to kill you and upset the rest of us…and I know how protective you are of us, it would be very hard for you to forgive her and I know Slim can’t even bear the thought of seeing her again”.

“Guess he won’t have to, she hangs tomorrow.”

She nodded sadly.

“It’s just that…. oh…..heck, this is real hard to talk about Daisy, I don’t wanna upset you.”

“Go on dear, after the events of the last few weeks I think it would take a lot to upset me.”

He gave her the ghost of a smile;” well you remember when you came to visit me the day before I was to hang.”

She swallowed deeply before replying,” I shall never forget it.”

“Well, Slim said as how iffen you and Mike hadn’t visited me you said you would always have regretted it.”

She nodded her wise old head, “and I stand by that Jess, hard as it was for us, it would have been worse to have left things unsaid… ……” and she stopped obviously upset.

“I’m sorry,” he said immediately,” I really didn’t want to drag it all up again Daisy…it’s just, that well, I think, maybe I should visit Mary…before it’s too late….but…. “

“But…. …what dear?”

“It’s Slim I sure as Hell don’t wanna upset him, and I think he’ll be mad…real mad iffen I go.”

“Why don’t you just ask him,” she said gently,” and really, I think it’s a decision you have to make Jess and if you feel it is right to go, then maybe that is what you must do, even if Slim is upset over it”.

He looked down and nodded,” guess you’re right…… “

She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the forehead, “I know you will do what you think is right…goodnight dear.”

He gave her a warm look,” goodnight Daisy… .and thanks.”

It was much later when the friends were settling down for the night that Jess finally brought the subject up. He had retired soon after Daisy, but Slim had sat up checking the ranch books for another hour. He was surprised when he finally entered their room to see that Jess had left the light on the night stand still burning brightly. He glanced over and saw that he was lying down with his hands laced behind his head gazing up at the ceiling, but he looked over when Slim came over and said,” so did ya get them to balance in the end?”

Slim gave him a huge grin,” sure did and would you believe we’re actually in profit for a change, guess our luck was due to change sometime.”

Jess just nodded,” good.”

“Well you don’t look too excited buddy, this means we can pay ourselves a little bonus next month, you can get those new boots you’ve been lusting after since last spring.”

Jess brushed the comment aside,” Slim can we talk?”

“I thought we just were.”

Jess sat up and leaning back on his pillows, said, ”about Mary.”

“Oh,” Slim sank down on his bed and looked down before looking back at his buddy,” what about her?”

“Well, you know how Rev. Myers asked me to visit her…sayin’ as how she’d been askin’?”

“I know she wants to see you Jess, I was in court with you today, remember, I saw the way she stared at you all the way through the proceedings, and how she would only look at you when she said she was guilty.”

He swallowed deeply “and how she touched your arm…pleading with you too….”

Jess couldn’t look at his buddy.

After a while the silence grew oppressive and Slim finally turned angry eyes on Jess,” was there something between you two all along, have you been playing me for a fool Jess?”

Jess’s head jerked up and he stared at his friend,” no… .Slim I swear no, like I told you, told everyone in that damn court, sure I was physically attracted to her, but nothing else and nothing became of it, you have to believe me.”

“Well Hell Jess I was engaged to her and I don’t want to see her…so why do you?”

Jess slumped back against his pillows; “it’s kinda difficult to explain.”

“Well just try,” said Slim, irritably.

Jess took a deep breath and after a few minutes said,” well I just think that maybe it’s the right thing to do. Hell we don’t owe her anything, I know that, she tried to ruin your life and darn near finished mine… .but, well she’s gonna hang tomorrow and so I guess I know how she’s feelin’ right now and maybe I can afford this last kindness…… you know?”

Slim looked at his friend in sudden admiration mixed with sadness,” guess you’re a better man than I am Jess.”

He shook his head, “no it sure ain’t that…just that I’ve been down that road Slim and it’s a lonely one, real lonely. If I hadn’t had you and everyone else in my corner, don’t reckon I’d have made it… .so that’s what I mean, guess I can afford to be there for her, like you were for me.”

Slim just shook his head,” OK buddy, it’s alright with me and when you see her…..”


“Just tell her … I’m sorry, sorry things couldn’t have worked out differently.”

“Sure I’ll do that Slim, I’ll ride out at first light,” and with that the two ranchers finally settled down for the night, but it was a long time before sleep came to either of them, alone with their thoughts of the past traumatic few months.

At dawn Jess was up and dressed and left the ranch house without waking anyone. He walked across the yard and looked up to the distant hills where the sun was just rising on a perfect Fall morning. The air was chilly and there was mist lying in the valleys but there was the promise of a perfect Indian summer’s day to follow.

He saddled up Traveler and left the yard at a brisk trot, his heart heavy with the thought of the events of the day to come.

Chapter 12

It was still very early when Jess road down Main Street, past the gallows and hitched up by the Sheriff’s place.

He walked in to the office and finding it completely empty went and helped himself to some coffee before sitting down opposite Mort’s desk and tipping his hat back took a deep swallow of the aromatic drink.

After so long without a taste of the strong brew it hit the back of his throat and made him choke and a minute or two later Mort appeared with a towel slung around his neck and patches of shaving soap still adhering to his face.

He looked over at his friend with a friendly grin.

“I wondered who was drinking my coffee… .you’re up and about early Jess, couldn’t ya sleep?”

“Wanted to see the prisoner, figured there wouldn’t be too much time to talk if I didn’t get here first thing.”

Mort’s expression changed to one of surprise and he gave a low whistle, before sitting down on the other side of the desk ,”so you decided to see her after all then.”

“Figured couldn’t do any harm…she wanted to see me so…….”and he gave a little shrug.

“Well I reckon that’s mighty generous of you son, more than she deserves after what she did to you.”

Jess said nothing, merely sipped his coffee.

”So how is she?”

“About as you’d expect, heard her cryin’ most of the night, padre’s been, he managed to calm her down some. Hell this is a bad business Jess, havin’ to execute a woman…well it just don’t sit right. Sure I know she’s guilty of murder…but if there was some easier way…….”

“Yeah, I know Mort and I’m real sorry for you. That’s one God-awful job you’ve got yerself.”

Mort just nodded in agreement.

Jess drained his cup and sighed deeply.

“Well can I see her then Mort?”

“Sure” and Mort picked up the keys and took him through to the cells.

As he entered he saw her lying on the cot and as usual, immaculately dressed and made up.

She sat up as soon as she saw she had a visitor and Jess walked in thanking Mort.

“Just holler when you want out,” he said with the ghost of a smile, remembering Jess’s comment last time he had said that.

She stared up at him, “you came.”

She looked very pale and her eyes were just slightly swollen, from all the crying he guessed, but otherwise she still looked amazing.

He nodded and sank down onto the chair that Mort had provided for his visitors and was still in place.

“How are you feeling?”

“Oh, fine,” she said with a false smile.

He shook his head sadly.

”Not what Mort says, he reckons you were cryin’ all night long…..do ya wanna tell me the truth Sadie?”

She looked down and blushed.

”I guess maybe it’s time……why are you here Jess?”

“Because you asked for me,” he replied.

She shook her head in disbelief.

“It’s more than I deserve after everything I put you through.”

“Yeah… .well, I guess we can’t change any of that now.”

“But I can apologise,” she said, looking him in the eye,” I am truly sorry for everything I did to you….and the others.”

“So is this where I say, well that’s OK Sadie… I forgive you?”

Her head shot up and she said “… oh… no, I don’t expect forgiveness from you Jess, how could you… I just needed to say it ….and….”

“And, what?” he asked.

“And to see you one last time,” she finished softly.

“Guess you would have seen me for the last time over at the Doc’s iffen Mort hadn’t intervened,” he said dryly.

She put her head in her hands and started weeping loudly for several minutes before slowly quieting and then finally glancing across at Jess from under her wet lashes.

“Ain’t gonna work Sadie,” he said….”you may be a good actress, but you ain’t that good. I know what you’re up to. So when are you gonna start gettingclose and suggesting we make a go of things, I just have to get you out of here…shoot my way out maybe and then we can high tail it to…err California wasn’t it?”

She blushed deeply and looking down whispered,” I’m sorry.”

“What for tryin’ to trick me again, or for not succeeding?”

She looked up and gave him the ghost of a smile…”both I guess.”

He looked across at her and shook his head, “so shall we start over….how are you feelin’?”

“Shit scared,” she whispered and the tears that sprang to her eyes now were genuine….” I’m so Goddamn scared Jess….will it hurt?”

He reached over and took her hand looking deep into her eyes,” it’ll be real quick and Mort knows his job, no…..I guess it won’t hurt.”

“What I was saying before…well there was one bit that was true.”


“Yes, I really am sorry for everything I put you through and the others, especially Slim. I was so cruel to him.”

“He said to tell you he’s sorry things couldn’t have turned out different.”

“Really?” she asked.

He nodded.

“And with you Jess, I am so sorry for what I did……tried to do to you, I really do love you in my own way…”

“You’ve got a darn funny way of showin’ it,” he exploded.

“It’s just that….well, I’ve never been refused by a man before…I just couldn’t accept it. I was so mad with you I wanted you dead rather than with anyone else…and I know now I was oh ………so very wrong….the padre has helped me to see that…..”

“He’s a good man.”

She nodded,” I have repented before him and I do feel a little better, but… “

“What?” He asked raisingan eyebrow.

“If I just knew you could forgive me….not feel too badly about me anyway…. I could die feeling better.”

“I’m here ain’t I?” he said gruffly.

She nodded,” thank God… I can’t do this alone Jess, will you stay with me until it’s over…please.”

He nodded, “yes I will”.

Just then Mort came back in, “I’m sorry Ma’am,”he said quietly, “its time.”

Her eyes opened wide in horror,” so soon, no, oh please no I can’t,” and she started weeping noisily.

Mort and Jess exchanged nervous glances and the Sheriff looked completely thrown.

“It’s OK Mort,” said Jess softly, “just give us a minute.”

As soon asMort had backed off, he took her hands and pulled her up from the cot and into his arms, where he held her firmly, until the crying lessened andafter one or two final shudders she was silent.

He leaned down and tipped her chin up with a finger and looked deeply into her eyes.

“ You have to do this Sadie, there ain’t no easy way. You can either walk out of here beside me, or the Sheriff will have to hogtie youand carry you, either way that rope ain’t gonna wait.”

She looked into his deep blue concerned eyes, “will you kiss me one last time,” she whispered.

He looked into her eyes and then down at her trembling lips before brushing them gently with his own and then kissing her deeply and passionately, before finally pulling back, tears in his own eyes.

He took her hand and led her to the cell door, before calling out for Mort.

The Sheriff was so relieved that the hanging was back on schedule, he agreed to Jess’s request that he accompany the prisoner to the gallows andalso that her hands not be bound until just before she mounted the steps and merely flipped him a deputies badge and said, ”consider yerself on the staff again Jess.”

They left the office to crowds of towns folk, many of whom looked surprised to see Jess holding Sadie’s hand and leading her down the street, accompanied by Mort and Lon.

This time the crowds were again silent, but there was no spontaneous applause, and one or two of the town down and outs made ribald comments as she passed.

Jess just tightened his grip on her hand andglancing at her saw the tears rolling down her cheeks again, butshe carried on walking, just staring straight ahead.

Whenthey reached the gallows he gently released her hand and she turned to look at him again.

“Thank you,” she whispered, and then held her hands out to Mort, for the hand cuffs.

He put them in place and then taking her by the arm started to lead her towards the steps, but Jess suddenly sprang forwards and grabbed hold of her arm again, pulling her back to face him.

Mort’s head shot up and he looked surprised, but Jess just looked deeply into Sadie’s eyes…..

” I…. I do forgive you,” he said very softly.

She gave a deep sigh, closed her eyes and swallowed before turning her tearstained face to him.

” Thank you Jess….that means everything to me….” she whispered, before Mort again took her elbow andwalked her up the steps to the gallows.

Jess couldn’t watch the rest of the proceedings, he got as far as Mort putting the noose in place and then he had to look away.

He heard the lever being pushed and the swish of her body falling and then nothing but the sigh of the crowd.

He suddenly couldn’t bear it anymore andturning, pushing his way desperately through the crowds, his heart pounding and risingnausea making him swallow and gasp for his breath.

Then there was a firm hand on his shoulder and someone guiding him and a moment later Sam Baker opened his office door and pushed Jess in ahead of him, closing it on the now noisy crowds.

He guided him to a chair and poured him a small measure of Brandy, but Jess’s hands were shaking so much Sam had to put it to his lips and he finally swallowed the fiery brew.

He shuddered, then looked up at his friend.

“Thanks Sam, I needed that.”

“You’re white as a sheet,” said the doctor,” you want to lie down a while Jess.”

He shook his head,” I’m OK.”

“Sure you are,” said the doctor dryly…”so what happened back there at the Sheriff’s office, I saw you ride in early.”

Jess was silent for a moment before looking up into his friend’s kindly concerned face.

“ She needed to make her peace with me, been askin’ to see me and I wouldn’t go… I was that darn mad at her Sam.”

“Not without good cause.”

“Yeah, well anyways, I changed my mind, got to thinking how it is ……just sittin’ waiting to feel that ol’ rope around yer neck, and I couldn’t do it Sam…couldn’t leave her to face it all alone…..what kinda fool does that make me?”

The older man looked down at his buddy with compassion,” a very special one,” he said softly patting Jess’s shoulder.

Jess lapsed into silence and then after a while he looked back to Sam, “she said she loved me you know, “he said in bewilderment…”how can that be Sam, when she darn near killed me twice?”

Sam shook his head,” I really think she was sick you know buddy, couldn’t control her needs and her anger, causing her to lash out. When you rejected her advances she just couldn’t deal with it.”

“Ain’t that the truth,” he replied dryly.

“I imagine in a more enlightened age she maybe wouldn’t hang, she’d end up in an asylum, but guess we’ve still a long way to go before mental health problems are fully understood.”

“Maybe she’d be better of hangin’ than in one of those places,” said Jess sadly.

“Um… you could be right,” agreed the good doctor.

Shortly afterwards Jess stood up to go.

“There is no rush son, you’re still looking a mite shaky, why don’t you stay a while, Carrie will be dishing up lunch shortly”.

Jess shook his head,” got to be goin’ Sam, then he looked deeply into his eyes andsaid,” thank you Sam…for everything,” and shook his hand.

The doctor was a little surprised, but then thought Jess was still feeling emotional and just smiled back. Then ,just as he was leaving through the front door, Carrie came running up and he stopped in his tracks.

“ Are you off Jess?” She asked with a friendly grin.

He just nodded, then taking a pace towards her gave her a quick hug and leaned down and kissed her tenderly on the forehead.

”Bye sweetheart,” he said softly and turning strode off down the street.

Carrie turned puzzled eyes on her father,” is Jess alright Pa?” she asked.

He shook his head sadly.

”I guess this whole business has upset him more than we’ll ever know,” he said quietly.

“He will be OK?”

“Sure Honey, you know Jess he’ll bounce back,” but as he continued to watch his buddy cross the street and enter the Sheriff’s office something made him wonder…..

When Jess entered the Sheriff’s office he found Mort and Lon both with their feet up on the desk enjoying a coffee. As soon as he saw Jess, Lon jumped up and vacated his seat and poured him a drink.

Jess took it thankfully and relaxed back to savour the strong brew, then he took off the deputy badge and threw it across to Mort.

“Thanks for that,” he said sincerely.

“No, thank you said Mort, “I dunno what I’d have done this morning without you son, the way she was fussin’ and frettin’ well I was sorely tried.”

Jess just looked down, “she was just scared Mort, ‘tis all.”

“Yeah, I know….at least it all went smoothly at the end.”

Jess remained silent.

“Did you mean what you said…about forgiving her?” asked Mort.

Jess pushed his hat back and looked squarely at his friend.

”I never say anythin’ I don’t mean,” he said gruffly.

Mort just shook his head,” you’re a better man than me then,”

Jess drained his cup,” gotta be goin’.”

“Sure, will you tell Slim I’ll be out end of the week, need to talk some business.”

“Sorry, won’t be seein’ him,” said Jess abruptly.

“What yer not headin’ back to the ranch?”

Jess just stared at him for a good minute, his expression unreadable.


“Oh? “

“Got some thinkin’ to do Mort, need some time…some space ya know?”

“Does Slim?”

“He will….gotta be off,” and with that he shook Mort’s hand and that of Lon and walked quickly out.

But Mort called after him, “so where are you headin’ Jess?”

He looked back at his friend,” towards the mountain,” he said.

“And then…are you stopping there or moving on….?”

“Dunno,” he answered truthfully.

“But…it’s just a trip you’re coming back…?”

Jess stopped with his back to Mort and then without answering walked on out of the office.

After he had left Lon looked over to his boss.

”Well what do ya make of that…Jess sure seems strange today.”

“He seems troubled, that’s for sure,” said Mort quietly as he looked at the door his friend had just left through…”real troubled.”

Jess headed for the Saloon and went over to where Tom was polishing glasses.

“Hi Tom is Millie about?”

Tom shook his head.

”I’m sorry Jess she’s still sleepin’, Sam gave her a sleeping draft last night as she hadn’t been sleeping well at all since all this started and yesterday she got herself upset about the hangin’, so Sam thought it best to knock her out for a few hours, help catch up on all she’s missed.”

“She’s OK though?” he asked looking concerned.

“Oh, sure nothing that a few hours deep sleep won’t cure, do you want to leave a message?”

Jess looked blank for a moment and then giving his friend a sad smile, “just tell her…..tell her to look after herself,” and he moved towards the door.

“Tell her you’ll be in at the weekend shall I?” Tom called after him.

Jess turned back and gave him a look of infinite sadness.

“No,” he said shaking his head…”I guess not,” andhe went leavingTom staring after him scratching his head and looking bemused.

He collected some supplies and headed for the Stage office and after asking for some paper and a pencil wrote a quick note and passed it to the clerk.

”Make sure Mose gets this to deliver to the Sherman Relay, will ya,” he said and then left heading for the livery and his horse and a little while later he headed out of town without looking back.


It was a week later when Mort reined in his mount at the Sherman Ranch and hitched him up to the porch rail before knocking on the door and after a few minutes Slim pulled the door open and gave his friend a welcoming smile.

” Mort, good to see you, come on in.”

It was early evening and Mike was in his room doing his homework, but Daisy popped her head around from the kitchen.

“Coffee Sheriff, I’m just making some.”

“Thank you Ma’am that would be good.”

Then the Sheriff glanced around the place, “Jess not back yet?”

Slim’s face clouded.

”We’ve heard nothing except a short note via Mose saying he needed some time…But Hell he’s had a week or more, how much time does he need Mort…and for what? All that business is over and done with; I thought we could just get back to normal now.”

Daisy came in at this point and put a steadying hand on his shoulder, but looked over at Mort, worry etched on her face, “do you know any more Sheriff, you were the last to see him, after… after the hanging.”

Mort sighed deeply and took the proffered coffee, staring deeply into his cup for s few minutes before replying.

“ Well he seemed troubled Miss Daisy. I know this whole business has unsettled him, guess he’s just gone off to lick his wounds, be back when he’s ready…you know Jess.”

“That’s the trouble,” said Slim bitterly,” I know he tends to high tail it when things get tough. Like he can outrun his troubles…but Hell Mort, if he’s feeling as bad as you say, he should be here with the people that….that, well…… care about him.”

Mort just nodded,” I figure he was thinkin’ that maybe he’d caused you all enough heart ache and he thinks you need a break from it all…..from him.”

Slim’s head shot up…”enough for him to ride out and not come back?”

Mort looked uncomfortable, “well now I didn’t say that, but…..maybe … I don’t know.”

“Mort what is it you’re not telling us?” asked Slim sharply.

The older man looked down and then squarely into his friends eyes.

”As I say he was sorely troubled after the hanging. He took the brunt of it all Slim, sat with her, even managed to get her to take that last walk, with him alongside. If it hadn’t been for him lookin’ out for her, well don’t know as how I’d have managed. But he was real upset afterwards and then when he was going…… well, I asked him if he was takin’ off for good and ……..he didn’t answer me,” he finished sadly.

“Why didn’t you say something?” exploded Slim.

“Would it have done any good, once he makes his mind up about something, well you know how stubborn he is….…and you can’t force him to stay here…not if he needs to move on….. “

Slim looked down,”I guess you’re right,” he muttered.


Jess was stretched out on his bed roll under the stars, his hands laced behind his head as he gazed up into the vast universe. It was now over two weeks since the hanging and he had spent his time just hunting fishing and drifting along and now he was in the foothills of the mountain range and he knew that tomorrow he would have to make the decision whether or not to carry on and safely cross the mountain range before the first snows of winter or to turn back for home.

It had been so, so hard for him to turn away from everything and everyone he knew and loved. On that last day after he left town he had ridden over to the rise above the ranch and hidden by a copse of young trees had watched Mike and Slim going about the evening chores. There was a thin swirl of smoke coming from the cook house chimney and then, after a while, Daisy had come to the door and called them in for supper. The door had closed behind them and the lights came on and shined out from the windows and never had Jess felt so lonely or so excluded, albeit of his own accord.

Now as he lay looking at the stars he thought again about his reasons for the self-imposed exile. He knew how shocked and upset he had been after Sadie’s hanging and then he got to thinking how bad it would havebeenforhis friends had he actually hanged too. And then how much heartache he had put them all through during the trial and the run up to the proposed hanging and he felt terrible.

Next he got to thinking about his life in general. About the number of times he got beat up, or shot and figured it was only a matter of time before he met his end. He’d always figured he would die young; in fact he was sometimes amazed that he had lived for as long as he had with his lifestyle and knew that it was probably down to Slim and the effect he had had on his life.

But still, even now, after all this time, he was still getting into trouble…would it have no end he thought bitterly. Surely it was better to just disappear from their lives for good, maybe write once he was settled somewhere, just to say he was OK. Better that than have them grieve and morn him, bury him…….in the family plot as Slim had promised and may be one day not too far off.

But oh, he missed them all so much, his life….his home, was he strong enough to give it all up, to walk away without a backward glance.

And Millie what of Millie, his heart ached for her, he longed to hold her again, feel her sweet lips on his and he groaned softly and turned on his side closing his eyes tightly trying to blot out the vision of them lying together, entwined in each other’s arms……after making love.

The following morning he woke at dawn and after a scratch breakfast of jerky and coffee, broke his camp and took off up the slope to the next rise where he knew deer would be grazing at this early hour.

Looking down from the cover of pine trees on the crest of the rise, he saw his quarry, a small herd of young deer together with several older bucks and aiming carefully he brought down a large buck.

It wasn’t until he was halfway through butchering it that he thought how he must get it back to the ranch quickly for Daisy to salt down for the winter. It was then that he knew the decision had already been made for him, the moment he took aim, knowing that this kill was far too big for him alone and he had shot it with the family inmind, albeit maybe unconsciously.

Once he had decided it was clearly obvious to him that he had no other choice, he had to go home. He felt it pulling him back and no matter what the outcome, he now knew inhis heart that he and his loved ones would deal with whatever the future held.

He set off with a bounce in his step anda new purpose and after completing his work on the deer he stowed it carefully in a gunny sack and made to move back towards the trail and home, figuring that if he got a wriggle on he would make it in a couple of days. Now his choice had been made he couldn’t wait to get back….and face the music he thought wryly, knowing how angry Slim would be with him.

It was the afternoon of the second day and he was sitting on a ridge looking down at the plain, sipping from his canteen and revelling in the fast that he would be home within a couple of hours, whenhe heard a sound like distant thunder. He looked up into the clear blue sky of yet another perfect Indian summer’s day and then cast his gaze off to the distant horizon and saw a huge advancing dust cloud.

As he watched he was able to make out a heard of some fifty wild mustangs galloping hell for leather across the plain and realised they were coming his way. He sat and watched mesmerized and then came to his senses and decided to make a play for some. Hecould see that they were heading for the distant river and that they would be sure to stop and drink there or even settle downto graze and spent the night andso he carefully started to shadow them , keeping out of sight and down wind, but slowly closing in on the fast moving herd.

His plan was spot on and he slowly moved in as the horses settled to graze and drink. He knew he could really only manage to herd about four of the animals safely and he decided on four colts who had taken themselves off slightly away from the main herd. With skill and determination he kicked Traveler on to divide and separate his quarry fromthe main herd and he soon managed to get them moving ata gallop in the direction of home.

So it was that he approached the ranch at a fast trot herding the animals along and as luck would have it Mike was in the yard and saw Jess approaching and yelled out for Slim. The tall blond rancher ran out from the barn and quickly taking in the situation pelted over to the large corral and opened the gate just in time for Jess to herd the horses inside and Slim closed the gate behind the heaving sweating beasts.

Jess jumped down from his horse and leaned on the gate for a moment, before Mike dashed over and threw his arms round his waist.

“Yer back Jess, yer really back,” he said laughing up into his friend’s face.

Jess bent down and hugged him close, and then looking up at Slim said,” sure is good to be back”.

Slim’s emotions were raw and mixed, he was so darn glad to see his partner back inone piece, home at last, but part of him was so mad he could have felled him then and there with a single blow. He just stood there gaping at him.

Jess straightened up, and keeping a hand on Mike’s shoulder looked over at his buddy.

“Hi Slim,” he said softly and then tipping his head towards the mustangs said…”peace offering?”

Slim suddenly saw red.

”Don’t you think you’ve put us all through enough lately…thinking you were going to hang….only to have you go riding off without any thought or consideration!” he spat, before turning on heel and marching to the barn, where he disappeared inside , slamming the door behind him.

Jess squeezed Mike’s shoulder, “sorry Tiger,” he whispered.

“Gee that’s OK,” said the youngster grinning up at him,” me and aunt Daisy kept telling Slim you’d be back soon…”

Just then the ranch door flew open and Daisy ran out and threw herself into his arms and gave him a big hug, before pulling back and beaming at him.

Then she looked him carefully up and down.

“Why Jess you have lost so much weight, you look as though the first puff of wind would blow you over, come inside dear, there’s a pie just out of the oven.”

Jess smiled down at her, and then cast a glance towards the barn,” Slim…..?”

“Oh, leave him for now dear, he’ll come round in time, he’s just been worried, you know what he is like,” and with that they went inside. But Jess felt truly wretched at the way he had behaved and vowed to try andexplain and make it up to his best buddy and the others, as soon as he could.

At supper Slim made an effort to be civil, but Jess could tell he was still pretty mad and it wasn’t until much later that he had a chance to talk properly to his buddy.

Daisy and Mike had turned in and Slim had taken himself off to the veranda after supper and now Jess came out of the ranch and stood for a few seconds leaning against the door frame, looking at his friend who seemed fascinated with the horizon.

“Slim can I sit with ya a while?” he asked and after a minute Slim turned to look at him.

“Sure,” he said, “free country,” and pushed Jess’s chair across to him.

Jess had brought out the coffee pot and he replenished their cups before tipping his chair back and putting his feet up on the rail.

After a while he glanced across at his partner,” Slim we need to talk.”

“I’ve said all I’m going to,” said Slim sharply,” like I said, haven’t you put us through enough without this latest nonsense.”

“It’s because of that that I left, don’t ya see, I was trying to spare you all going through that again.”


“Come on Slim, we’ve always said I’ll not make old bones. Truth is it’s a miracle I’m still here, figure I’m on borrowed time, iffen a rope don’t get me then a bullet will… that’s why Slim……I just couldn’t bear you all to suffer again, because of me,” he finished, his voice thick with emotion.

“That’s crazy talk, you’re no more likely to die young than I am….maybe when you first landed here, but you’ve changed Jess, your life has changed.”

He just shook his head sadly,” ain’t the way I see it Slim, reckon this latest thing was just a wakeup call…..”

“Will you stop it,” bellowed Slim, “it’s over, done with, and we need to move on.”

They were silent for a while looking out to the horizon andlistening to the comforting night time sounds. Then Slim turned to his friend andhis manner was much calmer and gentle …

“So what made you come back, if you really feel that way?” he asked softly.

Jess looked lost for words and when Slim looked over at his friend he saw his eyes were suspiciously bright.

” I just couldn’t do it pard,” he said so softly Slim had to strain to hear him,” I couldn’t leave everyone here and all this, he said tipping his head to the yard and barn…just didn’t have the strength to do it”.

There was a long silence and then Slim said softly,” I’m glad.”

Jess looked across a faint smile on his face…”really? “

“Yeah, really…but you ever pull another stunt like that…….”

Sometime later they were just enjoying their last coffee before turning in when Jess turned to his buddy and with a cheeky grin said,” so how’s it goin’ with Lily then?”

Slim’s eyes sparkled, “real good, taking her to the dance on Saturday…you bringing Millie?”

“Do you think she’ll have me?” asked Jess looking worried, remembering he had walked out on her too.

“Well seeing as how I get the third degree every time I go into town as to when you’re landing home… I guess you’re in with a good chance.”

Jess had a grin a mile wide on his face at that…

“Sure I’m up for it,” then after a moment,” guess it’s your round though Slim.”

His friend reached over and aimed a gentle punch at Jess’s arm,” Ok you’re on,” he said with a smile.

Then a little later he drained his cup and looked over at his friend.

“Guess you’d better turn in then Jess, you’ve got a busy day tomorrow.”

Jess threw him a puzzled look,” oh……how so?”

“Well you’ve got all those ornery mustangs you’ve just fetched back to break haven’t you?” he said with a laugh, getting up and heading for the door at speed.

“Aw Slim!” yelled Jess and jumping up from his seat chased him in, aiming a cuff at the back of the blond rancher’s fast retreating head.

The End

Thank you for reading!


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