#17 Wanted in Texas

Wanted in Texas

(Sequel to the Doctor’s Daughter and Blackmail is a Dirty Word)


Patty Wilkinson

(Some adult themes, strong language and violence)

Chapter 1

Jess Harper partner in the Sherman Ranch and Relay station, made one more circuit of the corral sitting the big black mustang before reining in the snorting, head tossing beast.

He grinned down at where his blond lanky partner and best friend, Slim Sherman, was sitting on the corral fence and said, “see told you I’d get him broke eventually,” and then leaning forwards he patted the arched neck,” he’s a real pussy cat now Slim.”

“Sure he is,” said his buddy the words loaded with sarcasm, “until the next time he gets the wind in his tail, this is the third time you reckon he’s gentled Jess and his tipped you off directly after you said it last time.”

“Yeah, well I mean it this time… and I guess this old fellah knows it too,” and slipping down from the horses back he removed the saddle and halter, loosed him out and watched as the magnificent animal tore around the corral kicking his back legs in the air before finally rolling in the dust to rid himself of the feeling of having a saddle on his back.

Slim watched him, unconvinced.

” Broke eh,” he muttered under his breath, but before Jess could retaliate with one of his acidic one liners, both the men’s attention was taken by a rider galloping down into the yard.

Mort Corey the Laramie Sheriff and good friend reined in his big Buckskin and beamed down at the two ranchers.

“Howdy, Slim, Jess,” he said, and jumping down he came over to the corral to look at the black mustang.

“Some horse flesh,” he said admiringly.

” Broke is he Jess?”

“Yes he is,” said Jess firmly throwing his partner a hard look.

“So what brings you here so early Mort? “

“Well I’m after a little favor Slim, see I’ve got to escort a prisoner over to Cheyenne and give evidence at the trial and all, be gone about a week and I was just wonderin’ if you or Jess could cover for me?”

Slim frowned,” well I’m sorry Mort, I’ve got the Overland Stage superintendent due on his regular visit any day now, but old Jess here hasn’t got anything to do.”

“Huh… ain’t got nothin’ ta do… are you kiddin’ me, what about the rest of these ornery mustangs that need breakin’, he said tipping his hat towards the corral…” not to mention the fact that the north pasture fence is down again.”

“Yeah, yeah….. I know and it’s next on my list to do.”

“So how about it Jess…. A dollar a day, plus three good meals from Miss Molly’s café and full use of the hot tub out back of the jail… and there’s a new mattress on the staff bunk bed too”.

“Well why didn’t you say, three of Miss Molly’s meals and the hot tub…. What more could a man want, sure I’ll help you out Mort.”

Slim beamed across at the Sheriff, “so how about some of Miss Daisy’s pie and coffee to seal the deal?”

“I thought you’d never ask,” and with that the three made their way into the ranch is search of sustenance from the ranchers wonderful housekeeper and surrogate Ma.

As they walked into the house they were greeted by Mrs Daisy Cooper’s smiling face.

“I thought I heard visitors, would you care for some coffee and pie Sheriff?” she asked her old grey eyes twinkling at him.

“You know Ma’am I surely would,” he said returning the smile.

The men settled round the dining table and after a while little Mike Williams the youngest member of the ‘family ‘came to join them, leaning against Jess an affectionate arm thrown around the young cowboy’s shoulders. The small blond haired boy had been adopted by the two ranchers a few years back, after his parents had been killed in an Indian raid, and now he was the heart of the family, loved and cared for by them all.

“Hey there Tiger,” the dark haired rancher grinned at him,” homework all done?”

“Sure is Jess, can we do some more lasso practice later?” asked the youngster pleadingly.

“Well, I don’t see why not. Gotta take off to town tomorrow to help out the Sheriff, but guess we can do an hour or so later.”

Then turning to the Sheriff said,” the boy’s got a good eye and can throw a rope pretty good too, reckon we’ll make a cowboy of him yet,” he finished, affectionately ruffling the child’s blond mop.

“Yeah, I can handle the rope, got the eye and I’m pretty good at the cussin’ now too aren’t I Jess?”

Jess flushed up but said nothing.

“Cussing?”asked Daisy raising an eyebrow.

“Sure aunt Daisy, Jess says he reckons if you miss your target three times on the go, well a good cussin’ helps some.”

“Oh does he?” said the elderly housekeeper, turning a mock shocked expression on the young cowboy, receiving an embarrassed smile in response.

“Yes Ma’am, but he says cussin’ should never be in front of the ladies and it’s only for the yard.”

“Oh good well I’m glad to see he has some etiquettes.”

“Huh?” said Jess and Mike in unison.

“Manners dear, manners,” she said with a faint smile.

“Go and finish off your chores Mike an’ I’ll be out to help yer with the ropin’ shortly,” said Jess thinking that the least said about the finer points of ropin’ the better, in front of their elderly housekeeper, especially the cussin’ side of things.

“So what’s been happening in town?” Jess asked, trying to change the subject to something less contentious and casting Mort an enquiring look.

“Oh not too much, same as ever, a few smart kids causing the odd ruckus, one or two drunks been keepin’ the jail occupied, but nothin’ fer you to be worried about, all’s been real quiet of late, you should have an easy time of it Jess.”

“Typical, nice little holiday for you pard.”

“It won’t be no holiday Slim, doubtless something will kick off …always seems to when I’m around coverin’ for ol’ Mort here.”

“Now isn’t that the truth,” said Slim darkly, and receiving a gentle cuff for his trouble, from his grinning partner.

“Oh there is one bit of news… about your good friend Doc Sam.”

“Oh, so what’s that?” asked Slim, “don’t tell me he’s been off to St Lois on a supposed Medical Lecture and come back with yet another new fishin’ rod, like last time.”

Doc Sam Baker was the Laramie physician and very good friend of all at the Sherman Ranch, often saying that Jess alone kept him in business, all the times he got beat up or shot.

He was a widower in his early forties with a pretty teenage daughter, Carrie who acted as his nurse. After medicine his great passion in life was fishing, a hobby he frequently pursued at the ranch lake in the company of the two cowboys.

“Oh no,”said the Sheriff,” nothing as boring as a fishing rod, he’s been off to one of those fancy conferences again alright, but well this time seems like he found himself a lady friend.”

“No,” said Daisy, he eyes alight with mischief,” oh Mort how exciting… so how did he meet her…are they engaged… what is she like…?”

“Now whoa there Miss Daisy, don’t you go rushin’ things, the good lady in question is still back east, due in on the Stage one day this week so I believe.”

“So how did they meet?” asked Daisy enjoying this bit of unexpected gossip.

“Well according to Sam… he fell over her, literally, she was dashing out of a hotel and he bumped into her, she fell and sprained an ankle, he fixed her up, paid for a room for her, visited everyday… and well one thing led to another and she’s coming out for a long visit. Guess the doc won’t rush into anything… but when a decent woman’s got a man in her sites…well, guess there is nothing he can do , but give in gracefully,” he said giving Daisy a broad wink.

Jess grinned over at the Sheriff, “all this talk of a decent woman is makin’ me kinda nervous Mort, I’m goin’ out to help Mike,” and with that the party broke up, with Jess promising to ride over to town the following day.


True to his word, Jess arrived at the Sheriff’s office bright and early the following morning and after helping himself to coffee, from the ever full pot, sank down on the chair opposite Mort who was finalizing some paper work at his desk.

After a minute he looked up,”‘Morning, I really appreciate you doing this Jess”.

“You’re welcome and guess it’ll make a change from getting chucked off of those ornery mustangs,” he said with a self-depreciating grin.

Mort shook his head,” well way I hear it you’re getting yourself a real reputation as one hell of a horse breaker. Old man Jolson was telling them at the saloon, what a good job you’d done on that Palomino mare you sold on to him, said his granddaughter can ride him easy, soft as butter, he said.”

Jess grinned back,” sure I remember the horse, took a few cuts and bruises workin’ her…but guess it was all worth it in the end!”

Sometime later Mort got the prisoner ready and caught the Stage to Cheyenne, wishing Jess a hasty,’ good luck and goodbye.’

As the Stage disappeared down Main Street in a haze of early morning dust, Jess watched and then glanced up and down the deserted street, wondering whether to do a quick tour to check all was well, or go back into the office for a second cup of coffee.

He shivered a little as he stood on the sidewalk and although it was early summer with the promise of a hot day to follow, it was still very chilly at this early hour. There was nobody about and as he stood there undecided as to what to do next, the door to Doc Baker’s office, across the street opened and Carrie ran out, hastily pulling a shawl around her shoulders.

Jess greeted her warmly as she dashed over to him, smiling down at the young woman, and with her expressive dark brown eyes twinkling at him and her long dark hair framing her perfect oval face; he thought she had never looked lovelier.

“Hey Carrie, how are yer doin’?”

“Oh just fine, I saw Mort leave and thought you might like some company, got the coffee on?”

“I sure have,” and he opened the door for her, standing aside for her to pass and inhaling her light flowery perfume, before following her in.

He made straight for the pot and poured them both a cup and turning to where the young woman had sat down on the chair by the desk he passed it across to her before taking the seat opposite on the other side of the desk.

She sipped her coffee and then gave a deep sigh.

“What’s up sweetheart?”

“Oh it’s Wilber,” she replied, referring to her medical student boyfriend, who she had met nearly three years ago when she had gone back east to nursing collage.

Jess threw her a little smile,” so what’s the boy done now?”

“Well, I know it’s not really his fault, but he was supposed to come and spend the summer with me once Med School was out, but he’s got himself a summer job helping out a famous doctor back east and I shall hardly see anything of him.”

“Well that’s too bad, couldn’t he have gotten himself a job with your Pa iffen he needed to work?”

“That’s what I said,” she replied animatedly,” but apparently this Doc Jones is a real clever guy, top of his field and Wilber really wants to learn from him.”

Jess considered this for a moment or two and the said,” well couldn’t you go out there for a while, help him out some, after all you are a qualified nurse now.”

“I wanted to do that too, but Pa says no, says we are far too busy right now and he can’t spare me. Looks like half the women folk in Laramie are about to give birth and the truth is he just can’t cope on his own… and I know he’s right, if I’m honest.”

Jess squirmed slightly at the thought of all those pregnant women and cast his mind back to his recent romances; he couldn’t have played any part in this baby boom…… could he… He thought back, he had been going out with that smart young teacher and when he didn’t look like committing she’d upped and dumped him and married a farmer in Colorado, she was the only one that , well could have caused any problems over the last few months…so nah, definitely not.

He gave a little sigh of relief.

“Well maybe he’ll get out to see yer, later in the summer.”

“Maybe …. Anyway how are you Jess, Pa and I don’t seem to have needed to patch you up for…. Let me see, over a month, guess that must be some sort of record. So you’ve been keeping out of trouble have you?”

He grinned across at her,” not really, pretty much black an’ blue under here,” he said gesturing to his blue shirt,” been horse breakin’ see, but nothin’ too serious, Miss Daisy’s been fixin’ me up.”

At the mention of mustang breaking Carrie’s face clouded,” I so hate you doing that,” she said earnestly.

“Now Carrie, it’s my job… what I do, you know that,” he said gently.

He was suddenly transported back three years to when the then fifteen year old Carrie had a massive crush on him. She had been staying at the ranch caring for Daisy who had a sprained ankle and the young girl had nearly driven Jess crazy chasing after him, wanting to help him around the ranch, and secretly hoping to marry the handsome cowboy.

Jess had found the whole situation both embarrassing and difficult to cope with and he remembered really losing his temper with her when she had got almost hysterical after he had suffered a bad fall from one of the mustangs and she had insisted he stop the work.

He smiled to himself shaking his head a little at the memory. She was not deterred by the Harper temper however and continued to pursue him relentlessly and Jess was at his wits end as to how to deal with the situation.

Finally things had come to a head one night when both Slim and Daisy were absent from the ranch, leaving Jess and Carrie alone. She had made her move on him and started kissing him and then Jess had, had an idea. He kissed her back, passionately and as things moved on apace; the young girl was suddenly out of her depth and backed off, frightened of the situation she had found herself in, realising she was still too young for adult love making.

Jess’s ploy had worked and as she backed off he reassured and comforted her and eventually, her feelings for him went back to those of just close friendship, much to Jess’s relief.

He suddenly glanced across at her and their eyes locked and he just knew she had been remembering everything too…… and by the look in her eye, he somehow knew that if she kissed him again and he used the same ploy….well she wouldn’t be backing off any this time.

He looked down, embarrassed and clearing his throat, said “so tell me about this new woman in your Pa’s life, do you think it’s serious?”

She shook her head a little as if to clear it of some long ago image and looking thoughtful replied hesitantly,” I don’t really know Jess, I think Pa is kind of overwhelmed by it all. He says she is really beautiful, and a fair bit younger than him too, keeps saying he doesn’t know what she sees in him.”

“Well he’s a handsome man yer Pa, for his age of course,” said Jess with a wink,” and I’m real glad iffen it works out for him, guess he’s been pretty lonely since yer Ma died.”

Carrie looked reflective,” yes, I suppose you’re right, it’s just that I’ve got used to there just being the two of us… I guess I’m being a little selfish.”

“Yeah well, I expect you’ll be up and marryin’ ol’ Wilber as soon as he qualifies, so your Pa would be left alone, maybe he should grab the chance of a little happiness eh?”

She gave him a rueful smile,” and you’re right as always,” she said and getting up to leave she turned back and leaning down kissed him lightly on the cheek.

“Hey what’s that for?” he asked his eyebrows shooting up in surprise.

“For just being you,” she said softly, and with that she left, closing the door quietly behind her.

Jess stared at the door for a long time after she had gone, one hand to his face where she had planted the unexpected kiss, an unfathomable expression in his eyes.

Chapter 2

It was noon the following day when looking out of the Sheriff’s office window he saw Doc Sam Baker hurrying across the street and Carrie’s words came back to him, about this new woman in his friend’s life.

The door banged open and the good doctor stood there looking more nervous than Jess had ever seen him before.

“Hey Sam, you OK?” he asked solicitously.

“Yes… no … oh I don’t know Jess; I think I’m just about to make a complete and utter fool of myself.”

Jess looked surprised,” how so? “

“It’s this young lady friend of mine, Ginny… Miss Ginny White, well she’s visiting today, due on the Stage any minute and I…. well I just don’t know if I can face her Jess… I think maybe I’ve got it all wrong. When we were back east together, well I felt that she ……..”

“She…….. what Sam?”

The doctor looked embarrassed, “well that she cared for me Jess. We never… well never got round to much romancing, but, things she said made me think…. But now, well what if she sees me again and realizes what a big mistake she’s made?”

Jess grinned at his friend, “now why would she think a darn stupid thing like that?”

“Oh, I don’t know… she’s such a cracker Jess… just wait ‘till you see her, I just can’t fathom how she’d want me.”

Just then there was the sound of the Stage rattling down the street and the doctor looked terrified.

“Come on buddy, time to find out,” said Jess clapping his friend on the shoulder and making to see him out.

Sam turned troubled eyes on him,” come with me to meet her, please Jess it’ll take the pressure off some if I can sort of introduce you…. please? “

“Oh OK come on you big softy,” and the two men marched down the street together to where old Mose the driver had just brought the Stage to a standstill, the horses sweating and tossing their heads as the old timer jumped nimbly down from the box and threw the door open,” everyone out here, this is Laramie, end of the line for you good folks.”

Jess stood back a little as Sam walked forwards and helped a young woman, dressed in a stunning green dress, down from the stagecoach.

She had the most beautiful long auburn hair, curling seductively around her shoulders. Her slender figure and alluring cleavage, shown to advantage by the tightly fitting , low cut dress, making her look as Sam had said ……. a real cracker.

She took Sam’s hand as he helped her down and then leaned in for a kiss, before standing back a little to survey her new surroundings.

Then her gaze landed on Jess and the welcoming smile she had just cast towards Sam froze on her face.

Jess’s jaw dropped as he stared into those oh so familiar amazing violet eyes and the whole world seemed to stand still as his heart started crashing in his chest and a wave of dizziness threatened to floor him.

Their gaze locked and she gave an almost imperceptible shake of the head, her eyes pleading.

Sam turned back to Jess and possessively taking Ginny’s arm he walked her over to his good friend.

“Jess, I’d like you to meet Ginny White, Ginny this is my very good friend Jess Harper.”

Ginny gave absolutely no sign of ever having seen the dark haired young cowboy before and offered him her hand, smiling up into his eyes, “pleased to meet you Mr Harper.”

Jess nodded, “Ma’am,” he said briskly.

Then turning to Sam, “you’ll have to excuse me buddy, duty calls,” he said glancing down at the Deputy badge on his vest, and pausing only to tip his hat to the young woman, who was now looking mightily relieved, he turned on heel and strode back to the office.

He slammed the door behind him and then leaned back on it closing his eyes and swallowing hard, trying to calm his beating heart and shuddering breaths.

Then he marched across to the cupboard where he knew Mort kept his medicinal whiskey and poured a generous measure into a cup before topping it up with coffee and then he retired to his chair behind the desk and with his hands shaking, sipped the drink as he thought back to when he had first met Ginny nearly twelve years ago.

He had been on the drift for over a year, still hunting the Bannister gang who had fired his home killing most of his family and he had anger and bitterness in his young sixteen year old heart when he rode into yet another Texas town.

And was it a dump, talk about one horse town. It was early evening and as Jess had made his way down the street heading for the livery he passed an old dog asleep in the middle of the road, and grinned to himself, yep this sure was a lively old town.

He just had enough money to put up his horse for the night and once this was done he mooched off back down the street wondering where he was going to find the money for a square meal.

He peered into the saloon hoping that they might take pity onhim and offer some bar work, but the landlord looked a miserable old sod to Jess’s eyes and so he took himself off round the back thinking maybe the kitchen staff might bemore approachable.

As he turned into the small yard behind the saloon he saw her……..one of the most beautiful women he had seen in his young life. She was sitting out on the back step smoking a cigarette, inhaling deeply, the smoke making a blue halo around her abundant rich auburn stresses that curled seductively around her shoulders, and then Jess’s eyes roamed down southto her ample cleavage, shown off to great advantage by the low cut yellow dress she was wearing.

“You lookin’ or buyin’ honey,” she drawled, and Jess was suddenly startled out of his reverie and dragging his eyes up, he finally looked into amused violet eyes.


“I said are you…oh never mind, what can I do for you kid?”

“I ain’t a kid,” said Jess angrily,” I’m nearly seventeen!”

“Oh, that old,” she said with a little chuckle, then straightening her face said, “so what can I do for you sir?

Jess knew when he was having his leg pulled and he grinned back at the woman, “Jess,” he said,” Jess Harper, Ma’am,” touching his hat to her.

“Well then Jess Harper, you may call me Ginny,” she said, taking a liking to this polite, if rather scrawny young man.

“Well, I was looking for some work…...err Ginny, to pay for a meal and maybe a bed for the night.”

She looked at him speculatively,” so when did you last eat Jess?” she said her tone now soft, all the teasing gone.

Jess tried to think, but it was hard, he was feeling light headed with hunger and had a nagging pain in his empty belly.

“I guess I ate…two, or maybe three days ago. “

She stood up and quickly stubbing out the cigarette took a pace towards him and grabbed his arm as Jess swayed slightly.

“You really are running on empty ain’t you honey, “she said in her Texan drawl, “come along in k…. Jess and I’ll rustle you up some left overs, won’t be in need of payment for that. “

“Thank you Ma’am,” said Jess sincerely and followed the woman inside.

She seated him at the kitchen table and then went about the business of dishing up a large plate of chicken and dumplings, followed by apple pie, the lot washed down with a tankard of strong cider.

“This sure is a good meal for left overs,” he said grinning at her as he eventually cleared his plate.

“Well, truth be known it was the boss’s supper, but he’s way too fat, so guess you’ve done him a favour.”

Then she noticed that Jess’s eyes were heavy and whether from fatigue or the strong drink she wasn’t sure, but she knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for the landlord to find him down there, and so she gently took his arm, “come on Hon I’ll show you where to can bed down.”

Jess followed her up some steep steps and into a small attic room furnished with a large double bed and little else apart from a screen in the corner and a small chest of draws bearing a night light.

“You’ll be safe enough in here, just lie low and don’t answer the door to anyone,” and with that she was gone.

Jess surveyed the scene before him, the large bed with a lamp on the chest beside it dimly illuminating the shabby, but clean room. He stripped down to his undershorts, wondering vaguely where Ginny would sleep if this was her room, but suddenly exhaustion over took him and he fell down on the comfortable soft bed and was asleep in seconds.

It was much later when something awoke him and he was aware that he was not alone and was just about to reach for his gun, the belt slung across the bed head, when he saw Ginny, dimly illuminated, just emerging from behind the screen, dressed in a flimsy, low cut white nightdress.

Jess stayed stock still, sucked in a deep breath and held it, could he be dreaming, but no the soft body that had just slipped into the bed beside him was real enough.

He suddenly realised he was still holding his breath and gaping at her he let it go and said uncertainly, “Ginny…?”

“That’s me Honey”, she whispered, “did I wake you?”

“No…err yes I mean, but that’s OK.”

“Well good……. and seeing as how you’re awake now how about a little cuddle?” she said running a finger seductively down his naked torso.

Jess trembled and felt a spasm of desire as his heart started hammering in his chest and he just stared up at her, making no move.

“Hey, Hon, your shaking,” she said softly, and then a slow smile spread across her face,” you ain’t done it before have you?” she said gently.

Jess continued to stare at her, what did he say, if he told the truth he was in danger at being laughed at , but there again if he lied, well he figured she’d find out what a novice he was before too long, so eventually he decided to err on the side of truth.

“Well, I’ve kissed a lot of girls and fooled about and stuff…but… well……..all the way?No,” he finished lamely.

“Well I guess that ain’t nothin’ to be embarrassed about,” she said smiling deep into his eyes,” you’re only a young pup yet….”

Jess felt a pang of anger again, but decided to let it go, and instead parried with, ”well, how old are you then?”

She gave a little chuckle,” rule number one, is a gentleman never asks a lady her age…but seein’ as how it’s you I’ll tell you, I’ve just turned twenty five.”

“Wow,” whistled Jess, his first time and with an older woman.

“Now I’ll tell you what I’m going to do,” she said, not unkindly,” I’m going to teach you how to pleasure a woman and that way, well I can guarantee you’ll never go without, because if there is one thing a woman likes it is a man who looks out for her, thinks of her pleasure as well as his own, you get my drift Jessie?” she asked cocking a perfectly arched eyebrow.

He just nodded, drinking in her every word, her perfume making him feel lightheaded and her closeness having a profound effect on his body.

“I’ll tell you, in my line of business I very rarely meet a man who knows what he’s doing, and so I guess if I teach you everything I know I’ll be doing a few women out there a good turn.”

“Line of business?” asked Jess looking mystified.

“Oh dear, you really are an innocent one aren’t you, I’m a working girl sweetheart.”

“What,” yelped Jess, shocked to the core, ”you mean yer a hooker? “

“Well, yes, if you like , but I prefer the term working girl, a bit more classy, you know? “

Jess suddenly shook his head sadly, “I can’t pay yer Ma’am, I’m sorry…I…”

“Hush,” she whispered, leaning in, so that her soft breath caressed his cheek, “I ain’t askin’ for payment Honey, this is all on the house and it will be a pleasure”.

Then she leaned up on her elbow studying the youngster and again running a finger down his chest towards his flat belly, “you sure are fit Honey.”

And then she gently brushed his black hair back from his forehead, ”and cute, real cute with those deep, deep blue eyes,” she said with a little sigh. And with that she leaned down and brushed her lips gently across his, her sweet tasting mouth sending shock waves of desire through the young cowboy’s body.

“Come here, “she said seductively, “and I’ll show you how to pleasure a woman real good,” and Jess took her in his arms and kissed her passionately, all fear and nervousness gone as he held her close and his natural instincts took over.

Afterwards she had stretched like a languid cat, “oh that was real good,” she drawled, “real good and remember Jess, one rule………a gentleman never tells, you got that Honey, what goes on between a man and a woman stays there, you understand?”

“I understand,” he said softly, and it was a rule he never forgot and never broke.

He had stayed with Ginny for a week and she did indeed teach him everything she knew, ‘every trick in the book.’ she had said laughing, and a few that weren’t in the book too and Jess’s confidence and well-being had never been so high. He felt like a million dollars when he finally rode out of town continuing his quest for the Bannister gang. He also felt a deep sadness at leaving the beautiful woman, but knew he could play no part in her life and as the days had gone on the torment of her being with other men meant Jess could eventually stay no longer. But he never forgot Ginny and what she had taught him and he never told another living soul about it either.

That was until now.

Jess looked bleakly across the room with unseeing eyes. What in Hell was she doing with Sam?

Was she really attracted to him or was she just using him and had Sam any idea about Ginny’s less than squeaky clean past… he thought not.

Wasn’t it his duty as a friend to tell Sam everything he knew, or would it be better to just keep quiet and see was happened? He really didn’t know.

Could he bear to inflict that kind of pain on his good friend?

He had seen the look in Sam’s eye as he introduced Ginny, so proud, so happy… goddamn it, so much in love…..

Jess sighed deeply and knocked back the last of his laced coffee and turned to Mort’s paper work a grim frown on his handsome features.

Chapter 3

Jess decided to sleep on the problem and went about his usual duties for the rest of the day, albeit in a state of unrest.

When Miss Molly came over to the jail later that evening to collect Jess’s tray she was surprised to see the meal practically untouched.

“Hey there Jess, so what’s wrong with my cooking tonight, “asked the cheerful buxom, blond woman,” I’ve never seen you leave your food before.”

Jess’s head shot up and he flushed a little,” sorry Moll, guess I’m feelin’ a little outer sorts, touch of belly ache yer know?”

“Oh well I’m sorry to hear that, want I should fetch Doc Sam over to you?”

“No!” yelled Jess and then catching her puzzled expression,” err I mean no thanks Moll, I’ll be fine after a good night’s sleep,” he said more quietly.

“As you please,” she said and left with a cheery smile,” see you tomorrow, be over for your breakfast early will you then?”

“Yes Ma’am, thanks,” he said forcing a smile.

After she had gone he lay back in his chair and stared at the ceiling, feeling sick to his stomach. He wished to hell that Slim was around for him to talk to, but he knew his partner would be kept busy at the ranch doing the work of two.

And he couldn’t leave town to visit home,” yer on yer own on this one Harper,” he muttered to himself, and picking up his rifle ,he pulled his hat down hard before leaving to do his night time rounds.

It was late and the street was pretty much deserted, save for the odd drunk wending his unsteady way home, and then as he passed the Hotel porch he heard someone whisper, “Jess over here.”

He turned and saw Ginny, still wearing the dark green dress, a shawl around her shoulders and a look of intense worry in her beautiful eyes.

He went straight to her and touching his hat said,” evening Ginny… you ain’t forgotten me then?” throwing her a quizzical look.

Her expression softened,” how could I,” she whispered,” you were the sweetest, kindest, most gentle boy I had ever met.”

He looked down and then back into her stunning violet eyes, ”what’ re you doin’ here Ginny and what’ re you doin’ with Sam?”

“Look we can’t talk here; can I come to your office?”

Jess looked undecided,” its kinda late for visitin’ ain’t it, what about Sam, he might misunderstand?”

“Don’t worry about Sam, he’s been called out to a confinement, he’ll be gone all night.”

Jess sighed deeply, ”OK, come on,” and taking her elbow he walked her back to the dimly lit office.

Once inside he locked the door and when he was sure the blinds were all down, turned the lamp up and offered her a seat and coffee, before slumping down in the other chair.


“You sound a little less than welcoming Jess”.

“Yeah, well Sam is one of my best buddies and I guess I’d hate to see him hurt.”

“Why do you think he will be?”

“Because he ain’t really your type is he Ginny?”

“What you mean?Because he doesn’t pay for it,” she replied bitterly.

Jess flushed up and looked mortified,” hell I didn’t mean it that way…it’s just , well what are you doing with him, like I say, he doesn’t seem to be your type. If I remember rightly you went out with men who like to drink, fight and party, you said all the excitement was a huge turn on… well Sam just ain’t like that is he? “

“I guess he’s not, but maybe I’ve changed.”

“Um… not that much,” he said eyeing her speculatively.

“So… are you going to tell him……. about my past?“

Jess jumped up from his chair and strode across the room, his hands thrust deeply into his denims pockets, and stood with his back to her, staring at the closed blinds,” I dunno,” he whispered.

Ginny got up and advanced on him.

“Look at me Jess.”

He turned round slowly and was surprised to find her standing so close, her eyes huge violet pools, the light of passion shining in them.

” We were good together weren’t we honey?” she said in her husky Texan drawl, before tracing a finger slowly down his cheek, stopping at his lips.

Jess tried to move back, but he was totally mesmerised, unable to move, or even breathe.

Slowly, slowly she reached up and brushed his lips with hers, and he felt his whole body respond, an electric shock shooting through him, as he returned the kiss, one hand snaking round her back pulling her closer and the other tangling in the long tawny hair.

He felt his heart crashing in his chest, his breath coming in ragged gasps as they became more and more aroused… and then he pulled back, looking down into those heart stopping eyes.

“Wow,” she whispered, ”you sure know how to kiss a girl, cowboy.”

“I guess I had a good teacher,” he replied softly.

“Listen honey, maybe we can come to some arrangement,” she said casting her glance through the open jail door to the bunks beyond, maybe if we have a little fun together, you can forget all about my past… keep old Sam in blissful ignorance, hey honey,” she said seductively running a hand down his chest and hooking it into his belt before giving him a lascivious look, form under her lashes.

Jess sprang back like he’d been burnt.

“Are you crazy, ”he spat,” I wouldn’t do that to Sam.”

“Well you just kissed me didn’t you?”

Jess hung his head,” yes and that was wrong, I’m sorry… I kinda got carried away there… It didn’t mean anything,” he finished quietly.

“Sure it didn’t honey,” she said sarcastically,” so let’s just say it was for old time’s sake and forget it yes?”

He nodded giving her a bleak look.

“So are you gonna tell me why you’re with Sam?”

She looked down, sighing deeply,” I was in some trouble and Sam happened along just at the right moment, I needed him… and I guess he needed me… “

“And now?”

She looked down and then back up, looking deeply into his eyes,” now I’ve met you again Jess… and you ain’t no young pup anymore, you’re all grown up… “

He shook his head,” oh no… oh no Ginny, I told yer I ain’t doin’ anything to upset old Sam, hell the man’s saved my life more than once, he and Carrie are real close friends of mine…. “

Her head shot up at the mention of Carrie,” oh really, she’s a pretty young thing isn’t she Jess.”

“I guess.”


“She’s engaged to a college boy back east… I know this is hard for you to get Ginny, but men and women can just be buddies yer know.”

“Really?” she said softly.

“Yes really,” he replied sharply.

“Um, I think you protest a little too much,” she said her eyes laughing up at him.

Jess flushed,” like I said we’re just real good friends.”

“Sure you are.”

He ignored her teasing,” so hadn’t you better be goin’ it’s getting’ kinda late, I’ll walk you back.”

“If I must, I suppose. So in answer to your question, I’m just fine with Sam right now and I’m making him happy, so there is no need for you to go fussin’ and frettin’… OK cowboy?”

“I guess,” he said sulkily.

Then she stopped on her way to the door,” hey, I thought Sam told me you were a rancher, so what’s with the Deputy badge? “

“Just fillin’ in for the Sheriff, he’ll be back end of the week.”

She seemed to give a sigh of relief.

“Why what’s it to you? “

“Oh nothing, I just get a mite nervous around lawmen, sailed a bit close to the wind once or twice you know?”

“Oh I know alright,” said Jess bitterly,” come on, let’s get yer back to the hotel….”

When he returned to the office a few minutes later he made for the end cell that was used as the staff bedroom and stripping down to his undershorts, he doused the lamp and threw himself down on the bunk, staring up at the ceiling a look of intense worry on his handsome features.

The following morning he awoke with a throbbing head and a was in a foul temper, having spent half the night with his problems chasing round and round his brain.

He got up, washed and then his shirt still open and a towel slung round his neck he made his way through to the front office deciding that if he was to regain his sanity and temper he needed coffee and lots of it.

He’d just got himself outside the second cup of the black lethal brew that passed for coffee in the sheriff’s office when the door opened and Carrie was there once again.

Jess felt a sudden frisson of pleasure at seeing her, looking so young and fresh, her beautiful eyes twinkling in merriment.

“Well what do you think?”


“About Ginny, silly, isn’t she the most beautiful woman you ever saw?”

“Um… “

“Jess you don’t sound very enthusiastic, aren’t you pleased for Pa finding such a beauty, and so kind and funny too.”

“That’s debatable,” muttered Jess under his breath.


“Nothing sweetheart, yeah, sure it’s great; I’m real pleased for him, but I’m kinda busy right now.”

Carrie cast him a surprised look, and took in the red, tired eyes, pallor and then the open shirt and towel still slung around his neck, from when he’d abandoned his ablutions in favour of coffee.

“You look it,” she said cheekily.

He looked up. But knowing what he did about Ginny, he couldn’t meet her eye and just muttered, “Well I will be, iffen I get a chance to go an’ shave and get dressed.”

“OK I’ll take the hint,” she said cheerfully.

“Anyway, I just came to invite you to supper tonight,” to celebrate Ginny’s arrival.

“Well, I don’t know Carrie, I’m kinda tied up here right now”…..the last thing he wanted was to play happy families … knowing what he did… and the part he was playing by deceiving his good friends as to Ginny’s true persona.

“Nonsense,” she said cheerfully,” just put a note on the door, Mort always does when he pops over for a meal, see you at seven,” and with that she was gone, leaving Jess cursing quietly to himself.

After the door closed behind Carrie he reflected that maybe he’d been a bit hard on her and wondered why. Hell none of this was her fault, and then he figured it was his own guilt, for not standing up to Ginny and telling Sam the truth… .about her past. How she was very probably just using the doctor for what she could get before dumping him and moving on.

But there was something else, something nagging at the back of his mind and then he remembered the conversation of the night before with Ginny, when he had said that men and women could be just buddies… and that was his relationship with Carrie.

He sat back in his chair and ran a hand through his untidy black hair something subtle had shifted in his relationship with Carrie. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he acknowledged the jolt of pleasure he had felt when she suddenly walked in, and the less than friendly way he had acted, trying to cover up …what… feeling she suddenly had for her…’ Hell no Harper don’t even think about that one,’ he said to himself and shaking his head he went off to shave.

As it was, he had very little time to think about Carrie, Ginny or anything else that day as he was far too busy.

It was mid-morning when old Tom from the saloon came dashing in to the sheriff’s, office where Jess was poring over the latest batch of wanted posters

“Jess come quick they’re robbin’ the bank, ”he yelled before ducking out again, not wanting to miss any of the drama unfolding further on down the street.

Jess was up and out in an instant and immediately took in the situation.

One man was standing just outside the Laramie Bank holding the horses. Casting anxious glances towards the bank entrance, but unaware that Jess was on his case until the Deputy got real close.

“Drop yer weapon mister and move away from the horses,” Jess growled.

The young outlaw holding the horses had no sense or no fear, Jess wasn’t sure which, but he turned and opened fire and Jess returned the shot, hitting him in the shoulder and he fell to the ground, groaning loudly.

Jess ran forwards, kicked his gun away and yelled at the horses so the already spooked animals took off down the centre of the street heading for the blue yonder.

By this time one or two worthy citizens had armed themselves and were there to back Jess up as he entered the bank.

Immediately he was stopped by a volley of gun fire, one bullet just missing his left ear and the other creasing his temple.

He fell back but quickly recovered and dived for cover behind a fallen chair, the outlaws now taking cover on the opposite side of the counter.

Jess was desperately worried about the tellers knowing that two young girls worked there and after a moment he shouted,” hold yer fire, where are the staff?”

The ring leader of the group a burly middle aged man, replied,” they’ve hightailed it out the back Deputy, now see sense, let us go and there will be no more bloodshed.”

“In your dreams,” muttered Jess.

“Only blood goin’ ta be shed is yours….. low life,” he spat back, and rolling from his position and kneeling up he sent another barrage of bullets at his adversary this time hitting the spokesman in the centre of the chest killing him outright.

Of the two remaining, one of the town’s people brought one of the men down fatally wounding him and Jess got the final member of the gang.

The air was heavy with cordite and as the smoke cleared Jess cautiously made his way over to the last man to be shot.

He was still alive, but only just and Jess knelt down beside him, after kicking his gun away.

“Ain’t no need fer that Deputy, my killin’ days are over, on the road to meet my maker I guess ……”

Jess looked down, but said nothing, just shook his head sadly.

“Deputy?” the man whispered after a while.

“Yeah? “

“The youngster outside, the lookout, he dead too?”

“Don’t think so, just wounded pretty bad, but guess he’ll make it, we’ve got a real good doc in town. “

The other man coughed and his head rolled back and Jess thought he’d gone, but then he whispered, “that boy’s my kid brother, he ain’t all bad, first job he’s done… try an’ look out for him will yer Deputy?” he gasped.

Jess looked down his eyes suddenly full of compassion, “yeah, you got it,” he said softly.

The older man nodded, “thanks,” he said with his last breath and then was gone.

Jess was suddenly aware of all the hustle and bustle going on around him, the two tellers crying hysterically in the back ground, obviously severely shocked, and then the officious little bank manager was leaning over him.

“Thank God you arrived in time Harper, the whole town is in your debt son, I can’t thank you enough….”

“Just doin’ my job,” said Jess flatly before getting up from where he had been squatting by the now dead man, and staggering slightly as a wave of dizziness struck him.

On seeing old Charlie the town undertaker and his assistant wandering over, he said “this one’s bought it and there are another couple behind the counter,” suddenly feeling nauseous as well as dizzy.

“You’d better get over to the doc and get that head seen to son,” said the undertaker solicitously,” looks real nasty.”

Jess put a hand up to his head and was surprised to feel it was sticky with blood and then he felt it running down his face.

“Figure I will,” he said quietly, and taking a deep breath he walked out onto the street.

When he got outside a couple of citizens had the young outlaw up on his feet and were carrying him across the street to the doctor’s office.

“OK shows over folks, yer can go about your business,” said Jess gruffly, his head now pounding and the nausea taking over, and for once he thought he would actually seek medical help, without being dragged to the doctor’s office which was usually the way of things. However it was another good five minutes before he could move off, as the good people of Laramie wanted to shake him by the hand and offer their thanks for his timely intervention.

Finally he stepped across the street and entered Sam’s place and was greeted by Carrie’s worried little face.

“Come here,” she said softly,” and sit while I take a look, Pa will be out in a minute, he’s just checking over the young man.”

Jess did as he was bid, sinking into the seat she offered and closing his eyes for a moment, swallowing hard and desperately trying to control the rising nausea and dizziness.

Then he opened his eyes and focused on Carrie, busy collecting a dish of cool water and swabs to clean the wound.

“Will he be OK?”

“Too early to say, the bullet just entered the shoulder, but it hit a major blood vessel, he’s suffered a lot of blood loss, Pa is just making him comfortable.”

“Darn it, I didn’t wanna kill him,” said Jess softly, “he’s just a kid.”

“Jess I saw what happened, he opened fire on you, you had no choice, he’s just lucky you’re such a good shot; you were aiming for a shoulder wound, right?”

He nodded,” yeah,” and then sighed deeply.

“You OK, feel sick?” she asked looking anxiously at her patient who had suddenly turned very pale.

He closed his eyes again and breathed deeply,” I’m OK,” he whispered,” just clean it up Carrie, I’ve got work to do,” he finished sharply.

His words sounded harsh even to his own ears and he regretted them the minute they were out of his mouth.

He glanced at the young woman and saw her flinch, but she said nothing.


“Yes,” she said looking at him, hurt reflected in her deep brown eyes.

“I’m sorry sweetheart, didn’t mean to snap at yer, just hurtin’ some I guess.”

She beamed down at him,” I understand,” she said and gently began to clean out the abrasion.

But Jess knew it wasn’t alright, it wasn’t alright at all. This was young Carrie cleaning him up, the kid he could have a laugh with like she was his little sister… then why did he suddenly feel his pulses beginning to race at her gentle touch, and feel the need to be so mean to her when all he really wanted to do was to hold her in his arms… and … he let out a soft groan, but it wasn’t the pain in his head that was bothering him now…

“Sorry,” said Carrie immediately contrite, “did I hurt you?”

He shook his head, “no, it’s OK,” he said softly,” I’m fine……. really….”

“That’s what you always say,” said Sam suddenly coming into view and peering over his daughter’s shoulder,” that’s a nasty gash Jess, just behave yourself now and let Carrie fix you up.”

Jess sighed deeply,” OK Sam, sorry.”

“So has the patient had any sickness or dizzy spells,” asked Sam beaming down at his friend, “because you’re looking mighty pale buddy, could be a touch of concussion going on here, I might have to ground you… “

“No,” said Jess loudly and then calming a little,” err, no Sam, I’m fine like I said, really need to get back to the office, all the paperwork and the undertaker to see an’ all…” he finished lamely.

Sam raised a quizzical eyebrow, “anyone would think you didn’t like being tended by my little girl,” he said laughing.

Then he patted Jess’s shoulder,” just teasing you Jess and anyway I’ll be able to keep an eye on you, don’t forget you’re due for supper later.”

Jess gave him a weak smile, but said nothing and shortly afterwards he made his way back across the street to the jail.

He just made it to the bucket in the back cell before he was violently ill, and afterwards clutching his aching head he collapsed down on the bunk bed and fell into an exhausted sleep.

It must have been a couple of hours later when he was gently shaken awake by Ginny, her violet eyes looking down at him with a mixture of concern and puzzlement.

“Jess are you ill,” she asked,“shall I fetch Sam?”

He stared at her like he’d never seen her before and then finally came to his senses, “sorry Ginny,” and he tried to sit up, before grasping his head and lying back down, cussing softly.

She turned to go, “I’ll get Sam over”.

This time he made a valiant effort and managed to sit up,” no Ginny, I’m fine please, don’t go fussin’ I’ll be OK in a minute.”

“Can I get you anything?”

He shook his head and then stopped, obviously regretting the move,” no I’m OK… so what are you doin’ here?”

“I’ve been sent across to fetch you… supper remember?”

“Oh, yeah, just give me a minute to wash up, huh?”

“Of course and I’m sorry to intrude on you,” she said, “but Carrie was cooking and Sam tending to the patient, so they asked me to pop across.”

He just nodded, “excuse me.”

He returned a few minutes later looking a little better, obviously having washed up and put on a clean shirt, but nothing could disguise his pallor or the pain lines etched around his mouth.

“You’re really not too good are you?” she said giving him a worried look.

“I said I was OK didn’t I?” he said briskly”, now come on, Carrie likes her food eaten hot”, and with that they walked across the road together.

Chapter 4

Jess had made a heroic effort to appear his normal cheerful self throughout supper although in reality he was hurting, and not just his head.

He had managed to steer clear of Sam since Ginny’s arrival, but now he was confronted with the pair laughing and flirting he felt sick with the knowledge that he was deceiving his friend. Whatever Ginny’s game was Jess doubted very much if it included settling down to be a model Doctors wife, it just wasn’t her style.

He had forgotten how attractive she was though, the way her nose wrinkled when she giggled, her pure tinkling laugh and the way she always seemed to need to touch you to make her point, whether it be about something romantic or merely recounting a funny story she would touch your hand or pat your arm… …..almost as though she couldn’t communicate properly without physical contact.

Jess sighed deeply as he watched the others chatting animatedly, and he remembered the way it had been. He knew every inch of the woman’s body, and she his, they had been so intimate, on so many occasions…… that even now, as he remembered the past, a shiver of desire ran through his body at the memory of how good they had been together.

His thoughts were quickly side lined as Carrie suddenly stood up and said,” I propose a toast to Ginny and Pa and may they have a wonderful future together.”

Sam smiled indulgently over at her, feeling mellow as the good wine had flowed freely all evening.

“Now don’t you go getting carried away darling, its early days for Ginny and I, we are just getting to know each other…. And I can’t believe that I fell over her that way,” he said chortling,” and that she should be in St Lois of all places when she lived in Texas, must have been fate.”

Then turning to Jess he smiled, “nice for you to have someone from back home to chat to Jess… I don’t suppose you met back in Texas?”

There was a second’s pause before Jess responded,” well it’s a heck of a big State yer know Sam.”

He laughed again,” of course, silly me, I’m talking nonsense, too much good wine… sure I can’t tempt you Jess.

He shook his head, one thing he didn’t want to do was lose his composure, and too much wine could open a man’s mouth when it was better to keep it closed he knew that all too well.

“I’m fine with the water thanks Sam, guess I’m on duty twenty four hours a day until Mort comes back.”

He just nodded.

“I’ll have another Pa, please. “

Sam shook his head,” just one more, you’re not used to this strong wine you know child.”

“Oh Pa, don’t call me that, I am nearly nineteen.”

Then turning to smile at Ginny she said,” you know my Ma was Pa’s very first love and they were together a long time, I guess it would take someone as special as you to take her place.”

“Why thank you Honey, I appreciate that,” purred Ginny.

Then Carrie looked dreamily in to space, “there’s nothing quite like first love is there?” she said turning to the older woman sighing romantically.

Then casting a glance over at Jess said quietly”, I remember mine…. “

Jess gave her his cheeky grin, “yeah well, that was a long time ago and I guess you came to your senses eventually.”

“Oh Jess,” she said laughing and slapping him gently on the arm.

Ginny was puzzled and looked over to Sam.

He beamed back at her and gesturing with his glass said fondly, “Jess here and Carrie have some history.”

“Yeah, well like I say, that was all a long time ago,” said Jess briskly, beginning to feel uncomfortable.

But Carrie wasn’t going to let him off the hook yet.

She cast him a speculative look, and said,” so who was your first love then Jess? “

He looked down before glancing at Ginny, both of them looking away quickly.

“I don’t recall,” he said gruffly.

“Oh Jess, you’re no fun,” teased Carrie,” you must remember.”

He looked into space for a while and then looked over at the younger woman, “OK I remember now, prettiest girl in town Abby was her name ……..she was fifteen and I was ten … and she wouldn’t have nothin’ to do with me…”

“Aw, Jess,” she said laughing across at him her eyes sparkling in delight.

Her father got up from the dining table and stretched.

“ If you’ll excuse me folks I’ll just take a quick look at that young outlaw and maybe my dear daughter will go and fix some coffee, I think she’s getting way too cheeky,” and with that father and daughter left the room laughing , arm in arm.

When they had gone, Ginny got up and slipped into Carrie’s seat next to Jess.

She reached across to where his hand lay on the table and took it in her own,

“So was I?”


“Was I your first love?”

He looked down to where she was holding his hand and then gradually his eyes dragged themselves away and he looked up into her eyes,” you know you were,” he said softly.

She gave a deep shuddering sigh,” so why did you ride out, why did you leave me?”

He took so long to reply she thought he would not, and then he said very quietly,” I couldn’t bear it… seein’ you goin’ with all those other men Ginny, it near tore my heart out.”

She looked devastated …” I’m sorry; I never knew you felt that way.”

“So would it have made a difference, Hell Ginny I was just a kid..…..something you amused yourself with for a while…… nothin’ more.”

“I’m sorry,” she repeated again, her eyes full of compassion.

“Yeah well, I had to leave town anyway,” he said, his cheeky grin suddenly returning, lighting up his whole face.

“Got into a fight didn’t I, lost the job I’d got at the livery.”

“Oh yes,” she said, he face suddenly animated,” I remember that, I was there; you were so hard, so tough Jess. I couldn’t believe you were the same boy, you whopped him real good and he was ten years older a head taller and had a good twenty pounds on you…so what happened I never knew what it was all about?”

“Caught him mistreating a horse,” said Jess quietly,” the horse couldn’t do too much about it… so I decided to.”

She smiled at him,” you and horses, your old horse always came first with you… that first night I met you, your mount had food and water and a stable for the night and you were half starved.”

“And then you took the stray in,” he said bitterly.

“It wasn’t like that… not really.You were a wonderful lover you know, so caring so gentle, that’s why I couldn’t believe it when you lit into that guy, such anger, such passion…. “

“Yeah, well, I guess you had to live my life to figure out why I was that way,” he said bleakly.

“I knew about the fire, but there was other stuff wasn’t there Jess… and since then too?”

“Oh, yeah, one Hell of a lot of other stuff,” he said dryly.

“Won’t you tell me……….. tell me about it?”

He took a deep breath and removed his hand from where she was still grasping it.

“I figure that’s the sort of conversation yer should be havin’ with the new love of yer life… not me,” he said quietly…

“Jess… .please…”

Then they heard the sound of Sam and Carrie returning with the coffee and their talking was over.

“I thought we’d take our coffee into the sitting room,” said Carrie as she entered closely followed by her Pa.

“So how’s the patient?” asked Jess.

“Still pretty sick Jess, but I figure he’ll make it, should be well enough for you to talk to him tomorrow.”

Jess nodded and then went to stand up and suddenly the whole room began to spin and he clutched at the table to steady himself.

Ginny reached out a hand to help him and then Sam was there gently pushing him down in his chair.

“Take it easy Jess, deep breaths,” he said quietly, rubbing the cowboys back.

After a minute Jess felt better and looking up at the older man said, “sorry about that Sam.”

The Doctor eased himself down into the chair on the other side of him as Ginny looked on anxiously from where she still sat next to Jess.

The doctor looked him in the eye an expression of anger mixed with concern on his face.

“Jess, why did you lie to me? “

Jess’s heart stood still, lie… about what, about knowing Ginny…… about keeping her past a secret……….. his heart was thudding in his chest as he gradually raised his eyes to meet Sam’s.

“Huh, lie?”

“Yes, lie young man, about your condition; you said you were fine, had no sickness or dizziness and that was obviously a fib. You’re white as a sheet, and really dizzy, have you been sick too? “

Jess said nothing as he was heaving a sigh of relief, this was just Sam ranting on about his health……. thank God he thought.

“Yes.” Ginny suddenly piped up,” he has been sick, when I went over to fetch him he….. had been ill and he was in a bad way, had a real sore head could hardly stand, but he said he was fine andI mustn’t fuss… I’m sorry Sam I should have said something.”

“Oh this isn’t your fault my dear, Jess is renowned for being a difficult patient, isn’t he Carrie?”he said turning to his daughter for confirmation.

She nodded and looked upset,” oh Jess I’m sorry you’re feeling so bad I’d never have teased you that way if I’d known.”

“Hey, it wouldn’t be a visit to the Baker household without your teasing,”he said giving her a weak grin.

“Think you can make it to the sitting room now Jess?”

“Sure, I’m OK now Sam.”

“Good because that’s where you’re bedding down tonight. Your prisoner is in the hospital bed, but the couch is really comfortable and Carrie or I will come and check on you during the night.”

“Sam…….. there is no need.”

“There is every need young man, concussion can be very serious, I need to watch you for the next few hours. And if it makes you feel better consider yourself to be guarding your prisoner, there are two vulnerable females sleeping here, not to mention a doctor who doesn’t know one end of a gun from the other, so we need looking after OK?”

Jess grinned across at him;” OK,” he said softly,” you win.”

They enjoyed their coffee and a little more chatter before they all retired to their rooms and Jess noticed that Ginny had now left the hotel and was staying in the guest room and wondered what the significance was, was she reallygoing to try and form a lasting relationship with the doc?

He fell into a restless sleep and it was in the early hours of the morning when he was awoken by Carrie entering the room quietly.

“You’re a light sleeper,” she said smiling down at him,” Pa said to check on you, but I didn’t mean to wake you, I’m sorry.”

“That’s OK,” said Jess with a grim smile,” comes from havin’ nothin’ on my mind you know”.

She gave him a quizzical look,” is that so?”

Then she took his wrist and started to check his pulse.

“Um,” she said frowning, ”that’s racing a bit.”

Jess said nothing, why was he feeling this way he asked himself, this was little Carrie, who had tended him hundreds of times…... and now her touch sent shivers down his spine, sent his heart racing, what was going on with him.

She looked down at him,”Are you OK, you look a little flushed?”

“Yeah, I’m OK.”

She pushed his damp hair away from his forehead,” I think you’ve got a slight fever,” she said, ”we’ll see how you are tomorrow, OK?”


She leaned forwards and tenderly kissed his forehead before pulling back and locking eyes with him for a second.

“Goodnight,” she whispered.


She stood up, adjusted the night light and left the room, turning for one last glimpse, before leaving, closing the door quietly behind her.

After she had gone Jess let out a long breath… trying to control his racing heart.

He lay their looking up at the ceiling and remembering …how it had been between them, when she had that childish crush. How she had chased him relentlessly, following him into the barn when he arrived home late one night and she had declared her love for him…kissed him and how for just that split second he had kissed her back… later feeling full of remorse, hell she was just a kid, just fifteen.

And then he remembered how it had all ended when he had called her bluff., and kissed her in earnest being pretty sure that she would back off…… frightened by the passion…... and he had been right…

But now, she was grown up…….A woman, he knew that, she was engaged for goodness sake and to someone else. She was far too young for him and the daughter of a close friend…so why was he having these crazy feelings for her when he knew it was oh so very wrong….?

The following morning he awoke feeling much better, the nausea and dizziness had receded and he just had a residual ache behind his eyes from the nasty head injury.

He had washed up and was just finishing a good breakfast provided by Carrie, when Sam walked in from his early morning rounds.

“I see the patient has a healthy appetite,” he said grinning across at his pretty daughter.

“So how are you today Jess,” and then raising a hand,” and the truth please young man.”

Jess grinned across at his friend, “I’m real good Sam, head’s still hurtin’ a mite, but the rest of the stuff has gone… really. “

The doctor gave him a speculative look.

” OK I believe you, but try and stay out of trouble Jess,” he said a note of mock despair in his voice,” another blow to the head could be really bad right now, so stay out of any fights. You hear?”

“Well who heard of a Sheriff who weren’t allowed to fight,” he said matching Sam’s banter, then more seriously”, yeah, I hear you Sam.Now can I see my prisoner?”

As he entered the hospital room he glanced down at the deathly pale young man lying in the bed.

After a few minutes his eyes fluttered and gradually opened a look of fear in them as he focused on Jess and the badge he was wearing.

“It’s OK,” said Jess quietly,” I ain’t here to haul you over to the jail if that’s what yer thinkin’, guess you’ve got a mite more healin’ to do yet......So you got a name?”

“Jamie,” the boy whispered, “Jamie Johnson… “

“Well Jamie Johnson, you’re in big trouble you know that? “

“Yes sir.”

“So how old are you? “

“I’m sixteen,” said with a touch of belligerence.

“That old eh,” said Jess hiding a smile, “so how did yer get yourself in this mess son?”

“I… I dunno, it was Les I guess, my big brother, he sorta went off the rails some, when our little sister…. Died… last winter,” he said his face suddenly contorting like he was about to cry.

Jess sank down on the chair beside the bed, compassion in his eyes,” go on,” he said quietly.

“Well, after she died he went kinda crazy, drinkin’ and all…. And then we couldn’t make the payments on our little spread…..the bank took it and he were chucked out… that’ when it all went bad and Les decided to start robbin’….. “

“That ain’t no excuse,” said Jess firmly,” lots of folk have bad stuff happen, but they don’t all go about stealing and killing, those two innocent girls that work inthe bank could have been killed yer know?”

The boys head shot up….” I didn’t know, I didn’t go inside, Les said to just mind the horses, be ready to ride out….”

“Les is your big brother right? “

“Yeah, where is he in the jail?”

Oh Hell thought Jess suddenly, the kid doesn’t know.

He shook his head sadly,” no boy he’s dead, he was shot in the raid, all the others are dead too.”

The boy’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped and he just stared at Jess like he was speaking a foreign language.

”What… ?” he finally managed.

“It’s true boy and I’m sorry, can I tell yer folks, get them to come over and speak for you? “

“Ain’t got any folks, both killed last year, it was just me and Les after Tilly died….”

Jess gave a deep sigh,” OK, as soon as the doc says you’re well enough, you’ll be transferred to the jail and await trial, until the circuit judge comes by next month.

The boy gave a deep shuddering sigh, but said nothing, obviously resigned to his fate.

“You got anyone as will confirm your story?”

“Yeah, our neighbours near the ranch, they’ll tell you about Ma and Pa and Tilly dying and how bad it took Les and they’ll tell you neither of us had been in trouble before.”

Jess just nodded,” so what are yer interests Jamie, what do you like doin’? “

“Well I used to like caring for the horses on the ranch, Pa used to say I was half boy half horse,” he said with a sad smile, “just love bein’ round the beast’s sir… so why do you ask? “

“Well, I figure iffen we could get you fixed up with a job to go to, well that old circuit judge might go easy on you and if I spoke up for you too, I guess that might make a difference.”

The boys eyes opened wide in shock again,” you’d do that fer me mister? “

“I might, as long as I’m sure you’re telling the truth… “

“I am I swear sir, and I wouldn’t let you down I promise…. “

“Yeah, well you get yourself better boy and then we’ll see OK?”

“Thank you Deputy… thank you,” he whispered, looking close to tears again.

“That’s OK,” said Jess gruffly and got up and left the room.

As he went out he saw Sam hovering by the door and they walked into the office together and sat for a final coffee before Jess made his way back to the jail.

As the two men sat sipping their drinks Sam looked over at Jess and gave him a warm look.

“You didn’t have to do that… I guess that young boy reminds you a lot of yourself at that age doesn’t he Jess, him being all alone in the world?”

Jess looked deep into his coffee, feeling strangely moved, “I guess,” he said gruffly.

“Well I hope he doesn’t let you down, you’re putting a lot of faith in a stranger.”

Jess looked up at his friend his eyes suddenly alight with pain,” I guess iffen someone had shown a bit of faith in me I wouldn’t have been so familiar with the inside of a jail, or felt a rope around my neck more than once,” he spat, suddenly feeling angry.

The doctor looked down before looking deeply into his friend’s eyes.

“Yes, I’m sure you’re right, but you made it in the end buddy, I guess that’s the important thing.”

“Yeah,” said Jess softly,” I reckon you’re right,” and draining his cup, he made his farewells and drifted back over to the Sheriff’s office.

Chapter 5

It was mid-morning when the door opened and Ginny strolled in.

Jess’s head shot up from where he had been attending to the paper work surrounding the bank raid.

“Ginny?” he said warily.

“I just came over to thank you, for last night.”

“Err shouldn’t that be me thanking you for the meal?” he asked casting her a quizzical look.

“No I don’t mean about that, I mean for not telling Sam about… well about my past, you know.”

“Yeah, well I still feel real uncomfortable about that.”

She came and stood beside him a hand gently rubbing the top of his arm, “Jess please, I really want to make a go of it with Sam, and I guess everyone deserves a second chance don’t they?”

Jess moved back out of range and nodding to the chair on the opposite side of the desk said quietly,” sit down Ginny.”

She sighed, but did as she was bid.

“So, tell me …. “he said quietly.

“Well, you were right I was just using Sam at first, I needed to… well I just needed to get away, never mind why, and Sam seemed the ideal means. But now, well he’s just so kind and thoughtful, I really think we could make a go of things, but I’m not sure yet… you see….”

“What?” said Jess staring at her and feeling mystified.

She flushed a little looking down before looking him in the eye,” well we haven’t… err, had time alone together yet.”


“Oh Jess stop being so obtuse ….. you know what I mean we haven’t…”

“What you and the doc haven’t got it together yet?” he said comprehension suddenly dawning as he grinned across at her.

“Well, yes, you see I think he’s kind of shy, it’s a while since his wife passed on and well, we just haven’t had the opportunity , what with Carrie being around all the time. “

“Well, Hell, take a picnic up to the lake or something,”he said his grin now even broader, “always works for me.”

“I don’t think the good doc is a blanket by the lake sorta guy,” she said. “Not like you, anytime, any way any place………” casting him a seductive look from under her lashes.

“We’re not talkin’ about me though are we?” he said icily.

“No, but I wondered if you could help.”

Jess looked scandalized,” huh? “

“Well you see if you were to take Carrie out for the evening, then it would leave the place to ourselves and we could get that bit of privacy we need.”

Jess’s eyes hardened and he shook his head.

“Can’t do that. “

“Can’t or won’t?” she returned in exasperation.

“I’m real busy here,” he said,” and I can’t spare the time to go off gallivanting all night.”

“I’m not talking about all night, just a few hours is all we need….and that’s just an excuse and you know it.”

Jess flushed slightly, and looked down refusing to meet her eye.

She gave him a speculative look,” so what’s going on between you two?”

Jess’s head shot up, “nothin’,” he barked.

She smiled across at him like a cat watching a mouse,” so a nice platonic meal would be OK then…. You are just buddies after all aren’t you? Well that’s what you told me anyways.”

“That’s what I told you because it happens to be true.”

“So you won’t mind spending a little time with an old buddy then will you Jess…. Unless there is something you’re not telling me of course….”

“Hell Ginny what are you tryin’ to do to me? OK, OK I’ll take the girl out, anything to get you off my back, now do you mind?” he asked pointedly looking down at his paper work.

She jumped up from her chair and running round the table threw her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.

”Thank you Jess, I won’t forget this I promise… and I can tell Carrie you want to see her, ask her to pop over … yes?”

He gave a deep sigh,” yes, now will you scoot an’ let a man get his work done in peace?”


Jess sat opposite Carrie in the Laramie hotel dining room and he thought she had never looked more lovely or sophisticated. She was wearing a low cut cream dress the colour enhancing her peaches and cream complexion and dark brown eyes, which now danced merrily as she looked over to her date for the night.

“Well, you’ve scrubbed up pretty good Mr Harper,” she giggled taking in Jess’s smart white shirt, black string tie and formal dark jacket.

“Borrowed ‘em from Mort, he don’t know about it, but guess he won’t mind,” he said with a grin,” and your looking kinda lovely yourself sweetheart.”

She took a sip of her wine before looking around the room and then back at Jess.

”So why did you ask me out?” she asked playfully.

“I told you, to say thank you for the meal the other night.”

“There was no need, you’ve eaten with us hundreds of times and never felt the need to wine and dine me before to say thank you.”

Then she cast him a subtle look,” did my Pa ask you to give him and Ginny some space?”


“Ginny then?”

He smiled across at her,” OK… maybe.”

“I knew it… I just knew it. I knew you wouldn’t ask me out otherwise.”

“Hey, sweetheart, why do you say that?”

She sighed deeply looking down into her wine glass before replying.

”Because maybe you’d think it would spark off all those old feelings I had for you……if we had a proper grown up date. Make me feel that way again.”

Jess’s heart was thumping in his chest and he felt a sweat breaking out down his back, but he managed to keep his face normal andhis voice sounded matter of fact as he replied, “well I haven’t… have I ?”

“I don’t know… maybe… there is something different between us lately… isn’t there?” she said looking intensely into his deep blue eyes.

“No,” he said quietly,” you imagine it,” looking away.

She reached across the table and took his hand.

”Please Jess I’m older now I know all about adult loving, with Wilber … well we’ve had that sort of relationship you know…”

He pulled his hand away and his head shot up, shock registering in his eyes,” I didn’t realize…. “

“Well we have been dating for over a year Jess… what do you expect?”

“Yeah, I suppose,” he muttered.

He tried to pull himself together and come to terms with this latest piece of information… little Carrie with another man… his little Carrie… but hold it Harper he said to himself, she never was yours. You rejected her … remember…?

He dragged himself back to the here and now, and pinning a smile on his face said,” well I guess you’ll be getting hitched before too long.”

“Yes… no… oh I don’t know, I’m not sure,” she said casting Jess an agonised look,” he’s not here is he, when I really need him. Maybe… well maybe I am having second thoughts.”


“Yes, I keep remembering how it was between us, the way you were so kind and patient… the way you kissed me,” she said in a whisper, her eyes locking with his.

“Don’t,” he groaned.

She looked upset,” why not… what’s the matter?”

He sighed deeply and then took her hand again.

” I just find it hard, real hard talking to you this way… we’re real good friends, can’t we just keep it that way Carrie?”

“I don’t know can we….? “

“I guess we have to…..”

“That’s what you want? “

“Yeah, that’s what I want.”

She held tightly onto his hand and looked up into his eyes, hers full of hurt and pain.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

Then the waiter arrived with their food and the intense exchange came to an end as they made an effort to make light chit chat for the duration of the meal.

Afterwards Jess walked her home and stopping at her door she turned to him,” coffee?”

He shook his head,” guess it’s kinda late to be callin’,” he said smiling down at her.

She looked up into that oh so familiar face, illuminated now by the soft moon’s glow.

He was standing so close she could feel his breath on her cheek, see the twinkle in those deep blue eyes and suddenly she could stand it no longer.

“Kiss me Jess,” she whispered.

There was a long silence where he just stared into her eyes.

“You don’t trust yourself do you?”

“It’s not that no… it’s…..Hell …. I can’t…Carrie please….”

“Hush,” she whispered and tantalizingly slowly she looked at his lips, then into those blue eyes and then she reached up at gently brushed his lips with her own.

Jess felt his belly flip with desire as he pulled her to him, returning the kiss, at first tenderly and then more passionately, their breath coming in ragged gasps as they kissed more and more deeply, his hand running up and down her back, pulling her closer and closer towards him, so that their bodies melded as one.

Then he came to his senses and pulled back, pushing her away from him, almost roughly.

Carrie stared up at him a look of triumph in her eyes.

“I knew you were lying before, you do want me Jess…. You do, so why are you fighting it?”

He looked furious and yelled,” because it’s wrong Carrie, it was wrong before and it’s wrong now! I’m way too old for you… and I’m not right either, can’t you see that? You need an educated man, one you can make a life with,share a career, workin’ together side by side… like with Wilber. Carrie, he’s the one for you…. not me….. not me,” he finished, all his anger suddenly spent, his deep blue eyes full of pain.

“It was just as I remembered your kissing… only even better. And I don’t believe you could kiss me that way if you didn’t care. Jess I think I’m falling in love with you, whether you like it or not,” she said, before stifling a sob and running inside.

He stood there staring at the closed door long after she had gone, his heart pounding, his mouth dry and his head reeling,” what the Hell have yer done now Harper,” he said to himself, and turning on heel he headed back for the Sheriff’s office, feeling his life was spinning totally out of control.


The following morning he was just enjoying the first coffee of the day when the office door was thrust open and Slim stood there looking agitated.

He marched over to Jess and took in the dressing still covering the wound to his temple.

“Hey buddy are you OK?” he asked anxiously.

“Sure I am Slim, so where’s the fire?” he asked grinning and going to fetch another cup.

Slim sank down into one of the chairs and accepted the proffered coffee appreciatively.

“No fire, but when Mose came by late last night he told me about the bank job and how you’d been hurt, well we were all kind of worried so I rode straight over this morning.”

Jess grinned over at him,” hey buddy you’re behind the times, that was a couple of days since, and I’m fine, got hit in the head… and you know what a hard head yours truly has got, so no problem.”

Slim smiled back,” I sure do, and Daisy and Mike will be relieved. “

“Darn Mose worryin’ yer,” said Jess irritably.

“Oh don’t blame him, he said you were just the walking wounded, but you know Daisy, she had to be sure you were alright.”

He sipped his coffee,” so everything working out alright then Jess?”

“Oh wonderful, my whole darn life is in chaos, ”he replied bitterly.

Slim grinned across, ”that good eh? “

“Hell don’t tease me Slim, I mean it… don’t know whether I’m comin’ or goin’ right now and that’s the truth of it.”

“Tell me all about it then pard. But first give me the low down on the Doc’s new lady; Daisy said I was to be sure to ask you.”

Jess shook his head sadly,” well she’s part of the problem Slim, see it’s like this…….”

Jess went on to fill his buddy inon everything that had happened and when he explained that the Doc’s new friend and Jess went way back, what her profession had been and the capacity in which Jess had known her Slim went pale with shock.

“Whoa,” he said giving a low whistle,” so have you spilled the beans to our good doctor yet?”

“No I ain’t Slim, Ginny…….. well she sorta convinced me not to, said she was sincere, and as how everyone deserves a second chance in life, and you know what a sucker I am for that one, “he said with a grim smile.

“Yeah, well I guess that is understandable, but even so, don’t you think he should know what he’s letting himself in for?”

“I guess…”

Just then the door banged open again and Mose, the old stage driver stood there grinning toothlessly at the two young cowboys.

“Well howdy hero,” he said clapping Jess on the back, “so how’s the head?”

“Mose,” said Jess looking annoyed,” so why did you have to go upsettin’ Miss Daisy,when you know what a mother hen she can be?”

“Oh I’m sorry boy, I did tell her you were OK and off dining at the doctor’s, place so I figured she wouldn’t be frettin’ too much.”

“Well you figured wrong,” said Slim, “she had me ride over first thing to check him out.”

“I’ll apologise to her next time I’m by,” and he turned to go…” Oh I clean forgot what I came in for, Mort gave me this letter for you when I caught up with him in Cheyenne yesterday,” and he pulled a crumpled envelope out of his pocket and passed it to the dark haired cowboy.

“Thanks Mose,” said Jess smiling over at the old timer, his irritation forgotten.

Once Mose left Jess sat back down in his seat, relaxed back and opened the letter.

“ I wonder what ol’ Mort wants,” he said grinning across at his partner , but as he started reading the smile suddenly froze on his face and he cussed under his breath.

“What’s up pard? “

“Read this,” said Jess his eyes flashing dangerously dark.

Jess, Just to let you know there will be a bounty hunter heading your way, fellah by the name of Clint Hardy ,a real tough hombre by all accounts. He’s on the lookout for a woman wanted in Texas, for murder. Says he’s trailed her this far, so check out the posters for this week. If she is around Jess, be sure to jail her and I’ll deal with it when I get back. Don’t let Hardy have her, he’s got a nasty habit of having to shoot prisoners who escape. Guess dead is a whole lot easier than alive and the money’s the same.

See you in a few days, hope you’re looking after my town well,

Regards Mort

While Slim was reading the hastily scribbled note Jess had been digging about in the desk draw for the recent wanted posters that he had started reading earlier in the week, but never finished.

Slim looked over at his buddy,” well anything?”

Then he said softly,” Jess ?” as his partner had gone white as a sheet, and he could see the poster Jess was staring down at was now shaking in his hands.

“Jess, buddy what is it?”

Jess dragged his eyes up from the poster to look into his friend’s questioning face.

“It’s her Slim… it’s Ginny, she’s wanted for murder in Texas.”

“Hell Jess are you sure it’s her…… the same woman?”

Jess just nodded,” oh yeah, it’s her alright.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What Mort says I guess, lock her up for her own good.”

Slim shook his head looking worried, “that isn’t going to be an easy conversation.”

“It ain’t gonna be easy tellin’ Sam either, but I guess this puts an end to my indecision, he’s gonna have to know all about her now.”

“Do you think she did it, is she capable?”

Jess looked thoughtful,” I guess everyone is iffen they’re pushed hard enough. I can’t imagine why she would…. Unless maybe it was in self-defence, a punter got kinda too enthusiastic, you know?”

“Um, well I guess that’s for Mort to sort out we’ve just got to keep her safe.”


“Well sure buddy you didn’t think I’d leave you to sort out all your problems alone did you… and anyways you haven’t even got round to the rest of the stuff that’s bugging you.”

Jess shook his head sadly,” don’t even ask, guess I’d better sort this mess out first and tend to my problems later,” he said with a grim smile.

When he arrived at the doc’s place Carrie answered the door and her eyes lit up as she saw him.

“Jess, you came, I knew you would.”

“Not now sweetheart,” he said giving her a gentle smile,” I’m sorry but I’m here to see yer Pa, its real urgent, is he in?”

She looked disappointed, but realised Jess was distressed about something so said,” sure he’s in the back study, go through.”

“Thanks,” then turning worried eyes on Carrie, “where’s Ginny?”

“Why still in her room Jess, its early you know we haven’t even had breakfast yet”.

Jess looked surprised, the sudden news having sent all rational thought from his mind.

“Oh yeah, of course, sorry….… Carrie. Listen, when she comes down don’t let her go out, just keep her in here until I’m done talkin’ with yer Pa.”

“Jess what’s this all about, what’s going on?”

“Carrie,” he said sharply,” just do as I say, keep her by you, it’s real important, OK?”

“OK,” she nodded, looking slightly hurt at his brusque tone.

He reached over and rubbed her arm gently, “good girl,” he said softly and suddenly her world was a warm sunny place once more.

Jess knocked and went into the doctor’s study.

He looked up when Jess entered and gave him a broad smile,” well Jess this is an early call, are you feeling alright?”

Jess stood there staring at his friend, not sure where to begin.

The doctor took in Jess’s expression, and said quickly, ”are you here about Carrie?”

Jess’s head shot up.


“Carrie, she seemed kind of upset when she came in last night I wondered if you two had had words? “

“No,” said Jess vaguely, “I don’t think so.”

“Oh well, don’t worry, maybe it’s me, I guess I’ve been neglecting her a little what with Ginny and all.”

“Yeah, look Sam I need to talk to you… “

“Yes, of course buddy, sit down,” he said smiling again, “she sure is something that Ginny isn’t she, I never thought I’d meet someone like her.”

Jess remained standing, he was getting more and more impatient wanting just to get his task over and done with”, look Sam, it’s about Ginny, we have to talk.”

“Jess will you sit down you’re making me nervous standing there, and yes I agree we do need to talk about Ginny .You see we, well…… we made love last night, for the first time,” he said blushing a little.


“No let me finish Jess, I think I know why you’re here. You see she told me everything, about her past, about meeting you… the whole thing, so you see you mustn’t worry….. Sure it was a shock at first,” he continued… …“and I must admit I was sort of hurt that you hadn’t opened up to me… about knowing her… and her well …her line of business. But she explained Jess, said as how she’d begged you to give her a second chance… and she told the truth in the end… and I admire her for that. You too for your loyalty to an old friend, I can understand that… sure.”

“Sam, will yer hold up, and listen to me for a moment,” yelled Jess, completely losing it now, desperate to tell his friend what was going on.

“Sure, sure, go ahead buddy,” said Sam smiling indulgently at the dark haired cowboy, not fazed by his tone, knowing how forthright Jess could be.

Jess finally slumped down in the chair on the opposite side of the desk and now he had the chance to talk he couldn’t find the words.

“Hell Sam, this is real hard for me…” he sighed deeply,” its Ginny, I’ve…. I’ve got a wanted poster on her… I’m sorry Sam, but it seems like she’s wanted in Texas…..for …murder.”

Sam looked across at his friend, stared at him for a good minute and then threw his head back and laughed.”

“ Hell Jess.. …..you and your wicked sense of humour….”

“I ain’t kiddin’…..Sam…..”

“Huh? “

“I’m so sorry buddy, I really ain’t kiddin’“

“Jess……… what are you saying… my Ginny she couldn’t murder anyone, are you mad?”

“Look Sam, I think it’s as crazy as you do, but the fact is there is a wanted poster out for her and I have to… well I’m sorry but I have to jail her.”

“You can’t be serious Jess … please.”

“Never been more serious Sam, see I’ve had notification from Mort, there’s a bounty hunter after her and it seems he’s none too bothered whether he takes ‘em dead or alive, so you see I have to put her in the jail to keep her safe.”

Sam sank his head into his hands.

“I just don’t believe this is happening to me,” he whispered.

“Murder, bounty hunters…dead or alive, this isn’t my world Jess, I just can’t figure what’s happening here…”

“Just leave it all to me Sam, I’ll do the best I can for her, but she has to come with me and right now, that bounty hunter hombre could land anytime, and I can’t guarantee her safety iffen she isn’t in my custody.”

“Yes, I see that Jess, you’re right of course….but can I ask you one thing?”


“Can I go up and tell her, I think it would come better from me?”

“OK Sam, but don’t be long, sooner I’ve got her safe, happier I’ll be.”

Jess sat back down into his chair and heard Sam running up the stairs and then a few moments later the door opened and Carrie came in looking pale and frightened.

“Jess what’s going on Pa looks awful?”

Jess stood up and went over took her hands and lead her to his chair,” sit down sweetheart, its kinda bad news. Ginny, well she’s in some trouble… and I’m gonna have to take her over to the jail for a while.”

Her jaw dropped and her eyes looked huge and horrified.

“What…… .what has she done? Jess you can’t mean it, she’s our guest you can’t just lock her up like that.”

“I have to,” he said softly,” for her own good, it’s a kinda long story, yer Pa will explain….”

Just then the door burst open and Ginny was standing there and running over to Jess she threw herself in his arms crying hysterically.

He held her close whispering softly to her until she finally managed to speak.

“Jess, you have to believe me, I am innocent I swear it… truly.”

He looked deeply into her eyes and knew she was telling the truth,” I do,” he said softly.

“But I have to keep you safe Ginny and I promise I’ll help sort this all out, but you have to come now…. “

She nodded and after embracing both Sam and Carrie she left with Jess.

Chapter 5

Jess finally escorted Ginny across the road to the Sheriff’s office but when the time came for her to be put in one of the cells she again became hysterical.

“Jess I can’t believe you’re doing this to me, I said I was innocent,” and then her fear turned to anger and she started pummeling his chest as he gently tried to move her towards the cell door.

Jess flinched, but just stood and took the unprecedented onslaught, still keeping his temper.

“Ginny, ‘tis for your own good.”

“You keep saying that I don’t understand….”

Jess had deliberately said nothing about the bounty hunter, not wanting to frighten her, but now Slim stepped in, not able to see his buddy being attacked this way and he said sharply,

“Look Ma’am, Jess here is trying to protect you, there is a bounty hunter on your tail and he isn’t too fussy about whether his prisoners are taken dead or alive, so if I were you I’d just settle down and let Jess look out for you.”

She stopped in her tracks and stared at Slim and then back at Jess,” is this true?” she whispered.

Jess just nodded,” yeah.”

“I’m sorry,” she said looking deeply into his eyes, the tears flowing once more.

Jess held her close for a couple of minutes before leading her over to the nearest cell and locking her in.

“I’ll fetch yer some coffee,” he said gruffly, a lump in his throat suddenly.

Slim followed him out and watched as his partner thrust his hands in his pockets and went and looked out of the window, at the deserted early morning street.

“You OK?”

Jess couldn’t answer for a moment and then softly,” she’s gonna hang Slim, unless I can think of something.”

“You’re not thinking of doing something stupid… like springing her and helping her escape are you buddy?”

Jess was still turned away from his friend, but Slim saw the muscles tense in his back, and knew he wasn’t far from the truth.

Then Jess turned around.

“Well maybe I was, just for a moment there, but I figure you’d have somethin’ to say about that wouldn’t you Slim?”

“I sure would. I can see how close you are Jess, but that’s no answer. All you’d do is get the full force of the law after you and you’d be shot or end up in jail, and Ginny…. ….well the outcome would be the same for her anyway, murder is a hanging offense, end of story.”

“Yeah, if she did it, but if I could somehow prove she didn’t…..”

“Well it’s a long shot, but the only one you’ve got I guess.”

“I’m gonna talk to her, get to the bottom of this,” and pouring a coffee, Jess returned to the cell and Slim went over the street to check on the doc and Carrie.

A while later Jess heard the office door bang and someone shout, “shop” and on going to investigate he saw a tall ugly looking man standing by the desk, dressed completely in black. An evil glint in his eye.

He was chewing some tobacco and spitting it roughly in the direction of Mort’s waste paper basket, he said gruffly,” ‘mornin’ deputy , I believe you’ve got my prisoner stashed away in your jail.”

Jess’s eyes narrowed and he looked the stranger up and down before saying dangerously quietly,” I think you’ll find she’s my prisoner Hardy.”

The other man looked slightly taken aback then, are you Harper?” he drawled.

“Yeah, I’m Harper.”

“Well, you’ve got yourself kinda a reputation as a fast gun, so they told me back in Cheyenne.”


“So how’s about you and me finding out just how fast you are? “

Jess gave him a slow smile, that didn’t reach his eyes,” well I’d like to oblige you, but I’m kinda busy right now guarding my prisoner. “

“Oh now come along Harper I’m sure you can spare me a few minutes and the winner gets to escort the prisoner back to Texas, now what do ya say?”

“The Deputy said he was busy,” said Slim, his voice menacing.

Hardy turned to see the tall rancher standing in the open office door, and realising he was suddenly outnumbered decided to retreat.

He cast Slim a filthy look and then an equally nasty one at Jess before growling,” you’ll keep Harper,” and pushing his way out past Slim.

As soon as he had left Slim slammed the door and walked over to the coffee pot and pouring one gestured to Jess with the pot.

“No… thanks,” he said uncharacteristically.

Slim cast his friend a serious look,” you’re not thinking of taking him on are you Jess? He’s got a reputation for being real fast you know.”

“And you’re sayin’ I’m not?” replied Jess angrily, the whole situation beginning to get to him now.

“No, I’m not saying that, I just don’t want to see you hurt that’s all.”

Jess sighed deeply and reined in his anger,” OK, sorry Slim….”


Later that afternoon Sam came over and asked to visit with Ginny.

“Sure you can doc. But I have to tell you she’s kinda upset, that low life Hardy showed up this morning asking me to hand her over.”

“Oh God no… Jess you won’t will you?”

The dark cowboy sighed deeply,” of course I won’t Sam, what do yer take me for, he ain’t got no rights to her, she’s protected by the law and right now that’s yours truly and he ain’t gonna get past me.”

“No, no of course not, I’m sorry Jess; I’m just kind of rattled with all this business.”

“You and me both,” said Jess giving him a wry smile,” come on I’ll show you into the guest suite,” he said trying to lighten the situation as he went through to the cells and let Sam in.

At supper time Carrie came over with a dish of stew for the prisoner. Slim and Jess were sitting in the outer office chatting but Jess’s head whipped up when Carrie entered and again he felt that sudden rush of pleasure at seeing her, tinged with some wariness as she had declared her love for him just the night before.

What with all that had happened since he had had little time to consider this and how he felt about it or what he should do and now he was kind of relieved that Slim was there to diffuse the situation.

Had he been alone, he had the worrying thought that he wouldn’t have been able to resist taking her in his arms and kissing her again, and God knows where that would lead he thought nervously.

As it was she just blushed prettily at the sight of Jess and asked to be allowed to visit with the prisoner.

None of this was lost on Slim and he raised a quizzical eyebrow, but said nothing, knowing his buddy was pretty strung up right then and wouldn’t appreciate any teasing.

Sometime later Carrie called out to be released from the cell, where she had been visiting with Ginny, and Slim took the keys and let the pretty dark haired girl out, noting she was near to tears.

She burst into the office, closely followed by Slim and ran over to where Jess had been checking out the rifles. He laid the gun down as she ran to him, and saw she was distressed.

“Hey, it’s OK Carrie; she’s quite safe in here with me and Slim to look out for her yer know.”

She ignored his comment,” is it true,” she said,” is it true you’re going to have a shoot-out with that bounty hunter?”


“Jess, Ginny’s just told me that Pa said this man threatened to take Ginny away and then challenged you to a shoot-out,” her lip was trembling and then a tear escaped and rolled down her cheek as she came closer, “please Jess don’t fight him, I just couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you,” and she started crying uncontrollably.

Like many men Jess couldn’t stand to see a woman cry and he immediately took her in his arms, stroking her hair and talking softly to try and calm her.

“Come on sweetheart, it won’t come to that, old Hard Rock here ain’t too keen on the notion either,” he said using his nickname for Slim,” so I guess I won’t be takin’ Mr Hardy up on his offer anytime soon.”

“You mean that?” she sniffed.

“Sure I do, now wipe up those tears and go and look out for your Pa, I figure he’s taking this business real bad.”

She took out her handkerchief and blew her nose and wiped her eyes and gave Jess a watery smile.

“OK and I’ll see you tomorrow…yes?”

She then gave him such a loving look that Jess’s heart missed a beat and he felt a stab of desire so strong that he felt dizzy and he swallowed hard before replying.

“Sure,” he said gently,” tomorrow…. “

As the door closed behind her Slim cast his buddy a questioning look,” so what’s going on between you two?” he asked.

“Nothin’,” he replied, his heart pounding in his chest and sweat breaking out on his forehead. Wiping it away with his shirt sleeve he turned his back on Slim and picked up the rifle and began checking it once more.

“Come on Jess, that little girl is carrying a torch for you again, isn’t she?”

Jess turned round quickly,” don’t be crazy, she’s engaged, remember?”

“Oh, yeah, what’s his name, the medical student… err Wilber…supposedly.”

“What do ya mean ‘supposedly’?”

“Well from where I’m standing that young woman sure looks like she’s in love with you.”

Jess just looked down unable to meet his buddy’s eyes.

When Jess didn’t respond he went on, “and you’ve got that look about you Jess”

Jess looked up, angry now,” what look?” he said irritably.

“The one you get around girls when you’re falling for them, and trying darn hard not to…. because maybe you feel it isn’t right for some reason?”

“Your talkin’ rubbish,” spat Jess.

“Come on Jess is there something you want to tell me?” he persisted.

“No,” shouted Jess angrily, and then looking up at the hurt expression in his friend’s eyes he said, much more softly,” no… not right now pard.”


Then giving his friend a small grin, he said,” make yerself useful Slim and go and bring our supper over from Miss Molly’s ,”and so the subject was closed… for then anyway.

After supper Slim said he would go and talk to Tom, the barkeep, in the saloon for a while and try and see what Hardy was up to, both men figuring that that is where Hardy would have holed up.

Once Slim had disappeared for the evening Ginny called out and asked if Jess would keep her company for a while. He opened up the cell and taking the coffee pot with him went and sat with her, to chat.

They had been discussing this and that for a while when she suddenly said, ”so how is Carrie?”

“OK I guess.”

They were silent for a while and then she said, ”you know she’s in love with you, don’t you?”

Jess who was sitting on the bunk opposite Ginny’s, just stared at her not knowing what to say. And being a very private man the last thing he wanted to do was discuss these very personal issues with her but then he knew she probably wouldn’t leave it alone until he answered.

Jess was silent for a while and then said softly,” yeah, it’s not like it’s the first time, Ginny, guess she’s just feelin’ a mite annoyed with her boyfriend, she’ll get over it as soon as she sees him again.”

“Is that what you really think?”

“Yes it is…”

“But even so, you love her don’t you?”

Jess sighed and then said quietly, “guess I’ve loved her since she was a kid, like I say we’re real good friends.”

“I don’t mean like that Jess, we’ve talked, Carrie and me…..”

Jess looked down and said nothing.

Ginny looked over at him,” Carrie loves you as a woman loves a man; it’s no youngster’s crush anymore Jess she really means it, and I think you have to take her seriously”.

“Yeah, well”, he said gruffly,” I figure I’ve gotten other stuff on my mind right now, like keepin’ you alive…..”

“Oh Jess stop it, you were always like this even when you were young, what are you so frightened of? She is a beautiful young girl who loves you, what can be so wrong in that?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Sure I understand, she loves you and I figure you love her…what else is there……?”

He sighed deeply and tried to explain.

“It’s because I love her that I have ter let her go. She might think she loves me right now Ginny, but in the long term it wouldn’t work. She hates what I do, gets real upset when I’m breakin’ the mustangs and you saw how she was before when she thought I was going to go up against that bounty hunter, got near hysterical. “

He stood up and started pacing up and down the cell.

“That’s my life Ginny, old Hard Rock reckons I’m like a magnet to trouble, always getting beat up or shot. Goin’ off half-cocked on some crusade or other…. Hell old Daisy gets worried enough about me what would it be like for a wife?”

Then turning troubled eyes on the beautiful woman who was listening intently, her eyes now full of sympathy, he said, “don’t ya see, it’s because I love her that I can’t put her through all that,” his voice thick with emotion.

Then he slumped down on the bunk again, his impassioned speech over,” now can we leave it sweetheart, I really don’t wanna talk about it anymore.”

“Sure, and I’m sorry Jess, I guess I shouldn’t have sounded off that way… and yes I do understand….really I do.”

Then the outer office door banged and Slim was back, a big grin on his face.

“Well I don’t think we need worry too much about Clint Hardy tonight, he’s completely pie eyed and someone’s just had to almost carry him across to his hotel room.”

Jess grinned in return,” guess we can turnin and get some sleep then if it don’t look like he’ll be callin’ around anytime soon,” and with that the two men retired to the bunks in the staff quarters leaving Ginny with her thoughts.

The following day Mort arrived back on the noon Stage from Cheyenne and the buddies heaved a sigh of relief, Ginny now being firmly Mort’s problem, or so they thought.

The Sheriff was as amazed as everyone else when Ginny’s true identity came to light and he felt really sorry for the doctor having been duped that way. He was even more surprised to hear of Jess’s earlier liaison with the woman, but figured that was Jess’s business and nothing to do with the current affair.

Jess had previously sat down with Ginny and heard her account of the alleged murder and he was convinced she was innocent and now he sat with Mort as she again recounted what had happened.

She took a deep breath and looked at Jess for reassurance.

“Go on sweetheart tell the Sheriff exactly what you told me.”

She turned her huge violet eyes on Mort and said in her soft southern drawl,” well it was like this Sheriff. I’d given up being a working girl some two years ago, was getting way too old,” she said with a tired smile,” and so when my old aunt in Abilene upped and died she left me her Boarding house. Well it seemed like a good idea to move over there and run the place. Legit,” she added casting the Sheriff a serious look,” no working girls, just a respectable bed and breakfast establishment.”

She gave a deep sigh and then continued, “well everything went well until a couple of months ago. A man came to book in and he used to be one of my clients when I was a hooker, I never liked him, he was real rough… hurt me,” she said quietly.

Jess felt a stab of pain in his chest and reaching out squeezed her hand, giving her a deeply compassionate look.

“So…” she continued after a while,” he was with his younger brother, knew him a little, but he’d never been with me, he seemed a nice enough boy, nothing like Jake….Jake Walker his name was.”

“So what happened?” prompted Mort.

“Well he wanted to sleep with me and I said no, and as how I wasn’t in that line of business no more…well he was real insistent, offered me top rate, but I said no, it was bed and breakfast only and he seemed to accept that. He and Pete, the brother, booked a couple of rooms and went off to the saloon, said they’d be back later, didn’t want supper.”

She took a deep breath before continuing.

“Well, they were the only two staying and so when it got real late I left the door on the latch for them and went to bed.”

Here she stopped beginning to look distressed.

“Go on honey,” said Jess softly, knowing what was to come, his stomach churning at the thought of hearing the harrowing tale again.

“Well, it was real late turned two o’clock when I heard them come in and they were obviously the worse for wear…..banging about falling over stuff… then the next thing the bedroom door bursts open.. and Jake was there saying he didn’t believe I wouldn’t go with him….. and then…..”

She stopped and put her head in her hands emitting a little sob.

“Do you want me to finish?” asked Jess.

But Mort put his hand up,” I’m sorry Jess, but the statement has to come from Miss White.”

Jess merely nodded and took her hand,” come on, nearly done,” he said quietly.

She took a huge breath and got herself under control.

“I’m sorry Sheriff…. So he came into my room and….. forced himself on me… I tried to push him away but… he was too strong….. when it was over he started cussing and swearing at me saying I was a no good whore who thought herself too good for him and that’s when I really thought he would kill me. He slapped me around the face a couple of times, and then he had his hands around my throat, everything was going dark and I could hear his brother shouting..’ no , no stop it Jake…’ and then I reached out to the nightstand and felt about for the little Derringer I always keep by me and grabbed it and …. And I shot him Sheriff at point blank range…. I killed him, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t be here now, of that I am sure.”

Mort shook his head sadly,” well that looks like a good case for self-defense if ever I heard one, so why the murder charge? “

“It was my word alone, I had a reputation as a working girl and the judge just assumed I was with a client and didn’t like what he was doing and killed him, as simple as that.”

“What about the brother he witnessed it all, if he testified surely you’d get off?” continued Mort.

“He was terrified, as soon as it was obvious Jake was dead he just ran off and went into hiding and nobody even tried to find him. They all said I had made the brother story up…” she finished, now looking pale and tearful.

Mort looked from Ginny to Jess and back, then he said quietly,” well thank you for your statement Ma’am, you just take it easy and I’ll try and figure what to do,” and with that he left the cell, signalling for Jess to join him.

Once they were in the office and the adjoining door to the cells closed Mort turned to his friend,” well you know the woman Jess is she telling the truth?”

Jess slipped down in the chair opposite the desk which Mort was now sitting behind and looking his friend in the eye said quietly,” I’d stake my life on it Mort.”

“Well that’s good enough for me, so what are we going to do about it?”


“Well sure Jess I mean you’re a friend of the woman, are you going to help her out?”

Jess sighed,” yeah, I guess I have to, but Slim won’t be much impressed, I’ve just taken a week off helpin’ you out Mort.”

“Yeah, I guess it is kinda difficult him running the relay all on his lonesome… so where is Slim anyway, he was here when I landed?”

“Gone across the road to see Sam, he’s taken this whole business real bad yer know Mort, and I figure he’s checkin’ on our prisoner too, should be fit for the cells any day now.”

“Oh yes I never did thank you for sorting that Bank raid out, this other business has kind of taken my mind off the other stuff, so what is the boy like?”

“He’s basically a good kid Mort, never been in trouble before and there were circumstances… yer know, didn’t help him any.”

“Um… you’re not going soft in your old age are you Jess, I heard from Mose as how you were gonna speak up for the boy at his trial and find him some work.”

“No I ain’t goin’ soft Mort, just figure iffen I’d been given that kinda break, well it would have saved a whole lotta heartache, not to mention all the money the State wouldhave saved by not havin’ to pay the law to be constantly on my tail.”

Mort laughed, “well guess you’ve got a point there.”

Just then the door banged open and Slim strode in.

“Gee that is a nice kid, beats me as to how he got mixed up in all that trouble,” he said and was surprised when Jess and Mort burst out laughing, “another big softy,” chuckled Mort.

Then Jess sobered,” Slim I was thinkin’ of helpin’ Ginny out some , maybe escort her back to Texas and take a look around for this young brother, Pete, and get the kid to testify for her.”

Slim took a deep breath,” well OK if that’s what you feel you need to do buddy.”

Jess gave him his charming smile,” thanks Slim,” he said softly.” I appreciate that”.

“Me too,” said Mort,” I was worrin’ as to who I could get to escort her safely, won’t be easy with that no good scum Hardy on the case you know Jess.”

“Yeah, I figure that too. I guess we’ll just have to outsmart him. I thought I’d get the railroad as far as say Kansas and then jump train at one of those small stops and hire a couple of horses for the remainder of the journey. He won’t be able to do anything on a crowded train and then by the time he realizes we’ve jumped ship, well we’ll be long gone, should give us a good day’s start on him.”

“Will Ginny be up for that, sounds kind of tough going,” said Mort.

“Yeah, she’s actually a real good horsewoman; she’ll be fine with it.”

“Um,” said Mort giving his old friend a speculative look,” I know you two go way back, but exactly how close were you?”

Jess looked down blushing slightly, “about as close as a man and a woman can be Mort,” he said quietly.

“Yeah, that’s what I figured,” said Mort…” Jess I have to ask you this, you know a rope’s waitin’ for her in Texas, if you can’t find this man, well… you wouldn’t be thinkin’ of springing her would you?”

Jess’s head shot up and he exchanged a glance with Slim before looking back at the Sheriff.

“No, I won’t be doin’ that Mort. I’ll deliver her safely and then I’ll find this guy. She ain’t gonna hang, because I’ll find that witness, and make sure he talks, if it’s the last dang thing I do,” he said determinedly.

“You know I kind of believe you will too,” said Mort smiling across at his friend.

“When are you going then?” asked Slim.

“Tomorrow I guess, no point in wasting time, sooner I go sooner I’ll be back and knocking some sense into those no good mustangs waitin’ for me.”

“Oh, Carrie said could you go over,” said Slim casting his buddy a speculative look.

Jess blushed and looked down.

“I don’t know as if I’ll have time Slim, got stuff to do before I ride out.”

“Jess,” said Slim firmly,” the girl needs to see you. You owe her that at least don’t you?”

“I guess,” he muttered and getting up he excused himself and made for the doctor’s office.

“What’s all that about?” asked Mort looking puzzled.

“Don’t ask,” said Slim dryly,” you know Jess and women.”

Mort shook his head grinning, “sure do!”

When Jess knocked the door was opened almost immediately by Carrie.

“You wanted to see me sweetheart?”he asked giving her his shy smile.

“Come in,” she said, holding the door open,” we’ll go in Pa’s study. He’s out on rounds so we won’t be disturbed.”

Jess cast her a wary look, but just followed her through.


He shook his head, “got stuff to do Carrie, can’t spare too long.”

“I see… so what is so important?” she asked lightly, but her tone hiding her true feelings.

“Well, I’ve promised Mort I’d escort Ginny back to Texas, he’s going to wire the Sheriff there and ask for a retrial, as there is fresh evidence….”

She looked shocked to the core.

“What about that dreadful Hardy man, will he follow you Jess?”


“Oh God, you mustn’t go, please Jess I’m begging you.”

He gave her a sympathetic look and then said gently,” look Carrie, this is exactly why you and me would never work, I’m always takin’ off, getting in trouble… and you’d get so darned upset about it all, well it just wouldn’t be fair on you sweetheart, it really wouldn’t.”

She stared at him, knowing in her heart that he was right but refusing to acknowledge it.

“No,” she said firmly,” I could change, learn to cope, Daisy does… I could try at least couldn’t I?”

He shook his head, “no Carrie, forget me, it ain’t worth it really, it ain’t.”

“What you mean is you’re not worth it, and you are Jess, you are,” and with that she fell into his arms weeping.

He held her close, breathing in her sweet perfume, his chin resting on her glossy hair and he closed his eyes, breathing deeply to try and control the rising desire he was feeling.

“Hush, sweetheart,” he whispered gently kissing the top of her head, his arms encircling her, suddenly pulling her closer.

She lifted her chin up and stared into his desolate blue eyes,” just tell me you don’t love me and I’ll leave you alone,” she whispered.

He opened his mouth to say it, but he couldn’t and instead he very slowly leaned down and covered her sweet lips with his own, giving in to the deep passion racing through his body as he kissed her long and hard.

He pulled back, his eyes misty with desire.

” I’m sorry,” he whispered,” I shouldn’t have done that.”

“That’s exactly what you should have done,” she said with a little sigh, her eyes burning with passion.

He backed off, afraid to stay any longer, his heart crashing in his chest, knowing he couldn’t trust himself right then.

” I have to go,” he said almost gruffly.

But Carrie was well aware that his gruff manner was hiding his true feelings.

“I’ll be here when you get back,” she said softly.

He looked deeply into her eyes. And traced a finger gently down her face to her lips, before turning abruptly and striding out of the room….

Chapter 6

He and Ginny caught the rail car the following day and as predicted Clint Hardy was hard on their heels.

Sheriff Corey had paid for the trip and booked a compartment for the two travellers as he hoped it would afford Ginny a little privacy, plus it might deter any trouble kicking off with Hardy, although Jess seriously doubted that. The news that the Doctor’s new lady friend was in fact an alleged murderer had caused quite a stir in Laramie and there was a large crowd at the rail-head when the train left, not to mention the unwanted attention of sightseers actually travelling on the train itself.

Once they were settled in the carriage Jess produced a’ Do Not Disturb’ sign and fixed it to the door.

“Do you think that’s going to deter Hardy?” asked Ginny bleakly, giving Jess a weary look.

He glanced over at her from where she sat opposite him and said,” no I guess not, but it might stop some of the other passengers botherin’ us on some silly mission or other all wantin’ to gawp at yer”…he finished angrily.

“Yes thank you Jess, that’s thoughtful and I haven’t thanked you properly for accompanying me. God knows it’s a journey I don’t want to make, but I have to I guess, and at least I’m more likely to make it in one piece if you’re protecting me.”

“Make it one piece and be acquitted at the end of it,” he said giving her a sincere look.

“You really think you can find that Pete and make him talk?” she asked.

“Sure, I wouldn’t say I could iffen I thought any different.”

Then they settled down into a companionable silence, both with their own thoughts.

Ginny and the doc had spent the previous evening together in the jail, with the end result that Ginny had said that although she was innocent she couldn’t possibly continue her relationship with Sam. The doctor had taken this news badly and argued long and hard that they could still make a go of things once Jess was able to prove her innocence. However she steadfastly refused to have any more to do with the good doctor and in the end he had to concede defeat, for the present at least.

Afterwards he had poured his heart out to Jess, asking him to keep him informed of the progress of the trial, and how distraught he was that business meant he couldn’t attend, but Jess had to admit Ginny was one heck of a stubborn woman and once she had made her mind up, well Hell would freeze over before she changed it.

“I’m sorry Sam, but I know her of old, it’s her pride see, she just couldn’t live with the fact that she’d somehow brought disgrace on you and Carrie, even iffen she’s proven innocent. I figure she’ll think she’s brought your good name down in the town and she would feel so darn bad about that…well she just couldn’t face you again, do yer see?”

“Well I understand, but I really care for her Jess, and Carrie does too, please try and change her mind, she’ll listen to you I’m sure…. “

“I’ll do my best buddy, I promise you that and getting’ her freed too, do my level best …”

“I know Jess and I thank you for it,” and the doctor had shaken his hand firmly, his face full of pain and worry.

Carrie was standing beside her Pa at the railroad station and leaned forwards and kissed Jess’s cheek wishing him luck and neither Slim nor Sam saw anything unusual in that, but they could not see the look in her eyes as they locked with Jess’s nor the way he squeezed her hand and whispered, ”take care sweetheart,” the love in his voice music to her ears.

Slim shook his hand and said,” watch yer back Hot Shot.”

“Sure Slim, so long,” and with that he had helped Ginny up into the carriage and they had waved as the train whistle blew and it slowly pulled out of the station, the folk left behind soon disappearing into the distance in a cloud of smoke and hazy dust.

They had been travelling for several hours and it was obvious to Jess that Ginny was becoming more and more withdrawn and upset, the nearer their destination came.

“So,” he said after a while,” you never actually told me how you escaped from jail in the first place after you were convicted.”

“Crooked deputy,” she said with a sad smile, “he sprang me for… err shall we say services rendered.”

Jess shook his head, his eyebrows shooting up, giving her an incredulous look, and then something occurred to him,” I hope you ain’t thinking of tryin’ the same thing again,” he said with a faint smile, glancing down at the deputy badge he was still wearing.

She looked him in the eye and said,” well I might if I figured it would work, but I guess you’re way to law abiding in your old age Jess, even for old time’s sake.”

“Guess you’re probably right,” he said with a wary smile.”Anyways I promised Mort I’d deliver you and you know I always keep my promises”, and they exchanged an intimate smile.

“I remember you saying a long, long time ago that I would always have a special place in your heart,” she said her eyes looking huge with a mixture of affection and despair.

“And I meant it,” he said,” why do ya think I’m here?”

“I’m sorry; I guess I’m being unfair to you, trying to make you go against what you know is right.”

He just shrugged.

”I guess I’d feel the same in your place.”

A little while later he left their private carriage and went in search of the guard to discuss their drop off point. As he pushed his way down the rolling carriages he was suddenly stopped by Hardy looming into view and standing in his way.

“Well hello there Deputy Harper,” he said looking at the badge pinned to Jess’s vest,” I see you are thinkin’ of escorting’ your prisoner to court?”

“Ain’t thinkin’ I’m doin’,” spat Jess giving Hardy but a cursory look, before making to pass him.

Hardy barred his way by putting an arm across the aisle and Jess said very softly,” let me by Hardy……”

“Well now that just depends as how you wanna see things Harper. The way I look at it, we’ll get off of this here train at some stage and then maybe you and me will have a final little talk as to who is gonna take the little lady in….”

Hardy staggered a little and Jess suddenly smelt the stink of stale whiskey on the man’s breath,” you’re drunk Hardy,” Jess said more firmly,” now just sit down and shut up.”

“And what if I don’t wanna,” spat the tall ugly man now leering challengingly at Jess.

Jess gave a deep sigh,” well then guess I’ll have to help you,” he said pleasantly, before landing a punch to the man’s guts that bent him double and then a chop to the back of the neck that rendered him unconscious all in a couple of swift silent moves, bar the cry of pain from Hardy as the punch hit home.

Jess grabbed him and pushed him back in his seat none too gently, before turning to the nearest passenger who was now looking more than a little fearful at this display of violence.

“He’s fine,” said Jess lightly,” just feelin’ a mite tired,” and with that he swung his way back down the aisle, to find the guard.

The train official confirmed that they would be making the unscheduled stop for the deputy and his prisoner just outside a small town, in about ten minutes. He also offered the information that yes; there was both a hotel and a livery there.

Shortly afterwards the train slowed to a brief stop as Jess threw Ginny’s valise down, followed by his saddlebags, before jumping lightly down himself and turning to catch Ginny as she jumped down.

He tipped his hat to the guard,” thanks buddy, appreciate it.”

“You’re welcome sir, good luck,” came the reply as the train slowly started off again, quickly disappearing into the gloom of late evening.

“When do you think he’ll notice we’re gone?” she asked, referring to Hardy.

“Dunno, not for a while I reckon, he was still spark out when we left, could be tomorrow by the time he notices and then he’s gotta find a horse to rent, should have a good couple of days on him I reckon, by the time he figures when we jumped ship and our route.”

They had been walking briskly as they talked and now they entered the town by the main street which looked pretty much deserted although it was not much past eight o’clock.

They soon saw the one and only hotel and as they entered a small balding man appeared from behind the desk, “sir, madam, can I help you?” he asked beaming at the young couple.

“Yeah, I’d like a double room for my wife and myself,” said Jess looking somewhat self-conscious.

At this Ginny’s head whipped up, but she said nothing and once the register was signed they made their way up to the room.

“Well dear husband,” she said spinning round to face him once the door was closed behind them,” what a lovely room,” she said sarcastically as she surveyed the bleak looking place with its oversized bed, arm chair and little else.

“Look, I can explain,” said Jess quickly,” once Hardy realizes we’ve gone, he’ll be hot on our trail and I guess he won’t be lookin’ for a married couple… I’ll sleep in the chair,” he finished casting her an appeasing glance.

She grinned across at him,” you always were easy to wind up, “she said with a little giggle, so what did you sign in as, Mr and Mrs Smith?”

“Sure,” he said casting her an innocent look,” what else? Are you hungry?”

“No,” she said with a little sigh and sinking down on the bed said, “I’m too strung up I guess.”

“Yeah, me too, figure I’ll get along to the livery, rent us a couple of mounts, why don’t yer get your head down, we’ll have to be away at first light.”

She just nodded and shortly afterwards he made his way down to the livery.

As he entered a runty looking man was just leaving.

“I’m closed,” he muttered, not even looking at Jess properly.

“No you ain’t,” said Jess quickly, “you’re still here ain’t ya?” He said putting a hand out to stop the man passing him.

“Hey, what’s your game mister?” he said pulling himself up to his full five feet and fixing Jess with a malevolent eye.

“I want to rent a couple of your horses,” said Jess amiably enough.

The man turned on heel and re-entered the stable,” who’s the other one for, what weight?” he asked in a bored voice.

“My wife,” said Jess figuring that the livery would be the first place Hardy looked for him. “About so high,” he said gesturing to about the height of the man,” and real slim,” he said.

“Umm, gotta a tough old Buckskin here as will do fer you and this little palomino fer the wife.”

The Buckskin looked a good enough ride but the palomino filly looked flighty, tossing her head and showing the whites of her eyes as Jess approached.

“Looks kinda skittish,” he said.

“Well that’s as she’s been up in the stall for a few days, just give her, her head first mile or so and she’ll be fine, a real pussy cat.”

“Well, I dunno… “

“Take it or leave it mister, they’re all I’ve got to rent. “

“OK,” said Jess grudgingly,” how much?”

“Dollar a day.”

“What you’re kidding me, I’ll give ya fifty cents.”

“Dollar a day, take… “

“I know take it or leave it,” said Jess sarcastically throwing five dollars at the man.

“I’ll give you that on account, the rest when I bring ‘em back…”

The man started to shake his head.

“Take it or leave it,” said Jess with a grim smile.

The man shook his head ruefully.

“ OK , OK,”and then turning and throwing the cowboy an evil look, “and just be sure to bring ‘em back mister, I ain’t got time to go gallivanting all over the State fetchin’ mounts back, they don’t come home, well I call it theft and horse theft is a hangin’ offense round these parts.”

Jess gave him a hard look,” I’ll need ‘em first thing, saddled and ready to go,” and turning on heel, said “a pleasure doin’ business with ya…’ mister’”, and marched out.

After his less than friendly exchange with the livery owner Jess decided he needed a drink before he bunked down for the night and he crossed the street and pushed through the batwing doors of the only saloon in town.

The place was drab and practically deserted save for a morose looking barkeep, absently polishing glasses behind the bar.


He knocked the drink back in one and the man refilled his glass and left the bottle.

Jess sipped it this time,” quiet,” he said to the barman who was now hovering ready to top up his glass when requested.



“It’s Thursday, folks don’t go out on Thursday.”

Jess took in this piece of information and shaking his head in bewilderment ordered another drink.

He was beginning to feel a mite light headed by now and was just examining whether it had been wise or not to knock back three large whiskeys on an empty stomach when the barkeep came over again.

“You want another mister? “

Jess considered the matter.

“Nah, I guess not,” and he threw some coins on the bar to cover the drinks and made his way somewhat haphazardly to the entrance, the barkeep hot on his heels.

Jess turned and gave him a quizzical look.

“Shutting’ up mister, gone nine you know,” he said briskly.

“Really, that late,” muttered Jess as he made his way back up the street to the hotel, hoping that wasn’t locked up for the night too.

He was pleased to find his fears were unfounded and he ran lightly up the stairs to their room and entered softly so as not to wake Ginny.

The place was in semi darkness save for the light from a lamp on the nightstand, by the bed and Jess walked quietly over and looked at her sleeping form.

She lay on the bed, her arms thrown up above her head, her russet hair fanned out on the pillow and her face breathtakingly beautiful in repose. Jess stared down at her remembering the first time he had seen her, sitting out on the doorstep behind the saloon in that Texan one horse town, and thought she was one of the most stunning women he had ever seen….. He still felt the same, his heart suddenly lurching in his chest at the sight of her dressed in a black strappy negligee, the gentle curve of her breast rising and falling softly as she slept.

After a moment he dragged his eyes away from her and walking around to the other side of the bed he stripped off his vest and shirt, socks and boots and quietly washed, before moving over to the chair, where in true Harper, gentlemanly, style he was prepared to spend the night.

Before he settled down he glanced back over at Ginny and saw her stir and then look around, suddenly frightened by the unfamiliar surroundings, until she saw Jess and her face cleared.

“Oh good you’re back,” she said softly,” I started to worry and then just couldn’t keep my eyes open and fell asleep.”

“Nothin’ to worry about,” he said gently, strolling over to the bedside,” I’m just over here if you need me,” gesturing to the chair with his head.

“Jess, please,” she whispered,” I’m so scared, I need a cuddle, get in with me…. “

He glanced down at her not knowing what to say.

“Please,” she whispered pulling the covers back,” hold me, just for a while.”

He sighed and turning his back to her unbuttoned his pants and let them drop to the floor and dressed just in his white undershorts he slipped in beside her pulling the covers over himself.

He leaned up on his elbow looking down at her and after a moment pushed a little tendril of hair behind her ear and said softly,” there ain’t nothin’ to be scared of, I’ll take good care of you.”

She had found that little gesture with her hair incredibly erotic and she remembered Jess as a young sixteen year old doing exactly the same thing all those years ago and she suddenly had a yearning for him so strong that she felt almost faint with desire.

“Hold me,” she whispered.

He leaned across and took her in his arms, embracing her warmly for several minutes before gently pushing her away, his heart hammering in his chest and her sweet perfume driving him almost crazy with longing.

She looked deeply into his eyes as he withdrew a little.

“What is it?” she whispered.

“I.. I can’t guarantee to just hold you iffen I stay in here any longer,” he said honestly,” I’d better sleep on the chair like I said.”

“What if I said I didn’t want any guarantees?”

He gave her a searching look,” what about Sam?”

“It’s all over with Sam, I told him, no matter what happens, even if I get off, I can never go back to Laramie, I’m no good for him Jess.”

“Don’t yer think he should be the judge of that?”

She shook her head sadly,” no I’ve made my decision and nothing will change it, so you see, I’m a free agent now… just like you…”

“Ginny… I…. promised the doc I’d speak up for him, won’t you reconsider?”

“I’ve told you…. and Sam, never……… it’s over Jess, absolutely, over.”


“Hush,” she whispered putting a finger to his lips,” come here, I just need some loving, some comfort, you know?”

He nodded and looked down at her mouth and then deeply into her beautiful violet eyes, “yeah,” he said softly, “you and me both,” and with that he moved in and kissed her lips very tenderly and then more firmly, cupping her face with one hand and the other running up and down her back, pulling her closer in towards him.

The kissing grew more and more passionate as he kissed her mouth, her face and then down to her shoulder, gently pulling the strap of her negligee down. Then he kissed the base of her throat and down, down…… and she arched her back giving a little cry of ecstasy.

Sunlight filtered through the grimy hotel window and onto the floor where the discarded negligee and Jess’s undershorts lay and then roamed up over the sleeping figures entwined, the rumpled sheet still partially covering them. Then the sunbeam swept over Jess’s dark hair and sleeping face and gradually woke him.

He twisted his head slightly to see Ginny’s russet hair covering his chest from where her head rested on his shoulder, his arm pinioned beneath her and after a moment he pulled it free and gently shook her awake.

“Hey come on sleepy head,” he whispered, ”sun’s up and we gotta go.”

She awoke and stretched languidly before focusing her beautiful eyes on him and with a slow smile she leaned over and kissed him softly on the lips, before pulling herself out of bed and going over to prepare for the day ahead.

They rode out of town an hour later, the palomino frisking and head jerking and the old Buckskin taking his time with a strong measured step.

“You OK on that crazy filly?” asked Jess casting her an anxious look.

“Sure, I was riding practically before I could walk same as you, it’s the Texan way ain’t it,” she said with a grin, “ain’t no horse as can’t be rode…….”

“Ain’t no rider as can’t be throwed,” finished Jess with a mischievous wink.

Then more seriously “just take it steady OK?”

“Well I’d better giver her, her head like the man said,” she laughed,” let her get it out of her system.”

“Guess so, I’m right behind you,” he drawled as she kicked the young horse off.

She has acquired a white Stetson, left by the last tenant of the hotel room and now she took it off and bringing it down hard on the horses rump she yelled ,”yee haw,” and took off in a cloud of dust and Jess quickly got his wits about him and kicked the Buckskin into a lopping gallop behind her.

They raced along for over half an hour the palomino gradually gaining ground as Ginny gave the horse it’s head, to run off some of its excess energy and finally she began to slow down and eventually she reined her in and waited for Jess to catch up.

“Hey what kept ya, lazy bones,” she quipped as he rode up.

“Crazy woman,” he said smiling admiringly across at her, a new intimacy in his eyes, following the previous night,” that your idea of ridin’ steady is it?”

She just grinned back.

He rode up to her and said,” come on then ‘Mrs Smith’, a nice gentle trot should do it in this heat,” and they continued at a more restrained rhythmical trot through the ever increasing desert temperature.

They made good time stopping briefly to rest in the heat of the noontide sun, before continuing until it was nearly dark and made camp beneath a few scrubby trees. After supper they sat looking into the fire and drinking coffee, the night as chilly as the day had been hot.

“When do you think we’ll make it?” she asked casting Jess a weary look.

“Two, maybe three days.”

“And then I’ll be locked up again.”

It was a mere statement, but his heart bled for her.

“It will keep you safe sweetheart, until I can find that low life Pete and get him to testify, then everything will be OK.”

She just nodded and he reached out and took her hand, squeezing it gently.

He had noticed that the further towards Abilene they got the more withdrawn and upset she became and the further away they rode from Laramie and Carrie the more his feelings were beginning to match Ginny’s.

Now looking deep into the fire he allowed himself to think of Carrie for the first time since they started the journey ,remembering that look in her eyes the day he had left. When had it all changed he asked himself now, when had she suddenly stopped being cute little Carrie that he loved to go fishin’ with and have a good old belly laugh, to this new young woman that made his heart beat faster and a spasm of desire wrench through him at the sight of her…?

He was suddenly aware that Ginny had said something.


“I said you’re looking very thoughtful… is it little Carrie that has your thoughts?”

He flushed up and started to deny it, but then saw the look in her eyes, interested, kindly.

“Yeah, I guess,” he said softly.

“That little girl sure does love you, you know Jess… she really opened up to me….”

“Wouldn’t work Ginny,” he said flatly…”sure the lovin’… the romantic side of things would be…well perfect… .better than that,” he said with a deep sigh.

“But all the other stuff, me always in trouble an’ takin’ off… like now, she couldn’t cope with that, the uncertainty, the worry of me getting’ beat up…shot,” then giving her his shy smile, ”maybe worse than that………one day.”

“Then there’s all the other stuff, it’s a real hard life ranchin’, you know that, me off workin’ away most of the day, comin’ home dog tired. Then her havin’ to look after a bunch of kids on practically no money. Bein’ snowed in two maybe three months of the year, I couldn’t put her through all that,” he said turning despairing eyes on her.

“You paint a very harsh picture of the life,” she said quietly,” why do you stay there, why not settle down back home, here in Texas?”

He suddenly felt a stab of remorse,” hell I shouldn’t be tellin’ yer all this …not….. well, not after last night, its real thoughtless of me.”

“Nonsense,” she said robustly.

“You know the sort of relationship we have Jess, the same as it was back then, some lovin’ ……..respect I think too, but just a good time, nothing too heavy.”

He nodded at that feeling relieved that she was still of the same mind as she always had been.

“I sure wasn’t implying you should move back down here with me. Guess I’m just a free spirit and won’t ever get tied down to a man. If I was gonna it would have been the good doc. … but it wouldn’t have worked I know that.”

He shrugged, “maybe…maybe not but you didn’t give the Doc a chance, to try and make it work did ya?”

She just looked stubborn,” I’ve told you it wouldn’t work for me. But I still don’t understand you. You could take your stake money and buy a spread down here, raise cattle just the same as you and Slim do, bring young Carrie with you, huh?”

He smiled sadly across at her,” you just don’t get it do ya? Because it’s my home at the Relay, with Slim, Daisy and Mike….first real home I’ve ever had. Even as a kid we were constantly movin’ on from one shanty town to the next, some rough old cabin, everyone as scruffy as the last, with my poor old Ma tryin’ ta make it home, while my Pa worked his fingers to the bone and then drank most of the money he earned,” he said bitterly.

“Then there was the goddamn awful war, never knowing where I’d rest my head or iffen it would get blowed off durin’ the night anyways…”he sighed looking down, before continuing quietly,

” Then I was on the drift for five years before I met ol’ Slim and found a proper home.”

He looked up and smiled at her broadly, ”got my own place Ginny, know where I’ll rest my head of a night, even got a rocker with my name on,”he said softly staring into the fire, ”and that’s all powerful important to me, you know? Got that stability, see, and I guess I really need that now, can’t turn my back on that…… or my family, ‘cos that’s what they are to me now, my family, Ginny.”

He looked over and was surprised to see tears in her eyes.

“I’m so glad,” she said very quietly. “I was mortal scared for that young boy as rode out of town all those years ago, thought you’d end up dead, real soon, the way you were then. So angry, so bitter… so very young,” she finished with a small smile.

He suddenly realised he was still holding her hand and he squeezed it again.

“Shall we turn in sweetheart,” he asked with a questioning look, trying to read her.

She gave him her warm open smile, “yes,” she said quietly,” lets”.

Chapter 7

The following morning they set off at first light again, but Jess could tell the hard journey and relentless heat were taking their toll on Ginny and he had to remind himself that she was a good eleven years older than him, although she really didn’t look it, or act it he thought with a private smile remembering the love making of the night before. Then returning his mind reluctantly to the day ahead he rode up next to Ginny and said gently,” thought we might slow the pace a little. “

She turned surprised eyes on him,” so dontcha think I’m up to it cowboy? “

Jess grinned,” wasn’t sayin ’that but these poor beasts are on minimum rations yer know, figure we can’t push ‘em too hard.”

She smiled across at him,” same old Jess always did put your horse first as I remember.”

“Umm, well guess we’d be pretty stuck, out in these parts without them,” he said, giving the Buckskin’s neck a gentle pat.

“So where is the next water hole where they can get a proper drink, us too for that matter, I’m halfway down my second canteen. “

Jess sucked in a breath and shook his head,” I told yer to take it easy on the water Ginny, you can have some of mine iffen you run out,” and then gazing over to the horizon said, “according to that old map the hotel gave me we should reach the edge of that far mountain range before dark and there is a spring and water hole there that’s pretty much guaranteed.”

“Pretty much?”

He just gave her a hard look,” come on, we ain’t gonna find any water sittin’ around here all day,” and with that he kicked the Buckskin on to a brisk trot.

She sat still for a moment admiring his straight back andthe way he sat a horse, so gracefully, and then shaking her head as if to clear it of some intruding thoughts she kicked on the palomino to join him.

It was earlier than they expected when they reached the distant foothills, and the spring feeding a large waterhole with some welcome grazing and scrubby trees for shelter from the still hot sun.

Although it was only mid-afternoon Jess decided they should break their journey there for the night, knowing that they would reach their destination the following day.Now they were growing ever closer to Abilene his resolve to hand her over to the Sheriff was growing ever weaker and the return of their former very intimate relationship wasn’t helping any either he reflected as he watched Ginny filling the canteens in the clear cool water of the watering hole.

“It’s lovely and cold,” she said coming over, ”maybe we could have a swim?” raising a quizzical eyebrow.

He gave her his slow smile,” sounds good,” he said,” what were you thinkin’ of…..skinny dippin’?”

“What else,” she said with a wicked grin and before he could take in what she was doing she removed her boots and then had unbuttoned her white shirt, and riding britches letting them fall to the floor before quickly divesting herself of her underwear and heading for the pool at speed.

“Catch me if you can,” she threw over her shoulder as she ran.

Jess stood there wrapped in admiration, how could she act this way with a goddamn death sentence hanging over her, but then he figured it was just another distraction and if she allowed herself to really consider her fate… well then maybe it would be just too much for her to cope with..

“Please God let me find that bastard Pete Walker and get him to speak up for her…”he said softly to himself.

“Jess, Jess are you comin’ in or what?”

He grinned across to where she was swimming strongly across the pool, and slipping out of his clothes he ran into the water after her.

They swam and frolicked in the deep cool water until finding her naked company just too tempting, he encircled her with his strong arms and treading water he leaned in and kissed her icy cold face and then found her lips, thrilling at their warm sweet taste….

The skinny dipping ended with its logical conclusion as the couple lay together on the soft grass at the pools edge and made sweet love under the scorching rays of the late afternoon sun.

Much later Jess held her in his arms, again trying to come to terms with the fact that this time tomorrow she would be languishing in jail and he would be searching for the only person that could save her life and his grip on her tightened and he sighed deeply.

Her beautiful eyes fluttered open and she turned her head to look into his eyes.

“What’s wrong cowboy?”

Jess quickly pulled himself together,” just thinkin’ we should make camp, start a fire it’ll be darn freezin’ again come nightfall. “

“OK,” she said stretching languidly before starting to dress, throwing Jess’s clothes over to him as she did so.

Once they were both ready Jess suggested a spot on the further side of the waterhole where the grazing looked more plentiful for the horses and so they remounted and started to make their way around the edge of the large pool.

That was when the accident happened.

Jess, who was following Ginny, was suddenly horror stricken to see the skittish little palomino shy and then rear in terror as a rattler slid into its path.

Ginny was completely taken by surprise and fell heavily backwards hitting her head on a rock, before lying perfectly still, looking completely lifeless from where Jess still sat on the Buckskin.

Within seconds though he jumped down, his gun already in his hand and emptied several shots into the unsuspecting rattler before turning and throwing himself down beside Ginny’s limp body.

She lay on her back, eyes closed and Jess leaned down searching desperately for a pulse in her neck, staring down into the ghostly white face, his expression grim.

After a moment he found a weak pulse and then seconds later her eyes flickered open.

“Take it easy,” he whispered,” yer had a nasty fall guess it winded you some.”

Then he fetched the canteen, but as he gently lifted her head so she could drink he was disturbed to feel sticky blood on his hand and on further investigation saw a nasty gash at the base of her skull.

He washed and cleaned it as best he could and finally she was able to stand and he helped her over to a fallen tree trunk and helped her to sit.

“You OK?” he asked anxiously.

“Sure, I’ll live,” she said with a faint smile.

He nodded, worry making his voice gruff,” I’ll go and fetch back that ornery filly , looks like she’s hightailed it up the trail a mile or so, and the last thing we want here is to be left afoot…. Sure you’ll be OK?”

“Sure I will, just go and fetch her back Jess, before she meets a mustang and turns feral,” she said with a small smile.

He was gone longer than he expected and it was a good hour before he found the pony grazing in a small thicket.

Jess wasted no time in grabbing the reins and leading the recalcitrant creature back to the water hole, at a swift trot.

As he arrived he heard Ginny cry out to him, but she wasn’t able to fully warn him of the danger that waited, as her call was stifled by a large hand being clasped over her mouth.

“Ginny?”he called at he slipped down from the Buckskin and tethering both horses to a tree walked through the scrubby trees to where he had left her sitting on the fallen log.

But as he approached the clearing he stopped dead in his tracks as he surveyed the scene before him, Ginny, her eyes wide open in terror, being held tightly by Clint Hardy, the bounty hunter.

Jess walked slowly forwards.

“Let her go Hardy,” he spat, the look of fury in his eyes, turning them almost black.

“Well now Harper looks like I’m holdin’ all the card right now,” he said gesturing to where his gun was pointed to Ginny’s head,” now just back off.”

Jess stood still, his hand clenching and unclenching above his gun, and a nerve twitching in his cheek the only outward signs of his inner turmoil.

Then he decided on his course of action. He had heard a lot about this man from Mort, who knew him of old. As well as being a prize bastard, often killing his prisoners saying they had been trying to escape, he was also a tremendously arrogant man, bragging to any who would listen, of his prowess with his gun.

Now Jess threw him a disdainful look.

“Thought more of yer than that Hardy, thought you’d want to fight a man fair and square, not hide behind a woman’s skirts.”

“Who says I’m hiding,” said Hardy the self-satisfied sneer on his face quickly replaced with one of anger.

“Look at you,” said Jess a grim expression on his face,” you’re using her as a hostage ain’t you? Then I guess you ain’t as fast as you once were, don’t reckon you could take me in a fair fight do you?” he finished fixing the tall ugly man with a hard stare.

The anger on the others face turned to fury.

“You and I both know I could gun you down any day of the week Harper; sure you’re fast, but not quite fast enough boy.”

Jess knew in his heart that was the truth of it, but what else could he do.

“Well prove it then you low life scrum,” he drawled frighteningly quietly.

“Jess no!” screamed Ginny, having managed to pull away from the restraining hand covering her mouth.

“Hush honey, it’s OK,” he said softly.

“So how about it Hardy, are you gonna act like a man, or the pathetic loser yer really are?”

Hardy’s eyes narrowed and he pushed Ginny roughly away.

“You got your wish Harper… whenever you’re ready.”

Jess reached forward to where Ginny had run towards him and grabbed hold of her arm.

“Go and stay by the horses sweetheart,” he whispered,” and whatever happens don’t make a run for it, this bastard is just waitin’ for an excuse to cut you down. Just play it his way iffen I don’t make it.”

She peered fearfully into his eyes,” you don’t think you can do it do you?”

He didn’t answer, merely leaned forwards and placed a gentle kiss on her forehead,” go on,” he said softly, “stay by the horses like I said.”

After giving him one last tortured look she turned and did as she was bid.

Jess stood there his hand hovering over his gun, trying to read the other man’s eyes. He always saw the tell-tale slight widening of his opponent’s eyes a split second before the draw and that was his cue to draw himself, never wanting to be the first man to draw his gun, always satisfied his actions were in self-defence rather than cold blooded rancour.

Now he saw the sign he had been watching for and a split second later his gun was in his hand and discharged…. And then he felt the searing pain of a bullet entering his shoulder, the pain sending him to his knees as he grasped the shoulder with his hand, letting out a loud expletive.

Then looking over to Hardy he saw him on his back, a large red stain dead centre in his chest and Jess allowed himself a small grin, “well you were a mite faster, but guess I’ve got the edge on accuracy,” he whispered.

Then Ginny was by his side, fussing and fretting.

“Go check he’s dead,” whispered Jess hoarsely,” get his gun….. “

She did as she was told and returned with the gun and a grim smile, “oh yes he’s very dead,” she said quietly.

He just nodded and then she saw that he had turned even paler than before and the blood pumping out of the wound was forming a dark red stain across the front of his blue shirt.

“There are some rags in my saddle bag,” he said,” can you get them, try an’ stop the bleeding?”

She ran and fetched them at once and on her return unbuttoned his shirt and started dabbing ineffectually at the deep wound.

“Listen,” he said quietly,” you have to push the rag against the hole, real hard and keep it there for ten maybe twenty minutes, to try and get the bleedingto stop, the bullets gone straight through, but figure it’s done some damage…. you understand?”

She nodded and pressed down, stopping as she saw him flinch.

“Go on Ginny,” he shouted,” harder, no matter what I say or do…, even if I yell for you to stop, just keep the pressure on, you have to stop the bleeding…or I’m done for. You understand?”

She nodded looking terrified, “I’m sorry Jess, I’ve never been very good around blood and stuff.”

“Just do your best,” he whispered, before closing his eyes and with his mouth set in a firm line made to try and ride out the pain.

He finally lost consciousness, but when he came to, a half hour later the first thing he heard was Ginny weeping.

His eyes flickered and then opened and he gazed up at her,” hey sweetheart, what’s the matter?”

“I can’t…. I can’t get it to stop Jess, I did as you said, but it’s still oozing out…what else can I do?” she asked looking frightened.

He sighed deeply,” OK, you know how I said we needed to build a fire, ‘cos it will be real cold soon?”

She nodded,” well you do that and then I’ll tell yer what we need to do next… OK?”

She went about the business of building up a good fire and then returned to his side.

“OK now listen good,” he said quietly, “guess you ain’t gonna like this any...but you have to do it anyway….OK?”

She just nodded her eyes wide with fear.

Jess leaned down from where he was lying on his back, and reached into his boot for his hunting knife and handed it to Ginny.

“Put the blade in the fire and heat it up real good, so it’s white hot.”

She took the knife looking puzzled and did as she was asked, then returning to him said,” OK its heating up, now what?”

He looked up at her his blue eyes beseeching,” when its white hot you have to lay it on the bullet hole, to cauterized it…only way to stop the bleeding see?”

She went deathly pale,” no…no I can’t Jess, I just can’t.”

He looked up at her and then said quietly,” well if you can’t I understand, just hand it to me and I’ll have to do it myself…. Because it’s the only way I’m gonna come out of this alive Ginny, I’m bleeding way too much right now….”

She looked into those deep blue eyes she had come to love and trust, “no,” she said,” I will do it.”

“Thanks,” he whispered.

He knew there was a very real chance that he would not come through the procedure alive. Sometimes it didn’t work properly and the bleeding worsened and once he had seen a man die as the severe pain shocked his system so much his heart just stopped. He was already feeling weak and dizzy from the massive blood loss, shivering uncontrollably, and knew he didn’t have too much time left.

Now he took a deep breath and said softly,” listen Ginny, if… if I don’t make it I want you to head for the Mexican border, not Abilene, you wouldn’t stand a chance of getting off, not with that ornery Sheriff in charge and me not around to find that witness to testify for you. Your best bet is to just hole up in Mexico, you’ll be safe there. Just keep riding due south the map with all the watering places is in my saddle bag. And take the Buckskin……… more reliable than that flighty little palomino,” he said with a weak smile,” more endurance for the long ride too.”

All the time he’d been talking she had been looking more and more upset. Now she finally found her voice and almost shouted, “Jess will you stop it, I’m not leaving you, not going anywhere without you…. I won’t let you die I just won’t, you hear me,” she said more softly now the tears once more coursing down her cheeks.

When the time came she took the knife and looking down at Jess who was now deathly white, she asked, ”what do I do? “

“Hold it on the wound, I’ll kick off something fierce, but just keep it there until it burns through, then it should stop the bleeding OK?”

She nodded, ”yes… OK. “

Steeling herself she took the white hot blade and after just a moment’s hesitation she placed it firmly over the bleeding wound pressing it down hard as he had told her.

The stench of burning flesh made her gag and Jess was unable to control the natural reaction to the intense pain and he bucked and screamed out in agony as the blade made contact with the wound.

Still she held it in place for a further few seconds having to push him down hard with her other hand as he desperately tried to escape the pain and then he fell back a terrible grey pallor to his face, his eyes closed and he collapsed, looking completely lifeless.

“Oh God no,” she whispered, throwing the knife down and shaking him violently by the shoulders,” Jess, Jess don’t do this to me,” she cried, “don’t you dare bloody up and die on me!”

Then she stared intently at him and at his naked chest and saw that it was rising and falling almost imperceptibly, but yes he was still breathing….

Then she looked at the wound and although it looked angry and painful, at least the bleeding had indeed stopped.

She went about dressing the wound while he was still out of it, using whiskey from the small bottle in his saddle bag to clean both the entry and exit wounds and then bandaging his chest firmly with some of the clean rags. Finally rummaging about in the saddle bags she found a clean shirt and after some difficulty managed to remove the blood soaked one and replace it with the clean one. All this time Jess had been deeply unconscious and so once she had made him as comfortable as she could she tended the fire andput some coffee on to brew , hoping that he would awake and asking for his favourite pick me up before too long.

As the minutes turned to hours and night fell without him so much as stirring she became more and more anxious.

She had covered him with a blanket as night fell and the temperature dropped she laid her own bedroll next to him and she finally lay down beside him feeling totally drained.

She snuggled up to his seemingly lifeless form and threw an arm across his chest taking comfort from the gentle rise and fall as he battled for his tenuous hold on life throughout the long hours of the night.

Jess awoke as the first rays of sun filtered through the trees under which they had made their camp and he lay there looking up at the canopy above him for a while, just rejoicing the fact that he was still alive.

The pain in his shoulder was just about bearable now and very gingerly he turned his head to see Ginny, still asleep next to him, one arm lying protectively across his chest. He knew how traumatic the events of the last few hours had been for her and then he remembered how he had told her to make for the border if he hadn’t made it. Now in the cold light of day he wondered if that wouldn’t be the best course of action anyway. He could say he had been severely wounded by Hardy and Ginny had escaped. He was pretty sure Slim and Mort or even Sam wouldn’t buy that story, but that didn’t matter, they couldn’t prove anything and at least she would be free…

Just then she awoke and looking over at Jess and her worried face was transformed into one of eager delight.

“Hey cowboy, you’re back in the land of the living,” she said happily,” you feelin’ OK Jess?”

“Been better, been worse, ”was his stoic reply.

And then giving her his shy smile, said “thanks for everythin’ Ginny…. fer doin’ what you did fer me …. I know it was real hard for you, but guess you saved my life and I won’t be forgettin’ that…..”

“Hush,” she said, “as long as you’re going to be OK, that’s all I want.”

Then he managed to pull himself up to a sitting position, and looking across at her said earnestly,” I was thinkin’ maybe you should just take off for the border anyways…..”

She looked shocked and then said firmly,” no, you said you’d find that Pete and get him to testify and that’s the way it’s going to be. And you told Mort you’d take me in and I’m not having you go against a promise for me Jess… Besides I guess you’ll be in need of a little tender carin’ these next few days, and I’m going to make sure you get it. Now you lie back down and I’ll fix us some coffee and breakfast, OK honey?”

“OK Ma’am,” he said with a little grin at her sassy attitude.

They spent the next day at the camp site just relaxing and allowing Jess to regain his strength and also for Ginny to recover from the nasty fall, but the following morning he professed himself well enough to ride out and she too was feeling rested andready for the challenges ahead.

Ginny watched him anxiously as he mounted up single handed, his left arm now cocooned ina sling to rest his injured shoulder, but he seemed able to mount and ride with his usual grace, even with the injury, and she relaxed a little as he gave her his cheerful grin and kicked his horse on to a brisk trot.

They stopped at noon for a rest and Jess tried to find out how she was feeling.

“Mort reckons that ol’ Sheriff Jackson at Abilene is a right piece of work,” he said companionably. “You think you be OK there until I can get the trial over with?”

She just nodded,” I guess. Mort is right though; he refused to listen to my side of the argument about Pete seeing it all, or about Jake’s reputation as being a woman beater, even the circuit judge wasn’t happy with the outcome, but with no evidence to support me… well the jury just had to find me guilty.”

He put a hand out and taking hers squeezed it gently.

“It’ll be different this time, I promise,” he said, “Mort knows the judge and has written on your behalf, Sam too and with the added evidence from Pete, well that will clinch it.”

“I hope so,” she said and with that they mounted up and continued on their journey, arriving in Abilene just as dusk was falling.

Just before they rode in Jess had reined in his mount and looking down at Ginny said, “are you sure about this sweetheart, it ain’t too late to make a run for it….”

She just shook her head,” no Jess I can’t do that, come on let’s just get it over with.”

As they entered the Sheriff’s office a blond haired young man of about Jess’s age and build stood up and smiling over at Jess offered his hand, you must be Deputy Harper from Laramie, Wes Cooper, Sheriff of these parts, good to meet you Harper.

Jess took the offered hand looking surprised, “so what happened to Sheriff Jackson?” he asked.

The younger man looked embarrassed, “took early retirement,” and then looking Jess in the eye said,” to be honest Mr Harper he lost the town’s confidence after this lady’s trial,” he said touching his hat to Ginny.” Nobody liked the way he dealt with it and so we’re real glad to have the opportunity to set things straight maybe.”

Then turning back to Ginny said,” I’m afraid I’m going to have to lock you up Ma’am,. But it’s quite clean and comfortable, a new mattress and all….”

Ginny was touched by his attitude “,I understand,” she said softly.

He turned and led her through to the cells and Jess followed.

“Can we have a minute?” he asked as Ginny walked inside.

“Sure,” said the young Sheriff amiably passing Jess the key,” just let yourself out when you’re ready.”

He turned away and re-entered the outer office leaving the adjoining door ajar and sat back down at his desk.

He listened to the soft conversation going on in the cells, not being able to make out the actual words, but the tone sounded somehow intimate.

Then the talking stopped and out of interest or maybe nosiness he glanced up from where he could see the couple through the door and watched as they embraced passionately, before he looked away, embarrassed for prying at such a private moment.

So he thought there is more going on here than ol’ Mort Corey has told me… or maybe he doesn’t know…

Then he had to postpone his musing as he heard Jess turning the key in the cell door before re-entering the office.

He looked up and was about to say something flippant about the Laramie deputy’s relationship with his prisoner when he saw a certain look in the dark blue eyes that made him cut back.

So err… were you Deputy here, when Ginny managed to escape? Jess asked remembering how Ginny had used her womanly wiles to get away.

Wes flushed a little.

“No sireee, that was another guy, he left…..soon after that business, was gonna try his hand at mining I do believe,” he said quietly.

“Umm, good move”, said Jess exchanging a knowing look with the new Sheriff.

Wes coughed, “err…precisely,” and then changed the subject.

He glanced down at the arm in the sling and said,” have an accident on the way over Mr Harper?”

Jess gave his slow shy smile and said,” call me Jess.”

The other beamed,” Wes to my friends,” he offered.

“Well, Wes I’ll tell you,” Jess drawled,” it wasn’t no accident because the other party sure meant it.”

“Oh, so it came to a shoot-out?”

“Yeah, Hardy was of the opinion he should escort the prisoner, I kinda differed.”

The Sheriff let out a low whistle,” gee Hardy, he’s as fast as they come… so how did you get away from him?”

“Well let’s put it this way,” said Jess grinning openly now,” he might have had the edge on me speed wise, just, mind you, but not on accuracy, he’s out in the road, a bullet through the heart.I thought you might like to do the paper work before I take him over to the undertakers.”

Wes looked rapt, “wow, I’ve heard of your reputation around these parts of Texas I guess you’re still a sort of legend, shootin’ ol’ Hardy eh… gee that’s some deal,” he said obviously impressed.

“So what can you tell me about Pete Walker?” Jess asked changing the subject, never liking to dwell too much on a shooting, no matter what the circumstances.

“The word is that he’s holed up in the hills behind his spread just north of town, his neighbour Davy Brown has spotted him once or twice, but he won’t come down, figures he’s in some sort of trouble I guess, he’s only a boy you know Jess, no more than eighteen and running the spread with Jake these last two years since his Ma and Pa died in that Indian trouble we had.”

“Oh, yeah,” said Jess,” I heard about that. So what about the place, who’s runnin’ it and carin’ for the stock an’ all?”

“Well this neighbour, was real close to the boy’s parents, and been looking out for the stock, but come fall well I don’t reckon he can carry on, got his own place to run… “

“Yeah, I can see that would be a problem,” said Jess thoughtfully,” guess, I’ll just have to find him and knock some sense in…”

“Yeah, you do that,” grinned Wes.” And I’ve been on the case of those other girls that said they were knocked about by Jake, got sworn affidavits, from two of ‘em saying they were slapped about by him and one saying he nearly strangled her same as Ginny…err Miss White there has claimed all along. That and Pete Walker’s statement should see her walk free Jess.”

Jess cast an anxious glance towards the cells,” yeah, I sure hope so,” he said sincerely.

He was just turning to show Wes the bounty hunters body and then deliver him to the undertakers when the young Sheriff slapped his head,” gee I knew there was something I had to tell you. There’s this young woman, real cute,” he said his eyes going misty. Then he collected himself and continued, “about five foot six, real curvy, but in all the right places,” he said grinning now,” long dark hair and the most wonderful brown eyes, real young… seventeen, maybe eighteen…..”

Jess’s heart started beating over time……… “What was her name and where is she?” he said very softly.

“Err… Carrie, that’s it Carrie Baker, said she knew you and the prisoner and would be waiting inthe hotel for you, said to tell you special as how she’d be waiting, ”he finished with something of an envious glint in the eye.

“Nineteen,” said Jess quietly,” nineteen next month.”

What was it with this guy Wes thought, seems to have all the woman beatin’ a path to his door. Then he chuckled to himself, this was a buddy to be cultivated and then maybe he’d share some of his secrets.

Right then all Jess wanted to do was see Carrie. Of all the stupid pig headed things to do, to travel all this way alone, anything could have happened to her he thought…the crazy girl…he wanted to tan her hide… he wanted to hold her in his arms… hell he didn’t know what he wanted to do… but he sure needed to see her.

Chapter 8

As soon as his business with the undertaker was seen to and the livery, he marched over to the hotel, booked a room and then asked for the number of Miss Baker’s.He called in at his room first dropping off his saddle bags, removing the sling which was irritating him and had a brief wash, before making for Carrie’s room.

She answered the door as soon as he knocked and they just stared at each other for a full minute, then Jess erupted.

“What in Hell are yer doin’ here Carrie, does your Pa know you’ve come all this way alone?”

She looked equally angry,” I’m not a child Jess; I know what I’m doing…. “

“Well stop acting like one then,” he growled,” you know how dangerous it can be for a woman travelling alone down here, Indians, Outlaws… goddamn rapists….. Carrie, what was your Pa thinkin’ of letting you come out here alone?”

She turned and walked into the room, casting a glance over her shoulder,” are you going to stand out there bawling me out for the whole world to hear or are you coming in?”

He cast a guilty look up and down the corridor before following her inside, closing the door behind him.


“No, Pa doesn’t know, he thinks I’m travelling back East to visit Wilber, put me on the train at Laramie and expects Wilber to meet me… asked the guard to keep an eye on me.”

“Well he didn’t do a very good job of it,” he spat, his eyes flashing dark and angry.

“No, maybe not, anyway I got off at the nearest station to here and hitched a ride the rest of the way….. “

“Yer did what!” he exploded, his hands clenching and his jaw tightening, a sure fire sign that the Harper temper was revving up to melt down time.

“I was fine,” she said quickly,” hooked up with a family moving down here helped the wife to care for the kids to help pay my way.”

He just shook his head in weary acceptance.

“Thought your Pa couldn’t spare you right now with all these darn babies bein’ born all over the shop.”

“Yes well I was so down cast after you left that Pa thought I was missing Wilber, so … he asked Miss Daisy to cover for me, for a week or so.”

“And were you?”


“Missing Wilber?”

She just looked down and blushed prettily, but said nothing.

He looked away and then said quietly,” as if Daisy ain’t got enough to do at the ranch.”

“Oh, she didn’t mind, said she was glad of the change of scene. Mike’s off staying with a school friend for two weeks, and with just Slim at home she said there wasn’t too much to do.”

“Oh?” He said looking surprised.

“Yes,” she said with a small smile, “she said you were the one that always wanted feeding and coffee brewing and was forever dragging dust in with you and ripping up your clothes, said you made the work of three.”

“She did, did she?” he said, with a twinkle beginning to return to his deep blue eyes.

“Yes and she also said she loved you to bits and was missing you something fierce, kind of like me,” she said in a small voice.

Their eyes locked and then he opened his arms and she ran into them.

“I’m sorry I made you so angry,” she whispered.

He held her close caressing her hair and kissing the top of her head gently,” it was only because I was scared for you,” he said softly, ”I just couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you, yer see?”

She held him more tightly and then suddenly pulled back as he took a sharp intake of breath and looking up at the pain in his eyes said,” Jess are you hurt?”

He looked down at her knowing it was impossible to lie to her about that sort of thing.

“Yeah, I stopped a bullet, still kinda sore.”

“Oh no, was it that dreadful man Hardy?”

He just nodded.


“He’s over at the undertakers.”

She breathed a sigh of relief,” and Ginny?”

“She’s OK, over at the jail… but she had a fall off of the damn hire horse, cut her head, could you go check her over , I cleaned it up real good… but you know…. ?”

“Yes of course I will. That’s one of the reasons I’ve come, to keep her company while you are off hunting the witness down.”

“That’s real good of you,” he said softly.

Then she looked very business-like, “but before that I intend to re-dress this wound, come on Jess unbutton your shirt and let me check it out.”

“Aw Carrie, I’m OK…. Really I am. “

“Jess, just do as I ask, I may just be a troublesome child to you, but you can’t deny I’m a darned good nurse.”

Then he felt a wave of dizziness and nausea and figured that maybe he had over done things and was in need of some medical intervention.

“So you are,” he said with his shy smile and sitting down on the edge of the bed he started unbuttoning his shirt and pulled it off exposing the rag bandages beneath.

Once she saw the full extent of the wound her face looked shocked, although she tried to keep some professional distance.

“This has been cauterized,” she said glancing up at him, “who did it?”


She gave a low whistle, ”gee that’s some lady.”

“Yes,” he said softly,” she is.”

Carrie gave him a penetrating look, but he said no more.

“So did you lose a lot of blood?” she asked returning to her business-like manner.

“Yeah, way too much, couldn’t stop shiverin’ and then after she laid the knife on I passed out, was out of things for pretty much twelve hours.”

“Um,” she said, “well I’ll clean the wound and put on fresh dressings and you must rest and have plenty of fluids…”

He just grinned up at her from where he was now lying back on the pillows.

“Yes Ma’am,” he said softly.

As she began to work on him her gentle touch sent a spasm of desire through him and he closed his eyes and gave a low gasp.

“Jess did I hurt you?” she asked turning concerned eyes on him.

“No… err no, just yer hands are a mite cold,” he improvised quickly, having a sudden sense of déjà vu, remembering her checking him out after the wound to his head, back in Laramie.

“Sorry,” she muttered rubbing them briskly together before she continued her ministrations, while Jess kept his eyes closed, not daring to look into hers afraid of what she would see there.

She cleaned the wounds thoroughly and bandaged them with fresh proper bandages, she produced from her valise.

“Very efficient,” he teased her,” come prepared did you?”

She smiled down at him from where he was now lying back on the pillows again, his face looking pale and drawn to her eyes.

“Well it always pays when you’re around, Jess,” she said with a charming little giggle, “after all you are Pa’s favourite patient.”

“Most frequent anyways,” he said with a grim smile.

She gave him a small smile back,” you’re not feeling too good are you?” she asked.

“I’m OK.”


“Kinda sick an’ dizzy I guess,” he said honestly.

She leaned forwards and brushed his black unruly hair back from his forehead and again the touch sent a frisson of pleasure through him.

“Hum, you are a little warm, I think you should rest up for a while Jess, have a nap, lord knows you’re good at that.”

They shared a mutual smile, Slim was always moaning that Jess was wandering off for an unscheduled nap during the working day and often had to dig him out of the hayloft when the chores and the heat of the afternoon proved too much for the young cowboy.

“Gotta room, just down the corridor…”his eyes beginning to close as he spoke.

“I’m sure you have, but you look kind of comfy there Jess, have a nap while I go visit Ginny and then we can have some supper and you can go back to your room, OK? “

“OK Jess…?” but he was already fast asleep.

When Jess awoke the first light of dawn was just filtering through the window.

He looked up at the ceiling, trying to remember where he was and then as reality struck he glanced over to the chair near the bed and saw his shirt, gun belt and boots there. Then he quickly glanced down and was relieved to see he was still wearing his denims and was lying on top of the bed covers of the large comfy double bed.

Then finally he turned his head and looked into Carrie’s deep brown, beautiful eyes.

She was leaning up on an elbow and looking at him intently, “Hey, sleepy head,” she said.

“Hey,” croaked Jess,” so what am I doin’ here in your room Carrie, this ain’t right….”

“Hush, it’s OK,” she said quickly, leaning over and pushing his hair back and checking his temperature at the same time.

“You were real tired last night and I thought it was better to leave you be.”

He took this on board,” yeah, I can see that, but I sure don’t want folks to get the wrong impression, I’m thinkin’ of your reputation, you know honey…”

“Honey,” she said” you never call me that.”

“Texan way of speakin’ I guess,” he said quietly.

“You call Ginny that though don’t you?” she said.

He said nothing and she gave him a tight smile.

“I always think you look so young when you’re asleep,” she said, deciding to change the subject.

Always, you make a habit of watchin’ me sleep?” he asked, looking slightly shocked.

She blushed to the roots of her hair and then said honestly,” well yes, when I was staying with you that summer, looking after Daisy’s sprained ankle… when I had that dreadful crush on you….. “

“Yeah, I remember,” he said giving her a little smile, “and you were just fifteen, Carrie don’t forget that, times have changed.”

“Yes well, I used to follow you around, the hayloft, the creek and wait for you to fall asleep, just so I could watch you….and you looked so young when you were asleep, you still do, so young and at peace………. and I used to wonder what it would have been like if I’d met you when you were my age then, when you were just fifteen or sixteen….”

“You wouldn’t have liked me much,” he said quietly,” I was real wild, so goddamn angry, and so bitter; guess you’d have hated me back then.”

“No,” she said softly, “I could never hate you … not ever….”

She leaned across and ran a gentle finger down his naked chest, an adoring look in her eyes.

He tensed at once and sat up, swinging his legs over the bed, his back to her.

“Don’t,” he groaned.

“What’s the matter.” she asked,” Jess what have I done?”

He stood up and crossing the room pulled on his boots and then took his shirt from the back of the chair threw it on and started buttoning it up, still with his back to her.

Carrie jumped out of bed and ran over to him, grabbing hold of his arm and pulling him round to face her.

“Jess, what did I do? “

He looked down at her, wearing a short white night gown, the neckline just showing a hint of cleavage, but the overall effect being of youthful innocence.

Jess swallowed hard,” I just don’t wanna see you get hurt,” he said softly and then after a pause… almost to himself,” or me either for that matter”.

“I don’t understand……..”

“Just leave it sweetheart, I have to get going, sooner I find that Pete sooner we can get back home….”

She just stared at him in bewilderment.

“The way you kissed me back home… I…..thought… I thought…..”

“Well, don’t, ”he said harshly,” I’ve told you before, it wouldn’t work… you shouldn’t have come here Carrie, it ain’t right.”

She said nothing just looked down, crestfallen.

He sighed deeply,” now I have ter go, will you be OK here?”

“Sure,” she said quietly,” I really can look after myself you know Jess,” looking up at him.

“Yeah, well…” he said,” just stay in town, visit Ginny or stay in the hotel until I get back, you understand?”

She nodded, dropping her gaze again.

Hell thought Jess; she looks so goddamn young and innocent.

“Look we’ll talk things through when I get back OK?”

She nodded again.

“Come here,” he said softly, his heart melting.

She ran to him and he encircled her with his arms, before leaning down and kissing her tenderly on the forehead, ”I’ll see you later,” he whispered and pulling away he left without a backward glance, knowing he couldn’t stand to see the look of hurt bewilderment in those beautiful eyes.

He rode out of town ten minutes later on the big Buckskin, without even stopping for a coffee, just carrying a small gunny sack of supplies for the trail, wanting to put as much distance between himself and Carrie as possible.

It would have been so easy, he reflected, to just take her in his arms, kiss her and then gently lower her back onto the bed, whispering the words she was longing to hear, kissing her and caressing her and eventually taking her…..

Then he admitted it to himself for the first time, sure he wanted her, he wanted her something fierce, but it was still wrong, the age difference… everything. Hell with her being so far away from home he should be talking her Pa’s place, looking out for her not having these lustful thoughts, andhe firmly put her out of his mind, for the time being at least, as he addressed the problem of Pete Walker and the little matter of bringing him to task.

He followed the Sheriff’s directions to the Walker spread a few miles north of town and when he rode into the yard it was still quite early.

He dismounted the Buckskin and took him over to the trough for a drink before tipping his hat back and surveying the deserted yard and ranch house.

Then a few minutes later the barn door opened and a tall grey haired middle aged man strode out leading a house cow.

As soon as he saw Jess he left the cow and wandered over.

“Mornin’ stranger something I kin do fer yer?” he asked with a welcoming smile.

“Well, I sure hope so, are you Davy Brown?”

“I surely am son and who might you be?”

Jess leaned forwards offering a hand, “Harper, Jess Harper and I’m here on business concerning young Peter Walker.”

The older man’s head shot up and he looked surprised, and then he noticed the deputy badge.

“He in more trouble Deputy, as well as that business with the young lady and all?” he asked gruffly.

“Well now that depends,” said Jess tipping his hat back again, feeling the heat of the summer morning and the sweat rolling down his back uncomfortably.

“See I’m here representin’ that lady, Miss Ginny White, and I’m wantin’ Pete to testify at a retrial, sayin’ as how the attack was self-defence, not murder.”

Then tall man shook his head and said,” well I don’t know as how you’ll do that Mister Harper, see the boys runnin’ scared, seems to think he’s in some way responsible for his brother’s actions I reckon, that’s as why he’s been holed up all these weeks, and nobody can get close.”

“Hell, he’s only a kid,” said Jess feeling exasperated,” couldn’t someone have brought him down, knocked some sense into him?”

The man looked embarrassed now, “well one or two of us have tried, but it’s like a rabbit warren of caves up in the hills and if he don’t wanna be caught then I guess nobody will.”

Jess sighed irritably,” but what’s the kid’s problem, I don’t get it, why didn’t he just come forwards and tell the truth?”

“Like I say, he thinks he’s in trouble; he thinks that Jake would have been up for murder, iffen the little lady hadn’t acted the way she did. I figure he thinks he’d be done for aiding and abetting the crime. See he don’t know the trial went the other way and she was convicted. I reckon if he did, well he’d come back down and do the right thing. He ain’t a bad boy, Mister Harper, nothin’ like Jake, he’s a good quiet lad, maybe too quiet, since his folks died, guess he just needs a helpin’ hand.”

“So does Ginny,” said Jess and I aim to see she gets it. So can yer point me in the right direction at least?”

Jess had been scouring the mountainside for three long days and also into the night as long as the light lasted and he was still no nearer finding Pete Walker, it was like he had disappeared off the face of the earth.

By the morning of the fourth day he was emotionally and physically exhausted. He was still suffering from the after effects of the terrible blood loss he had received after the bounty hunters bullet and he was beginning to regret not taking Carries advice and rested up some before he came out on this dadgum wild goose chase.

He had run out of his meagre supplies after the first couple of days and was unable to shoot for the pot in case the noise alerted Pete to his presence .He had managed to tickle a few trout from a mountain stream, but other than that he was on jerky. Now as he sat in front of his early morning camp fire he revued the situation, he was nearly out of coffee, he felt like death warmed up… and there was still no sign of the recalcitrant youngster.

“Goddamn it,” he cussed angrily,” where is this darned kid?”

He couldn’t go back without him, couldn’t let Ginny down… hell he couldn’t let her hang.

Then he cast his mind back to the last time he had seen her.

He had called in early just before he rode out and Wes had made himself scarce while Jess and Ginny had a final chat.

She was looking really frightened when he entered the cell.

“Hey what is it honey”, he said softly,” somethin’ spooked you?”

She shook her head,” no… not really; I’ve just got a real bad feeling.”

“Feeling, what about?”

“Well I just had this real bad nightmare and you were searching and searching for this boy and he just wasn’t there Jess… you couldn’t find him and then the Sheriff came in and said time had run out…..”

She began to sob quietly and he immediately took her in his arms holding her close.

“Jess,” she whispered,” I don’t want to hang…. “

“Hey, it won’t come to that, it’s OK baby,” he said softly, holding her more tightly.

“Listen,” he whispered, taking a quick glance to be sure the Sheriff hadn’t returned,” if I can’t find him… then I’ll come back and spring yer… I won’t let yer hang Ginny I promise you that.”

“What about your promise to Mort?” she asked looking deeply into his troubled eyes.

“I said I’d deliver you here,” he said quietly,” nothin’ about what I’d do after.”

Then the heard the bang of the office door opening and the Sheriff returned and shortly afterwards he rode out.

Now he considered his options, would it really come to that, would he somehow have to find a way of helping her to escape?

And how would he do it. He sure didn’t want to shoot the Sheriff, hell; he liked the man, what he’d seen of him. And then there was Carrie to consider, what would happen to her if he hightailed it off to Mexico with Ginny, she sure couldn’t come along for the ride, how would he explain that one to Sam… and Slim… Daisy……. O God no, he thought…But of course he wouldn’t have to do any explaining because he’d be on the run again, and this time for the rest of his life.

Chapter 9

He sighed deeply and sank his head into his hands, figuring he’d just have to give it one more day, when he heard it… way over to his left, halfway up the mountain…. A faint sound… but none the less it was definitely a single gunshot. One made by a lone hunter, a tired scared kid who thought he had outwitted the stranger on his case and he had given up and gone back to town like all the rest.

“Guess you don’t know about the Harper stubborn streak kid,” he muttered to himself, before quickly breaking camp and heading stealthily in the direction of the gun fire.

He finally came across the boy’s body on a torturous path between two steep bluffs, towards the top of the mountain.

He was lying on his back, eyes closed, the gun still clasped in his hand and the body of a magnificent cougar lying dead nearby.

Jess leapt from his mount and ran over to the boy’s side, gasping in shock at what he saw.

The front and sleeve of the boy’s shirt were stained dark red with blood, and it was obvious he had received a good mauling before he had been able to dispatch the big cat.

Jess had been on the business end of a cat a couple of times before and knew how important it was to stem the bleeding and purify the wound as far as possible, the main causes of death being blood loss with the accompanied shock and or infection.

He squatted down by the skinny youngster, with the unruly mop of blond hair, feeling desperately for a pulse and rocked on his heels giving a huge sigh of relief when he finally found a weak one , but none the less a pulse, inthe youngsters neck.

“Don’t you go and up and die on me goddamn you,” he cussed, before running to his saddle bags for clean water, bandages and whiskey to clean the wounds out.

He gently removed the boy’s shirt before setting about the grizzly business of cleaning out the horrendous wounds. He was relieved that the youngster was out of it as he ministered to him and after the job was done he took a swig of the medicinal whiskey himself, feeling quite shaken after completing the grim task. Then he made the lad as comfortable as he could setting him down onhis own bed roll and even though the day was warm he set a fire and brewed the last of the coffee and sat back awaiting the youngster to regain consciousness.

It was late afternoon before the lad stirred and Jess was immediately by his side.

“Take it easy son,” he said softly,” you’ve gotton yerself in some bother with a pussy cat, but figure you’ll live ter tell the tale. Now drink,” he said offering the canteen to the boy’s lips, supporting his head as he drank greedily.

“That’s enough,” he said quickly, removing the canteen, “too much and you’ll chuck it back up again.”

“Thanks mister,” whispered the youngster, trying to focus on Jess, and then he saw the Deputy’s badge and flinched away as if he’d been hit.

“What’s up?”

“Didn’t know you were the law,” the boy said sullenly.

“So would it have made a difference,” asked Jess sarcastically, “wouldn’t yer have wanted me save your life iffen you’d known I was a lawman?”

The boy looked confused,” no… well I didn’t mean that mister, just that I’min trouble, was kinda hopin’ to steer clear of the law.”

Jess gave him his slow smile, “well iffen it makes yer feel any better I’m not your regular lawman, in fact been on the wrong side of it a few times myself, so I kinda know what yer mean. Anyways, the Sheriff back in Laramie Deputized me to bring Miss White back to town fer a retrial, try and get to the bottom of what happened with your brother an’ all, the night he got shot.”

“What do you mean retrial?”

“Ginny… Miss White that is, was convicted of murdering your brother and iffen you don’t say any different she’s gonna hang boy”, Jess said his voice now thick with emotion.

The youngsters head shot up and his jaw dropped as he starred at Jess, a look of horror in his eyes,” hang… that ain’t right mister…… that ain’t right at all!”

“Go on,” said Jess quietly.

The boy looked down embarrassed and then back up at Jess.

“He raped her mister… and I just stood by and let him… I was scared, he’s got a powerful bad temper Jake…… always did. Anyways when it was over he started knocking her about…real bad… “

Jess closed his eyes and swallowed hard, his stomach churning,” go on,” he said again, almost menacingly.

Pete cast him an anxious look and then did as he was bid.

“I yelled at him to stop, but he hit her again and then he had his hands around her throat… it was awful deputy…she was choking’ and turnin’ blue and then she scrabbled around for somethin’ on the nightstand… I couldn’t see what…… I was tryin’ to pull Jake off her yellin’ and yellin’ stop it, but he didn’t seem to hear… then there was this almighty crash and he was lyin’ real still… an’ she was screaming and screaming…” the boy looked up at Jess a haunted look on his face… “an’ I was so scared I just hightailed it outer there and hid out in these here hills…” he finally finished with a stifled sob.

Jess leaned over, and patted the boys shoulder, the light of compassion in his eyes,” it’s OK now boy, you just tell it like that to the jury and everything will be alright, I promise yer that.”

“I will mister I swear I will,” the boy said trying to gain control again.

“OK an’ its Jess, not mister. So Pete, do ya feel strong enough for a coffee fortified with a drop of whiskey?”

The boys eyes lit up,” I reckon, I do mi…… Jess, I reckon I do,” he said with an engaging smile.

After they had finished their drinks Jess suddenly felt exhausted.

“How are you feeling?” he asked kindly.

“Not too great,” said the boy,” the bite on my arm is hurtin’ somethin’ powerful and I’m kinda tired too.”

“Figure we’ll camp the night here and head off for town tomorrow iffen yer feelin’ up to it, get you to the doc. You got a horse stashed away in these hills then?” he asked raising a questioning eyebrow.

“No I ain’t Jess figured it would be too easy to track, was better on foot. “

“Well you got that one right, I was taught to track by an Arapaho friend and you sure had me fooled, never saw a sign of you.”

The boy glanced down at his feet, moccasins see, a trick my Indian friend taught me years back when we were kids playin’ trackin’ not so easy to see as boot marks. Plus there is a whole set of tunnels between the caves, old mining works some of ‘em.. so as soon as I saw you a comin’ I nipped into one of them and was long gone, came out on the other side of the mountain.”

“Well, I’ll be… “said Jess shaking his head in admiration.

“You sure are real stubborn though,” said the boy, now much more relaxed in the older man’s company,” all the others gave up after a day or so, but figure you were in for the long haul.”

Jess grinned across, glad to see the boy was acting more like a typical teen and reminded him a bit of Slim’s younger brother Andy.

“Well got kinda a vested interest,” he said, grinning over at the boy,” see Ginny White is a real good friend of mine… and I sure wouldn’t want to see anything happen to her, iffen you get my meaning, like a date with a rope.”

“Oh heck no,” said the boy suddenly sobering,” me neither Jess, she’s a lovely lady and so beautiful,” he said with a dreamy look.

“She sure is,” and the two looked into the flames pondering on Ginny and her many attributes.

The boy pulled his thoughts back first,” I’ve been such a fool,” he said angrily,” how could I just up and walk out on the ranch, Pa would have been so disappointed in me.”

“Well, hell boy, you were spooked, don’t be too hard on yourself. And you’ve gotten a real good neighbour in Dave Brown; he’s been keepin’ things ticking over for you.”

“Really, well that’s swell…but I gotta get back down to it, just as soon as I’m healed.”

“Think yer can run the place single handed?”

“Ain’t got much choice, I guess, with Ma and Pa gone these last few years and now Jake dead too.”

“You could consider takin’ on a partner, or even a ranch hand, reckon a spread that size could support it.”

“Are you a rancher then Jess?”

“Sure part share of a little spread down Laramie way.”

The boy’s eyes suddenly lit up,” you wouldn’t… I’m wondering….. would you consider comin’ into the business with me Jess? I know you’re up in Laramie right now, but I can tell you’re a Texan, wouldn’t you consider comin’ back home?”

Jess looked at him for a long time, a thousand thought whizzing through his brain… how Ginny wanted him to settle here, the climate, gee it sure was better than Wyoming that was for sure, and a nice little spread like the Walker place, well a man could make a go of things and just for one second he wavered.

“No, no thanks Pete, see my home ain’t here anymore, my home is in Laramie,” and the moment the words were out of his mouth he knew that was the truth of it… and it always would be.

The boy looked crestfallen, but tried to make light of it, “sure I understand Jess, figure you’ve got your own life back in Laramie.”

Back in Laramie Jess thought, of course that was it.

“Well then I might be able ter help you out after all,” he said with a big grin.

“See I know this boy, bit younger than you, but by all accounts he’s real good with the horses, breakin’ workin’ them an’ all. See Pete, he’s been in a spot of bother too… his older brother robbed the bank in Laramie and dragged this kid brother along as look out…. I well… I shot his brother, killed him… “

The lad looked impressed,” gee, so were you acting deputy too then Jess?”

“That I was, anyways, I made kinda a promise to the older brother that I’d look out for young Jamie, try and find him a place to work. I checked with the neighbours and everything he told me about his folks and his kid sister bein’ dead an all, was true, like he’d told me. They also said he was a darn good horseman… and I figure you two would have a lot in common, might hit it off real well. “

“Gee thanks Jess that sounds perfect, a young lad similar kinda age, guess we could have some real fun.”

“Um,” said Jess,” I figure you’d still need some support, from Davy Brown maybe?”

“Sure Mister Brown has always been a real good neighbour watchin’ out for me an’ Jake after Ma and Pa died… real kind he is,” he said softly.

Jess could see the boy’s emotions were raw and guessed it was partly due to fatigue, God knows I’m beat myself he thought.

“Come on boy, get yourself settled for the night, figure we both need some sleep and we’ll talk on it again in the morning.”

When Jess awoke at first light and glanced over at Pete he was concerned at how pale and sick the lad looked, as he lay there still sleeping.

He took a deep breath and hauled himself up on one elbow and felt the shoulder wound drag painfully and a wave of nausea and dizziness washed over him,” guess I’m feelin’ as bad as he looks, ”he muttered to himself.

I should have heeded young Carrie’s advice and rested up some before I started out, he thought, but then there hadn’t been a lot of time to spare and he knew the circuit judge would be through these parts in a matter of days and he sure didn’t want Ginny languishing in jail for another month before her case was heard.

He pulled himself up feeling weak and his head throbbed something fierce as he wandered about completing the early morning chores of tending to his horse and setting the fire. He managed to get enough coffee together for a couple of weak cups and that along with some jerky was all he could muster for breakfast. He wasn’t particularly hungry and neither was Pete, so shortly after the boy had finished his coffee they broke camp and Jess fetched the Buckskin.

“You OK to ride double?”

“Sure Jess, thanks, beats walkin’ and to be honest, don’t think I’d make it too far. I’m feelin’ kinda strange.”

Jess leaned over and felt the youngster’s forehead as he had done so often with young Mike,” yeah, you’re a mite warm, figure the sooner you see the doc the better,” and with that he let the boy mount and he jumped up behind him, so the youngster could lean back and be supported as it was obvious to Jess at once that he was not at all well.

By the time they reached Abilene, Pete was slipping in and out of consciousness and Jess was completely worn out from having to keep the powerful Buckskin in hand and to also hold firmly onto young Pete who would have been in danger from slipping from the saddle on more than one occasion if it hadn’t been for Jess’s strong hands supporting him.

He reined the big horse in by the Sheriff’s office and hollered for Wes to come out and help him. A moment later the blond haired Sheriff emerged and taking in the situation at once helped the youngster down and then assisted Jess in carrying him down the street to old Doc Porter’s office.

As soon as the doctor saw the young man and was informed as to the cause of the wounds he looked very grave.

“Well this doesn’t look too good,” he said casting both Jess and the Sheriff a concerned look.

“You cleaned out the bites did you son?”

“Sure doc, with clean water and then whiskey, but some of them, he gave a low whistle, they were real deep… I did the best I could.”

The old man gave him an understanding look,” I’m sure you did young man, it sounds like you know what you’re doing… and I guess you also know the seriousness of an infection from a big cat bite. Never the less I will do what I can for him, now you two gentlemen run along and call tomorrow, about noon and we’ll see how he is doing.”

Jess accompanied Wes back down the street to the jail.

“So how is Ginny holding up, Wes?” he asked.

“Well she’s been real good the first couple of days what with that little Carrie calling in on a regular basis, kept her spirits up you know?”

“Sure she’s a great girl,” said Jess smiling.

“Yeah, but since she took off, well Ginny has been real down.”

“Took off?” Jess repeated as the smile froze on his face, “”what do you mean … took off?”

“Well dunno really, like I say she’s been visiting every day since you left and then yesterday at about noon she left and said as how she had something to do and she’d b by later… and that’s the last we saw of her… not been in today at all… kept a look out for her…”

By this time they had reached the Sheriff’s office and Jess was beside himself with worry, his stomach churning, and sweat breaking out, and running down his face which he brushed irritably aside with his sleeve.

He went straight through to the cells, and let himself in with Wes’s keys, rushing over to where Ginny jumped up from the bunk to greet him.

“Oh Jess,” she said at once,” thank God you’re back, it’s Carrie she’s disappeared and there was nothing I could do…. “

“Hey, take it easy,” he said gently,” maybe she’s sick, women’s problems you know, didn’t feel like coming over, she’s probably cuddled down at the hotel resting.”

“I hope so, go and check on her please Jess.”

“Sure, but first, I found him Ginny, I got Pete, he’s not too well, back at the docs, but he’s told me exactly how it was , what you said, and he’s prepared to collaborate your story, so it should all be OK honey.”

She ran to him and held him close looking up into his eyes,” thank you so much Jess,” she whispered I can never thank you….”

“You don’t need to,” he said softly, “we’re friends ain’t we and friends don’t keep a tally, besides you took in that skinny little ragamuffin pup, all those years ago, I figure I owe you too.”

She reached up and kissed him very tenderly,” guess that was the smartest thing I ever did, taking you in,” she said softly, ”now go find that girl Jess I know you’re worrying to death over her.”

He looked down into her eyes,” not much gets past you does it?” he said with a gentle smile, “I’ll let you know as soon as I find her.. …..OK.”


He marched over to the hotel and asked at the desk if Miss Baker was in her room.

The little manager, who had booked him in previously, looked surprised.

” Why no sir, she booked out yesterday, cancelling her room and yours too.”

“What!” exploded Jess, “so what was her forwarding address, somewhere back east?”

“Well no sir, she didn’t give one and she seemed kind of distressed, not her usual smiley self, you know?”

Jess nodded grimly,” yeah, I know, so how could she have left town, is there a Stage?”

“No sir, only way out at present is by horse and I know for a fact all the livery horses are booked out.”

“So she must be still here then?”

“Well, yes … unless she’s hitched a lift, there were some drovers going east I think, had a chuck wagon, I guess she could have gone with them.”

Jess swore loudly, “sorry….. this ain’t your fault”, he said with a shame faced look, and he turned to go back to the Sheriff’s office.

When he arrived Ginny was nearly beside herself with worry,” no sign?”

He shook his head,” no and she’s left the hotel too.”

Then she suddenly brightened, “it’s a long shot, but she asked to see my boarding house, it’s just on the main street on the edge of town, a five minute walk from here. She said she would take a look at things for me, get the keys off my neighbour, bless her, she said, she’d check it was all ready for when I was acquitted ,” she said with a little sigh,” but that was a couple of days ago, she’s not visited since.”

“Yeah, well you will be…. acquitted that is, “he said softly,” so you think she might be over there… at your place?”

“Well I never thought before, but I guess it’s a possibility.”

And a darned better one than goin’ off with a band of drovers as their cook, he thought privately, his stomach turning over at the thought.

Soon afterwards he marched along main street and shortly came to a tall, whitewashed three story building with a sign on the door reading, ‘Ginny’s Place’, and’ Rooms For Rent, Vacancies’, on a board set in the window.

There as a small porch and a picket fence and Jess strode up onto the porch and hammered at the door.

A few minutes later the door was opened and he stood and stared in amazement as he looked at Carrie, dressed from head to foot in paint splattered clothes, her hair held back in a scarf and a paintbrush in her hand.

She stared at him for a moment out of lackluster eyes, before finally realizing who it was and she literally jumped for joy, throwing her paint brush down and herself at the astonished looking cowboy.

“Oh thank goodness, I was so, so worried…. Are you alright?” she asked, pulling back and looking at him intently.

He just continued to stare at her a mixture of emotions coursing through his mind, fear, anger, relief… love….?

“Oh God, Carrie,” he whispered,” don’t you ever do that to me again girl… you hear, what in hell were you thinkin’ on worryin’ me and Ginny this way?”

She looked completely shocked, “but I sent word… there was a young boy came by last night, I gave him some coins to call in at the Sheriff’s and tell Ginny and Wes I was here……. and for you to call inas soon as you landed.”

“Well he sure as hell didn’t deliver it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to upset anyone. It’s just that I expected you back sooner Jess and the more the days went on…….. well the more anxious I became and I figured the best thing I could do was to just put all my energy into fixing this place up. I reckoned if I filled every waking hour doing this, then … may be …... well maybe I wouldn’t be fretting so much.”

“What fretting over me?”

“Yes… of course, I thought you’d be back sooner Jess… I was so frightened for you….”

“Hey, it’s alright, you know I always turn up eventually, like an ol’ Tom cat,” he said with his lopsided grin.

“Until you don’t,” she said stony faced.


“It’s OK and I’m sorry I’ve upset Ginny I’ll go and make amends as soon as I’ve seen to you.”

“I don’t need no seein’ to. “

“Yes you do Jess Harper, you look dead beat, pale as a ghost and real sickly, I knew you should have rested up after that wound, before you took off…... but oh no.. Jess Harper knows best as usual,” she said, angrily, and their eyes met and after a moment they both collapsed in laughter.

“When do ya ever quit naggin’ Carrie?” spluttered Jess.

“And when do you stop getting neck deep in trouble?” she asked, equally afflicted by a bad dose of the giggled.

They finally sobered up and when Jess swayed a little, she looked immediately concerned.

“Hey Jess you really are feeling bad aren’t you?” she gasped.

“Just kinda tired I guess,” he said softly, “so am I staying here too?”

“Sure you are, in the first room I fixed up, it’ was Ginny’s on the ground floor, out the back, real quiet, thought you might appreciate a little peace.”

“And yours?” he asked giving her a penetrating look.

“First floor back, nice and quiet too,” she said grinning at him.

Then seeing how he was struggling to keep up right she said gently,” come on Jess, why don’t you rest a spell, while I go and tell Ginny and Wes that I am OK?”

He allowed himself to be led to the newly painted room with the clean fresh bed linen and never felt as much like he just wanted to crash out and sleep in all his life.

“Go on,” she said softly, “stretch out and have a nap and I’ll be by later to call you for supper.”

It must have been an hour or so later when Jess was awoken from a deep sleep by terrified screams coming from the lobby of the house.

He was awake immediately and out in the hallway just beyond his room, his gun in his hand as he saw a big burly man tussling with Carrie saying loudly, “sure yer do honey, it’s what yer paid for ain’t it…?”

“Hold it right there,” yelled Jess pointing his Colt.45 at the man’s head,” let the lady alone … now!”

The big man looked up and said,” well I’m sorry mister, didn’t realize as how this was your woman…… I’m happy to wait in line …. No rush buddy.”

“What!” spat Jess, “what the hell do you think your playin’ at mister?”

The older man looked surprised,” well this is a whore house ain’t it friend?”

Jess exploded,” no it ain’t and this lady ain’t no whore, just look at her man……now get your self-outer here before I wrap this iron around yer knuckle head.”

The man turned to go after casting Carrie an apologetic look, “sorry Miss, my mistake, should have looked at you proper, I kin see you’re no workin’ girl.”

Jess holstered his gun,” OK you’ve said your piece, now get your sorry ass outer here,” he said angrily and opening the door pushed the filthy looking drover none too gently towards it.

Then grabbing the man’s arm he changed his mind and turned him around to face him, “so what made you think this was a whore house in the first place?” he asked.

The man merely tipped his head towards the sign by the door”, ‘Ginny’s Place’, see there was this really beautiful hooker in a Texas town back a ways called Ginny, and the word on the street was that she’d moved up here, a few of the drovers have knocked the door when they came into town. Well she told ‘em she wasn’t in the business anymore, but I knocked just on the off chance, and saw this beautiful young thing…. Well I’ve been on a cattle drive, been a real long time … know what I mean friend… and I just thought this young lady might be a bit more accommodating.”

“Well she ain’t and neither is Ginny, so you put the word around, ‘friend’ and tell it that this is a respectable boardin’ house and nothing more,yer hear?” yelled Jess grabbing hold of the others shirt front and glaring at him to hammer the point home.

“Sure mister, I’ll do that,” and the drover backed away and scuttled off down the street as fast as he could.

“You OK?” he asked gruffly, turning to where Carrie stood just behind him.

“Yes,” she whispered.

Then he took hold of both her arms and swung her round to face him,” do ya see why I get so worried about you now… this ain’t no place for a woman like you to be Carrie.”

“What about Ginny, how will she manage after we’ve gone?”

“Oh she’ll be just fine,” he said the light of admiration in his eyes, “she can look after herself.”

“And I can’t?”

“She’s been brought up to it Carrie, born and bred in Texas and used to the wild ways… you ain’t that’s all I’m sayin’.”

Suddenly he felt sick to his stomach and the room seemed to lurch alarmingly.

“Well I may not know about Texas and its wild ways, but I sure know about one particular Texan,” she said,” and this one needs his bed, go on Jess get some sleep and we’ll talk later.”

He just nodded,” sure you’re OK.”

“Yes, I’m fine.”

“Lock the door and don’t answer it to anyone, yer hear?”

“I hear.”

He nodded again and gave her a weary smile before turning back to his bed.

Chapter 10

The following morning he awoke to the smell of bacon cooking and decided he was feeling much better.

Carrie produced a wonderful meal as usual and Jess was just finishing up the last biscuit washed down with his third cup of coffee when she turned playful eyes on the dark haired young cowboy.

“So are you going to help me today Jess?”


“With the painting, I’ve promised myself I’ll do all the bedrooms by the time Ginny is back home.”

“All of them………..So how many are there?” he asked playing for time and searching for a good excuse.

“Err……… five or six, I think. “

“What … so how many have you done already? “

“Three, so far, but it would take us no time once we got started,” she said with pleading eyes.

“Well now Carrie, I’m not too good with a paint brush you know… and I’ve got stuff to do……gotta discus things with the Sheriff an’ all.”

“Well you don’t need to talk to Wes all day ….. and that’s not what Miss Daisy says, she reckons you’re a dab hand with a paint brush… and you do want it looking really good for when Ginny gets out don’t you?” she asked giving him one of her sweet smiles.

He held his hands up in mock surrender, “OK, OK you win…. Just gotta check on Pete come noon, but until then, I guess I’m all yours.”

She grinned across at him…” so what are we waiting for…?” and led him to the paint and brush.

Several hours later and plenty of, albeit quiet, cussing and moaning from Jess, and cheerful encouragement from Carrie, a further two rooms were completed.

“The trouble with this place is the more you do… well the shabbier everywhere else looks. Apparently Ginny’s aunt was quite elderly when she died and then once Ginny inherited she was just too busy letting the rooms out to have a chance to decorate and so the place got into a bit of a state. Especially with all those drovers and working men messing the place up.”

Jess looked thoughtful.

” Yeah, I’ve been kinda wondering about that. Tell me Carrie, so where did that family you travelled here with stay? At our hotel?”

“No, it was too expensive, with all the children and Mr Parks refused to stay in any of the other hotels or boarding houses because they were either full of rowdy men drinking and the like, or were whore houses, said no decent man would let his wife stay in any of them, so he just kept on travelling and camped outside of town in their covered wagon.”

“Um,” said Jess thoughtfully, “and I guess it would be even worse for a woman travelling alone, if she couldn’t afford that fancy hotel.”

“Well yes I suppose so, but what are you getting at? “

“Just an idea, I saw a sign writers place as we came into town, may pay him a little visit later.”

“OK later,” she said,” but right now it’s painting time.”

He sighed in mock exasperation, “and I thought Daisy was a slave driver.”

She glanced over at him, and chuckled,” remember when you and Slim painted the barn roof that time and Miss Daisy removed the ladder until you’d finished.”

He laughed,” yeah, and the time I’d come home mauled by a cougar, been real sick and she said I was healed just fine and the kitchen needed white washin’, what is it about paint an’ you women folk?” he said shaking his head in mock amazement.

“Just part of the old homemaking thing I figure,” she said with a little smile.

He turned to where she was standing beside him and leaned over and wiped a drop of paint off her face,” you’re supposed to get it on the walls not all over yourself,” he said with his cheeky smile.

Then their eyes locked as she felt a thrill pass through her at his touch.

He stared into her beautiful brown eyes, the desire in them clear and his heart suddenly started slamming in his chest.

He leaned over and ran a gentle finger down her cheek again, “oh Carrie,” he whispered, “don’t do this to me…. “

“What,” she whispered,” I’m not doing anything…” her lips parting and the yearning look in her eyes making him tremble.

God he wanted to kiss her so much…..he wanted to hold her close, caress the gleaming dark hair as it fell down around her shoulders, then to gently push her down onthe bed behind them and…..

Then the spell was broken as there was a hammering at the front door.

Jess tore his eyes away, eventually, and went to answer the knocking which was now even more frenzied.

He stood looking into the eyes of Doc Porter’s nurse.

“Mr Harper is it? “

“Yes Ma’am.”

“It’s Peter Walker, Mister Harper, the doctor is most concerned. His condition had just deteriorated and ….. I’m afraid he’s not sure he’ll make it… the boy has been asking for you, could you come over at once please?”

Jess nodded, “sure… gotta go out Carrie, back soon,” he threw over his shoulder, before following the nurse quickly down the street.

When he arrived at the doctor’s office he was hurried inside and to Pete’s bedside and Jess could tell at once that he was not a well boy. The sweat was pouring off him and his complexion was grey and he looked so much older than his eighteen years.

“Hey how are you doin’?” Jess asked as he sank down on the chair beside the bed and the door closed behind the nurse.

“Not too good I guess Jess..,” and then more faintly,” I ain’t gonna make it am I?”

“Sure you are just need some more restin’ I guess.”

“No… no I ain’t Jess, guess I’m done for,” he whispered, closing his eyes, his breathing suddenly becoming labored.

Jess reached out and put his hand on the youngster’s chest,” no you ain’t,” he said firmly, “because I ain’t gonna let you die… you understand me boy… I’m tellin’ you, you’ve got one hell of a lot of livin’ to do…”

The boy groaned quietly,” you reckon?”

“I know so,” said Jess in all sincerity. ”You’re gonna live boy and you’re gonna set things straight with Miss Ginny and then you’re gonna go and run your spread … to make yer Ma and Pa proud…. You hear me…?”

There was no answer and Jess bowed his head,” wishing, hoping… yes even praying….

He said softly ,“dear Lord please spare this kid, who ain’t even started livin’ yet….iffen you can help a sinner like me, then I figure you’ll see fit to help this young ‘un… please Lord.”

That was how old doc Porter found him several of hours later, still in the chair by the bed.

He checked his patient and then shook the young cowboy gently awake from where he had fallen asleep at the bedside.

“Well I don’t know what you did or said son, but I reckon this young pup is going to make it against all odds. I thought he was a goner, but reckon you may have just turned him back from the brink young man… now go home and get some rest yourself, you look done in,” said the kindly physician.

Once Jess was out on the street he took several deep breaths and started to feel less fatigued and as it was only late afternoon he decided to go over to the jail to visit with Ginny for a while and to run his idea past her. A little over an hour later he marched on down the street to the sign writers premises and after a brief visit there returned to the boarding house with some company.

Ginny heard his knock and waited for him to call out to her before answering and letting him in.

She was surprised to see him accompanied by two boys of about fourteen and on looking askance he grinned across at her.

“Got a couple of willin’ slaves for you, happy to work for 25 cents a day and all the milk and cookies they can eat… deal?” he asked raising an eyebrow at her.

“Yes, deal. Well come on boys I’ll get you stoked up on cookies first and then show you what’s to be done,” before turning back to Jess and giving him a sad little smile as she left for the kitchen with them. She was well aware that he had brought the boys on board to act as chaperones and although she admired his gentlemanly way she was also feeling mighty frustrated,’ why oh why won’t he just admit his feelings for me,’ she thought sadly.

While he was over in the jail he had also made arrangements for the Sheriff’s Ma to come over and act as live in housekeeper for the duration of their stay, but he decided to keep this bit of news to himself until the good lady’s arrival and then Carrie wouldn’t have the opportunity to argue.

The next few days flew by. Betty, the Sheriff’s Ma fitted really well into the boarding house regime and refused to take a cent from Jess, throwing herself into the renovations with the other young folk. She prepared all the meals for her son and any prisoners in the jail and had really hit it off with Ginny, the couple spending hours together gossiping and chatting.

“Lord love you son,” she said when Jess offered to pay her for her housekeeping and all the extra work,” it is the least I can do, the way that poor girl was treated by our former Sheriff. Between you and me he had a real hatred of working girls and didn’t lift a finger to try and help the girl. The evidence to acquit her was all out there but he refused to find it.”

“You’re real understanding Ma’am,” he said,” not many women would feel as you do towards a former prostitute.”

She had smiled kindly at him, “there is more to Ginny than that… as you know, and I take as I find and try never to judge others and I figure that’s the best way to live my life,” she said honestly.

“Yes Ma’am, well I reckon I agree with you,” he had said grinning across at her.

Then before they knew it the trial was over and with Pete well enough to give his evidence Ginny was finally acquitted as they had all expected.

Afterwards, Carrie and Jess escorted her down the street to her boarding house and watched with pleasure as she took in all they had done.

The picket fence was newly painted as was the exterior and interior of the house, but there was one thing that stood out most and made her give a little gasp of pleasure, clasping her hands together her face registering delight, was the brand new sign beside the door. It read:

Miss G White’s Boarding Establishment

Families and Single Women Especially Welcome.

“Oh, Jess, Carrie how can I ever thank you?”

“There is no need,” said Carrie, looking close to tears.

“Just make a good life for yourself honey,” Jess said softly, giving her his shy smile.

“I will oh I will,” she said clasping both the young people to her in a warm embrace.

The following morning Carrie and Jess readied to make their journey back to Laramie. As much as Jess had fought against the idea of having to travel alone with her, he knew there was no alternative and he also knew it was his responsibility to keep her safe, being an old family friend. They had decided to retrace the steps made by himself and Ginny on the way out and return the two hire horses, “less I get a noose around my neck for horse theft,” Jess said with a bitter laugh.

Then they aimed to catch a Stage to the rail-head and then on to home.

After breakfast the couple were ready to leave with their mounts outside the boarding house, Ginny at the gate ready to say her goodbyes.

She had hugged and kissed Carrie, sending all her best wishes to her Pa and the young girl was mounted on the big buckskin, being deemed a far safer ride by Jess, while he took the skittish Palomino.

Now he stood before Ginny and conscious of Carrie watching him, he kept his tone light, and gave the beautiful woman a brief kiss on the lips before pulling back and saying, “take care honey.”

Ginny responded equally lightly,” sure have a good journey Jess…”

But it was the look in their eyes that Carrie noticed, the deeply intimate way Ginny stared at the young cowboy, and the way he returned her gaze.

Then the way he leaned forward and gently pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear, the deeply penetrating look he gave her so erotic that Carrie had to look away.

Then she strained her ears to hear his last words to her,” goodbye Mrs Smith….”

Then he had turned and hopped up on the Palomino with his easy grace and tipping his hat to Ginny one last time urged his mount down the street at a fast trot, following Carrie.

As Jess rode out the Palomino skittered and side stepped her head nodding and her tail high and Jess held the reins firmly, his thighs and knees close in and the spurs at the ready.

The filly suddenly realised she had a professional on board and quit her posturing at once, settling down into an easy gait.

“Good girl,” said Jess softly as he patted the arched golden neck, admiring the shaggy blond mane, you and me are goin’ ta get on real well as long as you mind your manners.”

After a while he caught up with Carrie, and was at once acutely aware of her mood as she cast him a hurt look.

“You OK?”

“Sure why wouldn’t I be?”

“Dunno,” he replied being absolutely honest, because as he often said to Slim, ‘women… can yer figure ‘em Slim?’

He thought maybe it was something to do with his relationship with Ginny which was causing all the hard looks and sighs, but he wasn’t too sure and decided to leave Carrie to cool off some and rode on ahead giving her some space.

They broke off briefly for a scratch lunch, but it wasn’t until sundown and supper was over that they settled down by the fire and talked properly for the first time that day.

Carrie was sitting beside him leaning on a fallen log in front of the blazing camp fire enjoying a last coffee before turning in when she looked at him and said softly,” remember that celebratory meal at our house when Ginny first arrived?”

He nodded,” sure do, you cooked up a storm, it was swell.”

She nodded in acknowledgement,” well you know when we were talking about our first loves?”

His heart missed a beat, “yeah,” he said cautiously.

“Well… it was Ginny wasn’t it… your first love.”

He said nothing, just stared deeply into the fire.

“Jess, answer me”, she said turning and staring at him, her face ashen,” you were lovers then, and you still are now… aren’t you…. aren’t you Jess?” she said a catch in her voice.

He sighed deeply,” what makes you think that?”

“The look you exchanged at the dinner table that night… I didn’t realize then, but today when you were saying goodbye… the way you looked Jess… I can tell, you have been sleeping with her all along haven’t you,” she spat……..“ever since she landed in Laramie.”

“No,” he yelled jumping up, looking down at her,” how could you think that of me?”

“I saw it Jess, with my own eyes, how close you were… are. “

He nodded,” OK yeah, you’re right, she was the first…. and real special to me….”

Then he sank back down next to her…” and yes, we have gotten real close again, but only on the journey here, she swore it was all over with your Pa … and she needed me Carrie… needed the comfort lovin’ can bring… you wouldn’t understand… but it was what she wanted….”

“Of course I understand,” she yelled,” do you think I don’t know about wanting and needing Jess?”

“Sure I guess, but it’s different with you.”

“Why,” she said finally breaking down the tears streaming down her cheeks,” why can you make love with her and not with me Jess?”

“Because your different,” he yelled back,” because you’re real special, real precious to me… and I can’t … .I’ve told you before it ain’t right between you and me… you know why….”he whispered, looking deeply into her eyes.

She looked down,” I know what you say, but it doesn’t mean I agree with you”.

“Come on,” he said softly,” let’s not argue about it tonight, guess we’re both kinda tired.”

She nodded and gave him a weary look,” yes you’re right, I’m exhausted.”

He laid down her bedroll near the fire and excused himself to give the horses a final check before turning in and when he returned he was relieved to see that she was fast asleep.


The following morning she seemed a little brighter and Jess put her behavior of the previous night down to tiredness.

He cooked them both a good breakfast of bacon and beans and they hit the trail not long after.

The Palomino filly had settled down well under Jess’s firm hands and they made good time.

“I figure one last night under the stars and we’ll hit that one horse town, get these two back and then a good night in the hotel before catching the Stage out to the nearest rail head, gee in will be good to get back home,” he said with feeling.

Carrie looked less enthusiastic as the prospect, but said nothing, just gave him a tight smile.

It was late afternoon when Jess reined in and she brought the buckskin up next to him,

” what is it?”

He stood up in the stirrups scanning the horizon,” I reckon we’re in for a storm,” he said nodding to the distant thunder heads,” figure we’ll make for those foothills should be shelter, a cave or at least some rocks to protect us from the worst of the storm.”

Carrie shivered, ”will it be a bad one?”

“Don’t look too good why?”

Then he remembered she hated storms, had got real upset once when one hit them when out fishing at the lake.

“Oh yeah,” he said kindly,” yer none too fond of lightning storms are you sweetheart.”

She just shook her head,” come on Jess let’s find some shelter at least.”

They took off at a fast pace heading for the distant foothills and made the area as the first flashes of lightning lit up the late afternoon, with the rumble of thunder never far away.

Jess found a small cave that had an open mouth and stretched back maybe ten feet or so and was a similar height.

“Ain’t perfect, but I figure it’ll keep the worst of the weather off of us,” he said giving her and encouraging smile.

The wind had got up, but there was still no rain and so they unsaddled their mount, putting the saddles and their luggage in the safety of the cave and Jess left her there while he found a secure, sheltered spot to tether the horses. Once he was satisfied they would avoid the worst of the weather protected by a rocky outcrop, he quickly gathered some firewood before returning to the sanctuary of the cave just as the heavens opened.

He saw that Carrie was looking shaken and had gone very pale.

“You OK?” he asked solicitously.

“Yes,” she whispered.

He gave her a concerned look, and then set about lighting the fire,” be better with a bit of warmth, and a coffee inside us,” he said gently.

They were just settling down for the night when the storm really took off with ear splitting thunder and the lightening flashing across the now dark sky.

Jess had laid their bedrolls beside the fire and they were lying down when a massive crash directly overhead made Carrie scream.

“Hey, it’s OK sweetheart,” said Jess, then seeing she was physically shaking and white as a sheet he pulled his blanket back,” come on ,cuddle up,” he said softly.

She did as he said and as he held her close she buried her head in his shoulder, flinching as the thunder rumbled on overhead.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, “I’m such a baby, I know.”

Then looking up at him from under her long lashes,” I bet you’re not scared of anything.”

He smiled fondly down at her,” well that’s where you’re wrong,” he said.


“Yeah, promise not to laugh?”

“I promise.”

He took a deep breath and said;” spiders… those real big hairy ones, the kind that scuttle across the floor or up the barn wall… they really spook me.”

“You’re kidding,” she said with a little giggle.

“Hey, you promised not to laugh…”

“Sorry, I wasn’t really.”

The storm seemed to be passing over a little but the rain was torrential, some of it coming in the cave mouth and making the fire hiss and spit.

“This is cosy,” she said softly, burying her face further down in his shoulder and giving a little sigh of contentment.

Her sweet perfume was making Jess’s senses reel. He could feel his heart thudding in his chest and thought that she must surely feel it too.

He took a deep shuddering breath…” you OK now?” he asked.

She tipped her chin up and looked deeply into his eyes,” very OK,” she said.

He gently caressed her hair,” go to sleep now sweetheart,” he whispered.

She snuggled down against him and closed her eyes and after a few minutes he felt the soft rhythm of her breathing change and knew she slept.

She was lying in his arms so close he could feel every contour of her soft body through her thin shirt and tight riding britches and he felt his body responding to her. He wanted her so much, to caress her tenderly and to make sweet love at long last…. the need suddenly almost irresistible.

He kissed the top of her head very gently and then carefully slipped out of her embrace, covering her over with the blanket and she stirred and then turned on her side and slept again.

He stood looking down at her beautiful innocent sleeping form, illuminated in the fire light, for a long time, a mixture of emotions flitting across his face.

Then very quietly he left the cave and stood out in the teaming rain, raising his head to look up into the black skies, letting the cool water wash over his face and course down his body soaking him to the skin in a matter of moments, but the cold shower had the effect he was seeking and after a while he turned and went and huddled by the fire, looking deep into the crackling flames, before finally stretching out and falling into a fitful sleep.

The following morning he was gently shaken awake by Carrie.

“Hey Jess,” she said staring at him in surprise, “you’re all wet, the back of your shirt is soaking.”

He rolled over onto his back and stared up at her blankly for a minute and then,” oh yeah, needed to check on the horses in the night, something upset them.”

She tutted and turned her eyes to heaven,” you and horses, you’ll catch your death lying around in wet clothes, you should take them off and let me dry them by the fire”

“I’m fine,” he reassured her and then peering out of the mouth of the cave said,” looks like it’s going to be another hot day anyways, guess I’ll soon dry off.”

“Hum, well eat some breakfast at least,” she said pushing a plate and coffee cup towards him.

Chapter 11

They set off as soon as they had eaten and finally made the town by late afternoon and Jess reined in the Palomino and jumped down, helping Carrie down from the big buckskin, and then glanced around him.

He suddenly realised that the only hotel in town had him down as Mr Smith and doubtless the clerk would be asking after the health of Mrs Smith aka Ginny and giving Carrie a strange look and he figured that was a little scene he really didn’t want to be played out.

Turning his back on the hotel he looked across the street and noticed a small but respectable looking boarding house and tipping his hat towards it said,” that place looks OK what do you think? “

Carrie gave the place a cursory glance, “I really don’t care Jess as long as there is a hot tub with my name on it”.

He grinned across at her,” can’t take a bit of trail dust eh? Too much of a lady,” he said teasingly flicking her hair.

“Oh Jess,” she said in mock annoyance,” there is nothing wrong with being clean you know, you should try it sometime!”

He chuckled and taking her arm marched her across the street and knocked on the white painted front door with the big brass knocker.

After a few minutes a severe looking elderly woman, her hair up in a bun and with fierce blue eyes opened the door and after looking them up and down said,” well?”

Jess tipped his hat and gave her his most charming smile, “‘afternoon, Ma’am, I wonder if you have some rooms to let? “

“ Room for you two?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

She gave them another hard glance, looking pointedly at the lack of a wedding ring on Carrie’s finger.

“Well number one is free ground floor front, and number nine, second floor back… and I sleep right next to number one and I’m a very light sleeper,” she said, leaving them as to no doubt about what she was implying.

Jess never missed a beat and turning to Carrie,” that OK with you Sis? “

“Sis?” said the elderly lady, her eyes suddenly welcoming and a smile beginning to play around her thin lips.

“Sis?” echoed Carrie.

Jess, nudged her hard and then turning to the elderly woman,” yes Ma’am they’ll suit my sister and me just fine.”

“Well come along in my dears,” she said suddenly beaming at them,” I’ll just go and fetch the keys and show you up.”

Once she was out of earshot Carrie turned on him, “what do you mean Sis?” she hissed.

“Look it was obvious that she wasn’t happy letting rooms to an unmarried couple, now she’ll not expect any messing about in the night and we can relax OK.”

“So you mean there is going to be some messing about?” she said with a little giggle.

His head swiveled towards her looking shocked,” are you kidding me, if she caught us out together as just a normal couple she’s probably call the Sheriff, if she caught us together thinkin’ we’re brother and sister… well I guess incest would most likely be a hanging offense in this old town.”

She just shook her head in disbelief,” the things you come out with Jess”

“Look trust me on this one Carrie, she’ll b e a pussy cat now just you see.”

Then they heard the old lady returning and beaming at them both again said, “come along young ‘uns I’ll show you the rooms and then you must come and have a nice hot drink and some pie.”

“See,” whispered Jess and Carrie just chuckled quietly.

“That would be lovely thank you,” she said addressing the older woman.

Mrs Jackson was totally smitten by Jess’s charm within a few short minutes of him having entered the house.

She gave them an excellent supper and afterwards Jess thanked her for the delicious meal.

“You are most welcome,” she said with a coy smile,” and you may call me Ma, dear.”

Jess smiled in response.

“Now why don’t you and your sweet little sister take your coffee onto the porch? I usually retire early, but you sit out and enjoy the cool of the evening, just lock the front door when you come to bed,” and with that she left them to their own devices.

They sat out on a pair of rockers pulled up close, Jess’s tipped back and his feet up on the porch rail, a favourite position he often adopted back at the ranch.

Carrie had been very quiet since supper and now sipping her coffee, she muttered,” sister,” under her breath.

“Huh? “

She glanced across at him,” sister, I might as well be, the way you treat me,” she said bitterly.

“Carrie, don’t start,” he said.

She sighed deeply,” guess you just don’t understand me….” and then after a pause she whispered,” And I can’t blame you, I don’t understand me either.”

Jess concealed a sigh and said,” go on, do you wanna tell me about it?”

She looked across, “do you think it’s possible to love two people at once?”

He looked into the distance for a while and then said, “ well I reckon it’s possible to love a whole raft of people at once, but if you’re talkin’ about being IN love then, no I reckon not.”

“Oh,” she said softly.

“Why do you ask?”

She sighed deeply.

“Well I love Wilber… at least I did… I think I do. I admire him, he’s kind and gentle and cares for me I know that. But there’s no excitement anymore Jess… …no fireworks just a kind of gentle easy relationship… “

“Well maybe that’s the kind to have,” he said softly,” those fireworks don’t always last forever”.

She ignored his comment, but turned to face him her face alight with eagerness,” but with… with you Jess, it’s so romantic, so exciting… so very special…“

“Hey whoa there, we’ve been down this road before Carrie, I seem to remember you thinkin’ I was romantic and excitin’ once before, until you woke up and realised I was just a beat up ol’ cowboy, forever fightin’ and getting in trouble. And then you left on the Stage, went back east and met Wilber…who you’re now seein’,” he said giving her a hard look.

“It’s different this time”, she whispered ,” I’m notthat crazy little kid anymore, I know my own mind now….and I know you too, and I don’t believe that you don’t feel the same way,” she said turning anguished eyes on him.

“Tell me,” he said quietly,” tell me you ain’t slept with Wilber, ‘cos I don’t believe that either.”

She looked shocked, and cast her eyes down before turning back to the cowboy, “why do you think that?”

“Because a man just knows, I’ve been around you these last weeks, real close…and I just know… .So why did you lie to me Carrie?”

Her eyes were huge and again reflecting shock as she looked at him…..

” I suppose I wanted to seem grown up to you, after last time… to shock you into knowing I was grown up…. …..and maybe … if I’m honest, into hurting you… making you jealous….”

“Oh Carrie,” he whispered, with a sigh.

“Well what else was I to do, you refuse to have that sort of relationship with me, I don’t know why, maybe it’s because I’m still a virgin… some sort of gentlemanly ideals you have about me… women like me, I don’t know. But I do know you thought I was too young before… but I’m not now Jess … really I’m not now.”

He leaned across and took her hand,” and what makes you think that Carrie? Hell you can’t decide between me an’ Wilber… I guess you really don’t know your own mind and I figure you are still too young iffen that’s the case.”

“Oh Jess so what do you want me to do?”

He squeezed he hand and said ,” I figure you need to go back east like you told your Pa all along and go and have a good talk with Wilber, sort it all out honey, find out what yer both really want…yeah? “

“And that’s what you want me to do?”

“Sure I do,” he said with a smile, although his heart was breaking.

“Alright,” she said quietly,” that is what I will do,” and jumping up made her way up to bed, leaving the porch without a backward glance.

Jess sat there for a long time looking out into the distance trying to figure what to do, how he felt? Yes sure she was real precious to him, but how much of his resistance to her charms was about fear, what he had always told Slim, the two things that really spooked him were being left afoot and the love of a good woman… and he had no doubts that Carrie was a good woman… Or that she loved him in her own way…but did she love Wilber too… he just couldn’t risk her making a terrible mistake.

He shook his head, she had to decide what she wanted and for now at least he just had to bide his time and wait.

The following morning they said their farewells to Ma Jackson and arrived at the rail head , after a long and dusty ride on the coach, with just a few minutes before the train heading east was due to leave.

Jess bought her ticket and secured a window seat for her next to a respectable looking widow woman travelling alone and she promised Jess she would look out for the young girl as she was travelling to the same town. Jess had also made sure Carrie had wired Wilber early that morning and he would be meeting her off the train and he relaxed knowing he had done all he could to look after her.

Now they were standing on the station together and the train was gathering up a head of steam ready to go, when Carrie suddenly grabbed hold of his hands,” Jess, I can’t leave you like this, I can’t go!”

“Sure you can,” he said softly,” Wilber’ s waitin’ for you… You have ter go Carrie and try and make things right between you…”

Her eyes filled with tears and she reached up and tenderly kissed him and he responded, gathering her into his arms, his lips at once gentle and passionate and he gave a little groan, before pulling away and staring deeply into her eyes,” Carrie,” he whispered, shaking his head very slightly, his expression one of anguish.

“I love you Jess……”

Then there was a piercing whistle,” all aboard as are going aboard,” shouted an official looking guard, then seeing Carrie still standing motionless looking up at Jess he marched over,” come along Miss climb aboard, we’re going … “

Jess took her elbow and helped her on the train and the guard slammed the door and she leaned out of the window, all the time searching his face for a reply.

Jess continued to just stand and stare, unable to speak or move, feeling his heart was being torn apart.


And then the train was moving, at first slowly and then gathering speed, and Carrie finally waved at Jess’s lonely figure as he stood motionless just watching her go, until he finally lifted a hand in a little salute and as the train disappeared down the track he whispered,“ love you too….,”before finally turning and walking away.


As soon as he arrived in Laramie he made his way straight to Sam’s house and was let in by Mrs Braddock the housekeeper.

“Why Mister Harper, it’s good to see you,” she said with her winning smile,” Doc Sam will be real pleased to see you too, he’s in his study, go along inmy dear.”

Jess tipped his hat to the kindly old woman and after knocking, put his head round the study door.

As soon as he saw who it was Sam’s face was wreathed in smiles.

” Jess you old son of a gun, come on in,” he said leaping up and coming to pump Jess’s hand in welcome.

“Sit you down, a small whiskey?” he asked his eyebrows arched in question.

“Thanks Sam, I’m kinda dry after all the travellin’.”

He poured the drinks and passed one to Jess, offering him a comfy armchair and taking the other himself.

Then his expression was more serious.

“I want to thank you for wiring me as soon as Carrie arrived in Abilene, I’d have been so worried if I’d checked with Wilber and heard she hadn’t arrived.”

Jess nodded,” yeah, I know, and it was the least I could do…… I had to be up front with you this time… after the way I kept things from you over Ginny… and I’m real sorry about that Sam.”

The Doctor gave a deep sigh,” I don’t blame you for that Jess; you were just being your usual loyal self…. And to be perfectly frank I guess it would never have worked out anyway, we were just too different.”

Then he gave the young cowboy a genuine smile,” all water under the bridge now and I’ll get over it.”

Then clearing his throat he said, “So tell me about my little girl. You persuaded her to go and visit Wilber after all I take it?”

“Yes,” he said softly, I told her that she was promised to him and she should go and try and sort things out.”

“Thank you Jess, I guess that’s what she needs to do right now, get things talked through, one way or the other.”

Then taking a tentative sip at his whiskey he said quietly,” she’s fallen for you…really this time hasn’t she Jess?That’s why she hightailed it out there, not just to support Ginny like you said, she came to be with you didn’t she?”

Sam’s face was unreadable and Jess didn’t know what to say, but then he figured the guy was one of his closest friends and he had to tell him the truth.

He nodded and then said quietly, “she said a few weeks back that things had changed between us…. there was something different …… and I guess she was right… there is… she said she loved me…….”

“And so how do you feel about this Jess?”

His head shot up and he stared at Sam long and hard before tipping back his whiskey and grimacing as the spirit hit his throat.

He looked down again and then finally looking Sam in the eye said very softly, “I guess I love her too Sam… but I ain’t gonna do anything about it.”

“Why not Jess,” said the doctor the light of compassion in his eyes now, as he saw how much his friend was suffering.

“You know damn well why not Sam, I’m way too old for her and she can do better than me, way better, she should be marrying an educated man like Wilber and that’s what I’ve told her.”

Sam shook his head sadly, “I guess that’s her decision, but there is something you need to know Jess.”

He paused looking at the younger man, a sincere expression on his kindly face.

“I couldn’t wish for a better son in law than you buddy. You’re a good man and a good friend. Strong, loyal and true and I know you’d care for my Carrie, defend her with your last breath and be faithful to your dying day and there is nothing more a father could wish for his daughter than that sort of love.”

Jess was suddenly too moved to speak and he felt a lump the size of Texas in his throat and tears threatening.

He nodded and reaching over clasped Sam’s hand and shook it,” thanks,” he whispered.

Then seeing his friend’s emotional turmoil Sam quickly stood up and went to replenish their glasses.

“Thanks,” said Jess again accepting the proffered tumbler.

“Say I saw Mort yesterday and he said he wanted to see you as soon as you landed back in town Jess,” he said, thinking there was a need for a change of subject right then.

Jess gave him a wary look,” so what have I done now?” he asked looking exhausted.

“Nothing, least ways I don’t think so, just said he needed to talk. Say Jess you look dead beat, why don’t you stay here tonight, enjoy Mrs Braddock’s cooking after you’ve seen Mort and go over to the ranch tomorrow after a good night’s sleep?”

Jess gave him his shy smile, “you know what Sam, that’s the best idea I’ve heard all day!”

Shortly afterwards he stepped across the street to the Sheriff’s office.

Mort was sitting with his feet up on the desk having a ‘medicinal’ whiskey and he beamed at Jess as he entered.

“Well the wanderer returns,” he said jovially,” I’ve just finished for the day and feeling the need for a little pick me up, care to join me?”

Jess hesitated for a moment wondering about the wisdom of downing a third whiskey on an empty stomach, but then he kinda felt in need of a pick me up too after his emotional conversation with Sam.

Now he gave Mort a small smile, “why, am I gonna need a restorative after we’ve had our little talk? “


“Sam said I had to come over as soon as I hit town, said we needed to talk… so come on Mort, what have I done now? “

Mort grinned at him and poured a large measure of Red Rye.

”Sit down buddy and quit your fussing you haven’t done anything Jess, least ways nothing I’ve heard of yet,” he said cocking an eyebrow at the dark haired cowboy and passing the drink over.

Jess slumped down in the chair opposite, the effect of the previous whiskies suddenly hitting him, “so?”

“Well, first of all I want to thank you for delivering Ginny White safely and for finding the witness and all. I had a glowing report from Wes, he was darned pleased it was all sorted out… just one thing though…..”

“What?” asked Jess looking pensive.

Mort beamed at him and then nudged and envelope across the desk,” he said you left town without claiming the $1,000 reward on Ginny’s head.”

“What!” yelled Jess looking shocked, “Hell I don’t want the damn bounty, Ginny is a friend and a real good one too, I couldn’t take that.”

“Well you earned it fair and square didn’t you… so it’s yours, can’t send it back ,”said the Sheriff, pushing the envelope a few inches further over.

Jess just stared at it, like it would jump up and bite him, then a slow grin spread across his face, “OK Mort I guess I’ll have to take it then.”

“Good man, reckon you can afford that fancy new saddle you’ve been saving up for since Adam was a lad,” said the Sheriff with a wink.

Jess shook his head, “nah, nearly saved enough for that now. No this is going to a real good couple of homes.”


“Yeah, half to Ginny, I figure she could use some cash to finish off furnishing that ol’ boarding house of hers. Once Carrie and me had finished the decorating, all the curtains and stuff looked shabby, this is just what she needs to finish the job.”

“Decorating?… Carrie? What aren’t you telling me Jess and what in tarnation was Carrie doing down there, thought she’d gone back east to see her beau?”

“She has… now,” said Jess succinctly.

Then knocking back the whiskey , he said,” yer really don’t wanna know Mort.”

The older man gave him a quizzical look, but decided it was probably better not to pursue the topic, knowing how volatile Jess could get when young woman were in the equation, and Carrie in particular.

“So what about the other $500?”

“Well I thought that might just buy Jamie Johnson into a partnership with a young man I met down in Texas,” and Jess went on to explain to Mort all about Pete Walker trying to run the ranch single handed.

Then, suddenly glancing towards the cells he said, ”so where is Jamie anyways?”

“Circuit judge came early, but with your sworn affidavit and evidence from Slim and myself the judge was very lenient, he was let off with a caution and Slim found him work at the livery.”

“Gee well that’s swell, good old Hard rock.”

“Yeah, but it’s not working out too well Jess. Sure the boy is working real hard, keeping his head down, but there are a few folk in Laramie that think he should have been jailed….. And well, they’re making life difficult for him and I reckon a fresh start several hundred miles away is just what the boy needs.”

“Consider it done,” grinned Jess, “I’ll talk to him tomorrow… but right now I’m feelin’ kinda tired.”

“Um, you’re looking it too,” smiled Mort taking in the red eyes and unsteady way Jess rose to his feet,” figure I’ll just walk you back across the street, to Sam’s place Jess.”

“Huh? “

“Well you just might not find your way.”

Jess looked affronted,” found my way from Texas didn’t I? “

“Come on buddy,” said Mort, his grin broadening as he took Jess’s arm let’s get yer over the street and some of Mrs Braddock’s fine cooking down you and I figure you’ll be just dandy come tomorrow,” and with that the pair made their unsteady way across the street.

Chapter 12

The following morning Jess rode the early Stage over to the ranch, sitting up on the box with Mose and as soon as they entered the yard Slim and Mike came running out to change the team.

As soon as Mike saw Jess he let out a loud whoop of joy.

” Gee Slim it’s Jess, Jess is home, hey Aunt Daisy,” he yelled over his shoulder as he ran towards the stationary Stage, “Jess is back!”

Jess leapt down from the box and as Mike hurtled into his arms he picked him up and swung him around ,” hey Tiger, how are ya doin?”

Then dropping him down he went to shake Slim’s outstretched hand.

“Hey partner,” said the tall rancher a broad grin on his face,” good to have you home.”

Then Daisy rushed into his arms and he gave her a big hug and a tender kiss on the top of her head.

She pulled back,” why Jess Harper, I swear you’ve lost weight, and you look kind of peaky, are you alright dear?”

“Yeah, I’m fine Daisy,” he said with his lopsided grin.

“Come along in dear , there is coffee on,you too Mose,” she said beaming at the elderly driver.

Mose took her arm and escorted her back into the ranch while Slim threw a friendly arm around Jess’s shoulders as they followed and said in a soft voice,” peaky my foot, looks to me like you’ve been on the old Red Rye buddy, and a I guess a cup of good strong coffee is just what you need.”

Jess grinned back,” figure you know me way too well Slim!” both men chuckling as they entered the ranch house.

Once the coffee was finished and the Stage team changed, Jess made his way to the barn to check on Traveler just as Slim knew he would and he joined him there a few minutes later and wasn’t surprised to see Jess caressing the old horse’s nose and feeding him sugar lumps.

Slim leaned against the stall enjoying the picture the couple made, loves that horse something fierce he thought to himself and then that thought sparked off another.

“So Jess, I hear from Sam as how you had a little extra help down there in Texas.”

Jess’s head shot up,” what did he say?”

“Just that Carrie had gone down there to be with you rather than visit her fiancé… so what’s going on then Jess?”

He looked down for a long time, trying to figure out how to explain everything that had happened over the last few weeks.

When he didn’t reply Slim gave him an encouraging look”, is this something to do with whatever happened when you were in town covering for Mort, you said you’d tell me about it and then next thing you lit out for Texas.”

Jess sighed deeply, “it’s kinda hard to explain Slim. Around about that time things changed between me an’ Carrie, at first I figured she was just missin’ Wilber, wanted a bit of romancin’ or even to make him jealous as she figured he wasn’t payin’ her enough attention…. I dunno. Anyways…….. and this is real hard to tell buddy, but if I’m honest I started having feelings for her too,” then he turned anguished eyes at his partner. “Just don’t know where it came from Slim, one minute she was just little Carrie and we were havin’ a laugh and a joke and the next…well….. I think I’m in love with her Slim.”

His buddy gave a low whistle, “so what are you going to do… ?”

“Nothin’ I’ve sent her back east to try and patch things up with Wilber… “

“But why if…..”

“You know why Slim….”

“But she’s older now this isn’t some young kid’s crush, if you really feel that way, then you should tell her.”

“Can’t Slim… I just don’t want to take that kinda risk again I guess.”


Jess just nodded.

Maria had been Jess’s beautiful fiancée and she had been brutally murdered and died in his arms several years before. His grief had been such that he nearly joined her, until his family and friends had helped him through the grieving process. But afterwards although he had recovered and went onto date many pretty girls he had always steadfastly refused to commit to any for fear of that devastating loss should anything happen to the relationship.* See Loved, Lost Survived

“Jess, buddy you just can’t carry on thinking this way.”

“Have to Slim… and anyways like I told Sam, she needs someone educated and more her age, not some beat up ol’ cowboy who probably won’t see his 30th birthday.”

“Jess don’t talk that way,” said Slim suddenly angry. “That might have been true a few years ago when you were on the drift and living by your gun, but it’s not true now. You’re a partner in a good business and you’ve a lot to offer a wife… and goddamn it you know that, I just figure you’re too darn scared.”

Jess turned his back and started grooming Traveler,” yeah, well maybe I am ,” he said softly.

Slim stared at the taught muscles in his buddy’s back and knew he was distressed and that the conversation was over… for then at least.


Things got back to normal at the Ranch and Relay station and Jess started working on the mustang breaking again. He had also taken the time to visit young Jamie and offered him the money as a stake in the Texas ranch. At first the youngster point blank refused to accept it, saying Jess had done enough to help him already, but he hadn’t taken into account Jess’s stubborn streak. He argued long and hard and in the end the youngster felt able to accept the help and took it thankfully, leaving for his new life.

Over the following weeks Jess did exactly what he always did when he was sorely troubled, tried to work himself into the ground, to physically exhaust himself, so that he wouldn’t have to face the issues that were plaguing him.

He worked all day long with the mustangs and when he was so beat he could take no more , he took Traveler out riding fence.

After two weeks of this behavior, Slim could take it no more.

He sought Jess out in the barn one evening and stood for a moment watching him grooming his mount,before walking over and leaning on the stall.

“ Jess you OK?” he asked, deep concern registering on his open honest face.

His buddy turned quickly, “sure Hardrock,” he said grinning back ,“why do you ask?”

“Because you’re near driving yourself into the ground Jess and I don’t like to see it.”

“I’m OK,”

“Alright prove it to me, come to the dance with me in Town tonight.”

“Nah, I’ m OK Slim.”

“Hell Jess you’ve said that since you got back, come on, the girls will all be looking for you Jess, why don’t you ride along.”

Jess just shook his head, “no Slim, I really don’t wanna go.”

Late that night Slim rode in really quietly trying not to disturb the sleeping household, and was surprised to see Jess sitting out on the porch, staring up into the cloudless starry sky. He put his mount in the barn and then walked across the moonlit yard and sat down by his buddy.

“Hey Jess thought you were having an early night?”

The dark haired cowboy was dressed just in his denims, his chest and feet bare.

“ I did, couldn’t sleep, too hot,” and then looking back up at the stars said dreamily,” and anyways it’s such a beautiful night a man should be out under the stars.”

Slim’s head turned quickly and he gave his friend an appraising look.

”You’re not thinking of taking off are you Jess……is the Big Open calling?”

Jess turned to look at his friend, “kinda”… then gave a deep sigh …”no I ain’t goin’ anywhere Slim, too much work to do here right now.”

Slim suddenly realised he’d been holding his breath and let it out,” phew, had me worried for a moment their pard.”

Jess gave him a surprised look,” well that’s what I am now, a partner in this business and I guess I can’t just take off when the fancy takes me.”

Then changing the subject,” so how was the dance Hardrock?”

Slim smiled.

“OK, but not the same without you cavorting about.”

“Hey I don’t cavort… I’m a real good dancer.”

Slim hid a smile, “that you are Jess and sorely missed too, Millie from the Saloon was asking when you’re going visiting and Suzy Morgan looked real put out when I said I couldn’t prise you off the ranch.”

Jess gave a faint smile to this disclosure, but said nothing.

“Anyway,” Slim went on,” that new teacher I’ve been hankering after didn’t turn up, so I took myself off to the Saloon.”

“Um,” said Jess absently, tipping his chair back and staring up at the night sky again.

“Yeah, it was real quiet, but then Sam came in…..and he had news of Carrie.”

Jess’s chair banged down as he jerked forwards nearly falling off it,” yeah?”

“He had a letter from Wilber, saying she would be home in a couple of days, and Sam gave it me for you to see Jess, said he wanted you to see what was going on…..seemed to think you should know.”

Then Slim fished about and finally found the letter in his vest pocket and passed it over to Jess.

He sat staring at the envelope for a long time.

“Aren’t you going to read it Jess?”

“You know what’s in it?”

“No, I don’t, he just told me she was coming home and how you should know… but he looked real worried.”

Jess got up and adjusted the porch lamp so that he could read the letter and sitting back down he finally opened the envelope and taking the letter out read it.

Dear Doctor Baker,

It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that Carrie has decided to end our Engagement.

She says that she is very undecided at present and has assured me that our understanding is just being postponed rather than completely finished, but I hold out little hope of reconciliation.

I am, as you can imagine, completely distraught, and also very angry at the thought that this usurper has turned Carrie’s head. She refuses to tell me who this man is, but it is obvious to me that he has used some influence to take her from me and I cannot condone this behavior and if the man has a shred of decency he will finish his alliance with my darling girl.

She will be returning home on Tuesday of next week and maybe you will be able to talk to her on my behalf?

I remain your obedient servant,

Wilber B Pope.

After Jess had read it, he read it again and then gave a deep sigh.

“Gee I thought Sam talked like a damn dictionary sometimes, but this guy beats all, what in hell is he on about Slim? he asked handing the letter to his buddy.

Slim read it and looking over at Jess said,” looks like she’s dumped him Jess.”

“Yeah, I got that bit, but what’s a us… usur?”



“Someone who takes something…… or maybe someone that isn’t theirs… and sometimes… by force.”

Jess looked suddenly furious and leapt up from his chair.

” I never Slim, I never forced her to do anything, hell I had my work cut out stopping her from doin’ stuff…”

“OK calm down, I believe you, don’t forget this guy says he’s distraught, and probably isn’t figuring things too well.”

“Huh? “

“Distraught Jess, real troubled.”

“Yeah, well him an’ me both,” said Jess darkly.

“Well, whatever, it looks like she’s finished it with him in favour of you buddy.”

Jess went and leaned on the porch rail looking out to the horizon.

“I never told her to do that Slim, or used my… what did he say? Influence on her… Hell I used every argument I could to make her see sense, it was me that told her she should go back east and try and patch things up for God’s sake,” he said suddenly really upset.

He turned and gave Slim an anguished look,” you do believe me don’t ya Slim?”

“Sure I do, but it was obvious how she felt about you last time I saw you together, that day in Mort’s jail… and well if she feels like that there isn’t anything you can do about it I guess.”

“Oh yes there is,” said Jess quietly,” I can tell her what I’ve said all along, I ain’t right for her and I’m not about to start proposing anytime soon.”

Slim sighed deeply, “oh pard I wish you’d see sense, why don’t you just give in, hell it’s obvious you love her too…. “

“That ain’t got nothin’ to do with it Slim, I’m thinkin’ on what’s best fer her…. And me too I guess if I’m honest. Hell Slim iffen she can be engaged to Wilber and knock him back in favour of me, then what’s to stop her doing the same to me, if some handsome young buck comes along she takes a fancy to?”

“I don’t think that’s likely Jess.”

“Yeah, but it’s possible Slim , I reckon she’s got a mite more growin’ up to do before she’s ready to Wed anyone… and that’s what I aim to tell her,” and with that he turned and went back into the ranch house, brooking any further discussion on the matter.

The following day Jess rode into town and had a long conversation with Sam and the two men agreed how they would deal with Carrie and her problems. And so it was the following Saturday Sam and Carrie arrived at the ranch for a picnic and fishing trip.

Only Jess and Sam knew the real reason for the visit, and both men were looking strained and far from their usual happy selves. Slim noticed and cast Jess a puzzled look, but said nothing just figuring his buddy was finding it kind of difficult meeting up with Carrie again , after everything they had been through together.

As for Carrie she had so many emotions rushing through her she didn’t know whether she was coming or going. The raw difficult scene with Wilber as she left him was still very much on her mind making her feel anxious and guilty .And yet the prospect of seeing Jess again made her heart beat faster and her mind practically explode as she went through the full gambit of how she would deal with their first meeting and the subsequent afternoon.

By the time her Pa’s rig drove into the Sherman yard she was practically beside herself with excitement and when Jess appeared from the barn wearing her favourite deep blue buttoned shirt she felt she might very well faint, as her pulses raced so fast making her head spin.

Jess looked over at her wearing a crisp white shirt, open at the neck showing a gentle curve of tanned cleavage, and tight denims ending in highly polished boots and she looked like exactly what she was, a well brought up, cultured young lady.

Jess’s heart ached for her and what he was about to do, but he plastered a smile on his face and strode forwards, courteously helping her down from the buggy and kissing her chastely on the cheek.

“Hey sweetheart how are you doin’?” he asked kindly.

Carrie was somewhat disappointed by the brotherly kiss, but hid it well and beamed up at him, “just fine,” she said, looking deeply into his blue eyes.

Then there was a general flurry of welcomes and chit chat before Daisy and Mike sat up in the buckboard and took off towards the lake, followed by Sam and Carrie in their rig, with Jess and Slim taking up the rear on their mounts.

“You OK buddy, you’re looking kind of worried?”

“Jess looked across at his friend, yeah; well I figure it ain’t gonna be an easy afternoon,” he said dryly.


“Yeah, me and Sam talked and we’ve made a few decisions an’ he wants me to try and persuade Carrie about somethin’ an’ I gotta feelin’ she really ain’t gonna like it.”

Then obviously not wanting to say more he spurred Traveler on and went and rode up by the buckboard.

They enjoyed some fishing then their picnic, and it wasn’t until after lunch that Jess went and sat down by Carrie and suggested a stroll up to the cave that overlooked the lake.

Her eyes opened wide with surprised joy as Jess had very much stuck to Mike all day and she had the feeling that he was using the child as a sort of Chaperone. Now the youngster came over on hearing Jess’s suggestion and beaming at the young couple said,” gee can I come too Jess, I wanna look for arrow heads and there are loads up by the old cave.”

Jess’s head shot up,” well yeah, if you like Tiger, but I thought you wanted a go with my new line.”

The child’s eyes lit up,” can I ……. can I really Jess?”

Then Sam who had witnessed the whole scene walked over and giving Jess a subtle wink said,” come on Mike , let’s check out this ol’ fishing rod of Jess’s and see if it is as special as he keeps saying, “and with the he led the boy away.

As the couple scrambled up the steep hillside towards the cave Carrie took hold of Jess’s hand and smiled up at him.

“I was beginning to think you didn’t want to spend time alone with me.”

Jess just smiled but didn’t comment.

“Did Pa tell you I’ve split up from Wilber?”

Jess took a deep breath and looked over at her,” yeah, he did mention it.”

“Do you know why?”

When he didn’t answer immediately she stopped and looking intently at him,” it was because of you Jess… because of us…”

“Carrie,” he said wearily,” there ain’t no us. You know that and I certainly didn’t mean you to break off your engagement on my behalf, that ain’t what I said before you left was it?”

“Well, no, I guess not… but the way you kissed me Jess… I just thought…. “

“Yeah, well that was wrong of me and I’m sorry…”

“Sorry for what Jess, for kissing me… or for loving me…… because you do ….. I know you do…. “she said with a catch in her voice.

He turned his back on her and strode the last few yards up to the cave mouth and sank down on the rocky outcrop by the entrance and shortly afterwards she followed him and sat down beside him, both of them staring down to the view of the lake below.

After a moment she sneaked a glance at him.


He turned to face her his eyes full of pain.

”It don’t matter how I feel Carrie , what is important is you, and if you really want to know, yes, I think you did the right thing leaving Wilber, because I don’t think you’re ready for marriage to him… me or anyone else yet.”

“Jess how can you say that I…”

“Hush, let me finish, your Pa told me about that Midwifes course you’ve been invited to go on and me and your Pa think you should take it.”

“But Jess….”

“Listen, he said that Wilber is staying with that Doctor for another twelve months, so he won’t be in town and I figure what you should do is study hard and also…” he closed his eyes for a moment taking a deep breath before continuing quietly,” also I think you should get out datin’ and dancing, meet a lot of nice young men and have a good time before yer decide to settle down.”

She leapt up and ran into the cave with a sob.

Jess swore under his breath before getting up and following her in.

“Carrie, don’t sweetheart, please…….” he said as he listened to her soft crying.

After a moment she came and stood beside him her tear stained face turned up to him,” oh Jess I love you so much, you’re breaking my heart.”

He stared down at her looking deeply into her eyes and then said very softly,” and you’re breaking mine… .none of this is easy…. For either of us I guess…..”

“Why Jess…. Why are you sending me away if you love me?”

“Because you have to be sure, really sure before yer make that sorta commitment to another and I just think you’ve got some more growin’ up to do before you can do that,” he said gently.

“How can I grow up,” she said angrily,” if you won’t let me? I offered myself to you Jess and you turned me down, why… how can I learn about that sort of love if you won’t show me…….don’t you want me?”

He groaned and took her in his arms,” do you really think I don’t want you that way?” he asked.

“Well, you never…. “

“Sure I never, and I won’t until you’re wearing my ring on your finger Carrie that’s when you’ll sleep in my bed and not before.”

“But if you wanted me when we were away, I never knew, never realized,” she said looking shocked.

He just shook his head and then caressed her hair gently.

”Hell you are a little innocent, remember the morning in that cave and you woke me up and I was soakin’ wet?”


“Well I wasn’t tending the horses, you got me so all fired up, cuddling up to me that way, I had to go and take myself a cold shower to stop myself from… well from doin’ what you wanted,” he finished looking embarrassed.

“Oh Jess,” she said a little giggle escaping and a hand shot to her mouth,” I never realized.”

“Yeah well, I figure you don’t know the effect yer have on a man, so just you be real careful goin’ off dating all these young bucks.”

“You really want me to go?”

He neatly sidestepped the question;” I think it’s what you need sweetheart.”

Then with a twinkle in his eye,” you’ve gotta kiss a whole mess of frogs before you find your Prince you know.”

She gave him the ghost of a smile;” I’ve already found my Prince though.”

“Yeah, maybe , but like I say you have to be sure sweetheart, real sure, because when I get hitched it’s gonna be for life.”

“If I go, it’s just for a year, will you still be here …waiting for me Jess?”

He nodded, “sure I will.”

“Then can I kiss my Prince one last time?”

He looked deeply into her eyes feeling he could bear this no longer, hell the last thing he wanted was for her to go off with some young man back east, but he knew that was what was right for her, to make other friends and finally make a decision on her future.

Then she reached up and their lips met and he felt a shock of lightening coursing through his body, his whole being coming alive. He pulled her close, one hand in her hair, the other caressing her back and just as he was feeling he must break away or take her there and then in the cave, he heard Mike calling and he entered the cave just as the couple leapt apart.

He gave them a puzzled look, “yuk are you two kissin’?”

“Err, not really Tiger, Carrie was just feelin’ a mite sad… and I was sorta givin’ her a hug, you know?”

“Oh, so why are you sad Carrie?” asked the young boy looking immediately concerned.

Carrie took a deep breath and glanced from Mike to Jess and back, “well it’s because I’m going away for a while,” she said, answering the boy, but looking deeply into Jess’s eyes as she said it, and saw the anguish there.

Then she turned to look at the youngster and gave him a little smile,” but it’s not for ever and I’ll be back before you know it and we’ll be going off fishing together again, won’t we Jess?” she said turning and her voice breaking on his name.

He grabbed her hand,” yeah, sure we will sweetheart…….”


Jess and Slim were sitting out on the porch with a whiskey apiece at the end of a long working day and Jess had been busy re reading two letters that had arrived for him on the morning Stage.

“So tell me about young Jamie then,” said Slim looking over at his buddy.

Jess put the letter down and grinned at his partner.

“Well he’s getting on real well with Pete Walker, I knew he would, they’ve got so much in common. That cash I sent over with him as stake money seems to be put to good use; they’ve bought some new stock and done the place up some.”

Then he beamed at Slim,” looks like the money I sent Ginny has been real useful too. She said in her last letter she had some plans and she’d write again, but figure she’s been real busy.”


“Yeah, see that idea of mine about makin’ the boarding house for ladies and families really paid off an’ according to Jamie he says she’s fully booked and she’s ploughed the profits back into the business, opening a restaurant on the ground floor. She’s gone into business with Wes’ s Ma and apparently it’s the most popular place in town to eat.”

“Hey that’s swell, I’m so glad ,”said Slim.

Then the smile left his face,” so what about Carrie Jess, is she settling down OK?”

Jess gave a sad smile,” yeah she seems to be, says the training is real hard work, but she’s lovin’ it.”

“What else?”

“Says she’s been out dancing, with her friends from the hospital.”

“And romancing?”

Jess looked across, “dunno, she doesn’t say, figure she wouldn’t tell me,” he said softly, knowing that he really couldn’t bear to know anyway.

Slim picked up on his buddy’s feelings and changed the subject a little.

“So, how did you persuade her to go buddy and what really happened up in the cave? Mike said you were doing some real yucky kissing?” he said with smile.

Jess looked down and blushed,” I’ll swing for that kid,” he muttered, but not really meaning it as Slim knew.

“Oh come on Jess, you probably thought it was yucky at his age too.”

“Nope, I always loved the girls,” he said firmly.

“Yeah, well I can believe that,” said Slim dryly. “So what did you say to her?”

Jess smiled at his friend.

”I just told her you had to kiss a whole mess of frogs before you found your Prince.”

Slim chuckled,” so which are you?”

“Well what do ya think,” he said pointing to his hat, “this ain’t no Stetson Slim, it’s a crown and ol’ Trav is my charger*.”

Slim laughed again,” come on Prince Charming finish your whiskey, it’s time to turn in, and we’ve got a whole mess of ‘chargers’ in the corral waiting on you to break ‘em come tomorrow……”

Miss Ginny White’s Restaurant and Boarding House became the place to stay and dine in and once the railroad came to town, some years later, the business was one of the most lucrative in town. Ginny often told folk that it was all down to a scruffy young ragamuffin who entered her life all those years ago and then came back and helped her when she was most in need.

“ My knight in shining armour,” she would say with a dreamy look in her eyes, “that he was for sure……”

The End

Thank you for reading!

*A common generic name for medieval war horses was charger ridden by Knights in shining armour.

Knight in shining armour (or knight on a white charger)an idealized or chivalrous man who comes to the rescue of a woman in a difficult situation.

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