#20 Carson's Revenge

Carson’s Revenge


Patty Wilkinson

(Some strong language, violence & adult themes)

Chapter 1

It was early spring and Slim Sherman, owner of the Sherman Ranch and Relay Station and his business partner Jess Harper were busy mending fences up on the North Pasture, repairing damage incurred during a recent violent storm.

The year before the river had flooded at this time and several steers had escaped through a broken fence and nearly come to a sticky end in the fast flowing waters and the partners wanted to be sure that the same thing didn’t happen again.

They had set out that morning with a gunny sack of provisions put up by their motherly house keeper Daisy Cooper and had spent the whole day up on the range working hard against the deadline of daylight hours with just a short break at noon.

After a while Jess stopped his task and stood staring out to the distant hills.

“Come on pard get a wriggle on,” said Slim striding over and taking in his friend’s inactivity,” we need to keep going if we aim to finish by dusk.”

“Yeah, yeah I know,” and then he turned to look at his buddy.

“I was just thinking Slim, I need to go up the mountain to the old line cabin, sometime soon, got some unfinished business there I guess.”

Slim looked mystified for a moment and then the light of understanding dawned,” Oh yeah, I guess the snow will have all melted now and you’ll be able to get up there and finish the job.”

It was six months since Flora Bennett, Daisy beautiful young Goddaughter, had died from Consumption and her last request had been to go up the mountain and breathe the clean air and see her final snowfall before she died and it had been Jess who had accompanied her and nursed her through those last bitter sweet days.*See Daisy's Dilemma

After she died he had left a rough marker on the grave and vowed to return in the Spring with a more fitting tribute, displaying her name and date of her death, and he had spent the long winter evenings producing a beautiful intricately carved cross.

Flora had, had a difficult life, cruelly beaten by her gambler husband, Chas Bennett, who was eventually murdered by a fellow gambler, Vince Carson.

Bennett owed Carson huge gambling debts and Carson finally took his money, forcibly after back shooting Chas Bennett.

Unfortunately Jess too had good reason to want Flora’s husband Chas Bennett dead, and had originally been jailed for his the murder, but he was finally able to prove his innocence and was instrumental in bringing the real culprit, Vince Carson, to justice having duped him into confessing and the burly gambler had sworn retribution on Jess.

That had been before Flora’s sad demise and Jess had thought little more of the idle threats made by Carson as he was more concerned with caring for Flora.

It wasn’t until he returned back down the mountain, after Flora’s death, that he had a fateful visit from Mort Corey, the Laramie Sheriff and good friend.

It was a cold snowy day when Mort rode into the yard and grinned down at Jess and Mike, young orphan the ranchers had adopted a few years earlier.

“Well that’s a mighty fine snowman you’ve built there,” said the greying, wiry Sheriff as he slipped down from his Buckskin and wandered over to where Jess and Mike were putting the finishing touches to him.

Mike grinned up at the Sheriff, “Yeah, it’s kinda in remembrance of Flora, she really liked snowmen and she never got to build one up the mountain, so me and Jess thought we’d build one for her.”

Mort glanced from the boy to Jess a look of compassion in his eyes,” So she didn’t make it,” he said softly.

Jess just shook his head, the emotions still raw, it only been a matter of days since he had lost her.

Mort reached over and patted the young ranchers arm roughly,”  I’m real sorry to hear that Jess, she was a lovely young woman.”

Jess stiffened, feeling suddenly bereft and had a need of a change of subject.

“So what can we do for you Mort, here on business or just after Miss Daisy’s coffee and pie?”

The older man gave him a tight smile,” Well both, but I’m not sure you’ll be feeling too hospitable towards me once you’ve had my news.”

Jess looked over, “That sounds kinda serious Mort you’d better come in,” and he led the way into the cosy ranch house.

Slim was working at his desk but he jumped up and welcomed the Sheriff and shortly afterwards the men were joined by Daisy as they all sat around the table to enjoy their coffee.

“So what brings you out here in this awful weather?” asked Slim, smiling across the table at his friend.

The Sheriff ducked his head and then said, “ I’m sorry to have to tell you this…. but that that lowlife Carson escaped on the way to his trial over in Cheyenne a week or so ago. I’ve only just heard as the lines have been down with this bad weather… “

Jess sucked in a deep breath,” So how in Hell did that happen Mort?”

He shook his grey head sadly, “With this bad weather the circuit judge is cutting down on his sittings and he requested the prisoner be tried over in Cheyenne instead of Laramie and so a deputy was dispatched from there to collect him. Anyways what I didn’t realize was the deputy was way laid and a substitute sent… one of Vince Carson’s buddies posing as a Deputy Sheriff.  I didn’t know the man and he had all the correct paper work, so I let him go … and they jumped ship just a mile from town, had horses waiting and just took off.”

“Wasn’t until, the Stage landed in Cheyenne that the driver reported they’d gone and then the deputy turned up a few days later, been ambushed and tied up…”

All the time he had been speaking Slim had been shaking his head and looking really worried,” He should have hung by now, Mort it was an open and shut case, a vicious murder that he had confessed to.”

“So what about Jess?” asked Daisy suddenly turning pale, ”that dreadful man swore to get even didn’t he?”

Jess leaned across the table and patted her hand, “Take it easy Daisy, even Carson isn’t stupid enough to turn up here. He’ll be long gone over the border by now.”


All that had been six months ago and now as the two ranchers stood in the North pasture looking out to the distant hills; the same thought crossed their minds, whatever had happened to Vince Carson? It was almost as though he had disappeared off the face of the earth and there had been no sightings of him or word that he had passed across the Canadian or Mexican border.

After a while Jess shook his head as if bringing himself back to the present.

“Come on Slim we’ve nearly finished up here and then tonight I guess I’ll make some plans,” and with that they applied themselves once more to the task in hand.

Later that evening it was warm enough for them to take their after supper coffee out to the porch for the first time that year and they sat with their feet up on the hitching rail looking off to the distant darkening hills..

“So, I was thinkin’ maybe we could do a bit of Mustanging as well as sorting out Flora’s grave,” said Jess turning eager eyes on his partner. “We ain’t been off the ranch in weeks with all this bad weather we’ve had and we’ve got the stock back out now, should be quiet enough for a week or so?”

Slim was about to say that they couldn’t really spare the time for both of them to leave the ranch, what with repairs to be done after the recent storms, not to mention running the Relay, but then something in Jess’s eyes made him stop. Hell it would be real difficult for him going back up to the line cabin where he had nursed Flora through that last terrible illness… and he knew he should be there for him.

“I figure we could get the Harrington boys in to cover the Relay and do a few chores for Daisy,” he said referring to a neighbour’ s sons, smiling over at his friend, “sure we’ll take off next week pard catch us a few mustangs………. and all,” he finished softly.

Jess turned to him and said, “Yeah, that too… thanks Slim.”

And so it was the following Monday found the two ranchers heading off towards the distant mountain peaks.

Jess had lovingly wrapped the cross in a blanket and attached it behind his saddle for safety and the night before Daisy had looked at his handy work for the last time.

“Oh my, you certainly have done a good job dear,” she said in awe as she looked at the carefully carved cross with the girl’s name and date of birth and that of her death.

” I know how much time and effort you put into it and I do truly thank you for doing that for her.”

“She was worth it,” said Jess softly,” I felt real bad leaving the grave without a proper marker you know Daisy, just a rough old cross, but the way it had come on to snow I figured I had to come on down as soon as I’d laid her to rest or I’d have been stranded up there for the winter.”

Then looking anxious he said, “I did have a proper committal you know, even though it was only me there… said a few words and a prayer… as was fittin’”

“I’m sure you did Jess and what you did for that young woman, caring for her and nursing her through those last days… well you know what I feel about that, more than words can say,” and her old eyes filled with tears.

“Hush Daisy, don’t go getting upset, guess she’s in a better place now, not sufferin’ no more, that’s the main thing anyways… “

She just nodded in agreement and patting his hand fondly retired for the night.

Now she had just seen them off and they both gave cheery waves and tipped their hats and they rode out of the yard, leaving her standing watching them go, a solitary, lonely figure as she dropped her hand, as they disappeared from view, and turned back to the house.

After they had ridden out in companionable silence for a while Jess turned to his buddy and said,” Do you reckon Daisy is OK, she seemed real quiet when we left.”

Slim looked equally anxious,” I’m not sure Jess, I figure us going to tend to the grave has brought all that bad business back again, it’s bound to upset her some, you know how very fond of the girl she was.”

“Yeah, we all were,” said Jess with a sigh, pulling his hat down hard, the expression in his eyes suddenly brooding, and then he shook his head as if to clear it.

”Come on Slim, let’s get the job done,” and with that he kneed Traveler on to a good pace as they headed off towards the distant mountain.

It was a perfect Spring day and the men made good time, spending the night out in the Big Open before continuing at first light and after only a brief stop at noon they finally made their way up the steep track to the cabin just as the sun was setting.

They had tantalizing views of the cabin, amongst the tall pines, all the way on their ride up, as it perched half way up the mountain .And from the other perspective the cabin had panoramic views of the valley below and the plain stretching off into the distance and young Mike had once said he was sure you could see way back to Laramie iffen you had good enough binoculars. Jess had replied laughing,” well we ain’t gonna get bushwhacked that’s fer sure, we could see the enemy coming from miles away.”

Now turning to Slim as they made their way up the torturous last half mile he said,” So who decided to build this place up here, your Pa?”

Slim nodded,” Yeah, we used to come hunting up here when I was a kid and later mustanging, that’s when we built the corral and the lean to stable. He built it with this great view really so that he could check out any passing Indian war parties, but when I was a kid he used to say it was so he could see if Ma was coming to fetch us home ‘cos we’d been gone too long,” he said laughing over at his buddy.

Jess laughed back and then looked immensely sad,” Must have been good havin’ a Pa like that,” he said quietly.

Slim suddenly felt a spasm of pity for his buddy, knowing that he had, had a completely different upbringing back on the Texas panhandle, living in great poverty with his father drinking away most of the money he earned and beating Jess and his siblings and their poor downtrodden Ma frequently.

“Yeah, guess I was lucky,” said Slim softly.

Then smiling at this buddy said,” Anyways the place is all ours now and not an Indian raiding party or irate Ma insight,” he laughed as he glanced behind him at the mile after mile of open countryside stretching out below them.

Jess grinned back,” ell that’s a relief,” and they kicked their horses on up to the cabin.

When they arrived they tethered their mounts to the corral fence and Jess immediately made his way round the back of the cabin and down to the huge old pine. A place with breath taking views across the country side, and Flora’s last resting place set below the tree.

He knelt down by the grave and closed his eyes for a moment reliving those bitter sweet last few days of her life, and then stood up and surveyed the grave properly, his heart suddenly beating faster and his fist clenching in anger at what he saw.

A moment later Slim came up behind him and looked out at the view spread out below them and gave a low whistle.

“You sure picked a good spot pard,” he said turning to look at his friend.

“Chose it herself,” he muttered and continued to stare down at the grave.

After a moment Slim picked up on his mood and realised there was something wrong other than the natural sorrow at visiting the graveside.

“What’s up Jess?” he asked gently.

“It’s been desecrated,” said Jess angrily.


“I left a cross to mark the place, it’s been ripped out,” he said taking several paces and retrieving he roughly hewn cross from beneath some nearby bushes.

Slim looked shocked and then said, “Maybe it just blew over, the wind gets powerful strong up here you know Jess.”

Jess looked back at him crossly,” Do ya think I don’t know that, that’s why I fixed it real good, dug down a couple of feet and shored it up with rocks too… or are you tellin’ me the wind blew them away as well?”

Now Slim looked angry too,” Who in Hell would do that and more to the point who would be up here on Sherman land and in the dead of winter?”

“I dunno,” said Jess darkly,” but I sure aim to find out.”

As soon as they entered the cabin it was obvious that someone had been living there.

Sure the place looked reasonably neat and tidy, but there were subtle changes to the room, where furniture had been moved and the fireplace still bore the signs of a recent fire and once they checked the wall under the lean to they saw that the log stocks had significantly diminished and there were signs that a large animal like a deer or elk had been butchered there too.

“Whoever it was I reckon they’ve been up here all winter,” said Slim looking over at his pard, “maybe they were just caught out by the weather and needed shelter, guess I can’t begrudge that.”

“Yeah, but what about the grave and that fire was real recent Slim and there are no tracks around, but there are signs that someone has hidden them. No I guess who ever was here saw us coming whenwe were way back on the trail and then hightailed it, removing their tracks as they went…now why would they wanna do that?”

Slim shrugged,” Felt guilty at using the place maybe?”

Neither man had an answer.

“Oh well they’re long gone now, so let’s get the horses tended and supper on ,”said Jess more cheerfully,” I’m starvin’.”

Slim shook his head,” So when weren’t you?” and they went off companionably enough to put their horses up for the night.

After supper they took their coffee out round the back of the cabin to the bench overlooking the little creek and the wonderful view beyond, Flora’s grave a hundred yards or so away to their left.

The whole area was bathed in moonlight and Jess had a sudden flash back to the last night of the beautiful young woman’s life, when she had danced in the first falling snow flakes, her eyes sparkling with delight, her whole persona denying the fact that she was dying before Jess’s eyes. And then just before they had retired for the night they had looked out one last time, the moonlight transforming the whole area into an enchanted winter wonderland, and Jess sighed deeply at the memory.

Slim looked over, ”What is it?”

“Just rememberin’ the last night afore she died,” he said softly, and then described it all to Slim.

“She was so darned brave you know pard, she knew she was dying, but we had… well it sounds crazy now, but we had a really wonderful time up here, she wanted it to be the best time of her life… and on that last night she said it had been.”

“ I guess a lot of that was down to you Jess, I really admire you for what you did for her, I couldn’t have done that, looked after her the way you did.”

Jess just shook his head, “sure you could… when it comes to it you just do what you have to I suppose.”

Both men lapsed into silence thinking on that and then Slim said softly,” So how did it end, was she frightened?”

Jess sighed again,” Yeah, I guess she was ……. at the very end, after we came in that night she asked me to stay with her… in her bed, so I did I just held her close and she cried some and then she was real calm and peaceful.”

He gave a little chuckle,” Her last words were,’ we’ll build a snowman in the morning,’” and the smile slowly faded at the memory of waking to find her cold and lifeless, in his arms the following day.

“Anyways we never got around to that,” he said abruptly, and Slim knew the conversation was over.

A little later they finished their coffee and went to turn in.

Slim lit the lamps in the cabin and the soft glow illuminated the couch in front of the fireplace, the cook stove in the corner and the large bed with its colourful patchwork cover against one wall, the table and chairs in the window and a further couple of smaller cot beds against the far wall near to the fireplace.

Usually the men tossed up for who would get the comfortable large bed, but in view of their recent conversation neither of them felt like using it and without saying anything they pulled out the cots and placed them near the fire.

Jess threw another log on and then stretched out on the cot and Slim sat down on the other.

“Guess it feels a bit creepy coming back here after what happened and all?”

Jess nodded, “Yeah I reckon,” he said turning his head to look at his buddy….”feels like she’s almost still here… kinda strange.”

After a while the men settled down and all that could be heard was the sound of gentle snoring.

Jess awoke at first light and glanced over at the big bed, for a moment expecting to see Flora lying there …until he suddenly recalled she was dead, the pain of remembrance twisting his guts again. Then he took a deep breath and arose to face the day.

After breakfast Jess went about the job of replacing the broken cross with the beautiful one he had carved and again he sank it deep and shored it up with heavy stones.

Once the job was done, both men looked down on the still fresh grave and removing their hats, stood, heads bowed in silent prayer.

Later that day they went about the business of repairing the storm damage to the line cabin and replacing the badly depleted log store.

The corral fence was broken in two places as well and so that was a priority before they could even think of going in search of wild mustangs.

All the time they were working on the fence Jess had the strange feeling that he was being watched and kept turning and surveying the wooded landscaped behind him.

Slim eventually noticed and walking over said “What’s up?”

“Dunno, just feel kinda uncomfortable, like there’s someone around… but I can’t see ‘em.”

Slim cast him a quizzical look,” Like a ghost you mean, do you think Miss Flora is haunting you?” he said with the hint of a smile.

“No I don’t think Flora is haunting me,” said Jess sarcastically, but then casting a worried look behind him said,” there is sure somethin’ not right though Slim, I’ve just got a real bad feelin’”

They carried on working throughout the day and once the corral was sorted out they brought some large logs in and Jess went about splitting them for fire wood, while Slim turned his hand to repairing the door on the lean to stable.

Then Jess went off into the dense woodland to the front of the cabin for more kindling wood and as he entered the heart of the pine woods he again felt someone there with him and a shiver ran down his spine.

And when he heard a twig snap, his gun was in his hand in a split second, but spinning around there was nothing and nobody there.

“Flora,” he whispered softly…” that you?”

There was suddenly a little gust of wind through the trees, the pines making a sound almost like her laughter and he stood perfectly still, looking up at the high branches above him, holding his breath and listening intently, but then the moment passed.

“You’re cracking’ up Harper,” he said softly to himself, before returning to the cabin with enough kindling for their needs.

The weather had turned chilly and a spiteful little wind had got up, blowing harder as evening approached making a spooky moaning noise in the tall pines surrounding the cabin and the men were happy to close the door on it, eat their supper and retire early with the anticipation of the mustang hunt the next day.

It was in the small hours of the morning when Jess was awoken by the unmistakable sound of Traveler calling out in fear or pain, his whinnying turning louder and more distressed as Jess shook Slim awake and ran out to the lean to stable.

As he entered he could see both Traveler and Alamo dancing about and shaking their heads in deep distress, but as Slim held the lamp up high and Jess scanned the area with his gun in his hand there was nothing to see and no reason why the horses should be so spooked.

Slim cast his mind back to a few years ago, in this same place, when the horses had been similarly upset, but then by a wolf attack ,and turning to his partner he said,” Won’t be wolves down here at this time of year Jess?”

“Shouldn’t think so, it’s been warm enough for them to start huntin’ their usual prey, wouldn’t have thought they’d be hungry enough to try their luck here.”

“Well something has sure spooked them, maybe that’ bad feeling’ of yours buddy,” he said with a grin.

“Hey Slim don’t you mock me and my bad feelings, they’re never wrong.”

“This has really shook you up hasn’t it pard, not just the horses, but the cross being moved and the other stuff? “said Slim sincerely.

“Yeah, there is somethin’ just not here Slim…..”

Chapter 2

The following morning they set out at first light on the trail of the Mustang and picked up their tracks at about mid-day.

“Heck Slim, I never thought we’d find ‘em so darned quick, figure we’ll bag the half dozen we’re after today and can spend the rest of the week fishin’ in the creek, “ he said with a triumphant look in his eyes.

“Hey steady there pard, we’ve got to find them first…”

It took the rest of the afternoon to locate the small band of mustangs who were just settling down for the night on the banks of a stream with water and good grazing, before moving on the next day.

Slim and Jess made camp downwind of them and set off at first light after their quarry.

Jess took no time in choosing the prime mares and once done , he cut them out of the herd and Slim drove them on towards the line cabin corral.

When they arrived back at the cabin and the sweating lively beasts were all safely corralled Jess beamed at his buddy, his eyes sparkling and his whole being resonating with happiness.

Jess so loved the chase and the joy of working with the spirited unpredictable animals, with their essence of the wild and he was in his element up there in the hills with the feisty critters.

And as Slim always mused, they were not far removed from Jess himself, and that was why they understood each so well, both wild and untamed with one hell of a lot of attitude and spirit. He thought this again watching his friend running his eyes over the mares appreciating their strength and vitality, knowing he couldn’t wait to get them back to the ranch when he could start to break them into working horses.

The two men stood panting ,from the exertion of the fast ride, and leaning on the corral fence and remained looking at the prime beasts they had just caught, then Jess turned and grinned at his buddy, “Guess we sure did good today pard!”

And then breaking into Slim’s thoughts said, ”we should get a real good price for them, as soon as I’ve got ‘em broke.”

“You want go back tomorrow and make a start then?” asked Slim raising an eyebrow at his partner.

“Well I didn’t say that,” said Jess quickly, turning to grin at Slim,” figure we could spend a couple of days fishin’ and maybe bag a deer to take back?” he suggested tentatively.

Slim shook his head, then suddenly smiling said,”  OK I reckon we have booked the Harrington boys to the end of the week, that gives us a couple of days free.”

A little while later Slim was fetching some logs from the lean to when he heard Jess cussing loudly and racing round to the rear of the cabin he saw his partner over by Flora’s grave and striding across he stopped in shock at what he saw.

Jess was standing looking down at the grave, the expression on his face one of naked rage.

He looked up as Slim approached,” So you reckon the wind did this then?” he said angrily.

Both men looked down to where the stones that Jess had carefully laid over Flora’s last resting place had been scattered far and wide, and the beautifully carved cross had been uprooted and then placed back upside down in its original place at the head of the grave.

“What the hell does this mean?” asked Slim aghast.

“It means someone around here has committed blasphemy and when I get a hold of ‘em…... they’ll wish they were dead too,” he muttered.

“But who Jess there isn’t anyone here but us, we’d have seen tracks surely if someone was around?”

“So what are you sayin’ it’s a haunting, Flora leapt out of her grave and desecrated it?” he spat.

“No I’m not saying that, but who could have done it?”

“The same person that hightailed it out of here when we landed maybe, they were pretty darned good at hiding their tracks and to be honest we ain’t been checking since then,”and then he left the grave and started looking around for signs that there was another person abroad.

Eventually he called Slim over to where he was squatting down examining the ground a few yards away.

“There,” he said see it,” an imprint, real faint but it’s there and it’s a moccasin Slim.”

Then turning to look up at his buddy,” That’s why we couldn’t see any tracks this hombre is wearin’ moccasins and treads real light.”

“So it’s an Indian that did this?”asked Slim looking astonished.

Jess shook his head, “ I doubt it, knowing how spiritual most Indians are, they may not agree with Christianity, but they respect it and know we believe in the Great Spirit, even if we call Him by a different name… no I reckon it’s a white man in moccasins and someone as wants to really rile us for some reason.”

“Well I reckon he’s succeeded there buddy,” said Slim looking down at where his partner was still squatting, looking all around for further tracks.

“ Now don’t go storming off after him Jess, just think it through first.”

Jess looked up, irritated and sighed deeply.

But after a moment he nodded, “I guess you’re right, it’ll be dark soon and I won’t be able to make out the tracks anyways.”

He stood up and wandered back to the grave and stood looking down at it, his expression one of deep sorrow.

“Figure I’ll tidy this mess up iffen you could light the cook stove and make a start on supper?” he asked.

“Sure, sure buddy,” and patting his arm, Slim turned and went back to the task of fetching the wood for the stove as he had been doing earlier.

About an hour later as dusk was falling Slim was just about to go and call Jess in for supper when he heard the sound of a single gunshot and tearing out of the cabin he ran around the back from where the shot had come and stopped in horror at what he saw.

Jess’s seemingly lifeless form was sprawled across the grave a bullet hole in his back and a tall burly man was standing over him, his gun trained at Jess’s head.

“Hold it right there friend,” he said ,” don’t make a move or I’ll finish him off, just drop your iron and lie down on your belly.”

Slim just stared his jaw slack with shock.

Hell he suddenly thought, its Vince Carson, the man who had sworn to settle with Jess for apprehending him for murdering Flora’s husband.

“Now!” bellowed Carson,” or so help me I’ll blow Harper’s brains out.”

Slim suddenly came to his senses and dropping his colt he lay down on his front.

“Put your hands behind you.”

As he did so, Slim felt the cold steel of handcuffs encircle his wrists and snap shut.

“OK lead the way back inside and no fast moves Sherman.”

Slim did as requested and a moment later the big man entered supporting Jess who looked ashen and was only semi-conscious.

He was thrown unceremoniously on the floor near the fire and then after Slim had been tied to the large heavy table leg,Carson went about tying Jess’s hands and feet, although he looked like escape was the last thing on his mind.

When he had finished, he surveyed the two men and gave a harsh laugh, “ I’ve waited a long time for this, but guess it’s payback time now .”

Slim glanced across to where his buddy looked completely out of it,” For God’s sake man untie him, he’s not going anywhere,” he said urgently.

Carson just laughed again and ignored the comment, then looking over at the anxious blond rancher snarled,” no he ain’t goin’ anywhere and he ain’t gonna die… not yet a while anyways, see I made sure I shot him in the shoulder, bullet went straight through, so he’s got time, figure it’ll take a few days for him to bleed to death and I’m gonna really enjoy watching that.”

“You bastard,” muttered Slim, under his breath, “you wouldn’t let a dog suffer that way.”

“Yeah well I guess that’s how I see Harper as a no good mutt, only he ain’t worth as much.”

“Why are you doing this, it was your own damn fault you were caught,if you hadn’t stayed around Laramie to watch Jess hang for that murder you’d committed you’d have got away with it,” said Slim.

“Yeah well I had a real need to see him hang and it hadn’t got anything to do with what happened with me killing Bennett, but everything to do with your precious partner’s murky past,” he spat angrily.

“See it was a really lucky day when I ran into old Jess here in Denver when he was lookin’ for Chas Bennett, because I’d actually been lookin’ for your buddy for a good while. Wanted to get even with him….for a long, long time. He done some wrong to a real special little lady and I promised I’d get even with him one day…and now that day is here.”

Jess had come around and unbeknown to the two men had been listening to this conversation and now he growled,” What are you talkin’ about Carson?”

“So…. you’re back with us Harper,” said Carson, turning to face him from where he now lounged on the couch by the fire… “so you really want to know why I want you dead do you?”

“I guess….”Jess closed his eyes tightly and his breathing was ragged and he looked nauseous .

“Hell Carson get him some water at least,” said Slim casting his buddy a worried look.

“Oh I reckon he can hold on a mite longer without any water,” said Carson with a sickly grin.

“Why,” whispered Jess again,” so iffen it’s not to do with the Bennett murder, why are you doin’ this?”

“Oh yeah, I was goin’ to tell you wasn’t I Harper…… this is all about a girl in your murky past… my little sister as it happens… the name Sadie mean anything to you… Sadie Hardin?”

At the mention of the name Jess’s head shot up and he turned even paler, before muttering,” Sure I knew Sadie….”


Sadie Hardin, now there was a name to conjure with or Widow Hardin as she had first introduced herself to the young Jess Harper. It was not long after the end of the War and Jess was weary from his time fighting and then recovering from serious injuries in a prisoner of war camp ,when he drifted into a small one horse town somewhere south of Denver.

There was not much to the place save a Saloon, small Hotel, Livery, selection of down at heel mercantiles and Widow Hardin’s Boarding House.

Jess figured he had just about enough money to stay a couple of nights so he rang the doorbell, expecting an elderly widow lady and was pleasantly surprized when the door was opened by a nubile red head in her mid-thirties.

She was dressed in a low cut emerald green dress, her lush auburn hair piled up in a becoming style. She had large green eyes and an expectant look on her face, as she stood there waiting for the young cowboy to say something to her.


He had just dragged his gaze up from her delectable cleavage, where it seemed to have dropped at its own volition, and now as he looked up into those beautiful green eyes all sense went out of the window.

“Well”, she said again, “what can I do for you?”

Jess finally pulled himself together,” I’m lookin’ for a room Ma’am, that’s iffen it ain’t too dear?”

The woman eyed Jess up and down and liked what she saw,” I reckon I can accommodate you cowboy, come on in,” she said pulling the door wider and allowing Jess access.

She showed him into the parlour and told him her terms and conditions.

I reckon I can afford that, for a couple of days anyway Ma’am. And as for having young ladies in my room, I guess we don’t need to worry about that yet awhile, see I only rode into town this afternoon and don’t know anyone,” he said giving her a very cheeky grin.

She smiled back, liking his "OK Jess and if you run out of cash, well maybe we can come to some arrangement?”

His eyebrows shot up at this ,” Ma’am? “

I was thinking, since I lost my dear husband things have got a bit shabby around here I was wondering if you could do a few jobs for me to pay your way? The roof is leaking and the shutters need fixin’ that kind of thing?”

Jess grinned across at her, “Sure Ma’am I’d be real pleased ter help yer out.”

The following day he had wandered down to the livery again, where Traveler was staying and asked if there was any work.

The elderly owner looked the young cowboy up and down and finally said, “You don’t look too strong to me young man, you sure you’re up for work around the horses? “

Jess smiled to himself,” Yeah I reckon I can manage,” he said.

“ See I’ve been in a prison camp these last few months and real sick, lost some weight I guess, but I know the horses, can do whatever is asked of me, general livery duties, blacksmithing, breaking.. you name it.”

A slow smile spread across old Albert’s face,” so you reckon you can break horses then son?” he asked .

Jess got his stubborn look on and pulling his hat down hard, said,” I just said so didn’t I?”

“OK, OK son, don’t lose yer rag, come out back and see as how you do with old Dixie then.”


“Yeah, a present to me from a confederate officer, couldn’t pay his livery bill and so gave me this darn horse that he’d caught, but nobody around here had been able to break him. Big black Mustang as has floored the best of ‘em let’s see as to how you fare boy.”

Jess eyed up the big black horse prancing around the corral, showing the whites of his eyes as soon as Jess and Albert advanced on him.

Jess watched him for awhile and then said,” Well sure no one can bust him, he’s shit scared.”


“He’s just terrified of people Albert, needs gentling.”

Then he turned back to the old timer.

“Look give me a week to work with him and come next Friday I’ll break him, or make a good start anyways.”

The old man laughed to himself, but what did he have to lose and he liked this slightly wild young man with the black hair and arresting deep blue eyes.

“OK son you’ve got a deal.”

At the end of the week the horse was broken as promised and Jess had a good job, breaking horses and blacksmithing for old Albert and a good friendship was forged.

His relationship with Sadie, as Jess soon came to know her, did not go as easily.

She was a wild one too, with a temper that not only matched her red hair, but also Jess’s own.

She took nothing lying down from the overpriced bill from the mercantile for her food stuff, to the way some of her clients treated the boarding house.

One night after a particularly noisy spat with a guest, who had refused to pay extra because he had trashed his room after a heavy session in the saloon, Jess felt he had to pitch in and help Sadie.

However she was almost as angry with Jess, for trying to help, as she was with the miscreant.

“I can manage,” she yelled,” and I don’t need no gun slinging cowboy to help me out”.

Jess paled at this, suddenly realising how the town saw him and in his heart of hearts he knew that the way he wore his gun and his general attitude, made his past obvious.

“Well suit yerself,” he said angrily as he strode off to the saloon.

When he returned much later Sadie was waiting up for him , sitting in front of the fire in the parlor a tumbler of whiskey in her hand and another on the little table at her side waiting for Jess.

He walked over and looked down at her… “I’m sorry,” he said ,” I guess I was just tryin’ ter look out fer yer”.

She looked up and something in his expression melted her heart, he was such a mixture of vulnerability and strength that his mere presence near took her breath away, as he had done since she first clapped eyes on him, the attraction compelling.

“Jess,” she whispered, “come here and sit down, I want to talk to you…..”

He sat down accepting the drink and smiled into her eyes, then he noticed the very low cut dress she was wearing and as she crossed her legs, how the material fell away exposing a very shapely leg.

She gave him a predatory look from under her lashes noticing the way his glance had swept from her cleavage to her leg and back, before looking up into her eyes.

Then he gave her a slow smile,” Are you tryin’ to seduce me Ma’am? “

“Seduce, now there’s an interesting word, that would suppose you were an innocent boy, and I don’t think you’re either……. are you Jess?”

He grinned at her now,” I guess not Ma’am.”

“Then why don’t you call me Sadie, and do what you’ve wanted to ever since you sat down.”

Jess looked down for a moment as if making a decision and then he gently took her tumbler from her hand and placed it on the table before leaning forwards and cupping her face between his hands and kissing her very thoroughly…………..

That had been the beginning of their very intense relationship.

They talked long into the night and then she had taken his hand and led him up to her bed.

But Jess had stopped at the threshold of her room and had looked down, before flicking his eyes up to meet hers.

“There is something you have ter know,” he said softly…. “I want yer… sure I do, you’re a real beautiful lady, but I ain’t fer settling down, I’ve…well I’ve gotten business I need to tend to and I ain’t gonna be here forever.”

She had smiled up at him, “ I’m not thinkin’ on setting up and settling down, I’m just talkin’ about tonight.”

And that had been the way of things, Jess and Sadie got close, real close… but it was just for then and they both knew it.

That was why it was such a shock to Jess, that she was so upset when he muted moving on.

There had been a subtle shift in their relationship

. Sadie had started giving him a hard time when he occasionally visited the saloon and then one afternoon it all came to a head when she caught him laughing and chatting with Lily, one of the saloon girls who had called by the livery with a message for old Albert. Sadie had happened to be passing and called in to see Jess and was furious when she saw him sharing an innocent joke with the young girl.

She strode forwards and made her feelings very plain and he girl fled in tears.

“I’ll see you later ,”said Jess darkly and marched away back to work.

Much later he stormed into the house and she saw the full force of the Harper temper for the first time.

“What in Hell was all that about,” he yelled,” Goddamn it Sadie yer don’t own me. Lily is just a friend and you’re acting like a jealous wife or something. Hell I was honest with yer right from day one, I said I didn’t want a binding relationship,” and then he marched off to pack his things.

She ran after him and barging into his room ran across and dragged him round to face her, tears streaming down her face,” Don’t go Jess please… stay a little longer.”

His heart suddenly melted, never being able to cope with crying females and he relented, taking her in his arms and the couple ended up in his bed, making up their argument in the best possible way.

After that she was more forgiving and the relationship was even stronger and very intimate.

One day a visiting Fair came to town and the couple had their photograph taken together, their pose obviously one of two lovers. Sadie placed it in a little silver frame by her bed and swore she would keep it always to remember Jess by.

It was only a few weeks later though, that he heard news of the Bannister gang and decided to move on and follow their trail, and broke the fact that he was finally leaving to Sadie.

She again took the news badly,” I just don’t understand,” she shouted,” why do you have this thing about chasing halfway across the country after this gang, you’re not a lawman Jess, why don’t you just leave it to them?”

“Because it’s kinda personal,” he said softly.

They were lying in her large bed, having just made love and it was early on the Sunday morning.

“What do you mean personal?”

Jess had been lying on his back staring up at the ceiling and now he propped himself up on his elbow and looked down into her questioning, green eyes.

When he told her about how the gang had fired his home back on the Texas panhandle, killing his parents and most of his siblings she sucked in a shocked breath.

“I was just fifteen Sadie and I’ve been on their trail on and off ever since. They pulled a job in Denver just last week and I figure they’ll be lying low up in the foothills and then heading west and I aim to follow them.”


“I’ll hand my notice into Albert tomorrow, go at the end of the week.”

She just nodded knowing she couldn’t change his mind and then she ran a hand down his chest and the other through his hair, pulling him down towards her said, “we’d better make good use of the time we have left then.”

Then suddenly everything between them changed.

He landed home on the Tuesday night to find his saddlebags packed and by the door.

He walked through to the back kitchen, “Sadie?”

“Oh it’s you,” she snarled, “I want you out today Jess, no point in prolonging things.”

“Sadie, what’s up… this ain’t like you?”

“What do you know what is like me,” she shouted flushing up in anger,” I said I wanted you out … now just go Jess or do I have to holler for the Sheriff?”

His face took on a hurt look, which slowly turned to anger.

“ OK if that’s the way yer want it,” and marching through to the hall he picked up his saddle bags, threw his remaining rent onto the table and left slamming the door behind him.

After he had gone she stood for a long time just staring at the closed door before the tears came.

Jess felt terrible and before he rode out the following Saturday morning he went round to see her, but she would not even open the door to him. “Please honey,” he called through the locked door, “at least say goodbye to me,” but she refused to relent, so shaking his head sadly he mounted Traveler and left town at a brisk trot.

Chapter 3

Suddenly his reverie was brought to an abrupt halt by Vince Carson aiming a vicious kick at Jess’s belly.

He yelled in agony and threw the man a dark look.

“Yeah, thought that would get yer attention,” spat Carson,” so you admit you knew Sadie?”

“I just said so didn’t I,” said Jess, “so what about it… how is she?”

“How is she, “roared the older man, “you really don’t know?”

Jess just shook his head, “no.”

“Well I’ll tell yer then, she’s dead Harper and it’s all down to you.”

Jess reeled at this new piece of information, the beautiful Sadie dead?

“What… I mean when?”

“The week you walked out on her.”


“Yeah, see I was banged up in jail with her husband Bill Hardin.”

“Wait a minute, she told me she was a widow.”

“Oh sure she did,” he said sarcastically.

“Hell, I didn’t know she was married I’d never have….…have gone with her if I’d known that.”

“I don’t believe yer Harper. Anyways the day you left town he rode in,been released before me, he’d wired Sadie on the Tuesday to say to expect him anytime.”

Suddenly it all became clear to Jess, so that was why she’d chucked him out, her husband was due home.

“What happened?” he asked softly.

“Well I’ll tell yer what happened, Bill came home and after being banged up for five long years, the first thing he did was to take his wife up to bed. Well she’d pretty much removed all evidence of you being there save for one little thing she forgot… the thing that cost her, her life.”


“That picture of the pair of you, the one taken at the fair, it was still in that dinky little silver frame by the bed,” and having said that he pulled a yellowing photograph from his vest pocket,” here,” he said and threw it down to Jess.

A very beautiful woman smiled into the camera along with a dark haired younger looking Jess, their arms entwined around each other , cheek to cheek… unmistakably lovers.

Jess’s heart missed a beat as he looked down at the photograph and the years rolled back, hell she was even more beautiful than he had remembered.

He dragged his gaze back to Carson.

“So what happened?”

“He saw the picture and in the end the truth came out and he battered her to death”, he said bitterly.

“Her neighbour and best friend Jenny heard the ruckus, came running in … but she was too late. Sadie was hurt real bad, but it took another week for her die from her injuries and she told Jenny everything… how she was in love with you… guess that’s why she sent you off so as you wouldn’t tangle with Bill. Then as to how he’d beaten her. Well that was enough to convict him and by the time I was released from jail she was dead and he’d been hung for her murder… but it was all down to you… you bastard and now you’re going to pay…”

Slim had listened to all this in silence and now he spoke up for the first time.

“Hell you can’t lay all this at Jess’s door, he didn’t know she was married and by the sounds of it she made all the running, posing as a widow. Jess was only young, just twenty…… but she knew what she was doing, guess you just can’t face the fact that your sister went with other men while she was married.”

Carson was up from his seat and across the room in the blink of an eye and gave Slim a brutal backhander across the face, splitting his lip, the blood running down his chin.

“Don’t you ever speak about my little sister that way ,”he snarled, before turning back to Jess.

“So it was down to you, you lowlife, you used her and then you lit out without a backward glance breaking my little Sadie’s heart”.

Jess looked down his face a mask of misery,” It weren’t that way…. At least not from where I was standin’,” he muttered and after a while he lay back, eyes closed a look of complete defeat on his lean features.

Slim looked over and saw there was a sizable pool of blood on the floor by Jess and wandered just how much longer his buddy could last.

“Look Carson,” he pleaded,” just let me clean him up some, give him a drink….”

“Shut it Sherman, you’re on borrowed time too….”

Then an evil smile came over his face…” Why don’t we just wait a while and see what happens first, he bleeds to death, or dies from lack of water,” and he laughed and laughed.

Then he lurched over to his saddlebags in the corner and producing a bottle of whiskey pulled the cork with his teeth , spitting it in the rough direction of Jess, before taking a pull, “Cheers gentlemen,” he said laughing again before he threw himself back down on the old couch.

It was the matter of a little over an hour before he succumbed to the strong drink and fell into a deep sleep, snoring loudly.

“Jess you OK?”

“What do you think,” came the bitter reply,” figure we’re done for buddy… you cuffed?”


“Well guess we’re lookin’ fer a miracle,” came the soft reply.

They slept fitfully through the night but by the next morning it was obvious that Jess was in a bad state, he was delirious, thrashing about on the floor as much as his bound limbs would allow him and in his odd lucid moments he seemed to have forgotten that Slim was tied up too and called out to him pleading for help and a drink.

“Slim… where in hell are yer,” he called out his voice harsh and cracked now with the lack of water, “fer God sake buddy will yer help me….”

It almost broke Slim’s heart and as Carson had decided to gag him with a filthy piece of rag ,he was unable even to answer.

“Your buddy’s run out on you Harper, just the way you ran out on my sister,” Carson spat at him.

Jess lay on the floor again rolling about in pain, “Don’t believe yer ,”he gasped… “Slim wouldn’t do that….”before he passed out again.

Then he entered a strange dream like place, first he saw Flora as she had been the last time he was with her, pale and sick, but with that last ounce of strength and spirit she had danced in the falling snowflakes, so beautiful in the winter wonderland…. and as Jess looked up he could feel the cold flakes falling on his face, on his tongue……. and he started to shiver as the evening turned chill………. and then Flora was gone.

Sadie was in his arms and he was hot……so hot as they held each other close, sharing the most intimate moments, binding them together forever….”Oh God Jess,” she had shouted at that special moment and he had held her close … as close as it was possible for a man and woman to be……and then he was away………turning and spinning over in a topsy, turvey world where he was thirsty and in pain and hot and then shivering and he was calling… calling and nobody came…….

On the third day Carson had finally removed the gag from Slim and gave him a drink.

“For God’s sake, have some mercy man he croaked, give him a drink at least.”

“Why should I… why should I show him any mercy,” Carson spat, looking down at Jess’s blood stained shirt and deathly pale face, his breath now coming in ragged bursts… his days if not hours numbered,” he showed no mercy to poor Sadie.”

“That’s not true and you know it,” said Slim with spirit,” it was nothing to do with him, except for the fact that a sad lonely, older woman fell for the charms of a vital younger man….”

“Shut it… just shut it Sherman.”

The yelling suddenly broke through into Jess’s feverish brain and from somewhere deep inside himself he began to rally and draw on his innermost reserves as the Harper spirit of survival kicked in.

Hell Slim hadn’t left, he knew he never would and he also knew that he, Jess Harper, could never give up either.

He swallowed hard and forced his eyes open before glancing over at his adversary still sprawled on the couch, grey early morning light just beginning to filter through the window behind him and the ominous rumble of thunder heralding a storm on the way.

Carson suddenly noticed that Jess was awake and looking reasonably lucid.

He stood up and started pacing about the room, the thunder and oppressive pre storm atmosphere making him edgy, and then he strode over to where Jess was lying and growled,” just hurry up and die you bastard I want out of here.”

Jess swallowed again and then in a gruff whisper replied, “Sorry Carson, can’t oblige you, us Harper’s are kinda stubborn that way……… don’t die easy.”

“Maybe this’ll help you on yer way then,” he said aiming a vicious kick to Jess’s chest.

He just grunted, but said nothing, his mouth in a hard line biting back the scream of pain.

After a moment he composed himself again and casting a jaundiced eye over Carson said conversationally, “So you always back shoot folks do yer Carson?”

“What do you mean?” he spat.

“Well yer killed Bennett that way, and shot me that way… just seems kinda cowardly is all, so you never have an old fashioned shoot out where your enemygets the chance of shooting back then?”

“Don’t go getting smart with me Harper, I can finish you any damn time I want and don’t you forget it.”

Jess just gave him a sad smile,” I guess your little sister would be real proud of you….. “

“Don’t you dare bring her into this,” he spat angrily.

“Why not, that’s what this is all about ain’t it…. her lovin’ me…. and no matter how much you dislike that notion Carson, that’s the truth of it she loved me and she sure as hell wouldn’t want to see me treated this way………”

Carson turned away and continued his agitated pacing as the thunder continued to rumble in the background, getting ever closer, the atmosphere now thick with heightened emotion.

Then Jess started again,” So come on Carson, iffen you’re goin’ to finish it, do it now, unless yer want to act like a man…….. and have a fair fight

Carson turned and laughed in his face,” A fair fight with you, I reckon you couldn’t even stand unaided, never mind draw a gun.”

“Gimme a drink and let Slim help me up and I’ll give yer a run for our money,” Jess croaked.

The big man looked down at him with contempt and then there was an ear-splitting clap of thunder as the storm slowly moved towards them.

Carson’s head jerked up and he looked out of the window, obviously disturbed by the advancing weather, then he glanced down at Jess again and gave him a sneering smile.

“Guess I might as well oblige you cowboy, like you say, get it all over with and I’ll be on my way.”

He went over to Slim and unlocked the cuffs and cut the rope,” My gun’s gonna be trained on yer buddy’s head all the Goddamn time so don’t even think of stepping outer line Sherman.”

Slim tried to rub the circulation back into his arms and ease his wrists which had been cut by the hand cuffs, before getting unsteadily to his feet and advancing on his buddy.

He picked up the canteen that Carson had hung tantalizingly close to Jess, from a hook on the chimney breast, and taking it down sank to his knees beside his buddy.

He glanced up at Carson,” Are you going to cut him free then?”

He gave an exaggerated sigh before coming over and doing as requested and Jess groaned in pain as the blood started flowing through his limbs once more.

“No funny stuff or I’ll shoot yer both down right now,” he said before backing off and watching the two men suspiciously.

“Easy pard,” said Slim softly as he pulled Jess up into a sitting position and then held the canteen to his lips as he drank thirstily, before practically choking and coughing as the unaccustomed liquid flowed down his parched throat…

“I said easy… take it slow Jess.”

After a moment he passed the canteen to his buddy to drink himself and he took another sip before splashing some of the refreshing water over his head and face in an effort to revive himself.

Slim had his back to Carson, effectively shielding Jess from him and took advantage of the situation to whisper,” Jess are you sure about this……. you’re in no fit state for a shoot-out.”

“I can do it,” he croaked back,” you just get me on my feet and point me in the right direction, I’ll do the rest.”

“What are you two plotting, shut up and let’s get on with it!”

Slim raised an enquiring eyebrow at his friend, “You sure?”

“Said so didn’t I, just help me up Slim.”

Slim hauled him up and the dark haired cowboy stood there shaking and swaying slightly, a fleeting look of pain crossing his handsome features before he straightened up, a determined look in his eyes.

Slim saw the blood starting to ooze sluggishly out again, as Jess had stood up, and now he turned back to Carson, “Can I patch him up some first, he’s bleeding out again?”

He shook his head,” waste of time, he’ll be dead in a minute,” and then gesturing with his gun he ushered them towards the door.

Jess took one step and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Slim supporting him and the two slowly made their way out to the clearing in front of the cabin.

Once they were in place Carson yelled to Slim,” OK move away from him Sherman, go and stand way over there,” he said gesturing with his gun for Slim to move back towards the cabin.

As he let go his hold on Jess the younger cowboy staggered and nearly fell, but then righted himself, a steely glint in his eye that Slim knew of old.

Jess felt sick and dizzy, his heart was pounding ten to the dozen and he squeezed his eyes desperately attempting to focus on the man in front of him and took several deep breaths trying to steady himself.

Then he pulled his hat down hard, a nerve twitching in his cheek the only sign of emotion.

Carson threw his colt to Jess and backed off, telling him to holster it, which he did after cocking the hammer and checking it out first.

Now his eyes were narrowed and his hand, hovering just above his iron clenched and unclenched as he watched his adversary, sweat pouring down his back, mingling with the blood already staining his light blue shirt.

“Come on then Harper, let’s see some action.”

Jess shook his head slowly, “Oh no, you draw first, I ain’t about to open on yer Carson, this is down to you.”

Carson didn’t reply, but after a full minute he went for his gun, but Jess had drawn and shot him through the heart a split second before Carson had even cleared leather, and he watched as the burly man hit the ground hard, dead……a look of shocked disbelief on his face… and then there was another ear-splitting crash of thunder and flash of lightening as the storm moved directly overhead adding to the drama of the moment.

Jess holstered his gun and just stared at the fallen man for a minute before, almost in slow motion, he buckled at the knees and gracefully fell to the ground in a dead faint, turning at the last moment so that he lay on his back looking up at the sky, before his eyes finally closed.

Slim ran across to him and sank down at his side just as the heavens opened and the rain cascaded down on the two men, drenching them in seconds.

Slim tried to lift him, but he was a dead weight, his denims now soaked through, but after a while his eyes flickered and opened and he squinted up into the pouring rain and then glanced over at his buddy, a grin suddenly splitting his face…” Well I was praying’ for water nigh on these last few days, figure the Lord finally heard me.”

Slim returned the grin and shaking his head, said “Come on buddy let’s get inside,” and with that finally managed to haul him up and the two made their way slowly back to the sanctuary of the cabin.

Once inside Slim helped him strip off his wet clothes and then settled him on one of the cots, pulled up by the fire, and finally went about the painful business of cleaning out the gunshot wound. The bullet had gone clean through, but it was badly infected and Slim had to wash it out with neat whiskey, the pain making Jess cuss under his breath and swallow hard. Then he bound it firmly and put his arm in a sling, hoping the immobility would help stop the bleeding.

Eventually the job was done and Slim covered him over with a blanket and knelt back on his haunches looking down at the pale sweating face.

“You need to see Doc Sam, that wound needs stitching I guess,” he said softly.

Jess groaned, “Give us a break buddy, I sure don’t feel up to that journey right now and don’t forget we’ve got a mess of mustangs to drive back too.”

“Maybe I should just let them go again?”

“No way, we worked hard for them and they’re a real good bunch, I’ll be fine in a day or two….. Slim please”, he said looking up with beseeching eyes.

Slim shook his head,” You and your darned horses,” he said with a faint smile.

The storm was still raging above them with crash after crash of thunder and lightning illuminating the dimly lit room time after time and then suddenly there was a frenzied hammering at the cabin door and it burst open revealing a very wet Mort Corey.

“Well come in Sheriff why don’t ya,” said Slim jumping up and grinning at the newcomer.

“You know there’s s a dead man out there in your yard,” he said by way of an opener.

“Yeah, we were just waitin’ fer the storm ter pass over before we bury the bastard,” said Jess conversationally.

Mort looked down at the sick looking rancher and then turning to Slim said,” See the boy’s bin in bother again Slim, ain’t you got any control over him?”

“That I haven’t Mort,” replied Slim with a big smile,” guess his middle name is trouble.”

Mort sank down on the couch after divesting himself of his rain slicker and accepted a coffee from Slim,” So I take it that’s Vince Carson… or what’s left of him?”

Slim nodded;” He back shot Jess and then kept us trussed up until early today when old Hot Shot there talked him into a shoot-out.”

Both men turned to smile at Jess, but he was fast asleep.

“He looks kinda rough.”

“Yeah, well I guess you would too Mort if you’d been shot in the back and then trussed up like a turkey and given no food or water for nigh on three days.”

Mort gave a low whistle and shook his head,” No wonder you weren’t in any hurry to bury the hombre,” he said softly,” only good fer buzzard bait I reckon.”

“Oh I’ll get around to it,” said Slim.

“I’ll help you, might as well make myself useful seeing as how I’ve come all this way”.

“So what did bring you out here Mort?”

“Carson’s friend was picked up for a bank job and confessed to springing him as well, said he was gonna wait up here until you came back up in the Spring, then when you were late back I figured maybe you’d gotten in some trouble… and then well, I had Miss Daisy on my case… what can I say?”

“Yeah, see your point Mort,” he laughed as both men exchanged a look of understanding.


It was late afternoon by the time the weather abated and both men went out to perform a last act of humanity for Vince Carson by laying him to rest. They took him some way down the trail well away from the cabin, knowing that Jess wouldn’t want him buried anywhere near Flora, especially after he had desecrated her grave. So the job took them longer than they had thought and dusk was drawing in as they arrived back at the cabin.

“Think I’ve got a bottle of Red Eye stashed in by saddle bag,” said Slim jovially to Mort as they entered.

“Sounds good to me and purely medicinal,” replied Mort grinning back, but as they entered the big room and when Slim wandered over to the fireplace to check on his buddy the welcome smile froze on his face, the cot was empty… Jess was gone.


“What?” he said turning to Mort.

“Can’t have gone far, he was sick before, took too much water on an empty belly, maybe he’s in the outhouse?” suggested Mort.

“Oh yeah, sure I’ll go fetch him, you crack open the whiskey Mort.”

When Slim discovered the empty outhouse he wondered if Jess had gone to check on Traveler, knowing how he fussed about his mount, so went quickly to check the lean to stable.

As he entered Alamo, Traveler and Mort’s big Buckskin all looked up enquiringly from their feed, but then turned away again when they realised there was no danger. Slim stood there and pushed his hat back, feeling baffled and slightly anxious , where in hell could he have gone, he was as weak as a kitten and he’d left him sleeping soundly.

Then he had another idea and walked around the back of the cabin and down to the tall pine with Flora’s last resting place below it and then stopped in his tracks as he saw his buddy kneeling by the grave, his head bowed.

He stood watching him for a while and then when he made no move to get up he went over and hunkered down beside him.

“Jess… you OK pard?”

Jess stayed motionless for a minute and then finally turned to glance at Slim, his eyes bright with unshed tears.

“Was it my fault Slim…. my fault she died?”

“Hell no, why do you say a crazy thing like that?”

“I dunno, maybe I should have sold Snow Bird like I wanted,” he said referring to his much prized brood mare,” got the fare to send her to Europe, maybe they could have saved her Slim.”

The blond rancher shook his head sadly,” No Jess that wasn’t going to happen, Doc Sam said she’d never have made the journey. No, coming up here was the best thing you could have done for her, you made her final days bearable and that’s all she could have hoped for.”

He sighed deeply,” I just got to thinking if Sadie dying was my fault then maybe this was too.”

“Jess… pard you’re not thinking straight, Sadie dying wasn’t your fault either, it was her lowlife husband that killed her…… shoot you didn’t even know she was married when you rode out…no I guess you’ve just gotten a real bad case of the blues, you’re still pretty sick you know.”

Jess just shook his head looking cold and miserable.

Slim stood up and hoisted Jess up too,” Come on buddy, let’s get you back to bed and some Red Eye down you and things will look different tomorrow.”

Chapter 4

It was another few days before Jess was well enough to ride, but Mort stayed up with them, saying he was owed a few days leave and so he and Slim enjoyed some hunting and fishing while Jess recuperated. Then the Sheriff helped them finally drive the mustangs back to the ranch.

He stayed on to supper after their arrival home and as he took his leave he shook hands with Slim.

“Well I’m sorry it was kind of difficult circumstances for you two, but guess I had a real good hunting and fishing trip in the end so guess it’s an ill wind,” he said with a grin.

“Good to have you along and thanks for helping with the mustangs.”

“You’re welcome.”

Then he turned to where Jess was stretched out on the old leather couch still looking far from his healthy self,” Take care Jess and you be sure and mind what the good Doc said, when he called by earlier!”

“Sure, I will and thanks for everything Mort,” and the Sheriff rode out after thanking Daisy for a wonderful meal and promising to return real soon.

After Daisy had retired to bed Slim slumped down on a chair in front of the fire and pouring a couple of glasses of whiskey passed one to Jess who was still lying on the couch, looking deep into the fire.

After studying his pard for a while he said softly,” You’re still not happy about this business with Sadie are you Jess?”

He shook his head, “f only I’d have known I’d never have left her that way.”

“But you didn’t know Jess, didn’t even know she was married, much less that her husband would return and kill her in a fit of jealousy.”

Jess shook his head sadly and pulled the sepia photograph from his vest pocket,” you wouldn’t think such a little thing could have such a devastating effect,” he said quietly.

“Can I see?”

Jess passed it over and Slim looked down at the likenesses for a long time before smiling at his partner,” you look so dang young and innocent.”

Jess threw him a rueful smile back,” well… young anyway”.

“Hum… and she was absolutely stunning, what was her coloring.”

"She had these amazing green eyes and sorta reddy golden hair, the most beautiful woman I’d ever laid eyes on Slim,” he whispered, looking back into the fire and remembering… everything.

How they had been together, the closeness and then her growing dependence and possessiveness causing a rift, between her and the free spirited young Jess. Then afterwards how they had made up their differences and become even closer. Jess felt so right with her, so cherished, for the first time in his young life…..and then the Banisters had ridden back into his world and the dark bitter resentment that lay deep within his soul rose again obliterating all else and he felt compelled to leave and continue with his vendetta.

Now he turned to Slim,” I feel like I need to find out exactly what happened, if she said anything about me before she died… Hell if she blamed me Slim.”

“And how is that going to help?”

“I dunno… I just need to know… go to see that friend of hers, Jenny, maybe?”

“Well are you sure you’re up to it buddy, you’re still not well and Doc Sam said no work for another couple of weeks.”

“Yeah I know that Slim and I’ll go stir crazy sitting around here doing nothing. I’ve managed to put some cash by and I could get the railroad out to Denver and hire a horse from there to get to Ramah, down in El Paso county and just talk to this Jenny..……iffen she’s still around.”

Slim sighed deeply,” Guess there’s no arguing with you once you get a darn fool notion in your head.”

Jess grinned across at him,” Thanks pard, I knew you’d understand”.


Jess rode into Ramah just after noon a few days later and was amazed to see that nothing had changed over the last ten years since he was last there. In fact if anything it looked quieter and more down at heel.

He reined in by Sadie’s boarding house and sat gazing up at the place. It looked empty and unloved and was obviously not used as a boarding house anymore and so after sighing at the memories it evoked, he finally slid down from the saddle and knocked at the house next door.

He had a vague memory of Sadie’s friend Jenny, popping in occasionally for a cup of sugar or a gossip, and now as the door was reluctantly pulled back, a blond haired, plump woman in her forties looked short-sightedly out.


Jess removed his hat and put on his most charming smile,” I guess you won’t remember me Ma’am, Jess… Jess Harper I was a good friend of Mrs Hardin, next door, about ten years since?

The woman seemed to jump, her expression suddenly wary.

“Yes?” she said again, her expression not registering warmth or recognition.

“Well I was wondering if you could spare me a few minutes to talk about Sadie, see I only found out she was d… had passed away, a little while back and I’d kinda like to know something about what happened?”

She stared at him and then took a quick glance up and down the street before replying,” You’d better come in then Mr Harper,” and she grudgingly opened the door a little wider.

“Thank you Ma’am.”

She showed him into the front parlour and offered him a seat.

“So what do you want to know Mr Harper?”

“Jess, please. Well as to what happened I guess, her brother told me that her husband beat her after he’d seen a likeness of me and Sadie together?”

“Brother?” She asked in surprise, her eyebrows shooting up.

“Sure, her big brother Vince… Vince Carson?”

“Oh, right Vince Carson, well yes you have been reliably informed Mr….. err Jess, he husband came home after … well after his incarceration was over and saw the photograph and that led to a heated discussion and well… yes he did assault her, badly, I ran in and he left… but I was too late the damage had been done and she died from her injuries later that week.”

He looked down, the pain of hearing the truth making him feel sick to his stomach.

“I’m so darned sorry,” he whispered.

Then, after a pause, “Do you remember me Jenny?”

“I do,” she said, looking him in the eye properly for the first time, the hint of a smile playing around her lips.

“Well, you’ll know how much I adored her and I wouldn’t have had anything like this happen for the world, Hell iffen I’d known about Hardin I’d never have rode out that way,” he said, casting her a pleading look.

“Why did she do it Jenny, say she was a widow when she weren’t?”

“She was terrified of her husband he could be very violent and once he was convicted and in prison she took the opportunity to move away from Denver and make a fresh start, but he finally found her again I’m afraid.”

Jess thought about that for a while and then said, “Yeah, I guess I can understand that, but she could have trusted me you know.”

Then he looked deeply into her eyes.

“Did she… say anything……..about me that is? “

“Oh yes, she talked of you a lot towards the end, said you were the only real love of her life… said you’d be back for her one day….”

Jess looked down and closed his eyes swallowing hard, finding this latest revelation heart breaking.

Then she seemed to take pity on him.

“I know none of this was your fault. But I really think you should just forget all about it now, raking over the past can bring no good,” she said gently patting his arm.

“I guess,” he said softly, looking down, his heart aching.

“So can I visit her grave, is she in the local cemetery?”

“I don’t know… I…..”she replied suddenly looking uncertain.

“What, you were her best friend and yer don’t know where she’s laid to rest?”he asked in amazement.

“I… I… never attended the funeral, I was sick with the influenza, nearly died”.

“I’m sorry……. but yer must have visited since, that was ten years ago, you’ve visited…… taken flowers maybe?”

Her expression hardened and she rose, signalling that the visit was over.

“No, I don’t hold with cemeteries and graves Mr Harper, find them so depressing and I don’t need to stand by a grave to remember poor Sadie.”

Jess stood up and putting his hat back on pulled it down firmly,” Well I do,” he said, ”can yer tell me where the cemetery is at least?”

She nodded and after showing him to the door gave him brief directions.

“I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but take my advice and go home, there is nothing for you here anymore,” and with that she closed the door firmly.

Jess stared at it for a full minute, before mounting and heading his horse towards the cemetery, “What was all that about?” he asked himself, shaking his head in bewilderment.

He spent the next hour or so wandering around the graveyard getting more and more frustrated as he failed to locate Sadie’s last resting place. Was there indeed a headstone he thought bitterly if her best friend couldn’t be bothered to even visit? Would her brother Vince have made the effort to give her a respectable funeral, he doubted it remembering the way he had desecrated Flora’s grave… but Hell this was his little sister surely he would have seen her right?

Jess was not renowned for his patience and as the late afternoon sun beat down on him he felt rising anger and finally turning his back on the graveyard he remounted and kicked his horse back towards town, ready for a cold beer after stabling the hire horse for the night.

But something made him stop outside Jenny’s house again.

He didn’t know why, except he had a gut feeling that all wasn’t well, she had lied to him he was sure.

She wouldn’t do that, never visit the grave of her best friend and her whole attitude had been wary… almost fearful, what was going on?

He rapped loudly on the door, but it was several minutes before she finally answered it and she looked less than pleased to see him back. However the young cowboy didn’t stand on ceremony and brushing past her went and stood back in the parlour.

“Well come in,” she said sarcastically as she joined him.

“Look I’m sorry Ma’am… Jenny, but there is something going on here…... something ain’t right and I need to know….”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said looking even more uncomfortable.

“I can’t find the grave,” he said softly… “she ain’t there is she, has she been buried outside the church yard for some reason?”

He shook his head, “Either that or that bastard Vince wouldn’t pay out for a decent headstone and I guess that wouldn’t surprise me.”

Her head shot up at this, “So you know Vince well then?”

“Yeah, you could say that, as I said it was him as told me about Sadie just recently.”

“So which is it then Jenny, I’m getting’ kinda irritated here, is the grave unmarked, or is she just not there, buried someplace else?”

Suddenly someone walked into the room behind him and Jess’s innate reactions kicked in, as usual, and he spun around his gun in his hand in a split second and stared straight into the beautiful deep green eyes of…. Sadie Hardin.


His jaw dropped and he just stared at her in shock, his heart suddenly lurching within his chest and the blood pounding in his ears as the room seemed to tilt and blackness threatened. He took several deep, harsh breaths to prevent himself from slipping away into a dead faint and after a second he whispered, “Sadie?”

She nodded and then said softly,” Put the gun away Jess, you’re scaring me.”

He looked down at the gun still in his hand as if he had never seen it before and then placed it back in his holster, muttering, “Sorry.”

“No……I’m sorry for what you’ve been put through, I shouldn’t have got Jenny to lie for me, but I’m just so afraid,” and with that she ran towards him and he opened his arms and held her close, her perfume and voluptuous body sending his senses spinning wildly out of control, his pulse racing as he remembered how it had once been between them.

“It’s OK,” he whispered,” you’re safe now, I’m back.”

A little while later they left Jenny’s place and once out on the sidewalk Jess peered up at the old boarding house.

“You still live here then?”

She nodded.

“Yes, just have a few guests now, not as busy as before…… before the attack. I really did nearly die you know Jess,” she said turning anguished eyes up to him,” and I just couldn’t handle the hard work afterwards”.

“You manage OK though,” he said looking worried,” financially?”

“Oh I get by, have my few regulars and get guests from the hotel when they’re full up.”

He looked at her wondering why they were having this banal conversation when there was so much to say, so many questions to be answered and then figured it was just all too much for them to take in right then.

Hell, just her physical nearness was paralyzing his brain and all he could think of was holding her, needing to reassure himself again and again that she was real………. she was alive.

With painful slowness he dragged his mind back to what she was saying,” The Hotel guests, right.”

Then he pulled himself together,” I guess I’d better go get a room there, I plan on staying a while … we need to talk.”

Her head snapped up at this and her eyes registered what……. relief, pleasure……… joy?

He wasn’t sure, as she suddenly looked down as though she didn’t want to reveal her true feelings.

“You won’t get one,” she said quietly” they’re fully booked, there’s a big Wedding in town tomorrow and I have several of their guests… but I do have your old room free… if you want to stay here?”

He gazed at her trying to make out what she was feeling. Was her heart pounding the same way his was, could she hardly breathe with the strength of the emotions coursing through her?

If she was feeling the same way she was sure hiding it well he thought, she looked so darn cool and collected as she threw him a questioning look.

“Well, do you want the room Jess?”

He just nodded,” Sure.”

Then he suddenly needed to get away, to be on his own to process this inconceivable turn of events.

“I’ll just go stable the horse, back for supper, OK?”

“Fine,” she nodded and turned away, before glancing back,” I’m glad,” she said softly, “glad you’re back.”

He just nodded and jumping lightly up, kicked his mount off to a steady trot down the street to the livery.


As he reined in by the livery old Albert came out from the back wiping his hands on a piece of rag.

“Yes sir what can I do for you,” he asked before glancing up at the slender young cowboy on the tough looking Buckskin. Then he squinted up again against the evening sun.

“Well I’ll be jiggered, if it ain’t little Jesse Harper come a visiting,” and reaching up he pumped the hand Jess had extended.

“Good to see yer Albert,” he said as he slid down from the saddle, amazed at how little the old timer had changed.

Albert patted the Buckskin,” So where’s old Traveler?” he asked with a grin.

“Left him back in Laramie, I’m a partner in a ranch and relay there now,” he said with pride.

“Well I’ll be… so you made a fresh start eventually then boy.”

“Guess I did, almost domesticated now Albert”.

“Well I’m, glad to hear it, but I was real sad when you lit out boy, best darn horse breaker and blacksmith I’ve ever had here.”

Jess grinned across at him.

“I reckon I wasn’t the only one as was upset at you leavin’ either,” he said casting Jess a speculative look,” Miss Sadie took it real bad too…. Never been the same since I reckon”.

Jess looked down, suddenly feeling embarrassed, “I was told she was dead, that’s why I landed here to find out exactly what happened.”

“Dead, dead! No boy she ain’t dead… nearly died after that bastard of a husband of hers found her though, gee that was a bad business. That’s why she keeps her head down see boy, don’t want none of his old friends finding her, lots of folk thought she was dead and she was happy to just let ‘em go on a thinkin’ it.”

Then giving Jess a shrewd look said,” I guess you didn’t know about Mr Hardin then… bein’ as the way you and Miss Sadie were…..”

Jess had never talked about his relationship with Sadie to Albert, or indeed anyone, because that wasn’t his style, but it was a small town and these things got around.

“No,” he said softly,” and I’d never have ridden out that way iffen I had.”

“Umm, real bad business and as I say, she’s …well she’s a different woman now Jess.”

“How so?”

The old timer suddenly became busy taking the Buckskin’s reins and walking him through to a stall and seemed to have difficulty meeting Jess’s eye, “Ain’t for me to say son, guess you’ll find out for yourself.”

Then turning and giving his toothless grin, “Now I expect you’ll be wanting the full works for this old boy, rub down, good feed and the best stall in the house?”

“You’ve got it,” said Jess, before turning away and retracing his steps to the boarding house wondering what his old friend was alluding to.


Supper was over and the guests had all retired for the night by the time Jess got a chance to talk to Sadie.

As he helped her clear up and wash the dishes he was able to look at her properly for the first time, and he noted that she had aged some over the years and the trauma she had been through had taken its toll and he suddenly realised she must be well into her forties.

Her hair was as glossy and bright as before without a trace of grey and her large green eyes were still able to make his heart standstill, but there was a deep sadness in them that was new. And something about her general demeanor…. she was somehow more fragile…almost brittle as though the wrong word or gesture would shatter her into a thousand tiny shards.

Jess was maybe unaware of the full extent of her tension, but he was aware of a change in her and could see that she looked quite vulnerable or as he would have put it,’ runnin’ scared.’

They sat in front of the fire in the back parlour, enjoying a glass of whiskey, once the work was done.

He glanced across at her and said,” This reminds me of the first time we did this, drank whisky together.”

She smiled, “and you said, ‘Are you trying to seduce me Ma’am?”’

“And you replied that, that was assuming I was just an innocent boy.”

She gazed across at him after sipping her whiskey………“And we both figured you were neither of those things”.

Jess looked down,” No I reckon I wasn’t, but I was sure young.”

“And now?”

“Guess I’ve lived a bit.”

She looked over at him, the deep blue, knowing, eyes, the way he carried himself, with a new maturity and confidence. He seemed to be subtly different to the young man she remembered, the vulnerability gone and replaced with a steely determination and an edge of danger about him. And she recalled the lightning fast reflex draw of earlier in the day and shivered a little

“Yes I reckon you have,” she said softly.

He took a sip of his drink and then gave her a penetrating look, “So why did you lie to me?”


“About being a widow.”

“Oh that, well would it have made any difference if you’d known I was married?”

He nodded,” Sure it would, one hell of a difference.”

“I never had you down as being so moralistic Jess.”

“Yeah, well maybe you didn’t know me too well.”

“Maybe I still don’t,” she said casting him an appraising look.

He sighed and looked down into his drink, wondering where this was going … and wondering where he wanted it to go.

Hell she was still a beautiful woman and his pulses were racing just sitting opposite her and he knew that if he was to take her in his arms and kiss her he would be lost, things would happen that maybe wouldn’t be right for her… for either of them.

Then she broke into his thoughts.

“I’m sorry, OK, I just couldn’t risk anyone finding out about my husband, I felt safe here and I never thought I’d see him again, until he sent that wire just before you lit out.”

“You should have trusted me,” he said coldly, “after the way we were together, everything we meant to each other …. You should have known you could trust me.”

“I knew you’d decided to leave and I didn’t want to stop you once you’d made up your mind… it was you who decided to leave me you know Jess.”

“Yeah, but that’s what I’m saying, if you’d been straight with me I’d have stayed and sorted him out, stopped him near killin’ yer.”

“And then what……. you’d have married me and we’d have lived happily ever after?” she said sarcastically.

His head shot up at that, and he leapt up from his seat and paced across the room, staring out of the window, his back to her.

“I never said that did I? I was straight with you right from the start, you knew I wasn’t lookin’ ter settle down, hell I was just a kid back then Sadie.”

She got up and went and stood close to him, then she pulled him around to face her, one hand on his chest, her eyes looking beseechingly into his, “And now?”

“Guess I grew up,” he said softly, his gaze holding hers for a moment before he leaned forwards and caressed her lips gently with his own, and then cupping her face in his hands, he kissed her more deeply, all his senses suddenly aflame.

It was so familiar and yet so different the way he kissed her, she thought.

She remembered what the love making had been like when he was a young man, never had she been so aroused, felt so cherished before or since. Now however just this single kiss brought a whole Kaleidoscope of new emotions rushing through her as she felt how confident he was.

From the look in those steady blue eyes before he leaned down to kiss her, to the gentle and yet firm way his lips met hers told of his wealth of experience……every fiber of her being was screaming out for him… and then he pulled away.

“I’m sorry,” he said,” I guess that was out of order.”

She stared up at him, not knowing what to say; surely he must know how she felt?

Jess moved to the door and then stopped and turned.

“‘Night,” he said softly before going off to his room, leaving Sadie staring after him an unfathomable expression in her beautiful green eyes.

Jess lay on his back in the dark, staring up towards the ceiling, his heart still pounding, his emotions all over the place.

“Tomorrow,” he said to himself, tomorrow he would make the decision as to whether to go or stay and he was suddenly aware that what he decided would somehow be a life changing choice.

Chapter 5

The following morning was all hustle and bustle as the wedding guests made their preparations and so Jess took himself off, never feeling particularly comfortable around wedding festivities at the best of times, and after his recent discussion with Sadie felt even more uneasy.

He wandered down to the livery to check on Chief the big Buckskin and found Albert hard at work mucking out the stalls.

Jess came up behind him and said quietly,” Hey that ain’t work for the boss to be doin’.”

Albert spun around and then gave Jess his big toothless grin, “That darned boy has let me down again, just because his sister is gettin’ hitched today thinks he don’t have to turn in to work.”

Jess grinned back and then gently took the pitch fork from the old timer,” I’ll do that, why dontcha go make us some coffee?”

Albert beamed at him,” Sure is good havin’ you around again boy,” and went off to make an extra strong brew, the way he remembered Jess liked it.

Later once all the chores were done they sat down together in the morning sun on the bench outside the livery, sipping the strong brew and after a while Albert broke the companionable silence and said,” So are you thinking on staying around a while then son, only you said you had a place back in Laramie?”

Jess nodded,” Been kinda sick and Doc signed me off of work for a couple of weeks so thought I’d come down here…..and … “


Jess turned to Albert, “I dunno really, guess when I heard about Sadie dying and all… well I felt real guilty, me leaving that way…we’d had words you know?”

He shook his head,” No, but I guessed as much.”

“Umm, well I had to go ……. had some urgent business and I guess she knew that, but anyways I still felt bad….”

“And now, now you’ve seen her again Jess, what are you going to do? “

He ducked his head and said nothing for a while before turning to the old man who had been such a strength and support to the twenty year old Jess… “I dunno,” he said softly,” I just dunno.”

“Well just take a mite of wisdom from an old timer son, don’t you go a rushing into anything.”

Jess’s head swiveled,” What is it Albert, what is it about her you’re not tellin’ me?”

He shook his old head, “ain’t for me to say boy, just heed me and take things slow… yeah?”

Jess nodded, “yeah”.

He helped Albert with the horses for most of the day feeling in his element and the old man enjoyed his company, taking Jess back home with him at lunchtime where his wife enjoyed spoiling him rotten just as she had done in the old days.

“Well you’ve certainly filled out and turned into a real handsome young man,” she said smiling at him as he finished off the welcome meal. “You were way too skinny as a youngster.”

Jess grinned up at her,” I’ve got me a real good housekeeper back at the ranch and she feeds me up like I’m a Thanksgivin’ Turkey.”

“Well I’m glad to hear it,” she said wandering off to fetch second helpings.

It was early evening when he finally walked back to the Boarding House and he found Sadie waiting for him in the front parlour.

She was dressed in a very low cut lilac colored dress trimmed with cream lace and it hugged her figure leaving nothing to the imagination, her swell of cleavage enhanced by a pearl necklace worn with matching earrings.

Jess’s gaze roamed south for a moment, before he managed to drag it reluctantly away and said ”You look real pretty Sadie, goin’ somewhere?”

She smiled inwardly, knowing the instant effect the low cut dress was having on the young cowboy, and answered,” We both are, been invited to the Wedding reception over at the Hotel.”

His head shot up,” Now hang on I don’t even know the couple.”

“That doesn’t matter, I’ve been invited and you’re my guest”.

He looked uncomfortable,” I dunno Sadie; I ain’t really one for Weddings and such.”

She took a step forwards and he could smell her heady perfume and see the laughter in her eyes, “Oh… please, you’re quite safe the bouquets already been thrown …. …and I didn’t catch it.”

He finally relented and grinned back at her.

”OK give me ten minutes,” and he ran lightly upstairs to get changed.

When he returned he had washed and shaved and he was wearing a crisp white shirt and black string tie, dark trousers, and his Sunday best Stetson and Frock coat that he had worn on his journey up on the railroad.

“My goodness don’t you scrub up well,” she said smiling up into his eyes as he offered her his arm, to escort her to the party.

The Reception was being held in a large garden behind the Hotel and was in full swing when they arrived, with people cavorting about the small wooden dance floor to a lively mixed bunch of musicians. There was a small bar, tables and chairs set out and the whole area illuminated by lanterns up in the surrounding trees giving a romantic, magical glow.

The moment Jess finally held her in his arms on the dance floor he knew he was lost. He had struggled to keep his feelings at bay, telling himself he was just visiting an old friend, seeing she was OK…. But suddenly it was more than that, so much more and all the advice from Albert about taking things slowly simply went out the window.

He held her close, breathing in that familiar perfume, feeling her body molded to his as they danced slowly around the floor, her head on his shoulder as he absently caressed her hair his eyes dreamy.

But he still held back and by the end of the evening he hadn’t kissed her or even said anything vaguely romantic, but he knew what was going to happen, could feel the sexual tension between them….And knew he wouldn’t be able to resist her.

When they returned home Sadie couldn’t bear for the evening to end and she offered to make them some coffee.

Why she thought, why was he holding back, it was obvious he still found her attractive, but there was something… She yearned for him, and had been replaying that last lingering kiss of the previous evening over and over in her mind……

She returned with the coffee and placed it on a small table opposite the fire and then sank down next to him on the old leather couch.

He had removed his Frock coat and loosened his tie and he looked incredibly handsome she thought as she sat down as close to him as was seemly.

There was something that had been playing on her mind ever since Jess had ridden in however and she suddenly felt an urgent need to rid herself of her deepest fear.

After a while she said, ”So err Vince… he didn’t think to ride along with you then?”

His head spun around,” Hell you don’t know do you?” he said looking stricken.

“Know what?”

He ducked his head,” I’m real sorry Sadie, but your brothers’ dead.”


“Sure Vince he’s dead…… and I’m real sorry.”

She looked at him in shock and then a look of relief flooded her features, “Oh thank God,” she said fervently.


“I’ve been so scared so afraid he’d come back,” she whispered.

“I just don’t get it,” said Jess turning to peer at her intently,” I think Carson was a total bastard, but hell he was your brother Sadie, how could you do that to him how could youlet him think you were dead all these years… Goddamn it that’s pure cruel…..and now you seem almost glad he’s dead?

“Brother… brother,” she cried, “why do you think he was my brother?”

“Because that’s what he told me… after he back shot me and trussed me up like a turkey so he could watch me die…. Said it was for what I’d done to his little sister running out on her that way…. Hell Sadie that’s why I’m here to try and make amends. I needed to know what happened to you and now I’ve found you alive……Hell I wanted to explain that I’d never have done that… if I’d known about Hardin… never have left you in danger,” he said passionately.

Her eyes opened wide in astonishment,” He did that to you… I’m so, so sorry……to shoot you that way.”

He merely shook his head,” I guess I got my own back in the end, it was me… me that shot him; he won’t be botherin’ you no more.”

She gave a little sob of relief and he took her in his arms and held her for a minute, before releasing her and looking deeply into her troubled eyes.

“So what was he to you, why was he so doggone mad with me and why did he call you his sister?”

She looked down for a long time before replying.

“He wasn’t my brother…. He was my lover and the reason he hunted you down was revenge for my alleged death yes… but also out of jealousy I guess.”

Jess’s expression suddenly changed from one of compassion to bitterness.

“So you weren’t just cheating on your husband with me, you were havin’ an affair with Carson too?” he spat.

“Yes…. But it wasn’t like that Jess, it was all over with Carson… once he and my husband were jailed I sold the boarding house in Denver and moved out here to make a fresh start.”

“So tell me about it,” he said dangerously quietly…”about you an’ Carson.”

She looked down and then into his hurt blue eyes…

” Go on,” he shouted.

She jumped,” I guess I was just flattered at first, all the romance had gone out of my marriage and then Vince moved in as a boarder. He was a gambler like Bill and they worked together sometimes. Then Bill was doing time for a shooting and me and Vince… well sort of got together. When Bill got out he never suspected anything… and Vince used to josh him, say I was like a little sister to him… told Bill I was safe with him around….. “

Jess swore quietly under his breath,” You’re quite some woman ain’t you?” he whispered bitterly.

“You don’t understand, I’d grown to hate Bill and Vince was good to me … back then, I thought I loved him…..then.”

“And so what happened, what made you get Jenny to lie to him, tell him you were dead what happened Sadie?”

“You did,” she cried,” once I met you I knew nobody else would ever do.”

He laughed harshly,” Oh sure… until the next sucker comes along.”

Then he stood up and turned to leave,” Goodbye Sadie, I’ll be gone at first light,” and with that he strode across the room and left slamming the door behind him.

Sadie stared after him and then collapsed sobbing as though her heart would break.

He stood on the other side of the door listening to her crying until he could bear it no longer and he marched off up the stairs to his room, closing the door firmly behind him.


The following morning, he had calmed down some and decided to wait and say goodbye properly at least.

He heard the wedding guests leave after their breakfast and finally he made his way downstairs to the kitchen and after throwing his saddlebags over the back of a chair sat down at the table.

He noticed she was wearing a black negligee, tightly fastened around the waist, but none the less revealing and he wondered absently if she had worn that to serve breakfast or changed for him… but then pushed the thought from his mind, having resolved to go… no matter what.

Sadie turned from the cook stove and gave him a hesitant smile,” You haven’t changed your mind then?” she said gesturing to the saddlebags.

He shook his head, “Just didn’t want to run out on you after an argument again… might have to come back in another ten years to apologise,” he said with the ghost of a smile.

She sank down on the chair opposite him,” I really am sorry,” she said,” please don’t judge me too harshly.”

He leaned across and took her hand and turned it over caressing it gently, the simple action sending a frisson of desire through her.

“Guess it was just a shock hearin’ about you and Carson,” he said softly.

She nodded and then got up and bringing the coffee pot over poured him a shot.


“I wouldn’t hurt you deliberately … you know that don’t you?” she said softly.

“Guess you have though,” he said with a sad smile, “anyway, it’s probably for the best if I ride out.”

He drained his cup and stood up to go, making for the door and then he stopped and turned back.

“When I first visited Jenny she said something about you.”


“Said I was the only true love of your life and you thought I’d be back for you someday… was that a lie too?”

She ran towards him and stood looking up into those deep blue, questioning eyes.

“No, I said that when I was real sick after Bill had attacked me. The Doc didn’t think I’d pull through … and I probably wouldn’t have done but for Jenny’s nursing. We talked a lot, I guess I told her all my innermost thoughts and all I could think of was you… seeing you one last time, hearing that deep strong voice.” She gave a little gasp,” making love one last time…….we were so good together… weren’t we?”

He said nothing just stared at her, his eyes suddenly full of compassion.

“So in answer to your question, yes I guess I meant it….….. you were the one true love of my life….., “ she said huskily.

“And now?”

“I guess it’s still true….”

There were tears in his eyes as he looked deeply into her soul and then he leaned forwards and brushed her lips with his before taking her in a passionate embrace and kissing her hard, finally giving in to his deepest emotions.

The kiss was all she had imagined it would be and she melted in his arms, never wanting it to end, and she could feel him getting more and more aroused as he kissed her face, her hair…. the base of her throat and then lower, his breath coming in harsh gasps, as he murmured her name.

She pulled him close, arching her back in pleasure as he kissed her shoulder, gently pushing the strap of her negligee down and groaning….”Oh God Sadie…..”

After a moment she took him by the hand and led him up to her room, closing the door behind them.

When he awoke the light of late afternoon was filtering in through the window and Sadie lay beside him her face naked of makeup looking younger than her years in repose.

Her golden red hair was splayed across the pillow and one arm was laying possessively across Jess’s naked belly.

He took her hand in his own and stared up at the ceiling reliving the passion of the morning and knowing that he was suddenly at a crossroads, how could he leave her now… but how could he leave his family… his life in Laramie. Instinctively he knew he couldn’t have it all, knew Sadie would never make a rancher’s wife or fit into his lifestyle back at the ranch and his heart lurched at the decision he had to make…. How could he leave his life behind……. Slim, Daisy…… little Mike……no it was unthinkable…… and then Sadie woke up…..

She stretched languidly and then propping herself up on her elbow looked down into his deep blue eyes, before leaning down and kissing him softly.

“Hi cowboy, “she whispered, “that was one real special….”

Then all rational thought was wiped from his mind as he took her in his arms once more….


He told himself h was just visiting, even when he went and talked to Albert about helping out for a while.

“So you want your old job back?” asked the old timer looking overjoyed.

“Well just for a while… I guess… yes.”

Albert pumped his hand, “Well there sure is plenty to do, I’m no spring chicken now son and I guess I’ll be thinkin’ on retiring someday soon, might be open to offers iffen you were to sell your half of the Laramie property?”

Jess mentally recoiled in horror at this thought, hell he wasn’t selling ol’ Slim down the river, he wouldn’t do that…. would he?

Then it was the same when he eventually got around to wiring home. He wasn’t staying away for good, just an extended visit until he was sure Sadie was Ok, he had said…. Unable to be honest with himself… the denial easier than facing the truth…… that he was hopelessly addicted to Sadie Hardin.

And whenever he thought of her it was the strange word ‘addicted’ that came to mind rather than love… it was almost as though he couldn’t help himself even if he wanted to, such was her hold over him.

The one fly in the ointment was old Albert’s reaction to Jess’s hopeless infatuation with Sadie.

The old man obviously disproved, “I warned you son… she ain’t what you think,” and even though Jess cross questioned him he refused to say more, turning away and changing the subject.

As the days turned into weeks he received a terse wire from Slim demanding to know when he would be returning and asking if he remembered where he lived.

Jess had never felt so torn and he had discussed taking Sadie back with him, but as he had already surmised she would have none of it.

“Hell iffen you really loved me you’d come home with me!” he yelled, most of his anger fueled by the guilt he was feeling at having deserted Slim.

“Well I could say the same,” she said, “all my friends are here, my business… I just can’t up and leave even for you.”

And then she had come over and kissed him hard and held him close and as always his anger evaporated as they made crazy passionate love one more time.

The summer was nearly over and he knew Slim would be thinking of bringing the stock down for the winter soon and he felt so darned guilty he could hardly bear think about it.

The following day he was in the back kitchen helping Sadie to wash up the dishes when there was a knock at the front door and wiping her hands on her apron Sadie went to answer it.

After a while Jess heard raised voices and walked through quickly to see what the problem was.

A personable looking man was standing on the door remonstrating with Sadie.

“No,” she said in a harsh whisper,” I can’t……. not right now anyway, you’ll just have to be patient.”

As Jess came up behind her she jumped and flushed up.

“What’s going on?” he asked looking questioningly from Sadie to the young man at the door.

After a while when Sadie just looked down saying nothing, the man finally gave Jess a speculative look and then said,” I was just after…… a room, but looks like the lady is kind of busy right now.”

Jess frowned at Sadie,” we’ve got rooms ain’t we?”

“No,” she said quickly,” and I’ve told Mr Green here that I can’t oblige him right now,” and with that she closed the door in the man’s surprised face and turning on heel returned to the kitchen.

Jess followed her in.

“Hey what’s going on, you ain’t so rich as you can turn good business away, what are you playing at?”

She turned and snaked her arms around his waist …” I just want you all to myself,” she said seductively,” is that so wrong cowboy?”

For once her wiles didn’t work on Jess, there was something wrong, something very wrong.

He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he had a gut feeling that something real bad was about to happen.

When he caught her turning the third client away he decided to find out exactly what was going on.

He had been asleep in the chair by the fire late one evening and he suddenly awoke and heard a muttered conversation going on in the hallway.

“No I told you I’m not free,” Sadie was whispering urgently and then there was a muffled reply from a man that Jess couldn’t make out.

Again he went through to see what was happening and was just in time to see a tall broad man dressed in black turn away and make for the saloon opposite.

“What did he want?” asked Jess giving Sadie a hard look,” accommodation? “

“No, he thought this place was a restaurant, I sent him over to the saloon,” she said keeping her eyes lowered.

“Um,” said Jess and then he went and fetched his gun belt and jacket and made for the door.

“Where are you going,” she asked looking worried,” its late?”

He pulled his hat down firmly,” Just a quick drink, I won’t be long,” and with that he disappeared across the road leaving Sadie looking concerned as she turned back inside closing the door.

It was a Saturday night and the saloon was busy, but as he made his way in he saw the tall man about halfway along the bar buying a beer and he wandered over and stood beside him and ordered a cold one for himself.

After a while he turned to the stranger and said pleasantly,” did I just see you over at the Boarding House?”

The man looked surprised, “Boarding house? Oh you mean Sadie’s place, yeah I was over there, so what’s it to you?”

“Nothin’ just wondered if you wanted a room.”

The older man gave him a sly smile,” I suppose that’s one way of putting it, I guess I would be needing a room for an hour or so,” he said with a grim chuckle.

Then he turned and looked properly at Jess, “Oh I get it, you were after a session too, well she isn’t working right now buddy, seems she’s got some guy staying with her, so she’s given up that line of business, for the moment anyways, said she’d let me know when the coast was clear, next time I’m over this way again, next month maybe,….… crying shame she was real good too…. “

Jess just stared at him, suddenly his heart was pounding and a sweat had broken out and he could feel the moisture running uncomfortably down his back….

”What?” he whispered gruffly.

Then swallowing he tried again,” What are you sayin’ Mister?”

The tall man gave him a hard look,” I’m saying Miss Sadie ain’t working as a Hooker right now…. now what is there to not understand about that friend?”

He never saw it coming, the blow to the chin sent the tall man reeling across the bar and then Jess was there following through with another and another blow, to the face, chest and in moments the man was semi-conscious.

Then all hell was let loose and blows were being exchanged across the bar, the sound of fighting and broken glass finally bringing the Sheriff and his deputy in to calm things down.

“He started it,” said the barkeep pointing an accusing finger at a now blooded Jess, who stood swaying a little a steady stream of blood running down his chin from a split lip.

“The guy that’s been shacking up at Miss Sadie’s place, guess he didn’t take the news of her line of work too well,” he said with a callous smile.

“Come on son, let’s be having you,” said the elderly Sheriff grabbing hold of Jess’s arm, but he pulled roughly away and looked like he was about to lay one on the Sheriff.

“Hey son,” said the older man,” don’t go getting in any deeper than you already are,” and placing some handcuffs on his prisoner he walked him down the road to the jailhouse.

Again once he was there he made to lash out at the Sheriff after he removed the cuffs prior to putting him in a cell.

“Hey, you really don’t care who you upset do you boy?” he said with a hard look and pushed him none too gently into the cell.

Jess heard the door clang behind him and lock and he sank down onto the hard cot, his head in his hands, nothing could make him feel any worse than he already did, he thought.

What a prize fool he’d been.

She’d strung him along playing him like some goddamn fish on a line and he’d let her… hell he’d nearly thrown everything away for her, neglected his family, his home ,his livelihood, how could he have been so bloody stupid?

He threw himself back on the cot and stared up at the ceiling and then the reality of it all hit him, like a runaway steer, he’d loved her, been as close as it was possible to be to a woman, the deeply intimate relationship they had shared these last weeks had meant so much to him, and all the time she had been keeping this secret from him, she was a prostitute. How could she have done that, lie to him that way?

And then he thought back, how she’d lied to her husband and then to Carson… and how many other suckers he thought bitterly, tears of anger and frustration pricking the backs of his eyes.

Then he remembered the barkeeps words,” I guess he didn’t take the news of her line of work too well.” So everyone in this Goddamn town knew but him…. And he groaned and rolled over on his side and tried to sleep and blot everything out.

He awoke the following morning with a cracking headache and the Sheriff yelling at him to wake up.

Jess opened a wary eye and squinted at the elderly man.

“What yer want?” he muttered.

“You really are an ornery bastard aren’t you?” said the Sheriff conversationally.

“Well so would you be iffen you’d been strung along and taken for a prize idiot by someone……..someone you cared about,” he finished quietly.

The older man cast him a pitying look, “Yeah, guess I can see your point son, Miss Sadie sure knows how to work a man…. Guess she’s had one hell of a lot of practice.”

“Aw don’t,” groaned Jess.

“Um yes, well I’m sorry, least said soonest mended, I guess. Anyways old Albert is here to bail you out, he’s a real nice guy, says he’ll vouch for your future conduct so don’t you go letting him down boy.”

Jess fixed him with a steely eye,” I know that and I wouldn’t,” he said quietly.

The Sheriff nodded,” Yeah, I kinda believe that,” he said, giving Jess a genuine smile,” if old Albert thinks something of you, then I guess that’s good enough for me.”

Later Jess was sitting in Albert’s kitchen and his good wife finished cleaning his wounds up and then smiled down at him, “kind of spoiled your good looks boy, but then women sometimes find the battered look sort of attractive.”

“Don’t talk to me about women, I figure I’ve just about had my fill of ‘em….. present company excepted of course,” he added quickly, “no offense Ma’am.”

“None taken dear and I don’t blame you for taking on so badly. I’ll go and fetch you some coffee and pie, got to keep your strength up son, no matter what the world throws at you.”

Jess smiled to himself, thinking just how much like Daisy she sounded and then his heart plummeted as he remembered the way he’d neglected her and all the others back home and he felt ashamed.

Albert came in and sat down by Jess, his gaze taking in the cuts and bruises on his face and he whistled and said softly,” Gee you’re a mess boy.”

Jess turned anguished eyes on his old friend, “Why didn’t you tell me Albert, for God’s sake why didn’t yer tell me?”

“Would you have listened boy… or would you have shot the messenger, same as you did last night?”

Jess looked down shaking his head…” I dunno, maybe.”

“I tried to warn you, tell you what she was like, but things like this I guess you just have to find out for yourself… and if it’s any consolation, I think she genuinely loves you.”

“Oh yeah, she’s got a great way of showing it,” he said bitterly.

“I’ve known Sadie for a long time and well I guess she’s just kinda misunderstood…she means well you know.”

Jess just cast him an incredulous look, “What!”

And then the old lady returned with his coffee and the peace was restored.

After a while Jess thanked them for all they had done.

“You’re leaving then?” asked Albert.

Jess nodded,” I’ll pick up my stuff and be back directly.”

He strode over to the Boarding House but before he could rap on the door in was opened by a very chastened looking Sadie.

She opened the door wide and turned and walked into the parlour turning to look at him.

She stared at Jess for a moment as if trying to gauge the strength of his anger. She had only been on the receiving end of the full force of the legendary Harper temper a couple of times and it was not an experience she wished to repeat, but there again, she figured she didn’t have much choice, she sure deserved it.

But then all thought of herself was banished from her mind, as she saw the terrible state he was in.

His face was covered in cuts and bruises, but what really made her heart lurch was the look in his eyes, defeat mixed with pain … and something else, yes she was right….. fury… and she guessed that anger would win out over the other emotions… for now at least.

“Well,” he yelled,” when were you goin’ to tell me… after we’d made love maybe… or after I’d sold up back home and moved over here to be with you…. or maybe on our Wedding Eve? Well?” he asked grabbing hold of her arm and pulling her towards him, glaring at her.

“Please, Jess you’re hurting me…”

He dropped his hold at once,” Not as much as you’re hurting me,” he whispered.

“You said you’d never deliberately hurt me… you said I was the love of your life…… and I believed you Sadie… was gonna give up everything I hold dear for you….”

“I’m sorry.”

He shook his head and turned away,” No you’re not, you were goin’ ta keep on working, that guy in the saloon … he said you’d let him know when the coast was clear.. maybe next month… what were you gonna do Sadie have the bastards in here when I was down at the livery working for us?”

She suddenly erupted in anger and screamed, “You don’t know what it’s like being a woman alone out here…after the attack I couldn’t do all the hard work, cleaning and washing all the time…. I had to make money the only way I could.”

“By lying on yer back,” he spat.

“Yes… I had to live, you weren’t here….. “

“Hey, don’t you go puttin’ all this at my door…if you’d told me you were married in the first place I’d never have bothered you and Bill would have had no cause to beat you… none of that was my fault and I know that now, so don’t go blaming me!”

“I’m not,” then she looked down,” I’m really not… I just did what I had to do…. “

“And now…… you still had to make plans to do it now… why didn’t you tell those guys to go take a jump… why did you say maybe next month…?”

“Because I wasn’t sure of you…. maybe you wouldn’t have come through, when you went back home to sell up your half of the ranch…well you might not have come back…. “

“So the bottom line of this was you didn’t trust me enough?”

“I guess so.”

He shook his head,” I committed heart and soul to you Sadie, there was no more I could have done… no more I could have given you………and I guess iffen you can’t trust me…. then you can’t trust anyone.”

She sank down on the couch her head down and then she looked up at him…. “I think you’re right, I can’t ever trust anyone. “

“Well I feel sorry for you,” he said.

He turned away and left the room returning a few minutes later with his saddle bags.

“You’re really going then?” she said leaping up from her couch and throwing him an anguished look.

He just stood looking at her and shaking his head sadly.

“What do you think… that I’d stay around here for more of the same, Hell a man has his limits Sadie. You’ve made me the laughing stock of the whole town, you’ve near cost me my friends, my home and my work… and….”

He stopped and turned away swallowing hard.

She ran over and pulled his arm, swinging him around to face her and saw the unnatural brightness to his eyes.


“And you’ve broke my heart…. You’ve had everything from me Sadie; I ain’t got no more to give…. “

“I’m so…. so sorry,” she whispered.

He looked down into her beautiful green eyes as the tears welled up and slid down her face.

Then leaning forwards he tipped her chin up and kissed her very gently on the lips, before pulling back, his gaze steady and heartrendingly sad.

“Yeah, maybe you are at that, ”he said softly, before turning and walking out of her life for good.

Chapter 6

Jess rode into Denver a little after noon and made straight for the livery, hoping to do a deal on the big Buckskin, Chief.

By the time he’d paid his fine at the Sheriff’s office and what he felt he owed for rent at Sadie’s place he didn’t have the railroad fare home.

It had been a somewhat cavalier gesture throwing the rent money, for the last few weeks, on the hall stand as he left as he knew Sadie had considered him her guest.

Heck they had been living together for weeks, but the stubborn streak in Jess didn’t want to owe her anything and secretly he knew how hurt she would be when she found it… bringing their relationship down to a matter of dollars and cents. But he couldn’t help it ……he wanted to strike out and hurt her, just as he was hurting, even though part of him felt ashamed at the petty mindedness of it all.

He walked over to the livery owner and tried to strike a bargain on the Buckskin. Both men knew he was an old horse with only a few more years as a good riding out beast ahead of him, and he was sure worth less than a railroad ticket and Jess reckoned he’d make a good horse to pull Daisy’s lightweight buggy in his later years.

Finally the deal was done to both men’s satisfaction and Jess rode out with the Buckskin’s papers in his vest pocket.

He had sent a wire to Slim, saying he was on his way home, but wondered what sort of reception he would get. He had merely said, “On way home stop have been idiot stop Jess,” but he figured he’d have some explaining to do when he landed back and was not relishing the conversation he would have to have with Slim.

Anyways he thought as he kneed the Buckskin out of town at a fast trot, with this old boy the journey would take a few days , giving him plenty of time to lick his wounds and think what he was gonna tell them all back home.

The journey went well with Chief setting a surprisingly good pace for his age and Jess was able to relax some and take things easy as he mulled everything over in his mind.

Hell I’m gonna have to make it up to Slim he thought… to them all ,they sure didn’t deserve the way he’d treated them andhe felt another wave of shame as he remembered how Sadie seemed to have completely taken him over, body and soul.

He was just about a day out of Laramie when disaster struck.

He never really knew if it was the rabbit he cooked for supper that night or bad water in his canteen, although later he figured it was probably the water.

Anyway as far as Jess was concerned it didn’t matter, the effect was the same, he awoke in the night and was violently sick, and then curled up in agony at the terrible pains in his stomach and gut.He lay there white and shaking as wave after wave of nausea hit him and he doubled up at the ever worsening pain. The camp fire had smouldered and gone out as he just couldn’t rouse himself to tend it, and he spent most of the night with his blanket pulled tight around him, but still shivering violently from the chilly temperature.

The following morning he felt too sick to ride and on sniffing the water in his canteen thought it was tainted and so threw it away. So there he lay, severely dehydrated and not a drop of clean water in the camp. The previous day he had, had to fill up his canteen from a small murky water hole, all the water levels depleted by the long hot summer and he had worried about it at the time.

Now as he lay writhing in the pain from his guts and feeling sick and dizzy with a cracking headache ,but he knew he had to do something, act fast… while he still could.

Using his last ounce of energy he mounted Chief and kicked him off in the direction of home.

He sat in the saddle feeling terrible and slipping in and out of consciousness cursing the fact that he was not riding Traveler, knowing that his good old horse would have taken him home, no matter what state he was in.

However Chief didn’t know his new home, but he did know the smell of fresh water and he made a bee line for the lake on the Sherman land. He was thirsty himself, having refused the water where Jess had filled up, preferring to get moisture from grazing, but now he needed a drink and set off at a good pace.

They reached the lake by late afternoon and Jess almost fell from the saddle and staggered over to the lake edge, collapsing to his knees and then falling head first into the shallow water at the edge.

He lay there for a moment or two luxuriating as the cool water washed over his head and upper torso, and then he pulled himself up and drank greedily, but he chucked the water back up almost immediately.

After a while he filled up his canteen, hobbled Chief, so he could drink and graze by the lakeside and then made his painful way up to the cave overlooking the lake, where he knew there would be fresh kindling and wood for a fire, it being a favourite picnicking place for the ranchers.

He managed to set a fire before lying down by its welcome glow and then just gave in to the pain and nausea through the long night.

The following morning he dragged himself up and although still feeling far from well knew he had to make it home that day, while he could still ride. He even longed for some of Daisy’s foul tasting special tea, which she always dispensed when one or other of them was suffering from sickness and diarrhea and with that thought in mind started his slow journey home.

It was late evening when he finally made it to the rise above the ranch and looking down he had never been so relieved to see home. Yes he was going to get a rough time from Slim and maybe the others too, but he just didn’t care anymore, he was home where he belonged and he thanked God for it.

As he walked Chief into the yard the ranch door burst open and Slim was standing there a look of pure joy on his face and then he was joined by Daisy and young Mike ran out from the barn and they stood transfixed as he rode over to the hitching rail and reined the big Buckskin in.

He sat for a moment drinking in his ’family’, before slipping down from the saddle.

“I’m so sorry pard,” he whispered to Slim, and then everything seemed to tip slightly and he felt a sweat breaking out on his forehead and darkness start to descend and the last thing he remembered was the look of happiness on Slim’s face turn to concern as Jess slowly buckled at the knees and fell in a dead faint at his friend’s feet.

Slim ran forwards and was just able to catch him before he hit the ground and with Daisy’s help he hauled him into the ranch house and deposited him on the old leather couch by the fire.

“He looks dreadful,” said Daisy taking in the chalky face with three days growth of beard and the stained, sour shirt and denims.

“He’s very ill Slim,” she said softly, “take his shirt off and I’ll fetch some water to clean him up.”

Slim did as he was bid and then seeing Mike looking on, an expression of fear on his young face said,” Hey Tiger, can you go see to Jess’s mount while we fix him up some?”

The child glanced down at his friend,” he will be OK Slim? “

“Sure he will, just a mite under the weather, he’ll be good as new come tomorrow and boring us silly with all his tales, you’ll see.”

The youngster looked back at Jess,” I sure hope so I’ve missed him so much Slim, I really don’t wanna see him sick.”

“I know, off you go buddy and then you scoot off to bed, plenty of time to talk to Jess tomorrow, OK?”

The boy went off to do as he was bid and Slim turned back to his best friend.

“So what in Hell have you been up to now buddy?” he said softly, to the deeply unconscious Jess.

Daisy returned after a moment and they cleaned him up as best they could and Slim removed all his outer garments and covered him with a warm blanket before stoking up the fire.

Daisy had brewed some of her special tea and put the pot by the fire to keep warm and then looked down anxiously at the young cowboy.

“He looks so vulnerable and sick,” she whispered, “the poor boy.”

“You go to bed Daisy,” said Slim,” it’s late; I’ll sit up with him and get some of your evil brew down him too as soon as he wakes.”

She nodded,” Just call if you need me”.

Then stooping down she brushed his wavy hair from his forehead," It's so good to have him home isn’t it Slim?”

The tall blond rancher looked down at him,” It sure is Daisy… I really thought we’d lost him this time.”

It was a couple of hours later when Jess finally woke up properly.

Slim had been dozing in Jess’s rocker by the fire, but as soon as he saw him stir he went over and sat on the edge of the couch.

“Hey how are you doing Jess….. not too well then? “

Jess gazed at him,” Nah, figure I drank some bad water… can’t keep anything down.”

Slim nodded and then went and poured a cup of Daisy’s special remedy out and passed it across to where Jess had hauled himself up to a sitting position.

“There you go, try some of that, Daisy made it especially for you. She’s gone to bed as its kinda late, but sent her love… she cleaned you up some … Then Mike wanted to sit up with you, but I sent him to bed… guess he’ll be up at first light wanting to hear all your adventures… gee it’s so good to have you back buddy… we’ve missed you something fierce, you know that?” and he grinned down at his buddy.

“Jess…. hey Jess, what’s up pard?”

Jess’s face was a picture of desolation, his eyes bright with unshed tears.

“Jess, what’s the matter?” he said softly.

Jess shook his head looking down, then said gruffly,” Why are you all bein’ so goddamn kind to me Slim, I don’t deserve it….”

“Look we’ll talk about that when you’re feeling better, sure I was mad at you for running out on us that way… but Miss Daisy said there was sure to be a good reason…. And anyway, you’re home now Jess, that’s the main thing.”

Jess just shook his head again, unable to speak.

“Come on buddy, get this tea down you,” said Slim softly,” make you feel better.”

Jess’s head shot up and he stared at his buddy,” Guess it’ll take a whole lot more than that,” he said quietly, before doing as he was told.

However Daisy’s brew didn’t work its usual miracle and Jess was still chucking up and in severe pain the following day and so Doc Sam was sent for.

He took one look at Jess who was now resting in his own bed and knew he was really sick.

“How long has this been going on Jess?”

“Two maybe three days…… I kinda forget,” said Jess before suddenly doubling up and holding his stomach as the pain ripped through him again.

The doctor listened to his chest and then gently felt around his belly, but again Jess groaned in pain.

“Um… that bad eh?” asked the doctor, knowing it took a lot for Jess to react this way.

Daisy and Slim had been giving Jess a bit of privacy, but now they knocked gently on his bedroom door and entered.

“Well Sam,” asked Slim casting the older man an anxious look,” he’s been throwing up since he landed home and he’s in one hell of a lot of pain.”

Sam nodded;” I’ll give you some medicine for that, but doubt he’ll keep that down either. What he needs is to be given just tiny amounts of water every hour or so throughout the day and night.”

Then turning to Daisy who was an ex nurse said,” As you can see he’s dangerously dehydrated Daisy,we have to get those fluid levels up… or , well……” and he turned away, failing to complete his sentence ,but his meaning left hanging ominously in the air.

After Daisy had shown the doc out, Slim went and sat on the edge of his buddy’s bed and gently lifting his head helped him take a small sip of water before lowering his head back on the pillow.

“I’m sorry,” whispered Jess,” I’m makin’ so much work for you all…”

“Hey, take it easy pard, none of this is your fault, now try and get some sleep and I’ll be back shortly with another drink”.

Jess nodded and closed his eyes; his emotions dangerously near the surface and he didn’t want Slim to see how bad he was feeling.

Once he heard the door close softly behind his friend he threw an arm across his eyes and stifled a sob, how could they be so darned kind to him, after what he’d done he thought again before finally falling into an exhausted asleep.

Slim, Daisy and even little Mike took it in turns to sit with Jess over the next few days painstakingly giving him tiny sips of water until eventually he was able to keep it down and the overwhelming pains gradually decreased in severity as well.

On the third day Slim and Daisy were just sitting down to a second cup of coffee, having seen Mike off on the Stage to school, when the bedroom door opened and Jess emerged , dressed for work.

“What in heck are you doing up?” said Slim, his eyes open wide in shock.

Jess shuffled over, looking pale and shaky.

“Going back to work,” he said quietly before taking his usual place around the breakfast table.

“The Hell you are,” said Slim stoutly, “you aren’t nearly well enough yet Jess.”

“I gotta, Slim, got to start making amends, I’ve left you to handle things all on your own half of the summer and ….. “

“And so another couple of days won’t make any difference,” said Slim firmly, getting up and patting his buddy on the back.

“Just take it easy Jess or you’ll get sick again, plenty of work waiting for you… when you’re completely better,” and with that he marched out to the yard, turning at the door to wink at Daisy.

Jess hung his head but didn’t argue.

Daisy poured him a coffee and pushed it across the table,” Could you manage some breakfast Jess?”

He shook his head, ”No thanks I ain’t really hungry Daisy”.

She gave him a sympathetic look,” would it help to talk about it dear?”

Jess’s head shot up and he just stared at her for a moment, how could he begin to tell her how the woman he was in love with had turned out to be working as a prostitute, and Jess had been the last one to know. And even worse that he had been on the verge of walking out on his life here in Laramie for her…

He looked down and she could see he was struggling; a whole spectrum of emotions flitting across his handsome features, from hurt to embarrassment and then finally dejection.

He shook his head,” I guess I just lost my way some Daisy.”

“It must have been wonderful finding that your old friend was still alive though?”

He nodded, “Yes it was amazing… I guess I couldn’t believe it…. and we got close again Daisy… real close, but….”


He just shrugged and looked down, unable to meet her eyes.

“Maybe it would be easier to talk to Slim?” she said perceptively.

He sighed deeply, he was finding it hard to even look Slim in the eye right then as he felt so darned ashamed.

He’d seen how exhausted Slim was on his return, and Daisy had hinted as to the current financial position at the ranch and Jess had made it his business to check out the books and he was upset to see how much money in wages Slim had, had to pay out through the summer to Jess’s temporary replacement.He had then gone to Slim and said he refused to draw a cent in pay until the figures were looking healthier and that had caused another rift between them.

“It would have been just the same if I’d taken off,” said Slim reasonably,” you’d have needed to buy help in; it’s just one of those things.”

“But you’d never have gone off that way,” said Jess quietly, and Slim had just patted his shoulder and walked away, both of them knowing the truth of Jess’s words.

Since then he had tried to avoid his friend’s company, feeling so guilty and heart sick at all the damage he had done not only to their relationship, but also to the jointly owned business.

Now he turned sad eyes on Daisy, “ I guess if I’m not well enough for Mustang bustin’ yet, I can manage to wash a few dishes and peel the potatoes for supper maybe?”

She beamed across at him,” That would be wonderful, thank you dear,” and they went off to the kitchen companionably enough as Jess started to try and make amends to their beloved housekeeper at least.

He also spent much of his convalescence with Mike, playing checkers with him after school and attending to the bedtime ritual of making sure he washed behind the ears, tucking him up and reading him a story.

One evening he had finished the story and was about to leave when the little boy said sleepily,” I’m sure glad you’re back Jess,” and then looking slightly embarrassed,” I guess you’ll think I’m a baby, but I cried some nights thinkin’ you’d never come home again,” he said softly.

Jess’s heart lurched, and he looked down into the youngster’s innocent blue eyes.

“I sure don’t think yer a baby,” he said after a moment;” just a true friend… more of one than I’ve been lately,” he said in sorrow.

The youngster sat up again a look of consternation on his face,” Heck aunt Daisy said there ’d be a good reason as to why you were staying away Jess, don’t fret about it.”

Jess ducked his head and said sadly, yeah,” I thought there was…. But guess I was wrong.”

“It’s OK Jess; I understand,” said the boy sincerely, although Jess knew he didn’t, couldn’t…… Hell he hardly understood himself, but the child just wanted him to feel better, he knew that.

He stood up and once the boy was settled again, leaned down and kissed him tenderly on the forehead.

“Tomorrow you can sit the corral fence and watch out for my back, iffen you like,” he said with his shy smile, “I’m startin’ on the Mustang bustin’.”

“Gee thanks Jess,” said the youngster happily,” you can count on me!”

“Yeah, I know that Tiger….. ‘night,” he said softly and left the room.

Once outside he stopped with his back to the door and sighed deeply, wiping a hand across his face and eyes.

Slim and Daisy who were sitting at the table with their coffee exchanged a look, and then Slim said gently, “everything OK pard?”

Jess threw him an uncomfortable look,” I guess,” he said quietly before heading for the door to go and check on the horses and escape any further questioning.

Much later Daisy was just going off to bed when she glanced through the window and saw Jess sitting out on the porch, his feet up on the rail just looking off to the horizon.

She turned back into the room and looked over to where Slim was sitting at his desk poring over the accounts.

“Oh Slim, he’s been sitting out there on his own all evening and it’s turned so chilly,he doesn’t want to catch cold when he’s just getting better, please go and get him in.”

Slim pushed his chair back,” OK I’ll try, but you know how he’s been lately Daisy, he just doesn’t want to talk to me… that’s why he’s out there I guess keeping out of my way. Figure he thinks I’m mad at him.”

“And are you dear?”

He shook his head,” heck no Daisy, I was … but I figure he’s feeling really bad about going off that way, reckon I don’t need to make him feel any worse, it’s all over and done with as far as I’m concerned and I just want things to get back to normal.”

“Well, maybe he needs to know that Slim…. And I think  he could do with a friend right now, someone he can really unburden to….”

Slim gave her a warm smile,” OK Daisy, I’m on my way, you get off to bed…..sweet dreams”.

“Thank you, goodnight dear.”

Slim wandered out to the porch and leaned on the rail looking down at his friend.

“You coming in buddy, it’s getting kinda cold.”

“I’m OK.”

“You thinking about Sadie,” he asked giving his partner an encouraging look”, you never really said what happened?”

Jess stared up and gave his friend a deadpan look,” No I didn’t.”

Slim gave a small sigh, but tried again,” So you still got that likeness of the two of you together?”

Jess said nothing for a moment and then fished in his vest pocket before handing it over.

Slim went and slumped down in the chair next to Jess and held it up to the light from the overhead lamp.

“Um, she sure is a fine looking woman.”

“Oh yeah, she sure looks good,” said Jess with a hint of bitterness.

Slim gazed across trying to fathom out what was going on in his buddy’s head.

“And it must have been one Hell of a shock, first thinking she was dead and then finding out he was alive all the time?”

“You could say that yeah…..”

“Hell Jess,” he said in sudden exasperation, ”will you talk to me?”

Jess’s head shot up,” What do ya want me to say?”

“I don’t know …why you’re acting this way… sitting out here night after night avoiding me… damn it Jess you can hardly look me in the eye….. And then you spend half the summer with this woman, but when I ask you about her it’s like she’s some acquaintance… some woman of no account… so what’s going on here Jess?”

Jess sprang up from his seat his eyes now blazing in anger.

“I can’t be near you Slim because I feel so goddamn ashamed at the way I’ve treated you…. treated you all… Daisy so understanding… the boy he said,” his voice suddenly husky with emotion,” the boy tellin’ me he understands Slim… and I’m not to fret….. goddamn it I don’t deserve any of you the way I’ve been lately….”

He turned his back to Slim and stood looking out to the moonlit distant hills, one hand holding onto the hitching rail as if for dear life, the other constantly clenching and unclenching, like he wanted to just hit out at something to take away the pain of the guilt.

Slim stood up and placed a hand on his shoulder and could feel him shaking and knew he was near the edge.

“Sit down Jess….  tell me why you needed to stay so much? And why you came home, try and make me understand…..”

Jess turned and sat down by his friend again and looked down for a long time before he finally began to speak, his voice low and raw.

“Carson lied, he wasn’t her brother… they were lovers…. She went behind her husband’s back with him…. Strung him along for a fool. When I found out I reckoned I couldn’t trust her… if she could do that to her husband… well…..” he turned troubled eyes on Slim.

“So I was ready to ride out and then I made the fatal mistake….”


“Yeah, I kissed her………. and I believed her when she said I was the love of her life… we’d be happy together, I was all she’d ever wanted. Hell Slim, she’s so damn beautiful and well… one thing lead to another…. And I woke up in her bed and I guess there was no turning back.”

He turned beseeching eyes on his buddy, “She was ….you know…….. real special… the lovin’ it was so goddamn good Slim,” he said softly.

“Go on.”

“ I wouldn’t admit it to myself… but I was in deep, just kept getting’ sucked in deeper and deeper, found a job.. at the livery… moved into her room…… I was in denial, kept telling myself it was justa break, I’d be home soon… but… “

“But what Jess?” he said softly.

“I couldn’t help it Slim, I couldn’t give her up and she wouldn’t move out here…. God forgive me Slim I was goin’ to give up everything for her… the family…. my half of the business… our friendship,” he whispered.

Slim gave a low whistle,” I never realised it was that serious, figured you’d get it out of your system and then come home.”

Jess said,” Yeah well it was that serious……. As I say, she was great in bed…. Really amazing, but then she’d had a lot of practice,” he finished bitterly.


Jess ignored Slim’s query and went on telling the tale, almost in a matter of fact way.

“So I’d made plans to ride home an’ sell my half of the business, explain it all…. as well as I could that is, and go and buy up old Albert’s livery……” he sighed, the guilt weighing him down, but knowing he had to be brutally honest, knowing that’s the way Slim would want it.

“I was so in love Slim, I was just crazy for her… and then it all went wrong.”

“How so?”

“She kept getting clients, men, wanting a room and she turned them down, saying she wanted it just to be me and her. Well Hell Slim, we were running a business and yer can’t keep turning away guests, it was a boarding house with six good letting rooms and we needed the money. So the third time she turned a guy away I followed him over to the saloon in order to say there’ d been a mistake and sure he could rent a room…..,” then his voice faltered and he closed his eyes swallowing hard.

“Go on Jess.”

He turned and stared at his buddy his eyes blank for a moment, like he’d never seen him before, and then he pulled himself together and said, ”And that’s when he told me… he wasn’t after a room at all, he was after a session with Miss Sadie…. He told me she was a hooker Slim,” he said, turning anguished eyes on his friend,” she was a goddamn hooker and everyone from the barkeep to the town drunk knew the truth of it… everyone in that goddamn town knew…. Except me!”

Slim’s eyes opened wide in shock and he just stared….. “So what did you do pard?” he said very quietly.

“What do ya think I did, I knocked him into next week and did the same to most of the rest of the bar, until the Sheriff turned up… and I even tried to lay one on him too before he locked me up.”

Slim looked down, the ghost of a smile on his face, “You never do anything by halves do you Jess.”


“So what happened then?”

“ The next morning Albert sprang me, well vouched for me…. I went and told Sadie to go to Hell and then I came home.”

Slim just sat there shaking his head, “I’m so sorry….”

“Yeah, well maybe I deserved it, should have known it would never work out when I found out about her and Carson, should have just walked away then………..but guess I was under her spell and I figured that she’d changed and everything would be alright…. But it never could be Slim, because she didn’t trust me. She was gonna carry on seeing those men , just hedging her bets in case I didn’t come through. She figured I’d ride back here and change my mind, leave her high and dry, so she arranged to carry on seeing them…. That’s what really hurt Slim, she didn’t trust me and that’s when I knew there could never be any future.”

Then he ducked his head,” and I figure maybe I’m just as bad… wouldn’t blame you iffen you couldn’t trust me anymore.”

“Now hang on there , when did I ever say that. You were coming home to tell us all weren’t you?”

He nodded.

“And you’ve been upfront with me now…. Hell Jess I don’t bear you any malice, it’s over buddy and I forgive you… we all do. Sometimes…….. well a man can lose his head over a woman, we’ve both done it before and I don’t doubt we’ll do it again,that’s the way of things and right now I figure you need to move on and forgive yourself too, or this whole thing is going to eat you up Jess. Just put it down to experience….”

He nodded, and sighed deeply, the light of relief in his deep blue eyes, “Guess you’re right, thanks pard.”

Then he gave his friend a grim smile,” Way I’m hurtin’ right now I figure Carson got his revenge in the end anyway….… revenge from the grave…”

“Well maybe that’s so, but you’re a survivor Jess, he won’t win in the end, you’ll bounce back.”

“I guess. And Slim I wanna start back to work tomorrow, maybe those ornery mustangs will knock some sense into me… take my mind off of things anyway, that’s fer sure.”

“Yeah, maybe that’s a good idea, time you started pulling your weight round here again,” Slim said with a playful grin.

Then he got up and made for the door,” You coming, Miss Daisy said to bring you back in before you froze your butt off.”

“Daisy said that?”

“No,” he said grinning broadly now,” but that’s what she meant.”

Jess stood up and after taking one last look out to the mountains made to follow his buddy indoors and Slim held the door open for him.

“Come on Jess there’s coffee in the pot and I’ve got a bottle of Red Eye stashed in the kitchen, what do you say we add a drop, to keep out the cold, for medicinal purposes only of course?”

Jess threw an arm round his buddy’s shoulders as they went in.

“Of course,” he said laughing and in that moment he knew their friendship was intact once more as he slammed the door behind them and made for the fire and that warming drink.

The End –

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