Kate the Kid Ch. 03bymadam_noe©
And then he saw her rumpled and smiling, emerging from the back of a bordello. It was obvious she'd been there for a reason, and the thought of anyone else touching her drove him mad.
He groaned. It was hell to want a woman and not want to want her. To have such lust for a woman who lied to him and sneered at him at every turn, a woman he couldn't trust. But what if he knew all of her secrets? Would that change anything for Rafe? He didn't want to find out, after all she was Isabella's friend and that meant she was off-limits.
They pulled into Laverne ahead of schedule. Kate told Billy to drop them off at the lone hotel before going with him to put the horses away. She walked the driver back to the hotel and left him to eat in the restaurant with the others.
"Where do you think you're going?" Rafe asked with one arrogant brow raised.
"To ask around." She turned to leave.
"You shouldn't go alone." He started to stand, she waved him down.
"Look, of the three of you you're the only one who can use that smoke wagon you've got there. I can handle myself, I've been here plenty. The camp's still small, can't decide if it'll fold like little towns or spread out. I'll be okay alone. If all else fails, my reputation precedes me."
That muscle in his jaw flexed as she'd seen it do many times in two days. Kate smiled knowing she'd trumped him. He scowled deeper, if such a thing were possible and sat.
Kate sighed inwardly. Even scowling the man was too handsome by half. He looked like some brooding hero in one of Isabella's novels. For that reason alone she lowered herself to explaining her actions.
"I have to send a telegram to a friend to see if he might know who's been hired to follow us and why. Then I'm going to ask around town if any new bloods are in. Lastly for a couple of hours I'm going to watch the road in, see if I can spot them myself."
"Be careful, Kid." Jerome sipped his wine, seemingly unconcerned.
"If you're not back before midnight, I'm coming after you." This was said from her dark companion as more threat than promise.
Kate shivered and it was her irritation at that that made her voice husky. "Fine then, but don't wait up, MacNeil."
Kate stalked off into the night. It took some money to grease the wheels but she woke up the telegraph operator and sent Finnegan a message. Next she moved in and out of the saloons seeking out the slick gamblers and bartenders, the seasoned whores. Those who knew the town best.
No one knew anything but she knew she'd have to make the rounds again in the morning. She managed to find some bad food in one saloon and lost ten dollars in a game of pharo before venturing back to the main road into town.
She leaned against a post and slung her hat low, the brim shielding her eyes as she waited. Kate listened to the sounds of the night along the main road. The pounding of hooves in the dirt, the clank of boots on the boardwalk. The calls of the whores to travelers, the off-key pianos of the saloons. The camp was like any frontier town with it wooden buildings and second story facades, it was just less rough, proving Oklahoma territory was well on it's way to being settled by whites and blacks from the states.
There were more cottages on the edges of towns where families lived. The chirp of crickets was nearby and grass still grew. She'd bet money the town would flourish into a city. Already by day ladies with parasols strolled the streets openly and children played. The whores and gamblers only came out at night. There hadn't been a gun fight in the street in over a year.
"Wool gathering?" a deep voice said close to her ear.
Before she could stop herself Kate gasped. She didn't whirl around though, and for that she felt pride.
"What do you want MacNeil? It's not even eleven thirty."
"The others are asleep. I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Oh God, she thought and closed her eyes. Kate could handle hate, she loved indifference. But caring? Concern? She was powerless against it. That was how Isabella had tamed her. Concern. There was no deadlier weapon in Kate's book.
"Go to hell," she said cheerfully.
"I've been there, not ready to go back. Any word?"
"None. You know, MacNeil, I can take care of myself."
He came around to face her, still close. Close enough to her side that the hairs on the back of her neck stood. Close enough that the tingling began again, all over.
"No one's saying you can't. I just said I wanted to make sure you were fine."
She still couldn't meet his gaze, keeping her brim down. "If you worry it means you have some suspicion I can't take care of myself. Tell me, is it because I'm a woman?"
It was the truth but he sensed admitting it would hurt her pride. "When I don't know what we're up against, I'd worry about anyone."
"What are we up against, MacNeil? What are you and Jerome hiding from me? I warn you, don't lie to me."
"Or what? You haven't been exactly forthcoming."
Kate snorted and ran her spur along the ground. "What have you asked me that I've lied about?"
He was silent for a moment. "What's your name?" He knew the answer, he just needed to hear her say it.
"Kate," she said softly.
God, she liked hearing him say it softly. It sounded almost like an endearment on his lips. She made the mistake of looking up at him. He had a shadow of a beard and his hair was mussed from the wind. Why didn't the fool man wear a hat? He must like his tan and she couldn't fault him for that. With his honey skin and dark hair, his green eyes fairly glowed. Rafe looked like a predator. She gulped and quickly looked away.
"Why are you afraid of me, Kate? What is it I've done?" He clearly misread her and for that she was glad.
Should she tell him the truth? No, she couldn't risk it. There were plenty of Kids around, maybe he didn't know he sought her. She decided to hedge with the truth.
"You know what Billy asked me the day we met, about the Statler brothers?"
"I walked into a bank in Columbia and they were robbing it. I drew my gun to stop them but the damn manager thought I was in on it. He shot at me, I shot at them, chased them out. I grabbed the money to return it but the manager followed us out. He was shooting at me and I had to make my escape. I froze, forgot to drop the money and by the time I realized I had it, it was too late. He had the Sheriff of Columbia, Missouri put my face on some posters.
"My friends laugh at me for my accidental bank robbery, and most bounty hunters know about it, know enough not to bother bringing me in. But you? I'm not so sure about you."
He raked a hand through his hair and sent her a genuine smile. Her knees almost gave out, and she was thankful to be sitting. "I didn't know that but fear not, I won't be bringing you in anytime soon."
"Oh? Is that all? Oh?"
"What else should I say, MacNeil? Thanks?"
"No need for thanks. I would do no less for any of Jerome's friends. And as you're trusted by Isabella, so in turn Jerome feels."
She snorted again. "He doesn't trust me. Both of you think I'm some sort of romantic outlaw. I'm useless to you except as a hired gun. Funny, since I'm not an outlaw, I am a hired gun. Protection, tracking, these are the ways I earn a living now. It's not respectable, MacNeil, but it's honest, hard work. You two won't trust me because I do it, but you need me to do it for you."
In the face of this tirade he could do nothing but step back and fold his arms.
"Well go to hell. I'm not doing this for you, or even for Jerome. I'm doing this for Isabella because I owe her. Because she is a great person and deserves happiness, and she asked me to deliver it. So play your stupid games, but other than that, leave me alone."
She stood and whirled on her heel and stalked back to the hotel. It was a brilliant exit, she thought. Now all she had to do was leave him in the dust. At the desk she asked the clerk for a room. The cheerful little bastard informed her there were none left.
A throat cleared behind her.
Trepidation made her turn slowly to face 6'4" of smug, masculine male. "Yes?"
"We got the last two rooms. Looks like we're bunking, Kid."
This time it was she who gritted her teeth. "Lead the way then."
With a grin he did so. They went up the stairs and down the narrow hallway stopping at the last room on the right. The passage was dark with its stained wainscoting and dark blue wallpaper covered in tiny yellow flowers. The gas lamps burned low and the shadows flickered.
With a turn of the key he opened the door and to her dismay there was a single bed in the tiny room. He stepped inside and she followed slowly.
"Privy's out back, down the back stairs if you need it. You want the left, or the right?"
"I'll take the floor."
"Sorry, left your bedroll with Sweet."
So, she had. He was already stripping off his shirt and for a moment she was frozen. His chest was well muscled, beautifully defined. His stomach looked like a washboard and at that moment he put every brave she'd even seen in a battle loincloth to shame. Rafe was tanned on his arms and chest and well, was he tanned everywhere? She wondered desperately.
His arms were thick with muscle, as beautifully defined as his back. He was so strong for a moment in time she was just a woman lusting after a beautiful man.
"Do I meet with your approval?" he asked dryly.
Her gaze snapped up to his face. He was watching her and smiling. A blush exploded over her and she turned away to face the window. "One of us should sleep over the sheet, one under."
"You're sounding like a prude, Kate."
"It's Kid. And so what if I am?"
He chuckled. "All right, I'll sleep on top of the sheet."
"Getting ready for bed, Kate?"
"Not while you watch, MacNeil. Turn your back." Kate realized she was going to have to remove the binding on her breasts. She didn't want to but it was too uncomfortable to sleep in and she would risk ruining it.
"All right, I'll wash up." He moved to the dresser and pitcher. Eyeing him warily Kate slipped off her hat and bandana, allowing her hair to fall. It almost reached her waist and she quickly combed it out with the brush from her bag.
She made sure he was still turned. "Stay that way MacNeil until I say so."
"No problem." He began to whistle beautifully.
After hesitating a moment she slipped her long shirt out of her pants. Peeling it off she stood only in her leather breeches and binding. He was still turned, still splashing in the basin. She removed the straight pin that secured her binding and unwound it until her breasts were free. The sensation was so pleasant she moaned softly in relief.
The splashing had stopped and she jerked her head up. He went back to it. With haste she snatched her shirt back and slipped it over her head. It fell to almost her knees. Kate realized it would have to do and sighed.
Sitting on the bed she tugged off her boots and socks, stuffing the latter in her bag. She removed her pants and tossed them with the rest of her things before crawling under the sheet.
"You can turn around now MacNeil."
"MacNeil?" She sat up. It was then that Kate realized a little shaving mirror was propped up on the dresser. He had been able to see everything she'd done. And she'd stood there moaning like an idiot naked from the waist up.
He turned around and his gaze met hers with heat, sliding palpably along her skin. "Go to hell MacNeil." It was the third time in the last hour she'd said it and Kate sensed it was losing meaning. Still it was her best insult in the ladylike category and so she left it at that and grabbed the sheet. She turned her back on him and squeezed her eyes shut.
Rafe tried to slow his breathing. The air forcing its way into his lungs was coming in short, shallow gasps. Dear God, he'd seen her mostly naked. Underneath it all she was hiding the most magnificent pair of breasts he'd ever seen. And her bare legs were slim, shapely, and impossibly long. Her hair was the color of fire and hung to almost her waist.
He closed his eyes and gripped the dresser for balance. He was hard, rock hard. How was he going to survive the night? He opened his eyes to see she'd buried her shapely form under the white sheet but it couldn't cover up the curves. Under the trail dust they all shared he could smell flowers and realized the scent came from her hair.
His hands closed and flexed, opening and closing again. He'd survived worse. Torture, poverty, hunger, pain. He'd never faced temptation like this, but by God, Rafe would face it tonight.
He turned down the lamp and laid on the bed, the ropes beneath the feather mattress shifting and swinging beneath his weight. She shifted slightly towards him. Turning on his side they were now flush like spoons in the pantry cupboard.
Her bottom wriggled against him, sidling closer. He realized she wore nothing underneath the shirt and was purposefully teasing him, stroking his hardness. So, the minx spat at him one minute than teased him the next?
"Kate," he ground out.
Silence again. She was asleep. Well, at least she was friendly and compliant in sleep. He wrapped an arm around her to still her movements and sighed. It was going to be a long night.