Kate the Kid Ch. 04bymadam_noe©
Kate woke up a long time later from an odd dream. Not like the haunting memories or dark huger of nights past, she couldn't remember the happiness as the dream faded. She awoke to full consciousness and heat.
The sun hadn't risen, it was still early. A meaty arm was draped over her waist, no, more than that. Possessively she was being held, a still hand resting on the swell of one of her breasts.
The sound apparently woke Rafe. "Good morning."
She froze. This was said too congenially. Could she fake sleep? Kate doubted it. She took inventory of the situation. Somehow in the night she'd kicked off the sheet and her legs were bare. Well, one of his covered hers, but that was all. Her shirt had hiked up her almost her waist. Without looking down she knew her nether curls were exposed. Thank God he lay behind her.
Her shirt had shifted around in the night and she quickly realized the hand on her breast was inside her shirt. She gasped again.
Well, all pretense of sleep was gone. All she could do was ask him to remove his hand before she sprung up and grabbed her guns. She was fully intending to shoot him when the pad of his thumb grazed across her nipple. It puckered instantly.
"Rafe..." It had been meant as a warning but instant lust turned her voice into a caress.
Encouraged, he sat up propped up by an arm. She closed her eyes letting the sensations wash over her and moaned. Kate forgot who she was, who he was, simply letting them be man and woman with no time and place. Never had she felt the feelings he was deliberately provoking.
She felt him shifting, pulling her closer. When his wet mouth closed over the exposed peak her eyes shot open. Something was wrong, but the tendrils left of her mind wouldn't quite grasp it. Between his teeth he captured the nub and rolled it, laving it with his tongue.
There it was, the silly thought that finally broke the haze. He hadn't even kissed her yet. She remembered one of Suzy's rules.
"I don't kiss 'em, Kid 'cause kissin' means somethin'. I's lick 'em and do whatever tussle they want, 'cause that's all business but kissin' is for me and me alone."
Rafe hadn't kissed her. With a burst of power she shoved him off of her, almost off the bed. "MacNeil, knock it off."
It wasn't a fluid maneuver, she was tangled up in the sheets, but eventually Kate was standing, clutching her shirt closed.
"So we're back to MacNeil, and here I thought we were on a first name basis, Kate."
She wouldn't meet his eyes. Kate was beyond embarrassed. She'd gone to bed an angry woman and woke up cavorting like a wanton. The man was too much trouble by half, she needed distance from him and quick.
"Don't ever touch me again, MacNeil, and call me Kid. Now get out of here so I can dress."
He said nothing so she raised her gaze to his jaw. The familiar muscle was quirking like the tick of a clock. Kate held her ground, legs planted firmly apart, her hand fisted on the opening of her shirt. It billowed around her and Kate was very aware that she was naked underneath. For a moment, she thought he wouldn't move. For longer she hoped he wouldn't. The sheet he was now under covered his waist. She wasn't entirely sure he was wearing his breeches. If he wasn't, part of her delighted in knowing, he could just rise naked. He'd be between her and the door. Rafe could just stand up and take her in his arms...
Snarling she turned around and reached for her gun. She drew the .44 on him as his own was brought up. A stalemate.
"Leave now, MacNeil. And don't you ever touch me again," she added hastily. Simply because she was ashamed.
He clicked the hammer on his gun and shored up. Kate met his eyes then. His dark hair was ruffled and messy with sleep, the shadow of a beard thicker. His eyes were ruthless and hard. This was one man she wouldn't want to ever have to show down. Hell, not like she could.
He stood up and to her disappointment his pants were on and fastened. Still they rode low on his hips and her eyes followed the line of hair tapering from his chest to disappear below his belt.
Rafe narrowed his eyes. He saw where she was looking, damn it, the woman had been enjoying it. So why had she suddenly turned on him? She was as skittish as a virgin on her wedding night, but this was the seasoned Kid. He stuffed his shirt on and went in search of his boots, very aware that her gun was still drawn. Kate wasn't worth it, he thought in disgust, he didn't need to dally with some pretty outlaw. Beautiful women were everywhere, beautiful willing women.
"All right, Kate, I'll leave. And I won't touch you...unless you ask for it."
She watched the door close behind him. What the hell did that mean? Kate put the gun away and wasted no time. In the small room she quickly gathered her clothes and washed up. She slipped on her white linen shirt and jacket, put up her hair, wrapped her gun belt around her waist.
The hair went under the hat and the brim tucked low, the jacket covering what swell of her breasts the bandages couldn't hide. In the mirror the young kid looked at her with a woman's eyes.
She grabbed her bags and snuck down the stairs, careful to avoid the restaurant below. She knew a place in town that sold eggs and biscuits sopped in gravy by day, good whiskey by night. Knowing she'd been needing it soon she bought a bottle of hooch for the road with her plate of food.
Billy was hitching the team when she arrived, the men were moving a bit slowly. Probably Jerome, she mused. He wasn't used to such a pace.
She crouched down and gently examined a hoof. "Billy how much time before that slicker gets on out here?"
He shrugged. "Maybe half an hour. Better be soon."
"I'll be back. Sweetwater okay?"
He grinned a toothy smile. "He's gotten six offers since we been in town. Had to put a guard out for him. Ain't nobody offering more 'n' half what he's worth."
She shrugged. "I wouldn't sell him for anything. Keep an eye on the men. If Rafe tries to leave, keep him there. Make something up."
"I don't care." She flipped some coins to him and he smiled again. "Whatever it takes, keep him out of my hair. There's money in it."
It took more than half an hour to make the rounds in town but no one had seen anything. There were a few camps on the edge of town but no time to search them and the few people she spoke with hadn't seen anybody new in the night other than a family of farmers headed their way and two Mexicans headed north.
Her instincts were never off and they told her someone was following the two men. Nothing yet had happened but the warnings from that Indian weighed heavy on her mind. The men were going to have start talking and soon. But she would be damned if it was Rafe. That man was in a whole other league, and bad for business. Jerome looked like a talker. He was city but he wasn't soft, not hard but lonely.
If she could just think of a way to separate them...
He was leaning against the steps of the hotel's back entrance sipping something that looked like bad Tequila from a glass. "Yes'm?"
"If we pushed, and I know we were planning to, we could make Boise City by late. But what say you we stop about fifty miles short and make camp."
"Why's that? Only be another hour to a nice hotel room."
"Trust me on this. Let's slow down the pace enough so we have to stop for dinner. Trust me, it's tough hunting there, we'll have to make camp."
"Kid, I don't know if I'd recommend that. This is almost Rafe's country, he'll know we can make it. And he's a smart one, he'll catch on to any tricks."
"Just try it, okay? Somebody's following us but as long as we stay to towns we'll never find them. If we camp on the open plains we can flush them out. Real easy like, see?"
He saw the logic in that and nodded easily. Kate knew better, if whoever was following them was as good as she thought she was going to have set a trap. And to do that, she needed to know what animal she was trapping. Pierre had taught her many things but the most important lesson was to know the nature of the beast.
She was on Sweetwater before the men emerged, the horse prancing and antsy to be moving. She took off ahead, her face having turned red at the first sight of Rafe's boots.
Good God, what had she done? She slowed Sweetwater and groaned, lowering her head. And what had it been that made her stop? Suzy's voice.
Suzy was an older whore with a bawdy sense of humor and a dim but realistic outlook on life. She had imparted many wisdoms on sex to Kate, the good and the bad as well as the mechanics of the situation. The most resounding lesson was that a man who kissed wanted the woman; the man who didn't wanted a whore for a tussle.
She didn't want it to mean anything. Whenever she did get around to the business of sex she wanted somebody safe and distant. Rafe in theory would have worked just fine but there was something about the man that scared her, and Kate hadn't been scared of anything since she left that little cabin in the mountains.
The fear felt, well, different than the fear of loss or death, fear she was used to. It was somehow more primal and secret, a fear she couldn't commiserate over with a fellow friend sharing beers.
Sweet was prancing in high spirits beneath her and he needed to be ridden hard. She took him out for sprints before circling back, twice falling behind the wagon in hopes she could see who was following them. Nothing.
She saw Indians moving off to the north, running a line of hunters giving them wide berth. After a stop for supper she rode out and met them on friendly ground. They'd found tracks behind them but nothing left. Whoever was following the men inside the wagon wasn't just good; they were the best.
That meant hired men, hired because if they wanted Rafe or Jerome and it was personal, they'd have made their moves or gotten sloppy. They were waiting, that meant they were waiting for orders to kill.
Sweet felt her unease and shifted beneath her as she brandished her guns in the sun, letting them glint and shine for miles. The tribal hunters had left minutes earlier, still she felt she was being watched. No one on the prairie behind them, dried dirt and dying grass rolled on for miles.
She felt the thunder roll before she saw the lightning flash. Logic told her that wasn't possible but too late the storm opened up from the only partly cloudy sky. She raced the horse back to camp where the men were cleaning up in a flurry.
"Billy, ride on ahead right quick. I'm gonna double back on that ridge."
Jerome paled. "Is somebody out there?"
"I don't know, you wanna tell me?" She leaned down on her horse to make her nose almost touch his. She didn't have to slouch far.
He reddened and slid scared eyes to Rafe. Kate stiffened, still too embarrassed to face the man. Her anger rose and she blasted it onto Jerome.
"Fine then. But these people behind us sure as hell ain't lookin' for me. Too high and mighty good at what they do. They're after you two men 'less Billy here has a career robbin' postal trains I don't know about. And there's only one reason they're waiting, and that's to make sure no one is gonna interrupt them killin' us. So you'd best pony up some information and soon.
"Now I'm gonna go out there knowing next to nuthin' if you have your way. Just be good and goddammed glad I'm the best shot around, Jerome."
At his silence she twisted the reins and nicked Sweet's flanks, shooting off. The rain came down pell-mell and she smiled into it, coat closed and hat tucked down. Couldn't have gone any better, she thought. Divide and conquer, that was the way. Rafe was angry with her but Jerome would feel guilty, and guilty men liked to talk.
If she could think of a way to act more feminine when they made camp, well, so much the better. Jerome would fawn and Rafe would get angry. He'd probably storm off leaving her to pump information out of Jerome.
She could find nothing at first so she led Sweet into some high bushes. He didn't nicker as she slapped mud on his flesh to camouflage the white. From what the hunters had told her she expected the other men to be about three miles behind.
She shuddered in the cold while the storm washed over for almost an hour before she heard it. The sound of two horses hurrying. She pulled her trusty gun out, the other ready at the hip, and led Sweet back from the bushes.
They passed, the rain too thick for her to make out more than two men on horseback, too dense for them to notice her.
She hopped up on Sweetwater who sped into action without much prodding. The horse was used to her moods and knew when she meant business. He went charging down the rutted road, nostrils flaring, mane tossing back. The wind whipped at her from behind, blowing rain down hard as lightning flashed. The storm was violent and slow moving, gathering speed as it decided what direction to go.
Now had the men known her better they'd understand what it meant to go her way. She charged the two men and pulled up alongside one, shoving him with all her might while his horse nipped at Sweet. Sweet pulled short and the other rider's horse tripped. The man went flying, a gun going off. The rider in the front circled back, gun drawn.
Kate shot at him, winging his hat as a warning. The man quickly sized up the odds and turned north, breaking for it.
Something hit her arm and the impact knocking her flat on her ass, looking up at Sweet. A shadow moved towards her and she rolled over in the mud, crawling to her knees.
He came fast and it was a kick to the gut. She oofed and went sprawling back onto her back, stunned but not down for the count.
The pain had to be pushed aside so she could deal with the attacker. She scrambled to her feet and ducked a swing. Her gun was lying in the mud, so was his. But she had another.
He swung and connected with her shoulder, she carried with the momentum and swung her wounded arm, knocking his jaw. He stumbling back revealing a smaller gun in his hand.
By the time he straightened she'd drawn and they squared off.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Shit and goddamned, yer a wommin!" he cursed and spit.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Listen missy, put the gun away real nice like. This don't concern you. I'm tracking those boys up ahead and you just chased my goddamned partner off. Now the way I see it, you owe me your horse. You take my nag here and ride off and I won't shoot you."
"You already did."
He grinned, his yellow teeth showing in the light as well as an ordinary face, unremarkable. Pity, how was she going to identify him?
A wave of wooziness hit her as she heard the thunder of hoof beats coming towards them. His partner must be doubling back. She had to act fast and made the mistake of turning her head towards the rider behind her.
She heard the click of a trigger guard and the hammer drawn back. No time to do anything but react, and she shot.
Before he got his shot off she knocked his gun from his hand but she missed the knife. As her vision dimmed he lunged and another shot exploded. This time there was no kick from her gun and she knew she was dying, shot in the back.
But it was he who crumpled to the ground, she who stayed on shaky feet. The horse stopped behind her and Sweet nickered. Strong arms came around her and she began to thrash.
"Damn it woman, it's me!"
Rafe. She was so glad to see him she forgot her embarrassment.
She'd killed a man. She had never taken a life before and it shook her. Death was something she had been taught by the Lakota to respect and fear, to avoid at all costs.
"I shot him just in time, Kate. Is he dead?"
He'd shot him? She almost smiled in relief. "Hell if I know, MacNeil."
"Jesus, you're bleeding."
"Shot me in the arm. Get my gun, will you? I need it."
I picked it up and nudged the man with his boot. "Know him?"
"Naw," she whispered.
He turned back and wrestled her jacket off. "Just a flesh wound, bleedin' like hell, Kid."
Without another word he peeled off his shirt and ripped a sleeve off. Rolling it up he tied it around her arm and yanked it into a knot.
"Thanks," she mumbled. With his help she made it to her feet and a whistle brought Sweet to her side.
"Check him," she ordered and Rafe sent her a murderous look.
"This is not my first day on the job, Kid."
He rifled through the man's pockets but found nothing. "Hell, can't tell which one of us he was after."
"Somebody wanting to kill you, I get, but Jerome? Who wants him dead?"
Wariness entered Rafe's eyes. "Businessmen have many enemies. What happened to the other rider?"
"Shot his hat off, I could have stopped the damn fool but I got coldcocked by Mr. Stiff there."
"Well hell, I'll just turn the horse loose, Indians'll get it soon enough. We'd better make it back. I told Billy to keep going."
"You left them unprotected?" It dawned on her. "You idiot! You know someone wants you dead!"
"What would you have done if I hadn't come by?"
"Shot that damn dumb asshole holding the knife. I had it under control."
He pointedly looked at her bleeding arm. "I see."
He climbed on the carriage horse and forced her up on Sweet. Kate led the way and they rode hard towards the path to see the carriage rolling on just fine. They caught up and Billy stopped to tether the horses while Rafe and Kate climbed inside. Rafe waved Jerome off and forced some water down her throat. When it became clear she was steady but weak Rafe "consented" to letting her ride ahead. Rafe took shotgun and they planned to meet in Boise City.
They pulled in just after dinner time and Kate made her way to the only person in town she knew who could help her with the arm. Ruby Jones.
Ruby ran a clean house under the radar of the daytime folk. Her girls dressed better, drank champagne, and were never diseased. Ruby put any girls who were so unfortunate, or pregnant, in business doing the wash or something else.
Kid left Sweet on the street where the mud would keep thieves at bay and stumbled inside. Wet as she was she didn't attract much attention and had to give the barkeep her gimlet stare before he ushered her into the back office.
Ruby was bent over a fancy desk, looking for all the world a schoolmarm, or society matron. She removed her quizzing glass and stood up.
"Jesus Kid, what army did you take on?"
"Hey Ruby. I need some stitches in the arm."
"Sit down, let me take a look. George," she called to the barkeep. "Have Harry take care of Kid's horse, bring her bedroll inside."
"Just move, George."
Kid peeled off her jacket and let Ruby take a gander.
"Hell, it's a bleeder. You won't even need stitches. Let me just clean it up and get you a right proper bandage."
"That's what friends are for. You taking jobs?"
"Not anymore. Right now I'm takin' this tenderfoot and a hired gun to Frisco. Tenderfoot is marryin' Isabella."
"How wonderful. But why would a man with a hired gun need another hired gun? What kinda trouble are you in, Kid?"
"I don't know. Rafe's never been outside of Texas so-"
"Rafe? As in Rafe MacNeil? Oh, girl, he is a heap'a trouble. Man's got a body made for sin, or so they say., Doesn't go whorin' much. Fastest gun in these parts and sharp as a tack."
"I know." And just like that the story spilled out, every detail. Ruby had been a steady customer over the years, using Kid to track down debtors and anyone who laid a hand on her girls.
And unlike Suzy, her attempts to mother Kid had always been graceful.
"Sounds to me like the only things you have to watch for are these gunslingers, and it seems you killed one and ran off the other. Then there's MacNeil."
"Oh, great, you think he's after me for that stupid horse bounty?"
Ruby laughed and finished binding her arm. "Honey, that man is interested in you. Tell me true, you really still a virgin?"