Kate the Kid Ch. 13bymadam_noe©
If anyone felt like a fish out of water, nobody said anything. Only Jerome looked like he should be there. The other four wore dusty clothes, but all five had the same expressions.
His man at the port filled them in. There was no time to wait, to gather more evidence. Franco had ragged Izzy through the streets, loudly announcing to the world that he was going to marry her. Their ship had been slowed, and had beaten theirs by only hours, but time was still wasting.
In the coach ride to Rome nobody spoke. Fingers danced on top of guns, grim eyes scanned the area, not for the culture, but for threats.
Some strange foreign part of Kate wanted to hold Rafe's hand, but she did not in front of her friends. Back in her jeans and vest, breasts bound, hair tucked up, she wanted to feel every inch the Kid once more but too much had changed her.
Still this was not her fight, not Rafe's, not even Dan's or Finn's. This was Jerome's, and they were there for backup.
They pulled into Rome and it was a city like any other, crowded and dirty, but they saw the last vestiges of history and Kate's eyes widened. At long last she took Rafe's hand and he gave her a squeeze.
"So we kill him and grab Isabelle, then run like hell, right?" Finn asked softly.
"I kill him, I grab her, we all run like hell. Anybody gets in my way, shoot 'em," Jerome growled, a man on the edge. He gripped his rifle like it was a lifeline, and everyone nodded. "They'll be looking for us at the ports. We meet at the coach as planned. Dan, stay with it and guard it. Rafe, Kate, Finn, you know what to do."
And so they ignored centuries of stories, places, and people, as they rumbled to the impressive office building of Bellaforte Shipping & Co. The street it was on was too narrow to fit more than three people on foot across so they left Dan, the driver, and the coach on the nearest avenue.
Kate would have liked more of a plan, but Jerome kicked in the door and a guard drew a pistol. Rafe shot him with blinding speed that made Kate smile, and they were in.
It was all stark white plaster and marble, the same styling Izzy had given the Rockport, and Kate smiled when it sunk in. "Up the stairs and right at the top, the offices we want are that way."
Finn came up beside her. "I thought it looked familiar."
"Hurry up," Rafe whispered, scanning for more guards.
On the stairs were three, Jerome knocked one out and Kate and Finn shot the others. Finn's shot was a mortal wound while as Kate still could not bring herself to take a life. These men had the look of hired help, matching gold-braided trimmed uniforms, and she didn't want to kill a an just doing his job.
At the top six more waited. In the volley of shots Kate and Rafe each got one, and that bought them time to duck into doorways. Jerome ended up with Kate.
"We'll hold 'em off here, if you go out the window that ledge is wide enough. Take it to the last window."
"Are you sure?"
"I'd stake my life on it. Go on now, get yer woman." She grinned at him over the sound of gunfire but all Jerome did was grimly nod back.
With a Lakota war whoop, Kate turned back into the fray.
Jerome balanced himself carefully, but with his broad frame it was no easy trick. He let the rifle dangle over the edge, hanging twenty feet above the tiny Roman street. The sound of gunshots had people out, the more foolhardy, the residents wee closing up their shutters.
He couldn't stop to think of police, of the neighbors, of anything right now but Izzy. He remembered her stories of Franco breathing down her neck, groping her lewdly, chasing her away from her native country into the wild west of America. That lewd beast had her now, and if his threats on the pier had been observed correctly they could very well be locked in with a preacher.
He saw red and moved quickly along the ledge, mindless to it all but seeing his love safe. At long last the final window was in reach. Stopping and steadying himself with a breath, Jerome peaked through and saw Izzy tied to a chair. All else of the room he could see was empty.
The window was locked, so Jerome anchored his foot on some trim, raised the rifle, and used the butt of it to crash in a pane. Following through with his body he broke the trim around the panes which hurt like hell, the hit the hard marble floor with his shoulder, rolled over the rug, and came to his feet.
"Jerome, behind you!" Izzy cried and he didn't even look, just tipped the rifle back and pulled the trigger. A satisfying thump sounded and he dropped the rifle, kneeling beside her chair.
"Jerome, I'm so glad you're here!"
He gripped the back of her head and kissed her, long and hard. Pulling back he looked into her big brown eyes and tear-stained face. "Did he touch you, hurt you in any way?"
Her plush lower lip trembled. "He slapped me, several times. He groped me but- the c-captain would never leave us alone. Thank God for that."
He hugged her close, muscles bunched and tight. "He dies."
The knots on the rope were complicated enough he drew the knife Kate had forced him to buy out west. It cut through the ropes just fine and he barely tossed it aside before Izzy launched herself into his arms.
"Cara mia, ti voglio bene," Isabelle chanted in her native tounge over and over between kisses.
"Isn't this touching?" A deep voice drawled in accented English.
From the shadows be the door Franco Bellaforte emerged. Jerome stuffed his beloved behind him and glanced nervously at the rifle several feet away. In Franco's hand was a delicate pistol, one that would be laughable in the west, but close enough could do enough damage. Behind him in the hallway shots still rang out, below on the street people shouted, but for a moment, time froze.
"I had hoped my priest would have been here with the annulment before you reached here."
"Annulment?" Was all Jerome could think to say.
"I cannot marry my bride in the church until her marriage to my pig of a brother is undone. Rest assured she will be mine. In a way I am glad you are here. You can answer something for me before you die."
"Go to hell," Jerome growled, calculating which direction to toss Izzy so at least one of them wouldn't get shot up.
"Tell me, did you amend your will already so my bride gets your little shipping company upon your death?"
He paled and Franco, a fat, odious little man, threw his head back and laughed. Jerome took his chance, threw Izzy down and dove for the rifle. The laughter stopped but by the grace of God the door suddenly burst open and his friends were there.
Bless Rafe and the rest, they read the situation instantly and Rafe kicked out Franco's knees while Finn grabbed his gun. Kate rushed over to grab Izzy. "Izzy! Are you all right!"
Franco fell to the floor, pleading in Italian, cursing them all clearly.
"I'm fine. Jerome saved me!" Izzy beamed and once on her feet ran back to her lover. "What do we do now?"
"We can wait for the police, explain this all, have Franco arrested, and go from there," Rafe suggested.
"Or we kill the bastard and run." To everyone's shock it was Kate that spoke. "Izzy, it's up to you. This is your life, it's your decision."
She looked at her friends, old and new, and Jerome. "Rafe, Kate, go make sure the way is clear. Finn, wait outside."
"Are you sure?" Jerome asked.
Izzy nodded. When the door closed a single gunshot rang out, and then they all ran.
They spent the next three days traveling, keeping to small roadside hotels, taking turns at the watch. Dan and Finn took notice that both pairs of young lovers took time alone together.
"Well, looks like the Kid will be settling down too. Rose, Spotted Horse, Izzy, Kate, and even you are getting some land," Dan said, settling next to Finn on the porch of their hotel in Barcelona.
It was time to relieve him for the watch before morning when they would take passage on a ship back to the states. This time they'd go through New York.
"I don't know about that, Dan. I've been thinking."
"Oh?" Dan handed Finn the bottle of wine he'd picked up that evening ad the Irishman took a swig.
"I have a lot to atone for. Not just what I did to Kate, there's more. I'm thinking perhaps law and order is for me, but not in the territories. No, I'm too well known there. Maybe I'll take a page from my cousin Robert's book and go into law in a city."
"Your cousin is a cop?"
Finn grinned. "Hard to imagine after all those stories of brawls back west, but yes, he is. He's got Boston, maybe I'll settle in New York or Chicago. I just don't think I can settle down quietly to ranching any more. I'll miss all this excitement."
"Well, you have a point. What do you think Kate and Rafe will do?" Dan thought of the stories Jerome had told on the ship about Kate's mother ad grandfather. She had the money left from the sale of a large train company, more money than Izzy or Jerome. He tried to imagine her in that world and the image of Kate with gold-plated guns and dusty jeans made him smile.
"I have no idea, but I think it's time we stopped thinking like a group. It's not just Kate's that's changed, it's the west, it us, it's the group. Nothing is the same, and it's time to stop holding on."
"Cheer up, you sound too dark, Finn. Sleep it off, will you?"
Finn gave him a smile that had killed many a lady and stood, patting his old friend on the back. "It's almost sad, but my point is, Dan, it doesn't have to be."
Dan just watched him walk away, and sank into a deep, watchful think.
"Mr. and Mrs. Smith?" Kate asked Rafe in her drawl.
He grinned at her and set their bags in the cabin they would share. "Jerome and Izzy are registered as a married couple, and they will be as soon as we land. Why not us?"
It struck Kate then as she sat on the chair and tossed her hat on the desk, that it was time to start thinking of the future. Not just with Rafe but with what Jerome and Izzy had told her was a legacy from her late mother.
Looking at her man, and realizing Rafe was just that; her man, she knew it could wait. "Then that's just fine."
He closed the door. "We have an hour until we set sail, and I owe you, woman. Take off your clothes."
A deep thrill sang through her body at those words. He didn't wait but peeled off his jacket, vest, and shirt, kicked off hi shoes and pulled off his socks. The site of him, bare-chested, inky hair windblown, was the most erotic thing she had ever seen.
"Take off your clothes." His tone was almost a growl, and she found herself standing, repeating his action until she stood naked.
His eyes raked her hungrily, deepening her arousal to a near breaking point. Silently Rafe crossed to the bed, lay in it against the pillows, and patted the empty space next to him. "Lay down." Now his voice was a purr.
Smiling, Kate did as told and he descended. Rafe was rough hands gently caressing, firm lips, nipping teeth, and searching tongue. She grabbed him where she could, fingertips tracing old scars and the lines of corded muscle.
He pulled, rolled, suckled, and pinched until she writhed, and when her hands sought out his length Rafe pinned them with one hand. "Hell no, sweetheart, I owe you."
"I'll just get you back, darlin'."
He lifted his head and grinned. "I'm counting on it."
His head moved between her legs, and ecstasy claimed them both for hours after the boat set sail.
Almost 2 months had come and gone. They landed in America with no one hot on their trail. They rode the rails down to Boston after cabling Spotted Horse and Rose, and Jerome announced he'd marry Izzy there and take no chances.
A week before the wedding was to take place Jerome, Isabelle, Rafe, and Kate sat having dinner. Kate, seeing the looks the maids were passing Rafe, was read to go grab her guns from Jerome's safe and start shooting. Izzy was telling the men funny stories of her early exploits with the gang, making them laugh, and Dan and Finn were out with Robert, carousing.
"I've come to a decision," Kate said when there was a pause. Three sets of eyebrows raised. "Jerome, thank you for all your help in settling my mother's accounts. I've decided I want to invest in your shipping company, and expand it."
"Expand it?" Jerome asked.
Rafe, knowing her plan and approving, sat back with a hand on Kate's chair and beamed.
"The main rail line is still a few years in coming and there are many other places being settled without rail access. I say we give Wells Fargo a run for their money in the stage business."
"Do you think this is wise?" Izzy asked, but in a calm, supportive voice. She couldn't help but glance at Kate, dressed in denim for a nice dinner, and smile.
"I've run the numbers. They don't even tough the old Oregon trail, we start there, make a name for ourselves and grow. We just need an office in Chicago, one in Portland, and we can grow as we need. I'm thinking Finn could run our Chicago office, Dan could run the Portland one, and Rafe and I can run the lines."
Jerome now looked incredulous. "But I thought-"
Rafe held up a hand. "Kate and I have discussed this and are in agreement."
"Well, sweetheart, what do you say?" Jerome turned to Isabelle and squeezed her hand.
"Kate made the Rockport what it is. I trust her completely. Let's do it."
"All right, we're in. I wish all my business deals could be this easy." Jerome sat back and lit a cigar as the last of the dishes were cleared.
"Kate," Rafe nervously drawled, and Jerome and Izzy smiled in encouragement.
"The wedding is next week, and I was wondering if, well, you'd like to make it a double wedding."
Kate felt her heart skip a beat. "What?!" She didn't mean to shout and grabbed his hand to cover her nerves. "I mean, it's only a week away."
"I'm sorry Rafe, but Kate, Jerome and Rafe and I have discussed this. We've made preparations, all you have to do is say yes."
Kate arrowed her eyes at her best friend and sighed. "Rafe, is this what you want?"
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't. But what do you want, Kate?"
"All right, let's get hitched right and proper."
Rafe let out a yell of joy and kissed her soundly over cheers. Throats cleared when the kiss went on a bit long, and they came apart to see Dan, Finn, and Robert standing there grinning like madmen.
"So it's a party we're havin'?" Robert asked genially.
"Hell yes!" Kate said, laughing. And then it hit her; she had a family of her own making, goal for her future, and the man she loved at her side. Life wasn't so bad after all. She still had to stop by Chicago and make sure MacMasters got a fitting punishment, but there was a feeling in her hart that nothing could stop her now.
None of them in their toasts noticed the pair of eyes peering in through the bushes, and watching them. None of them heard the whispered promise of death.