Author's Note: I thank Lilyjack for her suggestions on this story. Without her assurances, I would lack the fortitude to post.

"He that hath wife and children have given hostages to fortune, for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief."

Francis Bacon

Hostages to Fortune

Chapter 1: A Bitter Prisoner

Matt couldn't remember the last time he'd been happier to see the flickering lights of Dodge in the distance. He knew he probably should have stopped for the night about five hours earlier, but he just couldn't stomach another night on the trail with Floyd Dunbart. He had tracked the man into the Indian Territories and halfway to Texas before he caught him, and the return trip to Dodge with him as a prisoner had been far worse. The outlaw hadn't shut up once about what he thought of Yankee law in general, Kansas law more specifically, and Matt Dillon in particular, had made it clear he intended to kill him, had a serious hate for him, a hate he'd been carrying since the war.

Dunbart had robbed the bank in Jetmore and killed a bank teller who left behind a young wife and two children. He got away with a measly $500.00 and killed the teller out of meanness. Jetmore didn't even have a lawman. No question that Dunbart was rotten clear through, and Matt didn't figure the world was going to miss him much if he hung, and that was certainly what Matt expected.

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Matt slowly escorted his prisoner down the main street of Dodge City. As they rode past the Long Branch, his eyes started to track upwards to check the window above the Long Branch, but he quickly arrested the movement. He kept his focus on his job and his prisoner. Dodge appeared nearly deserted at this time of night, and there was almost no sound except for the quiet sounds of the horses moving down Front Street. As they reached the jail, Buck automatically turned in to the hitching rail.

It had been a long day, and Matt was glad to be home. He quickly dismounted and ordered the prisoner to do the same.

He was both surprised and pleased when Chester met him at the door to the jail. It was late and the town was pretty shut down for the night, so he figured Chester was likely already sound asleep. He was very anxious to rid himself of this loathsome prisoner.

But Chester was waiting up, and he was mighty glad to see the Marshal too. "Welcome back, Mr. Dillon. Me and Doc and all was gettin kinda worried, seein as we ain't heard nothing from you for over three weeks. I was just a hopin you might come in tonight."

"Well, Chester, I tell you, I was beginning to wonder myself if I was ever going to catch this fellow. I trailed him all over Kansas, finally caught up with him down in the Indian Territories."

"You want me to lock him up for ya?"

"I'd surely appreciate that, Chester."

The prisoner looked at Chester and laughed derisively. "Who are you, his trained cripple?" He scoffed. "Don't imagine any whole man would work for a no-good murderin turncoat like him."

Matt let out a long breath and rolled his eyes. "He's a mean one; I tell ya that."

"Yes sir, Mr. Dillon. I can see that for myself."

"Dillon, you ain't seen mean yet. When I kill ya, then you'll see mean."

Matt chose to ignore him. He'd been listening to those threats for days now. "Any trouble in town while I was gone?"

Chester followed Mr. Dillon's lead and ignored the vitriolic prisoner's offensive threats. "Uh… No sir, Mr. Dillon. The whole time you been gone, Dodge's been quieter than a church in a town full of heathens."

"At least that's some good news. You get him locked up for me. I'm gonna take these horses on down to the stable. I'll see ya later." With those parting words, Matt headed on down to Moss Grimmick's. He knew he would have to see to the horses himself as Moss was, no doubt, sound asleep by now.

Matt quickly led the two horses into stalls and pulled off their saddles and bridles. Both would need a brisk rub down, water, hay, and a generous ration of grain. Matt was exhausted and powerful anxious to be done with his responsibilities, but a man took care of his horse first and then himself.

He finished up with the outlaw's bay and then turned to curry his own big buckskin. All the time he worked, his thoughts were on Kitty. Kitty told him often enough that he didn't know much about women and he guessed she was right about that. Before he'd met her, Matt had never really been friends with a woman. Oh, he had been involved with quite a few women for sure, and he knew he liked being around them. Some of those women had been dalliances and some serious, but there had never been a woman in his life quite like Kitty, and that was a complication.

He had thought he was in love with Lee, had come close to marrying her. He had been strongly attracted to her, but he didn't really know her. And she didn't know him either. He was fortunate that fate saved him from the mistake that marriage would have been. The one thing Matt learned from Lee was that love and physical attraction weren't the same thing at all.

There were other women, but Matt just wasn't a settling down kind of man. He needed to be free, and none of those women ever managed any kind of a permanent hold on him. Then, when he swore an oath to the law and the U.S. Marshal's badge he wore on his chest, he thought that, for him, that would be commitment enough. He paused momentarily in his currying, reached up and fingered the burnished metal. For a small thing, it demanded a lot of commitment.

But, Kitty? Well, Kitty was different. She was teaching him about women, but like she said, he was learning awful slow, but he was learning.

To be continued...