DISCLAIMER: I don't own them, but I have a better idea what to do with them than those who do. I intend no copyright infringement and the only profit will be a comment of two from readers. Well, also the satisfaction of a story told.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story is set around late season 17 or early season 18, after "The Bullet" and before "Hostage!", 3 to 4 seasons after "Exodus 20:21".
Kitty Russell stopped at the shop door and shook some of the street dust from her skirts, also taking the opportunity to look back the way she had just come. She couldn't deny the feeling that she was being watched, but the street was busy; too busy for her to detect anyone suspicious. It could be any of the dozens of people moving along the street, or, more likely, no one at all. She straightened from her chore and mentally shook herself, emitting a little sound of disgust. Had it been so long since she had spent time in a big city that she saw, or felt, danger at every turn? "Hummph!" Maybe, after all these years, she was only good for small town life, she thought with a roll of her eyes. Turning back to the shop door, she entered the interior shade.
She looked, really she did. The shop woman was very nice and not overly solicitous, but nothing caught her eye. There was not a dress in the shop that she wanted to bother to try on. For once, her heart was just not in it. She had been in town for six days and had yet to buy a single item. She just couldn't seem to keep her mind focused on the beautiful, supple fabrics or the new dress cuts. With a sigh of defeat, she resigned herself to another wasted afternoon, but, as she turned she caught sight of the nice shop lady. She knew the woman was trying not to hover or be a nuisance and, truly, she was doing a commendable job. She also knew this woman was likely the owner of the shop and that she would be crossing her fingers behind her back, smiling as she offered up a small prayer that this new afternoon customer would make a purchase. Kitty understood the pressures of a woman on her own trying to make a living. Without a second thought, Kitty lifted the hat from the end of the table in front of her and made small talk with the shop woman as they completed the transaction. Laden with the large box containing her new acquisition, she sternly refused to give ground to the feelings of despair, thanked the woman once again, and exited the shop, completely forgetting her earlier feeling of being watched.
"Need any help with that, ma'am?" The deep voice startled Kitty as she nearly ran into the big man blocking her way; her earlier unsettled feeling returning in full. Instantly on guard, her eyes traveled up the torso of the broad, tall man, her mind automatically noting that despite his height and size, this was not Matt Dillon.
Kitty let out a little gasp and the solid man chuckled, seeing her look of defiance turn to recognition, relief.
Lifting the light, but bulky burden from her hands, he remarked, "You let that new hat break you concentration. I saw you looking around; you picked up pretty early that somebody had tagged ya. Matt must be wearing off on you." He didn't miss the brief cloud that crossed her eyes.
Releasing her package to his care, she gently slapped his arm. "Frank Reardon, you shouldn't go sneaking up on a lady like that! You're just lucky you didn't get a jab from a nice long hat pin!" Her lovely contralto teasingly chastised him. "Have you been following me? And what on Earth are you doing in Wichita?"
Adjusting the ties of the hat box into his left hand, Reardon gently placed his right hand under her elbow and guided her away from the doorway. "Just since the last corner" he admitted, "but I wasn't sneaking: he defended, "just didn't want to go hollerin' down the street, so I just figured I'd catch up with you and…"
"And lurk outside the door to scare me?" she lightly challenged?
He offered a sheepish grin, "Now, Kitty, you don't expect me to go traipsing into a ladies' dress and millinery emporium, do you?"
Kitty laughed as her old friend projected the appearance of a wayward boy trying to charm his Sunday School teacher.
"You know, if you don't want to be noticed, you ought to tuck that pretty hair up under a much bigger hat." His eyes swept appreciatively over her upswept red tresses as maturity returned to his countenance.