The West Wind
A Gunsmoke Story
By Amanda (MAHC)
"O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being.
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Percy Bysshe Shelley
"Ode to the West Wind"
Chapter One: Miss Satterfield
Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters (but I wish I did).
Matt Dillon tugged the collar of his coat higher over his neck, slouching a bit against the brisk wind that whistled through the stagecoach windows. The flaps proved woefully insufficient to keep nature's forces from touching the passengers. It was early for a cold snap – not that it had never happened in Kansas before, but it was rare enough that it had become the main topic of conversation in the coach.
They were almost in Dodge, though, and Matt kept his body warm with thoughts of what awaited him. A two-week absence usually earned him a very sincere welcome home from Kitty. He could use it. Joe Kendall had not been easy to track and even harder to take. The marshal shifted, wincing at the pain that shot through his bruised side where the outlaw had slammed a rather substantial piece of firewood in a futile attempt to avoid capture. A brutal left hook had taken care of any further resistance, but Matt wasn't too sure his injury stopped at just a bruise. He'd suffered enough cracked ribs before to suspect that he might be dealing with that, as well. Each jolt of the coach reinforced his suspicion.
It occurred to him, not for the first time, that maybe he should have stayed in Ellsworth one more day to rest. But Dodge lay only ten miles ahead, and if it got too bad he always had the option of letting Doc bind his side for him. Although, as much as the marshal liked to avoid the doctor's ministrations, it would have to be a lot worse before he surrendered to him. At least Kendall was secure in the Ellsworth Jail and out of his hair.
The marshal looked up to find one of his fellow passengers looking at him, slender gloved hand extended in the offer of a shake. He had, of course, noticed her already. It had been hard to ignore the striking figure she made as she boarded the stage at Ellsworth. At that time, she had given him an inviting nod and made room next to her on the seat. Matt had chosen the opposite side of the coach and contented himself with looking out through the window flaps, thoughts of Kitty occupying his interest. Still, he wondered why she chose now, when they were almost to Dodge, to initiate introductions. Nevertheless, he took the hand, trying not to grimace at the discomfort the strain of shifting his body caused.
"Matt Dillon," he returned simply.
The woman's smooth brow rose. "Matt Dillon? Marshal Matt Dillon?"
After 13 years as a U.S. Marshal, Matt had grown accustomed to such recognition, forced to accept that his reputation stretched farther than he would have preferred.
He nodded. "That's right."
Her face, already bright and pleasant, lit further. "Well now, it's certainly a pleasure to meet you, Marshal. I've heard a lot – well, of course who hasn't?"
Matt pressed his lips together and tolerated the stares the other two passengers now locked on him.
"You have quite the reputation where I come from, Marshal," she continued. "Yes, indeed."
Not completely sure how to respond to that, Matt asked, "Where's that?"
"Where you come from – where's that?"
"Oh, why Saint Louis," she said. "I've come out West to see if it really is as wild as folks say."
Matt watched her carefully, judging the genuineness. "What've you found out?" he wondered.
Her eyes took on a calculating look and raked over his broad chest before returning to his face. "There are, indeed, some wild things out here." Her tongue darted out and licked at her top lip. "Of course, the extent of the wildness depends on where I am."
Matt nodded and shifted uncomfortably at her blatant invitation.
"I don't suppose I should expect much action in Dodge, though" she said, her voice falling in disappointment. "I imagine you have things – under control."
"It has its moments," Matt assured her, ignoring the suggestion in her voice.
"Maybe, but I've heard a man would be a fool to drawn down on Matt Dillon. End up on that Boot Hill of yours."
His expression didn't change, but inside Matt braced himself. The seductive tone had sharpened to sound more like accusation.
"How many men you figure you've killed, Marshal?" Satterfield asked, calculation hardening her soft features.
Dillon's jaw tightened, and he met the woman's eyes in a hard gaze that he held steady until she blinked and broke.
"I don't mean anything by that," she assured him, patting nervously at her hat. "Just curious."
"I don't keep count, Mrs. Satterfield. My job's to protect the citizens of this territory."
"It's Miss Satterfield," she corrected pointedly, her voice warm and inviting again. "And I'm sorry I brought up such unpleasantness." Casually, she stretched out her arm and laid a hand on his knee.
Matt glanced at it, then at the faces of the two other male passengers, who suddenly became interested in the passing scenery. Working his jaw a bit to distract his body from the involuntary sensation a woman's touch created, he gently nudged his leg away. Despite his complete loyalty to Kitty, it had been entirely too long since he had felt her caresses, and his knee wasn't distinguishing whose soft fingers rested on it.
With a rough clearing of his throat, he smiled politely and tugged his hat down farther over his eyes, trying to indicate that their conversation was over. But Solana Satterfield ignored his hint and shifted in her seat so that she could give his leg one more squeeze before she leaned back. Matt considered it fortuitous that a certain saloonkeeper was not accompanying him on this particular trip. Of course, if she had been, he had no doubt that Miss Satterfield would have been put in her place from the start.
"Did you have business in Ellsworth, Marshal?" she asked, her innocent voice contradicting the interest in her eyes.
Unable to ignore her without being flat-out rude, he kept his gaze aimed toward the window as he answered. "Yes, ma'am."
She let a beat pass, then prompted, "Well?"
He glanced out from under his hat. "Well what?"
"Well, what was it – or is it a government secret?" Her eyes lit again in delight. "Oh, that would be so exciting, wouldn't it? Something you can't tell us? Something of national importance a United States Marshal has to handle?"
He noticed the other passengers cutting their eyes curiously toward him again. "No, ma'am. Just a man who made some foolish choices and had to go to jail as a result. I'm sorry it's not any more exciting than that."
"Is he the one who injured you?"
His head jerked up before he could cover his surprise.
"You've been favoring your right side since we left Ellsworth." At his frown, she hastened to add, "I'm an observer of people, see. You've been quite careful not to grab the side of the coach with your right hand when you've gotten in and out. And you've been bracing your ribs with your left hand, on and off, since we left."
Self-consciously, he dropped the hand that had been, indeed, pressed against his side, and pursed his lips.
"And you have a rather nasty bruise on your jaw," she added.
"He resisted a little," Matt admitted in explanation, stifling the impulse to run his fingers over the tender spot.
Miss Satterfield sighed dramatically. "We are just so fortunate, Marshal, to have such a brave, strong man as you protecting us out here."
He almost laughed, envisioning the eye rolling Kitty would have given him at that comment. Instead, he nodded politely and returned, "It's my pleasure, ma'am."
For his courtesy, he received a brilliant smile. "Fortunate, indeed."
Less than an hour later, the stage pulled up to the Dodge House, and not a moment too soon for Marshal Dillon, who was beginning to wonder if he could keep up the ruse that his side was only a minor bother. In the last few miles, the dull throbbing had strengthened into a disturbingly sharp prod. It was beginning to look as if that visit to Doc's might not be optional. Assuming his best lawman's mask, he climbed out of the coach, closing his eyes momentarily against the sudden swirl of lights before him.
He opened them again to see Solana Satterfield looking out at him from inside the stage, genuine concern darkening her gaze. "Are you all right?"
Shaking off the remaining dizziness, he forced a smile and extended his left hand toward her. "May I help you down, Miss Satterfield?"
Her frown lingered only a moment longer before she brightened and rested her hand in his. "I'd be so grateful, Marshal. Thank you." She stepped down lightly, her skirt bouncing with her movement, her hand remaining in his grasp a bit longer than necessary. "It doesn't seem quite so cold here in town," she noted, taking the opportunity to untie her cloak and reveal a neckline that plunged more than a bit too low for decency.
"It's – uh – the – uh, the buildings block the wind," he explained hoarsely, dragging his eyes away from her exposed cleavage.
And just in time, too. As they stood next to the boardwalk, Matt looked up and saw a familiar and very welcome figure walking toward them. Her smile shot straight through him, triggering an explosion of emotion that he struggled to control. Even so, he couldn't keep the grin from escaping onto his lips as she neared. Following his gaze, Solana Satterfield narrowed her eyes and frowned.
"Welcome home, Matt," Kitty Russell greeted, stopping close but not touching him.
"Good to be home, Kitty," he answered, wishing he could show her right there just how good it was. Still, a casual demonstration might not be too obvious, and he took the liberty of placing a hand at her back. Then, remembering his fellow passenger, he added, "Uh, Kitty, this is Miss Satterfield. She's from Saint Louis."
Kitty turned toward the other woman, outward appearances completely courteous and pleasant, but he had known her long enough to feel the tension in her body. With a polite nod, she extended her hand. "Welcome to Dodge, Miss Satterfield. I'm Kitty Russell."
"Oh, call me Solana, please, Miss Russell. It is Miss Russell?" she emphasized.
Kitty's smile tightened. "Yes, it is."
"Well – " the marshal began, attempting to move on. But neither woman intended to follow.
"You just staying the night, Miss Satterfield?" Kitty suggested.
"Solana, remember?" She shrugged. "I'm not sure. Depends on how – interesting – Dodge is." Her eyes cut suggestively toward Matt, who wondered if it was too unethical to wish for a bank robbery at that moment.
"I assure you," Kitty said, "Dodge can be very interesting."
Slipping his hand from her waist to grasp an arm firmly, Matt stepped up onto the boardwalk, tugging her with him. "I missed breakfast this morning, Kitty. How about I buy us lunch, huh?"
After one more beat, she let her gaze break with Solana's and turned toward him, smiling. "Sounds good," she agreed, turning her back on the other woman and sliding her hand into the crook of his arm.
He gave one final glance behind him, and was more than a little worried to see heated calculation in Solana Satterfield's eyes. Maybe he should have stayed in Ellsworth one more day.