"Some more mashed potatoes, Jack?"

The smirking gunslinger picked up his empty plate with both hands and handed it to Bonnie, performing a mock-tipping of a hat as he sat back further on his chair. "I'd be much obliged, miss."

"It's just Bonnie—no need to get all formal with me." After she refilled his dish with more servings, she gave it back to the new sheriff of Armadillo and shuffled to her own seat with a bowl of spicy beans. "And I'm far off my prime to be considered a fair lady."

Chuckling smoothly, the satisfied brunet twirled his fork around before lodging it in his food, tracing his playful gaze back up to the amused blonde. "Can't really do so when half of the entire town's men are after you: right, dad?" he pleasingly said, looking towards the older man who seemed to be chewing on plain rocks instead of honey-glazed ham. "In fact, it just so happens that one of your suitors happened to be pa—"

"Just eat your dinner so we can get over to the county jail."

His grinning son placed a calloused hand over his heart and plastered on a pretense of immense pain onto his face. "Ouch, pops: Cut a little too close to the heart, it did." While the Texan ranch-owner cocked a bemused brow and his austere father polished off his course, he mischievously cleared his throat and winked at his host. "Though, I have to say, it's a darn good time to be hosting Mayor Hastings' electoral celebration—no doubt hell will break loose once the beer kegs start flowing."

"That's why I only go for the first hour—it ain't hard to find a lot of drunkards after Irish comes in."

Jack swore he started to see a series of faint ticks under John's right eye, and decided to question it, but then he discovered that it was always better to have his head—after all, he admittedly was pushing his irritated parent too far for his own good, and the fine line that could keep him from snapping could come apart at any moment.

But it was a damn temptation to see how far he could go, with the state deputy's Schofield in the living room …

Shaking his head, the wary sharpshooter opted to not risk having his legs blown off, and thus, responded to Bonnie's comment with a quizzical glance. "That short, miss? Why, that's not even enough time for a fellow to even get a dance with you."

The middle-aged woman blew a rebellious strand of hair from her face and took a bite of her marinated tenderloin. "Well, I find that I'm not particularly requested when it comes for a swing." She took a small sip of her sweet tea and continued, "Guess folks don't see me as one to socialize, not with the new hands taking up my time."

It took a mighty bout of strength to not roll his eyes and say the matter down pat. That's 'cause John Marston Senior, over there, happens to pointing revolvers at the men who try to get within a five-hundred foot radius of you—and that somehow included me initially.

For a man who apparently finished off the most notorious gang in the United Stated, John Marston was as blind as an underground mole when it came to … affections—his didactic roughness was shed away so much in the presence of Bonnie that said figure could tell him to do all of this year's cattle-herding, and he wouldn't even voice a single complaint (after one experience, he decided to never do that by himself, ever again). He was invariably renowned for his keen sense, but he was so oblivious that even Shaky thought he was smart himself for picking it up: As a matter of fact, almost the entire town was aware of this. And, too much like his father, Jack chose to exploit this and see how far he could get away with things while attempting to make both Bonnie and John receive the revelation. Albeit the amiable Texan could handle much more labor than a coach full of men, the herder was still a woman, and like the fairer sex, interwove her feelings for his father in the most mundane settings whenever they were together; it was a relief, at least, that the reliable blonde acknowledged her mind-set and didn't go gunning down a lot of prostitutes who tried to seduce the agent.

He sighed. Why couldn't they just get this over with? He loved her, she loved him, so they might as well hop on the marriage wagon and get going with their honeymoon …

"Then I hope you'll accept my most humble request to be your first dance," replied Jack, a tad on guard when he realized that his mentor's eyes bore through him and guessed his interesting commentary—heck, he was merely trying to help in pushing conversation along. "Considering nobody is smart enough to see a treasure—"

A sharp voice cut into the air with a firm clack of a spoon on a metal platter. "Seems like you're done, with all of the yapping you've been doing, boy." Scooting from the table with a harsh yet accurate shove, the aggravated county hunter rigidly stood up and stacked his utensils and plate in the sink, disregarding the blonde's confused expression and his apprentice's counterfeit frown at the interruption. "Best if you head on out and saddle them horses." Switching his attention to the dining female merely required a terse turn of his head. "Thanks for the meal, Bonnie."

"Now, hold on a sec—"

Suddenly, he leveled a potent glare at dark orbs so similar to his own and jerked his head to the side—making sure his puzzled companion did not catch the air-crushing exchange with his pupil who flinched a bit at his belligerent demeanor. "Yes, now would be a great time."

Jack's peeved protest died at the back of his throat when the smoldering eyes locked onto his once more and permitted not a single word to come out properly. "Y-Yeah … can't keep Old Man Ricketts waiting too long." His departure was much more subdued than his instructor, piling up the kitchenware gently to the side and inclining his head deeply to the frowning farmer. "Dinner was incredible, miss—best home-cooking in the state of Texas. I'll be taking my leave, but I still carry the hope that you'll be able to come with Mr. McFarlane in tow."

Chewing her chow slowly in perplexity, it took quite a while for said person to comprehend why her small ensemble was being disbanded without a dig in dessert—her sweet apple pie wasn't even served yet! Still, aside from her brief complaints about being "ditched" in the middle of supper, the majority of her thoughts were centered on Mr. Marston's unusual behavior that took on a brusque fashion as of late: It was extremely hard to figure out what made his usual temperament take on an acute angle—did he not say that he was truly glad to move over here after his long journey? He honestly did seem comfortable when he settled in this simple place, not counting his frequent calls to Dallas for the federal government, and it had been a blessing for the both of them when Jack came sauntering into town with the capture of Tom Peterkin, a nasty bandit who controlled the lower half of California. The summer days since then were swell, with John training the new recruits in the big cities and his ambitious son soon given the title of the new sheriff of Armadillo, and the nights were times for being carefree with a bottle of ale and a roll of tobacco …

It was the familiar sound of the safety lock clicking that Bonnie was snapped out of her cluttered reverie—no, she shouldn't be confining herself both mentally and physically to foolish contemplations of excuses of being terribly busy; perhaps she was the one who was not yet used having company.

At least, not since the last time Mr. Marston was here …

She grimly snorted and haphazardly tossed her butter-knife onto her napkin. No wonder she was never wed—a woman was only supposed to be a simple-minded assistant to her husband, not an obstinate troll placing a shield of pure conservatism around her: not that she was thinking about this delicate matter ..

. "Jack, " she called out to the living room, choosing to somehow overlook the various dishes left uneaten and focus on her leaving guests. From what she could hear, Marston Junior was doing a quick analysis of his firearms, and the older of the two was replacing his bullets with astounding precision—it was clear that this state would probably be rid of most of its highwaymen before next July.

"About that dance … "

A strangled curse and the immediate grab of a Winchester greeted her ears, and a minute flutter of amusement once again returned to her in the basic sounds of childishness that Bonnie rarely witnessed from the young gunman—his youthful slip-up was the only thing that prevented an awkward blanket to drape itself around her house. Sometimes, she felt as if he was growing too fast for his age, growing more and more like Mr. Marston everyday …

By the time the slightly shocked brunet made his way over to where she was, she was already up and doing her duties with her back to him. "I accept your offer, Mr. Sheriff; please, though, do not expect much style from an old woman like me."

"Ma'am, I'm sure you'll bring me to my knees in a heartbeat," he gladly replied, snidely smirking when a dark menace threatened to murder him from behind. "I'll most likely be unable to let go."

Bonnie couldn't help but lightly blush—where in the world did he learn tbat? Delicately feigning admonishment, she rested one soap-covered hand on her hip and wagged her index finger. "Oh, Mr. Marston, off you go—those words will get you nothing but trouble."

"It's a bona fide statement, miss." Finally having his horsehide hat on his head, he tipped her a good one and did a teasing salute as turned on his heels. "I'm mighty sure of it."

Sauntering over to the main room with a smugness hard to repress, Jack made his way to the plush couch where his trusty rifle and travel-gear were located. He set about slinging his weaponry over his shoulder and stuffing the rest of his items in the pockets of his long duster, dimly registering that his pa's reloading had taken on an intimidating edge since his entry. Truthfully, he was quite surprised that he'd received a positive result—much less anything—for his light flirting: It was just something he was not very conscious of when it came to being situated with folks—although, this time, he made sure to deliberately bring out his better cards in a way that wouldn't cause a giant Colt to be aimed at his temple.

His father's favorite revolver clicked three more times darkly before the younger male arched his eyebrows. Really, if Marston Senior was going around with a plain intent to threaten the rest of the male population in Armadillo, he might was well be working for the crazy Germans all the way overseas (for some obscene world war, or something of the sort). Going so far as regard him as a potential suspect was taking things too far for the likes of a man who was seen as a lighthearted soul—hell, with all of the full-blown determination mustered to shield Bonnie, he might as well use that power to woo her: He did nonchalantly state that he had a natural tendency to appeal to the ladies, so why not use that rabbit's foot on the only person—other than himself—who could withstand his "insanity"?

"I'll be saddling up Cherry and Ab, if you don't mind."

And with a light flick of his long coat, Jack took confident strides to the door and gloated a small while at the transparent jealousy John Marston Senior had a difficult time coping with; if he was just man enough to step up and start spewing confessions the same way he did with provoking Mr. Dickens, there would be no need for this nonsense—on both parts.

Damn, he never knew that being the middleman took this much effort.


But then again, it wasn't as if he wasn't having any fun out of it …

"I'll take that as a 'yes', Mr Marston—I'll take that as a 'yes'."