A Good Shot of Whiskey
A "moment in time" piece to "The Hostage"
Kitty Russell no longer had any trouble remembering what he looked like. In fact, that was just about all she had been remembering since word reached her that he was safe. Not only did she remember what he looked like, but she remembered what he smelled like and what he felt like and what he tasted like. And those memories only served to make the interminable wait for him that much more agonizing.
As the last customer stumbled from the Long Branch, she brushed a weary hand over her eyes and sighed. She was drained, both physically and emotionally. Her eyes darted to the swinging doors she had left open in hopes of seeing him walk through them tonight. Although she knew he was safe, had gotten his telegram three days earlier, she needed to see him, touch him. Mostly definitely touch him. But he and Festus and Thad were coming all the way from somewhere close to the Mexican border, and it would take a while.
The wind that had whipped through the streets the night he was taken had died down, but occasional gusts still rattled signs and doors with noticeable ferocity. Rain had followed, carving small rivers into the mud. Behind the bar, Sam cleaned glasses and prepared for the return of the crowds the next day.
She heard footsteps on the boards, their strong, easy gait so familiar, but she didn't turn – not yet – just in case. They stopped outside the doors she had left open for just that purpose. He was looking into the room now, she could tell, as she had seen him do uncounted times before.
"You know," came that deep, rich voice, "a man could catch a chill on a night like this."
She swirled to face him, her heart slamming against her ribs, her throat closing, her lips trembling. He towered over the doors, as usual, his hands gripping the tops, waiting for a nod or word from her to push them open. For a moment, she just studied him, noted that he must have cleaned up before he arrived.
"If there's any danger of a man catching a chill," she returned, faithfully following the conversation of that night, somehow managing to keep the tremor from her voice, "a good shot of whiskey before bedtime will – will –" Her words tumbled to a halt, as frozen as her body as she stared at him.
"You don't know where I could get a prescription like that filled, do you?" His smile was gentle, but his eyes burned with love, desire, and passion.
Throat thick, heart full, she said, "I surely do."
The moment released her, and she felt herself rushing toward him. He stepped inside then, barely getting down the steps to the floor before she flung herself into his arms, which were open and waiting. Neither of them paid any attention to the barkeeper, who slipped quietly into the office, having suddenly found the need to check on something.
"Oh, Matt!" she half-breathed, half-cried. "Oh, Matt, I was – I was so scared that – "
Pressing her into his strong chest, he let his hands run over her back soothingly, murmured words of comfort. "It's okay, Kitty. I'm here. I'm all right."
He was, wasn't he? Thank God, he was.
Leaning back, she reached up to take his face in her hands to look at him, to verify for herself that he was all right. Except for several wicked bruises at his mouth, jaw, and cheek, he seemed to have weathered the ordeal reasonably intact.
Then, she rose on tip-toe, urging him toward her enough so that their lips touched in an achingly tender kiss, soft and slow and full of gratitude.
"How about that shot of whiskey?" she whispered against his mouth.
Pulling away just long enough to answer, he murmured, "Sounds good. I sure could use some warming up."
Sliding her hands down his back to rest intimately below the gun belt, she said, her tone low and sultry, "You know, whiskey only goes so far. We might need to find other ways to cut the chill."
The fire in his eyes threatened to erupt into a conflagration. "By golly, Kitty," he said, voice hoarse, "I think you might be right."
Before she ignited, as well, right there in the middle of the saloon, she grabbed his hand and tugged him toward the stairs. As they ascended, arm-in-arm, the wind outside faltered and the rain sputtered, powerless against the heat of a love so strong even nature could not compete.