"He's beautiful, isn't he?" said Allie enthusiastically as she and Kid stood next to the fence looking out at the corral full of horses that Boyd's Ranch was offering for sale. After making a few inquiries around town, Kid had been directed to a local rancher who bred saddle horses. He had hired a carriage to drive Allie to the ranch which was only a few miles from Idaho Springs.

"Kind of eye-catching," said Kid. Allie had immediately focused on a splashy, loudly marked paint gelding. Kid shied away from the idea of buying a showy mount. Years of keeping a low profile, made him favor more common mounts. An animal like this stood out and was too easily remembered.

It was obvious to Kid that Allie really was familiar with horses. She opened the gate and confidently walked into the corral, wove her way between the other animals, and made her way to the paint, who watched her placidly. She reached out and gently stroked his neck speaking soft words to him. Kid walked up next to her and tried to redirect her attention to a solid colored sorrel gelding without any white on him.

"That sorrel looks to be a nice horse. Why don't we try him out?" said Kid hopefully.

"No. I want Patches," said Allie, still fussing about the paint; looking him over and running her hand across his back.

Geez, she's already named him. "Allie, you told me you were worried about being followed. A horse like this stands out. People will remember the pretty lady on the pretty paint," Kid pointed out, hoping that her own concerns about being followed would make it easier for him to handle his concerns about being recognized. Kid had already begun to let his beard grow, figuring it would change his appearance. He planned on keeping up the pretense that he and Allie were married, too. It was a good cover for both of them; nobody was going to be expecting Kid Curry to travel with a lady and Allie would be much safer under his protection if other men thought she was married. He was beginning to wonder if he had made a selfish decision to ride with Allie. He knew he could be real dangerous for her if someone recognized him.

"I'll take that risk," she said. Kid was startled. Had she read his thoughts like Heyes often seemed to do? He realized that she was replying to his earlier comment. Turning to the wrangler, she said, "What are you asking for him?"

The wrangler looked her over, took in the expensive cut to her clothing, and said, "Forty dollars for the gelding and ten dollars for a saddle." He threw a look at Kid expecting him to do the horse trading. He figured he had Kid where he wanted him. No man would want to look cheap in front of a lady. Kid had noticed the stubborn look come over Allie's face and shook his head at the wrangler.

Allie had caught the exchange and bristled at the wrangler's assumption that she wouldn't be haggling with him. She frowned at the horseman, and said, "Nonsense, I'll not be robbed. I'll give you twenty-five dollars and you throw in the tack."

Now it was the wrangler's turn to frown, "No deal. This is a real nice horse, ma'am, he'll go well for you. I won't take less than thirty-five dollars for him and five for the tack."

Allie answered him with annoyance, "Thirty dollars, you throw in the tack and feed for the next week. That's as high as I will go. Do we have a deal?"

The man eyed her again and saw the stubborn expression Kid had noted earlier. "Yes, ma'am, it's a deal. You drive a hard bargain," grumbled the wrangler. He hated modern women.

Allie watched as her new horse was led away to be saddled and tied to the carriage. With a huge smile, she turned to Kid who was looking at her appraisingly. "You handled that well," he observed, "Are you sure you haven't done this before?"

"Buy a horse? No. But every woman knows how to haggle with the grocer or the fishwife. It's really no different. You just have to feel your way to a deal," Allie said as she went to follow her new purchase.

Kid stared after her. She sure was a surprise. Bill Decker had been an even bigger fool than Kid had believed.

OOOOOOOOOO

Kid and Allie next made a trip to the merchantile. Allie needed clothes to ride in and purchased a split leather skirt, soft gloves, and a pair of deerskin boots. Last, but not least, Kid helped her pick out a broad-brimmed hat. He then selected the supplies they would need for the next few weeks. Kid was surprised by how much he was enjoying such mundane activities, but shopping with a lady was not something he'd really ever done before and it pleased him to feel like a normal man doing normal things for a change.

By mid-morning they were mounted and heading out of town. Allie was excited and glowing with anticipation. Kid smiled knowing that a few days in a hard saddle was going to wipe that grin right off her face.

OOOOOOOOOO

The paint proved to be a good purchase, he was sensible and sure-footed allowing his new owner to enjoy the ride. Allie chattered excitedly about everything and anything. She fired off questions to him about the flowers they saw, the names of the mountains, the sights they would see until finally Kid no longer heard the sound of her voice. Sheesh, it was like riding with Heyes. The more she talked, the quieter he became until finally his thoughts wandered.

Heyes and the gang should be back to the Hole by now. They had probably celebrated yet another successful Hannibal Heyes plan. Kid remembered the ugly hangover he'd had after the Beaumont job. Heyes would be divvying up the money to the boys about now; he'd made off with about $45,000 from Decker's safe. Would Heyes still take a third off the top or would he take less now that he didn't have to split it with Kid? Not that they ever really split the money. As partners, they shared and shared alike. Kid felt a small pang of loss at that thought and pulled his attention back around to Allie who was pointing out the fat marmot sitting on the side of the trail up ahead.

So far, she had not complained at all. Kid figured that would change real soon. It was his experience that women were happiest in their own environment and any changes could have a real bad effect on their personalities. Kid was planning on sticking to a route that took them through the major towns. His plan was to wait her out until she was sick of her little adventure and then put her on the stage back to Denver. Whatever the problem was between her and her mother, she would be better off going home and working it out.

"Which way are we going, Steven?" asked Allie trying to draw him out of his silence. He seemed much quieter than he had in town and she wondered if he was regretting his decision to accompany her. She hoped not. She liked Steven and she really liked the thought of seeing the West in his company. For some reason, he made her feel quite safe.

Kid was wondering if she had again read his thoughts about the route they would take. He was finding it a bit spooky. "We'll stop for the night at sundown, but I figure we'll be in Georgetown early in the morning. We can have a late breakfast there and then go on to Breckenridge for the night. Then we'll head to Leadville. We'll cross over the Continental Divide at Hunter's Pass and head on down to Aspen and Carbondale and into Glenwood Springs," he said.

"That sounds just wonderful. How far is it?" said Allie.

Kid thought for a moment and said, "I reckon somewhere around 200 miles or so, but we'll be climbing most of the way. Hunter's Pass tops out pretty high above tree line. It'll be slow going, though; the trail will be rocky and the air gets a lot thinner at that altitude so the horses will need lots of rests. I don't expect we'll make more than 10-15 miles a day up there."

"I've never heard of Hunter's Pass," said Allie.

"It's an old Ute Indian trail, but the prospectors are using it now to get from Leadville to the new silver strike in Aspen," said Kid.

"Steven, I am so grateful you agreed to escort me. This will be the trip of a lifetime and I never could have attempted it on my own," said Allie, turning and giving Kid a brilliant smile.

"Uh, huh," was the reply. Kid figured she'd give it up and go home after she experienced the ride to Leadville. The trail out of Breckenridge rose above tree line over Fremont Pass and was a pretty scary road, but nothing was as scary as the narrow crumbling track crossing Hunter's Pass.

OOOOOOOOOO

Heyes arrived in Idaho Springs in the early evening. Stopping in at the hotel, he asked to see the register and, sure enough, recognized Kid's scrawl from yesterday. He slipped the hotel clerk twenty dollars to find out where Mr. Boswell had headed. Kid wasn't trying too hard to cover his tracks if he was still using that name. The clerk placed a note on the counter and slipped out the door as Heyes headed into the dining room for dinner. A half an hour later, the clerk found him finishing a steak and gave him his report.

Clearing his throat, the elderly thin man, said, "Sir, I believe I have the information you require."

Heyes smiled up at him and said, "What did you find out?" He set his knife and fork down and gave the clerk his full attention.

"Mr. Boswell purchased a horse for his young lady from Boyd's ranch and then he bought her some gear from old Carson at the merchantile. They were seen leaving town on the road to Georgetown by young Tommy Clark," he said proudly.

Heyes looked at him in surprise, "Young lady?"

"Yessir, he was accompanying a Miss Golden, sir," said the clerk with a sniff. He didn't think much of a single woman traveling alone with a man; and she had seemed like such a lady, too.

"You learned all that in half an hour?" said Heyes in admiration. This man would make a worthy spy.

"Yessir. Not much happens here on a weekday, sir," said the clerk.

Heyes stood up, suddenly finished with his meal, and left a five dollar bill on the table for his meal and handed the clerk another five dollars. "You did a fine job. Thank you."

"Will you be wanting a room for the night, sir?" asked the clerk. He was hoping to make a few more tips off this generous customer.

"Nope, I think I'll be riding on a ways. Thanks for the help," said Heyes standing and picking up his hat. He wondered who this Miss Golden was. It wasn't like Kid to take a woman along with him. He was more the love 'em and leave 'em type. Heyes was puzzled.

OOOOOOOOOO

That night, Kid and Allie were huddled around a small fire enjoying the warm glow of the embers. The evening air had continued to cool and it was now quite chilly. Allie had Kid's sheepskin coat pulled tight across her shoulders with one hand and the Kid was bundled in his saddle blanket. Not wanting to spare Allie any of the adventure she was seeking, they had dined on a simple meal of jerky and hot coffee brewed in a pot purchased in Idaho Springs. Heyes usually did the brewing and had an old, dented pot he swore brewed 'the best coffee this side of the Mississippi.' Kid snorted out loud thinking about this pronouncement. Only Heyes could enjoy that sludge he brewed.

"What is so amusing?" asked Allie.

Kid looked up from the fire and grinned at her, "Just something Cole used to say that came to my mind just now."

"What?" she said.

"That he brewed the best coffee. I swear his coffee could dissolve your teeth in one sip," smiled Kid.

Allie smiled back and asked, "Steven, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

"Uh, no. What do you want to know?" said Kid bracing himself.

"I was just wondering about Mr. James," she said.

A look of sadness came over Kid and Allie saw it. "Are you friends? Bill said that you were just business acquaintances," she said.

"We've been friends most of our lives," answered Kid truthfully. There was no reason to lie.

"Oh, I hadn't realized. Mr. James had said that you had a complicated relationship. I guess I took that to mean adversarial," said Allie.

Bill Decker had actually said that James had a hold over Boswell; some gambling debt or something. By the look on Steven's face, the truth must be very different from what Bill had said. She was curious about the enigmatic Cole James. She knew that Bill loathed him, but she didn't know why. Allie, along with the rest of the folks in Golden, had seen Bill attack Mr. James on the street and attempt to gun him down. As unladylike as it was, Allie was dying to know why, and now that the subject had come up she couldn't prevent herself from asking more.

"Oh, believe me, sometimes it is and right now's one of those times," said Kid sadly. He had successfully kept Heyes out of his thoughts for the most part since meeting up with Allie. She was a pleasant diversion from his problems and he appreciated that.

"Tell me what happened. Perhaps I can help," said Allie, gently placing her hand on Steven's arm. What would her mother think to see her being so familiar with a virtual stranger? Her mother would be completely hysterical if she knew her pristine daughter was traveling alone with said stranger. Allie smiled at the thought.

Kid looked at her. She was so sweet and kind. Not at all how she first appeared when he met her as Decker's fiancée. He had thought her a silly little flirt. As much as he would like to talk about Heyes to someone, Bill's former betrothed was definitely not the person. He just smiled and shook his head.

"We just had some words; I'll get over it, I always do," said Kid as he sighed.

"Did Mr. James say something hurtful to you? He didn't seem a cruel man," said Allie. She assumed they had quarreled as she had seen Steven strike Mr. James and fire him after the fight in the street.

Kid was surprised and said, "No, it was more that I said some mighty ugly things to him. I guess I was pretty mad about Bill dying and I was blaming him for it." He thought for a moment as Allie watched the firelight flickering across his face, "He's not a cruel man at all. He is one of the kindest-hearted men I've ever known, but he hates for anyone to know it. Cole's not cruel, he's angry."

"Angry about what?" asked Allie.

Kid was regretting saying as much as he already had and wanted to end this conversation. "Life's dealt him some hard blows, Allie. That's all I can tell you," said Kid.

Allie looked back at the fire for a while before she spoke up again. "Bill hated him. Did you know that? I couldn't understand why. Mr. James always seemed perfectly cordial when I was in his presence," said Allie. "What happened between those two? Why did Bill go after Mr. James?"

How did he answer that? Kid thought quickly and said, "I guess Decker resented not being able to push Cole into letting him have the water. I get the sense that Bill wasn't used to hearing the word 'no'."

"He most certainly was not and he hated hearing it. I was never in love with Bill, I became engaged to him at my mother's insistence, but he seemed like a decent enough man. I really had no idea he was such a horrible bully until you and Mr. James arrived. If it hadn't been for Mr. James crossing Bill, I might never have learned who he was until it was too late. I suppose that I owe Mr. James a huge debt of gratitude," said Allie contemplating the fire, "I hope you weren't too angry with him for fighting, it really wasn't his fault that Bill attacked him. With Bill's temper, it was bound to happen. Believe me, I know."

Kid's eyebrows shot up and he stared at her. He hadn't looked at it like that. Allie would have tied herself to Decker and he shuddered to think of what her life would have been like. He looked at her profile as she stared into the fire. She was lovely inside and out and deserved someone who would treat her right.

"I guess I was pretty angry at the time," said Kid. He remembered the purple bruising on Heyes's jaw and began to feel a little guilty about it.

OOOOOOOOOO

Heyes rode on into the night. The moon was nearly full so it wasn't hard to keep to the road. He knew it was only 13 miles to Georgetown and he wanted to be there before morning. He ought to be able to catch up with Kid there.

Heyes had thought long and hard over what he should say to the Kid. The problem was he really wasn't altogether sure why he was so hell bent on revenging the shooting. He kept saying that Decker had tried to kill him, but he knew that the shooter had confessed to Kid that he was only supposed to rob Heyes and Sophia and take the mortgage money. Heyes had reached for his own gun and had been shot for that reason. Decker had only set things in motion; he hadn't outright ordered up a murder. He certainly didn't deserve to die for it.

Heyes thought back to that day. He could still feel the slam of the slug as it had ripped into him and knocked him flat. He had felt it tear through his body and had known that it was a bad wound. Heyes remembered lying in the back of the wagon trying desperately to breathe and the pain of the struggle he had fought to draw air. He had seen the looks on Sophia's and Kid's faces and had known he was probably dying. It had been a shock, but it really hadn't bothered him all that much. It hurt to see Kid so scared, but Heyes had been resigned to it. He hadn't really given that resignation much thought. Why had he been so ready to die? Was it because he was being a realist? Outlaws, as infamous as he was, rarely lived to old age; or was it something more?

A bad step from his mare derailed his train of thought as he realized that she was limping on her right foreleg. Cursing under his breath, Heyes halted and dismounted. He ran his hand down the tendon on the back of her leg feeling for swelling or heat. There was none, but her shoe was gone. Damn it. She had a tendency to be ouchy without shoes and he knew he couldn't ride on without risking her bruising her hoof. He patted her gently while he thought about what he should do. Well, so much for making up ground, he may as well stop and camp for the night. He was feeling pretty sore himself after two days in the saddle following a beating. He had pains on top of pains. It was going to be a long walk into Georgetown.