"That is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard," said Allie, rising to her feet and standing before Heyes with her fists clenched. She was clearly angry now and Heyes took a step towards her. "Don't you dare come near me," she said. "I cannot believe that you think I am stupid enough to listen to that inane drivel. I hope that wasn't an example of your famous silver tongue."
Heyes didn't know what to say. She had gone from flustered to furious in a beat of his heart. He reached out to her and she flew at him, pummeling his chest with her fists. "Ow, cut that out! What's gotten into you?" he said his voice rising as he wrapped his arms around her, pinning her arms to her sides. "Allie, stop it," he said shoving her out to his arms' length. She twisted violently trying to pull away. "That's enough!" he boomed into the night. She stopped instantly and glared at him.
"If you don't care about me, just say so. Don't give me some nonsense about love lost. You are the most infuriating man, if I had my gun on I'd shoot you, why I'd…." she spat at him. Heyes pulled her close and kissed her again, slowly and thoroughly. She swatted at his head and beat her fists against his back, but he held on tight until he felt her stop struggling against him. She slowly began to return his kiss and they clung to each other passionately.
Pulling away gently, Heyes said, "I care about you. I care about you so much that I hate it."
"Because you don't love me?" she groaned softly.
"Allie, c'mon; if I didn't care about you or about the Kid, I'd take what you offered and I'd never think twice about it. I've done it before with other women and I'll do it again," he said. She felt her stomach turn at the thought of him with other women. "No, I don't want to love you; I don't want to love anyone. I'm an outlaw, a really well-known outlaw, and I've got a life expectancy of days, not years. I'll tell you what else I am, I'm decent enough that I am not about to ruin a girl I care a whole lot about for a night or two of fun," Heyes said his voice climbing again with his frustration. "That's all it'd be; it'd be a night or two and think of all the damage we could do to you, to Kid, to...me," he said, his voice dropping to a whisper, "We'll be in Denver in a day or so and we will have to part ways." Allie started to protest, but Heyes cut her off, "Look, there are a lot reasons we shouldn't be together, but Kid is the biggest. Do you really want to hurt him that way? I don't."
Tears welled up in her eyes again, but she fought them back mercilessly. "No, I don't," she said, snuggling her face into him and inhaling his scent. She wanted to memorize this moment in every way. Raising her head, she looked into his eyes and said, "Damn it! Do you always have to be right?"
"Yes," he grinned at her. "C'mon, we'd better get back." He wrapped his arm around her and walked her slowly back to camp. Neither of them aware that Wheat had heard the yelling and was wide awake.
Monty showed up in a foul mood and declared he was ready for work. Stafford was, for once, pleased to see the Texan; it had been a long, boring day. Mrs. Harcourt had returned several hours earlier, her arms laden with packages. Nothing more had happened for the rest of the detective's watch except the temperature had fallen steadily and the light rain had turned to snow flurries. Stafford was cold, miserable, and ready for a hot meal and a warm spot by his fireplace, but first he had to report to his impatient client. He left Monty smoking a hand-rolled cigarillo in the alleyway and hurried off.
Allie went to check on Jed while Heyes refilled his coffee cup. He wouldn't sleep tonight. Not with Kid still out cold. He was too worried about his partner and now he had way too much to think about. How had he gotten himself in this mess? He was supposed to be the genius, how come he'd had no clue how he felt about this woman until she kissed him? He'd been stunned at the feelings that had exploded within him at her kiss. He had wanted her beyond all reason and it had taken every bit of willpower he'd had to resist taking her. Sure, he'd known that he liked her a lot. She was smart, almost too smart, and she was amazingly adaptable; a trait that was rare in a lot of people and one he highly valued. How many women could handle a bully like Bill Decker, have their life ripped out from under them, and still land on their feet? She never whined about the hardships of the trail, instead she acted as if she was having the time of her life and he suspected she really was. He had known that he admired her but he hadn't realized how he felt about her. He could never admit it. She was Kid's girl.
Heyes stood at the fire sipping his coffee. He could see Allie fussing over the Kid. He knew she was upset and so was he. She hadn't meant for this to happen any more than he did, but it had, and now it changed everything. He couldn't trust himself around her anymore and he wouldn't risk Kid learning that they had betrayed his trust.
Allie knelt down beside Kid again and felt his forehead. He mumbled at her touch and she spoke soothingly to him. Heyes saw the Kid move restlessly under Allie's touch and he came over and knelt next to her. She felt her heart leap in response to his nearness. "How is he?" he asked quietly.
"I think he may be coming around. Would you please take this rag and clean it up with some hot water? I want to put a warm compress on his bruise," she said holding out the small, muddied cloth she had cleaned Jed's face with earlier that day. She needed him to move away from her. She looked back and saw Jed looking at her. Heyes smiled and said, "Hey partner, it's about time you woke up." Allie stroked his face.
"How do you feel?" she asked.
"Lousy. What happened?" he croaked.
"You fell off the trail. Don't you remember?" asked Heyes.
"Yeah, I guess I do. That stupid nag slid off the trail. Is he okay?" ask Kid.
Heyes said, "I'm sorry, Kid. Kyle had to put him down." Kid stared at him and then closed his eyes and sighed.
"It was bound to happen sooner or later. He never could stay out of the way of his own feet," said Kid miserably.
"I'm sorry, too, Jed. I know you liked him," said Allie.
"He was a pretty good horse," said Kid. "Weighed a whole lot more than I thought he did, though," he said with a sad smile.
"He ain't the only one," said Heyes under his breath.
"Jed, are you all right? We didn't find any broken bones, but how do you feel?" said Allie. Her concern was evident on her face and he smiled and reached for her hand.
"I'll live, but I'm going to be awful sore for a few days. I feel kind of banged up inside, but I don't think I did any serious damage," he said.
"How's the head?" asked Heyes. "It looks like you're going to have a pretty good concussion."
"Yeah, feels that way, too. My stomach's turning cartwheels," he said.
"I'll get you some dried biscuits; that might settle your stomach a little," said Allie. She stood up and walked over to her saddlebags.
"Heyes, give me a hand up," said Kid, stretching out his hand.
"Kid, I don't think you should be getting up…" said Heyes.
"I have to get up and you're going to help me," said Kid determinedly. Heyes got the message and slowly helped his partner to his feet. Kid went about three shades paler as they started off for the bushes. Out of sight of the camp he vomited and swayed against Heyes.
"Easy, buddy, stay on your feet," said Heyes, holding onto his cousin and steadying him while he relieved himself.
"I'm trying to," said Kid tersely. Finished, Heyes walked him slowly back to his bedroll. Kid sank down, grateful to feel the ground under him.
"Go to sleep. I'll wake you in an hour or so to see how you're doing," said Heyes, as he tucked the edges of the bedroll around Kid's shoulders to keep out the cold, "I'll be right here." Kid closed his eyes and Heyes sat with him as he dropped off to sleep.
When Allie returned with the biscuits, Kid was already fast asleep. Heyes had a book in his hands and was leaning back against his saddle reading. He glanced up at her and she smiled. "Go ahead and get some sleep. I'll keep an eye on him," he whispered. She nodded gratefully and crawled into her bedroll. Heyes sighed. He knew that it would be strained between them from here on out.
Sy reported to Soapy's house early the next morning and Jordan showed him into the breakfast room. Sy was seated at a small table to await his benefactor's arrival and offered a cup of fine coffee. A few minutes later, Soapy entered the room and sat down across from him, picking up the linen napkin and spreading it across his lap.
"Good morning, Sy. I hope you have some news to pass along," said the small, gray-haired gentleman.
"Good morning, Soapy," said Sy. "The detective's name is Jonas Stafford and he works for the Bannerman Detective Agency. We have not yet determined who the client is but we believe Miss Harcourt's mother is looking for her safe return. Corky had his men tailing the detective who has been keeping watch on Miss Harcourt's mother's townhouse. I believe the man hopes to catch the gang there, sir, since it is his belief they are ransoming the girl. Stafford has also posted men at all of Miss Harcourt's closest associates' homes and I have as well. I do have one concern that I must mention. There was an incident last night at Eyser's. The big Texan who works for Stafford got caught up in a dispute and it turns out that he is highly skilled with a knife, sir; a rather large knife."
"And what about Kid?" asked Soapy.
Sy paused, took a sip of his coffee, and continued, "I have had no word yet of Kid Curry, but I have men in the proper places and we will do our best to find him."
Soapy's normally benign expression hardened and he said, "I am not interested in anyone's best efforts. I want Kid found before anything happens to him."
Sy gulped his last sip of coffee. "Yes sir, I will find him, sir. I personally guarantee it."
Jordan arrived with a silver platter and arranged a large plate of bacon and eggs and a smaller plate of buttered toast and jam on the table as well as pot of tea for his employer. Sy was grateful for the interruption. Soapy was a kind and reasonable man, but he was highly protective of his friends and Sy knew that Soapy wouldn't suffer the loss of another close friend lightly. The butler departed.
"I'm very glad to hear it, Sy. I have great faith in your abilities and I know you understand completely that you must not fail," said Soapy. "Now that we have that matter settled, let's enjoy our meal, and you can tell me how our other projects are coming along," he said.
Wheat was the first to rise and, throwing back his bedroll, he crawled out and stood up, stretching and groaning. He staggered into the bushes for several minutes before returning to camp and going to the fire ring. Picking up a mug, he grabbed for the coffee pot, dropping it noisily and cursing a blue streak. This, in turn, caused Kyle to roll over and grumble.
"Careful, Wheat, coffee's hot," said Heyes with a snicker. He was still sitting up next to Kid, his book resting in his lap. He considered his partner and decided that his color was definitely better. Kid had a rough night, waking several times to vomit, but Heyes had been there to help him.
Wheat shot Heyes an ugly look and used his shirttail to grab the handle again. He poured a mug, set down the pot, and took a sip. Sighing, he idly scratched himself. After another sip, he wandered over to Kid.
"How's he doing?" he asked.
"He's sleeping. I woke him about an hour ago. He's got a concussion but he's lucid," said Heyes.
"Good thing you didn't wake him up last night," mumbled Wheat.
"Why do you say that?" Heyes asked, alert to Wheat's tone.
"Because he would've been feeling a whole lot worse than he is now," said Wheat, shuffling back to the fire.
Heyes wondered about Wheat's ambiguous statement, but he shrugged it off. If Wheat had something to say, he'd say it sooner or later.
Stafford was at his post early that morning, no small feat for him, but he was sure today was the day. Monty was waiting for him in the alley. It had been a quiet but cold night and Monty was ready for a warm bed.
"Morning," said the tall Texan.
"Good day, Northrup," said Stafford.
"You ready for this? According to my reckoning the gang should be in Denver sometime today and I figure they're gonna seek out Ruth Harcourt pretty damn quick," said Monty, chuckling at the thought of all that reward money, "That little city girl must be making those outlaws' lives a living hell by this point. What were they thinking dragging a gal like that all over the Rockies? I'm betting they're real anxious to unload her."
"Good. I hope they do," said Stafford, rubbing his cold hands together. "We'll be rich men by sundown," he laughed.
Monty squinted at him; taking in the eagerness and impatience. "Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, son. We're a long way from rich right now and there's lots that can go wrong when you're dealing with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry." He spit his chaw into the dirt at Stafford's feet. "I'm gonna go meet up with Corky and then get some shut-eye. Don't blow it, Stafford, or you'll answer to me," he said leaning into the detective's face. The smarmy man recoiled and Monty laughed and walked off.
Stafford fumed. Who did that idiot think he was? Why, he was the boss and nobody was going to get rich around here without his say-so. He'd take that insufferable man down a peg or two before this was over.
Corky was sitting at a small table in a tiny café on 16th street. He watched through the windows as the big Texan strode up the street. The man worried him. He was sharp and he had a confidence that could only come from being assured of his own skills. Corky wouldn't turn his back on this one. He'd already sized up the detective as a pompous blowhard and dismissed him accordingly.
Northrup came through the door and spotted Corky. "Morning," he drawled.
"Good morning, Mr. Northrup," said Corky, standing up.
"Mr. Northrup's my pa, son. You can call me Monty," said the man, pulling out a chair and sitting down.
"Thank you, sir," said Corky, sitting again, "I'm afraid, though, that I have nothing to report to you. There's been no sign of the outlaws, sir. All our men have reported in."
Nodding, Monty said, "There'll be sign of them soon enough. Tell the men to be on their toes. I'm betting those boys'll show up today."
"I will. Is there anything else, sir?" said Corky, preparing to rise.
The big man looked him over. "Where are you in such a rush to get off to, son?"
"My day job, sir. I work part time as a typesetter at the newspaper," said Corky. It was a very useful occupation for a spy and he often picked up juicy tidbits for Sy in the course of his day not to mention potential targets for his real profession.
"Huh. Okay then, I'll expect you back about sundown," said Monty signaling to the waitress that he was ready to order. Corky slipped out of his seat and left. He only had fifteen minutes to report to Sy before he had to be at work and he was going to have to run to make it on time.
Allie had slept in that morning, exhausted by the previous day. It was well after sunup by the time she opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was Heyes still seated next to a sleeping Jed with his book in hand. He must have felt her eyes on him because he looked up and smiled. She waved, attempting to appear normal, but she felt the tight constriction in her chest and rolled onto her back. Jed would be waking up again soon and he would need to be cared for, but she was sure that Heyes wasn't about to leave Jed's side. No, he was too used to caring for his cousin; he'd have to be right there until Jed was up and about and Allie couldn't handle being that close to Heyes yet. She crawled out of bed. It was cold but clear and the sun was shining brightly. She'd practice a little shooting this morning until she was ready to face Heyes. Picking up her holster, she slung it over her shoulder and left camp.
Wheat watched her go from his seat by the fire. He liked that little gal a lot and he'd be damned if he'd let her get hurt by the likes of Heyes. He didn't know for sure what had gone on last night, but he hadn't liked the sounds of it. Allie had been crying and Heyes had been yelling. He'd been ready to go to her rescue when, the next thing he knew, they'd waltzed back to camp like the best of friends; or, worse, like they'd kissed and made up. She was an innocent girl and he was sure Heyes was taking advantage of her. Hell, Heyes was as far from innocent as a body could get, especially where women were concerned.
No matter what was going on, Wheat felt somewhat responsible for any predicament she might be in. If he hadn't of pushed Heyes to go after Kid, they wouldn't be here now, and Heyes wouldn't be coming between his partner and his girlfriend. His gaze swung around to his leader's dark head bent over a book and he scowled. He knew Heyes had a swelled head, but he never would've expected him to stoop so low, stealing his partner's gal. Well, Wheat wasn't going to let it happen. When he got his chance, he'd get Heyes alone and knock some sense him. Wheat smiled at the thought.
Kid mumbled softly, and Heyes set down his book. "Hey, Kid, you waking up?" he said softly. Kid opened his eyes and groaned. Lifting an arm, he moaned at the pain the movement caused him and he covered his eyes. His stomach was lurching again, and he didn't want anything to trigger more vomiting.
"Yeah, Heyes, I'm awake. Now," he said.
"Good. Are you feeling any better?" asked Heyes.
"Not yet," was the answer.
"Are you hungry?" said Heyes, "Thirsty?"
Kid pulled his arm off his eyes and glared at his partner, "Are you planning on asking me questions all morning, Heyes? 'Cause if you are, pass me my gun."
Heyes grinned, "You're feeling better if you're up to threatening me. I'll fetch you some water."
"Good. Take your time," said Kid.
Heyes got his canteen and came back to help his partner sit up. Kid took a careful swallow of the cool water and let it slip its way down to his stomach. Waiting for it to settle, Kid looked around the camp. "Where's Allie?" he asked.
"She went for a walk. Don't worry, she took her gun," said Heyes. Kid nodded and took another sip and eased back against Heyes's supporting arm. "Feeling any better?" asked Heyes.
"I think it's going to be a while before I feel better. I ought to be able to ride tomorrow, though," he said. They heard the sound of gunshots in the distance and Kid smiled. Allie was getting pretty darn good with her shooting.
"No hurry, Kid. No one's waiting on us," said Heyes grinning.