Heyes drove the wagon through the opened gates of Soapy's driveway and pulled the team up behind the house, out of sight of the road. As cold as it was, he didn't think anyone would be paying attention to a delivery wagon. He hopped down, walked to the back of the wagon, and lowered the tailgate as the three women inside threw off the canvas and struggled with one another to sit up. Allie jumped down first and reached up to help her aunt wiggle out. Heyes reached up and helped Ruth down.
"Thank you, Mr. Heyes," she said.
Heyes steadied her, "You're welcome and you can call me Heyes, nearly everyone does."
"Well, I suppose you can call me Ruth since my daughter is on such familiar terms with you," she answered dryly.
Allie, overhearing the conversation, frowned at her mother's gibe and turned to her aunt, "Aunt Esther, this is Hannibal Heyes. Heyes, this is my aunt, Esther Thorpe."
Esther looked Heyes over rather coldly; the one-eyed man before her was not impressive. His scruffy mustache and filthy coat lent him a destitute air, and made it difficult to believe he was successful at anything. She nodded stiffly without extending her hand, "Mr. Heyes. I will be interested in hearing how you and my niece became acquainted."
Heyes bowed slightly, "I am sure Allie will be happy to enlighten you, Miss Thorpe. Ladies, if you would please go into the house and make yourselves comfortable; I'll be in shortly." He had seen Wheat and Kyle ride in through the gate and he walked across the yard to meet them. Wheat was still sporting the bruises from their fight and Heyes decided he wasn't ready to forgive his lieutenant's insubordination.
Kyle had dismounted, tied his horse to the wagon, and was swinging up into the seat when Heyes walked up. "Hey, Heyes, Wheat told me you all had some trouble. Is Miss Allie okay?" he asked as he sat down and gathered up the reins.
Heyes smiled at Kyle's concern, "She's fine. As a matter of fact, her mother and her aunt are inside with her. We got surprised by the Bannerman, but her Aunt Esther cold-cocked him with her pistol and I managed to smuggle them all out."
Wheat snorted, "Do all the women in that family go prancin' around armed?"
"They just might, Wheat. I'd watch my manners if I were you," said Heyes, turning back to Kyle, "I want you two to get rid of the wagon. We're going to lay low here for a day or two and see what happens. Keep your eyes open for trouble and I'll send word when I need you again."
"Will do, Heyes," replied Kyle, clucking to the horses. Wheat followed him down the drive, his horse jogging quietly behind the wagon.
Jordan came hurrying down the hallway towards the kitchen having seen the wagon arriving through the windows, "Ladies, welcome, please allow me to take your coats. My name is Jordan and I am Mr. Saunders's butler. Miss Golden, I believe there's a warm fire in the drawing room. If you would be so good as to escort your guests in, I will see to some tea for you."
Allie ushered Ruth and Esther to the drawing room and, the moment she pulled the double doors closed, her mother and aunt rounded on her.
"Miss Golden? Why did that man call you that?" demanded Esther.
"Because that is my name now; I'm known as Allie Golden. I no longer wish to be associated with the Harcourts," sniffed Allie.
Ruth looked speculatively at her daughter, "She's taken an alias, Esther. Why are you surprised? Look at her. She's wearing a gun, for heaven's sake. Don't you get it? She's an outlaw's girlfriend."
Esther sank down onto the settee and stared at her niece, "Is this true, Alyssa?"
Allie sat next to her aunt and took one of her cold hands, "I am not Heyes's girlfriend."
"Then why did you make a point of draping yourself all over him?" smirked Ruth.
"Because I wish I was his girlfriend!" shouted Allie, jumping to her feet again and confronting her mother. "Yes, Mother, I have fallen in love with an outlaw. Are you angry? Does it offend you that your precious commodity has gone and ruined her value to you? That you can't sell me to the highest bid…" she stopped short as her mother's hand slapped her across the face. Allie snarled and reached for her gun, but Ruth gripped her wrist tightly.
"Stop being so ridiculously dramatic, Alyssa," snapped Ruth as she pulled Allie's gun from its holster and let go of her daughter. She walked across the room, expertly emptying the chambers, then throwing the bullets into a table drawer and tossing the gun on a chair. "There now, let's all sit down and have a civil chat, shall we?"
"I have nothing to say to you! I'm going to check on Jed," Allie stomped out of the room.
The door slammed and Ruth turned to Esther, "Well, well, it seems our little girl has finally grown a spine."
"Ruth, she's throwing herself at that scoundrel! What on earth is she thinking?" said Esther, visibly upset by what she had heard.
Ruth assessed her sister, "I assume she is thinking the same thing you were at her age. Don't you agree, my dear?"
Monty took Stafford back to his apartment and put him to bed while Corky went for a doctor. They needed the Bannerman healthy so that he could help them find Carlson and Murtry. The man had quickly fallen asleep and Monty idly wandered through the apartment. Either being a detective paid well, or Stafford had some money of his own. The furnishings were new and expensive.
Jed was dozing when Allie entered his room. She walked quietly up to the foot of the bed and watched him sleeping. He looked so very young when those brilliant blue eyes were closed. No wonder he had earned the nickname, "The Kid." She sat down in the chair next to the bed, sighing heavily. Why did she allow her mother to make her so crazy? Reaching up, she felt the still-warm spot on her cheek where her mother had struck her; at least she had made her mother at least a little bit crazy, too. Her anger was ebbing and she began to think. Where had her mother learned to handle a gun like that? Where had Aunt Esther?
She was puzzling through these thoughts when she became aware that Jed was awake. He was looking at her with a confused expression when she glanced up and smiled at him, "Hello sleepyhead."
"You're back already? I was just getting ready to go when…when I woke up," he frowned. He remembered shaving, but how had he gotten back into bed? He had a headache and his stomach felt a bit queasy; maybe he hadn't been as well as he had thought. "How'd it go with your ma?"
Allie stood up and walked to the dresser, "My mother is the most irritating woman in the world. It didn't go well. She's downstairs with my aunt." She watched Jed's reflection in the mirror and saw his eyebrows shoot up. "Yes, Jed, you are about to meet the family. That is, if you are feeling up to it."
"Mr. Heyes, I've shown the ladies into the drawing room and I'm about to serve them tea. Mr. Saunders has gone out for the afternoon. He has instructed me not to expect him to return until late this evening," said Jordan as the outlaw leader entered the kitchen and removed his coat, hanging it on a peg by the door. Heyes was relieved to hear that Soapy was out. He hated imposing on his old friend and was hoping to have the fireworks over with before Soapy returned. He was sure there would be fireworks, one look at Allie and it was as plain as day. He also needed to find out what was going on. The minute Esther had knocked out the detective; Heyes had realized that she and Ruth had been expecting trouble.
"How's the Kid?" inquired Heyes.
"He is still asleep, sir," answered Jordan, lifting the teapot off the stove and carrying it to the table.
"He's still asleep? Is he feeling all right?" Heyes was suddenly concerned that there was more wrong with his partner than he realized.
"I believe he is, sir. He ought be awake soon. The drug should be wearing off." Jordan dipped a tea strainer into the pot to steep and he was not paying attention to the man behind him. If he had been, he might not have been so complacent.
"You drugged him?! I just asked you to keep him here. Why the hell did you drug him?" thundered Heyes.
"Really, sir, how did you expect me to stop him? He is Kid Curry, after all," replied an unrepentant Jordan.
Dumbfounded, Heyes stared at the butler. Finally, he shook his head and picked up the tea tray, glowering at the man. He sure hoped his partner didn't think he had anything to do with it. His old bruises hadn't even faded yet.
He walked down the hallway and stopped before the drawing room doors, taking a deep breath. This day was going from bad to worse; he'd rather face a posse than a roomful of angry women. Steeling himself, he balanced the tray in one hand and opened the doors. Ruth and Esther were seated together on the small settee. Allie was gone.
"Where's Allie?" asked Heyes, crossing the room and placing the tray on the table in front of the settee. He'd seen Allie's gun lying on the chair and he knew she hadn't left it there voluntarily; someone had disarmed her. His money was on Ruth.
"She excused herself to go check on Jed, who I assume is Kid Curry," said Ruth.
"Oh, maybe I should, too," mumbled Heyes, turning towards the door to escape.
"You'll do no such thing, Mr. Heyes," stated Aunt Esther.
Ruth gestured to a straight backed chair, "Yes, please have a seat."
Hannibal Heyes knew when to toss in his cards. He sat.
"I would like to know what your intentions are, sir," said Esther coldly, pinning Heyes with a sharp look.
"My intentions?" asked Heyes.
"Yes, what is your relationship with Alyssa?" queried Ruth. "It is obvious that you two are…close. We would like to know exactly how close you are."
"Not that close!" squeaked Heyes, his voice rising with alarm as he realized what the women were getting at. "I can assure you, ma'am, Allie and I are very fond of each other, but she understands that I'm a wanted man. There can be no future for us. We both know that."
"I am delighted to hear it, Heyes. Alyssa's life has been complicated enough," Ruth said as she stood and walked over to gaze out the window, "I am pleased that you are not unaware of the difficulties you would face."
"How has Allie's life been complicated?" asked Heyes, watching Ruth's profile. He saw her eyes widen slightly and she turned to look at him.
"Why her failed engagement to Mr. Decker, of course, and her subsequent disappearance," said Ruth. Esther looked on from the settee as her sister and the outlaw eyed each other warily.
"Ah, forgive me, but it seemed as though you were referring to something longer standing," probed Heyes.
Ruth smiled, "I see that the rumors of your intelligence are not unfounded. However, I must admit, that I was under the impression that you were a rather handsome man who took pains with his appearance; vain, perhaps, according to some reports. I must say I am rather disappointed."
Heyes grinned broadly at her. There was no question where Allie got her spunk from. Heyes reached up, yanked off his eye patch and mustache, and tossed the disguise aside. He ran his hands through his hair, ruffling it, "Better?"
"Well, certainly less common, shall we say?" quipped Ruth. She was enjoying herself and failed to notice that her sister was becoming annoyed with both of them.
"This is not an amusing situation. Alyssa has been riding around for weeks in the company of this… this pirate! I, for one, want to know why!" said Esther shrilly, rising from the settee.
"Oh, come on, Esther. Look at him, surely you can see why," Ruth was thoroughly amused and made a show of eying Heyes up and down while he grinned at her.
"Ruth, I am concerned about Alyssa," hissed Esther.
"Alyssa is fine, Esther. As a matter of fact, she is better than fine. She is much improved and it appears to me that she is happy with who she is," observed Ruth, "which is more than I can say for either of us."
"Ruth! What on earth has gotten into you?" snapped Esther, growing red with frustration at her sister's cavalier attitude.
"Nothing has gotten into me. I'm the same person I've always been. It's a pity that I can't say the same of you," sniped Ruth, "When did you become such a lady? I thought you were a liberated woman. Why are you being such a prude?"
"A prude?" shrieked Esther, "How dare you?"
Heyes began to get alarmed and raised his hands in a placating gesture, "Ladies, please, calm down." He heard the door open behind him and swung around to see Kid and Allie come in. A look of pure desperation was written on his usually unflappable face, "Allie, do something," he pleaded.
The doctor carefully tucked his stethoscope into his black leather bag and glanced up at the man towering over him, "Mr. Stafford should be fine. He really isn't suffering from anything more than a nasty bump on the head. There is no sign of concussion and any queasiness he might be experiencing is probably brought on by nerves."
Monty scowled at the doctor's news. The detective was being a big baby; that much was apparent. He'd drag that poor excuse for a westerner out of his bed as soon as the physician left. "What do I owe you, Doc?"
The doctor tipped his hat, "I'll put the bill on Mr. Stafford's tab. He'll be calling me again soon, I'm sure. I hear from him quite regularly. Good day to you, sir."
"Mother, Aunt Esther, what has gotten into you two? Are you trying to embarrass me?" cried Allie.
Kid, sensitive to the atmosphere, snuck around to the other side of the room while everyone was distracted and slipped into a comfortable chair by the fire. There was no way he was getting into the middle of this fight. He could see that Heyes was rattled and floundering about trying to keep the peace. Used to leading a hardened group of criminals, his cousin appeared to be helpless in the face of feminine emotions. Heyes looked at the Kid and saw that his partner had found a safe spot. Dropping his hands, he shrugged at the Kid, and retreated to the chair across from him.
Esther turned to Allie, "Embarrass you! You don't think your running around with a gang of outlaws isn't embarrassing for us? What were you thinking?"
Allie was hurt by her aunt's disapproval. She had expected recriminations from her mother, had even relished the thought of her parent's shock, but not Aunt Esther. Strangely enough, it was her mother who came to her rescue.
"Esther, calm down. This is not about you and your feelings. Alys…Allie has not embarrassed you," admonished Ruth. "No one outside of this room understands what is going on here. Alyssa Harcourt has simply disappeared following an unfortunate event involving her fiancé. It is Allie Golden who is pretending to be an outlaw queen."
Allie stared at her mother in amazement. What had happened to the woman who had so painstakingly pressured her into becoming a damned social climber? And her Aunt Esther! Why was she being so prudishly judgmental? Of all people, Allie had expected her aunt to accept her new persona; after all, she was flaunting the very conventions Esther claimed to despise. She felt as though her world was turned upside down. All the fight seeped out of her and she sat heavily on one of the stuffed arm chairs.
"It doesn't bother you that Alyssa has been traipsing about the West with Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry?" Esther threw a frosty glare at the Kid who quickly looked away. "You are Kid Curry, aren't you?"
Kid brought his eyes back to the angry woman glaring at him, "Yes, ma'am, I am." Not knowing what else was expected of him, he said nothing more.
"Oh, it bothers me, but I'm not foolish enough to think that I have any control over my daughter. I've never had any control over her. You saw to that." Ruth, growing angry, faced her sister.
"What are you saying? You destroyed your own relationship with Alyssa, because you are incapable of appreciating all that you have!" spat Esther.
Ruth took several threatening steps towards her sister, "All that I have? Do you mean the daughter who despises me or the husband who cheated incessantly on me with every whore in Denver? Or perhaps, you are referring to my townhouse that I can't even afford to pay the rent on?"
Esther sputtered, preparing to retaliate, as Allie jumped to her feet, "What did you say?"
Ruth looked at Allie as though she had forgotten she was there. Her expression softened as she realized the impact her words might have had on her daughter, "Alyssa, I'm so sorry I said that. Your father was a good man in some respects, but…"
"I wasn't talking about Father. What did you say about your townhouse?" interrupted Allie.
Ruth was puzzled by the question, "You mean that I'm behind on my rent? It's just a momentary setback. It is absolutely nothing that you should be concerned about."
"You p..pay rent?" stammered Allie.
"Of course, I pay rent. You don't think the landlord is going to allow me to live there rent-free, do you?" asked Ruth.
"Bill Decker told me that he gave you that townhouse in exchange for my hand in marriage!" cried Allie.
"Nonsense, that man never gave anyone anything unless it was a hard time," said Ruth. "I support myself by selling my watercolors at Mr. Matthews shop. It's not much, but it usually pays the rent."
Heyes jumped up and wrapped his arm about Allie's shoulders. Tears were springing to her eyes as she looked up at him in confusion. He pulled her to his chest and tipped up her chin speaking softly to her, "He lied to you, Allie. You rejected him, so he wanted to punish you by taking away the only family you had." As his words sank in, her temper flared.
"That horrible, horrible bastard!" she snarled. "If he wasn't already dead, I'd kill him a thousand times."
"Well, fortunately for you, someone else killed him the first time. Was it you, Mr. Curry?" asked Ruth, glancing to where the Kid sat.
Kid was jolted by the question and started to speak, but was interrupted by his partner. "No, it wasn't the Kid, it was me," said Heyes sadly, "I didn't shoot him, the sheriff did; but I may as well have. He died because of me."
"Then I owe you a great debt." Ruth walked over to her daughter and the outlaw, "I made a terrible mistake pushing Allie to marry that man. I had no idea what a vile human being he was. My only intention was for her to marry someone who could keep her safe."
"What are you keeping her safe from, Ruth?" Heyes asked quietly. He felt Allie tense up and he held onto her protectively, "What is it you are afraid of?"
Ruth paled slightly, but Esther jumped to her sister's side and wrapped an arm about her, "Leave her alone. You have no right to question her."
"He may not, but I do," said Allie, pulling out of Heyes's embrace, "I have a right to know what is going on here."
Wheat and Kyle made quick work of disposing of the wagon. After driving it down to the South Platte River a few miles south of town and unhitching the team, the two men pushed the wagon into the river a few hundred yards above a particularly deep pool. As the wagon slowly floated off, they drew their guns, taking aim, and firing. The wagon moved with the current until it became too riddled with bullet holes and sank to the bottom of the river bed, disappearing from sight.
Grinning, Kyle pulled a small flask out of his hip pocket, took a sip, and passed it to his partner. Wheat took a long pull, wiped his mouth on his sleeve, and passed it back to Kyle. "What do you say we go find out who's working at Mattie's tonight? We got the whole night off and pockets full of cash," said Wheat.
"I like the way you think, Wheat. Let's go," laughed Kyle, climbing up the bank.
"I like the way I think, too," chuckled Wheat as he followed his partner to the horses.
Ruth pushed Esther away, "I am fine. Stop fussing over me." Ruth went to settee, sat, and appraised her daughter. Alyssa, no, Allie had changed so much in just a few short weeks. Gone was the insipid, compliant girl who used to try her patience so terribly. The girl before her was someone she'd never met before. Feisty and strong, passionate and demanding, she was a capable woman. Ruth found that she quite liked this person. "Yes, I can see that it is time for us to let go of the secrets we've kept far too long. Come here, Miss Golden, and have a seat next to me. I will tell you what you wish to know."
"You can't! She's not ready!" shrieked Esther, walking over to Allie as she spoke. Allie looked from her strident, emotional aunt to her calm, self-possessed mother, and made her choice.