Standard character disclaimers apply. Thanks to your encouragement, I decided to try this one more time.

Historical note: There was actually a Union Church established in Dodge in the 1870's, and this story began out of my desire to look at Matt and Kitty from possible religious perspectives of the time. By all accounts, the real Union Church minister was a lovely man; however, this story required a different kind of minister who shares nothing with him except a last name, which was too ironic not to use. Frederick and Julia Wright are my own creations.

The Preacher's Wife

Chapter 1

"My beloved is mine and I am his, he pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle, or a young stag upon rugged mountains." Song of Solomon, 2:16-17

Wednesday morning

Kitty had been tossing and turning most of the night, trying desperately to ignore the snorting and grunting sounds coming from the left side of her bed. She had covered her ears with a pillow to no avail, and in a fit of frustration briefly fantasized about using it to muffle the offending noise. She had nudged, poked, and attempted to roll the man lying next to her over on his side, but he was twice her size and she didn't stand a chance.

Matt didn't always snore, mainly having the problem after returning from days on the trail and collapsing in exhaustion. The hard ground and cold night air were no substitute for a soft bed and warm lover, and he rarely slept well during these trips. He wasn't aware of it, but Kitty never slept well during those trips either. It wasn't just the loneliness of the empty space beside her—there were plenty of nights when he didn't sleep in her bed. She simply couldn't turn her brain off, imagining every ugly scenario that might keep him from coming back to her, knowing that there was nothing she could do except wait and hope.

He had once again made it back safely, though, and that was worth this little irritation. Kitty finally drifted off a couple of hours before dawn, more of a deep grogginess than real sleep. Matt was up at sunrise as usual, throwing his clothes on with the familiar intention of quietly slipping back to the jail before the town was awake enough to notice. He bent over and kissed her lightly on the forehead, not expecting to get a reaction. If there was anything about their bodies that was not compatible, it was their internal clocks. Perhaps it was years of keeping saloon hours, but Kitty was a night owl who had been known to get up at the crack of noon. Matt, on the other hand, sometimes fought to stay awake when their rendezvous were scheduled late, and his job demanded that he be alert early in the morning. But that had certainly been the only incompatibility their bodies had experienced since they had begun this phase of their relationship almost a year ago.

"Good Morning," Kitty said sleepily as she felt the brush of his lips.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he said softly.

"You didn't wake me," she replied. He knew something must be amiss if Kitty Russell was not asleep at sunup. "Is everything OK?" he asked.

"Everything is fine," she replied. "I just couldn't get to sleep."

"Was I snoring again? I'm sorry, Honey. I always seem to keep you up when I first get back. I shouldn't have slept here," he said apologetically.

"Well, that wouldn't have been any fun," she said with a drowsy smile, taking his hand and pulling him onto the bed with her. He gave her a real kiss this time, slow and lingering, then squeezed her hand between his before telling her goodbye. "I'll be back to take you to dinner," he said. "Try to get a little sleep, OK? You don't have to be up for a while."

Kitty rolled over and hugged his pillow, pretending he was still in bed with her and looking forward to dinner. With that, she drifted off to sleep.

Unlike Kitty, Matt had slept like a baby and was ready to face the day. He crept into the jail to find Chester snoozing in his cot. He winced as the floorboards loudly creaked, sending Chester quickly up on his elbows.

"Well Mister Dillon, when did you git back?" asked his trusted assistant, wiping the sleep from his eyes.

"Last night" Matt said casually, picking up the large stack of mail that had accumulated on his desk while he was away.

"Well I didn't see you..." Chester stopped mid-sentence as Matt shot him a look, suddenly realizing that the Marshal's whereabouts last night were not up for discussion. "I mean, I'm glad yer back," he finished.

"How were things while I was gone?" Matt asked.

"Oh, just fine," Chester replied, getting up and grabbing the coffee pot to start one of his famous brews. "No trouble a'tall."

"Glad to hear it," Matt said.

Matt patiently made his way through the stack of mail, wondering how that much could have happened in three days. There was a lot of paperwork associated with being a U.S. Marshal, and it wasn't always exciting. But then again, a day lacking excitement was not a bad thing in this job. He spent a good part of the day writing letters and sending wires, mostly about trials and appeals in which he might be involved. He was particularly dreading a couple of them—one of the difficult parts of his job was testifying against people he knew and seeing some basically decent folks go to jail over stupid mistakes. Knowing he was doing his sworn duty didn't always alleviate his uneasiness with that responsibility.

What did alleviate his uneasiness was talking to Kitty. Matt didn't open up to many people, it wasn't his nature. But she was his sounding board, and she offered a kind of insight and comfort that he had never experienced from anyone else in his life. Kitty was also his eyes and ears around Dodge when he wasn't there and had a keen intuition about people that he had learned to trust. She had become an integral part of his small inner circle of friends when she arrived in Dodge almost 3 years ago. And for the past year, she had become much more than that.

Matt rubbed his tired eyes and looked at the clock. It was nearly dinner time. He stood up and stretched his long legs, then put on his hat and headed over to The Long Branch to make good on his promise to the woman he had left sleeping in bed just a few hours earlier.

The saloon wasn't crowded yet, most of its thriving business wouldn't be arriving until later in the evening. Matt walked in to find Bill Pence washing glasses as his redheaded partner was arranging assorted rolls and pastries in a basket at the end of the bar. "Hello, Cowboy," Kitty said playfully as Matt made his way over to her.

"Hello, Kitty," he replied with a slight tip of the hat. "What are you doing there?"

"Oh, just getting rid of a few leftovers," she replied.

Matt smiled as he saw her filling the basket with food that was definitely not leftovers. She made a habit out of buying end of the day specials at the bakery a couple of times a week and taking them to a large family in town who had fallen on hard times. Of course they didn't want charity, and she had no intention of letting them feel it was such. So she managed to be involved in a variety of vague social events where it ended up they had too much food, and it sure was nice to know it wasn't going to waste. No wonder I love her, Matt thought to himself.

They decided to head over to Delmonico's before she made her delivery. The dinner rush had not begun and their meals came quickly. Joking about the quality of the food at Delmonico's had become a town pastime, and tonight was no exception. Kitty was trying to guess which part of the cow her steak had come from when a young couple walked in and was seated near the window. The man stared at them almost in amusement, but the woman seemed upset. She was holding her left arm unnaturally against her stomach, as if she was wearing an invisible sling. "Don't look now, but isn't that your secret friend and her charming husband?" Matt whispered. It was indeed, and the look on her friend's face bothered Kitty. But she didn't dare let on that she knew the woman.