Chapter One: "Not tonight, Cowboy."
Kitty woke at the turn of the key in her lock. It was late, not as late as a Saturday night, but late, and she'd been asleep, not expecting Matt back from Hays until tomorrow. He came in trying for quiet, but not achieving it. She heard his hat go on the rack, his boots thump softly onto the floor, the rustle as his clothes came off and were laid across the tall chair that she kept close to the door just for that purpose. Lastly the gentle clink as his badge was laid on top of her dresser. On that cue, she sat up in bed. "Hello, Matt."
He came to the bed and she moved over, leaving him the warm place she had created under the quilts. "Hello, Kitty. I didn't mean to wake you." He always said it, but he knew that he always did. He moved in beside her and moved her into his arms for an embrace. "What happened at the trial?" she asked, her face against his chest. "'bout what we expected. The jury found him guilty, but they took their time about it. Judge gave him only five years because of his help in bringing in the rest of those fellas. I talked to Judge Brooker, and he says he'll see that Jackson is up for parole next year." Matt's hands moved on her shoulders and hair. It had been two weeks. "Anything happen while I was gone?" She shook her head against him, "Not much." And now his hands were on her face, lifting it to his mouth for a kiss that started softly and ended very deep. One hand moved down, to cup her breast, and she said the words that had been part of their language for a long time. "Not tonight, cowboy."
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Their times together those first years had been less frequent, partly because of his work, and hers, partly a lack of privacy, partly because it was still such a special thing – saved for special times, times that Kitty chose with care, and sometimes a calendar. They had been together for nearly four years before the evening came when Matt, back from a week on the trail, came to her at closing time, washed and changed into clean clothes, to have a last beer with her as she wiped down the bar. "About time to lock up," he commented, holding her eyes as she handed him the mug. "Town's quiet tonight."
"That's a good thing." She replied, waiting for what she knew was coming next.
"Want me to lock up and douse the lights so you can go on up?"
"Not tonight, cowboy." She told him.
His sudden stillness filled the room. After a moment or two, he asked quietly, "Did I do something wrong, Kitty?" She smiled up at him, which brought some relief to his eyes, "Not that I remember, Matt. But there are times of the month when a lady can't entertain." She watched his hands relax on the glass. They were both still for a moment before he replied, "Shame to waste that nice soft new bed, and that nice new room, Kitty. Lot nicer than that cot back at the jailhouse." She shook her head, not blushing, but not wanting to need to explain further.
Matt reached over and tipped up her face to look at him, "I'm not a boy, Kitty. I hear what you're saying. It's all right. Hand me the keys and you go on up." She shrugged her shoulders, and handed him the keys from under the counter. He stood at the bar, drinking his beer, while she went up the stairs. He took longer with the closing than was usual. She had time to clean herself up and was waiting in the new room, in the new bed, when he came in a quarter hour later. She heard the click as he locked the door behind him, and all the familiar sounds as he removed his clothes and came over to where she lay.
"Matt…" she tried again.
"Shh. Scoot over, now." He lifted the quilts and lay down beside her, his naked body next to hers in its long-sleeved, high-throated nightdress. His arms went around her and drew her back against his chest, his arm across her waist, carefully neither higher nor lower. "I missed you, Kitty. Thought about you all the way home." She felt the hardness of him against her bottom but he didn't move against her, just lay still, holding her. There was a sigh rising inside her but she refused let it out as she turned over and reached for him with her hands. But his hands were there to take hers and lift them to his mouth for a gentle kiss on each palm before he settled her again in the circle of his arms, her head on his shoulder. "Not tonight, Kitty." There were no more words as they lay snugged close together under the quilts. The solid length of him lay against her leg for a long time until he finally relaxed into sleep.
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"Not tonight, cowboy."
He turned her to lie on her back beside him and propped himself on an elbow above her. The pause was there, but not long, before he said, "Are you all right? Have you seen Doc?" She couldn't stop the tears from falling then, but she chuckled at the same time, "Lord help me, how did I manage to end up with the only cowboy in Kansas who can count?"
"Doesn't take too much counting when a man's riding out under the moon." He replied, tracing a hand comfortingly along her hair and the side of her face. "Was it bad?" She turned her face against him, "No. Yes. I don't know. It's over." She had sworn she wouldn't cry. Sworn it, but she did, just letting the tears stream down her face, not sobbing. "Annie helped me for a couple of days. She's the only other one who knew. Doc wanted me to stay in bed longer, but once it was over, it was over."
"What else did Doc say?" Matt asked neutrally. She stiffened and sat up in the bed, arms around her knees. "Dammit, Matt, can't you just leave it?" she asked, her voice irritable, but not really angry.
He sat up and then slid his long legs out of the bed, settling the covers back around her. "You want a drink?" he asked, walking over to the table where a bottle of whiskey and two glasses stood near the window. She nodded, a subtle motion in the light that spilled through the sheer curtains from the full moon. He poured two glasses and brought them back to the bed, handed her one and then took a shawl from the back of a chair and draped it around her shoulders. He sat naked on the side of the bed, one knee propped in front of him, one foot on the cold floor, and said again, "What else did Doc say?"
"Said I was about two months. He said what he always does. It's natural. It happens all the time. No need to worry." She tossed off the whiskey and seemed about to throw the glass across the room when Matt's large hand covered hers to take the glass to set it on the floor. "What else did Doc say?" he asked again.
Kitty shrugged, then smiled at him, mischief showing through the slowing tears, "He said I needed to sleep alone for a while."
"Really? Those were his very words?"
"He told me if I let some overgrown lawman come sniffing around me before the first of next month that he'd personally slit your throat in your sleep." Now it was Matt's turn to chuckle. "That sounds more like Doc."
Matt finished his drink and, setting down the glass, moved back into the bed, holding Kitty tight in his arms. "I'm sorry about the baby, Kitty. I worry about you. This is, what, three times in the last four years?"
Her usually strong voice was tiny. "Four times."
He stilled for a moment before his hands resumed their soft stroking pattern on her back. "You didn't think to tell me?" Her voice very quiet she said, "It was after Mannon. From the timing I thought, likely, it was his, and the very thought made me sick. Doc helped me that time."
"I wouldn't have thought that of him, Kitty."
"He didn't like it, but he's a practical man."
"And I was away."
"And you were away."
They were silent for a time, sleep far from either of them. She turned at last to prop herself above him and look into his face. "I know you feel bad about the baby, Matt. Doc keeps saying he's sure that someday I'll manage to keep a baby long enough to birth it. Do you still really want that?"
"I would love any child you had, Kitty. And do my very best for the both of you." His voice was slow and deep. "It would mean some changes, but those changes are going to come someday soon anyhow. We both know that. We've talked about buying a ranch. Here if we could. California or Colorado if we need to. There's other things. I know a lot of law, Kitty, and I could read more. The governor has talked to me couple of times about appointing me as a judge. Problem with that is you have to ride circuit, and you still get shot at. And it's considered bad manners to shoot back." He wiped the last trace of tears from her face. "And you? Do you feel like you could want a baby now? You seemed so happy, the first time…"
She thumped onto her back beside him, arms folded across her chest. "Now you sound like Doc."
"I'd like to see you with a child, Kitty." He hesitated, and then went on softly, "And I know you haven't wanted that. I've kept my word to you all these years, honey, but do you feel safer now? We're older. Things are more settled." She felt more than saw his smile, "Even Kansas is more settled than it was ten years ago. You have a pretty good life worked out for yourself, Kitty. The Long Branch does good business. You've probably got more money in the bank than I do. A baby could change that life, but it wouldn't have to."
"I know women who've raised a baby over the bar, Matt. It's not against the law. But no, I don't think I'd want to do that."
The voice was small, small, coming from the large man beside her. "Would you marry me, Kitty, if there was a child?"
Kitty moved back into his arms, kissing his scarred shoulder, smoothing a hand across other scars on his neck and arm. "You know I would, Matt. We've talked about that enough before."
"But not now."
"No. Not right now. You have your badge. I have the Long Branch. We have each other."
"That we do, honey. That we do." They lay silent for a long time before they slept.