Author's Note-The following is a work of sugary sweet romance, just the way I like 'em. You have been duly forewarned-turn back now if you do not enjoy Matt & Kitty happily ever afters. I do not purport to be a geologist, physician, botanist, historian, relationship counselor, equine specialist, firearms expert or Gunsmoke canonist. I'm simply an amateur fic-writer in my fleeting spare moments, and I am partial to sharing with like-minded fans for their own personal enjoyment. I do indeed hope you like it just fine.

Tremendous thanks to my betas- anotherredhead, glow1012, moonstone maiden & BigMommaT—for invaluable discussions, brilliant suggestions, and wholehearted, unfailing support.

"He Restoreth My Soul"

Matt's "Love" Story ATC

by

Lilyjack

Chapter 1

Kitty unceremoniously plopped down on the edge of the stream bank, the flat rock stinging her tender backside through the thin cotton drawers she'd stripped down to along with her lace-edged chemise, both damp with sweat from her hard ride over the prairie. Gratefully, she stuck her bare feet into the clear greenish-tinged pool that swirled slowly below her, a favorite secret swimming hole she and Matt had visited many times over since their earliest days together.

Suddenly, a sob hitched in her chest as the memories took hold of her-sweet, hot memories of long, lazy afternoons, slippery smooth skin against wet skin, holding and touching, laughing and kissing, whispering precious sweet nothings that meant everything to the two of them. Swimming blissfully naked in their hidden pool, they made weightless love in the deep shade of an ancient, stooped cottonwood tree, the ceaseless prairie wind rustling its leaves overhead while masking their passionate, heated cries. Matt Dillon, her constant lover of nearly twenty years, never tired of taking Kitty to their swimming hole whenever he had a chance to slip away from the unending business of the law in the steamy summertime.

Constant lover, my eye... Damn his cheating hide. She tried to ignore the tumbled mess of curls that had escaped their normally neat updo on her frenzied gallop from Dodge. Ill-tempered, she blew one straggling red lock out of her face and kicked at the water. An hour earlier, she'd lit out of town after Matt's "confession" to her on what she suspected might have been on bended knee if he hadn't taken one too many gunshots to the leg over the years, making bending that knee nigh impossible without a fair amount of pain and struggle.

Fat tears coursed down her cheeks, the warm sun beaming down on her back and bare arms like an embrace from a mama who was no longer there to comfort her—dead and gone nearly three decades now. Kitty had learned long ago how to be tough as nails and take care of herself and not to let anything bother her. But this thing here had cut her like a knife to her very core.

What the hell was Matt thinking? Yeah, he wasn't himself, he'd explained to her, sheepishly, ashamed, horrified, apologetic. Amnesia? She spat out a very unladylike curse word that she reserved for special occasions, thinking if this awful, gut-wrenching occasion didn't merit it, she didn't know what did. Pressing her lips into a thin, angry line, she chucked a rock into the water with a satisfying splash, pretending she was lobbing it at Matt's unfaithful head instead. Amnesia. From a blow to the head. Hmmph. A little clunk on the noggin was all it took for Matt Dillon to forget her very existence? Why, the very idea. Loudly sniffing, she swiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. She would be hard pressed to say which was smarting worse right now—her heart or her pride.

Yesterday Matt had returned to Dodge after a lengthy misadventure. Following a thorough physical examination from Doc, and a sketchy recounting of events from Matt, Doc had declared that Matt must have suffered from amnesia, Matt had later quietly tried to explain to Kitty, fidgeting uncomfortably in his rose velvet upholstered chair. His explanation to Kitty had been halting, confusing, jumbled, Matt's face red, his eyes downcast as he twisted and turned his sweat-stained hat in his big, calloused hands.

Kitty's jaw had dropped as she'd sat listening, her mind a whirl. Matt had slept with someone named Mike? She'd held a hand aloft, interrupting him, her incredulous voice rising in timbre, "You slept with a... a man?"

Now in the bright afternoon sun, Kitty nearly cackled aloud as she recalled the horrified look on the Dodge Marshal's weathered face at her obvious misunderstanding. The whole thing would've been almost funny if it hadn't broken her heart. She sighed, lifting the hem of her chemise to wipe the tears from her cheeks and the sweat from her brow.

She'd been so upset, so disappointed in Matt, had felt so utterly betrayed by him, that she'd stormed out of her room after giving him a brief yet pointed piece of her mind and headed straight for Moss Grimmick's stable. She'd saddled Beau herself, not bothering to wait for Hank who actually had the good sense to stay out of her way. Grateful that she'd chosen to don a sensible broadcloth skirt that morning, she'd hoisted herself expertly into the sidesaddle, urging her shining black horse forward with a ragged cry.

She'd ridden hard across the prairie, blinded by her own tears, unsure of where she was headed, but she'd ended up here, at the widening of the stream, where the water ran deeper and cooler in the shade, where she and Matt had hidden away together for so many secret hours throughout the years. Where they could be free and easy together. Not the U.S. Marshal and the saloon girl and later the owner of the Long Branch. But just plain old Matt and Kitty. Together.

And now here she sat. Kitty. Alone. She watched as a single leaf turned loose its hold from the cottonwood and drifted slowly down to float on the water's surface, then realized that perspiration was dripping uncomfortably down her own back. She reached for her hem and stripped the damp chemise over her head, grateful for the delicious breeze across her naked skin. Suddenly remembering herself, she darted a hasty glance around to check for any desperate outlaws or bloodthirsty gunslingers in the vicinity before dropping her lacey linen drawers. No use in getting molested, she thought with an unladylike snort, or maybe that's my best hope from here on out of getting any attention from a man.

She frowned down at her body, running her palms and fingertips over her skin, examining the changes the years had wrought. No, she hadn't repeatedly bore children, which Kitty knew could ravage a woman's figure. But she also was very aware she wasn't exactly the girl Matt had met so many years before-slim and firm and young and strong. Was he not attracted to her anymore? Blue eyes widening at the notion, her disheveled curls swaying as she shook her head, she carefully stepped into the pool, sinking down, down, to her waist, her chest, her shoulders, her neck. She sighed at the coolness of the water enveloping her. Not too cold, not too warm. Just right. She listened for a moment to the sounds permeating her oasis-birds singing, insects buzzing, leaves rustling overhead. She could almost believe that Matt were here next to her like old times. Almost. She hiccupped a sob and clapped a hand tightly over her mouth, stifling her weeping. She had to get hold of herself.

What did Mike look like, she wondered as she tried to relax and let the water buoy her body, allowing herself to float aimlessly. Was she young and beautiful with no crow's feet or extra padding around her waistline? She must be one fast piece of work all right. Oh, how Kitty would love to get ahold of her! She'd show her who was woman enough for Matt Dillon. That female Mike wouldn't know what had hit her—she could just imagine picking that interfering trollop bald-headed. She could also just imagine Matt's face when he had to throw Kitty in the calaboose for instigating a no-holds-barred, biting, kicking, scratching, eye-gouging catfight. He'd be fit to be tied, alright.

Sighing in frustration, she splashed water on her face, washing away what was left of her paint. She knew she must look a sight after carrying on so. The cool water felt good on her heated skin. She scrubbed until her reflection on the surface of the water looked clean again, and she took a few deep, cleansing breaths into her lungs as well.

Kitty swam into the middle of the pool, treading water, and thought about all the times her man had been tempted. Oh, Matt Dillon had a roving eye, she was very well aware. And he'd always had a very bad and thoroughly annoying habit of shoving off on Kitty all his old girlfriends or even poor, sweet, helpless females he picked up as charity cases whenever they just happened to pass through Dodge. And Kitty always looked after them for him. Why, she didn't rightly know. Maybe just so she could keep a close eye on the conniving little tarts to make sure there was no funny business going on.

Matt always played innocent, looking at her with those wide, guileless, clear blue eyes of his, like he didn't realize those fast women were after him like sharp-clawed she-cats preying on a mouse. But Kitty knew better. She knew he enjoyed the flattering attention. And Matt realized Kitty would keep those persistent women at arm's length. He was safe with Kitty playing buffer. Kitty always kept her man from harm's way in the end and that's what counted, even if it was an imposition and a big pain in the backside. But this time round, it was Kitty who had ended up getting hurt, and in a bad way.

Releasing a shuddering breath, she suddenly realized she was bone-tired. Swimming to the edge of the pool, she slipped out, struggling a little to get her underthings back on over wet skin. Kitty found her skirt where she had carelessly tossed it earlier on a patch of green mannagrass. She shook it out and spread it in the shade where she could lie down and not cause any more dadblame freckles to pop out than she already had. Curse of a redhead, she sighed.

Lying on her side, she drew her knees close and felt another mutinous hot tear burn its way across the bridge of her nose as she wondered miserably, where the hell was Matt? Why hadn't he followed her? He would have when he was younger...when she was younger. When he still cared enough about her... The ache in her chest grew until it overtook her body and soul and she couldn't bear to think anymore. Kitty squeezed her eyes shut and thankfully allowed the black void of sleep to pull her battered consciousness into peaceful oblivion, while the warm prairie wind quickly dried her clothing and her tears.

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Reuben Tucker squatted, his back against a tree, chewing thoughtfully on a sprig of fragrant green grass. He kept his eye on the woman who lay sleeping peacefully in the shade a safe distance away. He was happy to be able to watch her now without fear of being discovered—earlier the young cowboy had paused in his journey, dismounting his horse to relieve himself behind a tree, and lo and behold! He'd happened upon the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen in all his born days. Flaming red hair and pale white skin, cornflower blue eyes and a voluptuous figure that'd knock the wind right out of an unsuspecting feller.

Course, she was settin' in her unmentionables by the side of the stream, and he'd blushed just to see it, but she was cryin', so he wasn't sure just exactly what to do about the whole situation. So he'd paced back and forth in his worn leather Justins a few times, loath to leave the lady alone in her current state of distress, because apparently she was exactly that—alone. Reuben had peered around the area, quiet like, for he hadn't wanted to startle her in her lacy underthings. He'd searched the horizon. No one in sight except the lovely damsel in tears.

When next he turned to check on her, she was swimming in a deep pool of water, and Reuben's face turned beet red when he saw her unmentionables now abandoned on the rocks beside the stream. "Gosh all fish hooks!" he swore under his breath. Now what to do? He sure as shootin' couldn't leave now. What if some rapscallion come along to take advantage of that purty little helpless thing? That's when Reuben determinedly planted himself next to a tree, well out of sight, to keep an eye on the breathtakingly beautiful redhead sleeping under the cottonwood below.

tbc

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