Return to Dodge:

Chapter 1

Kitty lay down on the bed in her old room above the Long Branch. Hannah had insisted that she stay there. Practically pulled her inside because she was so glad to see her old friend finally back in Dodge City.

Kitty was more than ambivalent about staying here. There was long and emotional history in this room, hell, in this town.

She was exhausted, traveling from New Orleans after receiving the telegram telling her about Matt's turning up and not being expected to live.

There was a part of Kitty that hated that about herself. She was angry, still. For twenty years, she had given everything, sacrificed her chance to have a husband. Granted, Matt had told her from the beginning that he didn't want a wife or a family, but it's damn hard to argue with love and hope, especially for a woman with a heart as large as hers.

It sure didn't help that Matt was everything she'd ever wanted in a man. Honest, honorable, brave. She hadn't counted on his being so emotionally distant for so long. Kitty Russell was subject to the curse of women everywhere; they were always hopeful that men would change their minds, come to their senses when they realized what they had. If they did, it was usually too late.

Kitty would always love him, but hated that when he needed her she still came running. It's hard to change some habits. Some love never fades, cliché that it is.

Deep down, she still wanted him—in every way. Seeing him lying there, his curly hair, now grey, hadn't stilled the desire to run her hand along the side of his jaw or run her slim fingers gently through his hair.

Twelve years ago, she had managed to break away. God, it had almost crushed her soul, but she'd done it. In the weeks and months after she'd left Dodge, she'd lost so much weight that she'd withered away to almost nothing. Throwing herself into a new business had saved her life. During the day. Her nights were haunted by dreams and tears and crushing loneliness that only one man could fill. The one man who wouldn't fill it.

Kitty had hoped, against reason that he would come after her, if just to see how she was doing. Maybe just written her a letter.

He hadn't, of course.

No one else had ever filled that giant Matt sized hole in her heart. Kitty had taken lovers, rarely, but it was empty and left her lonelier than ever.

So why on God's green earth had she rushed back to Dodge to see him, fearing that he might die before she got there? What did she expect that he'd say? That he was sorry. That he'd made a mistake. He wanted her to stay with him.

He hadn't, and here she was sitting in her old room. Their old room. Filled with memories. Suddenly Kitty's chest tightened and she couldn't hold back the hot tears.

Had it all worth it for him in the long run, she wondered.

Had his badge filled the hole she had left in his heart? Did she even leave a hole in his heart? She believed so at one time. Now, she didn't have a clue.

Matt lay back on his pillow in the doctor's office.

He should be dead by rights. How in the hell had he managed to survive all he had? Most importantly, what had he ever done to deserve the woman who had traveled almost a thousand miles to see him? Not a damn thing, he thought.

The old marshal felt a sickening pain in his gut at what he had done to her. What he had done to them. For what? No one cared if he came home at night or where the hell he was, alive or dead.

He had friends, but it wasn't the same. The intimacy was never there. In fact, no one he'd ever met had lit the fire that she had in his heart and loins. The hours they had spent in each other's arms, making love, talking, and laughing, he had buried deep. He never allowed himself to take out those memories no matter how cold the mountain or how lonely he was. He wasn't strong enough to relive them; they would eat him alive.

He had promised that he'd never leave a widow and children as he'd seen other lawmen do. Their fates after that were like leaves in the wind, and their anguish caused by their loss was unmatched.

Matt had always known that Kitty was strong. He knew she could make it without him, but when he saw her, she didn't strike him as her old self. She wasn't filled with that light, that aura,that always surrounded Kitty.

He was glad to see her though. Matt hadn't felt his heart speed up like that even when he'd been chased by a grizzly last. He had been pretty sure he could escape the bear.

Kitty had made his stomach lurch at the sight of her. He sure wasn't as sure he could handle the red head.