AN: The world needed a Wild West AU Jeff/Annie romantic fanfic, so I delivered!
I tried for historical accuracy, but don't use this fic as reference. If you seek fun and romance with our lovely couple (and our gang) - you've come to the right place. Overall this is a fluffy, light-hearted fic with some drama and cutesy capers thrown in for good measure - it is the Wild West, after all.
About the rating: I rated this T since this is not a dark fic, but it still contains mature situation like: sexual harassment, possible miscarriage, and eventually lemons (I put an M warning at the beginning of the relevant chapters).
English is not my main language, though I did my to make this somewhat authentic.
Hope you like and enjoy this! If you do, please let me know:)
Chapter One - Polite
Jeff woke up from the noisy breathing, not to mention snoring, of Michelle. Yes, she was inclined to snore at times, but he used it to his advantage. He glanced at the window, and since he was able to see the outline of the curtain Michelle Slater had stretched the previous night, he knew it was time to butt out.
He slipped out of bed with the agility of a seasoned cat, found his clothes and pulled his pants up his legs. Upon reaching the door he pulled on his boots, and while he strode across the sleepy town, just before the people began their day, he slipped on his shirt and buttoned it. He ran his hand through his hair several times, and by the time he reached the sheriff's office his clothes were taut on his body, his shirt tucked into his pants and every hair was in its as-if-I'm-not-trying place. He knew that apart from Michelle nobody could guess that he hadn't spent the night at his house.
But he suspected that they had a bit of a clue.
It didn't matter; he was Greendale's sheriff, chosen unanimously by all citizens after the great raid, ten years ago. When he led the resistance and chased the bandits away from town, the entirety of Greendale cheered him. He was a charismatic, strong and clever chap, and since the town's former sheriff was killed by the bandits before Jeff came to the rescue, he was the obvious choice. The people in town were pleased with his services, let alone adored him, and there were far more difficult things for Jeff Winger than to be adored.
Troy was not yet in the office, and it was just as well. Jeff sat down at the sheriff's desk, kicked up his feet on the desk and pulled out a knife. When Troy has finally arrived, he found him sharpening his knife on a piece of leather.
"Sheriff, you're needed in the bank."
"Good morning to you too," Jeff nodded at his deputy and continued to sharpen the knife at leisure. Troy shifted impatiently.
"Yes, good morning, good morning! You must come quickly, two men started fighting at the bank and if you won't come it will come to blows!"
Jeff sighed and stood up slowly, laying the knife on the table and stretching. "You would think they could do without me for at least a few minutes in the morning?" He asked Troy.
"Not really," Troy shook his head. "Not when you live in a town where Pierce lives..."
Jeff tensed. "It's Pierce?"
Troy shrugged. "Didn't I tell you?"
"No!" And Jeff was out of the office and marching, almost running, to the bank in the middle of town. "Pierce, you idiot, what have you done this time?"
When he reached the bank a crowd was forming, and the two rivals, Pierce and Hickey, were orbiting each other with raised fists. Jeff saw with relief that none of them had yet to struck.
"Wait, wait, there is no need to quarrel!" Duncan shouted from behind the counter, his British accent stronger than usual in his distress. Jeff made his way through the crowd that surrounded them and stood between them, placing his hands on each of their shoulders. He made sure to put a sufficient distance between them so they won't be able to throw punches at each other (although they could at him, but he was willing to risk it. Hickey respected the law too much to hit the sheriff and Pierce... well, Pierce was Pierce).
"Gentlemen," Jeff raised his voice, and the crowd fell silent. "There is no need to fight. Everything can be resolved peacefully."
"Tell that to him-"
"I only wanted-"
"One at a time," Jeff interrupted them. "Hickey, you go first."
"First he cuts me in line, then insults my sister!"
"Well, well, I only remarked that if you had a better income she might not have to go where she goes..."
"Shut your stinking old mouth!" Hickey demanded and almost leaped forward, only Jeff's grip on his shoulder stopped him.
"I don't..." Jeff really wanted to rub his face impatiently, instead he settled for eye rolling. "Hickey, you're right, and Pierce should apologize."
"Pierce, a quick reminder, I'm still the sheriff, and I have every right to put you in the cell until further notice." He said that close to Pierce's face, but the latter clamped his mouth in a thin line and crossed his arms over his chest, offended. "Pierce..." Jeff sighed. He was an infantile of an old man, and this kind of people you had to handle like children. Luckily, Jeff knew them both and he knew how to handle them, especially Pierce. "We both know you're doing well financially, and it's okay, everyone knows that. Even Hickey. You don't need to remind others that they're poor just to feel good about yourself, okay?" Pierce huffed, but turned to look at him.
Jeff straightened. "Hickey, tell me something."
"Would you say it's true that Pierce is rich?"
"Why do you ask me? Everyone knows Pierce is rich. Only thanks to his father..." But Jeff has already turned to the other old man. "Pierce, perhaps apologize to Hickey now?" Pierce huffed again but relented. "Hickey, I'm sorry." He even offered his hand to shake.
Hickey was so surprised that he took the offered hand and shook it, and Jeff grinned. "It's easier when we're all friends, isn't it?" He questioned and shot a charming smile at both sides. "And now, Hickey would go first to the counter-" and when Pierce intended to object added "-because I said so, and Pierce will go next." He finally let go from their shoulders.
On his way back to the sheriff's office he detected Abed.
"Sheriff Winger, Sheriff Winger!" The skinny guy waved at him.
Jeff rolled his eyes at the journalist, and changed his course to include talking to him. "Hey, Abed, what's going on?"
"I'll tell you what's going on!" Abed was talking fast and nodding enthusiastically, waving a rolled-up newspaper in his hand. Jeff assumed that it's news from the paper, but it wasn't. "I heard from Vicki who heard it from Neil who heard it from Shirley that a new teacher will be arriving to town today." Jeff nodded. The old teacher had married and moved to live further north, in the mountains, and the mayor has been seeking a new teacher for a while. "She will live at Shirley's, that's how Shirley knew about it."
"It's fascinating Abed, but why are you telling me this?"
"I'm the journalist, Jeff; I am responsible for passing on to all characters any relevant information that will advance the plot. I've told you this, last month." Jeff rolled his eyes. Abed wrote in the newspaper, but he also wanted to be a writer, and was obsessed with the rules of fiction, to the point where he referred to his life as a storybook. It was annoying, true, but completely harmless. Jeff learned to ignore it, especially since Abed was very good friends with Troy and visited the sheriff's office quite often.
"So this information is relevant to me how?..." Jeff asked, raising a skeptical eyebrow.
"You're the most desired bachelor in town, a new broad comes to town, I figured you'd like to know."
"Abed, I think I am all set in the broads' department."
"Yes, but you haven't heard all of it."
Jeff sighed inaudibly and tapped his foot, waiting for the journalist's next words, which came in a rush.
"She's a young widow, around my and Troy's age, her husband was killed in the war three years ago, she taught children in her husband's church, and from what I gather..." Abed leaned forward and put his hand to the side of his mouth as if to confide in him. "She is supposed to be a real beauty, the kind you don't see much around these parts of the country."
"Shirley had said that?" Jeff was skeptical. Shirley was the innkeeper, a married mother of three boys, and very religious. She was conservative and opinionated, and Jeff doubted that she will distribute rumors about a young woman's appearance, much less before the woman even arrived at Greendale.
"I'm merely passing on what I heard." Abed shrugged.
"Well, that's very nice, I'm glad I stopped to talk to you, Abed." Jeff rolled his shoulders and prepared to go.
Abed didn't seem to take offence, but the guy's face usually expressed little to no emotion. "I just thought you should know because you are the coveted bachelor, and she's a beautiful bachelorette, I wanted to warn you in advance."
"I appreciate it," Jeff touched the brim of his hat and turned away.
"Don't let the story carry you away!" Abed called after him and Jeff shook his head in pity. What goes through that boy's mind, only the gods know. But Troy seemed to like him, and he was very clever, when he wasn't talking straight nonsense.
The sun was in mid-sky. Jeff was sitting on the porch of the office, his feet resting on the railing, when the coach arrived.
It parked some distance away from the sheriff's office, but the building was located near the town entrance where Jeff could keep an eye on everything that's going on at the street. The cloud of dust began its descending when the driver jumped from his seat and headed to take down the bags from the back. The passenger door opened and remained ajar without Jeff seeing the person who stood there, not until the driver finished taking off all the suitcases and found time to help his passenger to get off the coach.
A gloved hand gripped the driver's calloused one, and a young woman in a black dress descended the stairs delicately. She landed with a light thud on the dirt road, immediately smoothing her palms over her puffy skirt.
She was holding a purse, and opened it to give the driver a few bills. Even up on porch Jeff's eyes registered how the figure hugging bodice emphasized a narrow waist, and the décolletage revealed alabaster shoulders and the slightest hint of a very interesting bust. When his eyes finally left this part of her, he thought fleetingly that Abed knew what he was talking about; her features were lovely, with huge blue eyes, carved rosy lips and shiny mahogany curls that framed her delicate face.
She thanked the driver and the man tipped his cap before jumping to his seat and driving away, and she was left alone with the bags by the roadside. Jeff saw her waving a hand and thought he heard 'Wait!' But the driver was already gone. Jeff didn't blame him: he would have left immediately to return home, and not spend another minute in this small and boring town.
Before the thought to stand up even crossed his mind, Abed strolled up to her. Jeff assumed he had come to visit Troy, either that or he had divine knowledge about the arrival time of the new teacher, and he came to see her for himself. Both options were likely.
"Hello, you must be the new teacher!" The dark skinned lad nodded at her, and Annie breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yes, I'm Miss Annie Edison. Nice to meet you."
"Abed Nadir, journalist, and writer in my spare time."
She smiled earnestly at the strange lad. She needed someone to be nice to her, after the complete and utter abandonment of the driver.
"Everything all right? You seem lost."
"I am lost," she sighed. "The driver took me here and left me to manage myself... I have these heavy bags, and I need to get to Shirley's inn and I don't know where it is..." She shook her head. "I am sorry if this is too much of a bother to ask for your help...?"
"Not really, no." Mr. Nadir cocked his head, studying her thoughtfully, remarkably owl-like.
The silence lengthened.
Annie frowned. "So... will you help me?"
"Yes, of course." The lad snapped out of his temporary trance and rotated by ninety degrees. "Sheriff! Sheriff Winger! Over here! A damsel in distress needs your help!"
She turned to look. A few houses away there was a building with a sheriff star on the front, and a porch where a man was standing up from a chair. The sun was high in the sky and the shade made it hard to see, even when she squinted. When he came down from the porch and headed toward them, she had the opportunity to have a better look at him, and fortunately enough time to recover.
He walked lazily but quickly on long lean limbs, his thumbs stuck in his belt. She tried not to stare, but she feared she failed horribly. He was good looking, almost too much. Taller than her, at least a head higher, broad chest and defined muscles, visible through his shirt and brown vest. His face was partially shadowed beneath a wide-brimmed cowboy hat, but she saw a strong jaw-line with a shadow of stubble, a straight, almost sharp nose, and an easy smile that flashed at her while he progressed to them. When he halted in front of her she glanced up, and his eyes studied her so thoroughly, she forgot to breathe for a moment.
"Did you call for me, Abed?" his voice was warm like hot chocolate on a wintery day and she prayed to not melt then and there. So what if he's as handsome as the devil himself? Pull yourself together, Annie, you're not a brainless maiden!
"Yes, Sheriff Winger, this is the new teacher I told you about." The man turned to look at her again, and Annie barely acknowledged Mr. Nadir's words: "She was left by herself with this heavy luggage and she needs to get to Shirley's. Can you help her?"
The sheriff stopped melting her with his stare, and glimpsed at the two cases, lying six feet away from them, where the driver had placed them.
On her own she won't be able to pick up even one, but both were full of things she absolutely needed. Dresses were a significant part of the volume, but the other part was textbooks and fiction books. She couldn't give up a single pound of weight, seeing as the majority of her belongings was left behind in Thornton. Everything she brought was necessary, and for that reason she was willing to endure the inconvenience of heavy bags on a journey from Thornton to Greendale.
"I apologize deeply for the trouble," she found her voice, when his gaze no longer seared her soul. "I was sure he would take me to Shirley's inn and then I could manage by myself, maybe carry them one by one, but he never even asked and I..." she caught herself before she started an all-out rambling.
"Can you help me?" She asked in a tiny voice that always helped her get what she wanted from men. That included her late husband, may he rest in peace. When he was around, all the sweet-talking she had to do was with him, but since he left her all alone, she needed to expand it again to other men. But she was fine. She found a job all by herself, and she could do it.
She added a sweet and hopeful smile, and prayed that the handsome sheriff would agree.
"I usually don't carry bags for new teachers..." he began, and Annie held her breath for the rest. "But for you I will make an exception." He smiled, a tight-lipped smirk that revealed a lovely dimple in his chiseled chick, and Annie thought, oh no, I'm not the only one with proven tricks to charm the opposite sex. This time she smiled in earnest and clapped, relieved and delighted. "Oh, how fortunate that I met you!" she turned to the young lad. "And thank you too..."
"Abed Nadir. And this is Jeffrey Winger, the sheriff."
"Yes, thank you." She blushed, embarrassed she forgot his name, but he didn't seem to mind. "Mr. Nadir. I assume I'll see you around..." She waved in general about the town.
"You too." He nodded. "Goodbye, Jeff, I'll tell Troy that you went to play your role in the story."
"Goodbye," the sheriff had already turned to her bags. He scanned them for a few seconds, and then loaded a bag on each shoulder, groaning under the weight. Was it that bad? Annie hurried over.
"I'm so sorry... I really thought..." she started to say when he began to walk briskly, and she ran to walk beside him. No, he could handle the bags.
"No need to apologize, Mrs. ..."
"Edison," she said. "And it's Miss." Before he'd thinks that she was flirting, she quickly clarified, "When I married I was Mrs. Stephenson but I decided to go back to my maiden name, Stephenson didn't feel right anymore after Rich..." She broke off, partly because she didn't want to recall how Rich died, and partly because she realized she was rambling again. "I'm sorry, you don't want to hear all that." She had to speed up her gait to meet his wide strides. When he noticed it he reduced his pace to match hers. That was quite considerate of him.
"It's all right, Miss Edison, you don't have to apologize." He flashed her that adorable smirk of his, and she was stunned again. They needed to prohibit such men from walking freely; he caused her brain to malfunction.
"I…" she cleared her throat. "So you're sheriff Winger?"
"That's what they say." He nodded and adjusted the bags at his shoulders. She knew what the weight of the bags was, and was deeply impressed by the fact that they didn't force him to go slower. His arm muscles bulged through that thin shirt, which made her think how taut they might feel, to run her fingertips over... Stop it!
What was happening to her? Could she be finally emerging from the coma she imposed on her body ever since Rich got killed? If she reacted like that to a strong male, maybe she was ready to think about marriage again. Not at the exact moment, neither in a month nor two, but sometime in the future.
She glanced down at her black dress and thought it might be time to say goodbye to the black in favor of other colors: dark purples, then blues, then maybe even red again. She missed the red - it was always her favorite color to wear: it made her feel powerful, knowing how fetching she looked. Rich liked her in red too, and the last she wore it was for him, a long, long time ago.
She wasn't ready to wear red again, even if she liked thinking about touching this ridiculously good looking man. She wanted more to succeed as a teacher, to find friends in this new town, than to find another man.
But it was a nice thought.
He looked at her from the corner of his eye. Rosy blush covered her cheeks and she lowered her eyes to the road, her eyelashes like butterflies resting on her cheeks. She really was a vision, and he was surprised how much he enjoyed watching her face, even though her breasts where right there. Abed was right to warn him, after all.
She was beautiful, and charming, and well-mannered, and intelligent if she was asked to undertake the education of Greendale's younglings, but it meant nothing to Jeff, because one thing was clear to him: She was a widow and she sought to remarry, so he had to run away from her like the plague.
He was interested in her, oh yes, certainly. When God wanted to create the perfect woman, he made Miss Edison. All curves and fair skin and features of an angel, but eyes of a vixen. He would be crazy or blind not to want this amazing specimen of a women in his bed, or any bed for that matter. But he couldn't let lust blind him. He didn't want to get married, and he always found women who were happy to satisfy his appetite without demanding marriage from him. And the reason was that they were always married, so they never expected him to marry them. These women know exactly what they agreed to when they invited him to their bed.
Take Michelle Slater, for instance.
Slater was attractive in a snotty way, which didn't bother him most of the time. She was close to his age, with a teenage son who left town and husband that was in the Senate and therefore visited Greendale next to never. She was bored and lonely, and she might have loved her husband, but he wasn't there. And Jeff was. She flirted shamelessly, and soon he found himself sleeping with her, which was a convenient arrangement for both of them. She received her entertainment from him, and he got a woman who didn't expect anything from him other than a night of pleasure every now and then.
It was perfect, and it worked for him.
In the case that Slater's husband ever came back to town, or worse - died, Jeff would disappear from her life, and they both knew it. He would not mix the bedsheets of a woman whose husband was available, and as a rule - he didn't fool around with widows. Those almost always wanted to get married again, and as soon as possible.
The new teacher, the young, exquisite Miss Edison, she wasn't any different. She flirted with him, kept a secretive smile, fluttered her eyelashes and asked him about the town and his work in a sweet voice, and he knew she was interested in him. He saw her blush when he smiled at her, and the way her hands were tightly clasped, as if holding herself from touching him. But it will have to remain a flirtation only; he didn't want a wife, not now, not ever.
He told her that the town was usually peaceful, but like any town these days, there was always the danger of bandits. Fortunately bandits hadn't reached the town for the last ten years, since the great raid, hence his work was relatively easy. She asked if he knew about the education of the town's children - he had no idea. He asked where she lived before, and whether she didn't want to stay there.
Miss Edison shook her head in a way that bounced the curls on the nape of her lovely neck. "I couldn't stay in Thornton after Rich... It was too difficult. I needed a fresh start," she said. "And since I always wanted to teach properly, I was pleased when I was offered to come here... It is wonderful to teach children about the world, don't you think?"
Until they reached the inn he knew everything he needed to know. The fair Miss Edison was straight as an arrow, her dead husband was perfect and noble (he died a heroic death, and if that was not enough, he was a damn priest!) And she probably wanted to find a new husband who'd resemble the old one (most of these were hefty assumptions but he tended to trust his instincts in such matters).
Jeff Winger was the sheriff, but he wasn't husband material, and certainly not a respectable man that Miss Edison expected her husband to be. And although he would gladly take her to bed, lavish her body with proper treatment for as long as she'll let him, he wouldn't do so - because he knew that the offer won't be welcomed. Miss Edison was like Shirley Bennett in her conservative ways and meticulous view about what was appropriate and what wasn't. Jeff's actions weren't appropriate in Shirley's eyes, even though she liked him well enough, and he knew that they won't be appropriate in the eyes of the new teacher.
He made up his mind: to never try anything improper with her.
"Here we are," he announced, dismantled the two bags from his shoulders and knocked on the door of the inn. Shirley opened the door, a baby on her hip and a smile on her lips. "Sheriff! What have you brought us?"
"Miss Edison," he told her, gesturing at the woman behind him.
"Miss Edison!" Shirley claimed brightly.
"Please, call me Annie."
"Annie! Come in, come in, we were waiting for you, you must be tired from the journey, come have something to drink..." Shirley urged her inside, and then turned to Jeff.
"I carried her bags," he explained, pointing his thumb at the bags on either side.
She nodded. "Good, take them upstairs."
"Hey, wait a minute-" she already left him at the entrance and went to serve water to her guest. Jeff was left with the bags, and he groaned. They were heavy! And yes, he was strong. He could lift them, he had all the muscle mass needed for it, but it was against his fierce desire to walk the easy way whenever possible. With a grunt he picked them up again, adjusting the straps on his shoulders, and went to put them on the second floor.
He left the two bags in the middle of the hallway. Let Shirley handle them herself, or the new teacher. He didn't care, as long as they let him be.
"And this is the parlor, of course," Shirley told Annie, who nodded enthusiastically. Shirley gave her a warm welcome, her smile sincere and the offered water was cool and refreshing. Annie's concerns eased somewhat - Shirley seemed to like her from the start, and she was glad to know that she had at least one friend in Greendale.
"Sheriff, just a minute!" Shirley caught the handsome sheriff when he was about to head out the open door. Annie was relieved to see him go. He definitely aroused too many distracting feelings in her, and she had no time for that right now. He turned slowly, flashing his charming smile at them, and Annie sighed. Not now, I said!
Shirley grabbed his arm and placed a biscuit in his hand.
"Thanks for helping Annie," she patted his arm. "For showing her the way, and for carrying her bags for her."
"Just doing my duty as sheriff," he closed his fingers on the cookie and folded his arms across his impressive, very well built chest. Stop it!
"Oh, that's nice," Shirley crooned.
"Thank you, Sheriff," Annie was able to gather her thoughts enough to give him a grateful smile, and held out her hand to shake his.
"You're welcome, Miss," and he took hold of her hand. But instead of shaking it goodbye, friendly-like, leaned over and kissed the back of her hand. He might have been as equally surprised as her by the gesture, but he hid his surprise well beneath another smirk. "See you around."
He disappeared before she could recover from the feeling of his lips searing her skin through the thin cloth of the glove.
Shirley looked from the door swinging on its hinges, after the sheriff had gone through it as fast as lightning, and at Annie who lifted her fingers to her lips and stared with glazed eyes.
Shirley chuckled. "Well, well, I'm glad we all started on the right foot."