"Kitty, it's Matt." Marshal Dillon knocked softly on her door, ignoring the lively late-night scene in the bar below as he took a deep breath to settle his mind.
"Come in." Her voice was soft.
He slid through the door to find her facing the full length mirror against her wall; through the reflection, he saw the bruises on her neck and face.
"Kit!" he started, his eyes widening.
"Shhh, Matt." she spun around with her finger on her lips, nodding at her big double bed where the boy, Thad, lay sleeping, "I can hardly believe he can sleep through the noise downstairs."
The Marshal immediately lowered his tone, crossing the floor in two strides. "What happened?" he whispered, gently reaching for her face.
"A little memento from Tucker Ferrin." she shrugged, giving him a lopsided smile, "You asked who killed him. I did. Self-defense, of course."
"I see…" He frowned, "You did a nice job hiding it from me this afternoon."
"Well now, Matt." she gave him a funny look as she moved towards the couch on the other side of the room, "Some good face paint covers a multitude of things." Glancing back as he followed, she asked, "You wanna drink?"
"Will I need it?"
He settled onto the couch, laying an arm across the back as she poured two glasses of whiskey and ease into place beside him.
She watched him drain his glass in one gulp then, with a sneaking glance at the boy, sucked in her breath and began to talk.
"Thad's mother, Ellie, was one of my best friends. She worked for me at one time."
Matt wasn't exactly sure why that relieved him as much as it did. It certainly wouldn't have changed his feelings for her if Thad was her boy. He knew he was capable of loving another man's child. Maybe it was because, as a Marshal, he'd developed a finely tuned sixth sense and he'd never even suspected that Kitty was a mother.
"Anyways," she continued, "Tucker pursued Ellie right from the start. He was ever the romantic but…I knew..." She shook her head, "There was just something about him I didn't like. I tried to talk to her, but..."
"Then she got pregnant and had to stop working." Kitty went on after a regretful pause, "Tucker promised her the moon and, of course, she believed him. I tried to make her see sense, even harder than before, but it wasn't any use. Tucker could promise anything to anybody without batting an eyelash." She took a couple sips of her whiskey as the old memories came back, barely aware that Matt's eyes were burning through her low-cut dress.
He knew where this was going.
"I guess when you're an out-of-work, pregnant, former saloon girl," there was a trace of bitterness in Kitty's tone, "you don't have much choice but to want to believe a man, no matter what kind of pig he is."
She shook her head again, "I helped where I could. Kept her on my payroll. Took her out of town and paid for her hotel room. By that time, Tucker was on the run anyways so Thad was born in secrecy-and safety. And for a time things stayed like that."
Her sigh was more ragged this time and she was silent for a long minute; Finally, Matt laid an encouraging hand across her fingers and her words flowed again, "About a week ago, I heard from the hotel manager where Ellie has been living since Thad was born. I knew that meant Tucker had found them somehow and-and that she was dead. Th-they said Thad was already on his way to me. She got him out before-somehow. I had to go get him."
"Of course." Matt squeezed her hand reassuringly, biting his tongue against saying that she hadn't needed to go alone, "I'd have done the same thing."
She smiled understandingly; her big beau's eyes always said what his tongue wouldn't. She wondered how she'd gotten so lucky as to attract Matt Dillon's attention. If Ellie had been that lucky, Thad would have instantly had the life he deserved.
"I-I went for a walk after I got the telegram, trying to work out in my head how to handle everything." She went on, looking at her hands to avoid his eyes.
"Finding out Ellie was dead and Thad was already on his way to me was…" she shook her head, "I don't even remember what I was thinking until I ran into the Kelks outside Jonas' store." her voice cracked, "Y-you know I know them real well. I-I was so shaken. They knew right off that something was bad wrong."
The Marshal felt a stab in his gut. He wished that he'd been the one who'd run into her outside of Jonas' store. He knew her pretty well too.
"Anyways, once I told them what had happened," she finally looked up, "they agreed right off to hide Thad at their place. Th-they'll adapt him too, Matt. We talked about it before we left this morning. I just brought Thad into town as a formality, since Ellie's will gave custody to me. Will you help me get the paperwork started tomorrow? Thad will have a wonderful life with them." She laughed softly, "I'm better suited for staying Aunt Kitty anyways."
Matt bit his tongue against replying the way he wanted too again. Of course, Kitty would make a great mother. She was the kindest, most sensible, most loving woman he'd ever known and any boy or girl would be proud to call her theirs. But saying so would open a serious can of worms.
"Well, I don't know how he found us," she continued, shivering, "but Tucker rode up after breakfast this morning. Thad was outside with Horace and I sent Mattie out of the house to find them and hide. Then I confronted him." She shrugged, "He never took well to being told what to do and, well…" She shrugged again, giving the Marshal a soft smile.
Matt nodded slowly, swallowing hard, "You did fine, Kitty." He took her hand again, "I can't say that I like you doing my job for me though." He gave her a pointed look, "It's been less than a year since Jake Bayloe, you know... I don't want to go through that ever again."
"I know, Matt." she placed her other hand on top of his, "I don't want that either."
"But, you did what you had to do." he sighed, placing his other hand on top of hers as he leaned in for a soft kiss, "and I'm proud of ya."
"Oh, Matt..." They stood together and made their way to the door.
Pausing with his hand on the doorknob, the Marshal gave her a more lengthy kiss; knowing that it was times like this when she felt the stigma of the saloon most acutely, he needed to make sure she never doubted how much he loved her.
"I'll go to the office right now and start filling out the papers." he said, pulling back, "Come by first thing and we'll finish our part of it then I'll take you both to breakfast."
"Sounds good, Matt." she beamed, thinking again how lucky she was to have him in her life, "I-I told the Kelks I'd bring the papers out to them-they've got things to do in the morning, you know... Then they'll come into town for the judge to sign off when he comes next time. Do you mind?"
"Not at all." he grinned with relief, unable to resist another kiss, "I like buggy rides with you."
"Oh, Matt…" She gave him a knowing smile as he pulled back again.
"Oh, and," the Marshal grinned as he nodded at the sleeping boy, "would you tell Thad to call me Uncle Matt?"