Zeke whistled softly as he dismounted and tied his bay gelding. The last of a blood red sunset was fading into darkness on the horizon and some stars had already appeared in dry cool night sky. He was looking forward to getting a long overdue bath and collecting his first fat check at the bank. Then he planned to hit all the saloons in town for an epic celebration with his new friends and maybe he'd even score with a girl.
"Hold it." Marshal Dillon held his gun inches away as the young cowboy reached for the horse's girth, "Get your hands up, Zeke."
"Evening, Marshal…" Zeke kept his eyes forward as he tipped his hat politely, burning holes in Chester as the assistant aimed tensely at his chest, "I'm awful sorry about your girlfriend. I didn't wanna shoot her. She's awfully pretty. But I had to teach you—"
Quick as a flash, Matt placed an iron grip around the cowboy's throat, "You think you're real smart, don't ya?" he growled, tasting venom in his mouth as he turned his full rage on Kitty's attacker, "Take his gun, Chester."
"Yes sir, Mr. Dillon."
"Well, listen here, Zeke." the Marshal continued, his grip on the young man's throat ever tightening, "You're going to jail. The judge is coming tomorrow and you're gonna stand before him on a charge of attempted murder."
A strangled sound came from Zeke's throat as Matt's big hand began cutting off his air supply, but the Marshal paid no heed.
"You'll be convicted too. I'll see to that." he went on, "You just admitted that you shot her and you're gonna hang for it." Finishing with a powerful one-handed punch, Matt kept his gun leveled as the young cowboy staggered backwards down the street, gasping for breath, "Now get moving."
"Please, Marshal—" Zeke's expression turned fearful for the first time. Only now did he seem to realize the kind of trouble he was in. "I don't wanna die." he staggered backwards as the Marshal thundered forward, "I didn't mean to hurt her. She's gonna be alright, isn't she? You said attempted murder? So, she's not dead, right? Maybe I could talk to her, please? Tell her I didn't mean it…"
"Well, ya dang fool…" Chester's jaw almost dropped as he limped beside Matt, "What did ya think would happen if you shot somebody?"
"You're a fool alright, Zeke, and a coward." the Marshal punched the cowboy again; it was in his mind to beat this guy all the way into the jail cell, "You had a chance to ride out of here this morning. If you'd done that everything would've been fine. But now, you're gonna call a jail cell home for the rest of your life. It won't be very long though."
"N-now, n-now, n-now, Marshal—" Zeke stammered, "I didn't mean to hurt her. Please!"
"Chester, get the door."
"Yes sir, Mr. Dillon." The assistant loped ahead as Matt doled out the last few punches. In less than a minute, Zeke crashed into the jail cell cot as the door slammed behind him.
"Well, I never saw the like..." Chester shook his head as Matt stalked back into the outer room, leaving their prisoner sobbing on the floor, "I never would have guessed he'd act like that after this morning."
"The idea of a rope around your neck can do things to a man, Chester." Matt shook his head, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as he adjusted his hat and headed for the door.
"Where are you going now, Mr. Dillon?"
"I'm gonna go tell Kitty we got him."
The short walk to Doc's office lifted the Marshal's spirit and he bounded up the stairs eager to see the woman he loved. Seeing her face light up would more than make up for the day's anxieties.
"Hey, Kit!" his eyes danced as he slid through the door. Going straight to her bed, he planted several kisses all over her sleeping face, "Wake up, sweetheart. We got him."
"I never doubted." She mumbled, looked groggy but satisfied as her eyes fluttered open. She nestled back into the pillow and tried not to yawn in his face, "Now see if you can repeat your success and convince Doc to let me outta here."
"Not a chance, sweetheart." his eyes bulged at the idea, "Doc's a little different than the fool I just arrested."
"Oh, poo…" she frowned, "You're not scared of Doc are you, Matt?"
"Well, now…" the Marshal arched an eyebrow at her, unable to resist the grin pulling on his mouth.
"So my big tough lawman is scared of a miserly old doctor?" she grumbled, smirking, "Figures."
"Well, I kinda agree with him, you know..." Matt gave her a pointed look as he settled onto the edge of her bed and caressed her face, "I happen to know you had quite a fever this morning."
"Where is Doc anyways?"
He went to Delmomico's for a quick dinner." she answered, "I wanted to go with him but my dress doesn't seem to fit anymore." She couldn't hold back a yawn anymore and the irony was not lost on her, "He says I need to rest."
"He's right, sweetheart." he smiled at the irony as he caressed her face and neck, "I'm sorry about your dress, but sleep is the best thing for ya right now." He was relieved that Doc felt okay about leaving her alone for a while and grinned sheepishly, "I guess I'm making sleep a little difficult right now, aren't I? But I couldn't wait to tell you we got Zeke."
"Is that his name?"
"Yeah." Matt nodded, his face clouding, "He's the cowboy who caused all that trouble in the Long Branch last night. He was still mad about my arresting him this morning." His voice caught for a moment, "I-I'm sorry, honey. I never wanted—"
She took his big hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. Retribution against her was the reason he'd taken so long to deepen their relationship and she knew he still lost sleep over the idea on occasion. She continued to hope there would be a day when he would worry less. She certainly wasn't afraid to be his girl. But even if that day never came, she would always be his.
"I know, Matt." she sighed, "I love you too."
Author's Note: Thank you, Beverly!