Raye’s ‘throw down’ challenge

Peeking around the corner, Jimmy gritted his teeth as he watched his friend. At least they had been friends until two weeks ago. That was when Miss Grace Newmann stepped off the stage.

“That chiselin’, four-flushin’ son of a snake,” Jimmy growled, clenching his fists. He’d just wait until the fiend was out of the way, then he’d have a chance to talk to Miss Newmann – alone.

*~*~*~*~*

Buck smiled and nodded as Miss Newmann told him about what she was doing that day. Unfortunately, he hadn’t heard a word of it. Instead, he was busy keeping his eyes pealed. ‘That no-good, low-lying mudsill is around here somewhere,’ he thought. “I just know it.”

“Excuse me?” Grace looked puzzled. She didn’t think the young man was paying any attention to what she was saying. He’d looked at her only once and that was when he first approached her. After that, he kept looking around as if searching for someone else. It struck Grace that there was a bad case of inattention going around the Pony Express. Both Mr. Cross and Mr. Hickok seemed to do this every time they ran into her. And that was strangely often.

“Um,” Buck hemmed, realizing he’d said the last part aloud. “I just know you’ll really like Sweetwater.” He smiled, hoping she wouldn’t notice his rude behavior. Buck knew if he wanted Miss Newmann to refuse Jimmy, he would have to do his best to be attentive and as gentlemanly as possible. Right now, he wasn’t doing such a bang-up job.

“Hm,” Grace expressed her doubt. “Well, I really have to get to Miss Clara’s.”

“Oh,” Buck said, snapping to attention. “I’ll walk you over there.” He offered his arm to the pretty young lady, who accepted with a smile. Buck’s heart melted. She was such a vision, her blonde ringlets hanging down around her face, her soft, brown eyes twinkling and her bright smile. He felt like the luckiest man in town. However, he still kept glancing around, knowing Jimmy was lurking nearby, ready to ruin the whole thing.

*~*~*~*~*

Jimmy saw Buck escorting Miss Newmann and figured she was either going to Tompkins’ store or, more than likely, to the dressmaker’s. He hurried around to the back of the buildings and ran at top speed down to that area of town. Coming quickly around the corner, he slowed as he heard her soft, melodic voice. He was right – Miss Clara’s Boutique.

“Well, thank you Mr. Cross,” she said.

“Oh, I’ll just wait for you here,” Buck offered.

Jimmy grunted. He really wanted very much to shoot Buck right then. Waiting for Miss Newmann’s response, Jimmy prayed with all his might that she’d say no.

“Oh, no, that’s alright,” Grace said. She really didn’t want the man loitering in front of the store just on her account. It wouldn’t look proper. “I’m not sure how long I’ll be.”

Jimmy almost did a jig but refrained for fear of being heard. Instead, he just chuckled to himself.

“Um, well,” Buck mumbled, grudgingly. “If you really don’t want me to.” Buck was wounded to the core, how could she not want him to wait? “Are you sure? I don’t mind.” Suddenly, his eyes narrowed. Maybe she had chosen Jimmy after all. Maybe she was even waiting for the louse. Seeming to read his thoughts, Miss Newmann put his mind at ease.

“I don’t want you to spend all your time waiting on me,” she said, touching Buck’s arm gently. “You are sweet though for offering.” Not wanting to debate further, she quickly cut off any other protests. “Well, thank you again.” She turned and entered Miss Clara’s shop.

Buck stood there for just a second longer, staring at the closed door. At least she’d said he was sweet, that was a good sign. Sighing, he turned and headed back to the marshal’s office to see if Sam knew where Jimmy was. Not that he wanted to actually find the hothead; Buck just wanted to keep tabs on his rival.

A slow grin spread across Jimmy’s face as he watched Buck walk away. He’d just sit there and wait until the young lady came out of the shop, then he’d be able to spend the remainder of the day with Miss Newmann – away from Buck. Perhaps they’d go on a picnic. Happy with his plan, Jimmy leaned against the building, crossed his arms and waited.

*~*~*~*~*

Finally after almost two hours, Grace emerged from the shop with her new hat. She’d had her final fitting for a dress she’d ordered last week and had put two more dresses on order. Happy with her purchase, she closed the door behind her and turned to walk away. Instead she ran, face first, into a man’s chest. Smashing her new hat slightly, she drew back; a deep frown marred her face.

“I beg your pardon,” she snapped, looking up and trying to right her hat.

“Oh, Miss Newmann,” Jimmy said, using his slow, seductive drawl, “I didn’t see you there.”

“Yes, apparently not,” she muttered, turning to use the shop window as a mirror. Once her hat was set, she glanced up to see Jimmy’s reflection. Though he seemed to be waiting for her, he was looking around for someone else, as usual. ‘There he goes again, he and Mr. Cross,’ she thought. She decided to just go about her business and not worry about the young man behind her, so she turned and headed in the direction of the hotel.

Jimmy was so busy searching the area for Buck that when he looked back, he was surprised to see that Miss Newmann wasn’t in front of him anymore. Looking around, he spotted the petite young lady walking briskly down the sidewalk. He hurried to catch up to her.

“Um, Miss Newmann,” Jimmy said, as he fell in beside her, “I think it would be a nice day for a picnic.”

“Um, yes,” she said, keeping her eyes straight ahead, “however, it’s almost three in the afternoon. I’m not sure what type of picnic we’d have.”

Jimmy hadn’t planned on the time it took Miss Newmann in Miss Clara’s shop. Trying to come up with another possibility, he spotted Buck standing in front of the hotel – their destination. “How about stoppin’ in at the restaurant and gettin’ some of Mrs. Anderson’s chocolate cake?” Though the restaurant was connected to the hotel, it still had its own entrance, and since they’d pass it first, he figured they could duck in before Buck saw them.

“What?” Grace stopped and stared at Jimmy as if he’d grown another head. “I’m really not up for something that rich this late in the day, thank you.” She sniffed at his odd request.

“Well, we could always have a sarsaparilla, maybe get to know each other,” he suggested, boldly. All the time he was talking, he kept his eyes on Buck, willing the other man not to see them.

“Mr. Hickok,” Grace said slowly, “I believe that is a rather forward invitation.” She wasn’t pleased with how this conversation had turned. However, she wouldn’t mind an ade and the Andersons served a number of tasty fruit drinks. “Well, perhaps I might have a lemon drink.”

*~*~*~*~*

Buck hadn’t had much luck at the marshal’s office. Sam was busy with paperwork and didn’t know where Jimmy was. When the marshal mentioned that he’d seen the rider milling around the hotel earlier, Buck grunted. He knew Jimmy had been waiting for Miss Newmann to appear. Unfortunately for Jimmy, and fortunately for Buck, Miss Newmann had left her room rather early that morning. It was Buck’s luck to have spotted her coming from the livery. She’d taken a buggy out somewhere but he couldn’t recall where, though he thought she’d mentioned something about it during their conversation.

He’d decided to go over to the hotel, hoping she’d go there after her shopping. He didn’t want to be too pushy and wait for her outside the shop, especially since she’d asked him not to. So, he’d been sitting in front of the building, waiting for the last two hours. As he stood and stretched, he spotted Miss Newmann and smiled. The smile faded quickly when he saw who was in her company.

*~*~*~*~*

Just as Jimmy was about to internally celebrate his victory, Buck turned and stared right at them. Jimmy stared back wearing a smile that just dripped with triumph, as they walked towards Buck.

Buck gritted his teeth. He couldn’t believe Jimmy was with Miss Newmann. “That good for nothing dry-gulcher,” he muttered. Hands fisted at his side, he strode up to meet Miss Newmann. Ignoring Jimmy, he said, “That’s a lovely hat. It suits your face very well.”

“Oh, um, why thank you,” Grace said, a small, bemused smile on her face. She wasn’t used to men noticing things like that. “I just bought it.” She reached up and gently touched the brim.

Jimmy wanted to slap Buck’s superior grin off his face. Jimmy wasn’t finished. “Oh, yes and she picked out a lovely dress in a shade of blue that will look wonderful on her.”

Grace looked up at the two men who were paying no more attention to her than to the fly that was dancing between them. Bewildered at the fact that this supposed gunman would comment on her clothing, she did wonder how he knew what dress she’d chosen. She was about to ask but didn’t have the chance.

“You were with her?” Buck growled.

Jimmy just continued to smirk. “And, we’re jus’ stoppin’ here to have a lemon drin-k.” He enunciated the ‘k’ hoping it would irritate Buck and, by the expression on the man’s face, it had.

“Well, I didn’t say…” Grace tried to explain.

“Really? Well, I think she’d enjoy riding out to Myer’s Pond, it’s much nicer than being cooped up in a smoky restaurant.”

“I don’t think so,” Jimmy snapped. “We’re also havin’ a piece of Mrs. Anderson’s chocolate cake.” Jimmy folded his arms across his chest. “So what’d’ya’ think of that?”

Buck wasn’t giving up. “I think she’d much rather have a piece of the apple pie. The crust is flaky and the apples are soaked in cinnamon.”

“What are you two doing?”

Buck and Jimmy jumped. There stood Lou, staring at them, a concerned, yet very amused, expression on her face. They looked around and saw that Grace was nowhere to be found.

“See what you did?” Jimmy grumbled.

“Me?” Buck scoffed. “You’re the one that was lemon-drinking her to death.”

“What?” Jimmy pointed his finger and poked Buck in the chest. “You and your pond and smoky restaurant.”

“Hey!” Lou yelled, smacking both of her friends’ arms. “Would ya give it a rest? Whoever you’re talkin’ about ain’t here anymore.” Suddenly she remembered why she’d been looking for them. “Teaspoon’s got his back up and he’s lookin’ for both of you.”

Ignoring Lou, Jimmy and Buck glared at each other, turned in opposite directions and walked away.

“Well you both best be goin’ back to the station,” Lou yelled at their retreating backs. Sighing, she walked over to her horse and headed for home. She wasn’t going to be the one Teaspoon was mad at.

*~*~*~*~*

It had been five full days and neither Jimmy nor Buck had had a chance to get to town to see Miss Newmann. Teaspoon had kept the two boys occupied with every chore the stationmaster could think of. When he’d run out of ideas, he’d asked for Emma’s help and she was very happy to oblige. So, not only did Buck and Jimmy have their own chores and runs to complete, they’d had an extra list to finish as well. The other riders, particularly Cody, were very pleased since they had a great deal of free time. Through it all, the two surly young men hadn’t spoken a word to each other.

But finally a day came that Teaspoon was in a good mood so he’d told everyone, including Buck and Jimmy , that they could go into town. Cody was on a run but the other riders had hurriedly mounted their horses and took off. Once in town, they all went about their separate ways. The romeos were looking for the same person and, with a departing glare, they went to opposite ends of town.

*~*~*~*~*

Jimmy hitched his horse in front of the livery and started walking through the streets, searching everywhere for Miss Newmann. He’d spent the last five days in agony and he desperately wanted to catch a glimpse of her shiny blonde hair. It had been torture not being able to at least hear her sweet voice. He glanced in some of the shops but to no avail. She wasn’t anywhere around. He hoped she hadn’t left. Then another, darker thought occurred to him – he hoped that she wasn’t where Buck would find her. Grumbling to himself, he walked faster and frantically looked around. Glancing in the direction of Tompkins’ store, he spotted her coming out of the building. Grinning broadly, he almost skipped over to her.

*~*~*~*~*

Buck refused to rush, he wanted to be thorough. It wouldn’t do if he missed her. Thinking his own dark thought, it also wouldn’t do if she were where Jimmy would find her first. He couldn’t believe it had been five days without even a word from her sweet lips. His heart had been in agony for contact with the pretty young woman. Looking around, he spotted the top of a blond head. There she was, standing just outside Tompkins’ store. Chuckling to himself, he quickened his pace, a slight hop in his step.

*~*~*~*~*

When the two men were both a few yards away, they spotted each other. Running the last remaining steps, they stopped suddenly in front of Miss Newmann and started talking at once.

“I got here first.”

“No, I did.”

“Well, she doesn’t want to see you.”

“Oh, and she wants to see you?”

Grace was taken aback. There was Mr. Cross and Mr. Hickok arguing right in front of her. “Excuse me?”

“Miss Newmann,” Buck said quickly, and loudly, wanting to be the first one to address her. “Please, let me help…” He put his hand on the package she was holding.

“How are you Miss Newmann?” Jimmy asked, enthusiastically. “You look lovely today.” Making a face at Buck, Jimmy nudged him aside and made a grab for the same package.

“No you don’t,” Buck growled, pulling the parcel back towards him.

“Hey,” Jimmy snapped, “I’ve got it!” He tugged so hard the shape of the box was changing.

As Grace saw her purchase being destroyed, she’d had enough. “Stop!” Suddenly, both men did as she commanded and stared at her.

Buck and Jimmy couldn’t believe that harsh tone had come out of the normally soft-spoken Miss Grace Newmann. Dumbfounded, they released the package as she snatched it back.

“Someone is already assisting me, thank you,” she stated. Looking behind her, that someone walked out with a stack of boxes in his hands.

Buck’s and Jimmy’s jaws dropped. They couldn’t believe what they were seeing.

“Mr. McSwain,” Grace said, sweetly. “I do so appreciate all that you’ve done for me over the last few days.” She curled her hand through the arm he offered.

“Last few days?” Buck muttered. He exchanged a suspicious look with Jimmy.

Ike grinned at his two friends. He’d met Miss Newmann the day Jimmy and Buck had fought in front of the hotel. He’d been running an errand for Teaspoon, something Jimmy was supposed to do, and had just dropped the message off at the front desk when Grace had stormed through the front door, bumping into Ike so hard, she’d lost her footing. But since Ike’s reflexes were good, he caught her before she fell. She’d been so mortified and apologetic that she’d asked him to join her for a lemon drink at the restaurant. Instead of being turned off by his inability to speak, she’d found him a tablet and pencil and asked all kinds of questions. As they sat at the table, he’d taught her some sign and it just developed from there. He hadn’t planned on getting this close but the way Buck and Jimmy had acted, neither of the two deserved Miss Newmann’s attentions.

“So,” Grace purred, “how do you say ‘thank you’ in sign again?”

Watching the couple walk away, Jimmy sighed and Buck shook his head.

“Don’t that beat all,” Jimmy said, quietly. Recovering quickly, he slapped Buck on the back. “So how about a piece of that chocolate cake?”

Buck couldn’t help but laugh. “Sure, why not.”

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