Ariadne poured the hot water into the tub. The steam rose off the surface, adding to the mist hanging heavy in the room. In the haze, a yellowish-orange *halo* formed around the light from the lamp. Returning the pitcher to the table, she dipped her hand into the *bath* testing the water. It was perfect.

This had been a long awaited pleasure, one she had her new friend Lou to thank for. Ariadne had arrived in Sweetwater just three days prior and already she felt as if she’d known Lou and Kid all her life. A small smile pushed its way to the surface before she could stop it. Not prone to smiles or laughter, Ariadne had done more of both in those three days than in her whole eighteen years.

Dropping her robe to the floor, she scowled when she remembered her brace. The *cumbersome*, hideous contraption attached to her right leg that made her life miserable. It kept her from doing so many things, including something as simple as stepping into a tub. That she could forget was a testament to the people she’d met since arriving. Pulling the straps from the buckles with more force than necessary, she shed the apparatus and her stockings, and climbed into the tub. It felt heavenly.

She slid down so the water was just at her neck and closed her eyes, letting the heat work its wonders. Her doubt and fears evaporated with the rising steam. But, as always, her father intruded to upset her tranquility. Unwillingly, she remembered that day she last saw Major Milbourn Beall so many months ago. The air had been *blue* with the rants and curses from the major when she’d refused to marry his protégé. And, after that, Ariadne had known there was nothing to keep her there so she’d left quietly the next day, helped by the money her mother had left her. A soft splash caught her attention and she realized she was crying.

“You silly girl,” she whispered, as she reached for the towel and wiped off her face. “Enough of that.” To find her pleasant mood once more, she picked up the bath salts Lou had and poured some into the bath. Lilac.

“Lovely,” she murmured. She put the bottle back on the floor and swirled her hand around, mixing the scent into the water. Humming softly, she leaned back again and closed her eyes.

It seemed like only moments had passed when the door suddenly swung opened and she sat up quickly. It couldn’t be Kid because Lou said he was working late. Shocked to hear it was a man, she dipped down into the tub. He called for Lou, walking in as if he lived there. Just as he walked around the table, their eyes met, and his widened nearly as much as hers. She saw his gaze wander a bit and she swallowed hard. She felt a drop of sweat, water, or maybe even a leftover tear, roll down her cheek, chin, and finally down her neck – his eyes stayed *fixed* and never left its path. Was the bath warmer than when she’d first stepped in or was it her? She gasped at that possibility but he didn’t move.

“Uhh,” she gasped again and saw him blink a few times. Another small smile curved her lips involuntarily. Or was it voluntary? He was a very attractive man.

“Uh, um, sor, wha, uh,” he stammered. She saw him drop a bag on the table and after some more unintelligible mutters; he finally excused himself. When the door closed she felt oddly bereft.

“Buck?”

Ariadne looked up to see Lou hurrying down the stairs. When she saw Ariadne, Lou giggled. “Oh dear, I bet you were a shock.”

“Who is he?” she murmured, reaching for her towel. Lou walked over to help her, which normally would infuriate Ariadne but she knew Lou was just being kind.

“Oh, that’s our friend Buck,” Lou said, an odd tone in her voice. She held the towel up for Ariadne, who struggled to get her leg over the rim of the tub. Lou didn’t move to help and Ariadne appreciated that. Finally able to wrap herself in the towel, Ariadne giggled softly.

“I’m not sure what he was saying but I think it was an apology of some sort.” A glance towards the window showed her that he was still out there.

“Well, he’s part Kiowa so some of that could’a been included,” Lou said, laughing harder.

“Why haven’t I met him?”

“He’s been away. He goes off by himself every so often.” Lou stepped back and gazed at Ariadne, smiling broadly. “Oh I just bet you were a shock.”

Ariadne blushed and looked down at the floor as Lou turned to go back upstairs. “Oh, he brought you something. On the table.” She leaned over and picked up her robe. Shrugging into it, she watched Lou go through what Buck had left.

“I didn’t need any a’ this now,” she said, laughing. “I could’a waited ‘til Kid got home.” She turned back to the stairs, but one last comment caused Ariadne’s blush to deepen. “And men say women are the matchmakers.” Lou glanced over her shoulder and giggled before going back up the stairs.

With the help of the furniture, Ariadne made her way to the window. Staying as close to the wall as she could, she peeked out and saw Buck pull himself into his saddle. He really was a handsome man. And that handsome man was looking right at her; and he nodded at her. She dropped the curtain back and flattened herself against the wall. Annoyed with herself, Ariadne knew Buck must think her forward for looking out the window like that. But she couldn’t help it.

Once she heard him ride off, she chanced another look. She could just see him in the distance, sitting tall and proud in his saddle. Sighing she replaced the curtain and turned towards the bath. On the floor sat her brace and a small sob escaped. Reality set in, she was an invalid so no man would have her. She wouldn’t make a decent wife for any man. Wasn’t that what her father always told her? Gong back the way she came, with the help of the furniture, she pulled out a chair and sat down. Picking up her brace, she began the task of putting it on. But, she couldn’t shake the warm feeling that had flooded her at the sight of Buck. Nor could she forget the intense heat that radiated from his eyes. Maybe the major was wrong…

A/N: word list prompt from Raye

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