"The ropes, Jimmy…. The ropes!"
"Sorry, Lou… when it comes to women my hands just got a mind of their own."
It had been days since their adventure with Curly had finished. Days and nights and somehow it wasn't enough time to get over what had become for Lou... a dangerous fascination.
Dangerous like the candy jars at Tompkins' store when someone had a hankerin' for somethin' sweet.
Lou leaned up against the corral, her cheek cushioned on her forearm as she watched. Watched… and wanted.
It was a silly thing, she knew. It was a silly little… she paused for a moment. It wasn't much of anything. That's what she told herself. That's what she had to believe, because right now there was nothing more interesting than watching the way his fingers gripped the reins. The leather slid through his gloves with practiced ease until just enough slung from his hands to the bit.
The horse knew it too. The mare, just barely saddle broke took a seemingly simple step forward, but to the knowing eye they would see the tension in her neck as though she were a moment away from tossing it to try to yank the reins from his hands… the flexing of the muscles in her hindquarters as she tensed, reading the man on her back, deciding if she should trust him.
Then there were his hands. Calm, at ease… cradling the reins.
Her mouth went dry and her knees went a little weak. Yeah, it was crazy, but she couldn't let go of the fascination.
It was the same thing over supper. Stew. Stew should be easy… entirely easy to ignore stew with a big spoon in everyone's hands, dripping gravy all over the place, and then Emma put rolls on the table. Lou wanted to dive under her blankets and pull them over her head.
There was nothing she could do besides watch helplessly as he reached out to the basket of rolls and took one in his hand.
All he had to do was pick it up and break it. Maybe even slather some butter on it. Simple. Easy.
He picked it up, turning it over and over in his hand. The simple action saying how little he cared for it, allowing for Cody to yank it out from between his fingers. Another roll, the skin of bread giving slightly beneath his strong grip, each of his fingers curling around it as he weighed the bread in his hand.
A shift of the wrist and her mind went into darker thoughts, shadowy thoughts and suddenly the stew in her stomach became an unforgiving rock and she pushed her plate away. Emma's concerned glance didn't help any and she waved off questions with a smile that made the immensely concerned woman hover to check Lou's temperature with the back of her hand before she'd leave her alone.
There was something incredibly peaceful about getting up with the crack of dawn, especially since the others were all fast asleep, burrowed under their blankets.
Peace and - damn!
The barn wasn't empty. For a moment she almost turned around… turned and fled.
"Hey Lou, up early?"
She groaned all the way inside her middle and screamed in her mind. "A little. Got chores."
He nodded and went back to his work. Went back to his work and left her alone to do hers.
Too bad he was now the only thing on her mind. Picking up a curry comb she stepped into the stall and stumbled over a rut in the dirt spooking Lightning. Embarrassed beyond belief, but determined to stay.
Stay and watch.
The stall where Lightning was had a very convenient view of the other stall and it had never been anything to think about until now.
Lightning shied away from her at first. Of course it could just be the ham handed way that Lou set her hands on the horse. The odd furtive touch along the side of her neck, the scratch of the curry comb unexpected by both rider and horse.
All because her eyes weren't on the matter at hand… or rather they were. She was staring at 'his' hands.
In the lamplight, flesh glowed like bronze against a sky of gold, mesmerizing her and slowing the strokes as she saw to her own horse.
It was horrible and yet probably her saving grace when he tossed his equipment into his toolbox and gave her a wink, damn if he didn't give her a little mock salute that brought his hand to the side of his face.
She dropped her head down onto her forearm and groaned. Spooked, Lightning pushed Louise against the back wall and tossed her head. Louise gave her mount a narrowed glance and gave a gentle shove with her shoulder. "I don't need this from you, too." She set the brush against Lightning's shoulder and gave her a little grimace. "I'm beatin' myself up about it enough."
So for the next few days shower time was avoided. Not hers… 'his'. Lou found something to do in Emma's house which made Emma snicker and wonder without demanding an answer. She knew it would all unravel soon enough.
It was only at meal time that Louise was forced to head back to the bunkhouse and face the others. They might have missed it. Might have ignored the signs… the preoccupation. Might have had their eyes focused on something else and that is what she's praying for.
Emma loaded her down with food platters and she gratefully took them. She'd have dragged every single thing over to the bunkhouse because it would have kept her mind on something else… anything else.
Plopping down into her seat she busied herself with setting up her plate. It was a cool fall day and there were still a few good apples to be had. Lou reached for the last apple and stared as it was snatched out from under her hand. "Hey, that was-"
Her protest died on her lips as she saw who had the apple. He gave her a Cheshire grin as his knife sliced clean through the fruit. "Want half?"
She nodded, struck dumb at the sight of half of that ripe apple pressed up against his lips. He held it out and she saw his fingers, juice sliding down his skin. She should have just reached out and snatched it from him but she couldn't seem to move. Unfortunately, Cody didn't suffer from any such distractions. He snatched the apple out of the outstretched hand and shoved it in his mouth.
The rest of the meal was blissful in the way that she hid amongst the noise and ruckus that the others created. If she concentrated on the food it would be time for dinner soon enough.
"Hey, Emma…" Lou looked up when Jimmy called out across the room to where Emma was sitting on one of the empty beds, "you done with my shirt yet?"
Her cool expression should have been enough to get him to see reason. Should have been. "No… not yet."
A few more heads turned and Emma's posture went ramrod straight. "It may surprise you to know that I have other things to do here at the Station 'sides mendin' the things you boys feels so free to rip and torture as though they grew on trees."
"So, that means it'll be a bit?"
Now the room was quiet… they all waited to see what would happen next. "Well, Jimmy, if you think that it's just that easy," she rose from the bed and picked up a pile of cloth behind her and walked it over to Jimmy at the table and plopped it down in his lap, "here you go, try it yourself."
They all watched her leave, her sewing kit sitting on the table in front of the young rider. Jimmy stared at it for a moment before he hollered after her. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
Ike pounded on the table and Buck translated for him. "Thread the needle and sew on your own button," Buck paused and continued on as Ike went back to his dinner, "I don't think Emma's gonna sew your button on any time in the next century so you might as well get started."
Jimmy stared Cody down and the blond boy stopped laughing as the last piece of apple choked up in his throat.
With a self-assured smile Jimmy picked up a needle from the cushion and a spool of thread. "Can't see that there'd be too much to it. Sew it on, tie it off."
Lou decided to concentrate on the task at hand, shoveling food into her mouth to keep her eyes and thoughts out of dangerous territory. Too bad her mind had a mind of its own… that and damned if Jimmy Hickok didn't take his sweet time threading that needle. It wasn't so much that he had that little piece of thread hanging from his lips it was the way he had his hands all over the needle and thread and kept jabbing the thread at it. It was comical for most in the room, torture for her.
It all went back to the Scotsman's cabin, hidden deep in the hills. It all went back to the moment she'd asked him to set his fingers to the ropes and found his fingers slipped in between the seat of the chair and her… seat. Ever since then, she'd been thinkin' all too much about those hands… those fingers and all the trouble they could get into.
So now, she slid her plate to the side and angled away from him just so she didn't have to see the show. She tried to tell herself it was silly, really. A passing fancy and nothing else. So why keep sneaking glances at him. Why?
So there she sat, peering out of the corner of her eye watching as Jimmy Hickok sank the needle into the fabric of his shirt and clear through into the pad of his finger.
"Damn it!" He popped the tip of his finger into his mouth and that was all she wrote.
Lou jumped up from the table, her eyes spitting fire. "Damn it, Hickok, why can't you watch what you're doin', You silly son-of-a-" the door slammed shut on the rest of her tirade as she stomped out of bunkhouse, beating a path to Emma's door.
Jimmy pulled his finger out of his mouth and looked around the room at the others. "What's got into her?"
Prompt by Tracy: