"I told you, that you're not good enough for her!"

Silence fell in the room as everyone waited for his response.

The young man facing him was full of spit and fire, "I'll marry who I want, whether you agree or not, it doesn't affect my life!"

Hot temper flashed in the older man's eyes, "My girl will be doin' what I say! She's a Shannon and a good Irish girl. You'll not sway her heart."

The young swain stepped forward, his own anger roiling in his gaze. "I already have! She's been mine for weeks now."

The older man's pain shone through his eyes, deepening their hue to a near olive green. "So, she's turned a favorable eye on you-" He couldn't face the eyes around the room, some mocking and some full of sympathy.

"Mine, old man! Mine in every way you could take the word." He leaned against the bar and the action only served to emphasize the gunbelts fastened around his hips.

Arlen Shannon pressed his hand to his chest, suddenly feeling very off balance. "You sir, are no gentleman... bringing up such a... a ... "

"You forced me to." He searched the older man's face for the effect his words were having, "All I want to do is marry her."

Shaking his head, Arlen started up again with his protests, "I'll not have a gunfighter for a son-in-law."

"Why not? I can provide for her, I'll give her a house... a nice one... in a city with a real opera house and more dress shops than a girl could ever want."

"You don't know her if you think she'd want to live away from me... I'm her father-"

The younger man leaned in until nary an inch separated them, "and I'm her lover."

Arlen's hands balled up convulsively and he took a stumbling step backwards, "You've taken her honor."

"I want her for my wife-"

"You defiled her, without the benefit of marriage vows or even my blessing to court her! Sweet Jesus, boy, have you no decency."

"I have her!"

"No!" Arlen's voice was thin and reedy, his chest rising and falling in shallow gasps of heated air, "don't say anymore."

"I will continue to have her-"

"No!" There was a wild and glassy look in the elder's eyes, "please... no more!"

There were calls for caution from the gathered crowd. Arlen was a respected business man, the owner and editor and chief of the fledgling newspaper.

There was no backing down now. Not for a young man with a point to prove. "I'll stop when you give me your blessing."

Arlen grabbed the back of a nearby chair as a pain pulsed through his arm. "You think I'll give you my blessing," another breath pushed out of his lungs, "after you blacken her name.. in the middle of a saloon!?" He reached into his pocket, looking for a familiar item to comfort him, but his fingers came up empty.

There was no rest for the weary as the amorous young man pressed his advantage, "I want your blessing!"

"No!" Arlen pushed away from the chair and staggered forward on stiff legs, "You say this.. you press your suit... because you know..." He stumbled and reached out for another chair, but missed and fell to his knees, "she'll never marry you if I don't..."

The angry young man whirled around, putting his back toward the rest of the room, "I'll have her, you'll see-"

"I won't... Never-" There was a collective murmer as Arlen gasped in a shuddering breath and fell to the floor, "Emma."

"PaPa?" A young woman stood in the doorway, her face hidden by the blinding light behind her. "Dear Lord in Heaven, what happened?"

Emma Shannon rushed to her father's side and leaned close to her father. Listening intently to his faint whispers. "Lo- Lon-"

She smoothed back the grey hair that had fallen into his face. Her long fingers smoothing his brow, "Save your strength, Papa." Her gaze swept the gathered crowd, "Has someone gone for the doctor?"

Someone ran off and the others closed ranks.

"Emma," a hand pulled at her arm, "They'll take care of him," he meant to smother her protest, "I'll take care of you."

Her eyes refused to meet his face, "I can't go with you, not while," she cradled her father's cheek in her hands, "his heart!"

"Emma!" His voice had a knife sharp edge, "He'll play on you, use your feelings against you... try to keep you with him-"

"Like you're doing?" Her eyes had that same angry blaze he'd seen in her father's glare.

"I told him the truth! That's more than you've done..."

Emma looked down into her father's face and watched as his pain-filled gaze found their focus.

Following his eyes, Emma felt her blood go cold. "What did you tell him?"

"I told you.."

"No!" She clutched her father's hand as it twitched in her grasp. "Papa!" Her tears came in waves as she felt his hand go slack and cold. "Oh God!"

His voice was meant to comfort her, "He's gone, sweetheart... he's gone."

"Go away!"

He tried to pull her to her feet, "Honey-"

Emma wrenched her arm away and leaned back to spit venom at the man that had once claimed her heart. "You killed him..."

"It's not like that-"

"You knew his heart was weak... he was old..."

"No-" it was his turn to protest, "It wasn't like that-"

"You killed him-"

"Emma-"

"and you've killed anything that we had between us."

"No... never."

Her father's hand relaxed beneath hers and a heavy circle of cool metal fell to the floor with a sickening thud.

His eyes narrowed as she picked up the pocket watch and held it close to her chest. "Papa."

He tried one last time, while the whole town watched, "Emma... marry me. We'll leave here and we won't have to look back-"

"Leave..." She looked up at him, hardness in her eyes, "I hate you, John Longely, and I never want to see you again."

THE END

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