Chapter 1

The gunshot roared through the balmy evening, reaching far into the bayou.

Callie Sullivan slowly let the gun slide from her trembling fingers.

The man in front of her sank to the floor.

"I warned you!" she growled, though her voice trembled.

With that, she turned and walked from the room with a composure she didn't feel.

"You'll pay for that, you little witch!" the man gasped out to her, "You'll go to hell for this!"

"After you," she called over her shoulder and picked up the bag she had waiting.

"Where are you going! You can't leave here!"

"Watch me!"

Her hoop skirts swayed gracefully as she let herself out of the house. He screamed for her to come back repeatedly. She heard heavy footsteps on the stairs, and knew that the rest of the house had awakened. She didn't know if he would live or die. It didn't matter. The result would be the same for her.

She just signed her own death warrant.

Once clear of the house she picked up her skirts and flew to the stables, beautiful, long stone buildings that housed some of the finest horses in the South.

A large black man met her there, blocking her path with apologetic dark eyes.

"What you doin' miss?" He wondered.

"Horace, I need my horse right now!"

"But the Senator says you ain't to go nowhere, Miss!" The man said, "Miss Callie, is there trouble up at the big house? We all heard the shot!"

"Horace, there is going to be much more trouble if I don't get my horse! Please!"

The man had direct orders not to let her ride away, but as he looked into the young woman's moist violet eyes, he gave in.

"All right, Miss Callie. Where you going? And when will you be back?"

She could no longer blink the tears down as she looked at the slave she'd known since she was just a child, "Never, Horace."

"But Miss…"

Callie sighed impatiently and glanced up at the main house. Figures were looming in the many windows already.

"Please!" She whispered, "I don't have much time!"

Horace sighed, and his great dark eyes were sad. "Alright, Miss. I'll go get The Ghost ready…"

She nodded her thanks and waited by the stable door, lost in the shadows.

Her eyes wandered over the main house as she tried to capture every inch of it in her memory. It was a large colonial mansion, and the huge marble columns glowed in the moonlight. It sat on beautifully manicured grounds, and Callie had spent years roaming the gardens. The pastures all held beautiful, spirited horses that Callie had helped raise and train. Further inland, thousands of acres of tobacco, rice, and cotton were tended by slaves. The slow moving river drifted by the docks that Sullivan Manor had used to ship its products to New Orleans for nearly two hundred years. The graceful Weeping Willows that lined the river were even older than that.

Callie heard the soft clicking of her horse's hooves on the cobblestone aisle of the stable and turned to look. She could see the dappled gray horse glowing in the darkness long before she was able to spot Horace at his side.

The spirited gray Arabian nickered at her, and she felt the tears creeping up on her as she placed a hand on his velvety black muzzle to quiet him, "Quiet Ghost, my boy."

"Miss, be careful…" Horace said.

"Thank you Horace. You take care of yourself! Tell everyone I will miss them and I love them," She said, and tears finally spilled from her eyes.

"What's to become of us, Miss Callie?" Horace asked softly, eyes downcast.

Callie bowed her head. How she wished she could save them all from the horrible situation she herself was escaping from! "I don't know, Horace. Godspeed!" She reached to hug him quickly and then leap, unassisted, onto her horse.

At that moment the heavy oak doors of the main house flew open, and a square of bright light poured onto the ground from inside.

Callie closed her eyes as she heard the Senator's voice bellow, "Gather all the slaves! Tell them if they don't bring her back, it'll be a whipping for all of them!"

She'd tried to kill him, and she'd failed. Callie suddenly resented the fact that all her brothers had been taught to use a gun, but she'd never been allowed to handle one. A lot of good it had done them!

Now he would punish the slaves for something they had no hand in.

Horace looked up at her, and for a moment, Callie wondered if he'd grab her and give her away. He did, after all, have a family to think about, and Callie wouldn't have blamed him.

"Better hurry, Miss! And don't worry, ain't a slave on this place that would turn you back over to him!"

Callie could think of no words to say, so she quietly turned her horse and disappeared into the darkness.

"Find her! I want her back here!" The Senator roared again, and Callie could just see him standing there, his repulsive face blood red and his veins sticking out of his forehead, his pot belly heaving.

She shivered in disgust and escaped into the night, not daring to glance at her home again for fear her heart would shatter completely.

Callie was well aware of the looks cast her way as she rode down the dusty street of a town in Texas. She stuck out like a sore thumb. Her dress, though covered in dust and torn at the hem, was far more ornate than the simple dresses of the women. They eyed the royal blue silk and lace resentfully.

"Fanciest dress I ever seen on a whore!" Someone yelled from the porch of the saloon and several drunk male voices erupted into loud laughter, "How much you charge to take it off?"

Callie turned her head slowly toward the men, her eyes on fire. She turned her horse in the street, glaring coldly at them.

"You trying to figure out your rate?" The drunk yelled again, spurred on by his buddies. Anger flared in Callie's heart, as she fought to control herself.

Callie, against her better judgement, kicked Ghost and the horse leapt over to the porch, stopping only inches shy of jumping up on it. The men moved back quickly.

"You could offer me every bit of gold in this world, and I wouldn't take off my glove for you!" She hissed, and his friends laughed at his expense.

The man grew angry, "Why you little…"

He started toward her threateningly.

Callie's hand tightened on her riding crop, and she started to ride away.

She wasn't surprised when he stumbled to her and placed a dirty hand on her ankle, and without a second thought she raised her crop and brought it down with incredible force about the man's head and shoulders.

"You've no right to touch a lady!" Callie told him in her best lady-of-the-manor air, "You dirty drunk!"

The man, who'd fallen to the ground, looked up, wiping the blood from the corner of his mouth with his sleeve.

Callie turned to ride away, but his voice rang out behind her, "Maybe you ain't no whore yet, but I can tell you one thing Missy! If you are riding around in the West on your own, you will be soon! You mark my words!"

Callie's shoulders stiffened but she didn't turn around. The man's words burned into her memory and she absentmindedly fiddled with the fine material of her dress. The money she had wasn't going to last forever, and she'd already seen that there were no more opportunities for single women in the West than there had been in the South. In fact, that was what had gotten her into trouble in the first place.

She raised her chin as the townsfolk whispered about her. No doubt they thought she was some sort of kept woman too. None of them know! she thought as she looked at them defiantly, None of them know that once I was one of the finest ladies in New Orleans and that suitors sought me from as far away as New York City!

She'd die before she gave up her honor! Or, she thought grimly, recalling the scene the night she'd left Louisiana--she'd kill! Whatever it took…

She continued pushing Northwest, having no where to go, but knowing that if she ever stopped running it would be the end of her.

The months passed by, and fall turned into winter. Callie grew weary and ill, but still she moved from town to town, finding work where she could, going hungry when she couldn't. She was too proud to take any form of charity, and often fared the worse for it.

She was in Nebraska when finally she knew she could go no further. There were no honest jobs for women anywhere, and she still refused to sell her body or her soul.

Jarvis Malone found her in a little town in the middle of nowhere. He was on his way back to Rock Creek, where he'd recently opened a saloon and gambling hall when he found her. As he was putting his horse in the stables he happened to see a flash of emerald green in the corner of the stall of a beautiful Arabian.

A woman, no a girl, was huddled in the straw. She was dressed in what had once been a beautiful taffeta gown, but now the material was spotted and torn. Her hair was midnight black, so black in fact, it almost had a blue sheen about it. Her skin was pale and flawless, only slightly wind burned. Her features were classic, the small aristocratic nose, the high cheekbones, the peaches and cream complexion.

Suddenly, she sensed someone near by and her eyes flew open. Jarvis nearly laughed aloud with glee as he looked into the brightest blue eyes he had ever seen. By God, the girl's perfect! he thought, shaking his head

The girl climbed to her feet, and Jarvis noticed instantly how unsteady she was. She was horribly sick, he realized, and smiled even bigger. If she was this beautiful when hungry and ill, then what did the girl look like in good health?

"What do you want?" she growled with the look of a hunted animal.

"My dear, please, have no fear! I merely meant to inquire as to why a beautiful lady of stature such as yourself would be huddling in the straw?"

"None of your business!" the girl snapped.

"Why I could surely help you out," Jarvis began.

"I'm not a whore! I don't want your money and I'm not going to bed down with you!" she said bitterly as if she'd been asked to do just that several times.

Jarvis raised his eyebrows. There was definite fight in this one! He sensed that if he wasn't careful she'd blow up, and he couldn't have that.

"Miss, you are obviously a lady of class! It is my duty as a gentleman to assist you any way I know how! Please, let me take you into the hotel and get you some coffee to warm you!" Jarvis said softly.

Her eyes grazed over his well cut suit, and then she met his eyes. They seemed kind enough, at least compared to those she'd seen lately. His soft southern drawl, a Mississippi drawl, appealed to her and a wave of homesickness passed over her.

She almost caved in, then shook her head, "No Sir, thank you. I can take care of myself."

"Please Miss, you are clearly very sick and cold! I'd ask nothing from you, if that's what you are afraid of!"

"I don't need any charity!" She snapped again, but suddenly her strength gave out and she passed out, crashing into the straw at the horse's feet.

Jarvis Malone smiled a sleazy smile, and told the unconscious girl, "Don't worry, my dear. It won't be charity! You are going to earn every cent!"

It seemed to be torture for Callie to force her eyes open, but after long minutes of avoiding it, she finally opened them a crack.

Two things occurred to her. One, she was very warm. Two, she was indoors.

With a startled gasp, she sat up and looked wildly around. She was in a beautiful hotel room, and was wearing a flannel night gown that didn't belong to her, yet fit perfectly.

"Ah, good, you are awake!" A voice said from the corner of the room

Callie gasped again and flung herself around.

"Who are you?" She demanded of the businessman who'd tried to help her in the stables, "Where am I?"

"I am Jarvis Malone my dear," He said, standing up and performing a little bow that seemed to Callie to be almost mocking, "And you are in the hotel. You passed out cold in the stable. I had the liberty of calling a doctor, who has pronounced you nearly starving and in very bad health altogether."

"Why are you doing this? What do you want?" Callie growled, clutching at the thick blankets of the bed. How nice they were!

"Your name would do," Malone smiled. Callie knew he was trying to be disarming, to put her at ease, but she found his smile made her nervous.

Callie sighed. She couldn't pay the man back. The least she could do was tell him her name. He seemed sincere enough.

"I'm Callie Sullivan," She finally said, and the sound of her own name seemed strange. It was the first time she'd heard it in weeks.

"Miss Sullivan, now, I must ask, why are you traveling around alone? A lady such as yourself can meet with horrible dangers here in the West."

Jarvis narrowed his eyes as the girl all but bolted from the bed.

"I-I have to go," She stammered, frantically grabbing at her small carpet bag. Jarvis had been through it and found nothing but the finest of clothing, and an old photograph of a very young Callie with four young men and a couple he assumed to be her parents.

Jarvis was quick to walk to the girl and put an arm about her shoulders. She tensed up as if she was ready to strike him, but Jarvis was careful. He gently turned her away from her belongings and walked her back toward the bed.

"All right, Miss Sullivan," He coaxed her, "No more questions you don't want to answer! You are going to stay here for a few days and rest, and then we'll talk of possibilities for your future."

"I told you, I'm not going to be your…"

He smiled slightly, "And I heard you, and have noted that fact. While I do find you beautiful, my dear, I know you are not that sort of woman. I have a business, and assuming that you are educated, I think I may have a need for you."

Callie sighed. It was charity, she was sure. But it was an opportunity to earn money and do it without scrubbing floors or selling her body. She looked at him through blue eyes that had lost their spark.

"Thank you, I can't ever repay you for this," she began, painfully swallowing her pride.

Jarvis smiled, "Some day, you'll repay me my dear. Now rest."

Callie was too sick to argue, and she eased herself back under the blankets as he left the room. However, just before she drifted off to sleep she heard the quiet "click" of the lock at the door.

He was locking her in!

Callie bolted upright and silently walked to the door, pressing her ear against it.

Then she heard Malone's voice, "She's resting. Make sure she doesn't leave!"

Callie found her hands trembling in fury. How dare he try to hold her here against her will! He had no right-unless…

A horrible thought struck her, and she wondered if perhaps he knew who she was, if the Senator had moved quickly enough to catch her, or at least to spread word that he was looking for her. Cursing herself for giving him her name, Callie opened her carpetbag and pulled out her warmest dress, a burgundy velvet riding habit all the way from Paris. She stuffed the warm nightgown in with her other clothing and moved toward the window.

She had to get away. She would die before she'd ever step foot near that man again! She'd failed in killing him, but if she went back, by God, she'd sure try again.

She was amazingly quiet as she opened the window, and had almost made it out safely when her door was flung open. Before she knew what was happening a man grabbed her around the waist and drug her back inside, clamping a hand over her mouth to stop her screams. She fought him like a wildcat, but she was weak and only succeeded in delivering a few painful blows before her strength left her.

She was still fighting weakly when Jarvis walked into the room. He sat down in the chair and crossed his legs in what Callie thought was a feminine manner. Her eyes followed him uncertainly.

"Leaving so soon?" he wondered and nodded for his gunman to take his hand away from her mouth.

"You've no right to keep me here!" She hissed, "I'll call the marshal!"

Jarvis stood up and held out a rolled piece of paper. He extended it only inches in front of her nose and let it unroll. Callie felt tears well in her eyes as she found herself staring at an accurate drawing of herself.

"I don't think you want to call the marshal, my dear." Jarvis read the poster aloud, "Wanted for murder and robbery, Miss Callie Sullivan. $1000. Alive." He took the paper away and raised his eyebrows, "One of the biggest bounties I've ever seen, Callie. Someone, my dear, wants you back awful bad."

"You aren't a bounty hunter," Callie said simply.

"No, I'm an opportunist," Jarvis responded agreeably, "And you and I are about to make a deal."

"I'm not making any deals with you!"

"Shall I call the marshal then?" Jarvis asked, "I could certainly use $1000."

"You're a son of a…"

"Careful Callie, cursing isn't very ladylike!" Jarvis grinned, and laughed when she tried to lunge for him.

Callie sighed, knowing she'd reached the end of her rope and that she was trapped, "What do you want?" she asked quietly.

"All you have to do is everything I say, and I'll let this be our little secret. However, you go against my wishes once, and I hand you over to the law and collect my bounty."

"I'm not going to be your whore! I'd rather hang!" Callie repeated violently.

"Don't flatter yourself my dear," Jarvis laughed, "Don't act as if you are some high and mighty Southern belle, because I know the truth. You are a thief and a murderess. I'm not so sure I would bed down with you. My customers however, are another story!"

Callie kept her chin high with defiance until they both had backed from the room, and then collapsed on her bed in a fit of sobs. I'm a lady! she thought over and over, as she cried herself to sleep.

Chapter 2

Jimmy sighed and paused after stepping through the doors of the dim saloon, allowing his eyes to adjust. He was thirsty and he was tired. It had been a long week.

"Sasparilla," He told the bar keep, who had stopped kidding the Pony Express riders about their refusal to drink whiskey long ago.

"Hey Jimmy," a familiar voice greeted him, and Jimmy glanced over to see Buck and Cody propping up against the bar, "Saw you ride in and head straight here. Thought you must have had a bad ride."

"Had better, had worse," Jimmy responded, and let the cool drink slide down his parched throat.

All three of the riders turned their backs to the bar to survey the activity of the saloon. They stood in companionable silence for awhile.

"Would you look at that," Buck suddenly said, and Jimmy and Cody followed his eyes.

Jimmy knew his jaw must have dropped open when his eyes fell on the most beautiful woman he'd ever laid eyes on. She was tall and slender, with long, thick blue-black hair that fell in waves to her waist. Her face was pale and classically featured, almost like a porcelain doll. Her eyes were her most striking feature though, Jimmy realized as his heart thumped against his chest when she turned her gaze toward the bar. They were such a bright, deep blue that they were almost purple. They snapped with electricity and pride. Her whole demeanor was defiant and almost angry. Yet Jimmy sensed something else about her from the way her eyes darted around her rapidly.

Fear. She was afraid of something.

"What in the hell is a woman like that doing in a place like this?" Cody asked, snapping Jimmy out of what had almost been a trance.

"She sticks out, that's for sure," Buck agreed.

"She's just a kid," Cody pointed out. She couldn't have been more than seventeen or eighteen.

Jimmy's eyes narrowed as he watched her set a drink down in front of a gambler.The man's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he looked at her, and he grabbed her around the waist, pulling her into his lap.

Obviously furious, the girl tried to disentangle herself without causing a scene. Her eyes darted to the owner of the establishment, a sleazy card shark named Jarvis Malone, but he was engrossed in a conversation with a businessman.

"Get your hands off me!" She hissed, and began fighting in earnest, her eyes continuously darting nervously to Jarvis.

"Now you heard your boss! He said to be friendly to me," The gambler drawled and his hands only grew tighter.

Suddenly though, an arm circled him from behind and he gasped. He released the girl and she jumped to her feet, straightening her mussed clothing.

Jimmy cocked his gun and held it to the man's head, his voice low and dangerous in the gambler's ear. When the men playing with the gambler went for their guns under the table, Cody and Buck were quick to draw their own guns and persuade them to return their hands to the table.

"The lady obviously don't like your company. Next time a lady don't like your company and you try to convince her otherwise, I'll make damn sure you have to join the ladies social…Understand?"

The man had broken out into a sweat, but still attempted to save face, "I don't think you know what you're doing. This girl is paid to like my company!"

The remark infuriated Jimmy, though he wasn't sure why. It was, after all, the truth, "Get out of here!"

"I'm not going any…"

"GET OUT!" Jimmy roared, "Or you'll be carried out in a box! And don't come back!"

The gambler nearly ran from the saloon.

His friends followed at a much more dignified pace.

Jimmy, Cody, and Buck turned to face the girl who was staring at them with a cross of disbelief and surprise.

"You all right ma'am?" Jimmy wondered softly, looking into her eyes, which were framed by long dark lashes.

She didn't answer them, her jaw was tightly clenched.

"They won't be back to bother you anymore, you can count on that," Jimmy tried to assure her.

Her eyes widened in disbelief and then snapped with anger as she hissed at them, "You're right, they won't be back! And the business this place loses because of that will come out of my pay! Next time you want to play the big heroes and wave your guns, why don't you do it for someone that asks for your help!"

Jimmy, Cody, and Buck all stared in shock as she turned on her heel and stormed away.

"If that ain't the oddest thank you I ever did hear," Cody began.

"Let's go," Buck said, and he and Cody started to walk towards the door. Jimmy stood where he was, staring after the girl.

"Come on, Jimmy, she ain't worth it," Cody told him.

That angered Jimmy and he wasn't sure why. The woman's voice, a softly cultured southern voice seemed to burn into his memory. She had breeding, Jimmy thought, every thing but the fact that she was working in a saloon suggested that.

He tried to shrug off the woman as another saloon girl, but something made him glance back over his shoulder before Cody and Buck drug him from the saloon.

He spotted her, standing in the shadows looking back at him. Her angry guard had dropped and she looked forlorn and scared out of her mind.

When she realized he'd caught her looking the softness left her and she flung herself around and stalked off in the other direction.

I'll be damned if I ever trust anyone else again, she thought angrily and blinked back tears as she gazed around the horrible, smoky room, look where it got me the first time.

"I'm telling you boys, she was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life!" Cody insisted around a mouthful of food.

"Yeah, and one of the angriest!" Buck added, "I mean, that man had his hands all over her, and she was trying to get away! But when Jimmy helped her, she just blew up at all of us!"

Teaspoon glanced at Jimmy, who had been pushing his food around his plate for some time now. He'd not said a word about the girl, and Cody and Buck couldn't stop talking about her.

"You're awful quiet tonight, Jimmy," Teaspoon commented, wiping the corner of his mouth with a napkin.

Jimmy glanced up in surprise.

Before he could say anything, Cody chimed in, "Yeah, Jimmy looked like a love sick puppy! His mouth dropped about to the floor when he first saw her! 'Course, ain't never seen him move so fast as when that gambler grabbed her."

Jimmy turned a brilliant shade of red.

Kid, who had just returned from a run, stopped shoveling food in his mouth long enough to point out, "She works in a saloon, Jimmy. Having men touch her is part of the job."

Jimmy glared at Kid. "So you saying Lou deserved to be raped by that Wicks fellow cause she was working in a whorehouse?"

Kid's fork clattered to his plate as he looked at Jimmy in shock. Rachel, Buck, Cody, Noah, and Teaspoon all held their breath. It hadn't been that long ago that all of them had learned that a young Lou had done laundry in a whore house and eventually been raped by the owner. The subject was strictly off limits, even though Lou was on a run, and Kid looked furious.

"Lou was a little girl!" Kid said through clenched teeth, "This woman you are talking about is old enough to have a choice!"

"Don't be so sure Kid," Rachel said quietly, speaking for the first time, "There ain't a whole lot a woman can do out here to feed herself."

"There must be something!" Kid disagreed.

Teaspoon shook his head, "Rachel's right, son. You can't go judging a woman because of that! Lord knows it ain't right, but it ain't always her fault!"

"Besides, this woman was different than most of those other saloon girls," Cody said.

"How so?" Noah wondered.

"You could just tell she was, well, better than the other ones," Buck explained.

"She had class," Jimmy said, "I don't care what you say Kid, the girl came from money. You could see it in her eyes, in the way she talked to us."

Kid shrugged. He may have been poor all his life, but he'd been brought up in the Southern tradition, and had a very clear idea of right and wrong. Things had always been black and white for him, and there was very little that fit into the gray area.

Kid sighed, "All right, so maybe she did have money at one time. Doesn't matter. She doesn't now, and if she works at the saloon she's going to have to earn her money other ways!"

Jimmy fought off the unexplainable urge to wrap his hands around his best friend's throat. He couldn't believe how cut and dried the world was through his eyes. "You'd feel differently if you saw her," was all Jimmy said.

Later that night, after pacing the bunkhouse nervously all afternoon, Jimmy stood up.

"Where you going, Jimmy?" Noah wondered, though he knew the answer.

"Out for some air. And to maybe pick up those supplies Teaspoon wanted from Tompkins store."

"Mmm-hmmm," Cody said, rolling his eyes, "If you're going back to see her, why don't you just say so?"

"Why don't you just mind your own business?" Jimmy snapped back, blushing.

Kid stood up, "I'll go with you. I want to see this rich saloon girl for myself!"

Jimmy's look told Kid he'd rather him not go, but a curiosity had been born in Kid, and he was determined.

"I wouldn't rescue her again," Buck called out, "She'll probably shoot you for thanks!"

Laughter followed Jimmy into the dusk.

"I'm not going to do this!" Callie stated, as Jarvis Malone held out a bright red dress.

"You are too!" he hissed, "unless you'd like me to get the marshal!"

Callie sighed, bowing her head to rub her temples. Had it only been a month since Jarvis Malone had first discovered her and began to blackmail her? Had it only been two weeks since she'd arrived in Rock Creek and been thrust into the unwilling role of saloon girl? It seemed like years!

She'd lost every fight but one. She told Jarvis right away that if he planned on making her a prostitute he could just go ahead and turn her over to the marshal. The snide little man with the balding head and horn-rimmed glasses had backed down on that one account, knowing that she meant it.

Now he stood before her and told her she would entertain some of his business friends that night. He expected her to tend to them all, as well as sing for their amusement. She'd made the mistake of singing quietly while she worked, and he'd heard her voice and insisted she perform.

"This dress is indecent!" She said disdainfully as she snatched the silk out of his hands and held it up, "I might as well not wear anything at all!"

"Always a possibility," Jarvis warned her. He tried to appeal to her practical side, "Callie, don't you realize what an asset you are to this place? Men from all over town are coming in just to get a glance at you! Couldn't you be more personable? Perhaps then you could make a bit more money."

"I don't want any of your money! I want out of here!" Callie snapped, "And no, I could not be more personable! I hate these stupid, dirty people and their stupid little town! Simpletons, every one of them! Two-bit heroes and washed up has-beens! Not an intelligent soul in the whole town!"

Jarvis suddenly reached out and gripped her arm painfully, wrenching her closer to him.

"You, Miss Sullivan, are too proud! You think yourself better than all these people put together, but look at you! You're a murderess and a thief, and like it or not, a saloon girl!"

"I'm not entertaining your abolitionist friends!" she snapped again, choosing to argue about the situation at hand, "You'll be sorry if you make me!"

His hand snaked out and he struck her across the cheek hard, "You'll be sorry if you don't!"

Her eyes were wide in surprise as she brought her hand up to cover her stinging cheek.

"There was a time that action would have cost you your life!" She whispered miserably.

"Ah, the good old days," Jarvis said unsympathetically, "Chivalrous men and slaves to wait on you hand and foot! You'll have to get over them! I'm tired of being patient. You are just going to have to get used to the fact this is your life now, and that I control it! I'm warning you now, from now on going against my wishes will have swift and severe consequences. Put that dress on and get downstairs in the next fifteen minutes or you'll wish you were never born!"

"I already do!" She hurled at him before he closed the door.

Callie sighed, hating herself for not having more courage to stand up to him, or to allow him to turn her in. She quickly dressed in the gown he'd brought her, then glanced in the mirror.

The gown was indecent. It cut so low that she wondered if she might fall out of it. Her shoulders and chest were completely bare, and her bosom was almost revealed also. It was bright red silk, a color no lady would wear. She found her eyes in the mirror and looked at the girl she'd become.

She hated what she saw.

"Is that her?" Kid asked for the tenth time, just as he had for every other saloon girl that walked by.

Jimmy glared at his friend and for the tenth time repeated, "I told you, Kid. You'll know when you see her!"

"She can't be that beautiful, Jimmy. Yall are making her out to be unreal!"

"She is," Jimmy said softly and Kid was amazed by the far away look in his eyes.

"Looks like Malone has some high and mighty friends around tonight," Kid said, rather than comment on his friend's obvious adoration of this saloon girl.

"Yeah. Bunch of abolitionist business men," Jimmy said distractedly.

"I thought Malone was a Southerner," Kid said.

"He is, but that doesn't mean he won't accept Northern money for his business ventures!"

Kid nodded and let his gaze slide around the room. Suddenly a splash of bright red coming down the staircase caught his eye.

His eyes widened and knew Jimmy was right. He did know it was her. She wore a dress that was incredible, albeit scandalous. It exposed her flawless white skin. That pale skin was such a contrast to her ink black hair. Her hair was long and wavy, and flowed freely about her face and shoulders. Her amazing blue eyes seemed to blaze across the room.

"There she is," Kid said, and Jimmy straightened with interest and nearly broke his neck as he struggled to get a good look at her.

Callie's eyes instantly fell on Jimmy, and she remembered the man's act to save her with a cross of anger and amusement. She'd thought he must be some kind of bounty hunter when he walked in that afternoon, judging from his ivory handled colts, but instead he'd actually tried to help her, not hurt her. The gun-slinging fool!

"Come my dear, you've some important people to meet," Jarvis said, fingers digging into her arm, "Glad you could make it!"

Jimmy's eyes narrowed as he watched Jarvis secure her arm in a death grip. The look she cast him should have killed the repulsive man.

"Easy Jimmy," Kid warned him softly when Jimmy tensed.

She followed him obediently, and was hidden from sight by the pack of men that surrounded her.

"Okay, you are right. She doesn't belong here," Kid finally admitted.

Jimmy would have commented but suddenly Jarvis was standing on a small stage, with the girl at his side, her arm still secured in his vise-like grip. She looked as if she'd like to either shoot him or bolt.

Jimmy suspected either one would do for her.

"Gentlemen, I'd like to introduce Miss Callie Sullivan. Not only is she truly one of the most beautiful women in the West, she also sings like a lark! She's so excited tonight to provide you good men with entertainment!"

A roar of applause went up, and Kid glanced at Jimmy.

"She looks about as excited as a dead man," Kid commented.

Jimmy stared at the girl. So her name was Callie. The name had never sounded so beautiful before then.

Callie radiated fury and defiance as Jarvis left her alone to stand on the stage.

She stood in sullen silence, glaring defiantly at the men below her as they gawked at her and her revealing dress. She fought the flush that crept up her neck and into her cheeks, but soon she knew she had two rosy spots on each cheek.

Jimmy's heart went out to her as she stood there blushing. Though she was obviously embarrassed, her chin remained high with stubborn pride.

Jarvis glared at the woman who was so determined to make a fool out of him. Jimmy grinned as he marched up onto the stage, his face as red as Callie's dress. However his smile faded as Malone roughly took her arm and spoke into her ear. Jimmy couldn't imagine what he'd said to her to make her lose her blush and turn so pale so quickly. Obviously shaken, she turned and watched as he stormed off, trying to laugh off the girl's behavior as stage fright.

Suddenly the fear left her face, and fury and defiance were back. The still girl suddenly sprang to life, and threw her dazzling smile over the crowded room.

"Good evening, gentlemen! Welcome!" Her words were bright, but Jimmy sensed the anger bubbling beneath every word, the dangerous fury that threatened her every move.

"Sing for us, Miss Callie!" One of the men shouted, and the rest responded with applause and whistles.

Her eyes narrowed for a moment, and then she smiled brightly.

"I have just the song for you gentlemen!"

With that she pulled herself to her full height in the middle of the stage and purposefully avoided Jarvis Malone's probing eyes.

"Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton! Old times there are not forgotten, look away, look away, look away, Dixieland!"

Kid and Jimmy exchanged shocked glances as she zealously continued with the next verse. Dixie, a song treasured by the South, was hardly appropriate for a crowd of abolitionist business men. The men murmured and looked to Jarvis for an explanation, but he was open-mouthed with shock himself.

She'd made a complete fool out of him.

Kid felt tears rise to his eyes as she sang the beloved Southern song with all her heart and soul. Her voice was a beautiful, clear soprano, and chills rose on both he and Jimmy's arms as she finished the last note.

Silence greeted her when she finished the song. Kid and Jimmy burst into applause after the last note had died, and she curtseyed deeply, as if the whole room was giving her an ovation. Jimmy saw the flash of dimples as she grinned wickedly just before dropping her head in another curtsey. Slowly, Jarvis' friends began applauding politely.

Obviously elated from the enjoyment of embarrassing Jarvis, she became animated, flashing her perfect white smile coyly at the men she'd just offended. They found it hard to be too offended, Jimmy realized, so beautiful was her smile.

"Encore!" A drunk voice called from the back of the room.

Jimmy saw the devil in her eyes as she began "I'm a good old Southern girl!"

Jimmy glanced at Kid and they burst into laughter at the girl's spirit.

Jarvis, unable to take any more from her, stormed onto the stage and grabbed her arm.

"You'll be sorry!" He told her, much louder than he'd intended. The whole room heard her cry out with pain as he wrenched her arm viciously and began dragging her off the stage. Her feet became tangled in her dress and she fell.

As Jarvis drug her a few steps while she fought to get her feet under her, Jimmy stood up, letting his chair crash to the ground behind him.

"Jimmy, this isn't your fight!" Kid warned him, placing a hand on his friend's chest to keep him from charging forward, "there's nothing you can do!"

Jarvis broke from the crowd and stood in the middle of the room, with Callie still in his clutches and suddenly looking very pale indeed.

"I've got a once in a lifetime opportunity gentlemen! Who would like to take this Southern wench upstairs?"

"No!" Callie suddenly screamed and tore her bruising arm from his grasp, bolting for the door.

Chapter 3

Everyone stood in shock for a moment, watching the girl in the bright red dress stumbling for the door.

Jarvis Malone sprang to action first, as he bolted after her, "Callie! You'd better stop if you value your life!"

She burst into the night.

Jimmy started after her, his hand resting close to his gun.

Kid stepped in front of his friend and put his hands on Jimmy's chest. Jimmy was thrown off balance and stumbled backwards. He soon started forward again, only to have Kid block his path a second time.

They locked eyes, one pair crystal blue, the other soft brown, both fierce.

"Kid," Jimmy warned, his square jaw tightly clenched, "Move aside!"

"Jimmy, you are getting in the middle of something you ain't got no business stepping into!" Kid growled, not budging.

They stood toe to toe, glaring at each other a second longer.

"I'm not going to ask you again Kid. Now, get out of my way, or I'll make you!"

"Jimmy…" Kid began.

Jimmy wouldn't hear him out. With a quick shove, Jimmy pushed Kid, who stumbled backwards over his chair and crashed to the floor.

"You're a damn fool!" Kid cried after him, scrambling to his feet in the hope he could keep his friend from getting himself or the girl hurt.

Jimmy charged into the night.

Jarvis caught Callie just as she reached the bottom stairs of the saloon porch. He grabbed her arm, his fingers clutching the material of her sleeve.

It tore easily as she continued to try to run.

As even more of her pale shoulder was exposed, she slowed down, giving Jarvis the chance to wrap his hands around her already sore upper arms.

"You little tart!" He screamed at her, "How dare you embarrass me in front of my friends!"

Callie, in a flash of bravado snapped back at him, "Me! You are the one who dressed me up like a prostitute and then stood me on the stage for all the world to look on! You deserve it!"

"You are a prostitute!" Jarvis told her, "Starting tonight!"

"No! I told you I'd never do that!" She screamed, struggling to get away again.

"Stand still, damn it!" Jarvis warned her. When she continued fighting, he brought a hand across her cheek. When that still did not curb her struggle, he began shaking her violently.

She cried out as her neck snapped back and forth, and she bit her lip during the forceful display.

Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a blur appeared over her left shoulder and hit Jarvis at full tilt, knocking him away from her.

Callie cried out as she fell backwards and landed in a pool of crimson fabric with an unladylike "oomph!"

Soon gentle hands were reaching down and gently grasping her arms, pulling her to her feet.

"Miss, are you all right?" A quiet voice asked.

Callie spun around and met the eyes of the young man who had attacked the gambler earlier that day.

"I-I'm fine…" Callie stuttered, her head still reeling from Jarvis' violence. She could still taste warm, salty blood.

She turned toward Jarvis, who was now pinned by his attacker, and finally understood that Jarvis had been knocked away from her by another man.

Her rescuer stood up quickly, dragging Jarvis with him by the lapels of his now-dusty jacket. He turned around and Callie studied him. He was an older man with long silver hair and a ridiculous black hat. His face was covered in stubble, and his body had grown soft with years spent out of the saddle. His eyes, however, were alive and piercing.

He looked at her with those eyes, and Callie felt a blush rise in her cheeks, as if he knew everything about her in that one glance, "Miss, are you all right?" He asked with a gravelly voice.

Callie nodded, and wordlessly pulled the torn sleeve of her gown up over her shoulder. Jimmy felt a wave of pity for the girl as it instantly slid off again.

"Teaspoon, he beat her up pretty badly," Jimmy began, and Callie glanced at him quickly, her eyebrows furrowed in disapproval.

"It wasn't too bad," she said softly, "I'm fine." The trembling of her voice suggested otherwise.

Jarvis sneered, knowing the girl was trying to regain his favor.

"From the looks of you, I'd guess differently, Miss," Teaspoon said softly, and Callie met his eyes. For all his hardness, she knew he was a good-hearted man, much like the younger man that had called him "Teaspoon" and seemed determined to protect her.

"Just a little disagreement, Marshal ," Jarvis drawled, and he smiled when he saw Callie stiffen and take note of the silver star on Teaspoon Hunter's shirt.

That's right, my dear. Don't start thinking of running to grandpa here for help!He thought.

Callie quickly nodded, and Teaspoon instantly noticed she was avoiding his eyes and keeping her head turned away from him, "It's all right, sir. Thank you for your concern."

"What I saw was not all right!" Teaspoon thundered, loudly enough so that the crowd that had gathered on the porch could hear, "And Jarvis, you're spending the night in jail! You ain't gonna disturb the peace like that and beat up on this girl and then go back to your party! I've warned you about beating up on these women before!"

Jarvis turned a bright shade of red in shame and fury for being so insulted in front of all his important friends. Callie closed her eyes, not even able to imagine his wrath when he got back. She knew he would not turn her in--not yet. Not until after he made her pay for what she'd done to him tonight. Escape was out of the question. Jarvis' henchmen would guard her more closely tonight than usual.

She shivered slightly as she thought of his return the next day.

Teaspoon didn't miss this and turned to the younger man. "Jimmy," he instructed, keeping a tight hold of Jarvis, "show this lady to her room please."

Kid came down the stairs to stand by Teaspoon. Teaspoon eyed him and said, "Kid, you stay here and make sure all these fine folks clear out and go home. Party is over, gentlemen!"

Teaspoon began hauling Jarvis toward the jail.

Callie didn't wait on Jimmy to start back for her room. She nearly bolted up the stairs of the porch. The remaining customers scattered to let her pass, and Jimmy didn't catch up with her until she was inside the building.

"I suppose you're mad about that too?" Jimmy wondered as he fell into step beside her.

She glanced at him, and anger bubbled in him when he saw her bleeding lip.

She sighed, "No one seems to understand that these little acts of heroism only serve to make things much harder on me once you fools ride off into the sunset!"

"So why don't you leave?" Jimmy wondered.

"This is really none of your concern," Callie shot back at him as she began taking the stairs two at a time, obviously ready to be rid of him. His long stride kept up with her easily.

"You just don't belong here," Jimmy said softly, "You're a lady.

She paused in mid-stride and stared at him, not able to hide the tears that sprang to her eyes. He was the only man she'd come into contact with that cared who she was.

He looked troubled to have caused her tears and for a moment was speechless.

Callie regained her composure, and started toward her room, wanting to put distance between her and this man with the gentle, yet soul-searching brown eyes. She had the feeling that he, like the marshal, could see straight to her heart, and that was something she didn't dare let happen! She hardly dared to look there herself.

"I don't understand why you are here, Miss Sullivan!"

She closed her eyes and bowed her head, glad that he was slightly behind her so he couldn't see the fresh tears that stung her eyes, "I don't suppose you do understand, you stupid oaf!"

The words wounded him, she knew, and she was truly sorry for having hurt him. However, letting him get close to her would be a thousand times more hurtful…and dangerous, and he was too kind of a man to do that to! Or so she thought-for all she knew he could be as sleazy and repulsive as Jarvis or the Senator!

She paused outside her room and fumbled with the lock and key.

He came to lean against the frame in front of her. He watched her steadily. Under his piercing gaze her hands fumbled and she dropped the key. She let out an exasperated sigh of frustration.

They both reached for it at the same time, and their heads crashed together.

"I'm sorry!" Jimmy laughed softly, placing a hand to his aching temple.

She had her eyes closed and her arched eyebrows wrinkled in pain.

To Jimmy's surprise, the slightest of smiles creased her mouth as she opened her thundercloud blue eyes slightly to squint at him.

Jimmy waved the key they'd injured themselves retrieving and said, "Better let me do it!"

She stood back and watched as he opened the door, doing her best to hide her widening smile but failing miserably.

She didn't look at him as she let herself in. He stood there wordlessly, watching to see that she got all the way in safely before he considered budging.

She started to slam the door in his face, but something in his probing eyes stopped her and she looked at him, trying to figure him out. What was his motive, what was his interest?

"You aren't an oaf," She said quickly, as if she was in a hurry to have the apology over with.

"Why, thank you very much," Jimmy grinned, knowing fully well how she must hate to swallow her pride. He grew solemn as he watched her face fall, and her eyes slide away from his.

The next words out of her mouth were even harder for her to say. As she drew a deep breath, Jimmy waited patiently, wondering what she was going to tell him.

"I just wanted you to know…that I'm not…" She swallowed hard and looked into his eyes fully, leaving Jimmy feeling short of breath, "I'm not a wh-whore."

She watched as his face broke into the gentlest of smiles.

"Miss Sullivan, you didn't have to tell me that. I know you're a lady," Jimmy looked away from her beautiful eyes for a moment, then let his gaze fall upon her again, "And nothing could ever convince me otherwise."

Her eyes dropped doubtfully, and Jimmy suppressed the urge to push her for an explanation of how she'd ended up here. Something told him that gaining her trust would have to be done slowly or not at all.

Instead he bent down to catch her eyes, which were staring at the floor. His willful stare made her raise her eyes and look at him fully.

"Nothing," He repeated, leaving no doubt in her mind that he meant what he said, "Good night, Ma'am."

He tipped his black hat and stepped away from the door, leaving her there with tears in her eyes.

"Rider Comin!" Rachel's voice called into the bunkhouse, "Buck, your ride!"

Buck leapt up from his bunk and ran outside to vault on the horse Kid had waiting for him.

"Ride Safe, Buck!" Lou called as she extended the mochila to him and pulled Lightning up.

"Hey Kid!" She said with a wide smile as she slid off the horse and into his waiting arms.

"Have a good ride?"

"Yeah, it is pretty quiet out there. So, have I missed anything here?"

Kid raised his eyebrows and took her horse's reins. As they began walking to the barn to care for him together, Kid told her of the saloon girl, "Well, Jimmy's head over heels for some wildcat Southern girl working in the saloon! The girls got all kind of problems and doesn't want anything to do with Jimmy, but he just ain't gonna give up!"

Lou sighed. Jimmy just didn't seem destined to have much luck with love. Her cheeks flamed as she remembered how he'd kissed her a few weeks ago when they'd taken Alias Mills in for hanging. She turned an even deeper red when she remembered how she'd kissed him back!

"The girl is pretty though, Lou," Kid said, "In fact she's beautiful. The second most beautiful woman on Earth."

Lou glanced at him and a smile played at the corner of her mouth, "And who is the first?"

"You, of course," Kid grinned boyishly and Lou laughed out loud.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, young man!"

He shrugged and stopped, impulsively pulling her into a tight hug, "Can't blame a man for trying!"

Lou sighed and looked up at Kid, "Why do I have a feeling you and Jimmy already have, or will have, a disagreement over this girl?"

"What makes you think that, Lou?" Kid asked in his best "aw-shucks-"tone.

That gave him away, "Well, I was right! You already have, haven't you? Come on, Kid, you go through this every time Jimmy falls in love! He's a romantic, he plunges into things! He doesn't have to calculate every move like you do!"

Kid wondered if there was a trace of disappointment in her voice. She and Jimmy were a lot alike, he realized. They loved the same way. Suddenly Lou stood on her toes and placed a gentle kiss at the corner of his mouth.

"But I wouldn't have you any other way!"


Jimmy watched the scene between Kid and Lou from the bunkhouse window with envy. However, for the first time, seeing Lou didn't bring a stab of longing into his heart. He knew it was pure folly that Callie occupied his every thought, but he couldn't help it.

Having finished his chores for the day, Jimmy decided to visit the saloon.

He walked through town, his mind filled with the image of her staring at him, a slight blush on her cheeks and tears in her eyes as she tried to make him understand that she wasn't a prostitute.

"Where you heading to, son?" Teaspoon's voice called him from inside the Marshal's office.

Jimmy stepped inside, "Uh, I just thought I'd go get those supplies you been wanting from Tompkin's store, Teaspoon."

"And after that?" Teaspoon wondered knowingly.

"Well, I thought I might stop by the saloon."

"Jimmy, I want you to listen to me. You don't need to cause trouble for that girl! I know you want to help her, but you'll probably just make it worse on her if you keep dogging her. If she needs our help, she'll have to ask."

"She ain't gonna ask, Teaspoon. She's too proud, or too scared, or both!"

Teaspoon sighed, "Well then, she's gonna have to get over that!"

Jimmy nodded, "I know, I know, you can't help a person that won't help themself," he said, repeating one of Teaspoon's favorite pieces of advice.

Teaspoon shrugged, "It's true, son."

Jimmy sighed, "I know it is. But it sure seems like she needs it, don't it?"

Teaspoon nodded, and watched as the young man started out of the office.

"Where you going?" He repeated.

"Told you. To buy those supplies and then to the saloon!"

Teaspoon shook his head, wondering if Jimmy had listened to a word he'd said. Just then Jesse came flying through the jail at full tilt, and ran smack into Teaspoon. They both almost fell to the floor.

"Jesse! What have I told you about galloping around in here?" Teaspoon growled. When he glanced back at the door, Jimmy had disappeared.

"Why do I bother?" Teaspoon sighed, and glared at Jesse, who had the good sense to look sheepish.

Callie walked slowly and sorely over to the table in the corner. Why the man had to sit so far removed from everyone else, with his back to the wall, was beyond her.

Jarvis had given her the beating of her life when he'd returned from jail that morning. She'd still been asleep when he burst into her room and started hitting her. He'd left her face alone, she realized bitterly, because he was afraid he'd cause some sort of disfigurement that would take away from her money-making looks.

"May I get you something?" She asked the man, who had his head tilted down lazily.

He looked up and Callie's eyes widened. It was Jimmy, the man who had seen her display of weakness the night before. He'd hidden himself from her because he'd correctly assumed she wouldn't come over to him if she'd known who it was.

"What do you want?" She snapped impatiently, "I'm growing weary of these games!"

"I want to know what you're doing here," Jimmy said simply.

"I meant to drink," She hissed.

When he didn't answer her, Callie started to walk away, rolling her eyes. Jimmy didn't miss the stiff way she carried herself and guessed Jarvis had a lot to do with that.

"Sarsaparilla," he suddenly called out.

She turned around and glared at him, then walked back over to him and leaned close to him, her face only inches from his. Her liquid violet eyes were cold, "Get it yourself, Wild Bill!"

His jaw tightened in irritation at her as she sauntered away. Why the woman had to be so cold to everyone he couldn't imagine, but he was growing tired of it. He didn't know how or when she'd figured out who he was, but the hated name Marcus had given him was more of an insult than usual coming from her.

"There's just something to be said for Southern charm!" He cried out after her, and got up to go to the bar to get the drink himself.

It turned out to be lucky he did.

He watched as Jarvis pulled Callie over to the other end of the bar, where a tall, lean businessman waited. He heard her hushed, but violent protests and Jarvis' sharp reprimand.

Jimmy was able to hear every word of the conversation that followed.

"Callie, this is Jacob Harris. Why don't you be a good girl and keep him company?" Jarvis asked her, though it was no doubt an order and a threat, not a request.

She met his eyes defiantly, "Oh, I would, but I have tables to see to!" She started to breeze away.

Jarvis grabbed her arm with brute force again and slung her back against the bar, "My dear, someone else will see to your tables!"

Callie grimaced in pain as he stormed away.

Jacob Harris, a well-known banker, turned and studied the girl as if she were a horse at auction. Callie's cheeks flamed at his openly lustful manner.

"Well, my dear, let's get better aquatinted. What would you like to talk about?"

Callie's stomach turned in disgust. She glanced down at the man's hand and her eyes narrowed as she saw his wedding band.

"Why don't we talk about your wife?" She said sweetly, but loudly enough for the whole bar to hear, "How would she feel about you being here?"

"Why you little impertinent wench!" Harris gasped, and reached to lace his hands around her abused arms, "You need to learn your place!"

"And you need to learn yours! Your place is in bed with your wife, not me!"

With that, Callie grabbed the half-full shot of whiskey sitting in front of him and threw it in his face. He cried in pain and clawed at his eyes.

She turned to storm away, head high. She visibly shrank as she saw Jarvis heading straight towards her with murder in his eyes.

He grabbed her by the hair and snapped her neck back, forcing her to look him in the eye, "You're about to learn your place, Callie!"

Keeping a firm hold of her hair, and avoiding her flailing arms, Jarvis began half-dragging her toward the stairs.

Suddenly, Jimmy stood directly in front of him, blocking his path.

Callie felt a wave of relief wash over her, though she didn't like to admit it.

"Get out of my way, Hickok!" Jarvis growled, "There's nothing you can do to help her now!"

"I have a business proposition for you!" Jimmy insisted, and watched as Jarvis arched his eyebrows in interest. Callie looked at him worriedly.

"You don't make enough money to have a proposition worth my while!"

"There are other ways to make money off the pony express trail!" Jimmy reminded him, "And I've got forty-five dollars right here to prove it!"

Jarvis' eyes nearly popped out of his head. Forty-five dollars to take a girl upstairs? It was an unheard of amount! And too good to pass up!

Still, Jarvis played it cool, "And why should I agree to this?"

Callie's forehead wrinkled in confusion. She didn't understand what was happening, yet had a feeling it was very important that she did understand.

"Because she'll probably kill you! I'm willing to take that risk," Jimmy smiled widely and extended the money to Jarvis.

Jarvis thrust Callie forward, and she stumbled into Jimmy's chest. He instantly would his hands around her wrists.

"What's going on?" She asked, looking first at Jarvis, then up at Jimmy.

Jarvis smiled, "Say hello to your first customer, Callie, and treat him nicely!"

Callie looked up at Jimmy, and his eyes were unreadable, his demeanor cold. She'd known he was interested in her, but hadn't thought him this kind of man.

Once again, she'd been foolish to let herself believe someone was interested in helping her!

"Let's go, Callie!" Jimmy told her harshly, while Jarvis smiled wickedly.

Callie's screams were ear splitting as he began dragging her toward the stairs, with her fighting him every inch of the way…

Chatper 4

Jimmy grimaced as Callie carried out a well-aimed blow to his shin with her booted foot. She was fighting him like a wildcat, and it was all he could do to avoid being killed…or killing her!

"Jarvis! You can tell who ever you want about me! But I'm not doing this!" Callie yelled over her shoulder.

Jarvis grinned and shook his head, "Too late. Tomorrow we'll discuss it. But right now, my dear, you've been paid for!"

Jimmy actually couldn't believe that no one made a move to shoot him as he drug the girl towards the stairs. She sat back against his hands and he pulled her along, almost like a mule. She screeched and screamed the whole way, until Jimmy thought his eardrums might burst.

"Hey, give that a rest, would you?" Jimmy finally asked of her after they were halfway up the stairs and out of sight.

She turned on him with eyes that blazed fire and ice, "If you touch me…" she warned.

"I just saved you!" Jimmy growled impatiently.

She laughed bitterly, "If you think I'd rather bed down with you than Malone, you're wrong. A pig is a pig!"

Jimmy rolled his eyes, and kept a firm hand on her arm. Her strength was gone for the moment, which was fortunate for him, because so was his.

However, she was refreshed and ready for another go-round as he stood at her door and opened it. It took all of his strength, as well as a split lip from her fist, to get her into the room and close the door behind them.

She fought him as she'd never fought anyone. Her nails raked across his face and she punched him hard in his gut. Finally Jimmy grew weary of it and placed hands on each of her shoulders, thrusting her away from him and thundering "Enough!"

She stumbled backwards and landed on the bed. Instantly she was on her feet, circling him and distancing herself from the bed. Her eyes had the look of a trapped animal.

"If you lay a finger on me…" She began.

To her surprise he broke into laughter and shook his head.

"Don't flatter yourself, Callie!"

Jimmy wasn't sure what he saw more of in her face, relief or dented vanity.

"What?" She asked in confusion.

"I'm not going to hurt you, Callie," Jimmy said, sighing, "I thought you would have figured that out!"

Disbelief registered on her beautiful face, and then distrust, "Why?" She asked suspiciously.

He sighed and shook his head, "Callie, believe it or not, not all men want to hurt you."

The look she gave him suggested her experience told her otherwise.

"I mean that."

Callie paced the room, no longer afraid he was going to try to force her into anything, but still ill at ease with his nearness. What do you want from me then? she longed to ask him.

"How old are you Callie?" Jimmy asked, putting his hands on his hips.

She eyed him, as if trying to discern if she wanted to disclose that information to him. His stare was demanding and she caved in.


"Good God! And you're out here alone?" He asked incredulously.

"You aren't much older than me!" Callie shot at him, "And you're alone!"

"It's different!" Jimmy insisted. It was true, he actually wasn't much older, but he felt years older. His steady gaze sharpened and she squirmed under his scrutiny.

"What are you doing here, Callie?" He finally said softly.

She looked away from him, though he did his best to hold her stare.

"All right, don't tell me! But you listen to me Callie, and listen good!" He saw her bristle at the authority in his voice, and it just spurred him on, "You are going to pack your bags and get out. Tonight! You will come with me to the pony express station. You'll be safe there until we can get you home!"

She laughed bitterly and glared back at him, "This is my home!"

Jimmy didn't smile back. He was completely serious when he told her, "Then I suggest you find a new one!"

"What concern is this of yours?" She spat hatefully, "I am not your problem! Why do you feel the need to save everyone?"

She shrank from him as he stormed toward her, stopping only inches away. His voice was low and dangerously quiet when he spoke to her. Callie would have preferred he scream at her than tower over her and speak in the tone he used now.

"What concern is it of mine?" he repeated, then took a step closer to her, "Let's try this-I just spent forty-five dollars, not a penny of which was mine, to save your honor! And you're asking me what concern is it of mine that you just sit here and let the same thing I just prevented happen to you tomorrow?"

Against her better judgement, Callie didn't back down. She sensed there was something dangerous about Jimmy Hickok, and the talk around town gave her every reason to believe she was right. However, she now stood toe to toe with him, glaring into his steely eyes.

"I didn't ask you to save me! I haven't asked anything of you! And you expect me to fall to my knees and kiss your boots in gratitude?"

Jimmy stepped forward and took her chin gently into his hand. He tilted her head back and stared into her eyes. She drew a startled breath when she looked into his eyes. She was certain he intended to kiss her.

"I don't expect you to kiss my boots! But you'll do well to remember that you are at my mercy here! It wouldn't hurt you to act just a little thankful, even if you don't mean it!"

"Don't you dare threaten me!" Callie growled and stormed to the other side of the room, where she looked out the window.

Jimmy shook his head and sighed. The girl had bravado, he had to give her credit for that. She was stubborn as a mule and too proud for her own good, but underneath all that, she was scared and she was alone. And while she'd never admit it to him, he knew she was grateful for what he'd done.

"Don't you realize what Jarvis would have done to you, Callie?" He finally said softly.

Something in the tone of his voice got to her, and she glanced at him in surprise, her eyes filled with tears.

"Get out of here Callie. Save yourself!" Jimmy pleaded with her, and walked to stand before her, "he'll kill you!" Tears streamed down her face, and it twisted his heart.

Slowly he reached out to cradle her cheeks and wipe at her tears with his thumbs. She stood there for only a second before she backed away and angrily wiped the unwelcome tears away herself.

"I signed a contract. A legal contract saying that I work here for at least one year. And Malone isn't going to let me break it."

"Run away," Jimmy said simply.

"It isn't that easy," She said, "He'll find me. He said so and I believe him."

"Then come to the way station with me. I'll protect you."

The sincerity in his voice seemed to startle and amaze her. Her wide blue eyes slid to his. He blushed and added, "We all will." He paused to let his words sink in.

"Why did you sign the contract, Callie?" Jimmy asked next, feeling he was finally getting somewhere with the girl.

She didn't answer and turned away, her cheeks flaming.

"Why, Callie?" he pushed.

"None of your business! I can take care of myself! I don't know how many times I have to tell you that!" Callie was suddenly every bit as angry and defiant as when he'd first seen her. Her moment of weakness had passed and she would now make up for it with more bitterness than ever. Jimmy also sensed she was trying to hide something from him.

Jimmy sighed, "You're a fool," He ignored her as she bristled, and held up a hand to stop her retort, "Never mind, Callie. You win. I'm leaving. But you need to take my advice and get out of here. Next time I won't be here to save you. I can't afford it!"

He reached for his hat, which was hanging at his back and placed it on his head. He paused with one hand on the door, not looking back at her, "The Pony Express station is on the west end of town. You can't miss it. If you get into trouble or come to your senses, you can always come there. No one there will hurt you, I swear it!"

Callie longed to go with him. The consequences for both of them were too great though. He started to slip out the door. Callie looked at the hem of her low cut dress and mumbled, "As soon as I can raise forty-five dollars, I'll pay you back."

Jimmy smiled slightly and glanced at her, "Use it to get out of here any way you can. As for me, a simple thank you would be payment enough."

She blushed in shame. She hadn't even thanked him. She was horrified by the change in what used to be her flawless manners. Jimmy knew perfectly well that it would have been much easier on Callie to raise the forty-five dollars than to raise her eyes to his.

"Thank you, Mr. Hickok," She said softly, and finally glanced up "And I do mean that."

His smile was warm, "You're welcome. Oh, and my friends call me Jimmy."

With that, he closed the door.

The tears that Callie had held back suddenly came forth as if the floodgates had been opened. She slid down in the floor with her back to the bed, and pressed her hands to her eyes, sobbing.

Jimmy bowed his head when he heard her. It broke his heart. But, he thought, Teaspoon was right. He could only do so much for her before she had to take a step towards him.

He let his head crash back against the wall and stared at the ceiling, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. He was going to have a hell of a time explaining why in God's name he had spent forty five dollars in the saloon, instead of on food and supplies.

Jimmy walked back through town slowly. Callie occupied his every thought. Why was she working for Malone, how had he gotten her to sign the contract, and why was she so afraid of breaking it? He shook his head. She needed his help, he was sure, but she was too afraid and too proud to ask him for it. He knew he should just walk away, and forget about her. But that wasn't going to be possible. After he'd looked into her blue eyes once he'd been certain that he couldn't just walk away.

Jimmy was still thinking in circles when he made it back to the station. Wanting to put off the confrontation that would surely follow when he broke the news about the money to Teaspoon, he opted to go into the stable and feed his horse first.

He was more than a little shocked as, when he entered the stable, a shower of cold water hit him squarely in the face.

He cried out in surprise and wiped the dripping hair from his eyes, ready to draw his gun.

Lou stood before him, holding a now-empty bucket, and looking scared for her life.

Jimmy looked down at his soaked clothes, then back up at Lou, then down at himself again. He finally raised his eyes to hers nonchalantly for an explanation.

She pressed her hand over her mouth in the hopes of stifling a giggle, "I thought you were Jesse! We've been having a bit of a water fight, you see…and I thought…you were him…" the words disappeared into a long, low giggle.

Jimmy supposed she was winning the fight, judging by the lack of water on her. That should be remedied, he thought.

"I'm not Jesse," He pointed out quietly.

When she saw the look on his face she yelped in fear and took off in the opposite direction.

"Oh no you don't!" Jimmy yelled, grinning and giving chase. She was fast, though, and she burst out of the other end of the barn, laughing wildly.

Just as he was about to run out the door after her, a figure stepped forward. It was too late to stop, and he ran right into the next onslaught of water.

He stopped abruptly and turned to Kid who was laughing too hard to stand up straight. Jimmy put one hand on his hip and the other rubbed the water from his eyes.

"Don't you think you could wait till after winter to have a water fight?" He asked through teeth that were beginning to chatter.

Kid was still laughing too hard to answer him. Tears gathered in the corners of his eyes as he howled and gasped for air.

Then Jimmy saw Lou and Jesse both creeping up behind him with reloaded buckets. He did his best to keep a straight face and not give them away.

"If you could have seen the look on your face! You ran right into the water! I wish you could have seen it!" Kid finally gasped out.

About that time Lou and Jesse both ambushed him from each side with both buckets, and soon he was sputtering and coughing.

"Oh, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I must have looked like now!" Jimmy assured him, and it was his turn to laugh.

All of them stood there dying laughing for a moment, and Jimmy forgot about Callie for the first time since he'd met her. He looked at Lou, who was the only dry one in the bunch.

Kid met his eyes and raised his eyebrows, inclining his head ever so slightly in Lou's direction. They both leapt for her at the same time.

She screeched and fought them, but to no avail as Kid secured his arms around her upper body and Jimmy got hold of her legs.

Soon, they held her over the water trough.

"No!" She yelled, "Please, don't!"

She laughed nervously, as if she couldn't believe they might actually drop her in the cold water, "Come on, boys. This isn't funny!"

"Beg, and we might not do it," Kid told her.

"Never!" She growled in defiance, and they lowered her closer to the water.

"Okay, okay!" She implored hastily, "Please, please don't do this to me! Oh please!"

Jimmy and Kid met eyes, and sensing the golden opportunity at hand, grinned wickedly.

"Who is the best looking rider in the whole pony express?" Jimmy asked wickedly.

"Oh you are!" Lou said quickly, then screeched again as Kid lowered her upper body only inches above the water, "I mean, you both are! You both are equally handsome, and no one else in the world is quite so handsome."

Kid grinned even more widely, remembering her comment from the day before and winked at Jimmy.

"Flattery will get you nowhere, young lady!" Kid pointed out.

"'Cept here!" Jimmy grinned.

With that, they dropped her into the trough. She came up shivering and looking fit to be tied. She splashed them both with water.

Jimmy and Kid, both already soaked, laughed at her efforts.

"Oh no!" Kid grinned, "Don't splash us, we might get wet!"

She glared at them, and Jimmy was glad she didn't have her gun. She wasn't pleased with the way events had turned out at all.

Suddenly she was staring at him, "What happened to you?"

Kid and Jesse looked over at him too, and for the first time they noticed the scratches on his face, the bruise appearing by his left eye, and the dried blood on his lip.

Jimmy sighed and stepped forward to help Kid lift Lou out of the water.

"Nothing compared to what's going to happen to me after I tell Teaspoon what happened!"

"What do you mean you don't have the money? " Teaspoon all but whispered at Jimmy.

Jimmy glanced uneasily around the bunkhouse from where he sat alone at the table. He felt as if he were on trial. The other riders all sat at their bunks, watching closely. Kid and Lou sat together, huddled in a blanket by the fire. Jimmy shivered, not so much from the coldness of the water still soaking him, but from the tone in Teaspoon's voice. He felt about five years old.

"I spent it at the saloon," He said, cringing.

"Dare I ask on what?" Teaspoon growled.

"Callie," He said simply, bowing his head and preparing himself for the worst.

He wasn't disappointed, "You did what!!! " Teaspoon thundered, nearly splitting Jimmy's ears.

"Jimmy!" Cody said in surprise.

"Shut up Billy!" Noah warned the blond rider. There was no need in making this harder on Hickok than it had to be.

"It isn't what you think," Jimmy said quickly, and the words tumbled out quickly. The others had never seen Jimmy so unsure of himself, "Malone was going to take her upstairs and rape her! Offering him all that money was the only way I could stop him!"

"Did it ever occur to you that the money wasn't yours to offer?" Teaspoon asked incredulously. It wasn't like Jimmy to be so careless.

"Not at the time! All I could think about was stopping Malone!" Jimmy said, and sighed, "I'll pay you back Teaspoon. You can take it out of my pay."

"Yeah, I know I can!" Teaspoon growled, "But it ain't as simple as that! Now we are out forty-five dollars that should have been used on food and supplies for us."

"Teaspoon, we ain't gonna starve," Lou pointed out, touched by Jimmy's heroics.

"I don't need any help from you!" Teaspoon snapped.

Lou set her mouth in a straight line and glared back at Teaspoon through wounded eyes. Jimmy glanced at her appreciatively and she winked.

"Teaspoon, she's just a girl! She's seventeen!" Jimmy said, "She's in over her head, and I just couldn't sit there and let that happen to her!"

"And you plan on robbing banks for a living so you can keep putting yourself between her and Jarvis Malone?" Teaspoon asked, "Don't you realize what you've done? If Jarvis wasn't thinking about whoring her before, he'll sure as hell do it now, because he knows how much he can get for her!"

Jimmy dropped his eyes, and shook his head, "I didn't think of that."

"Then what did you think?" Teaspoon demanded.

"That she'd come with me back here, and that we'd help her get home!"

Teaspoon sighed, "Son, I don't know if you realize this, but the girl has signed a contract with Malone, I'm certain! It is a binding agreement! She can't just leave!"

"I know that now!" Jimmy protested sheepishly, feeling like an utter fool, "But Jarvis forced her to sign it somehow! I know it!"

"Doesn't matter, Jimmy," Teaspoon said, and his voice softened ever so slightly, "But what does matter is that he's got her signature on a piece of paper."

Jimmy nodded miserably.

Noah added quietly, "So she's as good as sold."

Chapter 5

Lou wrapped a blanket around her shoulders and picked up a cup of warm tea. She let herself out onto the bunkhouse porch quietly.

Jimmy was sitting on the stairs, looking up at the rising moon. It was a brisk winter night, and the ground was bathed in silver. It was his favorite kind of night.

"Thought you might like something hot," Lou said, announcing her presence.

He turned and smiled at her, seeing the cup in her hands, "That was nice, Lou."

She came to settle beside him, almost lost in the folds of the blanket, and passed the warm cup on to him.

She was quiet, waiting for him to talk. She knew he had a lot on his mind, and she also knew he just couldn't talk to the other boys about Callie.

"Do you think I did more harm than good Lou?"

Lou sighed, "I don't know, Jimmy. I think Malone has already made up his mind what to do with her. At least you helped prolong it."

"But now he thinks he can make so much more money on her."

"If she's as beautiful as you boys say, I think he probably already expected to make a fortune."

Jimmy sighed and glanced at Lou, then back at the sky, "She is beautiful. But it's more than that! There are lots of beautiful women out there, and men don't try to hurt them like they do her! What is it about her that makes them all want to hurt her?"

Lou's voice was gentle, "The same thing that makes men like you respect her. It's her spirit. She won't back down. Some men see it as a challenge to break her spirit."

Jimmy glanced at Lou's profile and something occurred to him, "I know someone else like that," He smiled, and she looked at him in surprise, "Her name is Louise."

"No, I'm not beautiful like Callie. Just stubborn," Lou smiled back.

"Yeah you are stubborn," Jimmy agreed, "Probably more so than Callie. But you're wrong Lou. You are beautiful too!" He blushed a bright shade of red.

"That's sweet Jimmy."

"I got a question Lou," he began hesitantly.

"Alright," Lou said agreeably.

"It's kind of sensitive…" Jimmy warned her.

"You know you can ask me anything, Jimmy," Lou reassured him.

"Aw, okay. When you were working for Wicks, did he make his women sign contracts? I mean, did you sign one?"

"Yes he did, and yes I did, though I had no idea what it was I was signing at the time. He'd hunt any girl that ran out on him down like a dog, Jimmy. And usually they killed themselves or he killed them when he found them."

"How'd you get away?" Jimmy wondered.

Lou smiled and deepened her voice, "I became Lou!" she paused and sighed, "If you're thinking for Callie a way out, don't. She's got to make that decision on her own. It could be a life time of hiding."

Jimmy felt his heart twist for Lou. She'd run for years, and eventually Wicks had found her, just when she thought she was safe. She knew what she was talking about.

"For some reason, I think she's already hiding," Jimmy said quietly.

"Well, that may be the best place for her to hide, just like here was the best place for me," Lou said.

"Lou, for what it's worth, I'm glad that you got away, and that you became 'Lou'. Even though it ain't been easy on you, I'm glad, cause I would have never known you otherwise. You deserved better than that life."

Lou was moved to tears, and placed a hand on his arm.

"Why don't we go inside where its warm, Jimmy? Things will look better in the morning."

"I might go for a walk Lou, but you go inside. After that water fight today, we are all tempting death as it is!"

Lou laughed, "I won, you know."

Jimmy raised his eyebrow at her, "I can call Kid, and we can go visit the trough again if you need your memory refreshed as to who won!"

"No! That's okay!" She laughed and stood up to go inside.

She was opening the door when Jimmy called back at her, "Hey Lou! Thanks!"

"That's what friends are for," She grinned and winked, "Go see her!"

"Yall would get along good, Lou," Jimmy smiled.

"Well, then, you'll have to introduce us sometime!"

She went inside, leaving him smiling after her.


Jimmy walked the now familiar path to the saloon slowly. He wasn't sure why he was taking Lou's advice, but it was as if he didn't have a choice. He had to see her.

He doubted she felt the same way.

He paused at the foot of the stairs to the saloon and took a deep breath. His coming to see her would inevitably lead to a confrontation between them. His blood ran faster at the thought. He felt alive when he stood face to face with her blue eyes blazing, more so than ever before.

He'd just about gathered his courage to inside when a quiet voice rang out.

"Hey, Lancelot."

Jimmy leapt skywards in surprise. His eyes darted to the porch. Callie looked down at him and laughed slightly.

"Callie!" He breathed in surprise.

"None other," She agreed with a smile.

"You all right?" He asked softly.

"Sure," She said, nodding, "I think the more appropriate question is are you all right?" She motioned toward his scratched face.

He turned a million shades of red at the memory. Her laughter was musical.

"How come you're out here?" Jimmy wondered.

"I snuck out of my room and crawled down," She smiled, "Not a very lady like spectacle, I can assure you! But it was such a beautiful night! The moon is so bright!"

Jimmy smiled, and forgot his shyness, "I know! It is casting shadows, just as if it were daytime! This is a perfect night!"

Callie smiled, "Well are you just going to stand down there all night?"

Jimmy blushed, "No ma'am. But it does seem an awful shame to go up there on that porch where we can't see the moon! Would you like to take a walk? I mean, would you get in trouble?"

Callie considered it as if it were the most difficult question of her life. Her eyes rested on Jimmy as she weighed the options. Jarvis was playing a big game tonight and wouldn't miss her for hours. He'd left her alone all day, assuming she'd had enough after Jimmy. But did she want to take this first step of friendship with this man? What good could come of it? Her heart had long been cold. However, Callie realized, she was lonely. It had been so very long since she'd laughed, and this gentle man had reached out to her.

"I would like very much to take a walk," She smiled. He extended his hand out for her, and helped her down the stairs. His movements weren't quite as practiced as some of her suitors in days past, but his sincerity made up for the awkwardness.

Jimmy felt as if he owned the moon and the stars they admired together as they strolled through the deserted streets of town. Callie looked as beautiful as ever in the moon light. Her eyes glowed purple and glittered as she laughed at his stories of the boys and himself, and all the trouble they got into.

"Can we visit the stables?" Callie wondered suddenly, her hand tightening on his arm.

"Of course," Jimmy said as he looked into her eyes and thought, look at me like that and we can go anywhere, even Kansas!

Once they entered the stables, Callie left his arm and eagerly hurried forward, the silk of her skirts rustling against the hay. Jimmy watched as one of the most beautiful horses he had ever seen pricked his delicate ears and nickered when he saw the girl coming.

He walked over slowly to lean against the door and watch Callie stroke the beautiful animal joyously, and was amazed to see tears of happiness touching the girl's eyes.

"You have a fine eye for horse flesh. This one is an Arabian, and a fine one at that! One of the nicest horses I've ever seen."

Callie bowed her head to hide the amused smile that crept onto her lips. Of course he would think her ignorant to the ways of horses, but it was absurd to have him tell her what breed of horse The Ghost was, considering she'd raised and trained him.

"It is almost like he knows you!" Jimmy commented.

Callie finally glanced over at Jimmy, a dimple at the corner of her mouth the only indication of her amusement, "Well, I suppose he does know me, considering I was the first person to ever lay hands on him!"

Jimmy looked at her blankly, slowly realizing what she was saying, "This is your horse, Callie?"

She nodded, "His name is Ghost. He comes from a long line of champions! I raised and trained him."

"But how? I mean, how does a saloon girl afford a horse like this?" Jimmy wondered.

Her eyes were suddenly startled and she avoided his stare. She'd not even considered the questions that would arise from her telling him she owned the horse.

He sensed her closing off, and couldn't stand to see it happen again.

"Uh-uh, Callie! You aren't going to get off that easy! How did you get this horse?" Jimmy wondered.

"I, uh…" Callie searched for a lie.

"The truth," Jimmy warned her, "Where are you from Callie? What are you doing here?"

Callie shook her head stubbornly, "I don't want to talk about this!"

"I don't care!" Jimmy said quietly, "I do."

"Why can't you just leave me alone? I just wanted to talk to someone like I was a real human being again! Why do you always have to bring up what I am!"

"I don't bring up what you are, Callie!" Jimmy said, his voice climbing as her's did, "I don't know what or who you are! I am trying to find out why you pretend to be this!" He waved his gloved hand at her low cut dress, "All this town may choose to see you as nothing but a saloon girl, but I know different! I can see it in every move you make! You are better than this, but you're afraid of something, and if you'd just quit being so damned stubborn and tell me, you'd see that I'm not going to hurt you, I'm not going to hold it against you, and I might even be able to help you!"

She looked at him with wide eyes, and Jimmy imagined that she wasn't used to being scolded, at least not until recently.

"For one night I was trying to forget all this! And I almost did, but you just couldn't leave well enough alone! You just had to get something from me! You had to have your answers! I just wanted a friend, Jimmy!" Her face fell and she turned and started running.

"Callie, wait! I'm sorry!" Jimmy cried out after her, his voice breaking. Ghost pinned his ears back, almost as if he knew Jimmy had hurt his mistress.

Sighing, Jimmy ran after her.

She was fast, and had climbed the stairs to the saloon when he reached the bottom of them.

"Please wait a minute!" He gasped out, nearly doubled over from the effort of catching her.

She stopped, but didn't turn around, and her back remained as stiff as a board.

Jimmy climbed up the stairs and walked in front of her. Callie had tears streaming down her face, and she bowed her head in shame.

Jimmy took his finger and placed it under her chin, slowly raising her head.

Her eyes looked into his, and he felt tears prick his own as he studied the loneliness and heartache in the blue orbs.

"No more questions," He said softly.

"Promise?" Callie said, and when he nodded she smiled, and wiped at her eyes, "You must think me a fool!"

"Not likely," Jimmy smiled, "At least not in the past hour!"

She laughed and glanced nervously at the swinging doors of the saloon and the loud music and laughter pouring out of it. "Let's go over there."

He followed her to a secluded corner of the porch.

Jimmy would have followed her to the ends of the earth. Soon she was giggling at more of his tales of the Pony Express. He was laughing too. She was easy to talk to, he discovered, and he felt that they'd known each other for years. Jimmy couldn't say what had caused such a change in her, but he guessed it was because he'd finally won a little of her trust when he hadn't hurt her earlier that day.

"She had you all fooled? How'd Teaspoon finally found out?" Callie asked, her eyes wide.

Jimmy grinned and laughed out loud at the memory. He knew that telling her about Lou would be a good idea. And he had no doubt she'd keep the secret.

"He jumped into the lake with her! We were close by, and we heard her screaming like someone was killing her, and we all went flying down to rescue her. That's about the time Teaspoon ducked under the water and got the surprise of his life!" Jimmy laughed louder, "You should have seen the look on that man's face when he came out of that water! It took him hours to understand what was going on!"

Callie laughed too, "I guess so! Wow, Lou must be amazing!"

Jimmy smiled, "Yeah, she is. She can ride circles around all of us! Yall would get along just fine."

"Maybe one day you can introduce us," Callie smiled.

"That's what she told me about you too!" Jimmy said.

Callie suddenly stood up and stretched. Jimmy did the same, realizing how much time had gone by.

"I have to get back inside! Jarvis will have the army out after me if he thinks I've gone."

Jimmy nodded, curbing the urge to plead with her to leave the saloon and come with him. He didn't dare do anything to disturb the truce between them.

"Can I come and see you here tomorrow?" He asked fearfully.

Callie wanted to tell him it wasn't a good idea, but when she looked into his eyes she knew she wanted to see him again.


"I'll see you then!" Jimmy smiled, and waited as she climbed the outside stairs to the second story and paused outside her window. She waved down at him, and he leapt over the railing and walked away, a smile lighting his face.

Callie watched him go, then sighed and climbed back into her window with a gentle smile still in place.

"Have a nice time, my dear?" A voice growled.

Callie gasped and jumped, hitting her head hard on the window sill.

"Where have you been, Callie?" Jarvis asked, from where he sat in a chair that was blocking her door.

"I just stepped outside for a bit of fresh air," She lied smoothly.

He crossed the room in two steps and hit her across the face, knocking her to the floor and towering above her, "Don't you ever lie to me! I saw you with that Hickok boy! Taken a shine to him, have you? You're thinkin' he may be your way out, think if you give yourself away for free he'll take you away from here? I think you're forgetting who you are! Now, the marshal is a good friend of his! What would he think of you if I showed him who you really are? A murderess, a thief, a liar, a whore! But don't worry, Callie, when I'm done with you tonight, he won't want what's left of you anyway!"

There was nowhere for Callie to go as he reached for her with hands that trembled in rage.

"Lou, all I am saying is that this girl may be trouble! I just don't think you ought to encourage Jimmy to keep trying with her!"

Lou rolled her eyes, and glared at Kid. They stood on the bunkhouse porch, arguing over what Kid had heard Lou tell Jimmy earlier. The disagreement had started in the bunkhouse, but at the order of Noah, Cody, and Jesse, they had moved to the porch.

"Ah, don't look at me like that Lou! I just don't want Jimmy to get hurt again, that's all!" Kid protested.

But Lou wasn't about to let go of his earlier tirade that easily, "Oh, and you think I want to see Jimmy hurt? You're so blind sometimes Kid!"

"What's that supposed to mean?" He asked defensively.

"Did it ever occur to you that this girl probably needs to be loved? She needs someone to care about her! And Jimmy has gladly assumed that role! Maybe it won't work out, but maybe it will! Do you ever look at the bright side of things?"

"Lou!" Kid cried out as Lou stormed down the bunkhouse stairs to pace angrily back and forth, "I'm telling you, something about this girl doesn't add up! She's hiding something!"

"Of course she is!" Lou said in exasperation, and then in sheer frustration picked up a pebble and threw it at him, "you're such a hypocrite! You knew I was hiding something but you and I fell in love!"

"This is different, you didn't work in a saloon!"

Lou finally turned her face up and shouted at the sky, her patience gone. Kid just wasn't going to let himself see that he and Jimmy were so alike in so many ways! Kid had always been more cautious, but they'd both taken the same chances with love, though not with the same speed.

"Sometimes I wish I did work in the saloon! I've done it once before, you know! I'd like to go sign up with Jarvis Malone right now just to shut you up and make you leave Jimmy alone!"

"So go do that now so we can get some sleep in here!" Cody yelled from inside the bunkhouse. Lou blushed when she realized they'd listened to every word.

"Yeah, you were so good at it the first time! It only just about killed you!" Kid snapped back sarcastically, but shifted nervously, "You ain't gonna really do that again are you?"

Lou glared at him, wanting to kill him, but knowing that the primary force behind this hard headed argument was his love for Jimmy.

"If you don't leave Jimmy alone, I just might, Kid!" she sighed.

Jimmy turned the corner quietly, and stopped as he saw Lou and Kid fighting on the porch. He raised his eyebrows. When they fought, they fought big, and he had no desire to interrupt. He smiled wickedly. He did have a desire to eavesdrop though.

His smile disappeared at Kid's next words.

"Jimmy's gone head over heels, and she's not worth it Lou! She's bitter and hateful…"

He never finished the sentence because Jimmy charged him from out of nowhere. Lou barely had time to jump out of the way before they were both facing off in the hard packed dirt.

"Take it back!" Jimmy demanded.

"I'm sorry Jimmy, but it's the truth!"

"Stop it!" Lou cried helplessly as the others quickly came out to the porch.

"Noah, Cody! Stop them!" She cried out after the first few punches were thrown. Noah and Cody quickly ran down to pull them apart, kicking and screaming.

Everyone stood in shock for a moment under the beautiful sky, breathing heavily.

Suddenly Jesse coughed from the porch and wondered, "What's burning?"

The others all looked around to find the air growing hazy with smoke. They jumped in alarm, and tried to find where it was coming from.

"It's at the other end of town," Noah pointed out, and they turned and looked over the tops of the storefronts to see the sky glowing orange with fire.

"It's the saloon!" Jesse cried out, and the fire bells in the town began clanging.

Jimmy's face went white as he tore himself from Cody's grasp and ran into the barn. The others followed him, and in less than a minute they were all on their horses bareback, and clutching at buckets as they started down Main Street at a dead run.

Teaspoon ran up to greet them, having come from the Marshal's office.

"It's a bad one boys! Don't think we can save the saloon, but we got to keep it from spreading to the other buildings! If they catch fire, Rock Creek could burn to nothing!"

Jimmy didn't listen to Teaspoon. Instead he stumbled over to where most of the saloon girls had gathered, searching frantically for Callie.

"Where's Callie Sullivan?" He demanded of the women.

"You got to help her! Jarvis locked her up in her room! Last I saw, he was in there with her!" One of the girls told him.

Jimmy spun and sprinted for the door of the burning building.

"Jimmy!" Lou, Noah, and Cody cried out simultaneously.

Then, Lou watched in horror as she saw another figure close behind Jimmy.

"Kid! No! Please!" She screamed, and started to bolt after them.

"No Lou!" Noah cried out, and caught hold of her shoulders. She fought him for a moment, then turned her face into his chest, sobbing.

"They'll be killed!" She sobbed.

Noah hugged her tightly, then set her on her own feet, "Come on, we have to get some water on that fire and help them out! They're gonna be fine, Lou!"

Lou nodded and wiped at her eyes. She set her jaw. They had work to do!

She turned and looked up at the tall inferno that threatened to claim the lives of the two men more dear to her than anyone in the whole world!

Continue on....

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