Jimmy frowned at the girl, who had joined the card game in the saloon about an hour. It was so obvious she was cheating, but no one seemed willing to call her on it. Maybe it was because she looked like she was twelve or maybe it was the way she smiled at all of the card players. Jimmy was disgusted with each and every one of them. When she had smiled, they had all looked at her like simpering fools. They had to be fools to allow this little slip of a girl to cheat them out of their hard earned money.
“Thanks fellas,” the girl said, using both hands to gather her winnings. “But I think I am gonna call it quits.” She bestowed yet another smile upon them as she rose from the table.
Jimmy, along with the other men, watched her walk from the saloon. Alright, maybe she wasn’t twelve, he thought grudgingly. She had a face like a child, with her bright blue eyes and a dusting of freckles across her nose. Her youthful appearance was aided by the fact her red curls were flying everywhere. But her body was not that of a child. She had a figure like an hourglass.
Jimmy rubbed the back of his neck. Maybe he should call it quits too. He had a long day ahead of him if he wanted to make it to Rock Creek by tomorrow. Teaspoon would probably have his hide if he wasn’t there tomorrow. He had been gone almost a week, visiting his sister.
As he rose from the table, one of his fellow gamblers said, “That little gal is staying at the hotel, if you’re interested.”
Jimmy scowled at the man, as the rest of men at the table burst out laughing. Jimmy had lost more money to the girl than any of them.
“It’s still early. Why don’t you sit back down?” another man called out.
“Yeah,” yet another gambler was heard from. “We wanna win some money off you too.”
“You never know,” an elderly gentleman chimed in. He tried to keep his voice soothing, as he took note of Jimmy’s growing irritation. “You might get lucky and win some of your money back.” He grinned as he spoke again, “Now that you ain’t got any distractions around.”
Jimmy narrowed his eyes at the men as he sat back down. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll stay, if you want. I just ain’t used to gambling with fellas so anxious to lose their money.” Distractions, he thought with a grimace. He hadn’t been losing because of any distractions, he had been losing because that little red-headed gal had been cheating.
It was almost midnight when Jimmy stumbled back to the hotel, along with the older gentleman, whose name was Tobias. He and Tobias were going to have a drink before they turned in for the night, Jimmy’s treat. Jimmy’s mood had brightened considerably as he thought about the money in his pocket. He patted his trousers, pleased that he had won much more than he had lost.
As he stepped into the lobby of the hotel, he saw her again, the red-haired girl. He stared at her, she looked so different. Her red hair had been combed into some unflattering, upswept fashion. She had also changed from the simple blue cotton dress she had on earlier to a dress the color of mud. That hideous gown did nothing for her figure as it was cut much too wide. Her expression was also different. Gone was the effervescent smile, and in it’s place was a look of utter defeat.
As Jimmy and Tobias took a seat at the bar, they overheard a willowy blonde woman speaking to the red-haired girl. “You deserve it Hannah. Wheedling your way into Uncle Jasper’s will the way you did.”
Hannah gave the blonde a hard look, “I didn’t wheedle my way anywhere. But I appreciate all your concern, Patrice,” she said, her voice filled with an unmistakable timbre of sarcasm.
Patrice laughed mockingly. “You aren’t going to find a husband in less than a month.”
“I don’t need to find one,” Hannah said archly. “I already have one.”
“Oh really?” Patrice challenged her. “Who? And why didn’t you mention him at the reading?”
“I really didn’t think it was proper to bring something like that up at a reading,” Hannah explained, the look of defeat quickly vanished as she stood straighter. When Hannah spoke again, she sounded like a parent explaining Santa Claus to a child. “I’ll talk to the lawyers in the morning about him. In private.”
“Why?” Patrice sniffed.
“Oh Hannah, you can tell me. You know you want to. What’s your husband’s name?”
“You really wanna know?”
“You know I do.”
“Bill Hickok,” Hannah said, almost defiantly.
“As in Wild Bill Hickok?” Patrice asked. When Hannah nodded, Patrice hooted with laughter. “You’re married to Wild Bill Hickok? Please! You really think any of us are going believe that? Not to mention the lawyers?”
Hannah just hung her head, the momentary look of defiance gone.
Tobias nudged Jimmy in the ribs, “Go on,” he hissed.
“Go where?” Jimmy asked, puzzled.
“If you don’t, I will,” Tobias said, becoming angry.
“You’re gonna pretend to be Will Bill?”
When Tobias stood up, Jimmy put his hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Sit down,” he said wearily. He too hated that blonde woman’s look of triumph. Besides, how long could it take to put Patrice in her place?
“‘Scuse me,” Jimmy said, once he reached Hannah’s side. He draped his arm around her waist. “I’ve been looking for you all night.”
Hannah stared at him, her eyes wide with horror as she recognized him from the saloon.
“And who are you?” Patrice asked coldly.
“Her husband,” Jimmy replied easily.
Hannah woke the next morning and found herself burrowed against something warm. When she opened her eyes, she began shrieking as she fell off the bed. “What are you doing here?” She pushed herself off the floor and pulled a sheet from the bed as she frantically tried to cover herself.
“Morning,” Jimmy said with a lazy grin.
“Morning?” Hannah shouted, pulling the sheet tighter. What happened last night? Why did that man only have his pants on and why was she only wearing her shift? All she could remember was Patrice and then, oh god, she remembered now. When Jimmy had announced that he was her husband, her head began to swim and she must have fainted. Hannah glanced at her dress which was laying neatly on the floor.
“Nothing happened,” Jimmy said following her eyes. He was still grinning.
“I took your dress off-” Jimmy began.
“You what?” Hannah interrupted loudly.
“Did you want it to get all wrinkled?”
“Yes.” Hannah said. “I hate that disgusting rag.” Why she let Patrice convince her to wear it, she had no idea. Actually she knew exactly why she wore it. Patrice, as always, made her feel like she was a country bumpkin. And rather than appear looking like the poor relation she was, Hannah had allowed her cousin to dress her.
Patrice was bad as all the rest. They somehow thought that allowing Hannah a token role as a Lawton was charitable enough to allow them into heaven. They all believed that she should be grateful that they even spoke to her and invited her to the family events. But the only reason Hannah ever came when invited was because she couldn’t kill the hope that sprang inside her every time she met the family - Maybe this time her father would be there. But he never was. Not that she would recognize him by sight, but she had convinced herself that she would be able to feel him. Her mother had always told her to stop talking nonsense when she heard Hannah say things like that out loud. So Hannah stopped voicing those thoughts, but she never stopped thinking them.
“Well I didn’t know that,” Jimmy replied lightly. “I wouldn’t have bothered otherwise.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m your husband, remember?”
Hannah sank down to her knees, “Oh god,” she mumbled over and over again. What had she gotten herself into now?
“So why do you need a husband? And why did you pick me of all people?” Jimmy asked, rolling onto his side, so he could see Hannah. She was still on the floor.
“I didn’t know you were real,” Hannah whispered. She had been so pleased with herself when the idea popped into her head. How could her family prove whether or not she was married to a mythological figure? Hannah never expected Patrice to laugh at her statement. She also never imagined that Wild Bill Hickok was an actual human being and that she had spent her escape last evening, playing cards with him.
“Oh I’m real alright,” Jimmy said, beginning to grin again. Hannah certainly had no problem believing he was real last night. After Hannah fainted, Patrice had uselessly fluttered about. So Jimmy hoisted Hannah over his shoulder and asked where her room was. Patrice had then shown him to the room they were in now. He couldn’t believe it when Patrice just opened the door and left. What was he supposed to do now? It was then Jimmy had undressed Hannah and made himself comfortable on the floor. He didn’t feel right being there, even though it was probably his money paying for the room. But he didn’t want to leave her until she woke up. Then he heard Hannah crying in her sleep, so he had gotten up to check on her. When he put his arm around her, Jimmy had found himself held quite tightly. He tried to free himself, but rather than wake Hannah, he had given up and crawled in bed beside her. It had surprised him when Hannah wrapped her body around his, but he certainly didn’t mind.
When Hannah looked up and saw the look Jimmy gave her, she clutched the sheet tighter, as she blushed right to the roots of her hair. What kind of girl shared a bed with a complete stranger?
“So why do you need a husband?” Jimmy asked gently.
“It’s a long story,” Hannah said, staring at the floor. ““Thanks for your help last night, but you didn’t have to-”
“I wanted to,” Jimmy interrupted her.
“Thanks,” Hannah said again, this time meeting Jimmy’s eyes. “Are you really Wild Bill?”
Jimmy just raised a brow at her.
Hannah took that to be a yes, then her curiosity got the better of her and she asked, “How did you get such a reputation?”
“Long story,” Jimmy said irritably. “So why do you need a husband?” he asked, for the third and hopefully final time.
“My great-uncle left me some money,” Hannah explained. “But in order to receive it I have to be married by the time I’m eighteen.”
Jimmy shot to a sitting position, a look of horror crossing his face. “How old are you?” he demanded.
Hannah wanted to laugh out loud at the expression Jimmy wore, “Fourteen,” she said innocently. “Seventeen,” she amended quickly when she saw Jimmy blanche. “I’ll be eighteen next month.”
“So that’s why you’re in such a hurry,” Jimmy said, visibly relaxing as the color returned to his face.
“You got it,” Hannah grinned. “My great-uncle Jasper was a peculiar one. He lived all by himself in a run-down cabin out by Ogallala. He died almost six months ago, but my family is only now getting around to reading the will.” Hannah suspected that they knew what was in the will and this was her family’s way of ensuring that the money stayed in the family, the real family, rather than go to her. They knew good and well she wouldn’t find a husband in less than four weeks.
“The rest of my family all ignored my uncle, except my Ma. She really liked the old buzzard. So we’d go out there to visit quite a bit. I guess that’s why he left me the money,” Hannah mused.
“Your family probably didn’t know your uncle was rich enough to leave anyone an inheritance,” Jimmy said. In only the few minutes he had spent with Patrice, he had disliked her immensely. He could imagine how bad the rest of Hannah’s family was, especially if they were anything like Patrice
“No one knew. My Ma just liked him. He was the only one who ever treated her like she was good enough to be a part of the Lawton family.”
“Why?” Jimmy asked, becoming entranced in Hannah’s tale.
Hannah stared at him, her expression hardening. “My Ma wasn’t married to my father. She was his mistress.”
“So that’s why your family don’t want you to have the money,” Jimmy said thoughtfully. “You’re a bastard,” he added, saying the last word in such a mocking manner that Hannah smiled.
When he saw Hannah soften, Jimmy asked, “Where’s your mother?”
“She died, last year,” Hannah said flatly. She could have been reciting a grocery list, her voice was so expressionless. But when Jimmy looked at her eyes, he saw the pain in them.
“And your father?”
“Who knows? Nobody has seen him in a while.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, while Hannah shrugged in response. Suddenly Jimmy heard a loud knock at the door.
“Hannah,” a voice called out. Jimmy recognized it as belonging to Patrice.
“Oh god,” Hannah began muttering again.
Jimmy reacted quickly. He leapt out of bed, unlatched the door and then he scooped Hannah up. He laid her down on the bed and got in next to her, casually throwing an arm over her.
“What are you doing?” Hannah hissed.
“Play acting,” Jimmy grinned. “This could be fun, sticking it to your family,” he added, looking at her for acknowledgment. Hannah nodded, tentatively putting a hand on Jimmy’s bare chest.
Jimmy then called out to Patrice. “It’s open.”
“I’m sorry,” Patrice purred, not sounding at all sorry as she stepped into the room. “I just wanted to let you know that my father is anxious to meet you Bill. He can’t believe that Hannah is married to a living legend.”
Before Hannah could even open her mouth, Jimmy replied smoothly. “It’s Jimmy, not Bill.”
Patrice just looked blankly at him while Jimmy continued. “And you can tell your father that we’ll be down in a hour.”
“An hour?” Patrice sputtered. Her father was not used to being kept waiting.
“An hour,” Jimmy said firmly. He then gave Hannah a look so lustful that it sent Patrice running from the room, while Hannah burst out laughing.
Jimmy slumped down in the chair, while Hannah scurried across the room. She quickly poured him a glass of water. “I’m sorry,” she said for the one hundredth time. “So sorry.”
“I am sorry,” Hannah repeated once again, handing Jimmy the glass.
Jimmy automatically took the glass from her and gulped the water down. He desperately wished that it was something stronger.
“Jimmy,” Hannah said. “I’m sorry. I had no idea my uncle was going to do that.” She couldn’t believe what had just happened and judging from Jimmy’s woebegone expression, he was as dumbfounded by what had happened as she was.
“Stop apologizing,” Jimmy snapped, grabbing Hannah’s wrist. All her ranting and running about was driving him crazy. He needed time, time to try and figure out what to do.
“I’m so sorry,” Hannah whispered, as she crouched down next to Jimmy. How could this have happened? When she and Jimmy went downstairs to discuss the terms of the will with her uncle, they had been surprised with an impromptu party. Her uncle said it was a wedding reception and then he produced a minister. He claimed that they all loved Hannah and Jimmy had cheated them out of seeing the first wedding, so he owed it to the family to let them be witness to this one. While Jimmy stood there open-mouthed, they had been married.
“Listen,” Hannah said, placing her hands on Jimmy’s knees. “I have an idea. I know it’s gonna sound crazy. But I really don’t know what else to do.”
“What?” Jimmy asked, eyeing her skeptically. Crazy? How could it get any crazier? Much as he wanted to blame Hannah for everything, he knew he couldn’t. She had looked as amazed by what was happening as he did. Besides, no one forced him to say ‘I do’. It was his ‘I do’ that prompted Hannah to do the same. As Jimmy looked down at her, he knew exactly why he said ‘I do’. So how could he blame her for anything? He couldn’t leave her to that pack of wolves she called a family. They would tear her to shreds once they realized they were being deceived. Jimmy also knew that they would make sure that Hannah never received a penny of the money she was given. He never in his wildest dreams expected to end up married, but he couldn’t walk out the door and leave Hannah to face all those people alone.
“We can stayed married,” Hannah announced calmly.
“What?” Jimmy half shouted.
Hannah gave him a strange look and continued. “I didn’t mean forever. Just till I get my inheritance. After I do, I’ll give you ten thousand dollars of it and then we can get divorced.” The lawyers told her that she was going to receive almost a hundred thousand dollars, so ten thousand was just a drop in the bucket.
As Jimmy stared at her, Hannah said, “C’mon, it will be the easiest money you ever earned.”
“I can’t,” Jimmy whispered. How could he play act being Hannah’s husband, for who knew how long.
“Please,” Hannah said, her eyes pleading. “I won’t bother you none. I’ll go back to North Platte and you can go back, well go back to wherever it is you call home and in a couple of months we’ll end this marriage and you’ll be ten thousand dollars richer.”
“I know the money might not mean that much to you, but it’s a lot to me,” Hannah told him.
“What do you do?” Jimmy asked abruptly.
“Do?” Hannah said with frown.
“In North Platte.”
“I’m a seamstress,” Hannah said. “What do you do?”
“I’m a deputy in Rock Creek.”
“So we could both us the money,” Hannah smiled. “What do you say?”
Jimmy put his head in his hands, “Fine,” he muttered. He was going to kill that gambler named Tobias. He knew he should have let the old man try to save Hannah.
Walter Lawton rubbed his hands together nervously. That Hickok fella’s stare unnerved him. He didn’t think Jimmy had taken his eyes off him since he entered the room. If Walter didn’t believe that the young man sitting in front of him was a gunfighter before, he certainly did now. He almost felt sorry for the men who had to face Mr. Hickok.
“It’s right here,” Walter said, pointing out a paragraph. He smiled inwardly. Jimmy and Hannah didn’t bother to get a lawyer, otherwise they would have fought the amendment to the will, as it hadn’t been initialed by Jasper. Walter had bribed Jasper’s lawyer into adding it and poor old Jasper had never even noticed it. That clause put him in charge of distributing Jasper’s money and it also gave Walter the right to judge whether or not Hannah’s marriage was real or just a sham.
Walter had been disgusted by Jasper’s idea of leaving his money to Hannah. But no matter what he did, Walter couldn’t persuade his reclusive uncle to do otherwise. Jasper had been so concerned about Hannah meeting the same fate as her mother that he left her all his money, so she could be independent. But his fear of Hannah ending up alone made him add that ridiculous requirement about Hannah having to be married in order to receive it.
Hannah was an attractive girl. Walter knew she could find a husband in no time, had she the mind too. Especially if a prospective suitor had an inkling of how much money she was about to inherit. Having no other options left to him, Walter had put off the reading as long as he could, knowing that he had an ace up his sleeve.
“See,” Walter said, pointing to the paper. He smiled broadly at the words, his ace. If this marriage was a sham, he would soon know it. Jimmy passed test number one, the wedding. Walter couldn’t wait to see what he did with test number two, which was much more difficult. “It says-”
“I can read,” Jimmy snapped. He grabbed the will and read the words before him. The paragraph said that Walter had the right to judge whether or not Hannah’s marriage was real. Wonderful, he thought grimly. He marries a girl so she can receive her inheritance and his sacrifice was all in vain. No one would ever believe he and Hannah were really married, with him in Rock Creek and Hannah in North Platte.
“The lawyers were concerned that Hannah was going to try to fake a marriage, just to receive her inheritance,” Walter whispered conspiratorially to Jimmy. Maybe this young gunfighter would make a good ally.
Jimmy scowled at the man and handed Hannah the paper.
Walter stood up abruptly, then again maybe he wouldn’t be much of an ally. Walter began to feel distinctly uncomfortable as Jimmy began to stare at him once more. “I’ll make all the necessary arrangements,” he said quickly. “Where do you live?”
“Rock Creek,” Jimmy replied.
“Rock Creek,” Walter repeated. “I’ll arrange for the money to be wired there after Jasper’s bills are settled.” He patted Hannah’s shoulder. “I’ll stop by in a few weeks, to satisfy the lawyers and then we’ll get the money to you,” he said, giving her a smile.
Jimmy grimaced at the smile, it was so insincere, it made him want to wipe it right off Walter’s face.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said. She gathered the papers her uncle had given her and made a hasty exit. Jimmy watched as she left the hotel and then he went back to Hannah’s room. He knew how awful she must be feeling about now and he figured that she just needed to be left alone. When he got to the room, he began packing his things, as he had no idea what else to do.
An hour later, Hannah returned. She gave Jimmy a small smile, before she started packing as well. Jimmy watched as she silently gathered her clothes.
Hannah turned to him. “Thanks for all you help.” She walked towards him and impulsively hugged him. “I just have one more favor to ask you.”
“What?” Jimmy asked, as he wrapped his arms around her.
“Can you arrange for the divorce?” Hannah said, her voice muffled. She had buried her head against Jimmy, making it hard for him to hear.
Jimmy was certain that he had misheard her. “What did you say?”
“A divorce,” Hannah said, pulling away slightly. “Or an annulment, whichever you prefer. It’s just, I can’t afford a lawyer,” she whispered. “But I’ll get you the money for it,” she told him, her voice growing steadily louder. “Eventually. I was talking to a lawyer in town and I asked him to start the proceedings, but when he told me how much it was, I knew I couldn’t afford it.”
“You giving up already?” Jimmy asked, feeling slightly shocked that he was saying those words. He cursed himself for letting himself get trapped even further in this ridiculous situation.
Hannah smiled mischievously at him. “What do you propose? That I come and live with you until I get the money?”
“Hell woman, I didn’t marry you just to see you give up without at fight,” Jimmy grinned back at her.
Hannah kissed his cheek. “Thank you.” She then turned back and continued packing.
“If we leave now, we could be in Rock Creek in a day or two.”
Hannah snapped the valise shut. “I’m not going to Rock Creek.” She lifted the bag up and set it on the floor. “I’m gonna catch the next stage to North Platte.”
“Did you hear what I said?” Jimmy asked loudly.
“I heard. It’s j-just,” Hannah stammered. “I can’t.”
“You got a pressing engagement?”
“You got a fella back home?”
“If I did, would I have married you?” Hannah laughed.
“So what’s stopping you?” Jimmy asked.
“I can’t impose on you anymore. You’ve already done so much for me.”
“So you’re just gonna give up and let your family win?” Jimmy said. He rolled his eyes skyward. “I just never figured on you being such a quitter.”
“I’m not a quitter,” Hannah retorted sharply. If there was anything she hated being called, it was quitter. Her mother had more or less quit on life and she vowed that she would never do the same. Hannah studied Jimmy’s face. He certainly looked serious. “You think you could put up with me for a month or two?” she asked. Her tone was joking, but Jimmy knew the question behind her words wasn’t.
“Yeah,” Jimmy replied softly, tucking an errant strand of hair behind her ear. When Hannah smiled up at him, he bent his head towards her, suddenly possessed by the urge to kiss her. When his lips met hers, he cupped the back of her head with his hand, guiding her closer to him.
“Oh,” Walter said loudly. He grinned sheepishly as the entered the room. “I’m sorry, I forgot you’re newlyweds.” He lifted his hand, which held a piece of paper. “I just need some signatures.”
As Jimmy scratched his name on the paper, Hannah moved close to him and murmured in his ear, “You’re good. I didn’t even hear him coming.”
Neither did I, Jimmy thought to himself.
Hannah was so tired she almost fell off the horse. She didn’t even care where they stopped for the night, just so long as they stopped. The first night, they slept on the trail. She was extremely grateful that there was a town nearby so she could sleep on a bed tonight. They ended up renting out a room over the saloon in some town Hannah couldn’t even name. But she perked up considerably after she got some food in her stomach.
She smiled when she saw the card game. “You gonna play?” she whispered.
“Might as well,” Jimmy replied. “You ready?”
Hannah beamed at him when she realized that he wanted her to play too. They played a few hands, which Hannah won. Jimmy gave her a look, which she scowled at. He really didn’t want trouble, not tonight. Although Hannah’s smile charmed most of the men at the table, there was a behemoth sitting there, glowering at her.
Hannah gathered her winnings and went to the bar, where she ordered a drink. Jimmy stared at her. She was a curious one, so happy most of the time, yet every night she cried and he didn’t know why. He and Hannah were almost as intimate as any married couple, sharing a bed and holding each other close. But on another level, they were virtual strangers. He knew almost nothing about her and she knew even less about him.
“You in, Hickok?” a man asked, shaking Jimmy out his reverie.
“Yep,” Jimmy replied, throwing his ante in. A few minutes later, Cora, one of the girls who worked at the saloon sidled up to him and plopped down into his lap.
“You know,” Cora cooed in his ear. “You ain’t got to stay with that one,” she said, pointing at Hannah with her chin. She saw the hunger in Jimmy’s eyes when he looked at Hannah and knew that there was something very odd about the two of them. Why else would he be here playing cards, instead of upstairs, with her?
When Jimmy looked up at Cora, he felt Hannah’s eyes boring into him. “I reckon I don’t,” he said. Maybe it would be best if he tried to stay away from Hannah. “You think you’ll bring me any luck?” he asked Cora, as he put his arm around her.
Jimmy glanced in Hannah’s direction and saw her rise quickly from her stool. She stood there glaring and when Cora got up to get Jimmy a drink, Hannah marched towards him. She then shoved his chair backwards, which wasn’t too hard, as he had tipped the chair back so that it stood only on two legs. The bar patrons watched and howled with laughter as Jimmy tumbled to the ground. As he got off the floor, he saw Hannah running upstairs.
Now what, Jimmy thought to himself as he righted his chair. Why was she so upset? They had both agreed that their marriage was only a way for Hannah to receive her money, nothing else. So why was she acting like that, like she was jealous? Rather than try to deal with that insane girl, he somehow had ended up calling wife, Jimmy forced himself to stay at the card game, in spite of all the ribbing he was now receiving. He even won a few hands, which surprised him, as his mind was elsewhere.
Hannah flung the door of her room open and ran inside, slamming the door behind her. She then threw herself on the bed, chiding herself for feeling this way. What right did she have to feel jealous? Jimmy, Bill, whoever he was, wasn’t anything to her. He was kind enough to go along with her plan and he didn’t try to take advantage of her. Wasn’t that enough? So why did the sight of him with another woman fill her with such rage?
It was quite late when Jimmy finally went to the room he shared with Hannah. He found her on the floor, wrapped in a blanket. Jimmy crawled into the bed and pulled the sheet over him. Stubborn mule, he thought. He had already told Hannah she could have the bed, when he saw her go pale as she saw how small the bed was and how filthy the floor was. As he put his head on the pillow, Jimmy could feel the anger emanating from her, even though she was over two feet away from him. He flipped over so he faced the wall, rather than Hannah and closed his eyes, trying to get to sleep. He then turned back over, staring at her back, which was rigid with anger. A few minutes later, he rolled over again. Hard as it was sleeping with Hannah, it was even harder to sleep when he wasn’t holding her. When he flipped over, yet again, he climbed out of bed and got down on the floor next to her. He placed one hand on the curve of her hip. “I’m sorry,” he whispered, pulling on one of her curls with the other.
A few seconds later, Hannah turned to face him. She didn’t utter a single word, she just burrowed against him, while Jimmy put his arms around her. He knew Hannah was soon sleeping when he heard her begin to breath softly. Jimmy tightened his arms around her and soon drifted off as well, his last thought of how odd this all was. Here they were wrapped in each others arms, on the floor, while a perfectly good bed lay empty.
It was well past midnight when they reached Rock Creek. Jimmy didn’t want to stop somewhere else tonight, especially when they were close to home, so they kept on going. He knew the land better than he knew the back of his hand, so he felt fairly confident that they would make it home safely. He adjusted Hannah who was sitting on his horse in front of him, as she had begun once again to lean precariously too far to the left. He had seen her head start to bobble earlier when she was still on her own horse. Jimmy realized that she had begun to doze off and he was positive that she was going to fall off the animal. So he had pulled her off the horse and put her on his own, mildly surprised when she didn’t protest as he climbed up behind her. But he figured she was already half-asleep and wasn’t up to arguing the matter.
“Don’t you ever get tired?” Hannah asked drowsily.
Jimmy laughed softly. “This ain’t nothing. I rode more than this in a day when I was an Express rider.”
“You were an Express rider?”
Jimmy told her a little about those days, almost six years ago, while Hannah listened. She leaned back against his sturdy form, feeling oddly secure. She was soon lulled back to sleep by the steady thump of Jimmy’s heart inside his chest.
When they finally reached the small cabin he called home, Jimmy lifted Hannah off the horse and carried her inside. He briefly considered taking her dress off again, but he didn’t want to hear what Hannah would say in the morning, so he just laid her on the bed and threw a blanket over her. Her dress was already wrinkled and lined with trail dust, so what did it matter if she slept in it?
“I’ll take the couch,” she murmured sleepily, snuggling against the pillow.
“Nah,” Jimmy replied. “I will.” He watched her for a moment and then left. He settled the horses in the barn for the night and returned, making a make-shift bed on the couch. But before he laid down, he went back to the bed and made sure Hannah was alright, pulling the covers over her shoulders.
“Why did you come back?” Hannah mumbled.
“What?” Jimmy asked in astonishment. This was his house, did she really expect him to stay elsewhere?
“Last night,” Hannah said, clutching the blanket. She opened her eyes then. “You could have stayed with her, that saloon girl. I mean, this ain’t a proper marriage,” her voice dropped with those words.
Jimmy sat down beside her, absently tugging on one of her curls, which had escaped the bun she fashioned her hair in earlier and were now splashed all over the white pillowcase, her red hair in vivid contrast to the whiteness of the sheets. He discovered last night that he liked playing with the abundant amount of hair on her head and found himself once again pulling on a fat red lock, stretching it out and letting it snap back. “I don’t know,” he shrugged. “Maybe I prefer the company of my wife.”
Hannah studied him for what seemed like forever. Then she smiled. He couldn’t have pleased her more if he tried. She wanted to thank him for everything he had done for her, but she felt another wave of sleep crash over her and she closed her eyes and whispered, “Thanks.” It seemed so inadequate, but she would make it up to him later. She had only given Jimmy’s home a cursory glance, but she realized immediately that it wasn’t a home, it was a hovel. She may not be here long, but the least she could do was make it liveable for him.
Jimmy sat quietly beside her, listening to her steady breathing. He told himself he was just waiting for Hannah’s tears to begin and rather that just sit by and wait, he stripped off his shirt and dropped it on the floor, along with his gun belt. Then he tucked himself beside her, putting his arm across her shoulders. Maybe he could stave them off by lying down with her, for a little while. She never cried when he held her.
“You’re what?” Teaspoon exclaimed, his voice cracking.
“I got married,” Jimmy repeated patiently.
“Don’t that beat all,” Teaspoon shook his head. “Jimmy Hickok married.”
“I sure never thought I’d see the day,” Buck said.
“Maybe he finally met the right person,” Kid offered, in an attempt the aid his friend.
“Marriage ain’t a matter of meeting the right person,” Teaspoon said, adopting a philosophical manner, his eyes firmly fixed on Jimmy. “It’s a matter of being the right person.”
“So what’s her name?” Buck asked, anxious to change the subject. He knew exactly what that look meant and he wanted to stop Teaspoon before he got going. Some days it seemed like that was all the marshal did - philosophize.
“Her name is Hannah,” Jimmy told all of them. “And it ain’t a real marriage.”
“Why not?” Teaspoon said disapprovingly.
Jimmy sighed loudly. He went on to explain how he met Hannah and how her family was trying to take her inheritance from her. So rather than see her cheated, he was helping her get what was rightfully hers.
“Well ain’t you just a prince of a fella,” Teaspoon said, once Jimmy had finished speaking. “Stepping in and saving a little lady from her awful fate.”
“What did you want me to do?” Jimmy asked, getting a little angry.
“I don’t know,” Teaspoon admitted. “But ain’t marriage kind of a drastic step?”
“It’s in name only,” Jimmy said, staring at the ground.
Buck let out a loud guffaw. “Yeah,” he said. “Then why did I see you in bed with her this morning?” When Jimmy didn’t turn up at work, again, Buck went to check on him. He was concerned about his friend, who had been gone much longer than expected. It never even occurred to Buck not to use his key and barge right in, as he always did in the past. Jimmy never brought women to his home. But when Buck saw Jimmy in bed with her, Hannah, he had turned right around and ran to the marshal’s office. A few minutes later, Jimmy flew in.
“I have to,” Jimmy explained, feeling more and more foolish with every word. “She cries at night.”
“Why?” Kid asked.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy said, still unable to look his friends in the eye. “I just can’t stand to hear it.”
“So let me get this straight,” Teaspoon began. “You are married to some girl named Hannah, she’s living with you and is sharing your bed. And once she gets the money that her uncle left her, you two will get divorced.”
“That pretty much sums it up,” Jimmy replied quietly.
“And what’s in it for you?” Kid asked.
“She said she’ll give me some of her inheritance.”
Teaspoon wiggled his eyebrows at Jimmy. “So this is all for the money?”
Jimmy didn’t answer, he couldn’t. He had no idea why he was doing any of this.
“You love her?” Teaspoon asked.
“Love her?” Jimmy exclaimed. “I don’t even know her.”
“Maybe you should take the time to try and get to know her,” Kid said gently.
She won’t be here long enough, Jimmy thought to himself. He could spend the rest of his life with her and still never figure her out.
Teaspoon gave Jimmy a lopsided grin. “So when do we get to meet your blushing bride?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy muttered.
“Tonight,” Kid interjected happily. “You’re all invited to our place tonight.”
“What time do you want us there?” Buck added, with a grin of his own.
“Six o’clock,” Kid decided. He couldn’t wait to get home and tell Lou what was going on. She was going to get a real kick out of this.
The next day, Hannah picked up the hoe and raised it over her shoulder. She then let it drop into the dry, hard ground, trying to dig a garden as part of her continuing plan to make Jimmy’s place liveable. She had spent all of yesterday scrubbing the grime from the walls. Then Jimmy came home after work and announced that they were going to dinner at a friend’s house. Hannah didn’t want to go, she looked like a complete mess and she was even more afraid to meet his friends. Especially since the one Jimmy called Buck had stared at her like she had horns on her head when he saw her lying in Jimmy’s bed the previous morning.
But in the end, Hannah’s curiosity about Jimmy’s life had won out. She cleaned herself up and then they had gone. And Hannah was glad of it, she had had such a good time. She enjoyed all the friendly banter, it had put her at ease instantly. There was a genuine sense of caring about all of Jimmy’s friends, something she wasn’t used to. Her family could profess their love to one another one minute and be at each others throats the next.
Hannah studied the plot she had dug up as she wiped the sweat from her forehead with her forearm. Almost done, she thought. Once she had the earth tilled, she would buy some seed and by the end of the summer, they would have vegetables to eat. Unless her inheritance came through, if it did, she would be gone.
“Gone,” Hannah whispered the word to herself. She didn’t want to be gone. She wanted to stay with Jimmy. He was like no one she had ever met, always acting like he didn’t need anyone or anything. But she was almost positive that it was an act and last night had confirmed her suspicions. He truly cared about his friends.
Even though she scarcely knew him, Hannah couldn’t stand the thought of leaving and never seeing him again. It would be like leaving a jigsaw puzzle half done, gnawing at her because she couldn’t see the whole picture. No, that wasn’t it at all. Be honest with yourself at least, Hannah chided herself mentally. It was because Jimmy made her feel safe and needed. He never seemed to mind the silly things that popped out her mouth. He even made proper responses to them. Plus the fact that she liked waking up with his arms around her, more than she cared to admit, even to herself. But he obviously wasn’t interested in someone like her. He treated her like she was his little sister, never even trying to kiss her, except for that one time back at the hotel and that was for show only. And she couldn’t believe it when he patted her on the head before he left this morning, like she was a child or something.
Hannah picked the hoe up and slammed it into the ground, over and over again, taking all her frustration out on the earth. She only stopped when her head began to spin. After she took a sip of water, she held her blouse in her hand, pulling it from her damp skin, where it had been sticking. She quickly surveyed the land and knew if she hurried, she would be done today. Shrugging off the heat, Hannah raised the hoe once again. She didn’t even hear Jimmy call out to her, as he returned home, her head was aching so badly. Hannah quickly set the hoe down and placed her hands on her knees, hoping to steady herself. But putting her head down was a big mistake. She ended up collapsing in a heap.
“Hannah,” Jimmy shouted, running to her side. He patted her cheek. “Hannah, wake up.” When she remained motionless, Jimmy swept her in his arms and carried her inside. He then ran for the doctor.
When Hannah awoke, she found an elderly man sitting beside her on Jimmy’s bed. Jimmy was sitting in a chair, looking at her with an expression of concern on his face.
“You gave us quite a scare, young lady,” the doctor said. He handed Hannah some water. “Drink this. You need to re-hydrate yourself.” He nodded encouragingly when he saw Hannah take a sip.
“You fainted,” Jimmy told her, when he saw her look at him with surprise.
“It’s much too hot for you to be pushing yourself this way,” the doctor said. He paused, then added, “Unless there is another reason to cause to you faint?”
“Another reason?” Hannah asked, her voice puzzled.
“You’re newlyweds, ain’t you?” The doctor threw his head back and laughed uproariously at his own joke.
“Oh,” Hannah said, her face turning crimson.
No, doctor, Jimmy imagined himself saying. My wife can’t possibly be pregnant. She’s still a virgin. That would give the doctor something to really laugh about. He then looked at Hannah again, an ugly thought crossing his mind.
The doctor gathered his belongs and stuffed them back in his bag. “I want you to stay in bed for a few days,” he said sternly. “Just to be safe.”
“But-” Hannah protested feebly.
“No ifs, ands or buts,” the doctor told her. “Jimmy, you see that she stays put.”
“I will,” Jimmy told he doctor. Once the doctor had gone, he gave Hannah a hard look.
“What’s wrong?” Hannah asked uncertainly. Why was he looking at her like that? Did he resent the fact she was stuck in bed or did he think he was responsible for her, just because the doctor said so? “Jimmy?”
Jimmy continued to glare at her, narrowing his eyes slightly. He hated being played for the fool. How could he not have seen it earlier? In the space of one week, Hannah had fainted twice. The doctor’s words made it clear as a bell. Hannah was pregnant and she was using him to give her baby a name.
“Jimmy?” Hannah said again.
“So when are you due?” Jimmy asked coldly.
“When is the baby due?”
“What baby?” Hannah exclaimed. She let the words sink in and then shouted, “You think I’m pregnant?” The nerve of that lout. What kind of person did he think she was? Okay, so she cuddled up to a stranger every night and enjoyed it. But that didn’t make her the kind of girl Jimmy was accusing her of being. Did it?
Jimmy stared angrily at her, “I can’t believe that I fell for every single one of your lies.”
“Lies?! I ain’t lied to you once.”
“Everything that comes out of your mouth is a lie,” Jimmy roared. How could he have been so blinded by her innocent face? It all made sense now. She knew exactly who he was all along and she used it to her advantage at each and every turn. He even fell for her act when she claimed she tried to hire a lawyer. Hannah had just let her big blue eyes do the work for her and Jimmy had felt so bad for her, that he invited Hannah to come and live with him. Who in their right mind would believe that the baby wasn’t his and that he had never even touched her?
Hannah rose from the bed, standing unsteadily on her feet. “I haven’t lied to you,” she said, her voice unnaturally high. She walked slowly to the closet where she picked up her bag and then she stuffed her belongings in it. She then made her way to her shoes, which were lying by the bed. But before she made it there, her legs gave way and she collapsed.
Jimmy stood, watching her with a deep scowl on his face. He would not allow himself to help her up. That was exactly what she expected him to do and he wasn’t about to fall for her act, ever again.
Sitting on the floor, Hannah reached for one shoe and pulled it on. Then she looked at Jimmy. She was filled with a blind fury when she saw the superior smirk on his face. He still thought she lying and that she was probably faking everything. Hannah picked up her other shoe and threw it at Jimmy. It gave her a small measure of satisfaction to see that her shoe caught Jimmy squarely on the forehead.
Hannah then got to her feet, using the bed to steady herself. “I didn’t lie to you, not once,” she announced, as she walked to the door.
When Hannah stepped outside, Jimmy stood in the doorway, watching her walk down the street, the tongue of her shoe flapping loudly as she continued her march.
“Where are you going?” he called out. “You forgot something,” he added, holding her other shoe up. But Hannah stubbornly refused to even turn around. Jimmy continued to watch as Hannah walked. She walked all through town, held up by nothing but sheer pride. And when she got to the boarding house, she went inside.
Jimmy trailed behind her and once he saw Hannah shut the boarding house door behind her, he deposited her shoe on the porch and left. Nice try, he thought to himself.
“Well lookee here,” Cody said, flashing Jimmy a grin so wide it almost split his face.
Jimmy opened the door of his home wide, allowing his friend to step inside. “What are you doing here?” He didn’t think he had seen his friend in six months. “And when did you get back?”
“I got to Teaspoon’s place last night. He sent me a wire, saying that you were married and I came straight away,” Cody replied. “I wanted to meet your new wife.” He looked around the room. “So where is she?” When he had asked Teaspoon for details, the marshal had rebuffed him, only telling Cody that he should get the story from the horse’s mouth. But the way Teaspoon said it, implied that Jimmy was the opposite end.
“Gone.” Hannah had been gone for four days now.
“Gone?” Cody exclaimed. “She sick of you already?” He pushed his way past his friend and began searching Jimmy’s bare cabinets for something that might pass for breakfast. Teaspoon had already left when he awoke and didn’t even bother to leave him anything, not even coffee.
“She was just using me.”
“Give her baby a name.”
“So you don’t know for sure?” Cody said, in a scolding tone. He found an old, hard biscuit and took a bite, promptly spitting out. This was obviously a product of Jimmy’s cooking.
“She keeps fainting,” Jimmy said lamely.
“So? Teaspoon told me that Tompkins fainted the other day,” Cody retorted. “You think he’s pregnant too?” When Jimmy remained silent, Cody added. “It’s the heat. People are saying that it ain’t been this hot for fifty years.” Cody paused once again, then asked, “And if she is pregnant, is it possible that the baby might be yours?”
“NO!” Jimmy bellowed. He then went on and filled his friend in on how he met and married Hannah, and how she ended up in his home.
“Maybe it’s a miracle,” Cody chuckled, quickly silencing his mirth when Jimmy eyed him balefully. Marriage in name only, he thought. Yeah right, that was the Jimmy Hickok he knew and loved. He made his way to the stove and poured himself a cup of coffee. He handed one to Jimmy as well, but he just took one sip and put it aside.
“You saw the will, right?” Cody asked, playing devil’s advocate. “It said she needed to be married to receive her inheritance?” He punctuated his sentence with a loud slurp,
“Yeah,” Jimmy admitted.
“She ever give you any cause to believe that she’s using you?” When Cody saw Jimmy look skeptically at him, he added quickly. “Besides fainting?”
“No,” Jimmy said softly.
“Think about it Jimmy, if she was pregnant, wouldn’t she just go the father and offer him money to marry her?”
“Maybe she would and maybe she wouldn’t.” Who knew what went on in Hannah’s head?
“Well all I can say, is that she must be pretty desperate to hook up with the likes of you,” Cody remarked. He made note of the dark circles under his friend’s eyes and he could almost swear that Jimmy had lost at least fifteen pounds. Cody grinned, “You miss her, don’t you?”
“No,” Jimmy said, his eyes downcast. “She’s annoying, not to mention crazy and-”
“And you miss her,” Cody repeated. When Jimmy didn’t reply, Cody asked, “Where is she?”
“At the boarding house.” Jimmy wanted to cover his ears when he said the words. He didn’t want to hear yet another lecture. Kid, Lou, Buck, Rachel and Teaspoon had all shouted at him, cajoled him, even begged him to go and try to talk to Hannah, while he steadfastly rebuffed every one of them. But with each passing lecture, he felt the knot in the pit of his stomach grow. What if they were right and he was wrong?
“So go on over there and try to talk to her,” Cody told him, saying the dreaded words.
“What’s the point?”
“Do it for yourself,” Cody told him. “So you won’t feel guilty when she doesn’t get her money.” And let nature do the rest, he thought to himself.
“And if she is pregnant?”
“I don’t know,” Cody replied cheerfully. “But we can worry about it later. If she does try to push a baby on you, I’m sure Teaspoon will figure something out.”
Wearily, Jimmy agreed. He had to. He was afraid that he would never shut Cody up otherwise. He had just found the pie Hannah had made before she left and was now happily devouring it, showing absolutely no intention of going anywhere. Jimmy left both his friend and his home and went to the boarding house.
“Yes,” Mrs. Clark, the boardinghouse owner, said primly when she opened the door and spied Jimmy standing awkwardly on her porch.
“Um,” Jimmy began hesitantly. “Is Hannah-” He stopped. What name was Hannah using?
“Yes?” Mrs. Clark inquired again, expectantly this time.
Jimmy furrowed his brow. Was no one going to make anything easy for him? “Is Hannah Hickok here?” he asked loudly, jumping slightly as he heard those words leave his mouth.
“Your wife?” the large, doughy woman said, as she looked disapprovingly at him. She couldn’t believe that the girl who collapsed in her hallway a few days ago was Jimmy’s wife. But that’s what Marshal Hunter told her, when she asked him if Jimmy had a sister visiting him. Now why would that nice, young deputy let his wife run around town in her condition? Mrs. Clark had taken one look at Hannah’s pasty complexion and realized that she was suffering from heat exhaustion. Even though Hannah wouldn’t tell her anything, Mrs. Clark put two and two together. It was obviously some sort of lover’s quarrel. Mrs. Clark had been awaiting Jimmy’s arrival, she had just expected him to come sooner
“Yeah,” Jimmy replied glumly.
“She went to the bank,” Mrs. Clark informed him. “Just like she does every morning.”
“Thank you,” Jimmy mumbled, making a hasty exit. He quickly made his way to the bank. He was just about to enter, when he heard the sound of gunfire. Hannah, he thought, his heart racing. Without a second thought, he pushed the bank door open, gun drawn. He saw two men with neckerchiefs over their mouths. One man dropped his gun, upon seeing Jimmy poised near the door, while the other man raised his weapon, aiming right at him.
“Drop it,” Jimmy said, quickly scanning the bank. He made sure that the man with the gun did as he was told and then he continued to search for Hannah’s distinctive red hair. He couldn’t see any sign of her. Jimmy waved his colt, motioning the would-be bank robbers to a corner, while he continued to look around for Hannah. In fact he was looking around so hard that he didn’t seen the third gunman, approaching him from the left. The third gunman fired his weapon. Jimmy heard the shot and almost instantaneously felt a flash of pain and then there was nothing.
When he opened his eyes, Jimmy found himself in his home, with many apprehensive eyes upon him.
“He’s awake,” Lou began breathing again. She reached over and squeezed Jimmy’s arm. “You gave us quite a scare.”
“What happened?” Jimmy muttered thickly. His throat felt so parched.
“You acted like a damn fool,” Teaspoon announced. “What were you thinking, running into the bank like that?”
“We heard the shots and then we saw you go in,” Kid explained. “Teaspoon was right behind you.”
“He got the son of a bitch that shot you,” Buck said.
“It was pretty easy after that,” Teaspoon said with a faint smile. “The other fellas dropped their weapons as soon as they saw Buck and Kid come in.” He leaned close to Jimmy, “You know better that to do something as hare-brained as that.”
Jimmy couldn’t answer, his mouth wouldn’t form the words. He felt his eyelids start to close.
“It’s the medication,” the doctor told everyone, as he noted their concerned looks. “I think he should get some rest now.”
Silently the group began to leave, each of them casting a worried eye back at Jimmy before they finally left.
“Take good care of him,” Cody whispered to Hannah, as he stood in the doorway. As soon as he knew that Jimmy was going to be okay, he went to find Hannah who was at the boarding house. Cody introduced himself and then he explained to her what had happened. Hannah had immediately packed her bag, prepared to move back in to Jimmy’s house so she could tend to him. She was his wife after all.
The doctor gave Hannah a long list of instructions before he left and then Hannah went close to the bed and put her head on Jimmy’s chest. She stood motionlessly just listening to the thump inside his chest. Then she heard Jimmy mutter something and quickly raised her head. There was no way she wanted to be caught doing such a foolish thing, listening to a heartbeat. It was so stupid, but it gave her comfort to hear how steadily Jimmy’s heart was beating.
“Let me get you some water,” she told him, quickly straightening up.
For a day and half, Hannah did nothing but care for her husband, who passed in and out of consciousness. When Jimmy finally awoke, he immediately attempted to get out of bed, but he fell back almost instantly, his legs shaking.
“You ain’t supposed to be out of bed,” Hannah said, pulling the covers back over him.
“You’re alright,” Jimmy said, putting his hand on her arm.
Hannah gave him a quizzical look. “Of course I’m alright. I’m not the one who got shot.”
“I thought you were in the bank,” Jimmy explained, his eyes starting to close again. “Mrs. Clark said you went there every morning.”
“I do,” Hannah replied softly. She was hoping against hope that her uncle would just wire her the money without coming to Rock Creek to check on the state of her marriage. She had probably just left the bank when the robbery began. She considered herself fortunate when she first heard about the hold-up, but she didn’t anymore. She decided that she rather liked the idea of playing the role of damsel in distress. Didn’t the handsome prince always fall in love with the damsel he had rescued?
Jimmy remained in bed for another few days, allowing his side to heal. The doctor told him that he was lucky. Another couple of inches to his left and the bullet would have hit his heart. On the fourth day Jimmy couldn’t take it anymore. Hannah wouldn’t allow him to get up and all she fed him was broth.
When Hannah got ready to give Jimmy a sponge bath, he put his foot down. He got out of bed and went to the shower outside his house. He ended up taking a freezing cold shower and managed to pop a couple of stitches as he labored to reach his back. This caused his injury to bleed a little. But he decided all the trouble was worth it when Hannah re-dressed his wound and scolded him for being so hard headed. Much to his chagrin, he found himself enjoying her ministrations. As Hannah reached over him to grab another bandage, the buttons on her blouse straining to remain closed, he decided that a sponge bath wouldn’t have been so bad after all.
He would have thoroughly enjoyed all of Hannah’ care had it not been for the guilt. Jimmy had treated Hannah so shabbily when she was feeling poorly, but she still came back to help him. He tried to apologize, but Hannah steadfastly ignored him. She just bustled about, tending to him and going about her normal activities.
On the fifth day, when he tried to get out of bed again, Hannah restrained him. “I’m fine,” he told her.
“Sure you are,” she said, doing her best to sound soothing. Jimmy must be bored to death, Hannah realized. “How ‘bout a game of cards?” she asked, coming to sit beside him. “You have any?”
Jimmy leaned over and opened a dresser drawer. He pulled out a deck and handed them to her.
“So what should we play for?” Hannah asked, drawing her legs underneath her.
Jimmy pulled a handful of coins from the same drawer and jingled them. “Is this up to your standards?”
“It will have to do,” Hannah smiled.
Jimmy watched as she dealt the cards. They played a few hands, which Hannah won easily, as usual.
“You are one lousy poker player,” Hannah told him, trying to sound disappointed.
Jimmy gave her a dark look, “Kind of hard to win when your opponent doesn’t play fair.”
She laid her cards down, “Read ‘em and weep. Two pair.”
“Two pair?” Jimmy sputtered. “You are cheating.”
“I never cheat,” Hannah said sweetly.
“Oh yeah,” Jimmy grinned. He grasped her arm and pulled up her sleeve. “No, not there.”
“Stop,” Hannah shrieked, unable to stop laughing. “I’m not cheating.”
“Yeah, sure.” Jimmy replied. Pinning her down, he pulled up her blouse slightly, finding a few cards tucked in her waistband. Jimmy tried to pull them out.
Hannah covered his hands with her own, “Don’t,” she laughed, “that tickles.”
“Now if you didn’t cheat, I wouldn’t have to do this,” Jimmy said in mock seriousness as he continued to tickle her.
“Jimmy, I’m warning you.”
“You’ll see,” Hannah said ominously.
Jimmy stared at her, he stared at her so hard that Hannah had to turn away. But Jimmy cupped her cheek in his hand and turned her face back to him. He ran his fingers through a tangled lock of hair, gently pushing it back from her face. Slowly he lowered his head to hers, kissing her lips.
Hannah thought about protesting, but instead she raised her arms and wrapped them around Jimmy’s neck, inhaling his now familiar scent. Hannah had missed him, more than she knew she should have. As Jimmy continued to kiss her, she was certain that he must feel something for her. Maybe it wasn’t love, but it was something. Why else would he go to the bank, with a hold-up going on? “You’re supposed to be resting,” Hannah murmured.
“I’m tired of resting,” Jimmy replied. He lay beside Hannah, unbuttoning the buttons of her blouse.
As he let his hands roam freely, he pulled Hannah’s shirt from her shoulders, pushing the garment down around her waist. “I want you to stay with me,” he whispered, as he left a trail of kisses down her neck to the top of her corset cover. “We can be a family.” He had thought about this long and hard, imagining himself raising a child and he realized that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t his. It was Hannah’s, that’s all that mattered. She couldn’t raise a child on her own, she needed him. He didn’t think he had ever met anyone who needed him more. If she went back to her family, in her condition, well he really didn’t even want to think about that. Those Lawtons were so awful about her money and Hannah’s legitimacy, he couldn’t imagine that they would even attempt to help Hannah and her baby out in any way, shape or form.
“What?” Hannah asked, her body stiffening. Suddenly she pushed Jimmy. She pushed him so hard that he fell off of the bed. “I can’t believe you! You still think I’m gonna have a baby. How many times do I have to tell you that I’m not.”
She quickly pulled her blouse back up and got up. When she walked around the bed she saw that Jimmy’s wound was bleeding again. She placed her hand under his shoulder and helped him to his feet.
“Hannah,” Jimmy began, allowing Hannah to help him into bed.
“Don’t talk. You need to rest,” she said, in a no nonsense voice, as she began to bustle about once again.
Wearily, Jimmy let his head fall back on the pillow. He had done it again.
Jimmy sat at the desk in the marshal’s office, shuffling through some papers. It was his first day back since he had been shot. Lou sat across from him, frowning at his words. They had just been discussing his predicament with Hannah.
“You try apologizing to her?” Lou asked.
“Yeah, she just doesn’t pay any mind to anything I say,” Jimmy replied wearily.
“You mean what you say?” Lou said. “Are you really sorry?”
“Yeah,” Jimmy said softly.
“So you believe that she ain’t pregnant?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has she been sick or tired at all?” Lou asked. “You remember what I was like a few weeks ago?” Lou had been so sick, she could barely get out of bed in the mornings and lately all she was, was tired. Naps, something that used to be foreign to her, were now a regular part of her routine.
“Has she gained any weight?” Lou asked sternly as she continued her interrogation.
“No,” Jimmy responded. “I guess not.”
“She probably ain’t pregnant then,” Lou declared. “And you’ve been making a fool of yourself.”
Jimmy just shrugged.
“Excuse me,” an elderly gentleman said, entering the office. “Jimmy,” he said, with a grin. “How have you been?”
“Tobias,” Jimmy smiled as he rose to his feet. He took the elderly man’s hand and pumped it up and down vigorously. “What are you doing here?”
“Came to see how you and that red-haired gal were doing,” Tobias said happily. “I heard you two got married.”
Lou got to her feet, “I should probably be going.”
“Tobias, this is Lou McCloud,” Jimmy said.
Tobias took Lou’s hand and kissed her knuckles, “My pleasure,” he murmured.
Lou smiled as two spots of color bloomed on her cheeks. “Nice meeting you too,” she said before she waddled to the door. She turned back around, to say her goodbyes to Jimmy, but she frowned when she saw that he was grinning. Damn those fellas who rode with her for the Pony Express. They all seemed to think that Lou’s pregnancy was a great source of humor. She wasn’t even due for six months and already her body had begun to change. Lou wished fervently that Jimmy’s torment with Hannah would continue. She couldn’t think of a man who deserved it more. But when she saw that Jimmy’s smile didn’t reach his eyes, she wished for another kind of torment for him. The one that came with a wife and family. “See ya later,” she called back as she left.
Once Lou had gone, Tobias turned to Jimmy. “So tell me about your new wife. You really got married?”
“For the money?” Tobias asked suspiciously.
“Yeah,” Jimmy said again. He was mildly surprised that Tobias cared enough to remember that incident at the bar. He was also surprised at the protective tone Tobias had adopted. What gave that old man the right to speak to him that way? It was Tobias’ fault he had even gotten involved with Hannah. Jimmy had been sitting at the bar, minding his own business and would probably still be minding his own business, had it not been for the white-haired man. As he looked at Tobias, closely this time, a tingling sensation ran down his spine when he saw something familiar in the older man’s face. He knew those eyes, those were Hannah’s eyes. Even though Tobias’ eyes were shot with red and world-weary, they were still the same shade of sky blue, and like Hannah’s, they reflected every emotion their owner felt.
Jimmy bit the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling, this was no social call. “You ain’t here to see me at all, are you? You’re here to check up on your daughter.”
“You loco, Hickok?” Tobias exclaimed.
“Maybe I should just go and fetch Hannah right now. She deserves a chance to get to know her Pa.” Jimmy backed up his threat by moving towards the door.
“She wouldn’t even recognize me,” Tobias said, his voice laced with pain. “You know that. She sat right across that card table from me and didn’t even know who I was.”
Jimmy returned to his original position and looked expectantly at Tobias.
“So how did you know?” Tobias asked quietly.
“She has your eyes.”
“How is she? I was worried about her.”
“Why don’t you ask her for yourself?” Jimmy said. He could just take Tobias to his home and introduce him to his daughter, who was camped out on his couch. Ever since the debacle of the other night, Hannah continued to live with him, but she had moved to the couch. She still cried on occasion, but Jimmy didn’t go to her anymore. He just buried his head under a pillow, trying desperately to muffle the sound.
“She hates me,” Tobias said quietly.
“From what I hear she has cause,” Jimmy replied.
Tobias’ eyes filled with an old sorrow, “I thought leaving was the right thing to do,” he whispered. He stopped speaking, unable to go on. I’m sorry Molly, he thought.
About an hour later, after Jimmy fetched Tobias some lunch, the two men sat down once again and Tobias began his tale.
“When I met Molly Simms, that’s Hannah’s mother, I fell in love with her the instant I laid eyes on her. She was so beautiful. She wouldn’t give me the time of day when she first met me. She thought I was nothing but a spoiled rich boy. But I wore her down,” Tobias smiled.
“She finally agreed to marry me, after about a thousand proposals. Then I brought her home to meet my family.” Tobias’ smile vanished with those words.
“My family didn’t even give her a chance. When we finally left my house, she cried the whole ride back to her place, my family was so awful to her. I made up my mind then and there. I decided that I wouldn’t see her anymore. Being a Lawton would make every day a living hell for her.”
Tobias smiled sadly at Jimmy’s questioning face. “I thought I was doing the noble thing when I told her I was ending things, but night after night I went to her. I wanted to stay with her, marry her, give her all the things she deserved. But I couldn’t, I couldn’t destroy her life that way.”
“But in the end I destroyed it any way,” Tobias continued. “I kept coming around, until Hannah was about three and after the first time she called me daddy, I left. For good.”
“Why?” Jimmy whispered.
“I thought that they would be better off without me. I also figured that Molly would meet another man, once I was out of the picture. Someone who deserved to be called daddy. But I never knew how much Molly loved me. She just gave up on life when she finally believed that I wasn’t coming back.” Tobias stopped speaking as he remembered the day he heard about Molly’s death. He would have liked to stop breathing, but that same drive that kept him going after he heard the news of her death, kept him going to this very day. The drive to do something for his daughter. For once in his life he was going to think about someone other than himself.
Tobias rubbed his bloodshot eyes. Even now, it hurt. It hurt as bad as the first minute he realized the she was gone. Tobias had always believed that he would return to Molly - someday. Then they would be together, as it should have been. He never imagined that Molly wouldn’t be there, when he was finally ready to cut ties with his family. But he realized now that it was Molly’s death which had made him finally break away from those wretched Lawtons, namely Ruth Lawton. Even though he rarely made contact with the family, he used keep in touch with his mother, the dominating matriarch of the whole clan, mostly out of a sense of guilt, not love or loyalty. He was Ruth Lawton’s youngest child. After Tobias was born, the doctor told Ruth she couldn’t have any more children. A fact Ruth never ceased to remind him of.
Jimmy reached into a drawer, where Teaspoon kept a flask and handed it to Tobias. After the older man took a long swig, he continued, “I wasted my whole life running from Molly and my family. And when I finally figure it out, she was gone.”
“You can still make things right,” Jimmy told him. “Hannah’s still here.”
“I tried to make things right,” Tobias replied, wiping a tear from his eye, embarrassed to be seen making such a fool out of himself. “You know that money Hannah was supposed to get from Jasper?”
“It’s mine. I figured Hannah wouldn’t take anything from me, so when Jasper told me he was dying, we cooked up this scheme to get the money to her,” Tobias said. “Has she got it yet?”
“I didn’t know about that marriage clause,” Tobias said thoughtfully. “That must have been Jasper’s doing. He was so worried that Hannah would end up alone, like Molly.” He glanced downward. “I was in town that night of the card game, to make sure she got her money.” Tobias stared at his hands which were folded in his lap and whispered, “you know, I haven’t seen her that close since she was three.”
Tobias quickly shrugged off the memories. “You gonna stay married to my daughter, even after she gets her money?” he asked abruptly. It had worked out better than he could have ever planned. Hannah was married and Tobias was positive Jimmy would never let her be hurt. He glanced furtively at him. And his daughter would get what she needed most, someone who loved her and needed her. He may not know Jimmy well, but he didn’t think he would ever marry for anything but love and lord knows he certainly deserved to be on the receiving end of some love.
“She ain’t too fond of me right now,” Jimmy said with a tired smile. “You wanna stay married to her?”
“I don’t know. She might be better off without me,” Jimmy replied, his voice trailing off. Isn’t that just what Tobias said and what had it led to?
Tobias smiled knowingly at him. “Don’t make my mistakes. If you wanna stay with her, then stay with her. As her father, I give you my blessing.”
Repeat Tobias’ mistakes? Why would he do that, when he was making a whole new set of mistakes he called his own. “You wanna come to the house and meet her?” Jimmy asked hastily.
“No, not yet.”
“But-” Jimmy protested.
“Go,” Tobias commanded him. “Go and fix your marriage. Make my girl happy.” And maybe yourself, he thought.
“Will you come back?”
“I don’t know.”
“You ought to.”
Tobias shrugged his shoulders.
“I know it probably ain’t my place to say,” Jimmy said. “But I think Hannah should know ‘bout you.”
Tobias frowned. “I think she has enough to deal with right now.” He had never been any help to his daughter. How could he just walk into her life and burden her with his existence? Especially knowing what turmoil her life was in right now. He cleared his throat and continued. “And I’d like you to keep this little tidbit of information to yourself too.”
Now who’s loco? Jimmy thought. “It ain’t fair to Hannah, me knowing about you and her not.”
“I want to be the one to tell her,” Tobias said firmly. “You know she’d hate me more if she found out I was spying on her, keeping her in the dark about everything.”
“But you are,” Jimmy exclaimed.
“Please Jimmy,” Tobias said, turning his pain-filled eyes upon him. “I can’t stand the thought of her hating me, even more than she does right now.”
“And what about me?” Jimmy exclaimed.
“You mean you don’t want her to hate you?” Tobias asked innocently.
Jimmy scowled at the man.
“I’ll tell her. When I come back I’ll tell her everything,” Tobias said soothingly. “And if my daughter is anything like her mother, she’ll forgive you for keeping this from her.” He smiled then and when he spoke, he sounded positively awestruck. “I’ll come back and meet my little girl. After you straighten everything out. She’s gonna need your support when she meets me.”
That evening when Jimmy got home, he found Hannah dressed, as if she were going out.
“Supper’s on the table,” Hannah informed him curtly.
“Where are you going?” Jimmy demanded.
“Out where?” And dressed like that, Jimmy thought to himself. Her blue dress stuck to her like a second skin. He smiled slightly as he recognized the frock. It was the same one she wore when he first met her. “To the saloon?”
“Yes,” Hannah replied. “As if it is any of your business.”
“You need money?”
“I told you, it ain’t your business.”
“I can give you some money.”
“I don’t want anything from you,” Hannah said, a trifle petulantly. She knew she was being childish, but he had hurt her, a lot. Knowing that he only wanted to be with her because he thought she was a loose woman had made her cry. She had hidden in the barn, sobbing after she had changed Jimmy’s bandages, her tears upsetting her far more than his actions. How could she give him the power to hurt her? They were nothing to each other. And that ridiculous proposition - that she would continue to live with him. It was too disgusting for words. Was that supposed to make his advances more welcome? Ha! Mister Wild Bill Hickok had another thing coming. She was not an object of pity or a woman to be used and discarded. She had no use for man who thought like that, she was not her mother.
“Hannah,” Jimmy said quietly. “What’s wrong?” She looked so upset.
Hannah looked at him, hating herself for wanting him to hold her and tell her he could make things better. And kiss her. More than anything, she wished he would kiss her. Oh, why couldn’t she just rid herself of these feelings? When he kissed her she didn’t care why he wanted her, all she felt was desire for him.
“It’s nothing,” she said, the rancor leaving her voice. It was too hard to be so angry all the time and she had been angry for two days straight. It was particularly difficult when Jimmy looked at her like that, his hair falling over his cheek, making her long to sweep it off his face.
Jimmy touched her fingers. “Then why are you going to the saloon?”
“I can’t afford the boarding house,” Hannah whispered, her voice filled with shame.
Jimmy took her hand, “You’re welcome here.”
Hannah jerked her hand away, the momentary truce shattered by his words. “I don’t feel comfortable. You don’t need someone to tend to you anymore.”
“Come on,” Jimmy said, taking her hand once again and leading her to the table. “Eat supper with me first. I hate eating alone.”
Reluctantly Hannah agreed. She and Jimmy set the table and ate together and then all during supper, Jimmy talked. He told Hannah all about his Pony Express days, enjoying her animated reactions.
Jimmy had finally admitted to himself that he wanted Hannah to stay and this was the only way he could think of to make her stay. He didn’t want to end up like Tobias, or John Longley and Elias Mills or all the other nameless men who made decisions that caused them to live alone. He didn’t want to reply to the letters he had begun receiving. Letters which asked him to right some alleged wrong. And he certainly didn’t want to watch life go by, with him just hiding in the shadows. He used to think that it was this lack of anything to care for that made him a force to be reckoned with. Who wanted to face a man with nothing to live for? Weren’t they the most dangerous of them all? But what was the point of living if he had nothing to live for? Sometimes the circularity of it all made his head hurt.
When he was younger, the Pony Express filled his life and then the army. There was nothing now, until Hannah had snuck into his life and filled each and every solitary corner of it. Some days he couldn’t even imagine his life without her, he didn’t want to feel the loneliness again.
But he knew now that Kid was right, he should take the time to get to know her and let her know him. Teaspoon was right as well. He had to try being a man worth being married to. He wasn’t sure if it was possible to fix things between the two of them, their relationship had deteriorated so far. There was no way Hannah would open up to him the way things were right at this moment, so he decided to tell her about himself first.
By the end of Jimmy’s stories, it was too late for Hannah to go to the saloon. She didn’t like the crowd which populated the saloon late at night, so she prepared her bed on the couch. When she crawled under the covers, she was taken aback when Jimmy approached her.
Leaning close, Jimmy placed his lips on Hannah’s, leaving her with a lingering kiss. “‘Night,” he whispered.
“‘Night,” Hannah whispered back, watching Jimmy’s receding figure, with a puzzled look on her face.
The following evening, at supper, Jimmy told Hannah about his family. He began with his Pony Express family first. Hannah listened intently when he spoke of Lou. From the words he spoke, Hannah was sure that he loved her, but as he continued to speak, moving on to her marriage, she didn’t hear any jealousy in his voice, maybe just a touch of envy.
But when Jimmy got to his father, he stopped, unable to continue. Hannah quickly filled the silence, as she regaled him with tales about her family. Jimmy laughed so hard his side ached. He couldn’t believe her family was real. They were all lunatics, every last one of them. One Lawton family member had gone so far as to fake his own death. While lying in a casket Caleb Lawton listened to each word spoken at his wake and funeral, trying to figure out who his enemies were so he could cut them out of his will.
The next night at supper, Jimmy asked Hannah about her parents and much to his surprise, she told him about them. She had nothing good to say about her father, so she said very little. Then Hannah spoke of her mother. It almost felt good to have someone listen to her speak of her. It had been so long since anyone cared about poor ole Molly Simms.
When Hannah rested on the couch, Jimmy gave her a perfunctory peck on the lips and went to his bed. Much to her dismay, Hannah found herself disappointed at the shortness of his kiss. She shook herself mentally. Snap out of it Hannah, she thought. This is a marriage in name only. But, as she raised her head and glanced surreptitiously at Jimmy’s prone form, she wished once again that it wasn’t. Hannah had always been attracted to Jimmy. But lately she found herself liking him.
When Hannah awoke the next morning, she was surprised to see that Jimmy wasn’t going to work. “You feeling poorly?” she asked, concerned that his side might be bothering him again.
“No,” Jimmy replied. He held up a fishing basket. “You like fishing?”
“Yeah,” Hannah admitted reluctantly.
“Good,” Jimmy said. “I thought we could spend the day by the creek.”
“I’d love to,” Hannah said in an overly bright voice. “But I can’t,” she told him, managing to sound quite disappointed, even though she didn’t look anything close to disappointed. When Jimmy looked quizzically at her, she added, “I need to go back to North Platte.”
“And you forgot to mention it?” Jimmy asked heavily. And here he thought that they were getting along so well.
“I didn’t forget. It’s just that the stage leaves today.” When Jimmy continued to look skeptically at her, Hannah said, “Only for a few days. I need to pick up some more of my things. I didn’t plan on being gone for so long.” She even had money to pay for the stage, as Mrs. Clark had introduced her to the dressmaker in town, who was more than happy to throw a little work her way.
Jimmy continued to eye her doubtfully and said, “Then I’ll take you there. It’ll be a lot faster if we ride.”
Numbly Hannah nodded as Jimmy went to pack a bag. She rested her forehead against the wall and bit back her tears. Why? she wanted to scream. Why was he doing this to her? She told him the truth, she needed to go back to North Platte, but she needed to go so she could get away from him. She had once heard her Uncle Jasper tease her mother about finding another man, but her mother had just responded by saying the Simms women only give their heart once and damned if it wasn’t true. Hannah’s mother had given herself heart and soul to her father, never had there been any room for another. She wouldn’t make the same mistake. She reminded herself yet again that there was only one reason Jimmy was still with her, actually there were ten thousand of them.
Late that morning, after Jimmy informed Teaspoon of their plans, Jimmy and Hannah began their trek. It took over three days to get to the small tidy cabin Hannah and her mother had shared. And with each passing day, Hannah grew steadily more quiet. Jimmy started to regret the fact that he invited himself to come along with her. It was obvious now. Hannah wanted to get away from him. She couldn’t forgive him for how he had treated her earlier and what better excuse than saying she needed a few things. Even her Uncle Walter couldn’t find fault with that one.
Once they reached Hannah’s home, just after sunset, she dismounted and removed one of the saddle bags. She then proceeded to walk to her front door, opening it with only a kick of her foot, while Jimmy trailed after her. She had nothing of value in there, at least things that no one else would value, so she never bothered locking up the place. As she approached the dresser, she picked up the picture of her mother and started to put it in her bag. But before she did, Jimmy took the photograph from her and studied it.
“Your Ma?” he asked softly.
Hannah nodded mutely and continued to gather her things on the dresser. She packed away her mother’s hairbrush and a ribbon, then she went to her closet, taking the few undergarments that hung there while Jimmy shook his head. That’s what she needed to come back for, he thought in disbelief. He once again began to regret his pushy behavior. He should have stayed back in Rock Creek and given Hannah the space she needed.
Jimmy looked down at the picture he held. Tobias was right, Molly Simms was beautiful. But not in the eye-catching sense. It was her smile. It was only a hint of a smile, toying at the edges of her lips as she looked off in the distance, past the photographer. But Jimmy could tell even from that, that she had the very same smile Hannah had. It was the kind of smile that once you saw it, you would do just about anything to see it again.
He raised his head suddenly upon hearing something. There was Hannah lying face down on a bed, sobbing. Jimmy immediately put the picture down and approached her gingerly, sitting down on the bed and stroking her head.
“You alright?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah turned over to look at him, while trying desperately to stifle her blubbering.
“Is it being here again?” Jimmy said quietly.
When she nodded, Jimmy gathered her against him causing Hannah to begin to weep anew. He held her until she stopped crying. He didn’t think she had any tears left to shed after all that. They were all on his shirt, which was soaked through and through.
“You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you cry during the day before,” Jimmy remarked offhandedly.
“During the day?” Hannah sniffled.
“Sometimes you cry at night,” Jimmy replied, still stroking her hair.
“I don’t cry.” Hannah pulled away and glared as she vehemently denied his statement.
“Yeah,” Jimmy told her, “you do.”
“No I don’t.”
“Believe me, you do.”
“Really?” Hannah asked. When Jimmy nodded, Hannah averted her eyes. She didn’t know that she had cried, but she could believe it. She understood now why Jimmy came to her at night. Her emotions had run the gamut when he came to her at night. She had been horrified when it first happened, then flattered thinking she was irresistible, and finally insulted when he held her in such a brotherly fashion.
“Hannah?” Jimmy said questioningly. She was so still.
“My Ma used to cry at night,” she said finally.
“She hated being so alone,” Hannah told him, still looking away.
Jimmy put his hand under Hannah’s chin and tipped it towards him. “You ain’t alone,” he said softly, before he kissed her.
Hannah wrapped her arms around him, clinging to his body while she kissed him. She didn’t care anymore if he only married her for her money. She didn’t care that he would be gone as soon as her inheritance came through. She knew now what Jimmy felt and she knew the difference between lust and love. It was a lesson she had learned very well from her father. But she didn’t care, not anymore. She loved him. Shouldn’t she be with the man she loved? Maybe, if she was lucky, she would have a child. Jimmy’s child. And she could keep that child with her, even if she couldn’t keep his or her father.
As Jimmy eased her on the bed, he lay beside her, knowing he should stop. Hannah was reaching out to him only because she wanted to bury her pain. But he wanted her so badly and for so long, he didn’t think he could stop, even if he wanted to. And before he realized what he was doing, he had her dress off and was now working on the numerous petticoats she wore underneath.
Hannah kissed Jimmy, her mouth opening under his, helping him pull her clothing from her body. Her skin hurt being inside those clothes. When he moved away, to get a better grip on her underpinnings, she pulled him back. She could scarcely breath, let alone think. All she could do was feel. She wanted to feel the warmth of his body on hers, to feel his weight on her and most of all, she wanted to feel his skin against her own.
When Jimmy regained some of his senses, he moved away slightly so he could look at her, his eyes full of unasked questions. Hannah smiled at him, her fingers on his buttons. “You gonna help me or what?” she demanded, her eyes teasing.
Jimmy felt a wave a relief at that smile. She certainly seemed happy to be with him. “I don’t know,” he replied, as he appeared to be seriously considering the prospect. “I kind of like the idea of being seduced.”
“Oh really?” Hannah laughed. “So what have you been doing for the last week?”
Jimmy rolled over, pinning Hannah underneath him. “Seduction is a fine art,” he told her.
“So show me,” Hannah whispered.
Hannah moved Jimmy’s leg off of her the next morning and got up as quiet as she could. She didn’t want to wake him up. She slid off the bed, picking up her discarded dress and slipping it over her head, not even bothering with her underpinnings which were scattered all over the floor.
She padded to the door and opened it carefully, so the ever present squeak would be as soft as possible. Once she got outside, she pulled the door shut and hurried to the swimming hole close by so she could wash up and have a few moments to herself. She had to figure out what to do next.
She hastened to her favorite spot for reflection, a secluded pond at the bottom of a steep hill, surrounded by large elm trees. Hannah yanked off her clothing and got in, feeling quite secure she would remain unseen from prying eyes. The children who frequented the swimming hole never came till afternoon, their parents always kept them busy with chores until well after lunch. Hannah rinsed her head as the warm water soothed her tired body, then swam across the pond, her mind spinning over the events of last night. It wasn’t at all what she had it imagined it to be. It had been an act of giving, not taking, and that frightened her most of all; because it gave her hope, hope that Jimmy might care for her.
“I’ll make him happy,” she told the raccoon, which had stopped to stare at her. “You’ll see and then maybe he’ll want me to stay with him.”
“Isn’t that what your mother said?” asked the raccoon.
“Yes,” Hannah said aloud. Her mother had said the very same thing and look what happened and it happened in spite of the fact that her mother was sweet and kind. What chance did she have then? She was not sweet and kind, she was impertinent and fool-hardy.
“Hey,” Jimmy called out softly, so as not to startle her. He had woken up the minute Hannah shut the door and had followed her tracks down to the swimming hole.
“Come on in.” Hannah called back. She had come to a decision of sorts. She would pretend, something she was very good at. She would pretend that she and Jimmy were just ordinary newlyweds. The end would come soon enough, so she would enjoy what she had, even if it was only for a little while.
Not needing anymore encouragement, Jimmy stripped off his clothing and gun belt, wading into the water, as he washed himself off.
“C’mon,” Hannah said once again, moving deeper into the water.
“Can’t swim,” Jimmy replied.
“Don’t try to pull a fast one,” Hannah laughed.
“It’s the truth,” Jimmy answered, remained rooted to the spot he stood in, the water lapping at his chest.
Hannah swam close to him, “Really?”
“Really.” Jimmy then caught Hannah in his arms and pulled her against him. But with the water pushing against him and Hannah leaning off balance, he soon released her, unwilling to drown right here and now. He climbed out of the water and pulled his pants on, sitting along the bank.
Hannah got out as well, pulling her dress over her damp skin. She smiled impishly and shook her head at him, in a puppy-like fashion.
“Cut that out,” Jimmy scolded her with a grin. Small drops of water were flying everywhere.
“I’m sorry,” she said, in an attempt to be sweet and kind.
“Don’t be,” Jimmy smiled. “You can do anything you like to me,” he added, with enough suggestion in his voice to make Hannah blush. He pulled her close and wrapped her in his arms when he saw the goose bumps rise along her forearms. “How come you left this morning?” he murmured. It worried him when she left like that. Did she regret last night?
“It’s hard being there,” Hannah replied softly. “Without her.” She wished once more that her mother was here, she needed her right now. Jimmy took her hand and entwined his fingers with hers. “I would have liked to meet her.”
Hannah closed her eyes, remembering her mother’s kindness towards complete strangers, especially those who were down on their luck. “She would have liked you.”
“I doubt that.”
“No,” Hannah said firmly. “She would have.”
“I don’t think any mother would want her daughter to take up with someone who had a reputation like mine,” Jimmy replied, trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to keep his tone light.
“She knew what it was like,” Hannah responded. “Knowing how people judged you, without even knowing you.”
“How did you?” Hannah asked hesitantly. “You know.”
“You don’t have to tell me,” Hannah said quickly. She stood up then. “You must be hungry. I can make you some breakfast.” She knew there wasn’t much food at the cabin, but she could probably scrounge up something.
Jimmy took her hand and pulled her back down. He hated when she got like that, her eyes shuttered so he couldn’t see what she felt; especially since she had no reason not to ask those kinds of questions. “It all started when a man by the name of J.D. Marcus tried to hit me with his cane.”
“My first beau,” Hannah giggled, continuing to run her bare foot along Jimmy’s leg, her body wedged snugly against his chest. “Let’s just say he left me.”
“He what?” Jimmy asked, trying to sound angry.
“He had a better offer.”
Hannah turned to look at him and said, in all seriousness, “Gum drops.”
“Sadie Bradshaw, now Sadie Davidson, stole him away with gum drops.”
“How old were you?”
“Eleven. But in the end he left Sadie too.”
“For sassafras, I suppose,” Jimmy said. Hannah’s slow leg movements were driving him insane. He glanced quickly at her. He suspected that she knew exactly what she was doing and wanted to see how far she could push him. He smiled slightly, two could play that game. He had shown her how much he wanted her last night, now it was her turn. Slowly, he put his hand on her mid-section, unbuttoning two buttons before he slid his hand in between them. He began tracing the outline of her ribs pushing against her skin, stopping to look once more at Hannah. The only reaction he could discern was that she ceased breathing.
“Something like that,” Hannah replied, her voice soft. “It was then that me and Sadie got to be best friends. Still are.” She glanced at Jimmy and asked. “You wanna meet her?” Sadie would kill her if she ever found out that she was in town and didn’t stop by and tell her what was going on.
“Sure,” Jimmy replied. But he didn’t withdraw his hand and grinned at her. “Later.” As he moved her hair off her neck with the other, he kissed her and murmured, “You win, this time.”
Hannah looked at him, her eyes huge. It was then Jimmy understood. The realization hit him like a blow to the solar plexus - She had no idea what she did to him, nor had she any idea of how he felt about her. But as he continued to look at her, she looked away. “Hannah,” he whispered. He had so much to tell her, but how? And worst yet, would she believe him?
Later, Hannah thought, the word flashing through her mind. A part of her longed to run away and hide from him, but a bigger part of her wanted him to keep on kissing her. She smiled up at him, “later is good.” She then put her arms around his shoulders and placed her lips on his.
“Hannah!” Sadie exclaimed once she had opened the door and found her dearest friend standing there. She threw the door wide open and ushered Hannah and Jimmy inside. “I heard that you might be back.” Old Missus Tucker, the town gossip, had sworn up and down that she had seen her riding to her home and Sadie was pleased to see that it was true. “When did you get here?”
“So how was the visit with the Lawtons?” the small dark-haired girl asked. She wondered why Hannah had been gone so long. But Sadie had hoped that those snooty Lawtons had finally asked Hannah to stay with them, so she really didn’t worry too much. She then took another peek at Jimmy who had just entered and was standing directly behind Hannah.
“I don’t think we have been introduced,” Sadie said, giving Hannah an significant look.
“Sadie,” Hannah said hesitantly. “This is Jimmy Hickok.”
“Nice to meet you,” Sadie replied automatically.
“My husband,” Hannah gulped.
“Your what?” Sadie shrieked. “How? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”
Hannah sighed, “I’m telling you now.”
“Well why don’t you two join us for lunch?” Sadie said, quickly regaining her composure. She hadn’t been Hannah’s friend for so long without knowing to expect strange things to occur whenever she was in the vicinity. “I know Malcolm would love to meet you, Jimmy.” Sadie grasped Hannah by the arm and whispered to her, “And you can fill me in before then.”
Just then a very large blonde man entered the house. “She is back,” the man hollered, grabbing Hannah in a bear hug.
Jimmy eyed the man. He assumed that he must be Sadie’s husband, Malcolm. What a strange pair those two were. Sadie was small and delicate while Malcolm was large and burly. About the only thing those two seemed to have in common was their concern for Hannah and their suspicion of him, he thought as the Davidsons once again looked at him mistrustfully.
“And who’s he?” Malcolm inquired in his same loud manner, watching Jimmy warily.
“Hannah’s husband,” Sadie offered, her eyes sparkling.
“Her what?” Malcolm bellowed.
“I’ll explain later,”Sadie told him. She had to find out Hannah’s story for herself first. She began ushering Jimmy and Hannah to a seat inside. “You two will stay with us, won’t you?”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy began, glancing around the room he stood in. Hannah was looking at Sadie, who had had her hands on her hips. The small brunette had a very determined look on her face.
“Oh you have to,” Sadie pleaded. “I haven’t seen Hannah in ages and I know she ain’t got no food at her place, so you have to stay here. Please.”
“I don’t know,” Jimmy said once again, but Hannah interrupted and said, “We’ll stay.” She knew Sadie would keep badgering them until they said yes. Besides, Hannah didn’t want her home to be filled with so many memories of Jimmy. When she came back to live there, she wouldn’t be able to bear it.
Sadie beamed at them. “I’ll leave you two alone for a little bit and get lunch ready.” She quickly left the room then. “Come on Malcolm.”
“What is going on?” Jimmy asked quietly, once the Davidsons had left. It was hard to conceal his disappointment at this turn of events. He knew she was running from him again and that frustrated him to no end. He had wanted to use their time in North Platte to try to convince her of the truth of his feelings. Unfortunately his courtship of Hannah would now have to continue under the watchful eye of the Davidsons.
“Sadie,” Hannah explained, “doesn’t like to take no for an answer.”
Jimmy went to her and put his arms around her. “You okay?” She looked as torn as he felt.
Hannah nodded and hugged him. She once again prayed silently that she would be able to keep Jimmy with her, for just a little longer and maybe given enough time, he might come to love her. “‘Scuse me,” Sadie interrupted. “Jimmy, Malcolm was wondering if you’d like to see the horse he’s thinking of buying. He’s got it in the corral right now.”
Jimmy gave her a quizzical glance as he stepped out of the house. He never heard of such a flimsy excuse to get rid of him. But he saw how Sadie and Hannah kept exchanging looks and realized that they wanted to be alone, probably so they could discuss him.
Sadie shut the door behind him, not even bothering to await Jimmy’s response. Ever since she had been married six months ago, she had become quite accustomed to having men pay attention to what she said. If they didn’t, they would have Malcolm to deal with. Malcolm was actually a softie, but no one needed to know that fact.
Sadie quickly sat on the couch. “So,” she said expectantly.
“You’ll never believe it.”
Sadie waved her hand at her. “Just try me.”
Hannah couldn’t help but smile as she sat in a wooden chair, across from the seat Sadie had settled herself on. “You remember when I went to see the Lawtons,” she began.
Hannah wondered when Jimmy would be back. He had gone to town with Malcolm hours ago, right after lunch where he had been grilled mercilessly. Of course if the townsfolk reacted anything like Sadie and Malcolm had, Jimmy wouldn’t be back for at least a year. He would have to tell everyone he met who he was and that yes, he really was married to Hannah Simms.
Hannah sat on the bed in the room Sadie had assigned her. Poor Jimmy, she thought. He might never come back if some of the town’s old biddies got to him. She couldn’t decide if the biddies would be happy that Hannah could finally be considered respectable or if they would pity Jimmy for being stuck with her.
Respectable, what a laugh. It still made her blood boil to think of how some of them had treated her mother, how they had snickered behind her back. Her heart fell as she remembered her mother’s hurt looks. What would she do when it happened to her? She could almost hear it now - Look at the Lawton bastard, she thinks she’s good enough for a hero. Hannah cringed at the thought. They would be right too. Jimmy deserved to be married to someone he could be proud of, not someone like her.
As Hannah studied her reflection in the mirror, she smiled slightly. Jimmy didn’t seem to mind what she was. Stop that, she chided herself once again. Don’t forget why he’s with you. Why shouldn’t he enjoy himself for the duration? If he enjoyed himself. She pulled her knees up, hugging them while dropping her head down. She hated being such a mass of insecurities, but they just seemed to sneak up on her and she had a very difficult time ever ridding herself of her fears. But shake them off she did, rising to her feet to finish ironing her dress. She had to be ready to greet Mrs. Bradshaw. Mary Bradshaw had always treated Hannah as one of her own and had helped look after her mother when she took sick. Hannah couldn’t wait to see her again. She was just putting the finishing touches on her hair when Jimmy entered, carrying a few boxes covered in brown paper. He threw the packages on the bed and sat down beside her.
Hannah smiled as she looked at the boxes on the bed. “What did you get?”
“Open ‘em and see.”
Overwhelmed by curiosity, Hannah tore the paper from the first parcel and held up a grey blouse. She then dove into another package which contained a riding skirt.
Jimmy smiled as he saw the look of pleasure that crossed her face. If she was going to be his wife, he thought, she had better be able to ride often; and in order to ride, she needed the proper attire, not the useless dresses she usually wore.
“For when we go back,” Jimmy told her. “If you wanna.” It suddenly occurred to him that Hannah may want to live here. He would hate the thought of leaving his friends behind, but he could learn to like it here.
“I wanna,” Hannah said, almost shyly. She knew how close he was to his friends and she knew she could never live in North Platte by herself again if Jimmy lived here with her, even for a month. It would hurt much too much, knowing what she had and knowing it was gone. As she touched the blouse, she added quickly, “I’ll pay you back.”
Jimmy shook his head. “It’s a gift.” It was seeing Malcolm in town, choosing trinkets for Sadie that made him realize he had never bought Hannah anything and it bothered him to no end, especially knowing how little she had. He never saw a woman with so few clothes as Hannah and it surprised him, knowing she was a seamstress.
“You don’t have to,” Hannah began.
“Hannah,” Jimmy said wearily.
“No, really,” Hannah protested. “You’ve done so much for me already.”
“You can deduct it from the money you owe me,” Jimmy quipped, trying to make light of their strange beginnings. He didn’t understand why she had couldn’t she just accept a simple gift? But he wanted to take his words back the instant he saw Hannah’s face fall.
“I’m kidding,” he whispered, pulling her close. Blast that stupid money, it never had anything to do with anything. He kissed her until Hannah put her arms around him and kissed him back. “Everything I have is yours,” he murmured. Good and bad, he thought to himself.
Hannah nodded, her eyes still downcast.
“So open the last one,” Jimmy said, hoping that what was in that package would cheer her up.
Hannah picked up the last parcel. When she opened it, she let the dress fall onto the bed. It was an indigo dress with lace around the jewel neckline. She knew that dress all too well, she had made it and the dressmaker she worked for had marked it for a hefty price. “I can’t.”
“What? The lady at the dress shop said it would look good on you,” Jimmy exclaimed. The woman had remarked cryptically that it was made for Hannah.
“I ain’t got any use for anything so grand,” she said softly, tracing the edges of the lace.
“You do tomorrow night,” Jimmy informed her. “Malcolm told me about some traveling musicians who are coming to town to put on a concert. Malcolm and Sadie are planning on going and they want us to go with them.”
When Hannah continued to look down, Jimmy added, “Don’t you like it?”
Hannah raised her eyes and said solemnly, “I love it.” ***
Sadie nudged her husband. “Look,” she hissed. “They’ll be gone within the hour,” she said, nodding in Jimmy and Hannah’s direction. Jimmy and Hannah had been out on the dance floor with many of the other young couples. But they were now off to the side, with their arms wrapped around each other, gently swaying to the music.
She recalled what Hannah had told her, that Jimmy didn’t love her, but Sadie was sure her friend was wrong. She saw how Jimmy’s eyes never left Hannah or how he smiled at every ridiculous thing that came out of her mouth. Yet she couldn’t seem to convince Hannah of that fact. Sadie shook her head slightly, Hannah was a dreamer who was afraid to dream. Sadie once again glanced at Jimmy, maybe that Hickok fella could remind her how to.
“So,” Malcolm rumbled, his version of a whisper. “We were the same way a few months ago.”
“Would you shush,” Sadie exclaimed. Did the whole world have to know their business? She glanced over in her friend’s direction and as predicted Jimmy took Hannah by the hand and began to lead her through the crowd.
Jimmy got on his horse and held his hand out to Hannah. He knew it was selfish, but he didn’t want to share his wife with anyone right now and the way Hannah kept looking at him, well it made him want to gallop the whole ride back to Sadie and Malcolm’s place.
As Jimmy held out his hand, Hannah grasped it firmly. But instead of swinging up behind him, she swung herself so she was in front of him. And when they were within a mile of Sadie’s home, Hannah carefully turned around, so she faced Jimmy and wrapped her legs around him.
“What are you doing?” Jimmy whispered.
“You want me to stop?” Hannah whispered back, as she squeezed her legs a little tighter.
“No,” Jimmy replied, his voice unsteady.
They soon made it back to the Davidson home, where Jimmy slithered off his horse, mildly surprised that his legs could hold him, and began to half-carry, half-drag Hannah into the house. Hannah was absolutely no help, having planted her mouth on his while yanking his shirt from his trousers. He made it halfway up the stairs, when his legs gave and he fell on top of her. He wanted to apologize, but Hannah had already unbuckled his gun belt, letting it fall to the ground with a loud clatter, and was now undoing the buttons on his pants. He hoped fervently that Sadie and Malcolm would stay for the whole concert, as he pushed up the skirt of Hannah’s dress, so it bunched up around her waist, searching for the opening in her drawers. After he rolled off of Hannah, she sat up and rubbed her back, righting her clothing while Jimmy did the same. “Does it hurt?” Jimmy asked, running his hand up her spine.
“Next time you can be on the bottom,” she teased.
Jimmy lifted her up and carried to the bedroom they shared. “It’s a deal,” he murmured, while Hannah’s eyes grew as wide as saucers.
Jimmy opened the door of his home and hung his gun belt on a peg in the wall. He glanced at the couch and as usual Hannah was sleeping on it. They had been home for three days now and every night he found Hannah on the couch. He told her over and over again to sleep in the bed. But she claimed that she wanted to wait up for him and then she apologized for not being able to stay awake. Jimmy frowned slightly. It sure sounded good, knowing your wife wanted to wait up for you; especially since he had been working double shifts, arriving home in the middle of the night. But he knew in the end it would all be worth it, as he had persuaded Buck to do the same in a few days. He and Hannah would be leaving then to meet his sisters.
He couldn’t believe that the trip to North Platte had changed their relationship so much. On the ride back to Rock Creek, sleeping on the trail, Hannah actually came to him. She would clean up from dinner while he would set up their bed. It wouldn’t have surprised him a bit if she ignored what he was doing and made her own bed. But she didn’t. She snuggled up to him, as if she didn’t have a care in the world. It was during that trip home, he began to feel what others had told him about marriage, namely Kid. He felt like Hannah was a part of him, the best part.
Yet, back home, Jimmy couldn’t rid himself of the suspicion that Hannah didn’t want to share a bed with him or anything else. Maybe she wasn’t as happy as he was and that’s why she still held back or maybe she felt neglected because he had been working so much. It didn’t help that neither one of them had declared their feelings for one another. Jimmy knew what his reason for keeping quiet was, he only hoped that Hannah’s reasons were similar to his and that she wasn’t keeping silent about her feelings because she didn’t have any.
Jimmy lifted Hannah off the couch and placed her in their bed, before he crawled in beside her. It seemed like five minutes later when he heard the clatter of a hairbrush hitting the ground. He looked around and saw it was already morning.
“I’m sorry,” Hannah said, quickly picking up the brush. She had undone her hair from the braid she slept in and was brushing her tresses, while still wearing the voluminous white nightgown she always wore.
Jimmy groaned softly, pulling the pillow over his face and muttered, “can’t a man get any sleep in his own house?”
He felt Hannah pounce on him, her long hair tickling his arms. “What makes you think I didn’t do it on purpose?” she said tartly.
Jimmy removed the pillow and asked, “why would you do such an awful thing? Wake up a hard working man?”
“Maybe it’s ‘cause I never see you awake,” Hannah retorted, trying to sound irritated, but it come out rather forlorn.
Jimmy pulled her into his arms and asked seriously, “you mind being home alone at night?”
“No,” Hannah replied. “You’ve been gone so much because of me. I expect you owe your fellow deputies some time back. Besides, I’m hardly ever here. Either Teaspoon or Rachel invites me to supper and then I go over to Lou’s to help her let some of her clothes out.” She smiled and added, “I ain’t never seen a woman grow so fast. I guess it’s ‘cause she’s so tiny.”
Even though she was busy, Hannah still missed Jimmy. It felt wrong being in his home without him and when he wasn’t there, all the old doubts came back. When he was with her, she could almost believe that he loved her. He certainly acted as if he did, but he had yet to say the words. Words Hannah knew were meaningless when she recalled how many times she heard her father say them to her mother. It was her only memory of the man. Even though she knew how meaningless the words were, she still wanted to hear them, she needed to hear them.
“It’s only for a few more days,” Jimmy told her. “Then we leave to go see Celinda.”
“Celinda, my sister. You forget already we’re leaving day after tomorrow to go and visit her and Nathan?”
“No,” Hannah said in a small voice.
Jimmy smiled, “I’d catch hell if she found about you before I got a chance to tell her.”
I don’t wanna meet her, Hannah wanted to scream. She would probably adore Jimmy’s sister and then there would be yet another person in her life that she had learned to care about who she would never see again. But Hannah didn’t scream, instead she did what she did best, she ran. Hannah raised her head and looked at Jimmy. “What are you gonna do with the money?” she asked. She was reminding herself as well as Jimmy. The money is why they were together, not this she thought as she let her fingers brush against him.
“Money?” Jimmy frowned.
“You know,” Hannah asked softly. “The ten thousand dollars.” It was a subject that bothered her greatly. Ten thousand dollars was a lot of weight to carry around.
“I don’t know,” Jimmy said thoughtfully. “Maybe get another horse and saddle.”
“A horse and saddle!” Hannah exclaimed in astonishment. He was going to buy a horse and saddle! “I ain’t never heard of a horse and saddle costing that much.”
Jimmy laughed, then asked, “What about you? What are you gonna buy?”
“A cow,” Hannah said decidedly, as if she had been thinking about this subject for a long time.
“I always wanted a cow,” Hannah explained. “For fresh milk and butter. And maybe a few chickens too.”
“I ain’t never heard of a cow and a few chickens costing so much,” Jimmy teased, as Hannah made a face at him.
“A horse, a cow and some chickens,” Jimmy repeated as he rolled Hannah on top of him. “Well I suppose they can all fit in the barn.” He pulled a lock of hair from his mouth and kissed her. But he stopped when Hannah didn’t respond, she just blinked at him. “What’s the matter?” he asked.
Hannah shook her head, unable to speak. She hated when he did this, acted like they were just ordinary married people. Didn’t he understand? She wasn’t going to be here once her money arrived. She wasn’t going to wait around until he got sick of her and asked her to leave, or worse still, left her.
“Something wrong with the barn?” Jimmy asked, feigning ignorance.
“No,” Hannah whispered.
“I think it’s a right nice barn,” Jimmy said. “Don’t you?”
“Don’t you wanna put your cow in my barn?” Jimmy asked. This whole conversation was getting ridiculous, but that’s how he and Hannah spoke sometimes, in riddles. Both of them meaning so much more that they ever said. He wished she could just accept what he was offering - a home, a family, a life together.
Hannah studied his face, “I -” she began. She stopped speaking and placed her lips on his.
“Hannah?” Jimmy said. He knew what she was doing. As usual Hannah was avoiding the issue at hand.
“Just kiss me,” Hannah beseeched him. “Please.”
Jimmy put his hands on either side of her face and did as she asked, he kissed her. It was then he heard a pounding at the front door.
“I’ll get it,” Jimmy said wearily. He walked very slowly to the door and opened it, longing to bash whoever’s head was on the other side. Once he opened the door, he found a boy from the post office standing there.
“Morning Deputy,” the boy sang out. “I was on my way to the Monroe place when this came, so I decided to bring it too. It’s on my way,” he added happily. The boy had decided that he wanted to be on the deputy’s good side, something he wasn’t often, especially since he had been caught soaping the window of the marshal’s office. Thus he had volunteered to bring the letter.
“Thank you,” Jimmy replied, his voice laced heavily with unnoticed sarcasm. When he took the paper from the boy, the boy continued to stand there, with an idiotic grin on his face. “What?” he asked impatiently. Then he remembered. He handed the child a coin that was lying on a small table nearby. “Thanks,” he said, once again, as he shut the door.
Jimmy read the envelope, it was for Hannah. He came back to the bed and handed it her. Slowly Hannah took the paper and opened it. After she read the letter, she silently handed it back to Jimmy.
Frowning Jimmy skimmed the words. Walter Lawton had written to tell Hannah that the formalities of her inheritance were complete and she would be receiving her money any day now. Hannah’s one thousand dollars would be delivered to the Rock Creek bank as soon as her uncle could arrange for it. When Jimmy read the words, his first thought had been of Tobias. Poor Tobias, he believed that Hannah was going to get his money, instead the U.S. government did. Seems as if Jasper Lawton thought that taxes were the devil’s work and he never paid them. “I’m sorry,” Hannah said softly.
“You ain’t gonna get your money,” Hannah cried.
“Oh that,” Jimmy smiled. He put his hands under her knees and eased her back down on the bed. “You can work it off.”
Hannah pushed Jimmy away from her and sat upright.
“What?” Jimmy asked, coming close to her. He put his arms around her.
Hannah slapped his arms away. “Don’t.”
“You read it,” Hannah said, tears springing into her eyes. “I don’t have ten thousand dollars.” She choked back a sob. Her uncle wouldn’t bother to come to Rock Creek to check on her marriage, one thousand dollars was nothing to the Lawtons. “But I’ll get you your money, somehow.”
Jimmy put his hands on Hannah’s shoulder and gave her a shake. “I don’t care about the money. What do you think the past few days have been? Practice?”
“Seduction!” Hannah hurled the word at him.
“Whose - Yours or mine?” Jimmy shouted. “You catch on quick, little girl.”
“Well I guess I should be happy you don’t think I’m using you to give some baby a name,” Hannah retorted.
Jimmy kept a firm grip on Hannah with one hand, raking his hand through his hair with the other. “I’m sorry.”
Hannah just tried to wriggle free.
Jimmy let his hands slide down around her waist and put his head close to hers. “I’m sorry for how I treated you earlier,” he murmured into her neck.
“Would you let go of me,” Hannah whispered. She wasn’t strong enough to do this, not physically or emotionally. She would like nothing better than to stay in his arms, forever. But she wasn’t going to dream her whole life away. “Please.”
Jimmy just tightened his grip on her. “If I let go, will you stay?”
“I want you to stay.”
Hannah looked down and wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands. “I’ll be fine. I was fine before I met you and I’ll be fine after.” She knew that Jimmy thought she was an incompetent or something.
“Maybe I won’t be,” Jimmy said, realizing those words to be the truth. He liked to tell himself that Hannah needed him, when the truth was, he needed her. Hannah was a survivor, she may not look like one or even act like one, but she was. She survived life with the Lawtons, life without a father, her mother’s death and she would survive if anything ever happened to him. Plus he had the power to give her the one thing she didn’t have and he did, a family.
Hannah jerked her head up at those words.
Jimmy gave her a small smile and leaned over the side of his bed, as he reached into his dresser. He rummaged around in a drawer until he found a small, well-hidden box. He held it out to Hannah. Her birthday was tomorrow and he had wanted to wait until then to surprise her. But she seemed to need it more now. He never really understood why women had such a fondness for the grand gesture, but they did and Hannah more than most. “Open it,” he said.
Hannah took the small box and opened it. Inside she found a gold band. “Jimmy?” she asked, not quite understanding what this was all about.
Jimmy removed the ring from the box and slipped it onto Hannah’s finger. “I never got you one on our wedding day.” He kissed her. “I love you.”
“You love me?” Hannah half-shouted, half-sobbed. “Then why didn’t you ever tell me?”
“Would you have believed it?” Jimmy asked quietly.
“What?” Hannah said tearfully. “Don’t you try to twist this around and make it all my fault.”
“Admit it Hannah. You wouldn’t have believed it if I’d said it before.”
“How do you know?”
“I know,” Jimmy replied, his voice heavy. He had finally begun to figure her out, a little at least. Almost everything Hannah felt about love was marred by her father and because of that, mere words would mean nothing to her. “I ain’t your father. I don’t say things and not mean ‘em. It took me a long time to be able to say this, but I do, I love you, Hannah. I loved you since the day you shoved my chair over in that saloon. And it scared the hell out of me, knowing how I felt about you, so I pushed you away. When you came back, I knew then I couldn’t let you leave, not again. But I also knew you’d never believe any of that, not if I just told you. I’d have to show you first.” Jimmy kissed her again. “So do you believe it now?”
“I don’t know.”
“Then go,” Jimmy said, his sorrow etched across his face as he released her. Hannah had to know that he loved her, because the life she would have with him would never be easy.
Hannah sat, motionless on the bed. Wasn’t it just like him to do this? Leave it all up to her.
“Hannah?” Jimmy said questioningly. He took heart in the fact that she hadn’t jumped to her feet and run for the door. She still sat, unmoving and he knew she had to be thinking about what he had said.
“Say it again.”
Jimmy smiled then. “Why? Do you finally believe it?”
“I believe you.” Hannah threw herself against Jimmy, “And I love you too,” she said, showering his face with kisses.