She opened her eyes and for a few moments she could not recall where she was. Was this her room? Where were her things?
Then it all came rushing back to her. Last night she had been sitting at the bar, drinking some whiskey and eating a nice slice of pie, apple pie. Yes, it was an odd thing to do but it was something she had done for a while now. In each and every town she had been in, she had eaten a slice of pie. The kind of pie did not really matter, whatever was in season would do.
She did this for two reasons. One, she wanted to sample pies. Some pies were simple, just fruit and crust, some had so many ingredients in them that she could barely even taste the fruit. But she liked knowing what towns and what restaurants had good pies. That way if she ever returned she knew where she could stop in for a nice slice of pie. She pulled a face. She never returned. But a girl could hope, couldn't she?
The second reason for her love of pie was the memories. She had good memories of eating pie. Her mother made the best pies in the world. Or at least in her opinion she did. Every month her mother would make at least one pie, using whatever fruit was in season and she often used ingredients that no one else would ever think of using. Once she even made a tomato pie.
The whiskey was to dull those old memories and help ease the pain of the new ones.
She closed her eyes, trying to shake off old memories and she focused on what had happened last night. She had been sitting at the bar, eating her pie and drinking her whiskey. Minding her own business when he had walked in. He had given her an appraising look and she had ignored him. He was not her type. She liked dark-haired, clean cut men, with dark eyes who dressed well. This one had light hair and brown eyes. And his hair was too long. His clothes were too dusty and on the shabby side. The only thing she found even remotely appealing about his looks was the fact he looked like he could ride through hell and back without so much as a singe. Oh, dear Lord, how she liked that about him.
He had approached her, teased her about drinking whiskey and eating pie. Inside she had been warmed. Maybe it was because she had had some whiskey, maybe too much whiskey. Maybe the warm feeling had been induced by the pie. It had been a very good slice of apple pie. Almost as good as her mother's. Maybe it was the ache inside her from eating the pie. It was too close to being as good as her mother's. How could pie make someone feel good and yet so lonely at the same time? Maybe it was the warmth in his eyes, they way they twinkled at her as he teased her.
Anyhow, one thing led to another and she was here. In his room. His room for heavens sake! And to top it all off, it was morning and she was still here. She gently removed the arm that was draped over her shoulders and waited.
She did not want to him to wake up. She did not want to hear him offer to eat breakfast with her; take her to meet his family or whatever stupid line he would come up with. She should have left when she had woken up in the middle of the night. But he had begun kissing her neck and she had forgotten all about leaving. Now if she woke him up she would be forced to hear his lame words, trying to make last night into something more. Men always felt guilty when she stayed too long. They did not seem to understand that she did not want more, she could not have more.
She was leaving town, again. She had her reasons for what she did last night and she had her reasons for leaving. The two sets of reasons were at cross purposes but so was eating apple pie and drinking whiskey. That in a nutshell was who Shelby was.
He did not even stir as she slid off the bed and hurriedly dressed. She opened and closed the door so quietly that there was not so much as a squeak.
But there was a click. Jimmy woke. He looked quickly around the bare room of the hotel he was staying at. He had just finished making a delivery on Teaspoon's behalf and had treated himself this hotel room. It was not much, just a bed, a dresser and a window with threadbare curtains. But it was a bed. Not a bunk or a hayloft. A nice soft bed. After two days sleeping on the trail, it was heaven.
Where was she? He hurried to the door and yanked it open. The hallway was empty.
Jimmy shut the door, his mind in a whirl. How would he ever find her again? As he sat back on the bed he understood what was happening. Clearly that girl did not want to be found. He should just be happy that he got to spend the night with a pretty girl. And pretty she was, with her big blue eyes and long brown hair. She had a sweet smile but when she thought no one was looking, the smile quickly vanished. She probably did not even know that that was the thing that had first drawn his attention.
Forget it, he told himself. She made her point, loud and clear. That is why she had vanished without even a "so long".
Jimmy walked toward the chair that his bag was sitting on and let out a quick "Ouch" as he felt something sharp under his foot. He bent down and picked up a necklace. It was cameo on a chain. He moved toward the window. Maybe he could spot her from there. He told himself he was only trying to give back her cameo. But as luck would have it, there wasn't hide nor hair of the girl.
"Damn", he said to himself. He realized he would not even know what to yell out the window if he had spotted her.
3 days later…
She walked into the hotel restaurant. She could not even recall the name of this town, but it did not matter. She took a seat at a table, ignoring the other patrons who eyed her curiously. Women did not usual venture out alone at night.
"Do you have any pie?" she asked the waiter when he approached her.
"Yes, miss. A nice lemon pie."
"Thank you. I'll take a slice and a shot of whiskey."
"Whiskey?" the waiter exclaimed, "… and pie?"
"All right," the waiter said disapprovingly, as he went to the kitchen. He soon returned and placed the pie and the shot in front of her along with a bill.
"Thank you," she told him. But before she could even take one bite, he appeared.
The man she had spent the night with three days ago picked up the bill and handed the waiter a few coins.
"Thanks, Jimmy," the waiter said, as he walked away.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed. "Are you following me?"
"You vanished without a trace. How could I follow you?" he said easily as he took a seat across from her.
"Then what are you doing here?"
"I live here."
"Here? You live, you live in…" her words trailed off. She could not even remember the name of the town she had met him in.
"Cedar Falls," he supplied. "No, I live here, in Rock Creek."
She jumped to her feet. "Great," she told him in an overly cheery voice. "Have a good night." She hurried out the door and found a dark alley. She leaned against the wall, her breath coming quickly. Seeing that fella again had unnerved her. If he could find her, did that mean all her activities were so easily monitored? Who else knew where she was?
"Here," the fella said, coming to stand next to her. "You forgot this the other night."
Automatically she held out her hand and he dropped her cameo in it. "I thought I lost this," she said gazing at the cameo.
He shrugged. "You left it in my room."
"Mind if I ask you something?"
She dropped her head. "Sure."
"Do you even like anything about me? I mean we were together and then you just disappeared. And now you rush off again."
She raised her head, sensing that this was her chance to run him off for good. "You aren't my type," she told him coolly. "I like clean-cut, dark haired men." She shook her head at him. "I like my men to have a little more polish."
He gave her a hard look. "So you were with me because you were drunk?"
But his voice was not hard. Something in his voice made her heart ache. He sounded hurt. "No," she whispered.
When he just stared at her expectantly, she added, "I like that you looked like you could ride through hell and back without a singe." That had been her first impression and that was the truth. He did not deserve to be hurt, she told herself.
"Are you running from something?"
"All right then." He turned to leave.
It was then she noticed the clasp on the chain of her cameo. It was fixed. The reason she had lost it was because she had been carrying it in her dress pocket. It must have slipped out during their night together. "Wait," she called out impulsively. "Did you have the chain fixed?"
He turned. "It was broken."
Her eyes began to fill. "It was my mother's cameo." All she had were memories and this cameo. Losing it had devastated her. And now there was this. This stranger had taken the time to fix it and to actually return it to her. "Can you put it on me?"
He returned to her side and took the cameo from her. When she turned around, he slipped it around her neck and fastened the clasp. When the chain was secured, she turned to face him. She put her arms around him and kissed him.
Jimmy woke, his fingers absently brushing the imprint of the cameo left on his chest. When the girl had fallen asleep, her body had been pressed against his. It had not been comfortable having a sharp object wedged between them, but he liked having her so close, that's why he did not move away. And after a while he did not even notice the cameo as he too had drifted off.
It was then he realized she was no longer there. He sat up, his eyes darting wildly about the hotel room. She was gone again. And this time she had vanished from her own room. What kind of fool was he? Why didn't he learn his lesson the first time?
He got off the bed, and stalked toward his clothing which were lying in an untidy heap on the floor. He yanked his pants on angrily. Then he stopped, staring at the floor. She had not vanished without a trace. He scarcely had a second to digest this latest piece of information when he heard a scream.
Grabbing his gun, Jimmy ran into the hallway. There she was. Some thug with thick blond hair and a big black hat had her pinned to the wall, his forearm across her throat, a gun held against her head.
"Let go of her," Jimmy growled.
The man turned to stare at him. "Just walk away. This ain't your concern."
Jimmy aimed his gun at the man. He had a clean shot. "Let go of her."
The man quickly pointed his weapon at him and Jimmy fired. The man fell to the ground with a thud.
The girl crumpled to the ground. Jimmy hurried to her side. "Are you okay?"
"What?" she asked, in between coughs as she raised her tear stained face.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice full of worry.
"They know where I am! I have to get out of here," she exclaimed. She tried to stand but her knees gave way and she fell back to the ground. Jimmy scooped her up and began moving back to her room.
"I'm sorry! I never meant to put you in such a position. Facing that man, him trying to kill you. I'm so sorry."
Jimmy stared at her. "Do you know who I am?" He had been in that kind of position more times than he cared to remember.
She shook her head.
"Jimmy Hickok." Nothing. She looked at him blankly.
"James Butler Hickok." Still nothing.
"Wild Bill Hickok," he tried once more.
She shook her head once more. There was not even a hint of recognition in her face.
Jimmy beamed with happiness. She had no idea who he was! She did not pick him for his reputation. He was her type despite her protestations. He kissed her hard before placing her on the bed.
She said, "I didn't run away."
"I know. Where were you?" Jimmy picked up her corset from the floor and handed it to her.
"We need to get dressed; Teaspoon will be here any minute."
"What's a Teaspoon?"
"He's the town marshal."
Her eyes grew wide.
Jimmy crouched in front of her. "He can help you. We can both help you."
She stared at him and then a flurry of words flew out of her. Jimmy could not make sense of her words. All he could gather was that she was in a lot of trouble. She had something that someone wanted bad enough to kill for and apparently had already killed for it.
Jimmy kissed her forehead. She may think he could ride through hell and back without a singe but clearly she had been through her own hell and was most definitely singed. "Sounds like Teaspoon's specialty," he assured her quietly. "Digging people out of messes is what Teaspoon does best."
"Really?" she asked, hope filling her eyes.
"Really." Jimmy paused. "And maybe after we talk to him, we could talk," he smiled, "and you can tell me why you eat pie and drink whiskey." He squeezed her hands before standing up. He grabbed his shirt and pulled it on.
She let out a soft laugh. "That's what you want to know?"
"That's where I want to start."
"Thank you," she tiled her head to one side, "Jimmy?"
She finished buttoning her dress and rose to her feet. "I'm Shelby," she said, kissing him.