November 2010 Volley Challenges:
by: Miss Raye
William Tompkins prided himself on being a man who knew just what was what in the town of Sweetwater, so when they hired themselves a Marshal, he saw it as his civic duty to inform him of the 'lay of the land.'
Marshal Sam Cain was trying not to fall asleep, but the heat of the room and the drone of Tompkins' recitation of town 'information' were more than adequate to serve as a lullaby of the worst kind.
Tompkins nodded sagely as he looked out over the gathering. "Don't you agree, Marshal Cain?"
Pulling at his tie, Sam struggled to remember just what it was that the man had been saying. "Uh, yeah, sure."
Downing the last of his drink, Tompkins nodded with satisfaction. "That's what I thought."
Sam was beginning to wonder if becoming a hermit was out of the question when Tompkins clamped a hand down on his shoulder. "Now you look here, Marshal." He gestured to a woman promenading around the room on an older man's arm. "That's Sarabeth McCalister."
The young woman smiled at her partner, but her eyes were tired, or was it cold?
Tompkins continued on. "She's dancin' with her father; he owns the controlling interest in the bank. Not a bad dowry I'm told."
Sam resisted the urge to ask if the dowry was for the father or the daughter; instead he just nodded.
"And that one," Tompkins pointed out another young woman, this one blonde and bubbly as she carried on a conversation seemingly with four men at once. "That's Melanie Granville. She's a sweet young lady with a fine knowledge of dry goods. She's always in my store buying yard goods for her maids to sew into dresses for her."
The thought actually strangled the smile right off of his lips. Maids. Even if he was thinking about finding a wife he wasn't about to take on an entire household. Having hired help underfoot was one thing, but the expense on his salary? That was likely to make any sort of interest he had in her fade right into thin air.
Tompkins seemed undeterred. He rattled on about every eligible woman in town, telling the new Marshal about their families and how long they'd lived there.
Somewhere in the middle of the recitation Sam saw a flash of honeyed-red hair amongst the throng of raven-blacks and sunny-blonds and warm-browns. "Who is that?"
Mumbling under his breath Tompkins quickly changed the subject. "Now, Hannah Miller, she's a precious little thing…" as Tompkins droned on, Sam watched for every flash of red curls amongst the ladies in the room, the prim white blouse tucked into the narrow waist of a full dark green skirt. She was a contrast to the other women surrounding her. Simple lines and solid colors amidst a forest of printed fabrics ruffled to within an inch of their lives. Surely if any one of them were caught in a puddle they'd drown with the weight of their clothes before they could reach the safety of solid ground.
"Tompkins? Tompkins?" Sam tried his best to catch the man in between words, but it was quickly becoming obvious that it was going to be nearly impossible. "Bill!"
The use of his first name shocked the older man into silence in the middle of his latest recitation. "Yeah?" "I was wonderin'… who is that lady over there?" The crowd of dancers opened up at just the right time and the willowy redhead stepped into view.
Sam could almost hear Tompkins jaw drop beside him. "Look, Marshal," the words were heavy, nearly growled from his throat, "there's women and there's ladies. That woman over there doesn't quite make it into the latter of the categories."
As a marshal, Sam was used to sizing up people at a glance. He'd seen William Tompkins as a pompous old windbag before the man had even offered him a hand to shake and he'd been right about that. The other women in the room were fine. Young and sweet. Pretty and feminine, too.
Still, that other woman, the one Tompkins seemed to have his longjohns in a twist over, she didn't seem like the type to get in on a man's badside. The crowd had all but swallowed her up but she was still fresh in his mind.
"Seems to me, if I'm supposed to be the law 'round here, Tompkins, I ought to know what folks are doin'." He said it, wanting to get some information, but still he felt as though he were almost condoning the man's gossip. It didn't sit well with him but even Sam Cain wasn't above a lame excuse every now and then if it served his purpose, and that woman certain had captured his interest.
"I'm afraid most of the folks here in Sweetwater don't seem to have a good opinion of me."
'Well don't I feel the fool,' Sam turned to see the woman he'd been so preoccupied with standing at his shoulder. "I can't say that I understand it myself." He struggled to keep his voice even, his tone light. Inside he felt like a total sham and a heel to boot. "I'm sorry, I should introduce myself." He wiped his uncharacteristically damp palm off on the thigh of his pants and held it out. "I'm the new Marshal, S-"
He was stunned. Not just that she knew his name, but the way she said it. That honeyed tone in her voice that sounded so much like… like… he couldn't put his finger on it, but he knew he wanted to hear it again. "Yes, that's my name."
She smiled again as she shook his hand, her grip soft and still strong. "I'm pleased to meet you, Marshal Cain."
A moment later she was gone and he was left standing there with his hand still held out in front of him. He knew when he heard the not so subtle clearing of Tompkins' throat that his odd reaction hadn't gone unnoticed.
Sam dropped his hand and turned back to watch the dancing, his mind still struggling to understand what had just happened.
"If you ask me," Tompkins huffed, "that woman's entirely too forward to be decent. And that's just the first thing I could tell you 'bout that woman. You know when she came here, I told myself…"
As Tompkins continued to blather on about her it occurred to Sam that he'd been so completely undone by her smile, the touch of her hand, the sound of her voice, and everything else, that again, he hadn't managed to do one simple thing. He didn't know her name.
But that was fine by him. After all, Sam Cain liked a challenge.
Author's Note: Thanks a ton to Liz M for putting in a quick beta because I have no memory anymore