I made a promise to myself
To get burned by someone else
Until you walked in
I felt the old magic begin
I felt the room startin’ to spin
As my will came tumbling down*
Kid Curry didn’t get up from his slumped position on the cold cell bench when Heyes walked in. The sheriff, his face carefully blank, shut the door and went back into the other room, leaving the two men alone.
"How’d you get him to let you in?" Curry asked dully, not even raising his head to confront his partner.
Heyes regarded him with worried eyes. "Ruby vouched for me. Her husband was an important man around these parts. Folks still respect her. Nobody here believes I’m anyone except Joshua Smith—an innocent victim, taken in by you, like everyone else."
An innocent victim, Curry thought, studying his hands clenched in his lap. That’s exactly what Heyes was: an innocent victim. The great manipulator had met his match. So much had changed so fast recently, Curry couldn’t quite take it all in at once. It seemed like so much longer than five weeks since he and Heyes had parted company in Denver…
Rangely Colorado wasn’t much to look at as far as towns went, but it boasted a two story hotel with an attached restaurant and several decent-sized saloons. A bed with clean sheets, a place to eat and a saloon to play poker were the only important things, as far as Hannibal Heyes was concerned. The fact that the local sheriff, one Clay Thomason, was totally unknown to him factored into the equation, as well. The locals didn’t seem too interested in a stranger riding into their town, either. It all added up to a nice quiet spot where he could sit and wait for his partner, Kid Curry, to catch up to him.
The two men had spent the previous few hard, dusty months on a trail drive, moving a herd up the Chisholm trail to Ellsworth. By the time they reached their destination in Kansas, they both swore they weren’t going to take any job remotely related to ranch work unless and until necessity dictated it. After months of crossing the plains, watching their comrades drown in rivers, get trampled by steers, gored by longhorns, and various other mishaps—always wondering if one of them was going to be next—they were just happy to reach civilization again…if a railhead cow town like Ellsworth could accurately be described as "civilized."
They’d both jumped at a chance to work as couriers for a gentleman they met up with in Ellsworth. Most of the other cowpokes from the drive had already turned back south, heading home to Texas, but Heyes and Curry figured they’d stay in town and gamble, hoping to hear word of some work that wouldn’t involve livestock. There were plenty of saloons and bawdy houses—and plenty of drovers coming through—offering lots of opportunities for gambling. Truthfully, Heyes would have been happy to stay a while longer, but Curry always got a little strange and depressed when they traveled in Kansas. The memories of their childhood there were mostly bad.
Scott White, their employer, was a lawyer for a major Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, passing through Ellsworth on his way back East to conduct some business. He had already transacted some business along the way, though, and had numerous documents that needed to be delivered to his clients in Colorado. The desk clerk in the hotel where he was staying directed him to Heyes and Curry, and they soon struck a mutually satisfactory deal.
The partners went as far as Denver on the train together, at which point they had deliveries to make in opposite directions. Rangely seemed like the best place for them to join up again.
It was the last delivery Heyes had to make, and it was in the general area Curry would eventually have to head, so Heyes shrugged. "I’ll meet you there, Kid. I’ll probably be there way ahead of you; I’ll just play a little poker and see if I can’t increase our earnings."
Curry was philosophical about the situation. "It figures I’d get stuck with the longer route. You’ll be kicking back with a beer, playing poker, while I’m still riding from town to town delivering these deeds." He turned a baleful eye on his partner. "I should know better than to flip a coin with you."
Heyes just grinned and tipped his hat as they parted company.
It was getting close to suppertime the evening he rode into Rangely. After stabling his horse at the livery stable and paying extra for some grain, he headed for the hotel with visions of a hot dinner and an even hotter bath dancing in his head. The hotel was nothing extraordinary—especially when compared to some of the fancier places he and the Kid often frequented in Denver during their days as outlaws—but it was clean and seemed in good repair. A roof over his head for the night seemed pretty close to heaven at the moment.
By the time he made his way downstairs to the dining room, he was feeling clean and relaxed for the first time since they’d headed out from Texas months earlier. He figured it would be several weeks before his partner showed up and, although he missed Curry’s company, he was looking forward to a few lazy weeks of doing nothing but playing poker.
He glanced at the restaurant’s meager menu and decided to splurge on a steak his first night. Ironically, beef was an item seldom found on a cowpoke’s menu during a cattle drive. Every steer that made it to the railhead was more money in the pocket of the boss, so the drovers made do with beans, hardtack, bacon, and sometimes prairie chickens. Heyes had been longing for a good, juicy steak for months. If he did well at the poker table he might be able to indulge himself again, but in the meantime he was going to enjoy at least one night not worrying about expenses. He spared a thought for his partner still out on the trail somewhere, no doubt eating beans over a campfire, and then gave a mental shrug. He’d make it up to the Kid when he got to town; he made a mental note to make sure he saved enough of his winnings to treat his partner to a steak dinner.
He was halfway through his meal when his back muscles started to twitch. It was a familiar reaction—one which usually heralded someone watching him. His instincts were screaming and it took a supreme effort of will to continue on eating as if nothing was wrong. Finally, he just couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was observing him, and he turned around to glance behind him.
The small dining room was almost empty, with only one middle-aged couple finishing up their dessert, and an attractive redheaded lady in her mid to late twenties who was dining alone. The couple were deep in conversation, seemingly unaware of Heyes, but the lady was staring right at him.
Heyes didn’t recognize her, but that didn’t mean she didn’t know who he was. He’d never been to Rangely before, but Brown’s Park wasn’t too far from this part of Colorado, and he had spent time there and in the vicinity when he was still on the outlaw trail. Of course, Heyes wasn’t unused to turning the heads of the ladies. A medium build, a ready smile, and dark brown hair and eyes, combined with a quick wit, gave him an edge over most cowpokes where women were concerned. But this particular woman didn’t appear interested in his good looks or personality. She was staring at him in a piercing, almost calculating, manner.
Gulping down his apprehension, he smiled at her as their eyes met, and got to his feet, crossing the few feet separating their tables. "Excuse me, ma’am, I couldn’t help noticing you were watching me. Do we know each other?"
"Oh, I don’t think so," she said, suddenly flustered by his direct approach. She was a petite woman with hair the color of autumn red leaves and dark blue eyes. Her hair was elegantly styled and swept up on her head, so the length of it wasn’t readily apparently, but Heyes guessed it was long. Her Irish ancestry was clearly revealed not only by the color of her hair and eyes, but by the pale sprinkling of freckles across her face, the fairness of her complexion, and the slight upturning of her nose.
Heyes continued to smile, still not sure whether or not she recognized him. She might be biding her time, afraid to let on she knew who he was with no sign of the law to turn him over to. Paranoia had saved his life on more than one occasion, so he wasn’t about to discount the possibilities now. "I’m Joshua Smith," he offered his name with a slightly upraised eyebrow, conveying a question. She was still staring at him with a puzzled expression.
"Oh, my," she said suddenly, blushing slightly. "Where are my manners! Please sit down and join me, Mr. Smith. I’m Ruby Henry."
Heyes pulled out a chair and sat down, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table. "Are you just passing through Miss Henry?"
"It’s Missus." She immediately noticed his quick glance around the room. "I’m a widow," she added. "My husband died last year and left me this hotel along with several other properties around town."
"Oh." Heyes relaxed a little, studying her carefully. She was quite beautiful with a slightly more worldly look about her than he would have expected to find in such a small, out of the way town. A lot of men didn’t care for women with red hair, but Heyes found he liked it, and it didn’t look too brassy on Mrs. Henry. It suited her complexion perfectly, in fact. He looked her up and down thoughtfully, not caring if she noticed his scrutiny. Turnabout was fair play, he figured. Even her clothes were a bit out of place, a bit too elegant, in the simple dining room of such an out-of-the-way town.
"You’re probably wondering why I was staring at you," she ventured, taking note of his inspection.
Heyes nodded slowly. "Hmm." He’d learned a long time ago to let folks talk when they were willing. He’d wait and see what she had to say by way of explanation before he started making plans to leave. If he had to cut and run it was going to make hooking up with the Kid more difficult. Not to mention the fact that it might be dangerous for Curry to even come into town. He hoped the lady wasn’t remembering his face because he’d robbed a train she was on.
"You do look quite familiar," she admitted. "I can’t place you, though. I thought maybe you were one of my husband’s business acquaintances. They’re always showing up. Many of them don’t realize he died until they get here. He didn’t involve me much in his business dealings, so I’m afraid I didn’t know who to notify when he passed away." She paused a beat, but when he didn’t say anything into the silence, she went on, "Did you know my husband, perhaps? Dale Henry?"
Heyes shook his head no. "I’m sure I’d remember a lady as pretty as you, ma’am," he said quickly, not wanting to encourage her to try to remember him. "I’ve never heard of your husband, either, I’m afraid."
She shrugged. "I suppose you must resemble someone else I’ve met, then."
"That must be it," Heyes agreed firmly.
"Are you in town on business, Mr. Smith?" She smiled, dismissing the subject of their prior acquaintance.
Heyes nodded. "In a manner of speaking. I just finished up some business and I’m supposed to meet my partner here. He won’t be along for several weeks, though. I thought I’d take it easy in the meantime."
"Rangely is a very quiet town; some might even say dull," Ruby said. "I understand the saloons do a good business on Saturday nights, but other than that, you’re in for an unexciting time."
"I could use the rest," Heyes admitted, aware it was the truth. The last few months had really taken it out of him, perhaps more than he’d realized. "I won’t mind being bored for a little while."
"Oh? What business are you in?"
Heyes hesitated a moment, but settled on telling her the truth—at least the part of it that wouldn’t get him arrested. There was no harm in her thinking he was nothing more than a drifter and a cowboy. "My partner and I came up from Texas with a trail drive. When we got to Kansas, we were offered jobs delivering some documents throughout this part of Colorado." He laughed shortly. "My partner isn’t too fond of Kansas—we grew up there—and we would have taken any job that didn’t involve cattle…"
The waiter came over at that moment, carrying a bottle of red wine and a glass.
"I ordered some wine, Mr. Smith," Ruby said. "Would you care to join me?"
Heyes tipped his head sideways. "I’d be delighted."
Ruby gestured at the waiter. "Bring another glass for Mr. Smith, Tom. And fetch the rest of his dinner over here before it gets any colder."
"Thanks," Heyes said, settling down, finally relaxing again. Maybe his stay in Rangely would be more interesting than he’d anticipated. The company of a wealthy, beautiful woman was an unanticipated pleasure. "Call me Joshua, please," he added.
"Then you must call me Ruby. Ma’am makes me sound so old."
Heyes regarded her critically a moment. "I’d say you’re awfully young to be a widow, Ruby."
"My husband was much older than me," she admitted. "But I loved him. We were only together four short years…he was very good to me." She took a sip of wine. "And he left me quite well taken care of."
"You don’t find Rangely dull yourself?" Heyes asked with a knowing gaze, lifting the glass of wine the waiter handed him. It was a good vintage—something he couldn’t normally afford. He and the Kid enjoyed the high life, but didn’t often get to taste it, especially since they’d given up their outlaw ways. He figured he might as well take advantage while the opportunity was presenting itself.
Ruby laughed. "You’re very astute, Joshua. Yes. I find it incredibly boring. Especially now my husband’s gone. He, at least, made it worthwhile. We always had a good time together, no matter where we were. In fact, I often eat here in the hotel in the hopes of meeting interesting people, such as yourself. I have a ranch slightly outside of town, but it’s very lonely eating all by myself out there."
"Maybe you’d like to join me again tomorrow night, then?" Heyes suggested, already looking forward to another evening of fine wine and attractive company. He knew there would be plenty of time later at night, long after Mrs. Henry would have gone to bed, to play poker, if he was so inclined.
Ruby looked delighted. "I’d love to."
"In fact," Heyes continued, "Perhaps you’d like to go for a ride tomorrow? Break up the boredom? I’ve got to make a delivery north of town, and then I’m free until my partner shows up."
"That would be wonderful." Ruby clapped her hands together. "I could show you my property, if you like. It’s quite a lovely ranch, although we do have a lot of cattle." She winked at him. "You might not want to see them."
"I’ll make an exception for you," Heyes winked back.
"Forgive me, Joshua, but you don’t strike me as the typical cowboy," Ruby said, raising an eyebrow as she sipped a glass of white wine. It was early in the evening, and the hotel wasn’t very full in the middle of the week, so they had the hotel restaurant completely to themselves.
"Oh?" Heyes raised an eyebrow of his own. It was only his fourth night in town, but he already felt relatively at ease with the young widow. They’d spent their days together, touring the countryside, and their evenings enjoying fine wine and food at her hotel restaurant. Heyes was beginning to feel almost pampered, although he was doing very well for himself at the late night poker tables, and was paying for every meal they took together. He did wonder if she had told her restaurant manager to undercharge him. The caliber of the food and drink they were enjoying every night seemed much higher than the price would indicate. He smiled as he lifted his own glass of wine.
"And what is the ‘typical’ cowboy like?" He didn’t know whether he should be alarmed or amused that she could so easily see he wasn’t the common trail hand he claimed to be.
Ruby shrugged. "I suppose I’m not sure…but most of the men who work on my ranch are considerably less educated than you. Just common drifters. They’re less… genteel."
"Genteel?" Heyes burst out laughing. "I’ve never been described quite that way." He sobered when she continued to look at him inquiringly. "All right. So I’m not typical. I like to read." He hesitated a moment, before deciding to tell her a bit more. It wasn’t very often he felt he could share any part of his past with anyone other than the Kid. "I never had much education. I ran away from an orphanage when I was a teenager, and they weren’t very big on educating us there, anyway. They were more interested in the work they could get out of us. But I knew how to read and write already. I’ve always enjoyed books. I guess I got the habit of reading from my pa before he died. You’d be surprised what you can learn from books."
"Well, I enjoy a good book myself, so no, I wouldn’t be surprised. But there’s more to you than that," Ruby said firmly. "You’ve been winning pretty big at the poker tables, haven’t you? Are you a professional gambler, Joshua?"
Heyes blushed slightly. "How’d you know I was winning?" He’d been very careful not to head for the saloons until well after he thought Ruby would have gone back to her ranch for the night, although sometimes he knew she slept in a suite in town. Even then, she tended to retire to her rooms not too long after dinner.
"I own the biggest saloon in town. The manager was asking me about you. He’s afraid you’re cheating," Ruby explained.
"Cheating! I don’t have to cheat to win!" Heyes was suddenly outraged, and he felt slightly violated that the manager had spoken to Ruby about him behind his back. If he had known he was playing in a saloon she owned, he would have moved along to one of the other establishments. There were several to choose from in a town the size of Rangely, and he had, in fact, played at all of them over the past few nights. "Look, Ruby, I don’t play poker professionally, but I am good at it. I know the odds, and I play them. I have a good memory, too, and it comes in handy when the cards are getting near the bottom of the deck. Most of the cowpokes in this town wouldn’t know the odds against helping two pair if—"
"All right," Ruby interrupted, laughing and holding up her hands in a surrendering gesture. "All right. Calm down. No one’s accusing you of anything."
"Sounds like your manager had a thought or two along those lines!" Heyes took a deep breath, still insulted at the implication. He didn’t hold with cheating, and he certainly didn’t like being accused of it. If the manager of Ruby’s saloon thought he was pulling some card tricks, he could get in trouble or find himself the focus of the local law’s attention… something he could not afford to be.
Ruby frowned, her laughter fading when Heyes continued to look upset. "I didn’t say I believed him. I think I know you better than that."
"You don’t hardly know me at all. We only just met." Heyes knew it was true. She had no reason to believe he wasn’t a professional cardsharp, coming into town hoping to make a killing and taking advantage of a rich widow.
"I’m generally a good judge of character and you don’t strike me as a cheat. I told Ralph to leave you alone and let you play." She hesitated a second. "I also told him your credit was good, although from the sound of things, you won’t need it."
Heyes was shocked. He wasn’t used to people trusting him, he realized. "You didn’t have to do that." He slumped back into his seat, suddenly aware of how tense he’d become during their conversation. He was always poised for flight these days, always expecting someone to recognize him or the Kid. In some ways, he missed their days with the Devil’s Hole gang. They’d been on the run a lot then, but there had been good times, too, and plenty of money to spend.
"I know. It was my pleasure. You’ve given me a pleasant distraction while you’ve been here." Ruby twisted a large diamond ring on her middle finger, looking suddenly shy. "I thought…well, I thought perhaps you’d like to come out to the ranch for dinner tomorrow night, instead of eating in the hotel. I’m a fairly good cook and I’d like to fix you something special."
Heyes was taken aback for a moment. He smiled slightly as he thought of an evening alone with Ruby, in a private residence with no interruptions. It was quite literally years since he’d had the luxury of courting a beautiful woman under such pleasant circumstances. The previous few nights in the hotel restaurant had been enjoyable, to be sure, but nothing like being totally alone with a lovely companion. "Won’t people talk?" he teased gruffly, still trying to calm himself.
"Let them!" Ruby sniffed. "Town gossips don’t concern me." She returned his smile, with just the hint of an amused glint in her eyes. "You’ll come, won’t you?"
Heyes inclined his head slightly to one side. "Of course. Wouldn’t miss it."
Dinner at Ruby’s ranch was elegant and delicious. Heyes had to admit she was a good cook, although he couldn’t help wondering if she had had her cook prepare some of it ahead of time. She looked so lovely when he arrived that he couldn’t imagine she had spent the day working in a hot kitchen. After months of eating beans and hardtack, having a beautiful woman prepare a home-cooked meal was something right out of a fantasy. He almost felt like pinching himself to see if he was dreaming…but he didn’t care to wake up if he was. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been pampered by someone other than perhaps his mother when he was still a young boy. In a way, it was disturbing that he liked it so much. He knew it couldn’t—and wouldn’t—last much longer. As soon as Curry showed up, or shortly thereafter, they would have to be moving along.
After a leisurely dinner, Ruby showed Heyes into a cozy sitting room where a fire was already blazing in the fireplace, chasing the late autumn chill from the room. The furniture was obviously expensive, even to Heyes’ untrained eye, as was the plush Oriental rug covering most of the floor.
"I’ll get some brandy," Ruby offered, "and perhaps a cigar? I still have quite a few of my husband’s private stock left."
Heyes nodded, wandering around the edges of the room to examine the artwork decorating the walls. He recognized the names on one or two of the paintings, and was not surprised to realize they were originals. Ruby had told him her husband was very wealthy, and he’d seen the proof of that throughout the last few days as she’d showed him her various real estate and livestock holdings. He had the impression she was blessed with not only property, but also very well set financially. He stopped short in his exploration, almost against his will, when he found himself facing a small safe set into the wall. It was obvious the safe had originally been hidden behind a larger painting; the hinges the painting had swung on were still in evidence, although the painting itself was nowhere to be seen.
"I don’t know what’s in it," Ruby said, noticing his scrutiny and coming to stand at his shoulder as she handed him a snifter full of brandy. "Sheriff Thomason has offered to find someone to dynamite it open, but I’m afraid of destroying the documents inside. My husband knew the combination, of course, but I’m afraid it’s a secret he’s taken to his grave. His death was very sudden and unexpected, you see, so he never passed the information along to me or anyone else." She paused a split second, studying Heyes’ face. "It’s caused me no end of trouble. There are some important documents missing from my husband’s estate and I suspect they are in there…"
Heyes cleared his throat. "Perhaps you should dynamite it. If the papers are that important."
"I know," Ruby sighed. "I’ve been putting it off, hoping to find some less drastic way of getting it open. I’m so afraid of destroying whatever is in there. And we’ve managed to work around the missing documents so far…or at least my accountants have, with some creative thinking."
Heyes’ fingers were itching. He knew he could have the safe open in a matter of minutes. It wasn’t even an up-to-date model. The date stamped on the outside branded it as built in 1873…long before any manufacturer had perfected a system of quieting the tumblers. Before he even knew what he was doing, he took a step closer to it, and then another one. His head was buzzing, the challenge of solving the puzzle luring him forward.
"Joshua?" Ruby’s voice pulled him up short. "Is something wrong?"
He shook his head, thinking furiously. "I…uh, I used to work in a bank, Ruby. This safe is outdated. I think I could get it open for you."
"No, really?" Her eyes lit up. "Why, that would be wonderful! Mr. Willoughby from our local bank tried, but his hearing isn’t as good as it used to be, and he couldn’t manage it. None of his younger employees have the first idea how to crack a safe."
Heyes nodded, already turning his mind to the problem at hand. He handed Ruby back his brandy snifter and, leaning his head up against the cold metal, flexed his fingers. He began carefully turning the combination lock. The first tumbler clicked into place and he made a mental note of it. There were only three numbers to find, in the end. With a flourish, he pulled the handle down and swung the door open, waving at the contents with a big grin on his face.
Ruby looked slightly stunned. "It only took you a moment! Mr. Willoughby worked on that safe for hours!"
Heyes’ grin faded slightly as he realized what a stupid idiot he was. The surest way to have her start wondering where she’d seen him before was to put it into her mind that he might be wanted—especially if she really did remember him from a train he’d robbed. He’d just proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he was an accomplished safecracker. She already knew he played a mean hand of poker. Next he’d be showing off his fast draw and marksmanship. His stupid pride and an uncontrollable urge to tackle the safe had combined to make his common sense fly out the window momentarily. He gave himself a good hard, mental kick. It was usually Curry who got carried away and didn’t think things through in such situations.
"It was nothing," he lied quickly, "Maybe you’d like to take a look inside." His only hope was to divert her attention sufficiently to keep her from asking any more awkward questions. He stepped aside.
Her eyes narrowed and she studied him a long moment. "Of course," she finally said, moving to the open safe. "You’re just full of surprises, Joshua." She dug through the assorted papers and pulled out a sealed envelope with an exclamation of triumph. "This is exactly what I was hoping to find. Oh, thank you, Joshua!" She threw her arms around Heyes’ neck and hugged him.
Heyes was relieved her attention seemed to be diverted from his safecracking abilities, but it wasn’t long before he was uncomfortably aware his own attentions were shifting. He cleared his throat and tried to, gently, push her away. She loosened her hold on his neck, but instead of moving away, he found himself nose to nose with her…and then her mouth was on his, warm and soft and willing. Even somewhat demanding. The envelope Ruby was still clutching fluttered to the floor, where it lay ignored. Her hands went up into his hair, holding the back of his head.
Heyes thought about pulling away for a split second, but he really didn’t want to. She was pretty and rich, and it had been a long time since he’d kissed a woman who wasn’t a saloon girl. She tasted different, more like fine brandy and sweet mint than stale smoke and whiskey. And there was nothing hurried about her kiss or the way she moved her body against his. It was more than obvious she was willing. Realistically and logically, he knew it wasn’t a good idea to allow matters to progress the way they were going. She was going to expect things of him that he wasn’t able to give her, in the long run. But his body had other ideas, and he found he wasn’t strong enough to resist. It was the first time he’d felt so good in longer than he could remember. The kiss deepened as her mouth opened invitingly under his. Her hands were already working at the buttons on his shirt; they slipped inside the fabric to wrap around him and caress his back, pulling him closer. She tugged at the top of his long underwear, pulling the shirt out of his pants, and sliding underneath to roam over his bare flesh. Without thinking, he began undoing the fastenings on the back of her dress. Slowly at first, and then faster and faster, when she murmured her encouragement. He knew he ripped a few of the fastenings, but he didn’t think she cared.
Somehow they ended up laying on the rug, in front of the fire, pillows grabbed off the couch heaped around them.
"I don’t think this is a good idea," Heyes finally had the presence of mind to point out, as they broke apart from another breath-stealing kiss. Ruby was already half unclothed, her breasts spilling out of her unlaced corset, and he’d long since shrugged out of his vest and shirt.
"It’s a little late to stop now," Ruby said breathlessly. She kissed him on the tip of his nose and then down a line across his cheek, searching for his mouth again. Her hands teased at his nipples and then moved lower. "I gave the staff the night off," she added pointedly. "You’re a gambler, Joshua. Take a chance on me."
Heyes knew she was right, and she’d already told him more than once—and in more than one way—that she was willing. He groaned and surrendered to his baser instincts. He let his hands have free rein, pleased and encouraged by Ruby’s little moans of pleasure. He sighed, leaning forward to nibble lightly at her earlobe, smiling at the shiver that went through her. Then he was the one moaning in delighted surprise as she encouraged him to roll over onto his back, her hands and her lips working their magic on him.
"Hey! Anybody home?" Curry called out, easing the door open, but stopping, stunned, in the doorway at the sight of the sumptuous room spread out before him.
The room was absolutely enormous. Big enough for him and Heyes, plus a few more, he figured. There was even a small sitting room set off to one side with a table and several chairs clustered around it, as well as a couch. The bed was a huge four-poster and looked softer and more inviting than anything he’d ever seen. It had been a long, hard several weeks on the trail for him. He and Heyes could rarely—if ever—afford such luxury. Even in the old days, when they’d still been robbing banks and trains, they had other members of the gang they had to split their money with before they could indulge themselves. He was hoping his partner had done well at the poker table during the intervening weeks, but he’d never expected anything like this. For a moment, he wondered if the desk clerk had given him the key to the wrong room. He glanced down at the key in his hand to double-check it.
"Thaddeus!" Heyes jumped up from an easy chair on the other side of the room and came to grab Curry in a bear hug, not seeming to mind the dusty state of his friend’s clothes. "I was beginning to worry about you!"
"Yeah, well, I got delayed for a while down in Bedford," Curry said, grinning, happy to see Heyes himself, but wondering why he was calling him Thaddeus in private. He slapped Heyes on the back, observing that his partner was looking sleek and well-fed. The other man’s clothes looked new, too. "Since when can we afford—?"
Then, he noticed they weren’t alone and understood the need for the alias. Pulling off his hat and dropping it on a table, he raised his eyebrows at Heyes. "You going to introduce me to your friend?"
The lady came to her feet with an obviously forced smile on her face. When she turned fully around and Curry met her eyes, he barely covered his surprise. It was evident she recognized him at the same moment he recognized her. He bit his tongue, not sure what was going on.
Heyes seemed unaware of the sudden undercurrent of tension. "Of course. Ruby, this is my partner I’ve told you so much about. Thaddeus, this is Mrs. Ruby Henry. We’ve become good friends while waiting for you to finally arrive."
"I’ll just bet you have," Curry muttered, pulling off a weathered glove and taking Ruby’s small hand in his for a moment. At least now he knew why Heyes was looking so comfortable and satisfied. He didn’t think Heyes heard his comment, but he knew Ruby had. She tensed slightly and pulled her hand quickly away.
"How nice to meet you at last," she said stiffly. "Joshua was very worried something had happened to you. He expected you days ago."
"Well, here I am, safe and sound."
"Yes, here you are," she agreed.
"I’m going to go get us a drink," Heyes interrupted, already heading for the door. "You look as dry as a desert."
Curry nodded gratefully, slumping down into the chair Heyes had vacated.
"What are you doing here?" Ruby hissed, her blue eyes flashing daggers at Curry the moment Heyes left the room.
"Doing here?" Curry blinked, confused. "I’m meeting my partner. What are you doing here?"
"I got married four years ago," Ruby explained curtly. "This is my home. In fact, since my husband passed away, I own this hotel." She waved a hand at the room. "But never mind that. Your name isn’t Thaddeus Jones. What was the name you were so fond of using in Denver? Slattery? What’s your connection to Joshua?" The questions came rapid-fire, never pausing to allow Curry a moment to respond.
"Like I said, we’re partners," he finally slipped in when she stopped to draw breath.
"Look, I don’t know who you really are, but Joshua doesn’t need your kind of trouble."
Curry’s mouth quirked upward in amusement. When he’d known Ruby years earlier in Denver she’d been aware that he—like many other men of her acquaintance—was using an alias. She probably knew he was an outlaw and that the money he spent so freely was stolen. But, to the best of his knowledge, she never knew he was Kid Curry. She obviously didn’t know who Heyes really was. He had no reason to think he was in any danger from her. "Is that so?" he drawled, leaning back and crossing his arms over his chest.
"Is what so?" Heyes interjected, coming back into the room carrying a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. He uncorked the bottle and poured out a glassful, handing it to Curry. Noticing the strange look on Ruby’s face, he glanced inquiringly back and forth between her and his partner. Neither one of them responded to his question, though.
Curry accepted the liquor gratefully, practically gulping it down. He blinked in surprise when he realized it wasn’t the usual cheap brand of rotgut they were forced to drink.
Heyes looked amused at his expression and wordlessly filled his glass again. "Enjoy. I’ve had a good run of luck at the poker tables."
"You don’t know how glad I am to hear it," Curry said. He brushed at the dust on his pants with a grimace. "I don’t have a plugged nickel left from our advance. I need a bath and a haircut…not to mention a decent meal."
"I’ll say," Heyes said, wrinkling up his nose, his eyes twinkling. "You look about half bear."
"Well, you’re the one with the money, partner," Curry pointed out, grinning happily as Heyes reached into a pocket and then tossed him a few coins. He grabbed them from the air. "Thanks."
"I’ll arrange for a room," Ruby said stiffly, standing up and moving toward the door.
Curry was momentarily taken aback by the suggestion that he have a room to himself. He and Heyes almost always shared a room when they stayed in a hotel. They liked their luxury when they could afford it, but it was safer, not to mention more economical, to stay together. "Er…that’s all right, Mrs. Henry. I generally just bunk down with Joshua. Cheaper that way, for both of us." He didn’t miss her involuntary glance at the rumpled bed behind him or the sudden blush of color in her cheeks. It was obvious she and Heyes would have been embarrassed if he’d arrived a little sooner in the day. She didn’t miss the fact that he understood, either.
He smiled wolfishly as she turned to nail him with a glare. "If you could just have a bath sent up…?" Goading her might not be too smart, but he couldn’t seem to help himself.
"All right," she snapped.
Heyes was confused by Ruby’s apparent pique. "I’ll go with you," he offered, crossing the room to take her by the arm. "I’ll be right back after arranging for the bath, Thaddeus, and we can talk about business while you get cleaned up." He steered Ruby toward the door. "Come on, honey. We’ll let Thaddeus get cleaned up and then we’ll have a nice dinner together."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Henry," Curry said, with just a hint of teasing in his voice, and a little too much emphasis on the word "meet." "See you at dinner." He almost laughed outloud at the way Ruby’s spine stiffened in response to his jovial good-bye. But his smile faded slightly at the perplexed look in his partner’s eyes. He didn’t know what he was going to do about that…if he told Heyes he knew Ruby from their wilder days in Denver, what would his partner think?
The bath water was warm and sudsy, and Curry was already half asleep soaking in it when Heyes came back to their room. His hair looked slightly rumpled. Curry raised an eyebrow in question, pulling his cigar out of his mouth and laying it to one side. The cigar had arrived with the bath and he’d been enjoying both ever since. Heyes did know what he liked.
He smiled widely. "What took you so long to get back?" he asked innocently. Too innocently.
Heyes actually blushed. "We had some…uh…business to discuss. I’ve been helping Ruby out with her saloon some. You know, keeping an eye on the dealers and all. She wanted to pay me, but I didn’t feel right about it. I’ve been winning plenty gambling, anyway. She arranged for this room to sort of repay me for the assistance." He flashed his friend a quick grin. "I figured, why the hell not? We’re not likely to have another chance at this kind of living any time soon."
"Uh-huh," Curry grunted agreeably, feeling content and clean for the first time in weeks. He didn’t like to admit it to himself, but being in Kansas, even for a short time, had spooked him. He didn’t like the memories the place brought back, and he knew Heyes noticed his foul mood, too. "How’d you manage to hook up with such a rich lady?"
"We met my first night here, in the dining room. She was bored and—"
"—and you figured you’d have a little fun while you were waiting for me," Curry finished, his blue eyes sparkling. He would have done the same thing himself, in similar circumstances. In fact, he often had done exactly that while waiting somewhere for his partner to catch up to him. But Heyes wasn’t usually so quick to get involved with a woman, even if it was just to have a good time. His partner was naturally cautious about the fairer sex and normally rather wary of them. There were few women who could hold Heyes’ interest for longer than a night or two, for one thing. They didn’t tend to associate with women other than those found in saloons, for another. It was Curry himself who tended to get tangled up and involved with women, in spite of his partner’s constant warnings.
Heyes turned away, fiddling with a book laying on top of the dresser. "I suppose it started out that way."
Curry’s knowing grin faded at the seriousness—and sadness—of Heyes’ tone. Something more than a pleasant interlude was going on here, and he wasn’t sure what to make of it. He was too used to Heyes being the levelheaded one he could count on. But something about his cousin’s awkwardness was setting off warning bells in his head. For a moment, he considered telling Heyes where and how he himself knew Ruby Henry. But then he realized it would only hurt his friend to know her past. And it wasn’t his place to tell it, either. He had enough secrets of his own and enough reasons to want his own past protected from strangers to spare a little sympathy for Ruby’s situation. Even if she was determined to take a hostile attitude toward him. She was probably only scared he would tell Heyes the truth about her and ruin any relationship she felt she’d built.
Of course, she had no way of knowing there was no future for her with "Joshua Smith." Heyes was a long way from being in a position to offer her anything other than a life on the run. Maybe it wasn’t fair to either one of them to keep what he knew from his partner.
Heyes finally faced him again, his expression carefully blank. "You better finish up. It’s almost dinner time and, knowing you, you must be starving."
Curry opened his mouth to tell Heyes he knew Ruby, but something about the other man’s countenance stopped him. He looked so…rested…even if he was obviously worried and unsure about his involvement with Ruby. Why shouldn’t his friend enjoy a little fun and relaxation, for a change? They weren’t going to be staying in Rangely too much longer, anyway. What was the harm in letting Heyes indulge himself?
"Yeah, I’m pretty hungry," he said, instead. "You know me." The bath water was finally getting cold, so he finished up and stood to towel himself off.
Heyes gave one of his blinding smiles. "Well, I put some money aside for a steak dinner for you."
"That sounds wonderful," Curry said, suddenly aware of how hungry he was. His stomach growled at the mere mention of food. "You know, I just realized I was in such a hurry to get here by tonight that I haven’t eaten since breakfast."
Heyes laughed. "Kid, I can’t remember the last time you forgot to eat. You really must have wanted to get here fast."
Curry blushed slightly. Heyes liked to tease him about his voracious appetite. He snatched the clean clothes his partner held out to him and began pulling them on. "All I could think about was a nice soft bed and some decent food," he admitted. "I didn’t expect to find you living in the lap of luxury." He glanced around the room. "Not that I’m complaining," he added.
"You can have your own room if you want, Kid," Heyes said. "We can afford it, especially since we’re not paying for this one."
Curry shook his head. "Nah. Why waste the money? Besides, who’d look out for you then?"
Heyes laughed again as they went out the door. "I’ve done okay on my own the last couple of weeks, wouldn’t you say?"
He didn’t notice the small frown Curry aimed at his back.
Heyes knew their time in Rangely was stretching out far past the safe point a week later, and Curry was growing restless. But he was finding it difficult to even think about leaving. He still spent most of his time during the days and early evening hours with Ruby, but he knew she could tell he was distracted. The arrival of Curry had reminded him not only of his obligations to his friend and partner, but also that they weren’t the ordinary cowhands they pretended to be. Soon, they would have to move along. Heyes knew this, on an intellectual level; but emotionally, he found himself becoming attached to Ruby and the respectable, not to mention comfortable, life she was sharing with him. For a while, he fooled himself into believing he was simply taking advantage of an opportunity for a pleasant interlude. But as the days passed, he realized he had allowed himself to become involved with her. Now it was going to be much more difficult to simply pick up and go.
Curry didn’t seem to begrudge him the time he spent with Ruby, but Heyes knew his partner was worried. He could see it in the Kid’s eyes every time they had dinner together with Ruby, every time he came back to their room in the early morning hours after spending the night with Ruby at her ranch. But his partner didn’t say much, other than a subtle hint a time or two about moving along before long.
The morning of Curry’s eighth day in town, the Kid stopped hinting around about leaving and actually broached the subject with Heyes. He was careful in his wording, since Ruby was standing with them outside the hotel. She and Heyes were planning a ride out into the hills, so she had joined them for breakfast not long after dawn.
"I need some new clothes," Curry said, glancing pointedly down at his worn shirt and trousers. "And we’re gonna need some supplies…" He let the words trail off, and Heyes knew exactly what he was getting at. They were going to need food and provisions if they were going to hit the trail again soon.
Heyes nodded and took out some money. He counted out a goodly sum and handed it over. "Go on and take care of it. I need some ammunition, while you’re at it."
"I’ll see you tonight; we can make some plans then," Curry said, pocketing the roll of bills and tipping his hat to Ruby. "Ma’am." He frowned when she didn’t respond, then he disappeared around a corner, heading toward the General Store.
Heyes stared after him a moment, then turned to Ruby, determined to find out why she seemed so uncomfortable around the Kid all the time. "What’s wrong, Ruby?"
She was fiddling with the strap of her purse, but froze at his question, looking up at him. "Wrong?" Her forehead wrinkled up and she tipped her head sideways. "What makes you think something’s wrong?"
"You made a face when I was talking to Thaddeus." Heyes wasn’t going to let the matter drop this time. He wasn’t blind and he wasn’t stupid. He could see that there was a constant undercurrent of tension between his partner and Ruby. They seemed to have taken an instant dislike to one another. It wasn’t something he was used to having to deal with. Whenever he and the Kid were with Clementine or Georgette, they were all three easy in each other’s company. The few times he or the Kid had actually courted respectable women in the past, they had never had a problem getting along with each other’s choices. The Kid wasn’t talking, so maybe he could actually get an answer that made some sense out of Ruby. "Is there some reason you and Thaddeus don’t like each other?"
Ruby’s face flushed and her eyes slid away from his. She went back to fiddling with her purse strap. "It’s just that…," she said haltingly, and then drew in a deep breath, as if steeling herself. "Joshua, do you always pay his expenses?"
"Pay…?" Heyes was stunned. It had never even occurred to him that she might question his partnership with Curry on a financial basis. He and the Kid had spent so many years sharing virtually everything they owned, that he didn’t even think about such matters anymore. "Ruby, it’s not like that at all. We’re partners."
"Well, yes, I know you told me that. But it just seems like you’re always giving him your money and he never seems to have any of his own. He’s sleeping in your room. You’ve paid for every meal we’ve taken together… and now you’ve given him money for clothes and gambling. He’ll probably use it to buy liquor; his kind usually do."
"His kind?" Heyes frowned, taken aback, wondering what she meant. The Kid wasn’t particularly prone to drinking—any more than any other man who spent his free time in a saloon. He decided to overlook her comment regarding the drinking, and focus on the issue of money. Apparently, she truly didn’t understand the nature of his partnership with the Kid…and why should she? She still barely knew him, when it came right down to it, and she didn’t know Curry at all. "It’s his money, too."
"How could it be? You won most of it gambling before he even arrived."
"Yeah. Yeah. But if he’d won the money with our earnings, like I did, and I didn’t have any money of my own, he’d be paying the bills, instead of me. It’s happened often enough." He tried to put their partnership into words, but for once his silver tongue was failing him. He couldn’t think of a simple way to explain their relationship without revealing far more about their past—and their hopes for the future—than he was willing to.
Ruby sighed, exasperated. "Never mind. Is he joining us for dinner again?"
"I suppose so." Heyes paused a moment. "Does it bother you that he eats with us?"
Ruby shook her head quickly. "No. It just seems to me he’s taking advantage of you."
"Nothing could be further from the truth, I assure you," Heyes said. "Don’t worry yourself over it."
"And you trust him?" she pressed.
"With my life," Heyes told her firmly, hoping that settled the matter. He knew they were going to have to leave soon and he wanted to be able to enjoy their remaining time together. He took her elbow and steered her toward the stables. At least he thought he understood Ruby’s dislike of the Kid now, although he still wondered if she was being completely candid with him. If only he understood his partner’s dislike of her, as well… He didn’t like the feeling of not knowing what was going on, especially in regards to Curry. It wasn’t like his friend to keep something from him, and Heyes didn’t doubt that was exactly what was happening. He just didn’t understand why.
It was only a day later when the question of when they would have to leave was decided for Heyes. He and Ruby were enjoying some quiet time alone at the ranch house, watching the sun set from the huge front porch, when the sound of a horse galloping in the distance intruded. Heyes came to his feet, squinting into the failing light, one hand on the handle of his gun. He relaxed slightly as he recognized the sorrel horse Curry rode.
"It’s Thaddeus," he said, glancing back at Ruby, who was still seated and didn’t appear alarmed. But, then, she had no reason to be. She wasn’t an outlaw on the dodge, expecting to be recognized and arrested at every turn.
Her mouth twisted with an expression of disgust. "You’d think he could leave us alone out here, at least," she snapped, then looked embarrassed by her outburst.
Heyes stared at her a long moment, but didn’t comment. Apparently her resentment of the Kid hadn’t abated in the slightest, in spite of his explanations.
Curry pulled his horse to a stop and hitched it to a post, nodding perfunctorily at Ruby as he came up the porch steps. "We’ve got to talk. In private," he said, shortly.
Heyes didn’t argue with him, but waved at the front door. "We’ll be in the study," he told Ruby as he followed his partner into the house.
"What’s wrong, Kid?" Heyes asked, the moment they were alone in the study, the door closed securely behind them. He knew Curry wouldn’t have ridden all the way out to the ranch if it wasn’t important.
Curry held a piece of paper out to him. "We got a telegram. It’s from Mr. White. He wants us to collect some documents from a rancher west of town named Callahan, and take the papers to Denver. He’s offered another hundred dollars for the job plus expenses, but it’s got to be done tonight." He hesitated a moment, and Heyes actually felt uncomfortable under his scrutiny. "I don’t think we can afford to turn it down, Heyes."
"What you really mean is, you think it’s a good excuse to leave," Heyes snapped. "We don’t need the money right now."
"Listen to yourself, would you, Heyes," Curry said softly. "We’ve got to leave as soon as I pick up those papers." He pinned Heyes with a no-nonsense gaze, determined to be ruthless in this matter, for his partner’s sake. This affair with Ruby Henry was way out of hand, and he knew it was partially his own fault. He should have told Heyes the truth about the woman when he first got to town. But he’d felt some sympathy for her situation. He and Heyes had their own pasts to hide. Besides, she seemed to make the other man so happy, so at ease. The sight of Heyes relaxed and having a good time wasn’t something he got to see too often these days. Now he wondered if he’d done the right thing. If Heyes would agree to leave, though, perhaps it would all work out, in the end.
"Yeah, I know," Heyes said, somewhat reluctantly. "I know," he repeated, softly.
Curry knew he didn’t dare drop the subject, no matter how much Heyes might like him to. "So? What are you going to do about this problem?"
"I just don’t know, Kid." It was obviously hard for Heyes to admit he was at a loss for ideas. "Give me some time. I’ve got to work it out."
"You don’t want to leave her."
Heyes’ eyes narrowed at his partner’s accusatory tone. "No, I don’t," he admitted, "…but I know we’ve got to go. You’re right. And this job provides the perfect excuse, not to mention an opportunity to make some more money."
"We really don’t have the time to spare, Heyes. We’ve been here too long already. It was a mistake. I tried to warn you. You’re always telling me to be careful. Next time listen to your own advice." Curry could have bitten his own tongue when the words came out so brutal, but he knew he was right this time.
"You don’t have to keep rubbing it in," Heyes growled. "It’s not going to be easy as it is. Do you have to make it worse?"
"Sorry. I don’t have the opportunity to say ‘I told you so’ very often."
"Am I usually so heartless, Kid? I’m sorry. I guess I never understood…when you get back, I’ll be ready to go. I’ll meet you at the hotel."
"Are you going to tell her?" Curry pressed, almost afraid of leaving Heyes alone with Ruby now that he’d finally convinced his partner it was time to leave.
Heyes shook his head. "You don’t want me to, do you?"
"No, I don’t," Curry admitted, honestly. "I don’t trust her."
"I don’t know if I can just walk away, Kid. Without a word of explanation. I don’t think I can do it."
"You’ve made me do it before."
"Yeah, I know."
"You always tell me it’s for the best, right? It’s just your pride getting in the way. Isn’t that what you always say?"
"Oh, that’s enough, all right? You don’t have to keep throwing my words back at me," Heyes said, disgusted. "I get the point."
Curry knew he’d pushed his partner as far as he dared. "All right," he conceded. "I’ll take care of picking up the documents. I’m not sure how far it is to Callahan’s place, but as soon as I get back…"
Heyes nodded his agreement. "Come on. Ruby and I will ride back to town with you and we’ll get some supper before you have to ride out there. I’ll think of something to tell her while you’re gone."
Callahan’s ranch wasn’t too far west of town, Curry was relieved to find out. The temperature was a little chilly and even though he’d spent the last week or so resting up, he still wasn’t looking forward to climbing into the saddle for a long ride. The dinner with Heyes and Ruby had felt slightly strained, and Ruby left early, saying she had some business to attend to while she was in town. Ordinarily, Curry would have been glad for a chance to have Heyes to himself for once, but under the circumstances he found himself at a loss for words. It was obvious his partner was feeling torn and didn’t want to leave Rangely behind them…at least not so quickly. It was also evident he felt some resentment toward Curry for being the one who forced the issue.
His own thoughts were in turmoil throughout the ride to Callahan’s. He still wasn’t certain he’d done the right thing by not telling Heyes about Ruby’s past. Maybe it would have made leaving her behind a little easier.
He breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief as the lights of the ranch came into view. Callahan was supposedly expecting someone to come and collect the documents within the next day or two, so he shouldn’t be surprised to see Curry.
A tall bear of a man came out to meet him as he rode up to the main house, holding out his hand in welcome as Curry dismounted. "You must be Mister Jones," he said in a loud, booming voice. "I’ve been expecting you. Scott said he was going to ask you to pick up my papers and take them to Denver."
"That’s right, Mr. Callahan," Curry agreed. "If you’ve got them ready, I’ll just be on my way back into town…"
"Nonsense," Callahan blustered. "No sense in you riding back in this cold weather without a cup of coffee to warm you up first. Let’s put your horse in the stable and I’ll take you in to meet my wife. We don’t get too many visitors out this way, especially this time of year."
Curry tried to decline, but Callahan was already leading him toward the barn. He shrugged and followed the larger man inside.
"Get your hands up!" a harsh voice ordered, followed by the flair of an oil lantern being lighted. The barn was lit by the orange glow, a sheriff’s silver star shining from the direction of the voice.
Glancing quickly around the interior of the barn, Curry’s heart sank to his feet. He was completely surrounded by a ring of men pointing rifles. Slowly, he raised his hands, trying not to react as the sheriff came forward and took his gun from its holster. He’d been caught before, but this time—alone with no way to warn Heyes of a possible ambush—seemed pretty hopeless. For all he knew, Heyes was already waiting for him, locked up tight in a jail cell back in Rangely. But he didn’t dare ask. If Heyes hadn’t been caught, it would only put the lawmen on to him.
But Heyes wasn’t waiting for Curry in Rangely . The sheriff’s office was empty, the jail cell cold and lonely, when he was ushered into it. He sat there, waiting, wondering where his partner was until his thoughts turned—inevitably—to the details of his own capture. Who had known where he was going to be, and wouldn’t hesitate to capitalize on the situation? There was only one possibility, as far as he was concerned.
He was in a real quandary. He didn’t dare ask for Joshua Smith, for fear of involving Heyes; but by the same token he desperately needed Heyes’ help…and to warn him.
His problem was solved early the next evening when Heyes was escorted into the cell by the sheriff, obviously not under arrest. It only served to confirm Curry’s suspicions. If only he could make his partner see what was going on…
Curry snorted in response to Heyes’ assertion that Ruby was "respected" by the townsfolk. "More likely they respect Ruby’s money. How much did she have to pay that sheriff to let you in?"
"What difference does it make?" Heyes dismissed the subject, annoyed at Curry’s attitude. "She got me past the sheriff with no one the wiser. We’ve got to figure out how to get you out of here before someone from Wyoming arrives to escort you back."
Curry shrugged, as if he didn’t even care. "I’m fresh out of ideas." He finally lifted his head and fixed Heyes with a baleful glare. "They were waiting for me. At Callahan’s. The sheriff and five men. They knew I was coming and they knew who I was."
Heyes was confused. "How could they have known?" he asked, his brow furrowed up.
"If you’d just stop and think with your head instead of your pants," Curry suddenly snapped, "you’d know how." His patience with Heyes’ blindness when it came to Ruby gave out. Lack of sleep and stress finally combined to loosen his tongue.
"I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that, ‘cause I know you’re upset and worried and, no doubt, frightened," Heyes replied softly, casting a significant glance toward the closed door to the sheriff’s office. "But there’s no call to take it out on me. You have to know I’ll do everything—anything—to get you out of this."
"She’s not going to let you."
"Kid…I’m warning you for the last time. I don’t want to hear anymore talk like that." Curry’s hatred of Ruby was not only beginning to grate on Heyes, it was starting to anger him. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to it, and he couldn’t understand why his cousin had taken such a violent dislike to the woman, almost from the moment he’d met her.
"Heyes," Curry pleaded, his voice lowered. "You gotta listen to me. Who knew I was going to be there, at Callahan’s last night? Who?"
"Only me, Kid."
"And what does that tell you?"
"That you think I betrayed you?" Heyes asked bitterly, upset to realize it might be true. Curry was certainly acting like he thought his partner had turned him in.
Curry was startled, though, at the implication. "Don’t be stupid! Of course I don’t think that!"
"Then what? Obviously someone else knew…but who?"
"Did you tell Ruby?" Curry stared at Heyes, his eyes demanding an answer.
"Of course not! I didn’t tell anyone. No one!" Heyes was emphatic.
But Curry was just as determined in his line of questioning. "But Ruby was home last night when we were talking."
"Of course. You saw her when you rode up."
"Then she overheard us making our plans, maybe."
"Kid, why are you so determined to lay the blame on her?" Heyes shifted from foot to foot. He didn’t like being put in the middle of two people he cared about. If it came down to it, he knew he’d have to side with Curry, his cousin and lifelong partner, but he didn’t want to believe that what the other man was saying about Ruby was true.
"I know her, Heyes. I know what she’s like. She’s very good at getting what she wants."
"What do you mean you ‘know’ her? I only met her those weeks I was waiting on you. You weren’t even here yet. You’ve hardly said five civil words to her since I introduced you. In fact, you’ve been very good at avoiding us most of the time. If you didn’t have dinner with us almost every night, we wouldn’t have seen you at all."
Curry shifted uncomfortably, turning slightly red. "Uh, Heyes…what’d she tell you about her past?"
Heyes didn’t understand what Ruby’s past had to do with anything, but he decided to humor his partner. "She’s a widow. You know that. She was married to Dale Henry, a local businessman, and he died last year, leaving her childless and alone."
Curry frowned, looking torn. Several times he started to speak, but stopped himself. Finally, he seemed to find the right words. "Well, five or six years ago, when we were in Denver and hurrahing the town, I met Ruby. She wasn’t Ruby Henry then. She was Ruby Queen. She worked at the Dixie Crossroads."
"You take that back!" Heyes was spitting mad at the implication. Dixie Crossroads was a notorious whorehouse in Denver, often frequented by the members of the Devil’s Hole Gang when they were flush with money. Heyes himself seldom went there, but he knew his cousin had spent more than his share of stolen loot on the ladies at that particular establishment.
"I won’t, Heyes," Curry said, his chin set stubbornly. "I won’t, ‘cause it’s the God’s honest truth. I knew her very well those times we spent in Denver. She recognized me right off, that first night I rode into town. That’s why she was so startled when I walked in the door. And she knowed right off my name wasn’t Thaddeus Jones. She confronted me about it when you left the room to fetch the whiskey."
Heyes turned away, his whole body stiff. "I’m not going to listen to this."
"Look, Heyes, I’ll be the first to admit she’s damn good at what she does, but she’s got you so’s you’re not thinking straight! You’re going to make me pay with twenty years of my life because you won’t see some whore for what she really is!"
Heyes’ face twisted. "What kind of talk is that?! As if I’d let…I can’t believe you said that! Why are you trying to hurt me?"
"I’m not trying to hurt you! You think I enjoy telling you this? It’s the truth; I’ve been with her. Do you understand? She knew I was wanted back in Denver, that I was using an alias even then, and now she’s figured exactly who I am and how much I’m worth! No doubt she heard us calling each other by our real names last night out at the ranch. You ask her and see if she can deny it straight to your face without giving the lie away. But be careful…if she feels threatened, she’ll be turning you in for the money next."
"I’ll get you out as soon as I come up with a plan, but until then you sit tight," Heyes said, tightlipped, unwilling to discuss the subject of Ruby any further.
Curry sighed loudly. "Fine. What else can I do? I don’t have much choice."
"I’ll get you out," Heyes reiterated firmly. "If I have to hold the sheriff at gunpoint myself, I will. Nobody else in this town would try to stop us. Just give me tonight to think about it and make some plans."
"All right," Curry nodded, looking unconvinced. But he didn’t say anything else.
Heyes walked slowly back to the hotel, his heart heavy. It wasn’t often he and the Kid argued, but when they did they didn’t tend to spare each others’ feelings. He already regretted the way they’d parted. Curry was in more than a little bit of trouble, and Heyes knew he really only had two options left: run for it himself or break his cousin out of jail…and then make a run for it. There was no doubt which option he had to choose. He’d sooner cut off his own arm than leave the Kid in jail and run away. At least they were close to Brown’s Park. They could head for the hideout there, effectively putting an end to any chase a posse might attempt.
Ruby was waiting for him in his room, her expression anxious. She’d gone back to the ranch after dinner the night before, but Heyes had ridden out and asked her to come back into town when the Kid got arrested. Sheriff Thomason hadn’t wanted to let him in to see his partner until he fetched Ruby and she intervened on his behalf.
"What’s wrong?" she asked. "I was worried; you were gone so long."
Heyes scowled. "How can you ask me that? My partner’s in jail. They’ve already telegraphed the Wyoming authorities to come and fetch him."
"You couldn’t have known, Joshua. It’s not your fault he turned out to be a notorious outlaw." Ruby regarded him sympathetically, placing a hand on his arm and clutching it. "He fooled you just like he fooled the rest of us."
"Yeah." Heyes bit his lower lip. He knew he had to think—and think fast—or it was going to be too late to help his partner. Once Curry was in the hands of the Wyoming authorities, he would be held under heavy guard. The chances of getting him free after that would be nil.
"Have you known him very long?" Ruby was asking. She stroked his arm and then slid her hand down and slipped it into his palm.
Heyes shook himself mentally, aware that he was going to have to stay on his toes if he didn’t want to give himself away. If he got caught right now, it might well be all over for both the Kid and him. "Not too long." He told the lie automatically, and hoped she wouldn’t question all the times he’d sworn that the Kid was his "longtime" partner.
Ruby stood on her toes and kissed him lightly on the lips. "Come back to the ranch with me tonight," she whispered. "I can see you’re upset; I don’t think you should be alone."
Heyes was distracted, but it was hard to ignore a beautiful woman in his arms, begging for his attention. He kissed her, his mind only half on the task, as he pulled her into his arms. A bit of comfort wouldn’t be out of order, after all, he decided. He needed some time to think and prepare. There was little doubt in his mind that by the next morning, he and Curry would be on the run again, heading up into the mountains. At least it solved the problem of what to do about Ruby. He now had no choice but to leave her behind. Besides, if he made sure she was out at the ranch, she shouldn’t be implicated when he busted Curry out in the middle of the night. Maybe the Kid was right, after all, and he shouldn’t even say anything to her. Given their current circumstances, her suspicions might be aroused if he told her he was leaving.
"All right," he said quietly, as they broke apart. "Let me get some things. I’ll meet you in the lobby." He didn’t want her to see him packing. She was sure to wonder why he was packing not only all of his belongings into his saddlebags, but Curry’s as well.
The ride out to the ranch was made in silence. Heyes drove the buggy for Ruby, his horse tied to the back of it. She didn’t say anything when he brought his horse along, although he was sure she wondered why he thought he would need it. As long as she didn’t ask, he wasn’t going to bring the subject up. He still hadn’t thought of a plausible lie to tell. He was hoping she would be fast asleep before he left and headed back into town.
Her foreman was in the courtyard when they rode up and he offered to take care of the livestock. Heyes handed the animals over, nodding his thanks and trailing Ruby into the house.
"Come on upstairs, Joshua," Ruby urged.
Heyes followed her up the stairs mechanically. He couldn’t get Curry’s words out of his mind. Why would the Kid lie to him? He found himself studying Ruby with different eyes. The truth was, the Kid didn’t have any reason to lie to him, especially now.
"Where did you meet your husband?" he suddenly asked her, while he pulled off his shirt and draped it over a chair in her bedroom. The familiar surroundings suddenly didn’t seem as comfortable and welcoming as they had for the past few weeks. He shivered in the cool night air.
Ruby was already stoking up the fire in the fireplace. She threw another log on and soon a nice orange blaze was warming the room. "Hmm?" She turned to him, her eyes wide. "My husband? I met him in Denver. Why do you ask?"
"I don’t know," Heyes mumbled. He didn’t care for the startled way she reacted to his question. He shrugged. "Just curious, I guess. You don’t talk about him so much anymore."
"I didn’t think you’d want to hear about another man, Joshua," she said, logically. She patted the seat of a chair near the fire. "Come on over here and I’ll rub your shoulders. I’ve never seen you so tense."
Heyes eased himself down into the chair and tried not to groan as her skilled fingers began working at his knotted up muscles. He did tend to tense up his shoulders when he got worried or scared. Tonight he was both. What was he going to do if he couldn’t bust the Kid out of jail? He was desperately hoping there would only be one deputy on duty that night. He figured he could easily overpower one lawman. If there were two or more, he had his doubts.
"What are you thinking?" Ruby whispered next to his ear, sending a shiver down his spine.
"I’m wondering what’s going to happen to Thaddeus," he answered honestly.
"Why should you care?"
"You’re too loyal." She rubbed his shoulders more lightly now. "I’m going to see if I can find some oil in the kitchen. You just sit here and relax."
Heyes waited until the door shut behind her and then got up, not quite sure about what he was doing, but knowing he had to do something…if only for his own peace of mind. He began searching the room methodically, but quickly. It didn’t take long to ascertain that there was nothing but clothes and jewelry in the bedroom. He stood in the middle of the room for a moment, and then set his jaw. He headed downstairs to her husband’s study. It was unlikely she’d changed the combination to the safe he’d opened for her.
The safe was the work of a few seconds to open. It was stuffed with documents, so he started at the top and worked his way downwards. The papers he was looking for were right there. He unfolded the first one as his heart sank. He’d known it was true; his partner and cousin would have never made up such a lie just to hurt him. But being confronted by the truth in writing felt like being punched in the gut. He unfolded the familiar wanted posters and stared at the first one. They hadn’t been in the safe when he’d originally opened it. He was sure he would have noticed them.
"What are you doing in my things?"
Heyes whirled around at the sound of Ruby’s voice, still clutching the telltale wanted posters in one hand. He slowly released them, letting them flutter to the floor as she watched. His heart constricted as they seemed to fall in slow motion, and he understood without a single doubt remaining that the Kid was right about everything.
"You tell me the truth—now," he growled, barely reining in his temper. He knew only too well he couldn’t afford to lose control of the situation. He still had to get the Kid out of jail and find a way to get them both safely out of town. "Why’d you do it? You turned him in, didn’t you?"
"I…Josh, you’re frightening me. You don’t understand." Ruby backed away until she was up against the wall, her eyes wide, one hand over her mouth.
Heyes stalked her, not stopping until he was towering over her, leaning down into her face. "You’re damn right I don’t understand! If you knew who he was, why didn’t you say something to me?"
Ruby’s lips quivered slightly but she met his hard gaze with one of her own. She put both of her hands against his chest, holding him away from her. "I only wanted him gone. What difference does it make? He’s just an outlaw."
"‘Just’ an outlaw? What’s that make me, then? Are you hearing yourself? Are you going to pretend you don’t know who I am?"
"You’re different. You’re not like him," she said, her lip curling up contemptuously at the thought of Curry.
The expression of disgust infuriated Heyes. "How do you know that? He’s my cousin, for God’s sake, Ruby! We grew up together. He’s like a brother to me."
"I-I didn’t know that, Josh. I’m sorry. But you are different. He’s just like all the others, but you…you’re different. You never treated me like—"
"Like what? What, Ruby?" Heyes was shouting now, not caring who might hear them fighting. "You did know the Kid in Denver, just like he says, didn’t you?"
"Yes," Ruby sobbed, tears springing to her blue eyes. "It’s true. When he walked in, I realized why you’d looked so familiar to me. You’d never visited me, but he had. I knew I would have remembered someone like you, if you’d been a customer. I must have seen you with him once…"
"And you heard us talking last night, about the meeting at Callahan’s, didn’t you?"
Ruby nodded wordlessly, staring up at him with an imploring expression.
Heyes’ jaw twitched. He didn’t want to see the plea for understanding in her eyes. He already felt like the worst kind of fool for having fallen for her so hard, so fast. The Kid had warned him, had tried to tell him, but he just hadn’t wanted to hear it. Mentally kicking himself, he knew he had to harden his heart if he was going to get them both out of this dilemma. "If you knew I was Hannibal Heyes, why didn’t you turn me in too, then? Twenty thousand dollars is a hell of a lot better than ten thousand."
"I love you! I could never do anything to hurt you!" Ruby maintained indignantly. "I just wanted… I just wanted everything to be the way it was. The way it was before he got here. I wanted us to be together and happy. We had so much fun before he came to town. After he came, you changed. I could tell you were worried all the time, especially every time he talked to you. I’ve got plenty of money; the money didn’t matter."
"You don’t think this is hurting me?" The thought that the money was unimportant to Ruby was something Heyes hadn’t considered. Greed was something he understood. That she might have had other motives for turning the Kid in hadn’t even occurred to him. Now that she was spelling it out for him, he found himself appalled. Everything that had happened at Callahan’s really was his fault, just like the Kid suspected. He’d let himself be flattered and manipulated into ignoring the warning signs that must have been there, that he surely should have seen. He’d known Ruby felt threatened by his partnership with the Kid. His anger at her didn’t even begin to equal his anger at himself.
"Aren’t you paying attention?" he snarled. "He’s my cousin. Not to mention my partner and my friend. I might as well go and turn myself in as to walk away from this! You and I are not going to be together. Even if I get the Kid out of jail, we’ll have to leave town. The sheriff knows who we are now."
"You don’t have to go with him, Joshua! No one knows who you are except me, and I’m not going to tell. I swear. You could even stay here with me and you’d be safe." Another thought occurred to her and her eyes lit up. "I’m rich, Joshua. You’ve robbed lots of banks and trains. You must have money somewhere. I don’t care about your past; it doesn’t matter to me. We could go away, to Europe, or someplace else you aren’t wanted. You’d be safe forever."
"You’re dreaming. It’s not going to happen that way." Heyes felt like she’d kicked him in the gut. It was unpleasant to realize someone he cared about had so little respect for his morals. He supposed he’d earned some degree of contempt from honest citizens, given his past history, but it still hurt when he’d tried so hard to change his ways. "Do you really think you can buy my love?" he choked out.
"It’s because of what I was, isn’t it? Because he told you what I used to be. I knew he wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut. He’s just like all those other men…the pigs who had to brag about their ‘conquests,’ even though they paid for the privilege of even looking at me."
"He wasn’t bragging. The Kid isn’t like that; he was trying to warn me to be careful, and it seems he was right. He knew we couldn’t stay, and we couldn’t take you with us. I owe him an apology, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m the last person to judge you for your past."
He raised a hand to stroke her cheek gently, remembering the last few weeks they’d shared. She flinched from his touch and he couldn’t blame her. He knew his anger showed on his face, and others had probably struck her in the past. But he didn’t like to hit anyone if he could help it, certainly not a woman. "Ruby… honey… You didn’t have to do this. The Kid never would have done anything to get in the way of my happiness. He didn’t tell me anything about your past until tonight."
"You were talking about leaving," she accused bitterly. "Last night, he told you you’d have to leave after he finished at Callahan’s, and you didn’t even deny it! You agreed with him!"
"Ruby…." Heyes shook his head sorrowfully, trying desperately to calm himself. "If you know who I am, you know why we can’t stay."
"You weren’t even going to tell me, were you? He said you’d made a mistake getting involved with me, that you’d better leave right away, before it was too late."
Heyes sighed as he nodded in agreement. "Yeah, he did. Seems he was right. I did make a mistake." He backed away from her slowly, holding her gaze with a hard look. "I’m leaving now. If you plan to tell the law who I am, I reckon I can’t stop you, ’cause I’m sure not going to do anything to hurt you. But I am leaving, and I’m planning to take my partner with me."
He not only felt like the world’s biggest fool, but he didn’t know how he was going to make it up to the Kid. An apology just didn’t seem adequate, under the circumstances. If he couldn’t get the Kid out of jail, Curry would be paying for Heyes’ mistake the rest of his life. There was no way Heyes could allow that to happen.
"I’ve ruined everything, haven’t I?" Ruby sobbed, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I didn’t want to share you with him. He’s just like all the rest. You’re different."
"Please stop saying that." Heyes felt like throttling her every time she repeated the words. For some reason he didn’t want to examine too closely yet, her insistence that he was somehow different from the Kid, different from other men, infuriated him. Perhaps it was because he knew it was a lie…his whole life was a lie. He couldn’t even use his real name for fear of being arrested. He knew he was no better than Ruby. Maybe he would have done the same thing, if he was a woman alone in her situation. But his understanding of her didn’t change the fact that she’d placed him—and the Kid—in terrible danger.
Ruby slid down the wall to sit on the floor, crying uncontrollably. "Don’t leave me, Joshua. I did it for us. So we could be together—"
Heyes grabbed his gunbelt off the bedpost and buckled it on. Then he turned and left. He didn’t trust himself to speak.
It bothered Heyes when Curry looked surprised to see him. Did his partner really think he’d leave him in the lurch, no matter how much he might have liked Ruby? He thought they trusted each other more than that.
He tossed Curry the keys he’d liberated from the deputy and went back to the outer room, just to make sure no one else came in. The tied and gagged deputy—Hank, Heyes thought he remembered was his name—was glaring daggers at him, trying to talk past the bandanna in his mouth.
"You’d best shut up," Heyes said mildly. "I’m not gonna hurt you, but I don’t think my partner wants to wait around here for those Wyoming authorities to show up. I thought it would be best if we simply left. Now—" he leaned in closer to the deputy and lowered his voice, as if he was telling him a secret, "—I do have a message for you to give to Sheriff Thomason. Me and my friend are heading straight for Brown’s Park. You tell him that. Because he’s bound to know it’s useless following us in there. He could save you and a lot of other men a hard, cold ride. If you come after us, someone might get hurt. Me and my partner don’t hold with killing, but we can’t speak for any other desperadoes who might be holed up there. Understand?"
The deputy nodded his head once, grudgingly. Heyes knew it was a longshot, hoping the sheriff wouldn’t come after them, but he also knew they had a good chance at being well on their way to Brown’s Park before a posse was even formed.
The Kid came out of the back, running a hand through his tousled hair and yawning. Heyes picked up his gunbelt and gun from the sheriff’s desk and tossed them to him.
"Hurry up," he snapped. "I left Ruby at the ranch. I don’t want her rousing the sheriff or anybody else until we’re well away from here. I don’t think she followed me, but she’s probably guessed where I was going. The horses are out the back."
Curry nodded, checking his gun and buckling it on, shoving his hat on his head, and heading for the back door without a word.
Heyes patted the deputy on the shoulder. "Remember what I said, Hank."
The tied up man stared stonily past his shoulder. Heyes shrugged and followed after Curry. He’d done the best he could. If Sheriff Thomason decided to pursue them after all, at least his conscience would be clear.
"I didn’t expect you tonight," Curry said softly, as they mounted up, their horses’ breath sending out streams of white in the cold night air.
"I could see that," Heyes said curtly.
"What’s eating you now?" Curry turned to stare at his friend.
Heyes returned the look. "You really thought I was going to leave you there."
"I was scared," Curry admitted, appearing slightly uncomfortable in the face of Heyes’ glare. He shifted in his saddle. "Let’s get out of here."
Heyes knew his partner was right. They needed to put as much distance between themselves and Rangely as they could before sunrise. He nodded his agreement as he spurred his horse to a gallop. The better their head start, the more unlikely they would have to engage the sheriff and a posse in any gunplay.
The two men rode hard, pushing their horses as fast as they dared the rest of the night. They followed the easiest trails up into the surrounding mountains, heading steadily toward the hideout at Brown’s Park. It had been several years since they’d been there, but they remembered the way in and knew they’d probably be welcome.
As sunrise painted the sky pink and orange, they holed up in some rocks. The vantage point was good, providing an excellent view of their backtrail for several miles. The horses were tired and hung their heads in exhaustion as Heyes hobbled them. He poured some water from his canteen into his hat and held it while they drank. Then he joined Curry.
Both men were too keyed up to sleep yet, so they huddled together in the shelter of the rocks, their blankets wrapped tightly around their shoulders. They’d been in worse circumstances before, but the contrast to the luxury they’d enjoyed lately was painful. Even a small fire for coffee and warmth was out of the question until they were certain they weren’t being pursued.
"Why didn’t you tell me?" Heyes finally broke the silence hanging heavily between them. "Everything you said about her was true," he added, somewhat grudgingly, not quite sure whether he was angry at Curry for not telling him from the beginning…or just because he’d turned out to be right.
Curry didn’t even try to hedge. "I started to. That first day I came to town."
"Well, why didn’t you!?"
"You were acting like you cared about her. I figured we’d be leaving soon, anyway. I didn’t think there was any danger. She knew me from Denver…but never who I really was. You were happy. You were taking it easy…I didn’t want to ruin it for you." Curry sighed heavily. "I’m sorry, Heyes. I didn’t know it would end like this. What happened between you and Ruby?"
Heyes looked down at his hands and started shaking slightly. A delayed reaction to the previous night’s stresses, he assumed. "I found our wanted posters in her safe," he said evenly. "We had an argument and I left. You know the rest." He wasn’t sure how he felt, even now. Betrayed, he supposed. Disappointed. Angry at himself for being taken in. Ruby had made him face a few things about himself he would have rather never known. He beat a fist lightly against his thigh, trying to stop the nervous shaking. "She said she loved me," he whispered.
"I’m sorry," Curry repeated, watching him with too-knowing eyes. "You really liked her, didn’t you?"
"Yeah," Heyes said, turning away from his friend’s scrutiny. "At least I thought I did." He didn’t want the Kid’s sympathy or his pity. He wanted his forgiveness. If anyone was at fault for the mess they’d gotten into, he figured it was himself. And he couldn’t stop thinking about how mad it made him when Ruby insisted he was somehow "different" from the other men she’d known. What had made her think he was so different? He’d known, from the very beginning, that he couldn’t stay with her. Any fleeting thoughts otherwise were simply moments of wishful thinking. He wasn’t even sure how much of his infatuation with her was simply brought on by the high living she was offering him. It upset him to realize he could indeed, to some degree, be "bought."
"Something’s really bothering you, Heyes," Curry pressed.
"It worries me," Heyes admitted. "The way I was taken in by her so easily. I could have gotten us both arrested or even killed. I wasn’t paying attention or I would have seen the warning signs."
"What warning signs? You can’t be responsible for everything, y’know. I thought it was safe, too, or I would have told you about her. She must have gone straight to the sheriff’s office when she left us at dinner the other night. We had no reason to suspect anything was wrong."
"How can you say that? You were the one insisting we had to leave."
"Yeah, but that wasn’t because I thought Ruby would turn us in for the reward. I just thought we’d been in one place for too long, especially since you’d been in Rangely for weeks before I even got there."
"But you didn’t trust her. You said so, that night out at the ranch."
Curry nodded. "That’s true. I didn’t trust her, because I knew what she used to be, and because she seemed so determined to keep you away from me. But it wasn’t because of anything in particular, Heyes. Don’t blame yourself for what she did."
Heyes sighed and stood up, stretching the stiffness out of his muscles. He knew Curry was right; there probably wasn’t any way he could have known what Ruby was planning, at least in time to stop her. No doubt he would have only gotten himself caught, as well, if he’d tried. But he knew that, in the future, he was going to have to be even more careful about allowing himself to get involved with anyone. If he’d kept his mind on his gambling while waiting for Curry, they might not be on the run again now.
He squinted into the distance as the sun rose higher, chasing away the dawn shadows. "There’s the posse." He waved a hand toward the south. "It looks like we’ll have to keep on riding."
"Horses are still tired," Curry said, but he came to his feet, already rolling up his blanket.
Heyes didn’t add the obvious: they were still tired, too. And cold and hungry, as well. Brown’s Park wasn’t too far ahead. They’d probably be there before nightfall, if the horses held out. The posse would probably turn back to Rangely long before then. If they were lucky and Sheriff Thomason was smart enough to know he could never catch up to them in time…
He stood and stared at the slowly approaching specks for a long moment, wondering what it would be like to never have to worry about a posse again. It seemed a future impossible to imagine at the moment. Like it or not, this life was the one he’d chosen for himself, so many years ago. Rangely had been a pleasant interlude, while it lasted, but now it was time to come back to the cold reality of life on the outlaw trail. He was reminded once again of why he and his partner had decided to try for amnesty. But that future, too, seemed unattainably far out of reach at this moment.
"You coming?" Curry asked, already mounted up. He held out the reins of Heyes’ horse.
Heyes shook his head slowly, taking the proffered reins. "Yeah." He swung up into the saddle and turned his horse northward, toward the outlaw hideout of Brown’s Park.
*All quotes from "Blindhearted" by Bryan White/Randy Goodrum
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