rancher/mayor who is the fastest gun in the west and also bisexual. The narrator tells the story of her life and struggles for acceptance.'
Wolf Creek, Wyoming, Spring 1893
Fine laughter lines crinkled that cobra lidded, luxuriously lashed, iconic gaze as it delivered its seduction. I returned the gaze with difficulty. Brown hands smoothed my shivering body. My fingers combed through thick, corn hair. Those curved lips grinned, coveting mine. My palms curved that gorgeous jaw and neck. The expectant dizzying kiss smothered my gasp. My thighs juddered. I jolted awake, my body arched, my pleasure assured/delivered.
Startled, I squeezed my thighs together and the elation eased. I sat up in bed and bandied my woolly-eyed inspection around my hotel bedroom. Gloomy light edged the green curtains at the large sash window. The wallpaper was green, fussily patterned. A dark wood wash stand carried a china jug and bowl. Beside that a dresser and mirror squatted. A thread bare rug covered creaky floorboards beside my brass bedstead. A brass oil lamp sat on a dark wood cabinet beside the bed and glass lights hung from the ceiling. The smell of fresh coffee from downstairs melded with that of stale tobacco. In the street men exchanged greetings, accompanied by the clip-clop of horses.
Wolf Creek huddled in the foothills of the Rockies, where snow crusted the greenery and brown stone reached coldly onto the plain. I had settled into this hotel - the hosts kindly warming towards this unescorted young woman – have had a decent slumber, a strange awakening, and now faced a task I had extraordinarily mixed feelings about. My bandaged shoulder thudded with my heartbeat, aching. I glanced over at the bandanna I'd left lying on the cabinet, red with dried blood. The doctor had been fascinated by my story.
I sighed, relaxed back against the pillows, closed my eyes and returned to yesterday.
Yesterday I had looked every inch the cow-girl. My new ankle-length split riding skirt had given me undreamed of liberties. Add to this an open-necked blouse, red cotton scarf tucked under the collar and knotted at the front, a riding jacket, short boots and a broad-brimmed felt hat, and my image was complete. I was proud of my independent, adventurous self and sat straight backed and chin high in my saddle, riding astride, nudging my horse towards the edge of the fir forested foothills. Fine dust drifted within shafts of sunlight, and pine scent filled the cool afternoon air. I broke through the trees. Below, Wolf Creek spread onto the plain beneath a blue-grey sky, and two deer nibbled on fresh grass on the fringes of town. I closed my eyes and inhaled the clean air.
I'm Kate Howard, a New York feminist bohemian and journalist. A bit of a rare breed. I'm in my mid-twenties, by now expected to be married. My refusal to wear corset and bustle distressed my respectable, middle-class mother and sister, but the freedom this has brought is breath taking.
A gunshot fractured the peace. I jerked and my arm seemed to explode. Birds clattered through branches and my horse reared. I don't remember hitting the ground. my horse had bolted, swallowed by the pines. I was near to fainting, lying on my front, prickled by pine needles, one cheek nestled in soft earth. Crunching footsteps approached me, then stopped. My heart pounded, hurting.
'Mornin', lady.' Growled a voice.
'Easy pickin's.' Another responded.
I managed to raise my head a little. Two men leered down at me. Their arms hung at their sides, each holding a pistol in their right hand. My head flopped back down and the raging pain in my left arm registered. Oh, God. Their shadows shrouded me and my breathing was laboured. Oh, God... Two more gunshots and both men howled. I peered up. One man had folded to the ground, his hand smacked to his thigh. The other stood stooped, gripping his shoulder.
A figure emerged from the trees, cloaked by deep gloom, and moved forward. Sunlight glazed wide set cowboy boots, slowly climbed slim, long legs clad in pale blue jeans, then revealed a holster embracing slim hips, black shirt sleeves rolled below the elbows and an open shirt neck plunged into a narrow ‘v’. A star glinted on the left breast. A tall, athletic individual. Around my age, perhaps. My curiosity had almost overwhelmed my pain. Then the sunlight completely melted the deep shadow veiling the face. I inwardly gasped and my heart braked. Oh God...it's her.
Jeannie Morgan’s straightened gun arm shifted from one man to the other. They both gawped at her, clutching shoulder and thigh. She flicked her head and the barrel of her gun.
'God damn sick, the pair o' ya. An' cowardly, pickin' on an unarmed gal.’ Her husky, androgynous tones broke the hush.'Git outta here. Move!'
They stumbled into the forest and disappeared. She holstered her gun, approached me and sunlight drenched her. I inwardly gasped again, my pain distracted, my mouth open. She crouched in front of me and her close proximity washed over me. The pain dragged into the background. She held the look of a gorgeous youth who could leave young women dangerously breathless. My lengthy, mesmerised scrutiny revealed the truth of her gender. Her features were fine, effeminate. An Indian style bandanna bound fairly short, tousled, fringed fair hair. Our gazes clashed. Hers, an unblinking, iridescent, milky pale blue, won. I was anchored to the spot, frozen solid, and my heart thundered. She reached out a hand and, trembling with emotion, I took it. A warm, pleasant hand. Gentle. She pulled me to my feet and I clutched my burning arm. It was only then that I registered my blood soaked jacket sleeve. She glanced at it, and tenderness surged into those eyes and narrowed in concern.
‘Okay, Honey? They won't be back. Couple of cowards...Gee – yer bleedin' badly, darlin'.’
Honey. Her voice was like honey. I nodded, alarmed at the fancy that had gripped me, shocked at this longed-for encounter. I dragged free of that discomforting, seductive gaze. She grinned crookedly, toothily at me. Gentle dimples in her cheeks deepened. My heart groaned again. My own face burned ...with jealousy. I wanted to be her. An absurd desire had taken root. Her whole being drowned me. She studied my blood soaked sleeve and nodded towards a flat boulder.
‘Sit there an’ let’s take a look, Honey.’
Her sensuality radiated as I settled on the boulder, distracting me from the pain. She crouched again and helped me remove my jacket. Her warm breath bathed my face and she smelled not unpleasant – of cowboy, I imagine. A kind of smoky smell. She unbuttoned my sleeve and gently folded the blood soaked cotton back to expose my arm below my shoulder. Luckily the bullet had only skimmed the skin, leaving an ugly ragged line. She cradled my arm in that strong, bronzed hand. Her veins were prominent, the skin a silken sheen. Her mere presence and her voice bolted shivers through me.
‘We gotta bandage it, darlin', huh?’She grinned at my mesmeric gaze. Her slim fingers – her nails pale against her golden skin – unknotted her bandanna and used it to carefully bind my arm.
‘You’re gonna have a scar, honey.’ I glanced at the white trail across the inside of her right wrist, the fine golden down on her forearm, touched by sunlight. She regarded me and I coloured. She smiled gently. ‘D’you carry a gun, honey?’
‘No. Perhaps I should..’ Pale laughter lines crinkled around her eyes.
‘Try a small Derringer, mebbe. Huh?’
‘I will. It was stupid to come out unarmed.’
‘You’re alright. Just remember fer next time, huh? Particular in these parts. You a stranger? Never seen ya before.’
'I’m on vacation. It’s beautiful here.’
‘Good t’have yer, darlin’, but ya gotta see the doc ‘bout that arm. Where ya from? Interestin' accent you got there.'
'New York. Manhattan.'
'Uh-huh.' She nodded.
My gaze meandered the curve of her long, womanly neck, the smoothness of her chest and hint of cleavage while she crouched. She peered intently at me. Her eyes slightly narrowed.
‘You’re trembling fit t’bust, darlin’. Sure you’re alright?’ I nodded as we stood up. She was tall, approaching six foot. 'Alright t’get back? I’d give ya a lift only I ain’t headin’ that way.’
‘My horse bolted. It’s not far. I can walk.’
‘Sure. Alright. ''Spect yer hoss went home. You too. Take care now.’
She flashed her grin and winked – she wore that charismatic magnetism like a garment. I managed a jocular salute and she chuckled and threw her head back, her jaw and neck revealing all their sexuality. She touched fingertip to thumb between her lips and whistled. A soft rustling preceded the entry of a beautiful brown horse with a white muzzle into the clearing. She leaped into the saddle and returned my salute.
She circled her horse, nudged him into the forest and was gone. I gaped at the spot where she'd been and touched the scarf at my arm.
I felt emotionally, physically, shattered.