Jedediah Curry, known to most peopleespecially those who'd never actually met himas Kid Curry, turned left instead of right this time and ambled down the street, looking around. He wasn't looking at, or for, anything in particular, though after several years his partner's obsessive caution had rubbed off a little bit, and if they had to leave town in a hurry, Curry now knew five different ways to do it. But he wasn't anticipating that. He was just out for a good, long walk, to work off some of his nervous energy.
He had a lot of nervous energy, and always had. It had gotten him in a lot of trouble as a boy. When it was genuinely necessary he was capable of stillness, physical and verbal, but his definition of "necessary" hadn't matched that of his school teachers. He'd been right glad when his pa had said, "Jed ain't cut out to be a scholar," and pulled him out of school when he was twelve. His ma had been somewhat disappointed, but he hadn't. After all, he could read, write, and figure: what more did a man need to be able to do? Especially with a war goin' on and all.
Not that he'd had much to do with the war, except that Jeremiah and Josiah, his oldest brothers, had both joined the Union Army, and neither had come back. In east Kansas, now, around Lawrence especially, there'd been war six years before Ft. Sumter, since the Kansas-Nebraska Act, when he was two. But in the west, out past Dodge City, there was too much going on day to day to mess with that. And slavery? That was just a word to young Jed, as apt to be applied by Jerry to their pa's demands on a young man's time as to negroes. Curry hadn't even seen a negro till he was seventeen, and long gone from Kansas.
But the war had been background to his life until he'd turned fifteen, when his pa had died in one of those vicious and stupid fights that had been growing more and more common. That had been the day Jed had turned into the Kid, though even he hadn't realized for some time. It had been the day he'd decided that no man, no man, would ever hold the power of life and death over him because he didn't know how to defend himself.
Now, eleven years later, there probably weren't a dozen men in the Territories that could take him in a fair fight, and most of those were too smart to get into one with him. After all, men like them knew they were good, and didn't need to prove it just to prove it. The $7,500 on his head proved it for Curry. He didn't need to go around killing people to add to his rep.
The last time he'd killed somebody, two months ago now, it hadn't been for his rep, anyway. It had been to protect the most important person in his life, his partner Hannibal Heyes. Heyes's price tag was equal to Curry's but he wasn't a shootist; he was a thinker. Well, and a locksmith and safe-cracker, sure, but mostly a thinker. He could take care of himself, but Curry didn't like to let him. Or make him, rather. That was why he was there, after all, so Heyes didn't have to.
Not that he minded. Not even a little bit. Especially not now, these last few months. Oh, Curry knew what the world said about people like him and Heyes. What his folks would have said, the preachers, the boys in the Devil's Hole Gang... hell. Anybody. But he didn't give a good goddamn what anybody else said.
All that mattered was what Heyes said. "Let's leave the value judgments out of it, Kid. You're a good man." That before he'd even thought about it, let alone kissed him. Now he said things like, "You're like having the sun in my arms, Kid; you warm and illumine me through and through. Don't ever leave me."
Like there was a chance of that. Heyes was his whole life. He'd never figure why the other man loved him, but his ma had said once, about another couple altogether, "The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." As far as he was concerned, Heyes was it. The be-all and end-all. He'd been with women, and it was nothing like being with Heyes. Looking into Heyes's dark eyes from an inch away and seeing himself reflected there, falling asleep with Heyes's heartbeat under his ear, seeing Heyes's rare smilethe real one, not the one he hid behind with strangersand knowing it was there for him... Nothing and no one in the world mattered that much.
That Heyes was a man was, well, beside the point.
Of course, it did make it difficult. He couldn't say things to Heyes in public he'd like to say, couldn't let other people know he had a claim staked. Sure as hell couldn't touch Heyes except casually.
But then, again, that was probably just as well. Touching Heyes always set him on fire.
He came to a stop at the next intersection. Across the street was a lady in one of those new colors, a brilliant purplish red. He almost pointed it out to Heyes, who'd spent an hour a couple of days earlier trying to explain how you got red or blue dye from coal tar, before remembering that Heyes wasn't with him at the moment. His partner didn't like long walks, so he was back at the hotel. It wasn't that Heyes was lazy, he could walk as long as necessary, but at the end of the journey he wanted something besides the place he'd started from. And if he had any nervous energy, he burned it off thinking.
Curry grinned. Heyes thinking was one of his favorite things in the world. Of course, Heyes doing just about anything was good... but Heyes thinking was a pretty thing.
In fact, Curry decided, he'd had about as much walking as he wanted for the moment. Any nervous energy he still had he could figure out another way to burn off. Plus any energy Heyes might have accumulated sitting around...
Sitting. Energy. Nervous energy... Hell, Heyes positively vibrated with tension most of the time, though you'd never know it just to look at him. Curry couldn't figure out how anyone as tense as Heyes was could spend all that time just sitting, still as a cat waiting on a mouse, except he didn't have a tail to twitch. And wouldn't have twitched it if he had, either. Relaxing Heyes wasn't easy. Curry was proud of himself that he could do it.
He crossed the street and headed back toward the hotel. He touched his hat to the lady in the brilliant dress as he went past and returned her smile, but the days were past when he was tempted to stick around and strike up a conversation. Sure, the ladies were fine, but all the lovin' he wanted or needed was waiting for him in the hotel. And getting better all the time, too. It was just a couple of months ago that he'd decided to try out that insult, see if there was anything to it. He'd waited till one night when Heyes was as relaxed as he could get, after a long hot bath and a good meal, and he'd helped him along with a back rub, and then when Heyes was damn near purring, he'd done it. And while Heyes had certainly liked it, to put it mildly, which Curry had figured he would, the funny thing was that Curry had liked it a hell of a lot too.
He hadn't been very good at it that first time, nearly choking himself twice and not at all ready for the climax, but he'd gotten a lot better. And Heyes was pretty good at it, too... Curry's steps quickened as he entered the hotel.
They had a room on the third floor, a single. They'd gotten singles more often than not even before they'd become more than trail buddies. Singles were cheaper than two rooms, and safer. Nobody ever questioned it. Now of course sharing a bed was a need no matter how much money they had.
Curry climbed the stairs two at a time. He hadn't seen Heyes outside or downstairs so he was assuming his partner was in the room. He opened the door carefully saying "Heyes" quietly as he did so, and was rewarded by the sight of the dark-haired man sound asleep on the bed. Heyes had always been able to fall asleep around him, but it had taken almost two years for the man not to wake up as soon as Curry came into the room. The day Heyes had told him he felt safe when he was around, Curry had felt like he'd died and gone to heaven. It had been his first clue that he didn't think of Heyes as just a friend.
Heyes had a book open across his arm. It was unlike him to fall asleep still reading but he'd been stressed and not sleeping well for a couple of days now. This vacation would be good for him. Curry resolved to let him sleep as long as he would. He carefully picked up the book, glancing at its title as he did. From the Earth to the Moon. Yeah, right. Curry shook his head in amusement, but found the train ticket stub Heyes had been using as a book mark and stuck it in the right place before putting the slightly battered book down on the table.
He hung his holster on the bedpost and took off his boots, and then sat in the one chair the room had and, putting his feet up on the bed, settled down to watch Heyes sleep.
Asleep, the dark-haired man was as big a conundrum as he was awake. Maybe more, because the genial attitude he often adopted to cover his real nature was absent. Asleep, he was always curled up on himself like a cat that was tucked away, self-contained and closed away. And silenteven if he had a bad dream, he never made a noise. Curry would wake when Heyes came bolt upright in the bed, breathing hard and sweating, but never in time to try and gentle the other man to a better dream. Now, sometimes, if they were snuggled together, or Heyes was under his arm, sometimes Curry did wake first, but never from a sound.
When Heyes drifted to sleep after loving, he would, for a time, be open-looking, peaceful. But at some point, and Curry hadn't found out when, hadn't managed to stop it, his partner would close up again, get all tight and wary. It bothered Curryno, it worried himbut he didn't know what to do about it, except love Heyes as hard and as deep as he could.
Now as he watched, Heyes shifted slightly, sighing. One of his stockinged feet moved a little bit and nudged Curry's. Heyes seemed to relax; on Curry, the contact, even of feet, even through two layers of wool, had the opposite effect. He forgot his resolve and, keeping that one foot on the bed, maneuvered himself around until he could lie down next to Heyes. By mashing the pillow down he was able to slide his arm under the dark head, and he wrapped his other around Heyes's waist, pulling himslf close. He rubbed his hand in circles on Heyes's stomach and nuzzled his neck, enjoying the combination of scentssoap, bay rum, Heyes himself.
After a few moments he felt Heyes moving, his head shifting to afford Curry better access to his neck and ear, his hands reaching to catch Curry's. "Thought you went out to tire yourself out, Kid," he said softly, a trace of amusement in his voice.
"Hmmm..." Curry nibbled gently on the earlobe offered to his mouth. "Didn't work," he added after a moment, enjoying the way Heyes's breathing was changing.
"No, really?" Heyes said, his voice husky. "You surprise me."
"Good," Curry said, hearing his own voice just as rough. "I hate to be predictable."
Heyes laughed, a low sound that made Curry lose a lot of his control. He growled softly and pulled Heyes towards him, so his partner was on his back, and straddled him. He grabbed for Heyes's black shirt and found his partner's hands locked around his wrists.
"Watch the buttons, Kid," Heyes said. "Don't want to lose one... shirt's new." There was a devil's glint in his eyes.
Curry growled at him again but held still. "Get it off, then," he said, "or you'll lose more than a button."
"Patience is a virtue, shug," Heyes said, his grip relaxing and his thumbs rubbing the inside of Curry's wrists.
Curry closed his eyes, but opened them when Heyes let go. His partner deliberately unbuttoned one cuff, and then the other, keeping his dark eyes on Curry's face. He reached his left hand up to touch Curry's face; Curry turned to kiss his hand and bite very gently on his finger as he unbuttoned the first three buttons of that new black shirt, one-handedly but dexterously. Heyes took his hand back and pulled his shirt off over his head; Curry breathed out with a low sound of desire and bent to kiss his throat. Heyes tangled his hands in his partner's curly hair and arched his back as Curry's mouth moved down along his chest, licking and nibbling all the places he'd found in the past year, the places that set Heyes on fire, too.
Heyes pulled Curry a little closer and scrabbled his shirt loose from his waistband, his undershirt, too, and slid his hands up inside along Curry's back, a little cold on Curry's skin. Cold hands, warm heart, Curry thought, a reaction as automatic as the physical one the sight of his partner's body and the feel of his hands evoked. God, he loved this man...
Afterwards, Heyes sorted Curry's undershirt from the tangle of his vest and dark brown work shirt and pulled it over his partner's head while Curry lay in boneless, exhausted contentment. Once they were both decently clad again, Heyes collapsed on Curry's chest, pulling the blanket and sheet up around them. "Worn out now, shug?" he asked with a little laugh that damn near woke Curry up again.
"Yeah," he said, wrapping his arms around his dark, paranoid, dearly loved partner. Some day Heyes would stop worrying about who might kick in their door and just fall asleep. But for now, Curry was happy to hold him and drowse off into dreams about that day. He threaded his fingers through Heyes's dark hair, feeling the other man relax in his hold, and sighed. He felt so full of love he almost couldn't bear it. "Love you, Heyes," he said softly.
"Love you, Kid," Heyes said against his throat. "Love you..."
Curry tightened his hold and let his partner sleep.
Curry leaned against the padded back of the coach's seat and looked out the window. They weren't moving fast, but then, even if the grade hadn't been steep for making horses trot, he wouldn't have wanted them to. No wonder the transportation up to the Paradise hotel was so rigidly scheduled; he doubted two wagons could have passed safely anywhere along the road. He wasn't sure two horsemen could have, some places.
But the view was spectacular. Mountains as far as he could see, snow on some of the higher peaks already, green trees and slashes of grey rock, an achingly blue sky... this was going to be a good week. Even if he had had to practically shanghai Heyes to get him to come along. He glanced at Heyes, drowsing in the corner opposite, his flat-crowned black Stetson pulled over his face and his arms crossed over his new black broadcloth suit. He'd have nudged him awake to look at the view if they'd been alone, but they weren't. They were sharing the coach with two English people, who'd been waiting when they arrived at the station and had apparently been waiting for a while.
And who'd been a little surprised not to be told to wait yet longer, for the next coach up the mountain. "Plenty of room," Heyes had said, looking at the coach, which would take six. They'd looked at each other, and then at Curry, who'd stood there holding the door for the woman, and finally gotten in, taking up as little space as possible.
Curry had gathered that the pair, a man named Carter and a woman called Porterjust Porterworked for some of their fellow guests at the hotel. Curry had hoped that this late in the season, two weeks before it closed, they'd have the hotel to themselves but he supposed it didn't really matter if, as Heyes had said, they weren't the only two lunatics in the state of Colorado.
That was what Heyes had said while they were waiting at the station. It had been mild compared to what he'd said when Curry had first broached the subject. That had been "Have you lost your mind, Kid? How much does a hotel like that cost?"
"Twenty dollars a day for a suiteHeyes, listen. A suite would be perfect. Two bedrooms, a sitting room."
"Twenty dollars? What the hell are they going to give us for that kind of money?"
"Privacy." Curry grinned at him. "Big, soft beds. Good food. Room service. Maid service... C'mon, Heyes, you know we've got the money." And they had, of course, from that bank job in Cheyenne. "We've got enough for almost two months. I'm only talking about a week. We got the money, we might as well spend it."
"A luxury hotel?"
"Never been in one," Curry said. "I've always wanted to... C'mon, Heyes, nobody's gonna look for us at a resort hotel in Colorado." He didn't add that he thought a long week doing nothing somewhere luxurious and private would be good for Heyes, help him to relax some. Heyes would only say he was fine, that he didn't need to relax. Besides, Curry had always wanted to.
Heyes looked at him, his dark eyes unreadable at first then warming into amusement. Sometimes Curry felt like he was a boy again, trying to wheedle something out of his pa. Trouble was, he also usually felt like Heyes didn't know what his role in the game was... But now Heyes chuckled. "Okay, Kid. You win. We'll go. Where?"
"The Paradise, near Aspen. First week in October," Curry said.
Heyes laughed. "You already made the reservations, shug?"
The endearment told Curry Heyes didn't really mind, now that he'd had a chance to get used to it. He grinned back. "You don't have to do anything but show up," he said. "Except..."
"Except what?" Heyes quirked an eyebrow upward, looking amused.
"Well," Curry said, "we might have the money, but I guess I don't look like the kind of fella that goes there. So I said I was making the reservations for my boss."
Heyes smiled his slow smile. "A week in a luxury hotel as your boss? It might be Paradise at that."
So now Heyes was dressed in broadcloth and fine linen, with a good woolen coat and a necktie, while Curry was wearing his normal sheepskin coat and working clothes. The English people obviously had marked Heyes down as rich folks, and were respectfully silent around him. Curry they couldn't pigeon-hole so neatly; it seemed to confuse them that Heyes treated him like he did. Curry wondered what their bosses were like. But he wasn't going to have to deal with them, so it didn't really matter. If they were sons of bitches, he could avoid them. That was what they were paying twenty dollars a day for, after all.
He stretched and shifted his legs, carefully avoiding Heyes's. Mr. Smith's, he reminded himself. Then he suppressed another grin, remembering Heyes's reaction to that name. "Smith? Smith? Kid, you couldn't think of something besides Smith? What are you, Johnson?"
"Jones. Jones, and Smith... Honestly, Kid. John Smith and Bill Jones, I suppose?"
"Well..." Curry had shrugged. "Lots of people are called that, you know."
"I know. But, Kid... never mind."
"Anyway, it's just J. Smith, and nothing for me."
So Heyes had made it into a joke at the station. "I've been tempted to change my name any number of times. To just about anything. Except Tree." The clerk had looked curious, so Heyes had said, tapping the tickets, "Joshua."
The clerk had actually smiled at that.
So Curry had to remember to say "Mr. Smith" for the week. He didn't figure it would be that hard; it wouldn't be the first time they'd used fake names. After all, even when the price on them was only $1,000 each, registering someplace as themselves wasn't smart. Now, considering that they'd seen posters in Aspen with the price on their head put up all the way to ten times that... Curry had hardly been able to believe it. Ten thousand dollars. That was way much more than they'd ever stolen, way much more than he could conceive of having. Especially since for the two of them it was... Dear Lord, twenty thousand dollars.
Man. He might have been tempted himself, if he could have figured out how to get away with it.
He looked out the window again. The hotel had just come into sight. He leaned forward and jiggled Heyes's elbow. "Mr. Smith? We're here."
Heyes came awake at once, the way he did. He straightened and looked out the window. Then he leaned back and looked at Curry, smiling slightly. "Very nice."
Nice didn't cover it. Curry looked out the window at the hotel. It was a huge white building, four stories and two wings, and a steeply pitched roof with lots of chimneys. Windows faced out onto what was going to be a spectacular view. Curry sighed in satisfaction. As a boy he'd daydreamed about staying in fancy places like this. And he'd always wanted to go to San Francisco, or New York. Not to live, hell no, but to stay in a hotel like this one. Now it looked like he wouldn't have to leave the wide-open spaces and get into a city to do it.
He looked across the coach again, and smiled again. Not just staying in a luxury hotel, but staying there with Heyes. This was going to be Paradise.
The coach drew up in front of the hotel. Curry opened the door and jumped out. A couple of young men in dark blue and red uniforms came out to help the shotgun rider take the luggage down from the top of the coach. Curry picked up the carpet bag that had their gold in it and followed Heyes, who'd already started for the porch. He figured if Heyes hadn't waited for the luggage, he shouldn't either, but nobody was getting their hands on their money. A glance over his shoulder showed Carter and Porter picking up bags along with the hotel employees. He figured that he'd put himself about where they'd figured, out of their class. Well, they were the ones who'd been stand-offish, so he wasn't going to worry about it, though it seemed kind of odd to him. He hadn't come up here to make new friends, after all, but to spend some private time with an old one.
He followed Heyes into the lobby. It was luxurious. Curry wished he knew a better word for it, but luxurious would have to do. Deep red velvet curtains with tasseled ties, rugs scattered around a polished floor, upholstered chairs in red and gold, leather-bound books and small tables, and two card tables. The view out the front window was spectacular, another inadequate word. Curry pushed his hat back on his head and drank it all in.
"No," he heard Heyes's voice and turned to look. "I'm sorry, but not only does Jones not feel dressed without it, I prefer him to be armed. Jones," Heyes raised one eyebrow. "You promise not to shoot anybody without provocation, don't you?"
Curry grinned; he couldn't help it. But he said, "Yes, sir, Mr. Smith. I reckon it would be hard to clean up a place like this."
Heyes snorted with amusement; the desk clerk looked only mildly reassured but didn't say anything else.
"Well," a woman's voice drawled. Curry turned to see a man and a woman, both very well dressed, coming down the stairs. There was a strong resemblance between them: they were fair-haired with grey-blue eyes, strong noses and chins, and pale complexions. Oddly, he looked more languid than she did, but neither had the look of someone who'd ever done any work, which made it hard to judge their ages; Curry figured they were four or five years older than him or Heyes. She came across the floor towards him, saying as she did, "Porter, go upstairs and unpack, and lay out my rose for dinner." She was English, that was for sure, though she didn't sound much like Carter had; she drawled her words lazily. It wasn't as pretty as a French accent, but Curry liked the sound of it.
"Yes, milady," Porter said.
"Well," the blonde repeated, looking up at Curry from an arm's length, "my very first gunman. That is the term, isn't it?"
Curry wasn't sure what her tone meant, but he thought she was flirting with him, so he smiled down at hershe wasn't all that short, but she was still shorter than himand said, "Shootist is the term, ma'am, but I'm not, really."
"Oh, too bad," she said.
She was flirting with him.
"So what are you, if you're not a shootist?"
"Just a hired hand, ma'am," he said, smiling. "Payroll guard, that sort of thing."
"I see..." She smiled back, and then asked, her tone faintly superior, "Your employer is a merchant, then?"
He laughed before he could think if that was a good idea to foster, so it was too late.
Heyes had been watching; now he entered the conversation. "No, ma'am, I'm a landowner. Joshua Smith."
"Land, eh?" said the man. "Lord Edward Ransdale, m'sister Clarissa... How many acres?"
Heyes shrugged as if it didn't particularly interest him. "Hundred fifty, hundred sixty thousand, give or take." He fluttered his hand. "I don't know. About two hundred forty square miles. In Wyoming. You?"
The man, the lordCurry's first lord, not that impressiveblinked in startlement, then said, "Not that many. But we've had it since the 12th century."
Heyes smiled, one of those smiles that didn't make it to his eyes, that fooled people who didn't know him like Curry did. "Honors even."
Lord Edward laughed. "I s'pose so."
The woman, the Lady Curry reminded himself, smiled at Heyes and said, "It was awf'ly kind of you to make room for our servants."
Heyes raised that eyebrow at her and said, "Not at all; the coach wasn't half full. No point in making them wait."
"It would have inconvenienced Clarissa," Lord Edward drawled.
Her eyes flashed; Curry intervened to keep the mood pleasant. "A pretty lady like you shouldn't ever be inconvenienced."
She turned her back on the others and gave him a brilliant, if practiced smile. "Why, thank you, Mr. Jones."
The desk clerk interrupted to hand Heyes two room keys. He tossed one to Curry and said, "I'm going up, Jones."
Curry touched his hat brim. "Yes, sir. I'll look around first; you want to take this?"
Heyes took the carpet bag from him. "No hurry," he said, a flash of humor in his dark eyes. "We don't eat till eight." He went up the stairs.
"Shall I show you the ground floor?" offered Lady Clarissa. "The dining room is through here, and the music room is across the hall."
"Well, that would be kind of you, Lady Clarissa," he said. "I was figuring to walk around the outside, but I can do that afterwards."
She put her hand on his arm so she could hold out one foot and gaze pensively at the neat but impractical shoe on it. She managed to give him a good look at a trim ankle while she did so. By the time he remembered her brother, the man had already vanished. "I daresay I shouldn't try walking all the way around the hotel," she admitted, "though the front lawn is rather nice for such a new place. But why on earth are you going to walk all that way, Mr. Jones? Do you expect Red Indians?"
"No, ma'am," he said. "It's just sort of a habit."
"Hmmm," she said, not letting go of his arm.
He could tell she wasn't wearing a corset; he wondered if that was usual in England. He took a step back; no point in getting in deeper than he wanted. Though once this would have been a dream come true, it wasn't now. "Pays to be careful, that's all," he said.
"Are you good with this?" She put her hand on the ivory butt of his Colt.
He disengaged her, carefully. "I wish you wouldn't, Lady Clarissa," he said. "It's loaded."
"I see..." She looked up at him consideringly. "Your Mr. Smith couldn't have brought a payroll with him, or a herd of cattle. One forgets just how rough America is, still... you must be his bodyguard."
"Well, in a manner of speaking," Curry said. It couldn't hurt.
"Well, well... how intriguing." She touched the tip of her tongue to her lips, a flash of pink. "And who guards your body, Mr. Jones?"
"I'd better take that turn around the property," he said. He touched his hat and, frankly, escaped.
Heyes stood in front of the mirror and tied his tie, taking a moment to admire the subtle brocade of his new vest. He would never have thought of coming to a place like this, but he did appreciate the chance to buy new clothes and wear them, and he had to smile remembering the expression on the Kid's face as he'd looked around the lobby. This suite, too: when Curry finally got up here he was going to be like a kid turned loose in a candy store.
If he got up here before dinner. Flirting with a real Duke's daughter might keep him occupied a while. Heyes would have preferred an empty hotel, but it was just possible that English nobility would be the icing on the cake for Curry. Too bad he hadn't thought to put on a suit before going to make the reservations, butHeyes settled his tie to his satisfaction and left the mirror to look out the windowthe Kid was happier in range clothes and this way, if that harpy (which she was or Heyes had lost his ability to read people) got to be too much for a polite man like Curry, he could order him to do something. Might have to think about what, he admitted, resting his hands on the window sill and breathing deep.
He wasn't worried about it, so he didn't spend any more thought on it. A mountain jay cackled in a pine tree and Heyes smiled at it. He preferred the blue jays of his childhood, but he hadn't seen one in the Rockies. It was kind of funny, he supposed, that he liked the flashy brilliant jays of the east, instead of the drabber ones here in the mountains, but he did. Probably because these birds were so tame. Curry liked to get them to come right up to him and eat out of his hand. Heyes smiled to himself. They weren't the only things that would eat out of the Kid's hand.
He turned around and looked at the bed. Big, feather mattress, brass and mahogany headboard, six pillows... This could easily turn out to be one of Curry's best ideas ever. The meal should be good, and Ransdale had followed him up the stairs, delicately sounding him out about a game of whist afterwards. The trouble with whist for money, of course, was that you were somewhat at the mercy of your partner. And whist wasn't exactly his game; he hadn't played in a long time. Still, if they were either too not good enough, or too good, he could beg out of the game. And if they weren't, he could pick up some pocket change. Or more.
The door to the sitting room, between the two bedrooms of the suite, opened. Heyes went for the Colt lying on the bureau. "Which room are you in?" Curry's voice called.
"The right," he answered, reholstering the Colt.
Curry pushed open that door and grinned at him. "Heyes," he said, "we ain't paying twenty dollars a day for you to shoot a maid."
"I wouldn't shoot a maid," Heyes said, "because at twenty dollars a day they'd better be knocking at the door before they come in, or at the very least announcing themselves." He walked into the sitting room as he spoke.
Curry had opened the door to the other room but hearing Heyes's door shut he turned. "I guess you're right, at that," he said, and then added, "My oh my, you look nice."
"Just dressing for dinner," Heyes said.
"You do look good enough to eat," the other man allowed. Heyes felt a slight shiver run down his spine. "I don't have to, do I?"
Heyes laughed, following as his partner went into the second room; it was as well-appointed as the other one, not two pins to choose between them as Curry would have said. He paused in the doorway. "Did you even bring a suit?"
"Nope," Curry admitted cheerfully.
"I didn't think so. No... Lady Clarissa would be awfully disappointed if you showed up in one."
Curry's expressive face reflected regret.
"Bothering you, is she?" Heyes said.
"Nothing I can't handle," Curry said. "She's kinda forward, though. I'da thought a lady would be more, well, lady-like."
"Kid," Heyes said, "she's rich, she's titled, and she's not at home. She doesn't have to act like a lady."
"I suppose not," Curry said. He leaned on the edge of the bed and almost lost his balance in the deep comforter and mattress. "Oh, yeah," he said, contentedly. "I told you this would be worth the price, didn't I?"
"I admit it, Kid, you were right." Heyes leaned against the dresser and looked at Curry, who had pushed himself up to lie on his back on the bed, his knees bent at the edge of the mattress and his arms outflung. His eyes were inviting Heyes to join him, but Heyes knew better. If he did, while Curry would certainly be able to make him glad he had, he'd regret it when he got hungry. Because they wouldn't make it to dinner. And he hadn't eaten lunch. So he resisted Curry's eyes and said, "You going down to dinner in what you've been travelling in?"
Curry sighed, but he sat up. "Nope," he said. "I'll change."
"Don't strain yourself, Kid," Heyes grinned.
Curry made a rude gesture, and then stripped off his brown shirt and reached for his new carpetbag.
"They're in the dresser," Heyes said. "No, don't look at me. One of the maids did it."
"Twenty dollars a day buys a lot, huh?" Curry pulled out a blue shirt and tossed it on the bed.
"Twenty dollars a day makes people expect tips," Heyes replied, deriving more than a little pleasure from the sight of Curry washing up and brushing his hair. Long-limbed and lithe, Curry was, like a catamount, which was what he irresistibly reminded Heyes of. Especially when he was lazing around, peaceable and contented, with the potential to explode into deadly violence all tucked away as long he was let be. That Curry gentled that strength and cuddled into Heyes's arms after loving, drowsed off to sleep, was a never-ending source of wonder to him, as much as the fact that Curry loved him at all. Loved him, wanted him, trusted him... that most of all. Heyes thought Curry would walk trustingly into a jail cell if Heyes told him to. It scared him. It exhilarated him. It kept him humble...
"Cynic," Curry said, buttoning up his shirt.
Heyes had to think to remember what he'd said. He shrugged. "Realist."
"Well," Curry said, picking up his brown leather vest and shrugging into it, "it's worth a good tip." He tucked in his shirt tails; he always did it in that order, Heyes didn't know why. He settled his Colt in its holster and looked at Heyes. "You glad we came?"
"Oh, yes," Heyes said. "It was a good idea, Kid. A very good idea."
Curry smiled, the bright smile that made him look all young and innocent and eager.
Hell, Heyes thought, no wonder Lady Clarissa is hot after him. But someone ought to tell her that in vain is the net spread in sight of the bird...
"What are you smiling at?" Curry asked.
"You wearing that to dinner?"
Curry grinned again, his teeth flashing. "You're the one said I never took it off," he pointed out. "And I'd purely hate to disappoint the English... I just wish we could come up with a Red Indian or two."
Heyes laughed. "That's like looking for Vikings or painted Picts in England," he said, shaking his head. "I hate the arrogance of Europeans."
Curry hiked an eyebrow at him but didn't ask.
So Heyes told him. "Ran into some Germans a few years ago. Just before you showed up, in fact. Still reliving the Teutoburger Wald." As soon as he'd said it he knew he needed to explain it, which he could do easily enough without making it obvious he was. "Like beating Publius Varus and stopping the Romans in Germany was better than the British Celts doing the same thing in Scotland, or Wales, and like any of it matters now, eighteen hundred and seventy years later." He shrugged. "Your country is so young yet, Herr Heyes," he said.
"Well, hell," said Curry, "isn't Germany only about ten years old?"
"Well, yes, but these were Prussians."
"I guess young is better than rough," Curry said, evidently quoting someone himself, and then he grinned again. "But either's better than worn out."
Heyes laughed in spite of himself. "Save it for after dinner conversation, Kid," he suggested. "Maybe that way they'll leave us alone."
Curry laughed gaily, opening the door and sweeping his arm out for Heyes. "After you, Mr. Smith," he said.
Heyes shook his head and headed for the hallway.
At dinner they met the rest of the Ransdale party, who were the only others at the Paradise this week: Marcus Horne, who was the Ransdales' cousin"my mother, Lady Elinor" featured prominently in his conversation but he himself was a plain Mr. and his wife, Isobel, and Raines (no first name supplied), who was Lord Edward's secretary and who occupied an uncomfortable-seeming position halfway between friend and servant. Carter and Porter were nowhere to be seen.
Raines showed a slight tendency to want to talk to Curry, who he probably estimated to be in his class, but Curry was monopolized for most of the dinner by Lady Clarissa, who sat on his other side. Heyes himself had Horne on one side and Mrs. Horne, a shy girl, on the other. Lord Edward had grabbed the head of the table and addressed most of his conversation across Mrs. Horne to Heyes, who managed to remember that Joshua Smith, Wyoming land baron, would probably have been able to eat them all for breakfast unless he felt like marrying a title to impress somebody and was therefore only mildly rude, dropping quotations and Latin and twice correcting someone else, an attitude they seemed to accept as proof of his social standing. At the end of the meal, Lord Edward proposed whist.
"Oh, do you play, Mr. Smith?" Lady Clarissa positively caroled at him.
"I do, a bit," he said.
"How absolutely marvelous," she said. "I'm so exhausted from trying to play with these men, when I've no head for cards at all, and am always forgetting what's trumps and what's already been played. Oh, do say you'll play with them, Mr. Smith. Darling Isobel and I can just retire to the music room and perhaps Mr. Jones will consent to keep us company?"
Heyes managed not to laugh at the expression in Curry's eyes as he agreed. He took pity on him, though, adding, "But I daresay I won't be making a long night of it. Too much travelling today. A few hands."
"Fine, fine," Horne said. "Clare never has managed to master the game."
"Not whist, at any rate," Lord Edward said with a chuckle.
Heyes went up to bed after an hour and half twenty-five dollars richer. If they played again, he'd make a point to get Raines as his partner for the whole evening; the man was steady and more than willing to let Heyes make the bidding, and if he was going to skin somebody he'd much rather it was the Ransdales than the secretary. He might recoup the whole of their bill, considering how poorly Lord Edward remembered what had already been played. Must be a family failing.
He unlocked the door and, opening it to see light flickering under the right-hand door, said, "Jones?" as he shut it behind him and locked it, throwing the deadbolt.
"Yeah," Curry's voice came. "You're back sooner'n I expected."
Heyes walked into the bedroom and reflexively locked that door behind him, too. Curry, wearing his Levi's and cotton undershirt, sleeves pushed up to his elbows, was sitting at the desk, cleaning his Colt. The lamplight, the only illumination in the room, burnished his hair to a rich gold it never had in sunlight, and threw deep comforting shadows around the bedroom. Heyes leaned up against the door and watched Curry's strong, long-fingered hands manipulate the gun and the cloth. He didn't say anything, just looked. After a few moments, Curry glanced over at him and said, "You lose a lot?"
"Won some," Heyes said.
"Good," Curry grinned.
"Thought you'd be listening to music," Heyes teased gently.
Curry snorted. "Poor dear Isobel had a monstrous headache, and went up to bed. I slid out myself as soon as I could. I was hoping you wouldn't stay long." His voice softened remarkably on the last phrase.
"I was hoping you'd be hoping that," Heyes said and pushed away from the door to take off his jacket. Curry was about five or six minutes from finishing, and having his Colt in pieces was probably the only thing that would keep him from reacting to a provocative statement like that. Heyes smiled to himself. His own holster was hanging on the back of Curry's chair, easy to hand. And he calls me paranoid, he thought.
He hung his jacket up and brushed at the front of it. Then he sat on the edge of the bed and took off his boots. After setting them down, he began unbuttoning his vest. The mattress moved under him, and he realized Curry had finished with his Colt. His partner's hands came around to begin unbuttoning his shirt, and he felt a kiss on the back of his neck. He canted his head to the side and leaned backwards slightly, feeling Curry's warmth beginning to soak through his skin. "Your hands better be clean," he said softly.
Curry's chuckle against the back of his neck shivered his spine. Shamelessly he turned his head further, offering Curry his throat, an offer the other man took him up on at once, pausing only to ask, artlessly, "What? Is this shirt new, too?"
"You know it is, shug," Heyes said, "you were with me when I bought it."
"Now, Heyes," Curry said between kisses along the shoulder he was baring as he finished unbuttoning the linen shirt and began pulling it off, "you know I can't tell your shirts apart. Not the good ones, anyhow; they all look alike to me." He tugged a little forcefully on the sleeves, not having unbuttoned the cuffs, and then tossed the shirt onto the floor. "Anyway, they're clean..."
At that particular moment, Heyes didn't care if they were or not. If his new shirt had just been turned into a cleaning rag, it was fine with him. Something about the way Curry had pulled him back into his arms and was kissing him, deeply and passionately, drove anything else out of his mind. Heyes turned, sliding his hands along Curry's firmly muscled back, returning the kiss. He could feel Curry's fire kindling in him, just as he could feel the physical desire for the taste of his partner's skin, the feel of his body against Heyes's own, growing inside himself. As Curry's hands moved downward along his body, he felt the familiar loss of the detachment that was with him the rest of the time. No one but Curry could break through to him like this, ground him so completely in the sensatethe sensualthis way. No one else had ever made him feel so completely entangled in the moment. It had scared him at first; now he reveled in it: hard as it was to get to that point, he loved it when he was there.
But, he knew even as he surrendered to the fire, as he pulled Curry's lean, hard body down against his and used his own mouth to inflame his partner even more, that it was only with Curry that he would ever dare drop his guard so much. He could trust Curry, with his life, with his heart... with his soul, assuming he had one. If he did, Curry had possibly given it to him, certainly saved it...
He rolled Curry over, sinking them both deep into the feather mattress, and lost himself
|Autumn Afternoon | Ilya's Wedding | Something... | Last Corner | Morgans|
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