The next day Curry slipped out of the bed carefully, letting Heyes sleep in. He stood beside the bed in the dimnessHeyes always had the curtains drawn, and these kept the light out magnificently wellfor a few moments, looking at his partner. Heyes was sleeping soundly, silently as usual. Unusually, he was stretched his full length on his stomach, his face still and dark on the white pillow. Curry was prey to conflicting urges, but the one that said, let him sleep, he needs it won out. Resisting the impulse to stroke the dark hair, knowing that would waken him, Curry grabbed his gunbelt, picked up his jeans and boots from the floor, and went into the other bedroom to dress.
He worried about Heyes. He claimed to thrive on tension, but Curry disagreed with that. Heyes didn't get enough sleep, in his opinion; he couldn't think when was the last time his partner had slept this late. Now, with the price on them up so high, it was just going to get worse. No matter where they went, no matter how little one state talked to another, or whether they were even wanted there, somebody would be looking to cash in... Maybe they should make a big strike, move to Mexico... How hard could it be to learn Spanish? Mexican babies did it all the time. Or Canada: they spoke English up there, though Heyes didn't like snow. But, whatever, something was going to give, and Curry just hoped it wasn't Heyes.
This week was going to be just what Heyes needed.
Leaving yesterday's shirt on the floor where he'd dropped it yesterday, he messed up the bed and decided the room looked like he'd slept in it. Shaking his headhe hadn't really thought out the maid anglehe belted on his holster and carried his hat downstairs. Breakfast was laid out in the dining room and no one was there, so he grabbed a quick bite while he was alone and then went outside. He had a hankering to wander around in the woods some, look at birds and stuff. Heyes would sleep a while, and then curl himself up in a chair and read; he'd brought three of that French author's books with him, the moon one and one about under the sea and another about going to the center of the earth. That Frenchman got around, Curry thought amusedly. Curry wasn't a reader, himself, though he liked a good newspaper, but Heyes loved it. Up here he'd have hours for it. It'd be good for him. Relax him.
Then he could eat another good dinner. And then he could win some more money at cards, which would put him a really good mood. And then Curry could cash in.
He grinned and went into the woods. After a while he thought perhaps he'd have done better staying at the hotel. True, in the hotel, Lady Clarissa would probably have bothered him, but in person she was, well, annoying. Not there, she was suddenly a lot more appealing, when she came to mind, which she did a couple or three times. A flash of yellow from some bird, a chattering squirrel, evenfor some reason he didn't care to think about very mucha buzzard drifting in circles in the sky, and he thought of Lady Clarissa. And wished he hadn't, and turned his mind to something else each time, but. The fact was, she was crossing his mind. And he didn't know why.
It wasn't like he wanted her to. Or like he was sitting on the rocks looking at the view and trying to think about her, the way he had when he was fifteen and Jenny Rawlings was driving him crazy. Not that there'd been any rocks to sit on, or any view, for that matter, not back in Kansas. But he'd spent a lot of time conjuring Jenny up, and enjoying it. He didn't want to think about Lady Clarissa, and he sure as hell didn't want to enjoy it when he did.
"So why am I?" he asked the jays, and they screeched at him, which was about as sensible an answer as he could come up with. So he just kept pushing her, and the way her wanting him made him feel, back underneath whatever part of his mind she kept coming up at him out of. Eventually he won out and didn't think about her any more.
Until dinner, when she was undeniably there, in the undeniably attractive flesh even when she was being so condescending and so, well, obvious at the same time. Sitting between her and Raines, again, with her at the end of the table catty-cornered from him, Curry found himself torn between wishing they'd ordered room service, and watching himself react to her presence.
When the two women left the men sitting at the table drinking and talking, Curry thanked God and tried to pull himself together. The conversation was about Otto Bismarck and his politics, particularly his attacks on liberals and Catholics. Curry couldn't have cared less about Germany or what happened there, though he did think Lord Edward and Horne might not ever have actually met a Catholic. None of the ones Curry knew were much like the ones they talked about. But he left it to Heyes to uphold the American end of the conversation. He had other things to think about.
Like Lady Clarissa. And sex.
Like, why had he thought about her on and off all day? Why did he keep thinking about what it would be like to fuck her brains out? It sure as hell wasn't because he liked her, or even, he thought, wanted to. Not really. But he'd kept running into that thought...
And like how it had felt when she'd suddenly run her foot up the inside of his leg at supper. "Dinner" she'd called it; apparently "supper" was a light meal you ate at midnight. At least in England... He was trying to ignore her strictures on the way people spoke; Heyes, on the other hand, had carefully explained to her that "dinner" was one's main meal, whenever one ate it, and "supper" was a light meal in the evening while "lunch" was a light meal in the afternoon... he knew she'd want to speak correctly now that she was in the US ... Curry didn't think she liked Heyes.
He wished she didn't like him. He wished he hadn't flirted with her that first afternoon, before he understood what she was like. Flirting was usually fun, and safe. It had rules, and you could enjoy it... But Lady Clarissa didn't seem to understand those rules. Hell, he thought wryly, maybe people didn't flirt in England.
He sure hadn't enjoyed dinner ... not looking across and down the table at Heyes, his dark head turned attentively to Lord Edward, and hoping he wouldn't turn and look at Curry with those eyes that missed so little. Because what those eyes wouldn't have been missing was the way Curry was, in a way, enjoyinga way he had resented even while it was arousing himthe feel of that stockinged foot rubbing against him. Heyes would be the one who reaped the benefits of that arousal, but Curry didn't need someone else to get him ready for Heyes... and he hated the way his body had just jumped to attention for her.
It was making him think things he didn't want to be thinking. Like, mainly, what it meant to be male. Some woman made eyes at you and you went off the edge? Maybe so... God knew, God knew, he'd always liked the ladies. And the only man he wanted was Heyes. It was Heyes he loved, not the body Heyes was inside... though he did love that body. God, he took another drink of wine, I'm confusing myself all to hell.
He looked down the table again, at Heyes talking to the Englishmen, and wondered exactly what it meant to be a man who loved another man. It wasn't the same as being with a woman. Being male was being in control... taking. God knew, too, that there were times he had to work really hard to keep from just pinning Heyes down and taking him. Mostly it wasn't much of a temptation. After all, the point was not to hurt someone you loved. Real men didn't rape women... but real men took. They... were in charge in bed, weren't they? Even when it was a hooker and she was doing the work, in the end it was you. With another man, well... Curry sighed and finished his wine. He loved pleasuring Heyes, and maybe that was part of why that act (he couldn't put that insult to what he and Heyes did in bed; maybe Heyes knew a fancy word for it) was so pleasurable? Because he was in control of Heyes, could make it take as long as he wanted?
He didn't know. He just didn't know.
All he knew was, he loved Heyes. Heyes was all he wanted. But Lady Clarissa had got him hot and bothered in nothing flat.
And he'd let her.
Jedediah Curry, what the hell is wrong with you? he thought disgustedly. And with a trace of fear.
Eventually the men went out into the lobby, and while Heyes and the three Englishmen played cards, Curry found himself cornered by Lady Clarissa. As usual, Mrs. Horne was nowhere to be seen... why did she have to be the delicate one? Of course, in the lobby, where she was in plain sight, Lady Clarissa couldn't do anything but talk, but she did do that. She got more vivacious and chatty and he got less so, watching Heyes watching him, dark and sardonic. If Heyes had been a woman, he could have been hanging around her. Except she wouldn't have been playing poker... not that Heyes was playing poker, though money was changing hands after each round. But maybe she would have been playing cards, or the piano, or something, and Curry could have ditched Lady Clarissa for her and nobody would have wondered.
But, he brought himself up short, he didn't want Heyes to be a woman. For one thing, he'd never have met him. Her. Whatever. For another, no woman could have been like Heyes, women were just, just different. Besides, he loved Heyes like he was, all the ways he was. And his being a man was certainly a big part of it.
Wishing him to be a woman was just wishing for a way to ditch Lady Clarissa. Which he could do on his own. "Pardon me," he said abruptly, standing up. "I've got to take a turn around the hotel."
"Why, Mr. Jones," she said to him, "one might think you were an employee of the Paradise."
"One might wish it," he said. "My boss is lot more demanding." He left her and walked over to the card table.
"My sister managed to get you to fix her door?" Lord Edward asked, wiggling his eyebrows.
"No," Curry said shortly; he wasn't in the mood to be polite to the man. "Gonna take a turn around the grounds, and then go up."
"Fine," Heyes said, his dark eyes hiding a smile. "I'll be up soon, myself."
As Curry left, he heard Heyes saying, in a tone of casual information, "He will do some shooting, I expect; he practices daily, you know."
It was cold outside. The night sky was clear, blazing with stars. Curry stood for a while watching the Milky Way and picking out planetsMars, Jupiter, Venus. He wished you could see that new one, Neptune, but somehow just knowing it was out there, and maybe even one more, Heyes said, that nobody knew anything at all about except that it might be there, that was a good feeling. Not the kind of thing you could tell just anybody, he reflected. He'd told Heyes and he hadn't said anything. But he'd put his arm around Curry's shoulder and pulled him close and sat star-gazing with him for most of the night. And two months later he'd woken Curry to look at the Perseids... Curry hadn't known their name though he'd seen them before. And he hadn't known about the Italian astronomer, or the comet Swift-Tuttle he'd found out brought them with it every year when it came by the earth, though he remembered its name because it sounded like Swift Turtle. As they'd sat on the roof of the cabin watching the falling stars, sixty or seventy an hour, Heyes had said, "It's a great time to be alive, Kid, isn't it? New planets, new comets, new everything..."
He thought about that now. Wasn't that what love was? Being able to tell the other person something deep inside you, something even you might not understand, and have them accept it as important to them, because it was to you?
They'd watched the Perseids again this year, and ended up making love under them. Good thing they came in August, he thought with a smile. You could freeze here even in early October. He thought about the nice big bed in the room with the big fireplace. With a nice warm body next to his, even if Heyes did have cold hands and feet... He smiled.
He picked out a target and did a little shootingno need to make Heyes a liar, and anyway, he did have to keep in practice. Three shots, reload, three shots... he'd have to drag Heyes out tomorrow so he could empty his gun. That could be fun, too. He reloaded once more and then headed back into the hotel. Heyes was already gone from the lobby, so Curry took the stairs and, after a quick, possibly over-careful, glance down the hallway, went into their suite.
Heyes was reading something, but when Curry came in he put the book down. "You look frozen," he said.
"It's kind of cold," he acknowledged.
"Maybe we can warm you up," Heyes smiled and started locking up.
"For once, I'm in complete agreement with your policy, Heyes. Lock all the doors. And shove the couch in front, too."
Heyes laughed, that silver sound Curry loved so much. "She's definitely after you."
"I get the feeling she'd like to take me back to London, show me off to all her friends. Look at what I found! A real Wild West cowboy!" He threw himself down on the bed, wishing Heyes would hurry up and make him lose those images in his mind.
But the dark-haired man didn't seem to feel any particular urgency, going through his usual routine. He grinned at Curry as he hung up his jacket. "You know, Kid," he said, crossing to sit on the bed and pull off his boots. Curry scrambled off to do that for his partner, partly to get his hands on him a little bit sooner, partly to forestall him noticing any scuffs and taking time to fool with them, but mostly for the reward of hearing, "Why, thank you, Kid."
"You're welcome," he said, and then, looking up at Heyes, "I know what?"
Heyes blinked then said, "Oh. If this is Paradise, I think you found the Serpent."
Curry snorted. "Or she found me." He set the second boot beside the first and then joined Heyes on the bed. His partner was untying his necktie. Curry reached over and pulled on one end; the strip of cloth slid around Heyes's neck and through his fingers.
"The woman tempted me?" Heyes said softly, with that smile that went straight to Curry's groin.
"She sure 'nough tried," Curry said, pulling Heyes to him for a deep kiss. They fell sideways onto the bed, Heyes's hands in Curry's hair. After a few delirious minutes Curry rolled over on top of his partner and pulled a little away, far enough to look down into the deep brown eyes. "But you notice where I wound up."
"Ummm," Heyes said intelligently, pulling him down for another kiss.
Curry undressed him slowly, the way he liked. He was extra careful with the buttons, which made Heyes laugh, that low chuckle that always made Curry feel a little more crazy than usual. He restrained himselfit was too early get passionateand pulled off the linen shirt, throwing it on the floor. He'd learned how to use his hands and mouth to bring Heyes to fever pitch, burning as hot as he was himself, that beautiful body as demanding, that fine mind focused on one thing only with an intensity that was almost scary. Almost.
Tonight Curry did everything he could to make Heyes crazy, and then he pinned him down, kneeling over him and taking as long as he could. Heyes whimpered with need under Curry's teasing, one hand tangled in Curry's hair and the other, Curry saw when he glanced up, white-knuckled on the bedpost. When he came, Heyes actually cried out softly, a first.
Curry moved quickly to forestall Heyes's usual reciprocation. Instead, he gathered his still-shuddering body in his arms and held him tightly, pressing up against Heyes's back. He had the will to resist the urge to truly take Heyes, to assert his own maleness. He retained the sense to know he didn't, he really didn't, want to do that at the expense of Heyes's, and certainly had no desire to force or injure Heyes. But he had a need, bone deep, to be male, to take... he pushed between Heyes's thighs, thrusting until he found his release.
He came with a shudder, crying out against Heyes's scarred shoulder, his mind filled with falling stars and leaping flames. He rolled over onto his back after a moment, trembling; Heyes turned over inside the circle of his arms and soothed him with gentle hands and lips and a wordless croon of love. Curry came back to the world slowly, sure only of the reality in his arms, wondering at his need to dominate it.
He tightened his hold almost without thinking as Heyes moved to get out of bed. "Love," he said, "we're not paying twenty dollars a night for someone to kick in the door. And if they do, it's a different room. Don't move..."
Heyes hesitated a few seconds, and then yielded. "All right, shug," he said softly. "Here..." He yawned, resuming his gentle stroking of Curry's ribs. "I don't know what's gotten into you tonight..."
"Shhh," Heyes said, kissing his throat. "That wasn't a complaint... I couldn't possibly have any complaints."
Curry relaxed, sliding one hand into Heyes's dark brown hair and holding him close. "I love you, Heyes."
"Ummmm... I could tell," Heyes said. "I love you, too. Don't worry. I won't leave you."
Curry wanted to say he knew that, but he felt himself falling asleep, and wasn't sure if he'd managed to...
He woke once in the night, from a dream of Lady Clarissa. As he gasped for air, wondering what in hell was wrong with him, Heyes pulled him close. "Shug?" he said sleepily; it was so dark Curry couldn't see his face, but he didn't have to: the tone was enough to bring up the image. "Bad dream?"
"It's nothing, love," he said, burrowing into Heyes's shoulder, the one with the scar from the bank job in Fremont, the one that had driven him away from Heyes because he couldn't stand seeing him hurt and that had brought them together because Heyes wouldn't let him go. And now Heyes wrapped his arms around him and soothed him, not even asking what the problem was.
Curry lay in his partner's arms, unwilling to close his eyes again for fear of what, who, he might see. And hated himself.
Of course, he slept. When he woke up, he was alone in the bed. That wasn't unusual; Heyes slept less than he did and, for all his occasionally luxury-loving ways, he didn't lounge around in bed. Even on vacation. But today Curry was a bit worried when his hand found emptiness next to him.
He was used to talk in his sleep. His brothers had ribbed him about it, but thank God he'd just been a kid so he'd never really embarrassed himself. Somehow embarrassing himself hadn't been a worry with Heyes, even in the beginning, but Heyes had told him it was a dangerous habit, and he'd pretty much broken him of it. Curry had been bruised for months before his mouth had caught on. But it wasn't a hundred-per-cent cure; every now and then he still woke Heyes up babbling about something... not that it was necessarily a bad thing. Heyes might have believed that it's time to move on cock-and-bull story he'd tried to sell him back when he'd tried to leave if he hadn't walked in on Curry begging him not to beat him up in his dreams...
No, not a bad thing. Not at all a bad thing. Because once Heyes got on the track of something, he didn't quit, and Curry had had to tell him about his feelings toward the other man. And then Heyes hadn't left. Heyes had stayed.
Heyes had loved him.
Hannibal Heyes, the finest mindhell, the finest manhe'd ever known, had loved him. Loved him with his whole heart and mind and soul... and it hadn't taken Curry long to realize he was the first person Heyes ever had loved. Not that he'd ever asked him, not that he ever would, but it hadn't been that hard to tell once he'd thought about it. He'd known Heyes was too, well, fastidious for whores, just like he'd demand clean linens in hotels and not care if he had to pay extra. But he'd never thought Heyes's women friends were just friends... The discovery had scared the piss out of Curry. Still did, sometimes. Who the hell was he to be the one Heyes gave himself to like that? Nobody special. God knew, he loved Heyes right back, but sometimes the depth of the emotion he saw in those dark brown eyes just shook him to the bone.
Sometimes he didn't know if he was up to it.
And sometimes he knew he'd die if he lost it. Times like now, hoping like hell he hadn't said something in his sleep that had driven Heyes into the other room. Out of the hotel. Away.
But when he opened his eyes to the darkness of the curtain-shrouded room, the first thing he saw was the white of Heyes's shirt sleeves in a slash of sunlight. The other man was curled up in one of the big armchairs, one of the curtains pulled back just enough to spill light across the pages of the book he was reading. Curry sighed in relief.
"Mornin', Kid," Heyes said softly. "You awake at last?"
"Ummm," Curry said.
Heyes smiled, and then said, "You spent a stirrin'-around night."
He said things like that every now and then, things that, like 'shug', made Curry certain that wherever he was from, it wasn't Kansas. Not that it mattered, really, where he was from. All that mattered was where he was. Where he was going and who was going with him... Still, Curry kind of wished he'd tell him. He hoped, too, that he hadn't kept waking Heyes up all night. He sat up and realized he was smelling coffee. He said so, feeling that it couldn't be right.
Heyes laughed a little. "You are. I ordered room service breakfast."
"Room service?" Curry demanded. "We can have room service?"
"At twenty dollars a day," Heyes said, "we'd damned well better be able to have room service."
"But if we can have room service," Curry said, pouring himself a cup of still-fairly-hot coffee, "we don't have to leave the room. All day!" he finished triumphantly, snuggling back under the blankets.
Heyes grinned. "Gotten over disappointing the English?"
"The English can go to their graves disappointed for all of me," Curry said.
Heyes laughed. "They weren't in my pictures of this vacation," he agreed.
"Less'n you want to play cards with 'em," Curry said.
"No," Heyes shook his dark head. "I don't care for whist, really, and they don't play well. Ransdale owes me fifty dollars... I don't like playing for credit."
That wasn't exactly a stop-the-presses announcement, Curry thought, digging his shoulders into the pillow. He drank some more coffee and looked at Heyes, only to discover that the dark man was looking steadily at him.
"You didn't answer my question, Kid."
Curry was tempted to say, what question?, but there wasn't much point to it. Once, years ago, Heyes would have sighed and asked it in so many words but now they both knew Curry knew what he meant. So he shrugged and said, "I dunno. I mean, I had some bad dreams but I don't remember 'em. Nothing to worry about, Heyes. Probably ate something that didn't agree with me."
Heyes regarded him in silence. Curry wasn't sure whether he was glad the room was so dim, because that meant Heyes couldn't see him well, or not, because he couldn't tell for sure if Heyes was buying it. So he put the coffee cup down and got out of bed. "Gotta go down the hall," he said, pulling on his Levi's. "Is there any food with that coffee?"
Heyes leaned back in his chair. "Sweet rolls," he said. "Some bacon. Eggs are probably cold."
"I hate eggs, anyway," said Curry. When he came back Heyes had pulled the curtains and the room was filled with late morning light. Curry was somewhat surprised to see how late it was. Determined to be as lazy and decadent as he could, he piled sweet rolls and crisp bacon onto the clean plate, poured himself some more coffee, kicked off his jeans, and crawled right back into bed. "This is the life," he said. "Man, Heyes, I wish I was really rich."
Heyes laughed. "You aren't even fake rich."
"Yeah, but you are. I'd be OK living off you." Again Heyes laughed, and Curry smiled. Got away with it. "You still reading about goin' to the moon?"
"No," Heyes said. "Finished that one." He gestured toward the desk with his chin. "It's pretty good, if you want to read it."
Curry laughed. Heyes didn't expect him to. Every now and then Curry read a dime novel, if it was about somebody he knew, but those books of Heyes's? "So where they off to in this one? Under the sea or the center of the earth?"
"Center of the earth," Heyes said. "Down a volcano in Iceland."
"So how come they don't burn up?" he asked skeptically.
"Maybe they do," was the equable response. "Haven't finished it yet, after all."
Curry took that for the hint it was and shut up, eating and watching Heyes read. He did like that. Hell, he liked watching Heyes do anything. So what was his problem, anyway? Carefully keeping it inside his mind, he sighed. Heyes ought to be all anybody could possibly want. He was... he was smart and handsome and kind, under that acerbic facade, and loyal and loving... God, was he loving. And for months now he had been more than enough, more than Curry had ever dreamed of. And he hadn't changed. So why had Curry?
Or had he always been this way? Had he just wanted Heyes for a while? Or because... Hell. No. He didn't just want Heyes. He by-damn loved him.
And then, he froze, his mouth full of sugary cinnamon roll and his eyes full of Heyes, sunlit and concentrating on the book he had on his knee in his long-sighted fashion. Was that the problem, then? Did he love Heyes, but not want him? Or at least not want only him, or somethin' like that? 'Cause he did want him, that was a fact; he wanted him right this minute, wanted to yank him out of that chair and onto this bed and throw that book on the floor and follow it with Heyes's clothes... but he'd wanted to do pretty much the same thing with Lady Clarissa the night before. And Heyes was the only man he'd ever had that urge with.
Oh, crap, Curry thought miserably. One of these days I'm gonna hurt him so bad. And I don't know what to do about it. He swallowed the bite of roll and sat there for a few minutes. Then he told himself, But it's not gonna be today, Jedediah. It's not gonna be today.
"Heyes," he said. "Let's go out."
Heyes raised his head and repeated, "Out?"
"Out. You haven't been outside since we got here."
"Kid, it's a luxury hotel."
"So," a small smile tugged at Heyes's lips, "you don't come to a luxury hotel to go outside. Or at least I don't. I'm not paying twenty dollars a day to camp out."
"Heyes, who's talking about camping out? I'm talking about taking a walk. Getting some fresh air. Sunshine"
"Freezing to death."
"Wear your coat. Heyes," he said as persuasively as he knew how, "you never saw such a view."
Heyes regarded him for a moment, and then those dark eyes kindled. "Oh, haven't I?" he asked softly. "All right, Kid. Lead on. But it better be worth it." He put his book down, carefully marking his place.
"It will be," Curry promised, reaching for his jeans. "It will be."
Heyes buckled on his gun for this expedition, though if he buttoned up his coat it was hard to get at it. Curry knew that meant Heyes didn't really expect to need it, and counted on his giving him time to get at it if he did. He also knew that two years ago Heyes would have tucked the skirt of his broadcloth coat into the back of the belt to keep his gun handy. He trusted Curry to keep him safe.
Who guards your body?
He yanked his shirt down over his head and pushed his doubts away. He guarded his own body. And his body belonged to Heyes. Like he did. That was that.
They didn't meet anyone on their way out, and within minutes they were deep in the woods. Curry lagged behind, letting Heyes pick the direction and the pace, and watched him. He was graceful, and so quiet in the woods. For all he professed to hate being in the great outdoors, he was at home there in a way Curry, who did like it, wasn't. After a few minutes he realized Heyes was following the same path he had the day before, and that was confirmed when they came to the dead tree whose limbs he'd used for target practice. Heyes began unbuttoning his coat.
"Want to do a little shootin'?"
"Not really," Heyes answered, catching his coat behind his back with his left hand. "But it's been a while. I expect I need to."
"Go ahead," Curry said, grinning and leaning up against a tall fir. "I'll do some when you're done."
Heyes flashed him a quick smile and then began. Curry was pleased to see that he hit pretty much everything he aimed at. Of course, honesty compelled him to note three things: Heyes was taking his time, the tree wasn't moving, and it definitely wasn't shooting back. Still, this wasn't Heyes's job, shooting. It was his. Heyes did a lot of things better than he did. Thinking, talking, planning, reading... hell, he even rode better. And shot a rifle better, too, like a hunter. But Winchesters or Remingtons were useless in gunfights, or when a posse was after you. Then you needed a Colt, and you needed to be good. Fast, and able to shoot while you were dodging somebody shooting back. And while he sometimes wished Heyes was just a bit better at it, in his secret heart he was glad the dark man wasn't. Because that meant he needed Curry around.
Heyes emptied his gun three times and then quit. Reloading the third time, he looked over at Curry and said, with his joke's-on-me smile, "Ready to show me how it's done now?"
Curry grinned back at him. Something else honesty compelled him to admit: he loved showing off for Heyes. He blasted a branch down to the trunk with four sequential shots and then bracketed it with his next two. While he reloaded, Heyes was picking up branch bits. Curry holstered his Colt and nodded. "When you're ready," he said. Heyes pitched them into the air, quickly, with that sidearm motion he used. Curry drew and fired, all one motion, six shots and each hitting an airborne target. Heyes grinned at him and began scavenging up another set; Curry pushed bullets out of the loops on his belt and reloaded blindly, never taking his eyes off Heyes. And this time Heyes didn't wait to be told, he started pitching as soon as he saw Curry's hand off his Colt. Still Curry got them all before they hit the ground, though Heyes had thrown them in a couple of directions and he had to spin around and even took the last one on one knee.
"More?" Heyes asked, his voice just the tiniest bit rough.
"No," Curry said, lapping up the sound like a cat in the dairy. "I didn't bring enough ammunition." He wished they were closer to the hotel; despite it being afternoon he bet he could have gotten Heyes inside and in bed. A notion came to him; he examined it and found it good.
Heyes drew a deep breath and said, sounding more normal, "So, where's this view, then?"
"This way," Curry gestured.
Ten minutes later they came abruptly out of the trees onto the rocks, with the mountains stretching away on either side and another range in front of them. The sky was bluer than anything, with a handful of clouds as white as the snow on the mountain peaks, and the evergreens were a dark vibrant contrast to the grey of the rocks. Curry felt like he could have reached up and touched the blue and white moon riding low in the afternoon sky, or heaven itself maybe if he'd stood on his tiptoes. He sat down on a sun-warmed rock and just looked out over the mountains, feeling Heyes sitting next to him. "You ever see anything so purely gorgeous?" he asked after a while.
"Yes," Heyes said. "Though not much, I must admit."
"Me, either." He took off his sheepskin coat and laid it behind them. "What?"
"Whatoh. The Blue Ridge. Yours?" Heyes asked.
"The Milky Way," Curry said. "And you."
"Kid," Heyes began. No way to know what he was going to say, because Curry leaned over and kissed the words off his lips. Startlement and then cooperation, and then Heyes pulled away, reluctance in his dark eyes. And in his voice when he said, "Kid, not here."
"Why not?" Curry asked, nuzzling Heyes's throat. "We must be four miles from the hotel and none of that bunch is gonna walk four yards into those woods. You know that." He kissed him again, unbuttoning the broadcloth jacket and sliding his hand inside.
Heyes sighed, opening his mouth to Curry's insistent tongue and not moving away from his hand. When he couldwhen Curry had to breathehe said, "Kid, this is kind of open, isn't it?"
Curry laughed softly. "Heyes, ain't nobody here but us. Nobody can see us but God, and I kinda think he can see us when we're inside."
Heyes shook his head, but Curry figured that was just his atheism, because he put his hand on the back of Curry's head and pulled him close. "Kid," he husked into his ear, "you're a madman."
"But you like it," Curry responded, pushing Heyes down onto the rock, his dark head pillowed on the sheepskin jacket.
"Ummmmmm," Heyes said into Curry's mouth.
Curry took that as a 'yes'. Straddling his partner, he unbuckled his gun belt and laid it by Heyes's shoulder, in easy reach. Then he pulled Heyes's off and laid it next to his hips, also in reach. And then he began unbuttoning the jacket and the shirt underneath it, baring Heyes's body for his lips and tongue. He could feel Heyes's hands rucking his shirt and undershirt out of his pants, momentarily cold on the skin of his back, and he moaned, grazing Heyes's shoulder with his teeth, wanting him beyond words.
And Heyes was wanting him back. It didn't take much to have him ready, needy... Curry didn't wait this time, moving straight to satisfying his partner with no subtleties. If he'd been in an introspective mood, he might have wondered at the pattern they'd fallen into, how long it had been since Heyes had done him first. He deliberately wasn't thinking about what he did next; again forestalling Heyes's reciprocation, his loving Curry, he covered the darker man's body with his own, kissing him hungrily while he thrust against him, between his thighs, driving possessively, dominating...
Again he came with a cry, screaming Heyes's name while his mind filled with flames. After a few minutes he opened his eyes, safe in Heyes's arms, Heyes's dark eyes close to his, looking a little worried.
"Kid? You okay?"
He sighed. "More than okay, Heyes. Did I... are you okay?"
Heyes smiled and pulled his head down. "I'm fine, Kid. If you are... you've been a little crazy the last couple of days. I'm just a little worried."
Oh, God. Oh, God, oh, God. "I'm fine, Heyes," he said. "Just... I love you. So much."
Heyes ran his hand through Curry's hair. "I know," he said. "I love you. Whatever you need, whatever you want..."
Curry rolled over onto his back, bringing Heyes with him and tightening his hold. "You. You're all I need."
Heyes sighed and nuzzled him. "Well, I'm here. I'm also," he added, stirring in Curry's hold, "freezing to death, Kid."
Curry chuckled a little. "Now you mention it," he said.
When they were dressed again they sat quietly for a while on the rocks, looking out over the mountains. Heyes leaned against Curry, who put his arm around him and once again tried to understand his need to dominate. Thank God Heyes didn't mind, seemed to enjoy it... not that that would last if he got worse.
"We'd better get on back, Kid," Heyes said finally. "We'll be missing dinner otherwise."
"Yeah, you're right." Curry stood and gave Heyes a hand up. He looked at him critically; the broadcloth jacket was a little rumpled, but nothing more than hiking through the woods would have caused. "Let's go."
They walked back, talking inconsequentially about food. Heyes wasn't paying much attention to the conversation; his mind was preoccupied with what had happened earlier. It wasn't like Curry to be so... so importunate. Something was bothering him, and had been for a couple of days now. Ever since they got to this hotel, as a matter of fact. It wasn't just the Englishwoman, either, though she was a pest, right enough. Curry's problem with her was, he'd been raised to be polite to women. So had Heyes, but he hadn't been raised to let one walk all over him just because she was a woman. And he wasn't impressed by her title, either, like Kid was, though that might be vanishing. Single-handedly, Clarissa Ransdale was almost certainly removing all the mystique. If Curry ever met a nice little well-behaved viscountess he'd probably despise her on sight.
But that didn't answer the question of what was really bothering the Kid. And he wasn't willing to talk about it, that was certain sure. Heyes had given him opportunity, asked him as outright as he knew how, twice, and gotten evasions. He knew you couldn't push the Kid too hard, it made him stubborn. You had to have some idea what was up, so you could approach the subject properly. And he didn't have the first clue.
Well, no; he did have a clue. He just didn't understand what it was pointing at. But the Kid had gotten very possessive, almost as if he were afraid of losing him. He couldn't think of a single thing he'd done, but... Still, he knew that might not be it at all. Funny, really, how he could read strangers so well and the man he loved so badly, sometimes. He couldn't take a chance on misreading him again, having him run off like he had before. He was just going to have to be patient and wait. Sooner or later he'd figure it out.
Meanwhile, he'd just give the Kid his head. It wasn't like he minded, after all.
It was beginning to get dark as they approached the hotel and the air was noticeably colder. Clouds were piling up from the west, obscuring the stars. "Feels like snow," Curry said.
"Don't even suggest it," Heyes said. "Though I suppose we don't have anywhere else to be."
"I could do snowed in," Curry said, grinning, and held the door open. As they went inside, they spotted Ransdale and his secretary talking to a stranger, medium height with sandy hair, in the front room. Ransdale looked over when the door opened. "There he is now, in point of fact. Smith!"
Heyes walked over to the men. Curry lingered by the stairs, his hand not exactly on his gun.
"Smith, this is Morrison," Ransdale said. "He's come up from Aspen, from the Wells Fargo actually, with cash. Raines, if you'd be so good."
"That could have waited, Lord Edward," Heyes said, accepting the bills Raines held out. "I trusted you to have it."
"I like to pay my debts of honor as soon as I can," Ransdale said.
As opposed to your tradesmen's debts, Heyes figured.
"Besides," Ransdale joked in his heavy-handed fashion, "I should hate to have your man Jones ask me."
"Ha ha," said the Kid, pushing his hat back on his head.
Heyes was mustering a more realistic laugh when Morrison said, "Is that man your friend, Mr. Smith?"
Something raised the short hairs on the back of Heyes's neck. His mind made one of those leaps it frequently did, going from here to there without ever quite negotiating the in-between, and he heard himself saying, rather coldly, as he tucked the money away in his inside jacket pocket, "Jones is my employee, Mr. Morrison, of several months' standing. May I inquire why you ask?"
"Excuse me," Morrison said, stepping sideways and then pulling his gun. "Don't." He was aiming at Curry.
"Sir," Ransdale said, sounding affronted.
Heyes kept his tone cold. "What is this about?"
"Stay out of it, Mr. Smith." Surprisingly, that was Curry.
It was seconded by Morrison. "That's real good advice, Mr. Smith."
"I repeat," Heyes began.
"This man's name isn't Jones. It's Curry." Morrison sounded nervous. "With your left hand, Curry, unbuckle that gun and let it drop."
"I'd rather not drop it," Curry said equably. "It's kinda valuable. Mind if I just sorta lay it down?"
"Just take it off."
Heyes's mind was racing. Damn. Wells Fargo. Curry... "What makes you so sure, Morrison?" he asked, moving a couple of steps to the side.
"I've seen him before. It's been a while, but I recognized him right off. Did he have a trail buddy when you hired him?"
Curry relaxed when he heard that question, though Heyes doubted anybody but him could have noticed. The shootist reached for his gunbelt's buckle and tugged the strap through the metal.
"No," Heyes was saying, watching his partner, recognizing that Curry didn't think Morrison knew who Heyes was. He played along with it. "He was alone."
"Who is he, Morrison?" Ransdale asked.
Curry dangled the holster from his hand till it touched the floor, and then he let go of the strap.
"Step away," Morrison said.
Steps halted on the stairs and then resumed. "My, my," Lady Clarissa's voice was silky. "Whatever is going on?"
"I'm arresting this man," Morrison said. "Turn around, Curry, and put your hands behind you."
"Who is he?" Ransdale repeated irritatedly.
"Kid Curry," Morrison said, snapping a pair of handcuffs on the Kid. "He's a dangerous outlaw, sir, ma'am. Worth ten thousand."
"Dollars? Teddie, what is that in real money?"
"Slightly more than two thousand pounds, Lady Clarissa," Raines answered when her brother didn't.
Her eyes widened slightly. "My, my," she said again and swayed up next to Curry. "I was right. You are my first gunman. Shootist, I mean."
Curry didn't answer.
"Stand back, ma'am," said Morrison. "Please."
She moved to join her brother. "What sort of name is Kid? Were you named for the pirate?"
When Curry ignored her, Morrison explained, "He got it because he was so young when he started. Just a kid. He's a bad man, ma'am."
"How... exciting." She touched the tip of her tongue to her lips, a flash of pink and of white teeth.
She ignored her brother and turned to Heyes. "Did you know, Mr. Smith? That he was a dangerous outlaw?"
Heyes looked at her as he might have a snake. "I knew he was dangerous, Lady Clarissa. That's what made him worth hiring."
Morrison pulled Curry over to the desk while that byplay was going on, and rang. When the desk clerk showed up he said, "I need somewhere to lock this man up till morning."
Morrison flashed his Wells Fargo badge. "I've arrested him and I need to lock him up."
"I suppose you could put him in a room," the clerk began.
Lady Clarissa shivered theatrically. "Oh, no! Not on the same floor as myself or Isobel! We shouldn't sleep a wink. And not on the upper floor. My maid's there. I can't have her scared to death."
"Well, there's some empty storage rooms in the cellar."
Heyes cocked his head and said, "You know, Morrison, he hasn't actually been convicted of anything yet. An empty storage room seems a bit much. Or little, if you follow me."
"We can have a bed brought down from the top floor," said the clerk. "Most of the maids are already gone, it being so close to our closing date."
And that's what they did. Morrison took Curry away and Heyes fended off the Ransdales' questions by sticking coldly to his story: he needed a man good with a gun and that's what he'd hired. He picked up the Kid's Colt and took it upstairs with him to change for dinner. Skipping the meal might make Morrison wonder.
Damn it, Kid, he thought as he climbed the stairs. Where did you run into him without me? But of course he got no answer.
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