Warning: strong sexual content
Panting and unable to speak from the heights to which he had brought her, the saloon girl reluctantly felt his body leave her. She tried to hold on to him, to delay the moment of parting but he continued to pull himself away, lifting his muscled sheen frame from her soft, luscious body and then dropping spent by her side. After a short while he rolled over on to his back, his bronzed body glistening under the mid-afternoon sun filtering through the open window, the sounds of the afternoon drifting up from the street below.
She lit up a cigarette and put it to his lips and he drew on it gratefully, pausing for a few moments before exhaling and letting it go. Then she lit one for herself. Their two naked bodies lying side by side, the trail of their cigarette smoke mingling with each other as their bodies had been only moments ago.
She rolled on to her side and stared for a few moments at the man in front of her. She had known many men in her line of business but this one had been the best. He was special and could be marked out from the crowd. Finding a man like him in her bed was rare and she was savoring the moment, wanting it to last, wanting him to stay, wanting what she knew she could never have.
She was 21 years old and yet mentally she felt twice that age. Forced to grow up too fast, she'd seen things other 21 year olds hadn't and shouldn't. Sighing, she grew wistful for her loss of innocence, regretting the path she had taken and the sordid world she now inhabited, its nights and days always the same. Always the same outcome. Always the empty feeling left in her stomach the morning after. Not for her the path of marriage and children, only the degenerative life of a whore lay ahead for her, life would never get better, only worse. These were her "best" years the older women had told her and she had seen for herself how they had spoken the truth, age and disease catching up with them and solace sought in drink and far worse. She couldn't despise these women. How could she? They were her future. As they were now, she would become.
Being with this man sharpened those thoughts and brought them into painful focus. The thoughts of what might have been and what she had hoped for contrasting painfully with the reality she was in. For a moment she allowed herself to believe herself a wife and a mother, this man lying at her side her husband and a baby in the corner in need of nursing. The dream fell away and she felt a lone tear fall from her eye, surprised at the powerful emotions she was now feeling towards the man who had awakened them.
Her body had been skilfully but more often than not unskilfully used over the years from sophisticated men about town to married men escaping their wives, rough and ready cowboys looking for a good time and young men seeking their first experience with a woman, the names or the emotions not mattering, just the service she provided. She had been shown tenderness and roughness in equal measures, always compliant to the wishes of men and the dollar bills that they paid.
This man intrigued her. A smile creased her lips at the memory of his love-making. Here was a man confident in his own masculinity and able to be wondrously tender and generous to a woman, even a woman he was paying for. He was skilled and practiced and she envied the woman who would one day become his wife. She had a feeling that this man would prove faithful, faithful to the marriage and to his wife. She had nothing to base her reason on, she just felt it instinctively. Perhaps it was something to do with his gentleness and the respect he had shown.
After a few moments, she put out her cigarette and then leaned over to put out his own, deliberately covering his body with her own to reach the bedside table on his left, allowing their bodies to feel each other again and resume their desire. She knew their time was over and she should once again be circling the saloon for more clients but she was hungry for him, hungry for more of that dream. The sheet covering them had long since dropped to the floor and left her a clear path to explore him unhindered. Her hands and kisses traveled sensuously up and down the course of his toned, muscled body, the sight, feel and scent of him giving her pleasure and increasing her desire.
She'd seen many handsome men before but this man was different, his beauty enhanced by his own indifference to it. There wasn't an ounce of vanity in the man she was now making love to and its absence was intoxicating. Eventually, her mouth found his and her tongue quickly darted inside but she was disappointed to find him distracted. His sapphire eyes were staring out into the middle distance and out through the window to a place she couldn't reach. Where had he gone? Why wasn't he with her? Couldn't he feel her desire for him? Couldn't he feel her....? She let the thought trail off, her emotions kicking in with powerful and unexpected force.
She wouldn't give up. Straddling him, she drew his hands slowly up and down her, forcing him to feel the curves of her body and her desire. She felt him respond. He was back and was working with her now. She saw his eyes drink her in and their sapphire core follow the path she was making with his hands up and down her body. Moments later her efforts were rewarded when he reclaimed control and pulled her over so she was lying on her back. She could feel his desire. Pausing a moment to look at her he began a slow and deliberate exploration of her with his mouth and tongue, the sensuousness of his touch making her groan with pleasure, anticipation and need. His kiss on the pulse of her neck and the ones that followed sent her head reeling back and forced her to turn to seek out his mouth again, their kiss this time proving long and deep. Gently he pulled away, shifted his body and began a trail of hot kisses as his mouth and tongue moved teasingly and seductively down her front to the fullness of her breasts where he paid slow deliberate attention to each one. Her body arched and moved up to him gifting him more and hungrily he took it. Eventually they slept satiated in each other's arms; her body nestled into his; his spent sleep oblivious to the tears that she cried into her pillow as she fought to hold on to their short time together. He had made her complete and no man had ever done that.
Sometime later, she watched him get dressed and leave the room.
Heath wandered back downstairs to the saloon, his business in Tuscon complete he was looking forward to getting back to Stockton, not minding the few days journey ahead of him. He had enjoyed being with the girl but felt empty afterward, the lack of real relationship always troubling him. He smiled to himself 'I do believe you're thinking of finding a wife, Heath' He joked to himself, admitting the truth finally. At 27 and after 3 years with his new family he was ready to move on to that next phase of his life and share his life with someone.
The stage wasn't leaving until three. Spying a poker game just about to start in the far corner of the room and a vacant seat, he walked over and inquired if he could join the game. A well-dressed man eyed Heath carefully, taking in the youthful face that gave nothing away. Intrigued as to how good a poker player the young blond was, he beckoned him to sit down. Lori, the saloon girl came down the stairs just as the game got underway, her eyes immediately drawn to the blond in the corner, their eyes meeting each other for a moment in a knowing smile before his gaze once again dropped to the cards held in his hand. The lopsided smile affected her badly, causing her heart to miss a beat. She cursed herself, she had fallen hard for this cowboy and it was going to take her a long time to get him out of her system.
Charlie the saloon owner noting her wistful stare and her long absence upstairs, angrily motioned for her to start mingling with a group of newly arrived cowboys just in from the trail, aware of the potential trade they could bring to the saloon. The other girls had begun pairing off and were heading upstairs but she held back, her eyes continually darting back to the blond in the corner.
Charlie grew annoyed. It had been two years since he had seduced her, promising her love and marriage and betraying her into a world of vice from which he wouldn't let her escape. He meant to get his money's worth out of her, he could do without an itinerant blond turning her head. Love had no place in a saloon and the business that went on upstairs.
Lori longed to move over to the game and just be close to him but rough hands grabbed her from behind as Charlie moved in and roughly told her to get working. He pushed her into the path of three rough looking cowboys, the trail dust still evident on their clothes and their body odor announcing their need for a bath. Charlie didn't care. She was his property and he could decide what to do with her. One of the cowboys began pawing her, his unshaven face moving in for a kiss. Roughly he shoved the required dollar bills down her cleavage and began pulling her upstairs. For the first time she felt disgust and began resisting him. Charlie came up from behind, retrieved the money and whispered menacingly. "Get up those stairs, the man's paid his money, now you deliver." Still she resisted, tears beginning to fall down her cheeks, their flow stopped brutally by his sharp slap to her face. She fell to the floor.
Heath had started to move across the room as soon as he saw the girl resisting the man. Now as he saw the saloon owner slap her, he felt the anger rise up in him. A man hitting a woman appalled him. Forgetting the game to the consternation of the seated players he moved over to stop Charlie hitting her again. The saloon owner swung around in surprise and as he did so he attempted to draw his gun from his belt, his speed unable to match the faster draw of the blond.
"Don't even try it mister," Heath said contemptuously, then looking over to Lori who was still sitting on the floor holding her cheek, he said, "Can you stand?"
She nodded and got up and then moved over to his side. He took her hand with his own spare one and held on to her firm.
"The lady and me will be leaving now. Don't think of coming after her. If you do I'll be waiting and I won't be so forgiving next time. You might find it easy to beat up on a woman but you'll find me a different matter." Still holding on to the girl, he backed them out of the saloon and on to the safety of the street outside. Charlie held back, knowing that on this occasion he was beaten.
The sight of the tall good-looking blond with the gaudily dressed saloon girl made for a strange sight on the streets of Tucson in broad daylight. Now that they were outside, Heath wasn't quite sure what to do. All he knew was that he couldn't leave her back in the saloon. She needed someone to look after her for a while and he filled those shoes.
He looked down at her, her tears still evident on her face. Gone was the bold woman of the bedroom and in her place a frightened young girl trembling and fearful of the future and the consequences of what they had just done.
Pulling her into a reassuring embrace, he said:
"Don't worry. Let's get you some clothes to travel in and we'll take the 3 o'clock stage outta here."
She didn't question him. Where was she to go? She let him lead and she meekly followed.
Later as they sat on the stage which would take them on the first part of their journey Heath looked at the girl he now knew was called Lori Stevens. An irony struck him that he knew this woman's body intimately but he knew nothing of the mysterious young woman who now sat opposite him. Her bold and brassy saloon garb had been replaced with neat, respectable traveling attire a school teacher would have felt at home in, only this was no school teacher, of that he was fully aware. He looked at her face absent as it was from the overdone makeup of her profession and thought how fresh and pretty she looked. For the first time he noticed that she had sapphire eyes that matched his own and that the color of her hair was a wondrous flaxen. He also noticed how much younger she looked. Dressed up in her saloon girl attire she had looked at least 25, now he thought she couldn't be much more than 20.
In turn Lori looked back at the man whose gaze had now drifted out through the window and to the desert opening up. As the stage coached rocked and jolted over the hot desert road she could see he was fighting tiredness to remain awake. She inwardly smiled, knowing she was the cause of his tiredness, he had earned that sleep. But then she found herself cursing herself for letting him invade her thoughts. She couldn't afford to get emotional about him again. She had given into it at the saloon and it had undone her, the pain of what never could be coursing through her body and piercing her heart with slow stabbing thrusts. He had needed her back at the saloon to fulfill a physical need and just that, the feel of a woman in his arms without ties or feeling, now he was simply befriending her. He was a decent man, anybody could see that, he would have done the same for anybody. At the next town he would see her settled, they would say goodbye, part company and never see each other again. She would more than likely find herself a job in a saloon again and a new cowboy in her bed. But it wouldn't be this cowboy. Her heart sank at the prospect. She was on a road to nowhere and she knew it. She watched him drift off into a sleep, his arms folded across his chest and his Stetson shading his eyes from the sun. In time she joined him, her troubled thoughts temporarily silenced.
As they reached the first town on their journey, Heath booked them into a hotel and into separate rooms. Lori was disappointed. The desk clerk gave him a quizzical look which he chose to ignore and Heath showed her upstairs to her room, "I'll see you at dinner," he said, tipping his hat. His natural gesture affected her more than she could say.
She made to speak. "Heath, about you feeling responsible for me? I just want to say, I'll be alright now. You... you don't have to look after me anymore."
He cut her short. "We'll talk at dinner. I'll pick you up at 7.30."
Before she could answer he tipped his hat again and moved down the hall to his own room.
Slowly she closed the door behind her and leaned against it. She caught a glimpse of herself in the full length mirror, noticing for the first time how she was dressed. It pleased her. Maybe if she could look the part, she could also become the part, although she realized it took more than clothes to change a person. She turned back and placed her head and hand against the door, her hand wanting to reach out to the man who had stood there only moments before.
Heath walked across the street and to the bath house at the end of town, eager to wash the sand and dust away that had been swept up from the journey. The town was bustling with cowboys getting drunk on cheap whisky and beer and hungry for a fight. He'd seen towns like this before, left to go to ruin for want of strong law enforcement. Tonight the law was noticeable only by its absence and decent people were missing from the streets, as though observing a curfew that wouldn't end until morning. He passed the saloon and avoided the invitation of a girl standing outside blatantly selling her wares. "Aww, c'mon 'andsome. Let me show you a good time," she said, her breasts spilling out from her tight bodice and her skirts lifted up to reveal shapely legs and much more. "You won't regret it. I promise you," she added cupping one of her breasts and offering it up to him. Heath tipped his hat and waved her away. "Not tonight ma'am, gotta get my beauty sleep," he said good-naturedly. The girl mentally undressed him and liked what she saw. "Believe me mister, you don't need no beauty sleep." She sidled up to him and planted a ruby red kiss on his cheek and rubbed up against him suggestively. "If you change your mind," she moaned into his ear, "my name's Jessie, don't forget now... ask for Jessie." Heath smiled back wanting to part on good terms. "Like I say I gotta get some sleep."
Easing himself into a hot tub he stretched out his long legs and let the hot, soapy water wash over him and then let his thoughts drift back to the saloon girl, Jessie. The thought of Lori returning to that life appalled him. He'd paid for girls in the past, though he always preferred the idea of a real relationship. Always he respected the girl he was with, he had hated the way she had been treated earlier today, the hardened edges of her profession counting for nothing when trying to withstand the assault of the saloon owner's fist. If he didn't help her she would have no choice but to return to that life. He would speak to her at dinner and offer his help. Whether she would take it would be another thing.
It was a groomed Heath who knocked on Lori's door. He wore his trademark blue shirt, vest and tan pants. She was wearing her traveling clothes minus her jacket and had washed and brushed off the dust from her clothes. She invited him in, her mind set on making his stay longer. Again, he was struck how pretty she looked without the saloon girl's garb. He was thinking how much he wanted to kiss her but before he had finished she had read his thoughts and leaned up to kiss him, her kiss deep and long, its intention only too clear as her hurried hands sought to quickly undo his belt buckle and the buttons on his pants.
He followed her into the room and kicked the door shut behind him. She wrapped her legs around him and he carried her over to the bed where he lay her down gently and settled himself down on top of her still kissing her. She hurriedly undid the remaining buttons on his pants and sighed as she eased them down over his slim hips and felt him release from his confines. She felt her skirt gathered up in his strong hands and his fingers work deftly to undo her undergarments and free her from her own constraints. Their love-making was not tender this time, it was hurried, passionate and demanding, desperate to be satisfied and leaving each other breathless with its sheer power and affect. Afterwards Heath continued to lie on top of her and she cradled his head to her near naked breasts as they slowly relaxed into each other and gave themselves into a brief sleep, their clothes in disarray and their bodies and clothes saturated by the force of their passion.
It was some time before Heath rolled away and sat up on the side of the bed. He hitched up his pants and re-buttoned them. He took off his unbuttoned shirt to replace it with a fresh one from his saddle bag and his broad back was exposed. She reached out to touch him and sought to bring him back into the bed.
"We'd better eat." He said stopping her. In a touching gesture he covered up her breasts with her blouse and pulled down her skirts. She misread the signs and felt rejected and hurt.
"They'll stop serving if we don't got down soon and if I get back in that bed, the next meal they'll be serving is breakfast." He sought to reassure her and then gave her a lop-sided smile.
She smiled back, reassured. "Heath?" she said eventually sitting up on the bed and fixing her clothes.
He had to fight an urge not to kiss and make love to her again. "Hmm?"
"Don't be angry with me."
"Why would I be angry?"
"I don't expect anything from you Heath.... I just want you to know. that ..... what we did just now, well .......I just want you to know that I don't want to do that with any other person again."
Heath turned around to face her. His sapphire eyes struck by the seriousness in her own. She had tears in her eyes. There was no doubt about her sincerity. He didn't know how to answer her. He desired her, liked her, cared for her.... . beyond that he wasn't sure. The idea that she felt something more hadn't crossed his mind. At length, he cupped her chin in his right hand and moved his left up to stroke the side of her cheek, the beginnings of a bruise starting to form from the hard slap she had received from Charlie. He caught a tear as it began to fall. "Let's eat, then we'll talk."
They ate their meal with a mixture of nervousness and awkward conversation. Heath was keen to find out more about her but didn't wish to seem intrusive. At length she began to open up about herself. He found out that she been seduced by Charlie when she was 19 after a broken love affair which had caused her to leave home. She had thought herself in love and then found herself betrayed, unable to escape the hold of Charlie or the life that she found herself in.
"I'm soiled Heath, spoiled goods, no one would ever want me. Decent people can recognize my sort a mile off. But I tell you after today and this night, I ain't going back to that life. I'd rather eat dirt than have men paw me again."
"What will you do?"
"I dunno. But whatever I do, I'll make sure it's honest work. Whether it's kitchen work or sweeping floors, whatever. I won't mind. I can't go back to that life."
"What you said back in the hotel room, about you and me?"
"Aww forget that, I was just caught up in the moment," she lied. "You have a powerful affect on women Heath Barkley, I'm sure you've been told that before. You turned my head for a while.... I'll get over it. Of course, there's always tonight. The night is still young."
"Let me help you get started. I care what happens to you Lori."
"Aw Heath, I'm a grown girl. More grown than you can know. I'll survive. Come back in a years time and you'll find me a different woman."
"Everyone needs help sometime in their life. I've had it, let me help you."
"Look I promise you, if I need help I'll contact you. Just tell me where and I'll find you."
"I live on the Barkley ranch, just north of Stockton, California. Send me this and I'll know that you need me." He slipped a ring off his little finger, a simple gold band of no intrinsic value. She looked at it as though it was a precious stone and then slipped it on her own, touched by his gesture.
She put her hand out to him across the table. "Heath, stay with me tonight? Take me for a walk and then make love me to again. I want sweet memories to remember you by. Today marks a new page in my life and I want the first chapter to start and end with you."
Heath helped her from her chair and then on with her jacket. They quietly locked arms with each other and enjoyed a moment of closeness. As they walked out into the night air he became aware of the raucous spilling out onto the streets from the direction of the saloon. The rough crowd of the early evening had become even rougher.
She saw his concern. "I've handled worse, don't worry on my account." She reassured him. "We'll just walk for a spell. If we stay out of their way, they won't trouble us."
Heath was against the idea but she pulled him along and down the sidewalk. As they approached an alley she pulled him into it and started kissing him passionately, mouthing between kisses. "Maybe we'll just have a small walk tonight. I want you Heath, do you want me?" His responding kisses told her all she needed to know and she wished they were back in her hotel room.
Their kisses deepened and their desires grew stronger and both were unaware of the man approaching Heath from behind and the cosh he used to send the blond reeling unconscious. Lori screamed as the man turned the blond over and went through his pockets and then emptied the purse the young girl was holding. Satisfied with his booty the assailant turned on his heels and was gone, leaving Lori still screaming and trying to revive Heath who lay in a dead heap on the floor, blood oozing from the deep cut on his head. Within moments a crowd had gathered.
The unconscious man was placed on the examining table and the tall doctor pushed everyone out of the room bar the young man's wife, the wedding ring on her finger making their relationship clear. "Now young woman, your husband needs rest and quiet. I can't check him over him with all this hullabaloo. You sit quietly over here whilst I examine him. Tell me how long ago it happened and how long he has been unconscious?"
Lori registered the doctor's reference to her husband. She went to correct him but then feared that she would be parted from Heath. She had to stay with him. She had to know he was going to be alright.
"It happened about 10 minutes ago, he's been unconscious ever since. Will he be alright doc?" She found herself twisting the gold band which she had unconsciously moved to her wedding finger and then realized how the doctor had made his mistake.
"He's got a bad gash to the back of his head but I'm worried about his eyes being so unresponsive. I'll do what I can." The doctor replied. "Then we'll have to wait till morning. I take it you want to stay with him tonight Mrs.....?"
"Mrs Barkley, Mrs Heath Barkley. Yes... I want to stay.... with my husband. Please doc...doctor, do everything you can for him. He's very special to me."
"I'll try my best Mrs Barkley. Have you got family who can support you?" Lori realized then that Heath's family would have to know. "The Barkley ranch, Stockton, California," she suddenly found herself saying.
"I'll get the sheriff to wire them. Now let's see to your husband, you're going to have be patient Mrs Barkley, it's going to be a long night."
Heath woke in the morning. "You're a lucky young man, mister. That's a nasty knock on the head you took last night. Your wife over here has been awake most of the night."
"My wi...fe?" Heath struggled to focus on the doctor in front of him. "You ..... you... say my .. wife?"
"Yea, she sat by your bed all night cooling that heated brow of yours. She's a pretty little thing. You're a very lucky man. Just got married huh?"
Heath tried to raise his head as his eyes sought out Lori. "My w...i..f...e?" He mumbled before falling back into a deep confused sleep.
An hour later a much more alert Heath was being fussed over by Lori. He recognized her, remembered their meeting but didn't remember their marriage. He took her hand in his and looked at the wedding band. "When?" he asked, searching for a memory of the event.
Lori knew she should have told him the truth but her heart overruled her head. "Last night Heath, we decided on the spur of the moment.... you don't regret it, do you?"
Heath was confused, he didn't remember, the pain at the back of his head causing his face to crease momentarily. He saw the crestfallen look in Lori's eyes and knew that his reaction had hurt her. Struggling to find the words he said, "I don't regret it Lori, I've just got pain in my head that's all. It's made things all blurred."
"Well young man, I'm not surprised." The doctor said as he entered the room. "That's one nasty bump on your head you've got there. You're going to have to take it easy for a few days. I'm sorry the honeymoon will have to wait for a bit. The sheriff has received a wire from your family. Your brothers will be here in two days to take you and your wife home."
Heath fell back on his pillow, his hand still holding Lori's finger and the ring that bound them in matrimony. His thoughts confused as to how their marriage had happened, its remembrance a complete blur in his mind.
Lori kissed Heath, tears rolling down her cheeks. "Oh Heath, they could have killed you. I can't bear to see you hurt."
"Now Mrs Barkley, you're husband's going to be just fine." The doctor sought to intervene before her tears turned to hysteria. "We'll just keep an eye on him today and tomorrow and then you and your brothers-in-law can take him home. If there are unusual symptoms get him to see his own doctor but I don't anticipate there will be any. You and Mr Barkley will be able to resume your honeymoon shortly. Now why don't you get some sleep. Your husband deserves to see a smiling face when he next wakes up, not your crying tears."
Lori nodded reluctantly. She knew she shouldn't have lied. When Heath found out she knew she would lose him but she couldn't let go of him just yet. Overriding all her other feelings was the need to stay close to Heath, she knew her love for him was ultimately doomed but she couldn't bring herself to admit that or her deception just yet.
Two days later it was two surprised brothers who questioned their younger brother about his sudden nuptials, eager to hear about their new sister-in-law and the way they had met. Heath had been gone only two weeks and yet here he was married and about to bring the first Barkley bride home.
"So come on little brother, where is she? How did you meet? You sly old thing. Couldn't wait, hmm!" Nick questions assaulted Heath's ears and his brow creased under the strain.
Jarrod noticed his brother's distress. "Nick hold on, Heath will tell us all in good time."
"I know it's sudden Nick but Lori's my wife. It's what we want, we didn't feel the need to wait." Heath wasn't sure he was speaking the truth, he could be for all he knew, he just couldn't remember but he wasn't going to betray that doubt to his brothers. He felt a loyalty to Lori which surprised him though he worried about his family finding out about her background and the embarrassment it might cause. To him it didn't matter and in his heart he knew it wouldn't with them either, but he knew how people could be cruel and he wished to spare them and Lori the pain.
In a few moments Lori came into the room. Nick and Jarrod were suitably impressed. Their brother and his wife made an attractive couple and they could see how Heath would have fallen so quickly for the woman standing in front of them.
"Sister." said Nick effusively as he swept her up and swung her round. Jarrod was more reserved, taking his hat off and planting a chaste kiss on her cheek. "Welcome to the family Lori, I hope you don't take Nick here as an example of what we are all like." Jarrod's smile underpinned his warm welcome and Lori felt guilty about the deception she was playing on them all.
"C'mon Nick, let's leave the two love-birds alone for a moment. Lori, Heath? We'll see you outside? We can catch the train at noon, I've booked a private carriage so you can rest, do you think you can be ready by then?"
Heath took Lori's hand as he sat on the edge of the bed to make ready to get up. "We'll be there, won't we love?" Lori almost buckled under his term of endearment. Did he mean it? She wasn't sure, she just hoped it would be.
Lori helped her husband get ready. Apart from a little unsteadiness at first and a stubborn headache he was otherwise okay. The slight memory loss was nothing to worry about the doctor said. His short-term memory should return in time, what he mustn't do is force it. Heath nodded his thanks and was then left alone with Lori.
"Well Mrs Barkley," he said, the two words still unfamiliar to him. "I think we need to get you a wedding trousseau, you'll need more than just those traveling clothes for your wardrobe, although....?." His eyes turned mischievous for a moment.
"Although?" said Lori questioningly.
"Although, I'd much prefer to see you out of them just at this moment."
"So, you haven't forgotten everything then?" Lori was inwardly delighted, Heath's desire for her was still there - it gave her hope. She just hoped it wouldn't prove a false hope.
"When you're better darling, when you're better. You know what the doctor said about the honeymoon." She leaned up to kiss him and was pleased at the way he immediately responded. Yes his desire was still there.
Heath and Lori had been "married" two months, their relationship getting stronger each day. Heath's love had slowly grown for Lori and whilst he still couldn't remember their nuptials he knew that he didn't want to change a thing. He enjoyed being married, he enjoyed waking up to Lori each morning, her past didn't worry him, he had a past too. People could change and Lori was thriving in her new world and the opportunity she had been given. The family's surprise at their sudden wedding took sometime to overcome but as expected his mother welcomed her daughter-in-law into her fold warmly. She never questioned the marriage, she just wanted to know that Heath was happy and he was.
Heath rolled over to his wife and wrapped his arms around her, she awoke from her happy dream and into his arms. "I love you" she said.
"I love you." He returned.
She turned serious for a moment. "Oh, Heath, I couldn't be happier. When I think what I was...."
"Shush... that's in the past, it's you and me that matter now, our future." He stopped the tear rolling down her cheek and kissed the spot on which it rested. "Here, let me show you how much I love you."
She felt his hands travel down her body to the hem of her nightgown and slowly pull it over her body, pausing to kiss the silky soft skin underneath. His gentle touch was intoxicating. Free from her nightgown she helped slip his sleeping pants from his waist and then wrapped herself around him as his mouth searched out her lips, his desire for her transparent and tenderly shown. He took his time expressing his love, her pleasure his uppermost thought. He wanted her to know how much he loved her and as he did so she screamed out his name several times, her cries of ecstasy quelled gently by the possession of his lips and the knowledge that their union was complete... and then a moment of doubt crept in, a conscience being pricked into reality. Their union wasn't complete, it was based on a lie. The woman he slept with and loved wasn't his wife, her tears of sadness broke free from their hold.
"What is it my love? Did I hurt you?"
"Oh, no Heath, you could never hurt me, I'm crying because I love you, you make me so happy." Her words were the truth but she had lied about the cause of her tears, she had an urge to tell him the truth but was afraid of the consequences, sure in the knowledge that he would reject her if she did so. She couldn't expect anything less, she was a whore, soiled goods, not fit to carry his name. She let his kisses quell her fears and she again became lost in her passion and the escape it gave to her troubled thoughts.
It was still early and Heath had left to work on the range. She heard the voices of him and his brother and the hooves of Charger and Coco carry their masters away. Suddenly, she felt she was going to be sick, the urge to throw up overpowering her and threatening to reach her before she herself could reach the water closet. With difficulty she reached it and threw up in the pan, the retching continuing for several minutes. After it was over, she let her hand travel down to her abdomen. "No, I can't be.... A child? Oh Heath, I can't do this to you." She sank to the floor, her sobs silent to the rest of the house and the soon to be father who remained unaware of his "wife's" plan to leave him that day, unable to face the shame she would bring him and his family. The honeymoon was over, reality had checked in and crushed the dream of what might have been.
Heath was distraught when he read her note, its neatly written words hiding the pain and the tears through which they were wrote. He had returned early from the range, promising Nick he wouldn't be long. Nick had seen the love-sick look in his eyes and waved his brother on. "I'll see you on the south range this afternoon. You will remember to come back, won't you? I mean you're not going to get distracted, are you?" Heath had waved off his brother's ribbing, his thoughts solely on getting home to Lori and the stolen moments they could spend together. He looked down at the note again and re-read it.
My Darling Heath,
Somehow I knew this day would come but like a fool I wanted to delay its happening. What I have to say will be very painful and I recoil now from the anger you will feel for me, hoping that you will understand that what I did, I did from love, for I do love you my dear, with all my heart. I will never love anybody else.
Heath, I lied to you. On the night you got hurt, I said we were married. We were not. That was a lie, though in my heart I wanted it to be true. Much as I hate the deception I have caused you and your family, I have treasured our time together. I know now that I can no longer live the lie. More importantly, I can no longer make you live the lie. I love you too much.
Don't think of following me. Please, my darling don't follow what can never be... and.. don't hate me. Remember that what I did, I did from love. It was wrong, yes, but the love was true.
Bye my darling, my love.
Heath stared at the letter and then crumpled it in his hand. Within the letter was the ring he had given her. Now he remembered. He remembered why he had given it, not in marriage but as a protector. He rolled on to the bed and cried for the loss of his wife, for that is what Lori meant to him now. No matter that the marriage wasn't real, he wanted her back. He had to find her. She couldn't have been gone long, the train wasn't due to depart for an hour and the next stage coach wasn't due until tomorrow. He rushed down the stairs, waving off the concerns of his family who remained oblivious to Lori's disappearance. His mother watched anxiously as he mounted Charger and sped out of the ranch. She wanted to follow him but something held her back. Whatever it was, it was something Heath needed to fix. Nevertheless, her heart ached for her son.
As Heath reached the train station, his heart sank. The train had left 5 minutes early. He checked. Yes Lori had been on it. He thought quickly. If he could reach the pass where the train bordered Barkley land he might be able to catch up with her. He had to try, he didn't want to live his life without her. Charger sensed his old friend's urgency and he took up the challenge, his legs carrying him and his master at speed out of the town and beyond to the pass.
Heath saw the train in front of him, he spurred Charger on but Charger was already responding. The train stayed ahead at a teasing distance, beckoning both horse and rider on and then laughing at them as the distance between them remained unchanged. Before long Charger would be tiring, Heath grew desperate. If Lori got to the next town, her trail would become lost, he wouldn't be able to catch her in time.
He had to think fast, if he took the trail over the hill he might be able to get ahead of the train. He turned Charger round and headed in that direction. Both master and horse struggled up the steepness, stumbling back occasionally, Charger loosing his footing and threatening to tumble his rider. Heath growing more desperate. He dismounted and led Charger gingerly up the hill. As they reached the summit he could see the train coming into view.
The descent would be difficult but not impossible. There was still a chance. Heath patted Charger. "Think we can do it old friend?" Charger pulled his head round toward Heath giving his assent. Horse and rider, friend and companion began the descent, Charger carrying his precious cargo down with the greatest of care, Heath working with him to negotiate the steepness and moving rocks. At last they reached the bottom and Charger was able to give full speed to the chase. Yes they would make it, they were ahead of the train, Heath rode Charger alongside the carriages. "Okay old friend, can you find your way home back from here?" Heath leaned over to the handrail at the end of the last carriage, his arms stretching out and Charger working hard to minimize the distance without being hit by the train. Heath first grasp failed and he had to quickly recover to find his seat in the saddle. He tried again forcing his reach that bit further to gain purchase, his hands finding the necessary grip and allowing him the leverage to swing his body off Charger and his flailing feet to scramble on to the platform so he could pull himself up.
His body rolled on to the platform and he saw Charger ride off into the distance. Standing up a little unsteadily, he opened the door and searched the carriage for Lori, little knowing that she had seen him from the window and was fast moving through the train to escape him. She had been scared he would be hurt and yet she couldn't let him find her. She was no good for him. He would be better off without her. But how far could she go? As she reached the fourth carriage, she came to a connection she was unable to traverse without harming the baby she was carrying. As she stood on the open platform, she looked desperately for a way to escape. Then she felt his hands on her shoulders and then his arms wrap around her as he pulled her back into him and the security he gave. She fought to pull away but his arms remained firm. He wasn't going to lose her again.
"Where do you think you're going Mrs Barkley?"
"But Heath, that's just it. I tricked you. I'm not Mrs Barkley and now....."
"Nothing. Heath let me go. You deserve better than me."
"I love you Lori, I don't want anyone else. The marriage can be fixed." He smiled. "It'll be good to remember my wedding this time."
"But we can't, it's too late......"
"Too late...... why?"
".... your family, the embarrassment. I can't put you through that."
"There's more Lori... what are you not telling me?"
"Nothing... Oh, Heath it won't work, don't you know that? You can't have an ex-whore for a wife."
He cupped her face in his hands and placed a tender kiss on her lips. "I can and I will. Lori Barkley, I'm not letting you go. I love you. Do ya here me? I love you!" He kissed her again and she buckled under its power and had to fight hard to remain strong.
"No." She said, pulling away. "I won't do this to you... it's too late. I can't."
Heath knew there was more.
"Lori, what are you not telling me?"
Lori couldn't fight anymore. "I'm having a baby Heath, our baby, don't you see if we married now, everyone would know."
Taking in the news he was stunned into silence for a minute. Lori misread the signs.
"You see, I've brought disgrace to your family. Heath, let me go. I'll not make any demands on you, just let me go."
His pulled her forward and quelled her words in a deep and lingering kiss. Eventually, he whispered into her ear. "Don't you know that by marrying me and bearing our child, you'll make me the happiest man alive. I'm not letting you go Lori, I can't, you and the baby are my future. We can marry quietly, no one need know. We'll carry on as though nothing has happened, only it will have. You will be my wife and we will be starting a family, the first of many I hope."
Lori stared at Heath, sapphire eyes meeting each other, hers moist and red, his alive with delight. She knew from his look that she had made him happy with the news of the baby, her fears of rejection had been unfounded. He loved her, loved the baby. He wanted them both. Her past didn't matter to him. Her deception had only hurt him in the sense that he had feared that he had lost her. She fell into his arms.
"Oh Heath, I do love you."
"Can I take my wife home then?"
"You can take me home."
They kissed long and lovingly, never wanting the moment to pass, oblivious to the train and its passengers and the smile on the conductor's face staring out from the window.
Heath and Lori married quietly, the service conducted by a preacher in a town where the Barkleys weren't known. In time he would tell his mother and brothers with Lori's agreement but for now he saw no reason. They had a strong and long-lasting marriage and were blessed with six children, two boys and four girls. No one in Stockton ever knew of Lori's past. The present and the future was all that mattered to the Heath Barkleys and that's how they lived out their lives.
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