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What Might Have Been

Her hands shaking, Louise McCloud dropped the Colt she held--the instrument of her salvation and the instrument of her destruction.  At last the years of abuse were over; she was free, free but damned.  She'd killed a man in cold blood.  He'd stared at her, his eyes filling with surprise and horror as the red stain spread over his white shirt.  Louise had stared right back and felt no remorse, only relief.  And then the gravity of her situation hit her and she'd begun to shake.  The whole house had grown completely still, the shot echoing off the walls like surreal thunder on the plains.  Still shaking and staring at the body lying crumpled in a pool of dark blood, Louise fell to her knees.  She, Louise Kathleen McCloud, whore and mistress of Simon Wicks, had murdered him.

Dimly she became aware of the house returning to life.  Shouts sounded outside the door.  There was a pounding against the double-locked oak and a feminie voice called desperately from the other side.  "Louise!  Louise, are you all right?  Oh, God, he's finally murdered her!" the voice sobbed.  "Wicks, open up!"

Louise closed her eyes and struggled to slow her pounding heart.  There behind her eyes she saw him--the man she'd met earlier that day, the Pony Express rider from Sweetwater, the man whose gentle face had become her inspiration and source of strength.  He'd strolled into Frank's Gold Dust Saloon looking for a meal and a sarsparilla.  Little did Louise know that that one day would change her dismal life forever.



Annie was sick that day and Wicks had Louise covering her shift serving drinks and fending off customers' too-friendly hands.  Louise knew the moment he walked in by the way the other girls began to twitter, each watching to see whose table he'd sit at.  She hadn't paid much attention until it was evident from the girls' moans and muttered curses aimed at her that he'd sat at a table in her section.  Her section was out-of-the-way to keep her well within sight of Simon and well out of the clutches of potential customers who hadn't yet realized that Louise belonged to Simon Wicks and was not on the menu.  The rider sitting in her section meant the other girls wouldn't get the chance to wile him into their beds.

"Oh, please trade with me Louise," begged Tallie, a buxom redhead about five years older than Louise's eighteen.  "What I couldn't do with a man like that!  Besides I need the extra cash, please.  Just look at 'im.  He deserves the chance to have a good time."

Louise glanced at the young man who'd sat down at a table in the corner and was looking very uncomfortable with his surroundings.  Well, it was no wonder what with all these girls ogling him, Louise thought.  He was fresh-faced and young, his sandy curls mussed from the hat he'd been wearing. With one glance she knew the girls' hopes would have been in vain anyway.  The only thing this man looked like he wanted was a hot meal and a soft bed.  He was lean and trim and dimly Louise found herself thinking that he was the kind of man a woman could live happily with.  She could tell he was a gentle and considerate lover if he'd even ever had a lover.

Looking away quickly before Simon caught her looking at him, she turned to the older woman. "Tallie, you know the rules," Louise stated simply.  "Each girl has first chance at the men in her section.  It wouldn't do you any good if I switched with you anyway.  That man ain't here for a good time, just a hot meal."  She hefted a tray to her shoulder containing a round of whiskeys for the other occupied table in her section.

Tallie frowned, her face crumpling in anger.  "You'd best watch it missy.  If Mr. Wicks knew you were lookin' at that boy..." she warned viciously, her threat thinly veiled.  "'Sides, how do you know what he wants?  You become a witch or somethin' all of a sudden?"

"I'm a whore Tallie," came the bitter reply.  "Have been for four years now.  Simon's taught me well.  And don't worry about telling him I was looking.  Everyone knows I ain't on the menu.  'Sides we wouldn't want SImon to hear about you not chargin' Patch when he comes to visit you, now would we?"  With that she turned on her heel and began delivering the drinks on her tray.

"Here ya go gents," she muttered, her stomach turning slightly at the cigar smoke that clung to the table like a shroud. "Six whiskeys straight."

The three men sitting around the table leered up at her as she bent to place the tray on the table.  The man nearest her placed a grimy hand on her backside and squeezed.  Louise fought the urge to pour the whiskey on each of their laps as he said, "Why thank you, sugar.  I got an idea--why don't you park this fine little ass over here with us.  I promise we don't bite unless you like it like that."

Louise pasted a smile on her face and deliberately extricated the man's hand from her.  Her eyes flashed as she replied.  "Sorry boys, but you know I ain't on the menu. That'll be two bits a piece."

A second man, older and even dirtier than the first guffawed and slapped the first man on the shoulder.  "Ya here this, boyo?  Must be the cheapest of Wicks' girls.  Hell two bits a piece, even you can afford her.  Ooo, looks like we've upset her a bit.  Ya know I always did like the fiesty ones, the ones that bite back."

"I know what I'd like her to bite," the third man said suggestively, leaning back in his chair to show off the bulge in his trousers.

"Leave her alone," came a hard voice from behind Louise.  She turned and found herself face to face with the Express rider.  He'd left the table and come up behind her silently, his jaw tight with anger.  He stood a full head taller than Louise and his blue eyes were hard and full of determination.  There was no fear in his stance despite the fact that he butted into a bad situation and could find himself facing three men heavier than he.  He glanced at Louise and she found herself unable to break the gaze.  Something in his eyes spoke to her; it drew her and moved her.  Somehow she knew those eyes and what unnerved her was that he seemed to feel it too; he knew her.

"I-I can take care of myself," she said stubbornly.

"You heard her, sonny.  Find another whore," the third man said.  He wrapped an arm around Louise's waist and pulled her forcefully into his side.

The young man's eyes hardened at the word "whore".  "I said leave her alone," he said, his voice strong and hard.  He watched the three men warily as Louise struggled to get the third man to release her.

She sensed the escalation of tension.  Longing to avoid a confrontation that may end in the gallant young man's death, she continued to struggle while simultaneously pulling up the side of her blue dress.  When it was thigh high, Louise removed the derringer from its strap and lunged from the third man's hands.  She swirled around in a flash of blue silk and brought the derringer up in front of her.  There was an audible click as she pulled back the hammer and aimed it at the third man's crotch.  Not sparing the Express rider a glance she addressed him.  "I said I can handle it," she hissed.  Meanwhile the entire saloon had hushed and was watching the goings on.

The three men laughed at the spitfire holding the derringer.  "That thing's only got two shots, dearie," the first man reminded her.  Before anyone could say anything in response the three had moved to draw the pistols strapped to their sides.  Instinctively, Louise pulled the trigger shooting the third man in the crotch.  She ducked and shot the first man in the head, the bullet passing clear through and throwing blood and other matter against the wall.  She waited for the bullet from the second man's gun but it never came.  Turning slightly she saw he'd already been shot twice, once in the head and once in the heart.  She could hear the rider's quickened breath slightly behind her.  Louise turned to him and watched as he calmly reholstered the Colt no one had seen him draw.  Her own breath was ragged, her chest heaving with the effort as she stared at him.

The whole saloon exhaled as one and the customers and employees began to chatter again.  The bartender and one of Wicks' goons came to remove the bodies and things returned to normal. The Express rider was the first of them to recover from the moment.  His blue eyes softened in concern and he reached a hand out to touch her shoulder.  Louise flinched involuntarily pulling her shoulder out of his reach.  There was a brief flash of pain in his eyes and Louise felt it rip through her heart unlike anything she'd ever experienced.  She'd long ago stopped showing her emotions, she'd been beaten for feeling, and had consequently stopped feeling most things.  But now, she could feel her throat tighten in response to his pain.

"Sorry," she said softly, feeling the need to apologize for some reason, to reassure him.  "It ain't you, really. I-I just don't like people touchin' me."

"You okay?" he asked worriedly.  She nodded in response.  He smiled down at her.  "Good.  Where'd you learn to shoot like that?  You're pretty good."

Louise laughed sardonically.  "Pretty good for a girl ya mean, huh?  My pa taught me.  You could say it was part of his job," she replied tightly.  Whatever had possessed her to be honest with him?  And she'd mentioned her father.  Looking up she realized what it was.  She could read this man like a book and in the depths of his blue eyes she saw innocence and sincerity only.  There was no lust, no ulterior motives in his concern like trying to get her into bed.  He was different, so different from the men she'd been around her whole life.  She could lose herself in those eyes.  "Thanks...for watchin' my back like that.  If it weren't for you, that last guy'd gotten me for sure."

She would swear he blushed as he said softly, "It was nothin' miss..."

"Louise.  Louise McCLoud."  She extended her hand, an expectant look on her face.

The rider accepted her hand gently enfolding it into his and Louise watched as his hand nearly swallowed hers.  His palm was calloused from hard work yet gentle as he merely held her hand instead of shaking it.  A bright smile lit his face.  "Folks call me Kid."

"Kid? Did your mama not like you or somethin'?" she asked amusedly.  "So, you got a last name or is it just Kid?"  He was still holding her hand and she was finding herself actually blushing as she looked up into his face.  She'd thought after the life she'd lived that nothing could ever make her blush again, but here she was flirting like a schoolgirl.

Kid chuckled at her comment. "I hear that joke a lot.  It's just Kid," he replied.  "People used to call me that when I was little and I guess it just kinda stuck.  It's better than the real one anyway."

He was still holding her hand and gazing down into her dark eyes when there came a bellow from the
direction of the bar.  "Louise!  You're here to work!"

The bellow broke the spell and Louise looked up quickly to find the girls glaring at her in warning.  She pulled her hand out of his just before she saw Wicks push through the swinging front door.  Her eyes widened and she automatically took a step away from Kid, her head bowing in submission as Wicks grabbed her arm.  "What the hell is goin' on here, Louise?"

"Three men were hasslin' her, touchin' her," Kid spoke up. Louise lashed him a quick warning look which he didn't heed.  "She was just defendin' herself. They drew first."

Wicks eyed the young man before him angrily.  "And who are you?"

"Kid.  I was just here to try and get a hot meal when I saw those three men givin' Louise here a hard time."

Louise looked up at Wicks for the first time, her jaw tightening in stubbornness.  There was no way she was going to let poor Kid get in trouble for her.  "If he hadn't killed the third man I'd be dead now," she said firmly.

Simon's eyebrows shot up in interest.  "Well, well, now.  You saved my best girl's life.  The least that deserves is a meal on the house.  The most it deserves is a chance to see what you saved," he said suggestively, his hand gesturing to indicate the pale swells peeking out of the black lace lining the neckline of Louise's royal blue dress, his meaning sure.

Louise stared at Wicks, eyes wide, her mouth open in shock.  He'd just offered her to this man he'd just met after four years of keeping a tight hold on her leash.  And for some reason, Wicks' offering her to Kid appalled and embarrassed her more than anything he'd ever done before.  "S-Simon!" she sputtered, aghast.  She was his, everyone knew that as well as his reputation for being particularly possessive of her.

In a show of mock benevolence, he crooked a finger under her chin, smiling as she flinched from the contact.  She could tell he was up to something.  "You've been such a good girl recently, Louise and I'm feeling generous," he said.  He turned to addresss a blushing and speechless Kid.  "You think about it and let me know.  She's yours tonight if you want her.  But let me warn you, she's a feisty thing; needs a firm hand to keep her in line."


Louise's eyes bugged out a little more as she stared at Kid, stunned that he'd accepted.  She'd never have thought he was that kind of man.  He looked just as surprised as she did, as if what he'd said had not been what he'd been thinking.

"Good," Wicks said with a leer.  He gripped Louise's chin roughly in his hand.  "Time to earn your keep, darlin'.  Play nice. Tallie," he bellowed, "cover her tables."  He walked toward the stairs that led up to his private office.  He snapped his fingers as he passed a young girl with blond curls no older than fourteen and motioned her to follow him.

Louise's brown eyes narrowed as she watched the all-too-familiar scene, Wicks intentions in offering her to Kid now perfectly clear.  Chills ran up her spine at the memories the sight provoked.  "Goddamn him," she spat underneath her breath.

Kid began to fidget nervously.  "Uh, Louise, look I really don't want...I mean I ain't expectin'...."

She glanced at him, a small smile breaking through her dark mood bringing an unexpected softness to her face.  She couldn't help noticing there was something very cute about Kid when he was nervous.  "Oh, well I kinda figured that," she replied.  "You don't exactly look like the type of man who normally visits workin' girls.  You blush too easy.  'Sides I was talkin' 'bout Simon and that poor little girl.  Once she gets upstairs, he'll remind her of how he gave her a job, fed her, clothed her.  He'll make her feel so guilty and then tell her it's time to pay up."

Kid's eyes darkened.  Realizing they were still standing, he motioned for her to sit at his table and pulled a chair out for her, startling her as he pushed it in before sitting opposite her.  "What do ya mean "pay up"? What kinda payment does he want?"

"It's how he breaks in new girls to the business," she replied flashing a him a "you-know-what-kind-of-payment" look.  Involuntarily, she crossed her arms over her chest in a protective gesture as if to keep the memories out or maybe locked within.  "He makes 'em feel guilty and obliged which makes it easier for him to force himself on them.  If they're even conscious afterwards, they usually feel so guilty and dirty that they'll agree to work for him."

"Is that how you ended up here?"

She nodded.  "He liked me so much apparently that I became his personal whore.  No one touches me but him," she said, her voice soft but laced with unmistakable anger and bitterness.  Feeling uncomfortable with the conversation's turn, she looked up and decided to change the topic.  "So, you still hungry?"

Kid could see that the topic was painful for her, which explained her reticence to talk about it.  Willing to spare her any pain, he decided to put the topic behind them.  "I'm starvin'."


They shared dinner chatting the whole time.  Louise found talking to Kid easy after the first initial
awkwardness wore off.  She told him about her mother's death, her siblings in the orphanage, even the idea she and Charlotte had to open their own dress shop and become respectable, proper ladies.  In turn, he told her all about the Express--how it was run, things that'd happened on his first couple runs, and especially about his new-found "family" of fellow riders.  Kid watched her eyes light up in amusement as he told her about how he'd won the money to buy his horse Katy.

By the time there was a lull in their conversation, the sun had gone down outside the windows and the saloon had begun teeming with its noisy nightlife when Louise finally finished her lukewarm coffee. Looking around she ventured, "How about you and me get outta here and go for a walk?  We can talk some more and actually hear each other and I'd love to meet Katy."

"Sure," he replied, standing.  They wound their way through the crowded room.  More than once she felt his warm hand on her elbow or lower back steadying her as she pushed through the customers.  Louise smiled to herself as she felt the girls' jealous eyes watch them.  The day was turning out to be incredible.  This was the most freedom Wicks had granted her in four years.  Once outside the saloon, Kid held his elbow out for her to take.  Louise stared at it, her uncertainty clear.

It was Kid's turn to chuckle at her reaction.  "Well, it ain't a snake," he said with a grin.  "This is the part where you take my arm and let me escort you down the street."

Louise narrowed her eyes at his remark and hesitantly laid a small hand lightly on his arm.  "No one's ever been this nice to me before," she said softly.  She looked up at him, shy for the first time in a long time as they began to walk slowly down the sidewalk.  "Most men I meet at the saloon only got one thing on their minds and it sure as hell ain't poker.  But you," she paused, a sad smile crossing her lips, "you're different from anyone I ever met.  How can you be so nice to me?"

Kid shrugged and played with the strings on his hat with his free hand.  "I gotta admit mostly it's just them good ole Southern manners my mamma taught me.  Always treat a lady like you'd treat your mamma or sister.  And I like you," he said with a grin.  "From the moment I saw you, there was somethin' different about you.  You ain't like those other girls, Louise--you're sweet.  There's a gentleness in you; I can see it when you talk about your brother and sister.  You've been through a lot of bad things in your life but ya don't let it get ya down.  Not to mention you shoot better than most men I know."

They walked in companionable silence after his declaration, Louise at a loss as to how to respond to such a sincere compliment.  When they reached the livery they were gretted by Joe the stablemaster and an old friend of Louise's.  The older man smiled as he emerged from the tackroom, his white hair standing on end from running his fingers through it repeatedly.  "Fancy seein' you here Miss Louise.  Mr. Wicks, he let you off tonight?"

"Simon's busy tonight, Joe," Louise replied ominously as a knowing glnace passed between them.  Joe knew the girl's whole story--how Wicks had violated her when she'd worked in his brothel as a laundress, how he'd finally hunted her down after she'd run from him and how he used and abused his "kept woman".  Joe would never forget the night he'd opened the door late one night to find Louise standing outside in the rain crying her eyes out.  It was that night that she'd trusted him with her secret.  It was that night that he'd lost his heart to the tiny girl who'd had such a hard life.  It was also that night that he vowed he'd always be there for her and that he'd keep anyone from hurting her if he could possibly prevent it.  His livery was the only place she felt truly safe.

Joe's gray eyes flashed in sympathy before lighting up in a genial smile.  "So, what can I do for ya, darlin'?" the older man asked glancing suspiciously at the Kid standing next to her.  Hmm, must be one of Wicks' new goons, he thought.  Louise never went anywhere in the city without one of Wicks' goons following.  He didn't trust her and rightly so, because Louise would disappear from the face of the earth if given the chance.  Only one thing kept her here in St. Joe.

"Surely you ain't goin' for a ride dressed like that," Joe continued indicating the royal blue dress, its neckline low and revealing, accented with black lace.  "Wait a second, you're the one with that spotted horse!"  He was interrrupted in his revelation by a loud whinny from further in the stable.  "That's probably her.  Never seen such a persnickety horse in all my days unless it's that stallion of yours, Lou."

"Lou?" Kid asked grinning at her as Joe shut himself back in the tackroom.

She shrugged.  "It's a nickname," she explained.  "Now where's this amazin' horse I heard so much about?"

"It's cute," he said, his mind still on her name as they walked toward Katy's stall.  "Maybe I'll havta call you Lou from now on."

Louise smiled over her shoulder at him as she stepped in front of a stall about halfway down the aisle.  "Okay," she said softly.  No one was ever allowed to call her Lou but Joe.  The nickname was a sign of the close friendship she had with the elderly stablemaster.  Hearing the way Kid said the name, like a caress, made it feel so...intimate.  Despite her sexual experiences, which even the whores at the house confused with making love, Louise had never had that intimacy with anyone, not even Charlotte who was her best friend.

Her musings were interrupted when a painted head thrust itself over the stall door, the horse's nose thrust unceremoniously into Kid's hand with a snort.  You could swear Katy was asking, "Where have you been?"

"Hey there, girl," Kid said, gently stroking her.  "Did ya miss me?"  Katy tossed her head in reply as if to say "no".  Rolling his eyes, Kid turned to Louise.  "She's mad at me for leavin' her.  Now be nice, Katy.  I want you to meet Louise."

Lou extended her hand allowing Katy to get used to her smell before stroking the brown and white head.  "You are pretty, ain't ya?"  There was an answering rude snort and whinny from across the aisle followed by the thud of a hoof against the stall door.  She turned around and gave two short whistles, a look of annoyance on her face.  "Lightnin', behave yourself!  She ain't hurtin' nothin'.  You get enough attention."  There was another thud and Louise sighed deeply.  "He ain't gonna listen, the jealous thing.  I better give him some attention before he busts down the new door Joe just put on."

"Who's Lightning?" Kid asked following as she walked over toward the other stall.

"He's my baby, ain't ya boy?" she asked the dark horse inside, her voice sugary with affection.  She nuzzled the stallion's nose with her face.  "I kinda saved, well stole, him from a man who used to beat him somethin' fierce.  Actually, all I did was let 'im loose and he followed me all the way back to St. Joe.  Luckily, Wicks was in a generous mood that day and let me keep him."

"Looks like he's about as protective of you as Katy is of me," Kid commented as Lightning made as if to bite his extended hand.  Louise couldn't help but giggle as Kid quickly pulled his hand away from the horse's teeth.  "Here," she pulled a sugar cube from the small black reticule she'd been carrying and held out her hand,"give him a sugar cube and he'll love ya forever."

True to form, after his sugar cube, Lightning couldn't get enough attention from Kid.  The bells in the tower at Saints Cosmos and Damian Catholic Church struck eleven.  Louise had no idea it was so late.  She hated to cut things short. She'd love nothing better than to walk and talk with Kid all night but she needed to check in at home.  "Good Lord, I never realized how late it is.  You've probably gotta get up early to head back to Sweetwater and here I am keepin' you up 'til all hours of the night in a livery."

"Actually," Kid said stuffing his hands in the pockets of his trousers, "the shipment's a little late and I don't have to leave 'til the day after."  He began to fidget a little, looking down at the toes of his boots before glancing back up at her sheepishly through his long lashes and continuing.  "So, I was wonderin' if you'd think about havin' supper with me tomorrow."

Louise looked up at him sharply, her senses suddenly registering how close together they stood.  What was it about this man that made her cheeks flush and her stomach flutter?  Worse yet, she was thinking about how nice and normal it would be to have supper with him.  But she didn't have control of her life.  She couldn't make the decision that would make her happy, because she didn't make the decisions anymore.  In the space of a few hours, Louise had almost forgotten all about her life as Wicks' "kept woman"--his slave.  The helpless knowledge that she was not allowed to decide who she saw or what she did began to infuriate her again and this time she did nothing to control it.  She was going to have supper with Kid and the inevitable consequences be damned!  It wasn't like it would be the first time he beat her.  Her mind made up, she felt a peace settle over her and smiled warmly up at Kid's expectant look.  "I'd like that," she said softly.  "Where do you want to meet?"

He looked surprised she'd accepted.  "Uh, well, I suppose picking you up wouldn't be a good idea, huh?"  She shook her head.  "Well, I'm stayin' at the hotel, so how 'bout we meet there say six?"

"It might take a bit for me to get away, but I'll be there, I swear.  I might be a little late, though," Louise trailed off with a small yawn which she tried to cover up.

Kid looked at her, concerned.  "I'm keepin' you up ain't I?"

"No!" she protested a little louder and a little more vehemently than she'd intended.  "I usually try to stay out of sight on the nights when Simon...," she trailed off uncomfortably.  Suddenly a flash of boldness ran through her.  "And I'm not ready to call it quits for the night, yet.  Do you wanna talk some more?"

"Uh, sure, but look at you Lou," Kid replied blushing a bit as he said her nickname a little softer and gentler than the rest of the sentence.  "You can hardly stand up straight."

It was true, she was exhausted from being on her feet most of the day having started when the saloon opened at noon.  "I suppose you're right," she admitted reluctantly.  He smiled at the look of annoyance on her face.

"Well, since you're havin' supper with me tomorrow, the least I can do is see ya home."

This man was unreal.  Never in her life, well at least the last four years, would Louise McCLoud ever think that a gentleman--and Kid was a gentleman--would ever treat her like a lady, holding doors and chairs, hell, he even stood when she left their table for a brief moment to leave a note for Wicks.  And now he wanted to see her home.  Lou didn't know whether to laugh at his naivete, she often walked across town at night alone, or cry in the face of his kindness.  He had this determined look on his face; he would not take no for an answer and Louise found herself wondering which of them would prove the more stubborn.  After a moment's pause, she took his arm.  "It's a long walk seein' as how I live clear across town," she said in warning.

"Gives us plenty of time to do a little more talking," he assured her as they left the stable, pausing before the open tackroom door to wave goodbye to Joe.  Despite Kid's statement, neither said anything on the way.  They merely glanced at each other on the sly while the other thought they weren't looking.  They left the livery and walked along the quiet streets, well quiet for Saturday night in St. Joe anyway, and made their way to the opposite end of town.  The neighborhood was quiet and far away from the saloon and whorehouses down on the main streets.  A few trees lined the boarded walk along the residential street.  Louise clutched Kid's arm as they approached the block containing her house.  She'd never taken anyone here and now she was showing her house to this stranger she'd just met earlier in the day.  "This is it," she whispered in the stillness.  She pointed to a small two-story brick structure with a wide whitewashed front porch.  A gated fence surrounded the house and the small yard, a dirt walkway leading up to the steps.

Stepping up to the door, Kid waited as Louise softly opened the door and stepped inside.  When he didn't
follow immediately, she smiled and beckoned for him to enter.  The downstairs was dim the only light
emanating from the glowing fireplace in the small parlor to Kid's right.  A staircase leading to the second
floor stood immediately in front of them, another dark room to the left.  The foyer turned into a hall that ran
the length of the building opening into what must be the kitchen.  "I thought you lived above the saloon or at the house Wicks owns.  Does he live here too?" Kid asked.  He found himself looking for signs of violence in the dimness, knowing Wicks was none too kind to his women.

"Simon Wicks live here?" Louise scoffed slightly as if it were preposterous.  "No, it's not his style--too respectable for his taste.  In fact he doesn't even visit all that much.  He and I have an agreement about this house--it's mine and the less time he spends here, the better it is for both of us."  She dropeed her reticule onto a low wooden bench that sat against the wall in the foyer.  "There are things in this house Simon Wicks would rather forget," she said hauntingly, sending chills down Kid's spine.  She turned back to face him.  "Thank you for seeing me home."

He shrugged with a bashful grin.  "Wasn't anythin' I wouldn't do for any other lady," he said humbly.

Lou bit her lip at his use of the word lady.  On impulse, she stood up on her toes and kissed his cheek.  She was totally unprepared when he turned his head and captured her lips with his and she gasped at the contact.  For the briefest of seconds she didn't respond to the gentle but insistent movements of his mouth against hers as she tried to settle her lurching stomach.  In all the intimate contact she'd had with Wicks over the last four years, he'd never once kissed her on the lips--in fact no one had ever kissed her before this one incredible, electrifying moment.  The shock was gone in a flash and she found herself responding, closing her eyes and allowing her lips to glide over his.  There was nothing but that moment, the feel of his lips caressing hers, his breath warm upon her face, and the light fluttering in her chest as if her heart had suddenly taken on a life of its own.

She had no idea what to do with her hands and they fluttered nervously as she debated whether or not to touch him.  Her whole body had weakened, her head cloudy, and her legs threatened to go out from under her if she didn't find something to hold onto and soon.  The need to touch him somehow outweighed her insecurities and Lou's hands slowly wrapped themselves around his neck, the feel of his curls beneath her fingers causing her to exhale her held breath in a rush.  Kid wrapped his arms around her waist in answer as she sagged against him.  His hands slid up and down her back, feeling the blue satin of her dress slide beneath them.

Dimly, she heard a soft sound from the upper floor and suddenly Louise remembered the two men who watched the house constantly, fear seizing her as she realized she'd completely disregarded the rules Wicks had established regarding herself and the house--absolutely no men.  If..., no,"when" Simon hears this, poor Kid's a dead man, Lou thought tragically.  With that thought and just as he reached to deepen the kiss, Lou pulled back with a gasp and put about five feet of distance between them.

"I'm sorry, Lou I should never have..." he began, but she cut him off.

Nervously, she crossed and uncrossed her arms over her chest, biting her lower lip and pulling at an imaginary string on her dress before glancing up.  "It's all right.  It wasn't you.  It's just...just that no one's ever done that before," she assured him, telling a partial truth.  "But you'd better go, now.  I'm really not supposed to bring anyone here."

Kid looked concerned at the way she glanced around nervously out of the corners of her eyes.  "I'm not gonna get you in trouble am I?  'Cause maybe if I talked to him, told him nothing happened...."

"No, you didn't get me into any more trouble than I'm usually in," Lou lied smoothly a fake smile appearing on her face.  Simon very well may kill her when he finds out.  "Just be careful on the way back to the hotel, okay?"

"I will," he replied.  "You too--be careful I mean.  If you don't show up within half an hour tomorrow at the hotel, I'm comin' to get you, ya hear?"

She gestured to him to proceed to the door.  "I'll be careful, I promise.  Goodnight."


"How much did you get?"

Louise spun around, her heart in her throat as she watched Frank descend the staircase.  "S-Simon what are you doin' here?"  It must have been him she'd heard upstairs.

"A man can't come see his only son anymore?  I asked how much that boy gave you for your unique and fine assets."  The look was in his eyes, the look that froze Lou's heart and tightened her nerve endings for the pain she knew was to come.  "You didn't even charge him, did you?"

She began to back up as he approached but found her legs pressed up against the edge of the wooden bench.  "I didn't charge him because we didn't do anythin'," she protested.  "Besides, I don't charge you either for what you do."

Wicks shook his head with a pseudo-sad smile.  "Ah, Louise," he said, grabbing a fistful of her auburn curls and yanking painfully.  "You know I take what I want.  It's a shame really.  I would've thought you'd both at least had a little fun before sealing your deaths by coming back here."  Lou could feel his liquor laden breath on her face and watched as his hazel eyes darkened and hardened into a steel gray.  "You've broken our deal Louise--you brought a man back to the house my son lives in and now, your life is mine.  It was bad enough that I couldn't use you because you'd made me agree not to make you entertain after you got pregnant, but to know that another man enjoyed my property--free of charge mind you--while I could not has nullified that deal.  First, I'm gonna teach you a lesson.  Then, I'm gonna kill or sell that no good bastard you bore before killing the man who helped himself to what was mine.  After I'm done with all that, I may just be merciful and kill you too, Louise," he said hitting her across the face with a fist.

The familiar screams that pierced the night stopped suddenly with the sound of a gunshot.

Chapter 2