Today I found out that I am with child. My second! Oh, Chris will be so thrilled when I tell him! I can’t wait until he comes home from his latest trip to Morgan’s Creek. Tomorrow night he will be arriving, and during that time he will come home to his favorite meal, chicken and dumplings! Adam’s favorite, too. Then as he takes his last bite I will shout with joy that we shall be parents again. I have it all planned. I’m still buzzing with joy. A baby! My baby. Chris’s baby. I’ll write again soon and tell you everything. I can’t wait! Love, Sarah
Chris Larabee held his wife’s diary in his hands, his body shaking. This latest entry he skipped over the last five years because he never wanted to read the inevitable. The answer to his burning question of whether or not Sarah was pregnant the night she and their son were murdered. Before he left, the last trip he took as a businessman for the horses, the week before he thought she was acting a bit strange. The same way she did before Adam was born. But he put his curious thoughts aside, and focused on his business, and the long trip ahead of him.
Now, he had the answer he asked himself before he left. The question he wanted to ask Sarah right before he kissed her goodbye. The last time he saw her alive. Her soft, creamy skin yet untouched by soot, and peeling from the severe burns she’d endured. Her once long, thick brown hair singed to her scalp, falling apart in his dirty hands. And now he remembered what he saw when he found her lying in the kitchen. She had her hands on her belly, protecting their unborn child from the terrors and murderers of the night that took both their lives.
Chris never understood why he found her in that position, and he never gave it another thought until he read Sarah’s final diary entry.
She was pregnant.
Mary Travis washed her hands and prepared herself for bed. She loosened the corset that held her breasts up, and torso straight. She breathed a sigh of relief as the last ribbon came free, and tiredly lifted the tortuous garment away from her body and placed it inside her closet. Next, she pulled the pins from her tidy, curled bun and let the long tresses of her blonde hair slither down her naked back. She stretched her arms high, taking a deep breath, and released seconds later and let her arms fall.
Today it had been a long, hard working day at the Clarion. Mondays were always the worst. Preparing for next week’s newspaper, writing the ads, the articles, coming up with new and exciting events happening around Four Corners was not exactly easy, and half the time not enjoyable. The Poetry Contest was the last special Mary came up with, and even then not many locals entered. She had to practically pull Vin Tanner out of his shyness. He came up with a beautiful poem, and she was satisfied he kept writing down his thoughts with her help.
But tonight, Mary wanted to think of nothing but her soft, warm bed and the comfort the pillows and blankets would give her. She desperately needed the comfort. After drying her hands, and slipping on a shear pullover nightgown, she was ready to conquer that bed of hers, and dream.
About one particular dark, lonely, gunslinger.
Two hours later, ten shots of whiskey in his system, and one dull aching pain stabbing his heart, Chris wanted to shout. He wanted to kill. He wanted to feel blood run through his fingers. The killer’s blood. The murderer’s who killed his wife, and his son, and his unborn child. He wanted to kill them.
But he didn’t know where they were, and with that sickening realization he wanted to howl at the full moon outside his hotel window, and keep on howling until the killer came to his door. Until he grew gray himself, and his bones became brittle, and he was on his deathbed, or on his back staring at the starless sky waiting for death to claim him, or a coyote to feast on his soon-to-be corpse. He didn’t care anymore. Didn’t want to care. He wanted to curl into a ball, and die. Just die.
“But, no!” he shouted, and without thinking where he was, his shot off a round of bullets at the window, at the full moon, trying his hardest to make a hit. He heard someone yelling from outside the shattered window, and he cried out in agony. He fell off the bed then, and landed face first on the page Sarah confessed she was pregnant. The old bookbinding must have bounced off the bed, and fell open to the truth, and the reason why Chris was now drunk, and crying. Why he had soot in his eyes, and could barely see. Why everything was so blurry. His dirty tears fell from his eyes and dripped on the old pages of the journal, soaking in the five-year-old inkblots, smearing the words. Particularly the word baby. Just seeing those words soaking in his tears sent Chris into a rage, and he chucked himself off the floorboards with pistol in hand, and dashed out of his room into the streets.
Mary jerked up in bed from a heavy slumber. She heard screaming, then bullets being fired. That must have awakened her from a dream-filled sleep about a faceless man hiding in the shadows of the trees behind Four Corners. She was gathering the courage to approach the man when he suddenly lifted his hand, and she saw a pistol glimmer in the sunlight, and fired.
She was sweating. Damp, clammy, and became uncomfortably sticky from the heated night air seeping through her half open window. She shook her head, her hands, and smoothed her hair away from her neck. She wiped at the sweat lingering on the back of her neck. Shoving the thin sheets off her legs, Mary swung her feet to the floor, and took a second to gather her nerve about the dream she had. It wasn’t real. She knew that, but how come the gunshots sounded so real. As if they were right outside her window. In the streets.
Oh, no! A gunplay!
Whipping her head around so fast, she maneuvered in the dark toward the only window in her bedroom, and peered outside into the dark, starless night. She didn’t see anyone in the streets. She heard nothing but silence. Maybe it was just in her dreams, still inside her head. She rubbed her temple, feeling a headache approach and started to turn away before she caught a glimpse of a man being tossed outside the saloon swinging doors. The dull ache in the back of her head throbbed, but she ignored it fearing the worse at what could be going wrong in the saloon.
Mary stared, and expected to see one of the Seven step out any minute and give the man whoever threw out a piece of their mind, or to help him. Figuring either Vin, or Nathan was already in the middle of the outbreak; she turned to head back for bed. Then she heard a familiar shout, and a very familiar name being called. And in a not so soft, or timid tone.
Chris. Chris. Chris!
“Now, Chris, drop the bottle of whiskey, or pay for the damn drink, but you don’t have to throw it at anyone.” Buck calmly said, holding his hands out in a gesture to say he was no threat.
However, Chris wasn’t an idiot, and he wasn’t falling for that did you hear that punch line again. He may be seeing stars, he may be hurting inside, his heart might be breaking this very moment, but he was not going to be talked to, or at, like a cry baby.
“Go back to bed, Buck. What I do here is none of your concern. If I want to smash a couple of bottles of whiskey, then I will. If I want to drink ‘em, I can. Now get!”
“You’re scaring the patrons, Chris.” Vin said from behind him.
“Vin!” Chris said in mere surprise as he turned to see the always calm and collected ex-bounty hunter standing by the saloon doors. He looked as if he hadn’t slept a wink, but still was ready to do battle if need be. One of Vin’s qualities Chris always appreciated. But not right now. Slowly, he staggered toward his right-hand man. “Can I tell you a secret?”
Vin just stood erect, not earning or giving an ounce of affection toward his leader. He was drunk beyond reasoning, and the only thing he wanted to do with him was get him back in his hotel room, and lock him in their until he was right with the world again. He wanted to…
“My wife was pregnant when she was murdered,” Chris said very hush, hush. His expression telling Vin how badly the truth hurt, but his character at the moment was nothing more than comical. Because of the whiskey, no less.
The wooden swinging saloon doors opened, and Mary stepped inside just as Chris was turning to Buck, and confessing it all.
“Sarah was pregnant with my second child when she was burned alive!” He shouted, tossing that accusation Buck’s way, and the lady’s man had nothing to say. His pain-filled eyes talking for him.
Chris swung around again, his pistol sloshing at his side, as he staggered. A few more saloon patrons left the place before anything else got too hairy, and they’d be drinking bullets instead of whiskey.
“Can you believe that? It’s been five years since they were killed. My little girl or boy would be five years old by now! I…I can’t believe it. Can you, Ms. Travis?” Chris coughed, aiming his pistol at Mary. “Since you’re so willing to believe you and I have something in common, that…we might actually have something to comfort each other with. Can you believe my wife was pregnant, and didn’t tell me? Would you have told me?”
“Chris, I…” Mary stuttered but quickly found her voice. “I’m sure she was going to tell you as soon as came home.”
“Bullshit!” He aimed for the row of whiskey glass bottles lining the top shelf behind the bar, and took aim at every bottle until there was nothing left but oozing whiskey and shattered glass occupying the shelf now. He looked around the saloon, only his friends filling the space now as he poured out his heart. He looked to the entrance and found Mary and Nathan through blurry eyes, and then Josiah and JD standing to his left, Vin behind him, and Ezra, and Buck beside Inez by the destroyed bar.
“I was gone. I was away on business. I saw the signs. I could tell something was wrong.” He looked up, shaking his head as if asking his dead wife why she couldn’t give him some sign who the killer was. So he could avenge their deaths. “Buck and I, we headed back home hoping to get a late night meal from Sarah. We figured she’d be mad with us because we didn’t come home the night we planned. That we stayed over in Morgan’s Creek for another day celebrating the settled deal with the horse trade. God, how wrong I was to stay over.” Chris swallowed down the tears fighting to be free. “When I saw a fire trail leading to my ranch, to my stables, to my house, my wife and boy…I just knew I was being punished for my careless youth. For staying over an extra night. If I hadn’t…hadn’t…hadn’t…hadn’t…”
Chris fell to the floor, dropped his pistol, but no one made a run for the loose weapon that somehow held them all hostage. But they never thought themselves as hostages. They watched Chris go through an emotional breakdown. A war of tears that have been held as his hostage for so many years finally came pouring out. And no one moved. Simply stunned.
Mary shook inside. Even with the summer’s heat blowing against her back, she shook down to her core. Never had she seen the man she respected so much just blow up like this, and then come crashing down at once. She wanted to go to him, to wrap her arms around him, and let him cry on her. She would always be his shoulder to cry on. Even if he never felt the same way about her. That she was very much in love with him. That she had many moments where she could voice her love to him, but always shied away from him. But even now when Chris Larabee was at his worse she’d ever seen him, she could do nothing but stand and watch him unravel. She had to hear him talk, and even then she felt like she somehow betrayed him. His trust. His heart. Just by listening. This man could never love her like he did his wife. Mary knew that, but she could be the one to help him. To console him. To hold him.
The first one to break stance, Mary moved toward Chris, picked his pistol off the floor and handed it to Vin standing behind her. He took it, his fingers limp from grief, his body stiff. Mary tightened her sash around her waist, and carefully moved closer to Chris kneeling on the dusty floorboards. He had his head down in his hands, his body shaking from uncontrollable fear and ache. Without much thought than the need to hold him now, Mary brought his head out of his hands and led him to her lap as she kneeled beside him.
With surprise, Chris didn’t fight her, or look up to see who posed a threat to him. He simply let her take over. He grabbed onto her elbow and laid his head in her lap, and cried.
All night long Chris slept in Mary’s bed. With the help of the Seven, they carried a sedated Chris and eased him down on Mary’s soft, warm bed, and she lain awake next to him, petting his head, whispering calm, soothing words to help him sleep.
Mary pressed soft kisses to his face, his hands, and his body when Chris struggled to open his eyes, or was fighting a demon in his nightmares. She was with him every step, encouraging him, loving him more each moment he settled back to a slumber as if he heard and understood her words.
She didn’t sleep a wink. She wasn’t even tired after the horrible display in the saloon now hours ago. Her heart broke for Chris Larabee, the man in black, the man hiding behind his pain, his tears, his control. The words he’d speak to her, the soft hum of his husky voice when he commanded something from her, and she’d refuse his help. The way he ordered the Seven with fluid ease and controlled every enemy he’d encounter. What had this man done in his past to make the world hate him? To make every starving, angry man from the jails, or on the run, want his blood?
From where she laid, so close to Chris, the man in the dark mask, all she saw was a beautiful face, resting easy now. His hard features softened, the creases around his eyes, and mouth lax. His long, black eyelashes barely touching the hollow of his sockets, and the dirt streaks dry and clean where his tears had fallen.
Chris would sleep for a long time. The sun would rise soon, and Mary’s moment of bliss lying in bed with a quiet gunslinger, the man who owned her heart, would end.
And she had a secret of her own to share.
Sarah was reaching for him, but she suddenly withdrew her hand from his reach, and disappeared but not before she mouthed she would always love him. And just before she left him completely, Chris saw Adam, and a little girl, nameless to him, holding his son’s hand, and waving at him from afar. He heard little girl giggles, followed by Adam’s high-pitched laugh, and Sarah’s soothing hum. Then nothing.
Chris was left with nothing but a dull ache in his empty stomach.
Then sleep began to take hold of him, and he fell into a void of black until again he heard a soothing hum close by. He searched for Sarah. He only saw black. Then he realized he laying on something soft, and warm, with the vibe of a warm alive body near. He slowly opened his eyes, the daze of sleep and his dream fading, but still, that hum vibrated throughout his body and he wanted to smile. But he caught himself, and he realized he was in a bed, not his rent, but someone else’s. He opened his eyes further and found an equal set of eyes, beautiful sky blue ones, staring at him.
Suddenly confused, Chris stared back at Mary and a million questions raced through his mind.
“How are you feeling?” her soft-spoken tone sent another set of shivers through him.
“Where am I?” he asked, ignoring her question.
She hesitated. “My bedroom. No one wanted you to be left alone last night. Not after what happened.”
What happened last night? Oh, no…
The memory of reading Sarah’s diary. Then the drinking. Oh! All the drinking. And the confessions, and screams, and bullets. He also remembered laying his head down on something soft, and warm, and comforting. Someone whispering kind words to him as he cried. He remembered the crying. No one had ever seen him cry. That was for his torture. When he really let himself cry, but it was private. He must have done it in front of others. In front of Mary.
Chris turned his head on the soft feather pillow, and moaned. Suddenly ashamed. He grabbed his forehead. It felt like someone kicked him in the back of the head, and left him for dead. God, he wished he were dead. His pride certainly was. And why was Mary looking at him with that doe-eyed expression as if he was going to croak any second.
“Are you feeling better?” Mary’s voice sliced through his thoughts.
“From what?” Chris snapped then shifted his body to sit up. He swung his feet to the floor, and just sat there, waiting for the floor to stop spinning. Then Mary’s hand was on his shoulder, urging him to lie back down.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Talk about what?”
Mary let out a sigh, “Will you please stop fighting me with this. I…I want to help you, Chris.”
Chris shrugged off her hand, and stood, still a little wobbly on his feet. “I don’t need your help, Mary. Whatever happened last night, whatever I said to you, or anyone- just forget it all happened.” He said, done with the conversation and ready to get back to his own room, maybe even get into a hot, steamy tub for an hour or so to soak his aching muscles. He reached for his black jacket hanging on the door of Mary’s closet. With his back to the bed, he heard the rustle of sheets, and then one long deep breath. She was preparing to argue, that little witch.
“Can’t you just bend a little for me? I can’t just forget everything you confessed last night, all your heartache.” Mary said, and walked up behind him staring at her own reflection in the body mirror deep in her closet. She placed her hands on his shoulders again, making sure not to wake any lingering demons, and when all was clear, she rested her chin on her hand and leaned into Chris’s back, into his strength. “I can’t forget, or let you continue to break inside. Let me help you. Let me mend a few broken pieces of your heart. Let me in, Chris. Please.”
Chris felt her warmth press into him, and he wanted to turn around and carry her back to the bed, and make her forget everything said and not said between them. He made confessions. He poured his heart out. That much he remembered. But he also remembered Mary pulling him out of the darkness, and holding him to her. He mesmerized her words. Her soft voice coaxing him back to the real world. She was there for him when no one else was. She brought him back from the brink of death.
Mary dug her nails into Chris’s back, and held onto him for dear life. She didn’t want him to shy away from her again, or hide under his black hat, and duster. To crawl back into his shell, and lose all feeling for her, and everyone else. She wanted him to lay with her again. She wanted to be above him, under him, with him. Utterly. Completely.
She had a broken heart, too. Didn’t he know that? Didn’t he want to understand? All these five years of knowing each other, hadn’t he known she gazed at him with love in her heart? The only love she had left, and it was all his. Didn’t he know?
“I lost a child, too.” Mary breathed. She ducked her head from her own reflection and buried her face in the middle of his back. His body went rigid again to her own private confession. She never told anyone that. Not even her late husband.
“I miscarried. I never told anyone. You’re the first.”
She felt the strength in Chris’s body shift, and she was suddenly left out of the open with her words, until big, strong hands cupped her face and brought her gaze from her bare feet to a pair of stunning green eyes. Eyes filled with so much emotion she had to choke back an approaching sob.
Before he could say anything, Mary said, “When you said your wife was pregnant with your second, your confession brought me that much closer to you. Because I know what it’s like to lose someone you never even met, but loved so much. That you already had the gut instinct to protect that child even if they were just surprising news. I know, Chris.”
A dreadful silence passed between them, almost bringing Mary to her knees. But then Chris did the unthinkable by pulling her in his arms, and holding her close. She felt her body pressing in and molding into the hard planes of his chest, lining with his body from head to toe. She tucked her head in his throat, and cried. And cry she did until she felt a warm, damp mouth sweep down and cover hers.
Chris gently brushed his mouth across Mary’s as her tears glistened her cheeks, and slid further down to mix with their connected lips. He could taste the salt in her tears, feel the passion in her kiss, and see the pain in her expression at her wild confession. He slid his tongue along her bottom lip, her salty tears lingering as he urged her to open up for him as she had begged him to open up for her earlier. She did, and he accepted the invitation with a deep sweep inside her mouth with his tongue, pulling out slowly to massage hers.
Chris pulled away long enough to take a breath before devouring her mouth again, this time dropping his hands and skimming down the length of her arms, to her waist then pulling her tight to his groin. Mary moaned a soft, feminine moan and lifted her head slightly so Chris could feast on her neck.
Through a daze of fiery passion, Chris remembered her words again, and her ache to lay with him. This strong-willed woman lost a child. She lost her husband. If she lost her son, she’d have no one left and be just like him.
With that horrible thought, Chris broke the kiss and locked her close in his embrace. So close he never wanted to let her go, not even to breathe. She was fighting the devil just like him. Day after day. He didn’t want her to be like him. He didn’t want her to be alone anymore….
On a rushed breath, he said, “You don’t ever have to worry about being alone again, Mary. I’m yours. I’ll always be yours.” He kissed her again, and again.
“We can have the child we both lost, Chris.” Mary breathed in a shaky breath, trying to battle her emotions that have been locked away for so long. To be with this man, she would give up and give him everything she was. “I want to have this child with you. Please, say yes.”
Her request brought Chris to his senses, and almost tears. He pulled away and stared deep in her generous, hopeful eyes.
“I want to fill this empty hole in my heart, Mary.” He put her hand on his chest, right over his beating heart. “You’re my answer, Mary. The answer to all my silent prayers. Only you.” Then a crooked smile touched his lips, “Let’s make a baby.”
Mary began to bubble up with tears again but Chris latched onto her lips for another taste. He picked her up as if she were his bride on their wedding night, and took her to bed, looking forward to nothing but the tomorrows.