“What’s on your mind, Sergio?”
The wiry inventor glanced up as if startled, then relaxed a bit. Dark circles lurked beneath eyes that seemed restless and haunted. The fire that danced between them only served to heighten the impression.
“I...” he covered his mouth and stared at the flames. “I don’t know what I should be feeling right now. Well, I know what I should be feeling, actually...”
“And how is that?”
“Well...” Sergio glanced around their campsite. They’d nestled up against a rocky outcropping of the Big Horn range, because the wind had picked up considerably. Pusser and Krupp were a short distance away, sitting on a boulder and passing a flask between them. Fox was nestled in her furs, snoring loudly. Emmy found she missed Lucky a little bit in spite of herself, but what she really missed was Sam’s guitar.
“I don’t think nobody can hear us, Spaghetti.”
Sergio stared pointedly at Fox.
“She sleeps the sleep of the dead. Trust me, that’s how I snuck away from her way back when.”
“Why did you sneak away again?”
“That’s not important,” Emmy said, feeling her cheeks flush. “What is important is how you’re feeling now that Bill Coyle’s dead. You said you should feel happy but you don’t.”
“I suppose the best way I can put it is...I feel empty. It feels like nothing’s changed now that Bill Coyle’s dead.”
“Well, pardon me for saying so, but that’s cause nothin’ has.” Emmy struggled to control her sharp tongue. “You thought that killin’ Bill Coyle was gonna make the world make sense again, right? I know the feeling.”
“What do you know of it?” Sergio stood up, nostrils flaring. His hands clenched and unclenched at his sides.
“More’n you might think,” Emmy said, anger overwhelmed by guilt for working the man up. “I’ve lost people too, Sergio.”
He sat back down and dug a flask out of his knapsack. Taking a swig, he offered it to Emmy. After a moment’s hesitation she rose to her feet and walked around to sit near him.
“Thanks,” she said, wiping her mouth. “Brandy?”
“Don’t know my foreign liquors,” Emmy grumbled. “Burns like brandy.”
“You said you lost someone before?” Sergio’s eyes weren’t mocking, nor was his tone.
Emmy poked at the fire, though it needed little tending. She didn’t look at him as she spoke.
“How easy do you figger it was for a lanky twenty year old girl to get into this profession?”
“I...” Sergio shook his head. “I suppose I didn’t think about it. Lots of people have stories to tell about the Texas Terror.”
Emmy felt her face scrunch up. “I hate that name.”
“Sorry,” Sergio said with a smile, the first one he’d worn in days.
“Anyhow, my daddy used to be a Texas Ranger—real old school shit, you know? Drinking muddy water out of a horse’s print out in the desert, chasing a guy across four territories, the whole deal. He got the Rheumatism from camping in the snow while he was in the Rockies, and had to retire.”
She made a gesture with her hand, forming a crude looking pistol.
“Hard to pull the trigger with your fingers swelled up. Well, my daddy shoulda got to retire and live the good life. Instead, he gets one daughter who’s a little too mouthy for her own good,”
“-and then,” she said, sighing “my momma...his wife dies in childbirth, and the other girl is...well she’s just not right in the head. Now he’s got to run the ranch with his only labor being two scrawny little girls. Didn’t take me long to figger out I was no good at the ranching life.”
She shook her head and started to stand up.
“God, listen to me go on, I sound like an old-”
“Wait,” Sergio said, grabbing her hand gently. “I want to hear the rest. Please.”
“Uh...okay.” Emmy sat back down. “Shoot, I done forgot where I was!”
“No good at the ranching life.”
“Right. No good at it. My daddy taught me and my sister to shoot early, mostly to keep wolves away from the herd. Thing was we was pretty good at it. Even my sister, who cain’t read or write or nothing, she was really good at shooting. I was good at riding too, and hell, it just seemed natural that I’d follow in my daddy’s footsteps.”
“Was he proud?”
Emmy let out a short bark of laughter, taking the offered flask once more.
“Hell no!” She took a generous swig before handing the flask back. “He was right pissed. Wanted me to marry a nice man and have a life of luxury. Can you imagine me sitting around in a frilly dress sipping tea and carrying on about hairy spiders?”
Sergio laughed. “I can’t see the tea, or being afraid of anything at all...but I can easily imagine you in a frilly dress.”
Their eyes met for a long time. It wasn’t awkward, it was more like they both needed a moment to process what had been said. Sergio had put into words a feeling that both of them had been dancing around.
“Shoot, Sergio,” she said, staring at the fire. “Don’t go saying things like that, hear?”
“What’s wrong with saying such things?” He very gently tucked a bit of her hair behind her ear. His fingers brushed her neck and her heart raced. “You are a beautiful woman, Marshall.”
“Yeah, but it ain’t apropos for the two of us to get involved,” she said, taking his hand away from her neck but holding it in both of hers. “Sides, I’m a real handful. Always on the road and such.”
“If you’re always on the road, how can you be a handful?” Sergio laughed at his own jest. “I spend much of my time in my workshop, creating new things.”
“Like that box of death that you used on Coyle,” Emmy said with a sigh. “What was that thing?”
“That?” Sergio chuckled. “That was originally a failed experiment. I was trying to create a pyrotechnic display box for the 4th of July. I based it on a Chinese design, but I didn’t get something right. When I tested it the first time I was nearly killed when it lacked the power to send my black powder charges more than a dozen feet into the air.”
“Damn,” Emmy said.
“Indeed. Afterward, I knew with some modifications it could be made into an effective weapon.”
“Effective?” Emmy chuckled wryly. “I don’t know about that, Spaghetti.”
“You may ask Bill Coyle his opinion if you wish,” Sergio said darkly.
“Okay, you want to hear the truth?” Emmy ticked off her points on her fingers, trying not to slur her words. “One: It has no god damn range. You practically had to stick it up Coyle’s ass to do him in. Two: It’s heavy and cumbersome, you were like to pass out after carryin’ the damn thing a hundred yards. Can you imagine soldiers carryin’ it on a battlefield, with all the rest of their shit?”
Sergio closed his mouth and appeared shocked.
“Now you’re getting it,” Emmy said smugly. “You see, there’s always some nitwit what thinks they can reinvent the god damn wheel. Like they know better than us folks who engage in the implementation of such firearms with their engineering bullshit. Well, I’ll trust my Army issue single action Colt any day of the week over your fancy crap.”
“I see,” Sergio said. “It seems I must go back to the proverbial drawing board.”
“Well, I don’t know that you need to go back to Italy, but-”
“Italy? When did I say I was going back to Italy?”
“Just now! You said you were going back to some Pastrami drawing board-”
“It is PROVERBIAL.” Sergio slapped his knee. “You Americans...a man from another country can speak your language better than you do yourself!”
“Let’s see if you can bleed better’n us Americans, too!” Emmy grabbed him in a headlock, applying pressure to his neck. His face was buried in her chest. “You ready to let up on me?”
“I cannot breathe,” he said with some effort “and yet if I must die I suppose there are worse ways...”
Emmy blushed and released him immediately.
“You sick foreign bastard!”
“You started it!” Sergio fended off her half hearted slaps with good humor. Once they’d both wound down he sighed and met her gaze once more.
“Marshall,” he said “you never finished your story. Who helped you get into law enforcement if your father didn’t?”
“My godfather, Arn Sanderson,” Emmy said with a grin.
“Sandstorm Sanderson?” Sergio’s eyes were wide. “I’ve heard of him before. Something about killing a dozen Indians with a broken spear.”
“It was more like three Injuns, and he was using a broken hoe, but that’s the way the stories go. At any rate, he was willing to let me tag along on a few bounties. Time came that we took on a job to recover some congressman’s kid from Comanches.”
“The Bloody Creek Incident!” Sergio’s eyes narrowed. “I never heard mention of you in those tales.”
“Of course you didn’t!” Emmy sneered. “Arn tried his best, but everyone just wrote me out of the picture with every re-telling. Shit, there was only ten of them Comanches, and they was half starved and messed up on peyote. Still, Arn made sure that when the government was looking to fill a Marshall’s shoes that my name was at the top of the list. He told ’em I was ‘Elmer Thorne’ of Texas, and had ridden with him for nearly two years. Bout shit themselves when I showed up to accept the job.”
Sergio took another drink and offered her the flask, which she declined.
“I can just imagine,” he said. Craning his neck, he brought his face closer to her own. His hot breath came quickly across her cheek, and then their lips were mingling as one.
The moment was over much too quickly. Sergio pulled back, hand over his mouth.
“Shoot, don’t apologize for anything but stopping!”
Emmy wrapped her arms around his neck and dragged him back to her. His hand ran over her stomach, gentle as a summer’s rain...
A short bark of laughter from Pusser made them both flinch.
“I suppose this isn’t the best place for, ah...”
“Right.” Emmy peered into the gloom beyond the halo of radiance cast by their fire. She spied a stand of trees crowning a low hill. She took his hand in her own roughly calloused one. “Come on.”
“Where are we going?” he said between pants.
“See that hill over yonder? The one with the trees?”
“That...is a bit of a walk.”
“Damn tenderfoot,” she said chidingly. “That hill not only gives us a tactical advantage if we’re attacked, but allows for a great view of the terrain.”
“Must you always think of combat?”
“Hey,” she said, squeezing his fingers warmly “if I’m a gonna have my ass in the wind, I prefer it to be in a spot with strategic importance!”
They raced up the hill, the Montana wind straightening out Emmy’s hair behind her head. A opossum skittered into its burrow, startled by their arrival. Emmy wondered if this was the first time anything human had set foot on this particular hill.
Probably not, given its value. If she had noticed it earlier, she would have chosen to camp here instead. Indeed, when they reached the crest she detected signs of old campfires. Someone had set a wide plank atop two adjacent stumps, forming a bench. When they sat down on it, it seemed sturdy enough.
They didn’t speak, because there seemed no point. Emmy started unbuttoning his shirt, her fingers caressing his clavicle. As the shirt fell away she was surprised at his athletic physique.
Their lips met again, while his hand busied itself with her shirt. He did well enough getting that off of her, but he fumbled with her brassiere for an awkward length of time.
“Here,” she said, undoing the clasp herself. She sighed as the cumbersome restraint fell away. Sergio did what she was expecting and buried his face in her bosom.
“Those are for nursing infants, you know,” she said.
Sergio cocked an eyebrow, then kissed her gently on each of her nipples. The way his mustache tickled her sensitive skin sent a shiver down her spine. Slowly, he worked his way from breasts to stomach, then kept going farther.
“What’re you doing?” she asked between pants, her voice husky in her own ears.
“We Italians know how to take care of women,” he said softly.
“Sergio, I pee outta that—aaah!”
“Do you wish me to stop?”
“Aaah...” Emmy gasped, her hands reflexively clasping the sides of Sergio’s head. His lips energetically brushed her clitoral hood. On occasion his tongue would dart out and flick across her clit itself, and it was like dynamite going off in her body.
“Well?” he said, pausing in his ministrations. His mustache glistened with her arousal.
“Don’t...” she moaned, trying to drive his face back into her mound.
“Don’t?” he teased.
“Don’t stop...” she said before an undulating moan ripped from her body. She was glad to have chosen a hill far away from their campsite.
Sergio sat on the bench beside her, caressing her rubbery legs. With a grunt he grabbed her around the waist and lifted her to sit on his lap.
“Watch who you’re manhandlin’, buster,” she said, but there was no venom in it.
Emmy gasped as she slid down atop of him, taking his full measure. Their hands wove together and she rocked her hips forward and back, forward and back. Sergio found her rhythm and soon their soft cries were echoing off the pines.
Leaning forward, Emmy bit him on the shoulder, not quite hard enough to draw blood. Her nails raked down his shoulders as she reached the summit. They stopped moving, and sat panting together, bodies still interlocked in the silver lunar rays.
The horizon was splashed with red, heralding the sunrise. Emmy snuggled into Sergio’s embrace, and he pulled the woolen blanket tighter about both their naked forms.
“What happens now?” Sergio asked. She liked the way his chest rumbled against her cheek when he spoke.
“Reckon we’ll catch up to the Dalton Boys’s camp soon enough, if our Injun scout don’t double cross us. Fox is dead certain he will.”
“I...Amelia, I meant to say what happens with us?”
“Oh.” Emmy raised up enough to meet his soft umber gaze. “Sergio, I ain’t the marrying kind. I don’t want children on account of...”
“What?” Sergio brushed a lock of hair out of her eyes, letting his hand linger on her cheek. He looked so handsome at that moment that she almost forgot what she was thinking.
“”My sister,” she said sadly. “I’m afraid whatever is wrong with her might be passed on. That and I really don’t wanna go through childbirth. And I’d make a lousy mother.”
“I disagree,” Sergio said softly. “I think you would make an excellent mother. You’re courageous, noble, and kind-”
“Shut up before I get a stuffed head.” Emmy patted him on the stomach and rose to her feet. Her skin goose pimpled as the Montana wind blew in chilly. Quickly she dressed.
“We should get back to camp,” Emmy said, hopping on one leg as she drew on her boot. I’d like to get out after the Daltons before the sun gets too high in the sky.”
To her relief, he didn’t press the issue of their coupling any longer. His shoulders slumped a bit and he stared at his bare toes.
“I...” Sergio swallowed, then nodded. “Yes, I suppose we should.”