It had been a few days since Judge Dumford had arrived in Colorado Springs and the day had finally arrived for the trial. Hank had awakened in the middle of the night. Full of worry. What if talking about all of this made Grace hurt again after she had come so far in such a short time? What if she froze when she saw them boys again? What if she panicked and she couldn't tell the judge what he needed to know? The worry and his rapid thoughts continued to swirl through the rest of the night.
He took his, what had to have been, 100th shot as the sun peeked through the windows of the saloon and stretched across the floor. He washed and brushed his hair. He wore black pants, a dark blue shirt with thin black stripes, a black scarf and a black waist coat with dark blue swirls. He polished up his boots before he slid his feet into them. Hank looked at himself in the mirror once more before he went out front. He watched as Dorothy and her little notebook hanging around her neck walked with Loren and Jake toward the church. He watched as Horace, Myra, Michaela and Colleen headed that way as well. He watched Robert E. walk with Sully and Cloud Dancing. Hank was pleased that the judge had decided to allow the Indian to testify. He knew more about Grace's injuries than Michaela.
Robert E. sneered at him but kept walking. Hank rolled his eyes as he waited. Finally he saw her. She looked beautiful. Her ebony shoulder length hair was half down, half up, her dark blue dress with the black lace lapels looked beautiful on her. He stepped off the porch of the saloon and joined her.
"How you feelin'?" he questioned taking her hand.
"I'm fine," Grace answered looking straight ahead.
"You ain't gotta do this," Hank said as they stopped outside the door of the church.
"If I don't, those boys go free," she said finally looking him in the eyes, "I have to."
"Well I'm here for you."
"Hank," she said with a sigh, "I need a favor."
"Anything," he said searching her eyes.
"I want you to leave when it's time for me to testify," she blurted out.
"No. Grace, I'm not gonna do that," he said shaking his head furiously.
"Please Hank," Grace said touching his cheek. "I don't want you hearing about what happened out there."
"Grace, I can handle it," Hank whispered nuzzling into her hand. She smiled at him softly as he brushed a tear from her eye.
"You're probably right, but I can't handle you knowin' all the details."
"Please do this for me. When it's my turn, just get up and leave," she said brushing his hair out of his face. He grabbed her hands, touched his forehead to hers and sighed.
"I love you," Hank said softly.
"I love you too," she said matching his tone. He kissed her deeply before he opened the door allowing her inside first. He squeezed her hand tightly as they took a seat.
The proceedings began and Hank put his arm around Grace as she began to fidget when the retelling of the events that happened in town. It was it getting closer to her turn. The judge had heard from Michaela, Dorothy, and Cloud Dancing.
"Grace," Judge Dumford said, his voice kind. "Would you mind ma'am?" he asked gesturing for her to take the witness stand. She nodded. Hank stood with her.
"I won't be long," she said quietly.
"I won't be far," he whispered back. Hank kissed her forehead and exited the church. Grace took a deep breath as she sat in the chair facing her friends and neighbors.
"Whenever you're ready," Judge Dumford said. She nodded again.
"It was after dinner. I was wiping down all the tables and things. I heard a noise but when I turned around I didn't see anything. So I finished up and went to the kitchen to collect my things. When I came out of the kitchen John and Jared Crowfeld were waiting for me. The older one gagged me and because I kept fighting the younger one knocked me out," Grace said keeping her eyes on the judge. She didn't want to look at her friends. She couldn't. "When I woke up I was tied at the wrists and ankles to an old uncomfortable bed. All of my clothes removed except for my underthings which were torn. I was still gagged and struggling to get free when Jared Crowfeld came in. He smiled the devil's smile before he...climbed on top of me. I screamed as he..." she stopped wiping her tears.
"Continue whenever you're ready," Judge Dumford said handing her a handkerchief. She blotted her eyes and took several deep breaths.
"I screamed as he slammed into me for a few minutes before he grunted and fell off of me. I laid there crying when John came in. He fed me a little and gave me a drink of water. He left the room and I thought I was safe for the moment but he came back and did exactly what his brother had done. When I tried to fight against them they punched me in the face and side and they slammed harder into me," Grace explained, her tears streaming down her face. "Until one day, after I had been pleading with God for hours for salvation, Hank showed up and rescued me," she said with a grin. "He brought me outside and Cloud Dancing checked me out. I was fit for riding so we left that terrible place."
"Is that all that happened?" the judge asked.
"Yes," Grace said. "Those boys took everything from me," she said tearfully.
"Thank you," the older man said. Grace got up and headed straight toward the door.
"Hank," she said as she ran across the church yard to him. He opened his arms and she crashed into him.
"Are you alright?" he questioned.
"I'm fine. Just fine," she said snuggling into his chest.
"Let's go back inside," he said, his arms still around her. When they entered back into the room the judge was about to give his verdict.
"Do you boys have anything to say for yourselves?" Judge Dumford asked his attention on the brothers.
"We ain't think we done nothin' wrong," Jared Crowfeld spoke. "She's a nergo. She don't expect no better."
"Is that all?" the judge asked.
"Then sit down," he said. Jared sat back down in his chair. "Usually I would take a few days to decide on a case such as this; but with the testimony that I've heard and the final thoughts of Jared Crowfeld on behalf of himself and his brother, I'm ready to rule now." There was a hushed murmur over the room. "I find both of you boys guilty and because of your heinous crimes I sentence to hang by the neck until dead in two days time. Sheriff Cooper, is that enough time for you to get your gallows ready?"
"Yes sir," Matthew spoke up.
"Good," Judge Dumford said as he banged the gavel. It was over. All of it. Over. Hank hugged a crying Grace as all of her friends came over. He stepped back and gave her time with them. She turned and smiled at him. It was a warm and loving smile. The kind of smile he had always wanted to receive from a woman but never had.
"You ready to go?" she asked joining him.
"I am," he said linking his fingers with hers. As they walked back toward town he could feel eyes on them. He turned to find Robert E. staring angrily. He smirked as he leaned over and kissed Grace.
"I love you," she murmured against his lips.
"I love you too," he said kissing her once again. Robert E.'s eyes looked as if they were going to pop out of his head. Hank stifled a chuckle as he walked Grace to her cafe.
"Well, I guess the cafe will be closed in a few days."
"Why?" he asked as he followed her to the kitchen.
"Because I don't want to be anywhere around when they hang those boys. I just don't want to a witness the killing of another human being. Not ever again," she said looking into his blue eyes.
"Good. Now get on back to the saloon. We both got businesses to run."
"I'll be back later," Hank said with a quick kiss to her lips. She smiled at him before she went into the kitchen. He sighed as he headed back toward the Gold Nugget. He hadn't thought about the hanging affecting her negatively. He didn't want that to happen.
After dinner when everyone had cleared out, Hank stayed behind. He watched her clean up, smiling whenever she looked at him.
"What are you still doing here Hank Lawson?" she asked sitting in the seat once occupied by Loren Bray.
"I wanted to talk to you," he said taking her hands in his. "What do you think about Denver?"
"I think it's a city," Grace teased.
"C'mon," Hank chuckled.
"I've only ever been once. And Olive wouldn't let me off the wagon," she said. "But what I saw from there was lovely."
"Well, you should see more than that."
"Well, I agree but I was workin' for her."
"Well, you ain't workin' for me," he told her. "So, let's get you home and packed up," he said rising to his feet.
"We're going to Denver in the morning," Hank said with a boyish smile.
"I can't just leave the cafe," she said returning his smile. She hadn't wanted to but seeing Hank smile a real smile that made his eyes light up was beautiful and her will wasn't strong enough to fight it.
"I've got Jake and Loren covering the saloon and the cafe," he said pulling her by the hand.
"Oh Lord. I hope they ask Dorothy or Colleen to help them," she said as he helped her into the wagon.
"I'm sure they will. They're gonna be too drunk to do much else," Hank laughed. His laughter infected her as they rode off toward her house.