“Get your hands off my daughter.”
Lu stiffened at the icy tone as much as at the words themselves, or the click of the trigger being cocked. Moving incrementally slowly, he freed Mary Kate from his hug and lifted his open hands up by his head.
Speaking as he turned around, he said, ”I wasn’t tryin’ ta hurt her.”
It took every ounce of self-control Lou possessed not to pull the trigger. It was bad enough they’d targeted her. But when they’d gone after her family, her sister and, even worse, her precious daughter, they’d awakened a sleeping monster.
Even as the miscreant who’d dared try to kidnap her baby girl slowly released her and began to turn around, she could feel her trigger finger fighting to squeeze back and send a bullet flying straight into the base of his brain.
She felt a murderous rage shaking her to the bone, even as her gunarm remained rock steady. A red film began to cloud her vision as he slowly turned around to face her.
“I wasn’t tryin’ ta hurt her.”
Something familiar about the voice began to pierce the shield of her fury.
As he completed his turn, Lu blinked in surprise to see the slender, petite young woman he’d admired earlier glaring at him over the barrel of a gun she held quite competently in her hand. Up close she looked even more tired and worn, and beautiful, than she had when he’d seen her earlier.
For some odd reason he had this insane desire to pull her into his arms and promise her that everything would be alright, that he’d take care of her. Ludicrous in the face of her obvious ability to protect herself, as evidenced by their current standoff, but the way he felt nonetheless.
“Uh, ma’am,” he spoke softly, trying not to anger her further, even as she blanched paper white and swayed as if she were about to faint. Instinctively, he began to reach out to catch her with both arms.
Lou felt all the blood drain from her head as she stared into a pair of blue orbs she’d thought permanently closed on a distant battlefield in a land she’d never visit. They were a perfect match for her daughter’s, except for all the wrinkles surrounding them, evidence of laughter and tears, of years spent squinting into the sun, doing hard work.
“Kid?” She felt her lips forming the word as she began to sway in shock.
Suddenly, the thought of all she’d been through since receiving news of his apparently exaggerated death overtook the temporary joy she felt at seeing him alive again. All the rage she’d felt earlier came rushing back, three times as strong.
Even as she watched his arms reach out to her in a way she’d dreamed about so many nights over the last decade, her gunarm began to drop to her side, while her other hand tightened into a fist.
“Are you alright, ma’am,” Lu asked worriedly, breathing a sigh of relief as she let the gun drop to her side. His eyes explored every crook and cranny of her face and form.
Stepping forward, leaning in to provide support as she continued to sway, Lu looked down at the pixie-ish beauty with concern. Despite his intent perusal, he never noticed her other hand, clenched tightly in a fist, rising to meet his face. Not until it collided with his chin!
Lou felt a deep sense of satisfaction as her fist impacted on that strong, manly jaw. There was a part of her that wanted to leap at him, wrap her arms around him and kiss him until neither of them could breathe. But right now that part couldn’t outshout the part of her that was furious at him for leaving her to fend for herself while pregnant and for the eight long years since.
That part of her nearly chortled at the startled ‘oof’ her punch surprised out of him and the sight of his perplexed face as he went flying backward into a horse trough full of water behind him. The bewildered look on his face as he surfaced was priceless and Lou took it with her as she spun around toward the Marshal’s office.
“Come along, Mary Kate,” she snapped over her shoulder. The little girl scurried to her mother’s side in response to the urgent tone, a confused look twisting her small face.
Lu pushed his torso out of the dank water, grasping for breath. Shoving his wet hair out of his eyes, he looked about, trying to figure out exactly what had happened.
His only answer was the laugher emanating from Jimmy and an older man, presumably Teaspoon Hunter, looking down at him from the boardwalk. Rubbing his already throbbing jaw, Lu tried to shake off his stupor as he started to crawl out of the trough.
Looking up at his two supposed friends laughing over his predicament, the sopping wet man growled, “What’s so funny? I was just tryin’ ta be nice to her!”
Teaspoon simply shook his head and muttered something that sounded suspiciously like, “And I thought I was bad with women!”
“Y’all can stop laughing anytime now and help a fella out,” Lu complained.
Jimmy leaned down, offering a hand to Lu, helping pull him the rest of the way out of the water and up onto the boardwalk. Carl immediately ran up to him and plastered himself to Lu’s leg.
“You alright, Pa?” he asked worriedly.
Lu reached down to pat the boy’s head reassuringly. “I’m fine, son. No thanks to these two jack a dandies here.”
Jimmy held up his hands in a gesture of peace. “Hey,” he protested. “I tried to stop her!”
Lu just looked at him. Any attempt on Jimmy’s part had been feeble at best, especially since he’d recognized Hickok’s gun in her hands.
“Yup! You can tell my boys are back in town,” the man Lu assumed was Teaspoon chortled, snapping his suspenders against his chest with a satisfied look on his face. “It’s been too danged quiet around her lately.”
With that pronouncement, he turned and followed the woman into his office. Lu watched through the window as the older Marshal walked up to the virago who’d nearly punched his lights out and drew her into a fierce hug.
Turning back to Jimmy, Lu asked in a wondering tone, “Who is that woman?”
Jimmy clapped him on the back, grinning for all he was worth. “That? That, my dear Kid, was your beloved wife -- Louise McCloud, of the short temper and long memory! And she is NOT happy with you!”