by Judi Milling
As Jenny walked to the saloon, arm in arm with Ezra, and Josiah and Buck following behind with Jenny's luggage, her eyes wandered around the town. From what she could see, Four Corners seemed like a basically quiet town, but growing. Some of the buildings looked like they needed some repair, but basically, all were pretty well taken care of. As they approached the saloon, Jenny's heart began to ache for that friendship she missed so much. She hoped Luke would be there to meet her, and then she would feel so much more complete.
As they approached the saloon, a familiar figure came out of the swinging doors. "Luke," Jenny yelled enthusiastically. She disengaged herself from Ezra with an apologetic, "excuse me," and ran towards Luke. Jenny almost jumped at him, and he caught her in his arms and swung her around.
"My God, Jenny, you look better every time I see you," as Luke hugged her, lifted her up and swung her around, and then set her down at arms distance.
"Oh Luke, you still lie the same as usual," Jenny said after he put her down.
Luke was always the gentleman, especially with her. He always complimented and chastised her at the same time. He would make someone a wonderful husband one day. In fact, in his last letter, he wrote about a very special lady that he was courting. "Well, Luke, when I get settled in, I want to meet this woman who has stolen your heart away from me." Jenny shook her finger at Luke and started laughing.
Luke gave her another hug and said, "No one can ever take you from my heart. That is one area that will always stay the same."
Jenny hugged him so hard as if she had let him go he would be gone, and then gave him a big long kiss. Josiah, Buck, and Ezra, just stared at this auburn haired beauty, wishing they could have had the same introduction. Luke and Jenny broke apart, Luke starting to flush as several people stared at both of them.
"I bet I might've started a little ruckus," Jenny whispered and laughed at the same time.
Luke got himself adjusted and touched the end of her nose and stated, "You never change, and I hope you never do. I pity the poor man who ever ropes you in. It'll take all his strength to keep you in line. No Jenny, it'll be ok. Sarah, that's my girls' name, knows all about you and me, and what you mean to me. Jenny, you'll love her and I know she'll love you."
Jenny suggested to Luke that they go inside and meet the proprietor of the saloon, Jed Sams, and get her settled in. "You know me and my music. Can't leave it alone for too long. I get depressed. And besides, these very nice gentlemen have been kind enough to escort me and my luggage to my new job and you. They have been waiting long enough." Luke looked at the three men and just shook his head. She was always good at getting men to fall all over her, just by being herself. She was free spirited but sincere. A basic jewel that was a rare find these days. Basic beauty, humor, sincerity, and brains. A very dangerous combination for any man to tackle.
Luke had two reasons for wanting her to come to Four Corners. Seeing her settled down was one and he knew that this town had a lot to offer, especially men who could protect her and maybe even one to love her. She needed and deserved a happier life. As they turned toward the saloon doors, Luke put his arm out, and Jenny circled hers in his arm. As he glanced at the three men with her luggage, he kept thinking to himself that Jenny may have her hands full with these men, but these men didn't know his Jenny. She was a smart woman, full of life and took advantage of every situation. But maybe this time, Jenny would want to stay, settle down, maybe run this saloon, and heaven help the man who could win her trust and love, and get married. He would like someone real special to take care of her. There were a few men in town that he thought could take care of her and understand her the way she really needed to be understood. She was like the prairie. Wild, free, and ever changing. He knew she had been terribly scared by something long ago. She never let him into her heart and tell him exactly what had happened. It had left such a deep scar that no man had been able to get close to her and win her trust.
Her letters were always about the places she had been, friends she had made, and all the songs she had written. Her songs. Most of them were haunting, lovely, and sad. Occasionally, she had written some really upbeat cute tunes that teased and were suggestive to the men she sang too. He remembered getting after Jenny about those songs, combined with her extremely revealing dresses she wore. He used to tell her that one of these days, she would stir some poor man right out of his wits. She would only give him that devilish look, and kiss him on the cheek and say, "Luke, I will try not to ruin the men I sing too. And besides, I know I can always count on you, and only you, to look out after me. So I'm not worried."
Jenny, Luke, Ezra, Josiah, and Buck all went into the saloon. Jenny thanked each man very graciously for their assistance, with a kiss on each cheek. Ezra approached Jenny, took her hand, brought it to his lips and thanked her for "providing a beautiful diversion to an other than normal day." "If you get settled in and would like, would you grace me with your presence to partake of a nourishing dinner at the hotel?"
Jenny just every so slightly and provocatively smiled at Ezra. "I think that would be lovely, Mister, Mr. Standish, isn't it?" Ezra perked at her response, and suggested he stop by and pick her up around 6:00 that evening. "I'll be anxiously waiting for that time, and interested in tasting the local quisine. See you then, Mr. Standish." The other men couldn't believe Ezra had beaten them to the punch.
Josiah and Buck tipped their hats, with the "ma'am", tapped Ezra on the back to follow them, and they walked out. Luke and Jenny could hear the men talking to each other, chastising Ezra, for being too forward. Of course, Ezra commented that they were only jealous that a man of breeding had thought first of treating a lady to dinner, a lady who would certainly appreciate intellectual conversation and relaxation to their rough exterior ways. Luke just turned to Jenny, shook his head as Jenny smiled that sweet, beguiling smile. Then Luke showed concern. "Jenny, just be careful. Ezra is a good man. Part of the seven I wrote you about. But a gambler and a good one. I don't want him stealing your heart, and you getting hurt."
"Oh, Luke," Jenny kissed him slightly on the cheek. "You worry too much. I'll be careful. Besides, Mr. Standish doesn't know what I'm like either. In a way, we are a lot alike."
Jenny and Luke met with the owner, discussing the music, working days, and what was expected by both parties. "Luke said you were real good. A lot different than most singers. If you are as good as Luke says, and I trust his word, business should do real well. Luke also mentioned that you might be interested in buying the place. We can talk later, if you want, about the saloon," Jed stated with a smile. Jenny looked at Luke with exasperation since she had not said anything yet about being interested in purchasing a business. Luke just smiled, and Jenny couldn't help but smile back. He knew her too well.
She was escorted to the room upstairs that she would be occupying. Jed said that all the girls that worked in the saloon were on the second floor, but thought that Jenny would like more privacy and quiet. She would be on the third floor, but until better accommodations could be made, several of the seven also shared that floor. Jenny's room was right next to a Mr. Vin Tanner, and down the hall, was Mr.Wilmington' s room. Jed assured Jenny that she would have no problems. Mr. Tanner worked with Mr. Wilmington and the others in protecting the town. As they walked upstairs, Luke assured Jenny that everything would be all right. Buck stayed out all night a lot, and Mr. Tanner, well, he pretty much stayed to himself. Jenny didn't really hear Luke, because her mind kept wandering off to a handsome man with long brown hair and devastating blue eyes.
After all her things were pulled out of the cases and hung up, Jenny requested some bath water. Having a tub in her room was a real luxury that she would enjoy. After soaking in the tub, she laid down across the bed. Her room was very nice. She really liked this room and thought she would like to stay there. It had several windows and a porch area. The bed was so comfortable that she drifted off to sleep. But her dreams danced back and forth between a serene feeling and fear. Dangerous images danced in and out. Hands, dark evil eyes, and pain. A lot of pain. She saw herself running, running from the physical pain she had been given. Then the image of a man appeared. The man with the buckskin clothes. All she saw was his eyes. Those big blue eyes seared her soul and captured her like a prisoner. Warm arms wrapped around her, and she felt at peace, warm and safe. As his lips came closer to hers, she could feel his warm breath. Just as his lips lightly touched hers, like butterfly wings, Jenny awoke with a start. It took a few minutes for her to shake off this dream.
"I must have been more tired than I thought," Jenny concluded. She had nightmares before, but they were long ago. "Damn him, damn him for taking a part of my life," she cursed out loud. But this dream had been different from the others. It almost seemed to bring her life to a closure. And why now. Why did these dreams want to invade her sanity again. Could it be that this man with the startling ice blue eyes, stirred something deep down in her soul. "I can't do this. I can't keep reliving part of a past I want to forget." Jenny wanted no part of remembering her past. These dreams had come and gone over the years and she thought they were behind her. The only difference in her dream this time was this man in buckskin clothes.
Jenny realized then how late it had gotten. She jumped up, and put on a beautiful dark green dress that hugged every curve in her body. It was cut just low enough to expose some of the soft mounds of her breast, but not too much. The green dress was exquisite and would definitely match those beautiful green eyes of the debonair gambler. Hopefully, she could catch him off guard, and find out what his plans were for possibly purchasing the saloon. Luke had said that Ezra Standish was the one who was interested in purchasing a saloon business. She straightened her curls, and just slightly refreshed the little bit of face paint she used to highlight her cheeks and bring out her light brown eyes.
Jenny looked in the mirror and was quite pleased with the reflection that looked back at her. She knew she was no raving beauty, probably just ordinary, but the years had been good to her even though she was 45. A lot of younger men had been attracted to her. She felt a lot of times that her down to earth nature and humor had a lot to do with it. Quite a few people didn't realize even how old she was. Satisfied that she looked respectable and ready for a nice evening with a very handsome man, Jenny rushed out the door, as not to be late in meeting Ezra, and ran right into a tall brown obstacle. Having so many things running through her mind, Jenny had not paid attention that the man in buckskin had come up the stairs into the hallway. As she collided with the man, his arms instinctively wrapped around her so she wouldn't fall.
As she was apologizing for not paying attention, she glanced up, and her eyes met with a pair of devastatingly blue eyes peering down at her. Those eyes held her and she felt that she could almost drown in them, and that they seemed to go on forever. Forgetting what she wanted to say, both stood there, his arms wrapped around her, and she so close that his scent and strength held her mesmerized. Finally, catching her wits, she edged back as he released his hold. "I am so sorry. I'm late and I wasn't paying attention," Jenny said with just a slight waver in her voice.
Vin Tanner had been brought into the discussion earlier in the day between Buck, Josiah, and Ezra about the lady singer who would occupy the third floor with them. He really didn't care one way or another, but Buck was extremely enthusiastic about the whole idea. He was sure that Buck would try to make a conquest with this one. Ezra had mentioned that the lady and him were going to be partaking a meal in the hotel. "All this fuss over a woman. You think they had never seen one before," Vin had mused at his friends. But as he stood there, with his arms around her, he realized what they had been so over attentive about. True, she was not a great beauty, but still a beauty. She was slim and small, in fact what he would call small as a prairie dog. Now, up close, he could tell that she was older than he had originally suspected. And before she had separated herself from running into him, he had picked up on how she smelled, as fresh and clean as a spring morning after a rain. Maybe she wasn't like the other girls that worked in the saloon. They were all nice, really nice whenever you had the urge, but this woman was from a different breed than them. Well, he wasn't worried about it, and didn't care, yet, that same stirring from deep inside started again. Even separated from her didn't diminish that feeling. Buck would surely has his hands full with this one. And he had better go about it in a different manner. She was definitely a lady.
Vin tipped his hat, with, "Ma'am" and walked off, leaving Jenny just standing there. As soon as she was able to think things through, her hands went to her hips, "Why, he didn't even introduce himself. It would have been the most gentlemanly thing to do." As she chided herself for even caring about what this man did or didn't do, her mind began to wander to when they had collided. She remembered his masculine scent, his strength, those arms, warm and caring, the feel of his hard, lean body, and those eyes. My God, those eyes were capable of anything. They could destroy or captivate, or love. Love. Now why would she think of that. He showed no interest in her. She definitely had no interest in him or any other man. Jenny shook off the feeling and headed downstairs to meet Ezra.
Vin went into his room. He had only planned on getting something from his room and going back downstairs, but, all of a sudden he felt tired. As he took off his gun belt and placed it on the nightstand. His mind wandered to the auburn headed lady in green. Now he remembered the dress she was wearing and how her partially exposed breasts swelled above the soft green material. Her skin was not the normal white of most women, but a light golden brown that suggested a healthy outdoors attitude. She felt strong but vulnerable. Hell, those light golden brown eyes, wide with shock at their bumping into each other, bodies touching, hers slim but filled out just in the right places, it was all he could do to keep his composure. He was sure that she had plenty of experience in arousing a man. After all, didn't she just do it to him, and he never lost his composure where women were involved.
He no time for nonsense, and kept to himself a lot. He had to admit that occasionally his blood would go hot for the soft touch of a woman. But, there was no need to be in constant company with any woman. He shook her image from his mind, and lay down on the bed. Again, his mind wandered to bring up the image of the singer, wondering about those lips that had been so close, the feel of her. Vin was surprised at the heat stirring within his body. If this kept up, he would have to do something about it. With that on his mind, Vin drifted off to sleep.
Jenny headed down the stairs, with images of the man upstairs on her mind. She didn't notice that Ezra had already seen her coming down the stairs and offered his hand to her until he spoke out. "Ms. McNeill, you are a vision of loveliness to any man." Jenny realized then that Ezra was standing there and had complimented her.
Feeling slightly embarrassed, a small flush coming into her checks, she smiled a beguiling smile, "Why Mr. Standish, thank you very much."
Ezra beamed at this beautiful woman, "Please call me Ezra. I have a feeling that you and I will become great friends."
"Ezra," Jenny said, "I'll do that, and please call me Jenny. And yes, I think we may have a lot in common." With that, Jenny and Ezra, arm in arm headed out the saloon to the hotel for a meal and conversation.
Jenny slept peacefully that night, and woke up to the sun just beginning to rise. She had enjoyed Ezra's company last night, but had not gotten any information from him on his interest in the saloon. "Probably best anyway. I don't really know if I want to stay here," Jenny said out loud. Luke and Sarah had invited her for dinner tonight, and then she would be singing her first night in town. She had given Luke her music sheets so he would be familiar with her new songs and go over some of the old ones that they sang together and that she sang by herself. It was so good to be back with Luke. She felt like she was home.
Home! The only good home she had ever known other than the first 10 years with her Papa and Mamma. Those were good years. She loved both her parents, but her Papa had been her love and Mamma used to chide him for spoiling his only child. But those years ended quickly, too quickly. And Mamma eventually married a much younger man who paid her a lot of attention. She was an extremely beautiful woman. Jenny was no where near her beauty, and it was not surprising that this younger man fell in love and married her mother. But that was when it all started. A tear slowly fell down on Jenny's cheek at remembering her past. "NO, NO. I'll not remember this. I don't want to remember," as Jenny decided to get up and check the town out.
It was about 6 o'clock in the morning. Jenny was a woman who loved the morning hours, just for herself. She slipped on her underclothes, a dark brown skirt, a beautiful white long sleeved blouse, open slightly in the front, and her boots. She grabbed her hat and guitar, and headed down the stairs, careful not to run into anyone. This was her time. If she could rent a horse, maybe she could ride outside of town, and find a nice quiet place. There were only a few people out and about.
Jenny finally located the livery where she could hopefully get a horse. Pete Cleary had a nice livery with several horses for sale. Jenny looked them over, but nothing really caught her eye. Each place she stayed she had looked for a particular horse, a horse that just made her want to get on and ride. Jenny asked if these were all he had, and he hesitantly said he had one more, but wouldn't recommend it for a lady. Jenny got a little irritated at his statement, thinking that men in general never gave women any credit for anything except a good roll in the hay. "Let me see this horse you're talking about," Jenny said as calm as she could. She knew that Pete was only looking out for safety. After all, he didn't need to say anything and would have had money in his pocket.
He took Jenny around back to a coral. In the middle of the coral stood the most beautiful horse she had ever seen. He was a big buckskin with a deep golden color and ebony tail and mane. His colors made a very striking contrast. He was a fairly young stallion and full of energy. He saw two people approach him. He never liked men, because he had been mistreated for so long by a man. As they approached, he reared up and lunged at the fence. Pete backed off, but Jenny just stood there, feet square on the ground. With a low voice, she told this beautiful beast to behave and handed him a carrot that she had gotten from the general store. He stopped short. He wasn't used to people just standing there. He could intimidate. He was a smart horse and knew how far he could go. But this person was different. Cautiously, he headed toward the fence where Jenny was holding out the carrot. He stretched his head to get it. Each time he stretched within reach, Jenny pulled it slightly back, finally to the point of being able to touch his head. He backed off at first, then, almost as if she cast a spell over him, he let her pet him. Pete was amazed. No one had been able to do anything with this horse since the owner had been killed and he gotten stuck with this horse.
"Does he have a name?" Jenny questioned Pete.
"Well," Pete said, "Never heard no name, but the man who owned him went by the name of Cody."
"Cody. I like that. I want to buy him," Jenny said. And she didn't care how much he wanted for him either. This was the horse she had been looking for, for a long time. They settled on prices for the horse and tack. Then Jenny went about putting tack and horse together. Cody didn't seem to mind this strange person who was not afraid of him. Jenny did everything slowly and gently, until she was ready to mount. She eased herself on him, and felt the horse stiffen then calm down. Just then Jenny knew for sure she had bonded with this beautiful specimen. The next test would be the ride.