Chapter 1: Arsonist's Lullaby
- Arsonist's lullaby by Hosier -
'All you have is your fire
And the place you need to reach
Don't you ever tame your demons
But always keep 'em on a leash'
Flames rise from the old, worn down ranch house whilst the moon slowly climbs into the sky. She’s full tonight, and her silver light makes everything brighter. The flames are licking up the side of the wooden house; smoke pouring from the upstairs windows that have already exploded from the pressure. Distantly the horses can be heard neighing wildly, spooked beyond calming as the fire engulfs their barn too. A gunshot echoes behind the house and laughter pierces the air as the sound of galloping gets closer and closer to where she hid. On the old beaten pathway from the ranch archway up to the home, O’Driscolls are pounding their way up and down the track, searching the bushes.
It was midnight when the knock at the door came, along with jeering sounds from the men behind it. Riley Jameson awoke groggily and slipped out of bed to her window. One glance down said all that needed to be said. She knew these men meant trouble. At 18 she was the middle child of her father who had sadly passed away when she was just 13, but she still lived with her mother and two brothers. She could handle a gun well and was already pulling on her boots and grabbing her father’s old rifle from under her bed when her door burst open. It was Adrian, her older brother, frantically pulling her out of the bedroom.
In the hallway, she met her other brother, Adam, who had his arm around their mother. She was sick, frail in her illness and age, and as Adrian frantically ran from one room to the next grabbing items and throwing them into a satchel, Riley slowly came to the realisation of what was happening.
“Do as I say, and don’t make a sound.” He whispered to Adam, shoving him down the steps as he cocked his own shotgun. “They’re O’Driscolls. I met them in Strawberry a few days ago. Bad fellers, they think our father owes them a debt.”
Riley’s breath hitched, and she took the satchel that was thrust in her direction. “Adrian-“ She began, but he cut her off.
“No- No, this- This mess is something we can’t come back from. I heard stories and-“ Just as he was whispering his explanation, the door was banged again. It sounded as though they were trying to break in, and Riley could see light from what she thought were lanterns. Thankfully the door was locked by a huge sliding piece of wood that their father had built when he first built the ranch. It may give them some time.
“You have to go. Run to the barn, get a horse, and go.” Adrian said, sternly. He was only 21, yet everything about him reminded her of their father. She shook her head and went to speak again.
“No.” Her mother said before she could utter a word. “I’ll handle them. My loves, run. Get away from here.” She said, voice cracking as she placed a hand on Adrian’s cheek. “Save yourselves whilst you still can.”
Riley had no idea what was happening, but from the snippets of information, she was given she knew it was nothing good. Adam looked like he may be violently ill at any moment, his face as pale as snow and his hands shaking. He was only 16, still just a boy, and it was then that she resolved to get him out safely.
She hitched up her nightgown and properly secured the satchel before grabbing her younger brother’s arm and dragging him to the back of the house. She could distantly hear her brother and mother arguing about who was staying when the door flew open and men began piling into the house. She hid herself and her brother against the wall, flattening herself to hide in the shadows. She could hear voices, mirthless and cruel.
“So Mrs Jameson,” The voice said, “I think you know why we’re here.”
Riley nudged her way to the door, slowly pushing it open with her entire palm flat against the wood.
“I will be honest, I have no idea.” Her mother retorted, and she could tell that she was buying for time for her children to escape. Adrian may still have a chance, but she couldn’t see him. Slowly she backed out of the door, her hands in a vice-like grip on her brother’s arm.
“N’aw, see… I think you do. That husband o’ yours? He borrowed some money from one of my boys a few months back and now it’s time to collect.” That same voice said, almost matter-of-factly.
“My husband has been dead for the past five years, I fear you have the wrong house.” Her mother protested, voice still calm and collected despite the circumstances.
This seemed to anger the man because before she could blink there was a slapping sound and a gunshot, followed swiftly by a second gunshot and a thud. Her mother let out a sob, and something twisted in Riley’s chest, but she couldn’t dwell. Not right now.
“You b-bastards!” Her mother yelled, and that was quickly followed by a second gunshot. Her hand twitched on her gun, and she heard Adam give a pained, animalistic sound. The O’Driscolls must have heard him because the next thing she knew there were footsteps.
“Search the house, you know the drill. We know they got a pretty little daughter so find her and bring her t’me.” That same voice instructed. Boots hastily made their way to the back of the house and Riley dragged her brother towards the barn. They hid, but boots could be heard in the barn as well. “Adam.” She whispered, urgently.
The horses were in a state, neighing frantically as strange men taunted them and began leading them out. There was no escape on horseback; there was no escape at all. She had to think and come up with a plan.
“Split up, hide behind those rocks over there, try and get away when you can. Find me in Strawberry.” She urgently shoved him in the direction of the rocks, just south of the entrance of the homestead, and made her way quietly through the trees of the forest just at the back of her home. She’d decided she’d try and distract them, so the further away she was the better her brother’s chances of escape.
Once at the base of a tall oak, she found a stick and snapped it loudly across her knee before scarpering up the tree like a squirrel. She tore up her hands going up, but eventually, she sat firmly in the branches of the tree as a few of the men began racing towards the sound. It had worked, she only hoped Adam would use the opportunity to run. Distantly she heard the boom of an explosion, and the house was up in flames and O’Driscoll men laughed and cheered.
She stayed absolutely still, crouched in the trees as the horses galloping near her stopped and men began trudging through the undergrowth.
“…Definitely heard somethin’ over here…” A voice said, young and full of enthusiasm. They searched the bushes, even clicking their tongues and whistling shortly as if they were calling a dog. She stayed still; sweat pouring down her back from the sheer heat of the fire. Her heart hammered, and she wondered how they couldn’t hear it directly above them.
“Goddammit, she ain’t here!” The words drifted up to her, loud over the roaring of the fire.
“She can’t run too far, we’ll get her yet.” Came another voice, a man’s voice far gruffer than before. She looked down, watching those two men and committing their faces to memory. The sheriff would need an accurate description once she and her brother reached the town.
A distant shout from the ranch had her head twisting to see what the commotion was. The men below her bolted towards the house, and that’s when she heard the whooping and hollering. From where she was squatting on the branch she could see the O’Driscols had set fire to the barn as well, their horses now stolen. The sheep were either slaughtered or running, and her chickens were much the same. In the middle of the dirt path, she could see a group of those men, the men that had come in the middle of the night and set fire to her home. The men who claimed her father owed a debt, but didn’t seem to like the fact that their father had been dead for some time. One of them, a man with dirty blonde hair, was boasting about killing Adrian and her mother. Claimed they were easy, and that he didn’t even need the men around him for this job.
It was nearly a full ten seconds before she could see what they were circling, and the sight sent her blood cold.
They dragged her beaten brother out of the bushes from behind the house. They were yelling something at him, but she couldn’t hear a damn thing over the pounding of blood in her ears. The fire was too loud, and the house was collapsing in on itself. All of her life burning away in an instance. Her mother, her father’s things, her brother… Her fingers twitched on the gun but her father’s voice was in her mind, telling her it was suicide and not to watch. She was helpless, one hapless farm girl up against 20 O’Driscoll outlaws. She didn’t have a hope in hell of rescuing her dear brother.
Savagely they beat him like a rabbit in a snare until he lay still on the ground, trapped within the jaws of the O’Driscolls. And just when she thought they’d done enough she heard another shot ring out. A hand came up to her mouth to stifle her sob, and she closed her eyes tightly so she didn’t have to see the way her brother laid unmoving.
Ice flowed down her spine, though the heat from the fire had scorched her skin. She stayed where she was for as long as her thighs would let her, even after the gang had disappeared into the night. The fire had died down and dawn was edging over the mountains to greet the day.
Hours later, after the shock had subsided, Riley stiffly climbed down from the tree and stumbled to the wreckage of her childhood home. She passed by her brother and felt sick to her stomach seeing him battered and shot. He was her little brother and to them, nothing more than a plaything to chew up and spit out. Trudging to the front door, she could see two bodies lay in close proximity to each other, almost touching, and charred beyond all recognition. Her chest ached, and she dropped to her knees in front of the house, her family scattered around her like rag dolls. The satchel dropped to the ground, as did her gun, and along with the embers of her home her soul was extinguished.
She would see these men again, and when the time came she would be holding a gun to that disgusting man’s head. And she will pull the trigger gladly and send him on his way to the depths of hell he crawled from.
Chapter 2: Ain't no rest for the wicked
- Ain't no rest for the wicked by Cage The Elephant -
'Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for good'
We grabbed one of his boys. Poor bastard ain't spoken yet but he will once we freeze him a little, then set Bill on him. Been a bad few weeks, but we’re mostly still alive.
Dutch being Dutch is busy making plans and figuring out just how we’re going to survive. And Dutch being Dutch, those plans involve robbery and dreams.
“We still headin’ the right way?” Arthur asked the older man beside him, casting him a sideways glance sceptically.
“That depends,” Hosea replied, “Are we still headed west in search of fortune and repose in Virgin Forests as we planned? No. Are we headed in the correct direction on our desperate escape from the law Eastwards down the mountains? Yes, I believe so.”
From behind them, a dark-skinned man piped up. “You know this area?” Charles asked.
“A little,” Hosea responded, eyes watching the forest surrounding them and the fast-flowing river to their right. “I’ve been through a couple of times. There’s a livestock town not too far from here, called Valentine. Cowboys, outlaws, working girls. Our kind of place.”
“O’Driscolls?” Arthur asked, even more sceptically than before. He held tightly onto the reigns, almost entirely focused on his task of driving the last stage of the Caravan.
“Probably them too,” Hosea said with a small shrug.
“Pinkerton's…?” Arthur asked, this time diverting his attention to Hosea to give him a worried look. He didn’t usually look so outwardly worried in front of the gang but seeing as it was just Charles and Hosea, two men he trusted more than himself, it was okay.
“Let’s hope not.” Was all Hosea responded with.
The men conversed for a short while as they rode on, and Arthur took in the time to enjoy the scenery. With the hectic few weeks they’d had he hadn’t done much sketching in his journal, so he figured now would be a great time to try and get a picture in his memory for later on when the camp was set up. They rode on past the river and along hills and between forests, before eventually coming to a road between two tall canyon walls. The horses continued onwards, and so did the men, commenting as they drove about the disaster that was the Blackwater Ferry Job.
“I figure we musta’ got it right a helluva lot more than we got it wr-“ Arthur was cut off by the sound of a gunshot ringing through the air. His hat flew backwards just as Charles hit the deck of the stage. Hosea threw himself to the side to crouch beside the wheel, and the horses began to whinny from fright. As soon as he realised he was still alive, Arthur leapt off the stage, drew his gun, and raised it to the approaching man on a horse.
“Hold it right there!” He yelled. He sounded younger, maybe in his 20’s, but his posture and the way he sat on his horse with that worn rifle tucked into his shoulder told Arthur that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“This a robbery! Don’t try anythin’, put your god damn guns down and come forward with your hands up!” The man yelled, and Arthur cast a glance to Hosea to see what his plan was. He was wiser, and whilst Arthur would have sooner fell straight into a gunfight without hesitation he knew Hosea would have some kind of trick up his sleeve. He was, after all, a master conman.
“Sir, we don’t happen to have anything of value with us! Just furniture for delivery in Valentine, nothing worth stealing.” He said, stepping forward with his hands up and a confident air about him.
“I don’t believe you. Look up there, see the two guns up on the canyon sides? Left and right, I got men up there ready to fuck you two up any second. You move, they shoot. Got it?” The man practically growled, and Arthur’s eyes followed to where he had gestured. Even whilst pointing out the guns up on the canyon sides, he hadn’t taken his eyes off of Arthur or Hosea. Smart move, once glance away and he’d probably be dead. But then again, so would they. Arthur couldn’t see well but he could just make out the shape of two men, and the glimmer of two scopes that were pointed in their direction. Well… Shit.
Hosea had seen them too and Arthur could practically hear the cogs working in the old man’s brain to think of a way out of this. He was still thinking, and blabbering a distracting tale of them being ‘Simple Cargo Men’ whilst the masked man jumped down from his horse. He was shorter than Arthur, wore a hat over his eyes and a thick bandana over his face. His gun was still trained on them as he moved to the back of the stage to rummage through their things. Arthur turned to watch the man carefully, watching for any sign of weakness, any slip, any glance away that meant he could draw his gun. But his mind was on those snipers, and he couldn’t think of a way around it. And dammit, where the hell was Charles?
In the kerfuffle, Charles had managed to slip away behind the trees, and Arthur was certain he’d listened to the conversation. He was probably making his way up the canyon side now, ready to silently put a knife into the lung of the gunner on that side. Arthur waited for the signal, fingers twitching in the air by his head, itching to reach for the gun he’d been forced to holster.
The bandit was rummaging now, pocketing food and ammunition without so much as a second glance at what his hands fell upon. His coat had many pockets, and he wore a satchel on his left side that had more room to fill. Fucker would bleed them dry next of what little money they had on their persons.
Frustration began to grow in Arthur’s stomach when he heard a call from behind himself. It was Charles atop of the canyon wall, yelling down at them and waving his arms.
“There’s no men up here!” He yelled, holding up a clearly broken rifle and scope. “They’re just bags of sand!”
“SHIT-“ Arthur ducked as he heard a shot fire from the lone bandit. They’d been god damn tricked! He ducked for cover in front of the wagon, growling curses as another shot was fired and suddenly stopped. The next thing he knew, as he and Hosea were firing a shot at the man, he was on his horse and running in the direction they’d just come from.
Arthur was up in an instant, whistling for his own horse that had been trotting behind them obediently. He was still a new horse but thankfully he came as called, and Arthur mounted him swiftly.
“Don’t kill him, Arthur!” Hosea called, “I wanna talk to him!” And Arthur was off like a bullet from a gun, galloping after this bandit without a second thought.
They twisted and turned through trees and shrubs, branches slapping them both as they raced to escape and to capture. From his saddle, Arthur grabbed his rope and began to get into position to throw a lasso. Not quite right, he thought, not yet…
They broke through the trees after a few minutes of darting through the trees, and Arthur could see the rider panicking now. He was edging his horse on and shooting haphazardly behind himself. His shots were too wild, and none of them hit, not even close. He readied the lasso, raised it above his head, and began spinning. It whirled through the air with a sharp sound and hit its target.
The rope constricted like a snake around the bandit, throwing him backwards off his horse where he landed painfully on his back. Arthur slowed his horse down with a few quick words and hopped off, keeping his end of the rope tight as he walked up to the bandit and began to hogtie him.
“FUCKER! LET ME-“
“Enough outta you!” He said, before punching the man in the face to knock him out. Finally, some goddamn peace.
Arthur looted the man’s person and satchel, taking back what he rightfully stole in the first place. He pocketed the food and ammunition and went to retrieve the bandit’s horse as well. Once he’d calmed the stallion and roped him to his own horse, Arthur went back to his captive and picked him up ready to stow him on the back of his mare. The criminal’s hat fell off in the process, and Arthur ignored it in favour of hefting him onto his horse. He stepped back and turned to get a closer look at him.
“Aw…. Shit.” He muttered, rubbing at his stubbled chin.
On the horse in front of him was a woman dressed in men’s closes, her long dark hair plaited. Her hair must have been settled under the hat, and the bandana had hidden her features well enough for Arthur and even Hosea to be tricked into believing she was a he. Arthur grimaced, and picked up her fallen hat to attach it to her horse, and began the ride back to the stage with new thoughts on his mind and a bloodied woman on the back of his horse.
Thank you guys for reading! Comments are welcome, please tell me what you think Riley's gonna deal with now she's been captured?
Chapter 3: Horseshoe Overlook
Riley's thrown into the camp of lawless men, but what she finds isn't the usual rough and rumble gang of bandits she's used to.
- The River by Blues Saraceno -
'Oh my Lord take this hand
Save me from the gallows
Hear this news, bear my gold
Lay me in the shallows'
Riley awoke to the harsh sting of pain in her nose, and the uncomfortable sensation of blood drying on her skin. She grunted and tried to lift a hand to touch her face but was met with resistance from rope around her wrists. She opened her eyes and found herself on the ground, hogtied in the mud beside a horse. She could hear chatter and the sound of a fire, and for an second she felt something in her chest freeze. Her eyes adjusted to the sunlight filtering through the trees and she came to the conclusion she was in some kind of camp. Shit.
She couldn’t see much on the ground but what she could see were several hitching posts and quite a few horses. To her left she could see wagons and old stage coaches parked in almost a semi-circle. There was a small fire behind them somewhere, but not nearly as big as the main fire in the centre of the camp. Some tents had been set up already, and a small wagon for meal making. If she concentrated she could make out the sound of a knife chopping through vegetables, and the birds in the trees above them. There were men gathered in a tent in front of her, and she had to almost press her cheek into the dirt to get a better look at them. It was mostly coming back now. The failed robbery, the failed escape, and then the fist to the face. Well, she had it coming, fair game. She hadn’t been fast enough, but the plan had been a good one.
Riley wriggled on the ground a little to see what leverage she had in the ropes and found none. Not even a centimetre of slack. Whoever had got her had practice, that’s for damn sure.
“… And then we brought her back here. I, for one, want to speak with her when she wakes up. She had us all fooled, it’s been quite a while since I have genuinely been hoodwinked.” A man was laughing, an almost cough-sore throaty laugh. Squinting her eyes Riley could make out that it was one of the men she’d tried to rob earlier, the one with the white-grey hair and gentle eyes. He hadn’t stopped talking whilst she was trying to rob them, almost like he was stalling for time or thinking up a plan to get out of it. Riley figured he was a conman and an experienced one at that. He didn’t even seem scared when her gun was directed at him.
To his right stood a man with a black bowler hat on and a thick cigar in his mouth. He puffed it languidly, scratching at the neatly trimmed black beard on his chin. He must have been their leader, he had a certain air about him that commanded respect and authority. His eyes met hers, and she cooled her expression into a perfect poker face. A poker face covered in mud, blood, and probably horse shit.
“Well, look’s like she’s awake now, Hosea.” The man said, and his voice matched his posture of authority. “But I don’t like discussions of this nature before supper. Bill, put her with the O’Driscoll.”
One man began making his way towards her. He was tall and broad, but his checker shirt didn’t quite cover the fact that he had a stomach full of beer. He stopped in front of her and hooked his hands under her arms, hauling her up off the ground quickly. She grunted, and felt a familiar ice-cold feeling run down her back as she processed what was happening.
“C’mere, missy.” Bill said, cutting through the rope at her feet and giving her a shove to force her to walk. She stumbled, and felt cold air rush over her cheeks and injured nose. When she didn’t take another step forward she felt that man’s hands on her shoulders, pushing her forwards towards several trees where she could see a man tied to the trunk. An O’Driscoll. They’d said that was an O’Driscoll.
“No. No- Don’t fucking put me anywhere near him!” Riley all but growled, digging her heels into the ground to make it difficult to push her anywhere.
“God damn- C’mon girl get over- Hey!” Bill complained as he shoved at her, and eventually began to loose his patience because the next thing Riley knew his arms were around her middle and he’d lifted her clear off the ground. She yelped, and heard a couple of men laughing from around the fireplace in the camp.
Frustrated, Riley threw her head backwards and felt a sharp pain shoot through her skull. She’d cracked her head back against Bill’s face which gave a sickening crunch, and with a howl of pain he dropped her to the ground. She scrambled to her feet but felt a rush of hands on her arms and sides. Two more men had rushed forwards to help. One of them was the dark-skinned man from the robbery, the other was a Mexican man wearing a sly grin. She struggled against them, frustrated once again as she was dragged over to that tree near to the O’Driscoll.
She could see him now she was being held in place. He looked like a child, maybe no more than 25 years old. He looked tired, dirty, and hungry, and somewhere in the back of her mind in a place not dominated by anger and hatred for his kind, she wondered what the hell they’d done to him.
“Javier, you secure the rope, I have her.” The man in front of her said. He had his sturdy hands on her forearms to keep her from moving and was watching her like a hawk. The other man, Javier, began spinning rope around the tree, and as soon as she was unable to move she let her head fall back onto the trunk of the tree and her eyes scan over her new surroundings. Her head ached from the scuffle with Bill, and it was beginning to settle into a dull pain in the back of her head.
The camp looked cosy from this angle, almost inviting with its many tents and bedrolls set up. A few scout fires were dotted around the perimeter, and she could see a tent in the centre of the camp that looked a lot fancier than the others. It had an entrance, basically. All the others were just tarps attached to the wagons.
That man from before, the man with the cigar, was making his way across the camp towards her with a smile on his face. Hosea stood beside him, an almost similar and prideful grin on his lips. She eyed the men suspiciously yet had managed to bring back that same bloody and muddy poker face from before. She’d learned the best thing to do in this scenario was to be quiet. Words get you killed.
“Well, you somehow managed to singlehandedly rob three of my best men, almost get away with it, and break Bill Williamson’s nose whilst tied up. Colour me impressed.” The smoking man said, tapping ash onto the ground at his boots. “You were right, Hosea. I think we should talk to this one. Maybe when she’s calmed down a bit. Like I said… I prefer to have discussions of this nature after supper.”
“I told you I had a feeling about this one, Dutch.” Hosea said, happily.
Riley’s stomach did a flip. Were these men discussing her future right in front of her whilst she was tied to a tree, chest heaving for breaths and covered in blood and mud? They talked like she was cattle, and she had a sick feeling in her stomach as she realised what could be happening.
She’d fallen right into the arms of a bandit camp full of men. No, not just men; outlaws. Men like her, without morals or a care in the world for the rules. She’d met men like them before and had barely survived, and now it seemed like maybe there wasn’t a way out.
They were walking away from her now, discussing something under their breaths. Riley closed her eyes, and began taking short and sharp breaths to focus herself. She needed a plan, she needed-
“They ain’t gonna hurt you.” A weak voice said, beside her. She frowned and turned her head, about as much movement as she was allowed, towards the voice. It was that boy, that so-called O’Driscoll. She pulled a sour face and scoffed, but took the opportunity to get a better look at him. He sounded even younger than he looked, but his eyes were old.
“They got me a few weeks back, an’ I ain’t dead yet. Hardly touched me, either… I’m not- I’m not an O’Driscoll, Miss. I ran with them for a couple months but I ain’t like them. I ain’t nothin’ like them.” His voice was low, quiet and timid. It suddenly hit Riley that he was trying to comfort her. She squinted at him as if to figure him out, and eventually turned her gaze back to the camp.
“I have history with O’Driscolls. Unpleasant history.” She said, and she left it at that.
The boy gave an audible gulp and shut himself up. As much as she appreciated the gesture, she was hard-pressed to trust anyone with the name O’Driscoll.
The sun was setting by the time a wagon came rolling into the camp pulled by two shire horses. From where she was tied to the tree she could only catch a glimpse of who was driving, but she heard the gang of girls that were travelling on it. From the sounds of it they were moving boxes of supplies. Riley could hear the clank and clatter of bottles as they were lifted off the wagon. It was paired with the chatter of the girls who finally came into her line of sight, albeit on the other side of the camp.
They laughed with each other and joked with the men who immediately offered to help in unloading. One of the men was the driver. After he hitched up the horses and gave them a gentle pat each, he came around to the back of the wagon to help unload. He carried the heavier boxes, taking them without so much struggle over to the food wagon or elsewhere. He wore an old hat on his head and a well-loved leather jacket on his back. Once he was finished unloading he pulled off his hat and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was the same man from before, the one who’d chased her from the scene of the robbery and had lassoed her like a professional. He was also the one who gave her a bloody nose, damn it. He didn’t seem to notice her as he stalked off to a separate tent where he dropped his jacket and sat down heavily onto a cot. He pulled out of his satchel a leather-bound journal, flipped it open, and began writing in earnest.
She watched him carefully, and after five or ten minutes of watching she came to the conclusion that these men probably weren’t going to hurt her like she’d thought. She’d met those types of men before, and they didn’t unload wagons for girls or laugh with them or make them giggle. Those sorts of men took what they wanted, when they wanted, and damn the consequences.
Riley watched as the stew was prepared and members of the camp gathered around the fire to eat and talk. She watched as the men shared shifts with some of the girls guarding the camp, handing over rifles casually. She could see Dutch in his tent reading a book, and Hosea mixing something together in a bowl. There was that man from before, Javier, strumming a guitar by the firelight as someone sang a rude tune and passed around a bottle.
The man with the journal didn’t get up for his share of food until mostly everyone else had eaten. He grabbed a bowl and sat down with his campmates by the fire, talking quietly with a young girl beside him who happily talked back. At one moment during his meal, he did look up and their eyes locked for a moment. It was only a second, but Riley looked away as quickly as she could.
This camp wasn’t like something she’d seen before, it was obvious they all worked together like a well-oiled machine. Different, but so familiar. That’s it, she thought, they were a family.
An hour or so after sunset Dutch and Hosea both came back to where she had been restrained. Her hands and legs were numb, but she’d managed to shimmy down the tree enough to sit on the ground and try to retain some warmth. She looked up at the two men who stared down at her with curiosity in their eyes and waited, trying her best to quell the noises her stomach made from hunger.
“I think we’re ready for that talk now, Miss.” Hosea said, tipping his hat forwards. “We have some questions we’d like to ask.”
So what do you think? How'd you reckon everyone's gonna react to a new gang member?
Chapter 4: Under the Sun
Riley's first day in camp and a well earned rest for Arthur.
- Under the Sun by Jace Everett -
'The plan had some flaws
I did not count the cost
Now I'm doing hard time, lost my mind
Out here under the sun'
I didn’t feel too good about that girl I brought to camp today, but she seems to me like she’s hard as goddamn nails and twice as tough. There she is all tied to the tree and covered in shit and blood, kind of reminds me of Sean a little. Maybe that’s an insult, but she’s got spirit.
I heard from Javier that she nearly knocked Bill out when he was moving her. Wish I could have seen that.
Arthur closed his journal and stood up from his cot to stretch out his arms and legs. It was late and most of the camp was already asleep, except for Uncle who was drunkenly rooting through the chuck wagon for leftovers. Arthur sighed and shook his head, deciding that maybe a good nights rest was needed after the day he’d had. Hauling camp from one place to the next was no easy task, and going by Miss Grimshaw’s orders was even more difficult. That woman ran a damn tight ship and Arthur had learned years ago not to cross her. So, like a good little Cowboy, he hauled boxes and tables around the open clearing until Miss Grimshaw was happy, and then obediently took the girls into town when asked to pick up a few essentials for the camp.
It was getting late by the time he’d come back and he’d been too preoccupied with work to bother thinking about their new detainee. When he did find himself with a moments peace he was sat on his cot with his journal open, sketching the new camp lazily, throwing details here and there for him to work on later. He’d cast a few looks her way whilst drawing, and took her in without much thought.
She was a slim build girl with dark hair that was slung into that messy plait over her shoulder. Her face was covered in mud and blood, but underneath was sun kissed pale. She had dull green eyes and scars on her skin, and a frown set on her forehead as she took in the camp. They didn’t have a name yet, so for now she was just ‘The Girl’.
Arthur scratched at his beard, and eventually went to grab himself some of the stew before Uncle or Bill took to licking the bottom of the barrel for what was left. He sat down beside Tilly and spoke with her quietly, mostly to see how the girls felt about this new woman. Not much of a consensus yet, it seemed, but Tilly was happy to tell him about the plants she’d seen around the back of camp and how they may be useful. Arthur listened for the most part but did find his eyes wandering back to the captive. Her eyes were on him, but not for long. She was looking elsewhere in the blink of an eye. It was some time later that Dutch and Hosea came to get her.
Arthur knew this game; he’d heard Hosea singing her praises when he’d lowered her to the ground off his horse. They’d already accepted her into the gang, but now came the persuading. Dutch could spend hours spinning dreams so fantastic even the goddamn president would quit and become an outlaw. With Arthur at age 13 it had been easy. With Sadie, a simple kind word and an offer of help until she was back on her feet. Lenny, similarly, was an invitation based on skill. These members of the gang, this family, were all here because of Dutch and his fantastical ideas. Arthur wondered; as he rose from the box he sat on to put his bowl back in the Chuck wagon basin, how long it would take to convince this new woman. It all depended, really, on what Dutch ‘saw in her’. Time would tell.
It had been hours since they’d taken that girl into Dutch's tent for the talk. Once or twice Hosea had come out looking for food, water and cigarettes, but aside from that and the low hum of voices Arthur didn’t see hide nor hair of the three of them. He’d finished two whole sketches in his journal by the time they came out of that tent, lanterns lit and a cigarette between Dutch’s lips. He was smiling, clearly pleased with having won over a new member of the gang.
“There’s space with Mrs Adler in the tent with the girls. Please, do make yourself at home, Miss Jameson.” Dutch said as he tapped his cigarette into ash, and retreated back into his tent.
The girl- Miss Jameson- looked cleaner now. The blood and mud was gone, and her hair hung in loose curls around her shoulders. Arthur watched from his cot as she made her way to her horse that he’d hitched next to his own. For a moment he thought she may leave, and by the look on her face maybe she thought the same. But after a seconds glance at the darkness of the path out of the camp, Miss Jameson took her bedroll down from her horse and made her way to the ladies tent. Arthur couldn’t see her anymore, but he heard a few whispers of both male and female voices before things started to settle down again.
He’d seen this play out before with Jenny, a rough and tumble girl they’d picked up almost a year before the Blackwater Tragedy. She was a sneaky thief, and a good one at that for having nearly stolen Dutch’s pocket watch right under his nose. This Miss Jameson girl- she reminded Arthur of Jenny, and that thought alone was enough to make him turn over in his cot to try and get some sleep. After what happened to that poor girl in Blackwater, Arthur couldn’t help but think of what horrors awaited his family here in the East.
Arthur awoke to the familiar sound of songbirds and wind rustling through tree leaves. He sat up in his cot and rubbed at his face, grunting as his joints cracked back into place and his consciousness came rolling back. The first thing he noticed was the morning dew on his blanket, and then the rough scratch of his beard on his palm. It wasn’t too long yet; he could leave it for now. A sound caught his attention over the sound of the songbirds. There was a thud, a crack and a grunt in quick succession of each other, then a break, and the sounds would repeat themselves. Arthur glanced around the camp to see someone at the woodcutting block chopping firewood.
Miss Jameson stood in a pair of jeans and her long sleeve shirt, and Arthur realised this may be the first time he’d seen her properly without blood, men’s clothing, or rope tying her to a tree. She was taller than he expected and strong as well. Her arms lifted that axe easily and swung down with enough force to split each log almost cleanly down the middle. Each swing came with a quiet grunt, and Arthur could see she was sweating from the chore. He considered her for a minute before grabbing his journal to document the new arrival. He sketched her outline mid swing, and began detailing without much thought. She was pretty, he thought absently, but no doubt she could handle herself. Even when Micah was back in camp Arthur thought she seemed like the kind of girl not to take his shit. That thought alone brought a smile to his lips as he finished his sketch and stood up to start his day.
First thing on the agenda- Herr Strauss had some debts he wanted collecting.
Whatcha think? So in my playthrough, I didn't go get Micah right away because fuck Micah. He'll be along soon, so how long until Riley punches him in the dick?
Chapter 5: Snake Song
Finally heading out of camp, Riley takes the opportunity to rob some guy and have a drink at the saloon. Maybe one or two drinks too many, in the end.
- Snake Song by Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan -
'You can't hold me
I'm too slippery
I do no sleep in
I get lonely
You can touch me
If you want to
I got poison
I just might bite you'
The smell of sweat was overpowering as Riley hefted a bale of hay over her shoulder. She walked with it for a few paces, taking it from behind the delivery wagon to drop it near to the horses. Once it was down she cut the strings so that it opened up nicely, and urged the horses closer to eat. Of course, she may have had a favourite in her own stallion, a large Missouri Fox Trotter named Whip, who eagerly trotted forwards to munch on the gift of breakfast. Riley gave his neck a few soft pats, smiling at him as he grunted through his food. The other horses were interested now and started to head over, so she left Whip to it and went to find the last hay bale.
Once more she hauled the bale up to her chest and began to walk it to the furthest part of the camp behind Herr Strauss’ wagon. She dropped it on the ground and again cut the strings that bound it together. First over was The Count, Dutch’s brilliantly white horse. Riley gave him a gentle pat on the neck before stating off to find her next chore.
It had been two weeks since she’d been integrated into the group of outlaws she was slowly beginning to like. Dutch and Hosea had spent hours convincing her it was in her best interests to stay, and that she’d benefit as much as they would if she were to join the gang. Admittedly, she’d been shocked that they’d even considered her as part of the gang after that robbery attempt, but it seemed that had been the cherry on the cake for Hosea. He’d asked about her plan and she gave it to him, going into detail about the four times it had worked in the past. Admittedly again those four times had been on smaller wagons with lone drivers, so it had been a hell of a lot easier to rob. Dutch had sat there with a secret smirk on his face the entire conversation, even as he told her of his plans to get the gang to another part of the world, to set up a ranch or a homestead, somewhere they were free. Riley knew she was falling for the idealisms, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she craved that lost feeling of a simpler life. She’d thought of her father the entire conversation, considering how he would have felt about her life choices. It was obvious to an extent, he wouldn’t have approved, but he would have understood that she was just trying to survive.
Survival is what Dutch did, that much Riley could see. He took in the ones nobody wanted, the men that had nowhere to go and the girls that needed a helping hand. The stories he told of past gang members sadly lost to bullets made Riley’s heartache for her fallen family, and judging by the expressions on both Dutch and Hosea’s faces they felt similarly. She had been right; these people were a family. A family willing to accept her with open arms, it seemed.
So far she’d kept mostly to herself, joining in with conversations only when she really had no other option. She preferred to keep her tongue, just whilst she figured out where she stood with the rest of the gang. There was Abigail who was one of the first girls to talk to her. She was a sweet thing, a mother to a delightful young boy named Jack. He was curious about her the moment she stepped foot in the camp but didn’t seem to be courageous enough to go speak with her himself. In fact, the closest he’d ever been to Riley was when he accidentally bumped into her whilst sprinting through the camp away from an annoyed squirrel. He’d stopped, looked up at her with big confused eyes, and immediately sprinted off into the tent he shared with his mother.
Abigail had been nice to her. Riley didn’t have many things, especially after offering the remainder of her food for the camp, but Abigail was quick to sneak her an extra apple after dark some days. They’d have quiet conversations about nothing in particular, and sometimes Mary-Beth or Karen or Tilly would join them. For the most part the girls all seemed lovely, even Karen who always had a bottle in her hand. Mary-Beth told her one evening when Karen sat alone by the fire nursing a bottle of Gin that it was because of her missing ‘friend’ Sean, and that was as much information as she’d got.
Miss Grimshaw was a stern lady with ideas well above camp practicality. She expected the girls to work their asses off to make it liveable, and they did just that but never in the correct way. Someone was always taking a break, slacking off, or doing something incorrectly. It almost always involved a telling off, so Riley quickly learned to keep herself busy and out of her warpath.
Soon enough Riley was getting into the routine of the camp. At dawn, she’d wake up to feed the horses and give them fresh water. She’d scatter seed for the chickens, then fill the basin sink on the table near the chuck wagon with fresh water. Once finished, Riley would begin chopping firewood for the day, and by the time she was usually finished the rest of the camp would be awake. The first few times she chopped wood she had Javier and Lenny come over at different times to ask if she wanted any help. She’d politely declined, but just to show them a little proof she made sure that her next swing was as perfect and clean a cut as possible. Usually, it worked, and the men knew she could handle herself after that. Everyone except Bill, that is, who seemed to have a bee in his bonnet about the whole head-butting incident. She’d apologised one evening over supper, but he’d only grunted and got up to find a bottle of beer to nurse. Maybe it was a bruised ego, so Riley thought it best to not bring it up again. He kept on avoiding her, and that was fine. You couldn’t win everyone.
Nearly everyone in camp had made the attempt to speak with her at some point or another. Charles told her stories of his father and mother, stories that had her transfixed and hanging on every word. She felt a lot younger when he spoke, and he reminded her of her eldest brother Adrian. Javier was a lot like her younger brother Adam, always quick with a joke but capable with his hands. He played the guitar beautifully, and sometimes the tunes would stick with her for days afterwards. It was nice to have something to hum whilst washing clothing in the river, it felt natural.
The one person she hardly spoke to was that very man who she wanted to speak to most. Arthur Morgan, the stoic golden son of Dutch and Hosea. Everyone in camp spoke so highly of him and told stories of his many deeds as a young man. The way they spoke about him he could have been a devilish man without a brain, the fool that caused trouble and shot his way out of it expertly. Nothing about what they said matched his actions at all. Arthur was quiet when Riley took the time to study him. He hardly started conversations but was happy to continue when other people initiated them. Sometimes he would leave the camp for days, only to return with a prize deer on the back of his horse or a pouch full of money to contribute to the box. One thing everyone in the gang could agree on, however, was that Arthur provided for his family. In the ledger, he put in more money than anyone else, and somewhere in the back of her mind Riley knew she had to contribute as well. It was time for her to leave the camp soon, explore her new surroundings a little more and see who there was to rob unsuspectingly.
It was a sunny afternoon when she approached Dutch who sat quietly reading from his book by his tent. He didn’t raise his head as she approached, but slowly puffed outwards of his cigar.
“Do you read, Miss Jameson?” Dutch asked, eyes still lovingly stapled to his book.
“I can… I don’t often, though.” Riley responded, tucking her thumbs into her belt as she rocked back on her heels.
“It’s a wondrous thing…” Dutch said, finally looking up at her. “What has brought you to my humble tent?”
“I wanted to ask for your permission to leave the camp.” Riley started, subtly biting the inside of her lip. “I’m itchin’ to contribute to the funds, I can tell we’re low on supplies and… Well I gotta get out of here before Miss Grimshaw tries to make me wash the boy’s union suits again I can’t deal with that.”
Dutch laughed, a full belly laugh that had his face splitting into a grin. Riley couldn’t help but look away and try to hide her own smile.
“Miss, you do not need permission to leave this camp. We are not in the business of slaving; you’re your own woman. You want to contribute, be my guest. We could use another gun out there, especially seeing as Uncle’s… Lumbago… seems to be getting worse.” Dutch gave Riley a small smirk and a wink before delving back into his book.
“Just remember, you contribute to the camp funds as much as you can, but don’t leave yourself dry. A person has to look after his or herself in this day and age.”
Riley hummed, happy with the conversation, and turned to leave. She nodded in his direction, and licked her dry lips as she thought on the possibilities of where she could go.
Her map was an old and torn up piece of paper she’d borrowed from Javier. It marked locations of towns and ranches around their area, as well as rivers and some paths and roads that may take her elsewhere. She located Valentine and decided to find herself a mark just off to the right by that large river. Someone, somewhere, had to be down there.
With her goal in mind, Riley saddled up. She took Whip out of the hitching station and began making her way out of camp, passing by Kieran and Mary-Beth who were both keeping watch over the entrance. She nodded to them, having buried the hatchet with Kieran the day Dutch had let him stay with the gang, and went on her merry way.
It was a relief to finally be out in the open air. The sun on her skin felt divine, and the wind in her loose hair was all she needed to be one with the world. She urged Whip on faster, riding him out of his pent up energy from three weeks of little activity other than short rides around camp. He seemed to enjoy this as much as Riley, if not more.
She passed by wagons and stage coaches on her journey North; each one a potential target for robbery. Riley did consider them, but ultimately she wanted this moment of freedom for herself. She needed that racing sensation in her blood to climb higher and higher, the adrenaline pushing her further and further until she slowed down to allow Whip to rest. He’d earned it.
“Whoa, boy…” She said softly as the river came into view. It rushed by loudly, the perfect cover for sneaking up on some unsuspecting traveller.
On her side of the river she could see a man and a small camp. He was in the river with a bucket panning for gold as his horse stood hitched to a tree some distance away. Riley felt a small smile creep up onto her lips as she guided her horse closer and let him stop a few metres away. She dropped down from the horse and stalked close to the man, pulling up her bandana over her face and pulling her pistol from its holster on her hip. She cocked it and was pleased to find the noise masked by the roaring river.
“Stick ‘em up, Cowboy.” She said in a sturdy voice, her gun aimed directly at the man. He startled, raising his hands up above his bald head as she pushed the barrel of the gun to his back.
“Shit! There ain’t nothin’ here, I promise! God damn nothin’ in this river, not even a nugget!” The man whined, but Riley had no reason to believe him. She nudged him forwards and demanded he got to his knees facing the small fire he had. She used the opportunity to rummage through his belongings and found a lock box partially hidden under his bedroll. One swift smack with the back of her pistol had the box springing open easily, and inside she found a few goodies.
“Thought you said there weren’t no gold here, partner.” She said, casually rolling the small chunk of gold between her fingers. She could see the man curse and fold inwards on himself. She smiled, and pocketed the gold, closing the box to put it back under the bedroll. She hadn’t taken everything from him, she wasn’t cruel. There was a tin of hair pomade in there she had no use for, and felt no need to take. Gotta leave the poor guy with something.
Ten minutes later Riley was back on the open road, thundering along a road back towards Valentine. She held her hat low over her face until she was clear away from the scene of the robbery, and only then did she drop the bandana from her face and push her hat back up. She felt alive.
Once in Valentine, after finding someone to secretly sell the little chunk of gold too, Riley figured she’d earned herself a drink. The saloon was lively for late afternoon, most men in there either drunk or on their way. She could see the working girls up on the stairs above her and gave them a small nod, something she’d learned garnered trust and respect amongst people like them. Stepping up to the bar she leaned forwards between two men and ordered a whiskey. The man to her left was pretty drunk, but the man on her right was-
She did a double-take and stared for a second before falling into a small, welcoming smile.
“Howdy.” She said, thanking the bartender and handing him his coin. Arthur seemed just as surprised as she was to see her there and turned to lean on the bar facing her.
“You sneakin’ outta camp now, Miss?” He asked, voice thick with a heavy accent.
“Nah, ‘course not. Asked Dutch if it were okay if I go robbin’ and he said sure. Managed to get a good forty dollars for the camp.” She may be bragging, just a little.
Arthur seemed impressed, by any rate. He gave a low whistle and raised his hand to the bartender to ask for another drink. He was handsome, that was for sure. His jaw was strong and his shoulders were broad. Riley imagined every girl in camp must have tried it on with him at some point or another, though by the sounds of it nobody had gotten close to him. She wondered why that was. A man with baby blue eyes and rugged features surely could get a woman if he’d wanted one. Riley tapped her glass on the bar and drained her glass in one, grinning as she smacked it back down.
“An’ another fer the lady.” Arthur added, studying Riley whilst she grinned at him. “I don’t think we’ve had a proper introduction, Miss. I’m Arthur. Arthur Morgan.”
“Riley Jameson. And don’t call me Miss.” She said as they accepted their new drinks and tapped them on the bar in sync. The glasses clanked back down on the wood once drained, the both of them smirking at one another. This could turn out to be one hell of an interesting gang she’d joined.
Well I have had some questions about Arthur's TB case... You'll just have you wait and see if he gets it, that's all I'm saying. ;)
Chapter 6: When the night is over
Just two friends having a good time in the saloon. That's all.
- When the night is over by Lord Huron -
'I feel the weather change
I hear the river say your name
I watch the birds fly by
I see an emerald in the sky'
I fear I’ve gone and made a fool of myself again. I can hear Dutch’s voice now telling me to keep my head, so that’s what I’m going to do. Focus, Morgan, and stop being a fool.
Arthur woke up with a hard pain in his head and a cold dampness in his trousers. For a split second he genuinely thought he’d pissed himself, but once he was able to peel open his eyes to the torturously blinding light of day he found himself sitting in a puddle. Grunting, Arthur sat up and rubbed at his face with the back of his muddied hand. In the distance, he could hear birds and voices, and the sounds of carts and horses rolling down the roads of Valentine. That’s right, he’d been in the Valentine saloon the night before having a few drinks with that new girl, Jameson.
Suddenly aware of the company he had kept, Arthur frowned and glanced around himself for more clues as to what had happened the night before. His hat was in his lap so he stuck it back on his head, thankful for a little shade from the bright morning sun. His guns were still in their holsters, his satchel still by his side, and his horse he could see grazing on the green grass of the hill beneath the tree he sat under. Most importantly he still had his money, though significantly less than the last time he’d checked.
‘Damn, it must have been one hell of a night.’ Arthur thought as he lifted himself up out of the puddle and did his best to brush off the mud from his pants. He grunted when his bones cracked a little in his knees, and stretched his arms out to get some relief from the stiffness. Arthur whistled for his horse and she came trotting over obediently. She was new, a simple Tennessee Walker he’d bought in Valentine a few weeks back. A little skittish but she was fast, and that’s all Arthur really wanted. She came trotting over and whinnied loudly, the sound splitting his skull like a hammer. He hushed her, and as soon as she was calm he heard a smaller sound. It was a groan, but definitely not that of a man. Arthur looked around quickly, hand in position to grab his pistol should he need it.
Another groan was accompanied by the rustling of leaves from above his head, and Arthur looked up just in time to jump backwards to escape the river of vomit that spilled from the woman in the tree.
“Christ woman! What in god’s name are you doin’ up in that tree?!” Arthur asked as Riley wiped the back of her mouth with her hand.
“Good question. Don’t know. Gonna be-“ She heaved again and Arthur stepped back again to avoid the splash of liquid vomit. Dang it, he’d gone too far again last night. What a god damn no good drunk he was.
“Well shit, Jameson, how the hell did you get up there? Get down, you fool.” Arthur sighed like a disapproving father and Riley huffed irritably at him. She’d managed to sit up and adjust herself. Her overcoat was lost somewhere, but her weapons and her satchel were still over her back. Arthur watched as she checked herself over, making sure she was in one piece before she began sliding to the trunk of the tree.
“Lookin’ like a god damn squirrel…” He muttered, but he knew he was no better; covered in mud and whiskey like he was. “Guessin’ we had a whale of a time last night… You remember much of it?”
“I can’t remember my own name right now, Arthur, ask me again in two to three days.” Riley responded as she lowered herself down from the lowest branch. She swung for a second and dropped, immediately crumpling into a heap on the ground.
Arthur went to help her up and found her laughing, her hand covering her nose and mouth as if to stifle the giggles. She was cute when she laughed, and Arthur couldn’t help the small snort he gave as he hauled her up off the ground with her hand in his.
“Yep… Definitely gonna fit in fine with the gang I reckon. What was we celebratin’ again? You got a score or somethin’?” Arthur walked back to his horse and pet her on the neck, gently rooting through the saddlebag for an oatcake to feed her. She snorted it down happily like the good mare she was.
“Uh… Yeah, think so. It’s all still here.” Riley was counting her money from her coin bag when Arthur turned back around. He watched her as she frowned whilst counting. “Yep, all there. We should get back to camp before people think I’ve gone and run off.”
Arthur smirked and shook his head as Riley whistled for her horse. He could hear him trotting over from where he was grazing somewhere behind the tree and in no time they were both saddled up and back on the trail to camp.
They rode in silence mostly, both too hungover to consider speaking much more than they had to. It felt almost awkward to Arthur, like something hung between them that he couldn’t remember. He frowned as he mulled it over, one hand clenching the reigns whilst the other tried to tame his short hair into some semblance of order. He didn’t much have a clue how it got so stuck up, but he’d woken up in worse states from a night of drinking.
Once in a while Arthur would cast his eyes to the woman beside him. She would sit on her horse like she’d done it her entire life, but Arthur could see small signs of inebriation still. She swayed from side to side and the colour of her skin was a whole lot paler than he’d ever seen it. Her eyes kept closing for longer periods of time, and she’d breathe pretty shallow when the horses hit the unlevelled ground. Arthur found himself smiling like some kind of fool, so he bit the inside of his cheek and glanced off to the countryside instead to distract his thoughts. Maybe he’d be able to bring bits and pieces back together from the night before.
Two bottles of beer clanged together for what seemed like the hundredth time that night. Arthur was swaying in his seat and laughing like he hadn’t in a long time. The woman in front of him was telling a story that under normal circumstances wouldn’t have garnered such a reaction but tonight he was feeling good. He felt free.
The pair rode into camp quietly looking extremely sorry for themselves. Arthur hitched up his horse next to Riley’s and the second they stepped foot anywhere near the chuck wagon to see what Pearson had cooking, the banshee was upon them.
“Mr Morgan! Miss Jameson!” Came the shrill sound of Mrs Grimshaw’s voice. Arthur winced and closed his eyes for a second before almost guiltily turning around to face his certain doom. Riley did the same, though he could see her backing up inch by inch, slowly moving behind him. Great, he was a goddamn shield now.
“You two are filthy! Its no wonder the law considers us reprobates and cretins. Both of you wash up now!” She grabbed hold of Arthur’s arm and began hauling him away, and much to his dismay he watched Riley sneak away like the little weasel she was. He wouldn’t say anything to Grimshaw, no man or woman deserved that fate. He’d take it like a goddamn man.
Mrs Grimshaw dragged him over to the washbasin behind the chuck wagon, and stood by with her arms folded.
“You gonna watch me like some kinda naughty child?” Arthur asked with a sigh. She huffed and nodded, so he was forced to get to work and wash himself clean.
About ten minutes later Arthur was cleaner than before. His face and hair was washed, and he’d pulled on some new clothes. He felt more human than he’d felt when he woke up that morning, but still held a dull sickness feeling in his stomach. It didn’t rightly feel like the whiskey or beer, and Arthur couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
The bartender cut them off at around one in the morning according to the pocket watch he’d stolen from some poor unsuspecting drunkard. Arthur helped Riley out of the saloon seeing as she was so wobbly on her feet. He thought she was cute like that, all carefree and fun. Around camp she always seemed so damn serious, like a caged animal waiting for her moment to escape. How wrong he’d been, she was no feral dog, she was a goddamn Vixen.
He sheepishly handed Mrs Grimshaw some money for having supervised his wash and was finally allowed to return to his cot. He sat down heavily and rubbed at his temples with his fingers, willing himself to remember a little more of the prior night.
“…And that is how I singlehandedly robbed a banking coach with one bullet and a fist full of sand!” Riley smacked her hand down on her own knee as she threw back another swig of whiskey from the bottle they shared. Somehow they’d found themselves sat outside of the gunsmiths, thigh to thigh and shoulder to shoulder. She sat without her overcoat and Arthur could see little goosebumps rising on her arms where her old stripe shirt was rolled up at the sleeves. His eyes followed the line of her neck as she drank the whiskey like it was nothing.
“You’re fulla shit.” Arthur grinned, grabbing for the bottle to swig for himself. “And whiskey!”
Riley laughed heartily, standing up to put her hands on her hips.
“Ain’t that all a girl needs? Whiskey and lies?” She said, attempting to walk the edge of the wooden step with her arms outstretched. Arthur huffed and raised the bottle, swigging again. He dropped it to the ground when it was empty and watched her walk like she was some kind of circus girl. He saw her foot slip, her arms flail and in a second he was up and holding onto her with his arms around her waist.
“Woah there- I gotcha!” He slurred, unconsciously bringing her closer. She was giggling like a maniac with her arms and forehead bunched up against his chest. He could feel the vibrations of her laughter and it was infectious.
“Hey- Arthur…” She said, raising her head up and back to get a better look at him. They were so close now, almost within the grasp of something unspoken.
His hands flattened on her back and he could feel the heat of her through the thin shirt. He hummed in response and raised a brow. “What?”
Riley leaned forwards, her breath was warm against his lips and he felt the slowness of her words brush across his skin.
“You got real purdy eyes.” She said, softly, gazing at them like she’d witnessed a miracle. Arthur felt his cheeks go red.
Before either of them could make another move Riley was running out of his arms like a bullet from a gun. Her long hair trailed behind her as she ran for the edge of town, laughing wildly. It was then that Arthur saw his hat in her hand, and she cast her eyes back to him in an unspoken invitation to try and get it back. Not a snowballs chance in hell, he thought as he ran inelegantly after the girl. She was at the base of a spruce tree before he could bat an eyelid.
Chapter 7: Grave digger
Sometimes a little bonding with the gang is what you need to get your head out of your own ass.
- Grave Digger by Blues Saraceno -
'grave digger, grave digger
bring me to my knees
forget what i have done
forgive me if you please
save me if you can
the time for me has come
let me be the one that got away'
Fourty-eight hours had passed since Riley had made a total ass of herself, in front of Arthur of all people. She remembered bits of that night, like the laughter in the saloon and the drinks flowing like a waterfall. She remembered falling off a step and directly into Arthur’s arms like in one of Mary-Beth’s dime romance novels. Arthur had been warm against the length of her body, probably entirely from the drink. She remembered he smelled like sweat and whiskey, but something else that reminded her of the wind. Couldn’t quite put her finger on it though. Riley’s cheeks flushed bright red as the memory raced around her mind, so she put all of her attention and effort into the wood she was chopping.
She had a sheen of sweat on her brow after the first two logs, and carried on with gusto as her arms ached with a plesant and familiar burn.
Arthur’s lips had been inches from her own, so close she could feel his breath fanning across her face. Not the most plesant but in her drunken state she hadn’t thought twice. And as her mouth dried up and she studied the memory of his eyes she was painfully aware of what an absolute moron he would have thought her. And then to steal his hat and run off like a child? Pathetic.
Riley swung as hard as she could towards the log and split it clean in two. The axe lodged deep into the stump she used as a base, and now gravity wasn’t her friend as she tried to yank it out. Riley growled in frustration, planting her foot on the stump to use as leverage to lift herself and the axe out. No use, it was stuck fast. Fuck.
“Need some help?” Riley whipped around to the voice, one leg still up on the stump, hands curled around the handle of the axe, staring like she’d been caught in the act of something devious.
Charles offered a small smile, hands in his pockets and strong forearms on show under rolled up sleeves.
For a moment Riley wanted to snap at him, tell him to fuck off and say she had it under control. But she didn’t, that much was obvious. She’d exhausted herself chopping wood and so released the handle to put her hands on her hips and turn away to face the cliffside. Through sweat in her eyes she squinted at the sunset, chest heaving from exhursion. From behind her she could hear the sound of Charles grunting as he wrenched the axe free and settled it down beside the stump. He paused for a moment to consider her, and eventually made his way over to stand beside her looking over the vastness of New Hanover.
“Beautiful country.” He said, arms folded across his chest. Riley merely hummed a reply, eyes looking to the distance but not seeing anything. She sighed softly and wiped her face on her rolled up sleeve.
Charles didn’t push her and she appreciated that. There wasn’t a lot she had to say but having someone silently stand by her gave her a sense of comfort. Slowly her arms wound around her own waist and she pulled her thumb up to her mouth to bite on the nail. Charles was such a patient man that it made Riley feel a little guilty for not being able to speak her mind.
“I… think I messed up.” She said after several long minutes. They were far enough away from camp that nobody could hear, but she kept her voice low regardless. “Me and Arthur… we got really drunk and…”
Charles waited for her to finish before nodding in understanding. “He’s not somebody to get involved with like that… Well, that’s what he thinks. I’ve only been running with the gang for about six or seven months now but from what I’ve seen he keeps himself to himself. If you two did fool around-“
Riley spluttered, turning to face Charles with a rush of red in her cheeks.
“It wasn’t like that!” She said quickly, and Charles fell quiet to let her speak. “It- We didn’t- Do that… I mean, I don’t think we even kissed but… there was a bit of tension there, I think? It’s fuzzy, like someones wrapped that night in a cloud.” Riley frowned and slowly returned the thumb to her mouth. Charles smiled warmly and reached out to press his hand to her shoulder.
“Y’know, there’s no animosity in the camp if you two did end up…” He trailed off, leaving it up to Riley to fill in the blanks. She huffed but didn’t move away from his grip. It gave her something to think about, and may have eased a little of her anxiety. It was only then that she really realised that most of her anxiety had been focused on whether or not the other members of the camp would hate her for it.
“I don’t want to… I don’t want to be looked at like that.” She said, softly. “I don’t want them to think that’s all I joined the gang for.”
“I don’t think that.” Charles said, shrugging. He paused, giving his words a moment to sink in before speaking again and rubbing at his own chin. “Do you want to get away from the camp for a little bit? Pearson’s complaining again about the food storage getting low. I promised I’d bring him something for the stew soon. I could use a hunter…?”
The offer hung in the air before her like bait on a hook, and Riley bit eagerly. She nodded and unfurled her arms from around her body. That’s exactly what she needed, a little distraction from her own private drama.
As she made her way to her bedroll for supplies and then to her horse to mount up, Riley didn’t notice the eyes on her from the other side of the camp. Arthur stood leaning against a tree with a cigarette in his hand and his hat low on his head. The smoke curled up around his fingers as he puffed, before stubbing it out on the ground with the heel of his boot and heading off back to his cot.
A few hours later when the camp was dark and quiet, Riley and Charles slipped back in with a whitetail deer each strapped to the backs of their horses. They propped them on the table at the chuckwagon and spoke quietly with each other for a moment, both relishing in the strange silence of the camp.
It only lasted a moment, however, before Javier came striding up to Charles with purpose in his eyes.
“We got a lead on where Sean is.” Javier said, hand on his gun belt. “Dutch wants us to go meet Trelawny in Blackwater, we need an extra gun.”
“What about Arthur?” Charles asked, dropping a rabbit pelt on the table beside the doe he’d caught.
“Meeting us there. Said he had to go tend to some business in Strawberry first.” Javier and Charles both began making their way to the horses with purpose, leaving Riley standing by the chuckwagon alone.
She wondered what sort of business Arthur had to do in Strawberry, but quickly dropped it from her mind. It wasn’t her concern, and anyhow she had to go find Pearson and let him know about the donation her and Charles had made. Charles had been a good man today in helping her get out of her own head, but now she was stuck with that old habit again of worrying over the night before. It was late, and she needed to get some rest. Dutch had said he wanted to speak with her in the morning, and she had a rough feeling in her stomach about it.
Your comments give me life, lads, keep em coming :D
Chapter 8: We can't go to hell if we're already there
Arthur rescues Sean and Micah to keep his mind off Jameson, but in the end he's forced to work on a robbery with her at Dutch's request.
- Can't go to hell by Sin Shake Sin -
'It's too early for surrender
Too late for a prayer
We can't go to hell if we're already there
They say the end is coming
And I need to prepare
We can't go to hell if we're already there'
I have no idea what Dutch sees in that cowboy, Micah. He’s been running with us for months now and just don’t seem to fit in. I don’t actually think anyone in the gang likes him, save for himself. Today he damn near got me killed in Strawberry in a huge shoot out with the entire damn town. If it weren’t for Dutch I’d have shot him myself weeks ago, and now this.
I’m no better I suppose. What a fool I am to have gotten so drunk with that hussy. No, that’s not true. I can’t say stupid things like that. It’s not uncommon for women to be disgusted by me, I should be used to that by now, but the flirting with Charles so soon after? Now that hurt. Maybe I don’t have much to say on the matter. It’s not my business.
The wind roared past him as he raced his horse down the pathway from Strawberry towards New Hanover. Arthur grabbed onto his hat to keep it firmly in place and urged Gypsy on with a quick squeeze of his knees and a rough ‘Come on!’. She picked up the pace whenever Arthur gave a quick squeeze with his thighs, but she wasn’t as fast as he needed her to be. He needed that wind to whip around his face, cool breezes to caress through his hair. She wasn’t quite getting him to where he wanted to be, but that wasn’t her fault. A while back, before John was even a part of the gang, Arthur had owned a stallion that was bigger than he was. He was an incredible horse; quick to bond with Arthur and quicker to get him away from danger. Arthur had named him Buckshot, and ironically enough it was a buckshot that killed him. A botched robbery and Arthur lost the best horse he’d ever owned.
They’d got Sean safe and sound, thankfully, away from the bounty hunters and he was now on his way back to camp with Javier. Arthur had been glad to see that Irish boy alive, though a little beaten and bruised. None of it had taught him a lesson about running his mouth apparently, Sean was always going to be like that no matter what happened. A sarcastic joker with too much personality for one kid to have.
Arthur had sustained a few injuries in the fight, not like that was anything new. His left arm burned from a bullet graze and he could feel the coolness of his blood drying against his skin. He’d ended up grappling with one of the bounty hunters at one point, both of them throwing good punches. For a moment Arthur had thought the other guy might actually win when Charles shot him dead. Another man’s blood-drenched his shirt, a brand new one he’d bought in Valentine a couple of days ago. Damn his rotten luck.
Gypsy began to lag as they raced along the bank of a long and winding river. Arthur let her slow down to a trot, eyes pinned to the mountains above them. He could see a bald eagle perched on the cliffside, his eye on the water. Arthur studied him for a moment before focusing back on the road ahead. It had been a full 24-hours since he left camp to lose himself in the mission. A whole day devoted to saving the dumb ass members of the gang he was obliged to protect. Sean wasn’t so much of an issue but Micah…
He’d shot up a whole town because of that boy, damn it. Arthur still had a bitter taste in his mouth and could practically see the blood on his hands from one man’s stupid god damn revenge mission. He’d never liked Micah, but this really did kick the mule.
Arthur rode back into camp with many thoughts on his mind. First thing’s first, he needed to get himself clean before Miss Grimshaw clocked him. There was a celebration going on now Sean was back, and Arthur could hear him making drunken toasts around the campfire. People were happy, laughing and drinking, but he didn’t quite fancy the company. Leaning his hands on the edges of the bucket, Arthur watched his family celebrate. Riley sat on a log near to Charles, her hand clasped around a bottle of beer but not once did he see her raise it to her lips. Javier was strumming his guitar, and he could hear the lyrics to a song he didn’t understand crooning from his lips. With a sigh, the cowboy focused on washing his arm clean so that he could wrap a bandage around it. That’ll do until he could see Miss Grimshaw about it.
“Arthur! Just the man I’m after.” Dutch’s unmistakable voice caused Arthur to turn his head midway through putting on a clean button-down shirt.
“Dutch.” He greeted him, leaning on the side of the wagon as he fished a cigarette out of his pocket and struck a match on the sole of his boot.
“My boy, I have a lead I need you to follow up on. See I was in town not long ago and I happened to run into a man by the name of Roderick Fletcher. He told me, after a few well-placed whiskeys, that he was a man employed under Leviticus Cornwall and that in a few days time he was to drive a coach of arms to his oil plantation just south of here. Now my good friend says that the hired guns switch between Citadel Rock and Twin Stack Pass. For a small window of time, that coach will be guarded by two men and two men only.” Dutch wound his arm around Arthur’s shoulder as he spoke, his own cigar between his fingers gesturing subtly. “I need you to get hold of that coach, Arthur. Not alone, of course not, I already got you a partner for the job. Should be fun, be ready to ride out at sun up.” Arthur nodded and mentally ran through what sort of guns he may want to take with him.
“Javier?” He asked though a small cough as Dutch began to walk back to his own tent.
“No, you’re taking Jameson. I reckon who better to take on her first high stakes robbery than my most trusted and experienced gunman.” Dutch waved Arthur off with a smile and disappeared behind his tent flap. Arthur closed his eyes and cursed, running his hand through his damp hair to push it out of his eyes. Damn it, this would be one hell of an awkward mission. That night was still raw in his mind, and Riley hadn’t spoken so much as a word to him since. He figured she must have felt terrible about the whole thing and wanted to forget it ever happened.
The morning came far too fast for his liking. Arthur rolled out of his bed and began to pack his satchel for what he may need in the day’s events. The birds whistled in the trees above them, and distantly he could hear the rush of the river. At this time in the morning the guard duty would swap, and Bill slowly slumped off to bed whilst Lenny took his rifle and moved off to the entrance of the camp. Things seemed fine, but Arthur couldn’t see Riley anywhere. He trudged over to his horse and gave her a few soft pets before checking her saddlebags for the weapons he planned on taking. Everything was set, now he just needed his accomplice. Why Dutch couldn’t have just told him to take Mary-Beth or Karen he’d never know. This sort of plan was a Dutch speciality. The lost lady in need of help, it really was a camp favourite. It got the girls out, it got the boys excited, sometimes they even got a good take out of it. But Jameson? Arthur was damn sure she was not the person to be taking on this sort of mission.
After waiting for a few minutes Arthur sighed loudly and went to find where that girl had gone off to. He checked her bedroll and found it empty aside from the core of an apple sitting next to the pillow. Arthur frowned, confused as to where she could be when he heard a short whistle from near the horses. Riley was already on her steed with a hat worn low on her face. She held a rifle in her hands, one with a long scope that looked really well cared for.
“Come on, let’s go. Take this.” She said, tossing him the gun. Arthur caught it in one hand and frowned as he approached her, keeping his voice low so as to not wake anyone in the camp.
“The hell is this for? I already got guns.” He said with a frown.
Riley rolled her eyes and shrugged. “It ain’t for keeping. Just thought you’d need an extra sight from up there on the hill.”
“What hill? I’m stickin’ close, don’t go gettin’ any ideas.”
“I don’t think so, you get anywhere near that coach lookin’ like a bandit and they’ll shoot first ask questions later.”
Arthur bit his tongue and sighed, sliding the rifle over his shoulder. He didn’t want to argue with her.
“Fine.” He bristled, a frown etching its way onto his brow.
Arthur mounted his horse and gently urged her out of camp with Riley in tow. For the most part they rode in silence, only speaking to occasionally go over the plan’s finer details. Riley would swap into some more feminine clothing once they were at the location and rush off into the road to play-act the lost and lonely lady. She’d swoon and faint or something like that, and Arthur, from his place on the hill, would wait for the men to come down from the coach to check on her. With the coach unguarded he’d pick off one whilst Riley took care of the other. It was simple enough, an easy job that in his opinion didn’t need so much fooling around. Arthur could handle it fine.
In the back of his mind he toiled with his thoughts. He was still a little hurt at the thought of Riley leading him on like she had that night. As much as he wished he’d been in his right mind he wasn’t, and no manner of wishing could make time turn back. He wished he’d never drank with her like he did. Or maybe that she wasn’t so damn fun to be around. It wasn’t that he blamed her for not wanting to be with him, not at all. It was more the fact that he had no idea what to make of her. First thing she’s all stoic and quiet, next she’s free and drunk and making flirty comments, and then she’s quiet again and avoiding him. Maybe she thought she’d made a mistake. Maybe he was a mistake, he thought sourly.
“Just over the ridge there. We’ll get a good vantage point.” Riley said, breaking him from his thoughts. He followed her line of sight and grunted in agreement, before trotting on with his horse.
Setting up took less than a minute. Arthur found a good spot with enough cover that he shouldn’t be seen from the ground. He checked the rifle, brushing his fingers across the leather wrap on it’s handle. It was a well looked after gun, and he wondered where she’d got it and why she had it in the first place.
“Charles let me borrow it.” Riley answered his unspoken question, and something tightened in Arthur’s chest. Well, that settled that then. He grunted again in acknowledgement.
Behind him he could hear Riley shifting on her feet. He didn’t turn to look. They had a job to do, none of this petty stupidity need get in the way.
“So… I wanted to-“ Riley was cut off by Arthur quickly grabbing her wrist and dragging her down into a crouch. He held up a finger to his lips and pointed over the ridge at the coach driving by. It was fast, too fast for a casual drive. And it was far too early. Riley was silent beside him, their shoulders touching as they assessed the situation.
Below them the coach was being pulled by four horses, all working their hardest to speed up with each crack of the reigns. Behind the coach were five riders, each wearing black bandanas over their faces. The hail of bullets whizzed through the air and that poor coach guard was frantically firing back over his shoulder. He didn’t have a chance in hell of getting out of this alive, Arthur thought. Damn it.
“Someone’s robbin’ the coach!” Arthur growled, quickly rising to his feet. “Come on! Change of plan, we’re going after it!”
Chapter 9: Whatever it takes
- Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons -
'Whatever it takes
'Cause I love the adrenaline in my veins
I do whatever it takes
'Cause I love how it feels when I break the chains
Whatever it takes'
So I hope y'all had a good Christmas! Here's chapter 9 for you!
The furious sound of hooves on a dirt road had alerted the local wildlife to scatter fearfully. Herds of whitetail deer ran for the cover of trees whilst flocks of buzzards ascended from the desert floor. In their wake they left behind a flurry of dust and sand that rose up around them like a tornado. Distantly the gunshots were coming closer. They echoed through the afternoon air in bursts, starting out as a quiet pop before blossoming into a deafening cacophony of gunfire and smoke. The hooves beat the ground incessantly to the beat of their hearts, racing towards the fight with guns raised and bandanas up. Riley urged Whip on with quick squeezes of her thighs, and her stallion reacted perfectly. He neighed high and sharp when they finally joined the orchestra of gunshots, preparing to increase the tempo with a battle cry of their own.
Arthur took the lead on this one, charging forward like an angry bull at a red flag. He was firing his weapon at the five riders in front of them, who up until now hadn’t noticed the addition to the party. Riley took to swerving to the left, edging closer and closer to flank one of the riders and line up her shot. She could shoot well enough from a distance, anyone with a bit of practice could, but whilst on horseback galloping obsessively towards certain doom, that took practice and skill. Riley fired her pistol at the back of the rider and caught his shoulder. He turned around with a bark and yelled for his companions.
“Boys! We got company!” The man called out, holding onto his shoulder but still able to hold his gun steady enough to shoot at her. Riley swerved again, directing Whip right so that she could fall behind them once again. She threw some covering fire at the men who turned in time to witness her as she ducked down low on her horse to keep out of the way of bullets.
Rivets of dust trailed behind them like smoke from a gun. Before them the coach was still frantically attempting to meet it’s guard, but it would be far too late for them. Riley and Arthur had mutually decided on a plan before they’d even got on the horses. Kill them all, take it all, and get the hell out of town. It was the way of the outlaw, after all.
Several bullets rained down in Riley’s direction as she began to reload her gun again. It was difficult on the back of a horse at full speed, but she’d done this once or twice before to know a few little tricks. She’d hold a bullet between her teeth whilst she opened the chamber, so rather than having the bullets rattle around in the small box she had them firmly where she could grab them.
To her right a man fell off his horse after falling victim to Arthur’s aim, and was promptly dragged a hundred yards away by the spooked mare. The man’s foot had caught in his stirrup, something that Riley had experienced once on her family farm when she first learned how to ride. It had been unpleasant to say the least so the guy was lucky he was dead. Arthur was charging forwards again, already firing shot after shot at the next rider in front of him.
Throwing her gun up, Riley shot at the nearest rider. He was on a black and white Tennessee Walker, a strong horse that was galloping for it’s life. Riley could see fear in the animal's eyes, however, the emotion was not mirrored in the eyes of his rider. The man looked wild and gleeful; it looked like he was enjoying himself. She fired a round at him but missed, only serving to alert him to her presence. He whipped around to her and fired his gun, effectively shooting the hat right off her head. Riley’s eyes widened as she felt the whoosh of cool air on her scalp. Her hand quickly went to assess the damage and she breathed a sigh of relief when she felt no blood.
“Hey! It’s a girl!” The man in front of her yelled, prompting the others to look back at her briefly. “Y’all seein’ this? A girl thinkin’ she can take down O’Driscoll boys!”
Something slowed down in Riley’s mind as she heard his words. Time seemed to stop around her, and she found herself reaching for a new pistol on her left hip. Ice ran down her spine as she raised the gun, teeth and jaw clenched tight. Her heart beat slowly, and she focused on that sound as she aimed the gun.
Fire on empty lungs.
The bullet exploded from her gun at almost point-blank range, tearing through the neck of the O’Driscoll raider. He slumped forward, his horse neighing wildly and straying off course. Riley took his position and the world returned to normal. This time, however, her lungs burned with the embers of her ruined home, and smoke-filled her mouth with each exhale.
Riley’s rage was silent yet precise. She shot another man and managed to get him in the shoulder, a wound that had him crying out in pain and dropping his gun with a curse. Riley focused on the next man but he was already yelling at his companion to drop the matter and run. Goddamn cowards, she’d kill every last one of them. Spurring her horse on faster she managed to catch up to them just as they veered off across the plains through the Heartlands. The coach was still on the road, and for a very brief moment she glanced over to it.
Arthur was riding alongside the coach, preparing to jump from his mare to the carriage. The men in the driving seat were dead and slumped over, but the horses were still running wildly. He wormed his way into the seat, pulling on the reigns hard and gave loud commands to convince the horses to stop. Riley could hear it all happening behind her as she growled out a ‘Come on!’ and began the chase once again.
She wasn’t far enough away to hear Arthur shouting angrily after her. She wasn’t far enough away to hear the bullet ricochet off the coach lockbox. But she was far enough away to not care in the slightest.
Riley rode like her life depended on it, and began gaining ground on the riders. She shot at them again but her eyes were blurred with the blood-red mist of anger, causing her to miss more and more. She was running out of time, running out of bullets, and they were getting away. As she quickly reached for her shotgun, the last weapon on her horse that was fully loaded, she happened to glance up and see the barrel of a Cattleman Revolver pointing exactly in her direction. She sucked in a breath, time slowed once more, and the shot flew hot and true through the air as her eyes began to close.
The sudden jolt and scream from her horse caused her to lose her grip on the reigns. Riley felt the ground before she saw it, sand and rocks and dust clogging her airways. She tumbled down and over Whip who’d collapsed and skidded another metre or so where he’d fell. Riley landed on her front, hands outstretched to slow her crash but far too late to stop the impact into the boulder. She clenched her eyes shut, as it got closer and closer, and then- nothing.
“…Jameson! Jameson! Goddammit, girl, hey! Wake up!” The voice was muffled and fuzzy like someone had taken a cloud and bundled her up inside it. She felt warm, warmth that was incredibly inviting considering the terrible ache in her body. She welcomed it with open arms but it had betrayed her and it was a searing heat. A buzz echoed in her ears and slowly grew louder and louder like the call of cicadas. A small frown creased between her brows as Riley turned her head away from the angry voice.
The heat was on her eyelids now, and a new sensation slowly fruited. She felt a wet feeling on her cheeks, something that burned like the summer sun itself but slowly cooled into a spring stream. It came thick and fast over her right eye, making it unbearable to even attempt to open them. Riley clenched her jaw as new sensations began to make themselves known. She felt the length of something pressing to her back and realised it was the ground. Shadows danced behind her eyelids and she knew them to be the world outside. The voice was getting louder.
“You’re a god damn fool!” Someone was growling. Was it a wolf? A man? Riley couldn’t tell. Slowly she opened her eyes and saw through the blinding sunlight that she was still in the Heartlands, but instead of riding her horse against the wind she was pinned beneath him, weighed down by the incredible weight of her dead companion.
“Jesus Christ, woman, what the hell was you thinkin’?” Arthur asked, but his voice was lighter. Was he relieved? Had he been worried?
Arthur slowly sat her up and pressed a bottle to her lips, gently tipping it back. The medicine washed over her lips and she drank what she could before coughing the rest onto her shirt. Above her, Arthur was checking for other injuries that may have needed immediate action. Riley realised then that she’d smacked her head on the boulder on the landing, causing a great diagonal gash from the root of her hair to her eyebrow. She winced as her fingers brushed over the injury, serving only to remind her for the events that had transpired.
“They were O’Driscolls.” Riley said, voice cracking as Arthur stood up. His shoulders were tense, his hands clenched around both his pistol and his belt. He looked furiously at her, but Riley was in no state to care.
“And you thought that instead of takin’ the coach you’d go after them boys that ran?!” Arthur asked, angrily. He was moving now, roughly finding purchase on Whip’s saddle to pull it up and away from Riley’s leg. The release of pressure was relieving, and she quickly scuttled backwards until her back hit the boulder she’d collided with.
“You coulda’ got us both killed, you damn fool! Dutch was wrong, I shoulda’ never taken you on this robbery. I ain’t here to play some idiot girl’s revenge games! Whatever they did to you, they did to all of us. You ain't special, Jameson, and you sure as shit ain’t immortal.” Arthur’s words hurt but they hardly touched her. He wasn’t her concern right now. He wasn’t what caused her heart to squeeze uncomfortably.
“They killed Whip.” She said as she stared into the lifeless eyes of her steed. “They killed my horse.”
Arthur was quiet for a moment, his steely gaze locked on her battered and bruised face, before whistling for his mare to ride back over to them. Riley’s jaw was clenched as she stared at her friend on the ground, hands balled into fists as that familiar feeling of ice ran down her spine.
Her partner in this particular crime had searched the saddlebags of her horse, taking anything of value that they could use back at camp. She didn’t want to see this man defile the memory of her friend, not like he was just another corpse to loot. Riley closed her eyes as the familiar burning feeling began to prickle them. She tensed her muscles and sucked in a breath, fighting the screaming in her legs as she began to rise from the ground. It was hard work but she managed to use the boulder for support and stand on her own two feet.
Wiping the blood from her face with the back of her hand, Riley limped towards Arthur’s horse and blankly stared as he mounted her. He held out his arm and she grabbed hold of him, hefting herself up behind him. She settled her hands on his sides and held onto his coat, and once he was satisfied she wasn’t going to fall off and die he clicked his tongue and began the ride back to camp. There wasn’t much to say on the journey home. They clearly had no arms from the coach robbery; it had been a huge goddamn disaster that was all her fault. If she’d just done as expected none of this would have happened. They’d have a take to prove to Dutch she was more than just another camp hand. They’d have money, maybe, as well. And worst of all she would still have had Whip, her loyal friend who now lay in the desert with buzzards and skeletons for company.
When they made it back to camp, Arthur didn’t speak with her as he helped her down from her horse. He pretty much took all of her weight over to Swanson, who for once in the entire time Riley had been there was sober. She spent a good while under the care of him and Miss Grimshaw, both of whom gave her lectures about using up camp supplies on such injuries. By the time she actually returned to her bedroll, exhausted and in pain, she found a small square of cloth sat just on top of her pillow. On closer inspection, she could see it was a horses blanket. It was the very same blanket she used to saddle Whip.
Chapter 10: Hellfire
- Hellfire by Barns Courtney -
Lock your doors
I'm ready to go
Burn in an alleyway
Through a dead end street
Murdering promises that I just can't keep'
That robbery was a whole heap of trouble waiting to come back on us. Jameson is foolish and headstrong. She does not listen to reason, she relies on her emotions to guide her, and she will not take no for an answer.
She reminds me of someone I know all too well.
A week had passed since the botched robbery, and as far as everyone in camp was concerned there just hadn’t been a successful take. Arthur hadn’t lied exactly, he’d just omitted the truth in certain parts. Mainly because he did not want to have to explain why he didn’t stay behind and take the coach like Dutch had asked. He didn’t fully understand it himself, but instead of take the reigns he’d gotten right back on his horse and galloped after Riley as quick as he could. She was already on the ground by the time he’d caught up, and that image stayed in his mind underneath the darkness of his eyelids for a solid four days afterwards.
He regretted the things he said.
There wasn’t a single thing he’d said that wasn’t true but Arthur knew he was capable of softer words. The girl was younger than him and in some ways he could see a little of his own grief in her. The loss she held inside of her soul was hidden deep, but Arthur could see that pain in her eyes when she’d sat on the dusty bones of the desert in front of her lost companion. He must have looked exactly the same when he’d lost Buckshot.
For the most part Arthur kept busy around the camp. He brought in game, pelts and contributed to the ledger like clockwork. As Riley was now taking some time to recover under the strict eye of Miss Grimshaw, he’d taken on her duty of chopping wood whilst Charles and Javier had shared the other chores. Arthur was stalling for time, he knew he was, but he just did not want to answer the letter Micah had sent a few days prior. It was a request to meet him soon, something about a coach robbery, something else about not being chicken. He hated it. The letter had been burned the second he’d finished reading it. But Dutch had been asking after Micah and Arthur figured his time was running out. There just wasn’t a way around it.
Camp was quiet when he left that morning. Arthur glanced over the sleeping figures of his family and quietly urged his horse onwards. His eyes lingered for a moment or two longer on the still form of Riley with his jaw clenched and eyes narrowed. She hadn’t spoken a word to him since the robbery. They’d surely crossed paths in camp, as small as it was, but not a single word was uttered between them. Arthur felt the nagging guilt in his stomach twisting like vines around his insides. The vines were sharp with thorns and dug into his soft parts whenever he stared at her from across the camp.
As Arthur rode to Strawberry once again he thought about how he could potentially talk to her. He wasn’t one to hold a grudge but he’d known men that did, and women too. Women, actually, were worse. Back when he was sweet on Mary Linton she’d somehow compile a list of all the things he’d done to make her mad at him, some things he didn’t even know he’d done. But he was young, foolish, and headstrong. So was she, but in a much different way. Riley reminded him of her a lot, actually, but there was definitely something different between the two.
Shaking the thoughts out of his head, Arthur settled on a short and sweet resolve. When he got back to camp tonight he would make amends with Jameson. He didn’t like the thought of her being mad at him, so his idea was to apologise and promise to make it up to her. He’d done similar things for the girls in camp from time to time. One year back before Micah was a part of the gang, Arthur had inadvertently told Karen that the brand new dress she’d bought in town looked like something his dead mother would have worn. He’d meant it as a compliment, honestly, he did, but looking back at his words he could see why she’d taken offence. It took two weeks of apologising and a gift of fine (stolen) jewellery to make it up to her. That seemed to always be Arthur’s problem. He just didn’t know what to damn well say half the time.
Micah was back, and the atmosphere in the camp could not have been thicker. The way that man swaggered back in made Arthur curl his fingers tighter around the reigns of his mare whilst he hitched her up. Micah walked in arms outstretched as if expecting the girls to flock to him like flies on shit. Obviously nobody did. In fact, scarcely anyone gave him the time of day aside from Dutch. Arthur busied himself with the care of his horse as he watched, eyeing the blond man suspiciously as he gesticulated his story of why he’d not come back straight away. Dutch seemed satisfied with the story, though why and how Arthur did not know. But Dutch being Dutch had a plan, and Arthur being Arthur would follow that plan even if it involved that snake of a man.
Arthur hated the fact that he’d brought this man back to the camp. He watched whilst he made his rounds, chatting with anyone that would listen about how he’d almost ‘single-handedly taken down a stagecoach’ whilst Arthur had cowered in fear. Thankfully the rest of the gang was able to see through this rat’s disguise, they knew what he was. Arthur didn’t have any worries about the men and Micah’s stories. It was the women and his… unwanted advances that made him mad. Micah was already sliding back up to Abigail, his clear favourite, who stood patiently chopping vegetables for that evening’s stew.
“How you keepin’ Abigail?” Micah asked, picking up a beer from the crate. Even the way he moved made Arthur’s skin crawl.
“Just fine.” She responded, hardly looking up from her task.
“You know I never told you this but… you’re quite a woman.” Micah leaned on the bench she worked on, getting far too close to her for comfort. She didn’t blanch, she merely ignored him.
“Thank you.” She spat, shortly.
“Quiiiiiite a woman… you could make a feller real happy, bet you know how…” As Micah looked like he was about to say something else, Abigail cut him off by holding up her knife almost casually in his direction. Micah backed off instantly, hands up but with that same slimy smirk on his face as before.
“I got work to do.”
That’s how it went. Micah would pick a target, try and sweeten them up with fake words, and then go in for the kill like the strike of a rattlesnake. Deadly, loud, and unnecessary. Arthur finished brushing Gypsy free of the dirt she’d collected in the day’s ride, and began making his way back to his set up when he heard Micah’s voice again. This time he stopped and stared pointedly as this disgusting man leaned over the bedroll of Riley Jameson.
“Well howdy.” He said, slowly drawling his words as Riley looked up from her book. She still had cuts and grazes on her face from the fall, and a purple and green bruise around her left eye. She studied him for a moment before nodding. Somebody had to have told her about this man, one of the girls had to have warned her. Arthur found himself hoping she wouldn’t fall for his tricks.
“Didn’t know we got another… woman around camp.” He said, licking his lips as he leaned on the wagon.
“Well… Here I am.” Riley said quietly, and Arthur had to move closer to the round table to hear, inconspicuously looking like he was collecting dishes.
“Yeah, you are alright… Say, why don’t me and you take ourselves away behind those wagons there…?” Micah was gesturing with his hand, his other lodged firmly in his gun belt. Arthur felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
“…No.” Riley stood up and began making her way to the chuck wagon, anywhere that wasn’t near Micah. He followed her like a bad smell.
“Because! Because, sweetheart, I gots needs and, well, look’s like the last man to have you weren’t kind. I can be kinder, though I ain’t opposed to a little-“ Before Micah could finish his sentence he was on the ground with his hands covering his mouth. The loud smack echoed through the camp, causing Arthur to whip around to see what had happened.
Riley stood over Micah with her fist clenched and face red. She stared down at the man with steel in her eyes and pointed a finger at him sharply.
“Don’t talk to me.” She said, voice calm and quiet despite her obvious rage. Fire danced behind her green eyes as she stared him down, and it was only with a quick glance that Arthur could see her hand was shaking a little. She was gone before he could take a single step forwards, off to the cliffside where Strauss would sometimes sit.
Micah, with his tail tucked between his legs, slithered off to nurse his pride and his broken nose. As much as he tried to fight it, Arthur couldn’t help the satisfied smirk that sat on his own lips. Maybe Riley had some fight in her that Arthur didn’t agree with, but she certainly had a lot of fight he could get behind.
With a smile on his lips and an idea in his mind, Arthur walked back over to the horses where Gypsy was grazing on grass. He saddled her up and left camp again, only this time with a lighter goal in mind. Maybe a new horse would cheer Jameson up.
Chapter 11: Renegades
- Renegades by X Ambassadors -
'Long live the pioneers
Rebels and mutineers
Go forth and have no fear
Come close the end is near'
Happy new year! Have some chapter 11!
Names are a curious thing.
They can hold your future in a vice-like grip with several little words making up something infamous. The truth is a bad name can drag you down into the mud with the pigs for the rest of your life if you’re not careful. Take the name O’Driscoll, for example. It made your blood run sour just thinking it, made your tongue shrivel with each letter pronounced. Over the weeks she’d known an O’Driscoll, however, her opinion had changed slightly. Kieran was a boy at heart with kind eyes and a kinder soul. He didn’t deserve the name O’Driscoll much less than she did, and yet he was branded with it now. Like a scar it stuck to him, and everyone had a different reaction to it. Most of the men in camp sneered, and one time she actually saw Sean headbutt poor Kieran just for his past choice of companions. Maybe it was then that Riley decided she liked Kieren.
Some names gave her joy to hear, and some made her heart hurt. But mostly, as with most people she met, the names she learned would leave her mouth full of dust and needles. Several names did that to Riley’s tongue over the course of the years.
Micah Bell was a new one.
From the day she met him she hated him and his flirtatious bullying. The other girls in the camp had taken to warning her when he was around, and even some of the boys too. It seemed that from the get-go, with a punch to the nose and warning spat from her lips, she’d sealed her own fate with this wretch of a man. He had not left her alone since. For Riley, this meant not having a moments peace in camp. There was always a blonde rat sitting near to her at the table as she drank her morning coffee. In the evening when she tried to read her book by the fireplace he was there, talking in a voice so infuriating she could swear it turned the flames green with disgust. Her strategy for dealing with him was the road less taken: Ignorance. She pretended he simply was not there and therefore, she could not hear his swamp of a mouth or see the slime in his teeth. What she could see was a delicious soup in front of her, a steaming cup of coffee, and Lenny sat across from her trying to convey a secret message with his eyes asking if she wanted help.
The boys in the camp were mostly good. Sure, they had some complainers like Bill, Uncle and Pearson, but they were alright men as far as she was concerned. It was Micah that made bile rise in her throat whenever he began walking in her direction whilst she was chopping wood. Sometimes she’d get lucky and one of the men would sidetrack him along his way. Others times she’d have to suffer his ceasless bragging about his many exploits. Did that punch not teach him a damn thing?
It had been a few days since Micah had come back to camp when Arthur came back home. Riley had noticed his absence stuck out like a sore thumb. His big frame wasn’t there as a constant reminder that he held the backbone of this gang. He wasn’t there to contribute big chunks of venison to the pot, or offer to go to the local town and get their weekly supplies. His absence only seemed to spur Micah on, as well. She had a sneaky suspicion that he wouldn’t be as hard to cope with if Arthur were back in camp.
When he arrived Riley was sat by the morning fire with a cup of coffee in her hands. She’d had time to do a lot of thinking in the past few weeks, and she’d decidedly come to the conclusion that she had to strike up some form of communication with Arthur. She wanted to make up to him the massive failure of her robbery, to pay him back for the trouble she’d caused. Riley just needed to get into town, get herself a horse, and she’d be back in the game.
Now that Arthur was back in camp, slowly hitching up his horse all careful like, Riley felt knots twist in her stomach. She wasn’t so sure anymore about her plan, but managed to swallow the anxiety enough to pour a second cup of coffee in her cup and march over to the Cowboy.
“Mornin’.” She greeted him softly, tipping her hat back so that it wouldn’t hide her face. No hiding from his, no sir.
Arthur turned, hands still tangled in the cinch, and cleared his throat.
“Mornin’, Miss.” He said, finishing his task before turning to face her. Riley smiled a little at the care he put into his horse, admiring how she was always clean and happy unlike some of the other horses in camp.
“Gotcha some coffee… Figured you’d need it.” Riley extended the cup like an olive branch, and Arthur with only a split second of surprise on his face took it gratefully. She watched him grunt a thank you and take a gulp.
A moment of silence wrapped around their conversation like vines, and as Arthur shifted on his feet almost uncomfortably Riley opened her mouth to speak.
“I wanted to-“
Both outlaws stopped and smiled at each other like dumb teenagers did when they were sweet on one another. Riley nodded at Arthur, asking him silently to continue as she shoved her thumbs into her gun belt.
“Wanted to say m’sorry.” Arthur gruffed out, eyes on his own boots. “Shouldn’a said none of them harsh words just when you’d lost yer horse. Wasn’t a kind thing to do.”
Riley pressed her lips together and nodded. She really appreciated that.
“Weren’t like it was lies.” She said with a small laugh, finding her footing now through their conversation. “I was one hell of an idiot and I paid the price. I was comin’ over here to tell you sorry too. I really did fuck up that take. I wanna make it up to you. I heard about a couple men ridin’ a coach through Valentine today that’re carryin’ a lot of cash on them. Made friends with the Clerk in the train station, he passed me a little bit of information after a drink or two in town.”
Arthur had switched during her time speaking. Instead of pushing the mud around with the heel of his boot he was listening intently, one hand laid over his pistol and the other scratching at his freshly shaven chin. He nodded, and sighed. For a moment Riley thought he’d say no, that he’d take someone else on the job and bring her back a share or something.
“Well… sounds fine to me. Only problem though is you’ll be needin’ a horse.” Arthur stepped away from Riley to began walking around Gypsy towards a horse that was just beside her. Before now Riley hadn’t noticed the white Arabian horse stood gorging itself on hay. Arthur patted her side and worked his hand up to her neck, stroking down the length of it softly.
“Luckily, I came across this lady whilst I was up in the mountains. She’s feisty, took me two whole days to catch her. Reminded me of you a lil’ bit.” The horse huffed almost like she was responding to Arthur, and Riley stepped forward with wide eyes and hands outstretched to touch her new mount’s back.
“You… You got me a horse?” She asked dumbly, her hand smoothing down the soft skin of the horse’s muzzle. Arthur didn’t say nothing, he just stood there with his hands in his pockets and rocked on his heels. Something swelled in Riley’s chest, an emotion she would later realise was affection.
“Thank you.” She breathed, a beaming smile working its way onto her face. She spoke to the horse like a friend, offering her hay and an apple she had hidden in her pocket. She was so entranced by her new friend that when she eventually looked back up at Arthur she found him with red cheeks and a hidden proud smile. Her heart thudded in her chest, and her brow set into a look of pure determination.
“Let’s go rob a coach.” Riley said, grinning as she shoved her foot in the stirrup and hauled herself into place.
A couple of hours later a huge dust cloud was kicked up in the wake of two outlaws driving their horses away from a crime. Riley’s horse was fast, so fast she had to work on keeping her speed down rather than urging her on. She was wild, this horse, but she took direction from Riley with ease. Their relationship was still new but, in her heart of hearts, Riley knew they’d work well as a team in no time. The same, ironically, could be said about her and Arthur.
The robbery went off without a hitch. In the middle of the woods just outside of Valentine the coach had rumbled through, slowing down once the driver had seen a fallen tree in the road. Riley had jumped onto the roof and immediately had the driver under her pistol, whilst Arthur dealt with the two passengers. The men were happy to hand over their possessions in exchange for their lives, and they even got something they hadn’t bargained for. One of the men had been carrying some shine.
The escape had been easy and flawless, and as they rode together like bullets from a gun she couldn’t help but pull down her bandana and let out a loud laugh and cheer. Across from her, Arthur was grinning, his own horse panting to catch up with hers. Just before camp, just so they had time to make sure they weren’t being followed, Riley pulled off the main road toward the river. She pulled her horse to a gentle trot and pulled off her hat, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. Damn, it was good to be back in the game.
“Let’s stop here a bit, see what we got!” Arthur’s voice sounded from behind her, and Riley obediently slowed her new horse down to a halt. They sat together beside the water washing dirt from their faces and hands before they rooted through their haul. In total, they had about five hundred dollars in cash, something she was extremely satisfied with. They split the money in half, and then half again. She came away with a pocket full of cash, various trinkets to sell later, and a lighter heart than she’d woke up with.
For a short while, they sat by the river before deciding that they’d better head back to camp. It wasn’t five minutes before someone was on Arthur’s back, asking him for a favour once again, something about fishing with Jack. Riley wondered to herself if that poor man ever had a moment’s quiet. She was busily adding hers and Arthur’s take to the camp funds, enjoying the way the ledger looked with their names together and a large sum of money in the bank. As she came away she heard Dutch check the box, and gave a satisfied smirk at his impressed whistle. That’s right, she did that. She could earn her keep, like all the rest.
Giving herself a little time to relax after the day’s work, Riley read her book by the fire as the day’s sun turned to evening. It was a short while after the sun cast red light over their camp that Arthur returned with Jack, both of them looking pale and spooked. There was a short and quiet conversation with Abigail in which Arthur tried to seem reassuring, and then he was marching off to Dutch’s tent with a long sigh on his lips. Riley didn’t get too close but she could hear the anger and worry in Arthur’s voice. She felt those knots return to her stomach, and after catching a few words like ‘Pinkerton’ and ‘Freedom’ before both men came out of the tent. Riley watched them both, sitting at the round table with her book in her hand long forgotten. Something was up.
“…They’re just tryin’ to scare us into doing something stupid.” Dutch said, pacing back to Arthur after taking a moment to think. “We have turned a corner. We survived them mountains. We just need to stay calm.”
The next day the gang was caught up in some trouble in Valentine with Cornwall’s men and the Pinkerton Detective Agency. When Dutch, Arthur and the rest of the men arrived back at camp there was a mass scramble to get themselves packed and get lost. Within a few hours they’d arrived at a new home as founded by Charles and Arthur. All the while Riley had a lump in her throat as they drove to the new camp, a fear that somewhere along the line this would happen again and at that point they’d lose someone. Everyone pulled their weight when it came to moving camp. Even Jack had a job to do and he did it without being asked. The camp, for the first time since Riley arrived, worked as one unit. Get the hell out of town, get the family somewhere safe.
The place Charles and Arthur had found was nice, but unbearably hot and muggy. Everyone was sweating and sticky by the end of the day when the sun was setting, tired and hungry and badgering Pearson for food. Whilst the camp was distracted she figured now to be the right time to take herself away and clean up. Two days of grime, sweat and dirt was layering her skin and it felt good to walk into the lake neighbouring their camp and feel the cold water lap up her bare thighs. She soaped herself up good and proper, pleased to finally feel like a woman again as she massaged the sore muscles in her neck.
It was such a shame a beautiful moment of privacy in the shade of the trees from the glow of the moon had to be ruined by two eyes staring at her through the bushes.
Chapter 12: Giving you a reason to fight
- Everyone by Everlast -
'Everyone cheats, everyone lies,
Everyone suffers and everyone cries
Old people laugh and young people try
Lovers they know when they look in your eyes
Everyone cheats, everyone lies,
Everyone hustles and everyone strives
Bad people win, good people die
Lovers they know when they look in your eyes'
More problems have befallen us. More running.
Leviticus Cornwall. The oil, sugar, rail and greed merchant whom we robbed a while back had us ambushed in Valentine. Seems he has added to the price on our heads. We shot our way out of town, and narrowly escaped with our lives. The only amusing aspect of the horror was Herr Strauss getting grazed and acting like he was preparing for a short trip down to hell.
After this we fled the country and headed even further South and East, camping by a lake.
This is pretty much new country for me. Charles and I saved a family of Germans who were in the process of getting themselves killed.
He’s a better man than me. He does not need to think to be good. It comes naturally to him, like right is deep within us as opposed to this conflict between GOOD and EVIL that rages within me.
If only we had fled west out of Blackwater, we could be free now, out where we belong beyond civilisation with the savages and the animals.
Here, we won’t ever be home.
With a heavy sigh Arthur slipped his pen into the binding of the journal and tucked it safely back into his satchel. His eyes roamed across the camp slowly, taking in the new environment to see if there was anything else he could sketch. For the time being, he had some peace, a moments silence without someone asking for a favour. It was a rarity that Arthur cherished.
Across the camp around the roar of the main fire sat most members of his family. After a long day and half the evening of setting up the new camp, everyone was hungry as hell and in need of feeding. Luckily an unfortunate deer had wandered into camp earlier on, and Charles had tracked it down a few miles North and brought them back some meat. With the stew ready and everyone clamouring for their share, Arthur stood to make his way over when he noticed someone was missing.
Arthur’s blue eyes pinned her at the edge of camp walking towards the river, a towel over her shoulder and a bar of soap in hand. He smiled to himself a little, feeling a warm sensation bloom in his chest. Jameson must have felt comfortable enough with them to just go off like that, usually, she was one for going into town for a real bath in the local hotel. Arthur couldn’t say he blamed her, though. In this weather sometimes you just needed to jump buck ass naked into the lake to cool down as god intended.
As he joined the line for the stew, Arthur took one last look at where Riley had disappeared off to. She was long gone, but someone else was making their way over in that direction. He frowned, hoping with all his might that this man was just going over to one of the wagons, checking something, getting hay, anything other than following a member of their gang to watch them bathe. When the cowboy disappeared behind the trees, slinking into the woods, Arthur couldn’t hold himself back. He slipped out of the line and followed close behind, jaw clenched and fists balled.
It took Arthur a minute to find the footprints but when he did he was hot on the trail of the little rat. The heat in the night was no better than the heat of the evening, and sweat began rolling in beads down his shoulders and chest. Stealthily moving through the bushes, he came to an area with densely packed trees. Leaning against a spruce with his arms folded and one boot tipped up against the other, Micah stood with his back to Arthur.
“What in the hell do you think yer doing?!” Arthur growled. He kept his voice down, though, the less Riley knew of this the better. He could see her silhouette in the water, back towards them with her long hair wet against her shoulders. She was gorgeous like that, framed so prettily in the night light that if he’d been a worse man he’d have sketched the scene. Clenching his jaw, Arthur focused his attention on Micah, who’d turned with a slick grin as if they’d both gone as friends to a peep show.
“Purdy, ain’t she?” He said, laughing to himself. Arthur felt bile rise in his throat. “’Bout time one of these camp girls gave me somethin’ for all that money I been bringin’ in. I reckon she’ll do just fine. Think she fucks as hard as she punches, or do I gotta hold her down?”
Arthur’s grabbed Micah’s coat in both of his fists to shove him up against the tree until both his feet had left the ground. His legs flailed a little and his hands gripped tight around Arthur’s wrist, a small spark of panic in the rat’s eyes. But Micah didn’t stop smiling like the good-for-nothing he was. Arthur growled.
“You ain’t touchin’ her. You ain’t touchin’ nobody, ya’hear? I see you anywhere near her I’ll tear off your god damn balls myself. That is if she don’t get there first.” Arthur’s voice was low and quiet, but Micah had a way of enraging him by smiling like his words meant nothing.
“Woah now, Cowpoke! Getting’ all sweet on these girls ain’t like you. You can’t learn to share? Thought you was the biiiiiig mister protector, not the hoarder. Ain’t like she’s gonna fuck you, old man, girl like that got standards. She gonna want a man that knows how to use her.” Micah’s voice made the knots in his stomach tighten uncomfortably, and Arthur drew his fist back threateningly.
Arthur dropped his grip on Micah who immediately took the opportunity to scurry away like the cat who’d got the cream. He was left standing alone with his hand on his hip, and the other rubbing at the shadow on his jaw. Dammit.
“Who’s out there? Goddammit…” Arthur heard splashing as Riley made her way out of the water, and he silently cursed himself for his decisions.
“It’s me!” He said, loudly as he exited the hiding spot with his hands up. He made sure to not look directly at her, instead casting his eyes up to the sky as if the lord himself were shaking his head disapprovingly at him.
“Arthur? What the ever-loving fuck are you doing?” Riley sounded pissed, and warmth flashed in Arthur’s cheeks as he kept his eyes on the sky.
“Shit- This ain’t at all what it looks like.” Real smooth, Morgan. Caught creepin’ in the bushes like that is obviously gonna look bad. “Saw someone followin’ you… Came to check it out. He’s gone now. I’m sorry. I ain’t seen nothin’, I promise I weren’t lookin’ for that.”
Arthur turned his eyes to the ground out of respect for her nudity, but soon he heard her clear her throat and dared to look up. Jameson didn’t look too pleased, but at least she was dressed in her jeans and shirt again.
“Was it Micah?” She asked, voice filled with disgust. Arthur nodded, and he’d never been more grateful than he was then for someone understanding Micah’s bad reputation. “Damn idiot will not leave me alone.”
Arthur sighed and moved to sit on the fallen tree that Riley had used to lay her clothes whilst she bathed. He gave a small chuckle, and grunted as he set himself down.
“Sure. He was worse with Abigail when he first joined. Wouldn’t leave the poor girl alone, not for lack of her tryin’ ta’ avoid him. I think he sorta got the hint when John got reeeeeal drunk one night and threatened him behind the wagons with a loaded pistol. He ain’t stopped, but it ain’t half as bad anymore. I think he had a thing for beautiful girls.” Arthur regretted what he said as soon as it came out of his mouth. His ears went red, and he ducked his head with a small cough to rub at the back of his neck awkwardly. Damn him and his big mouth.
“He likes the pretty ones, huh?” Riley asked, sitting heavily beside Arthur whilst towelling through her hair. “Guess I’d better disfigure myself.”
They both laughed at the joke, Arthur thankful that Riley hadn’t called him out on the compliment. The moon was high in the sky casting beautiful light over the lake. Arthur’s fingers itched to catch the way its light bounced off the water and cast shadows of the trees on the island opposite.
“Thank you.” Riley said, after a few minutes of silence. “For looking out for me. Do you think he’d have tried something if you weren’t here?”
Everything in Arthur screamed yes, warning signs blaring like dynamite in a mine. He sucked in a breath and gave a small nod and a shrug. It wasn’t his place to judge what Micah’s actions could have been. Only what they have been. To his knowledge, the man had never laid a hand on a woman uninvited. To his current knowledge.
“I ain’t gon’ let him hurt you.” Arthur found the words falling from his lips reverently, almost like a promise. Riley was quiet for a moment before sliding her water cool hand over the top of his rough and hot ones. Neither of them moved, not until a Coyote yipped somewhere in the woods behind them and startled Riley’s hand back into her lap. They went back to camp after that to try and scavenge for leftover stew.
Bright and early three days into their new camp location Dutch announced he had a plan. Of course.
In the local town of Rhodes he’d heard of a high stakes poker game with some big players. He’d wanted Riley, Athur, Bill and Lenny to attend in order to see if they could swindle their way into the game and out with the cash. Arthur had played this game before, it could be kinda fun if you were with the right people, and the current partners he’d been given weren’t too bad. Arthur had dressed up in his best suit, which was actually just a new shirt and waistcoat, clean jeans and a dark coloured jacket on top. He had to play the part of a rich man, just to make those idiots think he was worth inviting into the game. With the plan explained in full to Lenny, Bill and Riley, the other two men had gone off to get changed into finer outfits whilst Riley pondered on her part of the plan.
Arthur had asked her to be their watchman on the door to make sure nobody unsavoury came into the building whilst they played their hands. Riley had hummed, pursed her lips, and wandered off with a simple ‘I have a better idea.’
Arthur had no idea what it was as he hitched up their second hand (stolen) coach to a pair of shire horses. To look the part and act the part, he needed to ride in style after all. He hadn’t a clue what Riley had in mind until she came strolling over wearing an overlarge blue hat and a matching ankle high dress cinched in at the waist with a lady’s waistcoat. Arthur had to double-take as he wasn’t entirely sure what he was seeing.
“Uh… Miss Jameson…?” He asked, brows raised but a small smirk on his lips. “Whatcha doin’?”
“Acting. How about I play the part of Mister Callahan’s wife… His promiscuous wife who flirts with very drunk men and looks at their cards in the process…?” Riley smiled, putting on a thick southern accent and a highly feminine voice. Damn, she’d even rouged her lips. Arthur snorted and shrugged his shoulders. He had to admit, having a little helping hand may work out.
“Well… Don’t see why not. Just be sure to-“
“Whooooooeee! Don’t you look just fine, Miss Jameson!” Lenny’s cheerful voice broke into the conversation. He was wearing his finest suit of black and white, good enough to play the part of their driver as per the plan. Riley waved a hand and rolled her eyes, but her cheeks were tinged pink as she moved to hitch her skirt up around her knees so she could climb into the coach. Arthur instinctively stuck out his hand to help her, which she took gratefully as she clambered inside.
Once Bill had joined them, huffing and whining about his suit being too tight and hating these sorts of jobs, they made their way out of camp and onto the road. It was getting dark as they rode in with Arthur, Bill and Riley in the back of the coach. They pulled up outside of the saloon and made their way inside, Lenny sticking with the coach in case they needed a quick getaway. He was now the lookout man as well, after all.
Inside, the saloon was bursting with life. Men of all walks of life drank together, joked together, and argued like old friends. Working girls flirted from the balcony, or else sat in the laps of potential customers. It was difficult to get up to the top floor where the poker game was, and Riley hung off of Arthur’s arm like the prize she pretended to be. Men gawked, she winked and flirted, giving them little waves and small giggles. Somewhere in the back of his mind Arthur wondered where she’d learned all these tricks.
The poker game was in full swing by the time they arrived. Arthur could see a spare seat at the very end of the table with five other men sitting around the green cloth. In the middle of the table he saw stacks of cash, wads of bills and even a few items of jewellery and other finery. He smiled widely, accepted a cigar from Bill who was slowly circling the table, and began his introductions.
“Gentlemen! Might you have room for one more player? Me and the wife are fairly new in town, stayin’ in Saint Denis just over the way. We heard there was a poker game with some real players here tonight. Figured you’ fine gents wouldn’t mind an out o’ town oil merchant joining in.” Arthur played Mr Callahan well and introduced himself and his ‘wife’ Mrs Callahan to the table. As soon as Arthur pulled out a bag of coins and set them on the pile of notes, the other men were eager to let him join.
Sitting down, Arthur took his hand and began to get himself in the right frame of mind for playing. He wasn’t the best player, but with Bill stalking the table and Riley-
The girl had spun around and sat herself in his lap daintily, one arm draped across his shoulder while the other cupped his cheek. She kissed his other roughened cheek gently, much to the delight of the men around the table. Instinctively his hand settled on her hip to help her balance, and the question of what she was doing died on his tongue as her gentle lips touched his scarred cheek.
“Let’s order a few drinks, my love? Something for all these fine gentlemen here?” Riley’s voice filtered through his ears like honey, and he had a hard time figuring out what she said as the men around them whooped and hollered.
“Fine idea, ma’am! Fine idea!”
“This girl knows how ta’ please!”
“Whoo, let’s get that good whiskey if mister big is payin’!”
Next thing he knew he had a drink in his hand and his arm around Jameson’s waist, holding her in place as they acted the husband and wife. Vines knotted in Arthur’s stomach, worming their way up into his lungs. His cheeks were red with more than just rouge, and his mind was cloudy with impure thoughts. She was a solid weight against his chest, a constant reminder of how close and warm she was.
How the hell was he meant to focus on the game whilst Jameson was handing out drinks as if whiskey were water? After a few hands where he lost spectacularly and the winner dragged his winnings sloppily across the table, it finally dawned on him. She was getting them as drunk as all hell. She’d hardly touched her own drink aside from taking a few flirtatious sips, and Arthur could hardly reach his beer with his lack of spare hands. Things seemed to be going according to a different plan altogether.
After another round, Arthur gestured for Bill and spoke quietly with him over the chair. He’d said to scope out some other opportunities in the bar, that he and Riley had a change of plan and they’d take it from there. Begrudgingly the ex-soldier agreed and went on his way, and Arthur found himself enjoying this game a little more than he would have if they’d gone alone with the original plan. After all, he had a pretty lady in his lap who was tipping a bottle of beer up to his lips much to the amusement of the drunken gentlemen at the table.
A couple hours in and Arthur had won and lost a couple hands, pretending to knock back bottle after bottle of beer when in actual fact Bill had paid off the bartender to serve him water and the other’s stronger whiskey. The five men were all fairly gone by the time Riley had taken it upon herself to make a move. She’d stood from Arthur’s lap, a warmth he missed immediately, and went around the table sitting in the lap’s of each man, slowly sneaking things from their piles until they were dwindled down to nothing.
She was subtle in the way she hid bills down her dress cleavage, only doing so when Arthur cracked loud jokes with the other men and she had her target thoroughly distracted. One by one bill folds disappeared off the table and their victims were none-the-wiser.
It was with the last man that she faltered. Riley sat in his lap and pulled his head to her breast, carding her fingers through his hair as she spoke about some nonsense of being a wild youth. Her hand slipped into his pocket, unlatched the gold pocket watch from its clasp, and quickly retreated to a hidden pocket she had in her waistcoat. The man reached for his beer at the wrong moment and knocked the watch right out of her hand. Everything at the table stopped, and people stared in their direction. He caught her wrist in his large hand and squeezed, causing her to cry out in pain.
“What’re y’doin’?!” The man slurred, standing up angrily and shoving her from his lap. “Thief! Thieves! Someone get the Sheriff!” The man yelled as he swayed on the spot, twisting Riley’s arm in an unnatural way. She dropped to the floor and for a split second her eyes landed on Arthur’s. It went without saying that now was the time for a quick escape.
Arthur snapped into action, standing up to tap on the man’s shoulder and punch him directly in the jaw the second he turned around. Just as the man fell backwards Riley had moved out of the way and had thrust her knee into the groin of a man attempting to encase her in his arms. He went down like a sack of bricks, and Arthur laughed as he threw another punch at a drunkard attempting to draw his gun.
With Riley free, Arthur dragged her away from the table by the hand and began making for the balcony, running like a mad man as patrons of the bar drew their guns and began firing in their direction of escape. On the stairs, he thudded down them quickly, still with a tight hold on Riley’s hand. Wood splintered around them as bullets hit the building, narrowly missing them. He ran down the back of a building, quickly rushing through the gardens of homeowners and businesses until he found a spot in a back alley. He was about to crash around the corner when he heard voices and saw the bright yellow glow of a lantern shine in their direction. Before he could say shit he felt himself be dragged backwards by a forceful hand and he was chest to chest with Riley against the wood of the Gunsmiths, her lips on his in an urgent kiss.
Her lips were hot against his, soft and seering through his skin as one of his hands moved to frame her face. The other braced against the dirty wood of the building they pressed against, his body flush against hers. Her hands didn’t move from his jacket, balled up at his chest in a vice-like grip. Arthur didn’t think, didn’t breathe, just felt the way her lips moved against his as hungrily as his own. He didn’t take time to notice the light leaving them in darkness or the muttered apology of the lawman making his way to the saloon.
After a moment Riley stopped, turning her head to look at the dark entrance of the alley to see if the law had gone. All Arthur could see were stars behind his eyelids as he softly gasped for breath, his hand still hovering on her pink cheek.
“I think they’re gone.” Riley whispered, and Arthur realised he was still incredibly close. He blinked, stuttered an apology, and took a few steps back to give her some room. His heart hammered in his chest and his mind ran a thousand words per minute. In the few moments they had been separated he figured it had been a ploy to make the law think they were just two drunk people getting a little excited down the side of the street, nothing to worry about. It was brilliant, really, but Arthur couldn’t help the thought sliding around his head that said it was all an act.
“Let’s go, before they come back.” Riley said, flashing him a bright smile. She had rouge smeared across her lips, and Arthur knew he had a similar look on his own so he wiped his mouth on the cuff of his jacket. The smile gave him a minuscule splash of reassurance, and together they rushed to the edge of town where Lenny and Bill were waiting with the coach to drive them back to camp.
That night Arthur wrote about the incident in his journal, omitting the kiss for fear of his words falling into the wrong hands.
I enjoy working on jobs with Jameson. She has a mind like Hosea for conning people, and courage like no woman I have ever met. I may find myself playing the fool again very soon but at least I am enjoying the ride.
Happy New year!
Chapter 13: The Chain
Train robbery's and stolen kisses
- The Chain by Fleetwood Mac -
'Listen to the wind blow, down comes the night
Running in the shadows, damn your love, damn your lies
Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light'
Dawn broke over the camp, leaving everything covered in damp morning dew. Droplets of water covered the grass and the blankets of those that slept in the elements. Riley awoke feeling sweaty and warm; she still struggled to adjust to the new temperatures of the swampy lands they’d arrived in just a week or so ago. This area was nicer than the last. At least there wasn’t the threat of waking up to frozen toes and visible breath anymore. Rising from her bedroll, Riley could hear the thick snores of other members of the camp. In front of her she could see Uncle passed out on top of the circular table, bottle in hand and union suit open to the world. She’d got used to seeing that sort of sight by now.
Across the camp she could see Lenny stood with his rifle in hand, guarding them as they slept. That poor kid always seemed to be on guard duty. Riley had taken a couple of shifts before in the evening just to work her share, but she always found it boring as hell and one time may have dozed off whilst standing up. Lenny never seemed to do that. He took his job seriously, and as a boy of just 19 Riley admired him for it. At 19-years-old she had been pick pocketing and thieving just to try and survive.
After making her bedroll up she made her way to the edge of camp on the eastern side where the chickens were. There she let them out of their hutch and began to scatter the feed. Now that she was moving around with food the horses were alert and aware of her too. They knew they were next, and if their impatient stamping was anything to go by then Riley needed to hurry up.
With the animals fed, including Jack’s new dog, Cain, she could hear some members of the gang starting to rise. Pearson was first up to begin the breakfast preparation. Today was porridge, by the looks of it. Riley was thankful she’d found some raspberries in the woods the day before when she’d been unsuccessfully hunting for rabbit. At least it would make the breakfast taste a little bearable.
As she focused on her last chore of the morning, chopping wood for the rest of the day’s scout and campfires, she let herself drift into her thoughts.
Not even four days ago she’d taken part in a robbery that tested her cunning and resilience. It had been an incredible thrill to escape the law, and her method was just the icing on the cake. Riley chewed on her tongue as she remembered the kiss and the way Arthur had so readily leaned into it. She remembered the feeling of his stubble against her skin, rough and eager whilst his hand, with its matching roughness, lay gentle on her cheek. It hadn’t been a well thought out plan but it sure had worked, anyhow. And as much as she desperately wanted to continue – and god damn she really had – she knew they’d needed to get the hell out of dodge before the law figured out they were the thieves.
The drive back had been a little awkward with Bill complaining the entire time about what a bullshit mission it had been. At one point he even commented on the red on Arthur’s mouth, asking him if he’d been in the cross fire of a stray bullet. Riley had hid her snort behind a cough, and chose that moment to extract the stolen goods from her dress. Bill shut up, and Arthur was spared the scrutiny and poor excuses he was trying to stutter out.
Dutch had been pleased with their take when they got back to camp. They’d celebrated with the rest of the family and Pearson even put herbs and spices in the fish stew without a fuss. One thing was nagging at Riley, though. Arthur seemed to avoid her after they’d gotten back. It wasn’t as much that he was actively leaving whenever she was close by; it was just that he didn’t seem to incite conversation or even look in her direction much anymore. In the back of her mind Riley wondered if she’d made things awkward between them with that escape plan back in Rhodes.
“Jameson! Bill, Javier, John, Arthur, Micah. Come over here.” The familiar call from Dutch’s tent pulled Riley from her contemplations. She slid the axe back to the ground and replaced her hat back on her head before wandering over to where Dutch had called them.
He stood by the round table with his hands on his hips and a cigar between his lips, watching Uncle with a fond disapproval that he seemed to reserve for the less helpful members of the group. With a swift move he lifted his boot and gave Uncle a kick to the side, which caused him to roll off the table and onto the ground with a yelp. The older man stood up with a curse on his lips, but seeing it had been Dutch he simply waved him off and went to find a tree to curl up under. With the table now clear Dutch sat down, gesturing for other members of the gang to do the same. Riley sat down on the fur-lined crate and waited as the other men dragged themselves to the table.
“You boys – and lady – are the most capable gun-slingers I have available, and I need you for a mission I’ve had planned for a few weeks. Luckily down here we’re far enough away that nobody will expect our merry band of reprobates. Now, there’s a train headed west through Valentine this afternoon. This train is carrying a lot of bonds. Now, I know, we had a bit of trouble with Cornwall and those hot bonds a while back but this is different. These bonds are already stolen. So, my thinking is that the true owner is gonna want them back. Of course, for a fee.” Dutch was smiling as he spoke, and he’d produced a map to splay on the table and was dictating where the train would come from.
Across the table Arthur stood with his hat low over his face and his hands on his gun belt. He was listening intently, nodding whenever Dutch gave them information. If she caught a glimpse of his face she’d have thought he looked tired. Riley listened fixedly, chewing on her lower lip. She’d never robbed a train before. She’d never actually been on one; her mother had been quite scared of them when she was growing up. This could be difficult, but she wasn’t about to turn down something Dutch had personally asked her to do.
“The Game is simple. You’ll stop the train, get on-board, half of you will take charitable donations from the rich passengers, and the other half will go find me those bonds. Sound simple enough?” The group either grunted, nodded, or gave their affirmations. Dutch clapped his hands together once and stood up from the table.
“Good. I have faith in you, you are my family. We just need one more big take after this and we can disappear. Have faith in me, and we will prosper!” With his final encouraging words everyone was parting in their separate ways to get their horses and themselves ready for the day. The first thing Riley did was get some snacks for the journey before the boys did. They always took the best stuff. She threw a couple apples and a tin or two of beans and fruit in her satchel before deciding to stock up her ammunition behind Arthur’s tent.
She was quiet as she loaded her weapons and tucked a few spare boxes into her pockets. Her eyes flickered up to Arthur once or twice as he sat on his cot with his journal in his lap. Arthur was always prepared, she thought. He never seemed to be caught off guard. Riley could see over the gap that separated the ammunition part of the wagon to Arthur’s little private encampment. The journal looked worn and ragged from use, but still had bright pages so she guessed it had only been a few months old. On the pages she could see his scribbled handwriting beside a drawing of a woman. The figure was hunched over something that had been sketched but unfinished. Arthur was currently focused on adding detail to the arm and shoulder of the woman. She leaned forwards to get a better look, twisting her head slightly. From her hands slipped a box of shotgun shells, which clattered over her boots. She swore and bent to pick them up as Arthur snapped the journal shut and tucked it away in his satchel.
When Riley stood back up with the shells in her hands she saw Arthur had was making his way over to his horse. Damn, she really hoped he hadn’t caught her staring.
The ride to Valentine was uneventful. Riley brought up the rear with John. It did give her a chance to actually speak with him, but he wasn’t much of a conversationalist. He’d give meagre answers when she asked how he and his family were doing, so she guessed it was a sore spot for him. Micah was riding front with Arthur, Bill and Javier behind them. Micah’s voice still made her skin crawl as if she were covered in ants. He talked almost non-stop about some bullshit she didn’t have the energy to focus on. Since Arthur had followed him to where she bathed, she’d been a lot more careful now whenever she slipped away. Always made sure to go with the other girls so they had each other’s backs. Sadie was especially great at keeping the girls entertained and protected as they bathed.
In recent days she’d become much more of a help around camp after nearly killing Pearson with a butchers knife. Riley saw a little of herself in Sadie, it was nice to have another girl around camp that felt the way she did about getting stuck in with the dirty work. Sadie was older than her by a few years, but Riley felt a certain connection to her that dipped into the realm of camaraderie.
The boys pulled off the road and over scorched plains as they neared their destination. The railroad curved beyond the canyons here, and so gave a perfect opportunity to ride alongside the train to board it. The plan was for one man to get on the train and stop the driver, two to take care of any guards in the first two carts and find the bonds, and the last men to take the train from behind to make sure nobody got off to alert the law. Riley was to go last with John and Javier.
Arthur and Micah rode ahead, dust billowing behind them as they stormed alongside the track to where they planned to ambush. Riley stayed behind with Javier and John, pulling her mount to a halt behind a large outcrop of rocks. Somewhere in front of them, Bill was already ahead as the frontman to stop the train.
It took all of ten minutes for the train to roll through, smoke billowing behind it. Riley, Javier and John all kicked their horses into action as soon as it passed them by, chasing after it with masks on and guns raised. Javier shot the guard at the end of the train, catching him expertly between the eyes. Now they just had to board. Chasing the train was easy, but climbing on was a whole other issue. John went first, diving for the rails at the back of the train and hanging on for dear life. He swung himself up and into the carriage, already firing false shots to the ceiling, scaring the travellers. Javier was next, a lot slower and methodical than John’s clumsy leap. He jumped onto the ladder on the side of the train, pulling himself up towards the roof. Riley felt fear rise in her stomach, up into her lungs and filling her mouth like smoke. She shivered, feeling the hair on her arms rise as she began to stand atop her horse who she had finally named Trigger.
Standing in a crouch, Riley gained her balance and surveyed the space between her and the train. It wasn’t a tough leap, but her heart was in her throat as she pushed away from Trigger and soared with her arms extended towards the same ladder Javier had used. She landed, smacking like a ton of bricks against the metal of the train. That would leave a mark. Her hands latched around the ladder rungs tightly, and she began to haul herself up to the roof of the train where Javier stood waiting to offer her a helping hand. Standing on top of the train was exhilarating. It almost made the jump and the fear worthwhile. The wind threw her flyaway hair backwards, the rest tucked neatly up under her hat. She closed her eyes for a second, sucked in a breath, and nodded to Javier. Time to begin.
They carefully walked over to the next carriage, hopping over the gap as the train lulled in speed around the bend in the tracks. Unlatching the roof’s entrance, Riley dropped down swiftly followed by Javier. There was a lot of shouting in this cart, as John stayed with the last one in case anyone tried to be a hero. Riley unlatched a canvas bag from her belt and held it out to the passengers, most of whom eagerly gave their belongings and what money they carried for fear of facing the wrong end of her pistol. Javier spoke quickly, firing his weapon towards the heavens once, twice, three times for an intimidating effect. Riley felt her hands shaking slightly, but otherwise, she kept her cool. She’d learned that as long as you looked like you knew what you were doing, that’s what other people thought.
She kept a firm stance with her pistol aimed at the male passengers, the bag outstretched as they handed over their valuables. Riley could see a man struggling to hide something in his jacket, obviously something he didn’t want taken. She smirked under the cloth covering her face and stalked toward him, gun cocked towards his temple.
“You wanna hand that over, feller?” She asked, but the man wasn’t making eye contact with her. She slammed the handle of her pistol down against his jaw, knocking him off his seat. He was very quick to hand over the billfold after that.
With the carriage handled, Riley attached the loot back to her belt and went to speak with Javier. She grinned beneath her mask, and spoke in as rough and deep a voice she could manage.
“Go check on Tacitus. Train ain’t stopped yet, something might be holding them up.” Javier said, aiming his weapon around the carriage. Riley nodded, shooting off towards the front of the train like a bullet. She hopped over luggage that had fallen in the walkway and walked with purpose towards the door.
In the new carriage, Riley could see Micah holding a gun to a woman’s head. Arthur stood with the collection bag, visibly angry with him but they were too far into the story to change plans now. With the bag full, Arthur passed it to Micah, who thankfully let go of the woman who was already a sobbing wreck.
“Well, later Cowpoke!” Micah cast a salute and holstered his gun before shooting off to collect the rest of the loot from Javier and John. Again, not part of the plan but there wasn’t a lot they could do.
“Uh- Tacitus! You got the bonds?” Riley called, finally gaining his attention. Arthur turned and made his way towards her, gun still drawn and eyes pinned on the passengers. He nodded an affirmation. “Train’s not stoppin’, what the hell’s Bill doin’?”
“I don’t know, but I’m gonna go see. You alright watchin’ this carriage?” Arthur asked, voice gruff as he made his way towards the open hole in the roof. She didn’t have a chance to reply before Arthur was walking away. The carriage was the last one they could walk straight through, the next one was full of coal. He hoisted himself up using the carriage seat as leverage, and Riley quickly followed. She hopped up on the seat and pulled herself up through the hole.
“Arthur!” She called out, waiting for him to stop just in front of her, crouched to try and listen to what she wanted to say.
“Be safe!” Riley yelled, pulling down her bandana so the words could reach him. Arthur did the same, except he offered a small smile instead of words. Riley reached for his coat, grabbed at it with her fist, and pulled.
She kissed him like she had the night they’d escaped the poker game, like a dying woman in need of water and he was the oasis. Arthur’s hands braced on the train to keep himself from slipping, but he returned the kiss enthusiastically. She’d surprised him, and that thrilled her. That gave her hope. Pulling back, Riley grinned at Arthur and released his jacket. She winked, saluted him with two fingers, and dropped back down into the carriage to continue her work with both pistols raised and a scowl on her brow.
The last thing she saw of Arthur was surprise in his eyes and pink on the tips of his ears. She liked seeing him like that. He looked incredible atop the roof, kissed within an inch of his life in the midst of danger. Perfect.
Eventually, the train ground to a stop and Riley took the opportunity to fire her gun once more, just for intimidation's sake. People cowered, and she could already hear the sound of hooves from the horses that followed the train. She made her exit swift, and in moments was back on her horse and galloping away with the gang. Micah was hopefully long gone by now with the majority of the loot, having already left the train from the back a few minutes prior. The remainder of them rode like hell away from the scene of the crime, each of them heaving breaths along with their horses.
Five minutes later and John recommended they all split up to fool the law that might track them. Riley agreed, taking herself East towards Van Horn whilst Javier, Bill and John all took different directions. But Arthur was following her close behind, hot on her heels. She glanced behind herself, cast him a taunting smirk, and edged her horse on faster.
Once away from the chaos, Riley slowed the race once she found cover of trees and forest. She let Trigger come to a halt and turned, watching Arthur trailing behind her. They were both panting as they dismounted, staring at one another with one question hanging thick in the air. Arthur looked dishevelled, his Bandolier almost sliding off his shoulder along with his jacket, stalking towards her like a predator. Riley probably didn’t look so different, hair askew under the hat, cheeks flush from the excitement of the crime. Her jacket had fallen open in the chase, her white shirt similarly soaked with sweat as Arthur’s was. She felt incredible.
Riley surged forwards, breaking the quiet to throw her arms around his neck and drag him down for a heated kiss. Arthur responded readily, only this time he was prepared. He backed her up against a large oak tree, pressing her against the rough bark with one hand tangled in her hair and the other firm on her hip. He pushed even closer, if that were possible, pressing the length of himself from chest to knees against her body. Riley was enclosed between his body and the tree, a scorching sensation on her lips and a passionate heat in her stomach. Both of their hats lay forgotten on the ground but neither noticed, far too preoccupied with tasting, testing, and pushing the limits of this newfound intimacy.
Just want to thank you all for reading, I'm having so much fun reading this and editing it with my beta reader. It's 12 whole chapters, and I still have a good story to follow! Stay tuned for sexy times :D
Also: When you're writing a chapter about stealing bonds and almost forget to steal the bonds.
Chapter 14: Lullaby
Just going fishin'.
- Lullaby by Christian Larsson -
'So here we are at the end of it all
Where shadows grow in disguise
History repeats itself
Let’s pray for all mankind
Pray for all mankind'
I have had one hell of a day and it’s only getting better. I may have found myself entangled with the new girl in camp, Riley Jameson. I’m yet to decide if that’s a good thing.
I realise I have yet to describe her. She’s got these long curls of dark hair that sit on her shoulders when its down, and when its up her hair is tucked under an old cowboy hat like mine. I guess she hides her hair so she looks more like a man. Pretty smart move; there’s no way a woman could survive as long as she has without some tricks to keep the wolves at bay. Riley’s got real nice sun-kissed skin. I think she spent most her life outdoors like I have. Like most of us. Think I heard her mention once she lived on a ranch?
I like her eyes. I wish I had a coloured pencil so I could add the cacti green hue to my sketches, make them seem more real. I find it hard to capture her likeness without her eyes. The way she dresses is odd, too. Not many women wear men’s clothes, though I suppose robbing and thieving would be difficult in a dress. She just don’t seem like the kind to voluntarily wear ladies outfits. She’s got this jacket that she always wears, it’s a nice dark leather thing. I’ve seen her pull apples out of pockets I didn’t even know pockets could be. She’s full of surprises.
The sketches I’ve done don’t do her justice. I’m going to work on a proper drawing of her to see if I can catch the way she smiles when I say something foolish.
Arthur awoke to a fresh and slightly colder morning in Lemoyne than any they’d woken to before. Yet despite the cooler weather he still felt a layer of sweat fusing his union suit to his skin in an uncomfortable way, pulling awkwardly when he sat up on his bedroll. Arthur rubbed at his chin and sighed when he felt the length of his beard. It would need a trim today, he hated when it got much longer than an inch. It was a lot to maintain sometimes. Swinging his legs onto the ground he pulled on his boots and peeled himself out of his union suit, tossing it onto his bed to remind him to wash it later. Arthur pulled on a pair of jeans and a simple white shirt to button up, foregoing underwear. The less clothes he wore in this sort of weather the better.
After a quick trim of his facial hair, Arthur thoroughly washed himself in a bucket of water someone had filled close to the scout campfire. Water dripped down his chin and dampened his shirt collar as he braced his hands on the sides of the bucket then cast his eyes around the camp. The others were already milling around, doing various chores or else being drunk idiots. Uncle had gotten hold of the banjo and was strumming it by the fire idly. He could see Charles chopping wood on the far side of camp and Dutch reading down the side of his tent. Kieran sat by the horses on a stump with a saddle in his lap, giving it a good cleaning. Arthur hadn’t liked him at first but he’ll admit the kid did have guts and a good work ethic if nothing else. For a few precious seconds in the day he got to look upon his family and think ‘Yeah. We may be idiots but we’re doing alright.’ And sometimes that made a difference to his mood.
Across the camp Arthur’s pale blue’s eventually landed on Riley as she stood with her back to him. It looked like she was just getting up for the day, because he’d managed to catch her midway through changing into a fresh shirt. His eyes lingered on the expanse of her back, paler than the skin that saw the sun every day. The curve of her spine lead upwards to the slender stretch of her neck where wisps of hair gathered with sweat and stuck to her skin. She pulled a shirt down over her body quickly, professionally, and Arthur blinked away and bit his lip like a child who’d been caught doing something mischievous. He cleared his throat and went back to his bedroll to find a hat and shoved it on his head. He should have looked away, that wasn’t the right thing for him to do. But damn… His fingers itched to draw what he’d only momentarily seen. Biting back the urge, Arthur went about attempting to find a chore for the day.
Pearson needed help chopping vegetables but the last time Arthur tried that (almost two years ago) he’d nearly cut off his middle finger. The chickens needed feeding but Sadie was already hauling the sack of seed over her shoulder. He made his way to the wagons that stored the hay for the horses and the sacks of grain for the chuckwagon but found them empty. Arthur stood with one hand on his hip and the other scratching at his freshly trimmed beard. Damn. Nothing left to do.
He decided that maybe he could make use of his time by doing a few ‘errands’ for Strauss that he’d been putting off when he walked into a conversation he hadn’t intended to hear.
“Come on, Pearson, ANYTHING but rabbit stew again!” Mary-Beth whined as she picked up a knife and began to chop up the wild carrots.
“You’re acting like I have a choice! I cook what I get. You want venison? Go ask Arthur! Hell, we’re running low on everything so maybe one of you girls better get down to Rhodes and get me some more supplies anyway.” Pearson seemed disgruntled, as usual whenever anyone criticised his cooking and slammed his butcher’s knife down on the neck of the poor rabbit on his table.
“But I want fish!” Mary-Beth said, whimsically. “Cooked fish on the fire, with salt and pepper and some fresh herbs… Oh, Pearson, could you make us fish for dinner instead?” Arthur could see the way Mary-Beth worked. She’d come around the table, hands clasped to her chest to give Pearson the full effect of her puppy dog eyes. He wasn’t ashamed to say that those eyes had worked once or twice on himself before, so Pearson was no match. Poor man.
Pearson visibly deflated when up against such a stare. He sighed, turned to face Mary-Beth, and held up his bloody hands in apology. Arthur began to walk by, hopefully avoiding detection-
“It ain’t as easy as that, I have to cook I haven’t got time to fish… Arthur!”
Dammit. Caught. Arthur skulked over to Pearson with his hands on his belt buckle, taking his time because he knew what was coming.
“Arthur, bring me something soon, we’re running low! Maybe some fish… I think the ladies are getting sick of rabbit.” Pearson said, wiping his bloodied hands on his apron.
“Aw, c’mon… I put my heart and soul into that rabbit, least you could do is eat it.” Arthur said to Mary-Beth, with a pretend pout. She rolled her eyes and went back to chopping vegetables with a whispered curse on her lips.
“We’re running low on meat anyway, Arthur. It’s probably time you went hunting again anyhow.”
“…Sure. I’ll see about what I can get.” Arthur sighed and scratched the back of his neck. Strauss’ errands would have to wait. Oh, what a crying shame.
A brilliant thought occurred to Arthur just then. Something so excellent it had to have been thought for him by someone else. He strode back to his own bedroll and began packing a few things into his satchel. A couple of pieces of bait, a bottle of whiskey maybe, a pack of cigarettes… Everything else would be on his horse, and he was pretty sure he still had some dried meat on there as well. A short fishing trip sounded good, but a fishing trip with Riley Jameson sounded better. Now all he had to do was ask her and suddenly his lungs were filled with flowers and he choked on his own breath.
The day before ran through his mind like a freight train. He remembered the way she plastered herself to his body, fitting like a puzzle piece. The way her hands roamed his chest and clung on for dear life to his coat. He remembered the little sounds she made when his fingers grazed under her shirt against the soft skin below. He also remembered the thrill being cut short by the sound of a gunshot and a loud curse from nearby. Turned out a hunter had missed a shot on a buck and sent the scared animal their way, spooking the horses. After a few minutes of chasing them down the moment had passed and they’d both rode back to camp together with secret smiles on their lips.
Arthur strolled over to Riley as casually as he could, one hand on his belt buckle and the other on his bandolier. She sat at the round table, a book in one hand and an apple in the other, and her eyes seemed to light up when he cleared his throat. Maybe that was wishful thinking.
“Miss Jameson.” Arthur greeted her with a nod of his head, but Riley rolled her eyes. Was he being too formal?
“Mr Morgan.” She said, mocking his tone. Arthur huffed a short laugh and rubbed at his chin nervously. Yeah, too formal.
“Was wonderin’ if you’d come fishin’ with me. I ain’t much of a fisherman but Pearson’s been whinin’ about food so… Figured you an’ I could go see what’s bitin’.” Riley took a bite of the apple again, juice on her lips glistening in the sun. Arthur squashed wicked thoughts before they could surface.
She seemed to take her time considering and was finished with the apple by the time she stood up and left her book and the core where she’d been sitting.
“Sure. But I don’t have the faintest idea how to fish and I ain’t got a rod of my own so…” She shrugged, smiling sheepishly.
“That’s fine I can show you! An’ m’pretty sure Hosea will have a spare rod floatin’ around. Man loves his fishin’.”
Riley slipped her weight onto one leg and hummed, hands on her hips as she looked him over. Arthur could see the way his own hand would sketch that pose, and his fingers twitched once more.
“Let’s go see if Hosea has a rod for me, then.” Riley finally said, picking up her hat from where it lay on the table. She pushed it over her hair, which lay loose around her shoulders in dark rivets. It wasn’t often she let her hair just hang like that, and Arthur found he liked it very much.
After a short conversation with Hosea and a ten-minute wait for Riley to get herself ready to ride out, they both were on their way to a little fishing spot Javier had shown Arthur some time ago. It was a small pool in the woodlands, not too far from camp but too far to walk, so they took the horses for convenience.
They rode in relative peace through the roads of Lemoyne; Birds tweeting as they cut off the main path and down a small hill between the trees. Riley followed Arthur as he slowed his horse, and dismounted just as they were peeking through the woodland. Between the trees lay a secret river bend framed with rocks and shrubbery. When Arthur had first come here he’d wanted to sketch it, and he still hadn’t had the opportunity to do so. The river trickled along its path, carving lines through the mud and silt to create illusions below the surface.
“Pretty country.” Riley said, holding her borrowed rod over her shoulder like a shotgun. Funny, Javier had said the same thing when they’d gone fishing not five days prior.
With a small nod and a grunt, Arthur trekked up the rocky outcrop until he stood leaning over the river’s bend to check from above what they might be catching. Smallmouth Bass swam around between the reeds under the water, dancing with one another as they swirled through the river. Arthur smiled in satisfaction and climbed back down to where Riley stood admiring a plant by the river’s edge.
“Lotsa Smallmouth here. Me n’ Javier came a couple days ago. He’s a fine fisherman; me not so much but… Whatcha find there?” He asked as he came closer to inspect the plant.
“Hummingbird sage.” Riley said as she pulled a tuft off the plant to stuff in her satchel. “My father showed me how to mix it with Ginseng and Indian tobacco to make a real potent medicine.”
Oddly, Arthur found that this was the first time he’d heard any sort of information about Riley’s family. He bent down to look at the plant, and picked some for himself, hoping she’d maybe continue the conversation. He was delighted when she did.
“My daddy taught me all kinds of useful things, actually. He taught me how to ride my first horse when I was 9. I fell off and hit my head on a rock but he whipped up some of that medicine and I felt better real quick. I used to call him a magic man.” Smiling fondly, Riley turned to look at Arthur with fond memories behind the glass of her eyes. Arthur hummed but found himself fidgeting a little with the plant in his hands. He wasn’t so good with words or moments like these.
“Sounds like a fine feller.” He said, standing up. God damn it, what a boring thing to say. Arthur mentally slapped himself.
“He was.” Riley said, softly as she rose to stand by the water with him. “So, how do I fish? Just throw this in and hope for the best?” She said, aiming her rod like a sword at the river.
Arthur snorted, grabbing hold of her rod to keep it steady. “Easy, easy. You’re not wrong but there’s a lil’ more to it than that. First you gotta bait your hook. Like this…”
The next fifteen minutes Arthur spent showing Riley how to set up her rod. He pulled a small tin of worms from his pocket, which she made a face at, and showed her how to hook them so that they still wiggled. He gave her instruction on how to cast the rod back and over her shoulder, not so far to hook on the plants and reeds on the other bank but just enough to reach the sweet spot of fish in the middle of the pool. He waited with her whilst the fish pondered the bait, one hand hovering over her own, whilst his other lay firm on her shoulder. She had a look of determination on her face that Arthur admired, especially so close up. Fine wrinkles littered her skin around her eyes and mouth, her lashes framing them like dandelions. Her brows were furrowed together as she concentrated on the task, watching the tip of her rod dip gently as the fish inspected her alluring worm. The rod tugged once. Twice. A third time and Arthur helped her yank it upwards to hook the fish. Now for the fun part.
“Alright, I’mma let you take it from here. Remember what I told you. Don’t fight him, just reel him in when you feel him go quiet. Nice an’ easy does it…” Arthur stood to the side, watching the fish in the water with his hands on his knees. Riley did well. She reeled when he told her too and paused whenever the fish struggled. It didn’t seem to be a huge one, but it certainly wasn’t small either. Arthur was glad he’d thought to bring along a sack for their takes.
A good five minutes into the fight and the fish was close to the shoreline. Arthur dropped his hand on the line, pulling as Riley reeled to pull the fish closer until he could pluck it from the water with his bare hands. He held the fish up triumphantly, presenting it to Riley with a grin on his face.
“I got it! Don’t drop him!” She exclaimed, dropping her rod in the mud.
“He’s a beauty!” Arthur laughed, sharing her enthusiasm as Riley unhooked the fish. He held onto it tight as Riley grabbed the sack for him to deposit the first fish of the day.
“Y’know what, fishin’ ain’t so bad!” She said, grinning from ear to ear like a fool. Arthur’s heart clenched a little. “I think I got it. Pearson’s not gonna know what hit him.” Riley cast Arthur a devilish look and he nearly lost his breath. She looked good like that, stood boot deep in the mud with her hair wild around her shoulders and excitement in her eyes. He couldn’t help the red that raised in his cheeks whenever he looked at her like this.
Clearing his throat, Arthur gave Riley her own tin of worms and went a few paces down the bank to try and find a sport for himself to fish. As much as he’d liked the idea of fishing together, sometimes it did get a little boring when fish just didn’t bite. Arthur had no luck what so ever. At one point he had a bite and pulled to hook the fish, but the entire damn line snapped instead causing Riley to snort with laughter. When he looked over at her with squinted eyes, she stood wearing a frown, staring hard at the water pretending to be focused on her own task rather than his fuck up. They continued like this for a little while, Riley pulling in two more fish to Arthur’s single pickerel that he threw back into the river. He’d given up after the second hour of fishing, already tired of the sport, and sat himself down at the base of a tree close to where Riley was stood. He pulled his hat off and set it on the ground so he could sit with his head back against the tree, one knee up with his arm resting on it.
He had a fine view of the girl from here. She cast her line like she’d been fishing all her life, and the intensity of her concentrating eyes made Arthur truly believe she knew exactly what she was doing. Maybe she did? Maybe she was already a good fisherman and had pretended not to know just to spend time with him. Arthur banished the thought as childish and absentmindedly took out his journal. He wrote a few lines about fishing before his hand wandered to a clean page to draw. The figure blossomed into a woman within minutes, details coming in different areas as he erratically chose which area to focus on. The line of his pencil followed the line of his eye as he watched her, standing there with her feet apart and her hands clasping the rod.
“You go fishing often, Arthur?” Riley asked after a little while, breaking him from his daydreaming sketch. He shrugged, paying more attention to the way Riley’s shoulders squared when the tip of her rod twitched.
“Seems to be more often nowadays. I took lil’ Jack fishin’ back at the old camp before we had to run. Kid didn’t seem to take to it, but he’s only 4.” The way her shirt hung off her, tucked into her jeans and folded over neatly.
“My younger brother had a real way with animals,” Riley said, still facing the river. “He helped a sheep birth her first lamb when he was just 8. My daddy said he had something in him that made him good with all of god’s creatures. Actually, I remember one time when I was fifteen and he was 13. We lost our daddy a few years before and Adam never really got over it. I found him in the barn talkin’ all sweet to one of the new horses we couldn’t break. He was pettin’ her on the nose and whispering soft and soothing things about how she was alright and that he weren’t there to hurt her none. Calmed that horse down faster than me or my ma could. Hell, even my older brother couldn’t calm that damn horse but Adam? He took to her. I guess she did too ‘cause she never let anyone ride her but him.” Riley laughed at the fond memory and Arthur soaked it all in whilst drawing. A short silence followed and he realised he’d probably have to contribute to the conversation to keep it going.
“My daddy never taught me nothin’. Was glad when he died. Dutch and Hosea taught me all I know…” He went on for a little while, talking of times when the three of them had gone fishing together and how Hosea had bought him his first rod when he was just 15. He felt comfortable like this, just speaking with Riley and telling her about his past and the good old days with the gang. They laughed together when he told her about the time he’d bought three big fish claiming he’d caught them himself, and after celebrating he’d been ousted by the fisherman who’d sold them to him the very next day in town. He’d never been so mortified. Luckily his embarrassment seemed to cause Riley a great deal of entertainment.
A couple of hours passed by and the sun began to set. Arthur had put a lot of effort into the sketch on the page, and he was strangely proud of it. Graphite covered his right hand where he’d smudged certain areas, and the ‘clean’ page opposite the drawing was littered with thumbprints and smears. Riley, having caught a total of six fish to Arthur’s zero, happily sat herself next to him on the ground. He closed the book quietly and tucked it away safely in his satchel before she could see the sketch. Thankfully she was busy pulling out a full bottle of whiskey from her own satchel. She bit off the cork and took a swig, offering Arthur the bottle, which he gladly accepted.
“I lost my daddy to sickness when I was 15.” She said, suddenly. Arthur turned his head to listen, passing back the whiskey. “He got real sick in the winter and it took him so quickly we just… Didn’t know what to do with ourselves or the ranch. My Ma really stepped up. We all shared the work before daddy passed so we knew what was needed to be done but… none of it was the same when he died. Never was. My brother Adrian, he got angry. Used to get into fights in the saloon when people would bad-mouth our Pa and one day he came home with a busted nose, all covered in blood… Our Ma nearly killed him with the words she used. Said he was a disgrace and that daddy woulda’ been ashamed. I think it hit him where it needed, ‘cause after that he became the man of the house. Began raisin’ me and my brother with my Ma, found himself work outside of the ranch to keep us goin’, hell he even found himself a girl he was sweet on. Woulda’ married her too if it weren’t for…”
Riley trailed off, bringing the whiskey to her lips. She’d closed her eyes and the shadows of the evening light cast across her face in strange shapes. Arthur waited. This kind of thing needed time. Sometimes it was hard to get out the words you needed to say to really get something off your chest.
“I was 18 when O’Driscoll scum came n’ burned down my home and my family. Men came into my house, shot my mother and my brother in cold blood. I took Adam out the back and we tried to run but… he got caught. I watched them beat him to death whilst I hid. I watched them take away everything my family and I had built. Everything my daddy did for us, burning. All for… shit, I still don’t know why. Fun, I guess.” Bitterly she swigged the bottle again, handing it back to Arthur.
He felt a tight sensation in his throat as she spoke with such restrained emotion. It was almost like she’d never told a living soul of the events of that night. He could see the way her eyes were unfocused, lost in the horrible memories of fire and laughter and screams. Her jaw clenched tightly, and her hands had balled into fists in her lap. Arthur sighed and shook his head.
“Them’s bad men.” He grumbled, taking a mouthful of whiskey and letting it singe his throat. “We run into them a few times. Colm, their leader, he killed Dutch’s girl a while ago now. Don’t think he ever got over it, and damn why should he? O’Driscoll’s been takin’ from us since I damn well joined Dutch. They ain’t good people. I’m… I’m sorry they took your family from you.” Arthur took his pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket and stuck one between his lips. He struck a match on the bottom of his boot and lit it, shaking the match and tossing it into the water when he was done. He took a long drag before offering the smoke to Riley, who gladly accepted it and breathed it in eagerly. She seemed to relax a little, less tense than before her admission.
“Ain’t all bad I suppose. If I’d stayed on a ranch my whole life I can’t imagine I’d be where I am right now. A real badass outlaw runnin’ with a gang of wanted men, robbin’ trains an’ such.” Riley huffed a small and laugh. “An’ I wouldn’ta met you.”
Arthur felt vines constrict around his stomach, rising up into his lungs. “I ain’t much of a man people want to meet.” He said with a quick laugh, accepting another mouthful of whiskey. It began to make his stomach feel warm, so he passed it back to Riley in trade for the cigarette. “Most people run the opposite way.”
“Can’t see why, I mean you’re clearly an upstandin’ citizen after all.” Riley teased, and Arthur cast her a look through a playful frown.
“You tellin’ me I ain’t upstandin’?” He asked.
“Uh huh. I mean a man with a bounty on his head don’t usually scream ‘upstanding’ to me. But then again upstandin’s boring. Who’d want boring? I prefer exciting. I like a man that can thrill me.” Riley grinned, taking another long drink from the welcome distraction of the bottle before placing it on the ground. Arthur openly stared at her, his eyes darkening as he stubbed out the cigarette. When he looked back up she’d shifted closer than before.
“I ain’t full o’ many thrills a good girl like you should want.” He said gruffly, eyes flicking from her mouth to her jaw, the arch of her brow, the devilish glint in her eyes.
“Who says I’m good?” She retorted, twisting to face him, her hands pressed into the ground. She was so close Arthur could feel her breath on his skin.
“Darlin’ I come with a warnin’ for girls like you…” He breathed, shaking his head. A girl like her shouldn’t be after a man like him. It wasn’t the way the world worked. “I’m a wanted man, I killed folk.”
“So have I.”
“Doubt you’ve sinned more than I have.”
“Darlin’ I ain’t-“
“Just fucking kiss me-“
Arthur cut her off quickly, lips pressed urgently against hers. His heart pounded in his chest as those same vines in his lungs rose up to wrap around the pulsing muscle. The bottle clanked onto the ground as Riley rose up onto her knees, shifting to get better leverage to wind her arms around his neck and thread her fingers into his hair. He liked that. He liked that a lot. Arthur let her know by quickly gripping her waist in both his hands, dragging her into his lap without much thought. It was a bold move and for a split second he thought she might stop, but instead she laughed against his mouth and nipped at his lower lip. He growled below her, fingers pressing insistently into her hips.
Arthur had seen most of the girls in camp undressed or partially dressed at some point or another. Especially Karen. When he was a younger man he’d seen those girls and been unable to control his body, but as he’d grown the practice came with wisdom and resistance. Now he could look upon the girls in the camp without reaction, without blood rushing from his brain to his lower half. All of that was out of the window now. Never before had he been so viciously attacked by his own sinful thoughts and scenarios as he did now with a woman that sat fully clothed in his lap. His breath came quicker and his hands worked quickly under her shirt to untuck it from her jeans. His palm felt the expanse of her back, so contrasting to his own that was littered with scars.
Above him Riley gave an appreciative sigh against his lips and slipped her knees either side of his waist, bringing them closer together. She was a warm weight above him as her hands left his hair and travelled down to his shirt. She unbuttoned the first few buttons quickly, and when Arthur pressed his fingers into the skin on her stomach he could feel her pulse beating like the hooves of a racing horse. She was soft, so much softer than his rough hands were deserving of. He felt like a wish had fallen into his lap, something so rare and delicious he couldn’t help the way his body reacted. Beneath the constraints of his jeans, he stiffened, especially when Riley’s deft fingers finished with his shirt and moved to trail down his chest followed by her lips. He gasped, cursed, and let his head fall back against the tree with a dull thud. Her mouth worked like the devil against his neck and collar, peppering kisses and little bites that she soothed with her tongue. Her hands travelled to his belt, gripping it as she sank her teeth into a particularly tender spot between his shoulder and neck. Arthur’s hands shot to her ass, squeezing as he pulled her down against his crotch desperately. God, he needed her to know what effect she had on him.
A little whine escaped her lips as he pushed upwards, and he was met with her hips working down on his in slow grinding motions. He appreciated that a lot. Damn, this woman…
Arthur was about to drag her up to his mouth once again when he heard the chatter of men and froze. Someone was walking along the road with a few others from what he could hear, men that had been drinking by the sounds of it. Both of them stopped their movements, chests heaving as they gasped for silent breaths and clutched at one another tightly. The darkness was settling in now and someone on the road lit a lamp to light their way. Arthur felt a little bit of Déjà Vu over the whole situation, especially when Riley stood up from his lap to pull him up from the ground. He missed the warmth of her immediately.
“Follow me,” She whispered, and if Arthur wasn’t already hers he was in that moment.
I'm so pleased that you all like my fic so much! I've had such lovely comments and they only spur me on to write more. I hope you enjoyed this chapter, the next one will get a little steamy.
Chapter 15: Glitter and Gold
Here it is, the chapter y'all been wanting.
- Glitter and Gold by Barns Courtney -
'Do you walk in the meadow of spring?
Do you talk to the animals?
Do you hold their lives from a string?
Do you ponder the manner of things
In the dark
The dark, the dark, the dark'
Riley cast him a teasing grin as she grabbed hold of his hand, dragging him further into the woods and away from the road. Away from eyes that might catch a glimpse of something precious, new, and exciting. After a few paces, she dropped his hand and skipped off deftly between the trees. Arthur chased after her; she could hear him just inches behind her as she raced through the trees to a more secluded spot. When she turned around again he was on her like a wolf on a deer, a growl on his lips and his hands pawing at her shirt. She grinned, pleased with the effect she’d had on him, and felt him back her up against a tree. He held her tightly in place with his entire body, one hand on her thigh pulling it up and around his hip whilst the other hand slid under her shirt and over her stomach.
Riley let out a soft hum as Arthur claimed her mouth with soft, dry lips. She could taste the whiskey on his tongue when he delved into her mouth, taking what he could and dominating the kiss. She let him, it was exhilarating. He chased the air from her lungs until she had to pull away, but that seemed to just divert his attention elsewhere. Arthur’s hands were all over her, touching and caressing and squeezing just right. She arched into his touch when one of his hands found her breast beneath her shirt, coaxing small gasps from her lips with as simple a touch as brushing his thumb over her nipple. His mouth had found new area to explore in the expanse of her neck. The rough brush of his beard against her skin left a delicious sting. She hummed appreciatively as he tasted every inch of skin exposed to him, but when his hand moved to the buttons of her shirt she changed tactics.
With her hand wrapped around his wrist, Riley dragged it down from her chest, past where her belt buckle began and guided him to where she wanted him. Arthur hummed approvingly and was quick to work with this new information. He palmed her through her jeans, nails scratching against the fabric to create a delicious vibration that sent shivers down her spine. Her own nails dug into his shoulder and forearm, urging him to continue as she dragged him back up by the jaw for another searing kiss.
Riley wanted nothing more than to strip the man before her so she can see what she was working with, but she’d take what she could get right now. She wanted to slow him down but his enthusiasm was catching and soon she forgot her entire plan of action as his hand slid down the front of her jeans. Riley gasped as the rough pads of his fingers worked between her thighs, touching and testing the limits of this new boundary. She groaned encouragingly as he pulled his lips from hers and once again began a brave assault on her neck.
Arthur’s fingers were cold at first but slowly adjusted to her body temperature. He was exploring, first pressing the flat of his palm against her and grinding slowly. She hissed, her body hitching up against the tree ever so slightly as Arthur held on tightly to her knee to keep it at his hip. Riley’s fingers danced into his hair, knotting in what little length there was. His fingers delved further, pushing between her folds into the heat between. She gasped as he slowly dragged his fingers either side of her clit, up and down in gentle come-hither motions that had her tensing and rocking to his motions. This man, this man knew exactly what he was doing. Riley wondered what wealth of experience he had but the thought was cut short as he so plainly put that knowledge to good use.
With a well-timed bite to her collarbone that was sure to leave a mark, Arthur’s fingers shifted until the tip of his index finger circled her entrance slowly. His touch was so enticing and she was already so on edge that he could have whispered sweet nothings and she’d fall apart willingly. She hadn’t expected this at all. The tip of his finger pulsed in and out of her slowly but that too didn’t last for long before he slid it in entirely. She groaned into his ear, a breathy sound that earned her another bite. Slowly he worked his finger inside of her before adding another and making that same come hither motion as before. She felt sweat roll down from her hairline down her neck, plastering her hair to her face wherever it touched. Arthur shifted his hand once more, pushing the heel of his hand against her clit and circling slowly. The pressure was incredible, something she’d never felt from another man. What started as a rough and ready fuck against a tree was turning into the single most sensual moment in her sexual life.
Arthur kissed his way back up to her lips and gave them a short kiss before travelling to her ear.
“You don’t know what you do to me, do you?” He rumbled, voice like thunder.
Riley was too far gone for conversations when his thumb rose to take the place of his palm, gently circling her clit without much pressure. Something was building in her stomach, and she held on tighter to his forearm, edging him on with gentle sounds of encouragement.
“You sound real pretty like that, y’know… All hot just for me, you feel like fire.” He breathed the words and Riley closed her eyes, letting the sounds wash over her. He pressed his thumb a little firmer now, rubbing faster, circling, working towards the end goal.
“Got me all worked up ‘cause yer a vixen, an’ I am so god damn weak for you.” Riley cried out into the darkness, muffling her sounds into his shoulder least anyone hear them. The white-hot flashes of pleasure rolled through her entire body, lighting her nerves up like the stars in the night sky. The hairs on her arms stood on end as she ground her hips against his hand, working to chase the last few spasms of pleasure before they eventually fizzled out. Oversensitive, she hissed, and Arthur withdrew his hand to wipe clean against his jeans.
He pulled her up by a finger on her chin into a lazy kiss, his tongue soothing hers as she languidly sank against his chest. Her hand smoothed down the hair at the nape of his neck as it travelled to his chest, heaving to match the pace of her own. Riley smiled against his lips and lowered her leg back to the ground. She could still feel the length of him pressed against her hip, hot and heavy through his jeans but he wasn’t insistent with it. He let her bask in her aftermath, not once demanding the attention to himself.
“Your turn.” She whispered, a sly smile returning to her lips once her mind had caught back up to the present day. Arthur smiled but shook his head.
“You don’t have ta’.” He said, but as he made a move to pull away Riley gipped the buckle of his belt firmly and hauled him back.
“I wouldn’t leave you wantin’ like that.” She said, dipping her head to press gentle kisses to his jawline. She reached his ear, her hands deftly undoing his belt before sliding into his jeans. Slowly she traced her tongue around the shell of his ear and pressed a gentle kiss to his jaw once more. “Seems cruel not to give as good as I got.”
Arthur grunted as she took him in hand, the softness of his cock a firm weight in her hand. At this angle, she couldn’t quite get a proper grip on him, but judging by the way he was already rocking against her hand he was already extremely worked up. Riley smiled, one hand moving to firmly grip his upper arm as he tucked his face into the crook of her neck. He panted softly, already lost for words as she slowly drew her thumb over the tip of his cock in slow figure of eight motions. Arthur groaned, the sound muffled by her shirt, and it only spurred her on. His hands balled into fists, one tangled in her shirt at the base of her spine and the other resting on the bark of the tree they were pressed against. She worked him in time to his erratic thrusts, bringing him closer to the edge as she whispered encouragement into his ear.
“D-Darlin’ I’m-“ Arthur’s stuttered words died on his tongue and turned into an almost animalistic sound as he came into her palm. She worked him through it, pressing kisses to the side of his head as he drove his hips weakly into her hand. When he was finished, softening in her grasp, she slowly removed her hand and cleaned it against the tree bark and then her own jeans. Arthur pulled back to look at her, adoration in his blissed-out eyes. Riley sure fucking loved to see that.
“I enjoyed going fishin’ with you, Arthur.” Riley said, a stupid grin plastered on her lips. Arthur snorted and laughed against his own arm that kept him upright against the tree. Riley couldn’t help but laugh, full-blown giggles erupting from her as they stood together in the dark.
“We should be headed back… I’m starvin’.” Arthur said as he began to buckle his jeans back up. Riley did the same and followed him back to the river bend, thankful that their things were still there. After packing up and riding back to camp they went their separate ways, but Riley didn’t sleep much thinking on the way he’d touched her and the sweet words he’d whispered. She wondered, idly, if he was suffering the same thoughts across the camp in his own bed.
For a few days, Riley noticed a subtle difference in the camp. Nobody knew about their fishing trip escapades. As far as they were concerned they’d fished up supper and that was it. Riley didn’t even tell Abigail or Mary-Beth, the secret felt like a tiny fire in her hands that would extinguish if too many breaths crowded it. She cradled that secret flame, knowing full well Arthur held one similar.
They hardly had a chance to speak whenever they were both at home. There was always something to do, someone to please, a job to take. Riley found herself going out on more and more jobs with the men, especially Javier and John. The three of them had pretty much perfected the ‘Get help, my wife is dying!’ routine. They brought in enough money to keep the camp stable whilst Arthur, Dutch and Hosea worked the local law. The day Arthur came home with that badge on his chest she’d laughed so hard she could hardly breathe and spent the entirety of the night poking fun at his expense. It was worth it whenever those ocean eyes looked her way, meeting hers with something akin to joy bathing within them.
Whatever it was that Riley and Arthur had right now, she didn’t fully understand. She didn’t realize why he made her heart clench whenever he looked her way, or the very subtle touch of his hand on her lower back as he passed by her on his way to his horse made her stomach twist.
They were well into their second week at Clemens Point when Riley, John and Lenny rode out towards Van Horne with a plan in mind to rob the side business in the gunsmiths. John had been doing his recon about the place for a while, learning what he could from the local saloon until he thought he had all the information he needed. He’d asked Riley to join him, and Lenny as an extra gun. The day before they’d rode up North and stayed the night in a camp just outside of town to keep a low profile. It was just before dawn when they rode into town, Riley with her hair down and her hat abandoned on her horse, a lone pistol hidden in the waistband of her jeans to otherwise appear unarmed. She rode in alongside John and together they walked into the gunsmiths under the pretence of purchasing a gun.
“My wife here wants to learn to shoot,” John said, awkwardly placing a hand on Riley’s shoulder. She groaned internally and pressed herself to his side. At least damn well make it believable. This part he did struggle with.
“Well now…” The gunsmith began, “Lady’s first weapon, huh? Well, take a look at the catalogue here. I can recommend a few if ye’d like.” The man lit a cigarette, unbeknownst to what was happening in the back of his shop.
By now Lenny should have found his way through the back door using the lock picking kit John had given him and should be rooting through the room for the money that John was certain was there. Instead, Riley heard the sound of a window smashing. She and the Gunsmith locked eyes for a split second before she dramatically fell into John’s arms, a hand on her forehead.
John knew this part.
“Get help! My wife’s fainted!” He yelled at the gunsmith, who had been completely shocked away from the previous sound. John lowered Riley onto the ground and the Smith ran around the counter in a panic.
“What’s goin’ on? She alright?”
“Go get a doctor!” John all but yelled at him, pretending to stroke away hair from Riley’s face. Any job where she could take a short nap on the floor was a good job to her.
“We ain’t got one near here!” The smith replied, voice climbing higher.
“Well go find someone who knows what the fuck to do, then!” John shouted, making a show of checking Riley’s temperature and breathing. For effect she gave a few whines and whimpers, clutching at her stomach.
“Okay! Okay! Shit- alright wait here!” The Smith shot from the shop in a panic, and the second the door was shut Riley cracked open an eye and leapt up from the ground.
“Gone?” She asked, rushing around the counter to slam cash register open with her elbow.
“You got a minute if that.” John stood by the window, keeping an eye out. What the fuck was Lenny doing in the back that caused so much noise?
Suddenly the door to the back of the shop flew open and Lenny rushed in, saddlebags full over his shoulder.
“The fuck happened?” John asked him, visibly angry.
“Door was bolted on the inside! I came through the window instead.” Lenny replied, “Figured you two could handle it, looks like you did.”
“Christ- well grab some of these guns at least. Jameson, you got anything good?” John began throwing pistols into a sack he’d produced from his coat, sweeping ammunition off the shelves quickly.
“About five hundred, not too bad.” Riley said with a grin. She tucked the cash into her satchel before helping the boys grab the guns. She’d managed to pocket three new cattleman revolvers and was in the process of slinging a nice and shiny shotgun over her back when the door to the shop flew open.
In the doorway stood the Gunsmith and three lawmen behind him. Everyone froze, and Riley held up her hands.
“It’s not what it looks like.” She said, as the lawmen drew their weapons and began the fight. She swore, darted behind a table and kicked it down. Lenny shot for the back door where he hid against the wall, gun drawn. John was behind the counter, both men just inches away from freedom.
Bullets and curses filled the air, mostly from the gunsmith who’d only now realised what a fool he’d been.
Riley counted the bullets, waited for the pause, and lurched up with the new shotgun pointed at one of the lawmen. She fired, the gun clicked, their eyes met for a brief second as she realised it was empty.
“Fuck!” Narrowly missing a bullet to the head, Riley ducked down behind the table again, catching John’s eyes for a second. He nodded, she nodded, and the next second she was diving behind the counter as John covered her, firing two weapons at once.
A white-hot pain sliced through her right shoulder as she crashed to the floor behind John. He swore, reloading his guns as Lenny took over the covering fire. Riley lay on her side clutching her shoulder, a stream of curse words falling from her lips that would put a blush on a sailor's cheeks. John dropped to her side, hooking her arm over his shoulder to help her to her feet. They crouched, waiting for the pause in the gunfire before running to the back door with Lenny covering them. Riley held her pistol in her hand, the one she knew was loaded because she’d loaded it herself, and fired haphazardly behind herself as John all but dragged her out of the shop. Lenny slammed the door shut, barricading it with a table as John set her against the wall.
Pressing a hand against the wound and pulling back, Riley was shocked to see the bright red glistening on her hand. Who’d have thought gun wounds bled so much? The lawmen were yelling from behind the door, pounding at it with their shoulders to try and gain entry. Lenny held it closed with his shoulder against the table.
John peered through the window, whistling for the horses as he began to climb out. “We gotta go! Lenny, help her out!”
She felt her arm go numb when it was tugged around the young man’s neck. He pulled her to her feet and to the window, helping her climb through as John caught her from the short drop to the ground. Without him, she’d have landed like a tone of bricks. Her head was starting to feel fuzzy. She didn’t quite feel pain like she’d thought, but she was acutly aware of every shift of her shirt against her shoulder.
Her hand stayed firmly latched around the wound, applying pressure and bunching her shirt around it to try and staunch the bleeding. Trigger came trotting around the corner of the building, closely followed by the law as they found cover behind old barrels and crates. John helped her onto her horse, and she gripped the reigns tightly in her right hand as he slapped Trigger’s behind to make her bolt. A bullet whizzed through the air by her cheek, far too close for comfort. She dropped low on her horse and rode for dear life out of Van Horne, Lenny and John close behind her firing their weapons as they made their escape.
Riley’s eyes closed for a moment and when she opened them again it was to see her hands drenched in her own blood that dripped like syrup onto the white of her horse. She muttered an apology to the poor girl, but urged her on into the woodlands and away from the small town. Lenny rode up beside her and he was saying something she couldn’t quite catch through the drumming in her ears. Her teeth grit shut, and the pain slowly started to make itself known as the adrenaline and shock wore off.
Fire raged in her shoulder every time her horse galloped, the jolting causing her to pale significantly. She felt sick, she felt hot, and sweat rolled down her back in rivets as they sped up their escape.
They were close to Emerald Ranch by the time John forced her to stop. She was gasping for breath when she drew Trigger to a halt, hunched over on her horse and covered in sticky black blood. Sliding out of the saddle she was guided to a spot in the woods by Lenny and sat on a fallen tree. Almost immediately she slipped down onto the ground, using it as a backrest instead. John handed her a bottle of whiskey which she began taking gulps from like a dying woman in a desert. At least the drink would numb some of the pain, that’s what she needed right now. They kept asking her questions but she wasn’t listening, she was too focused on keeping her insides exactly where they were supposed to be. Inside.
The boys set up camp around her, and soon the roar of a fire warmed the coldness in her fingers. She’d almost drank a third of the whiskey when Lenny sat beside her, saying something about getting the bullet out or maybe it was something about taking the mullet to town, she didn’t know.
John crouched by the fire with something in his hand, turning it over and over in the flames that glistened orange and yellow as the sky grew darker. Lenny ripped the sleeve of her shirt off with the help of his pocketknife and pushed something between her teeth. She bit down on the leather belt, leaning against the log with one hand clenched in the grass and mud beneath her.
“It’s gonna hurt like hell, you’re gonna need to hold her.” John was speaking to Lenny quickly, and Riley caught a glimpse of the handle of a knife. Her eyes were watering, glazed from the whiskey and the sheer pain in her shoulder.
She gasped for breath through clenched teeth, damn well near biting through the thick leather as something white-hot touched her wound. She screamed through the belt, head thrown back as she fought away from the source of the pain.
Riley wasn’t sure what happened after that. Firm hands held her against the log as the devil's fingers searched through her shoulder. It felt like hours, days that the knife was searching when it suddenly left. The pain didn’t leave, the heat didn’t subside. Sweat gathered on her forehead, mixing with the blood on her shoulder as it travelled down her neck. The moment without something inside her wound was short-lived, as not even thirty seconds later something worse was forced against the majority of her shoulder. Skin sizzled, blood boiled, but the wound would ultimately be closed by the fire and heat. Tears mixed freely with the sweat on her cheeks. She cried out in pain but the fight was gone, exhaustion draping over her like the dark comfort of a blanket.
Distantly, from her hiding spot under the blanket darkness, she felt the cool press of a bottle against her lips. Whiskey or medicine, she didn’t care, she drank what she was given without argument and slipped into the blissful expanse of unconsciousness.
When Riley awoke next she was on a horse with someone riding behind her, keeping her upright with an arm around her waist. Her hands braced the pommel of the saddle. Her shoulder was still on fire, someone needed to help her put out the fire. She drifted again.
Her eyes cracked open as someone was helping her down from the horse. She was being carried somewhere and laid down on a bedroll of pelts and furs. She could hear voices and see shapes behind the blur of her vision, but the allure of sleep called to her again. She didn’t feel the water press to her lips or the gentleness of a hand stroking the hair from her forehead. She didn’t feel a thing under the blanket of unconsciousness.
Chapter dedicated to Shelbee because you've been super supportive and I'm very thankful for your comments <3
Chapter 16: Wild Heart
- Wild Heart by Mumford and Sons -
'I wouldn't have you any other way,
I don't want a love that makes sense anyway
It took a wild heart to tame mine
And it took a wild heart to charm
Now a wild heart has gone and floored me
With this everlasting glance
But this everlasting glance'
Finally, we have achieved a state of true insanity. For the first time in my life, I’m a deputized lawman. We went off with some moronic dope Deputy, working for the alcohol drenched Sheriff Gray pursuing some moonshiners. Dutch is convinced this will somehow lead to riches beyond compare. Seems the one powerful local family, The Grays, ex Scots, is warring with another, proud English family, the Braithwaites like some long running dispute from the border country.
Apparently there’s gold or women or something at the root of this, and if it’s gold, we want it.
Either way we are so deep in the swamp and so entirely lost ourselves. I hope it will take the Pinkertons and their like a long while to find us. We shall see.
In the meantime, a new career path in law seems to await. Seems like amongst our other perils a gang called “THE LEMOYNE RAIDERS” won't take too kindly to outsiders or anyone who ain’t living in the distant past.
Jameson and I, well we seem to be getting along just fine. I took her fishing y
The sentence Arthur was intently scrawling upon a fresh page in his journal abruptly stopped. The pencil and leather-bound paper lay forgotten in the mud alongside a large boot print that skidded to the side as if the wearer had suddenly moved. Cain rooted around Arthur’s wagon, the only movement nearby as he sniffed at the pages with disinterest.
Across the camp almost everyone was gathered around a pure white horse with bright red streams of blood dripping from its flank. Charles held onto her reins tightly, attempting to calm the mare as it neighed and whinnied anxiously. The rider was slumped in the seat of a different horse with John behind her. He was shouting, demanding Swanson and Miss Grimshaw’s attention to his wounded companion. Lenny was deathly pale as he helped unload the loot of their job, handing the saddlebags over to Dutch as he gave a debrief of what had happened.
Arthur didn’t hear any of it.
The second the sound of horses reached his ears he knew something was off. They didn’t sound happy, as horses usually do. There was fear in them. He’d waited until the first rider came through the trees. It was Lenny, approaching the guard on duty, Karen, to inform her of what was to come. Arthur watched as she ran for Miss Grimshaw and Swanson, the only two people in their camp even remotely passable for medical intervention. He knew what this meant, and his stomach clenched uncomfortably.
Please not her.
The next horse rode into camp with the third tethered to the back with rope. He spotted the bright white mare and her brilliantly red coat before he spotted her. She was slumped back against John who struggled to hold her in place on the horse and drive at the same time. Her hair was plastered to her face, which was dotted with blood and grime. Her entire right shoulder was bound in rags that were thoroughly wet with blood.
John called for help, and the camp seemed to snap into action. Arthur bolted across the grass towards his brother in arms, reaching to take hold of Riley’s waist and help John lower her down. She was unconscious and extremely pale, but her skin was so hot to the touch he swore it burnt him. There was no doubt she was unable to walk, so Arthur scooped her legs out from under her and quickly rushed to the wagon they used to store the medicine. Behind the crates lay a medical bed of furs and pelts for comfort. It wasn’t something they often used but Riley didn’t have a tent of her own, and this wound meant her shirt would have to come off. Arthur didn’t like the idea of certain camp members seeing her like that.
He laid her down on the bed carefully, stroking back her hair to try and get a better look at her face. She scorched like the sun wherever he touched. Distantly he heard someone yell that the reverend wasn’t in camp, but rather the Rhodes saloon getting shitfaced. Susan was by his side in an instant, her hands flitting between Riley’s face and the wound.
“She’s gettin’ a fever, what the hell did you boys do to her?!” Miss Grimshaw all but snarled at John, who held his hands up. They were covered in blood. Her blood.
“She got hit in the robbery. Ain’t much I coulda’ done. I think we managed to get the bullet out without makin’ it worse but when we tried sealin’ it shut…”
“You shouldn’t have tried!” Grimshaw was mad, Arthur could see it in her eyes. He felt anger rise in his own throat too but he swallowed it down. It wouldn’t help. Not while she was like this. His eyes latched onto her closed ones, teeth clenched tight as he noticed the dark circles under her eyes. How long had they ridden for? How long had she been losing blood before they got back to camp?
Miss Grimshaw began to remove the bandages slowly, lifting Riley up by a gentle hand under her neck until the wound was visible. Arthur helped, gently taking the place of Susan’s hands until she was free to unravel with both her hands. She gasped, clenched her jaw, and turned on John like a bear on a rabbit. John was already halfway across the camp with Abigail at his heels before she could say another word.
The wound was deep and ugly and there was no exit wound like John had mentioned. The flesh was singed in several places as if they’d tried to seal it shut with something as stupid as a hot knife. The skin was red with more than just blood. But the wound didn’t go through, so the gun used couldn’t have been a powerful one. At least he had that to be thankful for.
“What do you need?” Arthur asked, sliding out of the wagon fully to go through the crates. They were woefully low on supplies. Damn it, who was supposed to refill them this week?
“Somethin’ to break the fever. Somethin’ for the pain. Somethin’ to fight infection, at least. And water and a rag, we need to get her cleaned up. Get me Tilly, Arthur!” He obeyed without a second thought. Quickly he grabbed the nearest piece of paper and a pencil, scribbling down what medicines he thought they could use, what herbs he knew would help, and what supplies they were running low on. He thrust the paper at Lenny, all but dragging the poor boy to his horse.
“Take this paper to the store in Rhodes, get all these things if you can and anything else you think will help. Take this too.” He thrust a billfold into Lenny’s hand, and the kid knew better than to say anything to him when he was like this. He rode off like a bat out of hell, spurring his horse onwards out of camp.
Arthur’s stomach did flips as he took long strides over to the chuckwagon. Pearson was staring at him dumbly, nothing to say when he had that look on his face. He grabbed a bucket from the wagon and all but jogged to the water's edge, trudging knee-deep to fill it up to the brim. On his way back he finally saw Tilly coming back from the woods with Mary-Beth. He hollered her over and explained the situation quickly.
“I got Lenny goin’ into town for supplies. You gotta help Miss Grimshaw with Jameson.” When Arthur spoke like this it didn’t leave room for argument. Tilly was quick to tighten her apron and rush over to the girl’s wagons where she rummaged around for supplies. When she was back by Arthur’s side she carried arms full of fresh cloth, supposedly old clothes that the girls were mending. It was all they had to make do with for bandages, he guessed.
Miss Grimshaw was elbow deep in blood and rags by the time Arthur got back. He felt the blood drain from his face but otherwise kept as cool an appearance as he possibly could. He set the bucket of water down on a crate and stood nervously, shifting from one foot to the other as he tried to get a look in to see what sort of state Jameson was in.
“Oh- Out of the way Arthur! I have a girls life to save here!” Miss Grimshaw snapped at him as she exited the wagon to retrieve the new cloth Tilly had brought. The younger girl cast him an apologetic look and climbed in beside her, ready to work under Grimshaw’s guidance.
He’d been banished from Riley’s side and he didn’t understand why that hurt so much. Like a disgraced dog, he slunk off to the round table to sit nervously jogging his leg up and down. He found himself craning to see into the wagon, this wasn’t the place to sit. After a few minutes, he stood and made his way back to his own bedroll, tried to busy himself with washing his hands of Riley’s blood and picking up his belongings off the floor. Distractions didn’t last for long. Eventually, he sat beside the fire facing the wagon, far enough away that he couldn’t be considered perverted for trying to stare at an injured naked woman, but close enough that he could just hear Miss Grimshaw when she spoke to Tilly.
It was an hour before Lenny arrived back in camp with canvas bags strapped to his horses back. He’d gone and bought the entire shop with the money that Arthur had given him, which in his panic had been a fair amount. The delivery was made; bottles and vials were exchanged between Tilly and Miss Grimshaw when she asked for them. The worst parts were when Tilly was made to empty the bowls of water out and fill them with clean water from the bucket. The grass behind the medical wagon was stained a shocking red.
Two hours later and Arthur hadn’t moved from his spot. At one point Lenny sat with him by the fire but he didn’t talk. Poor kid must not have known what to say or what to do. He simply handed Arthur a coin bag of his change. A measly ten dollars left from the near two hundred he’d given him. It was worth it if she survived.
Darkness came and with it came supper. Charles forced a bowl of stew into Arthur’s hand which he picked at, only occasionally taking his eyes off the wagon long enough to eat. It must have been a sight to see for on the third hour of his stationary watching he saw Hosea make his way to the medical wagon.
There was a short and hushed conversation between Hosea and Miss Grimshaw, a few nods shared and a gentle hand lay on her shoulder. He was about the only damn person in camp Miss Grimshaw wouldn’t screech at. The older man eventually made his way over to the large campfire to sit beside Arthur on a nearby crate. He grunted as he sat down, as older men often do, and poked at the fire with a long stick.
Hosea was silent for a short while, but Arthur figured it wouldn’t last.
“She’ll be alright.” He said, offhandedly. Arthur’s eyes pinned on him rapidly. “Susan says she’s lost a lot of blood but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an infection or nasty business. We’ll have to see how she is in the morning, however. She’s going to need to rest now. Maybe you should see what Pearson wanted to talk to you and Dutch about. In the morning, though. Tonight… I can’t imagine anything I say will move you from this spot.”
Quiet slipped between them then, aside from the gentle crackle of the fire. Arthur looked back at the wagon, shoulders less tense than before.
“She’ll be alright, son.” Hosea said again, this time laying a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. He appreciated the gesture, closing his eyes as his head dropped towards the ground. He was all of a sudden extremely tired.
Hosea said so much without actually saying many words. Just like Dutch, he could comfort Arthur like he was a child afraid of the dark. He knew that this man, a father figure just the same as Dutch was, could see straight through him. What a damn fool he was to think he could hide away from it. He cared for this woman, and she’d nearly been taken away from him just like the others.
There wasn’t anything he could do for the girl in the wagon right now, no help he could offer that wouldn’t have his head bitten off. He felt useless, and he didn’t like that feeling. How he’d fallen so quickly for this whirlwind of a woman was a question he’d find himself asking every single day until he died.
Morning came quicker than anticipated. Arthur had taken on guard duty from Lenny so that the boy could rest. He slept for longer than most and was still asleep when Arthur passed his bedroll on his way to the medical wagon. Tilly was sat perched on the edge, a book in her lap and sleepless eyes staring at no page in particular. The girls had worked hard on Riley, and Tilly had volunteered to sit up with her all night to make sure she had a familiar face to wake up to. Judging by Tilly’s eyes, she didn’t wake up.
“Miss, you need rest,” Arthur said, offering Tilly a hand to help her down from the wagon. She took it gratefully and nodded. It didn’t take much convincing for her to go to bed.
Looking into the darkness of the wagon, Arthur held his breath. He climbed up to kneel on the hardwood floor, hat abandoned with his satchel on a medical supply crate outside. He sat down carefully; eyes dragging over every inch of her he could see.
Riley lay in the makeshift bed surrounded by red-stained black bear furs. She was asleep still, her eyes closed and circled with red. Her skin looked sticky with sweat and paler than it usually was. A blanket was pulled up to her chest, covering her modesty, but he could see the fresh dressings wrapped around her shoulder. The lack of bright blood across her body was a dramatic improvement, and somewhere in the colder part of his brain, Arthur wondered why almost every time he saw this woman she was covered in blood.
He settled with his back against the wall of the wagon, one leg crooked up and the other tucked underneath it. He watched her for what felt like hours, ignoring Miss Grimshaw’s protests when she came by to check on her. There was no way he was moving now, and Miss Grimshaw knew that. There was no point arguing with as stubborn a man as Arthur Morgan.
For most of the morning, Arthur spent nursing Riley as instructed by Miss Grimshaw. He dripped water into her mouth from a clean rag to keep her drinking and mopped her forehead too. His fingers itched when they were idle, so he settled or keeping them in firm fists just to still their nervous twitching. Riley’s sleep was so deep Arthur began to wonder if she’d wake up at all. He missed the fire in her eyes, the way she’d trail her fingers across his back when she passed by. He missed her witty remarks and her laughter. So much time alone to think probably wasn’t good for a man like him.
A loud crash echoed through the camp suddenly, shocking Arthur upright. He leaned out of the wagon, one hand primed on his pistol, first instinct screaming that he had to take cover. As it turned out Pearson had simply slipped with the stew pot when he’d gone to rinse it in the river. Bubbles soaked the grass and the cook, probably for the better. A string of curses made his lips twitch into a small smile before they set into a firm line as he retreated back into the wagon.
He turned to sit back down when movement caught his eye. Riley was awake, sat bolt upright in the bedroll with the blanket clutched tightly to her chest and one hand wrapped around her injured shoulder. Her eyes were wild, and her chest was heaving. She had no idea what was happening, and Arthur could see the fear cross her face briefly until her eyes focused on him.
“Riley,” He breathed, clumsily surging forward to reach for the jug and cup laid beside her. He fumbled with the water and held the cup to her lips, one hand laid warm and gentle on the middle of her back. She accepted the drink desperately, parching her thirst for all she was worth. Arthur had to move the jug of water out of her reach when she demanded more. It wasn’t a great idea right now.
She seemed to deflate and sink back into the bed, guided by Arthur’s hand. He pulled the blanket up to her shoulders again and stroked the hair back from her face tenderly.
“You’re a mighty fool, Jameson.” Arthur teased once he was sure she wasn’t about to go back to sleep. Riley simply smiled, blinking slowly up at him. There was that smile. There was that fire.
“Wasn’t my fault. Plan was great for the most part. Turns out the door was locked from the inside.” She rolled her eyes, and Arthur could see the exhaustion in them still. But she was awake. She was alive.
“Marston’s gonna answer for it and much more, I promise you that.” He said, replacing his hands in his lap, all of a sudden unsure what to do with them.
“Mmm… Don’t kill him. Sometimes things go wrong, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Not really.” She said, stretching in the bed to gently touch her wound. Arthur saw pain flash across her face and winced in sympathy. He reached for a tonic, a small vile that he uncorked and pressed to her lips gently. She accepted, no matter how much she scrunched her nose up at the taste.
“Ain’t never got shot before. Gotta say, not a fan. Wouldn’t recommend it.” Arthur laughed, shaking his head as he tossed the vial into a discarded bowl. She still retained her humour even in this condition. It was when she tried to sit up again that he dove in with clumsy hands to try and help her. She batted his hands away with a tut, so instead, he bit back a sound and let her sit by herself.
“You should be restin’, Riley. Y’ain’t been awake ten minutes an’ already tryna’ leave?” Riley scoffed and began rooting around under the blanket and through the furs.
“Where’s my shirt?” She asked, a frown creasing her sweet face.
“Pretty much destroyed, I’m afraid. I’ll go get you a new one if you promise to stay here?” Riley huffed but nodded, beginning to thread her fingers through her hair to comb it out.
Arthur was quick to exit the wagon and make his way across the camp to Riley’s bedroll. He found her pack and began to rummage, pulling out clothes until he found a light blue button-down shirt that didn’t look too dirty. He took it back to her quickly, only to find her sitting on the edge of the wagon with the blanket around her upper half. Thankfully her jeans hadn’t needed removing during the chaos. He heaved a sigh as he made his way back to her, handing over the shirt before looking around at the camp.
Most of the men were out on jobs, and Micah was nowhere to be seen, at least. Nobody there to spy if she-
“Christ, Jameson!” Arthur spun around as Riley dropped the blanket, the fabric pooling around her waist as she slowly pulled on the shirt. He held his hands on his hips firmly, eyes scanning the area to make sure nobody was watching. He heard her scoff behind him and felt a gentle nudge to his calf from her boot. When he turned back around she was still partially exposed, but clearly struggling. He made sure to keep his eyes decent, least the lord himself strike him down in disappointment.
“Would you mind helpin’ me out?” She asked, gritting her teeth as she extended her arm to attempt to slide the fabric on. The pain was visible on her face in the way her muscles tensed and her jaw clenched. Arthur did as he was asked to do without a second thought.
He pulled the fabric up over her shoulders, settling it gently before moving his fingers to begin the buttons. Their fingers brushed and distantly he was aware that she could probably do her own buttons up at this point. He paused for a second, eyes firmly planted on the buttons, and her touch melted away. He continued his task until most of the buttons were done up, leaving her room at the top to breathe. He even helped to roll up her sleeves the way she usually wore the shirts, pleased with such a mundane task as helping her dress.
When he was done and his restless fingers didn’t quite know what to do, he let them rest on his own belt buckle. He chewed his lower lip between his teeth and waited, mostly for her to say something. When she didn’t he looked up at her, finding those dull greens focused on something far off.
“Riley.” He spoke softly, calling her back to reality. Her eyes snapped to his and he was surprised to see them watering. Quickly, almost automatically, one of his hands moved up to cup her cheek. Camp be damned, she was breaking his heart with those eyes filled with oceans. “Darlin’ what’s goin’ on?”
“Nothin’, nothin’… I just- I ain’t never been shot before.” She spoke with a wobble in her voice as she said the same thing she’d been joking about not minutes ago. Then it clicked.
“First time’s always scary.” He rumbled, stepping closer to offer her some comfort. She took it willingly, her arms bunching against his chest as he enveloped her in his arms. “Feel’s like dyin’ an’ livin’ all at once. But you ain’t dead, not yet. You’re survivin’.”
Against his chest Riley sniffed, breath hitching as she took a private moment to compose herself, shielded from everyone and everything by Arthur’s frame. He gently stroked his fingers through the hair at the top of her neck, ever cautious of where his arms laid due to her injury. Gently he rested his chin on the crown of her head, thumb rotating small circles on her lower back. It was a precious moment that stuck in his throat as he considered the implications of her fear.
She could have died that day. She could have died before they’d even begun.
The thought sent a sour feeling to Arthur’s gut.
Eventually, Riley had composed herself enough to leave his warmth, and Arthur had stepped aside as a fluttering Miss Grimshaw made her way over to check on the patient. He was all but pushed out of the fray when the girls realised she was awake, crowding her and asking her questions like twittering birds. Across the camp he could see John stood leaning against a wagon, a cigarette between his lips and his arms folded. Arthur stared at him, clenched his jaw, but eventually nodded in his direction. The man returned the nod and sulked off elsewhere. In their own language, they knew the meanings of the gestures. He didn't blame John for what had happened.
Without much else to do Arthur took himself away from the medical wagon to find a distraction. Upon seeing Micah sat beside Dutch’s tent without Dutch in sight he began to make his way over, already feeling the suspicion rising.
Not ten minutes after leaving Riley to the girls and he was riding out with Dutch and Micah, both men intent on some fools errand of a peace offering between the Van Der Linde’s and the O’Driscolls. Arthur knew, deep down, that if this were a trap it could cost him everything, and they were walking into the jaws of death like blind men in the swamp.
My angst muscle needed flexing. Get ready for more angst. Here it comes in waves, baby!
Chapter 17: The Devil's Backbone
- The Devil's Backbone by The Civil Wars -
"Give me the burden, give me the blame
I'll shoulder the load, and I'll swallow the shame
Give me the burden, give me the blame
How many, how many Hail Marys is it gonna take?
Don't care if he's guilty, don't care if he's not
He's good and he's bad and he's all that I've got
Oh Lord, Oh Lord, I'm begging you please
Don't take that sinner from me
Oh don't take that sinner from me"
Riley was not a girl of religious morals. When she’d been younger her mother and father had taken her and her brothers to church every Sunday. There, with her family, she’d sing hymns and pray and all other manner of things a good Christian girl was supposed to do. When her father had died it was then, she decided, that God was not as omnipotent as their Reverand had so worshipfully claimed. If he was, he could have done something to save a good man from an untimely death. If he was, Riley wouldn’t have felt such unforgiving grief at such a young age.
Around her the gang members milled around going about their usual business as if nothing were happening. It had been several hours since Dutch, Micah and Arthur had ridden out to the middle of nowhere to talk peace offerings with none other than Colm O’Driscoll. When Mary-Beth told her, she’d felt anger at first. Pure rage, white-hot like dragons breath inside of her lungs as those words span around her mind. Why? Why peace, with men who though the word meant rape and fire?
Eventually, her anger had dissipated and turned to sadness. She’d confided in Mary-Beth her past, her sorrowful story of the ranch and her mother and brothers. After talking so candidly to Arthur not even two days before it felt so easy now. It felt like a relief to tell someone her horrid past. She even spoke about things she’d not even told Arthur on that day in the woods. How, for a few years prior to taking up the outlaw lifestyle, she’d worked as a working girl in a saloon in Strawberry. How she’d let men take what they wanted from her without much more than a thank you and a pitiful coin purse afterwards. She told Mary-Beth about her first robbery and how she’d been sick with worry the entire time. She even told her about the one time she was caught by a merchant and nearly beaten senseless for her crime.
After the sadness came the worry. The three men on their idiotic mission hadn’t returned until well after Pearson had served their evening meal. They rode in on frantic horses, Dutch shouting for Hosea and disappearing into his tent for a private conversation. Poor Molly was evicted and took herself off to the pier to sulk. Micah had gone straight for the beer, oddly favouring that over harassing Abigail who sat alone by the main fire. Something was off.
Riley had sat on her bedroll for most of the day with Mary-Beth for company. She’d taken up sewing, a poor hobby that she was terrible at, just to keep her hands busy. After being banned from the manual labour around camp she needed something to do. Mary-Beth taught her how to patch up socks like it was nothing, but Riley just couldn’t get the hang of it. It took her a moment to realise Arthur hadn’t ridden into camp behind the two men.
Inside her chest, she felt a strange constriction, a tightening that felt like large hands on her windpipe. She didn’t dare move when Dutch came out to call a meeting.
“Gather round, my friends, there is something we need to speak of.” He said, standing in front of his tent like a messiah about to proclaim the lord's word. Riley made her way over slowly after Mary-Beth helped her up from the ground, standing close to the back with the girl clutching her good arm.
“As some of you know myself, Micah and Arthur rode out this morning to see if we could form some sort of… treaty with the O’Driscolls. Now we knew that this could very well be a trap, that’s why we took Arthur. Protection. My best gun.” Dutch was speaking slowly, carefully choosing his words. He looked at Riley for a split second, before diverting his eyes to others.
The constriction in her chest tightened, her hands balled into fists as her breath shook in her throat.
“Regretfully, it was a trap. Now I don’t know what happened to Arthur but when we got away we trailed back to see if we could find him. Myself and Micah searched high and low for that boy, we couldn’t find him. I do not think he got away. There… there was a lot of blood.” Riley’s fingers twitched. She felt the colour drain from her face and her lips parted to suck in a sharp breath. What was he saying? Where was Arthur?
The dragon’s breath filled her lungs again, igniting her fury.
“Tomorrow morning I want you, Micah, to show Charles where we were. You’re my best tracker, Charles, I have faith you’ll find him. For now-“
“Tomorrow?” Riley asked, voice high in pitch from distress. “Why not now? What if he got caught? What if they’re killing him right now, Dutch? What if he needs us?”
All eyes were on her. Mary-Beth clutched tightly at her arm, trying to calm her down and asking her to leave it be. Riley couldn’t leave it be.
“Miss Jameson I assure you, we will do everything within our power to-“
“BULL. SHIT. I’ll go myself.” Enraged once again for the second time that day, Riley snatched her arm out of Mary-Beth’s grip and began to make her way to the horses. Nobody made a move to follow her.
She struggled to unhitch her horse from her post. Someone, possibly Kieren, had washed the blood from her white fur but she remained unsaddled. Across the way beside the scout fire, her saddle sat on a log, halfway clean. She strode over to it confidently but she didn’t have the strength to lift it with one arm as injured as it was. She settled for dragging it by the pommel, tearing up dirt and grass in her wake until she was beside Trigger again. Her arm screamed at her to stop, the wound tearing from the effort as fresh blood began to soak her bandages. Burning pain caused her to drop the saddle in her attempt to lift it. She cursed, kicked at the saddle angrily, and tried again.
This burden, this rescue mission, she’d do it with one hand if she had to. If nobody else would, then she would. Alone.
A hand settled on her shoulder as she tried in vain to heft the saddle up onto her mare. Trigger shifted uncomfortably, clearly affected by the thickness of tension radiating from Riley. She turned to the man behind her, jaw set and eyes hard, sweat beading on her forehead.
“I assure you,” Dutch said, slowly and calmly as if speaking to a child. “I assure you I will personally go out in the morning with the boys to find him. It’s dark, it’s dangerous, and everyone is tired. We won’t be much use to Arthur like this. He’s a strong man, he’s my son I raised him well. He’ll survive like you did, Miss Jameson. I promise you, we will find him.”
It took her a moment to realise who was gasping for breath and why her eyes were unfocused. She blinked away tears, directing her anger at them as she furiously wiped them away. The hand on her shoulder gave a light squeeze. She relaxed, minutely, and nodded. There wasn’t anything she could do in this state. She felt so powerless.
“You have the same face he had when you came back from that job yesterday,” Dutch said, shifting his hand to her cheek in a fatherly way. She closed her eyes tight and restrained the dragon’s fire inside her lungs.
Most of the gang were as tense as Riley felt for the remainder of the evening. Hardly anyone spoke around the fire, and if they did their conversations were hushed and over if she came close by. Riley had taken to sitting on her bedroll with her back against the wheel of the wagon providing their shelter. She focused on gun cleaning for the rest of the night, working by the light of a lantern and two candles. Mary-Beth lay beside her, reading one of her romance novels absently but every time Riley looked over the page she was still on hadn’t changed. She took apart the rifle in her hands, cleaning each component expertly with a rag and gun oil. Her hands were mostly grease by the time she finished the camp’s rifles and moved onto her own weapons.
John had given her two brand new pistols from the job they’d done the other day. They were gorgeous, both engraved and with soft wooden handles. One showed the picture of a stag in the hilt, and the other a howling wolf. They didn’t need cleaning at all, but she found herself absentmindedly running her rag along each barrel. Her eyes stayed on the edge of the wood in two directions that their horses usually travelled. Javier and Bill were on guard duty on opposite sides, both hidden in the trees. The entire time she sat her gut twisted itself in knots.
Where was he now? What were they doing to him? Visions of her younger brother swirled in her head. Adam on the ground, with men surrounding him. His pleas to be left alone, his screams when they kicked and punched him. Their laughter, his cries. The sound of a bullet tearing through flesh.
He’s just a boy…
Riley could feel the heat of the fire on her skin as they set alight to all that mattered. She could hear her mother’s screams of terror, her older brother’s roar of anger, the gunshot that echoed in her mind against the juxtaposition of the quiet camp. The ground was harsh her hands when she tripped through roots and knots in the forest. The rough bark of the tree under her nails as she frantically climbed. Hot tears like lightning rolling down her cheeks.
Her throat constricted, and her hands clenched so tightly around the rag in her hands she thought it could rip apart. Is this what it’s like now? She thought, distantly, as her arms wound around her knees and her forehead rested atop them. Was she doomed to relive this nightmare again and again for the rest of her life? Why is it so dangerous to hold something close to your heart?
Eventually, Riley’s breathing evened out from ragged to quiet. The tremors in her shoulders slowed down, and as the candles beside her blew out with a quick gust of wind she felt the coolness of night embrace her. For the first time in almost sixteen years, she prayed and fell victim to the embrace of sleep soon after.
It was extremely early in the morning, the sun barely casting purple rays over the camp when Mary-Beth stirred beside her. Riley hadn’t moved all night, still sat with her legs up to her chest and her head in her arms. The younger girl sat and stretched, ready to begin her day's chores when she saw a familiar horse ride into camp. She stood, and just as the rider slumped sideways and fell to the ground her hands were on Riley’s back shaking her awake.
“Riley- It’s Arthur!” She said, hurriedly. Mary-Beth rushed off to meet him, and Riley raised her head quickly. Arthur lay on the ground in his union suit, practically covered in blood and too weak to stand. She stood up, stumbled on her stiff legs, and began running. Dutch and Karen were already by his side when she skidded to her knees beside him, hands hovering over his arm. She didn’t dare touch him.
“I told you it was a setup, Dutch…” Arthur wheezed, breath coming in short bursts.
“My boy… My dear boy, what?”
“They got me… But I got away.”
“Yeah… Yeah, you did.” Dutch’s hands were on Arthur’s hair and shoulder, tentative around the truly gruesome wound in his shoulder. It looked like he’d been shot and someone had cauterized it with a candle. Bile rose in Riley’s throat. “Miss Grimshaw! I need help! Reverend Swanson!”
“He was gonna set the law on us!” Arthur all but growled, anger and pain mixing together in his voice as Dutch attempted to sit him up. Riley helped, but was instantly moved out of the way by Mary-Beth with a quiet word on her lips.
“I’m sorry Arthur!” Pearson had appeared, now making his apologies. Was it his fault? Riley didn’t know.
“It is a bit late for apologies… SWANSON?!” Dutch was fueled by his anger and Riley didn’t understand why. Was it really Pearson’s fault? Wasn’t it Dutch who’d agreed to this fool's errand?
Amazingly the Reverand was here, and not at all as drunk as normal. There were voices around her as Mary-Beth held onto her good arm again, holding her back as the men lifted Arthur from the ground and helped to drag his large frame over to his bed.
“You’re safe now, Arthur. You’re home.” Dutch was saying as Arthur all but collapsed on his bedroll. Riley followed a short distance behind, standing by the pole keeping the canvas up above them.
“That’s pretty, Dutch. That’s real pretty.” Was he joking? Even amidst this pain and fever? What had they done to him?
“Miss Grimshaw… Sit with him a while.” Dutch requested, before making his way back to his tent.
The next few hours were a blur to Riley. She stood in place as the sun began to rise and Swanson and Miss Grimshaw worked together to clean Arthur up. They’d torn apart his union suit to get at his injuries, baring his body to the morning light. She could see where boot marks were already making their presence known as red bruises along his ribs. His eye was swollen almost shut, and cuts decorated his lips, eyebrow and cheek like dew on petals. For the most part, he lay unconscious, only making small sounds when Miss Grimshaw cleaned his wounds. Swanson acted as the go-between man, rushing to grab medicines and at once point even dipping into his own personal supply of ‘medicine’ to ease Arthur’s pain.
Come midday, when there was nothing left to do, both of their resident medics left to go about their day but not before Miss Grimshaw caught Riley by her hand and pulled her aside. For the most part, she’d been sat at the round table, watching the events unfold with hawk-like eyes. Miss Grimshaw lead her to Arthur’s tent and sat her down in the chair.
“You’re to watch him. Make sure he has what he needs when he wakes up.” It was a brief instruction, but there were heavier implications. Riley nodded stiffly and waited by his side.
It was evening when Arthur began to stir from his sleep. He was fitful, muttering words Riley couldn’t strain her ears to hear. She leaned forward, pressed her fingers into his palm slowly, and shifted onto her knees beside his bed. She could see him better this way, as night unfolded around them. She could see the bruises blossoming around his jaw, the cuts healing on his lip and brow. Her fingers travelled to his hair absently which she stroked away from his face. It was getting longer, longer than it had been when she’d first met him. Slowly her fingers traced the lines of his face, working down to his cheek which still burned against her palm. She wasn’t sure if it was a fever, or if he was just naturally so warm. Something inside her chest told her it wasn’t good.
After a minute or two of tracing his jaw and stroking back his hair, Arthur seemed to fall back into his slumber. Riley had sighed and sat up back into her chair, but as her fingers began to leave his she felt them tighten. Instantly she was back on her knees before him, raising their clasped hands to her mouth to kiss gently at the inside of his wrist. His eyes cracked open, red and tired but otherwise alive. A breath of air she didn’t know she was holding shot past her lips, and she bowed her head in silent thanks to whoever had answered her prayer. When she looked up again she found those pale blues staring directly into her soul.
“Why’re you cryin’?” Arthur asked, voice rough.
Riley simply smiled and shook her head. She hadn’t noticed the tear fall from her cheek onto their hands.
“I’m just glad you’re alive.” She said, voice equally as rough.
Arthur returned her smile, his fingers shifting from her hand to settle on her cheek. He stared at her for a while, and Riley was about to ask him a question when his eyes began to slowly shut again. She let him sleep, gently guiding his hand back down onto his chest, and pulled up the blanket to keep him warm.
For the next few weeks, Arthur suffered a fever. He was hot and cold all at once, sweating like the devil and shivering under several blankets. In the day Riley would help him to the water’s edge to bathe, rinse him of the grime of his captivity and comb his hair back with her fingers and soap. At night, she’d sit by his side in the chair, reading to him from her borrowed book on flora and fauna in the Americas. She’d help him with his meals, and hand him off to Charles or John whenever he needed the bathroom. For the most part, it was pleasant, but Arthur’s dreams were hard to manage.
She couldn’t be with him when he was dreaming. Often he’d wake up in a silent fit of fear, fists clenched and breath caught. She’d do her best to soothe him, calm his breathing, and read to him again until he fell asleep. She’d offer him water and medicines, and hardly ever mentioned why he was in this state in the first place. Instead, she distracted him with stories and tales from her past. For the most part this worked wonders, and she found herself getting to know this man even deeper than she had ever thought possible.
Her own injury was healing well. Luckily she’d escaped the fever that seemed to grip Arthur, and for that she was thankful. She took medicines daily until she felt she didn’t need it. The distraction of caring for Arthur was more than enough to keep her mind away. After a while, she regained motion in her arm and was able to live without bandages once again. She’d spend all of her time with Arthur when she could, and today was regaling him with a less than truthful rendition of her first big city robbery.
“…So I’m stood there with this woman’s bag in my hand in the middle of Saint Denis, and the Lawman comes up to me and starts to try and take it off me. Of course, this old hag I’ve stolen it from has told him what I look like so he’s got me by the scruff of my neck when I get an idea. So I look around for the nearest men, and luckily we’re right by the harbour. So I yell, as loud as I can at those men, pleadin’ for help. An’ I look back at the lawman whose got this stupid look on his face, and I scream ‘That’s my purse, I don’t know you!’ an’ then I stabbed him and ran. I was 21, it was a very memorable birthday.”
Riley had come to love the sound of Arthur’s laughter. She loved the way his face lit up and the smile lifted his eyes. The story wasn’t entirely a lie, she had stolen a lady’s purse but she hadn’t been as quick as to think up an escape plan and subsequently spent three nights in jail after attempting to stab a lawman with a hairpin. When he finished laughing, Arthur turned around from where he stood shaving the weeks worth of beard from his face. Riley sat on his bed, cross-legged with his journal open between her knees. She flicked through the pages absently, tracing the lines of his sketches lightly with her fingers.
“You said this was your first ever journal?” She asked, reading through the spelling mistakes and obvious lessons Dutch and Hosea had him practice. There were a few drawings here and there, things he’d attempted to draw but couldn’t quite get the hang of. A skunk on page 5, a drawing of Dutch with a cigarette between his lips. None of them good but better than she could ever attempt.
“Yup. Only one I have left, I think, ‘Side from my new one.” He carefully shaved up from his neck over his jaw, washing the blade in the bowl before carefully going back to his cheek. Riley hummed, closing the journal gently and laying it aside. She could see his new one poking out of his satchel which sat on the table across from her. Biting her lower lip she considered how fast she’d have to be to grab it and make a run for it.
The elusive journal had piked her curiosity since the day she’d seen it first in Arthur’s lap back in Horseshoe. She’d caught a glimpse or two of neat handwriting once or twice before, but her fingers itched to turn the pages and take in the sketches she’d seen him work on.
“You know when I was a boy I didn’t care too much for readin’ n’ writin’ like I do now. Felt it useless. I just wanted to be like old Dutch and Hosea, slingin’ guns an’ whatnot.” Arthur began to ramble into his story, and Riley figured it was the perfect opportunity to make her move. She stood up and made her way to the table, carefully pouring herself a glass of water from a pitcher whilst sneakily sliding the journal out and behind her back. She hummed and nodded in time to his story, but she wasn’t listening in the slightest.
“…And then there was the time me an’ John went to the saloon by ourselves for the first time. I think he was just 15 at the time, so I took him in and- Hey, what’re you doing?” Arthur dropped the razor in the bowl and turned on Riley faster than she’d seen him move since he’d arrived back in camp injured and sick. Riley was faster, nimble enough to leap over the back of his bed over crates to land on the grass. Many of the items on his table flew onto the ground, including the water jug. She clutched the journal to her chest, laughing as she heard him swear behind her and rush around the front of his bed space.
“Jameson!” Arthur yelled, but she was already halfway up a tree by the time he reached her. He caught hold of her boot but it slipped off, and he was left standing at the base of the tree with Riley firmly up in the branches, brandishing the journal like it was a trophy. Arthur cursed again, panting for breath. He still wasn’t over his sickness completely, and the short chase had left him out of breath. He coughed into his fist weakly and stood up straight to glare at Riley.
“Give me that back, you damn squirrel. How the hell do you climb so fast?” He said, holding out a hand as calm as anything. The panic in his eyes made Riley giggle, so she shook her head and moved to lounge against the trunk with one leg dangling off the edge.
“God damn menace…” Arthur muttered, before launching her boot at her with as much strength as he could muster. It bounced off her hip, but she caught it as it was about to fall and thanked him with a bow of her head.
“All in good time, sir!” She said, flicking open the first page. “I wanna know what goes on inside that head of yours, Arthur! Just give me five minutes?” Arthur stood with his hands on his hips, a frown firmly planted on his brow as he shook his head and sighed. He waved a hand at her and turned his back, off to find his razor again to finish the job on his face.
Riley skimmed the first half of the book absently, mostly in it for the drawings. She loved his drawings. They were so elegant and detailed, a skill she had no idea he possessed. The markings on the paper were like photographs, stills of life in motion. She turned the page from a composite drawing of a wolf and came across a half-finished, half quick sketch of a woman chopping wood. Her arms were raised, her eyes set on her task. Her hair swept back like a princess in a fairy tail. A small frown developed on her face as she traced the lines with her finger, careful not to smudge the pencil.
Another page held another drawing of this woman. She sat by the campfire surrounded by the men, laughing and talking. Another drawing showed her fishing, her back to the viewer mostly but you could just make out the tension in her shoulders. Riley was looking at drawings of herself in Arthur’s journal. Across the camp she could see he had disappeared from his shaving station. His hat and jacket were both gone too. She climbed down from the tree carefully and made her way back to his bedroll. On the table she found his pen, and she flicked to the page with the sketch of her fishing and wrote a short note in the corner. When she looked up it was to see Arthur making his way back over to her, two bowls of stew in his hands. He paused, looked from the journal to her hand mid-sentence, and to her face.
Neither of them said anything as Riley laid the pen down and closed the journal’s pages, leaving the book on the table. She took her stew and smiled warmly, offering thanks as she made her way over to the campfire.
Glancing behind herself she saw Arthur sat on his bed, journal in hand and stew forgotten on his pillow. She smiled to herself and sat down to enjoy her meal with Javier strumming the guitar and Charles playing his harmonica in unison.
The note, in scrawled handwriting, said:
‘Your muse is willing to sit for a more detailed picture, minus the clothing if you like.’
Chapter 18: Would you go with me?
I got angsty and s o f t in this chapter
- Would you go with me by Josh Turner -
"If I gave you my hand would you take it
And make me the happiest man in the world
If I told you my heart couldn't beat one more minute without you, girl
Would you accompany me to the edge of the sea
Let me know if you're really a dream
I love you so, so would you go with me"
I have been recuperating after an interesting encounter with Colm O’Driscoll. Dutch got it into his mind to meet the bastard, to somehow end all this lunacy.
Only Colm did not share Dutch’s sense of honor amongst thieves. Whole thing was a set up to kidnap me, then lure all of the rest of us into a trap so we could get arrested and Colm could disappear away, us somehow carrying off his sin along with our own to the gallows.
Seems like Colm is enjoying this modern world even less than we are.
More by luck than judgement I escaped and somehow got back here, more dead than alive, and collapsed into bed for a few feverish days – after much nursing from Miss Grimshaw and Miss Jameson and much guilt ridden apologies from Dutch over his stupidity, I survived okay – my shoulder where I was shot ain’t come down with gangrene and I will live if even uglier than before.
Things is getting more insane with the local population. My sense is neither the Grays nor the Braithwaites have a pot to piss in, but I ain’t spent too much time with the landed gentry.
Whatever else they is, they don’t make one believe in the nobility of the aristocracy.
Arthur sat in the saddle of his horse as he thought on the last few months. He’d travelled far and met more people than he cared to admit. He’d seen the peaks of mountains helping a fool of a photographer, hunted animals in the deepest forests, and met the oddest of people. In truth he was exhausted; even after nearly three weeks of rest and care from Jameson, he needed a break. Not even two hours after getting the all-clear from Miss Grimshaw, Arthur found himself out on the open road again with Gypsy happy to be out of camp. His shoulder ached still, a phantom pain to what he’d experienced weeks prior.
Beside him, on her own beautiful white horse, Riley’s mare carried her like she was royalty. Arthur felt something clench in his stomach when he looked at her, his cheeks tinged pink. Thankfully the flush could be blamed on the summer heat that beamed down on them from the midday sun.
Arthur swept a large hand across his forehead, casting his eyes along the road to see how much longer they had left. They were on their way to Saint Denis, just to scope out the area as most of the gang didn’t much like big cities. Arthur could be included in that respect, but when Riley had volunteered to go he’d found himself tailing along like a lost dog.
He’d had some time to think during those three weeks of companionship with the girl. He’d found out more about her, and himself in the process. She was 29-years-old and her birthday had been the prior March. Her favourite colour was green, and she favoured her right hand when shooting or writing. Arthur had also noticed things about her that she didn’t talk about. Sometimes in the night he’d hear her wake up with a gasp. He knew it was her, he’d grown accustomed to the noise since seeing it for the first time at his own bedside where she’d been sat diligently watching over him in his dark hours of illness. He knew that, for a few seconds as her brain caught up, she had no idea where she was. He knew that a quiet invite to sit by the fire was a great cure for that loss in her eyes, and a beer in the hand helped ease the fear he could almost smell radiating from her.
He wasn’t so much a stranger to nightmares. In fact, they almost had a wordless agreement about them. About a week ago now, in the midst of his fever, Arthur had woken up with a name on his tongue and panic gripping his heart in its spindly fingers. The sensation of someone hushing him, a hand threading through his hair, fingers dancing across his open palm. It worked wonders for the soul, even if he did have to take the time to explain why it was he cried out for Isaac in the midst of a nightmare.
Their friendship had taken an unnaturally fast turn into a territory that scared Arthur more than anything. After Mary, after Eliza and Isaac, he’d promised himself no more heartache. A vow, mostly to himself, to never let another person hurt him. Intentionally, or not, he couldn’t face that emptiness again.
And yet, here we are.
Arthur rode in silence as they made their way into town. Riley chatted with him openly about mundane things, and her voice filtered through his ears like the wind. He wanted to listen, he wanted to contribute, but his mind was elsewhere. At least he managed passable grunts and hums as a conversation.
What started this off had been that fake kiss to get away from the law. It had evolved, then, into an adrenaline-fuelled embrace against a tree after a train robbery. And then, again, progressing to an intense fuck under the moonlight after a few too many sips of whiskey. Arthur was fine with it. He enjoyed it, in fact. A beautiful woman paying him attention, touching him in ways he hadn’t felt in years. Speaking to him as a friend and fucking him as a lover. That’s what he’d assumed it was. A mutually beneficial relationship. A way to get off, and a person to talk to.
Nothing could prepare him for the Everest he was faced against now.
Riley pulled off the main road to dip down the high streets, looking in the windows of buildings they passed; making note of shops that may be of interest. Arthur’s responses were few and far between, and it must have been grating on the girl because she stopped and dismounted without a word. She hitched her horse and Arthur followed in suit, petting absently at Gypsy’s mane.
“Arthur.” Her voice was loud enough in the din of his thoughts to grasp his attention. “What’s goin’ on with you? You’ve not said two words to me the entire ride here.”
Riley stood with her hand on her hip, the other hung by her side. Her hat was tipped backwards and sweat gathered around her forehead and shone on her cheeks. Her lips were parted, but her brows were furrowed together in something Arthur was quick to identify as worry. What had he done to deserve the worry of such a gorgeous girl?
“Nothin’, jest… Thinkin’ is all.” He muttered, kicking a wayward stone with his boot heel. The city felt like a coffin, too many bodies around and so much noise. He’d give anything to leave.
Riley seemed to share a similar thought and gripped his upper arm with a sigh. He let her take him wherever she wanted, following obediently behind. It took him a moment to realise she was headed for a bar, a small place near the market that had few customers. Inside was dark and dismal; exactly how Arthur liked it. She sat him down at a table in the backroom by an open window and went to order drinks. As she left, Arthur’s eyes followed her like a lost puppy dog.
How had he fallen into this much of a mess again? How had he let someone get so close? When had it happened? Did she feel the same?
A deep, hurting regret ached in Arthur’s chest. She couldn’t. In his mind the logic was simple. She was pure, untainted by his way of life like the girls before him. He’d made them dirty with his life choices, and he’d do the same to her. He’d dirty a rose that was meant to be white with his mud and grime and blood. Riley could never love a fool like him. Maybe it was just the sex, maybe it was just the thrill of bedding an outlaw, maybe it was a phase. Whatever the case, Arthur sucked in a breath and twisted a leg to sit on his knee to keep it still as she came back with two cold jugs of beer in one hand, and a couple glasses of whiskey in the other.
“This place… is so cramped.” Riley said as she set the drinks down. Arthur grunted, and was quick to shot back the whiskey, and take several gulps of the beer. It eased the ache in his chest a little. Riley watched him, something hard in her eyes.
“Arthur.” She called for him again, this time reaching across the table to lay her hand on top of his. Arthur pulled back, maybe a little too fast, and regretted it instantly as he saw her flinch.
Clearing his throat, he offered her a small apology and dipped his hat low over his face. It didn’t stay there for long, however, as a gust of wind and a hard thwack to the leather had it soaring over his shoulders and onto the floor behind him. Arthur didn’t flinch, but he did raise his eyes up to Riley at long last with an irritated frown.
“Ah, there he is, still there? You’re doin’ this weird broodin’ routine and it’s getting’ on my nerves.” Riley began, shotting her own whiskey in one before moving onto her beer. “You gonna talk or am I gonna have to get you drunk before I figure out what’s got you all stressed?”
Her voice was harsh but he deserved it, he was being an asshole. Slowly, as if it pained him, Arthur sat forwards in his seat and leaned on the table.
“What… what are you doin’ with us, Jameson?” What are you doing with me? “Why’d you stay with a buncha’ outlaws when you could go live your life somewhere else, get a nice feller and settle down on a farm an’ raise a bunch of kids.” He painted a picture he knew Mary had wanted, the same picture he’d almost given Eliza.
Riley frowned, shrugged, and gulped her beer. “Not my thing anymore, I guess.” She said, casually.
“Why? Why ain’t it?”
“Just ain’t!” She was getting defensive now, so Arthur quit with his pushing.
“You could do so much better than ridin’ with our merry band of reprobates.” Than riding with me.
Riley scoffed, shook her head, and put her hat on the table with deft fingers. She leaned forwards, beer clasped in both her hands, and sneakily nudged her knuckles against his. This time he didn’t move back.
“You’re kind.” Riley began, voice low.
“That ain’t what I-“
“I know what you asked. I know it’s not what you meant, so shut up and listen before I lose my patience.” Arthur shut up with a gruff sound, and settled for taking a long drag of his beer.
“I’ve been doin’ this lifestyle for eleven years now and I’ve come to realise two things. One; people are horrible. They lie, they cheat, they scheme an’ hurt. Most men won’t look twice at a whore that they just bedded and refused to pay. Most women will conveniently walk around a beggar in the street. A clergyman will steal from the church, a lawman will rape and threaten and beat you. People are, and will be, the worst versions of themselves they can be.”
Riley was silent for a beat, and Arthur’s throat felt tight but he held her gaze as she spoke again.
“Two; people are kind. Sometimes, in this horseshit of a thing they call life, there’s someone that makes it all worthwhile. There’s a young girl that takes in her sister’s baby when she dies too early. There’s a husband who works his fingers to the bone for a wife who just bore his first child. There’s nuns and priests who spend their own money on the homeless, and then there’s people like you. The kinda people that save a girl from a downward spiral, who takes her out drinkin’ and doesn’t take advantage of her drunkenness. The kinda man that buys her a horse when she stupidly gets hers killed. The best of them, Arthur, that’s you. You’re the best of them.”
Riley’s fingers were covering his own, almost cold compared to the heat in his own hands. He swallowed thickly, absorbing her words.
“Did you think I stayed because I wanted a fuck, or because I wanted to try my hand at the outlaw life?” Riley asked, dragging his wayward eyes back up to hers with the sharpness in her words.
“It’s not like that… I guess… I guess I just thought you’d be like the other girls. Like I’d drug you int’ a life you weren’t fit for.” Arthur admitted quietly, his eyes falling back to the table where her hands covered his. He hadn’t noticed his beer had disappeared from between his palms.
“Hey. Hey!” Nails dug briefly into his hands, the sting causing him to glance up. She looked mad.
“I was already balls deep in this life before you ever knew my name, Arthur Morgan.” She reminded him with a sharp shake of her head and a tension in her shoulders. “Y’ain’t draggin’ me nowhere I ain’t already been.”
Arthur stayed quiet, chewing his bottom lip. He wasn’t convinced. Riley sighed, and released his hands to pick up her beer again. He felt the loss immediately.
“After my family was slaughtered I went to live with my aunt in Strawberry. I didn’t know her too well but I had a roof over my head and food in the pantry. But she was an old lady, and died that winter. The bank took her house and again I was out on the street, only this time I was well and truly fucked because I’d run outta relatives. So I went to try an’ find work. Nobody would have me, they didn’t need a stable hand or a store assistant. They didn’t need a barmaid. Only thing I could do to get myself a bed was become a working girl.” Riley chewed her lip a little, but progressed with her story without much hesitation.
“I gave men what they wanted and they gave me what I wanted. And then, one day, an outlaw by the name of Billy Roddrick rolled into town and he paid for my services. Only the services he wanted were somethin’ I didn’t want to do. So he tried to take it from me. And he nearly did, Arthur, until somethin’ inside me snapped. I killed him with a broken wine bottle to the neck, and I watched him bleed on the sheets. I was capable of takin’ life. It was all the push I needed to find myself some clothes, steal his money and his horse, and hightail it out of town. I picked up bounties for a while in Valentine. I stole and robbed on the side when bounties weren’t enough. I’ve slept rough, I’ve been rough. I ain’t a pretty flower like you like your girls. I got thorns, Arthur.” She said the last words angrily, almost spitting them across the table in her desire to spell it out for him as plainly as she could. Arthur could see it in her face, he could feel it in the way she gripped the table and breathed roughly.
Slowly he sucked in a breath and felt a little tension ease from his own shoulders. Maybe she was right, it wasn’t his fault she was like this. But he could save her a whole lotta hassle right here and right now if he could only tell her he didn’t want anything to do with her. If he could convince her he was poison, then she’d leave and this wouldn’t be another repeat of Eliza or Mary. The thought made his stomach clench uncomfortably.
“Riley…” Arthur began, but she cut him off quickly.
“Finish your beer. We’re gonna go to that nice hotel we passed as we came by, and we’re gonna get a bath and a nice bed for the night. My treat.” Without another word she drained her cup and slammed it on the table, replaced her hat on her head, and made her way out of the bar. Arthur was left gawping after her like an idiot.
Dammit, she must know what he was trying to do but he’ll be damned if it isn’t for her own good.
Outside Arthur met back up with her brisk pace set back to the horses. He tried to speak but the din of the city was too loud, so he settled for following close behind her, guiding Gypsy as she guided Trigger to the grand looking hotel. They both passed on their horses to a man who would take them to the private stables around the rear of the building, Arthur paying for them to feed and brush as well as board them. Inside the hotel was a smallish lobby with guests waiting on soft-looking chairs, and a man stood behind the desk with a guest book in front of him. Riley strode confidently up to him, and dropped several coins on the counter.
“Two baths and a room for the night, please.” She asked sealing the deal as the counter clerk snapped his fingers at a lady stood by a side door. She bowed her head and rushed off upstairs to prepare the baths. Arthur could only watch and wait. He’d speak to her privately, where there were less distractions around them and less noise in his ears. He didn’t much like the fact that it would probably be an hour or so before that could happen.
His bath was hot and bubbly by the time he was called for. Riley had already gone for her own, leaving straight away without much of a backwards glance at him. Arthur had to admit he was grateful for the soothing water. His muscles ached from riding all day, and a thin layer of dust and sweat coated his skin like a fine membrane. It all washed away the second he sunk into the steaming heat, groaning with the relief of it. Oddly, nobody knocked on his door asking if he wanted a deluxe bath during his time in the tub. Not that he would have accepted, of course. He was a grown man, he could wash himself.
After thoroughly rubbing a soap smelling of lavender over his body, Arthur thought himself clean enough and emerged from the hot water to get dressed. Thinking to have brought a spare change of clothes up with him, Arthur changed into a pair of dark blue jeans and a simple white shirt that had three buttons at the top. He left them undone so he could cool off, and raked his fingers back through his hair to put it in some semblance of order. The clerk on the reception desk gave him his room number and he made his way up, intent on having that conversation with Riley as soon as he could.
She deserved a life that wasn’t full of danger like his. She deserved so much more, and all he had to do was convince her.
Opening the door, Arthur was surprised to see it empty. It was a fairly small room with a cosy looking fireplace on one wall and a large double bed against the other. The last wall was given to two large windows that opened out to the street below. Thankfully, as dusk drew darkness over the city, there were less people milling around on the hard floor below. A lot less distracting noise. Arthur left the window open and let the curtains blow with the cooler air that entered the room. Riley must have still been in the bath, he thought, as he sat himself down on the chair beside an ornate looking desk. He opened his journal and began to write down his thoughts. They were a jumble in his head, and writing like this helped to organise them. He spent a good twenty minutes on one page, filling it with things he wanted to say but didn’t have the articulate words for, when Riley finally joined him.
She opened and closed the door quietly, and when Arthur looked up he saw she was wearing her usual jeans but a blouse he’d not seen before. It was white, made from a more delicate fabric than her usual style. Its sleeves were long on her arms, accenting the slenderness of her neck and wrists with tight-fitting material. Her hair hung, wet, behind her shoulders and she had a small smile on her face. Arthur hadn’t noticed before but she had a few speckles of freckles on her nose and jawline.
“Feel better?” She asked as she sat herself down on the bed. Arthur grunted and nodded, stretching back his arms. He had to admit it was nice to be clean, and it was nice to relax in steam after a long days ride. Riley nodded, pleased with her plan to unwind him it seemed. Poor girl, she had no idea what he was about to say.
“Riley, I can’t… I can’t make you leave. God knows you’re just as stubborn as I am, maybe even more, but I have t’ say my piece.” His words started off strong, and he held his ground even as her face fell a little. He turned his chair around to face her, and leaned his elbows on his knees.
“I ain’t a good man, I ain’t never gonna be a good man. I couldn’t be, for the women in my life prior to you and I can’t be for you. I am no good, Jameson, no matter what you say. I’m an old, ugly fool of a man and you? You’re-“ Arthur cut himself off, gesturing to her wordlessly. She said nothing, simply stared at him with sad eyes.
“I don’t wanna get you killed. I don’t wanna be the reason for your dyin’ so soon. I can’t, I can’t have that on my soul. I don’t want you to regret this choice, this fools decision to be with a man that can’t provide a single thing for you.” Arthur had to stop speaking; his voice was rough and his heart hurt too much. They sat in silence for a minute, and Arthur’s eyes drifted to the window. Jaw set, teeth clenched, his hands balled into fists where they sat on his knees.
“You’re right.” Riley said, softly. Arthur’s heart audibly cracked. He nodded and closed his eyes for a moment only to open them again as Riley stood up to place her soft hand against his rough cheek. He didn’t lean away; this could be the last he felt of her.
“You’re right… You can’t make me leave.” Arthur’s eyes snapped up to her and he was about to protest when she laid her entire hand over his mouth. He huffed, frowned, but otherwise let her.
“I need you to get this into your thick skull quick and hard, Arthur.” Riley said, bending down to stroke her hand back up to his cheek, her other hand joining it on the opposite side of his face. “I am not the women from your past.”
Riley stared into his eyes for a solid ten seconds, her thumb brushing his lower lip. Arthur felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and realised he was melting under her touch. His resolve was disintegrating under her touch and gentle words.
“I am not gonna be a regret for you. Nor you me.” She punctuated her words with a stiff nod, and slipped into his lap to sit astride his thighs. Arthur’s hands automatically came up to rest on her hips to keep her steady, thumbs fingering the waistband of her jeans.
“You are a good man.” He tried to protest but she laid her thumb on his lip again, silencing him with a glare. “This isn’t an argument. Listen. Listen closely.”
He did as he was told.
“You are… handsome. You are kind, and funny, and sweet as apple pie. You are fiercely loyal, almost to a fault, and you are the best damn gunman I know. You are protective, caring, and so, so gentle. You are the man in the novel that the princess falls in love with.” As she spoke, Riley’s fingers danced across his features. His eyes were pinned on her, his jaw still set but his teeth no longer clenched. He felt the tips of her fingers close his eyes and trace the scars of his face.
His heart hammered in his chest as she spoke, a spark of fire igniting in his soul at each compliment. His cheeks burned, and he wished he could argue but maybe… maybe he could start to pretend she was right.
“I didn’t plan on fallin’ in love with a man on the run… Though I s’pose you didn’t plan on fallin’ for a girl whose got nothin’ to lose.” She said the words fondly, and Arthur’s breath hitched as she pressed a feather-light kiss to his lips. He felt like his heart was about to explode. His hands acted of their own accord as he processed her confession. They slid up her back, gently trailing over the lace of her shirt to settle one at the base of her spine and the other at the top of her neck. He kissed her softly, sweetly, like he’d wanted to since that day on the train.
She was putty in his hands, malleable and easy to manoeuvre. Her arms wound around his neck and her fingers into his damp hair, nails scratching gently on his scalp and urging a pleased sound from his lips. She was gentle, so soft and warm against his chest, a firm weight to keep him grounded. Her lips tasted like whiskey and honey, and her tongue briefly and lightly nudged at his lower lip. He gave her everything she asked for, lips parting and breath coming quicker.
After a few moments of lazy kisses, Riley sat back in his lap and rested their foreheads together, her nose lightly nudging his. They both sat with their eyes closed, fingers dancing through wet hair and across bath-warmed skin.
“So god damn stubborn.” Arthur thrummed, but his voice was lighter and he held a smile on his lips. Riley matched that smile for all she was worth, relief evident on her features.
“You’re worth it.” She said, simply. “You’re worth everythin’ I have and more. You just gotta take the risk, Arthur. And for the love of god, stop tryna push me away.”
“Darlin’… You’re makin’ me so soft.”
Riley giggled, a sound that Arthur had never heard before and likened to church bells. He dipped in for another kiss, this more confident than the last, and stood up with her legs wrapped around his waist. She clung on easily, keeping her weight up with her arms on his shoulders. He walked them to the bed and gently laid her down, going with her into the soft sheets to enjoy his brief moment of peace.
I've had such an overwhelming wave of love and support over this little fic of mine and I'm so thankful!
As always, kudos, comments and constructive criticism is always welcome. <3
This chapter is dedicated to you people that comment so often, you keep my willpower alive.
Chapter 19: Bounty on my head
- Bounty on my Head by Grizfolk -
"I've got a really bad feeling I'm gonna love you so good
Take you down to my hometown
The old neighbourhood
I've got a really bad feeling you're gonna hurt me so good
I'll go down any way you want
Any way I struggle"
The cool night air breezed through the room as Arthur pressed Riley into the sheets of the bed. She relaxed into them immediately, her fingers mindlessly toying with the collar of his shirt or else fixed in place in the hair at the base of his neck. Her lips were devilishly occupied by his rougher, more experienced ones. Finally, finally she was at home. Relaxed, content, at peace, whatever you’d call it. Riley felt right.
Arthur hovered above her, hardly putting his weight on her at all as he held himself up on one arm, the other stroking fingers tenderly down her cheek. This wasn’t like their last encounter at all, there was nothing fast-paced or urgent. This was slow, and gentle and so soft that it made Riley’s heart flutter. Beneath her touch, his damp hair was tangling between her fingers. She stroked it down, threading her hand through it easily and slowly. Arthur gave a small, appreciative sigh above her. She’d noticed he enjoyed it when she touched his hair, even as innocent a touch as brushing it back after rinsing soap from it. Tension seemed to roll off of his shoulders the deeper they sank into the bed.
It made Riley happy to see him like this. He was a stubborn, fool of a man but she felt like she was finally getting through to him. Maybe this had started out as a little fun but now… now something was different and she was bold enough to admit it terrified her. Slowly, with all the caution of a hunter faced with a predator, Riley let her feet plant on the bed as she leisurely pushed herself up towards the headboard. Arthur didn’t follow, instead, he used the opportunity to lather kisses at her jaw and neck, trailing them down to her still clothed chest. His hands moved to cradle her waist and hips in large hands, encasing her in a warmth that still yet drew goosebumps to the surface of her skin. She smiled down at him as his blue eyes found hers. There was something like adoration in his them that made her want to melt.
Slowly, as if asking for permission in a wordless gesture, Arthur began to lift her shirt. She nodded, raised her arms above her head, and let him slip the white shirt from her body. The cooler night air felt incredible, goosebumps raising wherever the breeze caressed. Arthur was quick to let the warmth of his hands soothe the chill. His hands travelled up her waist and his fingers danced along her ribs. He was watching her avidly, taking in her responses as she let her arms lay beside her head, eyes lidded and lips kiss bitten.
He leant down to press a tender kiss to her stomach just above her navel. The rasp of his facial hair sent shivers down her spine, and he soothed the space under her ribs at each side with small rolls of his thumbs. His kisses raised higher, pressing to her ribs, higher still to the space between her breasts, and then to the dip between her collarbones. She arched her neck, eyes closing as she relished in the soft lips that travelled up to finally hovered above her own. Her hands travelled back down to his shoulders, stroking down until they settled on his hips. She felt like he was worshipping her, a feeling she wasn’t at all used to but relished all the same. Arthur settled his forehead against Riley’s, gently nudging their noses together as they shared short breaths.
Slowly she felt her skin warming under his touch, and a fire lit up her stomach. She smiled, reaching up to meet his kiss with as much hunger as he showed. Their tongues entangled, teeth biting at lips, soft sounds escaping with each breath she took. Her hands played with his shirt, pulling it up from where he’d tucked it into his jeans. She pulled at it, impatiently, and managed to hitch it up around his arms before he got the hint. Wrenching himself back from the kiss, Arthur was gone for a split second to toss his shirt across the room, probably to never be seen again. A shame, Riley thought, she liked that shirt.
Without so much as a word between them Arthur pressed down again to hover above her, but seemed so tentative to use his weight. Riley thought to fix that. With one swift motion, she pressed the palm of her hand to the base of his spine, pulling him closer until their torsos were flush together. He was so warm above her, a welcome touch compared to the chill settling in the room from the open windows. She gave a small, satisfied hum, and let her free hand move to find his cheek. Her thumb rubbed over his lower lip, her eyes trailing after them as she memorised every scar, every line, and every story that sat upon his skin. She loved it. She loved him.
Gently she drew his lips back to hers and kissed him with feeling, taking what she wanted from his mouth with as singular a motion as a flick of her tongue against his. Her breath caught as his hands began to wander. She felt them travel down her sides again, rising up to follow the curve of her breasts. Arthur was the one to break the kiss, pulling back a little with a shaky sigh as his lips found unchartered territory of her shoulders and slender neck. This wasn’t the sort of attention she was used to. After so much drama, after so much adrenaline, she was far better at the rough fucks and gropes behind buildings, down the sides of streets, off the beaten path. It’s what she lived for, so much so that she never thought she’d engage in something so gentle and slow. This was what Mary-Beth read about in her novels, not real life.
But Arthur made it feel so real as he trailed open-mouthed kisses down her chest to take a nipple between his lips. He adored it with his tongue, grazed it between his teeth and tugged gently until it was a hardened nub. He gave it’s twin the same attention, replacing his mouth with his thumb and forefinger to keep it how he wanted it- and Riley was a puddle beneath him. Breathy sighs and whispers of encouragement fuelled him.
He was certainly talented with his mouth, Riley thought distantly as Arthur’s free hand began to fiddle with the buttons on her jeans. Her hands dropped down from his shoulders to help him, and quickly she shuffled out of them and back onto the bed. He threw them aside with the rest of their clothes and grinned as he found her completely bare beneath him.
“Pretty indecent for a lady to go about without any underwear on.” He said, voice gruff and intent in his eyes. He settled back between her legs, working out the tension in her thighs under skilled hands. Riley simply smiled, sitting up on her elbows to watch him work.
“Nobody ever said I was a decent lady.” She countered, one brow raised and a smirk on her lips.
“Now you would be right about that.” Arthur laughed, leaning forward to press gentle kisses to her nose, cheeks, and finally her lips. It was just a peck, just a gentle press of his lips against hers, but she found that she was far more wound up than she’d previously thought. With one hand she managed to press her palm against his chest, dragging it down through the sparse hair there and to his stomach. By all means, he was toned, muscular under her fingers, but soft and cared for after weeks of illness.
Her thoughts began to wander as he dropped his head to work his tongue and teeth against her neck again. She enjoyed it, she enjoyed him thoroughly, but her mind was now elsewhere.
Merely weeks ago she’d nearly lost him. Covered in blood, riding into camp half dead and fevered-
“Darlin’,” Arthur spoke softly, one of his hands cupping her cheeks. She hadn’t realised he’d stopped moving. “Where you goin’?”
“I’m here.” She said, wiping the worry from her face with a swift smile.
“No, y’aint… Where’re you goin’?” Gun rough hands stroked back her hair as he forced her to lie down, hovering above her on one arm but close enough to keep her warm with his body. Concern littered his features, weakening her will.
“I just… I’m just realisin’ that you mean a whole lot t’me.” Riley said, softly. “That I don’t never wanna see you ride back t’me half-dead like you did.”
Arthur gently stroked along her cheekbone and gave a small sigh. She could see in his eyes that he battled with similar thoughts, and regretted her words immediately. Biting her lower lip, convinced she’d ruined the mood, she began to withdraw her hand from his stomach when he gripped it quickly and drew it back. Slowly, without much pressure, he drew her hand up to his chest and over his heart. Beneath the skin she could feel the beating of his heart, fast and fluttering like a bird.
“Don’t think ‘bout things we ain’t gonna change. Past is past, just be with me here an’ now…” He spoke softly, and once he was sure she wasn’t about to move her hand he let his own travel down her arm and rest against her own. She smiled a little as she realised her own heart was beating just as hard as his. He was alive, and so was she. They were both still breathing.
“Don’t think for one minute I don’t worry ‘bout the same things, but right now I don’t wanna think on worries. I just wanna be.” For a man who spoke so little of his feelings, Arthur sure had a way with words when he wanted to. Riley’s breathing hitched, and her tongue darted out to wet her lips. His eyes followed the movement, but he made no move. She realised then that he was waiting for her go ahead.
“Tell me what you do wanna think about, then.” Riley said, shifting her hand back down to the solid stomach she’d been getting to know before. Her free hand settled on his wrist, dragging his hand up from her chest so that she could press butterfly light kisses to his palm. Arthur’s eyes tracked her lips, and she felt a warmth return to her stomach.
“I wanna think about the nice things in life.” He began, transfixed as Riley kissed the pad of his thumb. “Like a cold beer, quiet rides in the mountains, warm fires…”
She hummed as Arthur dropped a kiss to her lips, cutting himself off as he leaned into her with a little more of his weight. Riley loved it. She told him as much with her fingernails scraping against his shoulder, the one not currently scarred by his latest injury. She felt him shiver and congratulated herself on a job well done.
“I wanna think about you, lyin’ here all wantin’ for me… That night under the stars where I was tied to you an’ I felt like the luckiest man in the world.” Riley smiled against his lips, her hands travelling down to his hips. She undid his buttons and relished his sigh of relief before his hands found her wrists and dutifully removed them.
“Darlin’, let me take care of ya.” He said, sternly, pressing her hands to the bed above her head and all she could do was nod, and smile, and wait.
Arthur moved quickly down the bed, trailing kisses along her stomach and hips as he went. He settled on the edge, trailing his fingers from her knees to the outsides of her thighs as he bent to press an open-mouthed kiss under her naval.
Riley closed her eyes the second she felt the flat of his tongue press gently against her. He repositioned her hips, nudging one of her calves over his shoulder and then rested his forearm across her stomach to keep her still. She felt the deliciously prickly feeling of his beard against her bare thighs, and a shudder rolled from her shoulders to her heels as he used that to his full advantage.
He worked his tongue around her opening slowly, tracing circles before delving inside. She groaned aloud, fingers clenching in the bedsheets as she bit her bottom lip. It was torturously slow the way he lapped at her, never fully giving her what she needed but only the tender tease of his tongue. She tensed whenever he rose to pay attention to the area around her clit, dancing circles around it but never giving it the love she desired.
“Arthur…” She whined softly, pleased with the instant reward of his tongue gently working closer. “Arthur please…”
He was destroying her with the gentleness of it all. She chased after small spasms of pleasure he allowed her, hips canting off the bed whenever he thought to let his tongue work magic circles over her sensitive clit. She was so distracted she hardly realised he’d worked two fingers inside of her, already coated in her slick. They moved just as slowly as his tongue within her, arching and twisting and ever so gently caressing her from the inside. She let out a gentle sigh, arched from the bed slowly, and pressed her calf insistently against his back.
Thank the lord he got the hint. His motions began to speed up, his fingers working faster as his tongue was abandoned in favour of him sucking gently on her clit. She threw a hand over her mouth, a habit of circumstance to keep silent, and dropped her other hand into his hair. He gave a light rumbling sound, content with her reactions, and the shaking in her thighs began to mount. Springs coiled in her stomach, and she found her hips twitching against his mouth at the downright sinful things he was doing to her. She was close, so damn close, and she told him as much with a frantic slap of her hand to his shoulder. He carried on, increasing his tempo as her nails dug into his shoulder. She let out a quiet and muffled moan from under her own hand, froze in place, and chased her orgasm over the edge of the cliff.
Lightning danced under her skin as she came down from the high, floating above the bed with panting breaths and sweat-damp skin. She relaxed into the bed instantly, her leg falling from Arthur’s shoulder as he climbed up her body, eyes alight with fire. She recognised that fire, especially as he was still hard as a rock in his jeans without a single hand or mouth to help him get off. She almost felt sorry for him.
“You… are a singular man, Arthur Morgan.” Riley sighed happily as he cleaned his hands and mouth on the sheets. She drew him up with a resolute hand on his cheek and lay gentle kisses to his lips. She could taste herself on his tongue.
“Fuck me.” She breathed, posing it as more of a question than a command. She watched a range of emotions cross his face and smiled as it eventually landed on pure excitement.
“Yes, Ma’am.” He stood from the bed, quick to rid himself of his jeans, and knelt between her legs like he was born to sit there. Riley grinned, allowing herself a moment to take him in. His thighs were just as toned as hers from years of horse riding and running from the law. He had several scars there too, scars that she planned to map out with her tongue when she was finished giving him everything he could ever want.
She sat up quickly from the bed as soon as Arthur hesitated. He looked like he didn’t know where to put his hands like a great feast was laid out before him and he had no idea where to start. Too many options. Riley took the options away and gave him what she knew he needed. She quickly slid into his lap as he sat back on his heels on the bed, and positioned herself in his lap easily. His cock was a firm presence against her stomach, and she pressed herself close just to give him a little relief. He groaned, held her close to his chest, and began busying himself with kissing every available patch of skin he could.
Sufficiently distracted, Riley took the opportunity to take him in hand. He was larger than she’d expected, though they’d only managed a quick fuck in the woods and it was all hands anyway. He curved in her palm as she gave him a few gentle strokes, thumb rocking over the head of his cock to collect the wetness that gathered at the tip. The man before her practically growled under her services. She imagined he was wound tight after giving her such pleasure and wondered how long it would take him to snap under her teasing. Not tonight, though. He’d more than earned it tonight.
Rising up on her knees with Arthur’s hands steadying her, she positioned herself and slowly began to sink down. He was perfectly gentlemanly as she took her time, adjusting to the girth inch by inch until he was finally seated inside her. She sighed softly, contentedly, and ran her fingers through the hair at the back of his head.
“Alright?” She asked, realising he hadn’t so much as moved a muscle since she’d sat down. He nodded, forehead pressed to her shoulder, breath coming quickly. His fingers held her hips hard enough to bruise, a sight she was sure to wake up to in the morning. She didn’t mind so much.
Soothing her fingers along his scalp, Arthur slowly raised his head and, with a love-struck smile on his face, tentatively flexed his hips. Riley hummed as he shifted within her, repositioning himself and spreading his thighs a little more for balance. He let his head rest on her shoulder again as she slowly rose up on her knees, almost lifting off him completely before sinking back down to meet his thighs. She could feel the tension in his shoulders as she laid her arms around his neck, the raw strength he was holding back as he tried to resist the urge to fuck her into the mattress. She grinned, found his ear, and traced her tongue gently around the shell of it before speaking.
“Don’t hold back.”
And, fuck, he didn’t.
Riley was suddenly on her back, her legs wound tightly around Arthur’s waist as he slammed home. He was wound so tight she didn’t think he’d last, and she was right judging by his erratic thrusts. She could feel the tension rise in his stomach, the irregularity in his breathing, but it still didn’t stop him from reaching a hand between them both to press his fingers insistently against her clit. Riley gasped, her head falling back into the pillows as he worked her in time to his thrusts.
“Sweetheart, I ain’t gonna-“ Riley hushed him with her a biting kiss.
Oversensitive, far too gone to care, she felt her second orgasm wash through her body from the tips of her fingers to the root of every hair. With one final erratic thrust, she felt Arthur reach his limit too, the rhythmic pulsing of her around him pushing him over the edge. With a swift movement, he pulled himself free from her and released across her stomach. His shoulders were shaking as he worked himself through it into his own fist, Riley’s hands soothing his arms as he attempted to slide to the side to not collapse on top of her. He landed on his back, breathless and even coughing a little from the excursion. Riley grinned, a job well done and a man well fucked. It was a good day.
Slowly, without much care for the ruined sheets, she cleaned herself up and tossed them onto the floor. From one of the large drawers in the corner of the room, she dragged a blanket over to the bed, tossing it over both herself and Arthur as she climbed in beside him. He took her in his arms, pressing her back to his chest and a leg between her thighs, his face hidden in the hair at her neck.
“Tired?” She asked, reaching back to lovingly thread her fingers through his hair. All she got was a grunt, but it was good enough for her.
Wow I did over 50,000 words in just over a month! Talk about commitment, huh?
I've been absolutely obsessed with The Witcher on Netflix recently as well, so maybe that'll be my next project after this?
As always, comments, feedback and kudos are very welcome. <3
Chapter 20: Blue (Green) eyed girl
- Blue Eyed Girl by The Arcadian Wild -
"I'll march right along to your beat. The rhythm of your spirit makes me feel much more alive.
There's wisdom in the way you speak and I see "I love you" in your eyes."
Sometimes I wonder why I have the most rotten luck. From luck of the man I was born to, the luck of my lot in life, the luck of constantly being on the run. But sometimes, though that weird cloud of bad luck, I get a ray of good luck. Used to be that I considered a good take that ray of sunshine, but now I realise I have been sorely missing out.
Jameson is something else. She’s spitfire and salt when she’s gotta be, but then she’s soft and lovely and all loving like. I can’t quite get my head around why she chose to stick around with me. She calls me handsome and maybe, somewhere deep inside, I could begin to believe her.
Arthur awoke to the crowing of a bird that sat on the balcony edge of their window. It spread its wings, crawed into the rising sun, and took flight as quick as a bullet from a gun. Slowly he let himself adjust to the feeling of waking up in a solid, comfortable bed. His back was cushioned by softness rather than rough blankets and pelts, and a comfortable weight lay on his chest. He hummed, a deep burr in his chest as he tried to remember how to open his eyes and use his limbs. Slowly, slower now he realised there was a pleasant ache in his forearms, Arthur rubbed at his eyes with one hand. His other, he slowly began to see, was trapped beneath a very warm body tucked into his side. When he opened his eyes he felt a warm smile cross his lips, memories of the day before flitting through his mind like lazy leaves on a summers breeze.
Riley lay in the crook of his arm, her head on her shoulder and her face tucked into his neck. He could feel the slow and steady breaths brush across his skin, and the gentle thrum of her heart where his fingers lightly traced circles on her shoulder. Her hair, a mess of thick dark curls, lay like a halo around her head. He gently lifted his free hand to tuck a strand behind her ear, delighted when she gave a small hum in her deep sleep.
Arthur had never been able to sleep for very long, even in his youth. Maybe it was a side effect of being on the run and having to leave at a moments notice. He was a light sleeper, an opportunist for short naps, but this morning he felt better rested than he had in years. He felt content. He hadn’t been plagued with nightmares or dreams, nothing at all but blissful silence and a constant warmth in his side.
As much as he hated the idea, Arthur knew his stomach would soon get loud enough to wake her, so he figured he’d rouse her now to keep the peace. Slowly his fingers travelled from tracing shapes on her shoulder to follow the line of her spine, earning him a light shiver. In their sleep the blanket had bunched down around their waists, so he could see when goosebumps erupted on her arms. The sight made him smile, so he did it again, gently dipping his fingers in the dimple on her lower back. He didn’t feel the usual urgency of their frantic couplings, the intense arousal they usually contended with on a time limit. Today there was none of that. Nothing else mattered in that moment.
Rubbing his rough palm against Riley’s arm, Arthur turned a little to kiss her forehead gently, fingers raising to stroke through her hair again as he heard her suck in a long breath. Fluttering awake, Riley’s eyes blinked blearily as Arthur pressed kisses to her cheeks, her nose, her jaw, her neck. Everywhere he could access, he pressed feather-light kisses.
“Mornin’…” She mumbled, a smile stretching across her lips as she languidly rolled onto her back in a lazy stretch. Arthur followed, leaning up on his elbow to hover over her with a lazy grin on his own lips. He kissed her once, on the mouth, quickly.
“Mornin’.” He greeted her back, fingers trailing odd shapes across her ribs. He felt her shiver beneath him, and followed as she tilted her head up to give him access to her neck. Feather-light kisses turned a little wetter as he dragged his teeth across her pulse point. Her breath hitched, and one of her hands came to tangle in his hair which made him almost melt.
“Mmm… Had a dream about you last night.” Riley said, voice still thick with sleep. Arthur hummed in approval and nuzzled into her clavicle as he slipped lower to her chest. He pressed kisses to her breasts, cupping one in his hand whilst his mouth paid the utmost attention to the other.
“Dreamed you were in the woods hunting deer.” Riley continued, scratching her fingers lazily through Arthur’s hair and if she didn’t know what that did to him he was about to make it known.
“…You came back with a huge buck, pleased as punch, and ah-“ He heard her breath catch as he took her nipple between his teeth, grazing gently before applying the same lazy suction he had to many previous kisses on her neck and shoulders. His reward was a gentle tug of his hair, which he caused him to burr appreciatively. She was getting the idea now.
“And we ate well that night.” Riley continued with her dream, but when Arthur looked up she was smiling and had her eyes closed as she leaned into his touches. “And we’d found a… like a cabin or somethin’ and somehow got ourselves in there with a nice fire an’…” Riley sighed softly, pitched higher than usual as Arthur shifted to give the same attention to her other nipple, lovingly worshipping every part of her with his mouth.
“And then what?” Arthur asked, briefly stopping his touches to speak in a gruff voice. He went straight back to work, rolling his tongue around her nipple and delighting in the way her fingers clenched in his hair.
“And then you laid me down by the fire and did exactly what you’re doing now.” Riley finished, fingernails scratching down the back of his neck so gently it felt like a tickle. He shivered, feeling the swell of his own arousal pressed against the bed.
“Sounds like a nice dream.” Arthur hummed, rising back up to lather attention on her jaw and neck again. Riley hummed in agreement, opening her eyes. He felt her fingers return to his hair, and a low groan sounded in his throat.
“It was. I’d just got to the part where you had me on my stomach on the floor, covering every inch of me with yourself, going so slow it was-“ Riley didn’t have much opportunity to speak after that. Arthur’s lips encased hers quickly, drawing all manner of sounds from her lips that he swallowed down gratefully. His fingers found her hip and continued down until he dipped them between her thighs. She was already so wet, practically soaking his fingers when he pulled away to taste them. Below him, she looked so thoroughly fucked out already that he couldn’t help himself. He dropped another kiss to her lips before gently urging her to turn onto her stomach. Riley followed his hand’s pushing, eagerly settling into position with her head pillowed in her arms and her back arching just so prettily that Arthur wanted to draw it.
He trailed gentle kisses down her spine, shifting to kneel between her thighs. His hands framed her hips, tugging her into his lap a little more before he slowly shifted to cover her with his body. He propped himself on his arms and buried his face into her shoulders, hungrily lapping at the sweat that gathered there. He tasted the salt on his tongue, her shiver going straight to his cock as he gradually pushed inside. Gently, lovingly, he pressed kisses to the shoulder with the wound she’d sustained about the same time he’d got hit. In a weirdly poetic way, they matched. In one fell thrust of his hips and he was sheathed, fully enclosed in her heat. The burring in his chest turned into a long groan as he pressed his forehead to the top of her spine. His breath came quicker, more heated as he began to move. Riley, for all her composure, was mewling gently into the pillow beneath them. He felt her clench around him as he hit a specific angle, so he aimed for that spot as best he could with his limited motion. They touched everywhere, legs entangled and bodies aligned, lips pressed to skin and hands clenched in sheets. He moved slowly, making more of a grinding motion than a thrusting one, which he knew was gratefully appreciated as Riley’s hand shot out to grip his where it was balled into a fist in the bedsheets. Their fingers entwined, her smaller hand in his large one, and he felt the pulse of her heartbeat through her wrist.
They stayed like that for a good while, connected in more ways than the obvious. Arthur lavished her back and shoulders with kisses and bites, littering her sun-kissed skin with his lips, tongue and teeth. He was on edge, muscles tense, as he began to thrust in earnest. His eyes were closed as he focused on the sensations of his skin on fire, so focused in fact he didn’t notice when Riley slipped her hand between her body and the bed to work frantically at herself with swift, practised motions. Arthur heard her curse and felt her body stiffen. Her insides pulsed around his cock as she came, and Arthur had to quickly pull free from her to find his own release across her bare back.
Panting, breathing in the sex filled warm air, Riley melted into the bed. She gave a lazy hum and turned to look at him, just barely, over her shoulder.
“Mornin’.” She said again, though this time her eyes were bright and her lips were curled into a grin. Arthur couldn’t help the matching look that spread across his own features.
“Hungry, Darlin’?” He asked as he stood from the bed to tidy her up with a towel from the hotel. Once clean he cleaned himself up, and began pulling on his jeans. Riley simply lay on her front in the bed, the blankets pooled around her waist and her arms tucked under her head. Arthur smiled as she watched him pull on his shirt and tuck it back into his jeans. When he was dressed again, boots on and belt in place, Arthur knelt beside the bed to tuck a stray hair behind Riley’s ear. He watched her for a moment, tracing the tips of his fingers across her cheek.
“I’m gonna go find somethin’ for us to eat. Stay here?” Riley hummed in agreement, tired eyes closing once more as Arthur pressed the gentlest of kisses to her forehead.
He was gone for about half an hour by the time he came back to the room. In his arms, he had a tray with their breakfast piled on top. He’d managed to get in early, so the cook had all the fresh food out. Leave it to a fancy hotel to just make breakfast and let people eat whatever they wanted. He’d piled their plates high with eggs and bacon before grabbing an entire pot of freshly brewed coffee and two cups.
Riley was asleep when he put their meal down on the side table, that or snoozing. She didn’t stir as he shut the door quietly, or even when he sat down in the chair opposite the bed and took out his journal. Breakfast now forgotten, Arthur focused on sketching.
She lay in the same position she’d been in when he left. Looking so comfortable sprawled on her stomach on a lavish bed with that patchwork blanket low on her hips. He sketched the way her arms curved under her head, the way her face was half-hidden by a flyaway bundle of hair, the way her lashes framed her cheeks so delicately. He was so enraptured in his drawing that he hardly noticed his own stomach growling impatiently. He’d just managed to capture the last curl of her hair as she stirred, eyes blinking open. Arthur stopped mid-sketch, a light pink flush rising to his cheeks and ears, as Riley looked him over. She simply smiled, and perked up when Arthur began to bring her breakfast over.
They sat together for a while, talking quietly about the day ahead. Riley, in all her casual comfort, sat with just the blanket around her waist and nothing more. It was all Arthur could do not to ravish her against the sheets again, to make her come once more with his name on her lips and her head thrown back in pure ecstasy. He could, but he wouldn’t. God above, he wanted to capture this image of her with a coffee cup in her hands, leaned against the headboard as she was. Gorgeous.
“We should head back to camp.” Riley said after they’d finished eating, empty plates stacked up on the tray. They were both onto their second coffee when Riley found it appropriate to get herself dressed. Arthur watched, unashamed and pleased with his lot in life as she pulled on her jeans. When she was tucking in her shirt he felt the urge to touch her again, just gently. To spread his hand across her stomach and press himself to her back. To touch her cheek with his thumb, to stroke the tips of his fingers along the line of her jaw. He wanted to, but he didn’t.
Instead, he packed their things. Slowly, methodically putting his journal back into his satchel. He was almost done when he felt a gentle touch to his middle. Riley’s arms enveloped him from behind, her body pressing against his, her lips finding his shoulder through the fabric of his shirt. She kissed where he’d been shot not three weeks ago. He sighed, closed his eyes, and turned around to indulge himself once more. His arms wound around her waist, holding her close, and she drew her arms around his neck at the same time. He held her close, one hand settled on her lower back and the other between her shoulder blades. He breathed her in, all coffee and honeysuckle, and almost melted when he felt her fingers thread through his hair. It felt divine. It felt intimate. Arthur hadn’t realised how desperate he’d been for this until now.
“Thank you.” She whispered, just loud enough for him to hear.
“For what?” He asked, not relenting in his grip.
“For… Everything.” She said, and he hated how vulnerable and unsure her voice sounded. Arthur hummed and pulled back just enough to press their foreheads together.
“Darlin’, you’ve given me a whole lot more than I ever gave you.” He said, honestly ragged in his throat. “I’m still havin’ a hard time believin’ you want t’ be with a fool like me but… You’re convincin’ me, somehow.”
To see the smile light up on her lips was something special, and Arthur filed the memory away to see if he could capture it in his journal.
“We gotta go.” Arthur said after a minute, reluctantly letting her go to grab his things.
They left the hotel with full stomachs and fuller hearts. The ride back to camp was filled with nonsensical chatter, both of them sharing stories and trading back anecdotes. It seemed far too soon that they arrived back at camp and everyone wanted something from him. Riley had already hitched her horse and was brushing her fur when Arthur was asked to go hunting by Pearson, go on a stage robbery with Javier, and head into Rhodes to meet Sean, Micah and Bill all at once. Apparently they were waiting for him now. He cast Riley a grimace to which she simply shrugged, but it was worth it to see her smile like that.
The town was unusually quiet when Arthur rode in. He met the boys and asked what the plan was, immediately unsure of the situation. He walked just behind Bill and Micah, wary of what the men were saying, jaw clenched as he tried to mull around the uncertain feeling in his stomach. The further they walked, the more Bill and Micah tried to convince him it was legit, the more Arthur wanted to high tail it out of there. This felt like a trap.
He was right. Of course he was. Sean lay dead in a puddle of his own blood and torn flesh before him. Right at his feet. The poor boy, hardly a man, gone in the blink of an eye. His hair, redder than he’d ever seen it, soaked through. Eyes once full of life now completely devoid of it. Shots were firing before Arthur could even process what had happened. He ran behind a barrel, ducked down away from the guns, and pulled his pistol.
Someone should have known. Bill should have guessed, Micah shouldn’t have been there, that man just attracted trouble. And Dutch? Dutch letting this happen? Knowing the danger, knowing they were playing both sides of two ancient families? He’d let this happen. It had all felt off the minute he stepped foot in town. It was then that he realised that his family was falling apart at the seams.
Thank you so much for reading! Always open to suggestions for what you may like to see from this couple <3