Note – 11/2013 All stories in the Sheridan Collection are currently undergoing reconstruction. Thank you for your patience.
Wyoming – 1902
“Both you and Kid Curry were given amnesty in the spring of 1887.”
“Correct. Though it wasn’t quite as simple as you make it sound.”
“And both of you spent the summer opening a hotel on Mackinac Island. And right after that, is when you studied with Mr. Edison.”
The author was young. Much younger than the myriad of other authors who had tried their hand at getting the true story of Hannibal Heyes. She was inexperienced too and the simple fact that she was a ‘she’ set her apart from the crowd. But, her questions were well planned, her insight, keen, and her timing, impeccable. Whoever had trained her, must have been a genius.
Heyes smiled and tipped his chair back on two legs, resting both feet on the porch rail of his Wyoming homestead. The young writer sat on the porch floor, facing him, with her back resting against the same rail. With her knees pulled up in front of her, she balanced her tablet as she scribbled facts and turned the page.
“Alright, I think I have everything I need about your time with Mr. Edison. Today, I’d like to continue, from the point where you and your partner left New Jersey.”
A subtle change overtook his countenance. His eyes took on a faraway glow. She was a good writer, perceptive and worth the risk. This time, he would share the true story, the whole story. Hannibal Heyes had a feeling — and a gambler can feel when the timing is right………
New Jersey – Spring 1888
Dear Mr. Heyes,
The letter’s opening was so formal, so polite. He would have expected nothing less from the woman he’d come to care for over the previous summer.
Your continued absence and lack of correspondence lead me to conclude that you are having second thoughts about our relationship. Please consider yourself released from any sense of commitment.
Released from commitment. He supposed this was something he ought to feel badly about. So, why was his only emotion, relief?
I wish you the best in your future endeavors with Mr. Edison and Mr. Curry.
The months since leaving Mackinac Island had been successful and exhilarating for Hannibal Heyes. Instead of returning to Wyoming, in search of the perfect ranch, the amnestied partners, Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, had traveled east, to New Jersey, to the workshop of Thomas Edison. It was here they stayed the winter. Daily, Heyes made discoveries and shared ideas with his mentor, steadily becoming more consumed in his work and thoroughly enjoying each moment.
Kid Curry’s days were not as enjoyable, but equally consumed in activity. He studied the art of woodworking at the hand of some of New England’s finest craftsmen, quickly discovering a talent to go along with his new-found interest. Work became his constant companion, a distraction from thoughts of Madelyn Kraus and the continual emptiness he felt since her death. His sleepless nights dragged on, but his days were at least full and marked in productivity.
The months had been equally productive, as well as prosperous, for the actress, Amy Beresford. The company she had been traveling with had extended her contract, pleased with her performance. Since her name was becoming known throughout Europe as a rising star of the stage, compensation had also been increased. It seemed she had also captured the interest of a wealthy and noteworthy playwright, with whom she had been seen in public on numerous occasions.
Subconsciously or otherwise, Heyes had allowed weeks to pass between his letters to Amy. Originally, his intentions toward her had been good, even honorable. And although his promise to meet her in Europe had been sincere – at the time – his date of arrival had come and gone with only a quickly scribbled message. Involved in research. – HH
Looking back, Heyes realized that his summer relationship had faded into nothing more than a pleasant memory. Evidently, the same was true for Amy. Her letters, although regular at first, had become less and less frequent. Amy Beresford had a life, a full one, and apparently, it didn’t include Hannibal Heyes, and he certainly had no desire to stand in the actress’s shadow anyway.
As he pondered his relief upon reading of his”release from commitment,” another emotion crept in, unbidden. He refused to acknowledge the unfamiliar feeling, not even to himself, but it strangely resembled injured pride.
Heyes crumpled Amy’s final letter before throwing it into the fire, then leaned against the window frame, looking out on the cold, spring rain. He and Curry would be leaving in the morning, fulfilling his promise to his partner. ***”Soon as the snow melts, Kid, we’ll head back to Wyoming and find us that land!”*** It was the one commitment from which he had no desire to be released.
Next Day – On a West-bound Train
“You wanna talk about it, Heyes?”
Two dark eyes stared, unblinking, out the window of the moving train. His partner’s question caused his head to turn for the first time in a hundred miles. “Hmmm?”
“About Amy. I know she’s why you’re broodin’.”
“I’m not brooding. Just…” There was a pause while Heyes searched for the right word. “Contemplating.”
“Okay then, I know she’s why you’re contemplatin’. Wanna get it off your chest?”
Heyes sighed. “I’m not contemplating Amy. Not exactly. I’m contemplating…” He paused again. “Marriage.”
Two blue eyes clearly registered shock, while making an attempt at remaining impassive. “Marriage to Amy?”
“No, not marriage to Amy! Just, marriage in general. The idea of the entire institution.”
“Oh.” Relief washed over Curry’s face, then, a hint of sadness as he recalled a marriage that might have been.
“Who ever came up with the crazy notion anyway?” The question was intended as an opening statement for what could be a lengthy dissertation.
Curry misunderstood and answered, “Uh, Adam, I think.”
Ignoring the simple answer, Heyes continued, “Women! That’s who! They came up with the whole idea to trap a man into life full of tedious, repetitive…” He fumbled for another descriptor that wouldn’t be, well, tedious or repetitive. “Mundane tasks!”
“That’s not how I remember my parents…” Curry was definitely not picking up on the cues to remain silent and nod agreement only at appropriate intervals.
“Forcing men to commit to an impossible set of standards, and for what?”
The blue eyes were hesitant. Was it his turn to speak? “Um, love?”
“Financial security! Robbing a man of every penny he’s ever earned! Years of toil, sweat, and labor!”
The Kid choked back a chuckle, pretending to cough.
“Leaving him, bereft…”
Bereft. Curry made a mental note to look that up later.
“…Bereft of his freedom, his wealth, his independence.”
Glancing tentatively toward Heyes, not sure if the tempest had passed, the Kid waited, blinking twice. Cautiously, he dared, “Amy dumped ya?”
“Haven’t you been listening to anything I’ve said?”
“I heard everything, Heyes.”
“You and I are different, Kid. You? You might be the marrying type, but me?” Heyes shook his head.
There was a long silence while the two men sat, each contemplating his own idea of what marriage was or wasn’t supposed to be.
“Sometimes I think what happened with Maddie…” The Kid swallowed before continuing. “I could’ve killed Smith and I didn’t. If I had…”
A supportive hand rested on Curry’s shoulder. “You and Madelyn would have been good for each other, Kid. I’m sorry. I should have thought before I spoke.”
“It’s okay, Heyes.” He shrugged the hand away, uncomfortable with his own mild show of emotion. “I been thinkin’, maybe marryin’ ain’t right for me, either. Bein’ a gunman with a reputation, that ain’t somethin’ a man just walks away from, amnesty or not.”
“Madelyn’s death wasn’t your fault, Kid.”
Unconvinced, Curry fell silent. His face was unreadable now, and Heyes returned his gaze out the train window.
“Next stop, Forty-Seventh Street! Chicago! Forty-Seventh Street Station!”
“Chicago! I told you, Heyes. We should’ve got off this train back in Indiana. This one took a turn north and we wanna go west!”
“Not a problem, Kid. We’ll get off now, find something to eat and get back on another train. No need to get proddy.”
Heyes stepped off the train and immediately headed toward a storefront marked ‘Smyth and Jonas – Butcher and Deli.’ “Look, Kid, just like old times. Smith and Jones. Almost.”
At the cross look he received from his irritated partner, Heyes decided silence would be the wiser choice.
The aromas inside were welcoming and they were greeted by the butcher, who spoke with a thick Irish brogue. “Help ye, gent’men?”
“We’d like a couple of sandwiches and some of your finest sausage to take aboard the train with us,” Heyes requested.
“Aye. So ye missed ye stop?”
The Kid shot his partner an ‘I told you so’ look and Heyes nodded, apologetically. “How did you know?”
“‘Tis the clothin’. A couple Chicago businessmen ye’re not. An’ also, the bewildered look about ye friend.”
They sat on a bench near the front window watching as people hurried by, waiting while the butcher prepared their food. The butcher’s daughter, a girl of no more than ten or eleven, wrapped their order in thick brown paper and packed it into a bag. “You two real cowboys?” she asked, holding out the package toward Curry. She eyed their weapons, taking in their hats and other uniquely western wear.
“Been called that,” Curry chuckled, “and a few other things as well.” Inadvertently, the Kid revealed one of his most dashing smiles.
The girl felt her heart skip a beat.
“Don’ be botherin’ the customers now, mind ye, Nora!” her father admonished.
“Yes, sir,” she called over her shoulder.
“No bother, sir. None at all,” the Kid answered, winking in the girl’s direction and receiving a shy, blushing smile in return.
“I’m goin’ west someday!” she confided, excitement filling her voice. “Gonna see Texas and California and…”
“Nora,” her father reminded.
“I’m gonna,” the girl finished in a whisper. “Someday.” Her head dropped at how far off ‘someday’ seemed.
Curry lifted the girl’s chin with one finger. “I hope you do, Nora. I hope you get to see the whole west someday. It’s beautiful. And if you ever get to Wyoming, I hope you’ll pay me a visit.”
The child stood beaming and watched as her customers walked in the direction of the train station. Wyoming. Just the sound of the place echoed with adventure. Pay him a visit? That would be tough, since he hadn’t told her his name.
Heyes’ eyes returned to the newspaper he held open wide in front of him. From the window, he had seen Curry jump onto the train just before the conductor’s call and his partner was now engaged in animated conversation with a grandmotherly woman, obviously flattered by the younger man’s attention, near the front of the car.
The soft swish of a woman’s skirt distracted Heyes. He caught sight of her as she passed him, apparently in search of an open seat. Suddenly, the train lurched forward propelling the woman backward, seating her awkwardly in the lap of a surprised, Hannibal Heyes.
“Pardon me, ma’am, but this seat is taken.” Dark eyes sparkled with amusement at the unladylike expletive she uttered under her breath.
The woman quickly stood, attempting to regain her composure, apologizing and struggling with her hat, which had slipped forward, covering one eye. “Excuse me, sir! This was so clumsy of me! Please, let me get you another newspaper.” She pointed toward the torn and wrinkled publication on the floor.
Heyes was struck by the depth of the one visible, velvety-brown eye. He stood, and while he soothed the young woman’s wounded pride with his warm smile, he simultaneously noted the expensive material of her dress, the pearls adorning her neck and ears, genuine of course, and the absence of a ring on the third finger of her left hand.
“Not necessary, ma’am. I was nearly finished reading it anyway. I could however, use some pleasant company. Would you care to join me?” He extended his arm, inviting her to the Kid’s vacated seat. Surely his partner would understand.
She blushed, “Thank you, sir, but I am not in the habit of sitting with strange men.”
“Ah, I see!” Heyes laughed. “You only make a habit of sitting ON them?”
The dimpled smile that accompanied his words was certainly tempting, and he did seem rather sweet. She deliberated only a second before nodding her acceptance. “Thank you.”
Heyes moved to the side to allow his new seat mate to slip past him. When she was comfortably seated he extended his hand. “Hannibal Heyes,” he introduced himself, holding his breath as he waited for the shock which usually followed his use of his infamous name. The expected reaction failed to materialize.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” She accepted the offered hand and finished straightening her hat, revealing another brown eye, as velvety and captivating as the first. “Christina New…,” her voice caught, in an apparent cough. She pardoned herself and began again. “Christina Newman. I’m sorry, did you say your name is Hannibal Heyes?”
Delayed reaction. It happened sometimes. “Yes.” The winning smile worked overtime, attempting to charm away any misgivings she may have about their seating arrangement. Heyes folded the crinkled mess, formerly known as his newspaper. “Pardon me for asking, Miss Newman, but isn’t it a little unusual for an unmarried young lady like yourself to be traveling unescorted?”
“Who said I was unmarried?” she asked, raising a curious eyebrow.
A barely visible flush tinted Heyes’ cheeks. “No one, ma’am. But seeing as how there’s no ring on your finger, I just assumed.”
“I see.” Her trip had barely begun and already it held promise. “But let me assure you, Mr. Heyes, I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
The confidence in her voice left Heyes with no doubt the statement was true.
“And since you’ve invited me to share your seat, it appears I’m no longer, unescorted. Are you traveling on business, Mr. Heyes?”
“No ma’am.” Heyes leaned slightly toward the aisle, peering around the seat in front of him and pointing toward the Kid. “My partner and I are heading home, to Wyoming. Looking for ranch land. That’s him, up there,” he whispered. “It appears he’s made a new friend.”
Christina leaned over Heyes’ lap, following his finger’s path.
“Ah,” she nodded, watching as Mr. Heyes’ light-haired partner caused his elderly lady friend to giggle and blush like a schoolgirl. “It appears both of you make friends easily. Cattle or horses?” Her face was close to his.
“Cattle or horses?”
“That’s what I asked.”
“Oh, you mean the ranch. That is yet to be decided.”
Heyes’ hand had been resting on Christina’s shoulder, directing her gaze, but he denied himself the pleasure of leaving it there when she returned to her previous position. “May I ask your destination, Miss Newman?”
“Denver. I was summoned.”
Heyes gave a questioning glance. “Summoned?”
Christina nodded. “By my grandfather. He is none too pleased with me.”
“Why is that?” Her answer didn’t really matter, but Heyes was enjoying her company.
“Grandfather believes I am…” She lowered her voice and, giggling, leaned closer to Heyes’ ear. “A spinster!”
“No!” Heyes smiled, enjoying Christina’s playful nature.
She nodded and grinned. “It’s true. I, an old maid.” She rolled her eyes, assuring Heyes that she couldn’t be less concerned over her spinster status. “Grandfather sent me east long ago, with hopes of my becoming a lady of fine breeding. I’m afraid I failed him, miserably. And Grandfather is sorely disappointed.”
Heyes made an unsuccessful attempt at hiding the roguish grin that accompanied his next words. “I find it difficult to believe you could disappoint anyone, Miss Newman.”
Her eyes dropped, a slight blush tinting her cheeks. “Enough about me, Mr. Heyes. Tell me about yourself.”
“I’m really not that interesting.”
“Really?” Christina raised a brow in question. “I suppose any number of newspaper reporters would disagree. And the writers of dime novels and…”
“Alright,” he laughed, raising both hands in surrender. “I’ve lived a full life. An interesting one. Which hasn’t come without its own set of challenges.”
“And you’ve lived it on your terms. Mr. Heyes, for that I envy you!” A spark of adventure lit her eyes.
He laughed again. It was quite possibly the most heartwarming laugh Christina had ever heard. It began, a rumbling chuckle, deep within his chest, then, bubbled forth like a fountain from his wide smile.
“Why is it funny I would envy you?”
“Because you have everything anyone could ever want! Money, freedom to come and go as you choose.”
“How do you know I have either?” she began, but quickly dismissed a portion of her question after doing a mental inventory of her current state of attire. “Money I have, for the moment. Freedom? I beg to differ. I am free to do as Grandfather directs. Nothing more, nothing less. And now he has decided it is time for me to marry, settle down, provide heirs. He has even taken care of the choosing for me. Mr. Wilson Lawrence the Third. If I wish to stay in Grandfather’s good graces, I must comply. If not…” Christina shrugged, leaving the sentence unfinished. “Grandfather says that once I settle down with the right man, I won’t give a hoot about freedom and independence.” She sighed heavily and shook her head.
“You think he’s wrong?”
She looked him directly in the eye, disbelief clearly written on her face. “Have you met Wilson? No, I don’t suppose you have.” She changed tactic. “Would YOU marry, Mr. Heyes? Strictly for financial gain? Giving up any hope of deciding your own future?”
“I…well…I hadn’t exactly thought of it in those terms…” It appeared for a moment, Christina Newman had succeeded in leaving the silver-tongued Hannibal Heyes, at a loss for words.
“No, of course you wouldn’t. Yet, Grandfather expects that I…”
“I might,” Heyes stubbornly insisted, doubt, causing his voice to waiver. “Depending on the circumstances.”
“You would? Interesting.”
Later that evening – A town somewhere between Chicago and Denver
“Miss Newman, it was delightful to make your acquaintance. I believe I’ll turn in early. We have a long day of travel tomorrow.” Kid Curry rose and politely excused himself from the dinner table, leaving Heyes and Christina alone.
“Would you care for a stroll outdoors, Miss Newman? It is a lovely evening.” Heyes stood and offered his arm to the young woman, even more lovely than the evening.
Christina happily gave her consent.
“I have looked forward to some time with you alone, Mr. Heyes.”
“Please, drop the Mister from my name. Just Heyes will do.”
“Heyes? Grandfather would never approve of my addressing you strictly by your surname. May I call you Hannibal?”
He liked the way his given name rolled off her tongue.
“And of course, you will call me Christina?” she finished.
They walked to the edge of town, leaving the boardwalk and continuing to the edge of a quietly flowing river.
“There’s something I’d like you to consider, Mr. Hey…Hannibal.”
He waited, wondering what she had in mind, yet, simply enjoying the moments spent in Christina Newman’s company. “Go on,” he encouraged.
“It’s rather difficult for me to suggest. I’m at a loss as to how one would proceed in this matter.”
“I’ve always found it helpful to cut right to the heart,” Heyes suggested.
“The heart, yes, certainly. Alright, Hannibal. It’s marriage I’m considering.”
“So you said, on the train this afternoon. To Wilson Lawrence the Third.”
“No. That’s not what I meant. I am considering another option. One that hadn’t entered my mind until today.”
“Which option would that be?”
“The option to marry someone of my own choosing. Someone with whom I share a common interest. Someone who could provide me with the freedom I desire. In turn of course, I would provide him with more than adequate remuneration. I’m suggesting a mutually beneficial merger.”
His deep chuckle made its presence known again. “And where will you find this partner for mutually beneficial merging?”
“I believe I’ve already found him, Hannibal.”
“That’s impossible. You’ve only been in town a couple of hours. Who could you have found in that amount of time?”
“I didn’t find him in this town. I found him on the train.”
“On the train? But the only person you spoke with on the train was…”
This time, Christina Newman succeeded in leaving Hannibal Heyes, completely speechless.
“Mutually beneficial merger? That’s what she called it?” Loud laughter erupted from the Kid. “I would have loved to see the look on her face when you told her she was crazy, Heyes.” Curry flopped down on the mattress, stretching an arm behind his head.
“So how’d you let her down?”
A cough from Heyes.
“Heyes? You DID tell her she was crazy, right?”
“Not exactly, Kid.”
“You just told her ‘no thanks’ and left it at that?”
“Not exactly, Kid.”
Curry sat up, rubbing both hands across his face. “Oh please, tell me you’re not actually considering this.”
“How much does ranch land in Wyoming go for these days, Kid?”
“Don’t, Heyes! It ain’t worth doin’ what I think you’re thinkin’ a’ doin’! What happened to, ‘marriage is a trap, bereft-in’ men of their freedom, wealth and independence’?”
“It would only be for a while, Kid. Not forever.” Heyes pulled a chair in front of the Kid, his voice becoming more animated as he straddled it and shared the story. “See, Christina hates the whole idea of marriage. Thinks it’s some kind of plot thought up by men to control women and rob them of their independence.”
“Amazing. There’s two of you,” the Kid muttered.
“And she and her grandfather don’t see eye to eye. He feels she’s on the reckless side, irresponsible. Personally, I like a woman with a reckless nature, but I’ll save that for another time. So, before Grandpa will sign over the money in Christina’s trust fund, he wants her to settle down and marry.”
A sideways glance from the Kid confirmed it. Heyes had definitely lost his mind.
Heyes continued, “And, Grandpa’s found a man he wants Christina to marry.”
Two arms flung triumphantly into the air. “Good! Problem solved!”
“Not as far as Christina’s concerned.”
Curry buried his head in a pillow, sure he’d be sorry for asking the question he was about to ask. “Why?”
“Well, there were a number of names she called him. Most of ’em I shouldn’t repeat. But it’s clear she don’t think much of him and she’s not going to marry him.”
“This woman is trouble, Heyes. Run!”
“She’s offering a lot of money, Kid.”
Curry’s shook his head, speaking softly, slowly, in an almost pleading whisper, “You don’t marry for money, Heyes.”
“Some have. Think about it. A ranch. Free and clear.”
One eye peeked out from behind the pillow as a blond head perked up. “She’s offerin’ that much?”
“And more. We’d be well-fixed, Kid. For a long time.”
“How long you hafta stay married to her?”
“That’s a little sketchy. A few weeks, maybe more. Long enough for the money to transfer and all the legal ends to get tied up.”
“Think you can handle that?”
“How hard can it be?”
“I don’t know, Heyes. When Clem and I were married, it lasted, what, a couple days?”
“That wasn’t a real marriage, Kid. This one would be for real. Papers and all.”
“You sure this is legal?”
“Legal, right and proper.”
The Kid was pacing now, while Heyes watched him from his perch on the chair. “You sure you wanna do this? I thought you were dead set on stayin’ single. Didn’t think you’d be the one…”
Heyes rose, placing an understanding hand on Curry’s shoulder. “I know, Kid. Never thought I’d see the day myself. But it’s not permanent.”
“And then you two would just go your separate ways?”
“I guess so.”
“You sure she’s okay with that?”
“It was her idea! She don’t want to be married, Kid. Not to me. Not to anybody. Ever. We’ll keep the marriage quiet. Only the lawyers and her Grandfather need to know about it. And after it’s over, we have a ranch in Wyoming, she goes back to Chicago, and that will be that. She’ll be a free woman, I’ll be a free man. Only we’ll both, no, make that all three of us, will be a lot richer than we are now. No one ever has to know.”
“Sounds like you’ve decided then.”
Heyes shrugged, “Only if you agree, partner. I wouldn’t bring third partner into this venture of ours without your approval.”
“There are a couple of things we need to agree on, Hannibal, if we are going to go through with this.” Christina had stopped, dead in her tracks, at the base of the courthouse steps, her confidence beginning to falter.
Heyes nodded. “It’s best we lay our cards on the table now, Christina, before it’s too late.”
Too late! Once she took this step, she could never go back. A woman with a former outlaw for a husband. A woman ***divorced*** from a former outlaw. If anyone ever found out, she would be branded a scarlet woman. ***”Too late!” *** His words rang out in warning.
“Christina? Are you sure you want to do this?”
She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, silencing her conscience along with her fears. “This marriage, will be a marriage of convenience only. I hope my meaning on that is clear.”
“Perfectly.” One corner of Heyes’ mouth lifted, almost imperceptibly.
Was that amusement she read in the face of her prospective husband?
“There is. Before the transfer of any funds, my grandfather may need some convincing that our marriage is, well, that… Is it possible to convince him that we are in love?”
“Not a problem.” He flashed a boastful grin.
“I’ve worked a con or two in my day, Christina. I’m sure we can convince your grandfather that we are in love.” He paused. “Unless you don’t think you can hold up your end of the convincing. In that case…”
“No! I’ll convince him alright.”
Christina studied the brown eyes. Hannibal Heyes was an accomplished gambler, by his own admission the key player in more than one successful con.
“Is there anything else, Christina?”
“I need to trust you, Hannibal. My future as well as yours is on the line. Everything I’ve read about you suggests you are a man of your word. I need you to give me your word now, that this deal of ours… That you won’t….”
He touched her cheek. “You have my word, Christina.” The promise was spoken with such sincerity, it threw her off guard.
Trust. It was the essential ingredient that Christina couldn’t possibly purchase, at any price. Would she be able to read it in his eyes, if he should choose to deceive her?
“What about you? Don’t you feel any reservations about…”
“None,” he assured. “Anything else?”
She shook her head. “I think that’s it. Shall we?” She hesitantly turned toward the courthouse steps.
Heyes grabbed her arm. “Christina.” He held her gaze, willing her to believe him. “You can trust me!”
“Christina, my dear! Wilson and I expected you to arrive much sooner. What kept…” The elderly gentleman turned toward her voice and stopped, noticing two men standing, one on each side of his granddaughter. “You’ve brought company I see.”
Wilson Lawrence the Third silently examined both strangers, with an undeniable air of superiority.
Christina greeted her grandfather with a kiss, ignoring Wilson the Third completely. “Grandfather, I’d like you to meet Jedediah Curry.” She watched, grinning at her grandfather’s recognition of the name.
He shook hands tentatively with the well-known gunman.
“And this is Hannibal Heyes.” She paused, waiting until each had grasped the other’s hand, then added, “My husband.”
Heyes reached for Christina and pulled her to his side, flashing a winning smile.
“Hannibal, Jedediah, my grandfather, Alexander Newman.”
Nervous laughter accompanied her grandfather’s wary looks which darted from the two outlaws standing in his study to his wayward granddaughter. “Christina, certainly you are joking with me! Surely you would not marry a wanted man!”
“Of course not, Grandfather! Don’t be silly,” she giggled. “Hannibal has been granted amnesty, as has Jedediah.”
“You wouldn’t! I won’t allow it!”
“It’s too late, Grandfather. You requested that I marry, and marry, I have. This afternoon, at the courthouse.” She caressed the cheek of her new husband.
“How foolish can you be? The man is a criminal! He’ll steal everything you have!”
“Nonsense, Grandfather! Hannibal is my husband. Everything I have, I share with him.” Her eyes met Heyes’, sending the message that now would be the perfect time for his best efforts at convincing.
Heyes responded by drawing Christina into an embrace and looking deeply into her eyes. He never took his eyes from hers as he spoke, but his words were directed to her grandfather. “Mr. Newman, I know I don’t need to tell you what an extraordinary woman your granddaughter is. I love her. I don’t expect you to believe me now, but over time, I plan to prove it to you.” A most persuading kiss sealed his vow. “And to her.”
“Enough!” Wilson was speaking now. Make that, yelling. “Christina, we had an agreement! You and I were to be wed as soon as you arrived in Denver!”
Christina, head reeling, took a moment to regain her composure. Hannibal’s kiss had been nothing if not, convincing. He almost had her believing… She gathered her wits and turned from Heyes. “No, Wilson! I am NOT a commodity to be bought and sold by gentlemen’s agreement! And I most certainly NEVER agreed to marry you!”
Wilson took a threatening step toward the couple, but found his path blocked by Curry. With a scowl toward both Heyes and Christina, Wilson pushed past the Kid and left.
“But he did say he would sign the papers?” This was Heyes, while he watched the despondent Christina pushing food around her plate.
She shrugged. “I guess so. But I’ve hurt him, Hannibal. Deeply.”
“What do you mean, ‘you guess so’?”
“Grandfather is a man of his word. He said the money would be mine once I had married and now… He said he’ll sign the papers and he will… As long as I assure him that marriage to you is what I truly want.”
“Assure him? We’re already married, Christina. What more assurance can he want?”
“He wants my word.” Christina set down her fork and covered her face with both hands. “You didn’t see his face! The way he looked at me, with such disappointment in his eyes!”
A sardonic laugh escaped as Heyes shook his head. “So you’re backing out of our deal.”
“I didn’t say that!” She shot him a defiant look which quickly faded into one of despair. “I just feel so bad! I can’t watch him sign the money over to me one minute, only to divorce you the next! The least I can do is make an attempt…or the appearance of an attempt, at making this marriage work.”
“That wasn’t part of the deal, Christina. You get the trust fund, you pay me what we agreed on and then we both go our separate ways, remember?”
“The whole thing was my idea, of course I remember! But I also remember you agreeing to help me convince Grandfather that we are in love!”
Heyes pushed his chair back from the table and threw a glance toward the Kid. “Fine!” he finally declared, throwing his hands in the air, apparently having gained Curry’s acceptance by silent conversation. “We’ll convince him we’re in love! But not by staying here in Denver. You’re coming with us to Sheridan! We have ranch land to buy!”
“Grandfather, I’ve made a decision. The three of us are leaving this morning. Hannibal and Jed have business which needs their attention.”
“This is what you truly want?”
Christina dropped her gaze, avoiding her grandfather’s probing eyes. “My mind is made up. Hannibal is my husband. My place is with him.”
“Alright, Christina, if you are certain.” The older man rose from his chair. “I’ll have my attorney draw up the papers, transferring the trust to you.” He hugged Christina. The embrace seemed almost sorrowful, on his part if not hers as well. He turned to Heyes, then Curry, shaking their hands and wishing them well. His eyes met his granddaughter’s one final time before he left. “Goodbye, Christina. I hope you find the happiness you’re looking for.”
Two hours later, they were seated on a north-bound train. Heyes, a newspaper on his lap, prepared to read, while Curry watched passengers boarding the train, from doors both in front of and behind them. Christina sat quietly between the two, pondering her behavior of recent days. Although she felt some remorse at having deceived her grandfather, the overwhelming emotion was one of elation at having finally succeeded in gaining independence from his control. Glancing tentatively at the dark-haired man on her left, a feeling of panic crept in as she wondered, had she gained independence from one master, only to be dominated by another?
A near-silent curse from Heyes, roused her from thought.
“What?” she questioned.
“Nothing,” he insisted, folding the newspaper and tucking it quickly beneath one arm.
“It’s not ‘nothing’.” Her quick fingers plucked the newspaper away.
The headline caused the same expletive to be uttered from her lips. Her gloved hand covered her mouth.
Outlaw Weds Heiress
Curry’s head had turned, catching the headline along with Christina. All three of them exchanged a glance, then exclaimed together, “Wilson!”
“Guess that explains the group of suspicious-lookin’ gentlemen, ’bout eight rows up that keep turnin’ to check us out,” the Kid remarked, nodding their direction.
Heyes took in the trio and nodded his agreement.
Christina closed her eyes, reconciling herself with the thought. “What do we care, right? We are married, you and I. Let them write what they want! What difference could it possibly make?”
“The difference is, Christina, you’ve never had to live your life with a posse in hot pursuit, have you?”
She shrugged his question off. “A few pictures here or there over the years, on the society page.”
“Somehow I don’t think a society page mention is what these guys are after,” Heyes explained. “They’ll be digging for dirt wherever they can find it, Christina. And they won’t care how bad they make any of us look in the process. Even you.”
“Oh.” Christina hung her head, the truth of his words sinking in. It had been one thing to imagine a quick, quiet marriage, ending in divorce. It was another to envision the humiliation of a public disgrace. These reporters would have as many doubts about the sincerity of her love for Hannibal Heyes as Grandfather Newman had. Not to mention their doubts as to whether the former outlaw’s interest was really in the young heiress, or the Newman family fortune.
“I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t think this through very thoroughly, did I?” she asked, by way of apology. “I truly didn’t think anyone would ever know.”
Heyes sounded disgusted with himself. “No, I’m sorry, Christina. I should have known something like this would happen!”
“What are we going to do?” Her voice sounded small and frightened.
“We’re getting off the train,” Heyes decided.
“But how will that help? Won’t the reporters just get off wherever we do?”
“Not where we’re plannin’ to get off,” Curry chimed in.
“Why is that?”
“‘Cause we ain’t gettin’ off at a station.”
Christina’s eyes grew wide with terror. “You mean we’re jumping off this train?!” She faced Heyes and even though she spoke in a whisper, he knew she was yelling.
The three of them met at the back of the empty dining car. Having waited until the three reporters were lulled to sleep by the swaying of the train, they exited the passenger car, one at a time, as inconspicuously as possible.
“I can’t do this!”
“‘Course you can,” the Kid encouraged. “It’s like…” He paused. Jumping off a moving train wasn’t like anything else he’d ever experienced. “Just close your eyes and step off.”
“The Kid will go first. You follow and I’ll be right behind you.” Heyes tossed their saddlebags and Christina’s handbag out. Curry followed.
The ground rushed by, a blur of brown, interspersed with occasional greenery. Christina initially thought the difficulty would be in convincing her feet to leave a perfectly good train.
“Don’t forget to roll!” Heyes yelled, nearly shoving her from the speeding car.
Her concern of the previous moment, quickly vanished mid-air, shifting instead toward the next obstacle. Landing.
Christina’s feet his the ground first, but only briefly. She rolled and continued rolling, finally coming to rest face down, in a disheveled heap, hat missing, clothing torn in places, bloodied knees and elbows, covered in dirt and debris.
Heyes arrived at Christina’s side, joining her in the dirt. “You alright?” Concern was evident in his voice.
“Alright isn’t the word I would have chosen.” She lifted her head, spitting sand from her mouth, in as lady-like a fashion as possible.
Heyes leaned on one elbow, watching as Christina moved each limb before attempting to rise, slowly testing to make sure all her important parts were still connected, still functioning. Her movements assured him she was indeed alright, despite a few scrapes and bruises. A full smile lit his features. Heyes had to admit, he was impressed with Christina Newman…or Christina Heyes, in more ways than one. She was one intriguing woman. He definitely looked forward to knowing her better. “You rolled so well, Christina! Are you sure that was your first jump from a train? Boy, the next time…”
“The next time?!” Christina exclaimed, her voice still trembling with fear and a rush of adrenaline. “Anyone who would do that more than ONCE must have been absent the day the Good Lord was handing out brains!”
At that moment, the Kid, who had been gathering saddlebags, handbags and other various items strewn across the countryside, walked into earshot. At Christina’s comment, a brief look was exchanged between Curry and Heyes, neither of whom could contain themselves any longer.
“A walk off?” Curry sputtered, amidst hysterical laughter.
“Amazing! There’s two of you!” Heyes responded, snorting as he rolled on the ground, trying to breathe.
“So what do we do now?” Christina asked, after the curious outburst had subsided.
“We find somewhere to buy some horses and ride to Wyoming,” Heyes answered.
“Ride?” There was a gulp from Christina. “How far is it to Wyoming?”
“To Wyoming from here? We can probably make it in a day. But riding all the way to Sheridan, more like a week.”
“A week?” Christina bit her lip, concern written on her face.
“Somethin’ wrong?” the Kid wondered, catching Christina’s worried expression.
“There’s something I should tell you both.”
The two waited, listening.
“I’ve never actually ridden a horse. Grandfather owned them, but I never learned to ride.” There was anxious hand-wringing on Christina’s part. “In fact,” she lowered her voice, “I’m afraid of them!”
“Afraid of ’em?” Curry rolled his eyes in disbelief. “Never heard of no one growin’ up in Denver who couldn’t ride, let alone, fearin’ a horse,” he finished with a shake of his head.
“I’m sorry. I just didn’t think of mentioning it sooner, though I might have,” her voice grew louder, “had I known we’d be jumping from the train! AND I’ve been in Chicago since I was thirteen. There’s not much call for equestrian expertise there!”
Curry simply stared back at Christina, fuming.
“Alright, you two, enough! We’ll just re-think our plan.” Heyes walked a few paces away. “Christina, you think you can manage a ride from here to Cheyenne? Taking our time, we could make it a two day trip. From Cheyenne, we can board another train, hopefully NOT one full of reporters this time, and continue to Sheridan. Deal?”
Christina pulled her eyes away from her stare-down with Kid Curry. “I’ll do my best.”
Heyes turned toward the Kid. “Deal?”
“Two days to make a ride that shouldn’t take more’n one,” Curry muttered under his breath. But to Heyes he only replied, “Fine!” and began the walk north, in hopes of finding horses sooner, rather than later.
“It’s called Leo, the lion.” Heyes pointed to the clear night sky, from where he lay in the grass at the top of a hill. He took Christina’s hand, pointing her finger from one star to the next, outlining Leo’s shape.
They had stopped for the night, earlier than Curry would have liked, but Heyes had been insistent that Christina’s inexperienced muscles had been taxed to their limit. They made camp in the hills just across the border into Wyoming. The evening was cool and clear. At least they had made it through this first day of their journey without poor weather to contend with.
“And this one is Ursa Major. The Indians call it the Great Bear.” He traced its shape with her finger again, as he had before. “But most people just call it the Big Dipper.”
“I prefer the Great Bear. A dipper isn’t nearly as imaginative.”
Heyes nodded his agreement.
“I studied a little about stars in school, but I’ve never seen them so clear and bright,” she finished in an awe-filled sigh, “or so many of them!”
“Mmm,” was his only response before Heyes grew quiet, enjoying the wide-open sky, the fresh scent of the air and the freedom they represented. Not to mention, the company of the woman next to him.
“Coffee?” Christina offered, holding the cup of steaming-hot brew toward the Kid, her symbolic olive branch.
Curry accepted without comment, but nodded his thanks.
“How you holdin’ up?” he finally asked, his own attempt at a peace offering.
“Not too bad. A little sore,” she added with a chuckle.
“Takes a little gettin’ used to.”
“You’re right. Maybe tomorrow will be easier.”
Curry let her comment slide, knowing by morning Christina’s muscles and backside would be protesting even more than they were this evening.
“I guess maybe my being married to your partner takes a little getting used to too,” she added and fell into silent thought.
Married to Hannibal Heyes. The thought was overwhelming. Two days ago, she hadn’t even known him, except by name and reputation. The man himself had been a stranger, a mystery. Now, they were husband and wife, bonded, at least by law if not in spirit.
“Crazy, huh?” she wondered aloud.
The Kid looked at her and smiled. “You said it. Not me.”
“Nothing I haven’t said to myself already. But I hadn’t thought about how you might feel about all this. How it might affect you.”
His blue eyes met hers briefly, carrying a message she didn’t comprehend. Then, he stood and poured the remainder of the coffee into the fire. “You best get a good night’s sleep. Mornin’ comes early in the hills.”
“Feel like talking?”
Christina had turned in for the night and Heyes joined Curry, who was checking the horses.
“Nothin’ to talk about.”
“You don’t like Christina?”
“Never said that.”
“You didn’t have to.”
“That ain’t it, Heyes. I do like her. I like her fine, it’s just…”
Heyes smiled. He alone possessed the ability to draw Curry from silence. He waited.
“I think you’re makin’ a mistake is all. Both of you. A big one. You’re playin’ with fire and somebody’s bound to get burned.”
“It’s a business deal, Kid. Nothing more, nothing less. And even you agreed, the money was too good to turn down.”
“That was before!”
“Before we met Mr. Newman, before the reporters. Before…” The Kid turned away, shaking his head.
“Go ahead, finish what you got to say.”
Curry spun around to face Heyes. “Before she got under your skin!”
“Christina’s not under my skin!”
“Deny it all you want, Heyes. I ain’t blind.”
“That’s ridiculous! In a couple weeks, this whole thing will be over and then you’ll see. It will be you and me, in Wyoming, on OUR ranch! Just like we planned! And Christina will go on to Chicago, just like she planned.”
“And that’ll be that?”
“What does that mean?”
“It means, you got under her skin too.” He turned away from Heyes again. “Look, I know this is none of my business, but somebody’s gonna get hurt. And from where I stand, it’s lookin’ like it’s gonna be you.”
“You’re crazy, you know that?”
“I’M crazy!?” the Kid snorted. “If I am, partner, I sure ain’t the only one.”
Kid Curry had been right about at least one thing, morning did come early in the hills of Wyoming. Christina woke, stiff and cold, moaning as she rolled over and tried to stretch the kinks out of muscles unaccustomed to riding horseback for hours or sleeping on the ground. Bumps and bruises from her train jump made their presence known.
“This might help a little.”
“Nothing could help, I’m sure of it.” She sat up anyway and accepted the cup of coffee from Heyes, and the welcoming smile that accompanied it. “Where’s Jed?”
“Looking for something we can call breakfast.” A shot rang in the distance and Heyes grinned. “Guess he found it!”
“You have a nice smile,” Christina observed. “Anybody ever tell you that?”
“I’ve heard it once or twice.” The smile in question grew wider.
“How long until we reach Cheyenne?”
“By nightfall, I hope. I’d rather not make my wife spend another night on the cold hard ground unless I have to.”
“You are indeed a thoughtful husband.”
They were sitting near the fire, but Heyes saw Christina shiver. He added another log before rubbing both Christina’s arms in an attempt to get her circulation flowing.
Her observations about him had been accurate. This warming gesture was proof. He was a kind and thoughtful husband. He went out of his way to accommodate her lack of experience in riding and was considerate about their having to sleep on the ground. Heyes had definitely gone the extra mile in trying to protect her from the probing eyes of Denver reporters, anxious to cash in on the gossip about their marriage. In her random husband selection process, she could have done worse. Far worse.
Their kiss in her grandfather’s study floated to mind and she smiled with the memory.
“What are you thinking?” Heyes asked.
“Hmmm? Oh, nothing. Just happy.”
A whistling Curry returned, with a pheasant flung over one shoulder. “Breakfast!” he declared, with a triumphant smile.
“Finally! Something I know how to do! I could pluck a chicken faster than anyone else in my class on domestic skills. Plucking a pheasant can’t be much different.”
The Kid bowed playfully, presenting her with the bird. “Be my guest!”
It wasn’t long before their breakfast of fire-roasted pheasant had been consumed, camp had been broken and they were once again mounting the horses.
“Easy now, Princess. We made friends yesterday, remember? It’s me again, Christina. And we’re going to get on just fine, aren’t we?”
Heyes chuckled to himself, overhearing Christina’s voice calming the animal, as well as herself, just like he had instructed her the day before.
Christina winced as her backside came in contact with the saddle.
The Kid saw, and raised a gloved hand to his mouth, wiping away his grin. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Christina stated.
After two days on the trail and another on the train, the three arrived in Sheridan, Wyoming. Christina remained at the hotel, content to allow the prospective ranchers, Heyes and Curry, to go in search of their Promised Land. After all, there was no telling how many days the search might take. The fact that it would commence on horseback, had been enough to persuade Christina to bow out gracefully. And, she reminded herself, the ranch land being chosen had nothing at all to do with her. An odd feeling of disappointment accompanied the thought.
“Heyes, I been thinkin’,” the Kid remarked, as they rode toward the another parcel of Wyoming acreage.
“Hmmm?” Curry’s partner replied, without further comment.
“How long before Grandpa Newman’s money gets put in Christina’s account?”
“Not sure, Kid. Might be there by now.”
Curry continued. “An’ how long before Christina pays what she owes ya?”
Heyes shrugged. “Not sure. You thinking she’s not gonna make good on her part of the deal?”
“That ain’t it at all, Heyes.”
“Just wonderin’ if the two of you are gonna realize ‘fore she leaves, that this fake marriage of yours ain’t so fake anymore.” He paused, letting his words sink in. “She’s not so bad, Heyes. Cooks a mean pheasant,” he smiled. “Ya think she’ll really go back to Chicago?”
Heyes was quiet for a long time. “Can’t say I haven’t thought about asking her to stay, Kid.” The thought was crazy. Even crazier than marrying Christina temporarily. And even if he did ask her to stay, she wouldn’t, would she? He had nothing to offer Christina Newman. And how would the Kid feel about a woman staying at their ranch?
“Heyes?” Sometimes the Kid’s vision seemed so much clearer than his partner’s. “Ya gonna be able to let her go?”
“This is it, Heyes. Can’t ya feel it?” Curry’s voice was filled with wonder at the scene before him. It was perfection, a dream come true.
From their position at the top of a rise, they could see the outline of mountains in the distance and the spring green of the valley below. A soft breeze blew, causing the grasses to dance, creating an inexplicable sensation of peacefulness.
“It’s so quiet, ya can hear it!” the Kid exclaimed.
“I hear it, Kid! I hear it!”
“It’s like, our own little slice’a heaven!”
“Paradise!” Heyes echoed Curry’s sentiment.
“So? What’d’ya think, Heyes? A couple gamblers like us, ya think we oughtta roll the dice on this place?”
“All or nothing this time, Kid. I say, let’s do it!”
A loud whoop from Kid Curry rang out but was quickly absorbed into the stillness of the landscape.
Heyes chuckled quietly.
“What?” his partner questioned.
“Kid, I think you just came up with the perfect name for this ranch of ours.”
“I did?” He paused, trying to recall any suggestion he’d made. “You gonna fill me in?”
“Pair-o-dice!” Heyes spelled it out so the Kid could make the association. “What’d’ya think? A couple gamblers like us, taking the gamble of our lives?”
“I think it’s a real good name, Heyes!” He smiled broadly at his partner. “Glad I thought of it!”
“We found it!”
Christina opened her hotel room door to the widest smile she had ever seen from Hannibal Heyes. She met his opening remark with a pair of arms, flung around his neck and a squeal of delight that mirrored his jubilation.
“Congratulations!” Christina found herself being lifted off the ground and swung in a circle while both of them laughed. “Congratulations to both of you! Where is Jed?”
“He took the horses to the livery. He’ll be waiting for me at the saloon to celebrate. But I wanted to tell you first. Figured you’d want to know. Figured…”
Words seemed insufficient. Without a thought, Heyes pulled Christina into a kiss that took them both by surprise. It couldn’t have been described as a brotherly kiss, or even affectionate. It was all-consuming. A fire that left Christina breathless and weak in the knees.
Both stood with eyes locked, each on the other, in shock and disbelief. “I’m sorry,” Heyes began, mumbling.
A moment later, Christina’s reply came in a whisper, “I’m not!” Heyes found himself enveloped in another kiss, this one initiated by Christina. His lips responded whole-heartedly as he pushed the door of her hotel room shut.
“Everything is taken care of! I’ve wired the bank in Denver and the money is being transferred to the bank here in Sheridan. Before long, you two will be land owners!”
“A toast! To the best partner a man ever had,” Heyes nodded toward Kid Curry, “and to the best merger, ever suggested!” Heyes winked in Christina’s direction.
Three wine glasses met at the center of the table with a delicate ‘ping’ and the celebratory dinner continued.
“Excuse me, madam. You are Mrs. Heyes?”
“That’s right,” Christina answered, unsure if it was the title, Mrs., or her new surname that made her more uncomfortable.
“A telegram has been delivered for you.” The waiter handed Christina an envelope.
She glanced first at Heyes, then at Curry in question before slipping her butter knife across the seal. “It’s from Calvin Ford, my grandfather’s attorney. He says he’s been looking for me ever since we left Denver. He finally located me when I requested the transfer of funds to the bank here.”
“Somethin’ wrong?” Curry asked, concerned.
“Grandfather is ill.” There was obvious worry in her eyes. “I have to go to Denver.”
“Wouldn’t be gentlemanly to let her travel alone, Heyes. ‘Specially seein’ how she’s your wife,” Curry teased, his attempt at lightening the heavy load Heyes was carrying.
They had cut dinner short and walked Christina to her room to pack before shutting the door of their own hotel room. The train to Denver would leave first thing in the morning. Christina planned to be on it.
“She’s a capable woman, Kid. She don’t need me to see her safe to Denver. And if her grandfather’s as sick as Mr. Ford’s telegram made it sound, he probably won’t want me hanging around, and neither will Christina.”
“If Mr. Newman’s that sick, could be Christina’s gonna need you there even more.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she’s gonna need somebody to lean on. Somebody who cares about her.”
The next morning, found the two partners and Christina, standing together on the platform at the train station, saying their goodbyes.
“Goodbye, Jed. I’m sure you’ll be happy to have your partner all to yourself when he returns.”
The Kid leaned closer, in a conspiratorial whisper. “You got a way of bringin’ out the best in Heyes. He gets kinda proddy when it’s just him and me.” He gave her a parting embrace. “I wish your grandfather the best. And Christina,” the Kid paused before saying his final goodbye, “if Heyes had to go an’ pick a wife, he couldn’t ‘a done better.” His smile confirmed the sincerity of his words. “Don’t be a stranger, ya hear?”
At the conductor’s call, Heyes helped Christina aboard, then, grabbed Curry in a masculine embrace. “I’ll be back, Kid. Soon as I can.”
They had traveled a long time when Christina finally spoke. “I appreciate you traveling with me, Hannibal. And the funds have transferred safely to Sheridan, so Jed will be able to complete the purchase of your land and begin acquiring the necessary items for your ranch. By the time you get back to Sheridan, there will be nothing to stand in your way.”
Nothing in his way. Nothing. Not a wanted poster. Not lack of funds. Certainly not a wife. Heyes recalled the words of his partner, ***”Ya gonna be able to let her go?”***
Christina had been looking out the window as the train raced forward, but now she turned to look at Heyes. “What did the two of you decide on anyway. Cattle or horses?”
Heyes laughed. “We never did! Do you have a recommendation?”
“Yes. Cattle,” she stated emphatically.
“Right,” Heyes nodded, “because you’re afraid of horses.”
“Oh, no! Not at all! Not anymore, anyway. You and Princess have cured me of my fear. I recommend cattle simply due to their potential for future profits. Horses used for transportation are quickly becoming a thing of the past. Travel by train, and even the experimental horseless carriage, these are the modes of future transportation. Certainly people will always appreciate horses, some may even prefer them, but their necessity to daily life in future society will wane, slowly, but surely. Beef,” she raised a gloved finger to punctuate her words, “people will continue to eat beef. Mark my words. Cattle. A sound investment.”
“Alright,” Heyes responded, “advice duly noted. Whether we choose to heed it or not, that could be another matter entirely.”
“Hmmm…” Christina pondered. “You may be right. My judgment has been questionable over the past week or so, hasn’t it?”
“You look much better this morning, Grandfather.” Christina threw open the drapes in Mr. Newman’s bedroom, allowing the morning rays of sun to shine in and setting a breakfast tray at his bedside.
“I’m feeling much better, Christina, ever since you arrived,” he patted her hand.
Weeks had passed since Christina and Hannibal Heyes had returned to Denver. Her grandfather was daily gaining strength and Christina knew she couldn’t put off telling him the truth much longer.
“Grandfather, about Hannibal and myself…”
“I know, dear. You’ll need to be returning to Wyoming soon. There is your new ranch to consider, as well as Hannibal’s business partner. Certainly your husband can’t leave him to do all the work, now can he?”
Christina smiled, “Of course he wouldn’t, but Grandfather…”
“Good morning!” A full smile lit his face as Heyes entered the room, greeting Christina with a kiss on the cheek.
Heyes had been the perfect gentleman these past few weeks, playing his part in the on-going con to perfection – the supportive, loving husband. Christina, on the other hand, had grown distant, perhaps out of concern for her grandfather, Heyes had speculated to himself. Or worse, he feared, Christina desired a quick end to their marriage of convenience.
“I see your card-playing partner has arrived, Grandfather. I’ll leave the two of you to your game.” She kissed her grandfather’s forehead before leaving.
“That’s one amazing woman,” Mr. Newman noted to the younger man who shuffled a deck of cards. “But I suppose you already know that, don’t you son?”
“Christina is amazing,” Heyes admitted. There was no denying it. She was the finest woman who had ever walked into his life, and he was about to lose her.
“She know how you feel?”
“What?” Heyes asked, confusion on his face.
“Does she know that you love her? Doesn’t take a genius to see it! My question is, does she KNOW it?”
“Mr. Newman, we are married…”
“Oh stop with all the marriage whitewash! We both know your marriage was a scam, a set up to get the money from Christina’s trust fund. What I’m asking is, do YOU realize the woman loves you? And more importantly, does SHE realize you love her?”
The deck of cards sat, forgotten, as Heyes and Grandfather Newman shared a hearty laugh.
He found her in her grandfather’s study late that evening, staring out the window at the night sky.
“You looking for the Great Bear?” Heyes asked, touching her arm as he approached her from behind. He was surprised when she quickly wiped a tear from her cheek.
“Sorry. You startled me. I didn’t hear you come in.”
“Fine,” she assured him, nodding.
“Your grandfather is getting a lot better, Christina. And I’ve been thinking I’m really not needed here anymore.”
This was it. The moment she had dreaded. Time to say goodbye. Instead she complimented him. “I guess you’re as good as conman as you think you are, Hannibal Heyes. You’ve succeeded in convincing my grandfather that we are in love.”
“He mentioned that to you too, huh?”
She nodded again. “Today. ***’The man loves you, Christina! He’s a keeper. Hang onto him!’***” she quoted, imitating her grandfather’s voice.
“Mmm,” he mumbled and moved one step closer. Was Grandfather Newman the only person Heyes had convinced? Or did Christina know how he felt? “What will you do now, Christina? Go back to Chicago. Will you stay here in Denver? What?”
“I don’t know. I’ll stay here with Grandfather for a while I guess. Then, who knows? Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be just fine. I have a tendency to land on my feet.” With a quick wink she smiled and amended her statement, “Or rather, I’ve learned to roll when I land.”
“Would you ever consider life on a ranch, in Sheridan, Wyoming?”
She laughed. “Just what you and Curry need! A woman on your ranch giving advice!”
“I’m serious, Christina. Maybe you could come back with me? See what you think of ranch life? Maybe there’s a chance that…” For a man with a famed silver-tongue, it sure seemed to be tied at the moment. “You think we could give this marriage thing a real try and see if maybe… Maybe it just might work for us?”
Christina was quiet for a long time, standing face to face with him. “You mean, husband and wife for real? Not just a marriage of convenience?”
She turned and walked away a few paces before returning. She touched his cheek. “A merger like that sounds mighty tempting, Hannibal. But…I don’t know. Marriage is like jumping off a train. It’s something I wouldn’t want to do more than once.”
“But, we’ve only actually been married ONCE, Christina. We’re not divorced, not yet anyway. Maybe before we give up on our one shot at this thing, we ought to give it a better try. What’d’ya say?” A glimmer of hope lit his eyes. “Unless you’d rather just forget it, seeing as how you’re so all fired set on keeping your freedom and independence.”
“What would you say if I told you Grandfather Newman was right when he told me I wouldn’t give a hoot about freedom and independence, once I found right man?”
“Christina, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying, Mr. Heyes, that IF I agree to this merger, this partnership, it’s permanent. No trial runs, no backing out. All or nothing. For better or worse. Is that a deal you can live with?”
“That’s a very good deal!” His promise was sealed in a kiss.
Sheridan, Wyoming 1902
“So that’s how you and Ma met!”
“Yup. You got the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, Lillian. I never told that story to anybody else before. I saved it for you, and you’re gonna make the best author anybody’s ever read.”
“Thanks for sharing it with me, Pa. But,” she paused, thinking. “Pa, that story doesn’t exactly paint a pretty picture of you and Ma marrying. Sounds to me like both of you had an outlook on marriage that was pretty,” another pause as she searched for the right word, “cynical.”
“You’re right, Lily. But that was before.”
“Before you fell in love with her?” her twelve year old eyes lit up.
“Right,” he winked.
“So when did you know, for sure, that you loved Ma and wanted to be with her forever?”
“That’s a tough one, Lily. Don’t know as I recognized the feeling at the time, but looking back, I’d have to say it was,” the nostalgic glow returned to his eyes, “the day she jumped off that train.”
“Only a brainless fool would do that more than once!” The words were spoken from just inside the screen door.
“Hi, Ma!” Lillian turned inquisitive eyes on her mother. “When did you know for sure, that you loved Pa and wanted to be with him forever?”
“Let me see,” the same glow lit her mother’s eyes, “I’d say it was that night we spent star-gazing.”
Heyes’ eyebrow lifted.
“Star-gazing? You mean just having Pa point out a bunch of constell…Oh! Sheesh!” Lillian rolled her eyes as understanding dawned. “Pa, you left out some important details. Dang! How am I supposed to write a book on the true story of Hannibal Heyes if you leave out the best stuff?”
“You mean you didn’t tell her about…”
To Christina, “Nope.”
To Lily, “The book will be fine without that particular chapter.”
Heyes turned back to Christina. “That’s when you knew? Sure didn’t sound like it from what you told me that night. As I recall, you reminded me about the ‘convenience only’ clause in our agreement and that I should keep my hands…”
“Shhh! Young ears are listening,” Christina whispered, pointing in Lily’s direction. “Besides, I was reminding myself that night as much as you!”
“How am I supposed to wrap this story up if I don’t know all the details?” Lily huffed.
“You can just write,” he told Lily, a kiss with his wife interrupting his sentence, “that Hannibal Heyes found the perfect wife,” another interruption, “when she fell right into his lap.”
Christina’s giggle was muffled through more kisses.
Lillian rolled her eyes again and stomped into the house.
“That was very creative, Mr. Heyes.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Heyes. I can be rather creative when I want to be.”
“I remember!” Christina winked. “C’mon!”
“Where are we going?”
“If we hurry, we can catch Ursa Major before the clouds roll in.”
Another story in The Sheridan Collection: A Time to Every Purpose
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.