Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 1
Abilene, Kansas 1870
Janie McEntire walked into the room and quietly shut the door behind her. With a nervous grin, she studied the cowboy sleeping soundly on his back wearing nothing but his trousers. The cover that once made the bed was tossed carelessly on the floor and the sheet that most likely covered him when he went to sleep was now hanging off the side of the bed, except for the part tangled around his right leg. By the look of it, he must have had a restless night. But now he looked so innocent laying there, almost like a child.
If she did not act now, she might change her mind. She dropped her robe to her ankles, exposing her nakedness. The floor creaked beneath her as she shifted her weight. Still, he slept on. She wondered how exhausted this man must be not to sense her presence. She bit her lower lip with only a moment’s more hesitation. Slowly, she glided across the room. It felt surreal, like floating in a dream where the feet of the dreamer never quite touch the ground.
Nearing the slumbering man, she reached out a trembling hand. It hovered there a few seconds before caressing the hardened muscles of his bare chest. Slowly, the muscles peacefully rose and fell. For a moment, she wondered if he could be as kind as he appeared to be in his unconscious state. But that notion passed just as quickly as it arrived. Experience taught her otherwise.
Janie placed her other palm on his chest for balance, then gracefully swung her leg up over him, her long and luxurious chestnut hair cascading down around her shoulders in waves. He did not move at all as she settled herself on top of him. Nor did he awaken. Maybe he was a deep sleeper. Completely unconscious even. Perhaps comatose.
No, there it was. She could feel him coming to life beneath her. He moaned, shifting his weight somewhat, and a soft brown lock of hair fell over his left eye. Gently, she reached for it with her right hand, ready to brush it aside as if he were someone she could love. For some reason, she wanted to see the handsome face before her in all its glory. But the awareness of his jawline became more defined and his features hardened just as she felt the softness of the curl.
His hand shot up before she knew what was happening, causing her to jump as it grabbed her wrist. His eyes flew open and she flinched again, yet remained strangely paralyzed, unable to extricate herself from his body. He loosened his grip on her wrist and gently picked her free hand up off his chest, also by the wrist.
His voice was gruff. “You don’t have to do this, you know.”
Janie’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You don’t have to do this,” he repeated, this time without the harsh tone.
She wiggled her wrists free, unable to resist the curl. This time she brushed it to the side without being stopped. She stared at him for what seemed like minutes, not understanding how a man so strong could also be so gentle. Then, remembering her nudity, her body began to tremble. How long would the gentleness last?
“Well? What’s the matter with you, girl? Didn’t you hear me? You can get down now. What do you want from me anyway?”
Janie’s heart sank. Why was he rejecting her? She certainly did not need lessons in the art of seduction, did she? All men had their price. She was certain of that. And if a woman was pretty enough, men had their way regardless of whether or not it was mutual. Desperately, she reached for his belt buckle, but as she started fumbling with the clasp he grabbed both of her wrists again. His deep brown eyes narrowed and his jawline hardened again. Jamie felt like he was burning holes through her soul, but she dared not move.
She thought maybe she saw a hint of barely controlled desire within those deep brown pools. For a moment, she had some hope that he would change his mind and her plan could succeed after all. But he roughly pushed her hands away from him.
“Get dressed,” he commanded. “Then tell me why you’re in my room.”
Janie pouted. “Isn’t it obvious?,” she asked, sliding off of him.
She stared at him again, trying to gauge the true level of Matthew's interest. Those beautiful brown eyes hardened as they stared relentlessly back at her. They narrowed again but did not blink. In his eyes, she thought she saw disgust, possibly hatred. Tears threatened to spill from hers eyes so she turned her back, picked up her robe, and put it back on in silence. It seemed as if she might be stuck in Abilene forever or worse. Much worse.
She headed for the door without a backward glance or another word, pausing for only a second before grabbing the door knob. She stifled a sob suddenly caught in her throat. Then she rushed down the stairs, ducked into her own second story room just long enough to get dressed, then bolted out into the bright sunlight where she found refuge under a shade tree near the stables. Breakfast was nearly over and the the people here as well as in town were already wide awake. Guests of the Drover's Cottage were either headed to town or sleeping off their night in town. But what she needed was to clear her head. How could things have gone so wrong? She needed a new plan and she had to come up with it fast.
Matthew Cooper, she learned, was a trail boss. He and his team of about a dozen arrived two days ago, bringing with them around 1500 heads of cattle that were currently being housed in the stockyards near the hotel. They were waiting to be shipped from Joseph McCoy's stockyards via train to Chicago or numerous other more northerly destinations. Born and raised in Illinois, Mr. McCoy knew the Chicago market well and, with the help of the railways, he built himself a cattle empire in the middle of Kansas that supplied Chicago as well as other parts of the country with cattle from Texas. It was ingenious. The only problem with his success, as far as Janie could tell, was the amount of crime his market brought to town.
Abilene was a booming town, but it deserved its reputation as a wild town with little to no law. Perhaps the new marshal, Thomas Smith, would be able to make good on his promise to clean up the town. She heard tales about how he already simultaneously ran two outlaws of town using nothing but his bare hands. Janie wished all men were like that. At least if she had to stay here she could take hope in an honest marshal in control of crime.
But hope was all a girl like her had. In the last two months alone, despite running those two men out of town, Smith's life had been threatened at least twice, including two foiled assassination attempts. Who knows how many other attempts were made. By nature of his job, his life was in perpetual jeopardy and men like Jared McEntire and most of the ones she saw coming and going from Drover's Cottage would always be on the wrong side of the law. She figured Matthew Cooper was no exception, though he seemed different somehow. The problem was Janie was unsure of exactly how he was different.
She had not intended to target him specifically when concocting her desperate plan to leave Abilene. She thought any cowboy would do. She saw it all the time; they came into town with the cattle, maybe stayed awhile, and then left to presumably do it all over again. And while they stayed, they wore their welcome out in town, at least they did with the law abiding citizens. The saloon owners and brothels loved that these men celebrated their pay by spending it on women, gambling, and whiskey. But that was just most of the men, right? Not all. So far, she had not seen or heard any indication that Matthew had taken part in any of these activities. That was the difference.
The thought of Matthew sent visions of him asleep in his bed dancing through Janie's mind. She shoved the images aside, contemplating his movements instead. She was fairly certain he had not left his room much since he arrived, except maybe to join some of the other guests for mealtime. Yet he did not look much better than some of his cowboy companions who came stumbling in late at night. It was obvious that their fates would be early morning hangovers. But what was Matthew's excuse for looking so worn out? Aside from the exhausting trip the men had all just endured, she meant. In his room last night, after he awoke, he appeared to be a man tormented by demons.
This was turning out to be quite the mystery. Janie had more questions than she had answers, though she did have it on good authority - the other hotel maids and a few respectable women at church - that Matthew Cooper was an eligible bachelor who had taken the Chisholm Trail to McCoy's stockyards at least once before and kept mostly to himself. By most standards, he appeared to be honorable enough. But Janie knew better. At least she thought she did. Few men seemed truly honorable to her. Besides, all she needed to know was that he was a man. She needed a man to take her far from here. Travel alone was too dangerous. It did not hurt to know that he was a trail boss, which, in her mind, meant that he had to maintain a certain level of respectability.
So he was a man. He had the respect of others. And most importantly, he would be leaving town soon. She would maybe be safe with him. He was still her best bet. She needed him to take her with him. Life in Abilene was just to risky. It was only a matter of time before her recent past caught up to her here, which was one reason she avoided going into town as much as possible. Other reasons included the boisterous nature of the crowd there. Murders were becoming part of the normal it seemed, so she ventured into the heart of Abilene only on Sundays for church.
But there were fates far worse than rowdy cowboys. Staying out of the spotlight and laying low helped her avoid those things. By now the U.S. Marshals were probably looking for her in connection with her husband's death. Jared McEntire was an ugly soul and he deserved to die, as far as she was concerned. No one would ever hear her say otherwise. She would run to hell and back to get away from that man's legacy. So far, she had only made it to Abilene, but she was not done running. Any day now Marshal Smith might recognize her. The man sat two pews in front of her at church, for heaven's sake. When he did, she doubted church could save her.
Historical Tidbits: Abilene
Abilene, Kansas was founded in 1857, making its start as a stage coach stop called Mud Creek. In 1860 the town became known as Abilene, deriving its name from a Bible passage (Luke 3:1). The name means city of the plains.
In 1867 the Kansas Pacific Railroad laid tracks through town and a man named Joseph G McCoy bought 250 acres of land northeast of town where he built a hotel called the Drover's Cottage, stockyards that could handle up to 2,000 heads of cattle, and horse stables.
- Chasing the Past: Chapter 1, Part 2
Matthew can't confront his demons yet and he finds himself attracted to the woman who tried to seduce him for unknown reasons.
© 2017 Shannon Henry