This is a fan fiction story based on characters from the Lonesome Dove television show, which belongs to Rysher Entertainment and Hallmark. No infringement on copyrights is intended.


Wanted Dead or Alive: Clay Mosby
(48th in the Romancing the Plains series)
by Craig Caff

Lots of women and lots of whiskey,
both are fun and kind of risky.

(Mason Dobbs -- Nineteenth Century American Philosopher)

The page entitled October was ripped from the calendar, causing a great sigh of relief. Robert Shelby grinned, observing Clay Mosby crush the piece of paper in his hand, then discard it into the small basket under the bar.

"Thus ends one of the worst months of my entire life -- since we arrived here in Montana a few years ago, of course." Clay smiled as he gazed at the big letters atop the calendar he had purchased from Creel almost a year ago. "November 1st. I have a suspicion that November will be a more preferable month than October, Robert."

"It can't be any worse, Clay," Shelby agreed.

"I hardly think so," Clay remarked. "In the past month I have lost my wife, Ashley, my house, the Lonesome Dove Hotel, and have made a woman I hardly know, pregnant with my illegitimate child -- hardly a month worth remembering."

"What do you intend to do about Mrs. Van Atta, Clay?"

Clay Mosby looked at Robert then turned. "I . . . I'm not quite sure, Robert. I have not been afforded the proper opportunity to think about it -- perhaps I shall have the . . ."

"Clay! You better take a look at this," Austin Peale interrupted, opening the door to the Ambrosia. Josiah Peale and Mattie Shaw were with him -- all three seemed to be shaken.

Clay frowned -- his preference was to take his morning coffee in solitude with Robert, before throwing open the doors to the usual noisy clamor and incessant drunkenness. "And, what could possibly be so urgent that it cannot wait until I have at least enjoyed one cup of coffee?"

"Clay, this is serious!" Mattie had a look of fear in her eyes -- as did Josiah and Austin.

"This just came over the wire," Sheriff Austin Peale said, handing a telegram to Clay. Austin was still having headaches and occasional blurred vision from his fight with Call nearly two weeks earlier.

Somewhat reluctant, Clay accepted the note. He looked it over then tensed. "Is this some kind of sick joke?" He stared at his sheriff, his eyes darkening. "Where did this come from?! And, they spelled my name wrong." Clay threw the note on the bar. Robert picked it up, reading the name Clayton Mosbey.

"It came from Cat Creek," Austin informed them. "It says you're wanted dead or alive. For the murder of five people -- poisoned by bad whiskey."

"That is preposterous!" Clay angrily stated, driving his fist against the counter top. "There has not been bad whiskey in this saloon since before I changed the name from the Pig's Eye to the Ambrosia."

"I remember," Austin said. His mind flashed to when he worked with his father and Hannah at the Statesman, a lifetime ago.

"Clay, you have to clear yourself," Mattie implored. "It happened to Call before -- you were out of town when a Sheriff Bodine from Missoula came for him."

"Yes," Clay soberly replied, "I heard Call killed four men when they arrived."

"Mattie said it again. "Clay, you have to clear your name."

"As I intend to do," Clay replied. It was obvious, in Clay's mind, that just because a piece of paper said it was a new month didn't mean anything. His streak of poor luck seemed to continue. All that had happened was Tuesday had become Wednesday.

"I'm going with you, Clay," Robert Shelby insisted.

"No!" Clay turned suddenly. "I need you here, Robert -- to run my saloon and watch Amanda."

"It's obviously some mistake," Josiah Peale commented.

"Clay, you shouldn't go alone," Mattie said.

"I'll be fine," Clay assured her. "Besides, the weather has become rather unfavorable -- it most certainly will be raining soon. Does anyone else know about this?"

"No, not anyone," Austin replied, "accept the telegrapher. Listen, Mosby -- I think I had better ride with you. If anything goes wrong, at least you'll be in the company of a lawman."

Mosby hesitated. "Perhaps you're right, Austin. Although, I find myself concerned over your health -- you received quite a vicious beating from Call."

"I can ride," Austin snapped.

Clay nodded. "Then I suggest you prepare to leave immediately."

*****************************************

Finishing the early chores of tending the horses, Call walked through the one large room and into the small bedroom he and his wife slept in. He paused in the doorway, watching Gretchen breast feed their tiny daughter from the far side of the bed.

"She seems to have herself a fine appetite," Call mentioned.

Gretchen, still feeding the hungry baby, turned her head and smiled at her husband. "Our daughter is two months old today, Call. Can you believe that -- two months old, already."

Call nodded. "Don't hardly seem so."

"I wish we could stop time," Gretchen said, "keep her like this." Becky finished taking her milk. Gretchen placed her gently on the bed, next to her. She reached for the music box Call had given her as a wedding present and turned it on. "Look, Call. Becky likes the music box."

Call was quiet as he thought about his infant daughter. The two months had gone by remarkably fast.

"Do you regret anything, Call?"

"Nope." He walked over and sat on the bed. Gretchen lifted Becky into her arms and handed the baby to Call. He was still awkward, but had become more comfortable in holding his daughter. "I reckon my days of no-good are behind me. I have you, and Becky."

Gretchen leaned close. "We have each other, Call."

*************************************

Boone Mackinaw, newly wed, opened his eyes -- his keen hearing detecting the first raindrops lighting on the bedroom window. He rolled over to gaze at his pretty, young bride. Paige was awake -- her face radiating -- as she smiled contently at her mountain man. She reached under the covers, taking hold of Boone. His breathing accelerated.

"I've spent a whole week sleeping on the ground with you, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives. I want to make love in our bed now -- it's so comfortable." She laughed as Boone climbed on top of her, as they had been doing three times a day since the wedding at the Lakota village ten days earlier.

"Well," he replied, finding her garden, "I'm real pleased the rains held till we got back home."

"Let's just stay in bed, Boone -- at least until it's time to go over to Gretchen and Call's."

Boone didn't answer. He just grunted -- it was time to stop talking.

**************************************

"I appreciate you coming with me, Austin," Clay Mosby said. It was the first words spoken between the pair since they buttoned their slickers and pulled the brims of their hats down, some two or three hours earlier. What started out as a shower had now become a constant rain. Trailing in a northwestern direction, they thought it might snow when they reached the peaks of the mountains, but the temperatures never dropped below forty degrees. Still, it was a miserable, sloppy day to be in the saddle.

"I'm still the sheriff," Austin muttered. "You may have need of me, Mosby, before this all gets cleared up."

Clay chose not to answer. His mind was swamped -- the hotel, Suzanne Van Atta, and now this ridiculous charge of being wanted for murder. He had hoped to speak to Suzanne, tell her he wanted her to stay in Curtis Wells, but the opportunity hadn't presented itself. Clay began to wonder if his bad fortune would ever turn. He believed it eventually would. Every gambler had an occasional run that soured -- they could get up from the table and walk away. Unfortunately for Clay, situations in life weren't quite that simple.

As they came to the opening of a deep canyon -- leading out of the mountains -- the wind picked up, temporarily forcing them to shut their eyes. They were unaware of a single rider approaching from the opposite direction until they heard the hammer of a pistol being cocked.

"Nice of you to accommodate me, Mosby. I was on my way to Curtis Wells -- looking for you."

Clay squinted. "Enona Horn?!"

Enona drew aim on Austin. "I wouldn't try it, Sheriff -- unless you want to be gut shot."

"We're on our way to Cat Creek," Clay replied, "to clear up this misunderstanding -- I assure you, Enona, it is a mistake."

Enona Horn smirked. When she noticed Sheriff Peale edging his hand toward his gun she turned her mount and struck him across the side of the head.

"Enona! No!" Clay yelled.

Austin crumpled, then slid off his horse, unconscious.

"Damn it, Enona!" Clay barked.

"Shut up, Mosby." Enona was quick, spinning to aim her gun at Clay. " Pull your gun out real slow and hand it over." With the barrel of a .45 staring him in the face, Clay complied. "Start riding. I'm taking you in for the reward."

"That is absurd!" Clay argued. "You can't just ride off in this rain and leave my sheriff lying unconscious."

"Don't worry, Mosby," Enona replied, "I didn't hit him that hard. By the time he comes to we'll be long gone. Now, start riding -- I don't like sitting here getting wet."

Clay Mosby grumbled. First the rain -- now, Enona. His luck was souring real fast. He turned his mount and rode off with Enona right behind him.

************************************

The remark was so unexpected -- almost unheard of -- that Twyla's thin eyebrows arched more by reflex than by conscious effort. Of course, what Amanda Carpenter had just revealed was no secret and it did make perfect sense, if one only thought it out calmly. The fact that Amanda had managed to re-stake a claim -- although somewhat shaky -- on ownership of the Lonesome Dove Hotel, meant little. Clay Mosby was not a man to be trifled with nor was he a man to anger.

Amanda had persuaded Mason Dobbs to come over to her side of the fence. Once before she had implored upon Mason to help her -- the price being a night in her bed. For this occasion, it was the allure of the coin -- something the likable, silver-tongued Texan was temporarily absent of. Why not enlist the support of Twyla? Though minimal, it made strategical sense. The sporting club's Madame had once before stood up to Mosby -- openly defying him by closing down the whorehouse. She had spunk -- perhaps she would exhibit it again.

"Clay Mosby will never allow this," Twyla said.

Amanda stared off at the distant mountains, soon to be covered with the first snow. She had once commented to Clay about the reassurance of those towering peaks. "No. I don't think he will. That's why we have Mason Dobbs -- he won't cower or back down to Clay."

"I'd feel better if we had Call," Twyla replied. She was prone to pessimism.

Amanda frowned. "So would I -- the only interest Call has now, though, is his wife and child."

"Well," Twyla surmised, "Mason is handy enough." She allowed a slim smile to show. "It's about time us women had a say in things."

******************************************

The rain had continued, steadily, soaking Clay and Enona through their clothes, to the bone. Enona's senses were sharp -- her eyes made out the small dwelling that was off the road, some forty to fifty yards up a low rise to the west. "There's a line shack up there -- we'll sit out this damn rain." Enona had begun to cough -- her head throbbed.

Clay didn't argue. Getting out of this foul weather sounded reasonable. And he didn't think Enona would actually shoot him. The two riders urged their mounts up the slight, muddy grade. There was a small overhang behind the shack where the horses were tied, providing partial shelter. Enona held her pistol behind Clay as they entered the empty dwelling.

"If I may offer a suggestion," Clay said, removing his hat and slicker, "it would be wise to take these clothes off."

"Don't tell me what to do, Mosby," Enona barked.

"I assure you, Enona," his charming smile evident, "I am only considering the complications of health."

Enona scowled at Clay. "Take off whatever you want, Mosby -- just leave your pants on."

"That won't be a problem," he remarked. "I somehow cannot envision you in a feminine light."

"Shut the hell up!" Enona wasn't attracted to Mosby, but his comment stung.

Clay quickly removed all his clothing, except for his trousers. When he grabbed a blanket that sat on the small bed, Enona cocked the gun. "You're too dangerous, Mosby. Put your hands behind you -- do it slow." Clay complied and was bound immediately. "Now, you can sit on that bed and I'll put the blanket over you. Clay offered no resistance. Somehow, he felt safe with Enona, even though it was possible she would shoot him -- tragedies were always happening -- people always dying when no one expected them to die. Guns sometimes had a way of discharging unexpectedly.

"You're shivering, Enona," Clay said.

Enona began to remove some of her clothing, keeping only her pants and camisole on as she wrapped the other blanket around her. She looked about the shelves, finding crackers, coffee, and cans of beans.

"I hope for your sake Sheriff Peale isn't found dead," Clay said to the bounty hunter. "It would undoubtedly be murder if . . ."

"Shut up, Mosby!" Enona drew her hand back, as if to strike him in the face with her pistol, as she had done to Austin. "I said I didn't hit him that hard. Now, if you want to eat, lay off! I'm in no mood for your self-righteous attitude."

**************************************

Paige Mackinaw stood on Gretchen's porch, holding her tiny niece, Becky. The rains had for the most part missed Curtis Wells but the clouds still lingered. Victoria Cleese stepped through the door with her son, Daniel, in her arms. She looked at Paige -- both sisters knew a storm was coming -- though not from above.

"Gretchen is as mad as a hornet," Paige quietly remarked.

Victoria nodded. "If they don't get back soon, I'm afraid she might break everything in the house. I put her music box under the bed -- you know what a temper she has. She always seems to grab the most expensive things to break."

"Here they come, now," Ephraim said, pointing to the nearest hill. He squinted. "It appears they are both drunk."

"Not my Boone!" Paige insisted. "He doesn't hold with drinking."

"Be that as it may," Ephraim replied, "both Boone and Call are not sitting too straight in their saddles. In fact, they seem barely able to stay in their saddles at all."

Paige turned. "Gretchen, they're home."

Call and Boone Mackinaw rode slowly up to the house, dismounting with an effort. Gretchen marched to the doorway, her eyes stared angrily at her husband. She looked as if she were loaded for bear.

"Where have you been, Call? We ate supper two hours ago. You and Boone were supposed to be back long ago!" Gretchen folded her arms and tapped her foot impatiently on the porch.

Call was laughing -- Boone teetered, too drunk to speak, his eyelids at half-mast. Gretchen threw her hairbrush at Call, hitting him on the leg. He laughed some more, unable to stop.

"I am very angry with you, Call!" Gretchen stated, stomping her foot on the wooden porch.

"We would of been here two hours ago, but," Call began, leaning against the Hellbitch so he wouldn't fall.

"I'm waiting!" Gretchen demanded.

"We ran into Mason." Call shrugged. "I reckon we had us a drink or two."

"A drink or two!" Gretchen hollered. "You look more like you drank a bottle or two! And, look at Boone -- he doesn't even drink!"

"That stew smells mighty good," Call said, sniffing the air. "I could eat two or three bowls."

Gretchen turned and went inside the house. She returned immediately, the pot of leftover stew in her hand. "Supper was two hours ago, Call!" She dumped the whole pot on the porch. Paige and Victoria were both surprised -- food was not in abundance at the Call house. It was obvious Gretchen meant to teach her husband a lesson.

"Gretchen?" Call moaned, looking at the tasty meal on the porch. Out of nowhere it seemed, Runt appeared, licking up the potatoes, meat, and carrots -- cleaning the porch of every speck of food, while Call watched hungrily, too drunk to fight the dog for the leftovers. He staggered to the steps but before he could attempt to mount them, Gretchen blocked his way then shoved him backwards.

"Get out of here!" Gretchen angrily yelled. "I said I was mad at you, Call!"

Call fell on his back, laughing. He had a sufficient amount of liquor inside his body so the fall didn't faze him. His laughing only caused Gretchen to become angrier.

"Go on now!" Gretchen ordered. "You can sleep in the barn, Newt Call. Until you sober up, you're not coming in this house!" Gretchen glared at her husband, stomped her foot once again, spun and went back inside the house.

Paige went inside and handed Rebecca Maggie to her mother. The tiny infant began to cry. Gretchen went back outside. "See what you did, Call? Now, get! Go on! Before I start throwing things at you." Gretchen cradled the upset baby.

Paige hiked her skirt and went to Boone. "We're going home, Mr. Rabbit Two Knives. You have a scolding coming too, just like Call." Boone was too drunk to even think straight. His teeth were numb and he tapped his finger on them. It seemed to make better sense to just let Paige take control.

"Are you going to be all right, Gretchen?" Victoria quietly asked her younger sister. Although she was less likely to show a display of emotion or anger, Victoria would usually wait until she was in the privacy of their home before arguing or voicing her concerns to Ephraim. Today, however, it was only Call and Boone who had put themselves in the doghouse. "Is it safe for us to leave? I mean, for Newt? You won't break anything over his head, will you, Gretchen?"

Gretchen giggled. "I'm really not that mad at Call. I just want to teach him a lesson."

"Oh," Paige replied, "you mean, a coyote way!"

The three sisters laughed.

Gretchen sighed. "I'll let him sleep it off then I'll go bring him inside."

Victoria watched Call stumble toward the barn. "You two have been married nearly a year, Gretchen. This is the first time Newt's ever come home drunk." She looked at Paige and Boone, now in the wagon -- Paige held the reins. "Do you think Paige will be rough with Boone?"

"Sister see -- sister do," Gretchen remarked.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Victoria replied. "We better leave, Ephraim."

******************************************

It was beginning to get dark when Austin Peale awoke. His head throbbed and he was soaked from the rain. To his good fortune his horse was nearby. He wanted to go after Enona Horn to find Clay Mosby but knew he could better help Clay by returning to Curtis Wells. Robert Shelby could head for Cat Creek -- he would stand a better chance of helping Clay. Austin slowly mounted his horse and headed back to Curtis Wells.

********************************************

Though the rain had stopped it didn't matter, since it was now too dark to travel. Enona Horn would have to wait until morning before continuing on with her prisoner. The one-room line shack was sparsely decorated -- a small table with two chairs, an old wood stove, and the narrow bed. Enona sat next to Clay with a can of beans and a fork.

"You should know me well enough, Enona," Clay began, "I have too much integrity to sell bad whiskey."

Enona had begun to relax a little -- though she was not foolish enough to let her guard down completely. "You can argue it out with the law, Mosby. If I don't bring you in, someone else will -- and maybe they won't hesitate to shoot you."

Clay breathed with frustration. He had no intentions of remaining her prisoner. He opened his mouth so Enona could feed him -- she didn't trust him enough to untie him. The beans fell, landing in his crotch. Without giving it any thought, Enona dropped her hand to Clay's crotch and brushed the beans away. His manhood suddenly twitched, startling Enona. She stared as Clay grew -- her eyes hypnotized by the enormous erection he was getting.

For Clay, it had been weeks since he had experienced the intimacy of a woman. The only release he had was during his sleep a week ago, while he was dreaming. It had been a strange dream -- one with the Cheyenne wife he had copulated with, Young-Grass-That-Shoots-In-Spring. He had only copulated once with her and she had lied underneath him as if she were a rug, nothing more. She had showed no emotion. It had been strange that he dreamt of her and in the course of the dream ejaculated -- as was normal when a man experienced too long a drought without sex.

Now, Clay Mosby found himself highly excited over Enona's touch. He had never fantasized about her, although he believed she would be an attractive woman if she dressed like a woman. The fact that he hadn't been with a woman since Ashley was murdered, was the reason he had suddenly grown erect in his pants.

Enona couldn't take her eyes away from the huge, throbbing member straining to be released from Clay Mosby's pants. She considered Clay to be a handsome man, though a son of a bitch she didn't much care for. She hadn't spread her legs for a man in nearly six weeks. What would have five minutes ago been considered an absolutely insane proposition, now seemed likely to happen. Enona dropped the can of beans on the floor and pulled Clay's face roughly to her where she began to kiss him hard. Clay responded by pressing his mouth against hers.

"This will probably never happen again," she groaned, unbuttoning his pants and yanking them down his legs. She gasped as he was finally free, bouncing like a teeter-totter in front of her. She managed to cast aside her own wet pants and laid on the narrow bed, pulling Clay on top of her. Her eyes grew wide as Clay entered. Up until now, Luther Root had been the standard by which she measured a man. Yet, Luther paled in comparison to the immensity of Clay Mosby.

Clay had to admit that completely naked, Enona Horn was far more attractive than clad in the outfit of a man. It was a moment of mutual lust, nothing more, as Clay drove himself like the stallion he was. Enona began thrashing and screaming -- experiencing her first orgasm ever as Clay exploded deep inside. Once spent, he collapsed on top of her -- she had already passed out from extreme satisfaction and pleasure.

******************************************

It was young Dewey who first saw the sheriff ride into town, slumped over his horse. The orphan boy ran to get Mattie, who immediately went to Austin's assistance. Mattie got Josiah and as he was helping his son up the stairs of the sheriff's office, he paused. "Dewey? Go find Mr. Shelby. Tell him to come here -- hurry now."

Dewey rushed away to find Robert Shelby.

"What happened, Austin?" Mattie asked. "And, where's Clay?"

"He was taken from me," Austin replied. "It was Enona Horn, the bounty hunter."

Josiah brought his son inside, laying him on his cot in the back. Robert Shelby and Dewey charged into the jail moments later, listening as Austin recounted what had happened on the trail.

"I'm going after them as soon as it's daylight," Robert Shelby stated.

"You won't be able to follow their tracks," Austin informed him. "The rain's washed them away by now."

"They were going to Cat Creek, weren't they?" Shelby remarked.

"With Enona Horn, anything is possible," Austin said, holding his head.

"What about Call?" Mattie said. "He could track them."

"I'll wager he doesn't track anything for a day or two." Mason Dobbs stood in the doorway where he smiled then winked. "When Newt and Mack left here, they were both downright drunk."

"I don't need them," Robert snapped, "I can find Clay by myself."

*********************************************************

The floor creaked as Gretchen Call, her robe tight, lit the lantern and opened the door. It was well past midnight. Becky slept soundly -- as she had been recently doing -- in her cradle. "You watch Becky, Runt," she quietly said to the dog, then closed the door and ran quickly across the yard to the barn. "Ouch," the barefoot Mrs. Call mumbled, stepping on a small rock. She opened the large door and stepped inside, looking for her husband. Gretchen had been upset -- unable to drift off to restful sleep. And, there was Call, sleeping face-down in the pile of hay he had stumbled into, hours ago.

"Well, I imagine you've sobered up enough by now," Gretchen said, bending down and shaking Call's back. "Call, wake up. Wake up, Sweetheart."

Call rolled over, opening his eyes. He smiled at his wife. "Gretchen," he said.

"Come on, Call. It's time to come back in the house. I miss you."

He frowned, looking puzzled. He gazed at his surroundings, realizing he wasn't in their bedroom. "What am I doing out here?"

"You don't remember?" Gretchen replied, a hint of anger still lingering. "Never mind. Just get up and come inside."

Call stood up then lowered his head, remembering. "Guess I was a mite drunk."

"I reckon you were," Gretchen said.

Call walked quietly back into the house, pausing on the porch -- the smell of the poured-out stew still strong. He was hungry but wasn't about to rile Gretchen. They retreated into their small bedroom where Gretchen helped Call undress.

"You still fuming, Gretchen?" Call quietly asked, as they climbed into bed. Becky was asleep in her cradle, on Gretchen's side of the bed.

"No, Call. I'm not fuming, any more. I'm sorry I lost my temper like I did. Are you hungry?"

"Yep."

She moved close to him. "Well, it's your own fault for being so late."

Call began to kiss his wife -- Gretchen responded, until he started to pull her nightgown up and touch her. "No, Call. We can't."

"Why not?"

"It's my, um, time . . . of the month -- you lose again." She bit him on the lip and tugged his hair. "I'm sorry. I want you, too, Call." She kissed him. "That's why I was so irritable -- I guess certain times I'm less tolerable -- the same as you."

Call just shrugged. He hadn't sobered completely. "I guess we best grab us some shut eye. We got us a busy day, come first light." Then, he suddenly jerked up, jumping out of their bed.

"Call? Now, what are you doing?" Gretchen inquired.

"Almost forgot," he mumbled, going to his jacket and digging into the pocket. He turned around, smiling at his wife. "I got this for you."

Gretchen reached out, taking hold of a blue hair ribbon trimmed with lace. "Oh, Call. It's beautiful. It'll go perfect with my blue and white calico dress you bought me." She sighed deeply. "Now I feel just awful for being so angry with you."

"It don't matter none," he assured her, climbing back into bed. "I reckon what matters is what happens after the feuding ends -- seems to me we patch things up real fine."

"Yes, Call," she agreed. "We do patch things up real fine." Gretchen drew close to Call, resting her head on his chest, anxious to salvage what remained of the night when a small squeak was heard in their darkened bedroom. They both opened their eyes, hearing the tiny squeak again. Gretchen climbed out of bed. "The baby has the hiccups, Call." She lifted Becky out of her cradle and held her close.

************************************

In a rush of desperation, Clay Mosby suddenly opened his eyes. He was still lying on top of Enona Horn. Though he had shrunk and slipped out, it would have been effortless to wiggle slightly -- sending the blood surging back into his member -- and slide back inside her garden. He was tempted. Though not favorably attracted to the hardened bounty hunter, there was a strange desire to plunge in. He cursed himself for his hesitation when he should have silently rose and escaped. But Clay Mosby was a man -- he thought like a man, had desires of a man -- and sometimes lust was a madness no man could overcome.

Sanity prevailed, and breathing hard -- struggling at not taking advantage of the invitation spread before him of an unconscious Enona, Clay rolled carefully off the bed and used the strength of his legs to stand -- his hands still bound behind him. He was worried about his sheriff. Austin had recently taken a beating from Call. Enona pistol-whipping his head was cause for serious concern. Clay knew he couldn't escape into the night with his pants bunched at his ankles -- his manhood exposed for the whole world to view, unless he loosened the cords. He backed up carefully, unable to move more than seven or eight inches at a time, until he reached the half-eaten can of beans. Grabbing it with his hands, he maneuvered the sharp, jagged lid and began the slow and steady process of sawing the cords that bound him.

Clay's wrist were both bleeding, though minimally, when he finally cut through the rope. Moving with the stealth he had perfected during his days as a Colonel in the Confederacy, Clay Mosby managed to gather his belongings and quietly escape the satisfied and sleeping Enona Horn. Dropping his Remington into his holster, he walked his mount away from the line shack, until he had put enough distance between him and Enona. Clay mounted up and headed back in the direction they had come from, hoping Austin had either risen and rode off, or was at least still alive.

Travel could be treacherous on a dark, moonless night, especially after a heavy rain. Clay, being the seasoned rider he was, managed to find the location where Enona had surprised them. There was no sign of Austin Peale. Clay exhaled a sigh of relief -- at least he was alive. Austin had gone in search of Clay or had returned to Curtis Wells -- either way, it didn't matter. Clay was determined to ride into Cat Creek and deal head-on with this insane charge against him. He wheeled around -- dawn only an hour away -- and rode off toward Cat Creek.

*************************************

"I can't find my boots!" Austin Peale was losing his composure. "Someone took them."

Josiah and Mattie both attempted to talk him into staying. Robert Shelby had already ridden out and Austin needed to get back in bed.

"I want my boots!" Austin stated.

Dewey squeezed his hands over his mouth and rolled from one side to the other, laying underneath the sheriff's office, in the damp, dark dirt. It required all of his willpower to not bust out laughing at the predicament the Sheriff found himself in. Mattie had given him Austin's boots with the order 'go hide them.' He crawled under the building -- something he had become quite adept at doing -- his favorite place being underneath the general store, where he would make strange sounds to scare the Dewberry sisters -- and considered filling the large boots with dirt but thought better of it.

"Austin! You might have a concussion," Josiah said. "Let Shelby handle it."

"It's my job, Father," argued Austin.

"Well, you aren't getting your boots, Austin. So you might as well go get back in that bed and rest." Mattie was adamant.

"I'll rest -- for an hour or two -- then I want my boots."

"Yes. Yes," Josiah agreed. "Just rest some, Austin."

Underneath the building, Dewey couldn't resist being a little mischievous. He dropped two and a half worms in the right boot -- one long worm being pulled in half when he yanked it out of the hard soil. He watched it curl and unwind then dropped it in with the others. He pressed his face into the dirt, laughing.

************************************

When Clay Mosby reached where the road cut off to the line shack he and Enona had been in, he hesitated. He figured Enona would have already left -- angrily chasing after him. Against his better judgement, Clay rode off the road, up the hill toward the line shack. As he came upon it, he expected to see no horses -- or the very least, Enona's horse. Instead, there were three horses tied outside -- one was Enona's. Clay immediately dismounted and drew his pistol, moving quietly toward the shack. Reaching the side of the small shack, Clay heard the cries of a woman. He kicked open the door . . .

************************************

The youngest Brandt sister, Paige Mackinaw, was making a fuss over her nephew, Daniel Cleese, now three months old. Tickling him and smothering him with kisses. Victoria stood by the front window of the sisters' dry goods store, smiling at Paige's maternal instincts when she noticed Gretchen and Call ride in on the wagon, stopping across the street in front of Ephraim's office. She watched Newt help Gretchen down, then hand her their infant daughter.

"Paige! Stay here with Daniel," Victoria ordered. "Newt and Gretchen just rode in and are carrying Becky up the stairs to see Ephraim."

"Becky Bug was fine when we all left their house yesterday, Victoria," Paige replied.

"Obviously, something happened during the night," Victoria remarked. She quickly threw her shawl around her shoulders and hastened out the door. She crossed the street and hiked her dress to climb the stairs to her husband's office and entered. "Is anything wrong with Rebecca?" she asked.

Gretchen turned to her older sister. "She took sick early this morning. She's coughing and stuffed up. I kept getting up during the night, Victoria -- she keeps kicking her blanket off of her. Her little legs were so cold."

Victoria went to where Ephraim was looking at the crying infant. "She probably caught a cold. I hope she's well enough to travel come Saturday."

"I hope so," Gretchen replied. All three of the sisters were looking forward to riding in the stage with their husbands to Sand Springs, to celebrate the sixtieth birthday of Malachi Kettering, the former partner and friend of their father, Jefferson Brandt.

***********************************

In her nakedness, Enona Horn struggled against a much larger bearded man who was forcing himself on her. Another man -- holding a pistol -- stood by, gaping. Clay Mosby kicked open the door to the shock of both men. "Shoot him!" the bearded one dictated, attempting to force Enona's legs apart.

Bam! Bam! Clay was faster, his .45's penetrating the other man's chest. The man's arm went limp, dropping his pistol as he sunk to the floor -- blood quickly covering the wooden floorboards.

"Get away from her or I'll end your worthless life!" Clay ordered.

The fat, bearded man stepped back, quickly putting himself back in his pants. Enona stood up and seeing the cast iron fry pan sitting on the wood stove, grabbed it and swung as hard as she could, driving the heavy pan into the man's crotch.

"Oouuhhhhhh!" the bearded man groaned, doubling over in extreme pain. Enona raised the pan to split his head open but Clay reached out, stopping her.

"Enona! You'll kill him," Clay said.

Enona drove the iron pan into the man's hand. He screamed in agony -- the sound of bones breaking in his hand, like dried twigs snapping. "You sonofabitch!" Enona yelled. The severe pain from the two blows caused the man to black out.

Embarrassed by her nakedness and having need of Mosby's help, Enona looked away from Clay and quickly pulled her pants on and turned to button her camisole. It was a most awkward moment for her -- confusion filling her mind. One minute, she had been lying on the bed, more satisfied than she had ever been before -- Clay Mosby giving her the first orgasm she had ever experienced. It was a feeling of bliss for the hardened bounty hunter.

Then, without warning, two men were attempting to rape her. She hadn't even had time to realize Clay Mosby had left and returned. Her mind swarmed -- she was vexed. She planned to turn Mosby in for the reward, regardless of whether or not he was guilty. Him saving her from being raped and possibly killed was confusing her. Their fierce and passionate lovemaking was also causing her to hesitate.

"I'm glad I happened to come back in time," Clay said.

Enona spun around. "Come back? You left?"

Clay nodded. "Yes. Although to be quite honest, I was actually tempted to remain." He didn't have to elaborate -- Enona understood exactly what he meant.

Damn it, Mosby!" Enona suddenly blurted. "This is too complicated. I'm supposed to bring you in -- you're my prisoner."

It was clear to the observant Clay Mosby that Enona Horn, eternally cold and emotionless, was now on the verge of tears. Although the unlikely pair had found magic through mutual lust in their fornication, they could never be anything but adversaries to each other. Clay realized he had to present a satisfactory solution or this fragile peace would explode. "I propose a compromise, Enona," he suggested.

Enona just stared at Clay, bewildered.

"Why not ride into Cat Creek together -- a temporary alliance? We bring your assailant with us. Turn him over to the authorities and together, you and I determine just exactly what has transpired to cast this shame upon my name." Clay stuck his hand out in a show of faith. "Do we have an agreement?"

Enona nodded. It made sense and she would still be in his company to claim the reward for herself, if and when she decided to pursue it.

************************************************

On most occasions, Mason Dobbs delighted in the company of more than one woman. On this occasion, he had a notion to sneak out of the Lonesome Dove Hotel and lose himself in a bottle of red eye. "Senoritas! Please?" he implored, gazing with a smile at the three women -- Amanda, Mattie, and Twyla. "I'll wager I go out and chop enough firewood for every building in town and by the time I get back the three of you will still be clucking like a bunch of hens."

Mattie laughed, though Twyla resented the comment. The three women had been arguing for nearly an hour about joining Amanda to show a united band of women who had had their fill of Mosby's rule.

"Mason's right," Amanda agreed. "Stop thinking about it and say yes."

Twyla shook her head. "I talked it over with my girls. We're all afraid of Clay Mosby. You might have control of this hotel, Miss Carpenter, but Clay has made it quite clear that he will not hesitate to replace me and my girls if I ever anger him again. We're whores. We need our jobs."

Mattie stood up. "Sorry, Amanda. I don't want to get involved in a fight between you and Clay, either."

Amanda watched as Twyla and Mattie left. She looked at Mason. "Well? Are you going to desert me?"

"I gave you my word, senorita," Mason replied. "I'm not going anywhere."

That suited Amanda. She figured she was better off with Mason Dobbs than all the women of Curtis Wells, combined. Clay Mosby could easily charm or intimidate most women -- he couldn't do that to Mason Dobbs.

*************************************

As he had always done, Robert Shelby preferred working alone at times. Instead of waiting for Sheriff Peale -- who, in his mind, would only slow him down -- Robert saddled his horse and rode out of town before the first light of day. He had grown accustomed to Curtis Wells but was ready and willing -- if need be -- to bust Clay out of jail and leave Montana, trailing west or south. Robert allowed his thoughts to wander to Suzanne Van Atta. He wondered what Clay was going to do about her, since she was pregnant with his child. He continued on for Cat Creek, hoping to find Clay.

*************************************

Clay Mosby despised the town of Cat Creek. It was nothing more than another Sweet Water -- only bigger and dirtier. When Sweet Water burned to the ground a few years earlier, most of its citizens relocated either in Curtis Wells or Cat Creek. Clay wasn't quite satisfied that a decent lawman operated out of the town but he had little recourse except to ride straight into the storm and present his case of innocence.

He looked at Enona. Her face was expressionless. The usual scowl had been replaced with deep thoughts of confusion. In between Clay and Enona rode the large bearded man. His hands -- one now broken -- were securely bound to his saddle horn and he appeared to be in extreme discomfort as he attempted to avoid the painful bouncing of his crotch against the hard saddle.

As they entered Cat Creek, Clay immediately noticed folks staring at them. Two men ran into the small sheriff's office.

"There's that murderer!" someone yelled, pointing to them.

"You're going to hang, Mosbey -- you murdering son of a bitch!" another hollered.

Clay grew nervous. One man alone against an entire town -- an angry mob -- could hardly hope to survive. Clay feared he might have made a grave error by attempting to reason with these people.

"Mosbey!" More and more angry town folks -- men, mostly -- were becoming increasingly agitated at the sight of the three riders.

Clay was about to draw his gun and tell Enona to ride out with him when a shotgun exploded.

*************************************

When Call and Gretchen came out of Dr. Cleese's office, Dewey was at the bottom of the stairs shooting rocks from his slingshot out into the empty field. He ran to the young couple. "Howdy, Mr. Call. Did you know Mr. Mosby is wanted for murder?"

Call paused -- Gretchen held Becky close to her -- looking at his wife then back at Dewey. "I didn't know that."

"Are you going to help him?" Dewey asked.

Call shook his head. "Not likely."

Dewey looked at the tiny baby in Gretchen's arms. "Can I give your baby a piece of rock candy or a jaw breaker, Mrs. Call?"

Gretchen smiled. "Becky doesn't have any teeth yet, Dewey. She can't chew food."

"Oh," the boy replied, disappointed. Then, he smiled. "Well, can she just suck on a jaw breaker?"

Gretchen laughed. "No, Dewey. She would choke -- you don't want little Becky Bug to choke, do you?"

"Bug?!" Dewey laughed. "You call her Bug? That's funny." He suddenly ran off into the field, laughing out loud.

Gretchen turned to her husband. "Call? Let's go see Paige. Then, I think we should take Becky home, like Ephraim suggested."

Call nodded and headed for the dry goods with Gretchen and the baby.

Paige rushed up to her sister. "Gretchen? What's wrong with Becky? Is she all right?"

"She has a cold, Boo. I'll have to bundle her better at night," Gretchen replied.

Paige smiled, relieved. She looked at Call and grinned. "How are you feeling, Call?" she intoned. "Boone had a very bad headache this morning."

"I reckon I'm fine," Call said. "Just want to get some grub. I'm mighty hungry."

"I was going to make him a nice breakfast," Gretchen said, "but Becky took sick so we hurried into town."

"Gretchen's stew was delicious, Call," Paige said, rubbing it in a little.

Call shrugged. Right now, he'd settle for a dry piece of bread.

********************************

When the shotgun exploded, Clay Mosby drew his gun and spun around. An older man with a tin star held the shotgun. "That's enough! All of you son's of bitches move back -- I still got one barrel loaded. There was a deputy -- not much more than a wet-behind-the-ears boy.

"Thank you, Sheriff . . .?"

"Jack Riddle," the old sheriff answered. "I used to be the sheriff in Sweet Water -- till it burned to the ground."

Mosby nodded. "Well, I appreciate you helping me."

"Helping you?" Jack Riddled barked. "Who the hell are you?"

"I'm Colonel Francis Clay Mosby."

"You ain't Mosbey," Sheriff Riddle grumbled, chewing on a soggy cigar. "That son of a bitch next to you is Mosbey. Aren't you, Clayton?" Riddle laughed.

"This fat sonofabitch tried to rape me," Enona Horn suddenly said. She lifted her boot and kicked the bearded man in the head.

Jack Riddle laughed again. "You'll have to get in line, Miss. He's set to hang for murder. All three of you come inside my office before this lynch mob strings Mosbey up."

The bearded man finally spoke. "I told you my name is Mos-Ley -- not Mos-by."

"Mosbey! Mosley! It doesn't make any difference," Sheriff Riddle replied. "You're still going to hang for murdering them folks with your bad whiskey."

Clay Mosby suddenly realized something. "Bad whiskey? Clayton?" He looked hard at the fat, bearded man. "You're the Clayton who was running that still a few years ago. A man died in my saloon from your whiskey! He had a wife and children."

Enona put her spur to Clayton Mosley's horse, causing the animal to rear up. Clayton fell backwards, landing on the ground. Jack Riddle laughed again.

"Well, I would assume you will correct this name," Clay Mosby said to the Cat Creek sheriff. "I happen to be the most influential man in Curtis Wells. I can hardly have bounty hunters popping up and trying to kill me, now can I, Sheriff? Hmm?"

"Damn complainers," Sheriff Riddle grumbled. "Yeah, sure. I'll see your good name is cleared."

Robert Shelby rode through the crowd, which had quieted down some, now that the real murderer had been captured and brought in for justice.

Jack Riddle and his young deputy helped get Clayton Mosley to his feet. "Before this day is over," Jack Riddle assured them, "this murderer will be swinging from a nearby tree. Provided we can find one strong enough to support his weight."

Enona dismounted and swung her pointy boot into Clayton's already damaged crotch, causing him to groan and drop to his knees in pain.

Sheriff Riddle shook his head. "That's enough of that, Miss. I let you keep doing that and everyone will want to join in."

Enona looked up at Clay Mosby. She smiled at him. "Stay out of trouble, Mosby -- or I'll come looking for you."

Clay laughed. "Hmm? That might not be such a bad proposition." He nodded to Enona. "Take care of yourself, Enona." He turned and rode off with Robert.

Enona Horn kept her eyes on Clay Mosby for a moment. She couldn't see a future where the two of them were concerned but she knew she would never feel the same again.

++++++++++ The End ++++++++++

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