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


The Weight of Responsibility
by Meluivan Indil

Part 3: True Evil

"Well Clay, it looks like your new sheriff is working out just fine." Josiah Peale said stepping up beside Clay. They were watching as John Stinson dragged another outlaw into the sheriffís office. Stinson was good at the job, but what was to be expected from a former Pinkerton agent.

"Yes Josiah he is." Clay said smiling. He liked the idea of cleaning all the riffraff from his town. It would make his visions for Curtis Wells become a reality sooner, and on top of that Stinson was completely controllable.

"So Josiah what is Austin up to nowadays?" He could see as the mayor flinched at the words.

"Same as always. Are you ever gonna forgive him Clay?" Josiah was referring to how Austin had let a pair of outlaws free after they paid him a hundred dollars. Those same outlaws came back to town and robbed Clay, beating him half to death in the process.

"I trusted him Josiah." Clay said quietly. At the time Austin had probably been the closest person in the world to Clay. The feeling of betrayal had been too much for him to take at the time.

"He made a mistake Clay." Josiah reasoned.

"And Iím the one who had to pay for it." Josiah could hear the anger in Clayís voice.

"Didnít Austin pay too Clay. He lost his job, his self respect, and if it wasnít for Call he would have lost his life too."

Clay looked to the man standing beside him. Yes Austin had paid. But was it enough? Clay had thought to grind the man into the ground slowly for his actions, but the idea of breaking the man had lost some of itís appeal over the past months. "Austin has a long way to go before he could ever get back into my good graces Josiah."

"But it is possible." Josiah hoped against all hopes that the feud between his son and Clay could be resolved with both of them still standing.

"Josiah you are tenacious." Clay answered and then turned back to the Ambrosia.

 

"Mr. Mosby, we got a situation." John Stinson said walking into the Ambrosia. He was a large man, at least 6í2" and had a muscular build, the perfect kind of sheriff to frighten men into behaving. But what impressed Clay the most was his mind. The man was smart.

Clay watched as another man walked in behind him that he did not recognize. "What is it John?"

The Ambrosia hadnít opened yet for the day, and Bethany was sitting at one of the tables doing the books. "Iíll take these upstairs Clay." She suggested not wanting to get in the way of the men. She also did not want to be in the same room as Stinson. She knew Clay was impressed by the manís ability with a gun, but she was not impressed whatsoever. She just didnít like the man.

"I think maybe you better stay Miss Shelby." Stinson suggested. She had started to stand, but his words took her by surprise. She sat again staring at the sheriff.

Clay frowned. "What is this about?"

"This is Peter Mercer. He has some papers here you need to see." Stinson said handing a paper to Clay.

Clay read the paper several times as a look of disbelief crossed his face. "You have got to be jesting me." He finally said, but there was no smile on his face.

"They look official Clay." Stinson suggested.

Clay looked to where Bethany was sitting. She did not like the look in his eyes. He looked as if he was staring at a stranger. "Clay what is it?"

He walked over to the table and placed a piece of paper in front of her. She looked down, and took in what was on the page. It was a wanted poster of sorts. There was a picture of a pretty young girl on the paper. She read the words below the picture. ĎReward, five hundred dollars, Bethany Shelby, escaped from Kent Island Asylum, thought to be dangerous to herself and those around her. Wanted alive.í

She resisted the urge to cover her eyes. She looked at the man with sheriff Stinson, and then to Clay. She saw the questions in his eyes, but for now she had to save herself. "This is preposterous." She said indignantly.

"Mam, Iím afraid my employer who runs that facility has given me express orders to bring you back." Mercer said coolly.

Clay looked into her eyes once more. He could see they were begging him to trust her, and to do something about this. "Mr. Mercer. You go back and tell your employer, that the Miss Shelby that you tracked to Curtis Wells is not the same one who belongs in his facility."

"Mr. Mosby are you sure about this?" Stinson asked.

"Yes I am." Clay assured him.

"Mr. Mosby. I donít think my employer will like this very much. He was positive that the woman who escaped from his facility was here." Mercer explained.

Clay walked over to where the other man stood. He was but a few inches from the man. "Mr. Mercer. This is my town, and this Miss Shelby is my employee, and my responsibility. What you need to understand hear and now is that if you lay one finger on her you will be visiting the undertaker. She is not the woman you want and you need to go back and inform your employer of the fact. Do I make myself clear?"

"Clear as crystal, Mr. Mosby." Mercer said backing down.

"Then good day to you." Clay said motioning for Stinson to remove the man.

After they had left and it was just Clay and Bethany, she let her shoulders relax, and immediately placed her elbows on the table and her hands over her face, covering her eyes.

Clay turned and saw what she was doing. "Is there anything you care to tell me Bethany?"

She waited a moment and then pushed her hands through her hair ruining the intricate design. "Kent Island Mental Facility, right next door to Kent Island Military Facility, in the lovely state of Maryland. But we just called it the facility." She said remembering.

"So itís true." He sat in the chair across from her as his knees began to shake.

"That I was a patient there, yes. That I escaped, yes. That I am insane, and am dangerous to those around me, No!" She exclaimed.

"When?" He asked.

"That place on the coast I told you I stayed at, well Kent Island was it. I was admitted when I was sixteen, not too long after you and Robert were thrown in that prison camp. I escaped just about a year and a half ago. I was there ten years." She could feel that old familiar feeling as she thought about the facility. She felt cold and dead inside.

"Why?" He asked in disbelief.

"Thatís the real kicker. I stabbed a man who was a traitor to our people. Unfortunately he lived and I was locked up." She snorted at the irony of her situation.

"A traitor. How did you end up in Maryland? Maryland was a Union state." She was confusing him.

"Clay when my folks left Richmond, they didnít tell me where we were going, and I was too naVve to realize when they took us into Maryland. I saw my father give a Union Soldier some papers, but didnít think much of it. But once we reached Annapolis I began to wonder. My father told me that we were gonna start over. The Shelbys didnít exist anymore. I accepted the fact that they were tired of the war, but I would not just abandon Robert. I planned to sneak off in the middle of the night and go back to Richmond, any way I could. But there was one thing I did not understand. How had we made if from Richmond to Annapolis without being detained? I figured it out quickly when we entered the Kent Island Military facility. My father was giving them information in return for a new life in the north. I didnít want to believe it. As father stopped our wagon I asked him ĎWhat about Robert.í He said he no longer had a son. I understand now why the men at the fort thought I was crazy. I had taken to wearing a knife on my belt, and I intended to use it. But they stopped me before I could kill him." She finished the story but could not look up at him.

"Your father was a traitor, and you stabbed him. Bethany he was your father." Clay could understand her rage, but to try to kill ones own parent was horrible.

"Clay, several times during the war my father received visitors during the night. At the time I didnít think anything of it, but at that moment all I could imagine was that he had been giving them information all throughout the war. For all I knew he was responsible for Robertís capture. I was sixteen, and my brother was my hero. At that moment my father meant nothing to me." She looked at him and could still see the hesitant look on his face. "Clay if a traitor was found among your men, what would you do to him?"

"Kill him, and rather painfully at that." He answered. She could see the look of understanding cross his face. "You were doing your duty toward your people. Just the same as any man in uniform would."

"Yes." She whispered. "And what did I get for it? Ten years in hell. Sometimes I wished that they would have strung me up instead."

"Why havenít you told me this?" He asked taking her hand in his own.

She paused not wanting to say the words. "Clay, when Richmond was taken after the war, and Hatton Willow was burned, wellÖ. I sometimes wonder if the Yankees knew exactly which homes and families they were going after, and just how they got the information. What if my father is the one responsible for the deaths of your family?" Tears were beginning to slide down her cheeks. "I felt guilty and ashamed."

The mention of his familyís fate took him back a little. He thought about her words and they made sense. Only certain families had been burnt out, and for some reason none of the Shelby family left in Virginia had been harmed. He and Robert had spoken to some of them before they left Virginia for good. He swallowed hard as anger started to swell inside him. But the tears on her face made him even angrier. She was a sixteen-year-old girl who was abandoned in a mental facility, after she found out her father was a traitor, and then when she finally escaped she discovered that her father might also be responsible for the deaths of many of their friends back at home. And she was the one who felt guilty. "Thereís nothing for you to be ashamed of, and you donít need to feel guilty. You did what you could for our people."

"But it wasnít enough. It wonít bring your family back." She whispered.

"Nothing will Bethany." He stood and made his way around the table pulling her into his arms. "But you have given me something that I would not trade for anything. You have been here for me when I needed you, and you have given me your love. Your love is what makes life without my family bearable. Please you donít have to hide anything from me." She heard his words and they comforted her, but she was still shaken.

He knew where she was. The one person in the world that she feared the most knew where she was. She wasnít sure she would be able to feel safe ever again. But as the weeks went by and nothing else happened her sense of security returned, even though she was having the nightmares regularly again.

 

"Clay?" She said hesitantly.

"Yes." He answered, while taking his boots off. It had been a long day, and their bed looked awful inviting.

"I want to go to Miles City." She said a sparkle in her eye.

"Whatever for angel?" He said frowning.

"Oh, Itís been a long time since I went anywhere, and I want to visit somewhere else." She said in a way too casual manner.

"And are you planning on visiting anyone while in Miles City?" He had a sneaking suspicion that she wasnít looking for a pleasure trip.

"Well I thought maybe I might stop in the gunsmith shop, and look into buying myself a small pistol, just for my own protection." She said.

"And whatís wrong with the gunsmith here in town?" He questioned.

"Well I heard that the gunsmith in Miles City has a better selection." She hadnít met Mattie, but she had heard enough to know that Call needed her, and since he wasnít bothering to try to bring her back, she had decided to do something about it herself.

"You just want an excuse to meet Miss Shaw." Clay accused.

"Do I need an excuse Clay?" She asked sweetly.

"You and I both know you do whatever you want to do. But I canít go to Miles City any time soon angel. I have meetings here in Curtis Wells about the railroad all this month." He said knowing she would be disappointed.

"Well Clay, there is always the stage. It should be through here in a couple of days." She suggested.

"My dear, I would think you had, had quite enough of stage rides considering how the last one you took ended up." He said remembering the stage ride that almost brought her to Curtis Wells. Almost.

"Now Clay what are the odds of something like that happening again? I do believe I would be perfectly safe, and besides Luther will be there. You know he wonít let anything happen to me." She tried to assure him.

She had just lain down on the bed and was waiting for him to join her. He laid on his stomach next to her with one arm draped over her midsection. "You know if I didnít trust you so much I would be jealous of the fact that so many other men want to protect you."

"Clay you know Luther sees me as a little sister. And in a way he and Call are filling in for Robert until I can ever find the rascal again." She lightly touched his face running her fingers through his beard. "You know I love you and only you, donít you Clay?"

"Yes, my love. I know. I said I trusted you, didnít I?" He smiled and then leaned in close for a tender kiss. She could feel her heartbeat quicken, as the spark of passion was ignited. She deepened the kiss as she ran her fingers around to tangle in his hair. She felt the automatic response, as the kiss became more urgent.

 

Austin Peale had just entered the No 10 in search of some company, and a bottle of cheap whiskey. It wasnít long before he had the bottle and was standing next to the bar speaking to Amanda Carpenter. Not the type of company he had wanted to find but she had insisted on speaking to him about her plans to ruin Mosby.

A burly old man entered the tent bar, and strode up beside Austin ordering a whiskey. After he downed his drink he turned to make an announcement. "I got a job for anybody interested. I need someone to ride shotgun on this afternoonís stage." Marcus the stagecoach driver said.

"What happened to Luther?" Amanda asked.

"Heís over at doc Cleeseís. Heís too sick to take the run. Donít know what for sure it is, but doc figures it was something he ate." Marcus answered.

He stood there waiting to see if anyone would take him up on the offer. Meanwhile Amanda had motioned Austin to the other end of the bar. "You need to do this." She whispered.

"What, ride shotgun on the stage. Iím not hard up for money yet Amanda." Austin said indignantly.

"Thatís not why you need to. I heard that Beth Shelby is gonna be on that stage. This is your chance to find out if she can be used against Clay." Amanda said scheming in her head.

"For god sakes Amanda, Iím getting tired of this. Canít you just let it be for a while?" He said shaking his head.

"No I canít, and you promised to help me. So I want you on that stage. Donít tell me you turned into a coward when Mosby took your badge away." She taunted him.

"Iíll do it Marcus." He called out not taking his hate filled eyes from Amanda.

"Thanks, Austin. I was beginning to think I wouldnít find anybody." Marcus answered.

"You know Marcus, I donít know how much Iíd be thanking him just yet." A voice came from the open tent flap. Austin looked up seeing the new sheriff of Curtis Wells standing there.

"And just why not?" He asked.

"I donít know how easy itís gonna be for him to hold the shotgun and a bottle at the same time." Stinson baited him. "Normally by noon youíd be half pickled. So maybe Marcus would be better off by himself. You might mistake him for a robber, and shoot him."

The glass in Austinís hand shattered spraying whiskey on the customers around him. "Donít worry Marcus. Iím sober, and Iím gonna stay that way." He said in a deathly quiet tone, but his eyes never left Stinson. "But you never know, when I come back I might get pickled, and go to shooting up the jail."

He strode out the tent flap nearly knocking Stinson over. He made his way to his fatherís office, which was once the newspaper office. His father wasnít there, but that didnít matter. He knew his father kept a bottle of whiskey in his desk drawer.

As Josiah entered his office he saw Austin sitting at his desk staring at a bottle of whiskey on the desk. His sigh could be heard through out the office. "Austin."

"Yes father." He said still looking at the bottle.

"I heard you were going to ride shotgun on the stage." Josiah said sitting across from his son.

"I am."

"Do you think that is a good idea?" Josiah motioned to the whiskey bottle.

"Father you have so much faith in me. I have been sitting here for the last hour staring at this bottle of whiskey. I havenít opened it yet." Austin said showing his father that the bottle was still full.

"So why stare at it?" Josiah asked,

"Habit I guess." Austin answered opening the drawer the bottle had come from and putting it back.

"Why the stage?"

"Someone had to do it. Luther is too sick." Austin said shrugging his shoulder.

"That stage has went without someone riding shotgun before. The route it is taking has never been held up." Josiah reasoned.

"Well maybe that means itís due. Donít ask why Iím doing it father. I just am." He was tired of the questions. He stood and made his way out the door.

Josiah removed the whiskey bottle from the desk and uncorked it taking a drink himself. "Iím not riding shotgun on the stage." He told himself.

 

"Good day, Miss Shelby." Marcus said opening the door for Bethany.

"Thank you, Marcus." She looked up to the driverís seat and saw Austin holding a rifle, staring forward. "Whereís Luther?"

"Iím afraid heís come down with something. I took him to Doc Cleeseís." Marcus answered. She hesitated at his words.

"Maybe I should check on him." She suggested.

"Now Miss Shelby, heís just got some stomach problems. It might embarrass him if you go on over there." Marcus said.

"Oh. I understand." She said still not stepping into the coach.

"Donít worry Miss Shelby. Austin there will watch over us." Marcus suggested as he saw her staring at the solitary figure.

"All right." She said stepping into the stage. She knew if Clay had been there to see her off he would have insisted she postpone the trip, but he was busy with meetings, and she figured what he didnít know wouldnít hurt him. She had never spoken to Austin Peale before. He didnít frequent the Ambrosia. But she did know the history between he and Clay.

 

The first part of the stage ride had been uneventful. She was the only passenger and was becoming bored sitting alone. They stopped at a way station, and took their evening meal. It would be the next day at noon before they made Miles City. Marcus ate outside so he could take care of the horses, but Austin joined her inside.

"Sorry I wasnít more hospitable earlier Miss Shelby. I donít think we have officially met. Austin Peale." He said sitting across from her.

"Thatís okay Mr. Peale. I know who you are." She said and then realized how it had sounded. "Iím sorry that didnít come out quite how I intended it." She gave him an apologetic smile.

"Thatís okay. So what takes you to Miles City?" He asked eating some of the food the way station attendant had given them.

"Well mostly I just wanted to get away for a while. I havenít left Curtis Wells since I settled there. Plus I have to admit I wanted to meet Mattie Shaw. Everyone talks so highly of her that I was curious." She wasnít sure why she had admitted her true intentions to him.

"Yes Mattie is something." He commented. "But from what Iíve heard most talk about the same about you."

"Thank you, Mr. Peale, but I am nothing special." She said blushing.

"Please call me Austin, and no I mean it. Iíve heard a lot of good stuff about you." He insisted.

They sat talking comfortably for almost a half hour, discussing nothing of real importance, until Bethanyís curiosity got the best of her. "Austin why is it you and I have never sat down and talked before? You have a very fine intellect, and I find your views to be fascinating."

"Well Mam, Iím afraid I spend most of my time out at the No 10, and well most of the women out there arenít what youíd call ladies." He answered. "I donít go into the Ambrosia anymore."

"You should." She suggested.

He pointedly avoided that idea. "There is something I was wondering about though, and I donít want to offend you, but why would someone as truly honest as you seem to be, ever lay her eyes on an evil S.O.B. like Mosby?" Austin couldnít help his curiosity.

"Evil. Well Austin if Clay Mosby is the most evil person you have ever come in contact with then you have lead a rather charmed life." She stated. She wasnít offended. She knew what some of the citizens of Curtis Wells thought of Clay, especially the ones who had found themselves on his wrong side.

"What do you know about evil, Beth?" Looking at her youíd think she had led the charmed life. She was the perfect picture of a well-bred southern lady.

"You would be surprised Austin. I know youíre not naVve, and you do know that there are people out there who enjoy hurting others just to be hurting them. I have seen that evil glint in some menís eyes, just the same as you. Itís not pretty. And even though you would love to consider Clay among that sort, he just isnít. Clay has hurt people that donít deserve it and he knows it, but at the time he thought it was what had to be done. And in a way he regrets a lot of things, but no one can turn back time and correct their mistakes. All they can do is try not to repeat them." She said very seriously.

"Yes we all make mistakes. I know I have. Some people just wonít let you live them down." Austin agreed with her.

"Why does it matter so much to you what Clay thinks of you?" She asked realizing too late that he may not want to discuss it.

"It doesnít." He said indignantly.

"Doesnít it? Austin Iím not trying to get on your bad side, but I have a way of reading certain people, and I can tell that it means quite a lot to you to be respected. But for some reason Clayís respect means more to you than others." She knew she was pushing him, but her curiosity got the better of her.

He began to deny her words again, but knew she wouldnít believe the denial. "After my sister died I crawled into a bottle, and got lost. Nothing mattered to me. But Clay wouldnít accept it. He sobered me up, and convinced me that it would be much more gratifying to earn peoples respect than to die of drink. How he did it I donít know, but it worked. I dried up, and became his deputy. And people did respect me some, and it did feel good, but for some reason I always felt like no matter how much I did for him he never respected me. I felt like he was being a hypocrite. Then he took my badge from me and I lost the respect of everyone. Itís a hard lesson to take."

She understood his feelings, but she also understood Clay more than anyone else did. "Austin, maybe you tried to hard to please him. I think maybe in you he was looking for someone to replace my brother." She wondered if she should go on with what she had started to say. Clay would not be happy if he heard her discussing him like that, but she was beginning to see how important Austin had once been to him. "You see Clay and my brother acted as each others boundaries. When one would go to far with something the other would hold him back. Neither were perfect alone, but both together could accomplish almost anything, but still keep both of them honest in the process. I think maybe thatís what Clay thought you would be when he pulled you out of the bottle. But you didnít know that. So you just did what you were told, and as unbelievable as it might sound I believe that disappointed him. I think he wanted you to stand up to him."

Austin thought about her words, immediately dismissing them as foolish, but then memories started flooding back. He remembered the way that on certain occasions Clay would give him an order to do something wrong, and then heíd pause to see if Austin would refuse. Austin never did. But sometimes he would catch a look of disappointment on his face. Maybe she was right. If heíd only realized it before every thing blew up in his face, he could have had the respect he wanted and still be proud of his own actions.

"Maybe your right Beth. Itís something for me to think about. And as you said we all make mistakes. But what mistakes have you made?" He wanted to turn the conversation away from himself.

But he hadnít noticed the man who was standing in the door behind her; he was so intent on their conversation. "Iíll tell you mister she has only made one mistake in her entire life, and itís one she is going to regret." Austin looked up to see a man he did not recognize. He was dressed in a dusty business suit, but still wore a gun belt at his waist. The man was decent looking, and had a broad smile on his lips, but Austin could see coldness in his eyes that belied the smile on his face.

He looked towards Bethany and could see that she was staring at the table in front of her, and her hands were trembling. The shocked look in her eyes was accompanied by what he could only call pure fear.

"Still arenít talking to me girl. Thatís okay. I know that game. Itís time to come back home." He said pulling his pistol out and aiming it at her back.

Austin had also pulled his pistol, but didnít have a clear shot with Bethany in front of him. "Mister who ever you are, I donít think she wants to go with you." He said, and she started shaking her head vigorously.

The man moved to the side letting two others enter the room. Austin had a clear shot at him then, but he could see that the other two men had pistols drawn already and they were aimed at Bethanyís back. "Is this your lover Bethany? The one Mercer here was telling me about." She did not answer, but Mercer shook his head no. "No. Too bad. I would have loved to put a bullet in him before your very eyes."

"I think this is about enough. I donít know who you are, but this lady is under my protection, and I donít appreciated you harassing her." Austin said trying to threaten the men off. He didnít think it would work, but it was worth a try.

"There wasnít supposed to be anyone riding shotgun on the stage Mr. Kentner." The one heíd called Mercer said.

"Yes well, thatís fine. Since you killed the driver, I need someone to send back with a message anyway. Heíll do." Austin was shocked to hear that Marcus was dead. "Boy if you want to live, you need to do what I say, understand."

"I donít think so." Austin said with a look of determination on his face.

"Okay letís try this again. If you donít want me to blow her pretty little head clean off spattering it all over you, then youíll do as I say." Kentner suggested.

"Austin, Iíd rather die." She whispered so only he could hear.

Mercer stepped forward placing the barrel of his gun to the back of Bethanyís head, cocking it ready to use. "Drop you gun now boy, and youíll both live through this."

Austin saw her flinch as the gun was cocked, but she still mouthed the word ĎNoí.

"Iím sorry Beth. I canít watch them kill you." Austin said throwing his own pistol across the room. Mercer withdrew his pistol from the back of her head. Austin could see the look of pure horror cross her face. He knew then that she was hoping heíd kill her. He wondered what it was that this man had done to her, to make her prefer death to capture. He shivered as several thoughts came unbidden into his mind.

The other man who had stayed quiet moved around the table they sat at and pulled Austin to his feet dragging him towards Kentner. Mercer took Bethany by the shoulders turning her facing Kentner and Austin.

"So Bethy do you like this young man? Is he a friend? Thatís too bad. You might not recognize him soon." Kentner taunted punching Austin in the stomach.

She watched in horror as the man repeatedly laid punches in Austinís chest and face. She couldnít stand the thought of Austin being beaten because of her. Before Mercer realized it she had sprung forward knocking the man back that was holding Austin. Austin fell to the floor near the wall. She crawled over to him covering him with her own body. "Please Bryant, donít hurt him anymore. Heís nothing. Just another passenger." She pleaded. She had vowed once that she would never beg the cruel man to stop punishing her, but she would break that vow to save Austin.

Kentner stood in shock. In the ten years she had been at the facility, she had never said one word to him no matter how many times he had beaten her and used her she had kept her silence. "Now you decide to talk. If I had known watching others being beaten would get a response from you I would have tried it years ago." He tucked that information in a safe place in his mind planning on using it to his advantage later.

"Please Bryant. Iíll do anything you want. Just let him go." She begged.

"Well I donít know if I can do that, Bethy. You see I need him to take a message back to your lover, but he canít get there too quick, so he needs to be slowed down some. Now move." When she just shook her head refusing he stepped forward and grabbed one of her forearms twisting it hard, almost to the point of snapping it. "Do you want me to break your arm again? Do you remember the sound it made when it snapped?" He alluded to one of the times he had gone too far.

Austin heard his words realizing that the evil she had spoke of was standing before them. He drew up his last bit of strength and pulled himself up lunging forward knocking Kentner backwards, so heíd release her. "Donít you touch her bastard."

Kentner reacted quickly, too quickly. He rushed forward drawing his pistol and laying it across his face. Mercer stepped forward grabbing Bethany so she could not interfere as his boss pistol-whipped the already injured man.

She screamed at the top of her lungs. She screamed then for all the times she had kept silent before. "Bryant you bastard. Stop. He isnít part of this. This is between you and me." When she saw he wasnít going to stop and was even going farther by viciously kicking his ribs repeatedly, she tried one last act of impudence. "Damn you Bryant, if I ever get the chance Iíll kill you myself." She screamed.

He stopped then turning to her with a look of disbelief covering his face. "My havenít we become brave? What happened to my cowering little piece of fluff I was training? I donít know. Maybe I like you better this way. Breaking you is going to be so much fun." He said striding over and grabbing her face roughly placing a rough kiss on her lips.

She spit in his face when he drew back. "Iíll die before you break me, you piece of trash." He reached up wiping the spit from his face, and then drew his hand back bringing it down backhanding her snapping her head to the side.

"Come on. Bring her. Leave him." He said pointing to Austin. "Oh and by the way boy, whenever you make it back to Curtis Wells tell her lover that Bryant Kentner has reclaimed his property. He can find some other whore for himself."

 

Austin lay on the floor watching his own blood pooling around him. He knew he should get up and try to do something to help Bethany, but he felt as if his body was broken. His head screamed in pain, and his left eye was swelling shut. His breathing seemed almost impossible, as his ribs were certainly broken. The only place he didnít feel pain was in his legs, and he was sure Kentner had left them alone so he could make it back to tell Clay of her fate. But he wasnít going back. It would be too late for Bethany if he did. He would have to find her himself. He pushed himself up on his knees feeling the room spin. He tried taking a deep breath to clear his mind but his lungs protested and he ended up coughing roughly. He pulled is hand away from his mouth and saw it was covered in blood. He hoped that the blood was from his broken lip, but it seemed to be too much.

He retrieved his pistol and made his way out the door. He could see a dust cloud to the east. He looked around and saw that they had left the horses with the stage. At least he wouldnít have to walk. He worked as fast as his aching body would let him to unhitch a horse, and find a saddle and bridle for it. When it came time to mount he wasnít sure how he managed to get up but he did. He turned the horse to the east following the dust cloud.

He had followed them for an hour, but his mind was wondering on him. His head nodded as he tried to keep consciousness. But it was to no avail. The horse began to wander as his hands fell from the reigns, not sure where the rider wanted her to go. But she finally stopped as he slipped from the saddle and slumped to the ground.

Not long after that a figure on a horse appeared from the south. Newt Call had just come from Miles City where he had collected on a bounty. He had a lot on his mind. He had seen Mattie while there. Things had been tense between them. Neither of them saying what they wanted to. Call had left for home feeling bitter. He began to see the horse from a quarter of a mile off. He wondered what a horse was doing standing alone in the middle of nowhere. But his wondering was ended when he saw the man slumped on the ground.

He slipped off Hellbitch and made his way to the fallen man, pulling him over on his back. "Austin. My god, what happened?" There was so much blood. It was coming from his mouth, nose and a long gash across his forehead. Austin did not wake, but Call could hear the rasping sound of his breathing.

He pulled the larger man up dragging him over to Hellbitch. "Austin I got to get you back to Doc Cleeseís." He said looking at his horse trying to figure out how heíd get them both up there without hurting Austin more. The horse seemed to sense his predicament, and sunk down on the ground so he could just step over her and pull Austin with him. When he had Austin settled in front of him he motioned for her to stand. "Good girl. Youíre smarter than most humans I know." He said patting her neck and urging her forward with his feet.

He had to take it slow to keep Austin from being jostled too badly. It was past midnight when he stopped his horse in front of Doc Cleeseís "Doc. I need your help." He yelled sliding off the horse and pulling Austin down beside him. He was too heavy for him to hold upright so he laid him on the ground. Many people had heard his shouts and came out to investigate. Among them were Doc Cleese, Unbob, and Josiah.

"Austin." Josiah called as he saw his son lying on the ground. "My god. What happened?"

Call stepped back as Doc Cleese started examining him. "I donít know Josiah. I found him North of Miles City. It looked like he had fallen from his horse."

"But he left here on the stage this afternoon. He was riding shotgun." Josiah said, not understanding.

Luther had been sleeping inside Cleeseís back room when he heard the ruckus below. He came down the steps two at a time when he heard Josiahís words. He was shocked to see Austin. Call saw him coming, and stopped him from getting too close. "My god Call. What have I done? I pick the one time the stage gets held up to get sick and not be able to go. Now look what happened."

"You didnít know Luther." Call said.

Doctor Cleese looked up. "I need help getting him upstairs."

"Is he gonna be okay?" Josiah asked.

"I think his lung is punctured, by a broken rib. Iíll need to operate." He said shaking his head.

Call had figured it was something like that by the raspy sound of his breathing. He and Luther carried Austin up the stairs.

Clay had heard the commotion coming from the street. He was still awake and was sitting in his office working on the books. He missed having Bethany there, helping him with them. When he heard shouting from below he went to the balcony. He could see Unbob heading down the street towards the sheriffís office. "What is going on Unbob?" He yelled out.

"Mr. Mosby. Call just brought Austin in town. Heís been beat up pretty bad. Heís over at Doc Cleeseís." Unbob said stopping in his task to get sheriff Stinson. Clay began to walk back into his office, not really concerned that the town drunk had gotten himself beaten. "We donít know if anyone else on the stage was hurt. He was the only one Call found."

Clay froze when he heard the word stage. He turned back to Unbob. "The stage." He asked.

"Well yes. Austin was riding shotgun on the stage to Miles City." Unbob explained.

The blood drained from Clayís face as the words hit him. He made his way to Doc Cleeseís faster than he had ever run in his life. He burst through the door, surprising the men who were present.

"What happened?" He demanded. He could see that Doc Cleese was preparing some instruments.

Call began to say something smart, but saw the look on Clayís face and thought different. "Iím not sure. I found him lying by his horse north of Miles City. I never saw the stage. It looked as if he was heading away from Curtis Wells."

"He was alone?" Clay asked dreading the answer.

"Yes. Whatís got you so worked up?" Call asked.

"Yeah you ainít got any love for Austin So whatís up?" Luther added his opinion.

He didnít answer the question. Call could see the horrified look on his face. "Why werenít you on the stage?" Clay directed the question to Luther. "I would never have let her go if I had known you werenít going to be there."

"I was sick Mosby. Who are you talking about?" Luther asked.

"Bethany was on that stage." He said slumping into a chair by the door, staring at the ground before him. "She said you would be there to protect her. I shouldnít worry."

Luther and Call looked at each other with mirrored horror on their faces. Josiah had been listening but hadnít said anything yet, worried more for his son. "He was riding away from Curtis Wells you said. They must have taken her. He would have never rode after them, in his condition, if she wasnít still alive."

At that moment they heard coughing from the table where Cleese was trying to stop some of Austinís bleeding. They all moved in closer seeing that Austin was awake. His eyes flew open and he looked around him. "Beth." His voice was barely over a whisper. He tried to push himself up, but Cleese pushed him down.

"Now Austin you have to stay still. Your hurt badly." Doc Cleese said wiping the blood away he had just coughed up.

"No have to go. They took her." The wild look in his eyes was bordering on madness.

"You arenít going anywhere." Cleese ordered.

"Austin who took Beth? Where did they go?" Clay asked in a deadly tone.

He looked up at Clay realizing for the first time that there were others in the room. "He said to give you a message. He said to tell you that Bryant Kentner had reclaimed his property, and that you could find some other whore yourself." He hated to say the words, but he had to.

"Bryant Kentner. I donít know that name." Clay said in frustration. He was sure someone had done this to hurt him, but he could not guess whom.

"She knew him Clay. Someone from her past. She was terrified of him." Austin said remembering the look on her face.

It clicked in Clayís mind. Whoever had sent Mercer to Curtis Wells had come himself to retrieve her, and he was sure then that the man saw her as much more than just an escaped inmate.

"Clay that man is pure evil. He tried to break her arm, and when I stopped him he finished what his men had already started on me. She begged me to let them shoot her instead of letting them take her." Austin said as the wave of shame hit him knowing he couldnít stop them.

Clay closed his eyes after hearing Austinís words. He understood her nightmares now. Understood all the times she had referred to far worse things in the world than him. "Which way did they head?" He said opening his eyes. Austin could see the pure hatred there.

"East. I tried to follow them, but I must have passed out." Austin answered.

"Call can you take me and my men to where you found Austin?" Clay asked as quiet resolve passed over him. He would get her back or die trying.

"Iím going with you." Luther said.

"Me too." Austin said trying once again to sit up.

"Mr. Peale. You have a punctured lung. I have to operate on you. You arenít going anywhere." Cleese said pushing him back down.

Clay heard the doctorís words, and knew that the young man would die if he tried to go with them. He saw as Austin again tried to sit up. "You can take care of that, when I get back."

"Austin. You did what you could for her. Stay here." Clay said turning around and making his way from the office.

Within ten minutes a group of twelve men left the town, with Call and Clay in the front riding as if the hounds of hell were nipping at their heels.

 

"Mr. Kentner. I think we ought to move on." Mercer suggested as they stopped traveling on the second night out.

"Why. That boy hasnít even made it back to Curtis Wells yet, with the shape we left him in." Kentner said with an evil laugh.

"But what if he has?" Mercer suggested. He had met Clay Mosby, and knew that the man would come for them as soon as he learned.

"Donít worry I can handle Mosby. I know his type." Kentner said smiling.

Bethany was tied to a stake on the other side of the fire. She had refused the food he tried to give her. She was staring daggers at him. He wasnít sure about the new rebellious attitude she had adopted. He wondered how much more trouble that would cause him. He waved Mercer away wanting to torment her more.

"So what have you been doing for the last year and a half?" He asked sweetly.

"Enjoying my life for a change." She answered sarcastically.

"So what is this Mosby fellow like? I wondered what kind of man youíd choose for yourself." He asked. "If you ever had the choice."

"Heís everything you are not Bryant. Heís a real man. Not a bully." She spat at him.

"I thought I taught you better than that. A real man takes what he wants. Just like I used to take you, and just the same as Iím gonna take you again." He warned her.

"Iíll die first." She vowed.

"Youíd like that wouldnít you. No you are going to stay very much alive." He said lying down to go to sleep.

 

She had not slept. Every muscle in her body was on alert wondering how she would escape. But her escape attempt would not be necessary. She heard hoof beats coming towards the camp waking the occupants. They began to take cover. Kentner had fifteen men with him total and she could count twelve riding up. Even enough she thought to herself, then noticed the three men riding in front, and changed her mind. Kentnerís men were definitely outnumbered. She frantically pulled against the rope that held her, and was surprised when the stake pulled free of the ground. She could see that Kentner had taken cover with his men behind boulders. She started to make her way towards the direction that the others were coming from staying down so as not to be struck by the bullets whizzing from both directions, but was drawn up short when he grabbed the stake that was trailing behind her. "You are not getting away that easy." He said pulling her backwards. She fell to the ground on her back.

He made towards her, but stopped suddenly as he was hit in his shoulder by a bullet. The impact knocked him off his feet. Seeing their boss down the eight men who were left alive stopped firing and threw their hands up. Only one of Clayís men had been hit, and it was not a deadly wound.

Clayís men had taken cover in a stand of trees, but moved out disarming the other men. Clay walked to where she was lying, and pulled her up and into his arms. He quickly untied her so she could rap her arms around his torso. She didnít look up at him. She just buried her face in his chest, accepting the comfort his arms offered.

Call was standing with his gun on Kentner. "Did he hurt you Beth?" He asked.

She didnít turn around. She didnít want to see him again. "Not this time." She answered.

Clay pulled her face up to look at her. "Is he the one who runs that facility you spoke of?"

"His father does." She answered.

She heard laughter. "Not anymore. My father died six months ago, leaving me in charge."

"Mr. Kentner. You should have listened when I sent Mercer back to you. Miss Shelby is staying in Curtis Wells, and you are going to jail for beating the young man from the stage." Clay said staring at the disgusting man before him.

"You must be Mosby. Youíre not what I expected her to take as a lover. Oh well you might send me to prison. But you and she will always know that I had her first. She was mine for ten years, and she will never escape the nightmares." Kentner taunted from where he was on the ground.

She looked up at Clay wondering how her secret would affect him. She saw in his eyes what she hated most. Pity. She began to back away from him shaking her head. And when the rage finally settled into her chest she reached out pulling Clayís pistol from its holster, and turning in a flash making her way to where Kentner lay on the ground. She pointed the pistol at his head, cocking it.

"Bethany, stop." Clay called out realizing her intentions.

"No Clay. He deserves to die." She forced the pistol against his forehead. "Do you like this Bryant? Pain and threats always did turn you on. Do you like wondering if you are gonna live or die, depending on how pissed another person is? You donít think Iím gonna do it, do you? I donít have the stomach for it." She paused looking into the cold eyes she hated so much.

"Beth you donít want to do that, honey." Call said reaching towards her.

"Donít Call. I want this so much that I can taste it. He did everything he could do to destroy me. Ten years of pain, ten years of torture, and ten years of being used as someoneís private whore, are too much for any woman to stand." Her words shocked Call. He hadnít realized what had happened to her.

The thought came to him then that if she didnít kill the bastard he would. "Beth, you have every right, but once you kill a man in cold blood you canít go back. Youíll always wonder if you should have done it different."

"Well then maybe I wonít kill him." She said sweetly, and she could see the look of relief in Kentnerís eyes. She wiped the pleased look from his face as she moved the gun to a different angle. "How Ďbout this Kentner? Maybe I should just remove your whole reason for needing a woman." She could see him swallow hard.

She shoved the barrel against him hard kneeling beside him. "At least then I can be sure you will never do to anyone else what you did to me."

"No, please Bethy donít." He begged as she shoved harder against the pistol. She could see the pain cross his face, and for once she enjoyed the emotion.

"Donít call me Bethy." She said clenching her teeth pressing on the pistol.

"Please Bethany donít. I promise Iíll never come near you again." He said starting to cry.

"No you wonít." She said standing still holding the gun on him. She felt Clay come up behind her wrapping one arm around her stomach, and taking the hand with the gun in it in his other hand.

"Come angel. Heís not worth it. Let them take him to prison." He wanted to kill the man himself, but he knew it was more important to keep her from doing something she would regret. He would make sure the man would pay for hurting her. He took the pistol from her and placed it back into his holster, then took her shoulders and turned her to face him. "You have accomplished what needed to be. You faced him down, and you kept your dignity, while stripping his from him." She looked into his eyes and no longer saw the look of pity. He was proud of her strength.

"Take me home Clay." She whispered.

He turned away from Kentner leading her towards his horse, but neither of them had realized the danger they were still in. Clay was speaking so he didnít hear the gun cock. Kentner had pulled a hold out pistol from inside his boot. But Bethany had heard it. She turned back seeing the gun. It was aimed at Clay. She swung around grabbing him hoping to shield the bullet, but when the gunshot rang she felt no bullet enter her back. She waited a moment then turned to see Call standing over Kentnerís body.

Clay stared in surprise at Call. He took Bethany into his arms realizing how close he had come to losing her. "Thank you Call." He said nodding to him.

"As she said the bastard deserved to die. Besides I just saved the taxpayers some money." Call said walking by them and mounting his horse.

He looked down at Bethany. "Why did you do that?" He asked. "If that gun had fired, you could be dead now."

"I know Clay. But if it had fired and I hadnít tried to stop it you would be, and I have learned that I canít live without you." She whispered.

"And what of me? Do you think I would have wanted to live without you?" He asked.

"I guess I didnít think of it that way." She answered.

"If anything like this ever happens again, please try to think before you act." He scolded.

She thought to herself. ĎOh but I did.í

But out loud she only made one request. "Please take me home."

"I can do that." He whispered. They rode back to Curtis wells with him holding her as close as he could in front of him. He was afraid to let her go. He knew it would be hard for him to let her out of his sight for quite a while to come.

Continued in Part 4

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