Blood Money

by Holly

Chapter 2

The following day Jess rode into Laramie to collect supplies. He noted the list Jonesy had given him looked shorter than usual. There was no Gazette, sugar, fruit, or Andy's favorite toffee.

Jess wandered around the store, idly inspecting the stock as Mr. Symth made up the list. "That be all Jess?" he asked. "It seems a mite small order. You sure Slim or Jonesy haven't forgotten something?"

Jess frowned and put down the fancy blue and white bandana he was looking at. He dug deep into the pocket of his faded levis, pulling out a dollar piece. "Yeah, give me Andy's toffee. I'll pay separate for that." The toffee, wrapped in wax paper, was added to the rest of the order.

"You know I hate to ask, Jess, but do you think Slim might be able to pay in full straight away?"

Jess sighed and asked, "Well, just how much does the tab come to, Mr. Symth?"

"Exactly fifty dollars and thirty three cents."

Jess took the two crumpled twenty bills that Slim had given him and laid them on the counter. Then, once again he rummaged deep into his pocket and pulled out a five and some loose change, which he added to the forty. "That's all I have."

"That'll do, Jess. I am sorry to have to press you, but the bank..."

Jess nodded, a rueful smile on his face. "Yeah I know. It's the same all over."

"The Kilborns are leavin', going back east I heard. Shame. They were really doing well until the dry spell. Now with the rain..." He shook his head. "Damn shame. Nice people."

Jess nodded although he wasn't too sure he knew the Kilborns. "Well, thanks. I'll get loaded and be on my way. See you next week."

"I'm not too sure you will Jess. There's a couple from Cheyenne interested in buying the place. Martha is real keen we should get out now before things get really bad."

Jess picked up the bag of flour and carried it out to the wagon. It didn't take long to load the rest. He stopped to wipe sweat from his forehead and saw Milly strolling along the boardwalk neatly avoiding the puddles.

Jess grinned at the sight of a dainty ankle as Milly hoisted her skirt to keep it dry. The smile soon disappeared as Jess saw her expression harden when she saw him. It was obvious he was in trouble.

"Well, well, well. Jess Harper. Just the man I was longing to see." Ice dripped from her voice.

Jess did his best to ignore it. "Hi, Mill!" He tipped his hat.

"Hi yourself." She replied shortly. "And the name is Milly. Not Mill."

"Oh come on, Mill, no need to get snappy with me."

"Not get snappy? What kind of skunk goes runnin' out on a lady, eh? I waited over an hour for you." She stamped her foot in anger.

"I'm sorry, Mill, honest I am. But I did say it wasn't a definite date." His expression was a picture of innocence, the look that had won ladies hearts from Dallas to the Black Hills.

"Well, mm... All right, if you are genuinely sorry, Jess Harper. I forgive you."

Jess smiled, "Good."

He knew she would, but he was hoping deep down that she wouldn't. He needed space. It seemed every time he came to town these days, she sought him out. It made him nervous. Slim had taken to teasing him about her. It was more than a man could stand.

"But I felt a real fool standin' there, waitin' like that." She pouted.

It was hard to believe this was a saloon girl used to dealing with the toughest of men and looking out for herself. This new Milly was unsettling. Jess had liked her from the first time they had met back in Texas years ago. She had been one of the boys. But this simpering female woman scared him. He couldn't figure out why she'd changed. Now all she wanted to do was hang on his arm, brush up tight against him, talk about stupid things like going riding, not on horses, but hiring a buggy, just so she could wear her best dress. What fun was that? Even now she was staring up into his eyes all funny.

"Oh, I am sorry, Mill. Honest I am." He put on a really contrite expression. Milly was no more immune than any other girl to those blue eyes.

"I forgive you, Jess darling. Maybe we could...." She stopped mid-sentence as gunfire sounded from down the street.

Jess' hand went automatically to his gun, but since he was unsure of what was going on, he was content to just be ready to draw. He pulled Milly behind him as a rider came racing up the street. She didn't protest, giving Jess room in case he needed to draw his colt.

As the rider drew near, he turned in the saddle and let off a couple of shots wildly. Jess knew there was little chance they would hit anything, but he told Milly to stay back just in case. She took a good look at the man as he passed by and grasped Jess arm. "Be careful," she warned.

Around the corner came Sheriff Mort Corey in hot pursuit of the rider.

Jess shook Milly off, drew his gun, and turned to aim at the escaping man, but he was well out of range. So rather than waste bullets, he leapt onto the nearest horse and joined Mort in the chase.


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Chapter 3