A rooster crowed, waking Sarah and Slade up, whether they wanted to sleep in or not. Sarah was in bed, snug underneath the covers. Slade was face down on a wood floor that might as well have been a granite slab. He felt like he’d be pulling splinters out of his ass for weeks.
“Good morning, dearest,” Sarah said as she yawned. She sat up in bed, happy and refreshed.
Slade provided his usual grunt of a reply. The ex-lawman stood up and strapped on his gun belt.
“Why are you putting those dreadful things on?” Sarah asked.
It was a good question. It was the first day he could remember where he didn’t have any plans that required firearms. It felt odd. Strange. He wasn’t used to the feeling so he kept his belt and guns on anyway.
“Force of habit,” Slade said.
Sarah patted the bed. Slade looked confused. Sarah had been quite vocal the day before that Slade could only stay on the condition that there’d be “absolutely no premarital hanky panky.”
Slade took a seat next to Sarah. She smelled of perfume and wore a wool nightgown that covered literally every part of her body except for her head, which was a change from the black dress that covered literally every part of her body except for her head that she wore during the day.
Sarah took Slade’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder. “I think that you quitting that awful job will turn out to be the best thing you’ve ever done.”
“And I know it may not feel like that now, but one day you’ll agree.”
“We can make a life on this farm, Rain,” Sarah said. “Together, you and I. We’ll wake up early every morning, work the land, live off the fruits of our labor…”
Slade gave up grunting and just listened.
“…church every Sunday. Bible studies every evening. You know, we should get a cow. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Slade felt a burning desire to pull out his Colt, stick it in his mouth and blow his brains out. He felt bad for thinking that way. Sarah was lovely and loving. Any man would have been lucky to have her.
But he couldn’t help but wish that Sarah would somehow magically turn into Miss Bonnie. And the idea of “Farmer Slade” instead of “Marshal Slade” made him physically sick. He’d been chasing down desperadoes for so long that no other work appealed to him. Where was the danger in milking a cow? Where was the adventure in plowing a field?
“We could make strawberry jam!” Sarah declared. “We’ll fill up mason jars with jam and sell it at market.”
“Strawberry jam,” Slade thought. “Shit.”
Rainier Slade. The marshal who shot notorious bank robber Quincy Reaves before he could get away with a sack full of loot…the marshal who lead the posse that brought murderous psychopath Mortimer Barnes to justice…the marshal who got shot by Fiddler Pete Fillmore and not only lived to tell the tale, but shot Pete dead along with eleven of his men without having to reload once.
The ex-marshall who now…makes strawberry jam.
Slade began to mull over his options. “Just tell her you’ve changed your mind. Tell her you love someone else and she deserves to have a man that isn’t thinking about another woman. Shit. Don’t tell her anything. Just stand up and walk out. She’ll figure it out.”
Sarah was on a roll. “And why stop at strawberry? There’s raspberry jam. Huckleberry jam. Ooo! Marmalade! Rain?”
“Huh?” Slade asked.
Without warning, Sarah attacked him…but in a good way. Kisses all up and down his face, his neck, she really worked that neck. Slade was shocked, given Sarah had been the one against intercourse all along, but he wasn’t about to complain. He kissed back. Their tongues wrestled as the swapped copious amounts of spit.
Suddenly, Slade was feeling better. Nothing cheers a man up like nookie. Sarah pushed him away.
“I’m sorry,” Sarah said.
“It’s ok,” Slade said, going in for another smooch, only to be face palmed.
“Not you,” Sarah said, looking up to the ceiling and closing her eyes. “Oh Lord, how sorry I am that I failed you but my flesh is so weak.”
Slade rolled his eyes. Sarah sprang to her feet.
“I want to show you something.”
Sarah opened up her bureau drawer and produced a white sheet. Slade waited for Sarah to explain. She didn’t say a word. Instead, she unfolded it and there it was.
A single hole. And not a very big one. Slade wondered if he should feel insulted.
Sarah’s cheeks flushed and she bounced up and down like a giddy school girl. “I made it with a pair of shears! Do you like it?”
Slade’s mouth opened but his brain was elsewhere. “The marshal who stepped out of the path of Dirk Braddock’s legendary buck knife just in time for Gunner Ross to take it in the gut instead shouldn’t be relegated to sex through a bed sheet for the rest of his life” was the only response he came up with.
But he knew he needed to be more delicate than that. Sarah was all a-twitter and Slade felt bad again.
“It’s for our wedding night,” Sarah said. She folded up the sheet, put it away, then returned to snuggle up next to Slade again.
“Very nice,” Slade said.
“When do you think that will be?” Sarah asked.
“What?” Slade asked in return.
“Our wedding,” Sarah said. “We haven’t set a date yet.”
“Oh,” Slade said. He wondered if he might not be able to postpone it indefinitely.
Sarah rubbed her hand up and down Slade’s arm. “I was thinking…why not tonight?”
Now Slade really did want to blow his brains out. “What?!”
“Oh you needn’t worry,” Sarah said. “Father passed years ago so you don’t need to ask for his blessing. And mother’s mind is so far gone I doubt she’d know what was happening if she attended the ceremony anyway. I don’t have any family who’d be offended if we don’t wait for them, do you?”
“No,” Slade said. He instantly regretted saying that. Surely had he taken a minute he could have come up with some distant cousin’s uncle’s brother that needed an invite and time to make travel arrangements, thus buying him some time.
“Wonderful!” Sarah said. “I’m going to get dressed, cook you the best breakfast you’ve ever had, and then we can go to town straight away to make arrangements with Reverend Cavanaugh!”
Rainier Slade. Thorn in the side of stone cold murderers across the West, done in by a skinny widow.
“I don’t know…” Slade said.
Sarah kissed Slade. “Don’t you worry about a thing. I’ll take care of every detail.”
“It doesn’t need to be a grand affair, Rain,” Sarah said, oblivious to her fiance’s doubt. “I’m not one of those fancy women who needs a band and flowers and an exquisite dinner. Don’t worry about me.”
He wasn’t. He was worried about Miss Bonnie, who he feared he’d never see again unless he opened his yap.
Kiss, kiss, and another kiss. Three in a row. Sarah was really pushing her luck with the Lord. She cupped Slade’s hand in her cheek and looked her man in the eyes.
“I am going to make you so happy, Rainier Slade.”
Slade didn’t believe that for a second. But his heart swelled from the fact that she clearly wanted to. No other woman had ever expressed a desire to make him happy. Hell, no woman had ever expressed a desire to cook him breakfast. Miss Bonnie would probably tell him where to stick his breakfast if he ever asked her. The she’d tell him to make her some.
He felt it. He was in love with two women. But what he felt for Miss Bonnie was a passionate love, where what he had with Sarah was a safe kind of love.
Sarah giggled. “‘Sarah Slade.’ So alliterative! I like it.”
Slade nodded. Another kiss and Sarah was off, puttering around the kitchen.
The ex-marshal laid down in Sarah’s soft, cozy bed. His back thanked him. He closed his eyes and pondered his dilemma.
He made a promise and he was a man of his word. But he also loved another woman and only had one life to live. It was too short not to be with the woman who drove him wild with desire…and not to mention, the only woman he felt like he could be himself around. Sarah’s happiness would no doubt rely on him keeping up the tough guy routine forever.
Sarah cracked an egg into a bowl and hummed a happy tune. Slade watched. He knew right then that he would never, ever be able to tell her the proposal was off. Shooting criminals in the face was easy. Breaking a woman’s heart was hard. He knew he was stuck.
And at that moment he knew he could wait a day, a month, or a year and still would never be able to muster up the courage needed to come clean with Sarah, so he figured he might as well get it over with.
But at some point, he thought, he would really need to put his foot down about losing that sheet.