Matilda McLauren smiled as she witnessed the collision between the two young ladies. She had never seen either of them before. Between the train and the stage, new people came to Old Tucson every week it seemed. That’s what made a town strong—lots of people. Matilda, or Mattie as her friends called her, hoped at least half of those new citizens need hats! Her millinery did a good business because she catered to men and women of all ages—rich or poor.
Sprawled out in a chair on the porch of the marshal’s office, Virgil could hear the conversation inside – Morgan’s voice often carried through the thin wooden walls. Normally, he found his younger brother’s courtin’ rituals amusing, but this time, the plans cut a little close. He’d had plans on asking the young school teacher! Virgil lit a cigarette and exhaled the first breath like a horse in winter, squinting out at the sparse clouds making a slow crawl across the sky. From the sound of it Morgan hadn’t asked yet, so he still had a chance, but like the clouds, doubt crept into his thoughts. Would a pretty angelica like Chloe want to go anywhere with an old man like him?
The cigarette was ashes in no time, and Virgil tossed the butt into the water trough nearby. He’d have to go find out the answer before Morgan settled it for him. Standing up, he grabbed his hat and sauntered down the boardwalk.
George rarely slept late.
It wasn’t like him to lounge in bed and stare at the ceiling until the sunrise turned it auburn. But that’s what he’d done this morning: drifted in a dream of ribbon twining with long red locks and woman’s laugh, until the red locks of his imagination turned into red strands on the wood boards above his head. He sat up like a shot when he realized how late it had become – customers would be standing at the door wondering where the hell he had been! Part of him felt guilty, part of him demanded he buck up and tell them where they could really go.
Dora’s quiet memory of amused disapproval (yes, he’d expressed that desire often enough to her) reminded him of his better nature.
He glanced at the clock – too late for him to sneak away and practice.
So far though, the only thing that appeared on his front door was a reminder of the upcoming dance. He had mixed feelings about the dances. He’d always been awkward about them when Dora was alive. Now he felt like a skulking dog if he went by himself. For weeks now, he’d been trying to work up the nerve to ask…but would she laugh? Would she brush him off? The last time he’d gone, he’d seen her hold court with other beau, always holding them at arms length. Why would she be any different with him?
Scrunching up the paper, George went back inside. Maybe he’d go this Friday, maybe not. Ribbons dangled on a counter nearby, and George ran a hand over his face. He wasn’t going to stop torturing himself until he did something drastic.
Kitty Harold sat in the dining room of the Grand Hotel, smiling with obligatory gentility at the man who sat with her. He’d been generous with his money the night before, was nowhere near letting up this morning, it seemed. Who was she to stop him? He’d been a very handy player, too; otherwise she wouldn’t have stayed with him, crooning encouragement, caressing his ego.
She glanced around at the others in the room. The owner of the hotel gushed with pleasure as he conversed with a gloriously attired entrepreneur – rumor had it that he had something to do with the railroad. A smart man, too, it appeared: this newcomer hadn’t come to the gambling last night. Still every man had his weakness…
Kitty finished her breakfast and was about to make her apologies for departure when she caught the stare of the hotel owner’s wife…Mrs Kingsley, was it? The middle aged matron was staring her down as if Kitty had turned into a pile of horse manure. The adventuress almost laughed out loud, guessing in an instant what the woman was thinking, that Kitty was setting sights on her husband.
“You were a delight,” she purred to her current paramour as she rose from the table. She had dressed more modestly for the day, but it still revealed every curve she was able to show off and the man’s eyes slid over her for the hundredth time since she walked in. “But I must do those things that women often do that bore men to tears. You won’t mind if I slip away for a bit, do you? A gorgeous man like yourself won’t need me for a little while?”
“Not too long,” the man blushed under her flattery. “By all means, my dear…although I do hope you will be joining me again this evening. I have a feeling tonight will be especially prodigious.”
“Of course I will,” she said with a smile. “Until then…”
The look Mrs Kingsley gave her as she sashayed out of the dining room was enough to make her smile broadly in return.