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Bearpaw: An Old West Tale - 24. Chapter 24 Fair Warning

What I want is what you want....

Fair Warning

 

 

“How did you get the blood cleaned from the mattress?”

“How do you know blood was on it?”

“Reid said. Told me I laid on this very one when you drove the buckboard into town hellbent for leather, and that the blood he saw about made his stomach empty. Said you were covered in it too and looked a sight. Don’t see no sign of any now.”

Sighing, Jubal flipped the mattress, not really wanting to see the stain ever again. “I wanted it gone, but it wouldn’t come out. My scrubbing changed the color, though. Reckon… well… it don’t look so bad… not as bad as it did.”

Lucas’s gaze stayed on the brown spots for a time, before shifting to him. “Thought the branding stopped the bleeding… that’s a lot of staining.

“Weren’t bleeding when I set you on it, near as I could tell, but happens you were covered in blood… britches and the bandages what came from our shirts were soaked with it. Suppose they dripped on the drive in. It upset you to see such?”

“No, just reminds me of that day, of Ronnie Prescott yelling and shooting… and shows me the care you took, during and after. With all such as that going on, you still thought to put the mattress on the wagon… and then did your best to get it clean.”

“Hated seeing it like that… still do, but we can make another.”

“No rush for a new one. You hated the blood on the floor too? Can see where it was,” he said, staring at the scrubbed area at the foot of the bed. The clean spot looked the size of more than half the mattress.

“Yep, couldn’t stand the sight of that one for sure, and didn’t want you to see it ever, if’n… when you came back home.”

“You be a constant surprise to me, Jubal. Hope I can make you as happy as you do me.”

“Like I did in the crick?” Jubal asked with a smirk. “Cause you surely did.”

“Maybe so,” he answered with a grin. “But for truth, I’m talking about my heart this time, not my cock. Don’t want to sound like one of them men what get weepy about things when they’re full of drink, but I be right full of feelings.”

“Sound any way you want to. Vincent taught me a long time ago a man should say what stirs his heart and never be sorry for it. Believe he was right, and I won’t let nothing stop me from saying what you make me feel.”

Lucas nodded after his gaze settled on Jubal’s. “Feel I can do such with you, and that be something different for me. No need for acting the way others think a man should. Anything left to be done before we get to bed?”

“Nothing I can think of. Stock be taken care of, the cookfire is banked, and them skins are done unless I decide to smoke them, so we can sleep without worry till morn.”

“Why might you smoke them skins?”

“Besides a nice smell, it can make the pelt softer, but I spent a lot of time breaking up the hide with stretching it round a post. Seems soft enough to me, but I’ll decide in the morning once I see how supple they be. If there’s any bad odor, they’ll be getting smoked no matter how supple they feel. Alder’s best in my experience, but maple or cedar are fine too.”

“Never knew such a thing about smoking furs. Expect there be lots we can learn for each other.”

“I’m open to learning,” Jubal said with a wink. “Need water… anything a’tall?”

“Nope, had my fill. Just need you next to me,” he answered, staring from him to the bed with a small smile.

Jubal grinned as he flipped the mattress back over. “That’s the kind of talk I was meaning. You fine for sleeping on this? Ain’t bad luck, is it?”

“Of course not, not to me. Everything what happened brought us here, so how could there be any bad luck?”

“Reckon that’s a good point. Need help getting settled?”

“Well, don’t want to sleep on my back again, so you can help me turn to my side.” He laid down with a stifled grunt, the bedroll under his head.

Lucas was quick to pull off the man’s boots, trying to control his concern.

“Be obliged if you get in behind me and give me a push. I can do it, but don’t want to aggravate them muscles any more than I need to.”

Already naked, Jubal stepped out of his own boots and crawled in back of Lucas. He was gentle with his efforts, and got the man on his side with his knees pulled up. “How’s that?”

“Only thing to make it better is your body against mine… for supporting… and to have you near as near can be.”

Jubal smiled at his words, and got close enough to wear the man’s skin. He was rewarded with a big sigh.

“Need your arm around me too.”

“You be the boss,” Jubal whispered as he carefully settled his arm against the man’s front. “That hurt?”

“Not one bit. Best feeling in the world to be like this, with the dark coming on. Feels right this be our first night in a cabin what you made special for me. I feel safe as can be, Jubal.”

“So do I, Lucas. I feel safe too.”

“Good,” he muttered sleepily. “I always want you to feel such with me.”

Lucas’s breath evened out in a few heartbeats, and Jubal realized just how worn out he’d been. He’d make sure he got more rest in the coming days.

 

“Where you going?” Lucas asked as Jubal separated his body from the man’s, hating to do so, but feeling so much energy he had to start moving. “It still be dark out.”

“I know, but chores need doing. Go back to sleep.”

He heard a sigh. “Can’t do that.”

“Why not,” he asked, pulling his britches up and stuffing a hard cock in careful as he could.

“Cause you won’t be next to me.” The mattress made some noise as he sat up with a groan. “Where my clothes be? Did we leave them outside?”

“No, of course not. I hung them up after we did our teeth. Hang on for a bit and I’ll light the lantern. You all right, cause you sound sore?”

“Can’t sound sore, and I can see just fine.”

“You can too sound sore, so you’re taking it easy today, and don’t be arguing with me none. Don’t need you tripping either, so hold your horses till I get the lantern lit.” He flicked a wooden match against a log and it flared, lighting up Lucas’s pretty morning face and a cock what pointed straight up. The sight of it made his mouth water. Lighting the wick, he kept it low. “Here’s your shirt and your britches, but prefer you naked to be truthful.”

“Same way I prefer you, but it feels a mite chilly. Slept like a log.”

“Same for me, but now I’m itching to get moving. Feels like I slept two days. You’ll never get that thing in your britches,” he said with a grin.

“If you can get yours into them tight ones, I surely can. Will be needing a kiss, but my mouth needs cleaning first. Chewing sand, it feels like.”

“You need help getting dressed?”

“I’ll let you know soon enough.” He struggled to get his feet through his leg holes, and then stood with another sound escaping, pulling his britches up as he stood. They stopped moving, though, once they got to his cock.”

Jubal stepped closer. “Want me to get you buttoned up?”

“I can do it. Just need a few breaths.”

“I’m sure you can, but I’d enjoy making it easier for you,” he said, looking down at that impressive part of the man.

“It’s going to stay hard with you so close.”

“I expect so, same as mine is.” Cupping the man’s balls got him a different kind of sigh. Pulling the britches forward, he got them and his cock inside, enjoying the feel of the thickness in his hand before concentrating on the buttons. “You be all set now,” he said looking into Lucas’s face, the man’s lips parted as he stared back.

“My britches be on, but I ain’t set a’tall, seeing how you got me randy as a two-peckered rabbit.”

Jubal snorted before moving even closer so he could kiss him. “Can fix that for you,” he said after he let them sweet lips free.

“Lord above, I got no doubts, but I’d prefer I got washed up first. Like to be clean for such.”

“I be the same,” Jubal said, respecting the man’s wishes. “Need help with your shirt?”

“Reckon so,” he answered before kissing him back, this time a longer one. “Sooner I get better, the sooner we can do some other things.”

“What other things you meaning?” Jubal asked, trying to appear innocent.

“Oh no, ain’t believing you need me to explain them to you.”

He chuckled. “No, you surely don’t. Looking forward to learning you, though.”

“Learning me? Well… I can tell you the most important thing to know about me is how much I love you… and this here damn fine body of yours, and that big heart you can’t hide from me no more. The rest of me, you’ll figure out, going by how you’ve handled me so far,” he said, grinning as he gave Jubal’s cock a squeeze through his britches.

What little room was in them disappeared right quick. “Hearing that makes me feel the luckiest man in this whole world. To say it clearer, though, I want to learn… to explore every inch of you and see what drives you loco… but don’t mind at all taking the slow trail. Is… if’n I can ask, be there anything you don’t like?”

“You can ask me anything you want, and the answer is no, ain’t nothing two men can do I don’t care for, ‘cepting that brutality you spoke of. Just want to share love with you, Jubal, in every way what feels good. Never thought I’d be having such a talk as this first thing in the morn, but I’m mighty pleased we can.”

Jubal, trying to ignore the throbbing below, nodded his agreement as he slid Lucas’s shirt over his head and worked his arms into the sleeves. He got payment for his help with another kiss, a sweet and tender one that had him questioning getting up from the bed in a hurry to start the day. It surely didn’t help the throbbing. “Um… if you’re done getting me riled, I’ll start the choring and then make us some breakfast.”

Lucas chuckled. “I am for now I suppose. You complaining?”

“Hell no, but I need to get me some bigger britches.”

“Well, that’d be a damn shame in my opinion, but do what you need to. Meantime, feed the fire, and I’ll fix us breakfast.”

“Can you do that? It requires lots of bending and such.”

Lucas rolled his eyes. “I know what it requires, and I don’t need no babying unless I ask for it. I’ll get the coffee going first, and then I’m going to do some milking. Wanting fresh milk for sure.”

“Fine and dandy. I’d like sugar in my coffee… it’s in that taller tin in the old cabin, safe from coons and such,” Jubal said as he opened the door and stepped outside. It be a new day, different from any other, and he planned on enjoying it.

 

Breakfast hit the spot. Salt pork fried crispy, a big pile of eggs, bread, cheese, and sweet coffee with milk fueled him for turning over that hay field. Lucas kept busy doing things what he said didn’t strain his stomach muscles, and Jubal fretted some until Lucas reminded him he was lucky to be breathing, so a little hurting weren’t nothing.

When he came down to fill his canteen at the spring, an excuse to check on him, Lucas was taking apart gunny sacks, the cream-colored burlap perfect for tacking over the windows when they be open, to stop mosquitos coming in, but not the breeze. He planned on making frames to tack the cloth on so they could be put up and taken down easily.

It was a plenty smart thing to think of, and Jubal offered to help. “I can make two frames for each and set the sacking between them—already got some leftover strips from when we did the windows. Should last a long time that way, if’n I overlap the corners…you agree?”

Lucas nodded. “That’s better than my idea. Sounds sturdier, and you’ll for sure do a better job of it than I would, since Vincent taught you well. We make a good team too, don’t we?”

“We surely do, the best, and I hope one day we get to wrangle us some horses. Believe we’d be a good team for that too.”

“We’ll just have to make it happen,” Lucas said, smiling as he kept working. “We should search out a stud horse to breed our mares. What you think about doing such?”

Jubal took a long drink of fresh, cold water, and then wiped his mouth. “I think it be a fine idea. We can’t ride them all, and all six saddle horses are quality… and yep, I’m including Bean,” he said with a grin. “Would you want to breed Dinah too?”

“Believe I would if’n we find the right match. God willing, that would give us seven new ones on the ground.”

“Then that’s what we’ll do. Almost had the perfect colt for it.”

“We did. A damn shame we didn’t have the chance to get a rope on him.”

“Maybe we’ll get our opportunity again, for him and the filly. All right then. Got about a third of the field left to turn and I’ll be finished. What you want done with those seasoned cedar and pine logs you got stacked over near the orchard?”

“Not sure. Was thinking of a corral over that way one time, but decided it be too far to be convenient. Why you asking?”

“Kind of thick for fenceposts. Could get them milled for that barn addition you had planned?”

“Yep, they’d make good boards for it, I reckon.”

“Then I’ll take Dinah and the wagon back there and load them up.”

“You know you could rest for a day or two? Some of them be sixteen feet or more.”

“Can rest tonight. I know you’ve been wanting a bigger barn.”

“It be what we want now,” Lucas said as he stopped what he was doing to stare at him.

“What I want is what you want, and you want a bigger barn, so I want a bigger barn.”

Lucas tilted his head as he continued staring. “Fair enough. We’ll get those logs milled and add onto the barn.”

Jubal grinned. “Glad that’s settled… boss.”

“Uh huh… sure… go turn your hay.”

He approached the man with his hands up in the air. “Need a kiss to keep my energy up.”

“Well, I reckon that’s a chore I can handle.”

Jubal chuckled, leaning down to kiss the man hard.

“Whew! Reckon I got some energy now too, but might be needing more in an hour or so.”

“Whatever you say, boss. I’ll be back in two shakes.” He began his short walk back to the field grinning ear to ear. He got right fearful, though, when he saw movement out of the corner of his eye, and spun to face it.

“Hoo whee! I saw that slobber slinging!” Reid was on his fine bay gelding what wore some sweat on his neck and flanks, wearing a big grin as he stared from one to the other.

“Reid! For God’s sake, warn when you’re coming, would ya? About gave me a heart attack! What in tarnation brings you out here?” Lucas asked, shooting a concerned look Jubal’s way.

“Had my reasons, but wasn’t expecting to catch you two smacking lips in broad daylight.”

Jubal’s heart, what had bolted at the intrusion and the worry he saw from Lucas, slowed to a trot.

“Hello, Reid,” he said as he sauntered back to the campfire.

“Good day, Jubal. Glad to see you two figured out what I already knew. Was about driving me crazy seeing you fellows mooning over each other. Right entertaining this be.”

“I see you’re not going to shut up till you’ve had your fun,” Lucas said with a scowl. He only relaxed when Jubal gave him a wink and a smile.

“Well, you know me. Got to tell you I told you so… at least a few times, I reckon. Might do so for the next month or two.”

“Expect that for sure, but I’ll admit and say it did happen you were right.”

“Usually am, when it comes to other folk. Didn’t take you fellas long a’tall once you be up and around. Jubal, you ain’t saying much.”

“Cause you be talking enough for all of us,” he said, smirking as his hand settled on Lucas’s shoulder where he sat.

“Can’t blame a friend for being happy at the situation, now can you?”

“I reckon not,” Jubal answered as he stroked Lucas’s neck with his little finger to let him know he was fine with being caught by Reid.

It worked, and Lucas calmed some more. “So what’s the reason for you sneaking up on us?”

Reid chuckled. “Would say I came to see some sweet romance, but truth is them bounties came through. Thought I’d save you the trip. Fifty dollars each, and Jubal, there’ll be fifty more for the bounty on Ronnie.”

“Well, damn, I forgot all about them.”

“Reckon I can see why. So you fellows profess your love for each other?” The man was enjoying hisself too damn much.

“Someone needs to gag you with your kerchief, Reid,” Lucas said with a head shake.

“Ah… that means yep, you did for sure.”

Jubal sighed. “You’re right again, Sheriff. We be terrible guilty of the awful crime of professing our love for another man. You gonna lock us up or go straight to the lynching?”

Reid’s jaw dropped as he stared at him. “You be the same quiet Jubal I thought I knew?”

Lucas snorted, and then laughed aloud. “He does seem a mite different, doesn’t he?” He reached for Jubal’s hand setting on his shoulder and gripped it. “Hit the jackpot with this one.”

“I’m the one what hit the jackpot, Reid, and I expect you’d agree,” Jubal said, happy to be feeling so comfortable with hisself and what he shared with Lucas. They were right… he weren’t the same man he was yesterday morn. Never wanted to be that one again.

“Happy for you both, all funning aside. Can see you got something special. Knew that could be the case right off, and just glad you two know it now.”

“We surely do. Want some coffee. Got sugar and milk for it,” Jubal offered.

“Would hit the spot for sure. Town was busy this morning with new settlers arriving.”

“New settlers,” Jubal asked. He found hisself holding the coffee pot as he turned back to Reid. “How many we talking about?”

“Three families what arrived in wagons—passel of kids packed in—and two single fellas on horseback. All arrived together and all wanting to purchase land hereabouts. Will be good for the community to grow some more.”

“Know where they’re looking?” he asked, feeling damned unsettled by such news.

“Were crowded into the land office when I rode out. Land prices be going up.”

“They are? When is that happening?”

“Whitley says soon. And day now according to him. Don’t burn yourself, Jubal. Got that pot leaning and some’s dripping out.”

He paid attention to what he was doing and poured the man his coffee, adding the sugar and the milk. “Who’s Whitley?”

“Whitley Casson. He’s the land agent, so he should know what’s coming if anyone does.”

“Still three-dollars-fifty an acre today?”

“Believe so. What Whitley told a woman asking that very question. Expect more folks will be turning up once word’s gotten round. Hear prices are already higher in Larkspur since it’s doing so well.”

“Know land be more dear there than here. Any idea how much it will rise?” Jubal took some time to notice Lucas was watching him close as he asked questions.

Reid took a swallow of his coffee. “Hot! That’s damn good coffee. Been craving sweet for a time. Went without sugar so long I forgot to buy some now it’s back in stock.”

“The price increase?” Jubal asked again, his impatience getting stronger.

“Whitley said it could be as much as a dollar an acre, and he wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up being five dollars per acre by spring. Government needs more and more money every day it seems, and since Bearpaw is beginning to flourish—what he said—it shouldn’t be long. Government waits for a certain amount of land to be bought up before they ask more for it.”

“Five dollars? That be one hell of a jump.”

“Jubal?” Lucas asked. “What’s going on in your mind?”

“Think I know,” Reid said. “He’s thinking of buying land, now he’s decided he ain’t leaving you, and I expect he wants that land right over there.” He was pointing to the west, past the crick.

“Jubal? Is he right?”

“About leaving you? Of course he’s right.”

Lucas sighed as Jubal grinned. “Wasn’t what I was asking.”

“Yep, I know. Been thinking about what be best for us all morning.”

“Best for us? We have enough land already, don’t you think?”

“We do, and it be great land, but that fear of mine we talked about ain’t going away so easy.”

“Understand that, and I said plain you’re right to have some, and so should I. So… I’m listening to what you have to say.”

“Don’t want neighbors, ones what see our business, and I know that’s not brave, but—”

“Hold on! Buying land next to us ain’t about bravery. It’s about being smart enough to be cautious.”

“You think it smart?”

“Course I do. Heard your stories, and realize I’ve been lucky in a way you haven’t.”

“What stories,” Reid asked, watching their conversation with interest.

“Not important right now,” Lucas answered for them both. “If you want to buy that land, you go ahead and do it.”

“Agree with that, if’n you don’t mind me giving my opinion,” Reid said. “Don’t know why you’re waiting, after what I just told you.”

Jubal turned his gaze to the man. “Is that the real reason you rode out here? Would explain that sweat on your horse. Bounties could have waited.” His eyes narrowed as he waited for an answer.

“Once thought about buying that land over there myself.”

“You did?” Lucas asked.

“Yep, back when I thought I could change your mind. Made sense to me… not just for the privacy. It’s a fine piece of land, and even got me saving most of my money. Don’t have the crick running through it like this one, but it’s got a good spring.”

“Happens it has two good ones,” Lucas said.

“All the better.” Reid turned his attention to Jubal. “Was something I thought you need be aware of, land prices rising. Weren’t sure you two were together yet, but expected it wouldn’t be long from what I’d seen… all that pining while Lucas lay so still… and I knew how he felt about you. Happens you got all that money back, just sitting in the bank, and—”

“How did you know my money be in the bank?”

Reid grinned. “Folks just love to talk, especially to the sheriff. So, that money can stay where it is, or you can invest it in land you just heard will be worth more right soon. All I’m saying, so do with it what you will.”

“What do you think, Lucas?”

“Already told you. Buy the land if it’s what you want. If we ever do get us a herd, we’ll have plenty of room for corrals, and lots of grass for feed.”

“To be truthful, pretty much had my mind made up and was going to talk to you about it when he had our supper. Wanted you—”

“Time for talking is past,” Reid interrupted. “One of that group could show up any time and decide to buy next door, and this trip and my horse’s sweat will have been for nothing.”

“How many acres is it?” Jubal asked Lucas.

“About the same as this one. Hundred and six if I remember right.”

“Should we go now?”

“Now? Don’t you want to walk it first before you make such a big decision?”

“Do you like it?”

“Well, sure. I think it’d make a damn good farm. Only chose this one over it because I preferred not having the possibility of neighbors on the east side. Heck of a view to the north, same as this one. Fact is, other than the river side, there ain’t much difference in the two, and many would see our crick as a pain in their ass, but you should see for yourself.”

Jubal’s gaze shifted from Lucas to Reid and back again. “No need. Let’s harness up Dinah and get to town.”

“What would you need the wagon for? Just ride in on Pistol.”

“Who’s Pistol?” Reid asked.

“My new mare. Want you to come with me, and you can’t be in a saddle yet.”

Lucas shook his head. “Remember what you did when you put your money in the bank, and why you did it that way?”

“Ah… should be seen buying the land myself?”

“Yep. Are you sure it’s what you want?”

“Ain’t got a single doubt. Can’t pass up the chance. Besides, I just got about fourteen of them acres for free, thanks to one of them bastard Prescotts, and another fifty dollars coming for fourteen more.”

“That be true. Can tell by your face you’re excited.”

“Well, I’m excited too, “Reid said with a big grin of his own. “I’ll ride in with you… best you put a clean shirt on, though. Enough sweat on that one it needs wringing.”

“That be true enough,” he said as he stepped inside the cabin. He was going to be a landowner after years of saving and hoping, and he’d be sharing it with the best man he could ever want. He listened to the conversation outside as he changed.

“Do you mean what you said, Reid?”

“About being happy for you and him?”

“Yep.”

“Lucas, I know you never believed I loved you, but I did, and I do, but come to accept you never felt the same. Jubal’s the one for you, I see that clear as day.”

“He is. Never met another like him.”

“Happens I like him a lot.”

“He said the same. Course everyone likes you, Reid. So do I, but I love Jubal, and suspect I’m always going to.”

“That’s all that matters. Happy for you, and just about as happy for him. That man won’t ever let you down, you know that, right?”

“I do.”

Jubal was smiling inside the cabin, but put on a straight face before stepping back outside. “Won’t take but a minute to saddle up.” He leaned over to kiss Lucas, surprising him, and probably Reid, but after what he’d just heard, the man was deserving of one. “Don’t know how long it’ll take, but don’t be doing anything what might cause you pain.”

“Promise I won’t,” he said, his expression a pleased one, one what said Jubal had done something good.

 

In a hurry, they broke into a quick lope after leaving the laneway. Halfway to town, he slowed to a walk, but his mind still raced. It was hot enough to get Pistol heated, and he didn’t want her sweating to the point of needing to be cooled out. He wouldn’t have time for such if’n he was busy buying land. Buying land!

“Appreciate you letting me know about them settlers showing up and the price about to go up.

“Well, increase could happen tomorrow or in another month.”

“Don’t matter. It’s going to get more dear, and I’m obliged to not to be caught unawares. Funny how it’s been on my mind all morning and then you show up.”

“Figured it would be something to interest you—knew Lucas was going to talk to you. There’s no need for jealousy, you know?”

“Jealousy?”

“Told Lucas he could speak about us… about our past.”

“And he did. Not surprised you love him. Thought that’s what I was seeing from you.”

“But you never saw it from Lucas.”

“Not a good judge of men or what they feel most times, so no, I wasn’t sure, but not surprised he didn’t have the same feelings you did. Seemed to be keeping you at arm’s length, but I thought it might be because you weren’t trusting me staying with him.”

“It wasn’t about trusting you, but I admit seeing the way you were together was cause for some irritation.”

“Irritation?”

“Yep, there was a burr under my saddle for sure, but wasn’t irritated at you. It hurt for a time, especially that he didn’t believe I loved him, but he be right. We don’t decide who we love… it just happens. He was hurting over that Boone fellow when he came here, and I was a fool to think I could take the man’s place. He weren’t ready… until he went and met you.”

“Did that make you jealous?”

Reid blew out a log breath. “Might have, for a minute or so, but I already knew we were only meant to be friends. Could feel it from him in every way, but it irked me enough to try again. Was foolish, and I knew it, and might have been prideful too. So, no… no jealousy from me, and there be no need for it from you. Lucas is loyal… and he’s found his cowboy.”

“And I found mine.”

“Yep, and you be a right lucky man.”

“Don’t I know it. What about Billy?” he looked sideways at the man to see his reaction, almost laughing at the change in the man’s face.

“Billy? Why you asking ‘bout him for?”

“Just curious. Seen the way he looks at you.”

Reid scowled. “He follows me around like a puppy is all.”

“Maybe so, but it sure looks like more than that on his part.”

The man’s scowl became a sigh. “He’s hinted at such. Well… more than hinted, but I told him he be too young for me.”

“What’s too young, Reid?”

“He’s not yet twenty for God’s sake. I’m six years older than he be.”

“Don’t seem like much of a difference to me. Was five years younger than the first man I loved, and it weren’t anything I had any thought for. I doubt it’s something Billy is concerned for, either. Besides, how many girls you’ve seen get married and have kids long before they be sixteen? He’s old enough to love for sure.”

“What are you doing, Jubal? Why you be pushing him on me like this.”

“Was just asking a question, same as you do when you’re curious.” He gave the man a smirk, getting him to smile back. “Have you kissed him?”

The scowl came back. “Never pegged you for being nosy.”

Jubal laughed. “Might be I’d make a good sheriff. You avoiding the question?”

“Once. It happened once.”

“You kissed him once? Did you care for it?”

The man groaned. “Course I liked it—he surely is a pretty fellow—don’t deny it—but he kissed me… and I reckon I kissed him back, not thinking of anything at the time ’cepting how good it felt, truth be told. His pa be one of my bosses, though. In fact, William Senior be my main one, the one I answer to most.”

“Reckon that could be a problem. Does he have any notion, since his son follows you around like he does?”

“No! Well, he does know some about Billy. Caught him with a boy a couple or three years back, so Billy says. Said he told his pa he ain’t never going to marry no girl no matter what, and if he ever tried to make him, he’d be gone.”

“Whoa! That was brave of him. Do they talk a’tall?” Jubal asked, thinking of his own pa and how much anger he would spew at the thought of a man being with a man.

“Live in the same house. His pa’s a widower, and I don’t know how he feels about it, but he’s good to the boy, always asking after him.”

“He’s not a boy, Reid. You care for him?”

“Now you’re just being annoying.” He stayed quiet for the next minute. “Yep, I suppose I do,” was finally uttered, but the man said nothing else for the rest of the ride, and his frown said he be thinking hard about something.

 

Jubal entered the Land Office to see it was empty ‘cepting for Whitley Casson. Lean, and somewhere between thirty and forty, he appeared surprised when the door opened. “Well, this has been my busiest day since last fall, no doubt about it. Hello, Sheriff, back again? Anything I can help you fellas with?”

“Brought a friend in to see you,” Reid answered as he stepped to the side and let Jubal move past him.

“What can I do for you, sir? Well, I’ll be, aren’t you that farmhand who saved Lucas Rush when he got shot?”

“Suppose I am. Jubal Coyle, sir.”

“Well, glad to finally meet you, Jubal. I’m Whitley Casson, Government Authorized Land Agent for the region. I’ve heard plenty about you, young man.” His hand was offered and Jubal shook it. “You fellas here because of them new folks who arrived in town? Reid?”

“You could say. Just wondering where they headed off to.”

“Ah, well the families went east first.”

“Out Lucas’s way?”

“Yes. They were talking about sticking together if they could, and there are tracts out beside Lucas or the brothers’ farms where they could do that. Same to the west, so they might compare both before deciding. If you rode in from the farm, I’m surprised you didn’t see some of them.”

“Didn’t see no one, but we galloped a stretch, so didn’t look past the trees. Must have been on the south side.” Jubal shared a look with Reid before he cleared his throat. He was thankful they’d hurried the horses along. “I’m here to buy that parcel of land right next to Lucas’s. It’s on the west side of his.”

“Oh, my, that is a surprise.” Whitley appeared extremely pleased, his face lighting up. “Yes… yes, of course we can take care of that. Excellent choice, as I’m sure you already know. Will you be paying in full or—”

“Yes, In full.”

“Excellent. Heard you were a new customer at the bank.”

Jubal came close to rolling his eyes, but the town’s talk didn’t bother him like it would have before. “Is land still three-dollars-fifty an acre?”

Whitley glanced at Reid and smiled. “For now, yes. I expect you heard prices will be rising soon… from the sheriff here?”

“He mentioned it, yep.”

“Well, I can assure you he’s correct.”

Reid grinned. “I had a hunch he be interested in settling on that land, so I went and lit a fire under him.”

“And I thank you for it,” Jubal said, feeling right pleased. “Want my own farm, and always have.”

 

The process was quicker than he expected, and once everything got settled, he thanked Reid again. The man had stuck close the whole time, like a friend would. He was about to mount up when a clearly thoughtful Reid spoke up.

“Jubal?”

“Yep. Something on your mind?”

“I know you’re itching to get back, but you reckon I should take my own advice?”

“What advice?”

“About the land.”

“The land? Not understanding what you’re asking, Reid.”

“Well, it’s occurred to me I should invest in land too, before it goes up. Happens I walked the land next to your new purchase last fall, and I liked it plenty, about as much as yours. It’s got springs too if I remember right.”

“That’s an important thing to be sure of, if you’re thinking on buying it.”

“Yep, I recall it surely does, and there are some good open grazing areas,” he said, his forehead creased in a frown.

Jubal could see the man was serious. “So… you want my advice about your advice?”

“I reckon so. I might only have an hour or two before someone comes back to the land office having chosen that parcel, and then my chance would be gone.”

“Could happen for sure, yep. Sounds them new folks be serious. What would you do with the land if'n you did buy it?”

“Only sure about one thing. Tired of sleeping in the room in back of the office and keeping my gelding at the livery. It be no cost as part of being sheriff, but he got the sniffles twice this past year, and once was real bad. Blew heavy snot for two weeks and wouldn’t eat. Not healthy, him living there all the time with different animals bringing in Lord-knows-what kind of sickness. Had him since I cowboyed, and he deserves better.”

“I see.”

“Suppose I want a cabin of my own too, and a barn, and some room to spread out—a place town folk can’t find me so easy.”

“Maybe a cozy place for Billy to come visit you at?” Jubal asked, trying not to grin.

Reid glared at him. “No, not Billy… not… not what I was thinking ‘bout, so you can quit with that.”

Jubal had to choke down laughter, the man looked so annoyed. “Doesn’t sound like the best life, having a room in the middle of town where everyone knows your business. I couldn’t do it.”

“You think Lucas would mind me being so close?”

“You serious in asking such a thing?”

“No, I suppose not. So… you think I should buy it?”

“I think your advice to me was good. Can’t speak to what you want, though. You have to decide that, but I can tell you we, Lucas and me both, would be happy to have such a good friend as a neighbor.”

Reid smiled for the first time, and his brow relaxed. “All right. Reckon I’ve made up my mind. Got most of what I’ll need since I don’t spend much and been saving all I can, so I’ll go ask Ralph Kimmel for one of them bank loans, or ask Whitley what my choices be for paying part.”

“How much do you need?”

“Not much. Thirty more dollars likely be enough with what I got. Saw that parcel was only ninety-one acres when he brought out the map, so it ain’t as dear as yourn.”

“Thirty dollars ain’t nothing.” He dug in his pocket and took out the paper bounty money he’d forgotten all about. “Take this and forget paying interest on any loan. I know how them things work, and it’s best to own free and clear. Pay me back when you can… no rush a’tall… I still got plenty, as you know well enough.”

“No… can’t do that, Jubal, no matter you got extra. Should never borrow from a friend.”

“You gonna insult me after me saving Lucas? You said you would be forever thankful to me, didn’t you?”

Reid stared at him open-mouthed. “I did and I meant it, but… goddamn… reckon I won’t never play poker with you. Don’t need the whole fifty, but I’ll take thirty of it.”

“Take all of it and bring any you didn’t need out to the farm… or use it for nails and tools. You’ll be needing plenty of those. And I’ll tell you same as Lucas will. You can use anything we got, including Dinah and the wagon. Now I got to get home… got someone waiting to hear what happened… and I want us to walk our new land together.”

Reid laughed, and Jubal suspected it was to cover his blushing red. “Next time I ride up your lane, I’ll call out so you hear me before you see me. Don’t be kissing if them settlers be about,” he whispered.

“We’ll be careful, and you be sure to do that,” Jubal said as he mounted. “Well, look at that, would you?”

“What?” Reid asked, turning his head in the same direction Jubal’s was pointed.

“Here comes Billy, probably missing you something fierce.”

Reid shook his head as he turned back to face him, but Jubal saw the smile. “Go on, get your miserable ass out of here.”

“Adios, muchacho,” he said, laughing as he waved at Billy. He put Pistol into an easy lope and headed for home.

 

*

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