Ray breathed a little easier as the pair of them rode into Denver just as the sun was starting to illuminate the Rockies in the distance. Hope had been right when she said he had no idea what to do on this side of the law. He was not cut out to be looking over his shoulder all the time. The loss of Rawlins was a heavy weight on the two of them, but he was having a hard time not being drawn to Hope. Ray had been watching her. Hope was closed in on herself refusing the smallest kindnesses he had offered. So he stopped offering them. If there was something Ray was good at, it was letting women go that wanted nothing to do with him.
Hope signaled for him to follow her down a road that looked like much of the others they had already passed. It was clear they had left the law-abiding part of town a few blocks back. When Hope came to a stop in front of a brothel he was mildly shocked. Even if Hope was comfortable in the shadier side of life, she had always carried herself with a clear air of not wanting to be bothered by strangers. A brothel was the last place Ray expected Hope to waltz right up to.
“We’ll lay low here. Rest up. The bank opens in a few hours,” Hope said not exactly meeting his eyes. She was embarrassed he realized.
“Why here,” Ray questioned.
“This is Ma’s place.” Hope said matter-of-factly.
Before he could continue question her a stocky woman came out of the house, “Hope, is that you?”
Hope looked up and greeted the woman, “Sadie, it is.”
“Don’t worry about your horse, girl. I’ll have George take them both in a tick. Come on up here. It looks like you need some food in you and a hot bath. Come on. Bring that cowboy up here, too.” Sadie was short and had her hair hidden underneath a bandana that could have been any color once upon a time. Her eyes were sharp, missing nothing. Sadie may have been twice his age, but Ray was fairly sure she could hold her own in this part of town.
Ray followed the two women in to the bawdy house. The house was furnished with what may have been expensive furniture when they were new. Years of constant use took their toll. Cushions were sagging and the colors had faded. The mirrors on the walls were in need of a good wash and polish. The carpets were threadbare in spots. Sadie led the way to the back of the house into a kitchen that was starkly different from the front. Everything was orderly and clean. Surfaces gleamed with a care that the rest of the house was lacking.
“Sit,” the older woman ordered. Hope slid into a chair with her back to a wall so she could see the room at large. Ray was tempted to take the seat next to her not wanting to be at a disadvantage, but chose the one across from her instead.
Sadie sat down a bowl of beef stew in front of them both. In between she placed a half loaf of bread. Ray wanted to weep real tears when he took his first bite of the hot stew. He hadn’t had anything hot to eat since before he went on the run.
After their bowls were emptied Sadie busied herself with cleaning up the dishes while carrying on with a string of questions for them.
Sadie was shocked to learn that Rawlins was murdered, “I suspect you’ll be wanting to see your Ma then,” the older woman said solemnly.
“You know I wouldn’t be here if I could help it,” Hope replied. She was shredding a slice of bread while her stew went mostly untouched.
“Go on up. I’ll see to the horses are taken care of. How about your man? Does he need his own room?” Sadie directed the question to Ray.
“I’m not her man, Miss Sadie. I’ll,” Ray started.
“He stays with me,” Hope nearly yelled.
Ray shot Hope a glare. He was pleased to note that he must have conveyed his irritation because Hope paled slightly, “I guess I can’t refuse the lady,” Ray said with as much sarcasm he could manage.
Sadie cleared her throat a bit and said, “Well, I’ll let you two figure out the details. I’ll see that your horses have been seen to and let your Ma know you’re here dearie. Your room is ready for you as it always is.”
It was a clear dismissal if Ray had ever heard one. He got up from the table. The stew had made him long for some shut eye in a real bed. Though, he had a feeling that sleep would still be a few hours off.
Hope left the room with all the enthusiasm of a woman going to her execution. Hope had forgotten her pack on the floor where she had put it when she sat down to eat. Ray picked up her bag along with his own and followed her slowly from the kitchen. He would come back once he was settled somewhere to see that the horses were properly tended.
The room that Hope opened was on the top floor near the back of the three story building. Just about as far from the evening revelry as could be Ray guessed. Hope stood ramrod straight before entering the room. It was a cozy spot, if a bit neglected. As Sadie, said, the room looked as though it had been waiting patiently for someone to stay. Ray closed the door behind them.
“Now, Travers, don’t go getting any ideas about staying with me,” Hope said with her usual bravado standing ramrod straight in the middle of the room.
“Then why should I stay with you, Hope,” Ray said looking her in the eye. It was the first time he had said her first name.
Hope’s eyes cut away from him and landed somewhere on the floor, finally a chink in the thick armor. Ray put the bags he was carrying down and walked over to Hope. He took a finger and gently lifted her chin so that she was looking at him again.
Her brown eyes were uncertain but her voice was steel, “It doesn’t matter, cowboy, stay where ever you want. I just figured it would be easier as you’re wanted. I’d imagine there are women in this house whose lips are as loose as their legs.”
“Now, it looks like you’re getting ideas, Hope, of what I’d be doing if I were separate from you. Green isn’t your color,” Ray said. His finger slid from her chin along her delicate jaw to her earlobe, and finally to her hair at the nape of her neck. The feel of her under his hand was lighting a fire inside that had been long put out.
Ray felt trapped in her gaze when there was an abrupt rapping from the closed door.
Hope looked panicked and rushed out of arm’s length. Though he wasn’t sure if it were because of their close proximity or because they were interrupted. Ray wanted to curse whomever it was that interrupted them.
The door opened before either one of them had spoken to the intruder.