“I’ll go Scott.”
He heard her speak but not what she said as he turned from gazing westward to the mountains. The same direction Murdoch and Johnny had taken long before he’d managed to pull himself out of bed that morning. You’d think he would have learned his lesson the first few times he’d had too much of that snake water Johnny called tequila. Liquor by some stretch of the imagination but only if that imagination had been dulled by the effects of a glass- or two- of something finer. Hell, anything was finer than that rotgut. But if nothing else could be said of Scott Lancer he was tenacious and never one to let a challenge or a bottle get the best of him. Especially when it was offered up and accompanied by the cheeky-grin of a wise-assed younger brother. Home brew shared by a Union campfire was one thing but there was something about tequila that never sat right no matter how much or how little he managed to swallow. So last night was no different than all the others and this morning rattled around much too early like those before. Scott was hung-over right and proper and a few hours behind with no one but Teresa left at the ranch to help him catch up. Well, Maria and the women were here and about, but there was no way any of them would want to make the trip even if he would ever consider and dared to ask. Which he didn’t. And what brought him to where he was at the moment. Dressed…for the most part. Shaved? That could wait ‘til tomorrow. Fed? Not at all unless you count a few sips of hot, black coffee as breakfast. Ready and able…right… not by a long shot, but there was no way in hell he could postpone today’s task or Murdoch would have his hide. Damn, he’d only had a glass of that stuff or so he thought… so what was it she just said? Squinting against the head-splitting brilliance of the California sun he looked in what he hoped was the direction from whence had come the question.
“Did you say something, Teresa?”
“I said,” she paused giving him an appraising look. “I said - gosh Scott, you look terrible!”
“I’m fine, just a little headache. And that’s not what you said.’’
She shook her head which resulted in him seeing two where there had been one just a moment ago. “What I said was I’ll go with you to take those horses over to the Travers’ place.” The look of him made her pause for a moment; she really did think he looked terrible. Kind of green around the gills which meant he was coming down with something and if that were the case should probably stay home. Or had tried yet again to drink some of Johnny’s favorite “aperitif”. She’d heard the two of them talking outside on the veranda after she and Maria had finished up the evening’s dinner dishes. She had also noticed the door of the liquor cabinet standing ajar when she’d gone in to turn down the lamp on Murdoch’s desk; he had gone to bed early that evening or neither one of the brothers would have dared indulge themselves on a work night. Of course with Scott and tequila it only took a little and that’s where her money was as to the root of his ‘discomfort’ this morning. Served him right, he should know better so he’d get no sympathy from her. “From the look of you this morning you could use some help and I’m in the mood for a ride. I haven’t seen Elizabeth and the baby for a while and besides, somebody has to go along and make sure you don’t fall off your horse.” She crossed the few steps to the edge of the veranda picking his hat up off the table as she went. “Here, you look like you could use this.” And after brushing his bangs out of his eyes she plunked his hat a bit more firmly than was necessary onto his pounding head. Which proceeded to pound even more if that was possible. She pulled him down by his shirt collar and gave him a brusque kiss on the cheek. “You need a shave you know, and for heaven’s sake, Scott, when are ever going to learn you just can’t drink tequila?”
“How did you know about the tequila?” Scott tipped his hat back a bit to relieve his aching head and proceeded to take a seat on the nearest bench.
“Oh, let’s just say a little bird told me and leave it at that. Do you want me to come with you or not?”
“Ah, dearest Teresa.” Scott leaned back on the bench, stretching long legs and dusty boots in front of him. “Would that I could ask such a fair maiden to accompany me but I don’t believe my father would be very happy to find out I needed a nursemaid. It’s my own fault and it’s also my responsibility to see that string of horses gets delivered.”
“Now Scott Lancer, who do you think is going to tell him I went along?” and with a conspiratorial grin she turned to go to the barn calling back over her shoulder as she went, “You go get those yearlings rounded up and I’ll pack some supplies and saddle the horses.”
They’d been on the trail for a few hours and fortunately for Scott’s aching head some high clouds had rolled in to block the sun a bit making the trip more bearable. Scott was actually beginning to feel almost human again and Teresa was enjoying the ride. The yearlings had cooperated, for the most part, and it looked like they would make the Travers’ by nightfall. The sun set late in July or the late start in the morning would have made the ride a two-day trip. Spending the night in the Travers’ guest room was much more appealing then sharing a campfire and the hard ground; even if you were sharing it with a good-looking girl like Teresa. “Just think of me as a sister” she’d said those few years ago and most of the time he did just that. But she was pretty…and they weren’t really related… so you couldn’t blame a fella for a few stray thoughts now and then. But no more than thinking because Murdoch was a very big man and you wanted to be a few counties away when he got angry…
Teresa had taken the lead with two of the young horses following, she knew the way to the Trailing T as well as he, probably better if the truth be known, so when she pulled up a little while later he thought it was just to take a break for a drink. The sun was still hot but more clouds had rolled in and there was the feel of rain in the air. Another reason to finish the trip by nightfall because the chance of bad weather later seemed a distinct possibility, and Scott didn’t want to be caught out in a storm with five yearlings who were sure to be spooked by thunder and lightning.
“Scott, it looks like the trail’s washed out a bit up ahead. Must be from that last heavy rain we had. It’s a pretty steep drop over the side. I think we’d better take the horses over one at a time. Do you want to take a look?”
“Wait just a minute and I’ll check it out.” He handed her the leads of the three horses he’d been coaxing along, one in particular was more interested in going back than forward, and rode up to check the condition of the trail.
It took only a few moments to realize Teresa had been right, not that he’d really doubted her assessment in the first place, and Scott turned back to where she and the horses were waiting. “It’s pretty narrow but what’s left is solid so I think we should be ok. Why don’t you go across with the sorrel filly and I’ll bring the others over one at a time?”
“Okay, Scott.” Teresa gave him the lead ropes of all but the filly and with a little whistle and a “come on girl” took her across the wash-out keeping close to the inside of the trail as they made their way across. The last thing she wanted was to end up at the bottom of the ravine. An easy trip across after all and Scott followed with the first of the remaining horses. They had decided to take a lunch break after he brought the last across and then put a push on to be sure they made their destination by sundown, so when Scott had brought all but one of the horses across Teresa headed down the trail toward a grove of trees a short way up ahead.
“I think there’s a little stream in those trees so I’ll water the horses before we eat. Ok Scott?” Teresa turned to see if he had heard just as the last of the yearlings balked at coming across the trail. It was the one who’d been giving him trouble all morning and it looked as if later in the day was going to be no different. Scott got down off his horse and hollered to Teresa, “Grab Dunnie will you? I’m going to walk this one across.” Giving his horse a swat was all it took to send him off and he began the short trip with the last colt. Who decided that the other way was the direction to go and as he pulled to turn began to loose his footing on the edge of the trail. Scrambling to gain purchase for his hindquarters, the horse jerked Scott closer to the edge as he struggled to keep hold of the horse’s lead. Realizing his predicament, Scott gave up the hold on the horse’s head and made his way to try and help the panicked animal pull himself up over the edge. Leaning into the horse’s left shoulder Scott pushed as hard as he could; grunting with exertion and wishing he’d left the animal go hours and miles ago. But a good horse was a good horse and not something you left go without a good reason, so he continued to struggle and push. One last pull of its front quarters brought the colt safely up over the edge and he bolted off down the trail. Miraculously in the right direction. But not before that same left shoulder he’d been pushing sent Scott flying. Not down the trail. Over the edge and down. A long way down. Trying as hard as the horse to catch himself from falling but with no success. He fought hard, grabbing at every rock and tree branch that might slow him down, but none was sturdy or strong enough to hold his weight and he landed at the bottom of the ravine. Hard. Very hard.
Teresa had watched all this as if in slow motion knowing there was nothing she could do to help. She was too far away; she could never make it in time. All she could do was watch. Without a sound. Her hand covering her mouth and eyes wide with fear. Fear knowing that after a fall over that edge there was no way Scott would come back up in one piece. It was just too far and just too rocky. So she watched. And he fell. Fighting so hard not to but falling just the same. She couldn’t see him after he went over the edge but she heard him. Crashing and cursing his way to the bottom with rocks falling and branches snapping as they gave way under his weight. Scott was lean but no lightweight. Strong but not strong enough. And he fell. And then she heard nothing.
Teresa grabbed Duncan’s rein as he went past knowing that she would need the horse later. Growing up on a ranch you learned to get your priorities straight, you didn’t lose your head or bad things happened. Or bad things got much worse when you realized what you needed to tend the person who was surely hurt was a fair bit down the road in the saddlebag of the horse you let run loose because you were so very scared. Teresa knew it was ok to be frightened as long as that fear didn’t make you foolish. She dismounted and ground-tied both the animals. The yearling came within reach and she grabbed his lead and tied him as well then rushed over to where she had last seen Scott.
The path he had taken as he fell down the hillside was clear to see. One of his gloves had torn off and was caught on a branch. Twin trails in the loose dirt where his boot heels had tried to dig in. Snapped-off branches here and there. His hat that he always seemed to fiddle with when he was nervous lay half-way down. She bit her lip then gritted her teeth and looked the rest of the way to the bottom where Scott lay. His shirt was torn and dirty. Blood. That was blood on his shirt. And on his face. What she could see of it as he was on his back head turned to the side. Little more could be seen from the distance and she knew she had to climb down to him, but first to go back to the horses for rope and supplies… but should she go down the trail further on horseback and try to make her way back to Scott from lower ground? There was little chance she could get him to the top of the ravine if there were broken bones and surely something had broken during that terrible fall. Even if she used one of the horses to pull him up she would surely hurt him even more than he already was. Mind made up, Teresa went for her horse and headed down the trail.
It was easier to make her way to Scott than she had dared hope and when she got there he had started to stir. Not awake yet but alive. And she hadn’t known for sure until that moment. She almost cried with relief but not yet. Too much to do to waste time on tears.
“Scott-“ She touched him on the shoulder and gave a gentle nudge. “Scott, it’s me. Teresa. Hold still now while I take a look at you.” His eyes opened at the sound of her voice. Eyes full of confusion and pain. It took a moment for the confusion to pass as Scott began to realize where he was. But not the pain. That would stay and would not leave for a while. But he was awake and that was a good thing. “Teresa, how…how did you get down here?”
“I came around, not down. Now hush while I see where you’re hurt. There’s a lot of blood and I need to see where it’s coming from.” She turned his head and brushed as much of the dirt away as she could. His face was already showing signs of bruising and there were scratches but none deep enough to account for all the blood matting his hair. There it was, a cut above his ear. But not bleeding so much any more. It could wait. She began to open his shirt, tugging at the hem to pull it free. With a sharp intake of breath his hand grabbed at her arm. The one without the glove, the nails broken where he had grabbed at something, anything on his way down.
“That hurts…a lot, Teresa. Take it easy please.” He left go her sleeve leaving blood and dirt behind.
“I’m sorry Scott; I just need to see so I have to move your shirt. Just a little bit more, ok?”
He nodded and closed his eyes, holding his breath while she pulled the shirttail out the rest of the way. A tree branch had gouged a long, deep tear along his left shoulder that might need stitching. Once it was cleaned. Hard to tell for sure how bad it was with all the blood and dirt. She felt for broken bones in his arms but there were none that she could tell. Ribs seemed fine as well with only scrapes and the start of bruises here and there. Thank the Lord for that small favor.
“Scott… I need to you to turn over a little to check your back but first I need to make sure your legs are ok. Do they hurt anywhere?”
He gave just the hint of a smile and shook his head, “Teresa, I couldn’t tell you a place I don’t hurt right now. But my legs, they feel ok. Both in one piece I think.” He moved the left, then the right wincing in pain as he did. “Ahh…my hip. That doesn’t feel so good. But I don’t think anything’s broken. Just banged up good. I think my back’s ok.” A glance was all it took to realize the hip was a problem. A single large bruise stood out angry against the paler skin, it was already swollen and hot to the touch.
“Oh that looks terrible, Scott. Are you sure nothing’s broken?”
“I don’t think so, I can move it ok. Just hurts like hell when I do. But not broken I’m pretty sure.”
Do you think you can roll over or sit up? I still want to take a look at your back to make sure there’s nothing there we need to worry about.”
“If you give me a hand, I think I can sit up. Just take it slow.”
“All right, Scott but I think we’ll just roll over on your side. That should be enough.”
After helping him turn, Teresa slid his shirt to the side and checked his back, other than more scrapes and bruises there was nothing serious she could see. Somehow Scott had made it down without breaking anything. While the rain had made the rocks and soil too loose to give him anything solid to grab on to, the damp soil had cushioned the ride down and had provided a softer surface on which to land. But with that bad hip, riding a horse would be difficult and painful. Well, she’d worry about that after she’d tended what she could. It was only a few more miles to the Travers’ and with a little luck they should make it. Once they got back up to the trail.
“Scott, do you think you can get up on my horse? I’m not sure but I may to need to stitch that cut in your shoulder and it would be a lot easier back up on top there rather than down here on all these rocks. And if the rain starts this gully is going to be nothing but mud.”
“Up? On your horse?” Scott squinted as he seemed to gauge the distance from his spot on the ground to the back of the tall animal. “With some help, sure...” Barely suppressing a groan he tried to stand but with no success. “Maybe.” Settling to the ground again Scott reached his good arm out toward Teresa. “Some help now would be a good thing I think.”
“Let me get behind you, I’ll try to lift you and you just take it easy.”
“Sure Teresa, you’re the boss.”
Teresa may have been a slip of a girl but growing up on a ranch made her stronger than she looked and Scott was shortly on his feet - if still a bit wobbly. “Come on, Scott. Let’s walk over to the horse, go slow and I’ll help. Last thing we need is for you to fall again.”
“Yes ma’am,” he replied as he leaned into her and put his good arm over her shoulder. Teresa wrapped one arm around his waist, the other on his chest and did her best to support him as they began an almost three-legged walk over to the mare.
A moment later the two were standing beside the horse pondering the next move. Teresa moved a bit away as Scott straightened and the two exchanged a wry look. With a bit of a sigh and a look of grim determination on his face, Scott reached for the saddle horn and moved to put his foot in the stirrup. As he did, the pain in his right hip flared up and his leg began to fold. Leaning heavily against the mare’s side he paused, “Okay, that’s not going to work.” Looking around he noticed a small boulder to their left. “Why don’t we take the horse over there and maybe you can give me a boost up on that rock?”
“That sounds like a good idea, can you walk by yourself or do you need some help?” Shaking his head in reply Scott began to make his way gingerly toward the boulder. Teresa gathered the reins of her horse and made to follow. “Come on, Sadie. Let’s go give Scott a ride.”
A moment later, Scott managed to get himself up in the saddle. His hip angrily reminding him of the earlier ride downhill, he gingerly settled in for the ride back to the top. Teresa began to lead the horse as quickly as possible yet slow enough that Scott remained upright. A quick glance to the sky proved worrisome, the storm that had been threatening for some time appeared to have gathered speed and was now on their doorstep. Last thing either of them needed was a soaking, Scott least of all, so she tried to move the horse a bit faster. They were almost to the top when a sudden clap of thunder startled all three, the horse most of all and she tried to bolt.
“Whoa, Sadie. Hold up!” Teresa hollered as she pulled hard on the reins to stop the frightened animal. “Scott-” turning, she saw him struggling to keep his seat on the horse. She grabbed the bridle and pulled down on the horses head as she grabbed a handful of mane in an attempt to keep the mare from unseating a slipping Scott. Soothing words helped calm the skittish animal and Scott managed to pull himself upright.
“Okay, that was fun but let’s not do that again,” the ashen-faced young man muttered. “Let’s get up to the top before I fall off this horse for sure.”
As they began the trip back up to the trail, they felt the first few drops of rain. Teresa was worried; soaked and cold was the last thing Scott needed to be in his condition. Not knowing how long the storm might last, she decided it would be better to try and find cover rather than attempt the last bit of ride to the Travers’ ranch. They had packed bedrolls just in case and with a little ingenuity and the help of a few closely spaced pines she’d noticed earlier, Teresa thought she would be able to rig a bit of cover to keep the two of them reasonably dry. And a fire as long as the heavy rain held off for just a bit longer. A quick glance at Scott was enough to see a man showing serious signs of just how hard that fall had been. He could barely keep his head up and was slumping lower in the saddle. She’d heard him mutter a few select curses under his breath just a bit ago when her horse had taken a bad step and nearly thrown him. But she knew he’d hold on long enough, he would make it to the top. No doubt about that.
A few moments later and they’d both made it. Scott’s horse was still where Teresa had left him just waiting for someone to tell him what to do next. Seeing the two of them with Sadie, Dunnie decided he’d waited long enough and with a shake of his head managed to pull the reins loose and made his way over to his stable mate. With the rain still a drizzle Teresa led the horses into the stand of trees looking for the right spot to make camp. Not too far ahead she saw what she’d been looking for - a small grove of tall pines with branches just far enough above ground to give them the shelter they needed, yet not too close that a fire would be a problem. Time now to try and get Scott off the horse without causing any further damage. The same Scott who at that moment was wondering how the hell he was going to get back on the ground. He was not looking forward to making the attempt. The short ride on the level had been just long enough for him to settle into a position that had eased some of the aches and pains which he knew for damn sure would kick back in with a vengeance once he started to move again.
“Scott - do you think you can get down all right?” Teresa looked up at him with more than a little concern. “I can help you, just let me know what you want me to do, ok?”
“Just hold the horse steady, Teresa, while I get off. But be ready to catch me. On second thought be ready to drop me if you think you can’t hold me up, don’t want to fall on you. Bad enough one of us is banged up…”
“Don’t you worry Scott Lancer, I’ll keep your skinny arse off the ground.”
“Teresa! My ‘arse’?”
“Oh be quiet, you know what I mean and don’t act so shocked. Like you’ve never heard harsh language before. Now get off that horse before we both get soaked.”
So with only a little hesitation Scott made the attempt. He leaned into the horse’s neck as he took his weight on his good leg and began to swing his right over the saddle. And promptly stopped. “This isn’t going to work, I can’t get my leg up high enough.”
“Here, hold the reins while I come around the other side. Bring your good leg over Sadie’s neck and then ease on down the rest of the way.”
Despite the backward dismount the horse held steady, Scott slid down, and Teresa held on to him long enough for him to get his balance. Not too bad all things considered. She left him standing up against the horse, and in a few moments more Teresa had rigged a roof of sort under the trees from the oilcloths their bedrolls had been wrapped in and the slicker Scott hadn’t bothered with on the ride up. Nothing fancy, but added to the protection afforded by the pines, they’d keep dry enough as long as the wind didn’t kick up. She spread out the bedrolls and helped Scott ease himself down. “I’m going to get some wood to start a fire, are you ok for now? Do you need anything?”
“I’m fine, you go ahead.” Scott was anything but fine but would never admit it. “I could use a little water, I’m kind of thirsty. If it’s not any bother…”
She brought him the canteen and before he realized, Teresa was back with enough wood to keep them warm for a bit. Kneeling she worked to bring flame to the kindling but the damp wood was stubborn.
“Teresa, there’s a book in my saddlebag. Tear out a couple of pages and see if that helps.”
Realizing the need for warmth was more important than a book that could be replaced; Teresa simply nodded and went to the horse to gather the necessary item. She gave Dunnie a pat and a promise to be back soon to “get him ready for bed”. Teresa was tired; bone tired but knew it would be a while until she had the luxury of sleep. A few moments later she had the beginning of a friendly fire and water on the boil. The rain had ended, for the moment at least, and it was time to tend to Scott’s wounds. A sound asleep Scott at this point, and Teresa hated to wake him but knew it had to be done. Even the small cuts and scrapes had collected their fair share of dirt as Scott fell and if left untended infection was a sure thing. Once finished he could sleep ‘til morning.
“Scott,” Teresa ran fingers through his bangs then felt his forehead. Warm. And the afternoon had grown cool. She rested her hand on his bruised cheek. “Scott you need to wake up now. I know you’re tired but we have to get you cleaned up.”
Weary eyes, eyes filled with pain, opened just a bit. Then closed again as he turned his head into her hand.
Teresa shifted her hand and gave his good shoulder a little shake but not before pausing just a moment to stroke his cheek and wipe away a smudge of dirt and blood. “I know you’re in there Scott Lancer. I don’t like this any more than you do but it’s got to be done. Now wake up for me. Please.”
Eyelids fluttered then opened as he began to stir. He coughed and winced as even the small movement caused him pain. “Okay… I’m awake. Just drifted off there for a bit.”
“The water’s warm and this won’t take long. Then you can sleep all you want. Let me start with your face.” Wringing out a soapy cloth, Teresa brushed Scott’s hair off his forehead and wiped gently. “Best to start at the top and work our way down, don’t you think Scott?”
“Uh huh,” Scott winced and clenched his teeth as Teresa rubbed a little too hard on a deeper cut above his eyebrow. He took a deep breath and let it out slow. “Ow, go a little easy Teresa.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m sorry Scott. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Going a little slower and a little softer Teresa finished with his brow and gently wiped the rest of his face pausing a moment to inspect a scrape on his chin. Crusty with dried blood and small pieces of grit she hesitated, “I’m going to soak this a little, maybe then it won’t hurt so much. There’s a lot of dirt kind of ground in here that’s going to take a little work to get out.” Turning to her basin, not really a basin but a small fry pan she’d brought in case they wanted something hot for lunch, Teresa rinsed the cloth then her hands. Already blood - Scott’s blood - and dirt had stained the palms. She pushed an errant strand of hair off her forehead then returned to the task at hand. “Can you turn your head a little for me a Scott?” No reply. “Scott, can you-“ Scott quietly turned his head. “Well, I guess you can.” She smiled then thought to herself. “And even in the right direction.” Carefully she cleaned the deep cut that had bled so much, trying to get as much dried blood out of his hair as well but not wanting to start the bleeding again. That silky blond hair was stiff with blood and she couldn’t get it all. Well, she would just have to wash it for him when they got out of here. Scott’s hair…she’d always wanted to run her fingers through it, it looked so fine and soft and smelled so good. She would get a hint of the scent as he’d give her a hug when he’d been leaving or coming home. Sometimes she’d hold on just a little bit longer than need be to feel the nearness of him, lean into and rest her head on that strong chest. Keep her arms around his lean waist for an extra second or two. “Just think of me as a sister,” she’d said. God, there were days she found herself wishing she was anything but…giving a little shake she turned her attention back on what she’d been doing. Looking closely at the cut, she noticed it seemed to have closed somewhat on the ride up, maybe it didn’t need stitching after all. With nothing for the pain, Teresa hoped to avoid the need to cause Scott any more hurt than he already had. She’d watch it closely and if it didn’t start bleeding she’d let it go. Bandage it tight and make sure that it didn’t get infected. Having decided, she then cleaned the long scrape on his shoulder. It too had stopped bleeding on its own. Would seem that someone had been looking out for Scott Lancer this day besides this slip of a girl and maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to make the last part of the trip to the Travers’ place in the morning. As long as the rest of the night went well. It would seem all that was left to tend was Scott’s banged up hip. The hip that was safely tucked away under belt and pants and whatever was underneath. Well, she knew what was underneath. She’d washed them enough. But she’d never actually seen Scott in them. Scott was a private man. Not like Johnny who’d parade around stripped down to nearly nothing not caring much who was around to see. Murdoch had spoken to him about his relative state of undress on more than one occasion but gave up deciding, she’d guessed, that as long as he kept the most important parts covered it wasn’t a battle worth fighting. Funny, but while Johnny was handsome, very handsome- no, make that very, very handsome she’d never felt around him quite like she did with Scott. Johnny was a brother. Oh, not by blood, but in every other way. Scott…Scott was different. She’d catch herself daydreaming about Scott Lancer. What it would be like to - but that was her secret and would always be. Look but don’t touch. Now that was the trick wasn’t it? “Good Lord, Teresa, get you mind back on what you were doing.” But how was she supposed to tend his hip if all she did was look? She thought she would need Scott’s help but he had drifted off again while she’d been lollygagging and she hated to wake him one more time. So she undid his buckle and eased his pants open just a bit so that she could slide them down on the hip enough to see if the skin had been broken or was just bruised. And keeping her eyes focused directly on that hip and only that. She couldn’t tell; not enough light. She hadn’t noticed it was getting dark ‘til now. Teresa suddenly felt very tired, all the adrenalin that had gotten her down and then back up that hill had faded, leaving her hungry and worn out. But she’d take care of herself after she finished with Scott. There was a candle in her saddlebag. Don’t ask her why, she always packed one and that was that. Lighting the candle she held it close and checked Scott’s hip. God that must hurt! Black and blue and purple already, swollen and hot to the touch. But no blood and no wound to clean. No need to remove his pants then. When he’d been hurt before Johnny or Murdoch had undressed him. Or she had helped Maria. Not something she’d ever done all by herself. And not something she was going to do now. Teresa then did up what had been undone, and covered Scott with a blanket. He stirred just a little, mumbling under his breath and turning a little onto his good side.
Well, that was it. She hoped it was enough. If all went well, with a good night’s rest and a hot breakfast Scott might be able to ride tomorrow. If not, they would wait another day then go on to the Trailing T. They might be a little late getting back to Lancer but Johnny and Murdoch wouldn’t be home until next week so no one need tell them of Scott’s failure to win the battle with tequila once again. He’d probably still be a little sore but that was to be expected and was through no fault of his own but that crazy horse who couldn’t seem to do anything quite right. That would be Caleb Travers’ problem soon enough and good riddance to the darn animal. Teresa suddenly remembered how tired she was. Her neck had gotten a kink from leaning over so long. She gave it a long turn about and a stretch then shrugged shoulders which were feeling little better than her neck. Sighing, she rubbed her face with both hands trying to will the weariness away, then used those hands to hold a head suddenly grown too heavy. Eyes closed, she sat there, head and hands drooping even more, elbows resting on her knees. She needed to clean up both herself and her supplies. But in a minute. She would lie down for just a minute, just a bit of a rest before finishing up. Scott wouldn’t mind if she shared his blanket, but only for a minute. She put a few more logs on the fire then unfolded the blanket which had still been doubled and laid down next to him. She felt his forehead which seemed cooler than before. “That’s good.” A hint of a smile then Teresa closed her eyes. She listened to Scott breathe. In then out. Deep, even breaths. No snoring, she didn’t think Scott snored. Johnny snored. You could hear him all the way down the hall at times. So did Murdoch but he would never admit it. Teresa moved closer to Scott, the hot day had given way to a cooler evening. But just for a minute. Then she would get up, get something to eat. Finish what needed finishing. Shivering a little in the cool air, she pulled the blanket closer. As she did Scott rolled onto his back and turned his head toward hers. A quick glance showed his face relaxed, peaceful, and very close. No signs of pain like before - the clenched jaw, lips thinned as he rode through the pain. Those lips…she raised a hand, a single finger reaching. Dared she? Her fingertip passed whisper soft over the outline of that perfect mouth. She pulled her hand back. Should she? An opportunity such as this may never come again. Alone…Scott unaware. Teresa rose up on an elbow, leaned in just a little. And gave those lips a feather light kiss. But only one. Another might lead places neither should go. Snuggling just a little bit closer to the man who meant the world to her Teresa pillowed her head on her hands and drifted off to sleep. A very long day was finally over for both Scott and Teresa. A ragged start with an even rougher middle, but an end that was not as bad as it could have been. The ‘only a minute’ became two, then more. Neither would wake ‘til sunrise.