Excerpt: The Good, The Bad, And the Downright Sinful

From a cabinet, Maddie had gathered some older linen, and filled a basin of hot water. She placed the basin onto a humble nightstand beside the bed, grabbed a chair, and hunched her shoulder over the edge of bed when she sat down. A finger gently brushed away a strand of hair, matted from the bloody gash on his cheek. She wrung the cloth and wipe over the drier blood. He barely stirred. When a brow twitched to discomfort, she let out a breath, with the validation of him still being alive.

Moments later, Holt stirred and tried to speak. Maddie stopped what she was doing and lifted the cloth from his cheek. She lowered her mouth near his ear and whispered, “Mr. Holt, it’s okay, I’m here.

His eyes struggled to stay open as he stammered several words.

“What are you trying to say?”

“Morning… won’t remember.” His eyes flashed to the parted curtain, prompting Maddie to twist around and look through the opening to where Boone was fast asleep.

She rose up and drew the curtain fully closed before regarding what he had just said. “Boone won’t remember this in the morning?”

His eyes fluttered open and then closed, before he swallowed stiffly. “Yes.” His throat worked another swallow before taking a shallow breath. “Take his horse… you, Clayton, leave.”

“Mr. Holt, I can’t. I won’t leave you like this. You have serious wounds that need tending.” Maddie thought about the real reason why she couldn’t go; fear of what Boone would do to Holt if she did. For some reason, Boone was kept at bay whenever she was around. More than concern about Holt’s safety was that something inside telling her to stay right where she was―here by Holt’s side.

“Get me the gun,” Holt stated his tone drifting.

“Mr. Holt, I just couldn’t. You’re in no condition to fire a revolver, let alone hold one.”

Although indolent, he peered up to strengthen his request. “The gun,” he adamantly repeated. Maddie knew the rifle, left between the nightstand and bed, was their answer. She looked, and her eyes widened, seeing it gone from the spot.

She veiled the concern. With the rifle likely in Boone’s possession, Holt didn’t need the worry of another concern. “Mr. Holt, please, please, just rest.”

“Ms. Maddie, get… get me…” Maddie waited for him to finish, but his words weakened and he drifted out cold. Now she only prayed that Holt would simply make it through the night.

A few hours later, Maddie was utterly exhausted. The gash at his cheek had given her a world of grief, and she wondered if the bleeding would ever stop. Besides a few restless instances where he had called several names, including hers, Holt had for the most part remained somewhat tranquil and was able to sleep.

She rose up, adjusting her shawl, and then turned to the curtain and peered through it. Through low croaked snores, Boone slept soundly, offering a tranquil appearance that was so contradictory to his lethal side. A side from which she should escape, but travel into town would mean a half-day, if not more, depending on the challenges of nightfall and weather permitting. If Maddie was to leave, it would have to be by first morning light.

Maddie returned to the chair beside the bed and sat down. She swept several strands of fallen hair from his face, and then gently touched his bristled jaw that was chiseled and strong; especially when riled. She let out an elusive smile for such a handsome face, now bruised by deplorable barbarity. The smile soon faded.

She dipped the cloth into the water, now grown cold, and wrung it lightly. She dabbed an edge along his mouth which instinctively parted to quell his thirst. She allowed water to dribble into his mouth until he was content and drifted back restful.

A short time later, Maddie raised her head from its rest along the edge of the bed after alerted by Holt’s mutters. She rose over him with a hand softly cupping the side of his face. He uttered her name. She slowly repeated it, and for some reason, it came from his lips familiar and comforting, as though she had heard it a thousand times before.

“Mr. Holt, I’m here,” she softly murmured to let him know she was near. Her hip eased onto the bed beside him, and leaned over him. Her face neared his, angling and mirroring his. The irons clanked briefly as his hands began to move, feeling blindly to where her hand lay along his cheek. His eyes opened as he sought to find her face.

“Mr. Holt, what is it? What do you need to say?”

His throat worked through its dryness. “Stay away…”

“Rest, Mr. Holt. You’ve been through a very trying time.”

“Stay away from…” he stammered weakly.

“Marshal Boone?” she said, concluding his words.

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