IN A HEARTBEAT
A Western Comedy
"I can't believe you talked me in to staying in some fancy-smacy boardinghouse when Ma Brewsters would do for half as much," Ran scoffed.
"Wait until you eat your supper, then you'll be singing the praises for Miss Adams' Establishment. She's worth her weight in gold, not to mention the nice clean beds. You won't find bed bugs either like you might pick up at them other place where they never laundry their sheets. Yep, it's worth every penny. If after tonight, you want to go back, so be it. But when I'm in town, this is where you'll find me putting my spurs up," his friend Lewis asserted.
"I wouldn't mind a good meal, I must admit. But what's this you say about the mistress of the house?" They were walking through the dusty streets to where the warm glow of candlelight in the windows ahead beckoned.
"Oh, she's a beauty. Almost every man still breathing in town has asked for her hand in marriage only to be scorned. Wait until you see her. She's not quite nineteen, but has been running their boardinghouse since she was sixteen when her mother fell ill and took to her bed. The poor woman passed away last year. Her granddaddy built the place, and she's working hard to keep it. Yep, she's quite a gal alright. She runs a tight ship too. Miss Adams doesn't put up with any foolishness from her boarders either, that's for sure."
"Just a young thing, is she. Sounds as if you are smitten. Why don't you ask for hand?"
"Ah, she wouldn't have me. I'm just an ol'cowpoke. I'd be just like all the rest she's turned down, so why try?" he sighed.
It was just as Lewis said, enough to make even Ran doff his hat upon entering as a bell rang when they opened the door. The proprietress soon met them. She made Ran feel like the dirt under his boots as he stood all dusty before her dewy freshness as if she'd just been created in God's own Garden of Eden.
"Miss Adams," Lewis said wringing his hat with his head almost hanging as if in front of royalty, "this here is my friend Ran who wants to stay in the other bed in my room, if you please, ma'am."
The young woman who had walked up to them was indeed so lovely that Ran was almost speechless. She said firmly, "Do you understand the rules of my establishment and are you willing to abide by them, sir?"
"Yes, ma'am," he barely choked out.
"Then hand over your gun belt. It is not allowed inside. I will return it when you leave."
"Over my dead body, ma'am!" He suddenly found his voice again. "I mean no offense, but nobody, no how takes my guns from me!" Ran stood ramrod straight feet spread apart and glared into the gorgeous eyes which had narrowed into a steely gleam. She was a good twelve inches shorter than his six-two height, but somehow he felt like he had just shrunk.
"Very well then. Be off with you. I can tell you aren't the type of gentleman that I can offer a room to," she said cold as ice.
"Now, don't be so hasty." Ran looked from her to his friend. "Did you hand your guns off to this woman, Lewis? I'm surprised at you."
"Certainly. I don't need them while I'm sleeping here. She provides them every time when I get ready to leave," his friend assured him.
"I don't know." Ran scratched his head and thought of the bed bugs elsewhere and huffed. "I guess it would be alright for one night."
He caught her eye as she watched him as he undid his belt, and grinned. "So you like what you see? It is a nicely tooled one, I'll admit." He wanted to see her riled. He knew she had a fire behind those dark brown eyes that had stared him down.
A blush crept up her face as she turned away and put out her hand.
Instead, Ran stepped up close and wrapped it around her waist as she gasped, "What on earth are you doing?"
"Why, I thought you liked it and might want to try it on for size," he winked.
"Sir, you are too bold." She grabbed it off. "If you are to stay under my roof, I expect proper decorum. You are not off to a good start." With that, she whisked around them and glided towards the dining room. "Dinner is served," she threw over her shoulder. "Then she realized that she was still holding his gun belt heavy with his pistols. "Please excuse me, while I deposit this for you in the other room."
Ran stopped to watch where she went in case he might need them when she wasn't available. He noted that she went in the door across from the staircase. Satisfied, he sauntered in and saw a table covered in a linen cloth with two silver candle sticks and set with nice matching ironstone. On the buffet was a myriad of covered dishes enough to make his mouth water. He ambled over to where Lewis was already seated.
"You weren't pulling my leg, my friend. This is quite a spread," he said tucking his napkin in under his chin.
When Miss Adams entered, the gentlemen stood. Finally, Ran half rose from his chair while she was seated. "My, my, my aren't we fancy around here," he whispered too loudly to his friend. "Hail to the Queen and all that rot."
"Shall we pray?" Miss Adams threw him a look that could kill then folded her hands and blessed the food.
It was so much like his mother used to do that Ran's throat went dry. When was the last time he had prayed over a meal? Maybe when he was still home at fourteen? But when a maid from the kitchen began bringing over the food to pass around, it broke him out of his thoughtful revelry. The meal was sumptuous. Indeed, it was better than Lewis had said, so much better that he thought perhaps it was the best he'd ever eaten. "Sorry, Ma, but it's true," he confessed half aloud, "even better than your cooking."
"What's that?" Lewis asked with his mouth full.
"Nothing. This food is tolerable."
"Tolerable? Why it's delicious!" Lewis exclaimed loudly.
Miss Adams looked up sharply and glared. He had once again offended her.
"It is tasty, I said," Ran mumbled but loud enough so that she could hear.
As his stomach became full, the ambiance of a pleasant home satisfied his being in a way he had not even realized was empty. He studied their hostess. Miss Adams was lovely and gracious speaking quietly to those next to her enough to make him feel jealous. He wanted to know what fell from her lips which had them so bewitched, those lovely lips as pink as the roses which were gathered in a crystal vase in the center of the table. Indeed, her cheeks were as soft as those petals. He wanted to stroke them, but instead picked up a fallen petal and rubbed it between his fingers then smelled its faint fragrance. It made him wonder if she smelled as sweet.
Miss Adams looked up as he was staring, but he boldly met her gaze. She raised one inquisitive eyebrow before looking back to her dinner companion. Yes, he was most certainly jealous. He was up to the challenge of Miss Adams in her ivory tower. She had met her match though and was about to find it out. He kept his eyes upon her unswervingly,. He could tell it undid her as she glanced ever so often his way.
"So, Ma'am," he finally said loudly over everyone else, "my friend here says that most every man in town has asked for your hand. I think Lewis would make a mighty fine match for you. You couldn't do better than him, I'll swear..."
Lewis was elbowing him sharply, "Hush, you idiot!" But Ran was undeterred.
"Yes, he's as fine a fellow as you could hope to find anywhere in these parts. He's good with a lasso and can ride like the wind. You should see him with a branding iron, and I know he'd like to brand you..."
"Sir, I insist that you stop this inconsiderate prattle. You are no gentleman indeed. If you continue in this manner, I will insist that you leave." She threw her napkin down and stalked into the kitchen. The other guests were aghast.
"Now why'd you have to go and do such a stupid thing, Ran? I guarantee you don't want to miff her, certainly not before the pie is served."
"Pie? That ought to sweeten Miss Prissy up a bit. Well, if you are not man enough to offer yourself up to the lady, I thought I'd give you a hand," he smirked.
"Don't even try to tangle with her. You'd be as dead as a bloated steer on a hot day."
"Now there's no call to..." but Ran's lips fell to salivating when Miss Adams and her kitchen help brought out four pies, one in each of their hands. "Well, shut my mouth. I won't say another word until I sample one of each of those. I just thought I was full, but I think I found my hollow leg."
"Mind your manners then, dummy. I don't want to get thrown out with you," Lewis hissed.
"There's an apple, a blackberry, a custard, and a cherry pie. You may help yourself to which ever slice you prefer after we serve them up." He'd like a slice of her, he thought, but bit back that remark. He'd have to behave at least until he et up his pie.
The women set the dessert on the sideboard and began serving them onto small plates. The dinner guests began to line up to help themselves. Ran took two plates but not before he slid an extra piece on each of them so that true to his word, he had one of each.
Miss Adams looked disapprovingly at him as he sat down, but he just tipped his cup to her and smiled as the maid came around with the coffee pot.
Ran was tired of the quiet conversation that hummed around the table without him, so he tried again. "What do you think about the new reverend, folks? I heard he's nothing but a stuffed shirt who got run out of New England on a rail and landed out here riding a dust devil. Ouch! Now why are you jabbing me with your bony elbow again, Lewis?"
An old but dignified man to the left of Miss Adams rose to his feet. "I resent that remark, young man. I am the new reverend, and I came out west here for my health after my dear wife departed from this earth. You, sir, are insufferable." The elderly gentleman walked away from the table with his thin shoulders thrown back and his chin up in the air. He'd have looked more formidable if he didn't still have his napkin tucked under his chin stained with cherry juice from his piece of pie.
"Sorry, sir. I tried to tell my friend here that it was purely gossip. Evidently he heard wrong."
"I said no such thing, Ran, and you know it!" Lewis growled loud enough that everyone heard it.
"Mr. Ran--I don't know your last name, sir--but this is your final warning. How dare you smear my guests with such slander! You are dismissed from the dining room before you cause any more calamity."
He winked and grabbed his last piece of pie in the cloth napkin and strode away from the table.
"There is no food allowed in the rooms" he heard her calling, so he took two huge bites making sure she saw him devour it on the way upstairs."
Lewis was on his heels. "I'm sorry I ever got the crazy idea to invite your uncivilized hide here. You are a first class lout. You're going to get me in trouble yet, and we'll both be thrown out on our ear."
"Why that little bitty thing Miss Adams wouldn't hurt a flea and certainly couldn't as much as shove a cowboy down her steps."
As soon as they got to their rooms, Lewis settled into his bed and soon was sawing logs like a lumberjack. Ran laid there thinking about Miss Adams, the way her eyes flashed in anger, deadly but stunning, the way her chestnut hair was woven into braids with a few wayward curls that fell around her face and across her neck. That was enough to occupy his mind until he thought upon those lips again. It lit a fire in his belly that made him sit up, put his boots back on and find the stairs. He hoped she might still be up and about. He wandered the rooms downstairs. Just the maid was finishing up in the kitchen. He looked in the parlor, the library, and listened at the door across from the stairs. He tried the knob.
Miss Adams was so startled when he opened that no sound came out of her parted lips. Fortunately for him she was still dressed though he could hardly keep his eyes off her.
"Evening, ma'am. I didn't know this was your bed chamber else I would have knocked. But I saw you bring my guns in here, and I thought I'd like to take a little stroll in the moonlight and felt the need to strap 'em on. Would you care to join me?"
She had backed up against a dresser holding onto the knobs for dear life with one hand while the other covered her heart. She never let her gaze break from his, "You, sir, are incorrigible. How dare you enter a ladies room!"
"You told me I could have my guns any time I left the premises, so that would be about now. Are they in that drawer behind you, ma'am?" By now he had walked right up to the lady and was looking down into the dark pools of her eyes.
She was frightened, but not terribly so, that is until he did the unthinkable. He caught her up in a kiss losing his hand in her silky tresses while drawing her close with his other. She was sweeter than honey and he drank deeply until she arched away and slapped him. He let her go so suddenly that she almost fell back. Instead she jerked open the drawer and thrust his gun belt towards him as if it were a snake.
"Take it and be gone. You are not welcome here. You are no gentleman that is for certain."
He took his belt but captured her hand as well and kissed it too. "But you most certainly are a lady, an unforgettable woman." He took his time looking her over slowly up and down before sighing and taking his leave.
"Do not come back or I'll call the sheriff."
That kiss had Ran so twisted up inside that he did what he hadn't done in years. He went to the saloon. Whenever one of the ladies of the evening tried to wrap her arms around his neck or sit on his lap, he brushed them away as if they were pesky flies. He only wanted a bottle, no glass needed.
Finally, he had dulled his senses enough and found his way back to the boarding house. He tried the front door, but it was locked. Instead he went round the porch and checked the windows. Sure enough, he found one open, pushed the sash up further and climbed inside. Unexpectedly, he found himself back in Miss Adams' chamber. She was sitting up in bed where she'd been reading and was as white as a sheet.
"Don't scream now, Sweetie Pie. I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just bringing my pistols back like you said I should," he purred. But he tripped over her shoes and fell on top of her bed on his way to her dresser.
He brought his hand up in lightning speed covering her mouth to stifle her scream. "Now, sugar, I said I promised I wouldn't hurt you, so don't be afraid of ol'Ran." Her eyes were so wide and dark like melted chocolate that Ran could not stop himself from falling into them. "You are so dang beautiful, ma'am," then he slipped his hand away and kissed her again. It was sweeter than the last time and for a minute, he thought she was kissing him back until she turned into a wildcat."
"You are drunk!" She slapped his chest. "Get out! Get out!" she hissed. Now she was hitting him over the head with her book. Next she was kicking him. I'm getting the sheriff." By then she had grabbed a letter opener off her dresser tried to use it in a threatening manner.
She stood there in her nightgown quivering with anger, but a nightgown no less. He thought her the prettiest thing he'd ever laid eyes on, and stared at her comely shape. He wasn't sure if he was drunk or just dreaming.
He followed her out as she grabbed a duster and struggled half into it as she ran out the front door and down the street.
"Aw, shucks, you don't have to do this, Miss Adams. It was purely a mistake. I just happened across your room and took a tumble. A kiss isn't a crime now, is it?"
"Yours most certainly is!" She was vehement.
"Now you won't have me locked up. Surely you wouldn't do that. I haven't been this liquored up since I my grannies' lemonade fermented. I'll jest go quietly up to my bed with my friend Lewis and won't trouble you again."
"You may never step foot across my threshold--nor climb in my window for that matter--ever again! I've had enough of you," She pounded on the door where they had arrived, "Sheriff!" She loudly hammered on the door again while Ran was sobering up quickly and trying to coax her away.
"Miss Adams, what brings you out in the middle of the night?" The man had the audacity to look at her with a wry grin.
"I demand you lock up this man. He broke into my establishment and...and..."
"I kissed her, Sheriff. I told her I was sorry, but I can't promise her I won't do it again. Nope."
He thought Miss Adams was going to faint and put his arm out to catch her but she stiffened right back up.
"Now Ran, I've never known you to drink before. If this lady thinks you need to sober up in a cell, well, I imagine she's a good judge of that. Come on. But give me your gun belt first."
"Well, if that ain't a hoot and a holler! First she wants it and then won't take it back when I try to give it to her like she told me to, and now you want it. I swear. A fella can't hardly breathe without offending somebody in this town."
"Come on, Ran. You'll be sorry enough in the morning."
"Don't you think I should escort the lady back home first , Sheriff? She might get accosted walking around town in the middle of the night in her nightgown."
He heard her huff. "I'm wearing my duster."
"He's right, Miss Adams. Just wait here, and I'll walk you back after I lock him up."
Ran groaned as the key turned in the lock. "Women! Don't ever try to kiss one, Sheriff. They'll turn on you quicker than a tornado full of bobcats."
It wasn't so much the hard cot or even the mice scurrying that kept him up, but the gnawing feeling that he had really done something bad. The more his drink wore off, the worse he felt, and it was not just his head that was pounding. It was in his chest. If he could do it over again, he would in a heart beat. What was he thinking climbing in the woman's bedroom? But as hard as he tried, he could not wish those kisses away. They were the sweetest thing that had ever come his way, even if he did help himself to forbidden fruit.
As soon as the sheriff let him out, in the morning, he strapped on his guns and left town. He'd had enough and regretted ever setting foot in Miss Adams' establishment, well except for that fine meal and the pies--oh my, the pies. And then there were the kisses. He could take those with him all his live long days and not feel a bit sorry. He had kissed Miss Adams, the sweetest lips in the West.
He was relieved to be back in his own bunkhouse, even eating cook's slop in peace. At least no one here called him incorrigible, insufferable, or accused him of being a reprobate and not being a gentleman. They didn't give a hoot. At least he wasn't locked up and could go wrestle a steer or bust a bronc if he wanted. He dunked his head in the rain barrel and shook water droplets everywhere, but he still couldn't get her out of his system.
If he rode out on the range, he might come across a wild rose. He would pluck a blossom, sniff it, rub its softness in his fingers, then he'd tuck it behind his ear with a sigh, never mind the thorns. If he came across a honey tree, he dug his finger in swatting away the buzzers just to try to get back the taste of those sweet lips. It did not compare. If he saw white cotton something or others waving in the breeze on a clothesline, he imagined her nightgown whipping against her legs, those shapely legs and slim ankles, as she'd hustled to the sheriff's. When he hugged his pillow, he remembered the softness of her womanly figure when he had dared to pull her close. It was no use. He was going back to town his next chance.
It happened to be on a Sunday. The service had already begun. Ran stood in the back and looked up and down both sides of the aisle. Miss Adams sat alone in the front. He strode up past all the pews then slid in and sat close beside her. The wheezing of the small organ had stopped as well as the hymn singing. "Go right on with your singing folks. I'll join in shortly," Ran declared. Then to Miss Adams, he asked, "Mind if we share?" as he grabbed half of the hymnal making sure his fingers brushed hers, and his shoulders as well. Why shoot, he made sure his knees bumped hers on every high note. He was beginning to think they made a right smart duet together too.
When the preacher started preaching, he began by glaring down at Ran who just smiled as innocent as a cherub. He cupped her hand under his as helped her hold her Bible and leaned across her to bend down and read the Scriptures more closely. "Well I'll be danged..." he whispered right up close to her ear as she sat stiffly, close enough to leave a warm breath and for him to catch a waft of her rose water. It was almost enough for him to lose his train of thought, "anyhow, it's almost as if the preacher knew I was coming today. Why, he's preaching on advice on marriage." It was enough to turn her into a lovely shade of pink.
The preacher coughed and went on, "As I was saying, turn to I Corinthians 7:1. 'Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman...'"
Suddenly, Ran was on his feet, "Now wait a minute preacher, are you sure it says that in the Bible? Are you trying to tell me that you never so much as touched your dearly departed wife before you married her, you never tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear or held her hand? What kind of hogwash is that?" Miss Adams was tugging on his coat so he sat down.
The preacher was turning all kinds of unbecoming shades of red. He held his Bible aloft as if it were a sword, "Thus saith the Lord!" He cleared his throat and glared down at the cowboy. "If you were paying attention, young man, you'd unhand the lady next to you with your hand covering hers under the guise of holding the Good Book."
Miss Adams gasped and dropped her Bible just then. It banged so loudly hitting the floor, it sounded like a gun went off and everybody jumped nearly as high as they had at the preacher's accusation.
The parson cleared his throat and went on reading, "'It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless,' well let's just suffice it to say, nevertheless to avoid immoralities, 'let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.'"
Ran was back on his feet. "Listen here now, preacher. That's not fit for mixed company. My own mother raised me better than that. Come on, Miss Adams, you shouldn't be listening to such goings on in church of all places." He tugged her up and dragged her out the back door as people gaped, their eyes stuck to them as if they were covered in molasses.
Once outside, Miss Adams came to herself. "How dare you make me a spectacle in church!" She began to cry. There was nothing for it but to wrap his arms around her and tug his shirt tail out to offer to wipe her tears with. He was slowly tightening his hold and burying his face in her hair sucking up her sweet smell until suddenly she shoved him surprisingly hard. "Get away from me, you big reprehensible degenerate!"
"Who me?" He wasn't quite sure what she had just called him, but it didn't sound nice. "That preacher in there was spouting off things he shouldn't have been saying in the Lord's house. It wasn't decent."
"He was reading Scripture!" she fumed.
"Well, some things are done better in your own bedrooms, like each man having his own wife and fulfilling his duty..."
"Stop! Just stop it!" Miss Adams had stamped her small little foot making a puff of dust.
"I was just quoting Scripture like the parson," he rubbed his neck. "One minute I was just holding the Good Book with you and then he attacked you for it and made you drop it on the ground. If that wasn't enough insulting you, he went on to say downright improper things in front of the women and children. I won't stand for it, I won't."
Miss Adams gazed at him with an inscrutable look. "You really mean that, don't you."
"Would I lie to a lady like you?"
"Well, I never...thank you, sir, for your honorable though misguided intentions. I believe I'll just go home now."
"I'll walk you there." He took her hand and placed it in the crook of his arm. He was happier than a bird with a worm, than a bee with a dandelion, than a fish catching a fly. His grin spread like butter on a hot skillet across his face.
Before they even got halfway to her porch, he bent down to get another whiff, but she stepped back quickly. "No kisses, please, no more kisses."
He just smiled lazily. "I haven't been able to get those out of my mind either. They were sweeter than honey. I'm glad to hear you can't get them out of your system the same as me." He took a step in her direction. When he looked down at her, he lost all his levity. He was drowning again and she could not seem to look away either. Next thing he knew, he clasped her in his arms and was kissing her to kingdom come. And hallelujah, she kissed him back. They just didn't happen to notice that church had let out and people started milling about. It was the parson who startled them.
"Miss Adams, I am shocked indeed. You are kissing this reprobate like a common hussy."
"Now see hear, preacher or not, no one is going to insult my woman and call her a hussy. It was your sermon that put me in the mind to kissing her. What did you expect?"
"Well, I never..." he sputtered. Then the old gent reared back. "What are your intensions, sir? Are they honorable?"
"Of course. I'd marry her in a heartbeat," and Ran pulled her tightly to his side for emphasis.
"Well, then bring her back to the church and we'll take care of it right here and now since you've irreparably damaged her reputation otherwise."
"But, but..." Miss Adams stuttered.
"Come on, Honey Pie. The preacher's right. I have to marry you now, whether you want me to or not. Besides, that's the only way you'll get any more of my kisses. It might become immoral the way we were carrying on otherwise, just like the Good Book says. Didn't you hear the sermon he preached?"
The stunned lady swatted him, but allowed herself to be lead back to the little white church while the preacher corralled everybody back inside for a wedding. Ran grabbed a posy of silk flowers off a little lady's bonnet and handed them to his bride. "Here's your flowers, darling."
"Dearly beloved..." Before he knew what was happening, she said, then he said, "I do." Next thing he knew the preacher pronounced them man and wife. "You may kiss your bride."
Ran pulled her close and threaded his fingers so deeply in her hair that she lost her pins and it fell like a waterfall around her shoulders. He buried his face and took in the sweet smell of his beloved Miss Adams, then looked down at her luscious lips. He kissed her until the preacher not only cleared his throat several times but finally pulled them apart.
"Now preacher, with that kiss I'm just starting to begin my benevolence to my wife just like you sermonized and believe you me, I'll ponder some more on your sermon once we're home."
With loud hoots, laughter and cheers from a congregation who'd just had more entertainment since the circus left town, the newlyweds deserted the red faced preacher and went on home to their boardinghouse where he promptly took her around the porch until he found a partially open window. With a shove to the sash, he was able to climb in with his new little wife in his arms. Well, darling, I'd do it all over again in a heart beat. And so he began by kissing her. Suddenly he said, "Ma'am, I don't rightly know your first name."
"My name is Eva. And your name, sir?"
"No kidding? You are Adams and Eva? Is it Italian? Well, it's a good thing that I've branded you with mine now. I'm Randolph Gardner. So Eva Adams Gardner, it's as good as in the beginning, wouldn't you say?" But she didn't say, because he was too busy kissing her.