They’re sick of looking at each other. It’s been six days since Pottsboro, since Charlie woke up by a fire with Sebastian Monroe waiting for her. Six days since she agreed to take him to Willoughby. But, just because they agreed to ride together doesn’t mean that they were going to get along. Not to mention that they haven’t seen a lick of civilization since Pottsboro, and while in certain aspects that’s a good thing, the buffer of other people would be a welcome change. Instead, they’ve just been bickering and snarking at each other. It’s been a long six days.
They need supplies, they need a place to rest for the night, and they need to get out of each other’s hair.
When they roll up on the town of Tombstone, it’s a welcome relief. As they drive past the welcome sign boasting “The Town Too Tough to Die,” a local man wearing a cowboy hat on a horse comes to greet them. Monroe pulls the horses to a stop. “Evening,” the man says to him. “I’m Carl, I’m the law around here. What brings you to our little town?”
“Take it easy, Wyatt Earp,” Monroe says with a smirk. “We’re just here to rest for the night and stock up on supplies.” He glances over at Charlie, looking for her to back him up.
She quirks an eyebrow at him. “Who’s Wyatt Earp?”
He lets out an exasperated sigh. “Never mind.” Miles would have gotten it.
She rolls her eyes, focusing on Carl in front of them. “Just looking for a place to rest and to get a drink.”
The lawman smiles. “You’re looking for the Lone Star. Only hotel in town, right next to the Crystal Palace Saloon. Just on the main drag of the historic district.”
“Thanks,” Monroe says before flicking the reins and getting the horses moving again.
They park the wagon and board the horses at small stable for the night. From there, they walk to the Lone Star, just as instructed. The girl behind the counter, a girl younger than Charlie with shiny blonde hair and big tits, perks up at the sight of Monroe. “Welcome to the Lone Star,” she says brightly. “What can I do for you?”
“Two rooms,” Charlie says in a bored tone. Vapid, shallow girls like the one in front of her are irritating on her good days, now it’s grating on her last nerve. “As far apart as possible would be nice.”
A grin breaks over the girl’s face as she looks at Monroe. “I can do that.” She retrieves two keys from the wall behind her, handing one to Charlie. When she offers the next one to Monroe, she says, “You know, I get off in fifteen if you wanna buy me a drink next door.”
Charlie scoffs before she can stop herself, tucking the key into her pocket. “I’m sorry, are you even old enough to drink?”
Monroe places a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “Claws away, Charlotte.”
She shoves his hand off of her. “I need a drink.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” he replies.
It’s a silent agreement to go straight to the saloon for dinner and drinks. While they walk in together, they sit far apart from each other at the bar when they get there. The saloon is bustling with people, and that gives Charlie a sense of relief. This isn’t some seedy bar where it’s just her and a few men, like Pottsboro. There are couples and plenty of women, and a kind female bartender who brings her a bowl of stew and two fingers of whiskey. She eats, feeling safe in the assumption that her food isn’t drugged, and pretends that she doesn’t see Monroe staring at her from the other end of the bar.
When her food is gone, Charlie turns on the barstool to watch the people around her. In one corner of the saloon is a small stage, only about a foot off the ground, where a few guys are setting up instruments. A few other people are helping push tables aside, trying to clear a space. For what, Charlie’s not sure. She glances back down the bar and sees that the girl from the counter of the Lone Star has joined Monroe, taking up the barstool next to him as he calls over the bartender. Charlie looks away.
When the band is set up, they launch into a loud and raucous number. Girls in the saloon squeal in excitement, dragging men by their hands to the cleared space on the floor. A dance floor now, Charlie supposes. She watches, sipping on her whiskey, as couples swing and move to the music. It’s a weird thing for her, seeing a group of people so happy and carefree. These people don’t seem to realize the horror of the world, don’t seem to know of the impending doom of these US guys. They don’t have the baggage that Charlie does.
She sort of envies them for it.
With another glance at Monroe, she watches as the girl flirts with and smiles at him. She keeps touching him, his arm, his chest, his hand. She bats her eyes and whispers in his ear. Charlie can’t really see Monroe’s reaction as his back is turned towards her.
Good for him. Maybe she should try to get laid, too. Maybe it would help cut the tension between her and Monroe. Because she can only ride alongside a ridiculously good-looking man for so long before she can’t take it anymore. Something has to give, and if she can give it to someone else, she certainly will.
Speaking of which.
A young man sidles up to her. It certainly doesn’t hurt to look at him. A chiseled jaw dusted with a blonde scruff, golden hair cut short, green eyes that are intent on her, not to mention the muscles peeking out from under his t-shirt. “Hi there,” he says with a wide smile.
Her lip curls up into a smirk. “That all you could think of before you walked over here?”
His eyes sparkle. “Honestly, yeah. It’s totally intimidating coming over to someone as gorgeous as you.”
She bites her bottom lip. “You’re not so bad to look at either.”
He offers her his hand. “You wanna dance?”
She considers for a moment before shaking her head. “Uh, no. I don’t dance.”
“Really?” he asks, surprised. He’s not subtle as he looks her over, head to toe. “You’re certainly built for it.”
Charlie swallows. The compliment feels sour to her, wrong in her ears. The easy flirtation they had going is gone, and now she just wants to be left alone. “No, I just−”
He takes her hand in his and tugs her off of her barstool. “Come on, just give me a shot.”
Her throat tightens, and her heart starts pounding in her ears. The room around her starts feeling too hot, too close, too loud. She tries to pull her hand away, but the guy’s hand on hers is too tight. She starts to panic, which she usually never does, but something feels terribly wrong. It shouldn’t be hard to get this guy to back off. She is more than capable of handling herself, more than capable of scaring this guy away. But, she can’t. She can’t find the words, can’t find that strength. The memories of Pottsboro are flashing through her mind, the terrifying moments of her legs buckling from underneath her and the world tilting and blurring. She is too far gone to save herself now.
Suddenly, a warm, comforting presence is behind her, strong hands gripping her shoulders, and god damn it, it’s Monroe. Why does it have to be him? “The lady’s with me,” he says gruffly, one of his arms wrapping around her waist. “Move along.”
The man holds onto her hand a moment longer, looking from Charlie to Monroe, before releasing her and walking away. Charlie feels like she can breathe again, and without meaning to, she relaxes into the welcome feel of Monroe’s arms on and around her. His breath hits her ear as he whispers, “You alright, Charlotte?”
The question breaks the spell, and she can’t scurry away from him fast enough. “I’m fine, Monroe. I didn’t need your help.” She walks away, heading for the door of the saloon.
He’s right on her heels. “You sure? Because it certainly looked like you did.”
She pushes through the door, trying to leave him behind. “I’m fully capable of handling myself.”
“I’m aware of that,” he says, still following close behind her as she walks into the lobby of the Lone Star. “But, right then, you looked terrified.”
She glares back at him as she marches up the stairs. “Not terrified, just not interested.”
“You can lie to yourself, Charlotte, but you can’t lie to me.” He reaches out to take her hand, but the second that his fingers brush her palm, she snatches it away.
With stubborn resolve, Charlie stomps down the hallway to her room, refusing to look at him as she struggles with the key. “I’m not lying. I’m fine, Monroe. This night just wasn’t what I wanted it to be.” She finally gets the door open and steps inside.
Before she can slam the door, he catches it and stares right into her stunning blue eyes. “Then, why are you shaking?”
She doesn’t realize it’s true until he says it. Standing still in that doorway, she’s shaking. All the way down to her boots. Her hands tremble at her side. It feels like her bones are rattling. She’s at a loss for words.
Monroe eases towards her, and she steps back into the room. Once he’s cleared the threshold, he closes the door and leans against it. “It’s okay, Charlie.”
She doesn’t feel okay. She feels like she’s falling apart, like she’s cracking, like she’s breaking into a million pieces. And, the fact that she’s doing it in front of the person that she hates most in the world just makes it that much worse.
She stands there shivering, trying to keep her eyes off of the man in front of her. A man that should terrify her but doesn’t. She’s not afraid of him, not afraid of anything he could do to her. Because he won’t. He’ll never hurt her. He’ll save her, for her uncle. With him, she is safe. And, if that’s not the most fucked up thing in the world, she doesn’t know what is.
When she doesn’t say anything, he moves towards her. She doesn’t move away. He comes to stand just a few inches from her, and his hands rest on her upper arms. “It’s okay to be scared. That thing in Pottsboro was seriously fucked up. It’s okay that you’re not okay.”
It’s not even a decision when she leans into him and rests her head on his shoulder. A wave of relief washes over her at the contact. His presence, his calmness, his warmth, his strength envelope her and comfort her. She finds herself clutching at his leather jacket, the teeth of the zipper digging into her palms. His arms wrap around her, hugging her to him. She can feel his heart beat under his chest.
Charlie spends too long in his arms, too long feeling safe with him, too long comforted by a man she can’t stand. At least she’s stopped shaking. When she pulls away, she can’t look at him. “Shouldn’t you be downstairs with the girl from the lobby?” Her heart isn’t in pushing him away, and it comes out too soft.
He looks down at her with a storm in his blue eyes. “I’m right where I need to be, Charlotte.”