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Trail of Fire

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Chris hated the pity he saw in Mary's eyes so he was glad when the gunshot wound had healed enough for Nathan to let him go. Of course, that didn't mean he could saddle up and ride out of town, hoping to lick the mental wounds in a far more private location. Instead, Vin helped him up to the room he kept in the local hotel, paid for by the Judge for services to the town. He thought the Judge would ask him to go, and rightly so after he gave up on the town in favor of Ella and all those half-forgotten wishes. She had offered him his dreams--the ranch, the horses, a chance to start over--and he had seen it all turn sour when he discovered her little shrine to him, and to the murder of Sarah and Adam.

When Mary knocked on the door a few minutes later, offering him a broth that she'd cooked especially for him, Chris felt it would be churlish to say no, but he hated that she still carried that pitying look in her gray-blue eyes. She reached out and touched his bare forearm, and he had to force himself not to snatch his arm away in disgust. The very thought of being touched by any woman was abhorrent to him after what he had done with Ella. He had lain with her, thrusting into her welcoming body as her honeyed words expressed her love and adoration for him, unaware of her black heart. Now, all he felt was repulsion for any woman's touch.

He'd seen no pity in Vin's eyes. Instead, he saw anger aimed partially towards Ella but also towards himself for not being able to track her down and hand Chris her scrawny neck for the hangman's noose. It wasn't Vin's fault though. The woman was a snake.

Chris accepted the broth but asked her to leave politely, not wanting to hurt her feelings because she had been a good friend and didn't deserve his bad temper--besides, he was improperly dressed, naked except for his pants and a blanket. He locked the door behind her and ignored the broth, heading for the bed. The mattress was lumpy, unlike Ezra's fine feather bed, but Chris had suffered worse in his life, sleeping rough on the hard baked ground when caught between towns, with just a thin bedroll beneath him.

Despite his tiredness, sleep was elusive, but for once he had no inclination to seek oblivion in the bottle of whiskey left on the bedside cabinet--no doubt a gift from Vin. He knew of only one other way to tire himself, wincing at the pull of his wound as he unhitched his pants and wriggled free of them, leaving himself lying naked on the bed. Chris shivered and drew the blanket over his legs to just below his groin.

The first touch drew no response so he tried to picture some of the women he had known intimately since losing his wife--Lydia and Maria. Instead of helping, every face transformed into Ella, and he'd soften immediately. He wasn't sure what made him think of Vin, but the image in his head slowly brought him to full mast. It seemed so wrong and yet so right, focusing on his very male friend while he stroked his cock, letting the memory of Vin's fingers trail fire along his skin, bringing him to a slow burn until he slipped over that sweet edge, splattering ribbons of come across his belly and hand.

Afterwards, he moaned as he snagged the dry cloth off the cabinet beside his bed and cleaned away the mess. His eyes felt heavy and his limbs felt as if they were weighted down. It took effort to drag the blanket up the rest of the way to cover his rapidly cooling skin but finally he laid back and closed his eyes.

Sleep came quickly, just as he hoped, but for the first time since learning of Ella's terrible secret, his dreams burned with the fire in Vin's caring blue eyes rather than with the flames engulfing his murdered family.