Full Boat by T. Novan

Morgan

“Morgan Delaney” Artwork by Rebekah Lynn 

Full Boat

By T. Novan

 

  

As the stage made it’s way through town and towards the docks, he watched her sleep. She was an incredibly beautiful woman, despite the dark clothing she wore that emphasized the two pearl handled colts in low slung holsters on each hip and the shotgun strapped to her back. Her hat was pulled down over her eyes and her booted feet were propped up on the other side of his seat. The black of her clothing was accented with silver in all the proper places, the band around her hat, the bolo around her neck, the buttons of her shirt. Her gun belt was hand tooled and inlaid with silver, which only served to enhance the appearance of her side arms. Traveling his eyes down her long legs he wasn’t surprised to find silver spurs at the heels of her boots.

“Something interesting?” She mumbled at him, never opening her eyes or moving a muscle.

Caught of guard, he felt a blush come to his cheeks. “Ah well…no.” The words tumbled from his lips.

She slowly brought her hand up and lifted her hat up with the index finger of her left hand. She opened her eyes to reveal the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen. She looked at him, hard.

“Then stop staring at me before I rip your eyes out.” She said deeply and slowly. She let her hat drop back down over her eyes and closed them again.

He turned his head and watched the world go by from the stagecoach window.

 ****

When the stage stopped at the docks. She stretched and sat up. She looked out the window at the steamboat before her and a wicked little grin passed her lips. He pushed the door of the stage open and gestured with his hand. “Ladies first.”

“Okay.” She said as she grabbed him by the back of his jacket and tossed him off the stage. He landed on the ground in a cloud of dust. He rolled over and watched her climb out of the stage. He didn’t know why, but she intrigued him.

She looked down at him and then stuck out her hand. “Sorry about that. I must not be totally awake yet.” Her took the offered hand and she pulled him to his feet. “Morgan Delaney.” She said as she began dusting him off.

“Huh?” He asked as she swatted some dirt from his backside.

“Morgan Delaney. That’s my name and you are?”

“Brisco. Brisco County Jr.” They shook hands as the stage driver tossed their bags to the ground.

“Are you here for the tournament Mr. County?” She asked as she picked up a bag from the ground and handed it to him.

He took the bag and watched as she slung a pair of saddlebags over her shoulder. Oh what he wouldn’t give to be a set of saddlebags right now. “No actually I’m the security for the game.” He hated to admit this to the woman who had just bodily tossed him from the stage. “What about you?”

“Yeah I’m here for the game. Hard to pass up an invitation only game with a half million dollar jackpot.”

“I guess it would be.” He said with a smile that went completely unnoticed by Morgan.

Their attention was drawn to a black carriage that approached fast. The driver reigned the horses and jumped down. He opened the door and two gentlemen climbed out of the coach.

“Excuse me.” Morgan said as she headed for the coach.

Brisco took note of the stylized MD on the door. “Oh so you’re that Morgan Delaney.” He said aloud to himself as he turned on his heels and headed up the plank for the steamboat.

Morgan smiled at the two men as they took up their bags and walked towards her. “So you two ready?” She asked with a grin.

The taller of the two, a huge man with an infectious smile looked to his employer and nodded. “Oh yeah Morgan we’re ready, but you and I both know that you’re the last person who needs a body guard so why the pretense?”

“Henry my friend. Where there’s big money there’s danger. I just like having the thoughts of you two watching my back.”

Before another word could be said another voice cut thought the noise of the passengers as they prepared t board the riverboat. “What do you mean I’m not on the list!” She yelled. “I’d better be on the list. Check it again.”

The purser looked at the pages in his hand and shook his head at the blonde woman who stood before him with her fists clenched in tight balls at her side. “I’m sorry Miss Stafford. You’re not on the list. I can’t let you board.”

“Listen buddy! My boss sent me here to cover this tournament so I know all the arrangements were made in advance. Look again!”

Morgan caught the eye of the poor purser and pointed at the little blonde and then jerked her thumb towards the boat and nodded her head. He gave her a little nod back and took the woman by the arm. “Miss if you’ll come with me I’m sure we can straighten this out.”

“Now that’s more like it.” She said as she went up the boarding plank with the frustrated purser.

Morgan turned her attention back to the two men in front of her. The shorter blonde man smiled at her. “What?” She asked in an exasperated tone that only she could manage.

“Rescuing another fair maiden in distress eh?” He asked with a grin.

“Henry why do you put up with him?” She asked as she addressed the taller man and poked the shorter one in the chest.

“Easy, he’s my best friend.” Henry said with a chuckle.

“I feel sorry for you.” She said with a grin as she readjusted her saddlebags. In reality all three of these people were good friends who thrived on annoying each other.

Behind Morgan someone dropped a box. She turned and as she did, the colt in her right holster cleared leather with a hiss and the sound of the hammer being cocked back was the next thing to be heard. The draw was so fast that neither of the men standing right next to her even saw it happen. When Morgan was sure there was no danger, she eased the hammer down with her thumb and slid the colt back into its holster just as smoothly as she had drawn it.

She turned to her companions and grinned. “Are we ready to go aboard?”

“You go ahead Morgan.” Henry stated. “Isaac and I will make sure all of our gear gets aboard. Besides I’d prefer not to let the strong box out of my sight.”

“Which reminds me. How much?”

“Just like you ordered in your wire…fifty thousand.” He said quietly.

“Well that should get me started.” She grinned and turned on her heels and headed up the plank.

“Whatta woman.” Isaac mused as he watched her walk away.

“Forget it.” Henry warned as he turned back to the coach. His friend followed on his heels.

“Oh I know she’s not interested in me, but that doesn’t mean I can’t lust after her.” Isaac climbed into the carriage and lifted the seat.

“Only until she catches you. Then you’re going to find yourself on the business end of that shotgun.”

“Never happen, she loves me like a brother.” Isaac said as he lifted the strongbox out of the carriage.

“You seem to forget my friend that she killed one of her own brothers.” Henry said with a smirk as he took the strong box.

“That’s only a nasty rumor.” The shorter man said as he jumped out of the coach.

 ****

Morgan entered her stateroom and tossed her saddlebags on the bed. She removed her hat and tossed it across the room. It landed perfectly on a hat rack, spinning around a few times then coming to an easy rest on the peg. She removed the shotgun and stowed it in the chest at the foot of her four poster bed. Then she went to the bathroom and poured water into the wash basin. She scrubbed her face and neck and washed her hands. She would wait until later to bathe, after her trunks were delivered to her cabin. As she washed up she heard a familiar voice in the room next door. She went back into the bedroom area of her cabin and placed her ear to the door that connected the rooms.

“Now this is more like it.” The female voice said.

Morgan chuckled to herself when she realized the little blonde from the dock was being put in the room next door. ‘This could be fun’. She thought to herself as she dried her hands. As she tossed the towel to the dresser there was a knock on her door. She opened to find the purser from the dock.

“Miss Delaney. I had to put Miss Stafford in your spare room. There just weren’t any other rooms. When you…I just…” He began to stammer as he took notice of the guns on her thighs.

She looked at his shirt and squinted at his nameplate. “It’s okay, Charlie. You did the right thing.” She reached into her front pocket and produced a money clip thick with bills. She peeled of a five and gave it to him. “Make sure she gets anything she needs.”

“He looked at the five and swallowed hard. “Yes ma’am. Is she a friend of yours?”

“She will be.” Morgan said with a grin. “Tell me when does the first round start?’

“Not until eight tomorrow morning Miss Delaney. Tonight is just dinner, drinks and drawing table lots.”

“How many tables?”

“Ten tables, five players per table”

“Fifty of us huh? Well that should thin out pretty quickly.”

“Yes ma’am. I don’t know why some of these fella’s even bother with you in the game. They gotta know they can’t win.”

She smiled at him. “You’re sweet Charlie but I can lose just a easily as they can.”

“When was the last time you lost a poker game Miss Delaney?”

“Well…” She chewed the inside of her mouth.

“Yeah I thought so. Well I’d better be gettin’ back to work.”

“You do that Charlie and don’t forget what I said about my neighbor over there.”

“Oh I won’t Miss Delaney.” Charlie smiled and went off down the hall.

Morgan was about to her return to her room when the door next to her room opened. She waited until the little blonde came into the hall. Morgan had to get a good look at her. The woman turned right into Morgan.

“I’m sorry.” She said as Morgan’s arms wrapped around her to keep her from falling.

Their eyes met. There they were those beautiful green eyes. Morgan smiled. It was her, the one that invaded her dreams every night. “It’s okay. Are you hurt?” Morgan asked as she released the woman.

“No I’m fine. Thanks. Looks like we’re going to be neighbors.” She offered Morgan her hand. “My name’s…”

“Gabrielle…” Morgan said softly as she took her hand.

Gabrielle looked at the woman who whispered her name. She seemed to have a far off look in her eyes as she said it. The reporter couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the blue of this woman’s eyes. “Ah yes…Gabrielle Stafford. Have we met?”

Morgan was pulled back by the last question. The memories of her dreamscape would have to wait. “No we haven’t.” Morgan said honestly with just a hint of embarrassment in her voice. “You work for a newspaper that I own.” She stated as matter of factly trying to clear her mind.

You’re Morgan Delaney?”

“Yes.” She purred.

“I always thought you were a man.”

“Well as you can see I’m not. What would make you think that anyhow?”

“Well you’re just so damned elusive. No one ever sees you. I’d love to do a story about you.”

“Miss Stafford I’m sure you can find more interesting things to write about.”

“Funny, I can’t think of any at the moment. Are you playing in the tournament?”

“Yeah I am.”

“It’s the perfect angle. Elusive millionaire Morgan Delaney comes out of seclusion to play in a high stakes poker tournament. It’s perfect. Please?”

There was something about that please that struck deep in Morgan’s soul. She smiled at the shorter woman. “All right, but you have to have dinner with me tonight.”

“I would love that. It’ll give me a chance to get some background information.”

“Fine I’ll see you tonight then.” Morgan was feeling a real need to be away from this woman as quickly as possible. She was beginning to shake inside, she knew soon it would work its way to the outside as well. She stepped back to allow Gabrielle to get past her in the narrow hallway. They smiled at each other as Gabrielle slipped past. Morgan watched her walk away. She gave a low whistle and went back into her room.

She was just about to lie down when there was another knock on the door. “Morgan it’s Henry. I’ve got your trunks.” He yelled through the door.

“Come in it’s open.” She said as she lay back on the bed, her feet still planted on the floor.

Henry pushed the door open and carried one trunk on his back and drug the other into the room. He sat the first on down with a thud and pushed the second up next to it. “You all right?” He asked as he stood up and stretched.

“Yeah I’m fine. It was just a long trip. I’ve got a hell of a headache.”

“Why don’t you take a bath and a nap before dinner?” He said leaning against the trunks.

“You know,” She sat up and ran her hands over the bedspread. “That’s a good idea.”

“Yeah a nice hot bath and a nap in a soft bed…” He yawned. “You know I think I’ll try it too.” He walked towards the door. “Hey you want to join us for dinner tonight?”

“Um…thanks but I’ve got plans for dinner tonight. How ‘bout a drink after.”

“A drink it is then. See you tonight.” He left the room letting the door shut gently behind him.

 ****

Morgan sat in the tub of hot water and closed her eyes. She felt herself slipping into sleep, but didn’t resist it.

She recognized the scene. She had dreamt it at least a thousand times. A barn. It was evening from the looks of the shadows. She knelt down next to her companion and prepared medicine for her sick friend.

“You know,” Gabrielle began. “It’s occurred to me that this is just a clever diversion to make me forget about my boots.” She began coughing and wheezing. “My chest feels so heavy…” She gasped.

Morgan could see herself reach forward and put her fingers in the dark sticky substance and then brush her fingers over the blonde’s lips. The worried look on her brow made her heart jump even in the dream state.

“What?” Gabrielle asked.

“Blood.”

“I just ran out of time didn’t I?

Morgan could see herself wipe the blood away and kiss the woman on the forehead. It was her, but yet it wasn’t. The clothes were different, very different. No guns, but the nicest looking sword she had ever seen. Then there was her companion in the dream. The blond who looked exactly like Gabrielle Stafford and even shared the same first name. Then the scene shifted…

Sitting on the edge of a stream, together. Laughing and talking. Looking deeply in those green eyes. Absorbing the warmth of that smile.

“Another one’s fallen for you.” Gabrielle said.

” Again?”

“Yeah.” She replied with a hint of disgust.

“Why does this always happen?”

“It’s the blue eyes, the leather. Some guys just love leather.”

The dreams came to an abrupt halt as Morgan found herself fighting for air. She had slid down into the water and it woke her as it slipped into her lungs. She sputtered as she came up for air. She wiped the water from her eyes and then pushed it from her hair trying to regain her concentration.

“This is bad, very bad. How in the hell am I supposed to concentrate on the game now.” She sighed as she settled back in the tub. “Damn.”

After her bath she threw on a robe and went back into her bedroom. She picked out her clothes for the evening and then pulled back the covers on the bed. She took the robe off and climbed into the overstuffed feather bed. She settled down and closed her eyes hoping the dreams would return. They didn’t.

When Morgan awoke she could hear the engines and the paddlewheel of the boat. She knew they were underway. She got up and put her robe on and moved to the window. The sun was starting to set and she could feel a slight breeze coming off the river. A cloak she would need to wear a cloak to dinner tonight. She smiled.

As she appraised her appearance in the mirror she wondered if she should leave her hair loose tonight. Generally she kept it pulled back into a braid or a simple ponytail, but in all her dreams so far it had been loose around her shoulders. Maybe, just maybe. She looked at her attire, properly dressed for dinner in dark trousers and a short black jacket, white shirt and black ascot with a gray vest. The pearl stickpin in the ascot was a nice touch. She pulled her pocket watch from her vest pocket and checked the time, half an hour to dinner. She wondered if she should go next door and escort her companion to dinner or if she should just meet her in the dining room. She clicked the watch shut and replaced it in her pocket. She’d leave her hair loose tonight and meet her companion in the dining room.

She picked up her gun belt and fastened it into place. She tied the leather thongs around her thighs and made the final adjustments. She picked her hat up and started to put it on then she sat it back down, no sense in covering up the hair. She grabbed the long black cloak from the bed and placed it over her shoulders.

She left her cabin and headed for the dining room. On the way she met one Mr. Brisco County. “Good evening Mr. County.”

“Good evening Miss Delaney. My don’t you look…”

She cut him off with a wave of her hand. “Save it for someone who’s buying Brisco.”

“So we’re on a first name basis now are we?” He asked as they continued to walk toward the dining room.

“Oh I don’t see why not. Friends should be on a first name basis and we’ll never be more than friends; so we may as well start there.”

“Gee Morgan you really know how to hurt a guy. You didn’t even get to know me first.”

“It’s not you Brisco. I just know what I want. You’re not it.” She said as they stepped into the dining room. The maitre’d arrived very quickly. Morgan’s notoriety had arrived long before she did and there wasn’t a staff member on board who didn’t recognize her.

“Miss Delaney, good evening. Table for two?”

“Yes actually, although Mr. County and I aren’t dining together. I’m expecting another guest.” She turned to Brisco and smiled. “Might I suggest you join Henry and Isaac.” She said as she pointed to her two companions. “I think you’ll like them and find that you have a lot in common too.”

“Yeah. Thanks I’ll do that.”

She tried to hide the smile as Brisco walked over to the table where her friends were seated. As she followed the maitre’d to her own table; she removed her cloak and took a seat facing the entrance. She looked at her pocket watch again. As she snapped it shut she realized she was just being impatient and tried to relax. This only accomplished two things. She discovered that when bored and nervous she drummed her fingers on the table and second, while trying to stop the first action she spilled a glass of water.

Of course, it was while three waiters were scurrying around trying to get the table cleaned up, that Gabrielle chose to make her entrance. Morgan was brushing the water from the lap of her trousers when she looked up to see Gabrielle smiling down at her.

Morgan couldn’t believe it. She was simply beautiful. Her hair was pulled up exposing her neck and the dress she chose was a green satin number that was pulled off the shoulders. ‘Funny’ Morgan thought ‘How her shoulders and neck meet like that’. She realized two more things. First she was staring and second she was being rude. She stood up and dropped her napkin to the table.

“I’m sorry I had a little accident.” She said with a slight smile.

Gabrielle smiled back. “Yeah I can see that.”

“Please have a seat.” Morgan motioned to the chair across form her own. Gabrielle sat down and waited patiently while the waiters reset the table. Morgan sat back down and watched her dining companion.

Once the table was reset. The waiter brought a bottle of wine to their table. He showed the label to Morgan who just nodded. He opened the bottle and poured a bit for Morgan who sipped it carefully giving it her full attention. “Very good.” She complimented him and he poured for both the women.

Gabrielle sipped the wine and smiled at Morgan. “Excellent choice.”

“Thank you. I hoped you wouldn’t mind.”

“Not at all.” Gabrielle leaned forward and rested her elbows on the table and folded her hands together, resting her chin on top of them. “So tell me what brings the famous Morgan Delaney out of seclusion for a mere poker game?”

“For starters I’m not in seclusion. I just travel…a lot and this is no mere poker game. It’s invitation only and has a half million dollar jackpot.”

“Don’t try and convince me you’re in it for the money. You already have enough of that to last you through three lifetimes. As I understand it, being a blockade runner during the war was quite profitable.”

“Seems to me Miss Stafford that you seem to know quite a lot about me already.” Morgan leaned back in her chair.

“I’ve done some research yes. Asked a few questions. Talked to a few people. Please call me Gabrielle.” She leaned back and took another drink of her wine.

Morgan shifted in her chair and leaned against the right arm, crossing her long legs. “So what else did you find out about me Gabrielle?” She loved the way that sounded as it rolled off her tongue.

“Well for starters, anyone who you call friend is very loyal and trustworthy.”

“Yes…”

“And anyone you call an enemy is more than willing to see you hung…or worse.”

Morgan smiled. She knew there were several people who fit into this category.

Gabrielle continued. “There seems to be a healthy mix of both aboard.”

“Yes it could get interesting before the trip is over.” Morgan reached for her glass. She brought it to her lips and drank again, never taking her eyes off the reporter. She put her glass down and smiled.

“What is it?” Gabrielle asked. “You’ve had this silly grin plastered on your face since I arrived. Do I amuse you?”

“No it’s not that. You remind me of someone.”

“Who?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Interesting.”

“It’s a long story.”

“You’ll have to tell me sometime.”

Before Morgan could respond a tall man approached their table and leaned on it. He looked at Gabrielle and then turned his attention to Morgan. He sneered at her as he spoke. “Hello bitch.” Morgan smiled as she shifted in her chair again and rested her hands on the table.

“Hello Duncan. If you don’t mind I’m trying to have dinner here.” She was being more than polite considering the salutation she had gotten.

“I don’t give a damn what you’re trying to do. I told you that if I ever saw you again I’d…”

His words were cut off by the flick of her wrist. She was on her feet and the derringer in the palm of her left hand was pressed firmly against his throat. “I don’t give a damn that you don’t give a damn. This is not the time or the place.” She growled at him. “If you want a piece of me you can wait until we dock in New Orleans. I’ll be more than happy to oblige you there.”

Before any more words could be exchanged, Henry, Isaac and Brisco were at the table. Brisco and Henry grabbed the man by the arms. Isaac positioned himself between Gabrielle and the possible fight that could erupt. Duncan looked at the men who held him and then back to Morgan. “New Orleans it is.” He growled back as he shook off the men who held him. He straightened his clothes and left the table.

“You okay?” Henry asked as he watched Duncan walk away.

“I’m fine guys thanks.” Morgan took a deep breath and pushed the derringer back up her sleeve. The click of the mechanism told her is was secure once again. She tugged on her jacket and sat back down.

Henry and Isaac nodded at her and returned to their table. Brisco however leaned on the table and glared at Morgan. “You wanna tell me what that was all about?”

“It’s personal Brisco. An old grudge.”

“Anyone else around here with an old grudge I should know about?”

Gabrielle giggled. Brisco turned to her. “Yes?”

“Only about half the passenger list.” The reporter replied with a smile on her lips.

“Oh well that’s just wonderful.” He turned back to Morgan. “You coulda warned me you know?”

“I’m sorry Brisco. I really am. As Miss Stafford said I have more than a few enemies aboard. It’s a good thing I have a few friends too.” She gave him a crooked little smile.

“Oh this is going to be a long trip.” Brisco mumbled as he walked away from the table.

“So,” Gabrielle started. “I guess he falls into the ‘Or worse” category.”

“I guess he does.”

“Another long story?”

“No not particularly. He thinks I killed his brother.” Morgan said as she took a sip of her wine.

“Did you?” The reporter asked flatly, causing Morgan to choke on her wine.

“No.” She said as she cleared her throat. “I am innocent of that particular charge.”

“You have killed though haven’t you?” Gabrielle asked leaning forward again.

“Yes. Yes I have.” Morgan wasn’t proud of the statement.

“What’s it like?”

“It changes everything…everything.” Morgan said quietly.

 ****

They ate their dinner in relative silence. Gabrielle knew she had blown it with that last question and now she had to turn the conversation around. She slowly took a bite of her salad and considered what she had to do. “So why poker?” She asked.

“Oh I don’t know there’s something about a game of chance that I can’t pass up. It’s the challenge of the unknown.”

“Is that why you travel so much? The challenge of the unknown?”

“Yeah I guess so in a way. I just hate to stay in one place for too long. Makes me cranky.”

Gabrielle smiled at the cranky comment. “I’d hate to see you cranky. I’ve seen what you do when you’re being polite. By the way that’s a nifty little gadget you have up your sleeve.”

“Thanks. I like to be prepared.”

“You seem awfully well prepared to me.” She said with a smile.

“You have to be. It comes with the job.”

 ****

As they finished dinner, Charlie approached the table. “Miss Delaney. I’ve been asked to inform you that the reception for the tournament will begin in about an hour.”

“Thank you Charlie. You’re a good man.” She fished a coin from her pocket and tossed it to him. He smiled at the generous tip and left with a slight bow. “Well it seems I have an hour to kill. Care to take a walk on deck?” She stood and draped her cloak over her arm.

“Sure.” Gabrielle accepted the offer of Morgan’s hand to rise from the table.

As they left the dining room, Morgan could feel someone watching them. It was the eyes of an enemy she was sure of that.

Out on deck, there was a soft but chilly breeze blowing. She placed the cloak around Gabrielle’s shoulders. “Thank you.” The reporter said softly as she leaned against the rail.

“Just another small part of my plan.” Morgan said as she pulled a cigar case from her jacket and prepared a small brown cigar for smoking. Gabrielle turned her attention back to the taller woman and watched intently.

“You’re a very unusual person, Morgan Delaney.”

Morgan leaned against the rail and placed the cigar between her lips, she struck a match on the rail and lit it. Dropping the match into the water below she slowly turned to Gabrielle and took a deep drag of the cigar, before speaking. “What makes you say that?” She let the smoke exit her lungs slowly through her nose and mouth.

“Well look at you. You’re quite the enigma and if I didn’t know better I’d swear you are trying to seduce me.”

“What if I said I am?”

“An enigma or trying to seduce me?” Gabrielle turned back to watch at the shore pass by.

“Well I don’t know about the enigma part, but the seduction part now that’s a different story all together.” Morgan turned to look over the rail as well. She took the cigar from her lips and let it dangle between her fingers, knocking the ashes off with the tip of her finger. “Are you shocked?”

“Do I seem shocked?”

“No you don’t. Mind if I ask why?”

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.” She said as she took another drag off her cigar.

“We know each other already. From another time and another place, but we know each other.”

Morgan felt her heart skip a beat as she tried to keep her composure intact. “What makes you say that?” She flicked the ashes from her cigar again.

“All my life I’ve had these dreams…” Gabrielle’s voice faltered. She turned to face Morgan. “When I met you in the hall today. I knew immediately you were the one from my dreams.”

“Tell me about them…your dreams.”

“My most vivid one is…”

 ****

The snow blowing around them. Soldiers everywhere. Roman soldiers. She turns her head slowly as she hears her name…

“Gabrielle…”

She turns to see the battered body on the cross. She tries to find to words the comfort her love in their final moment…

“You’re the best thing in my life…” Xena continues with a slight smile even as the soldiers continue working around them.

“I love you Xena…”

Morgan stiffened and flicked more ashes. “Xena? So that was my name. Don’t like it.” She said before taking another drag without looking over at the reporter.

“What do you mean, that was your name? Have you been…”

Morgan cut her off. “Yup, but I never heard my name.”

“This is almost too weird.” Gabrielle turned to Morgan.

Morgan turned her head to look into those beautiful green eyes. “I consider that an understatement. I thought I was losing my mind and then two weeks ago when I saw you at the paper…”

Gabrielle smiled as the realization hit her. “Oh so that’s how I drew this job. That’s why I was sent to cover the tournament.”

“Guilty. I had to see you. Get to know you. Maybe spend sometime with you. You’ve been invading my dreams almost every night for as long as I can remember. For the longest time I convinced myself you weren’t real and then…” She stopped and turned back to the water. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have brought you here like this. It was wrong.” She gave the cigar a hard flick from in between her thumb and forefinger and sent it into the water below. “If you want to get off in New Orleans I’ll understand.”

Gabrielle giggled slightly. “And give up a free trip? Are you crazy?” She placed her hand on Morgan’s arm and gave it a gentle squeeze. “Besides I called off my wedding for you. Don’t think I’m going to give up that easily.”

“You what?”

“I was suppose to be married last year. I thought I loved him. I really did, but when the dreams didn’t stop…as a matter of fact they got worse. I realized I had made a huge mistake and called off the wedding. I knew I didn’t love him. I couldn’t go through with it. I knew you were out here somewhere.”

“So do you think you love me?”

“I don’t know, but you do seem to be the answer in my dreams.”

Morgan turned to Gabrielle and leaned in, giving the woman a soft gentle kiss on the lips. Gabrielle accepted the kiss without hesitation. When they parted she smiled and sighed. “Yes that’s it. It’s the same kiss.”

“You know I think you’re having better dreams than I am.” Morgan said with a chuckle.

“Well there is this one dream that I keep having…” She smiled.

“I definitely want to hear about that one.” Morgan caressed Gabrielle’s face with the tips of her fingers as she smiled at her.

Suddenly Morgan stiffened and her hands went to her guns. She spun around bringing both colts up and cocking back the hammers. “Okay show yourself!” She ordered making sure that her body was well between the intruder and Gabrielle.

Brisco stepped out from the shadows. He looked completely embarrassed. “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to interrupt…ah I’ll just be going now.”

Morgan released the hammers of the guns and reholstered them. “That’s a good way to get yourself shot Brisco.”

“Apparently. I’m sorry Morgan…Miss Stafford, please forgive me.”

“Did you need something or were you just spying?” Gabrielle asked.

Morgan bit back the laugh as the spirited young woman stepped around her to confront their uninvited spectator.

“Well actually yes I did have a reason for being here. Morgan do you know Tucker Cantrell?”

“Yeah Tucker and I are old friends. He’s suppose to be here for the tournament, but I haven’t seen him yet.”

“You won’t. He was found dead in his hotel room this morning.”

“What happened?” Morgan asked as she glanced to Gabrielle.

“We’re not sure. The cause of death hasn’t been determined yet. He apparently died with a smile on his face.”

“Yeah that would have been Tucker’s style. Keep me posted will ya’ Brisco?”

“Sure thing. And I’m really sorry for the interruption. They’re going to be drawing table lots in about a half an hour. In the smoking parlor.”

“Thanks I’ll be there.” Morgan said as she pulled out the cigar case again.

“We’ll be there.” Gabrielle corrected. She noticed the look on Morgan’s face. “Hey if I’m suppose to be covering the tournament then I’m going to cover the tournament. They don’t pay me fifty dollars a week for nothing you know.”

“You’re underpaid.” Morgan said as she put another cigar between her lips.

Brisco cleared his throat and waved his good-bye to the pair as he walked away, leaving them alone again.

“So who do I have to talk to about a raise?” Gabrielle teased as she took the match from Morgan’s hand and struck it on the rail. She held the match for Morgan as she leaned down and lit her cigar. After it was lit, Gabrielle brought the match to her lips, her eyes never left Morgan’s as she gave a soft blow putting out that flame, but igniting another in a certain gunfighter.

“I have a few connections at that rag you work for,” Morgan teased back. “Maybe I can pull some strings.”

“How gallant of you. Thanks.” Gabrielle tossed the match overboard.

“Gabrielle how insane does all this sound?”

“Well let’s just say that if we were to tell anyone else I’m pretty sure they’d have us locked up.”

“No they’d have you locked up. I’m rich. They’d just call me eccentric.” She said with a soft chuckle.

“Aww…now that’s not very nice.” The reporter said as she tugged at the cloak, closing it tightly around her.

“It might not be nice, but it is the way the world works Gabrielle. If you’re a working stiff you’re crazy. If you’ve got money, you’re eccentric.” She took a drag off her cigar and put her hand in the small of the woman’s back. “Let’s go inside and get a brandy to warm you up.”

Morgan guided them back inside and to the smoking parlor. She placed Gabrielle in a corner booth and moved to the bar where she ordered two brandies. As she returned to the booth she discovered that Gabrielle had attracted an admirer. Choking back the urge just to shoot him and be done with it, she merely inserted herself between the two and handed a brandy to Gabrielle. “There you go.” She said as she looked into the face of the young man who wanted to challenge her.

“Thank you Morgan.” Gabrielle said as she tugged on the gunfighter’s arm. “Why don’t you sit down.”

Morgan slid into the booth. Never averting her gaze from the young man who was making no move to leave. He just stood there staring at Gabrielle. He was really starting to piss Morgan off.

“This is Jesse Cooper. He’s playing in the tournament too.” Gabrielle offered the introduction hoping to ease the tension.

“That’s nice.” Morgan growled.

“Jesse this is…”

“Morgan Delaney. Yeah I know. I’m looking forward to playing you.”

“You’ll have to make it to the final table. Unless of course you get lucky enough to draw the same starting table that I do.” Morgan sipped her brandy and narrowed her gaze at Jesse. He wasn’t picking up on the ‘leave us alone’ signals that the gunfighter was so clearly sending. If he stayed this stupid she’d have to hurt him just to get her point across.

“Uh Jesse it’s been really nice talking to you, but Morgan and I have some things to discuss…” Gabrielle said sweetly hoping she could get the message across.

‘That’s another method’, Morgan thought, ‘but nearly as much fun as throwing him overboard’.

“Yeah I suppose I should head back over to the guys. It was nice meeting you Gabrielle. I still look forward to it Miss Delaney.”

“Uh-huh.” Morgan snarled into her brandy snifter as she took another drink.

Jesse walked over to a table of men and sat down. From his position behind everyone else it was clear that he hadn’t been invited there either, but at least they were willing to let him join them in some fashion.

“Moron.” Morgan growled as she continued to watch him.

“Be nice. He’s perfectly harmless. Besides why the jealous act?”

“Who says it was an act?”

“Well gee I don’t know, um…let’s see we’ve known each other for all of two hours.”

“Gabrielle I’ve known you all my life. You’ve been in just about every dream I’ve ever had. I don’t know how to explain it, but yes I’m in love with you. I always have been, ever since I was old enough to know what it meant to be in love.”

Just as Gabrielle was about to respond Brisco stood up and called for everyone’s attention. “All right everyone we’re going to draw for tables.” He reached over and took a hat from Isaac. “In this hat there are fifty poker chips. Each one has a number on it from one to ten. The number you draw is your starting table.”

Before he could finish a line started to form and the men started drawing chips. Morgan made no move to go.

“Don’t you want to get your table?” Gabrielle asked.

“Makes no difference which table I start at. What matters is where I end up.” She said with a chuckle as she lit another cigar. “Will you sit with me while I play?”

“Are non players allowed at the tables?”

“You can sit behind me. Besides don’t you want to be where the action is?”

“My you certainly are full of yourself aren’t you Miss Delaney?”

“I’m confident Gabrielle. There’s a difference.”

“I see, if you’re a working stiff you’re cocky. If you’ve got money your confident. Is that it?”

“That’s it.” She said with a smile as she drained her glass and took another drag of her cigar.

When the rush was past Morgan drew herself up and took one of the last chips in the hat. She looked at it and put it in her pocket. She nodded to Brisco and made her way back the booth. She found that Gabrielle had ordered two more drinks. She smiled as she sat down.

“What table did you draw?”

“Number one.” The smile turned into a grin.

 ****

They walked back towards their cabins, slowly strolling, neither of them in a hurry. When they arrived, Gabrielle gave Morgan back her cloak. She felt like a silly young girl out with her first crush. Morgan took her key and unlocked her door for her. As she handed her the key, Morgan captured Gabrielle’s hand and pulled her into her arms for another kiss, this one longer, deeper, passionate.

As they pulled back from each other, Gabrielle licked her lips and drew a deep breath. “Oh yeah that’s it. That’s the one.” She moaned, her eyes closed.

“You really must share that dream with me.” Morgan said as she ran her thumb across Gabrielle’s lips and down her cheek.

Gabrielle pushed the door to her room open. “There’s no time like the present.” She took Morgan’s hand and pulled her into the room.

It didn’t take long. Morgan found herself mentally berating herself for having so damn much gear on. Trying to remove her clothes while engaged in one of the most passionate kisses of her life wasn’t the easiest accomplishment in the world. Gabrielle pushed her jacket off her shoulders and it fell to the floor somewhere near the door. Morgan kicked her boots off and growled when the kiss was momentarily broken, while doing so.

As they resumed the kiss Gabrielle fumbled with the ascot and Morgan tugged at the straps that held the derringer in place on her arm. The derringer fell by the wayside somewhere near her jacket. She went for her gun belt next, making sure to undo the leather thongs first, she quickly unbuckled it and dropped it to the floor.

By the time they made it across the room to the bed, there was a trail of clothing from the door to the bed, including Gabrielle’s dress, which had found a home near the table in the center of the room.

Morgan picked Gabrielle up and laid her on the bed. She leaned in and kissed her as her hands began running over the woman’s soft warm flesh. Gabrielle wrapped her arms around Morgan and pulled her onto the bed. Their bodies melted together as if they were made for each other.

“Ohh yesss….” Gabrielle moaned into Morgan’s ear as the gunfighter nuzzled her neck and nibbled playfully on her earlobe. Her hands ran down the length of the gunfighter’s back and ended up on a nice firm backside. Her nails dug in as Morgan trailed soft gentle lips down her neck, across her collarbone and down to her breasts.

Morgan could hear her own heart beating in her ears as she took a firm erect nipple into her mouth and Gabrielle moaned again. Morgan was on fire and she knew that she was going to go up in flames with this woman tonight. It felt so right as the blonde moved under her. Nothing had ever felt so right before.

“God Gabrielle, what are we doing?” Morgan gasped as she returned to the reporter’s neck and whispered in her ear.

“Making love.” She whispered back. “And don’t stop.”

“But…I…” Morgan stammered as she felt a sudden rush of guilt. “Don’t want you to do…anything…”

“Shhh…less talk. I’m not a little girl.” She whispered in Morgan’s ear as her hands wrapped firmly in the long dark hair. “I know what I want…I want you.”

Morgan smiled as she trailed soft warm kisses down the reporter’s body. Her hands roaming all over the soft flesh of her lover. Gabrielle’s soft moans only served to encourage her. She kissed Gabrielle, her tongue requesting and being given entrance into the woman’s mouth. The taste of this woman was as sweet as Morgan had dreamt. Their tongues danced with each other as their hand roamed all over each other.

Morgan broke the kiss as her need to consume Gabrielle overcame her. She trailed soft kisses down her body. She finally found herself just outside what she desired most. The musky scent of her lover’s readiness drove her forward. She gently parted Gabrielle’s leg and slid between them. Her mouth gently and slowly came to rest in the warm wet center. She slid her tongue in for the first taste of her lover. A moan escaped her as she took the sweet liquid into her mouth.

“Ohhh…God…” Gabrielle gasped as her hands found Morgan’s shoulders and her fingertips dug in deeply. “Yes…ohhh…yesss…” She moaned.

Morgan continued her discovery of her lover. Gabrielle’s body moved with her, writhing and pulsing as she continued to take in every ounce that the reporter would give. She could feel the woman’s body tense as she pulled the pleasure point into her mouth and ran her tongue over it.

Gabrielle’s body arched into Morgan. Her hips thrust into the gunfighter’s warm mouth as the first wave hit her. “Please…Morgan…please…” She begged for release.

Morgan used her mouth to bring release to her lover. Gabrielle’s body tensed and shuddered, her breathing was ragged as Morgan returned to the top of the bed and pulled her into her arms. She kissed her on the forehead. “I love you Gabrielle…God how I love you.”

Gabrielle looked into Morgan’s face. In the moonlight streaming through the window she could see a single tear running down the gunfighter’s face. She reached up and wiped it away with her thumb. “Why?” She asked as she rubbed the tear between her thumb and forefinger.

“Because I love you.” Morgan whispered. “And I don’t want to lose you now that I’ve found you.” She pulled the woman closer.

Gabrielle kissed Morgan on the neck and began her own exploration of the gunfighter’s body. “I don’t think you have to worry about that.” She said as she slowly kissed her way down.

Gabrielle lay on top of Morgan, both lovers totally spent and trying to recapture their breath. Morgan ran her hand leisurely up and down the smaller woman’s back. Gabrielle lifted her head from Morgan’s shoulder and looked into her eyes. “That was incredible.” She sighed as she pushed her damp bangs back from her forehead.

“Yes it was.” Morgan agreed breathlessly.

Gabrielle slid off of Morgan and curled up into the crook of her arm, her head lying on the gunfighter’s shoulder. She wrapped her arm snuggly around her waist and sighed.

“I feel complete.” Gabrielle whispered.

“So do I.” Morgan said as she planted little kisses on Gabrielle’s forehead.

“I guess this was meant to be.”

“So it would seem. I wonder if we’ll dream tonight.”

“I don’t know. Somehow I doubt it.”

“Well before we find out there’s something I have to do.” Over the grouchy protests of her lover, Morgan extracted herself from bed and retrieved her gun belt. She looped it through the bedpost and fastened it securely in place. She climbed under the covers and brought Gabrielle back into her arms.

“You got up for that?” Gabrielle teased as she snuggled in next to Morgan.

“Oh yeah. I never go to sleep without at least one gun close at hand.”

“Hmmm…” Gabrielle sighed. She could feel herself drifting of to sleep. She was warm, comfortable and safe in these strong arms that held her.

Morgan caressed her lover’s back and soon fell asleep as well. Neither woman dreamt of anything but each other.

 ****

Someone knocking on the door of her cabin next door awoke Morgan in the morning. She carefully slipped out of bed and found her shirt. She slipped it on and buttoned a couple of buttons to hold it closed. She opened the door of Gabrielle’s room and stuck her head out. Henry stood at the door leaning on the wall waiting for an answer.

“Hey,” She whispered. “I’m over here.”

Henry looked at the door he had been knocking on and then over to his friend. He gestured to the first door. “I thought…”

“It is my room I just didn’t sleep there last night. What do you want?”

“First round starts in an hour and a half. Thought you might want to get some breakfast.”

Morgan yawned and considered it. “Yeah that’s a good idea. We’ll meet you down there in a little bit.”

“We?” He asked with a grin.

“Just go and let me get ready.”

“Yes ma’am.” He said as his grin widened.

Morgan ducked back inside and closed the door. She looked over at the sleeping woman and smiled. Quietly she slipped back into bed and pulled her back into her arms. Gabrielle sighed and snuggled close.

“Hey beautiful. I’ve got to get up.” Morgan whispered softly.

“No.” Gabrielle’s arm went around the gunfighter. “You stay. I stay. Perfect.”

Morgan chuckled. “As much as I would love to do that the game starts in about an hour and I need to get cleaned up.”

“Forget the game. Stay here with me. We’ll make love all day.” She said without even opening her eyes.

“Oh that is a tempting offer.” Morgan kissed her on the top of the head.

“Then take me up on it.” She began running her hands over Morgan’s body. She opened her eyes when her hand came in contact with the material of the shirt. “Aww that’s not nice.” She said as she began tugging on the front of the shirt.

Morgan captured the reporter’s hands in her own and flipped her onto her back, pinning her hands above her. She lay over the smaller woman with a wicked grin on her face. Gabrielle grinned back. “Yes?” The reporter asked as she licked her lips.

“Now who’s not being nice?” Morgan asked.

“Well I’ve got to do something to convince you to stay here.”

“Aww come on Gabrielle. Don’t make this any harder than it has to be. Let’s get up and have some breakfast.”

“You would wouldn’t you?” The reporter asked. “You’d give up the game if I asked you too.”

“Yes.” Morgan said as she sat up on the edge of the bed.

Gabrielle gathered the blankets up around her and sat up. “You’d give up a twenty thousand dollar entrance fee and a half million dollar jackpot for me…”

Morgan turned and caressed Gabrielle’s face. “Yes. I’ll walk away from it. Money doesn’t mean anything to me Gabrielle, it never has. You’re more important.”

Gabrielle got up from the bed and handed Morgan her pants. “Let’s get ready for breakfast you’ve got a game to play.”

Morgan stood and pulled Gabrielle into her arms. “I do love you.”

Gabrielle smiled and played with the buttons on Morgan’s shirt. “I want to say it Morgan, I really do. I just…”

Morgan put her fingers over the reporter’s lips. “It’s okay. You don’t have to. I know how difficult this is and I’ll understand completely…”

Gabrielle leaned up and kissed Morgan, a deep passionate kiss. She broke away from it and caressed Morgan’s face with the palm of her hand. “Just give me time.”

“As much as you need.”

 ****

In her room, Morgan cleaned up and dressed for comfort. It was going to be a long day. Not only was she getting ready to start the tournament, but now she was worried about what she had done to Gabrielle. She stared in the mirror as she tied her hair back. “Good going stupid.” She said aloud. “Couldn’t take you’re time…no you had to just jump into bed with her.”

A knock on the door that connected their rooms startled her. She shook her head and opened the door. Gabrielle stood on the other side with the ascot draped over her finger. She was dressed in a blue shirt, tan vest and trousers that where tucked into soft calve skinned boots. Morgan smiled. “Did you forget something?” The reported said as she rocked the ascot back and forth on her finger.

“Well you know, it’s tradition to leave something behind if you’re looking for an invitation back.”

“Oh you have an open invitation.”

“Oh I do, do I?” She asked as she leaned in and stole a quick kiss and took the ascot.

“Oh yeah.” The reporter stated as she leaned against the doorway and watched as Morgan finished getting ready. She looked at this tall beautiful woman. Her dark hair was tied back in the manner it had been the first time she had seen her. She wore a white shirt with black embroidered stitching and onyx buttons. Once again black trousers and her usual boots. Gabrielle wondered if the gunfighter owned a light pair of trousers. She watched as Morgan put her gun belt in place and made the adjustments that would allow her to wear it in relative comfort. She smiled as she watched her tie the leather thongs around her thighs. Oh, she remembered those strong thighs. “Ohhh.” The sound left her lips before she even realized it was there.

Morgan turned her head and smiled. “Yes?”

“Just reflecting…” She said softly.

“Un-huh.” Morgan crossed over to the hat rack and retrieved her hat. She placed it on her head and tipped it forward. Gabrielle came into the room and moved to the gunfighter. She wrapped her arms around Morgan and kissed her on the neck. Morgan leaned down and kissed the reporter. “We really should get going.” Morgan said as her lips gently continued to brush against Gabrielle’s.

“Un-huh.” Gabrielle moaned as she accepted another kiss.

“Gabrielle if we don’t go right now…”

 ****

They walked into the dining room together. Morgan guided Gabrielle over to the table that Isaac and Henry were seated at. The two men stood as Morgan pulled out Gabrielle’s chair. After they were all seated Morgan made the introductions. Henry just smiled at Morgan as she prepared her first cup of coffee.

“What?!” Morgan said to her friend as she poured the coffee.

“Oh nothing.” He said, as he suddenly became very interested in the food on his plate.

Gabrielle tried with little success to suppress a smile.

“Oh now don’t you start too.” Morgan said as she passed her a cup of coffee.

“Why do I feel like I’m the only one at the table missing out on the joke?” Isaac asked as he took a bite of his pancakes.

“There’s no joke to miss out on.” Morgan commented as she sipped her coffee.

“So how you feelin’ about the game?” Isaac asked as he took another mouthful of food.

“You know me. I never think about a game before I sit down at the table.”

A waiter came over and took the orders of the two newest arrivals. Gabrielle was amazed when Morgan just ordered toast and two eggs. She thought a woman like that would have an insatiable appetite for food as well.

Brisco scanned the room until his eyes landed on the person he needed to talk to. He walked purposely across the room and stopped behind Morgan’s chair.

Without turning around Morgan smiled. “Good morning Brisco would you like a cup of coffee?”

“No thanks Morgan. We need to talk.” He said leaning down slightly.

“So talk.”

“Privately.”

“Brisco anything you need to say to me you can say in front of my friends.”

“Oh all right. Morgan where were you last night?”

“I don’t see where’s that’s any of your business. I’m an adult.”

“Morgan. Somebody killed Duncan McGuire last night. Shot him through the throat with a derringer. Since that little episode you had with him during dinner…”

“So I’m you’re number one suspect, because he threatened me at dinner last night? I assure you Brisco I did not kill Duncan McGuire.”

“Where’s your derringer?”

“In my cabin.”

“Can you show it to me please?”

As Morgan pushed away from the table Gabrielle started to speak, “Mr. County I can…”

Morgan turned to Gabrielle and shook her head, cutting off the other woman’s words. Gabrielle rose from the table; “Do you mind if I go with you Morgan?”

“Gabrielle this will only take a minute. Just relax and enjoy your breakfast I’ll be right back.” Morgan got up from her seat.

Gabrielle returned to her seat and watched them leave the dining room. “She didn’t kill Duncan.” She whispered, trying to reassure herself that everything would be all right.

“Of course she didn’t.” Isaac said as he laid a reassuring hand on her arm. “She’ll show Brisco her gun and everything will be all right.”

“But I know she didn’t kill him.” Gabrielle said as she turned to look at Isaac. “She was with me all night last night.”

Part 2

Morgan pulled the derringer out of the dresser drawer and handed it to Brisco. He looked at the gun. Broke it open, removed a round and clicked it close. He sniffed the barrel. “Is this your derringer Morgan?”

“You just saw me get it out of my dresser. Of course it’s mine.”

He held the gun up in the palm of his hand. “Morgan are you absolutely sure this is your gun?”

“For the last time yes.”

Brisco tucked the gun in his pocket and withdrew a pair of handcuffs. “Morgan Delaney you’re under arrest for the murder of Duncan McGuire.” He grabbed her wrists and placed the handcuffs on her, securely locking her hands in front to her.

“Brisco have you lost your mind? I did not kill Duncan.”

“Morgan you’re gun has been fired and there’s a round missing.” He reached over and removed her gun belt. “Any other weapons I should know about?”

“No.” Morgan said as she sighed. “Exactly what are you planning on doing with me Brisco, we are on a boat you know?”

“Yeah a boat the was used as a prisoner transport during the war. There are still a couple of cells below in the storage area. I’ll hold you there until I can turn you over the authorities in New Orleans.”

“Great.” She growled as he led her from the room by her arm. As they entered the hallway they met Gabrielle and Henry.

“What’s going on?” Henry asked as he blocked their path.

“It’s okay Henry. Let us pass.” Morgan said calmly.

As they moved by them Morgan’s eyes met Gabrielle’s. The reporter looked down at Morgan’s manacled hands. “Morgan…” She said catching the gunfighter on the forearm.

“It’s okay Gabrielle.”

“No it’s not…”

“Gabrielle please…don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

“Morgan he has no right to do this and you know it.”

“Please…” The gunfighter pleaded, but she could tell that it wasn’t going to do any good if the reporter had any say in it.

“Mr. County, I can prove that Morgan didn’t kill McGuire.”

“How?” Brisco asked, he just wanted to get this mess cleaned up as soon as possible.

“Gabrielle…” Morgan growled. “Don’t. It’s not worth it. I’ll get out of this some other way.”

“Oh shut up.” Gabrielle directed this comment to Morgan. “Mr. County. Morgan was with me last night.”

“I know that Miss Stafford, but McGuire was killed late last night, after dinner.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that Morgan spent the night with me in my room.”

“Oh God.” Morgan groaned as she rolled her eyes.

“All night?” Brisco asked, glancing to Henry who just leaned against the wall and shrugged.

“All night.” Gabrielle confirmed.

Morgan just dropped her head and shook it back and forth. Gabrielle could hear a slight growl come deep from with in her lover.

“Why didn’t you tell me Morgan?” Brisco said as he unlocked the cuffs.

Morgan rubbed her wrists. She answered him while looking directly at Gabrielle. “Because discretion is the better part of valor. I didn’t think it was any of your business, where I spent the night.”

“But it’s an air tight alibi.” Brisco reminded her.

“Yeah until people want more details.”

“Brisco’s not going to ask for details.” Henry piped up. “Are you?”

“Who me? No not a one. If Miss Stafford says you were with her last night then that’s good enough for me and I don’t care if you were playing checkers all night.”

“Well then that’s what we’ll call it.” Morgan growled as she stared at Gabrielle. “Checkers.”

Gabrielle grinned and blushed.

Brisco tucked the cuffs away. “Well we still have one problem. Someone killed McGuire with your gun. How do you explain that?”

“I can’t. My gun was with me all night in Gabrielle’s room and it was there this morning when I got up.”

“I’m going to hold on to it for the time being until we find some answers.” He said as he patted the pocket that held the gun.

“Fine, Brisco fine. You do whatever you feel you need to do. Right now, however I have a poker game to play.” Morgan offered her arm to Gabrielle and they started up the hallway with Brisco and Henry trailing close behind.

“Gabrielle I really wish you hadn’t done that.” Morgan said under her breath as the walked back to the parlor.

“Why not?”

“Just knowing me is dangerous enough. To let people know you’re involved with me only makes it more dangerous for you.”

“A risk I am more than willing to take.” Gabrielle stopped and pulled Morgan into an alcove. Brisco and Henry continued passed them. “Face it Delaney. You’re stuck with me. You seduced me, I’m yours.” Gabrielle pulled the gunfighter’s head down and they shared yet another soul searing kiss.

Licking her lips as they parted and slowly opening her eyes, Morgan smiled. “You win. God Gabrielle you win.”

“Good. Now let’s go play some poker.” She looped her arm through Morgan’s and they continued on their way.

Morgan was the last player to arrive. As they entered the room she looked carefully at all the tables. Because of the first two “untimely” withdrawals from the game there were two tables that seated only four players. ‘Two out before it even began’, Morgan thought as she made her way across the room and took her seat.

She waved Gabrielle over and pulled a chair up behind her own. She turned to the four men seated at the table. She didn’t know any of these men so she merely addressed them as a group. “Gentlemen this is Miss Stafford. She’s a reporter who will be covering this game. I’ve invited her to join me. Any objections?

The first man rose and extended his hand to Gabrielle. “William Adams, Miss Stafford. Please sit and enjoy the show. I know no one else here will mind. Right boys?” The other men nodded their approval and smiled at the beautiful young reporter.

Gabrielle accepted the man’s hand and nodded her head slightly his direction. “Thank you Mr. Adams.” She said with a sweet smile that lit up the whole room. She took her seat and removed a pad from her back pocket and a pencil from her vest and began taking notes.

Morgan sat down ad adjusted in her seat. Something wasn’t right. She looked down at her lap. ‘Damn’ she berated herself as she waved for Isaac to come over. Her assistant was at her side in a flash. He leaned over as she whispered in his ear, he nodded and took something from her and left the table.

“Must be nice having a staff of servants on board to do all you’re runnin’ fer ya’.” Said a second much older grizzled looking man.

“Isaac is not my servant. He is my friend. I didn’t catch your name, Mr…” Morgan replied dryly, not really caring about his name, but she figured Gabrielle would want to know and she knew the reporter was taking notes.

“Dixon, Frank Dixon.” He said as he let loose with a wad of spit into a near by spittoon.

‘Oh that was attractive.’ Morgan thought as she extended her hand to the man, which was ignored. She settled back in her chair and smiled. “Have I done something to offend you Mr. Dixon?”

“It ain’t right.” He said as he aimed for the spittoon again.

“And that would be what?” She inquired with a grin, wondering if he was upset about the fact that she was a woman or that she had money.

“A woman playin’ poker. Just ain’t right.” He spit again. “Besides what I hear of ya’, ya’ don’t need to play this here man’s game. You already got moe’ money than the good Lord hisself.”

Morgan shook with silent laughter. A rare combination this one. He hated her because of the fact that she was a woman and that she had money. Usually it was one or the other. “I’m sorry Mr. Dixon. If you don’t want to play with me I’m sure you could withdrawal.”

“Hell no woman! I gots twenty thousand dollars invested in this here game.”

“So do I Mr. Dixon. So I guess we’ll just have to tolerate each other until one of us is out.”

“I guess we will.” He spit again.

Morgan watched with some humor as the other men at the table tried to hide their embarrassment at the older man’s attitude. She was grateful that not everyone shared his opinions. She glanced over to Gabrielle who just rolled her eyes and hid her grin behind her notebook.

After that display, the other two men took great pains to introduce themselves politely. Joseph Black was a young man who couldn’t help but stammer all over himself as he watched Gabrielle and introduced himself to Morgan. The only one of the group that seem to be paying attention to the task at hand was Edward James, a man about Morgan’s age. He introduced himself with a polite nod of his head.

Morgan looked up with relief in her eyes when Isaac returned with her gun belt. To the dismay of her tablemates she stood and fastened to belt around her waist and tied it off. She shifted it for comfort as she sat back down. She turned to Gabrielle and grinned. “Much better.” The reporter just nodded her head.

Very soon a waiter came around and took drink orders. Morgan declined as the other men ordered, Adams, a beer. Dixon, whiskey. Black, a beer and finally coffee for James. Morgan could see who her competition was going to be at this table for this round.

With the arrival of the first fresh deck of cards the game began. Adams drew the high card for first deal. Gabrielle watched Morgan, as she became intent on the task at hand. The reporter watched as the gunslinger looked at every card that left the deck with only her eyes. Gabrielle was amazed at the amount of concentration Morgan was putting into each and every movement she made. This was a total opposite of the woman she had been with last night. She found it hard to believe that this was the woman who openly wept after they had made love. The woman at the table was cold and calculating in every move she made.

After two hours of play, a fifteen-minute break was called. Morgan stood up and smiled at Gabrielle. “Coffee?” She asked as she stretched a bit.

The reporter slipped her notebook back into her pocket. “Sure.”

The moved to the bar and Morgan poured two cups of coffee. She passed one to the reporter and slowly brought the other to her lips.

“So all in all how goes it?” Gabrielle asked as she leaned against the bar.

“Well James could be trouble before it’s all over. Dixon will be out soon. Black may hold his own for awhile. Adams isn’t too bad, but he won’t make it past the third round. I’m up about two thousand at the moment, but we’re really just getting started.

“So I guess the next question is are you having fun?”

“Nope. I never have fun when I play Gabrielle. Poker is like war. I’m here to survive and take home the spoils.”

“Interesting analogy. Well then what do you do for fun?”

“Come on Gabrielle you know what I do for fun. You were there.” A sly grin played on her lips as she cocked her head slightly to watch the reporter’s reaction. “I play checkers.”

“And quite well I might add.” The reporter grinned back.

“Thank you. So would you like a rematch?”

“Are you implying that I lost? Personally I think it was a draw.”

“Well then maybe I want a rematch.” She leered at the reporter and waggled her eyebrows.

“I’m sure we could arrange that.” Gabrielle sipped her coffee.

“Glad to hear it.”

 ****

Play resumed. Dixon’s pure luck was starting to have an effect on Morgan. Gabrielle watched as the gunslinger became more and more involved in the tactics at the table. She watched absolutely every move that James Dixon made, and then the shift began. After winning the first four hands of the second stage Dixon began losing, badly. To add insult to injury he was loosing to Morgan. By the time the afternoon break was called for lunch, Dixon was nearly broke.

Morgan pushed back from the table as Henry came over to collect her chips. She pulled the big man down and whispered in his ear. “Tell Brisco Dixon’s cheating.”

Henry just nodded and continued his collection of Morgan’s winnings into a large oak case. Morgan leaned over and again whispered to the big man. “Unfortunately, he’s not even a good cheat.” With that she smiled and got up from her seat and turned to Gabrielle who wasn’t where Morgan expected her to be. She looked around the room to find the reporter speaking with Charlie. The steward had a wide grin on his face as Gabrielle slipped something into his hand. He nodded and turned on his heels, leaving the reporter.

“That boy’s gonna be able to retire before this trip is over.” Morgan said to herself as she made her way over to the little blonde. ” So want some lunch?” She asked as she approached.

Gabrielle turned and smiled. She said nothing, just extended her hand. Morgan cocked her head a little and grinned. She took the offered hand and they left the lounge.

It didn’t take Morgan long to figure out where they where headed. She tried to hold back the smile as Gabrielle pushed the door too Morgan’s room open. Inside there was a nice lunch for two and right in the center of the table, a checkerboard.

“Rematch?” The reporter inquired.

“Absolutely.” The gunslinger said as she pushed the door shut with her foot.

 ****

Gabrielle wasted no time in unbuttoning Morgan’s shirt and undoing the gun belt. She heard it drop to the floor as she kissed the gunslinger hard and fast. Pulling the shirt from the taller woman’s trousers and pushing it off her shoulders. Morgan began by pushing Gabrielle’s vest off and unbuttoning the tops of her pants. Somewhere in the back of Morgan Delaney’s mind she began to wonder if there would ever be a time when they would take their time undressing each other or if they were always going to be in such a hurry. She decided now wasn’t the time.

Stripped to the waist, Morgan stopped Gabrielle’s hands from divesting her of anymore of her clothing. She however held firmly to the young woman and continued to remove her clothes as she backed her into the bed. As she pushed the reporter’s pants and undergarments down from her hips she guided Gabrielle gently into sitting position on the bed.

Gabrielle watched with shear delight and raw passion as Morgan knelt before her and removed her boots and pulled her clothing free of her body. Morgan’s hands now began a slow climb up said body. Massaging every inch of flesh they came in contact with. The gunslinger looked into the eyes of her young lover with a silent question and was answered with a slight nod of the reporter’s head.

Gabrielle leaned back on the palms of her hands as Morgan gripped her calves and pulled her forward so that her hips barely rested on the edge of the bed. Soft lips found the inside of the reporter’s thighs. Morgan kissed and nipped at the smooth, warm flesh as low whimpers began to rise from Gabrielle’s throat.

“Yes…Morgan please don’t tease me.” She begged as her hips thrust forward slightly, trying to lure her lover in.

“Patience Gabrielle, patience.” Morgan teased as she ran her tongue firmly up the inside of a quivering thigh.

“Ohhh…God!” The reporter gasped as she fell back on the bed, clutching at the covers. She heard a soft laugh come from the floor. “You are so cruel to me…” She gasped as Morgan’s mouth continued to tease her.

Morgan let her hands travel up Gabrielle’s body. Coming to rest on her breasts, which shook slightly with the pure frustration of the moment. Morgan heard a soft gasp as her thumbs brushed against already hardened nipples.

“Morgan please…please don’t tease me like this.” The reporter begged as she lifted her head and green eyes locked with blue as Morgan gave her a wicked little smile and kissed her on that ever so small space between the top of her thigh and her soft patch of curls. All she could do was growl and watch as Morgan proceeded to brush her lips and face gently across the damp curls. To the other small space where she gave another soft kiss and then followed up by bringing that part of the flesh into her mouth for a firm, but gentle suck and a lick before releasing it. “You’re trying…to kill me…” The reporter gasped as she once again fell back into the bed.

“No I’m not.” Morgan said as she gently parted the folds of her lover and blew a warm breath across the heated flesh.”

“Yes you are!” Gabrielle yelled are her hips thrust forward, finally causing the contact her whole body demanded.

With that Morgan was lost in her own desire. Desire which involved, only to make Gabrielle happy. She dipped into the warm center and drank deeply of the offering she found there.

“Ohhh…God…Morgan…” Gabrielle moaned as the gunfighter explored greater the depths and passions of her young lover.

Gabrielle’s body was on fire at every touch. Morgan Delaney had won. She consumed her, mind, heart, body and soul. They were merging together again. The puzzle was once again complete. The halves were now whole. The union of the soul was complete.

As the swell of desire crashed into her body she sat upright tangling her hands in long dark a hair, holding her lover in place as she rode the waves one after another, murmuring into Morgan’s ear, “I love you. I love you.” The phrase repeated until very last ounce of strength left her body and she finally fell back onto the bed, a trembling, tearful mass.

Morgan gently moved onto the bed and pulled Gabrielle into her arms and held her as her body quaked and her breathing returned to normal. “Shh…I’ve got you go ahead. It’s all right Gabrielle I’ve got you.” She stroked the young woman’s back and held her as close as they could get without being inside each other.

After a few minutes Morgan looked down at the tear stained face resting on her shoulder. “You okay?”

Gabrielle simply nodded words would fail her right now. She didn’t even want to try. Morgan accepted the nod and held her even closer.

“Morgan?”

“Hmm?”

“Meant it. Every time I said it. I love you.”

“I love you too Gabrielle. Will you think about something for me?”

“Of course.”

“When the trip is over. Stay with me. Don’t go back to New York.”

The reporter lifted up and looked into those blue eyes she had known for an eternity. “Really? You want me to stay with you?”

“More than anything. Will you think about it?” She asked as she brushed back soft golden hair from Gabrielle’s face.

“I don’t have too. Yes Morgan I’ll stay with you.”

They gave themselves over to the kiss. The kiss that was so perfect there would probably never be another like it. The kiss, that sealed their destinies in this lifetime.

 **** 

It was very close to time for the game to resume by the time they emerged for the cabin. Both of them wore silly grins and neither of them cared. Morgan winked at Gabrielle and gave her on last kiss before they entered the lounge. Morgan took her seat and Isaac brought her chips over.

“What were you doing during lunch?” He asked as he opened the box and allowed her to take what she needed.

“Playing checkers.” She said dryly as Gabrielle snickered behind him.

“Umm…yeah. You’re the boss.”

“Where’s Henry?”

“He and Brisco are dealing with ‘that little matter’ you pointed out before lunch.”

“Okay.”

The other three players joined her and a fresh deck was laid on the table. No one made an attempt to touch it. Brisco entered the lounge and walked over to the table.

“Morgan can I speak to you for a minute?”

“Is somebody dead?”

“No it’s the other thing.”

She stood up and they walked over to the bar. Brisco turned his back to the room and asked quietly. “What was Dixon doing?”

“Dealing off the bottom of the deck.” She answered just as quietly as she too turned her back to the room and they watched each other in the mirror. This was not a subject that needed to be over heard by everyone else in the room.

“I figured as much.” Brisco said with a sigh. “We found a couple of aces on him too.”

“Why am I not surprised.” She replied as she poured a cup of coffee and returned to her seat.

Brisco came back to the table. “Gentlemen. Mr. Dixon has been disqualified from the game. You are free to start playing at your leisure.”

The three men looked over at Morgan who just shrugged and sipped her coffee. She wasn’t going to tell them if Brisco wasn’t.

 ****

They had played about a half dozen hands when the doors to the lounge burst open and Dixon hurled himself into the room. “You bitch!” He yelled as he charged the table where Morgan was seated. She was on her feet in a flash. Through out the room various things occurred. Some of the men remained seated others jumped to their feet at the intrusion. As Gabrielle got to her feet, Dixon charged Morgan and they went flying backward. Morgan crashed solidly into a support beam and found the wind knocked out of her.

Dixon backed off and grabbed a handful of her hair, pulling her to her feet. He drew back his hand, but before it had time to make contact, a chair crashed over his back. He forgot about Morgan for the time being and turned to find Gabrielle holding the remains of the chair. As he turned to her, Morgan regained her breath and tackled him around the waist sending them both sprawling over the table that they had been playing on earlier in the day.

The fight was on. Some of the men took this as an opportunity to take out hostilities that had been brewing all day and before any one really had any idea what had happened there was a knock down drag out fight going on. Brisco, Henry and Isaac came charging into the fray. They went in three different directions trying to break up more than thirty different fights.

Morgan was holding her own so none of them were concerned for her. Gabrielle on the other hand was an entirely different matter and she soon found herself being backed into a corner. Morgan caught sight of the possible problem and vaulted over the bar. She found a good sturdy broom and broke the handle off at the base.

“Gabrielle!” She called and as soon as she had the reporter’s attention she tossed her the handle.

“And what am I suppose to do with this?” The reporter yelled back as she caught the stick.

“Try hitting them with it!” Morgan yelled back, as she reversed over the bar letting her feet make a solid connection into the chest of a rather large man who was about to break a bottle over Brisco’s head. She landed neatly on her feet and smiled at Brisco. He put his hand on top of her head and pushed down. Forcing her down just in time to strike a punch at another man who was coming up behind them. She stood and looked briefly behind her. “Thanks.” She said as she watched Gabrielle using the broom handle against two men at the same time. “Apparently there are some things you just don’t forget.” She mused aloud as she and Brisco turned and threw identical punches at two men who were approaching from the side.

All and all the fight last less than five minutes, but by the time it was over the room was a wreck. Broken tables and chairs were strewn about the room. The floor was covered in poker chips, glass, blood and bodies. It looked like a war zone. Morgan ran her hand over her own busted lip and smiled. “Well I’ll be damned.” She said as she looked at the blood on the back of her hand. “It’s been a while.” She turned and walked over the Gabrielle who was resting against the bar. She was still hanging onto the broom handle. Morgan took it from her and tossed it behind the bar and drew her into a hug.

“You okay?” She asked as she did a visual check for injuries to the reporter.

“Un-huh.” She answered almost not believing it herself.

“You did good.”

“If you say so.” Gabrielle shook it off and looked at Morgan for the first time. “You got kinda banged up.” She reached for a bar towel and held it to Morgan’s lip.

“Yeah well it comes with the job.” Morgan said as she took the towel and continued pressing it to her lip.

Brisco announced that the game would be suspended for at least the rest of the day. He didn’t even want to announce that it might be cancelled once he spoke with the organizer. Everyone surrounded him with a multitude of questions. Morgan simply put her arm around Gabrielle, began walking through the rubble of the room and retrieved her hat.

“Don’t you need to…” Gabrielle started.

“No. Henry and Isaac will take care of everything for me. Let’s just get out of here.”

“No arguments here.”

 ****

They strolled up on deck. Morgan leaned against the rail and took a deep breath. She looked at the rag that she had used to stop her bleeding lip. “I must be getting old.” She said with a chuckled. “That hasn’t happened in a while.”

Gabrielle turned Morgan’s face to her. “Yeah it’s gonna be ugly for a few days.” She kissed her very tenderly on the bruise.

“That made it feel much better thank you.” She grinned.

“Glad to be of service. So can I ask you a question?”

“You know you can?”

“Where exactly did I agree to follow you to?”

“Well I travel quite a bit, but if that doesn’t appeal to you I have several homes to choose from.”

“No traveling sounds very nice. Where are we going next?”

“I hadn’t really thought about it.” Morgan withdrew her cigar case and took one tapping it thoughtfully against the case. “Where would you like to go?” She asked as the placed in between her lips and struck the match. She watched Gabrielle as she considered the question. She watched her a bit too long. “Owww damn.” She growled as she shook her hand and let the match drop over board.

Gabrielle giggled and took her hand. She brought the burnt finger to her lips and kissed it softly and the she took it a little further and brought it into her mouth giving it very sensuous attention inside her mouth with a very soft and loving tongue. Morgan felt her knees go weak, as she watched the reporter, whose eyes never left hers. A smile played on Gabrielle’s lips as her mouth and tongue eased the ache of that particular burn. “All better?” Gabrielle asked as she gave the injured digit a soft kiss.

“It got my thumb too.” Morgan replied with a grin.

“Oh poor baby.” She said as she kissed the tip of the thumb and then lavished the same attention on it.

Morgan heard the little moan that had escaped her throat. She just hadn’t realized it belonged to her until Gabrielle’s giggle made her realize it. She pulled her hand back and grinned. “You are an evil woman Gabrielle Stafford.” She struck a second match and lit the cigar, flipping the match away carefully. “So you were about to tell me where you wanted to go.”

“You mean besides back to the cabin?”

“Yes I mean besides back to the cabin.” Morgan replied as she took a drag of the cigar.

“I know you’re going to think this is crazy…”

“Oh try me. At this point nothing could seem crazy.”

“Greece.”

“What?”

“Greece. I want to go to Greece.”

“Okay. Mind if I ask why?”

“We left something undone there, something important.”

“We did huh?”

“Yeah.”

“All right Greece is it. We’ll leave whenever you’re ready.”

“Can we go after the tournament?”

“Of course Gabrielle, for you anything.” Morgan drew the reporter into her arms and after a quick glance around to make sure they where quite alone she kissed her. Long and passionately.

 ****

Brisco stood over the body. This was not good, not good at all. Another dead player, this one apparently poisoned. “You know some days are just easier than others.” He mumbled as he pulled the sheet over the body. He turned to Charlie. “You found him just like this?”

“Yes sir. Just like this. I came to clear his dishes away and when I didn’t get an answer I came into his cabin to get the food…Oh no.” A realization came to the purser

“What?”

“Miss Stafford ordered lunch taken to Miss Delaney’s cabin.”

Brisco left he dead man’s cabin and headed for Morgan’s room. He arrived and knocked. Receiving no answer he put his shoulder into the door, he felt it give but it remained locked. Again he put his shoulder into the door. Henry and Isaac where coming down the hallway as Brisco put his shoulder into the door a third time.

“Brisco what are you doing?

“Have you seen Morgan?”

“No.”

“Then help me get this door open. We just found Charles Clark dead in his cabin. It looks like he was poisoned.”

“What’s that got to do with Morgan?”

“She had lunch in her cabin this afternoon. Just like Clark.”

“They were both at the game before the fight.” Isaac offered.

“Yeah I know then apparently Clark returned to his cabin and died. My guess would be the fight accelerated the poison.” Brisco explained.

“Stand back.” Henry said as he put his body into the door and busted it open.

The three men examined the room. Lunch was there, but untouched. The bed was made, albeit slightly rumpled. The cabin was however empty. As they turned to leave they found Morgan and Gabrielle standing in the doorway. Morgan was examining the busted in frame of her door. She picked a splinter of wood from the frame and held it up in front of her.

“Care to explain guys?” She said as she flicked the wood at them.

“Umm well…” Isaac started.

“We thought you might just be in here dead. Charles Clark was found dead after ordering lunch in his room today.” Brisco finished as he stepped forward. “Did either of you eat any of this food?”

“No.” Morgan stepped further into the room and looked the food over. “Gabrielle who did you order this from?”

“Charlie.”

“Well Brisco. I think we need to go talk to Charlie.”

 ****

The young man looked nervous as the men and Morgan stood over him. He glanced over to Gabrielle, who smiled softly at him he smiled back. “It’s okay.” She mouthed trying to calm him. He didn’t know why, but it did.

“Miss Stafford ordered lunch taken to Miss Delaney’s cabin. I put the order in at the galley and then took the tray down myself.” He said as he sipped on a glass of water.

“What about Clark’s lunch?” Brisco asked as he paced back and forth in the lounge

“I don’t know who ordered it. I was just told to take it to the cabin. The chef could probably tell you. Or maybe the head waiter.”

“All right Charlie thanks.” Morgan said to him as she patted him on the shoulder. She turned to Brisco “You want the chef or the head waiter?”

“I don’t care. You do know what this means don’t you?” He asked quietly as they went to a corner to talk.

“Yeah we’re still a half a day out of New Orleans and we can’t be sure it’s safe to eat or drink anything on board. Tell you what. You go talk to the waiter and I’ll send Henry and Isaac to talk to the chef. Gabrielle and I will see what we can do about securing things that might be safe to eat and drink. How many people are there on board?”

“Counting crew and passengers together, about seventy.”

“Okay. We’ll meet in my cabin later. Say in two hours?”

“Two hours it is.”

 ****

Morgan put the key to the cell in her pocket as she stood back and surveyed the food items that had been deemed safe to eat and then stored and locked in the cells that she was nearly a prisoner of earlier in the day.

“That should do it.” She said as she turned to Gabrielle who was rubbing tired muscles. “You okay?” She said as she moved to the reporter and began massaging her shoulders.

“Ohhh yeaah…” Gabrielle moaned as she relaxed into the massage. “I’m much better now. Can you do that for the next two hours?” She said as her head lilted to one side.

“For you my love,” Morgan said as she buried her face in the exposed neck. “I can do anything you like all night.” She whispered as she nipped playfully at the neck and earlobe.

“Morgan…ummm…doesn’t it bother…you in…” The reporter was having trouble forming a coherent thought as the gunfighter continued the quest of her neck. “bother…you that…there are three…men dead?”

Morgan stopped and thought about it for a second. “No.”

Gabrielle spun around and looked into Morgan’s eyes. “It doesn’t?”

“No. Gabrielle it doesn’t. It’s the nature of the business. It’s the law of the land. Men die.”

“Somebody is murdering these men Morgan.”

“Yes and I intend to find out who it is, but it doesn’t bother me. I can’t afford to let it bother me. If I did I wouldn’t be able to find out who is doing it. I would be ineffective with what I do.”

“What is it you do exactly?”

“Everything…anything.”

“For a price?”

“No not anymore. I gave that up. Now I do it because it’s the right thing to do. Face it Gabrielle, all of this really isn’t my problem. It’s Brisco’s, but I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t try to help him.”

“You are amazing.” Gabrielle said as she leaned up and kissed Morgan softly.

“Well gee thanks.” The gunfighter teased with a wink. “Come on we’ve got to meet Brisco.”

 ****

“Well apparently Clark ordered his own lunch.” Brisco said as he paced back and forth across the cabin. “And he was served from the same food that everyone else ate.”

“Which means someone poisoned just his food or all of the food ordered to be taken to cabins for lunch.” Morgan said as she leaned against the wall smoking one of her cigars.

Gabrielle was beginning to doubt her own sanity in all of this. Even though Morgan and Brisco stood trying to put the pieces of this puzzle together she couldn’t help but notice how damn sexy Morgan really was. She took in every inch of the gunfighter as she leaned against to wall, one leg bent at the knee with her foot tucked behind the knee of the other leg. Then a thought occurred to her.

“Brisco who were the top five contenders for the last round, the last five players expected to be left.” She asked as she stood and crossed the room to face Morgan as Brisco withdrew a list from his pocket.

“Let’s see…umm…McGuire, Cantrell, Clark, Bishop and…”

“Delaney.” Gabrielle whispered as her eyes locked with Morgan and Brisco said it aloud. “Somebody’s killing the top five. Morgan that means you could be next.”

Morgan’s eyebrows arched as she took in what Gabrielle had just said. “Hmm…well what do you know.” She said as smoke exited her nose and mouth. “What about John Bishop? Anybody seen him lately?”

“I think we should go to his cabin and check on him.” Brisco said as they all made for the door. “Hey Brisco whose number six on that list?”

“Some guy named G.W. Resa. Know him?” Brisco asked as they walked down the corridor.

“Never heard of him.” Morgan admitted as they ended up in front of Bishop’s cabin.

Brisco knocked no answer. They waited for a minute longer then Morgan moved into place and kicked the door open. John Bishop was hanging by his neck, dead. Gabrielle turned and left Morgan and Brisco to the task of cutting him down. “I suggest a talk with Mr. Resa is in order.” Brisco said as they laid the man out on the floor of the cabin.

“Definitely.” Morgan agreed as they left the cabin. Morgan wrapped her arm around Gabrielle. “You okay?” The reporter nodded. Morgan kissed the top of her head and they followed Brisco through the corridor.

Suddenly if front of them a group of men appeared. They didn’t look happy and what made matters worse was that they seemed focused on Morgan as their target. “Get her!” One of them yelled and they rushed forward. The trio turned and headed back the way they had come only to be cut off by another group.

“Oh this is bad.” Brisco said, as he looked both ways. “Very, very bad.”

“It isn’t good.” Morgan said as she stopped and took stock of the window in front of her. She removed her hat and covered her hand with it and punched out the window, breaking away the glass and hopefully giving them an escape route. “Brisco hold them off for a second will ya?”

“Oh sure I’d be happy too.” He replied sarcastically.

“I need time to get Gabrielle out the window.”

“Well do it quick!”

“I’m not leaving without you!” Gabrielle started to argue even as Morgan lifted her into the window.

“Oh yes you are!” Morgan said as she helped the reporter out, lowering her feet first and holding her by both arms. Morgan stuck her head out the window to see exactly where Gabrielle was being dropped too. The next deck. It wasn’t going to be a fun drop but then again unexpected flights out broken windows never tended to be fun. “I’ll be right behind you Gabrielle.”

“Morgan no!” Gabrielle tried to hang on to the strong arms that held her, but Morgan released and she fell to the next deck.

As she regained her senses she looked around quickly to make sure she was safe. Then back to the window. A pair of boots were coming out the window. Not Morgan’s, Brisco’s. The lawman dropped to the deck below right next to the reporter. She helped him to his feet and they both looked back to the window. They waited. Gunfire erupted from above them.

“NO!” Gabrielle cried as Brisco put his arm around her and started to pull her away.

“Come on Gabrielle we’ve got to get this boat to shore at the next town.”

“No Brisco I won’t leave…”

“She made me promise to keep you safe now come on!” He yelled as he practically drug her away.

They made a dash for the wheelhouse. So far no one pursued them. Brisco entered the wheelhouse locking the door behind them.

The Captain turned to them. “What in the blazes is going on here? The aged Captain growled as the two leaned breathlessly against the door.

“Captain you’ve got to dock us at the next town.” Brisco said as he gasped for air.

“What? Why? We agreed we’d take care of this in New Orleans.”

“Yeah well there’s been a change of plans. Now prepared to dock us.”

“Shoulda told me that eight hours ago. That was the last town before New Orleans.” The Captain said as he eyed Brisco.

“How long to New Orleans?” Gabrielle asked.

“Five maybe six hours.”

The lawman and the reporter looked to each other. “Can we hold them off for five or six hours?” She asked

“Do we have a choice?”

“Would somebody please do me the courtesy of telling me what is going on?”

Brisco started to explain as best he could.

 ****

Morgan lay in the corridor. One bullet had entered her thigh and was still there. The other had passed straight through her shoulder. Had she ducked just a little sooner they might just have shot each other and gotten it over with the way she had planned, but there always had to be the ONE guy with the itchy trigger finger. She pulled herself up by her one good arm. Which, thank God for small miracles was her right and her primary gun hand. It hurt like hell to stand on the leg, but she had very little choice. She pulled a revolver from its holster and began to make her way to the wheelhouse. She knew that’s where Brisco and Gabrielle should be.

There seemed to be small bands of men moving around the boat looking for her. With the trail of blood she was leaving behind she wasn’t going to be too hard to find. She stopped and pulled a pair of curtains from a small window and ripped them into strips and tied off the leg. A shot rang out and hit just to the left of her head. “Son of a bitch.” She mumbled as she took a deep breath and ducked the wood chips that splintered away. She looked up the hallway and didn’t see anyone. “I should have taken Gabrielle’s offer and stayed in bed. At least I would have died with a smile on my face.” She heard a noise to her right and turned gun up, to find Henry and Isaac. “Oh am I glad to see you.”

“What in the hell is going on?” Henry asked as he offered her an arm to lean on and Isaac took her other side.

“Would you believe I don’t have any idea.” She said as she handed her revolver to Isaac so he could offer them some protection. “Suddenly everyone seems to want me dead.”

“And this is news to you?” Isaac tried to joke as they made their way to Henry’s cabin. Henry laid her on the bed and began ripping her shirt free from the injured shoulder.

“Isaac, get to the wheelhouse and find Gabrielle and Brisco.”

“Yes ma’am.” He started for the door.

“Isaac?”

“Yeah…” He said as he paused at the door.

“Don’t let anything happen to Gabrielle.”

“Right!” He said as he charged out of the room.

“Oww! Damn Henry! Could you be any rougher?” She growled as he wrapped her shoulder.

“Sure I could.” He growled back. “Quit being such a big baby. You’ve had worse.” He reached down and ripped the leg open on her trousers and looked at the leg wound. “Now that’s nasty.”

“No kidding.” She glared at him and answered through clenched teeth.

“I’m going to have to take the bullet out.” He moved to the other side of the room and took out a black bag, which Morgan recognized as the medical kit she usually carried. He returned to the bed and opened the kit taking out a bottle of whiskey he uncorked it and handed it to her.

She took a breath and took a deep drink. She gagged just a bit. Cheap whiskey really wasn’t her thing. She handed the bottle back to Henry who then proceeded to dump some of the contents on the wound. She grabbed the bed covers and growled at him.

“Ready?” He asked as he squeezed a pair of long tweezers at her.

“Oh you’re just loving this aren’t you?”

“Yeah I’m having a pretty good time with this.” He said as he made his first go for the bullet. “Remember the time on the ship when you removed that splinter for me? You tortured me over that for days.”

“I think there’s a big difference…” She grimaced and sucked in a lung full of air. “Between a bullet…” Another grimace. “In the leg and a splinter in your ass.”

“This is the payback for telling the entire crew where it was.”

 ****

Isaac, Brisco and Gabrielle made back to Henry’s cabin with very few problems. The ones they did encounter were either unconscious or over board. Henry was washing his hands free of the blood from taking care of Morgan. Morgan was asleep on the bed, her wounds treated and bandaged.

Gabrielle looked to Henry silently for permission and he nodded. She went over and sat on the edge of the bed, taking Morgan’s hand and brushing back a few hairs from her face. “Is she going to be okay?” She asked quietly.

“Oh she’ll be fine. We’ve seen a lot worse than this. Haven’t we Isaac?”

“Yeah this is nothing.” Isaac agreed.

“Oh boy…” The reporter muttered.

 ****

The three men left them alone, deciding they could offer better protection to the injured gunfighter by patrolling around the boat and trying to get a handle exactly on what was happening. Brisco left Morgan’s revolvers with Gabrielle, giving her a quick lesson in how to use if the need arose. This was after the reported admitted she had never handled a gun before.

Alone now, Gabrielle just sat and stared at Morgan as the sun began to set. It would only be a few more hours until they were safe in New Orleans. She laid her head down on the bed and let her eyes close.

The tall dark man walked next to her. They seemed to be friends, but something about him bothered her. Even in the dream state her skin crawled.

“We were starting to warm up to each other there weren’t we?” He asked.

“Yeah we were.” She said with a light laugh.

“I didn’t like it.”

“Right back at ya’.”

“Okay.” He agreed and they continued walking.

Gabrielle bolted upright from the bed. She looked over at Morgan. She hated to wake the sleeping gunfighter, but she had the answer. “Morgan…come on Morgan wake up.”

“Not now Gabrielle can’t you see I’m wounded.” She mumbled as she tried to wake up.

“Very funny Delaney. Wake up I know who’s responsible for all this.”

Morgan opened her eyes and turned her head, arching the eyebrow she waited for the reporter to explain.

She took a deep breath and finally said, “Ares. G.W. Resa is Ares”

“As in the Greek God of War Ares?” Morgan said with a hint of disbelief.

“Umm yeah that would be the one.”

“Okay Gabrielle I think we just crossed over the “how insane does this all sound” line.”

“Morgan. In that past life…you two sort of had a ‘thing’. It was sick, it was twisted, but it was a ‘thing’. You two just seemed to love to hate each other.”

“Why don’t I remember any of this?”

“I’m not sure…but I am sure that Ares is behind all of this.”

“Un-huh.” Morgan said as she sat up. “Okay Gabrielle let’s assume just for a minute that you’re right. How exactly does one fight the God of War?”

“Well I’m not sure about that either.”

“Boy you’re awfully quick to invoke a God without having all the answers. Don’t you think that might just piss ‘em off just a little bit?” She said with a laugh.

The flash in the room startled them both, but Morgan found her legs and her gun and stood with it drawn on the man who had just appeared out of nowhere. He was tall, dark haired, with a dark beard and mustache. This was the man from Gabrielle’s dream.

“It’s him.” She whispered out of the corner of her mouth.

“Grrrreat!” Morgan growled as she leveled her gun on him.

“You know what ‘pisses’ me off?” He said as he stared at them. “The fact that you two keep finding each other, lifetime after lifetime. What is it with you and irritating little blondes anyhow?” His last comment was directed at Morgan. “Oh by the way put the gun away Xe…sorry…Morgan. It won’t do you any good.”

“I’ll be the judge of that you just stay were you are and we won’t have to find out alright.”

“Okay tiger. Still the same great warrior you’ve always been. I love the new duds by the way. Not as good as the leather, but very nice. You really should do something about your pants though. Nasty tear you got there. You know you really got on my nerves during that last little conflict I managed to get going. The south was suppose to win, but because of your meddling…” He paused and just shook his head. “So I managed to get you aboard for this little shindig so I could get rid of you and who shows up? Blondie, just what I needed. You know I just hate it when you two get together. You always manage to screw things up for me.”

“Well gee so sorry about that.” Morgan said as she moved forward a bit. “So you want me dead. Do it.”

“You know I can’t do it. It has to be done by someone else, but now you’ve managed to ruin all the fun I was having here too. Or at least she did.” He glared at Gabrielle.

“Morgan. He can only hurt you if you don’t remember who he is.” Gabrielle said, as it all started to fall together. “Once he’s pointed out to you he has to leave you alone.”

Morgan smiled. “And you remembered who he was and pointed him out.”

“Right.” The reporter had a wide grin on her face. “You’ve lost again Ares go home.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’ll go for now. But you know me Gabrielle…I’ll be back.” He disappeared just as he had arrived, in a flash of light.

 ****

Morgan stretched it was a good stretch. Home in her own warm, soft bed with the morning sun coming in through the window. The events of six weeks ago had started to fade and Morgan had come home to Charleston. It almost all seemed to be a dream.

The only thing that made it all that more pleasant and real was the warm form of the reporter lying next to her. She smiled and rolled over pulling the woman close.

“Gabrielle…” She said as she nuzzled the reporter’s neck.

“Hmmm…”

“Wake up love” She purred as she moved closer pulling the woman closer to her, letting her hand slowly travel over the slim form of her lover.

“Make me…” She said with a smile, her eyes remained closed.

“Oh I can do that.” The gunfighter growled as she rolled the reporter over and gave her a long lingering kiss.

  

The End

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