Disclaimer: Of course I don't own them. If I did, the show would still be on... which would mean that it would now be called something like 'Bordertown - 30 Years Later.' I suspect that the actors would be slightly put out at being tied to a show for 30 years. But they would definitely have more money than I got for writing this story, which is nada.

Marie's Decision

by Linda Bindner

Marie sat quietly in her parlor, staring out the window, but not really seeing the horses and wagons that passed on the muddy street in front of her house. She was too caught up in her deep thinking to notice any of them. Once again she found herself in the unenviable position of having to decide which man she loved and/or wanted to marry: Clive or Jack.

How in the world had she gotten into this position again? After the last time two years before, she'd sworn to herself that she wouldn't encourage either man more than the other. And for some time she'd been quite successful. She'd toned down her flirting with both men, and it'd had a noticeable effect. Clive would have married a friend from his past if she hadn't been the victim of a vengeful man bent on hurting the Mountie. And Jack...

Well, now that she thought of it, her lack of flirting hadn't had much of an impact on Jack's behavior. Nevertheless, that behavior had grown decidedly cooler towards her, leaving him as more of a friend to her than a paramour. However, what she suspected were his true feelings about her resurfaced every now and then, displayed in simple things like taking her for dinner at the saloon, occasionally bringing her a cup of coffee, or in the various ways he had of insuring her safety while in a dangerous situation.

Considering dangerous situations, the fact that she again found herself in this particular position was the result of a dangerous situation, one that she'd been sure none of them would survive, and therefore hadn't felt her usual reluctance to re-awaken the buried feelings concerning her in both men.

Actually, her response to that situation had been more desperate than simple flirting. She'd kissed both men, and even promised to marry Jack if they got out of that situation alive. She hadn't expected to survive, hadn't expected Jack to survive the bullet he'd been struck with, hadn't expected Clive to have survived his shooting. The fact that they'd all survived was a miracle in itself.

However, all this rumination wasn't doing Marie any good at all. She was no closer to making her decision than she'd been an hour ago. In order to clear her mind of all the extraneous thoughts clogging her brain, she decided to mentally list the pros and cons of each man one more time.

Clive was a learned man: he'd gone to college, could read, and even read books when he had the time. She and he would easily meet on an academic plain, and Marie had no trouble picturing the long future talks she and Clive would have discussing plays, literature, and issues of the day if she married Clive.

On the other hand, Jack was just the opposite: he was so unlearned that he still had trouble reading the simplest thing despite the reading lessons she had been giving him for several years. He was rough and unrefined, especially compared to the more genteel Clive. He picked food out of his teeth with his fingernails. He lived by the unmerciful code of the West - his gun. He didn't even bathe all that often. He was a good Marshall, but Marie thought that was mostly due to luck. The man even frequently forgot to shave! Being married to him was bound to be an adventure in fortitude and patience, lacking in the academic pursuits that more befitted a doctor of Medicine.

Then there was the fact that Jack was an American citizen, while Clive was Canadian. If she married Jack, there was every chance that she would end up in some forgotten and wild part of the United States, and as she was a Canadian citizen, that would most likely cause some problems. She would forever be a foreigner in a strange country.

If she were to marry Clive, at least she would not be forsaking her own country. But Clive was a Mountie, and was duty bound to go where his superiors assigned him. He was likely to remain in Bordertown for another year or two, but would eventually be transferred to somewhere else. And then what would happen to her? As Clive's wife, she would also be duty bound to transfer with him, where she would be in her own country, true, but frequently surrounded by strangers, just as she would be if she married Jack. So neither man had an advantage in this point.

Something connected to that point was important, however: if she married Clive, she would no longer be Docteur Marie Dumont - she would be Mrs. Clive Bennett. There was little chance that she would find herself in another town where her medical abilities were as needed as they were in Bordertown. She had worked so hard for her doctor's license: was she willing to give that up in order to be married to Clive?

She would not have to give up being a doctor if married to Jack. As a US Marshall, he would likely remain in Bordertown for some time, and her medical practice would continue for the foreseeable future. She wouldn't have to give up the store, either, and though it wasn't much of a store, it was dear to her heart, and giving it up would hurt.

Then there was a personal point that she hadn't considered yet: did she even want to get married again? Being married meant being... intimate. Besides being intimate intimate, it also meant living with someone, sleeping with them in the same bed, cooking for him, cleaning for him, doing all those wifely things that she hadn't had to deal with since Jacques died.

Of course, Jack or Clive would be in the position to do husbandly things, too. Marie wrinkled her nose in curiosity - what were 'husbandly things,' anyway?

She knew that she had taken the cowards way out of making a decision the last time the two men had asked her to marry them, and she knew that she could use the same excuse once more - that she wasn't over her first husband yet to even think of marrying again. Experience told her that Clive and Jack would be disappointed, but accepting of this stall tactic on her part.

But she wasn't sure she would find it as acceptable. She was a bit older now, she had Lucy to look after, and... and to be honest, she didn't know if she could fake her way through a denial this time. And did she even want to?

Ugh! Marie ran her hand through her long blond hair, mussing the careful arrangement. She'd had the silly thought this morning that it would be easier to come to a decision if she was more prim and proper in her appearance. But now she understood how ludicrous that idea had been. Prim and proper might be alright for a dance on Friday night, but now it just meant that she ended up tugging painfully on her hair when she wanted to get comfort out of running her fingers through it. Disgusted with herself and the situation, Marie reached for the combs holding her hair in place, giving them an impatient tug. Blond hair cascaded around her shoulders in waves. She thankfully massaged her scalp as her mind continued to whirl.

Letting her hair down brought another point to mind that she hadn't considered yet: ridiculously enough, it had to do with her hair. She typically wore her hair down around her shoulders, either braided or simply held back with combs or a ribbon, while the other women in town always wore their hair held up in a bun. Joanna Radway wore her hair pulled back so tight that she seemed sharper than she was because her forehead wrinkled under such an unforgiving hairdo. She almost looked Chinese with the corners of her eyes tugged into a new sharpness by the bun she wore. In contrast, Marie looked more relaxed, friendlier, more open than most of the women in town. And she preferred it this way - her hairdos were less restricting to be sure, but also far less typical of the fashion of the day.

In one way, her hair symbolized the woman she'd lately become; one who was freer, more tolerant, more forgiving. If she were to marry the proper Clive Bennett, she would be expected to give up her more relaxed habits and conform more with daily fashions. She wouldn't want a simple thing like her choice of hairdo to in any way influence the opinion his superiors had of him or of his career. If she even suspected that was happening, she would never be able to forgive herself.

If she were to marry Jack, however, how she chose to wear her hair - or behave, for that matter - was absolutely irrelevant. Jack was definitely not as prim and proper as 'By-the-book-Bennett.' She could do as she liked, be as she liked, choose to follow any career she liked. Being a female doctor was unusual, but not unheard of in the United States, especially in the small towns of the West. The Western United States was just not as civilized as Canada was, and Marie found that she liked that uncivilized aspect quite a bit. It was the same uncivilized part of Jack that Marie quite frankly found exciting.

Then there was Lucy to consider...

Marie's hand was running through her hair almost constantly by this point.

Marie rose to peel potatoes for lunch, a benign task meant to take her mind off the decision she had yet to make. It was cowardly of her, she knew, and she hated acting like a frightened deer once again, but she didn't know what else to do at this point. Perhaps she should ask Sally what she should do?

As soon as she thought of it, Marie realized how pointless that would be. She knew what Sally would say: 'Listen to your heart, Marie, not your mind.'

Maybe she should ask Lucy? After all, any decision she made automatically influenced what would happen to the young girl. Would either Clive or Jack be opposed to inheriting a young girl as well as taking on a wife? How did they feel about Lucy, anyway? She'd never thought to ask them, and now felt the effects of that particular oversight.

As Marie tackled the potatoes, she realized that what either man thought of Lucy didn't really matter. What truly mattered was: did she, not Lucy, love either man? It was a question she had shied away from since the very beginning of her deliberations, but really the only opinion that mattered. Immediately uncomfortable, Marie forced herself to pause in her peeling duties to give her heart that search that the imaginary Sally assured she needed.

Did she love Clive? Did she love Jack? Had that settled feeling from before meant that she'd loved Jacques and should expect nothing more from a second marriage to anybody because there was nothing more?

Could she live without Clive? She really would enjoy those literary discussions he and she were sure to have. But such discussions were clearly more along the lines of she and Clive being friends who might enjoy a friendly debate or two. It didn't mean that she was so in love with the man that she couldn't live without him.

Conversely, could she live without Jack?

Instantly, Marie was barraged with images of Jack just doing his Jack-things about town: Jack breaking up a fight on the street; Jack leaning on his office's outside wall while eating a meal; Jack's laundry hanging from various places in his cabin; Jack sipping coffee while sitting near the stove in his office; Jack smiling while he ate dinner with her and Clive at Zack's saloon; Jack tearing down the street on his horse when chasing a criminal, determined to keep the town safe or die trying. As she played with each picture her mind conjured, Marie realized she would miss these things if she left.

Marie understood at last that all her soul searching had been pointless up to now. She really needed to answer this last question to her satisfaction before she could hope to come to any conclusions about anything else.

It was a pity, then, that Marie had utterly no idea what she wanted, who she loved, if she loved, or even if she wanted to marry again.

She abruptly had the feeling that it was going to be a long afternoon.

* * *

Or so Marie thought. But peeling potatoes was obviously good for her - or at least it was good for making decisions. The moment she picked up the paring knife, she quite suddenly knew what to do. Another image of Jack that was so stark it was startling flashed through her mind. He was laughing at something she'd said, the skin crinkling around his eyes as he stared at her. She watched as his face softened, and he no longer looked like the tough US Marshall that he was reputed to be. Instead, he looked happy, specifically, happy with her.

Just as suddenly, she recalled the way that Jacques had always tried to gently convince her to wear her hair more modestly, claiming that it put his patient's families more at ease if they knew their doctor's nurse wasn't going to suddenly drop strands of her hair into their loved ones gaping wounds.

Then she recalled the way he'd always told her that he was the doctor - to let him handle whatever unpleasant task had been brought to them. It was as if he secretly thought she couldn't handle something indecent, that she might faint at the sight of blood, and even though he was consistently gentle about saying it, those times always left Marie feeling slightly denigrated.

She remembered how he'd insisted she not worry about things, often saying that his discussions weren't for feminine ears. That had done nothing but frustrate her beyond imagining. Of course, she'd played the good wife then and left it at that - she hadn't known what else to do - but she would rather have talked to him about how she felt rather than ignoring her feelings. But she'd never been encouraged to share such things, and didn't want to be a bother, to him especially.

But 'not being a bother' hadn't done much to encourage that intimate closeness among married couples that she often heard about in the store.

Next, Marie tried to picture Clive not caring about the way she wore her hair. She couldn't do it. Clive was a man who revered order; having loose hair didn't quite respond to his call for order. It might mean that he as well as others might think he had a loose wife. The more civilized places in Canada were not likely to be as accepting of her habitual 'looseness' as the people of Bordertown were.

On the other hand, Jack would never tell her that the way she wore her hair was immodest. The very idea of Jack doing something like that was ridiculous. Jack was quite possibly the scruffiest man in town, so telling her any such thing as 'you must have modest hair' actually made her laugh aloud.

Jack would also never think that she couldn't handle something, whereas Clive would want to protect her from the more unpleasant realities of life. Even if she hadn't been a doctor in her own right, Jack just wouldn't assume that there was anything she couldn't handle, be it too much blood, or something more private. The idea of Jack wanting to protect her from life's harsh realities brought another bark of laughter from Marie.

And the idea of Jack saying that something was not for feminine ears... she almost cut herself, she laughed so hard.

Most importantly, Jack had offered to change for her. No one had ever offered something so personal, just for her. The memory of that event was even now so sweet, yet so wrenching as to make tears well up in her eyes. Marie loved Jack just the way he was - she didn't want him to...

She suddenly realized what comment had just automatically wafted across her mind. The thought of Jack changing even one iota had forced it out into the open. Without any provocation on her part, she had unwittingly told herself that she loved Jack just the way he was.

Just as suddenly, she knew exactly what she was going to do.

The potato she was peeling found its way into a scrap bucket at her feet as she briskly cleaned up before bolting out the door.

* * *

The slightly frantic doctor found Marshall Jack Craddock on the raised boardwalk just after he'd finished his lunch while reclining on one of the chairs set out for pedestrians.

Jack handed his plate to the passing Zack, rose, and smiled the second he saw her. “Marie!” His voice displayed his delight at seeing her on this, his first full day back to work. Then he took in the paring knife she still clutched in her hand. “Whoa! Was it something I said?”

Marie could only stare at him in confusion.

“The knife.” He gestured at the weapon in her fingers. “Why don't you put that knife down before you hurt yourself?”

Marie beamed. He hadn't said that she shouldn't hurt someone, but she shouldn't hurt herself. Even the man's side comments could make her giddy!

“Jack,” she managed to squeak as she fell in step beside him on the board sidewalk fronting her store. She carefully slipped the short knife she'd been using on the potatoes into the waistband of the skirt she was wearing so that it couldn't hurt anyone.

Jack grinned down at her. “So, what d'ya think?” he asked, then thumped himself on his chest. “Good as new, huh?”

“You certainly look better than you did,” she commented.

“It's all thanks to you,” he airily replied. “You kept me alive out in that cabin, ya know. Have I ever told you that? I'm mighty obliged to ya.”

“You might have mentioned it a time or two.” Marie's slight sarcasm fell on deaf ears. He had said the same thing every day for the last three weeks of his convalescence.

Jack's smile was pure sunlight. “I'm just glad that Halton didn't hurt you that day.” Then he glanced down, and the emotion shining out of his eyes might be newly unfettered, but it was also sincere. “I owe you my life. And I'm glad I didn't bring on a reason for you getting...” He audibly gulped, as if whatever he was going to suggest truly upset him. “Well, I just owe ya.”

They hadn't talked much about the fact that if she hadn't killed Halton, he would have killed them. She also didn't know what she thought about the fact that she'd killed someone. Some part of her knew she should feel appalled about the fact that she'd killed a man. But a far larger part of her felt that if she hadn't done what she did, he'd have finished what he'd started by shooting Jack again, and she couldn't let that happen. She ought to be more remorseful about what she'd done, but when she thought about what kind of man would want to kill Jack just because he'd been sent to jail, she couldn't.

“I want to say something,” she blurted.

Jack was surprised, but agreed. “Alright then. How 'bout let's meet in an hour at the office to..?”

“It has to be now,” she negated, wanting to sound confident, but sounding frightened instead.

Again Jack was taken by surprise enough to stop walking right in the middle of the boardwalk. Marie stopped with him. “Well... How 'bout here?” And he gestured towards the darkened interior of the saloon.

Marie surreptitiously glanced around. “I was hoping for somewhere more private,” she admitted with a grimace.

“More private?” Jack repeated as the sunny look fell off his face. His manner changed with his demeanor, and obvious anxiety took over. It was as if he knew what she was going to say... or thought he did. “Look Marie, I hope you know that I don't hold you to what you said in that cabin.”

She found his sudden nervous fidgets endearing. “Yes Jack, I think you've said something about that.”

As if he hadn't heard her, he went on with his reasoning, “I thought I was dead for sure. The only thing I cared about at that point was making sure I got him before he got you.” He shook his head, making his hair dance. “I was pretty disgusted with myself for falling asleep there at the end.”

“You were unconscious, Jack.”

Jack continued as if he hadn't heard her correction. “I didn't even wake up till we were back in town. Hell, what good was I if...”

That was it - Marie hushed him by putting her fingers over his mouth. “Am I going to have to gag you?”

His confusion was evident in his voice. “Huh?” he grunted around her fingers, then pulled them down.

Marie glanced around at the noontime crowd. “I had hoped that...”

Jack placed his hands firmly on his hips as if he knew exactly what she wanted to discuss. “I understand. You don't have to worry about...”

Marie's exasperation spilled into her voice, making her French accent so clipped that she had to speak more slowly and distinctly if she wanted to be understood. “Jack Craddock, if you don't stop talking right this minute, you will force me to do something that might embarrass you.”

Jack could only stare at her in incensed befuddlement. “Marie, what in tarnation are you..?”

“Fine.” Marie put one hand on each of his scruffy cheeks, stubble scratching her fingers, and did just what she'd threatened: she kissed him right on the mouth.

And this was no kindly peck among friends. This was a kiss meant for more private realms. But she'd warned him...

Kissing Jack was kind of like kissing a prickly pear... until the second that he realized what was going on and who was doing it. His arms, which had so far hung in wooden surprise at his sides, closed around her back in sudden acknowledgment of what was happening right there in front of Zack's Saloon. He was soft and hard at the same time, the emotion he'd held in check for so long instantly running away with him like a stampede.

It was several minutes before either of them drew back enough to realize that they were performing an act better suited to a private location right there in public for everyone to see. Yet that wasn't the first thing that Jack chose to focus on.

Instead he abruptly pulled Marie into a tight embrace, clearly treasuring her. “I wouldn'ta wanted to live if he'd got you, ya know that?” he harshly announced to the top of her head. “I think I died a thousand times that day until I knew you were safe.”

“I know,” she soothed, part of her aware of the curious people watching, but mostly too taken with the suddenly trembling man in her arms to care. “I felt the same way when he shot you.”

Still clearly stunned by the enormity of what she'd done, the brokeness of his speech increased. “This wasn't... it's not how I wanted to... I don't want to hold you to what I...”

Marie smiled against his chest, his heart beating a welcome rhythm into her ear. “Am I going to have to kiss you again to get you to stop talking about that?”

She felt his smile against her hair. At first he shook his head no, telling her without words that he promised not to repeat himself ever again. But a moment later, his response had changed to the opposite when he realized that just by agreeing with her, he would get another kiss.

Smiling, Marie looked up to see the sunniest, warmest smile shining out of his face, his eyes alight and crinkling with emotion. She'd always loved the way he did that, every inch of his face showing his delight in her.

Taking a breath, Marie carefully enunciated, “I said yes that day, and I meant it, even if you didn't.”

His smile grew as he gazed down at her in an adoration that she abruptly wanted to return. “You know I did.”

Marie couldn't help it; she giggled, her own sudden delight in him spilling out in any way it could find.

Without a break, Jack continued, “I hope you realize what you're taking on.”

Marie cocked her head in a pose of mock thoughtfulness. “I think... this is one of the best decisions I've ever made.”

* * *

Five minutes later, she still thought it was one of her best decisions, but the 'best' part of it was fast becoming circumspect. Because right now, she was faced with telling Clive of her 'best decision.'

Actually, now that she was idly thinking about her life as she walked down the raised boardwalk towards Bordertown's law enforcement office, she considered the fact that this was one of the first truly big decisions she had made completely on her own besides deciding to open the store. And that was a matter of necessity as much as a personal decision. No, that wasn't quite true: she had actively pursued her doctor's license, and that was a personal desire. Had she pursued Jack in the same way, but just hadn't realized what she was doing?

In that same vein, had she pursued Clive at the same time? Until very recently, she would have expected to want to marry Clive, not Jack. That would have been a sensible decision on her part, but not one that might have made her as giddy as she was right at this moment. She sobered when the office door came into view.

She dreaded the look that would fall onto Clive's face when she told him of her decision. He would get that trying-to-be-happy-about-it serious look of his, then tug on his uniform coat as if he was trying to smooth out the wrinkles as well as whatever was upsetting him. Maybe he also viewed the reason for his upset as mere wrinkles that he could smooth away if only he was diligent enough? Marie didn't know. She would have to ask Jack about it later - Jack spent much more time with Clive than she did.

Pausing outside to take a fortifying breath, Marie didn't give herself time to chicken out, but pushed the door open and entered the office. “Clive, I need to talk to you.”

She'd spoken without even noting if he was in the office or not. Fortunately, he was. Unfortunately, the look already on his face told her that she was too late in telling him her news. Marie gave an inward grimace; why did news always have to travel so fast in such a small town?

Clive rose from his desk and immediately tugged on his uniform coat. Marie had to force herself to swallow her instant giggle lest he misunderstand the gesture.

“I just heard: Congratulations, Marie. You and Jack should be...”

“Clive, stop it,” Marie said, her voice harder than she would like, but unwilling to let Clive babble inanities for longer than absolutely necessary. “I don't want you to get the wrong idea about this.”

Clive shrugged. “How would I get the wrong idea? Both Jack and I wanted to marry you, you chose Jack... what's to be confused about?”

Marie sighed; he was in a worse state than she'd first thought. “Clive... sit down... please.”

The resigned tone of her voice must have convinced Clive to hear her out, for he settled in his desk chair, but wouldn't look at her as she pulled the chair fronting Jack's desk over closer to him and took a seat herself.

“Clive,” she gently began, and took his hand in hers.

Clive immediately withdrew his hand. “I don't think Jack would like it if you...”

What Marie did next startled them both; she slammed her hand down on Clive's desk with a sharp snap. “Clive! Stop it!”

Clive jumped, and the hurt look on his face fell away. “Stop what, Marie?”

Marie grimaced on the outside this time. “Stop this!”

“This?” he stubbornly echoed her. “Jack won the girl - what more is there to say?”

Marie bolted to her feet. “Clive Bennett! Jack did not win me! I am not some thing to be won or lost! I came here to explain myself to you, but if you're going to be so cow-headed, I'll....”

Clive smiled a tiny smile. “That's pigheaded, Marie.”

At his gentle remonstration, Marie sank again to the chair. “Are you going to listen?”

“Are you going to keep mixing up your idioms?”

Marie shot him a look of fond exasperation. “I don't know why I bother with either of you.”

Clive sighed then, like he was suddenly very tired... or as if he already knew what she was going to say. He and Jack were more alike than either of them realized. “What did you want to tell me, Marie?”

Now that she was satisfied that he would listen to her, Marie thoughtfully regarded him. “Clive Bennett... did you know that Jack thought that I would marry you?”

That confession clearly took Clive by surprise. “What?”

“He said something about how I looked when you were shot... on that night,” Marie confessed.

Obviously confused, Clive frowned. “How did you look?”

Marie shook her head, the one peering down now. “I don't know. But I can imagine. Jack thought... he saw...”

Clive put his hand on her arm to stop her. “You don't have to tell me if you don't want to.”

Marie's hand curled around his. “I need to, Clive. You have to understand.”

“Understand what?”

Marie took a breath again - this was it - the Big Confession. She fought to make her voice as soothing as possible. “That Jack looks at me the way that you looked at Anna Dawson.” She glanced down again as if her skirt was fascinating.

Clive was confused again. “That Jack looks at you that way? I know he does. He always has... especially when he thinks you're not looking, But what does that have to do with this?”

“No, that's not what I mean. I was upset not because of what Jack did, but that you didn't.”

Clive was completely puzzled now. “What... does that..?”

Marie took his hand in hers again. “Clive, I'm very aware of the things we have in common. We're both from cultured places, we both read, we...”

Clive actually blushed when she gave his hand a squeeze. “True, but I don't see what that has to do with...”

“It has everything to do with it.” How could such a smart man be so dense? Marie tried again. “Clive, until I actually pictured what it would be like to be married to you, I thought I really would be married to you someday.”

Confusion again flitted through Clive's eyes. “How you pictured it?” Clive gave an impatient huff of breath. “If we married, I would have treated you like a queen, that's how! Marie, I don't think you realize how important you are to me.”

Marie gave a sad smile. “Then I'm as important to you as you are to me. But Clive, I'm not a queen.”

“Yes, you are, you're...”

Marie put a hand on his mouth to stop him. “Don't you understand? I would never have lived up to your standards.”

Clive pulled her hand down, reminiscent of Jack's earlier action. Incensed, he insisted, “Yes, you would have!”

Marie spoke gently, but looked resigned. “No, I wouldn't. I'm the kind of woman who doesn't faint at the sight of blood, who takes a bullet out of a man's stomach when he's shot, who doesn't run the other way when a patient vomits all over my dining room table. The kind of woman you need as a wife is not like that, but soft like... like Anna Dawson.” She paused, wondering what else she might say to convince him that she wasn't right for him. “I can't be the kind of wife you need, the kind that will help you in your career...” and she smiled another sad smile, “... that will make you proud.”

But Clive shook his head. “You already make me proud.”

But Marie knew different, and shook her head. “The kind of proud that has nothing to do with being a doctor, but with being a woman.”

Clive reared back. “You're not going to tell me that you're not a woman, are you?”

She realized he was only half joking, which made her laugh. “Not you're kind of woman.”

Clive looked morose at this comment. “Does that mean you're Jack's kind?” At her nod, he wailed, “But Marie, he's so much older than you are!”

Her resigned look intensified. “Older, and wiser than I am...” Her voice trailed off as she considered just how much wiser than her he was.

That was when Clive leaned in towards her till his breath kissed her cheek. “Does he truly make you happy?”

Her resigned look turned to one of contentment. “As much as we both find it hard to believe, yes.”

Clive's look of sadness also fell away. “Then I'm truly happy for you.” He rose to draw her in for a hug. “I wish you the best.”

Marie hugged him back. “Thank you, Clive. I don't want you to be angry about this.”

“Angry?” Clive gasped in amusement. “How can I be angry? Just know that if you ever need anything that he can't help you with, you can count on me.”

That was when the office door opened to let the cold air in from outside. Boots scuffed across the floor, letting them know that more than one man had entered. A second later, they were proved right when Jack said, “McWhorter, don't you go jawwin' about this all over town.”

Wendell looked awed that he was witnessing first hand a genuine piece of The Bordertown Romance, but with enough wits to shake his head no, as if to say 'Of course not, Marshall.'

Satisfied, Jack turned to Clive and said, “Bennett! Unhand my fiancée!”

Clive looked over and grinned. “I like her right where she is, Jack.”

But Jack was having none of his partner's teasing. “As good as it makes me feel to call her 'fiancée,' I'm still man enough to take you out, Corporal, and don't you forget it!”

That was when Marie extricated herself from Clive's arms, cutting in, “Gentlemen! I'll be going now. Jack... Clive... Mr. MacWherter.” Then, with a kiss to Jack's cheek that was as flirtatious as it was meant to calm the situation, she left.

Watching her go, Clive stated, “You know, Jack, I'm not sure you can handle her - she might run all over you.”

Unexpectedly, Jack grinned a huge grin. “Great, ain't it?”

The End

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