Disclaimer: There was no owning involved. There was no money involved. I was barely involved. (Ok, there must have been some money involved.... but none of it belongs to me!)

Hotel Radway

by Linda Bindner

“Nope,” Jack declared as he propped his feet on his desk and waved his hand in the general direction of the one cell in the law office that happened to contain his one prisoner - an irate Joanna Radway. Jack did his best to ignore her glare as he went on speaking to Marie, “I promised Bennett that the next time Mrs. Radway was jailed, it was my turn to deal with her - so I'm dealin.'”

Lacking a desk of convenient height close at hand, Joanna Radway opted to prop her hands on her hips as she continued to balefully eye Marshal Craddock. “I am not someone to be 'dealt with,' Marshal. If you don't like it, let me out. Besides, I resent what you're implying.”

Jack's smile was a bit on the grim side. “I ain't implyin' nothin,' and you can resent it all you like, but I ain't lettin' you out.” He did his own baleful glaring.

Mrs. Radway cocked her brow. “You're speaking to her and might get distracted - I figured the least I could do was try.”

Jack laughed even as he slipped an arm around Marie's waist to pull her close. “I enjoy talkin' to her. But I'm still not lettin' ya out - I ain't lost all my marbles yet."

Irritated that she was being talked about as if she weren't there, Marie did her own glaring, but only asked Jack, “You're sure you can't come with us? It's just lunch at the saloon. We'll have you back here in half an hour.”

Jack lowered his feet so that he could sit straighter in his chair, his attention once more returning to his fiancé. “Sorry, but rules is rules, and rules say that someone's gotta guard a prisoner at all 'nonessential' times. So guardin' is what I aim ta do.” Jack's baleful glare had now turned on Corporal Bennett. “Just ask the Mountie here - isn't that what them rules say?”

Marie hated it that Jack felt he had to keep up appearances at such a constant rate that he could only relax his speech late at night, and when he was sure they were alone. But she gamely added to his 'dumb' cover by repeating, “You're sure?”

“I got these cookies that Lucy sent over for me - I'll be fine,” he assured. When she was slow to turn towards the door, he assured some more. “I won't starve. Now get goin' - enjoy lunch. Tell Zack 'howdy.”

Marie's reluctance was palpable. “If you're sure.”

“I'm sure.”

She shrugged. “Alright.” Privately she thought Jack was just being stubborn, but she would never say that in front of Clive. Instead, she simply placed her hand on Jack's chin and kissed his cheek, then turned to Clive. “Ready, pardner?”

“Ready.” Clive didn't correct Marie's speech, just grinned at Jack. But that grin was decidedly evil.

Jack instantly didn't like the gleam in the Mountie's eye. “Don't you go tellin' her no tall tales 'bout me!” Jack hollered as they headed for the door.

Bennett turned back to grin again. “Don't worry, Jack, I'll only tell her true stories about our adventures - I won't have to lie.” His statement gave every indication that he planned to lie through his teeth. Worse yet, he was going to enjoy it.

Jack craned his neck to get one last crack before they disappeared through the door. “Bennett, don't you ruin my pristine reputation. And hey, bring me back some lunch!”

Clive didn't even dignify that with a response, only ushered Marie out the door.

Joanna called after them, “Bring me some lunch!”

Then they were gone.

Jack grabbed a cookie from the plate that Lucy had sent over for him. “Looks like shortbread cookies - my favorite.” He bit into one with relish.

Joanna glared at him instead of at the remaining cookies. “It takes a brave man to send his fiancé out to lunch with another man. A brave man... or an idiotic one.”

Jack laughed. “Oh, I'm an idiot, no question 'bout that.” Then he held aloft the plate on his desk. “Want a cookie?”

Joanna just groaned. “No, thanks.”

“They're real good. That Lucy may be young, but she sure can cook.”

Joanna rolled her eyes. “That's 'bake,' Marshal.”

“Whatever.” Jack wasn't remotely perturbed at her correction. “Don't know what I did to deserve these cookies, but I'm right glad I did it.”

Silence greeted this statement. Jack didn't pay it any mind, but went on cleaning a gun (he was always cleaning a gun), periodically munching the cookie that he picked up with dirty fingers.

Finally Mrs. Radway couldn't hold in her opinion any longer, and tsked loudly. “For a doctor, I don't know how Marie can stand your habits.”

Jack looked around as if he'd forgotten about Mrs. Radway even being in the office. “What was that?”

Joanna curled a lip. “I can smell you all the way over here.”

“That's my gun oil,” Jack corrected. “Sorry 'bout that.” He screwed the lid back on the jar of oil. “That better?”

The curl was more pronounced. “The smell: guns, oil, leather polish... and liquor, no doubt. It's truly awful.”

“No liquor,” Jack cheerfully told her. “It's all me.”

“How charming.” Her hands on her hips again, Mrs. Radway glared at Jack once more. “Marie's a saint.”

“I know she is,” Jack quickly agreed.

“That's not what I meant,” Joanna informed.

Jack eyed her. “I know what you meant. Yer sayin' that I'm not good enough for her. I already know that.”

This amount of honesty surprised Mrs. Radway. But she didn't let surprise stall her for long. “If you already know that, then why are you marrying her?”

“Because I love her,” Jack amicably told her. “And because she said yes when I asked her.”

The eye roll was back. “Proposing marriage in a situation so dangerous that her life was on the line is hardly what I call an act of death defying chivalry.”

Jack appeared offended. “Hey, I was the one shot out there. If there was anyone defying death, it was me!”

“That's not what I heard.”

“What you heard is wrong! Besides,” Jack growled, attentive to what she was saying at last. “Mine and Marie's affairs ain't none of your business. So quit makin' 'em yours.”

The hands were on the hips again in a contained show of exasperation, as if she hadn't counted on him agreeing with her. “Have you even considered where you're going to live? What you're going to do about money?”

“I told you that it was none of your business.” Jack went on with his cleaning, but finally mumbled, “No, we haven't had time to 'consider' any of... what you just said.”

Joanna regarded Jack more closely. “As I suspected. You men are all alike. No ability to plan for the future.”

Jack scowled. “I got plenty of ability.”

“Let's just ask Marie about...”

That was it - Jack jerkily rose from his chair. “Let's not. I gotta make my rounds.”

Her hands planted themselves on her hips again. “I thought you had to watch the prisoner.”

“Watch you, not volunteer for torture.” Jack aimed for the door. “Stay put - I'll be back.”

Joanna cagily sat down on the bunk. “The door's locked - and I'm hardly a dangerous prisoner.”

“Oh yeah? Ask Zack.” Jack briefly touched his shirt pocket to make sure the key to the cell doors was safe with him. “I ain't concerned 'bout you leavin' - just don't want to hear it from Bennett that I'm shirkin' my duties.” He firmly closed the door behind him.

* * *

Damn. Jack shook his head. Karl Radway was the one who had been the saint - he'd gone and married that woman. Jack was mighty glad that Marie was nothing like Joanna Radway. Though he supposed if she was, he wouldn't be in love with her, and it wouldn't matter. But thank goodness she was her own woman.

Pride for Marie shot through Jack as he continued with his customary rounds. She'd gotten her medical license because she wanted it. She'd survived on her own after the death of her first husband because she wanted to. She'd taken in a bereft little girl consumed by grief because she thought she could help. Yep that was Marie for you - always thinking of others, but brave enough to do it on her own. Jack didn't figure that he would add to her general greatness all that much... but he had hope all the same.

While he was thinking, Bordertown underwent his customary sharp eyed perusal: things at the livery were quiet, the blacksmith was smokey and quiet, the store pleasantly spoke of Marie rather than that Gilbert fella - Jack was glad he hadn't rooted all the cheeriness out of Marie's business.

Things were quiet enough in town for his mind to wander again. These rounds hadn't precisely been necessary, but he'd been afraid of what he might have said... or done... if he'd stayed in the office a moment longer. The sooner he'd left, the better.

That Joanna Radway was a menace, no doubt about it. How many times had she been in jail in the last month alone? Three? Five? She was starting to make the front cell her home away from home these days. Zack was ready to pull his hair out at her interferences in his saloon business. If only Joanna would understand that if she wanted to get along with the people of this town, she had to compromise a little.

But with Joanna, it was all or nothing. She was going to close down that saloon if it was the last thing she did. Jack shook his head again; how anybody got that kind of energy was beyond him. It was a pity that Joanna didn't give that kind of attention to running her ranch. If she wasn't careful, her ranch hands would skim her dry. Then the saloon would be the least of her concerns.

But she did have a point about where he and Marie were going to live. They hadn't talked about it - they'd always been too busy. Or in reality, he'd been too busy. He'd just assumed that they'd live in Marie's house. That was where she kept her practice. That house embodied Marie as far as he was concerned.

But now that he really thought about it, that wasn't fair. Jacques had built that house. Technically, he'd built it for Marie, but he'd also had his medical practice in mind when constructing it. Since Jacques' death, Marie had turned the house into a home for her, and later for Lucy. He knew that though he had been the Bordertown Marshal for several years, it was only after Jacques' death that he'd really gotten to know Marie, and only in the last few years that he saw her as anything more than 'that woman doctor who runs the store.'

This reminiscing wasn't doing anything to solve his dilemma about the house, however.

Jack grimaced to himself; the dilemma about the house was really no dilemma at all right now. He and Marie had no other house to move into just yet. There was no room for Lucy, no space for Marie's practice, no bedroom for...

And there Jack stopped his mental rambling, but not before unwittingly allowing his thoughts to ghost across the word 'intimate.' He refused to let himself think too deeply on the issue of intimacy with Marie, even though he'd mentioned it to her that night late at her house just two weeks before. He really did want her... and 'want' referred to a sexual way... but Jack once again halted his meanderings. It was his experience that wanting something... anything... pretty much guaranteed that he was never going to get it. So he played along for now, letting experience dictate his actions... if only it could dictate his thoughts as successfully.

He and Marie had never talked about this, either. He knew that being intimate was part of being married. He'd been married before, and quite happily. Marie had also been married before, and if not exactly happily, then not ignorantly. She was at least acquainted with the subject his mind now refused to dismiss. Just the thought of being intimate with Marie...

Jack's face flamed for a second, and blood pounded a throbbing beat in his temples. Thinking about him and Marie... It made him immediately go soft and gushy inside. He liked that sensation - really liked it! - but not while he was at work. He was glad that no one was around to see him, Bennett especially. He felt doubly glad that Joanna Radway was locked up tight in that cell back in his office. There would be no end to the teasing he might receive from Bennett, and who knew how Mrs. Radway felt about such things. With his luck, it wouldn't be good.

Forcing his thoughts along a more benign and cooler channel, Jack slowly retraced his steps back to his office. Fortunately for all involved, his cheeks were much more drained of heat by the time the flags came into view.

Mrs. Radway's head snapped around the moment he entered the office. “You look like you've had a close encounter with a bucket of red paint. What happened to your cheeks?”

Damn. Things clearly weren't as under control as Jack desired. “It's colder out than I thought,” he mumbled, and hoped to hell that Joanna bought his noises.

The tsk sounded again, but that was all. He was safe... for now.

* * *

Marie returned forty-five minutes later with plates of food for both of them and to steel a cookie before heading back to the store. “Clive is checking in with Diane for the moment - he said to tell you that he'll be along for that prisoner transfer in a few minutes.”

“Huh!” Jack grunted as he started eating his lunch with an equal relish to the way he ate cookies. “The rules say one for guard duty... and you know how he is 'bout...”

The sudden pops of gunfire halted him mid-sentence. A second later, Bennett's bellow of “Jack!” carried to them through the open door.

Jack instantly abandoned his lunch to bolt from his chair, grabbing a rifle from the rack behind his desk on his way out. “Stay here!” he commanded when Marie moved to follow. He stopped long enough to reach into his shirt pocket for the long key that opened Joanna Radway's 'hotel.' Tossing it blithely to Marie, he said, “I don't cotton to jailing innocents in bad situations. But that's only if it gets bad - otherwise, leave it alone!” He was out the door before Marie could ask him to define 'bad.'

Joanna had paused in eating her lunch as more gunshots zinged from the other end of town, but it was relatively quiet and safe inside the office.

Marie glared at her, askance. “How you can you eat at a time like this?”

Joanna silently continued stuffing food in her mouth after a cautious moment. “This may be the only chance I get to eat lunch,” she explained around a mouthful of food. “I usually don't eat during a crisis, but this constitutes as special circumstances.”

Special, indeed. Marie ignored what Joanna Radway was doing in the safety of her cell, feeling far too edgy to appreciate such safety. Jack was in harm's way. For all she knew, so was Clive. The situation was already as 'bad' as it could get! She understood that it was their job, but she didn't have to like it.

This is not what I want, she thought, and grimaced as if she were in pain. But she kept her thoughts to herself. Crying about it wouldn't do any good. She knew what she was getting, and had known from the beginning.

Joanna set her mostly empty pllate aside. “Hard, isn't it?” she asked from the cell, her tone conveying understanding. “Letting him go out there when you know that things are already dangerous.”

“Jack's a good Marshal,” Marie stoutly defended. “He'll be fine.”

“That doesn't make it any easier,” Joanna wisely stated.

Marie clenched her hand around the cell key, striving for control. “You might be right, but there's no point in talking about it,” she maintained. “I won't ask Jack to change his job. Being Marshal is what he does.”

“Being a Marshal means being a legal thug,” Joanna crisply interpreted.

Marie's head whipped around at her brittle tone. “Jack is not a thug!”

“He sure looks like one.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

“I doubt they are in this case.”

Marie growled. “I'm already tired of having my choices questioned like this. It's none of your business.”

“That's what the Marshal said right before he did his rounds.”

Ah, that explained how Jack had been able to stand being in his office with Mrs. Radway for so long.

The blur of a body hurtled passed the office's front windows, and more gunshots told them that the fight had moved closer to this side of town. Marie instinctively moved to the other side of Clive's desk to be nearer an exit if she suddenly needed one.

She now pensively narrowed her eyes at the room's only prisoner. “I was going to use this key to let you out. Now I'm not sure that's a good idea.”

“You won't be able to change him, you know,” Joanna said, stuck on the same subject like an echo in a canyon.

Marie bristled. “Change Jack? I don't intend to.”

Joanna's eyes narrowed in imitation of Marie's. “Good,” she suddenly declared with a firm bob of her head.

Marie's eyes now narrowed in confusion. “If you think it's good, then why all the questions?”

Joanna abruptly smiled. “I had to be sure.”

“About?”

Joanna Radway pulled herself up to her full height. “About you. About him. I wanted to know if this is a good idea before it's too late to do anything to stop it.”

Marie's confusion only doubled. “What is 'it?'”

“You and the Marshal.” Joanna's lips curled into a satisfied grin. “You have to admit it isn't the most obvious thing in the world. We all expected you to end up with the Corporal.”

“'We all?'” Marie didn't like the sound of that.

“The Temperance girls,” Joanna explained. “We're just looking out for a fellow female.”

Marie's lips thinned, though she tried her best to at least look pleasant. “I appreciate your concern,” she ground out, “but it isn't necessary.”

“It isn't necessary,” Joanna echoed, “but you might have appreciated it even more if we stopped you from making a big mistake.”

“It's my mistake to make,” Marie retorted, her speech slow and precise.

Joanna's smile had turned grim by now. “That's what I said. But the busybodies of the town were too concerned.” The grim smile now turned just slightly confidential. “I thought I'd better speak to you before they did.” Ryeness now marked her features. “The Marshal might put them in jail next.”

Marie paused to let the new tone sink in. She couldn't restrain her genuine smile this time. “And we can't have that,” she noted, raising her brows.

“Now I can tell those busybodies that everything's fine, and stop the Marshal from jailing them, and...”

That was when Marie tossed the key, shrugging when Joanna caught it. “It slipped.”

Joanna gave her well-known closed lipped smile, but reached through the bars to insert the key into the lock, giving it a deft turn. The squeal made her wince. “First thing I do next is oil these locks.” She strode to the center of the office, far from any window.

“Jack or Clive can...” Marie began.

Joanna's expression cut Marie off. “First thing I learned in marriage was 'do it yourself.' I expect...”

A strange man suddenly burst through the open back door leading to the other two cells and the outside, cutting her off. Joanna backed again towards the cell, but that only captured his instant attention. Unshaven male cheeks warped into an evil grin when his gaze landed on Joanna. “Well, lookee what we have here.”

Marie almost jerked forward to come to Joanna's aid, but the revolver he held before him persuaded her to remain motionless. The indrawn breath was barely audible, but 'barely' was enough for a man who was already hyper-aware of his surroundings to hear.

Joanna quickly tapped her foot on the floor and crossed her arms on her chest to draw his attention from Marie's ill-timed gesture. “What do you think you've found?” she barked, her tone too authoritative to resist.

The man resisted anyway. “I heared the Bordertown Marshal got hisself a girlfriend.” His gaze raked over Joanna, his cocky smile growing. “I bet it's you.”

Cool as anything, Joanna simply cocked a brow. “I say you're wrong.”

“And I say I don't give a damn what you say.” The cold smile preceded a wave of his gun towards the door. “You're our ticket outta town.”

The Marshal's 'girl' being used as a commodity; Marie's blood turned to ice - it was Jack's worst fear come true before the wedding even took place.

A rough hand darted out to wrap around Joanna's arm. “After you, Angel.”

“I'm not an angel.” Joanna either showed extreme bravery to goad a criminal like this, or extreme stupidity. “Not yours, not his.”

The criminal only jerked Joanna so hard she practically shot off her feet. “I don't care! You're his girl - that's all we need.” Joanna didn't contradict his assumption as he yanked her to the front door. “Open it!” Joanna complied while clearly trying not to wrinkle her nose at his smell in such close proximity. The gunman thrust Joanna half way through the door. “Hey lawman!” he hollered up the street. “I got your girl!”

“And I got your friends!” Jack's voice instantly shouted back. “Give it up, Bradley!”

Bradley ignored him. “I want two horses and safe passage outta town, or I kill her!”

“Touch one hair on her head, and I kill you!” A raised voice lent sincerity to his threat.

Strangely enough, Bradley chuckled, as if knowing that he held the upper hand. “Got you where I want you, don't I, Marshal?” His gaze now turning obviously lascivious, he raked his eyes up and down Joanna. “She's not much to look at, but I'll share with ya.”

Joanna's grunt of contempt carried all the way through the office.

Bradley was not amused; he lifted his gun threateningly before saying to her, “Though that face ain't much, I'd sure hate to mess it up.”

Some of the natural defiance left Joanna's eyes.

“Where's the horses?” he called next.

“Here!” It was Clive who answered, calling from the direction of the livery. “Let her go, and we'll let you go!”

“No deal, Mountie!” Bradley snarled. “She's my insurance outta...”

Clang!

The skillet Marie had carefully pulled from the wall in Clive's quarter's left a satisfying crunch as it connected with the back of Bradley's skull. She'd known exactly where to hit him for maximum damage - he slumped over, dropping his revolver on the way to the ground.

“Quick! Get his gun!” Marie hissed, wielding the skillet like a cudgel.

But Joanna was already ahead of her. She kicked the gun down the boardwalk, where it skittered into a doorway and bounced. In one move, it disappeared over the edge of the walkway. “That takes care of that.”

Marie had yanked off her wool stockings by this time. Thank heavens it was cool enough today to wear them! “Help me tie him up.”

Joanna grabbed a stocking. “I knew it was cold out, but it isn't that cold.” Her gaze met Marie's. “For future reference, the Marshal's an awful liar.”

Not even Joanna Radway expected that large of a smile from Marie. “For future reference, you and I make quite a team.”

Jack abruptly appeared in the doorway, breathing hard, as if he'd run through half the town to get there. “Marie! Did he hurt you?” His eyes darted between Marie and Joanna, then back again.

Marie's audacious smile slid to include him. “My partner and I handled things, Jack.”

Clive's sudden presence filled up any space Jack left in the doorway. “Marie! Mrs. Radway! Are you all right?”

“We are, but he isn't,” Joanna remarked, her chin jerking down to take in Bradley. “Marie hit him over the head with that.” Her chin now jerked towards the forgotten skillet. Then she smiled. “You could say his brains were fried."


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