The Crystal HeartMature

Casey "Blackfox" Donovan finds his soulmate, and surrenders his immortality to stay with her.

Claire Margaret McLoughlin let her father take her hand as she stepped off the coach.  She smiled at her older brother, and reached for him as soon as her feet touched the mud.  Bart caught her and lifted her clear from the mud, twirling her in his arms and setting her gently on a the wood deck of the hotel.  "How's my little sis of mine?!"

She laughed, and kissed him on the cheek.  "I've missed you so!  Look at you!"  She held him at arm's length.

"Filled out, haven't you?" said Joseph McLoughlin, clapping his son on the back.  "Where's that new wife of yours?"

"She's at the store, somebody has to mind it."

Claire's smile disappeared as her eye was caught at Bart's waist.  "So it's true."

Bart looked to where she was looking, at his gunbelt.  "Oh, Claire, it's only a precaution.  I've never used it yet."

"Yet," said Joseph.  "Let's hope you never do."

"Can I see the store, Bart?  And my nieces and nephew?"

"All in good time, Claire!  God above, you were always excited.  Didn't Vassar breed that out of you?"

"Seems I made a mistake," Joseph said, leading his daughter into the hotel.  The curtains were about three-quarters' length down, and it led into a beautiful sitting room, which would have been much nicer if it didn't have on the walls a group of stuffed animal heads that startled Claire.  Bart chuckled, as he came in with the bags.  "As usual, sister, you packed for thirty years."

"We are staying for the summer."

Joseph turned from the desk, "All Victorian ladies must pack everything they own, you didn't realize that, Bart?"

"I married simpler."

"If she doesn't have to wear a corset, then, indeed, that's simpler."

"Father!" cried Claire.

He laughed.  "I thought Vassar wouldn't make you so prudish.  Lord knows I've tried."  Then he turned and gave his daughter a kiss on the cheek.  "Go see Dorothy.  I think we've had each other's company for far too long."

"All right, father."  She returned the kiss, and turned to Bart.  A black man stepped forward, taking the suitcases and standing quietly next to Joseph.  Claire stepped out with her brother.

She didn't use an umbrella, finding those to be frilly.  In fact, she  only gave into Victorian fashion with the use of the corset and bustle, and the heeled shoes which did nothing to protect her from the myriad puddles she had to skirt in crossing the street.  She followed him down a little ways along the wooden walks.

She passed by the saloon, and could hear people laughing and carrying on.  She'd never be caught there, she resolved it.  Claire heard wolf-whistles as she passed by.  Bart guided her by the elbow and pulled her into an alleyway.  "I'd rather bring you in from the back, there's some men out front I have someone deal with."

Claire looked confused as she followed him.  She could hear someone in the back, hear the squeak of a spring and then a grunt, and a thump.  As she came around the corner, she stopped short, at seeing the most handsome man on Earth.

He was shirtless, tanned darkly, with long blond hair that came about to his shoulders.  He was unloading sacks of she didn't know what, but he seemed hypnotized by his work.  He would lift a sack with a grunt, take three steps, and throw it to the back of the store, stacking it neatly against the door.  He moved back and forth, like an automaton, his muscles bunching under his skin, sweat pouring down his back.

"Casey?" Bart's voice cut the reverie, and the man dropped the sack down into the back of the cart. 

"Yeah, boss?"  Claire didn't realize her mouth had dropped open.  She snapped it shut, thinking the sound reverberated throughout the tiny section in the rear of the store.  The man turned his head slightly, and gave her a small nod.  "Ma'am."

"Casey, this is my sister, Claire.  Claire, this is Casey Donovan."

Casey had turned from her and grabbed a piece of fabric, a shirt or a towel, she couldn't tell.  He wiped himself down with it.  "Nice t' meetcha, ma'am.  Pardon me f'r not shakin' yer hand, as I'm not really dressed f'r it."

"It's...quite all right."

He yanked on the shirt that he had rubbed himself with.  He gave her a small, knowing grin.  Did he see the look of shock on her face?

Bart continued, "There's some men out front.  Can you take care of it?"

"'Spose so," he said, and turned from them again.  This time, he belted on a gun.  Claire gasped.  Casey looked up at her sharply, hearing it.  "Don' worry, I don' aim t' kill 'em."  He grabbed a hat off the fence and put it on.  He smiled at her, a genuine, caring smile, and touched the brim of his hat to her.  "'scuse me, ma'am. Welcome to Hays City, Kansas."

He walked by her, and she could smell the sweat off him.  Strangely enough, it didn't disgust her.  She thought he smelled like cinnamon.  She watched him walk purposefully down the alley.

Bart watched her watch him.  "Claire, you don't want to get involved with him."


"He's a rebel.  They're not taken kindly here."

"He seems nice enough."

"Oh, he's nice.  He's a gentleman.  But a lot of people here fought against people like him, myself included.   He doesn't talk about his past much, and, honestly, we don't ask."

"He works for you?"

"Yes, for board above the barn and breakfast and dinner."  He took her elbow again.  "Let's go inside in case he does have to end up shooting someone."

"He would?"  She stared at her brother who wordlessly walked into the door that Casey had been stacking sacks.

He brought her into the relative coolness of the store.  Inside the package store was all sorts of items anyone could ever need - and two children running around.  "DADDY!"

A woman carrying a baby stepped out from behind the counter.  "Oh, thank God, Bart, did you see who's outside?"

"Casey's taking care of it."

Claire looked down at the two children, one boy, one girl, as they gazed up at her.  What she really wanted to do was look out the window to see what Casey was doing. 

"Shawn, Marie?  This is my sister Claire from New York."

Marie gazed up at Claire so she went down to her level, figuring she would never see what Casey did.  Marie picked her nose.  Bart slapped her hand.  "Don't do that!"  Then Bart turned to his wife.  "Dot, this is Claire--"

Dot smiled down at Claire as she got up.  Claire smiled at Dot, and then looked at the baby in her arms.  "You must be the one that we were expecting."

"Anna," Dot said proudly.  "Anna Marie."  Claire looked at Marie, knowing her middle name was Ann. My brother married a simpleton.  "Oh, that's...nice."  She offered to take the baby.  After it was placed in her arms, she looked down at the child in its blankets, and saw that she had the crystal blue eyes of her brother, and the plain brown hair of her mother.

A bell over the door rang, and Dot dashed to the counter.  "They're all gone, boss," said Casey's voice.  He started walking through the store, the heels of his boots echoing off the hard wood.  She didn't want to look up, didn't want to give him that shocked look again.

"You look mighty pretty with a babe in yer arms, ma'am."

Claire's head jerked up, her face red in anger.  The genuine smile he had on his face disappeared.  "Oh, uh, ma'am, I din't mean nuthin'--"

"I'll have you know that I am MORE than a brood mare, sir!"

His face flushed red with embarrassment, the flush going down his neck and to his ears.  If she wasn't so furious, she'd find that endearing.  "Apologies, ma'am."  He tipped his hat and turned smartly on his heel, military style, and went out the front of the store.

Bart grinned.  "Well, Vassar did teach you something, sis."

The End

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