He refused to fall into drink over a woman, and Casey was damn proud of himself for not drinking too much whiskey.  He stood near the piano, listening to the player skip a few notes, and wincing when he did.  A dark-haired woman came up to him, kissing him full on the lips.  "That's the only way I can have a drink," she said, grinning at him.

"Sorry, Jennette, not tonight."

"Oh?  You usually come here to eat and have me work on your pole."

Casey focused his blue eyes on her.  "I'm sorry, no.  Not tonight."

She put her hands on her hips.  "Casey Donovan, are you sick?"

A small smile teased his lips.  "I have my eye elsewhere, Jennette."

Her eyes widened.  "Not that...that...arrogant bitch who showed up next door?"

"That very one."

"How can you-- OOH!"  She stormed away.  Casey finally let a smile cross his lips, as she bounced over to the lawyer, Mr. Palmer, and plopped herself next to him.  Jennette always came to Casey first, and anyone else she threw herself at would be getting his sloppy seconds.  He finished his whiskey in one draught, and set the glass down.  He figured he'd head back to his room above the barn and turn in early.

He left the saloon and turned down the alleyway.  He had the ability to see clearly in the dark, better than if he had a light.  However, his eye was caught by a moving light near the doorway of the cottage.  He stopped, and saw Bart step out with a lantern, lighting the way for his sister and another smaller man.  Casey moved, making a lot of noise.  "Boss?" he called.

Bart held up the lantern, illuminating Casey.  "Oh, Casey, I'm glad you're here.  Could you escort my sister and father back to the hotel?"

"Sure thing," he said and stepped forward.  He stood at the bottom step, and held his hand out to help Claire take the three steps down.  "Madamoiselle."

Claire smiled and looked away.  He took the lantern from Bart, and lighted the stairs.  "My name is Casey Donovan, sir," he said.

The man regarded him.  "You have a bit of a southern accent, young man."

"I do, sir.  I've been trying hard to lose it, but sometimes it escapes."  He held out his arm to Claire.  She placed her arm into it, and he felt something he hadn't felt in a long time, something that meant they fit.  Both of them stared at each other, her mouth open slightly.  Did she feel it too?  He blinked. 

Bart stared at Casey.  Claire did also.  Casey suddenly had a different countenance about him.  No longer was he the quiet, hired hand that tried to stay out of the way and in the background, but suddenly he was confident, a leader.  Casey looked at Claire and smiled, and Claire smiled also, keeping eye contact.  She felt it, too.  She knows.

The two stood there, staring at each other, neither knowing how long.  He finally heard, "Claire.  CLAIRE."  Both broke off at the same time, turning to the voice, and her father was glaring at her.  Somehow he had the lantern in his hand.  "Let's go."

Casey turned to walk side by side with her, but her father grabbed her arm and pulled her away.  Claire's look of distress made Casey's heart almost break, but her father started walking on, leaving Casey in a pool of darkness.  Claire looked back at him, and he jumped to follow.

The father did not speak, but strode purposefully across the road.  Casey followed, matching Claire's stride, though not touching her.  The walk felt like he was going to the gallows.  It seemed to last forever, and he felt dread at each step.  Finally, they were at the doorway to the hotel.

Casey said, in a clear voice, "I would like to meet with you again," to Claire.  Her jaw dropped, and she forced herself to close it.  Then Casey turned to the father.  "If it's all right--"

"No."  Her father whisked her inside, and slammed shut the door in Casey's face.  He opened it again, thrust the lantern out at him, and then shut it after Casey took it.  Casey looked down at it, and doused it, then took in a heavy sigh.  He stepped out, and could see shadows on the windows as she went upstairs.  He closed his eyes, and forced himself to listen...

The End

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