Summary: Bruised by love in the past, perhaps even to the point of cynicism, Adam resists the notion when it presents itself unexpectedly. However, some things are out of a man’s hands….
Word Count: 1372
Cold. Stone cold.
Adam Cartwright grimaced as he pulled the cup away from his lips. Everything had gone cold, the coffee, the night, the case. He had been staring at the documents in front of him for so long he could hardly read the words. No matter, his brain had stopped making sense of them at least an hour ago. Sighing, he pushed them aside.
No wonder he was beat. His eyes felt like he had been through a sandstorm. He massaged them gently, his head resting in his hands, but only for a moment. The chill in the office prompted him to get up and stoke the fire before it went out completely. Otherwise, it would be too cold to sleep.
Relishing the heat from the freshly kindled flames, he watched dispassionately as the paper he was holding erupted and burned almost to his fingertips before he dropped it into the blaze. It was a frivolity left over from childhood, and unlike the moth, he knew exactly how close he could come without getting hurt. He smirked, recalling the admonition from one his deputies about playing with fire, but there was also another kind, one more unpredictable and perhaps more dangerous.
Rising, he went to pour himself a drink, trying not to think of her, but her face was already there before he sat down again, and he could no more will it away than reach into the sky and touch the moon. He leaned back and propped his feet on the desk, closing his eyes as he savored the velvety warmth in his throat, thinking the unthinkable.
As lovely as spring, intelligent, too — but still naive about men she was, mostly because she was young (too young, he reminded himself) and had yet to realize the extent of her charms, even if others did. The day would come; no doubt, she would use that knowledge to her fullest advantage, and he pitied the man, or most likely, the men. For now, she was sweet and unguarded, and lately, a little too close for comfort.
He hadn’t done anything wrong. He could honestly say that his conduct had been above reproach. But he caught himself watching her when she didn’t know he was looking, and he knew every feature by heart — the seductively dark eyes beneath the luxurious lashes; the finely arched brows; the delicate nose; the slight dimple in her cheek; the way she tilted her head when she listened intently to someone; the way one corner of her mouth turned up before the other when she was amused; the subtle pout of her bottom lip….
Chuckling humorlessly, he refilled his glass. He had always heard there was no fool like an old fool, and he supposed he was that. It was madness to even imagine such a thing. It wasn’t her fault, though. She had no way of knowing she was Pandora’s Box, dropped right into the middle of his neatly ordered world. He was a strong man, stronger than most, but it was hard to keep pretending he hadn’t noticed her. He had to, though, for both their sakes.
He knew without looking what was inside that box, and why it could never be opened, not even a little bit. Good intentions and better judgment were often a poor match for unbridled desire. And neither of them could afford the price they might have to pay for something as small as just one kiss. Even if she was willing, he would not dare; he knew that much about himself. The heat was a warning he would not ignore. He swore silently at the thought of what was never going to happen, as if it made any difference.
She’ll be off my hands and out of my hair as soon as this job is over, he consoled himself, putting the bottle away after the third drink, a rarity in itself. But part of him wondered if that was true. He unbuttoned his shirt and stretched out on the cot in the corner. Whether it was the fire or the whiskey or something else, he didn’t know, but he wasn’t cold anymore, only dog-tired. The walls faded as he surrendered in sleep to dance with a dark eyed girl in dreams…
He couldn’t tell who fired them or from where, but when he heard the shots, she was his first thought. Shoving her to the ground, he shielded her with his body during the pandemonium that ensued. Her eyes widened in fright, and he could feel her heart pounding beneath his own. With a finger to her lips to insure her silence, he listened for what he could not see, shouts and more shots until the gunman was apprehended. When he was satisfied that the situation was under control, he turned his attention back to her.
“Are you alright?”
Releasing a ragged breath, she nodded. Her lashes flicked upward. The fear in her eyes was gone, replaced by something else. “Thank you,” she said softly.
He lingered above her, unable or unwilling to move, and for a moment it, was as though he had forgotten how to breathe. One corner of her mouth turned up slightly, melting his resolve like a snowball in summer. It seemed he was a moth, after all.
The world spun away as she returned his tender offering with a fire that consumed them both. He pulled her to him, capturing a handful of golden curls, caressing her satin shoulders, kissing her as though they were the only two people on earth, and suddenly he was falling, but he didn’t care…
An adrenaline rush jerked him awake in a cold sweat just as he was about to hit bottom. He ran a hand over his face, waiting for his pulse to slow before he sat up. 2:45. There was still time to get in a few hours of sleep before morning. He could certainly use it.
It had been a long time since he had had a dream like that, and it disturbed him. He knew a man was only responsible for his actions, not subconscious thoughts, and it was not her fault that she made him feel vulnerable, but he still didn’t like the feeling. “Why me, Lord?” He frowned up at the ceiling. “Don’t I have enough problems without this one?”
A few moments later, he was back at his desk going over his notes again. Pausing to glance at the clock on the wall, his gaze fell on the sign next to it. ORDER IS THE FIRST LAW OF HEAVEN. He resumed his reading with a scowl. The sooner he finished up with that girl, he assured himself, the sooner his life could get back to normal, and the sooner the better as far as he was concerned…
Meanwhile, his heart merely smiled at such a foolish notion.
And in the distance
sounds a prelude
to an interlude.*
Author’s Note: When I consider possible scenarios for Adam’s life after the Ponderosa, it’s easy for me to imagine him as a lawman. I tend to view him along the lines of some of the Louis L’amour characters I’ve read – highly principled, educated, a little world-weary, but always ready to defend the weak even if he has to stand alone. He is often a man whose singular existence for so many years has become a way of life that is comfortable in its familiarity and predictable order. Bruised by love in the past, perhaps even to the point of cynicism, he resists the notion when it presents itself unexpectedly. However, some things are out of a man’s hands….
Acknowledgments: David Dortort, of course, also Caprice Fox and Peter Eldridge for the beautiful lyrics to Prelude/Interlude*, the inspiration for this vignette.
your arms around
an innocent fire–
can two hearts unfold
love’s tender reason?
One open moment
changes a lifetime,
with life’s passion…
*copyright 1993, New York Voices Music