Word Count: 5526
I spied him the minute he walked through the double doors and made his way to the bar. He was like a moving mountain; his size was enormous, just about the biggest man I’d ever seen. The stranger was tall and muscular yet he moved with grace for one so large. It took me a moment to jar myself from the daze this big man had caused me to lapse into, but as soon as I recovered, I slipped softly over to the corner of the bar where I could observe him without being observed myself.
“Gibbme a beer,” he said.
The tone of his voice wasn’t as deep as I would have thought it might be. It was average yet it had a gentle sort of ring to it, and I knew instantly that this monster of a man was a sensitive sort, kind and considerate.
“Thanks,” I heard him tell Pete, the bartender.
He had manners too, I said to myself. I watched as he tipped his mug up to down the last drops of the frothy brew. It was then that his eyes found mine. When he set down his mug, he smiled at me, causing me to blush slightly, something that I rarely did anymore.
When you’re a barmaid and used to the rough and rowdy bunch of cowpokes that wander in, you get accustomed to most everything, good and bad, and after awhile, I think a girl tends to lose her modesty when it comes to some of the things she hears and sees. So when the big man down at the end of the counter smiled warmly at me, it caught me slightly off guard. I instantly thought that the man might have seen me eyeing him…which I was, but I sure hadn’t intended for him to see me doing it.
I noticed then the gap between his two front teeth, but not being one to judge a person on just looks, I over looked the slight imperfection. I was far from being a raving beauty myself. I had my own imperfections to contend with so I wasn’t quick to pass judgment on another person.
The gentleman tipped his hat at me in a friendly, almost inviting manner and then turned to Pete and ordered another beer. Pete complied quickly, considering the size of the crowd and when he placed the mug in front of him, the man grabbed it up and turned away, looking for a table.
The rain outside had driven the customers indoors so the saloon was more crowded than usual for a weeknight. I spotted a table over in the far back corner that had just come vacant so I walked over to the man and tapped him on the arm.
He turned, looking over my head and then realized I was there, slightly below him. I’m not very tall, just about five foot to be exact, that being my number one imperfection, but standing so close to him, I looked more like a midget, which only enhanced my shortness. His eyes widened slightly at seeing me but he quickly hid the expression and smiled again.
“Over here,” I said in my soft, southern drawl and then motioned toward the table in the back corner.
I didn’t know if he’d follow me or not, but deep inside I hoped that he would. There was just something about the man that drew me to him. I wanted to spend a few minutes with him, talk to him, and find out who he was and where he came from.
I shouldn’t have worried; I could hear his big boots clicking on the wooden floor following along behind me. I started to sit down, but he surprised me by pulling the chair out for me.
“Why, thank you,” I said.
I could feel my face getting hot again. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why on earth I was blushing repeatedly. What was it about this tall stranger that caused me to feel giddy as if I had butterflies in my stomach? I sure wasn’t a silly school girl…I was way past the age of that, I was in my ‘prime’, as some of the older girls called it; but still…this man was different somehow than most of the regulars that patronized the business.
The gentleman carefully pushed my seat closer to the table and then, taking off his big ten-gallon hat and setting it on the table, he pulled out the chair next to mine and sat down.
It was then that I noticed his blond hair. It was thinning some on the top, and looked windblown, probably from the storm that he so obviously had been caught in. Taking a closer look, I noticed that his clothes were damp from the rain, and somewhat dirty, though certainly not what one would call rags. The gentleman cleared his throat, bringing my attention back to his face.
It was rotund with somewhat of a baby look about it. His cheeks were on the pudgy side, but not to the point of being labeled fat; his lips were full and sensuous. But what really caught my attention and stirred my senses was the color of his eyes. They were like twin lakes, and blue skies all rolled up as one but they were all shiny and bright and deep in their depths I could see a spark of mischievousness that caused them to twinkle. I couldn’t help but to wonder again about the newcomer.
He took another swig of his beer and I sensed an uneasiness settle about him and I pondered as to whether or not he might be feeling as backward about talking to me as I was to him. For some unexplainable reason, I found myself tongue-tied, not quite knowing what to say. He just at there quietly and sipped his beer, watching me over the rim of his glass. At last he lowered his mug enough to speak, breaking the awkward silence.
“My name’s Hoss…Hoss Cartwright.”
I know I must have had a bewildered expression on my face, cause Hoss snickered softly, making me smile. I’d never heard the name before; it was strange sounding to be sure.
“Hoss?” I repeated.
“Yes ma’am…” he smiled at me. “My real name’s Eric, but my family nicknamed me Hoss when I was born,” he explained.
“I see. But…why Hoss…does it have a special meaning or something?”
“Yes ma’am…my mother was from Sweden, and Hoss in Swedish means, a big, gentle man,” he said and then blushed beet red.
I knew instantly that he was not the sort of man who went around bragging about himself or calling attention to his person. He was shy and modest and quiet too…everything I’ve always admired about a man.
“That’s nice,” I said.
I meant it too. It seemed to describe Hoss exactly.
“You didn’t tell me your name,” he stated.
I saw him lower his head slightly and then look at me from lowered lashes. He was bashful!
“My name?” I stammered like a fool. “My name is TarevaChine,” I answered.
Hoss’ eyes almost popped out of his head. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I covered my mouth with my hand, afraid that I might offend him for laughing at the look on his face.
“TareaWhat?” he stammered.
“Just call me Shanay…it means the same thing as TarevaChine…”
“Which is?” he asked, grinning broadly.
“It means…” and then it was my turn to blush. I felt a bit modest. “It’s an Indian word meaning, ‘beautiful eyes’,” I explained, lowering my head and falling silent.
For a long moment Hoss was silent too. He had stopped laughing. I raised my head at last and looked up at him. Hoss was staring at me…the color of his eyes had darkened slightly and the tint of his cheeks heightened the odd expression I saw in the depth of his eyes.
“The name becomes you, ma’am…your eyes are…truly beautiful,” he said with such deep feeling that my inner emotions were stirred.
I began to fidget uncomfortably. When Hoss placed his hand over mine, I felt a warm rush of…desire wash over me. I was stunned, for it had been eons since a man moved me so, as Hoss was doing just at that moment.
“Don’t be embarrassed, Shanay…it’s really is a lovely name…and very appropriate,” Hoss said in a deep voice.
I looked into his eyes. His look was soft, yet alluring and I suddenly wanted to know all there was about this giant of a man that spoke with such compassion.
“Thank you. My great grandfather was a Navajo chief. His daughter was my grandmother. She married a white man who took her far away from her people. Back east some place. He wanted her to live as a white woman and she was never allowed to tell anyone, not even his family that she was Indian. My father grew up…never knowing that he was half Indian. He left home at eighteen, seeking adventure and new land. He met and married my mother in St. Louis and then they headed west in search of gold. It was later after his father died, that my grandmother came to live with them. She told my father all about her people and their customs. Papa wasn’t ashamed of that part of his heritage, not like my grandfather had always feared that he would be. When I was born, he named me after my grandmother’s mother, my great grandmother. My mother said my eyes were just like hers…green, which was very odd for an Indian.”
I was watching Hoss’ face, half expecting to see disgust in his eyes, but it never happened. I had to ask his thoughts.
“Does that bother you…that I’m part Indian?” I asked. I had to know. Why it mattered I didn’t know for sure, but it did.
“Why would you think that?” smiled Hoss. “It don’t make no never mind to me. You’re just about the purtiest thing I seen in a long time…if’n ya don’t mind my sayin’ so!” Hoss said and then blushed again.
I felt his hand, the one that still rested on mine, squeeze gently. I smiled at him.
“I don’t mind,” I admitted. “It sounds…nice when you say it…like you really meant it.”
I’d heard it many times before, from many different men, but never like Hoss had said it.
“I wouldn’t lie to ya, Shanay…you are purty…beautiful in fact.”
We talked for a long time, just the two of us. The rain had stopped and most of the customers had wandered home as it was getting near closing time. I’d been on my feet since early morning and I was tired, but it didn’t matter. I really didn’t want the night to end, I enjoyed talking to Hoss; it was as if we’d known one another all our lives.
He was fun to be with, and easy to talk too. I found myself telling him things that I’d never told another living soul. And he didn’t judge me either. He just looked concerned when I told him certain things and then he’d laugh when I’d tell him about other things that I’d done as a child or a young person. The minutes soon turned to hours but it didn’t seem to either of us that time moved so quickly, we were enjoying being together and the chance to just be ourselves.
I managed to turn the conversation around so that Hoss was talking about himself finally. He told me everything I had hoped to learn about him. I learned that he was the second son of a well-to-do, but honest and hard working rancher over near Virginia City and that he had two brothers; Adam was the oldest and most serious, Hoss had said. Adam had been away to college, which had made his family proud though they had all missed him something terrible during the four years he’d been gone.
Little Joe was the youngest member of the family and the one most likely to find himself in trouble. Oh nothing serious and certainly not anything to do with breaking the law Hoss assured me. But more the mischievous type of trouble…and Hoss admitted that he often allowed his youngest brother to lead him astray and more than once he’d taken the blame for something that Little Joe had done, just to keep the boy out of worse trouble with their father.
Hoss spoke highly of his pa. I could tell that he admired and loved his father very much. It wasn’t often that a man such as Hoss Cartwright admitted that he cared so deeply for his father and his brothers. Most men I know wouldn’t admit to such things, they’d a thought it silly or unmanly, but not Hoss, he didn’t seem to mind at all that he was telling a complete strange just how he felt about his family. He was proud of them, I could see that right off.
I learned that Ben Cartwright, Hoss’ father, had been married three times and that all three wives had died, leaving him alone to raise his young motherless sons. Elizabeth had been Adam’s mother. She and Mr. Cartwright had married back in Boston. Ben had been first mate to the ship’s captain back then, the captain having been Elizabeth’s own father. When Adam was born, his mother wasn’t very strong and she had died just hours after Hoss’ brother arrived into this world.
Inger was Mr. Cartwright’s second wife and Hoss’ mama. Hoss spoke with deep devotion and love about his mother. He was only a baby when she’d been killed by an Indian’s arrow. I sort of felt uncomfortable when he was telling about the attack that claimed his mother’s life and how much he missed her and how hard a time they had afterwards. It hadn’t been easy for his father, traveling west with a six-year old boy and a baby, alone without a wife and mother to help him. But Hoss told me not to fret about it, it wasn’t like me or my ancestors had anything to do with Inger being killed.
Hoss explained about Little Joe’s mother too. He told me how beautiful she was and how much he loved her. Adam wasn’t too keen on her at first, but Hoss said that once Adam found out that she was going to have a baby, his brother’s attitude toward their stepmother changed for the better. After all, Marie loved them both as much as if they had been her own sons, but it took Adam until after Little Joe was born to fully realize that.
And then they, Marie and Adam, had reached an understanding. But, shortly thereafter, Marie had been killed in an accident. She fell from her horse and broke her neck. Hoss said that sure was a sad time for all of them. His father nearly grieved himself to death, Little Joe cried constantly for his mama and that left poor Adam to take care of the family until their father could pull himself up from the depths of his sorrow and be a father to all of them again. By that time, Hoss explained, Adam had seemed to become a man over night, shouldering the responsibilities of not only the family but the running of their ranch as well.
I could see the hurt and pain in Hoss’ eyes when he told me the story of his father’s wives. But when he’d finished, he looked at me and smiled. The sadness and the heart ache was gone and his eyes shown with pride in both his family and their success that blossomed out of the trials and tribulations that they’d been forced to endure.
Hoss leaned back in his chair and yawned, but he quickly covered his mouth with his hand. He glanced at me with a slightly guilty look on his face. “Pardon me, Shanay…it’s not the company, I assure you,” he said quickly.
I guess he might have thought I was thinking that he was getting bored, but I wasn’t thinking that at all. He’d probably have died of embarrassment if he could read my thoughts! I think for the first time in my life, I had fallen in love with a real man…not some fly-by-night gambler, not some young hot-blooded cowpoke or some stiff-collared shop keeper, but with a real man. A man who wasn’t afraid to express himself and who was devoted to his family and who I knew would, if he had to, lay down his own life for the ones he loved. Yep, I was in love…but now…what to do about it?
“You never did tell me how someone as purty and sweet as you are, happens to be workin’ in a place like this?”
I’d been lost in my thoughts, so when Hoss spoke again, I must have had a dumb look on my face…I honestly hadn’t heard him say anything. “Excuse me?” I stammered.
“Oh…I don’t mean to pry…honest. I was just wonderin’ how someone like you comes to be workin’ in a joint like this?” Hoss repeated the question.
I rolled my eyes, thinking how in the world could I explain why I was working here without making myself sound like a complete idiot!
“Well,” I began, deciding right away that the truth was better than a lie.
If Hoss walked away after hearing my story, then so be it, but whatever happened afterwards, I knew in my heart that I couldn’t lie to him. It would be like a betrayal somehow. I felt deep inside my soul that no matter how I came to be in this place, Hoss wasn’t likely to judge me too harshly, if at all. He wasn’t that sort of a man, I’d already learned that tonight, for if anything about me had repulsed him thus far, he would have already been gone, yet here he was, anxious to hear all about me.
“I was on my way to San Francisco…about a year ago. The stage stopped over here for the night. Something was wrong with the stagecoach…I can’t even remember what it was now, but we were forced to stay the night. My funds were almost gone and I was worried that I’d run out of cash before I reached my destination. There had been a man traveling with me on the stage…a…gambler.”
I paused to check Hoss’ reaction, but whatever he was thinking didn’t show in his expression for the look in his eyes hadn’t changed.
“So what happened?” he asked me.
“He suggested that we share a room for the night…”
Hoss’ eyes widened somewhat at that, and I saw him swallow.
“Cal…that was his name…or so he said…anyway, Cal made the suggestion that we share a room…he said he’d cover the expensive and stay in the lobby for the night. He had seen some men playing poker and wanted to join them, so he wouldn’t really need the room until morning, just to get cleaned up before catching the stage for San Francisco. I didn’t see anything really wrong with that; I didn’t have the ready cash enough to pay for a room of my own, so…I agreed. I knew the door had a lock so I wasn’t worried that Cal might try sneaking back in after I retired. Well, we registered as Mr. And Mrs. Cal Morgan without any trouble. When we went upstairs and got settled in, Cal said that he would be willing to help me out some more. I didn’t know what he meant, so I asked him,” I explained, pausing again.
“How…what was he wantin’ from you?” Hoss asked and I sensed he was beginning to get troubled by what I was telling him. His eyes clouded with suspicion so I hurried to explain.
“Cal said that he could make us some money…by gambling. He assured me he was very good at playing the game, but that after paying for the room, he hadn’t enough for a stake…or at least a good one. And so, he suggested that I lend him what cash I had and said that by adding it to what he had, he could join in the game downstairs and with any luck, double our money. I wasn’t too sure at first, but…well, Hoss…he was very convincing…so, like I said, being young and naive and…I suppose…stupid…”
“Why shucks ma’am… don’t go sayin’ such things about ya self,” Hoss interrupted me. “Ya might have been naïve…and bit too trustin’, but ya sure ain’t stupid, ma’am.”
“Well…later…after Cal had taken all my money, won a bundle playing poker and then left me here without anything…I felt like a stupid fool.”
“Aw…Shanay…that ain’t so…”
“I did, Hoss…I really did…well, anyway…I had no other choice then but to find a job…and this was the only job available. I want you to know,” I said, lowering my voice, “that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do…or had ever done before, honest.”
I wasn’t sure why I wanted him to know that I wasn’t what I appeared to be, but to me it was important. I was dressed for the part, sure, but I considered it a costume, part of the job of getting the men to buy drinks, you know, spend their money. It wasn’t something I liked doing, but then, I was alone and I had to look out for myself just until I’d saved enough money to go home on. I cleared my throat; there was something else that I wanted Hoss to know.
“I’ve never been upstairs with a man, Hoss…” I blurted out.
I was blushing crimson I knew, for I put my hand to my face and felt the heat burn my fingers.
“Aw shucks, Miss Shanay, I didn’t think ya was that sorta gal…” Hoss muttered softly.
When our eyes met, I could see that he was telling the truth. Hoss smiled at me and it ran through my mind that he had the sweetest face and warmest eyes of any man I’d ever met before. Suddenly I wanted to be alone with him, I mean, really alone, not sitting in the back corner of a musty old saloon with the lingering scent of whiskey and beer in the air, but alone, just the two of us.
It crossed my mind that I’d like to know what it felt like to be held in this gentle man’s arms and to feel his lips pressing against mine. I had to look away, for I was afraid that Hoss might see the desire in my green eyes and know what I was thinking…longing for.
I’d never given myself to any man. I’ve always thought it wisest to save myself for the man I married…or at least truly loved. I’m not a child you understand…just a woman, lonely and in search of someone to share my life with. Wow! I thought…Hoss…what if he were already married. I must have looked as if I’d seen a ghost, because Hoss suddenly took my hand again and held it in his. I could feel the dampness in the palm of his hand and when I looked up at him again, his eyes had grown and taken on a peculiar glow.
“Miss Shanay, are you alright?” he asked me, looking worried.
“Yes…of course…why would you ask?”
“You sorta looked strange…”
I laughed softly to ease the tension. I saw his other hand move to cover mine that he already held in his right hand.
“Hoss…are you married?” I asked pointedly.
I had to know…
“Me…married?” Hoss snickered. “Why shucks no…there ain’t no decent woman want to marry up with me,” he laughed, but I saw a smidgeon of hurt come into the blue lakes of his eyes.
“How do you know that, Hoss?” I asked quickly. “I think you are a wonderful man…why, you’re kind and gentle and compassionate…any woman would be blind not to see your virtues,” I assured him.
I know I certainly saw them.
“You’re just sayin’ that,” Hoss said haphazardly as if it were all a big joke, but I saw a spark of hope spring forth in his eyes that only seconds ago looked so sorrowful.
“No, I’m not…I wouldn’t say it if it weren’t so,” I said sternly so that the truth of my words would sink into his head.
“You’re just too nice, Shanay, to say anything else…”
“No, I’m not Hoss…I don’t say things that I don’t mean. And I don’t think you do either.”
“No…I don’t. I ain’t one to lie, ma’am…my pa taught me better’n that,” Hoss said.
He pulled his chair closer to mine and lifted my hand up to his lips, surprising me with a gentle but warm kiss. I felt my heart flutter and I suddenly felt weak all over. It was hard to swallow. My eyes sought his; he was looking into mine. He was easy to read…it was so obvious that he hadn’t had much more experience with the opposite sex than I have had. But being a woman, I recognized the look for what it was…desire. Hoss wanted me…but that was alright, because I wanted him as well.
I saw him swallow hard. The high color had returned to his cheeks as he suddenly let go of my hand. I was caught off guard by the unexpected change that had come over him. Hoss pushed back his chair and stood up. From where I sat looking up, he resembled a giant; he was so tall and broad.
“I need to be goin’,” he said in a thick voice that cried aloud with passion.
I stood up to face him. I couldn’t believe he was leaving…walking away…why?
“Hoss…why do you have to go?” I asked quietly.
The big man lowered his head. I watched him struggling to find the right words to let me down gently. He picked up his big hat and twisted the rim with his fingers.
“It’s just best, ma’am…” He glanced my direction. I know he saw the tears that had sprung into my eyes. His facial muscles twitched and I knew he felt responsible.
“Hoss,” I said, swallowing, “please don’t go…not yet…”
“Shanay…if I don’t go now…I might never leave…”
“Then don’t…please…I don’t want you to go, stay with me…” I whispered and moved closer. I could barely believe I had practically begged him not to leave me!
Hoss swallowed again as tiny beads of water popped out on his brow. He was still nervously toying with his hat, but I knew he was considering my request. I could almost hear the pounding of his racing heart, or was that mine?
“Do you realize what you’re askin’?” he asked in a quivering voice.
“Shanay…” It was barely a whisper.
I reached for his hand, half expecting him to pull away, but he didn’t. I began walking slowly toward the stairs, surprised that he followed so willingly. He even allowed me to lead him up to the top but once in the hallway, he hesitated.
I looked up into his face, unasked questions I know shown in my eyes.
“If I go any further…I won’t be leavin’ until mornin’, Shanay…are ya sure ma’am that you really want…”
“Positive…I’ve waited all my life for someone special, Hoss…I’ve spent too many lonely nights…”
“I know what ya mean…I’m lonely too…but ya gotta know one thing Shanay…I want you to know it…I…ain’t like other men…I don’t give my heart to every gal I meet…not like Little Joe,” Hoss said and then smiled.
I felt my heart swell with love and admiration for this big, strong man who stood before me. I knew he’d give me all the love that consumed him, even if it were just for one night. I’d not disappoint him either…I vowed to return that love one hundred per cent and then later…whatever happened after that, would happen. But at least for one night, we’d both know what it was like to be held and loved and to give ourselves completely to another person who returned that same love.
I squeezed Hoss’ hand, unable to speak for the moment and led him down the hall. At my door, I stopped and looked up at him.
“When I open this door, Hoss,” I said softly. I knew my voice was filled with passion and desire and I knew Hoss knew it too. “You will be mine completely, until morning…”
Hoss grinned as some the nervousness dissipated. He surprised me by scooping me up into his massive arms and then kissing me full on the mouth. My arms locked about his thick neck and I willingly returned his passionate kiss. No other words were spoken; none were needed. He turned the knob and kicked opened the door with the toe of his boot. Once inside he used his heel to push the door closed.
The room was dimly lit but the soft glow of the lamp that I had lit earlier. The soft scent of roses lingered in the air stirred by the gentle breeze blowing in from the opened window. I sighed softly as I nuzzled deeper within the folds of his arms. I heard Hoss moan from deep down in his throat.
With his lips sealed against mine, Hoss carried me over to the wide comfortable bed and with such care, as if I were a China doll, lowered me unto the mattress, allowing his solid frame to rest atop my much smaller, more petite frame.
“The lamp,” I muttered between kisses that almost smothered me.
“Leave it on,” he whispered. “I want to look into your beautiful eyes…I want to see everything about you…to know you, to taste you…I want to watch your expression as I devour your body…”
I raised up my head up from the mattress just enough that my lips locked with his. He welded his body gently against me…suddenly we were victims of our loneliness as we gave ourselves over to the hidden passion that consumed us.
The rest is private…I shall never tell a soul what transpired that night…never! But it was the most wonderful of nights and since that time I’ve never known another that could compare to it.
Hoss is gone now…he’s returned to his home and the family he cared so much about. I’ve moved on too. But I’m wiser now and happier. I’ve known what it is to love and be loved and I’m not so lonely anymore. I have my memories to sustain me and carry me through.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see Hoss again. I did get one letter from him about a week after he left. He sent me some money…to go home on, he wrote and then he added that it wasn’t payment for the night we spent together because, as he said, he could never have afforded what it would have otherwise cost. He lost something that night, and it certainly wasn’t his virginity…but he said he lost his heart…to me…and that it was mine to keep always.
I smiled when I read that because I lost something that night too…my virginity AND my own heart. We were just two lonely hearts passing in the night…never to meet again. My life has been transformed from the most commonplace into one of beauty and splendor and sweetness and grace. That’s what love does. I met a man whose love was unselfish yet understanding and kind. His love saw me through his heart, and not with his mind. It cast no judgments on me and I knew after that one night with this treasure of a man that Hoss’ love couldn’t be bought, it was priceless and complete and his love was like pure magic that set my lonely heart free!
Goodbye my sweet darling…I shall hold the memory of our night together in my heart until I have reached the end of my days and even then I shall take your love into eternity with me to last beyond the great forever!
I love you, Hoss Cartwright…and I hope that the love we shared that night will be enough for you as well. Please don’t forget me…when you think of me, I’ll be thinking of you!