SQUINTING at the horizon didn’t offer him much a view of anything save a well-worn trail and the last, faint, dark-orange beams of sunset. There wasn’t much in the distance either, just mountains and flat, dry valleys waiting on winter for more water than they could hold. No motion and no sign of dust, but then the federal marshal who had ridden out with Dunson in custody was long gone, and the Overland that had arrived in town at about the same time was stopped beside the Glory Hotel and had been for some time now. There was nothing to look at in that horizon except maybe the possibility of heading further west.
People went west when looking for escape and a place to breathe free. Morgan put up a hand as the last beams of light disappeared behind the mountain and waited for the first hint of colder air to hit him.
He was hot and irritable with dried sweat, dirty, and he knew it. A man couldn’t spend every waking moment for three whole days locked inside a small building with a hand near his gun and not feel the grit of exhaustion and stink along his skin. He’d been walking around rather aimlessly for the past hour and a half since Dunson had been taken out of his custody, not stopping in any one place for long. He’d changed the handkerchief at his neck and traded out one black shirt for another this morning, but he had only to rub at his jaw to know that he looked more disreputable than his recently departed prisoner ever had.
Knowing he wasn’t in any state to walk into the hotel wasn’t what held him or what kept him looking out west for a few seconds longer. He could hear music, an out-of-tune piano churning familiar songs for the stage passengers spending the night at the Glory before they went on their way.
Morgan wasn’t a man on his way anywhere, not if he could help it, no matter the vaguely restless itch that hit him at odd times to live like the old days or the worry that now was the time to move on. But a respite from the dull heat would have felt nice.
The thought enabled him to turn on his heel and amble slowly back down the street toward his jailhouse. He ought to go to the hotel, he knew that, but he tightened his jaw and headed on past it, frowning to himself at the lights streaming out, the glittering hints of the dresses of the less respectable passengers, the scent of good food being served, and then finally the rounds of happy laughter.
It wasn’t Sunday, but there were a lot of locals about too. Farmers who’d maybe heard the stage might come in today and were here to pick up any mail or visit with the strangers passing through. He nodded at each of them without coming any closer or slowing down for a word.
They smiled at him, now that Dunson was gone. Once again, Morgan was glad he’d chosen this town when he’d accepted their offer of town marshal. It was a hard thing to settle down and yet easy when it came to it, if you wanted it enough or if a place felt like home.
All it took was guts, really.
For one bare moment, the thought filled his chest with a down-low kind of heat, not quite anger, not quite arousal. It only worsened when there was another round of laughter from the hotel, where he had no trouble at all imagining there was a card game or two in progress already and where there would be a few more over the next few days.
After a while the players might move to the saloon and dance halls, once the decent folk had gone to bed or church. Might be safe to venture into the Glory then, visit his room, have a bath and a good meal. Morgan’s entire body was an ache now, weariness and hunger and dried sweat and a longing for home that had nothing to do with his bed at the Glory.
It was a struggle to breathe at the realization, and there was still no trace of a breeze to cool his face.
Aside from the activity at the hotel, the town was quiet, bedding down for the night. Tomorrow, he promised himself. Tomorrow, after a night of real rest, he might be better able to deal with what that stage had brought him.
It would be the same as it had always been. Already he was flushing and feeling as young and green as a kid. Morgan rubbed at his eyes to banish the wayward emotions, then at his chin, as though that would make him more presentable, before giving up.
Christ, he could use a drink. The tension at his shoulders warned him against the idea of risking company, however. Even sitting in a corner by himself, with some redeye and a glare for any man fool enough to come closer, wasn’t advisable with his guard still up and the weight in his chest.
He didn’t need people, he needed…. He needed to be left alone; that was all. He could get some sleep, and the rest could be handled in the morning.