“But you’re already good with that old longcat,” she sighed. Joe nodded.
He had found a Red Rider longcat when he was all of eight years old.
He’d been out shooting groundhogs by the creek and there it was, lying like someone forgot it when getting a drink. He had kept it hidden in the barn for years, afraid his father would take it away, and he practiced with it in the early morning or late evening or any chance he got. “I only learned to play with that thing,” he whispered smiling. “Imagine what I could do if I got showed proper.” Corrie’s shoulders shook as she stifled a sob. “Come on Corrie, if I do a tour of duty with the Red Riders, I’ll be able to go into the reserve service.
Then, I can protect my family, you and any children that we get.
And I’ll have friends in the Red Riders.” She whipped toward him. “But that could be two years!” Her full lips quivered. “I’m going to be an old hag when you get back.” “New recruits always get posted riding the southern edge of the Territory.” Emotion flickered through his resolve.
She had a way. “I can come back here for any leave I get.” “They go to the south ‘cause’ it’s most dangerous, and you learn the hard way.” She dabbed at her eyes with the hem of her skirt exposing a soft white thigh in the process. “Anyway, why would you want to go off and fight Savages? You’ve got all of Wood Farm to protect!” “My brother Kenny’s 16.
He can take over my duties while I’m away.
I’ve been training him to pick up the slack.” Joe reached out and pulled her close. “And fighting Savages, well I’ve got the feeling I’ll be fighting them here soon, anyway.” Joe watched concern cloud Corrie’s face. “You remember the Waymeets.” The Waymeets were a family of homesteaders just a day’s ride to the east.
On a dark night six months before, Savages butchered them in their sleep—from the gruesome way the bodies were used, most thought it was Irawk work. “With military training, I’ll be able to teach my brothers, and all the men and women at the other farms.” He kissed her soft mouth. “Corrie, this way we can have a family, and grow them up safe.” She looked down at her feet for a minute, then up into his eyes. “I suppose you’ll think yourself quite handsome in your uniform.” “Mostly when I’m out of it!” Joe laughed, pulling her down on the straw again. He was ready for another go. Corrie resisted momentarily. “But Bill…” Her eyes cast around over the stalls. “Well, he better get here in a hurry if he wants to watch.
I’m feeling urgent.” Joe kissed her hard, and then ground his hips against her.
He didn’t care if anyone saw them.
He loved Corrie and she loved him.
Joe’s hands ran over her firm hips, pulled the swell of her belly toward him.
The smell of her hair was like oats and hay—fresh as the Greenbelt. He moaned.
But instead of Corrie’s joyful sigh, he heard laughter? Joe kissed her harder, and then was surprised by a voice—suddenly deep and low. “You love me, don’t you Joey?” But before he could answer he heard more laughter, many men’s voices now, and it wasn’t her brother Bill either.
He tried to lift his head, but his muscles resisted, slowed him—then, he opened his eyes. Joe was lying on a bed of straw.
Around him, the men of the Pandora Red Rider Troop stood howling with delight.
Even the old one-eyed Cotton could not contain his humor, displaying a yellowed stump of a tooth in merriment.
Joe flushed with embarrassment as he remembered.
A dream… But the memory only tormented him; it could not protect him from his comrades. “Come on now, loverboy!” the half-wit, Private Cellars crowed as he kissed an imaginary face in front of him. “That’s it.
Buck them hips, Joey!” He hooted like a wild man. Harry Stokes, another private like Joe, and usually an ally, suddenly pitched in. “By God, boy.
You’re about as horny as a young man’s got a right to be!” He clapped Private Greenlawn across the shoulders. “If my mare drops a bastard—I know the father.” The best Joe could do in the way of defense was to spit at the ground beside him, then knock the straw out of his boots and pull them on. “I got to take a piss,” he growled at the other cavalrymen then climbed to his feet.
Joe knew he was still the biggest man in the troop, and that he could whip any three of the men around him.
But as Stokes had told him a hundred times, it was his sense of humor that got him the shit end of the stick.
The fellows in the troop knew he wouldn’t beat the tar out of them just for joking around. And it was true. Joe was already seeing the humor in it—was having a hard time hiding his grin.
Just the same, he pushed through the ring of men mumbling, “Kick your asses!” and “Goddamn sleep talking,” before making his way out of the barn. He moved to the fence that circled a small corral behind the drive shed.
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