This is a work of fiction based on characters from various films and with elements created by other authors from The Gaslight Hotel and The Gaslight Hotel Gateway. It is for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to infringe on copyrights held by anyone else. All Russell Crowe characters belong expressly to their various movie studios and to their Creator.
Many thanks to Tina, who was the first Crowe's Point person that I spoke with, and who invited me to play at the Point. Thanks also to Sharon, Beej and all of the other authors at The Gaslight Hotel and The Gaslight Hotel Gateway. I have enjoyed all your stories very much and hope to be allowed to play at the Point for a long time to come.
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Reigning the chestnut mare in sharply, Rebekah Logan could hardly believe her eyes. She was no longer looking at the desert land of Arizona, but at lush, green countryside-grass, wildflowers and, further off, a stand of trees. She looked back at the outcropping of rock she'd just skirted, never realizing that this was what it had guarded. But then, maybe it wouldn't have, for anyone else.
She rode toward the stand of trees, enjoying the feel of the cool breeze after the hot Arizona sun. She took in the scents of the wildflowers, and the sound of running water in the distance. Peaceful. She turned the mare left, skirting the treeline. She had no idea how far she had ridden when she saw another rider approaching in the distance.
As the rider came within hailing distance, she gasped. She would have recognized him anywhere, as well as the horse. General Maximus Decimus Meridius, mounted on Argento. The black stallion was unmistakable to someone who'd seen 'Gladiator' as many times as Rebekah had. And his rider... Well, she'd know that close-cropped dark hair, the dark beard, the eyes, no matter where they were.
This must mean she had reached Crowe's Point. Tina, with whom she'd exchanged emails and chatted online, had told her that arrival at Crowe's Point was unique and different for each individual. Rebekah had known about the point for more than a year, had discovered it online. That mysterious and magical place populated by Russell Crowe characters. According to Tina, if you felt a special connection to one of the guys-the brothers, as they were known-you could find your way there, even though no one truly knew the Point's exact location.
Rebekah had considered it a fantasy. After all, there were plenty of other such places in cyberspace. So, she'd read the emails, read the stories of others who had gone to the Point either to live or just to visit-and had taken it all with a grain of salt.
Rebekah had never been one to believe in dreams and fantasies. Her childhood and adolescence had been spent in a succession of foster homes, after being abandoned by her mother at the age of five. In each of those homes she'd been, at best, ignored, at worst, abused. The one thing she had longed for, had dreamt about, was to escape from that life. That was the one dream that hadn't died. She hoped that coming to the Point was the start of fulfilling that dream.
"Miss," the general was saying, in that deep, melodic voice of his. "Miss- Are you well?"
Mentally, she shook herself, trying to get a grasp on her disbelief. "Yes. Yes, I'm fine, General." Rebekah gripped the reins tighter. "Am I in Crowe's Point?"
He smiled a very familiar smile at her. "That you are. I take it, then, that you expected to find yourself here?"
"Yes- No- I- I'm not really sure." She smiled shyly at Maximus. "I packed for it." She indicated the backpack she wore. "But I don't think I really believed I'd end up here."
"I've heard some of the other ladies who come here say that as well." Still smiling, he indicated her horse. "The stables aren't far. Perhaps we should put away your mare and get you to the hotel, Miss-?"
She suddenly realized that she had not introduced herself. "Logan. Rebekah Logan." She offered her hand to him. He took it in his own and lifted it to his lips.
"Wonderful to meet you, Miss Logan." He held her hand for a moment, then slowly let it go to take Argento's reins in a tighter grip. "The stables are this way." He turned Argento back in the direction from which he had come.
Rebekah brought the mare in beside them. "It's beautiful here, General," she told Maximus, as they rode toward the stables.
"Yes, it is." He smiled at her. "But you must call me Max. We're very informal here. Almost no one calls me General. Especially none of my brothers."
She looked at him, curious and hopeful. "So- So, all the characters are here? Even Richie Roberts and Ben Wade?"
"Yes. Those are the two newest arrivals. Although Wade spends a lot of time visiting his movie world. The adjustment has been difficult for him." Maximus sighed as he thought of his own efforts to help Ben Wade adjust to his new life.
They had arrived at the stables. Maximus turned Argento and Rebekah's mare over to a stable hand and then turned to Rebekah. "Now, Miss Logan. Let us get you to the hotel."
He put her backpack into a pickup truck standing outside the stables and helped her in. As they drove off, he looked at her inquisitively. "Is anyone expecting you?" He was thinking of one of the brothers. He assumed that she had a connection with one of them. This young lady didn't look like one of the lurkers who hung around on weekends. She just didn't have the air of someone who hung around looking for one-night stands.
Rebekah looked down at her hands. "Well, I suppose Tina might be. I've talked with her about the Point online. She urged me to come and check it out." She was a little wary about exposing who she thought she might have a connection with. She'd always been something of a private person. She also wasn't sure why she felt a connection to him, or even if she really did. So many questions.
Maximus looked at her curiously, but refrained from saying anything. There seemed to be something this young woman was reluctant to talk about. "Well, then-" he said. We'll get you to the hotel and see if we can find Tina."
The hotel was cool and quiet inside, the lobby almost deserted. "It's about lunchtime. I suppose most everyone's eating," Maximus said.
"Too right." Arthur Baskin appeared behind the desk. "I'd be eating too, but I'm trying to get ready for all the weekend guests who are going to show up in a little while."
He looked at Rebekah. "Is this one of our early arrivals for the weekend, Max?"
"I'm Rebekah Logan," Rebekah told him before Maximus had a chance to answer. "Um- I think maybe Tina might be expecting me?"
"Tina?" said Arthur. "I think she's over at the tavern, having lunch with John. But she told me to have a room ready for you, just in case, Rebekah. Would you like to go up now, or have some lunch first?"
"I, uh- I think I'd like to get rid of this backpack, and at least wash my face," Rebekah told him. "So, maybe I'll go up just long enough to do that."
"I'll see her up." Maximus held out his hand and Arthur put a key into it.
"Oh, General, I couldn't ask you to do that." Rebekah was taken aback that Maximus would perform such a menial task.
But he only smiled at her, as he picked up her backpack. "We all pitch in here, Miss Logan. In my new life, I'm no longer in command. Although," he chuckled, "some of my brothers might tell you otherwise."
His laugh, like his voice, was warm and deep. It had been one of the things she had been so drawn to in his movie. Maximus carried her backpack up two flights of stairs, and opened the door to room three-ten. He gallantly stood back to allow her to precede him inside.
Rebekah looked around in surprise and delight. The walls were painted a warm cream color. The sofa and chair in front of the fireplace were a cool, medium blue. Through the doorway into the bedroom, she could see that the bed was covered in a blue and white patchwork quilt. It was a cozy and comfortable place-the kind of place she'd dreamt of having as a child.
Maximus observed her closely, as she looked about the rooms. She seemed young and rather shy and reserved. Who was she here to see? Perhaps Andy or Johnny Ryan-one of the younger brothers.
He smiled indulgently at her enjoyment of the room. It was very simply decorated and outfitted, compared to some of the rooms he'd seen in the hotel. But Rebekah Logan appeared to be delighted with it. She seemed to have simple tastes.
He watched as she took a few things out of her bag and started into the bathroom. "I'll only be a couple of minutes," she told him with an apologetic look.
"Take your time, my dear," he replied gently. "I'll wait for you here and see you over to the tavern for lunch. With your permission, of course?"
"That would be wonderful, General." She spoke somewhat formally, seeming slightly uncomfortable.
"Max," he told her. "Please."
"Max," she said shyly. "Then, please, call me Rebekah."
"I shall be delighted to do so, Rebekah." When she had closed the bathroom door, he began to wonder about her again. She seemed reluctant to disclose much information about herself. He would guess her age to be in her early twenties. She had lovely, long golden brown hair and shining eyes. Her cautious and reserved demeanor was beginning to make him feel protective of her. She appeared to be somewhat overwhelmed here.
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Rebekah brushed her hair and washed her face. As she looked at herself in the mirror, she noticed the nervous look on her face. It was hard to calm down. She was actually here!
She had just been shown to her room, and was about to be taken to lunch, by none other than General Maximus himself! And he was even more handsome and gallant than in 'Gladiator'! Maximus was not the reason she was in Crowe's Point, but he was still undeniably attractive. And she was about to meet more of the boys. She had to get a handle on her nerves.
Maximus waited for her beyond the bedroom door. He offered her his arm. "Are you ready for your lunch, Rebekah?"
"I guess so." She gave an uneasy smile. "How many people will be there?"
"Well, it's a little late, so probably not that many. Most will have left already." He knew that meeting the brothers was a daunting experience for many of the ladies who came here. "Are you frightened?"
"Just a little nervous. It's not every day you meet a lot of people whom you've only seen up on a movie screen before."
He smiled at her, and covered the hand that clutched his arm with his own hand. "We'll go slow. No more than one or two introductions at first." As he led her out of the room and down the hall, the protective feeling remained. Maximus told himself that meeting most of his brothers would be easy for her. He did intend, however, to be careful introducing her to Ben Wade and SID-if the opportunity to meet them came up.
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Maximus had been right. Crowe's Tavern was mostly deserted, the lunch crowd having left. There were a few ladies gathered around the bar, to whom Maximus did not introduce her. Weekenders, he told her, with whom he was not acquainted.
At a table to the left side of the room, he was greeted by Jeffery Wigand and Jim Braddock, who were having a late lunch together. "Max!" Jeffery greeted him. "It's been a few days since I've seen you." Both men politely rose from the table at sight of Rebekah.
"Lots of work at the stables, Jeff," Maximus told him. "Two mares have foaled in the last three days."
"Jim," he greeted Braddock.
"Maximus." Jim Braddock spoke softly. "I'd like to come down and see those foals."
"I'll be there this afternoon, Jim. I didn't know you had an interest in horses." Maximus knew that Jim Braddock's adjustment to Crowe's Point was a very long and painful one. Having been forced to leave behind his wife and children, whom he loved more dearly than life, Jim had made many trips back to his movie world. In the past year, those trips had lessened somewhat.
"Well, it seems I will have to find new interests." Braddock's smile was somewhat forced.
"Gentlemen." Max made a grandiose gesture with one arm. "This is Miss Rebekah Logan, one of our new arrivals."
Both Wigand and Braddock greeted her enthusiastically. Feeling a little overwhelmed, Rebekah talked briefly with both men. She felt a touch of sympathy for Jim Braddock. An air of sadness clung to him. Having never had a family of her own, Rebekah could only guess at what it must feel like to come to a new place to live and have to leave them behind.
"Well, gentlemen," Maximus took her hand again. "Rebekah and I are going to meet Tina and John, and have a bite of lunch."
"It was wonderful to meet both of you," Rebekah told Wigand and Braddock politely. "I hope to see you again soon."
"We'll be around," Jim Braddock told her quietly. "I'm sure you will." He gave her a brief smile.
Maximus now led her to a booth in the corner. She immediately recognized John Biebe from Mystery, Alaska. She assumed the woman sitting opposite him and holding his hand was his wife, Tina.
"Tina?" she asked, hesitantly. The woman looked up at her.
"I'm Rebekah Logan. I actually made it!" She smiled at Tina. The surprise in her voice was evident. It made Maximus smile at her.
Tina took Rebekah's hand in hers and squeezed it. "Welcome to the Point! It's so good to have you here! I take it Max has been introducing you around?"
"Yes," Rebekah told her. "He's been very kind."
"Nonsense," said Maximus. "Kindness has nothing to do with it. I'm enjoying your company."
"Rebekah, this is my husband, John Biebe." Tina introduced him. John, this is Rebekah Logan. She and I have been talking online for awhile now. This is her first visit to the Point."
John Biebe took her hand and Rebekah found herself looking into a pair of warm blue-green eyes. "Nice to meet you, Rebekah. Will you be staying with us long?" he asked.
"Just the weekend. For now, at least," Rebekah replied.
"Well, you're in very capable hands," John told her, smiling at Maximus. He noticed that Rebekah seemed shy and reserved-and that Maximus looked at her with a combination of tenderness and protectiveness. Had Maximus drawn her here? He looked a question at Tina, who shrugged imperceptibly.
"Rebekah. Max." Tina rose from her seat. "Why don't you two join us for lunch? We're just waiting for our food."
"Oh, I wouldn't want to intrude," Rebekah told her quickly.
"You wouldn't be intruding at all," John said. "As a matter of fact, you'll be saving me. Tina was just outlining a long list of chores she expects me to get done around the house." He gave Maximus a pleading look.
"It's up to Rebekah," Maximus said lightly, looking at her. "What do you think? Should we save him, or let Tina give him what he deserves?"
"Oh, hush you two!" Tina looked at them with exasperation. "Please come and join us, Rebekah. You and I will eat and let these two starve!" Tina moved to sit next to John, leaving the other side of the booth open.
"Maybe we should do our good deed for the day, and save poor John," Rebekah told Max, with a tense smile.
"Very well," Maximus said gravely, "but I'm not sure he deserves it." Max ushered Rebekah into the booth, then slid in beside her. He called the bartender over, and they ordered sandwiches and drinks.
"So, Rebekah," Tina said, as they waited for their food. "You just graduated college, right? And you write and illustrate children's books?"
"Yes," Rebekah told her, her face brightening a little, as she talked about it. I sold my first children's story when I was in my sophomore year. I've been writing and illustrating since then.
Maximus was heartened to see her animated and talking more freely. So, there was something she was passionate about. He exchanged glances with John, as the two women talked.
John was amused at Maximus' manner toward Rebekah. He seemed careful and protective toward her. Not exactly a romantic attitude, John thought. But it would be nice to see Maximus with someone. He'd been alone for awhile now.
Looking back at Rebekah, John remarked. "You have the most unusual green eyes."
Rebekah almost choked on her drink. "It must be a trick of the light. My eyes are brown."
John looked at Maximus and Tina. "No trick of the light, Rebekah. They're a beautiful green. Aren't they Max, Tina?" Both of them nodded.
Rebekah was astounded. Excusing herself, she got up as fast as she could and went to the ladies' room. There she stared, unbelievingly, in the mirror. When she had brushed her teeth this morning, the eyes looking back at her had been their usual chocolate brown. Now, they were a deep, startling green. It was impossible! She hadn't even noticed earlier when she brushed her hair. Or had they been different then? She felt a little frightened.
Finally, going back to the table, she was somewhat pale. "My eyes are brown," she told the three at the table. "Always have been. They were this morning, when I got up." She looked around at the three of them, hoping for some explanation.
"Things can change at Crowe's Point," Tina told her gently, seeing her fear. "Remember, you and I talked about that? Perhaps there's a reason for your eyes being green here. You can see the doctor if you want."
"I don't know if there's any reason to see a doctor," Rebekah told her. "My eyes are fine, other than the color. No dizziness, no blurred vision, no problems." She tried to relax a little.
Their food came and the talk lessened as they ate. When they had finished, Tina asked Max, "Are you showing her around this afternoon?"
"As much as I would enjoy it," Max smiled in Rebekah's direction, "I'm afraid I must be at the stables this afternoon. The veterinarian is checking out the new foals, to make sure there are no complications. I would be glad to show you around tomorrow, Rebekah, if you'd care to?"
Rebekah dropped her eyes and clasped her hands together on the table. "That would be fine, Max. I think I'd like to rest a little this afternoon. It was a long ride here."
"Did she tell you that she arrived on horseback?" Max asked Tina. "I believe she's one of the few, if not the only, to have come to the Point that way."
"Horseback? That's interesting." Tina glanced at Rebekah, still trying to get a feel for her and what had brought her here. Like Maximus, she had noted that Rebekah was quiet and reserved, not offering a lot of information about herself.
When Rebekah did not elaborate, Tina sighed. "Well, John, I guess we should be going. That list of chores is getting longer, the more we sit here. It's good to meet you Rebekah. I hope you enjoy your weekend. If you need anything while you're here, you can find me in my office at the hotel, or feel free to call me at home. They have the number at the desk."
John had rolled his eyes at Tina's mention of chores. Rebekah almost laughed. "Please call, Rebekah. Maybe it will distract her." They walked out together.
Maximus tucked Rebekah's hand into his arm again, as he walked her back to the hotel. At the desk, he said his goodbyes. "If you have no plans for dinner, Rebekah, I would very much like you to join me." He still felt that she needed looking after, and was anxious at the thought of her being alone.
"That would be nice, Max." Rebekah had been contemplating having dinner in her room. She disliked crowds. They made her nervous, but with Max for company, perhaps dinner would be more comfortable. And she did want to meet some more of the others.
"I'll meet you here at the desk at seven o'clock." He smiled at her. "I'll be looking forward to it."
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In her room, Rebekah gave a long, thankful sigh. Meeting new people was always difficult for her. She was used to being more alone than she felt here. And Maximus was very kind, but it had begun to feel almost as though he were hovering over her. He seemed to think that she needed to be watched over. It was nice of him, but she felt uncomfortable with so much attention.
She stared in the bathroom mirror at her eyes. If this was Point magic, she was no longer so sure that she liked it. It was somewhat frightening.
She thought of lying down on her bed for awhile, but knew that a nap would make her drowsy for the rest of the evening. Digging in her backpack, she took out the only dress she had brought with her, a soft blue cotton, and hung it, so that the wrinkles would fall out by dinnertime. Backpacks weren't the best way to pack for a weekend, but since she had been on a horse, a set of luggage hadn't exactly been practical.
Digging further into her bag, she brought out her sketchbook. She decided to find a place outside where she could sit and sketch or write for awhile. She often found something interesting to draw and then wrote short captions on the same page with the picture. The captions often turned into words for her picture books.
Her jeans and green cotton shirt were a little the worse for wear, but she didn't want to change just yet. She had brought a limited number of clothes with her. She brushed herself off a little, and decided to wait until dinner to change.
Taking her sketchbook, she walked out of the hotel and wandered over the hill behind it. She hadn't gone too far when she came to a small rise. Beyond it, the view was breathtaking. The harbor and Captain Jack Aubrey's ship, Surprise, at anchor there. Even with the sails down, she was a magnificent sight.
Rebekah sat down in the grass with her sketchbook on her knees and began to draw. Along with the ship, she tried to catch the waves that lapped against the lower part of the hull, She was so lost in her efforts that she didn't notice anyone approaching.
"Nice job. You seem to be- talented." The words jarred Rebekah out of her half-daydream state immediately. The voice was very familiar to her. Deep and smooth. Half honey, half whiskey. The only voice she knew of that managed to sound both rough and soft at the same time. Ben Wade's voice.
She felt what was almost a tidal wave of conflicting emotions wash over her at the sound of it. Fear, longing, desire-more emotions than she'd ever felt at one time in her life. Squeezing her eyes shut for a moment, she breathed slowly and deeply, steadying herself. Then she turned and looked up at him.
He was a looming and impressive figure, standing above her. His broad shoulders blocked out the sun. Those deep, drowning-blue eyes twinkled at her. The soft chestnut brown hair blew slightly in the breeze, the curls at the ends reaching just below his collar. A half-smile played on his handsome features, as he looked down at her and her sketchpad.
"Don't look so scared, darlin'. I promise not to bite." His grin broadened, as he crouched next to her. "Let's get a good look at what you're doin' here." He took the sketchpad from her suddenly nerveless fingers, flipping the pages back.
As Ben looked at her work, Rebekah looked at him. The same black pants, blue shirt, and vest he'd worn in '3:10 To Yuma'. No velvet jacket. A little warm for that. He had removed his black hat and laid it on the ground next to him. His body was controlled and graceful in the crouch. His movements, his presence, were always like that. The face was rugged, the beard streaked. This was the man who'd drawn her to Crowe's Point.
She didn't realize she was holding her breath until he looked up at her. The blue of his shirt brought out the blue in his eyes. Probably what made Ben's eyes seem bluer than those of some of the others, she thought to herself. She let her breath out slowly.
His smile was still there. "Very good." He held the sketchpad out to her and she took it hesitantly. Ben came out of the crouch to sit down on the grass next to her. "You been drawin' long?"
"Since I was about six," she managed to say, held captive by those eyes.
"Ben Wade." He held out his hand to her.
"Yes, I know," she said softly, extending her hand. When he took it, she felt a warm current pass through her entire body. Part of the connection, she wondered. Or just how this man affected her.
"Then, you have me at a disadvantage, Miss-?"
"Logan. Rebekah Logan."
"A pleasure to meet you, Miss Logan." Ben Wade was ever the gentleman, ever the charmer. "I haven't seen you in Crowe's Point before."
"No. I- I just arrived earlier today." The mixture of fear and attraction was still there, still playing havoc with her senses. Did Ben feel anything? Connections at the Point were supposed to be at least somewhat mutual, although she had read that they could sometimes take time to develop. But, with his reputation with the ladies, she wondered if Ben could even feel a connection with just one. And, even if he did, what made her think it would be her?
"In that case-" His eyes twinkled at her. "-you must allow me to show you around. There are some very interesting views here." He rose in one fluid movement. He had not released her hand, and now he used it to pull her up beside him.
He tucked her hand around his arm, but it was very different from the way Maximus had done it. For one thing, Ben Wade didn't bother to ask. Merely assumed that she would accede to his wishes. And she found herself doing so without hesitation. Walking along beside him without a thought as to where they were going.
"Do you ride, Miss Logan?"
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Ben had been heading for the stables when he saw her. He had heard in the tavern that there were two new foals in the stables and he had planned on seeing them. Although he didn't have much in common with the others here, he did enjoy horses.
At the top of the rise overlooking the harbor, sat a young woman. She appeared to be writing or drawing. Had a pad on her knees and a pencil in her hand. At first, Ben continued on his way. It was Friday and Friday evenings were when the Point got plenty of women. He never had a problem filling his bed on weekends.
But there was something about this one- Something drew him toward her. Approaching her quietly, he took stock. She appeared to have curves in all the right places, but beyond that she was thin. Almost as though she didn't eat enough. Her hair was a beautiful, golden-brown, the light of the sun glinting off long, wavy locks. She was wearing jeans and a light green shirt tucked into them.
One thing Ben Wade both liked and disliked about the time period in which he now found himself living was the way women dressed. They often wore tight, revealing clothes. Which was a pleasure most of the time. He could easily tell at a glance which woman he'd prefer sharing his bed on a given night. On the other hand, it would be nice if they left something to the imagination occasionally. A little mystery.
This one looked as though her clothes fit just right. Not baggy, but not clinging to her like a second skin, either. The jeans showed off her hips well and the blouse seemed to hug all the right places.
But it wasn't just her body. There were plenty of women around with good figures-better ones than her, actually. And he couldn't see her face just yet. So, what was it about her? He didn't know, but he'd find out soon enough.
As he came closer, he saw she was sketching. His own favorite hobby. And, from what he could see of her pad, she appeared to be good. Her lines were bold, her shading done well. He spoke to her.
When she turned to look at him, he saw the play of emotions across her face. A face he could now see was extremely pretty. Pale, but not overly so, and with a hint of pink in her cheeks. He liked the fact that she didn't seem to have her face painted up, the way most women seemed to do today. Her lips were full and pretty. And her eyes... When he saw them for the first time, he blinked. Deep, beautiful green. The greenest eyes he'd seen since-
He pulled himself out of his reverie, put on his most charming smile, and introduced himself to her. Turned out she already knew who he was. Almost all of the women here did. She told him her own name. 'Rebekah', he thought to himself. An old-fashioned name. He liked the sound of it.
She was attracted to him. He could tell that much. But there was also fear on her face. Good. She had enough sense to be aware of what he could do to her. This young woman was withdrawn, reserved. A loner like himself, but for entirely different reasons, he sensed It might be interesting to spend some time around her.
When he drew her up from the ground, he was pleased to note that she went along with him without hesitating. He grinned to himself. Even with the shy ones, he hadn't lost his touch.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
The stables weren't busy yet, as they would be tomorrow when the weekend people went for rides. Rebekah saw that the stable hand who greeted them was the same one to whom Maximus had handed off her mare earlier.
"Mr. Wade." He greeted Ben, who was obviously a regular visitor here. "I assume you'll be wanting Ribbon. And would you like your own mare, Miss?" He turned to Rebekah.
"Bring her the buckskin." Ben spoke up, before she had a chance to answer. "He's nice and gentle," he told her. "You'll have an easy time with him. You have your own mare?" He looked at her questioningly, as they waited for the horses to be brought out.
"I arrived on horseback," she told him. "I was on a riding tour this morning. Got separated from the other people with me and wound up here at Crowe's Point. I guess the stables who provided our horses are wondering where we both are right now."
She smiled at him. "Do I look like such a bad rider that you automatically assume I need a gentle horse?"
"Guess I'll find out, won't I?" he asked with a grin.
"Is Maximus here?" she asked the stable hand, when he brought out the horses. She'd feel a little guilty if she didn't at least ask about him.
"He's in with the new foals and the vet," the stable hand answered. "I can get him for you, if you'd like."
To Rebekah's surprise and slight annoyance, Ben answered. "That won't be necessary. I'm sure he's busy. She can talk with him later."
She left her sketchbook with the hand, and they mounted and set off, Ben and Ribbon slightly in the lead. After a short distance, he slowed and waited for her to catch up to him.
"So, you've met the general?" He used the term sarcastically.
"Yes. He met me when I rode in this morning." She didn't mention their lunch together. "You don't like Maximus?" She was curious about why he should be so sarcastic.
"Like him?" Ben chuckled. "He's a little too honorable and strait-laced for me. I appreciate his fighting spirit and his abilities with a sword. But he has a little too much conscience to suit me."
"So, where are we going, Mr. Wade?"
"Ben." His voice was very soft, his eyes turning their full weight on her. She felt breathless under that gaze. "Call me Ben. Rebekah." It was a caress without using his hands, and he was fully aware of the effect it had on her.
"Where are we going- Ben." She had to drop her eyes from his, or she felt she'd drown in his look.
"Well-" He smiled at her discomfort. "You've seen the hotel and the tavern, the stables, the waterfront. Let's show you something you haven't seen. You up for a run?"
At her nod, he said, "Ribbon and I'll race you to the treeline over there." Without waiting for a response, he whistled softly to Ribbon and they took off.
Rebekah spoke to the buckskin and they closed most of the gap quickly. However, they were never quite able to catch up. When she reached the edge of the meadow, Ben was waiting quietly for her.
"Hardly a fair start to the race, Mr.- Ben." She corrected herself.
"When you're in a competition, darlin', use any advantage you can get." His smirk was irritating. "Although it was hardly a fair race to begin with. I knew, when I asked for that buckskin, that Ribbon was faster than him."
He laughed at her outraged look. "Come on. It's through the trees a ways."
They rode in silence. Rebekah allowed the buckskin to follow Ribbon without guidance from her. Her mind was on other things. Chiefly how she felt around Ben Wade. She felt more comfortable than she had in her entire life. The silence between them was easy. She felt no need to fill it with small talk or to try and be entertaining, the way she did with everyone else. Oh, she was a little afraid. More because of the things she'd seen him do in his movie than of any threat that she actually felt from him. He'd done nothing at all threatening toward her.
But the things he had done. The robberies. The killings. She remembered when he had killed Tucker in '3:10 To Yuma'. Ben had stabbed the man numerous times in the neck with a fork. Cold-blooded. Merciless. Then, she'd thought of it as just a movie. Now- Now that she was face-to-face with him, how did she feel?
She didn't know. But she knew one thing. The man riding in front of her was not merciless and cold-hearted. He had laughed with her, joked with her. He had touched her. And his touch was most definitely not cold.
Rebekah let her mind wander to the scene which had so gripped her-the one which had made her feel such a connection. The scene where he sat with Dan Evans in that hotel room. He was sketching Dan inside the front cover of the Bible. And, in a soft and deliberate tone, he was telling Dan about the time he had read the Bible from cover to cover. About being eight years old and having his mother abandon him.
Her own mother had abandoned her. She'd been a little over five years old-could barely remember it. But it still hurt. And her heart had ached for eight-year-old Ben Wade. For how alone and scared he must have felt. She'd felt alone and scared too. For her entire life, since her mother had left her.
She didn't yet know how Ben had grown up. In an orphanage? Perhaps he'd been cared for by someone else? Maybe he'd been a street orphan? She had been moved from one foster family to another, never feeling at home anywhere. Never feeling any love or affection for any of the adults or the other children who had been in her life. Never feeling any connection. Until she'd felt this one with him. And no matter how much thought she gave to all the wrongs he'd done since then, it was the scared little boy who stayed with her.
The sound of water splashing over rocks grew louder and louder ahead of them. As they moved out into a clearing among the trees, she saw the river ahead of them. The noise of the swiftly rushing water was thunderous. Rebekah was fascinated.
Her life had been spent in towns and suburbs. Never in a place like this, where nature opened up all around her. The force of the water was exhilarating. She watched, enthralled. She didn't know how much time had passed when she turned around and looked for Ben. He sat comfortably on Ribbon, watching her and smiling at her enjoyment. Or maybe at her naivete. She wasn't sure which.
After a few more moments, he motioned her toward a trail which led along the river. She followed him on the buckskin. About a half-mile up the trail the noise was much less deafening. Ben dismounted and left Ribbon contentedly munching grass in a clearing, while he sat with his back against a boulder. She followed him, tying the buckskin's reins around a sapling.
Rebekah leaned back against a fallen tree a few yards from where Ben sat. He had removed his hat and had his eyes closed, but she could tell that he was aware of everything going on around him. Theirs was a comfortable-she would almost have said companionable-silence. She felt no need to speak Ben Wade did not make small talk, she knew. Even when he talked about seemingly mundane subjects, he had a purpose. Usually gathering information about others. Or using the power of speech to manipulate people. That smooth, honeyed voice was no mere accident of nature. It was part of his arsenal.
She relaxed and let her head fall back against the tree, looking up at the patches of sky visible through the tree tops. Small, wispy clouds wafted through them like white smoke.Rebekah listened to the sounds around her. The running water, the birds, the light breeze rustling the leaves. It was peaceful here. Silent. No traffic. No city noises. No people demanding attention. None of the sounds of civilization. Civilization-which she'd long ago learned was far from civilized. She felt as though she'd come home.
She had no idea whether five minutes or an hour had passed when Ben Wade broke the silence. "City girl?" he asked.
"Yes," she answered him quietly. "Well- Mostly small towns. But never the country. Never the woods or the mountains. Definitely nothing like this." She sighed, feeling content. "How did you know?"
"The way you drink it all in," he said with a smile. "You like it now. But could you spend days, weeks, months out here. With only yourself, or maybe one other person to talk to? Without going stir-crazy? Getting cabin fever? Not many can."
"I think so. I guess I wouldn't really know until I tried it. But I've always liked being alone. I guess it comes from a lifetime of rarely having the opportunity."
"Come from a big family, do you?" That smooth voice, digging for information.
She chuckled derisively. "The biggest. The state foster care system. From the age of five to the age of sixteen, I was with ten different families." She knew her voice gave away the pain and bitterness she felt. She didn't care. "For the last two years in the system, they put me in a group home."
He eyed her knowingly. "And you withdrew to deal with it? Isolated yourself?" At her nod, he went on. "Smart move. Defend yourself. Keep yourself safe. If you don't, no one else will."
"Course, I would have dealt with it differently." His voice had taken on a more insidious tone. "Didn't you ever want people to pay for what they did to you, Rebekah? Didn't you ever want justice?" Ben didn't know much about foster care, but he could tell from her tone and the look in her eyes that she had been hurt-in more ways than one.
She had. Had dreamed of it, in fact. But- "I was a child. There was nothing I could do."
"You're not a child any more." That smooth, honeyed drawl was back, letting her know that he was aware she wasn't a child.
She didn't answer. She knew what he was asking. Didn't she still want justice? 'Yes, I do,' she realized to herself. I do still want them to pay. One of them in particular. She felt torn, unable to look at him.
Ben Wade smiled and leaned back again. Of course, she wanted it. All people were essentially the same. As he'd told Dan Evans, it was how they were born. He fell silent and enjoyed the peace and quiet of his surroundings, and the new knowledge he had of Rebekah Logan.
Rebekah was silent also. Enjoying the surroundings, but also thinking about the things Ben had just said, and the realizations that were coming to her. She was so deep in thought that she was startled when Ben spoke.
"We should start back. It looks to be after five o'clock, by the position of the sun. You said you were havin' dinner with the general?" Again, the irony in his voice as he used the title. "You wouldn't want to keep him waitin'. And I'm guessin' you'll want to get prettied up some before then."
Unbidden, the thought came that she'd rather get prettied up for Ben. Out loud, she said, "Is it really that late already?"
"Time flies when you're havin' fun," Ben drawled. "I guess you didn't get to see much of the Point."
"It's okay," she said softly. "I think I've seen the best part."
"Preacher Cort showed me this area not long after I first got here," Ben told her. "You know about Cort?"
Rebekah nodded. The gunslinger turned preacher from 'The Quick and the Dead'.
"A real shame," Ben said. "A good man like him turnin' preacher. I've seen him in action at the shootin' range. He's one of the best." He turned a grin on her. "Almost as good as me."
That grin was infectious. She gave him a genuine smile in return, as they mounted up and headed back toward the stables. The ride back was made in silence.
They turned their horses over to a new stable hand, Ben giving Ribbon a carrot before he left. As they walked back to the hotel, Rebekah carrying her sketch pad, Ben asked her about her work. She told him about some of her picture books, one series in particular about a boy named Bobby and his dog. He listened attentively, but Rebekah got the feeling he wasn't so much listening to the story as looking for parts of her own personality within it.
In the hotel, Ben left her at the bottom of the stairs. With Rebekah standing on the bottom step and him on the floor, they were almost eye-to-eye. She couldn't stop looking at those eyes.
"I don't leave until late Sunday afternoon. Will I see you again?" Rebekah couldn't stop herself from asking him.
He reached out and curled a lock of her golden-brown hair around one finger, then ran the same finger gently down her cheek. "You never know. We'll see what happens," he murmured. He smiled at her and then left.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Rebekah looked at her clock as she opened the door. Ten minutes after six. Maximus would be here in less than an hour. She needed to be getting ready. But she sat down on top of the blue and white quilt, thinking about her afternoon with Ben. She could still feel that finger running slowly down her cheek. Still feel those blue eyes holding her own, keeping her prisoner. She opened her sketchbook, feeling a need to capture that face, the look in those eyes, while it was still fresh in her mind.
Later, as Rebekah went down the hotel stairs, she was still seeing that face. Arthur had been replaced at the front desk by another young man-not an RC character-someone she didn't know. She didn't see Maximus in the lobby, but there were several other people on their way to dinner in the various restaurants located in the hotel. She stood off to the side of the desk, looking uncertainly around her. After a few moments, the man behind the desk beckoned her over.
"Would you be Miss Rebekah Logan?" he asked, as she faced the desk.
"Yes," she answered, hesitantly.
"Well, Miss Logan, I have a message from Maximus. He got an emergency call from the stables and had to run down there. He wanted you to know he'd be about thirty minutes late meeting you, and he's very, very sorry."
"Well now, that's rude of the general," a very familiar voice drawled behind her. "Leavin' a pretty woman to wait for him." Rebekah turned and smiled at Ben.
The man behind the desk glared at Ben resentfully, before turning back to her. "Miss, I can assure you that Maximus would never do such a thing without a very good reason." He glared at Ben again.
"Oh, I'm sure he wouldn't." Rebekah hastened to reassure the man, not wanting him to think she was angry with Maximus. "I'm sure he has a very good reason. It's fine."
"In the meantime," Ben was saying to her, "why don't I keep you company? You can have a drink with me in the bar over here." He looked at the younger man condescendingly. "When the general gets here, just let him know where Miss Logan is. I'm sure he'll be able to find us."
He had taken Rebekah's arm and was leading her toward the bar before he had finished speaking. He guided her to a quiet little table in the back corner, somewhat away from all the noise and bustle, motioning to a waitress as they went. When the woman came over to take their order, he asked for whiskey.
Rebekah had never been much of a drinker. She asked for coke. But Ben spoke up quickly. "Bring her a glass of burgundy, the Cremant de Bourgogne."
When the waitress had gone, Rebekah looked at him, somewhat surpised. "Wine?"
He grinned at her. "You women of today seem to prefer it a lot."
He studied her carefully, taking in the soft blue wrap dress and the way it clung to her curves. "Very pretty. The general's a lucky man." He tossed back the whiskey the waitress brought and asked for another. "But why didn't you pick a dress to match those beautiful eyes of yours."
Sure he would think she was insane, she told him, "Before I arrived here, my eyes were brown."
To her surprise, he nodded. "More of this 'Point magic' stuff, they keep talking about. I guess it's about as believable as the fact that I'm here in the first place."
Taking a sip of her wine, she asked, "How does it feel being here?"
"The truth? Frustratin' as hell!" He smiled at her. "One of the first things they told me is that this 'Point' is a place where we can use our natural gifts and talents. The next minute, they're tellin' me that, because of this 'Point magic', I can't rob or shoot anybody! I don't exactly call that a place where I can use my God-given talents."
"You still want to?" she asked carefully.
"Darlin', it's in my nature. Been doin' it all my life." He watched her closely, looking for signs that she was judging him. Didn't see any. She merely nodded.
Looking at her in that pretty dress, those green eyes soft and warm as they gazed at him and her skin soft as flower petals, he was tempted to take her and leave before Maximus arrived. But he had waited too long. He saw the general coming through the door. Leaning over, he took her hand across the table and stroked the back of it with his fingers.
That hand holding hers and stroking it did things to her senses. Every nerve in her body felt alive. She felt flushed. Before she could say anything to him, she heard a deep, melodic voice behind her.
"Wade." The single word was a greeting, a question, a challenge. Ben recognized all three. He also noted Maximus' use of his last name, when he had previously been addressing him as Ben.
"General." He nodded insolently. "Nice of you to join us."
"I'm afraid I'm not exactly joining you, Wade. Rebekah and I are supposed to be having dinner. Maximus looked over at her, noting their hands on the table. "Are you all right, my dear?"
"I'm fine." Rebekah was blushing, seeing that he had noticed Ben's hand holding hers. She quickly tried to draw her hand back, but Ben was holding it firmly-refused to let it go. "The desk clerk gave me your message. Ben was just keeping me company until you got here."
"You really shouldn't leave a pretty young lady like this waitin' long, General." Ben was grinning up at him. "If I hadn't been around to take care of her for you, she might have found a replacement!" Slowly, he released her hand.
Rebekah rose from the table quickly. "We should go Maximus. I'm getting hungry." She felt awkward and embarrassed, having never been in a situation like this before. And Ben seemed to be doing his best to provoke something.
"Of course," Maximus said, smoothly. "I have reservations for us at one of the other restaurants." He took her arm and turned, ignoring Ben now.
But Ben Wade was not a man to be ignored. He rose, as though being polite. "Rebekah. I enjoyed your company. Maybe I'll see you again before you leave." With a nod to Maximus, he left the bar.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Maximus guided her to one of the finer restaurants located in the hotel. Elegant and understated with linen tablecloths, candles, and plenty of atmosphere. They were seated immediately at one of the best tables.
As they waited for their wine to be brought out, they were approached by Captain Jack Aubrey and Beej, who were also there for dinner. Beej greeted Rebekah warmly, saying, "Tina told me that you had arrived. How do you like the Point, so far? You definitely have one of the most handsome escorts here!" She flashed a smile at Maximus. "With the exception of my own, of course!"
Captain Aubrey took Rebekah's hand and raised it to his lips. "Welcome, dear lady. I do hope you enjoy your stay. Maximus, you are indeed a lucky man!"
When they had gone, and she and Maximus had ordered, Rebekah waited nervously for him to say something about Ben Wade. But he didn't bring it up at all. Instead, he began talking with her about his own life at Crowe's Point-the various projects in which he was involved. The stables, the training grounds and, more recently, the vineyards. He and Max Skinner were working toward starting a wine label.
She listened attentively, feeling more relaxed with him. Their table was secluded, which made it feel less crowded, and Maximus was wonderful company. She told him a little about her own life-her recent college graduation, her studies there, her work writing and illustrating picture books for children. It was an enjoyable few hours.
After dinner, he saw her back to her room. As they crossed the lobby, Maximus stopped at the front desk to see if he had any messages from the stables. As Rebekah waited for him at the end of the desk, she looked around the lobby. Her eyes fixed on the stairs. Ben Wade was climbing them with a shot glass of whiskey in one hand. And with a beautiful blonde-one of the weekend lurkers that she had seen earlier today in the tavern. He glanced around and saw her looking at him. Raising his glass, he smiled at her.
Ben was gone when Maximus had finished at the desk. He took her arm and they continued upstairs to her room. Rebekah was unsure what to do. She enjoyed Max's company, but she didn't see herself feeling more than that for him. But she invited him in to have a drink and to sit and talk for awhile. It seemed the right thing to do.
He smiled at her, sensing her tension. "Rebekah, you don't have to invite me in if it makes you uncomfortable."
"Oh, no, Max! I enjoy your company. Truly I do. It's just that- I'm not really used to inviting men into my room."
"I'm glad to hear that," he replied gently. "It seems that too many young women are used to that in your more modern times."
With glasses of wine in hand, they sat on the sofa. "You are enjoying your stay, so far?" he asked.
"Oh, yes. It's a beautiful place." Rebekah took a sip of wine. "I had a very enjoyable time today, sitting by the harbor and sketching Captain Aubrey's ship."
"And the rest of the day?" Maximus seemed to be waiting for her to tell him something, but she couldn't bring herself to say anything more. He sighed. "Rebekah, the stable hand told me that you went riding this afternoon with Ben Wade. He was concerned about it. As am I."
"Maximus, I appreciate your concern for me. You are a kind and wonderful man. But I'm a grown woman. I can take care of myself."
"Obviously, you are a grown woman, Rebekah. That fact is not lost on me." There was a warmth in his eyes which made her blush slightly. "But Wade is a dangerous man. Oh, he is prevented from killing here at the Point. But there are so many ways that he could hurt a young woman such as yourself."
Setting down his glass, he took her hand in both of his. "I believe I am coming to feel something for you, Rebekah." He tilted her chin up and looked into her eyes. "Protectiveness I have felt from the start. But I believe I could come to feel more. Much more."
She dropped her eyes, her heart beating fast. General Maximus was telling her that he had feelings for her? It confused her.
"And I would not want to see you hurt," he continued. "In any way."
He looked into her eyes again. "It's Wade, isn't it? The reason you're here?"
Miserably, she nodded, wishing he would stop questioning her about Ben. But he went on. "You know what he is? What he's done? What he's capable of doing?" Once more, she nodded. "And this doesn't matter to you? I find that impossible to believe, Rebekah."
She looked up at him quickly. "Of course it matters to me, Maximus. I have a conscience and a heart. A sense of right and wrong. But-" She could not find the words to explain her feelings. "But I am drawn to him, just the same. I can't seem to help it."
Maximus rose and paced to the door and back. As he stood in front of her, he pulled her up from the sofa. "Rebekah, I cannot tell you who you to see." He cupped her face in one large hand. "But I can tell you that I will be here for you. And I will hope that you can come to see us as more than friends."
He leaned forward and kissed her, his lips lingering on hers for long moments. Then, he straightened. "And now, I will take my leave of you. I know that you are feeling confused and that you have much to think about."
At the door, he stopped and looked back at her, smiling. "Would you like to spend tomorrow morning at the stables with me? You can see the new foals, as well as the other horses. I believe you would enjoy it."
"I'm sure I would." She smiled back at him. "Could I bring my sketch pad."
He laughed softly. "Of course. I'm sure the horses would be honored to end up in one of your books! Good night, my dear."
"Good night, Maximus."
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Ben Wade looked at the blonde woman dozing beside him in the bed. Gina, he believed she'd said her name was. Something like that. That had been a couple of hours ago, and he really hadn't paid that much attention, She was one of those women who talked a mile a minute about everything under the sun. He could have done without that. But her body was beautiful and his time in her bed had been satisfying.
He rose carefully and quietly, dressing himself and slipping out of the room without waking her. Leaving the hotel, he walked down to the tavern and climbed the stairs to his rooms there. When he'd first arrived in Crowe's Point, he'd been shown these rooms and told that almost all his 'brothers' had rooms there.
Brothers. He chuckled quietly to himself, as he poured a whiskey. He'd never had any family in his life, and suddenly he'd been informed that he had all these 'brothers'. He had nothing in common with any of them that he could tell. Oh, there was a slight physical resemblance all right, but beyond that...
The others seemed to think he had more in common with SID than with anyone else. SID! He snorted to himself. It was an insult. As though he had anything in common with that preening, simpering idiot. Privately, he thought to himself that Charlie Prince had more in common with SID than anyone he could think of. They both killed for the fun of it.
When he had finally had to accept the fact that this was his home now, like it or not, he had built himself a cabin up in the woods, not too far from Ashokan Falls. It was quiet and peaceful there. No 'brothers' or anyone else sticking their noses in where they weren't wanted. He used his rooms on weekends, when he came to the hotel to spend some time with the women who came there.
Now, that, he had to admit, was the one good point to this place. A ready supply of willing women-apparently drawn there by the characters created by this Russell Crowe fellow who, he was told, had 'created' all the brothers. His needs were taken care of, and he never had the same woman in his bed twice.
His mind went back to 'Gina', whose bed he had just left. He'd seen her around before, but had never approached her. She normally wore very little clothing and very high heels. She chattered worse than a magpie, and her hair was a brassy blonde. Nothing he'd really been interested in. But tonight, he'd wanted someone who was as different from the woman he'd left in that bar as he could get.
He poured himself another whiskey and sat down in the leather armchair in front of the cold fireplace. Now, there was the kind of woman who meant trouble. The quiet, sweet, decent sort. The kind who expected you to marry them and come home to them every night-or, at the very least, not to go to anyone else's bed. He'd learned early on that to even look twice at a woman like that was a helluva mistake.
Why, then, had he taken her riding up to the river this afternoon? Why had he taken her into that bar for a drink? And why had he done everything he could to provoke the good general when he had come in to collect her? All good questions, Wade. Can you answer them? Honestly?
And there were more questions where those came from. Like why couldn't he get his mind off her? And why had he been feeling even more restless and antsy than usual in the weeks before she'd come? He'd heard the others talk about women who were drawn there by the 'connections' they had to some of the men. Apparently, some of the women who were there now had these connections.
Sheriff John Biebe had Tina, whom he'd married. Cort had Chloe. Bud White had Bridgid. Hell, even that bastard SID had Tonya. But, no matter how much they talked about it, Ben didn't believe for one minute that he'd ever feel a connection to anyone. That just wasn't his life.
Especially to any woman like Rebekah. Women like her felt two things for him. Either they were drawn to him by the excitement of being around an outlaw, or they were disgusted by the things he'd done and wanted nothing to do with him. He'd taken a few of the former to his bed. They expected him to tell them in great detail about his robberies and his killings. He grew tired of their chatter quickly.
But this afternoon, when they'd been at the river, all he'd felt from her was quiet acceptance. They'd sat there in easy silence and she hadn't talked until he'd asked her a question. Tonight, when they'd been in the bar, and he'd told her he was still drawn to his old life... Again, just a quiet nod of acceptance. He couldn't figure her out. Finally, he gave up trying.
He sprawled out across his bed and fell asleep, still seeing those green eyes.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Rebekah awoke early the next morning. For a moment, she forgot where she was. Nothing in the room seemed familiar. It looked nothing like the little apartment she'd rented a few months ago. Then, she remembered Ben. Remembered the ride they'd taken to the river and how peaceful it had been there. Would she see him at all today?
Recalling that she had promised Maximus she'd spend the morning at the stables, she showered and dressed. Jeans and a yellow shirt. As she brushed her hair and teeth, she marveled once more at the green eyes looking back at her from the mirror. They were a pretty color, but she wondered if she'd ever get used to seeing them. Would she be spending enough time at Crowe's Point to even begin to get used to them?
Grabbing her sketchpad, she left her room and then the hotel. The morning was beautiful, the sun shining brightly and dew sparkling on the grass and the spider webs strung between flower stems. She thoroughly enjoyed the walk to the stables.
Maximus smiled a greeting when he saw her. "You're here early, Rebekah." He kissed her hand once more. Although she was more comfortable with him now, she felt a little guilty. He was so kind and attentive and yet Ben Wade was always on her mind. But he knew that, she told herself. Maximus knew about Ben and still wanted to spend time with her.
"Have you had breakfast?" he asked.
"Honestly, I'm rarely hungry at breakfast," she told him.
"You need to eat something. How about a muffin and some orange juice?" He took her to a small kitchen at the back of the stables. To please him, she ate and drank.
Then, they visited the horses, most of whom were already out in the sun and wind, running and playing or quietly munching grass. She laughed over the two foals, still so young that the length of their legs seemed out of proportion to their bodies. She admired Argento and Scato, as Maximus told her about some of the times he'd had with the two horses. Once she slipped off the bottom rail of the split rail fence. Maximus, who was standing beside her, caught her easily. She was laughing, but quietened when he didn't let her go. He held her for a few moments and she felt him kiss the top of her head. It was warm and comforting, and she allowed it for a moment and then pulled away.
He was smiling at her. "You seem happier today, Rebekah. More comfortable."
"I am," she admitted. "Maybe it's just taken me a little while to get used to this place."
When he had been called away by one of the stable hands, she visited Ribbon, feeding him an apple that she'd brought with her. She looked into the horse's eyes, as she patted him. "Ribbon. How do I get to Ben?" she whispered to him. "You must know. The two of you get along so well." The horse nickered at her, but she got no information from him.
As lunchtime approached, Maximus told her, "There's a picnic down by the waterfront at lunch. Jack and Beej have arranged it. Would you like to go?"
"That sounds nice. Are you sure no one will mind me coming?" She was still a little uncertain of her welcome here.
"Not at all, my dear. Everyone will welcome you." He took her hand in his. "There's no need to be so nervous here, you know. Everyone is friendly."
She lowered her eyes. "I"ve always been nervous, Max. Especially around new people. It's not just the people here." She looked up at him, hoping he could understand.
"You must tell me about that sometime, Rebekah. About what has made you so. Perhaps there is something I can do to help?"
"You have helped me already, Maximus. Just being around you. You have made me feel more comfortable."
"Good." He kissed her hand. "Then, after you have told me about it, we can make more progress." His smile was warm. "But, for now, let us go and eat. This morning has made me hungry."
They drove to the hotel and walked down to the harbor from there. Rebekah felt much of her shyness and reserve return at the sight of so many people. Apparently, this picnic was a couples affair. Besides Maximus and herself, and Jack and Beej, there were John Biebe and Tina, John Nash and Karen, Bud White and Bridgid, Cort and Chloe, and even SID and Tonya. This was the first time she had met some of them. Another round of introductions was conducted by Maximus, who held her hand and smiled, as though he were proud to be with her.
Briefly, she thought to herself that a relationship with Maximus would always have times like these. There would be friends and a sense of belonging. Not only with the others here at Crowe's Point, but with Maximus himself. He was kind, gentle, strong, giving. What more could a woman want? And yet-
And yet she already felt a sense of belonging when she was with Ben Wade. He invaded her thoughts again, placing himself into her mind despite her efforts to focus on Maximus and the others. Feeling guilty, she glanced at Maximus, who was deep in conversation with Jack and John Nash.
As though feeling her glance, he turned his eyes toward her and looked deeply into her own. John Biebe, who seemed to miss nothing, saw that look. He smiled at her. Dropping her eyes, she felt even more guilty. The others thought she was with Maximus. They thought she was making him happy. Tina and Beej were trying to include her in plans for the following weekend, apparently assuming that she would be back to be with him.
Suddenly, it was more than she could take. Excusing herself from the other ladies, she went to Maximus' side. "Maximus, I'm afraid I'm not feeling well. I think I need to go back to the hotel and lie down."
He was on his feet immediately. She did look pale. "Rebekah?" he asked anxiously. "What is it, my dear? What's wrong?"
"Nothing serious, Max." She tried to smile at him. "I'm afraid I just have a nasty headache. I get them sometimes. Tension, mostly."
"I'll walk you back."
She tried to assure him that wasn't necessary. That he should stay and enjoy lunch with his friends. Of course, it did no good. Ever the gentleman, Maximus would always do the gallant thing. The others expressed concern for her and wished that she should feel better. After telling them goodbye, they walked back toward the hotel.
Inside, Max took her to her room. "I'll stay with you until you feel better, Rebekah."
"Honestly, Max, it's not necessary." She felt guilty enough already. Kind as he was, she didn't want him staying with her and adding to that feeling. "I've had these before. I just need to sleep for awhile. Nothing else seems to help."
"Are you sure?" He was watching her closely.
"Very sure. Go and eat some lunch. I should feel better in a few hours." She hoped so, anyway.
"Very well." He placed a gentle kiss on her forehead. "I'll be by to check on you a little later. If you need anything, don't hesitate to call for me."
"Thank you," she told him softly. "You make me feel so spoiled."
"Sweet, beautiful young women should be spoiled," he told her with a smile. "Get some rest."
After he had left, she lay down on the sofa. She didn't feel sweet. She felt like the worst kind of traitor. Especially when her thoughts turned again to Ben Wade. She fell into a troubled sleep, thinking about both men.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
When Rebekah awoke, it was near six o'clock and she was hungry. She remembered that she had never eaten lunch. Her headache was better, but she felt groggy. In her bathroom, she splashed her face with cold water, brushed her hair, and changed into a clean blouse. It was one of her favorites. White with eyelet lace around the collar and cuffs. It made her feel feminine.
She decided to walk down to the tavern for a sandwich. If Maximus were anywhere around, he'd see her. If he wasn't, she'd bring the food back to her room and wait for him. Outside, the sun was beginning to sink low in the sky. As she started down the walkway, she could see others going into the tavern for an evening meal or a Saturday night drink.
"Evenin', Miss Logan." The smooth voice was right behind her. "You meetin' the general for dinner?"
She turned to face Ben Wade, her heart and her pulse racing. "No. I- I was actually just going down to the tavern for a sandwich."
"All by yourself? Now, what kind of gentleman would I be if I allowed that?" His voice dripped charm and his eyes, as usual, were holding hers unmoving. "I insist that you have dinner with me. One thing I will say for that tavern is that they make a good steak there." He took her arm in his fingers and she felt that current passing through her again. "You look like a meat and potatoes kind of woman. And that's high praise from me, darlin'."
She couldn't help it. She was happy to see him again. So happy that she didn't think about anything else. She walked with him down to the tavern, her eyes alight as they talked.
"So, what have you been doing today, Ben? I haven't seen you."
"Oh, I've been around. There's usually a lot of parties and gatherin's here on weekends, but I'm afraid I'm not too much of a social butterfly. I'm sure you understand that," he said softly. "At least, I got the feelin' yesterday that you did."
He opened the door for her and she entered the tavern, smiling up at him as she did so. He led her to a table. There was a decent-sized crowd here already. Suddenly, she realized that there were eyes on her. Looking around, she saw Beej and Jack sitting with John and Tina. They were staring at her. At Rebekah, having dinner with Ben Wade. The disapproval she felt was almost smothering.
John Biebe rose and came over to them. "Ben." He nodded at Wade. "How are things? We don't see you around here too often."
"Sheriff." Ben returned the nod with a grin. "Oh, things are goin' fine. As for not seein' me around much, well- Too many lawmen and ex-lawmen around to suit me. Makes my trigger finger itchy."
"You know we're all together here, Ben. You're welcome any time." John's eyes had moved toward Rebekah.
"Well, thank you, Sheriff. There just might be somethin' around that'll get me to come a little more often now." He was looking at Rebekah, and he reached out to take her hand, letting John know full well what he meant.
"How about you, Rebekah? You okay?" John asked her. His voice was full of concern. "Feeling better since this afternoon?"
"I'm fine, John," she told him. "Really." She felt Ben's hand squeezing hers slightly.
"If you're sure-" His eyes told her that all she had to do was say the word and she could be sitting with them instead of Ben.
"The lady says she's fine, Sheriff." Ben's voice had taken on an edge. "We'd like to order some dinner now."
John's eyes continued to look at Rebekah. "I'm okay, John."
"Fine." John said. "We'll see you later, Rebekah. Ben." He nodded again and went back to his own table.
When John was back at his own table, Ben grinned over at her. "At least you know that if the big, bad outlaw gets out of hand, you've got the sheriff and the good captain over there," he indicated Jack Aubrey, "to rescue you." He fixed her with a serious gaze. "You want to be here, Rebekah?"
"Yes," she told him firmly. "I want to be here with you, Ben."
"Then, let's order some dinner, darlin'. You want one of those steaks I told you about?"
"That'd be wonderful. And a baked potato and some salad. I'm starving. I didn't have any lunch today." Her smile in his direction was warm and happy. He was actually talking and being attentive to her.
They ordered and sat back with their drinks-whiskey for him, wine for her. They alternated between comfortable silences and talking and laughing together, as they waited for their food. It was different, being in a crowd with Ben. She could concentrate fully on him and not be nervous about the other people around her. She didn't feel so awkward. It was a pleasant feeling.
As their food was served, though, she noticed more of the Point regulars looking at them with disapproval. Jeffery Wigand and Jim Braddock, whom she'd met early yesterday, were frowning across the room, although they were trying not to show it. And John Biebe and the others at his table still had concerned looks on their faces.
As Ben began to cut his steak, he said to her quietly, "Ignore 'em, darlin'. You're with me. If they don't like that, it's their problem."
As they ate, he told her stories about the places he'd been and about some of his stage robberies. He could make a story absolutely fascinating. His eyes told as much of the story as his words. She was captivated. She laughed more than she had in ages.
It never once occurred to her that, when he was talking about the robberies, she was, essentially, laughing at others' misfortune. When Ben talked, that was not how it sounded. He was taking money from a railroad that had plenty of it. A railroad that paid its laborers only a pittance and took land from poor farmers to lay its track. He made it all sound almost heroic.
Rebekah had no idea that Maximus had opened the door to the tavern. He'd been to her room, looking for her. The first sight to greet his eyes was Rebekah and Ben, sitting together at a corner table. Rebekah was laughing and more animated than he'd seen her since her arrival. When she looked up at Ben Wade, her eyes glowed with happiness. She was radiant. Silently, Maximus turned and left.
When they had finished their food and had another drink, Ben suggested a walk in the gardens. Rebekah agreed, overjoyed that he seemed to want to spend more time with her. It was a relief to escape the eyes that had been on her since they had sat down.
Full darkness had fallen while they had dinner. The gardens were delightful. Quiet and peaceful, dimly lit by the moon, and with the heady perfume given off by the flowers. Rebekah felt slightly light-headed from the wine she had had during dinner. She found Ben a charming and romantic companion. He placed his hand in the small of her back, guiding her along the paths.
On the outskirts of the garden, they sat in a wooden swing. They had returned to their comfortable silence. Finally, Ben spoke. "I should take you back. I'm keepin' you from the general," he told her mischievously.
Her voice calm and level, Rebekah answered him, "I didn't come here to be with Maximus, Ben. I came because I- I feel a connection to you."
He fixed her with a hard stare. "But I don't feel one. I spend every minute that this cursed Point will allow back in my real life." He saw the look on her face. "Yes, darlin', my real life. Because that is my real life. I rob. I kill." He searched her face for her reaction, and then went on. "I bed a lot of women. What you saw on that screen- That's the real Ben Wade. It's what I do. It's who I am. And there's no Crowe's Point magic or no woman can change that."
He reached out one hand, picked up a lock of her silky hair, rubbing it sensuously between his fingers. His voice became soft and seductive again. "I can take you to my bed, if that's what you want. But it won't be more than that, and I won't promise you that even that'll happen more than once."
Rebekah swallowed back tears. Ben was being honest with her. He was telling her what he was capable of giving. It was up to her to decide if it was what she wanted. What she could accept. And she knew that she would accept it. If it was the only part of Ben she could have-would ever have-then she would have to take it.
She reached out to run her fingers through that soft chestnut hair. Then she cupped his cheek in her hand, feeling the roughness of that streaked beard against her palm. "It's what I want, Ben."
Once again, he gave her a long, searching look-then rose from the bench, took her hand, and pulled her up beside him. "Let's go to your room, darlin'."
She went with him willingly.
He walked closely enough behind her that she could feel his warmth. Heat flooded her body as she thought about what she had just agreed to, what they were about to do. At her door, Ben stopped her, turned her to face him. Leaning forward, he let his lips wander across her forehead, her temples. That feeling was so sensuous.
He knew that she was his. All he had to do was open the door, lead her in. He took her key from her trembling fingers, unlocked the door, stepped back to let her precede him. As she was crossing the threshold, she felt his hands grip her shoulders. He pulled her back against him, letting her feel his warmth, his arousal. Then, his mouth touched her ear as he whispered to her, "Stick with the general, darlin'. He's the kind of man you need."
By the time she could gather herself enough to turn around, Ben Wade was gone.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Normally, Ben would have stayed at the tavern until the next day. But when he left Rebekah, he headed straight for the stables. There were no stable hands around at that time of night, so he got Ribbon out of his stall and saddled him himself.
In the soft, quiet moonlight, he headed toward the falls and his cabin. He kept telling himself that he'd left Rebekah because the last thing he needed was problems with a woman-not because it was the best thing for her. Hell, this place made him soft. He needed to get back to his life as soon as possible.
Ben let Ribbon go at his own pace, which the horse decided was an easy walk. It took them several hours to arrive at his cabin. After putting Ribbon up in his own small stable, he went in and lit a lantern. Sitting down before the fireplace, he began sketching. Rebekah on the rise above the harbor. Rebekah sitting on the buckskin horse. Rebekah leaning against the fallen tree at the falls. Maybe if he sketched her enough, he'd get her out of his system.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
Left alone in her room, Rebekah curled up on her bed and cried. Her body, her mind, her heart-all felt as if they were being ripped in two. Everything was a mess. She wondered if anyone had ever had such a miserable weekend at Crowe's Point. It didn't seem possible. And there was no one to whom she could talk about it all. She felt she had alienated most of the Point regulars by appearing at dinner with Ben tonight.
And Maximus- She could hardly talk to him. She felt as though she had betrayed him somehow. Then there was the man she wanted most. But he'd just left her. Was Ben really trying to be kind to her? Had he left her behind, and told her that Maximus was the kind of man she needed, because he thought he was helping her? But Ben Wade didn't do good deeds for anybody. He'd told that to Dan Evans.
How much had the Point affected Ben? He still went back to his old life-spent as much time there as he could. But the Point did make it impossible for him to kill and rob. Tina had told her that. What other things about him had it changed? Did he feel as confused as she did?
When she had cried until she had no more tears, she fell into a deep, drugging sleep, interrupted at some point by a strange dream. Ben and Maximus in the gladiator's arena. Rebekah was in the stands, in the usual place occupied by Commodus. Maximus, prepared for battle, stepped slowly toward Ben. In her dream, Ben drew the Hand of God and shot Maximus. The spectators were all people from Crowe's Point. As Maximus lay dead, they all turned toward her, staring accusingly. She was to blame.
~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~ @ ~
When she woke the next day, it was mid-morning. Her head was as thick and heavy as though she had a terrible hangover. It was pounding furiously. She crawled slowly off the blue and white quilt and went into the bathroom. The green eyes that the Point had given her were swollen and red. Ben would not find them beautiful this morning, she thought to herself. And that thought brought a fresh flood of tears.
She showered, taking her time, trying to gain control of all her emotions. She was partially able to do so by reminding herself of what she had done in childhood-go numb, allow herself to feel nothing. It had worked for her numerous times, but she didn't think she'd ever felt such pain as now.
She dressed and slowly packed her things, looking around the pretty room she had been given. She had arrived here nervous and confused, but with hope. Hope that, since she had somehow been drawn here, things had been meant to work out. Right now, that hope was dead. She'd meant to stay until later, but now she saw no point in staying. It could do nothing but make things worse.
By this time, lunchtime had arrived, but she wasn't hungry. She wasn't sure that she'd ever be hungry again. Taking one last look around to make sure she hadn't left anything, Rebekah closed the door and started slowly downstairs. She wasn't looking forward to facing anyone.
Arthur was behind the desk once more. He checked her out, asking if she was all right, as he studied her face. She assured him that she was fine, without raising her head to meet his eyes. Nothing more was said between them.
On her way to the front door, she met Tina. Tina was friendly toward her, but reserved. "I wanted to thank you for inviting me, Tina. I- I'm sorry that things turned into such a mess. It truly was not my intention to hurt Maximus or- or anyone."
Tina sighed. "I had a feeling that, when anyone came here with a connection to Ben Wade, there was going to be trouble. Wade's such a loner. So different from the other guys. We've all tried with him. We'll keep trying, of course. But I don't know if he'll ever come to accept the Point as his life, instead of his movie. I don't know if he'll ever lose the urge to rob and to kill. In some ways, it's harder with him than with SID."
She went on. "I know you can't help whatever connection you feel. I just wish it had turned out better. For you and for everyone. When you come back, try and keep everything that's happened this time in mind."
Rebekah studied her. "Come back? I don't think I'll ever come back! Things have all turned out so badly."
"If you have a true connection to Ben Wade, you'll be back," Tina told her. "I'm just sorry that it had to be him." She laid a hand on Rebekah's arm. "Take care of yourself."
"I will." Rebekah gave her a slight smile.
She walked to the stables, dreading her arrival there. She didn't want to face Maximus. By now, she knew he had to have heard about her dinner with Ben last night. But it had to be done. He was the first person she saw.
"Maximus, I- I don't know what to say."
His eyes held sadness and concern. "There's nothing to say, Rebekah. I knew you felt something for Wade. And when I saw you together last night..."
She looked quickly up at him. "You were there?"
He nodded. "I came to look for you. To make sure you were all right. I saw you sitting at a table with him. Talking to him. Laughing up at him. You looked happier and more alive than I had seen you look since you arrived. You had never looked that way with me."
He took in her red, swollen eyes and her tear-stained face. Slowly, one of his hands reached out to touch her cheek. "And now, he's hurt you. I knew it would happen. I wanted so much to protect you from that."
Taking both of her hands in hers, he drew her to him. He put his arms around her and held her to his chest, resting his head on top of hers. The tears came again. For a long while, he held her, letting her cry. She needed to get it out.
After awhile, she drew shakily away from him. "This isn't fair, Maximus," she told him. "I don't deserve your sympathy or your kindness. I should never have spent time with you, feeling the way I did about Ben."
"You can't help how you feel about him. But now- Now that you realize what he is truly like, maybe you can accept that there won't be anything between you. Go home, Rebekah. Take some time, and take care of yourself and then- maybe-" He paused for a moment. "Will you come back?" he asked softly.
"I don't know, Maximus. I feel so badly about how everything has turned out. I don't know if I can face you or- or anyone else again."
His fingers under her chin raised her face to meet his. "Do not worry about facing me, my dear. I don't blame you for anything. As I said before, you cannot help your feelings."
His eyes held hers for a moment. "Any more than I can help mine. As for the others- I will make sure that they know that Maximus Decimus Meridius is a grown man and capable of handling things himself," he said with a smile. "After all, I did command armies and slay Commodus."
A stable hand brought out Rebekah's horse. "I will ride with you to the point at which I found you," Max told her.
"No. No, Max. I- I thank you for wanting to, but I have a lot to think about. I think I should go myself."
"If you're sure, my dear." He kissed her very softly, then helped her onto her horse. His hand held hers for a moment. "You know, you can call me here. If you wish to talk, I would be happy to listen."
"I just may do that," she told him, with a small smile. "Thank you, Maximus. For everything. You are a very special man."
"Goodbye, Rebekah." He released her hand and patted the horse.
"Goodbye, Max." She spoke to the mare and started in the direction she had come from the day she came to Crowe's Point. She rode silently, trying to enjoy the beauty of her surroundings and the breeze. After awhile, she saw the outcropping of rock, which had been her entrance to the Point.
She turned for a last look. It was then that she saw the black horse, with its rider, standing several yards from the rocks. Ribbon. Ben Wade had come to see her off. How had he known when she would be leaving?
Their eyes met over the distance between them-his deep blue ones giving another long, searching, penetrating look into the green eyes that the Point had given her. Neither of them spoke. He did not tip his hat. There was no wave between them. Only that one long look.
Slowly, she turned the mare and started around the outcropping of rock. It was only in those few moments of looking deep into Ben Wade's eyes that Rebekah knew she would return to Crowe's Point.