One Drink of Water, by Telina, with Isobel
Iris decided to take a walk. She had been cooped up in the hotel room for most of the day and she needed some fresh air.
As she turned down the main street, she wished again that her cousin Peter had not decided to stop here on their way to San Francisco.
Redemption had seemed a quiet, though poor and dirty, town, but it had turned out to be a living hell. It was overrun with outlaws and gunslingers, and owned by a cold-hearted tyrant named John Herod.
Peter had to pay the stagecoach driver nearly twenty dollars just to stop the stage and let them off half a mile away. The old man had warned him that stages didn’t like to stop over in Redemption, so no one knew how long they might be stranded here.
Iris sighed despondently as she rounded the end of the main street and passed by the multi-tiered fountain in front of the large Victorian house in the middle of town. She glanced at the dark, rambling house and realized whose it was: Mr. Herod’s.
Shuddering, she turned quickly away and, as she did, saw that poor preacher lying on his side beside the fountain. His manacled hands were extended out in front of him and he seemed to be reaching for something. As she moved closer, she saw a glass of water perched on one of the fountain's lower tiers, cruelly just out of reach. Instinctively, she knew that that had been a deliberate act.
Iris knew she should stay away from the dusty, ragged preacher, but she couldn’t help herself. She knew nothing of him, except that he had been chained to this fountain ever since she and Peter had arrived early that morning. She had heard the jeers and taunts hurled at him by the people of the town, and witnessed the abuse he had suffered at the hands of the two filthy men who seemed to be John Herod’s lackeys.
Some said that he had known John Herod before…
But despite the dirt and blood that covered him, he was the handsomest man she had ever seen.
His thick, honey brown hair glowed golden in the sun, and his bright green eyes were simply beautiful. His deep, husky voice reminded her of smoke and velvet, when he had answered the townspeople’s taunts with scripture, and there was an air of dignified serenity about him that impressed her. No matter how desperate his situation, he had calmly accepted whatever end his God was taking him toward.
Cort looked up from his struggle and saw the young woman approaching. He kept his gaze locked on hers as she drew nearer. When she was practically standing on top of him, he had to tip his head back to see her.
He took in her slim form, what he saw of it beneath her dress; a smoky gray garment that was patterned with delicate white flowers and ended in a white multi-layered petticoat. Her eyes sparkled in the glow of the evening, but in the dim light, he was unable to discern their color. Her soft brown curls were secured in an elaborate style atop her head, and a subtle hint of rosewater wafted to him on the cool evening breeze.
In short, he thought she was the most exquisitely beautiful woman he had ever seen. She seemed so clean and fresh, something he never expected to find in Redemption, filled with dust and death as it was.
Iris gave him a sweet smile, then knelt in front of him, and the full skirts of her beautiful dress settled in the dust. Taking up the glass of water, she held it out to him.
Cort willed his body to behave as he pushed himself to his knees and accepted the glass, but the brush of his fingers against hers brought on an immediate physical reaction and he prayed that she hadn't noticed.
"Thank you, Miss," he murmured. He never took his eyes from hers as he drank greedily from the glass. The water had remained cool in the chilled night air and tasted so wonderful to him that he drained the glass in one draught. Smiling sheepishly, he wiped his wet chin on his sleeve and said, “I apologize for my undignified behavior, but sometimes it’s pretty hard to get a drink around here.”
Iris smiled at him and said, "You’re welcome, Reverend. Would you like some more?”
He looked down at the empty glass, then back up at her and smiled. "No, ma’am, this was just enough, but I thank you for your kind offer. My name is Cort.” Gesturing to the manacles on his wrists, he continued, “As you might have guessed, I’m not a willing resident of this town. It might be best if you moved on along now, Miss. John Herod isn’t too fond of charity, and I wouldn’t want to see anything happen to you.”
She held his gaze for a moment, then blushed softly and looked down. But she made herself look back up at him as she said quietly, "My name is Iris, Cort.”
Her soft, clear voice made his blood race, a sensation he hadn't experienced since he had turned to God, and her blush made him smile.
"All right, Iris," he murmured, holding her gaze as he slowly said her name. He dropped his gaze to her dress then back up to her face. "You're looking very pretty this evening, if I may say so."
"Thank you," she murmured, unable to take her eyes from his. His slow, husky drawl tingled over her nerves and she literally felt as though his hands were caressing her. The erotic image made her blush even more.
With a charming grin, he asked, "Surely you didn't wear such a pretty dress just for me?"
She had to remind herself to breathe. Never in her whole life had she wanted a man so much as she wanted this one right now, and she somehow felt that he knew that. The way his eyes held hers, she felt he must know everything about her, every little secret hidden inside, for surely he could see them with those knowing green eyes. It pained her to think that come the morning, this beautiful young man of God might meet his end in a senseless gunfight in the middle of the street.
Gathering her courage from God knew where, she took the two steps that separated them, bent down, and kissed his cheek. She allowed her lips to linger there for a few seconds before whispering, "I would wear only my very best dress for you, Cort. Good luck to you."
Iris pulled away and ran her hand along his cheek as she stared into his bright green eyes for a moment, nearly drowning in the naked desire shining in them. That desire startled her, though she knew it shouldn’t – he was a preacher, but he was also a man.
Giving him one last smile, she turned and walked away.