Tessie, Kristian and Salim have arrived in Las Vegas, New Mexico. There ain't a lot of room at the Inn
The innkeeper’s directions led them down a maze of streets of one-story adobe houses, crammed together. The narrow, dusty streets were populated with grubby children and chickens which Mule took exception to. He pinned his ears back and lowered his head towards any chicken stupid enough to stray too close.
“What is it with that horse?” Kristian asked, “I can’t say I’ve ever known a horse who has such a dislike of chickens, I swear he’d kill them if he could catch ‘em.”
Tessie snatched up the geldings reins as he bared his teeth at one, particularly courageous rooster, “I have no idea, but it’s a nuisance.”
“It’s damn funny, that’s for sure, though I’d hate to see what would happen if he actually got hold of one.”
The street gradually widened and the hotel appeared before them. Tessie was not heartened by her first glimpse of the two story building, she took in the broken plaster that was crumbling away from the bricks and the dirty, cracked window panes. She hoped that it was better inside. She reluctantly dismounted and held both horses while Kristian ran up the front steps and into the hotel. He returned moments later, grinning, “There’s one room left, “ he told them, “so I guess we’re going have to share. The good news, Tess, is that there’s a bath and they’re sending up the hot water right now.”
While Salim and Kristian saw to the horses, Tessie let herself be led up a dark and creaking staircase. She prayed that the one remaining room held more promise of comfort than the shadowy corridor and the rickety stairs but the door opened onto a large, clean room where a tin tub sat before the redundant fireplace. The window was open and a vague breeze whispered through the drapes. She cautiously pulled back the bed linen and was comforted by the fact that it was, indeed clean and the mattress yielded easily under her hand. A maid brought water and a screen was placed around the tub. With no sign of her companions, Tess undressed and slid gratefully into the water. She scrubbed away at the weeks of trail dust and grime until she emerged clean and glowing. She sat beside the open window and let the warm breeze dry her hair until her companions arrived, intruding on her peace.
“Is that water still warm?” Kristian asked.
“Yes, I believe so, although it’s not altogether clean.”
“I don’t care, Salim and I tossed for it, I’m first. You’d best cover your eyes.”
She turned her gaze, resolutely, to the window and tried not to remember the stable in Springer, “Don’t worry, I shan’t peek.”
Salim sank down, wearily, in the other chair and pulled off his boots, “It is good to sit in a chair for a change but I do not think I shall toss coins with Kristian again, he always wins, I think he is cheating.”
“I heard that”, there was an indignant splash from behind the screen, “You’re just sore because I got the girl and the bath.”
“You have not got the girl,” Tessie snapped, “It’s pretend, remember?”
”It ain’t pretend tonight, sweetheart, Salim has to sleep on the floor.”
“…and so do you.”
“Oh no, Princess, we share.”
She heard water dripping as he emerged from the tub and regarded her, with sharp, brown eyes, over the top of the screen, “We’re sharing.”
“I can’t sleep in the same bed as you!”
“Of course you can, you really don’t think I’d try anything do you, with Salim here to protect your honor? Hell, if I so much as touched you he’d run me through with that dagger he carries in his boot.”
Tessie looked at Salim, “You would?”
“Kristian is my friend but, he would be a very bad man to take advantage of you. We promised Mrs. Clooney that we would protect you and that is my intention.”
What alarmed Tessie was that the usual gleam of good humor was gone from Salim’s eyes, she realized that he was quite serious. “It’s all right, “ she ventured to touch his arm, “I can take care of myself, don’t worry. I believe that your friend here is having a joke at our expense. It’s best not to encourage that sort of humor.”
“Perhaps you are right.” He rose, “Now it is my turn for the bath?”