Magnificent Seven Old West

by Jo Ann

Disclaimer: Not mine. Never will be. No money being made.


Chris sat outside the saloon enjoying the afternoon sunshine. It had been raining off and on for the past two weeks and he was ready for the sun. Movement to his left caught his attention and he turned to see Ezra dodging mud puddles as he picked his way across the muddy street and couldn't help but grin. Must have been helping Josiah in the church again, he thought. Since Josiah's recovery from a recent gun shot wound the two had been spending more time together. Josiah had even managed to get Ezra to help him in the church on a couple of occasions. More than likely Ezra was keeping Josiah entertained with stories because none of them had actually seen him do any work.

Stepping onto the boardwalk Ezra immediately began stomping his feet in order to remove some of the mud, all the while cussing under his breath. "Mr. Larabee," he said with a tip of his hat then continued into the saloon.

Chris grinned at the irritating look on the southerner's face and got to his feet and stretched his back before following his friend into the recently refurnished saloon. The man in black almost laughed as he remembered how badly Ezra had busted up the saloon when he thought Josiah had died. And the look on his face when Inez handed him a bill for the damages was priceless. Sitting at his usual table Chris saw Vin standing at the window and watched as Ezra and the others began a friendly game of chance.

Josiah shook his head as he watched Ezra pick his way through the mud. That boy never ceased to amaze him. He could be up to elbows in blood helping Nathan save someone's life without blinking an eye, but if he got one drop of mud on his person and he would fuss and cuss up a storm. But then that was their..... no that was his Ezra and he wouldn't have him any other way. Josiah was grateful for the one-on-one time the two had been able to share lately. He'd even managed to get some work out of Ezra a couple of times. The younger man had actually worked up a sweat and hadn't complained.....much. At least not until he'd gotten a couple of blisters. Then that was it; he was done for the day.

It was during the tirade about the blisters that Nathan and the others 'happened' by. Josiah knew that the healer was about to make some snide comment so he quickly intervened. He wouldn't allow any one to deliberately hurt Ezra; their five friends included. He would no longer hold his tongue. He would verbally and physically defend Ezra as he saw fit.

After the blisters Josiah hadn't really expected Ezra to help out again; so he was pleasantly surprised when Ezra showed up a couple of days later and he couldn't help but laugh as the younger man pulled out a pair of gloves before getting to work.

The former preacher sat up a little straighter as Susan Mayeaux and her niece, Bonnie, walked toward him. It had been a couple of months since his brush with death and as he watched this fine figure of a woman come nearer and nearer to him he thanked God once again for sparing his life. He also thanked God for bringing these ladies to Four Corners.

Susan Mayeaux had light brown hair and big brown warm friendly eyes and a silky southern drawl that caused more than one man to shiver. Himself included. Her niece was no different she was just as pretty, only very shy. Josiah silently cursed himself for not wearing a nicer shirt and just resisted the urge to check his reflection in the church's window. After clearing his throat a couple of times Josiah managed to say, "Afternoon ladies."

"Afternoon Josiah," Susan returned with a smile. "Bonnie and I are treating ourselves to lunch at the hotel; would you care to join us."

Josiah suppressed the shiver that rippled through his body at the sound of her voice, "Thank you ma'am I'd be honored." And offered an elbow to both ladies and together they walked toward the hotel.

Vin saw the whole exchange through the brand new window at the saloon. Smiling he called over his shoulder, "Buck you better come see this."

Buck threw his cards on the table in disgust and said, "Might as well. I anit accomplishing much here." With a shake of his head he walked away from the amused gambler and over to the window. "What?"

"You been givin' Josiah lessons on animal magnetism," Vin teased and pointed to where the ex-preacher was leading the two ladies inside the hotel.

"Well now would ya look at that," Buck grinned and laughed out loud before continuing, "that old dog's got both of them Mayeaux ladies." Walking over the one of the new mirrors on the recently painted wall the ladies man started straightening his clothes and finger combing his hair and smoothing his mustache. Then with a wink at Inez and a twinkle in his blue eyes he looped his hat behind his head and grinned, "I don't know about you fellas but I'm suddenly hungry. But ya know Inez honey I'd stay here with you if ya asked me."

Inez rolled her eyes and said, "Have a nice lunch."

The grin left Buck's face and he became very serious. "Ok. Ok Inez, I'm only gonna ask you one more time and if ya tell me no then I'll never bother you again. How about giving us a chance? You might find that I'm not as bad as you might like to think I am," he said without any of his usual antics. This time he had came straight to the point.

Inez didn't believe him for a minute. She just figured it was another one of his tricks. "Sorry, but I'm not interested," she told him without hesitation.

"Fair enough," he said and held out his hand, "Can we still be friends?" Then waited for her to shake his hand. Once she did he turned back to his friends leaving Inez with puzzled look on her face.

"Don't you go embarrassing that girl none," Nathan called out to break the tension. Then threw his cards down in disgust and look pointedly at Ezra, who just sat there grinning.

"Me?" Buck asked in mock outraged. "I tell you, I get no respect around here. I would never deliberately embarrass any lady; especially one as sweet and shy as Bonnie." Looking Nathan in the eye he said, "Now you and the others are fair game. Besides," he said straightening his bandanna and wiggling his eye brows, "Josiah's my friend and may need some help. And I see nothing wrong with volunteering my services. That's just the kind of kind hearted fella that I am." Causing the others to laugh as he walked out.

It certainly felt good to laugh again, Chris thought to himself. After what happened with Vin, Josiah, Ella, and then Mary he was beginning to think he'd never laugh again. Chris had just about made up his mind to see if what he felt for Mary could develop into something more, but then Gerard and his daughter came back. He still remembered Mary asking him point blank what his intentions were and when he hadn't had an answer she decided to give the farmer another chance. But hell, what had she expected. Ella was still out there and he would not make a commitment of any kind until she was taken care of once and for all. And if he was honest with himself he'd admit that he didn't regret the decision at all. In fact, he felt relieved. Every time he lost his really lost his temper with he could see just a touch of fear in her eyes at ate at his soul to know that after all this time she still didn't trust him not to hurt her.

Sarah, bless her heart, had never been afraid of him, but she certainly didn't fight back with him. All she would do was let him rant and rave and get it out of his system then they'd talk about it. He didn't want that now. He wasn't the same man now that he was then. Now Chris wanted someone that would fight back with him. Someone to challenge his temper and win.

Chris shook his head and thanked God that Buck had never changed. He knew that Inez didn't believe the handsome rogue about not bothering her anymore, but the ladies' man had never been one to beat his head against a brick wall for too long especially over a woman who had made it clear she didn't want him; not when there were so many who did. Chris hoped that Inez didn't just blow her chance.

Buck may have been a lot of things, but like he said he'd never set out to deliberately embarrass any woman. Chris had never seen a man who could flirt endlessly and yet still have the upmost respect for women. He'd never knowingly hurt any woman; it just wasn't in him. It wasn't in any of them. Except for one woman. Ella Gains. She was the exception to the rule. Chris knew without a doubt and very little hesitation that him or any one of the others would shoot the heifer on sight. With a shake of his and with a determination that had saved his and the others lives he pushed thoughts of that bitch out of his head.

Instead he focused on the lady that had managed to turn Josiah's head. Susan Mayeaux. Susan was a true southerner lady; much like Ezra's mother Maude, but with a heart and feelings and she was not afraid to show her niece how she cared for her. Ok, Chris thought with a frown, she was nothing like Maude; other than the accent. Thinking about her niece brought a smile to his face. Bonnie was just as sweet as could be, only shy. Which made a man feel special when she smiled at him cause they knew that it was a rare gift. But what surprised him the most was the effect that shyness had on their resident ladies' man.

Buck had never shown partiality when it came to flirting. It didn't matter to him if the lady in question was skinny or fat, young or old or for that matter married. But something had happened when Bonnie turned those big shy brown eyes on him. Buck treated her differently. Oh sure he still flirted with her, but it was real subtle. He was slowly bringing her out of her shell.

The ladies had only been in town for little over a month, but that was long enough to capture the affections of each of the seven; especially Josiah and Buck. Susan's aunt, who ran the boardinghouse, died and as her only living relative she had inherited the house and it's boarders. Namely Vin and JD and occasionally him and Buck. But it was a big two story home with plenty of room. Which was fortunate because Susan's other two nieces that would be arriving from Louisiana within the week. The youngest sister had fallen off a horse and broken her leg and was unable to travel until just recently and the other one had stayed behind to care for her.

Chris chuckled as he recalled Buck's reaction on learning that their were two more sisters on the way and looked up at Vin as he sat down. Seeing the question in his eyes the black clad gunslinger explained, "I was just thinking about Buck's reaction to the news of their being two more Mayeauxs on the way."

Vin chuckled as well and said, "Yeah I remember. If their anything like Miss Mayeaux and Bonnie then we're all gonna be in trouble."

"You better not let Jenna hear you say that," Chris teased. He knew full well that Vin had feeling for the town's new seamstress. It was about damn time too. Chris was starting to think the tracker would never look at another woman again. Him and the others were just glad that this time she wasn't married.

Vin shot him a dirty look and cursed as he felt his face heat up. "You leave Jenna outa of this, Cowboy," he warned and felt his face get even hotter, if that was possible, as the blond laughed. Shaking his head he thought to himself that he should have never gone on that ride with her. The others hadn't said a thing to him, but oh the looks he'd gotten had spoke volumes. Of course, he really couldn't blame them. Not after he'd nearly bitten Ezra and Buck's head off over Char.......over what's her name. Jenna and Char..... er what's her name were as different as night and day.

Seeing the teasing light in the older man's eyes brought comfort to the tracker; even if it was at his own expense. It hadn't been there in a while. The old Chris wasn't completely back, but he was on his way.

"What do ya say we go get us some lunch?" Nathan asked. The healer wanted to make sure Buck behaved himself. Plus he liked to see Josiah struggle through lunch with Susan. In spite of being the oldest member of their group he didn't seem to have very much experience with the ladies and it was a sight to behold when one managed catch his eye.

Ezra had until this moment remained unusually silent, but he wasn't about to allow Nathan and the others to interfere with Josiah and Susan. Or the progress Buck was making with Bonnie. If they all went over there she'd clam up and not say a word. "I suggest we leave Josiah and Buck alone and..... for once mind our own business," he drawled without looking up for his game of solitaire.

Nathan raised one eye brow at the gambler and said, "Minding someone else's business has never bothered you before. So what's the problem now?"

Again without looking up the gambler explained. "The problem is that I think Josiah really likes Susan and if we all go barreling over there it will only serve to embarrass him."

"That's the point," Nathan countered with a smile causing the others to grin.

"As attractive as that sounds. I feel I must remind you that Miss Bonnie is over there as well. Buck has finally managed to convince her that she has no reason to fear us and I feel to interfere now would not be prudent," he drawled out.

"Prudent?" the tall dark man said with a frown.

"Wise," Ezra offered still not removing his eyes from his game.

"I know what prudent means Ezra," Nathan threw at him. Then just to make sure he looked over at Chris, who nodded.

"I agree with Ezra. I don't think we should," JD offered. "I mean Bonnie's starting to trust us. We don't wanta mess that up. Do we?"

Chris grinned at the looked JD sent Nathan and watched as the healer sighed in disgust before turning away. "No we don't. I guess we'll have lunch here."

"Well don't do me any favors Mr. Nathan," Inez snapped upon hearing his comment.

"I'm sorry Inez I didn't mean that like it sounded," the healer tried to apologize as the barmaid walked away in a huff. "Thanks a lot JD" he fussed.

"What I'd do?" JD questioned, but Nathan didn't answer merely shook his head.

Vin grinned as it seemed JD was picking up Ezra's habit of working the advantage. The tracker watched Ezra and JD exchanged a look and figured they were lucky Chris and Nathan had missed it. He was gonna have to start keepin' a closer eye on those two. But then again it would be more fun to join 'em.

Over at the hotel Josiah groaned as he saw Buck walk in and God forgive him, but he hoped the others were not with him. Seeing only Buck he waved him over and asked him to join them.

"Afternoon ladies," Buck said in greeting as he sat down then nodded at Josiah.

"Afternoon Buck," Susan returned and couldn't help but grin. Of the town's seven protectors these two were her favorites. Oh it wasn't that she didn't like the others because she did. They were all very likable. Even Chris Larabee; who was a little frightening. But these two had managed to find a special place in her heart. Josiah was truly the most decent and caring man she'd ever met. And Buck had brought Bonnie out of her shell and for that she'd be eternally grateful.

"So how are you ladies today?" Buck grinned as Bonnie blushed and ducked her head.

"Just fine. I was just telling Josiah that we received a telegram from Allison this morning stating that they'd be here by the end of the week," Susan replied.

Josiah noticed the same look was in her eyes when Susan mentioned her niece earlier. "Don't worry Susan I'm sure they'll be fine. The stage is much safer than it used to be," he reassured her.

Susan lowed her head and sighed. Her head shot up as she heard Bonnie say, "She's scared."

Bonnie knew what was bothering her aunt as it should be. Seeing the others looking at her she fought the temptation to run and hide. She had come to realize that neither of the seven men would hurt her and so with a new found strength continued, "Aunt Susan and Allison didn't exactly part on the best of terms. So she's a little afraid of my sister's arrival."

The older lady sat up straight and opened her mouth to deny every word but knew she couldn't. "It's true. You see I bec..." Susan started to explain but was interrupted as Mary Travis stepped up to the table.

"Good afternoon," Mary said with a smile.

"Afternoon Mrs. Travis," Susan returned.

"Any word from your other nieces yet?" Mary asked.

"Yes they should be here by the end of the week."

"Good. I know you'll rest easier knowing that all your girls will be under one roof again," Mary smiled. "Well I'll let you get back to your lunch. I just wanted to say hello," then started to turn away only to stop. "You're sure your niece will consent to answer a few questions?"

"Oh yes. Allison will be happy to," Susan reassured her before Bonnie could tell her differently.

Two days later Chris sat outside the saloon and noticed something in the distance. Squinting his eyes he could tell it was the stage. Wonder if the sisters are coming early, he thought to himself. Hearing foot steps to the side of him he knew that the others had joined him. All except for Nathan who was out delivering a baby.

As the mud covered stage drew to a stop the man riding shot gun jumped down and held the door open with one hand and reached inside with the other. The six men watched as he assisted one young lady out then reach back in only to have the first one gently push him out of the way. Then hand him a couple of crutches before helping the another girl herself. They watched as she made sure the younger girl was steady before releasing her and handing her the crutches.

Seeing that the one on crutches looked very similar to Bonnie they knew it had to be them. The sisters. Only unlike the other Mayeauxs one of girls had reddish brown hair. They watched as the red head glared at the men as she was suddenly spattered with mud as a piece of their luggage was thrown off the stage and into a mud puddle. And could hear her say a silky sarcastic southerner voice, "Thank you very much." Then wiping off the mud she said, "Gentlemen please be careful. Our clothing is in those cases."

Chris felt the reaction to that voice all the way to his toes. And every where in between. He couldn't help but smile as she went to turn away only to be jerked back as the gunman was standing on the seam of her dress. Turning she then slapped him on the arm and pulled her dress free. Chris frowned as he saw both Buck and Ezra stop in front them; hell he hadn't even noticed them leave the boardwalk. He watched as they introduced themselves and then offered to carry their cases. His frown deepened as Buck motioned for them to come and help them. Chris almost told Buck to go to hell, but grudgingly admitted that he was curious about them as well. So with a shrug he followed the others.

"So that was them right," JD stated carrying two bags and following behind Chris, Vin, and Josiah. "Did you hear her voice? It sent a shiver down my spine," he said excitedly.

"Just bring the bag JD," Chris mumbled not wanting to remember his own reaction so he sure as hell didn't want to hear about JD's shivers. Looking up as they neared the boardinghouse he noticed Mary stop and introduce herself, so he slowed down. For some reason he wanted to see how these two reacted to each other. They heard the lady newspaper owner ask the redhead about answering some questions only to have her frown in return.

"Your aunt said you'd be happy to answer a few questions. You see I thought it would give your neighbors a chance to get to know you and for them to know what you had planned for the boardinghouse," Mary quickly explained.

"Oh she did, did she," the girl said with a glint in her whiskey colored eyes. "Look Mrs. Travis I don't wish to be rude, but now is not a very good time."

Mary had never been one to give up easily continued, "Miss Mayeaux it would only take a few moments."

"Mrs. Travis I've just spend a week on a bumpy dusty stage and when it wasn't raining then the dust was almost unbearable. So needlessly to say I'm a little tired so if we could please talk about this later," the girl suggested.

"But you're aunt said....."

"Well I'm sorry, but I'm afraid she lied," the girl finally snapped.

"Excuse me?" Mary asked in surprise and her confusion showed.

Chris liked this girl all ready.

"Susan lied. I thank you for the opportunity, but I'm not really interested," she explained and continued her walk up the steps and was reaching for the door when a hand on her arm stopped her.

Mary followed her up the steps and before the girl could disappear into the house she reached out and touched her arm, "I wish you'd reconsider. I think it would be very beneficial to everyone. You'll find that the people of this town are some what....... reserved with strangers and it might help to break the ice so-to-speak."

The girl raised one eye brow and looked pointedly down at the hand on her arm and then back at the pushy blond before pulling her arm away. "Look Mrs. Travis. I really don't care how reserved my new neighbors are. As a matter of fact the more reserved the better; that way they'll leave me alone," she said with a smile. "Besides I would prefer it if they made up their own minds about me and my family instead of forming an opinion based on one newspaper article. Now if you're still interested in an interview then I suggest you talk to Susan because you'll not get one from me."

With a frown Mary asked before the girl could leave, "What about your other sister?"

"Lindsey? She might, but you aren't gonna asked her now. Lindsey's still recovering from her broken leg and I'll not allow you to bother her," she warned. Then with blinding smile said, "Now as one of my new...... neighbors I know you'd be more than happy to hold the door open for these nice gentlemen." But really didn't give Mary a chance to refuse as she pushed the door at her and let instinct do the rest.

Chris hid his grin as best he could and laid the cases just inside the door determined to get while the getting was good. Tipping his hat to Mary he turned tail and left. Entering the saloon he grabbed a bottle and then after pouring himself a shot did he allow the grin to surface. It wasn't often that someone got the better of Mary Travis. The pretty blond usually had an argument for every occasion. Somehow Chris knew that just like with Ezra this southerner would require a whole different set of rules.

An hour later the black clad gunslinger looked up and saw Buck and the others walk in. Chris tossed back the drink he'd been nursing for the past hour and asked, "You fellas get the sisters settled in?"

Buck grinned and opened his mouth to tell his old friend all about the fiery redheaded Mayeaux when Nathan walked in. "So what Mrs. Collins have?"

With a grin on his face Nathan sat down and tossed back the shot Chris slid his way before answering, "Another boy. This one makes five."

"Damn five boys. That poor woman," Vin said with a grin.

"Yeah two more and she'll catch up with Nettie," JD teased causing the others to laugh. The whole town knew how the cranky old woman had all but adopted the seven peacekeepers. Especially him and Vin.

"God don't give us anymore than we handle. She'll do just fine," Josiah added.

Nathan had just ordered some lunch when movement by the door caught his attention. Looking around Josiah he saw a young lady not much taller than JD standing just inside the saloon waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dimness. Then sidestepping a few of the regulars she made her toward them.

"Miss Mayeaux," Buck called out and grinned as she stopped at their table.

"Gentlemen," she grinned in return. Then looked directly at the healer. "Are you Mr. Jackson?"

The healer could only nod as he had suddenly lost his voice. It wasn't just because of her pretty face, but the sparkle of life you could see in her light brown eyes.

"I'm Allison Mayeaux," the young lady said holding out her hand.

Nathan hesitated for a second then shook the hand held out to him. "Nice to meet you Miss Mayeaux," happy that his voice came out normal.

"Please call me Allison," she suggested. "Your friends tell me you're a healer." He only nodded. "And you've been out delivering a baby. I trust that the new mother and father and the baby are doing well?" Again only a nod. "May I ask where you learned your trade?"

"Why you asking?" Chris wondered as he spoke for the first time.

"And you would be?" Allison asked with her head bent to the side.

"This here's Chris Larabee," Vin said as if there was any wonder.

Allison nodded and held out her hand only to have it ignored. "Mr. Larabee," she said with a grinned; so it's gonna be like that is it. "Patience Mr. Larabee. All will be revealed in time," was her only explanation. "Do you always interrupt other people's conversations?" she questioned before he could asked anything else. Only to have him nod at her. Just what she needed another nodder, she thought to herself

"I don't mind. I was a stretcher barer during the war and picked up what I could since then," Nathan told her.

"One learns all sorts of useful things during a war," she commented. "I bet ya didn't learn to deliver a baby during the war?" she teased with a grin.

"Oh no ma'am. There wasn't much call for that," the healer grinned at her.

"Do you always ask so many questions?" Chris threw out.

"Are you always so rude?" Allison countered. What an irritating man, she silently fussed.

"You answer my question and I'll answer yours," he replied with a rare twinkle in his eyes.

"I already know the answer to mine," she told him with a sweet smile. "But to answer yours, yes. How else is a person to learn anything; without questions." Turning away from him she looked at the healer and said, "As I was about to say before we were so rudely interrupted. The reason I asked you all these questions is because I like to know who I'm dealing with. More importantly who my family's dealing with."

"I understand ma'am," Nathan said.

"As I'm sure you know my younger sister Lindsey is recovering from a broken leg and I wondered if, after you've rested, if you'd mind looking in on her."

"I can do it now," he said and made to get to his feet.

"No, Mr. Jackson you look tired and besides your lunch will get cold," she said the barmaid sat his plate in front of him. "Sometime later today will be fine." Then just because the man in black had irritated her she reached over and took the shot of whisky right of his hand and tossed it back. Then with a wink and a grin she gave the now empty glass back to the gunslinger and said, "Thanks I needed that." And walked out having had the last word.

The others stared at her back in shock as Chris just did resist the urge to turn and watch her leave. He told himself that the tingle that raced up his spine was from the whisky and not from Allie.

"Damn, what a woman," Buck sighed. "Things are certainly looking up around here boys."

"I have to concur," Ezra added. "Tomorrow certainly promises to bring an exciting dining experience," seeing both Chris and Nathan frown he explained that the seven of them had been invited to supper at the boardinghouse.

Chris poured himself another shot and quickly tossed it back then shaking his head he thought to himself, yeap just like he figured......a whole new set a rules.

In all of the excitement neither of the seven paid much attention to the two strangers that walked in and were paying close attention to them.

Later the next day the seven peacekeeper were in the bathhouse. Chris shook his head in disgust as the others finished getting ready. They acted like they were going to a dance or something. Hell even Vin had changed his clothes, of course that may having something to do the fact that Jenna had been invited as well as Nettie and Casey Wells. If the bad guys could only see them now, he thought. Chris smiled as he heard Nathan whistling and knew that had to do with Rain showing up this morning. I wonder if Susan's realized yet that she would have fifteen people dining at her table tonight, he thought to himself. They'd be here all night if someone didn't hurry them along, "Come on let's go! I don't know about you, but I don't want to eat a cold supper."

Buck grinned as he stepped up to the blond, "I'm ready." Then laughed as he looked at his friend, "Uh Chris you might want to take those pieces of paper off your face."

Looking in the mirror Chris swore because he'd forgotten about them and snatched the paper off. Ok, so he'd changed his shirt and shaved, he thought to himself, but only because I needed it. It had nothing to do with the Mayeauxs. Then without a word Chris walked out with the others following him. On the way they saw Rain and Jenna waiting for them by the hotel and then together they walked toward the boardinghouse.

Casey jumped to her feet as she heard the door opening. Looking up she grinned as JD and the others walked in. "They're here!" she suddenly called out only to receive a quiet reprimand from her aunt.

As the men stepped into the room they were introduced to the one Mayeaux they hadn't yet met; Lindsey. Lindsey Mayeaux looked almost exactly like her oldest sister, Bonnie. But had some of Allison's personality, but without the edge. Nathan had pronounced her fine, but suggested she take it easy for the next few days and to stay off her leg as much as possible.

After a bit of small talk supper was announced and after seating Lindsey at one end of the table with her leg propped up. The others found themselves a seat. Josiah sat at the other end of the table with Susan to his left and down from her sat Nathan, Rain, JD, Casey, Nettie, and Chris. On Josiah left sat, Bonnie, Buck, Jenna, Vin, Allison, and Ezra. To say that supper was noisy would have been an understatement.

They were all listening to one of Buck's cleaner stories and Ezra being himself made a comment that had Chris saying his name in warning.

"Why did you do that?" Allison asked before anyone could say a word.

Chris looked at her for a minute before saying, "Ezra sometimes as a smart mouth that usually gets him into trouble."

"Your Mr. Standish is an intelligent man. It's only to be expected," she returned.

"Ezra's a grown man and doesn't need you to defend him," Chris argued. For some reason it bothered him that she would defend the gambler. "That's what he's got us for.

"Oh really. I didn't see anyone coming to his defense," Allison stated. "And shall defend whom ever I please. With or without your approval," she said with a nod. Then looking him in the eye, "I'd even defend you if I felt the need."

With a snort Chris got to his feet and leaned across the table and said, "It'll be a cold day in hell when I need a snot nosed little girl like you to defend me."

Little girl, she fumed and totally ignored the nose remark as she to got to her feet and placed her hands on her hips. "You surprise me Mr. Larabee. I would have thought that a man of your age would you have come to realize that everyone needs a champion from time to time," she shot back.

My age? he repeated and opened his mouth but nothing came out but luckily he was saved as Susan chose that moment to speak up.

"Allison that's enough," Susan said in a stern voice. "I'll not have you insult a guest in my home." Causing one of her nieces to lean toward Buck and the other to sink down in her seat as if trying to hide.

Chris watched as Allison's eyes flashed with a touch of pain before being replaced with anger.

Allison tore her gaze away from the man dressed in black only to look at her aunt with a strange expression on her face. "First of all. Mr. Larabee is not a guest. He lives here. The territory pays for his room and board. Secondly what do ya mean your home?" she said throwing her napkin on the table, "I thought this was our home."

Susan tensed at her tone, "You know what I meant."

"Oh yes, I know exactly what you meant," Allison sneered. Getting to her feet she started gathering up the dirty dishes. Seeing the way her sisters were sitting she snapped, "Bonnie get off of Mr. Wilmington like that and Lindsey sit up straight."

The others watched as the sisters did what they were told and for Allison to leave the room with Susan right behind her. They sat in silence as they were not really sure what to say.

Nettie Wells didn't think that was much that could surprise her anymore, but she felt her eyes widen in surprise as Chris Larabee and Allison Mayeaux argued with each other. It was truly a sight to behold. Nettie was glad that someone had managed to get him to react like a real man. Mary Travis had tried, but hadn't been able to. Nettie always got the feeling that maybe Mary was a little afraid of Chris' temper. Smiling she realized that Allison Mayeaux certainly didn't appear to be afraid.

She realized that she hadn't ever heard Chris say that many words in a days time let alone at one sitting. Then before she had completely recovered from the first surprise she was struck by another one. If Casey had spoken to her like Allison had spoken to Susan, Nettie would have back handed her one.

Buck almost reached for the young lady sitting next to him but didn't. Instead he placed his hand on top of hers and gave it a little squeeze.

Ezra watched as the emotions crossed Lindsey's face and knew that something more that just bad manners was going on here.

Lindsey saw Ezra watching her and sat up. Then looked away only to find Chris watching her. Raising her head she defended her sister, "Allison's not usually so rude. She's still tired from the trip. And...."

"You traveled the same distance," Ezra pointed out.

"But I rested. Allison made me," Lindsey explained. "Susan cornered Allison as soon as y'all left yesterday. She hasn't even had the chance to unpack."

"Please don't judge her to quickly," Bonnie softly added. "Allison's not had an easy life. She's had to deal with things that I wouldn't even know how to begin to deal with."

It seemed to Chris that Susan was pushing Allie. It was like she was trying to get her to lose control or something. All night Susan had taken pot shots at her niece. The gunslinger hadn't even realized that he'd shortened Allison's name.

"She shouldn't have spoken to her aunt like that," Josiah said.

"Maybe you should mind your own business Josiah," Bonnie said with a sudden boldness.

"Allison just made it our business," he returned.

"Only the conversation. The rest has nothing to do with any of you," the shy Mayeaux countered.

All conversation stopped as the kitchen doors swung open. Then with Buck and Ezra's help the light hearted mood soon returned. After a little while they bid each other goodnight. Vin and JD escorted Nettie and Casey home and Nathan and Rain took a walk in the moonlight. Buck, Ezra, Josiah, and Chris went to the saloon. And the Mayeauxs set about cleaning up the kitchen.

Early the next morning Chris sat outside the boardinghouse enjoying a cup of coffee as he watched the town slowly wake up. Turning his head at the sound of the door opening the gunslinger saw Susan Mayeaux step onto the porch with a broom in her hand. "Morning Miss Mayeaux," he said in greeting.

Susan gave a little jump at the sound of his voice and with a grin said, "Good morning. Oh but you startled me, Mr. Larabee."

"Sorry ma'am."

"Good morning," said Bonnie as she to stepped onto the porch with Lindsey right behind her.

"Ladies," Chris replied.

"Where's Allison?" Susan asked as she began to sweep. "Has she gotten up yet?"

"Right here," she answered as she flopped down in one of the other chairs.

"Good morning Allison," Lindsey said with way to much energy.

Wiping a hand across her eyes the girl mumbled, "Yeah, yeah sure. Whatever."

"Oh come on Allison take a look around. It's a beautiful morning," Lindsey teased. "It's the best part of the day."

Allison surveyed her surrounding with sleepy narrowed eyes and gave the man sitting next to her the once over and then replied, "If it's so great then why isn't there anyone out. Except for him."

"The peace and quite is what makes it so great," Lindsey told her.

Chris grinned as he listened to their exchange and got to his feet. "Here hold this," he said handing Allie his empty coffee cup. "Ladies," he said with a tip of his hat and then as an afterthought turned and replied, "Oh and Miss Mayeaux."

It took Allison all of five seconds to realize that Chris Larabee had just tried to insult her by that slight, but little did he know that she wasn't one so easily insulted. Looking down at the cup she gave serious thought to throwing it at the arrogant gunslinger's head.

Later that morning as JD stepped out the jailhouse he spotted Bonnie and Allison standing in the middle of the street. They appeared to be looking at the boardinghouse. Curiosity got the better of him and he started to crossed the street when a familiar black duster caught his attention. JD grinned as he saw Chris making his way to them. The young sheriff took off running with only one thought on his mind, find the others.

The others were sitting inside the saloon when JD came running in and said, "You guys gotta come see this. Allison and Bonnie are just standing in the middle of the street looking at the boardinghouse and Chris is on his way to find out why."

As they stepped outside the saloon Vin elbowed the Ezra and said, "This ought a be good."

"Yes indeed," Ezra agreed with a smile.

They all smiled as they heard the beginnings of what could be a very entertaining conversation.

"What do you think your doing? You can't stand in the middle of the street," Chris said.

"We're thinking of painting the house and I'm trying to get a different perspective on it. I'm trying to see it as others do. And why not? We're not hurting anyone," Allison answered.

"Why not? Cause you're gonna get yourself run over that's why not," he explained as if speaking to a child.

"Mr. Larabee in spite of what you may think I'm not a two year old. My sister and I both know how to get out of the way," Allison told him and then grabbed Bonnie's arm to keep her from deserting her. "Besides it's board daylight and if people can't see us than they don't need to be riding a horse much less driving a buggy."

"That's not the point. Look a have better things to do than stand here arguing with you," Chris then reached for her arm only to have her back away. He opened his mouth to say something, but was interrupted.

"Yes I'm sure you do," she agreed. "Don't let us keep you."

"Get out of the street."


Chris put his hands on his hips and straightened his shoulders and blocked out the sound of laughter coming from the boardwalk. "Did you just tell me no?" he had to ask.

"Yes," she said with her head held high. Allison told herself that she wasn't afraid of this attractive man dressed all in black, but she also wasn't a fool. "Look Mr. Larabee we're not hurting anyone and are not in anyone's way. There's plenty of room on both sides," she tried to reason with him. Then with a shrug said, "Besides there's no law that says I can't stand here. Is there?"

He hated to admit it but she did have a point. Damned infuriating woman, he cursed under his breathe. "Why can't you do this from the boardwalk?" Chris suggested.

She looked over at the boardwalk across the street and was about to say something she'd probably regret when she spotted the ladder leaning against the general store. Looking at him she grinned and said, "What a wonderful idea Mr. Larabee. Come along Bonnie."

Chris got an uneasy feeling in his gut as she readily agreed with him. Then felt his eyes widen he saw her start to climb the ladder standing there. Taking several deep breathes he closed the distance between them. "Bonnie you get on the boardwalk. And you get down."

"Mr. Larabee I wish you'd make up your mind. You just told me to get up here," Allison fussed. "Bonnie stay right where you are and hold this ladder."

"I did not! I told you to use the boardwalk. I never mentioned a ladder," he reminded her and fought to control his temper.

"It's the same thing," she argued. Then seeing the look he sent her she quickly continued, "Look the ladder is leaning against the roof which is connected to the post which is connected to the boardwalk. So in a manner of speaking I am on the boardwalk."

"It's not the same thing! Now get down before you break your fool neck," he said as he shook the ladder. "Bonnie I told you to get on the boardwalk. Buck!"

With wide eyes Bonnie looked from her sister to Chris Larabee then to the outstretched hand of Buck and looked up and with a shrug said, "Sorry Allison." And went to stand by a laughing Buck.

"Trader," she accused. "Stop shaking the ladder! You're gonna make me fall."

"Not until you come down. Or do you want me to come up there and get you," Chris asked with another hard shake of the ladder. The gunslinger couldn't help but grin as she started down the ladder.

He'd actually won one.

Once both feet were on the ground Allison turned those whisky colored eyes on him and said, "Happy now? I thought you said you had better things to do."

"I do."

"Then why aren't you doing them!" she snapped. Then suddenly realized that the others were laughing at her. Squaring her shoulders she glared at them before saying, "You may have won this one, but you won't be so lucky next time."

"Won?" Chris repeated as if he didn't know what she was talking about careful to keep the grin off his face.

"Don't play dumb with me Mr. Larabee," Allison told him. "I know you're smarter than you look. You know exactly what I'm talking about."

"Temper. Temper. But then I guess that's to be expected since you have...."

"Don't say it," she warned.

"Red hair," Chris finished his sentence. The jaded gunslinger just did keep the grin off his face at her expression. Then braced himself for the slap he just knew was coming, but to his surprise nothing happened.

"I do not have red hair," Allison very calmly stated with a clenched fist.

The gunslinger watched as Allie took a couple of calming breaths before turning her back on him and without another word walked away. He had been looking forward to a battle and had to admit he was a little disappointed.. Looking at his friends he dared them to say a word then stalked into the saloon with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes. All ready looking forward to the next battle.

Buck laughed all the harder and held his side at the look on Chris' face. It was a look he hadn't seen since before Sarah. In that glimpse Buck saw the old Chris Larabee and couldn't have been happier.

Bonnie stood there and didn't even realize that she was alone with the six men until she saw Allison disappear into the house. Just as she went to walk away she felt someone grab her arm. Looking up she found a pair a laughing blue eyes twinkling at her and she couldn't help but smile back in response.

"Miss Bonnie what say I buy you a cup of tea," Buck offered. Then offered her his elbow when she nodded.

Stepping into the saloon Buck called out, "Inez could I please get a cup of tea over here."

Inez stopped what she was doing and stared. Did he just call me Inez? No darlin' or sweetie? Just Inez? It's one of his tricks, she tried to convince herself. "Tea?" she repeated after a moment. But now that she thought about, Buck hadn't bothered her all week. Hadn't made one pass at her. She no longer felt his eyes following her around the saloon as she worked. Maybe he was serious, she told herself. Nahhh it's just a trick. He'll be back to flirting with her in no time, she told herself.

"Yes tea. You can't expect someone as sweet as Miss Bonnie here to drink beer," he explained.

"I've never been in a saloon before," Bonnie said trying to make conversation. "It kinda of ......smells don't it."

"Your sister Allison certainly didn't have a problem in here yesterday," Vin said. Causing Bonnie to grin.

"I would imagine that your sister doesn't have a problem with most things," Chris offered.

"No Allison doesn't let to much bother her," Bonnie told them. "Thank you," she said as Inez handed her the cup of tea. Looking around at the men in front of her and beside her and smiled at the questions in their eyes. She knew they were just dying to know what the argument last night was about. "If you want to know you'll have to ask," Bonnie said.

Buck looked at Chris and waited a full minute for him to ask, but to his frustration the man didn't say a word. "Ok what's going on between your aunt and Allison."

Bonnie finished her tea before telling them. "Well to make a long story short Susan got sick and Allison was put in control of running the house."

"Allison was to young to handle the responsibility, right," Josiah guessed.

"Oh no, her age had nothing to do with. Allison handled everything just fine. The trouble started once Susan started getting better."

"She didn't want to give up the control did she," Ezra inquired.

"No. I mean yes. That was the problem. Susan didn't want it back, at least not at first. When ever Allison tried Susan always came up with an excuse. I guess I should have tried harder. As the oldest it was my responsibility," Bonnie offered.

"You're the oldest?" Chris questioned.

"Yes, but....... I'm not very out going. I was......was even worst back then. No one would listen to me. But Allison sat them all down and told them how it was going to be and if they didn't like it then they could leave. It was truly a sight to behold," Bonnie grinned. "And before you ask they were servants not slaves. Our father did not believe in slavery," she stated looking directly at Nathan.

Nathan just nodded.

"Why? She doesn't seem to have a problem getting her point across," JD questioned.

"I know you won't believe this, but Allison didn't speak for the first two years she lived with us," she said and almost grinned at their shock. Then in a whisper told them, "Our father wasn't the most faithful man and Allison was the result of one his .......affairs. When Father found out about her he went and got her and brought her home." Bonnie trailed off for a moment lost in thought. "Anyway she didn't talk much back then. It was like she was afraid we'd send her back or something. Then all of a sudden it was like she was making up for lost time," Bonnie said with a grin.

"What was wrong with your aunt?" Nathan wondered.

"It started out as a cold and got worse. It didn't look like she was ever gonna get better. Then we found out that the doctor was giving Susan stuff to make her worse. He wanted our money, but Allison put a stop to that and told him to get and not to come back. The next morning Allison went down the river and came back with this half Indian and half Creole woman that told us what to do for Susan and it worked. Susan was quickly getting her strength back and getting better everyday. Then the war came and we just about lost everything to the Union soldiers. They barely left us enough to survive," Bonnie had to stop as her eyes filled with tears at some remembered pain. Shaking her head she pushed those thought away. "After the war things started looking better and Allison wanted Susan to take some of the responsibility back, but she wouldn't," Bonnie said with a shrug of her shoulders.

"Why not?" Chris wondered.

"I don't know," she replied. "Allison never complained. She simply did what had to be done. She let Susan and.....and us take advantage of her strength. But even Allison has a breaking point and Susan found it. Times were tough and Susan spent some money on something we didn't need and Allison got mad and made her return it. Made us all go just to make sure she did it. Of course by the time we got home they both were fit to be tied. Words were passed and ......"

"And?" Chris pushed when the girl stopped.

"Susan slapped Allison busting her lip," Bonnie finished.

"That where she got the scar," Chris asked with a clenched fist under the table out of sight.

Bonnie looked at him and shook her head, "No that came courtesy of a Union soldier wanting......more than.... supplies."

"Did he g.." Chris couldn't even say it. He felt is temper sore and knew it wasn't all directed at the soldier.

"No. He didn't get either. Other than the scar and a few nightmares Allison was fine," Bonnie reassured him. "Anyway with that slap Allison lost what little respect she'd had for Susan. Susan said she was leaving and taking her money with her. Allison laughed and reminded her that she had power of attorney and that she wouldn't get so much as a penny."

"Allison has power of attorney?" Ezra asked.

With a nod Bonnie explained, "In one of Susan's more lucent moment while she was so sick she insisted that one of be put in charge and Allison was elected. Allison tried many times to give it back, but Susan didn't want it. And now she did, but Allison wouldn't give it to her. You see Susan had been pampered most of her life and now Allison was making earn her keep and she didn't like it. She grew up real fast when she realized that Allison was right. Then Patsy died and Lindsey broke her leg and Allison figured the best thing to do was to put some distance between them. You know, give them both time to cool off and think. So we came out here and she stayed to take care of Lindsey." Pausing she wiped her eyes then continued, "Surely you remember what Susan was like when we first arrived. She was mad at the world and jumping at her own shadow. But she soon learned to do for herself; which is what I think Allison intended from the beginning."

Getting to her feet Bonnie smiled at them and said, "Well I best be getting back. Thanks for the tea Buck. See you later."

Buck placed his chin in his hand and smiled as he watched Bonnie walk away. The others just shook their heads at his dreamy expression.

Chris' earlier good mood had quickly deteriorated as he got to thinking about his late wife and son. The only ones he hadn't managed to keep at bay were Vin and Ezra who now sat with him outside the jailhouse. Of course, the fact that he'd hadn't said a word to either of them couldn't have hurt. Right now he was trying to read, but was couldn't help but over hear the conversation going on between Ezra and Vin. Conversations? No it was more like bickering. They were suppose to be playing a quite friendly game of chance. But at the moment it wasn't quite or friendly. Sometimes these two were worse than Buck and JD.

Ezra happened to glance up and grinned and then nudged the tracker with his boot because headed their way was the always entertaining Allison Mayeaux.

"Dammit, Ezra why'd ya kick me?" Vin growled.

"Kick you? I barely even touched you," he defended himself. "Look who's coming."

The Texan grinned as he saw Allison and then threw his cards on their makeshift table and turned his chair so that he wouldn't miss anything.

The sudden silence beside him had Chris looking up and right into a twinkling pair of whisky colored eyes. "Aww hell," he mumbled under his breath, "just what I need."

"Afternoon gentlemen. Mr. Larabee," she said in greeting. "Do you mind if I wait here for JD?" Allison asked, but didn't wait for a reply as she just sat down next to Chris. Then leaned forward to talk to Ezra and Vin who were sitting on the other side of him.

Chris was determined to ignore her. He wasn't gonna give his friends anymore ammunition to use against him.

"So what are you and JD up to?" Vin asked.

"We're going riding," she grinned. "I'm so excited. We lost our horse when Lindsey broke her leg and I haven't been riding since."

"How'd she break it?" Vin questioned.

"Her foot came out of the stirrup as she jumped over a fence," she told them.

"Was the horse killed instantly?" Ezra inquired.

Allison shook her head and said, "No. I had to put her down."

"Foolishness like jumping has killed more than one horse," Chris suddenly threw in.

"I couldn't agree with you more. The important thing is that she's learned her lesson and will be more careful next time," she told him.

"Next time! There shouldn't be a next time," Chris snapped. "Lindsey shouldn't have been jumping in the first place."

"My, my aren't we testy this afternoon," she said with a small smile. She wasn't about to get into an argument with him over Lindsey.

"Testy? I'm not testy," Chris told her in a tight voice.

"Oh I can tell," Allison responded.

With a sigh Chris gave up trying to read and closed his book. Turning to look at Allie he snapped, "You just have to comment don't you? Don't you ever shut up? You've haven't stopped talking since you got here." The gunslinger saw her flinch as he vented some of his frustrations on her.

"Susan tried to teach us that girls should be seen and not heard......"

"Well she failed where you're concerned didn't she. Is it your own fault or because of your father's indiscretion?"

Allison jerked back and felt the color drain from her face. Blinking rapidly as she refused to cry in front of him. "Who told? Bonnie," she whisper in sad voice. Squaring her shoulders Allison forced the tears back and allowed her temper to take hold and said, "Don't you snap at me Chris Larabee. "If I'm bothering you Mr. Larabee all you have to do is say so. I am far from stupid and can take a hint," she snapped.

"You're bothering me. Now go away," he said with a look that warned against any further comments. Not wanting to see pain in those eyes Chris averted his gaze.

"Fine. I'm sorry," she said regardless of the warning and got to her feet. "I won't bother you again. If one of you gentlemen would tell JD that I'll wait for him at the boardinghouse I'd appreciate it."

Vin and Ezra exchanged questioning looks at Chris' attitude and watched as Allison went back across the street.

Dammit, Chris silently cursed as he watched Allie cross the street. He hadn't meant to take a bite out of her he just wanted to be left alone. Out of the corner of his eye Chris saw Bonnie and flinched as she called out to her sister. With a sense of dread he watched as Allie stepped close to Bonnie and then point over toward them and they saw Bonnie hang her head and then reach for her sister only to have step away from her. Shit, shit, shit, shit, Chris muttered under his breath. He tensed as he saw that Allie was now headed toward them with Bonnie right on her heels.

"Hey guys," JD called out in greeting as he stepped up with two horses. "Listen Vin I really appreciate you watching the jail for me," he said then went on to say as Allison approached, "You ready?" After indicating which horse she was to ride he asked, "Do ya need some help getting on or can you do it by yourself?"

Not trusting her voice she simply pulled the hem of her dress up and placed her foot in the stirrup and pulled herself up into the saddle and waited for JD to mount up so they could leave.

"Before we leave let's go over the rules again," JD said.

"I'm not a child JD I remember what you said," Allison replied without her usual warmth. Seeing that he was waiting for an answer she told him what he wanted to hear, "You're in charge and what you say goes. If I don't listen then we'll turn around and come back home. Now let's go if we're going."

Chris looked at JD in wonder as he tried to figure out how the younger man had managed to get Allie to agree to those terms. The black clad gunslinger found himself looking at JD in a new light and realized that their boy was becoming more of a man each day.

"Afternoon gentlemen. Miss Mayeaux," Mary said as she stepped onto the boardwalk further delaying JD and Allie's ride. "I just received a telegram from the Judge and he wanted me to let you know he'll be here next week," she went on to explain.

Chris looked and nodded and said, "Thanks Mary." He had finally realized that the two of them would have never have made it as a couple; they were just to different and he was glad she had broken it off. They each deserved better.

Mary had watched the earlier scene between Allison and Chris in shock. She would have never have made such a public spectacle of herself or even have argued with Chris in such manner. Glancing out her window just now she watched as Allison Mayeaux made her way across the street to join Chris and the others in front of the jail and had tried to wait for her to leave, but just hadn't been able to. "I trust you and your sister are getting settled in?" she asked.

"Yes ma'am," was the reply.

"Your arrival in town could not have been better timed," Mary commented. "You see we'll be getting a teacher in the next month or two and you'll be able to finish your schooling," she went on to say, "You might be a little older than some of the children, but I'm sure you'll fit right in."

"Allison," Bonnie said in warning.

Allison tilted her head and ignored her, "Thank you for your concern, but I assure you that I have received all the schooling I require." She didn't understand why Mrs. Travis felt the need to try and insult her. She hadn't done anything to her, however, thanks to Chris she was now in just the right kind of mood to play her little game. "I must admit I admire you Mrs. Travis. I mean not everyone can survive in this harsh environment and for you not to look any older than you do is truly amazing," she said with a sweet smile.

Chris, Vin, Ezra, and JD listened in shock as Mary insulted Allison and were even more shocked at Allison's reply. Bonnie looked relieved, because she knew it could have been worse. To be fair the men had to admit that Mary deserved it. Suddenly getting to his feet Chris stepped in front of Mary and took her arm and said, "Come on Mary let me walk you back across the street." Then once out of hearing range of the others the gunslinger whispered in a harsh voice, "What the devil was that all about?"

"Can you believe she said that to me?" Mary asked in outrage.

"Well what did ya expect?" Chris questioned careful to keep the grin off his face. "You didn't honestly believe she'd let you get away with insulting her," he went on to say. "Are you doing this because she won't answer your questions?"

"Yes! No! Oh! I don't know," she muttered. "I was counting on her answering those questions and now it's all ruined."

"I don't blame her," Larabee said.

"Oh really and why not?" Mary snapped.

"Because she tried to get you to wait, but no as usual you just had to push. You just had to have your own way," he pointed out.

"I can't believe you're taking her side," she said in disbelief as they stepped inside the newspaper office.

Shaking his head Chris said, "It's not a matter of taking sides. You insulted her and that is not going to help." Hearing a sound he turned and watched as Gerard stepped out of Mary's living quarters and into the office. Chris braced himself for the anger and the pain and was pleasantly surprised when he felt neither. "Gerard," he said with a nod.

"Look Mary if you're just gonna have to let go of your wounded pride and put this behind you because I can bet she won't be answering any of your questions after this," the black clad gunslinger told her only to have her turn stubbornly away from him. Reaching for the door Chris sighed and said, "Suit yourself, but remember you started it." Then closed the door quietly behind him.

+ + + + + + +

Meanwhile a couple of hours outside of town the two strangers rode into a camp and waited as their boss exited a tent. "Well," they were questioned, "Did you see him?"

"Yeah we saw him, but he weren't with no blond lady though," one of them said.

"He was only with them friends of his," said the other one.

"Good. Good," was the reply. "Get yourselves something to eat, but I want you gone come sun up. And you know what I want you to do."

+ + + + + + +

A couple of days later Josiah was working in the church and the others were suppose to be helping him, but as usual he was doing most of the work. Buck and JD were to busy trying to come up the a way to get the best of Ezra, who was stretched out on one of the pews with his hat over his face as if asleep. However, Josiah suspected that his boy knew exactly what was going on. Nathan was suppose to be sanding the window seal not staring out the window itself. Vin looked to be asleep as well, but instead of being stretched out on the pew he had his feet propped up on the pew in front of him. And Chris. Well he wasn't real sure what Chris was doing. He taken off his hat and had his sleeves rolled up with his shirt unbuttoned and was holding a hammer, but he wasn't using it. He just held it and appeared to be lost in thought.

Seeing Ezra and Vin sit up had Josiah glancing around trying to see what had alerted them when a shadow feel across the door only to hesitant before crossing. The sun was at their back so Josiah couldn't make out who it was, but called out anyway, "Come on in. The Lord's house is always open."

Allison stood there and watched the men in front of her for a second and then stepped into the church. "Afternoon gentlemen," she said.

Chris' head shot up at the sound of that voice and quickly got to his feet as he heard the others return her greeting. He realized in that moment that he hadn't seen much of Allison since her confrontation with Mary and he'd hurt her feeling. And true to her word she hadn't bothered him since. She hadn't avoided him like he thought she would have, but she hadn't spoken to him unless it was necessary and then it was only with as few words as possible and she sure as hell hadn't sought him out like she had before. He should have been relieved, but found he kinda missed her and that scared the hell out of him.

"I was wondering if I might borrow a hammer and some nails? she asked with a smile.

"Well now Allison Chris is using my only good hammer at the moment," Josiah told him with a smile of his own. "But you can have a many nails as you need."

"Oh and could I barrow a ladder as well. I wouldn't ask but the one in front of the general store is gone," she said making the others laugh.

Without a word Chris held the hammer out to her in one hand with a tin of nails at his feet. If she wanted them then she could come and get them, he told himself. A ladder? Did she say a ladder? No, Josiah tell her no. He groaned as he heard the older man tell her yes. Dammit, what's the use of having all this silent communication if no one listens to me.

Allison grinned as she stepped in front of Chris, but refused to met his eyes. Reaching for the hammer she was force to look up as he tightened his grip on it.

That's better, he thought to himself as she finally met his eyes. "What are you gonna do with it?" he asked when it looked like no one else would.

"The hammer?"

"No the ladder." I'm not gonna lose my temper. Just look how well that went the other day. Of course, thinking back on it he suppose it went pretty good because she snapped right back at him and that doesn't happen to often. Wonder how she'll react if he ever really got her mad at him.

"Climb it," she said with a smile, but looking away from him.

"That must be a southerner thing; not wanting to answer questions straight out," Chris said as he shot a look over at Ezra who just shrugged.

"Actually I believe it has more to do with whose asking the question," Allison replied with laugh before saying, "Bonnie and I found a swing in the attic and we want to put on the front porch."

"You need anything else?" Chris asked with a grin playing at his mouth. Look at me, he silently commanded.

"A man," she said looking him straight in the eye as she took the hammer away from him. Then called over her shoulder in silky voice, "Buck would you be so kind." Wiping the grin completely off the gunslinger's face. Turning she walked toward the ladies' man and said, "There's a piece of apple pie in it for you."

"I'll be glad to help," Buck grinned at the others and winked at Chris before holding out his arm to her. It was a good thing he knew that Chris liked her or else he give his old friend a run for his money.

Apple pie, JD repeated in his head. Jumping to his feet he called out, "Hey Buck wait up. I'll help you hold that swing."

The grin left Chris' face to be replaced with a frown as he watched his oldest and youngest friend leave with his......his...... redhead. Then just as he was about to kick the wall Allie walked back in and he growled, "Now what do you want?"

"Temper. Temper," she teased. "I forgot the nails."

Chris waited until she'd reached for them and then kicked the can just out of her reach, but instead of getting mad like he wanted she started laughing. "It's a small victory at best," he pointed out with a small smile.

Allison thought about pretending not to know what he was talking about, but decided against it. "Small victories have won many a war," she countered as she walked out the door.

Chris just did keep from laughing out loud at her remark. Turning he saw his friends looking at him kinda strange and he said, "What? I don't like her."

"We can tell," Ezra said struggling to keep from laughing at the look Chris shot his way.

"What's to like? She's short and talks as much as Ezra," Nathan teased.

"And although her temper doesn't quite match her hair it's....... pretty close," Josiah threw in.

Vin grinned and said, "But ya know pard it's ok if ya do." Then slapped him on the back.

Chris grinned and even allowed himself a little bit of hope before all his doubts returned. Looking at his friends he suddenly snapped, "Don't you think I want to."

"Does this have anything to do with Mary? Because Allison's nothing like Mary. She's......," Ezra began only to be interrupted.

"It's got nothing to do with Mary," he said then ran a hand through his hair. "It has to do with.... with....."

"Ella," Vin guessed. "We'll get her Chris. We'll get that b...... that woman," he promised.

"I know. But when."

+ + + + + + +

"Ok let's go over the plan one more time," the boss said and explained what was to be done and how. The small framed leader may not have look tough enough to be running with a bunch of bandits, but the men knew better. The plan was to draw out the peacekeepers while trying to rob the bank then the rest of them would ride in and finish them off. But under no circumstances were they to harm Chris Larabee or there'd be hell to pay. They knew that the man in black belonged to the boss and would be dealt with accordingly and no one would be allowed to get in the way. Especially those six friends of his. "Now you boys know what to do. Don't let me down," the boss warned. Standing in the middle of the camp the boss watched as the four men rode toward Four Corners. "Soon Chris. Soon," was whispered.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD sat on the porch of the boardinghouse laughing silently at the conversation they could hear coming from inside. They were waiting for Allison and Bonnie to bring the pie they'd been promised. Looking up Buck grinned even bigger as he saw the others headed their way and motioned for them to be quiet.

They others arrived just in time to hear Susan say, "I was afraid of him when I first met him." Chris shrugged when the others looked at him. Great just what I needed to hear, he told himself and gave serious thought to just walking away, but what he heard next had him frozen where he stood.

"Chris Larabee? Why?" each knew that was Allison's voice.

"Have you looked at him?"

"Yes. He's very handsome in a rugged sort of way. They all are," they heard Allison say and could hear the others agree. Casting a sideway looks at the man in question they could see that his face was a little red.

"He's a dangerous man," Susan stated.

"Most men are. Chris Larabee may be the most stubborn, irritating, arrogant, bad tempered, and let's not forget the rudest man I have ever met, but he would never intentionally hurt anyone; especially a woman. Besides he's just a man and only puts his pants on one leg at a time," she said. Chris stood a little straighter and smiled. Suddenly feeling happier than he wanted to admit because she wasn't afraid of him. Hell she'd even defended him, just like she said she would.

Vin elbowed Ezra and faked a shivered as he rubbed his arms and whispered, "Do you feel that?"

Seeing the look in those blue eyes the southerner shivered as well and said, "Yeah feels like a cold front's headed our way." Causing the others to grin; even Chris as they remembered the comment he made to Allison on that second night.

Bonnie stepped onto the porch with Allison and Lindsey right behind her. Seeing all seven men standing there the sister's exchanged a brief glance then with a shrug decided that sometimes ignorance was bliss. Allison almost had herself convinced that the men had not heard them. Until she happened to glance at Chris and saw the knowing look in his eyes. Glancing at the others Allison blushed as they lowered their eyes. "You were listening!" she burst out.

Buck and JD quickly grabbed the saucers holding their pie as Bonnie gasped in embarrassment and almost dropped them.

Allison held her head up and declared, "Doesn't matter what you heard we deny every word." Then very quickly went back inside leaving her sisters behind to face the music alone for once.

+ + + + + + +

It was about mid afternoon the next day when four strangers rode into town. One rode directly toward the saloon while the other three hesitated. They looked from the saloon to the bank and decided that their boss wouldn't mind if had a drink first.

The four men walked directly up the bar intending to have only one. Five beers later they still there. One of the men, who had never been able to hold his licker, bumped into a big brute of a man who was always looking for an excuse to fight and with a shrug the big man figured this was as good a reason as any. And threw the first punch. Three of the strangers held their own pretty good, but the fourth was quickly tossed out only to be stepped over by six of the town's seven peacekeepers. The seventh picked him up by the scruff of the neck and pushed toward his horse and told him to get. Which he did.

As Josiah rushed into the saloon he quickly spotted Ezra being held by the throat by a man almost his size and shook his head. Damn but that boy's always biting off more than he can chew, he thought as he went to help. Grabbing the man's arm Josiah jerked him away allowing Ezra to drop to the floor. Then together they began to ware the big man down enabling Ezra to land the punch that knocked him down and kept him down.

"Thank you Josiah, but I had everything under control," Ezra drawled with a scratchy voice putting his hat back on.

"Well it look it was the other way around to me," Josiah said with a shake of head. Then just because he felt like it snatched Ezra's hat off and ruffled his hair causing Vin, who standing close by them, to laugh then handed the hat back.

Ezra snatched his hat away and with narrowed eyes warned, "Don't do that again." Shaking his head he then finger combed it back into place and put his hat back on.

As the three strangers and the big man were thrown into jail to sober up the fourth fella met up with his boss just outside of town.

"Idiot!" the boss screamed as he told them what happened. Then back handed him across the face knocking to the ground. "I guess I'll have to do this myself," was said to none in particular then spurred the horse and headed for town without waiting for the others.

The seven peacekeepers were standing outside the jail when they heard a door slam looking up they laughed as they watched Allison stumped down the steps only to run back up them once she reached the bottom. Throwing open the door she yelled something and then back down the steps she went. They saw Susan open the door and asked where she thought she was going. The bank they heard Allison throw over her shoulder without even turning around.

Shaking his head Chris wondered what they'd done for entertainment before Allison Mayeaux had arrived in town. After looking in on the men in the jail and seeing that they were either passed out or asleep he suggested, "Let's go get a drink." The others were only to happy to join him.

Allison made a conscience effort to calm down before she stepped into the bank. But upon seeing the line in front of her she felt her temper start to simmer once again. Since she was standing in line anyway she read the wanted posters that were posted on the wall. One in particular caught her attention not only because it was on a woman, but because of what the woman had done. She was accused of murder. Allison knew that sometimes killing someone was your only option for survival.

The bandits rode into town and headed straight for the bank. Two of the bandits stayed outside while the other three went inside.

Allison heard the door open, but really wasn't paying attention and so she was surprised when she was suddenly spun around and slapped hard across the face and then thrown against the wall and she would have fallen except for the robber that grabbed her and jerked her up and then pushed her against the wall.

"No one move!" one of them shouted pointing both guns and motioned for the other one to get the money.

The whole left side of Allison's face hurt. Her nose and lip were both bleeding and her side hurt a little. But she refused to cry; at least for now. In stead she looked at the bank robbers. Looking at the smaller one she noticed some hair falling from her hat and figured it was woman. The woman turned and Allison immediately recognized her from the wanted poster. Allison quickly averted her gaze and glanced out the window where she saw two more standing guard. But across the street she saw Jenna Crawford, the town's seamstress and Vin's lady friend. Allison tried to think of a way to get her attention when it suddenly came to her.

Taking a deep breathe Allison pushed herself off the wall but was only able to take two steps before the bank robber closest to her suddenly pushed her back and as she was pushed she made a fist and threw her left arm wide causing the window to break sending glass crashing to the boardwalk.

Jenna was on the way to the general store and was for once enjoying a quiet afternoon. When suddenly the sound of a window breaking broke the silence. Looking toward the bank she thought she saw Allison through the now broken window at the bank. Without even stopping to think she took off running toward the saloon. Pushing open the swinging doors Jenna ran toward Vin and said, "I think there's something happening over at the bank."

"What ya mean?" Chris asked as he walked away.

"I heard the window break and then noticed two men standing out front holding five horses," she explained, "And Allison's in there." Then before Vin could leave she grabbed his arm and reached up and kissed him on the cheek and said, "Be careful."

Vin touched his cheek and ran a finger down her cheek and said he would.

Chris felt his heart thundering in his chest as he thought about Allison being in the bank. "Spread out and be careful," he said before stepping behind a wagon. He watched as Josiah and Ezra came up behind the two men standing outside the bank, courtesy of the allies on both sides. Chris waited until Josiah and Ezra both showed themselves again before nodding at the others to make sure they were ready. "You in the bank! Come out now and no one has to get hurt," he hollered.

Allison tensed as she heard Chris' voice and watched with wide eyes as the female bank robber dropped the bag of money and frowned when she said, "It's him. It's my Chris."

The woman walked toward the door only to be grabbed by the man standing by the door. "Ella don't go do anything stupid," he warned. "Remember the plan. Besides that guys with the lady newspaper owner," he lied, trying to get her to snap out of it.

"That's right," Ella said with narrowed eyes. Besides Chris may be still a tad bit mad at her because of his wife and child. But she did what had to be done; so they could be together. Ok, ok so maybe she shouldn't have killed the boy, but she was sure once she'd explained it he'd understand. "Johnny you know what to do."

Johnny nodded and opened the door a crack and yelled, "Listen here Larabee. We're riding outa here and we're taking the money with us. We're gonna take one of these pretty ladies with us as a hostage and if you stay outa the way maybe we'll let her live. But if ya don't then I'll give her to Cody to play with."

Chris gripped his gun tighter, but was determined not to lose his temper. "You let everyone go and maybe we'll let you live," he warned.

"Cody bring the girl we're getting outta here," Ella said and headed for the door.

They watched as the door opened and they saw Allison being held in front of one of the bank robbers. The man kept her in front of him as the other two exited the building never once giving Vin the opening he needed.

"Let her go now! This is your last warning," Chris growled and pushed the sight of Allison's bloody face out of him mind or else he'd lose it and she ended up getting killed. He felt his blood drain as the face from his nightmares was reveled to him. Ella Gaines. Chris closed his mind to all things around him placing all his focus on one thing - capturing Ella - dead or alive. "Ella! Give it up you'll never get out of this town alive. You're gonna pay for what you did!" he snared.

Johnny saw that Larabee had his attention on Ella and took his chance while he had it and fired a shot at the black clad gunslinger and grinned as Larabee grabbed his side before sinking to the ground. The bullets started flying and he dove behind a wagon.

Ella saw Chris get shot and screamed, "No Chris!" Then turned to Johnny with hatred in her eyes and gut shot him. "Shoot 'em Cody! Shoot 'em all!" she ordered. Seeing that Johnny was still alive she grabbed him by the collar and said, "If she moves kill her." Then shoved Allison down beside him. Turning back to the wagon she fired without even aiming. Ella fired until she ran out of bullets then reached and took Johnny's gun and started firing again. Hearing a groan she watched Cody fell back as watched as his eyes closed for the last time. "If I can't have you Chris then no one will," Ella said, but only Allison heard her.

Allison trembled with fear as the bullets flew by her and watched and heard as Cody breathed his final breathe. It was just like the war all over again, she thought. Then raised her eyes in horror as she heard what Ella said about Chris. And saw her place the loaded gun in her waist band. Then she pick up the empty gun and hollered out that she gives up and watched as she threw the empty gun over the wagon. Allison jumped as something wet touched her face and almost screamed as she saw it was Johnny's bloody hand and jerked away from it. She saw Ella standing beside the wagon and looking through the wheels she saw Chris getting to his feet. As he got closer she saw Ella reaching for the loaded gun and did the first thing that came to her mind and jumped.

Chris watched in horror as Allison threw herself at Ella and saw them rolling around on the ground. So intent on the two women the wounded gun slinger never saw the gun pointed at him and didn't even react as Vin's gun went off behind him. Suddenly Allison was thrown back and Chris watched as Ella struggled to her feet and hollered, "ELLA!!"

Ella started at the sound of her name and turned and smiled as saw Chris standing just a few feet away. "Chris," she whispered as she took a step toward him.

The black clad gunslinger felt his pulse thundering as he realized that his nightmare was about to end. That justice was about to prevail. Chris saw Ella raise her gun and without a blink of an eye fired his with six other shots firing simultaneously helping to put her out of his misery.

Ella raised shocked eyes to him and fell to her knees then holding out a bloody hand collapsed face first in the dirt where she belonged; dead.

Looking down at her Chris felt an immense weight lift from his shoulders. Raising his head toward the sky he whispered with tears in his eyes, "Thank you." Lowering his head he looked at each of his friends before coming to rest on Buck's and said, "It's over. It's finally over."

"I told ya we'd get her," Vin told him placing an arm around his waist as he began to falter. Then with Buck's help they started leading him to Nathan's clinic leaving the rest to clean up the mess.

"Wait," Chris whispered. "What about Allie? Is she ok?" he asked.

Buck looked over his shoulder and saw that Allison's sisters and aunt were leading her back to the boardinghouse. "She's little roughed up, but I think she's gonna be just fine," he promised. And finally so are you pard, he thought to himself.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra and Vin walked into Nathan's clinic and shared a knowing look and grinned at Josiah as they joined him on the other side of the room. It had been a week since Chris had been shot and he was now chopping at the bit to leave and at least return to his room at the boardinghouse. Ezra pulled out a few dollars and started taking bets on how long it would be before Chris completely lost his temper and threatened to shoot Nathan if he didn't let him go.

Chris shook his head as he listened to Nathan, Buck, JD, and Nettie talk about him as if he wasn't even in the room. Buck and JD, bless their hearts, were trying to get Nathan to at least allow him to sit outside, but Nathan and Nettie were convinced that he needed a couple of more days in bed. Looking over at his other so-called friends Chris thought with a shrug, some champions they turned out to be. Champions? No, don't even go there.

Hearing the door open Chris looked up and groaned as he saw Allie walk in. His eyes narrowed as he saw the bruises on her face and the bandage on her hand.

Allison grinned as she walked over to Ezra, Vin, and Josiah, "What's going on? I could hear the voices from outside."

Ezra grinned and told her that Chris was ready to leave, but Nathan would not let him and Buck and JD were pleading his case.

"Well gentlemen sometimes the best approach is the direct one," she smiled and then reached down a pulled a pair of black pants out from under her dress. Then with a wink walked over to Chris and whisper, "Mr. Larabee can you but these one or do ya need some help?"

"She'll never make it out the door," Vin said with a grin.

"Oh I don't know about that. Allison is pretty determined. I think she'll make it. She is after all a southerner," Ezra told him with confidence. "In fact, five will get you ten if she doesn't," the gambler challenged and pulled out some more money.

"My money's on Allison ," Josiah said handing Ezra his five.

"Ganging up on me are ya," Vin replied with a frown holding up his money.

Chris' eyes widened at the sight of those all to familiar black pants. That's my girl, he thought as he reached for them and she turned her back. It was a struggle, but he managed to get them on without alerting the others. "You can turn around now," he brokenly told her as he was a little out of breath. Looking up into her whisky colored eyes he saw the doubts begin to creep in, but before she could change her mind he grabbed her hand and whispered, "Help me get my shirt and boots on."

Filled with uncertainty Allison reached for the shirt laying at the foot of the bed and then slowly sank to her knees in front of him with her hand still in his. Pulling her hand free she leaned in close and placed the shirt around his shoulders and helped him get his arms in. Moving closer Allison pulled the ends together. Being this close to him she could feel the heat from his body and it made her heart race causing her to fumble with one of the buttons and she felt her face turn red as her hand brush against his stomach. Mumbling an apology Allison felt her face burn as she realized she was kneeling between his legs.

Chris found himself fascinated by the pulse beating wildly in Allie's neck. Then sucked in a sharp breath as he felt her touch him. Seeing her blush he frowned until he realized where she was kneeling and felt his own face heat up. He then was forced to swallow the groan that begged release as Allie nervously licked her lips and got to her feet and stepped back. Running a shaky hand across his face Chris thought, I must really need a woman if all these innocent little touches were affecting me like this. He squeezed his eyes shut as he felt the bed give next to him and he felt her leg touching his. Reining in his wayward thoughts Chris opened his eyes he saw that she had his boots and together they put the left one on. Leaning across him to help with the right Allie's hair brushed across his chest and Chris could not suppress the groan that escaped.

Hearing the groan Allison looked up and asked, "Did I hurt you?" To which he could only shake his head no. "Are you sure?" she pushed. Again he could only nod.

Standing she took his hands and helped him to his feet and before he could protest placed one of his arms across her shoulders and placed her arm across his waist and pulled him close. "Ready?" she whispered.

"Yeah," was all Chris allowed himself to say.

Buck had seen what Allison and Chris were doing and tried to keep Nathan and Nettie's attention focused on him and JD. He fought a losing battle against the grin threatening to make itself known and briefly hung his head as Nathan turned and spotted them.

Ezra nudged Vin with his elbow and grinned as they watched Chris and Allison head for the door.

Vin nudged Ezra back and smiled as Nathan called out, "Where do ya think you two are going?"

Allison looked up and saw that Nathan and Nettie were now standing by the door. She tightened her hold on Chris as she felt him sag a little. Turning her head she whispered close to his ear, "Come on Larabee you can't give up on me now. Freedom is at hand."

Chris shivered as her whispered accented breath brushed his ear and summoned his strength.

"I'm taking Mr. Larabee to...," she paused and looked up at Chris for the answer, which he mouthed the boardinghouse, "the boardinghouse."

"Oh really and just who have you permission?" Nettie asked.

"No one. I don't need permission," Allison told her. "Mr. Larabee is a grown man and is more than capable of making up his own mind. If he feels he's ready then I say let him go."

"If he's so ready then why are you holding him up?" Nathan questioned.

"He can stand on his own. See?" and promptly let go of him and stepped away, but not to far away.

Chris just did manage to stay upright and swallowed a groan of pain. He was determined not to get back in that bed.

"I don't know Chris, I don't think you're ready to return to the boardinghouse. I can keep a better eye on ya here," the healer said motioning for Nettie to help him because he knew that the others would not.

Chris hung his head in defeat because he couldn't think of a reply. Dammit, he swore, I was this close to the door. Three more feet and he would have been free. Lost in his own thoughts Chris almost missed his rescue.

"You want him where you can keep an eye one him?" Allison repeated as she stepped in front of Chris.

"Yes ma'am."

"Well I feel I must remind you that I walked right past you and Ms. Nettie, helped Chris dress, and almost made it to the door without you noticing," she pointed out. "Besides at the boardinghouse," she paused and placed her arm around Chris' waist once again, "he'll have four women at his beck and call. Well, three at least." Then while Nathan was distracted she helped Chris out the door.

They paused at the steps and Allison said, "Ok Mr. Larabee one step at a time."

Once down the steps they slowly made their way across the street to the boardinghouse. Stepping onto the porch Chris motioned toward the swing and even though Allison helped him he still clutched his side as the swing jarred his wounded side.

"Are you ok?" she asked placing a hesitant hand on his forehead. At his nod she said she'd be right back.

She quickly returned with a pillow and a blanket. The pillow she positioned so that it was between him and the arm of the swing and the blanket she draped across his chest and legs which were now laying in the swing.

"Are you hungry Mr. Larabee? Would you care for a cup of coffee?"

"What I really need is a drink," Chris told her.

"Oh no you don't!," Nathan exclaimed. "No drinking. If you're good and behave yourself then maybe you can have one later this afternoon."

Allison quickly interrupted as saw that Chris was gonna put up a fuss. "Mr. Larabee let's not push our luck, ok."

"Fine then I guess I'll take a cup of coffee," he grumbled.

Upon Allison's return Nathan reached for the coffee cup Allison had in her hand and held it up to his nose just to make sure she hadn't laced it with anything.

"What's the matter Nathan don't ya trust me?" she questioned with a grin.

"Sorry ma'am, but after dealing with this bunch you never know what they'll do," the healer grinned handing her the cup back.

"I understand. Ok Mr. Larabee I suggest you let this cool off a little bit first," she suggested and placed the cup on a near by chair. "Here let me fix your blanket," then while her back was stilled turned she pulled a flask of bourbon out of her apron pocket very quickly poured some into the cup with none the wiser; not even Chris who at the moment had his eyes closed.

Opening his eyes Chris picked up the cup and frowned and snapped, "I thought you were gonna bring me cup of coffee. This is only a half a cup."

"It's was all that was left in the pot. You can either drink what's there or do without," Allison told him.

"I thought you were gonna be at my beck and call?"

"I never said that I would," she replied with a smile and sat down in one of the rockers on the porch. "You could at least say thank you."

"Thank you Miss Mayeaux," Chris said then took a swallow of coffee and almost sighed as he tasted the bourbon. Damn if she hadn't rescued him again, he thought to himself.

Allison was real careful not to look at Chris as drank the coffee because she didn't want to alert Nathan, but frowned at the Miss part and looked at others and saw Vin and Buck exchange a look with each before looking at Chris. Looking at the man on the swing she noticed he had a sad expression in his eyes and was tempted to give him a hug, but decided that maybe distracting him would be safer. "Ya know Mr. Larabee I believe we've known each other long enough to call each other by our given names," she suggested and looked at him expectantly. With a sigh she tried again, "Mr. Larabee? Mr. Larabee are you listening to me?" Still there was no answer. Clearing her throat she said in a deep voice, "I'd, umm, be pleased if ya called me Chris." Then in her regular voice said, "Why thank you. I'd be pleased to and you may call me Allison." Again in the deep voice and with a twinkle in her eyes she said, "Ok Allison. By the way I wanted to thank you for helping me earlier at the clinic and for being my ........champion." With a smile playing at her lips she continued in her regular voice, "Think nothing of it. It was the least this snot nosed little girl could do."

The others tried to keep from laughing, but when Allison started talking about champions and little girls they lost it.

Chris couldn't hold back anymore and started laughing as well and had to grab his side. After a couple of minutes he got himself under control and wiped the tears from his face and brokenly said, "Ok you ... can call.... me Chris and I'll..... I'll call you Allie." Seeing Allie raise one eye brow at the nickname started him off again. Clutching his side Chris smiled and told her, "Ohhhh!! Don't make me laugh."

Allison wiped the tears of laughter from her eyes and felt her pulse quicken at that smile and felt her face heat up as she remembered her reaction to him earlier at the clinic and looked away. Getting to her feet Allison avoided looked directly at anyone and said, "Ok fellas let's leave Mr. Lab.... I mean Chris alone so he can get some rest. You can come back in a couple of hours, but not before. And don't worry Nathan I'll keep an eye on him and come get you if need be."

Chris watched as a tide of red worked its way up from her throat to her face and wondered what she was thinking, but before he could decipher the look in her eyes she turned away. He felt a tightening in his gut and felt his breath quicken as he remembered his reaction to her touch. Taking a deep breathe Chris almost grinned as he watched Allie politely tell the others to leave so he could rest and to his surprise they did just that. Even Nathan.

Then after checking on him one more time she went into the house and left him alone as well. Sitting there with one foot on the floor gently pushing the swing Chris allowed himself to think about all that had happened with Ella. Again he felt as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders and soul at her death. After five years justice had been done.

He knew that he would never forget Sarah and Adam or the fact that they had been killed because of him and his past, but he felt that maybe it was time to get on with his life and finally let his family rest in peace. With that thought in mind he closed his eyes and pictured them as he had last seen them and instead of the pain that usually accompanied the scene he could now allow himself to smile at the memory.

And with memories of the past dancing in his head Chris drifted off to a contented sleep knowing that he could finally look forward to tomorrow.

The End