Love and Honor

by Lynda

Part of the Magnificent Little Britches series

The episode Love and Honor was written by Rob Wright

Disclaimer: Not mine, and I'm not making any money from this story.

Buck followed the pretty saloon keeper around the bar as she served drinks. He leaned close and softly whispered into her ear, "You're lovely."

Inez smiled at the men sitting at the table where she had just placed mugs of beer. "All right?"

The man nodded. "Thanks, Inez."

Smiling, Inez moved away from the table with Buck close on her heels. She hurried past the table where Ezra and Nathan were seated holding hands of cards.

Buck quickly sat down and picked up his cards without taking his eyes off the barmaid.

"Need a card?" Ezra asked around the cigar in his mouth.

"No," the ladies man said, still smiling widely as Inez served beer to their table.

"Thank-you, Inez," the gambler said, dealing cards to himself and Nathan.

"You're welcome," Inez answered sweetly.

"Thank-you," echoed Nathan.

The pretty barmaid then slammed a full mug down in front of Buck, splashing beer all over the table and him. Buck cheerfully wiped some out of his eye while smiling up at Inez.

"Sorry," she said sardonically.

Buck ginned. "You could at least serve a smile with that splash."

Placing her hands on her hips, she countered, "If you want a smile, Señor, try tipping."

Wiping more of the beer out of his eye, he said, "Do you want a really good tip? Let me buy you a drink some time."

Inez cocked her head to one side. "Hmmm, let me think about that."

Then looking the still grinning Wilmington in the eye, she said, "Nunca!"

The men at the table laughed at the surprised look on the ladies man's face.

"Nunca?" he asked.

Taking his cigar out of his mouth, Nathan jibed, "That means 'never'!" Chuckling, he observed, "The devil himself don't get burned that bad."

Ezra joined in, "The lady's been in town a mere two weeks and already she sees through you like a pane glass window."

Nathan picked up the cards he'd just been dealt. "I say that Buck has met his match."

Buck grinned at his companions then threw his cards onto the table. "I fold."

He sidled over to the bar where Inez was busily wiping it down and pointedly ignoring the handsome gunslinger.

Buck leaned across the bar and gave the saloon keeper his best smile. "Ahem, excuse me, Inez, I don't speak much Spanish, but to me 'nunca' sounded a lot like...tonight."

Inez paused in her cleaning and smiled broadly as she regarded the handsome gunslinger. "Then let me translate...NEVER!"

The little boy's eyes sparkled with pleasure as he looked over the edge of the canteen he was drinking from. He loved being away from town and all the people. It was wonderful to think that they were going to have a place to come to when they wanted to just get away; especially here, with all this open space and especially with Chris. However, his reverie was soon broken by a frustrated call.


The youngster sighed and turned toward the smaller boy who was trying to heft a two-by-four on to his shoulder. Walking towards his smaller friend, Vin couldn't help but grin, he really loved being in the outdoors and for the first time, at long last, he could call it home.

Chris had bought this section of land to build a small house, barn and corral to provide some stability for the two orphans that had come into their lives. Although Chris had been reluctant to make any long-term plans, there was the long suppressed dream of raising horses and a family. He and Buck had talked about it and with that in the back of his mind; he had bought this patch of land.

It wasn't going to be anything fancy; just a little more than a shack, but it was a start, maybe.

There was a war going on inside Chris. Part of him wanted and needed to put down roots for the little boy who was worming his way into his heart, but there was a part of him that wanted to run like hell.

He had tried settling down once before and look where that got him. His wife and son were dead, along with a good portion of his soul. He had tried to tell himself and Buck that it would be dangerous to the boys to be around him, after all, whoever had hired Cletus Fowler was still alive and as far as he knew, still after him. Nothing was to prevent him coming after Chris, Buck and the boys.

Buck, however, had challenged this idea. His argument was: was he, Chris, going to run away from life for the rest of his life? Was he not going to allow himself to find some happiness? Would Sarah have wanted that? And what about those two little boys? Sarah would have been the first to tell him that he needed to take care of them.

Chris had bristled at the argument, but, with a great deal of self-restraint, had refrained from commenting or punching Buck in the face. A part of him, the part that insisted on being truthful with himself, knew that Buck was right. But, was this the answer? What if...

His thoughts were interrupted when he heard JD yelling for Vin. He couldn't help but smile as he watched the little blond sigh heavily before turning to help the younger boy.

As Vin hefted one end of the board onto his shoulder, they heard the sound of approaching horses. Vin froze and looked quickly at Chris. JD hadn't noticed and was startled by the abrupt stop.


Chris motioned for the boys to be quiet and then pointed to the house as he moved to where he had left his gun hanging. He slung the belt over his shoulder, resting his hand on the butt; he moved to confront the riders.

Vin silently laid his end of the board down. He signaled JD to do likewise. The smaller boy had no idea what was going on but he looked from Vin to Chris and realized that now wasn't the time for questions.

After putting his end down, he followed the older boy onto the porch and into the house.

"Vin," the little boy said in a loud whisper, causing the older boy to whip around with his finger to his lips.

"Quiet, JD," he said in a soft whisper, "Chris don' want those men t' know we're here."

"Wha..." the youngest hadn't heard the horses.

"Shhhh...." Vin said again. Then he crept over to the window and peered cautiously out. He watched as the four men were confronted by Larabee.

The boy saw the subtle change in Chris's stance and knew that the situation had intensified. Making a quick decision, Vin moved silently back to the door.

Grabbing his rifle, he whispered to JD, "Stay here and be quiet."

Looking both ways as he left the house, he slipped around to the back of the building.

He heard the gunshot just about the time he reached the back of the house. With the riders momentarily distracted, he darted into some high weeds behind the men. He stepped out, cocked his rifle and fired twice, rapidly, into the air.

The men whirled around to see the small boy take deadly aim. Then the man, who had done all the talking, said, "Bravo, Señor. It seems Alonzo will have to find a horse elsewhere."

Chris's heart raced as he heard Vin's rifle, but he was very careful to not show his alarm.

"Get off my property." Chris said; the threat implicit.

The man in the fancy clothes was talking as he turned his horse around, "Vamanos! Perhaps we will meet again."

"Go on!" the gunslinger emphasized, pointing his gun at the men.


Chris watched until the men were out of sight and hearing. Once he was sure they were gone, he turned to the little boy who still had his rifle trained on the place where they had disappeared.

Holstering his gun, he calmly walked over to Vin, being careful not to startle him.

Vin lowered the rifle and looked up at the gunslinger. What he saw on the man's face made him cringe.

Chris struggled to get his emotions under control. He could tell by the frightened look in the little boy's eyes that his anger was showing.

He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he knelt down next to Vin, hoping to not be as threatening.

"Vin, what did you think you were doing?"

The child was scared; he had only wanted to help.



Chris stared at the boy who was close to tears. Gently he took the rifle away from him; laid it carefully on the ground and pulled him into a hug.

Vin, at first, was unresponsive but then relaxed into the embrace when he realized that his foster father wasn't going to hurt him.

After a few minutes, Chris loosened his hold and held the youngster far enough away so that he could look into his eyes. "Look, son, I understand that you wanted to help but did you stop to think that you were a distraction?"

Vin sorrowfully looked into Chris's eyes; he didn't understand. He just knew that Chris was not happy with him and that made him sad.

Chris saw that the young boy didn't understand and searched for the words to help him. Taking a deep breath, he forced a calm, gentle tone to his voice. "Vin, we didn't know those men; they could have been very bad."

A surge of defiance swept thru the little boy. "I know, that's..."

"Vin, listen to me. We've talked about this before." He gripped the skinny shoulders tightly and gave a tiny shake but quickly regretted it when the boy's eyes widened in fear and he tried to pull away.

When he saw that he had frightened the child, he pulled him into a hug. "I'm sorry."

Chris held onto him until he felt him relax and then gently moved him away from him but kept his hands on his shoulders, Vin could be as skittish as a colt. "Vin, I need to make you understand me," he said softly. "I really appreciate you wanting to back me up, but if you'd stayed in the house like I asked, you would have been out of the line of fire. What if, when you shot off that rifle, one of those men had just turned around and started shooting? You might have been shot or killed. And with you out in the open, I had to worry about you and those men."

Comprehension slowly came to the small boy and he dropped his eyes. Watching out for someone else; taking responsibility for someone you cared about, was something he understood. He was just having trouble getting used to the idea of someone looking after and caring about, him.

"I'm sorry. I just...didn't want anything to happen to you."

Chris pulled him back into a hug. "I know but I've had a lot more years of looking after myself than you. And right now it is very important that I keep you and JD safe; OK?"

"'K," but he decided to cross his fingers. From what he had seen so far, the gunslinger seemed to attract a lot of trouble and you just never knew.

As the men in the fancy clothes rode toward town, the one in red said, "My father says you're the fastest gun there is. Now, I see this man, I'm not so sure, Raphael."

The man in black responded, "I am faster, Don Paulo."

Don Paulo smiled, pleased that Raphael had taken the bait. "Then you will have to prove killing him...after we have Inez."

Buck, Ezra and Nathan strode out of the saloon as Don Paulo and his men rode into town. As Buck stepped off the boardwalk, Ezra asked, "Where you going, Buck? 'Nunca' sounded an awful lot like, tonight!"

Nathan piped in, "Let me translate for you, Buck."

They both yelled at the retreating figure, "NEVER!"

Buck turned and scowled as the two bent double with laughter. "Oh, hell, it wasn't that funny."

Ezra placed his hand over his heart and exclaimed, "It was rapturous; why, I never imagined you'd lose your touch so fast."

Nathan, laughing, said, "At least you got a chance to learn how to speak Spanish."

Buck stopped and pulled himself up to his full height. With dignity he proclaimed, "Hold on; Buck Wilmington never says never!" Now that I put my mind to it, that girl's never is gonna turn into a yes faster than a jackrabbit with its tail one fire."

Nathan grinned. "I'd say your rabbit's already been cooked, Buck; nunca."

The strangers pulled up in front of the livery. As Tiny took their horses, Don Paulo looked around and gave his men their orders. "Check the boarding house, the livery, the cantina. If Inez is here, find her."

Alonzo turned to his boss and said, "Maybe she's gone already, huh?"

Don Paulo nailed his henchman with a glare. "Then we'll find out where she went and follow her there; to hell and back if necessary! Mi entiendes?"

As Alonzo searched the town for Inez, he spotted the sign Nathan had hanging outside his clinic. The wound he had suffered from the gringo was hurting a lot; maybe the doctor could help him. But, as he drew near to the clinic, he was stopped by Don Paulo.


Gripping his arm, Alonzo said, "Don Paulo, it's my shooting arm. A doctor could fix it."

Don Paulo smiled. "We must talk first. Venga."

Alonzo followed his boss down an alley. When the Don reached far enough back so that no one from the street could see them, he turned and smiled at his lackey.

An uneasy feeling crept over Alonzo and he asked, "Don Paulo is something wrong?"

Don Paulo's smile broadened. "Ay, mi amigo; I have a horseman with no horse; a gunman who can no longer shoot. A once useful man... now useless."

Alonzo never saw the knife coming as Don Paulo plunged it deep into the shocked man. Don Paulo's smile was replaced with an expression of rage, hissing as he drove the blade home, "You disgrace my family!"

Alonzo fell to the ground. Don Paulo, without turning around, ordered the large man standing behind him, "Guillermo, take him away."

Chris, with JD sitting in front of him and Vin riding beside, pulled up in front of the livery. The burley blacksmith met them at the door. "Howdy, Chris."

The gunslinger handed the horse's reigns to the man. "Thanks, Tiny."

Vin dismounted and while Chris helped JD down, the little boy solemnly handed over Peso's reigns. "Thanks, Mr. Tiny."

Chris suppressed a grin and after the horses were lead away, he looked up to see one of the men who had been out at his place earlier. He leaned over to speak to the boys, "Why don't you guys go find Buck."

Vin frowned. He recognized the man and didn't want to leave Chris without someone to watch his back.

Chris saw Vin's expression and placed a hand on the thin shoulder. The little boy looked up. Chris said reassuringly, "It's okay. You run along and find Buck."

Vin didn't like it; not one bit, but since he had already gotten into trouble once today for not obeying, he decided he'd better not push it.

Once the boy was out of earshot, Chris turned to the gunman.

The man said, "Buenos días, Señor. I am Raphael Cordova de Martinez. My patron's son, Don Paulo, has asked me to kill you."

Chris eyed him sardonically. "Well, I appreciate the warning."

Don Raphael squared off in front of Chris. "I would have liked to see more of your work."

Chris smiled slightly. "My work?"

"With the gun; you are very impressive; almost as good as me."

Chris's smile broadened. "I suppose I just have to take your word for that."

Chris started to walk away when Raphael said, "Con permiso, Señor." He bent to pick up an apple. He threw it up in the air and shot it, splattering the fruit everywhere.

Holstering his gun, he asked, "Do you feel like dying today?"

Chris took a step toward Raphael and said, "I feel like today is just as good as any other."

Raphael shrugged. "Who knows what the day will bring?"

The little boys decided to look for Buck first at the saloon but on the way there, JD noticed a new display at the general store. When he veered off to cross the street, Vin stopped and yelled after him, "JD, where ya goin'?"

Without turning around, the little brunet yelled back, "Jus' a minute!"

Vin huffed in irritation. JD really was having trouble minding today.

The small boy hurried across the street and straight to a large barrel. Grabbing hold of one of the long poles, he struggled to pull it out.

Suddenly a hand reached around him and lifted the stick out. JD hadn't heard the man come up behind him; so he jumped slightly and then turned his head up toward the familiar face and smiled.

"Thanks, Mr. Nathan!"

The healer grinned down at the urchin, "What ya lookin' at, JD?"

"It's a frog gigger."

"Watcha gonna do with that?"

The little boy ducked his head and sheepishly mumbled something.

Nathan bent close and asked, "What did you say?"

"I was thinkin' 'bout gettin' one for Casey."

Nathan bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing.

"You're gonna buy a girl a frog gigger?"

"Why? Wha's wrong with that?" the little boy bristled.

"Well, JD, usually little girls want something like that nice bracelet there." Although in all honesty, he had never seen Casey Wells in anything but trousers and she played as rough as the boys.

The little boy looked crestfallen. He didn't know anything about girl stuff.

When Nathan saw the look on his face, he looked around for help. Relieved, he saw Mary approaching. "Here, why don' you ask an expert. Mrs. Travis, JD wants to buy a present for his girl."

JD's eyes widened. "My girl?!"

Nathan continued, "Now, if you was her, what would you want?"

Mary considered a moment while the little boy was still trying to figure out what Mr. Nathan meant when he said 'his girl'.

"The long or the short answer?" she asked.

"Short," Nathan replied.

Mary grinned down at JD's puzzled expression and said, "Flowers, chocolates, maybe a token of love."

"Love?" the little boy's eyes widened in horror. He thrust the gigger at Nathan and took off running; heck, all he wanted to do was catch some frogs.

Buck, freshly bathed and dressed in a clean shirt and tie, was once again trying to woo the pretty barmaid while she swept the boardwalk.

"All I'm saying is you got the wrong picture. That today, with the guys, that wasn't me. This here is me."

Inez stopped sweeping and pushed her way through the batwing doors of the saloon with Buck close on her heels. Once inside, unable to shake off the ladies man, she turned and confronted him. "And how do I know that you, here, is the one telling the truth?"

Buck smiled his best. "Would this face lie?"

Inez countered, "Like a wet rug, Señor>"

The big man looked slightly taken aback. "Oh...hey, I don't want to go feuding words with you...and the name is Buck."

Cocking her head to one side, the pretty señorita replied, "Well, in a battle of wits, Señor Buck, I think you'd be unarmed."

Buck moved a step closer. "All right, but do you think there's anything wrong with a little mutual surrender?"

Showing a spark of annoyance, Inez said, "You have a mouth, Señor."

Buck's grin widened. "Oh, and so do you. Maybe they should get together sometime."

Before she could retort, movement outside the front window caught her eye. There stood Don Paulo grinning evilly at her. Hardly believing what she was seeing, she whispered, "Madre de Dios!" And she turned quickly and ran out of the back of the saloon.

Buck yelled after her, "Is that a yes?"

Once out the door, Inez first ran to the right but didn't get far before encountering Raphael. She turned to run the other direction but ran into Buck.

The ladies man tried to continue to persuade the pretty bartender to go out with him, not realizing what was happening around him. "Hey..hey..hey, we were just gettin' on real friendly."

Inez pushed past him. "Please, Señor, I must go!"

Buck turned toward her. "Why?"

But Inez had stopped short. Approaching her were two men. The one dressed in red continued toward the young woman.

"Inez," Don Paulo said, "mujer, I've been looking for you."

Inez backed up. "Please, leave me alone."

Don Paulo's grin was cruel. "We have many things to discuss." He raised his hand to encompass his neck. "Many things."

"I have nothing to say to you." She tried to go around him but Don Paulo grabbed hold of her.

Buck didn't know what was going on but he knew a threat when he heard one and he also knew that Inez was in some kind of trouble. He stepped up and pushed the Don away. "She said she's got nothin' t' say."

Behind the big gunslinger, Raphael drew and cocked his gun.

Glancing over Buck's shoulder, Don Paulo commanded, "No, Raphael!"

Buck's full attention was focused on Paulo, even though he had heard the gun. "Y'all got a lot to learn about showin' respect to a lady."

Inez tried to diffuse the situation. "Buck, please!"

"You made some new amigos, I see," Don Paulo observed.

"No, no! He's no one to me," Inez protested.

Don Paulo smirked. "I wonder."

Buck was getting angry. "You know what, Mister? What's between the lady and me, it's got nothin' to do with you. So best you just walk away."

"You call her a lady, Señor, but she's nothing but a thief. She has offended the honor of my family."

The big man leaned toward the smaller man. "Well, then that should make it really easy to walk away."

The barmaid stepped between the two. "Buck, please, stop this!"

Don Paulo pushed her aside. "You insult me, Señor."

Buck moved to within inches of Paulo and said in a deadly whisper. "Oh, I'm just warmin' up. You touch that woman again, and you're gonna see a real insult."

Vin had rounded the corner between the two buildings just in time to hear the last remark. He could tell something was wrong and it involved those men from earlier. He thought that maybe he should go get Chris, but on second thought there might not be time. He reached around to his back pocket and withdrew the slingshot he had stuffed there, regretting that his foster father had taken his rifle back to the jail where it was kept, his promise to Chris, forgotten.

Sliding his hand into his front pocket, his fingers closed around one of the smooth river rocks that he collected from the creek by Chris's house. They made excellent ammo.

In the meantime, Don Paulo drew himself up. "Are you challenging me?"

Inez looked frantic. "No, he isn't!"

Buck smiled, lazily. "Oh, I reckon I am."

To Vin, this didn't sound good, not at all. "Mr. Bucklin, wait."

Buck wasn't listening. "Oh, this man wants a fight; he's got it...right now!"

Don Paulo replied, "No, Señor; I demand satisfaction in the customs of my people. We meet at one o'clock in the street to discuss the terms of engagement. You better pack your bags, Inez. You'll be coming home soon. Raphael, vamanos. Guillermo, watch her until this is over."

As Don Paulo and Raphael left, Inez whirled to face Buck. "What have you done?"

Buck snorted. "I'm not afraid of him."

Exasperated, Inez threw up her hands. "You should be."

The pretty señorita hurried into the saloon followed closely by Guillermo. Briefly she turned to confront the thug. "Leave me alone, Guillermo."

She turned and started up the steps toward her room. Neither of them saw the little boy slip into the bar until Guillermo started up after her. Vin ran up the steps until he was eye level with the large Mexican.

"You ain't followin' the lady to her room. My pa's the law around here and I'll tell him you're botherin' Miss Inez."

 Thinking wasn't one of Guillermo's strong points but if the kid was tellin' the truth, Don Paulo wouldn't like him gettin' thrown into jail. So, maybe he'd wait here.

Vin didn't wait to see what the man would do; he ran up the stairs after Inez.

Inez stopped and smiled at the little boy. "Thank-you, but these men are dangerous. I don't want you to get involved."

Vin really liked the pretty barmaid. She was nice. He didn't want her to worry but he didn't like the way those men looked at her.

"I won't get in their way all right?"

Inez smiled at her little champion. "I'm going to leave. I don't want any trouble and if I'm not here there won't be any."

The boy hated the thought of her going. He knew she didn't have anywhere else to live; just like him. "But...where will you go?"

"I'll find a new town; start over," she tried to reassure him.

Vin wasn't convinced. "You sure that's what you want? You got friends here."

She rested a hand on the little shoulder. Sighing, she said wistfully, "I had a new life here: a new people." She straightened and looking sadly down at the henchman, said, "Now...what choice do I have but to move on."

Speaking from new found experience, Vin said, "Wherever you are, he'll find you."

Looking into eyes wise beyond his years, she asked, "I know; what would you do?"

Even though he was very young, the child had seen far more than most adults. "With people like that man, sooner or later you got to make a stand."

Seeing the resolution and courage in the small face, she suddenly decided that she didn't want to run anymore. "Then I'll make my stand here."

Looking down at the thug, she raised her voice. "Hear that, Guillermo? I'm not leaving! Go tell that to your boss!"

She moved to go into her room but stopped to address the little boy. "I don't want you in the middle of this, okay?"


He waited until she closed the door. He would keep his promise but that didn't mean he couldn't keep an eye on things. He walked over to the railing and stared down at the large henchman. "Better get used to seeing me."

Chris rode back into town thoroughly disgusted with Buck. The fool was going to get himself killed over a woman he barely knew. The only time Chris thought he might be getting the stubborn man to see some sense was when he had mentioned JD, but in the end, Buck insisted that there wasn't anything to worry about; he wasn't planning on losing.

He stabled his horse then went to find the boys at Mary's.

Raphael caught up with Don Paulo as the latter was strolling down the street.

"Don Paulo, I have been asking questions. This man and his friends are gunfighters. They have a reputation over here. People call them Los Magnificos."

Don Paulo sneered. "Magnificos; American cowboys; puffed chests, big talk."

"No doubt, but there are four of us and five of them, plus the support of the town."

"Only three," Don Paulo informed his minion, "Alonzo is gone. It is unfortunate he was a coward."

Raphael frowned. "Your father would not approve."

The Don stopped and faced him. "He does not need to because I am the patron here. You work for me, yes?" Seeing the hesitation, he repeated, "Yes?"

Reluctantly, Raphael answered, "Sí, Señor."

Chris had picked up the boys and taken them to the saloon for lunch. It was less crowded at this time of day and the boys really enjoyed Inez's cooking.

JD hadn't said much since Chris had returned, except to ask where Buck was. Chris noticed that the boy was only picking at his food. "Somethin' wrong, JD?"

For a few minutes the urchin didn't answer, but finally he looked up at Chris with big eyes. "Is Papa gonna fight that fancy man?"

Not sure how JD had found out, he glanced at Vin and saw that he, too, was waiting for an answer. He knew he couldn't lie to them. This fight was going to be public.

"Well, JD, some bad men want to take Miss Inez away and she doesn't want to go. So, Buck is going to try and stop them."

His lower lip trembling, he said in a barely audible whisper, "I don' want Papa to fight."

Mentally cursing his foolhardy friend, Chris reached over and put his hand on the little head. "Buck is going to be okay, I promise."

He knew that, that was a stupid thing to say, but he truly was at a loss as to how to explain the situation to this boy when he didn't understand it himself. Maybe he could get to Buck before one o'clock and try once more to talk some sense into him.

JD sniffed and looked up at Chris. Somewhat mollified, he slowly ate his lunch. Just as the boys were finishing, Raphael walked into the saloon.

Chris looked up and with a nod of the head, invited him to sit down. "Boys, why don't you go find Mr. Josiah and I'll be along in a minute."

Inez jumped slightly when she heard the church door behind her open and close.

Mary, realizing she had startled her said, "Inez, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt you."

She moved closer to where the young woman was kneeling in prayer. "But, uh, do you need anything?"

Inez looked up at the newspaper woman. "I just want people to know that I didn't mean for this to happen. I never thought Don Paulo would follow me here."

She moved back to the pew behind her and Mary sat down next to her. "Why did he?"

Exasperated, Inez replied, "I'm a thief. You've heard, no?"

"Yes, but that's not all that happened."

Sighing, the pretty Mexican continued, "No, in the town where I'm from, I used to work for Don Paulo's father; a wealthy man, hard, but fair. Don Paulo, his son, wanted me, but I did not want him. Last month, at a feast, he got drunk. He dragged me out in the middle of the town square. He pulled me by my hair like a dog and threw me to the ground. He was going to force himself on me. I...I...I grabbed the first thing I could find, a broken bottle. I cut Don Paulo's neck with it and I ran. Yes...I took a horse to get away. That is my crime."

She turned defiant eyes to Mary. "Now, every time Don Paulo looks at himself, he's reminded of how I humiliated him in front of everyone. That's why he's here. I'm so sorry, Señora. I did not ask Señor Buck to do what he's done."

Mary put an arm around the distraught woman. "Oh, Inez, don't underestimate Buck or his friends. When my husband was killed, I was left alone with a son and a business; a whole town growing around me. I knew that I wanted to be a part of it all, but I just couldn't do it alone. Buck and the others; they helped me so many times. These men aren't like Don Paulo. You can trust them."

Buck tucked his jacket behind his gun as he walked toward Don Paulo.

Chris, hearing the noise level increase on the street, pushed his way through the batwing doors. He had really hoped to talk to Buck one more time, but he saw it was too late.

The other peacekeepers placed themselves strategically along the street. He scanned the area for Vin and JD. He had asked Josiah to make sure they were occupied elsewhere. If this turned out badly, he didn't want the two little boys to see it.

Catching the ex-preacher's eye, he was reassured when Josiah indicated with his head that they were down at the livery, helping Tiny.

He then turned his full attention to what was going on in the street. Don Paulo was addressing Buck.

"Buenos tardes, Señor. I have decided on the terms of engagement. You have until tomorrow morning, eight o'clock, to prepare for the fight and you will need this."

He motioned Raphael forward then opened the long box the gunfighter was carrying.

Buck glanced at what was contained in the box, and then asked incredulously, "What the hell are these?"

"The only instruments for a man of honor," Don Paulo explained.

"Now, you hold on there, fancy pants. Nobody said anything about swords." Buck objected. "Now, around these parts, a fight is a gunfight."

"No, Señor. You challenged me. The choice of weapons is mine."

Buck was angry. "Says you. Now, what if I say no?"

Don Paulo smiled. "If you admit defeat, the woman is mine. I shall take her and we shall leave."

The tall gunslinger's eyes flashed. "That ain't gonna happen."

Inez, who had been standing to one side with Mary, rushed forward. "Desgraciado! This man is no sword fighter!"

Don Paulo glared at Buck. "The choice is his."

Ezra knew that the situation was rapidly deteriorating. "We'll figure out another way out of this, Buck. Stand down."

Buck stared at the man; his pride warring with common sense.

"Well, Señor?" Don Paulo challenged.

Before he could stop himself, he could hear himself saying, "Well, they're just long butter knives. We could wear out our boots before we do any damage with those."

Don Paulo reached into the open box and took out one of the swords, handing it to Buck. "We meet tomorrow morning." He turned toward the pretty barmaid. "Inez."

Chris turned away in disgust.

Buck had spent the afternoon with Ezra and Nathan, trying to learn the fine art of sword fighting in a few short lessons. Now, he was on his way to join Chris and the boys for dinner at the boarding house.

He knew that the JD would have heard about the pending dual; if not from Vin directly, then he would have heard the gossip. It was, after all, a small town.

When Buck walked into the dining room, JD jumped up and ran to his foster father. The big man knelt down and the little boy flung himself into the waiting arms.

The urchin wrapped himself around the gunslinger and held on as if his little life depended on it. "Whoa there, Little Bit; what's up?"

It was then that Buck heard the sniff that told him JD was crying. Well, that answered that question; JD knew.

Taking a deep breath, Buck sighed and took his small son over to the table and sat down. He could see by the barely touched plates; Vin's big eyes and the scowl on Chris's face, what the topic of conversation was.

Buck hugged JD tight, and then gently pealed him away. "JD, we need to talk."

The little boy looked up with a tear streaked face, but didn't say anything. With his thumb, Buck gently wiped the tears away. "I guess you heard about the fight tomorrow."

The child nodded. Buck continued, "I know this is hard for you to understand, but sometimes grown-ups have got to do things to protect other people. You know that, that's part of my job, now, don' ya?"

JD again, nodded.

"Well, those men are bad men and they want to take Miss Inez away and hurt her."

With the simple logic of the young, the child asked, "Couldn' ya jus' 'rest 'em?"

Buck smiled and hugged him. "Well, they haven't done anything to get arrested for, yet."

JD sighed and leaned into the broad chest. He guessed he kinda understood. He understood people protecting other people.

"But, what if som'thin' happens to you?" he mumbled into Buck's shirt, but the big man heard and squeezed his son tightly.

"Ain't nothing gonna happen to me, hear? It's all going to be okay."

JD raised his head and searched the face that had become his world. He trusted Buck and he knew that 'his' Buck was the best at everything.

The little boy gave him a tremulous smile. "Okay."

Again the big man hugged his son and then looked up at Chris's disapproving face. Chris just shook his head.

Putting on a cheerful face, he loudly exclaimed, "What say we eat and then we'll play a game of checkers."

When Buck and JD had gone up to the boys' room, Vin and Chris remained seated at the table while Vin enjoyed a second helping of cobbler. It sure was hard to be worried about anything when Chris was sitting beside you and you were eating cobbler.

But their peace and quiet was soon interrupted by the appearance of Don Paulo and his henchmen. They were no sooner seated when Inez came in.

Both Chris and Vin stared at the unfolding scene.

"May I sit with Don?" the young woman asked. Raphael pulled out a chair for her and she sat down across from the patron.

"Your Don?" he countered, coldly.

Inez smiled. "Don Paulo, I wish to go home with you. I was a fool to turn you away."

"I see."

"Let us leave tonight. Now, if you wish."

"So that I will not kill your Americano tomorrow? Pleading for the life of your lover!" he hissed, grabbing hold of her hand.

Trying to pull her hand away, Inez denied the accusation, "No, he's not my lover!"

Gripping her hand painfully, Don Paulo asked, "And am I to allow him to live and have you forever wanting to return to him, huh?"

Inez tried to pull her hand away. "I just met this man!"

Vin saw something flash in her other hand which was under the table. He turned to Chris and in a whisper, he said, "Mr. Chris, she's got a gun."

"Stay here," he told the youngster.

Don Paulo sneered. "And now you will bid him farewell. Permanente."

"Don Paulo, please don't do this. In the name of your father, do not!" she pleaded as she jerked her hand away.

"I will do what I please!"

Inez stood up, switching the gun to her right hand and pointing it at Don Paulo.

"No, Miss Inez!" Vin screamed as Paulo's two henchmen drew their weapons. Chris was a blur as he moved to place himself between the gunmen and Inez. He grabbed her arm and pulled it up just as she fired.

"That's not the way," Chris said as he took the gun from her hand.

Don Paulo nodded slightly. "You've served me well, Señor. After all, I want Inez alive when I take her home."

Chris turned cold eyes on the man, suddenly understanding why Buck was compelled to help this woman. "You'll be dead long before she goes anywhere with you.

The patron and his men strolled casually after them onto the boardwalk.

Don Paulo had new orders. "Guillermo, it is time. Go! Raphael, you will watch Inez tonight. Guillermo will be busy."

Chris had finally calmed Vin down enough to sleep, but wasn't quite ready to turn in himself. So, he decided to have a drink. He placed himself at the little table outside the saloon. From there he had a good view of the street; in both directions.

Before long, Inez hurried out of the saloon with Raphael close behind. As he passed, Chris said, "Isn't this a little beneath you, following a woman around? Spying on her?"

Raphael looked after the rapidly disappearing woman then down at his feet. Chris could tell he had struck a nerve. "I serve the house of Madera. Sometimes, serving the son is not the same as serving the father."

Chris observed, "We make our own beds."

"I owe Don Paulo's father my life."

"Does that mean doing everything this 'boy' tells you to?" the gunslinger asked.

Raphael said defensively, "It means...I do what is required."

Inez walked quickly to the church where she had heard that Buck was practicing sword fighting with Nathan.

After playing a game of checkers; then reading a story until JD fell asleep; Buck had kissed the mop of dark hair; said a silent prayer that he would be doing the same thing tomorrow night, and then decided to find Nathan and get in a little more practice.

Having just called it a night, he was coming out of the church when Inez caught up with him. "Señor, this fight, it's not about you."

Buck looked down at the pretty woman. "It is now."

"You can not beat Don Paulo."

The big gunfighter tried to explain. "And if I stand aside and I let him take you; what kind of man would I be?"

Defiantly, Inez said, "One that is alive. If not, you will make me responsible for your death. I can not live with that."

Buck met her eyes squarely. "Let me tell you something. I don't know this Don of yours, but I have met men like him. I see it in his eyes, what he's got planned for you. It's a livin' hell. You tell me I'm wrong and I'll walk away."

Inez blinked and swallowed hard. Buck was telling the truth but she just couldn't let him die because of her. "If that has to be my destiny, it is mine alone."

Buck countered, "Well, I just can't live with that. Tomorrow, I fight that man." Then he walked away.

Don Paulo and Raphael met the riders as they came into town. Don Paulo smiled. "Buenos noches, Guillermo, Pico, señores. Ha, ha, ha, ha! Llevalos all, Guillermo."

Stunned, Raphael turned to his boss. "Señor...that is Pico Chavez."

Grinning, Paulo acknowledged, "A man who never forgets a debt."

"Ay..Don of honor do not associate with murderers and thieves."

Angry now, the patron said, "Raphael, those magnificos intend to interfere, and I will not allow it, entiendes?"

The Don walked away, leaving Raphael to wonder if it was all worth it.

Chris took the boys to Tiny's, making sure they wouldn't be able to see anything. Then he met Buck in the middle of the street. "I know we don't always see things eye to eye, but I stand by you."

Buck was grateful for his friend's support. "All right."

"You ready?"

The big man grinned. "Not even close."

Ezra joined them in the street and nodded toward Chavez and his men. "We've got company."

The fight was, not surprisingly, short. Don Paulo was a skilled swordsman and would have easily beat the big gunslinger but in his efforts to hedge his advantage, there was a couple of things he hadn't counted on.

One was the loyalty of Buck's friends, who neutralized the threat of Chavez's gang. The other was the disloyalty of Raphael who had finally had enough and when Paulo signaled Guillermo to shoot Buck in the back, Raphael had killed the large thug.

Inez tried once more to stop the fight. Don Paulo shoved her hard and Buck decked him with a right cross to the jaw. While Buck was helping the lady up, Paulo drew his knife and charged.

Chris yelled a warning and Buck turned, with his sword still in hand, ran it home.

In disbelief, Don Paulo fell to the ground, dead.

The two little boys flew past the blacksmith after hearing all the gunfire. Vin ran up to Chris, who scooped him up. "It's okay, Buck's fine. It's okay."

JD paused when he saw his foster father who was covered in blood from the wounds he had suffered. Nathan was supporting him on one side and Inez on the other. When Buck saw JD, he stopped and slowly knelt down. With one arm across his chest, he opened the other, inviting the little boy into a hug.

Gingerly, the child put his arms around Buck's neck. "It's okay Little Bit. It's all over."

Then the four of them made their way to the clinic so Nathan could tend to Buck.

Chris and Vin were walking back to the jail when Raphael rode up.

"I could grow fond of a place like this, Señor, but after today, Don Paulo's father will put a price on my head."

Chris found that he liked and respected this man. "Where will you go?"

Raphael grinned. "Perhaps I will find four compadres of my own. Care to join me?"

Chris returned the smile. "Who knows what tomorrow brings."

Raphael nodded. "Still it is too bad for you and me. Now, we will never know who is faster."

Chris snatched the apple Vin was about to take a bite out of and threw it into the air. He drew and fired; splattering the fruit into a million pieces.

Raphael laughed. "Magnifico!" And he rode out of town.

Nathan told Buck later, when they had gathered in the saloon, that he would need to take it easy for awhile.

"Don't worry, Nathan. I'll be hangin' up my sword for a while."

Nathan grinned. "You did good."

Inez approached the table. "Señor would be wrong for me not to thank you for all you've done for me, so...gracias."

Buck smiled. "Oh, I'll bet that was hard for you to say."

"You have no idea."

Buck winked at his friends. "Well, Señorita, I accept your thanks, but if you really want to make it up to me, how about you and me doin' a little somethin' t'night?"

Inez looked up at the tall gunslinger. "How about right now?"

"Uh..." Buck was completely astounded when Inez grabbed his face and kissed him. Then she stood back and said, "Now, we're even."

Buck smiled. "Well, all right!"

Next: Vendetta