Fallen Angel

by LT

Part 1 - 2 | Part 3 - 5 | Part 6 - 7
Part 8 - Epilogue


Angelina Recillos sat by the campfire, her eyes never leaving the young man who sat across the camp from her. She held a sleeping baby, rocking ever so gently to give them both a feeling of security. She had only been this scared once before in her life and she had let herself be shattered by it.

"Sweetheart, I know that the Recillos women are strong, tough minded women. You have it inside you to get through this. I know you do."

The Mexican thought back to the talk her beloved brother-in-law had had with her. She thought of her mother and how she had to make things work for herself and two small daughters when her husband died. Her mami was always working, scrubbing, laundering, cooking, and yet she found time to spend with her daughters, teaching them reading and writing plus English. She wanted her daughters to be independent, capable of living without a husband. Although she pushed Inez to settle on one of the local boys, Angelina had overheard her mother talking to the neighbor woman one day, telling her that Inez was too good for any of the locals, that one day she would go to America and find herself a man truly deserving of her. And when they heard that Inez was getting married to a lawman, well, Angelina was there to overhear her mami proclaim to the townspeople, "My daughter is better than all of you." Alma Recillos worked hard her whole life, even more so after Carlos Recillos died, but she remained strong and proud until the day she died.

She thought of her sister and the night that Don Paulo had attacked her in the middle of the village square. How she had the courage to fight him off, steal a horse, and make a new life for herself in America. How she had the courage to face her tormentor once again in her new home and how she had raced to her savior’s rescue when the tide had turned against him. And finally, to how she had found the strength and resolve to fall in love with and marry a man whose very existence revolved around a gun.

With all that her mother and sister had gone through, they still remained strong, forceful women. Shouldn’t she try to find that inner strength? She needed to stand up to these men, to face her fears and overcome them. She needed to be a Recillos woman and save the baby she loved so much. She straightened her shoulders and drew a deep breath. She would do whatever it took to protect her nephew.

JD rode silently beside Vin. The black sky had just started to turn pink at the edge as they approached the rendezvous point. The old trapper had picked a spot where the land was flat and barren. The only high points around were a half mile to the right and at least two miles to the left. The was no creek running even in the spring so the vegetation was extremely sparse. There simply was no place for a man to hide or so most would think.

Vin pulled up his horse and dismounted. They were about three hundred yards back of the crossroads. He stripped off his shirt and tied it to the saddle. JD, not knowing what the tracker was doing, watched in silence.

"Strip," was the only thing Vin replied to JD’s unasked question. The young man did and he too tied his shirt to his saddle. Next, Vin took his canteen and, squatting down, he poured half the water onto the ground. With his fingers, he mixed the dirt and water until it made a sticky mud which he proceeded to smear on his face and body. JD followed Vin’s lead and pasted himself with the mud.

"Your hair, too. You got to blend in with the land." Vin stood and wiped his hands on his tan pants. He hung the canteen back on the saddle and pulled his long rifle from its scabbard. When the young sheriff had retrieved his rifle also, Vin asked, "You ready?"

The youth nodded. Buck had named his first son after him. It was not something the lad took lightly. He would do just about anything to get the boy back safe and sound. He had made a friend in Ibis and he was equally determined that nothing happen to the woman Vin loved.

Vin slapped his horse on the rump after heading it back towards town. Both animals took off to find grass and water. "You go left. Find yourself a cactus or bush and dig yourself in. Rub some dirt on your barrel. Don’t want any reflections. Then we wait for the signal from Standish. Stay as still as you can, JD. They’ll be scourin’ the landscape for us. Any questions?"

"Do you think he’s already hurt Johnny or Angelina, Vin?"

Vin shrugged his shoulders. "Hope not. From what Ezra said, the man ain’t stupid. He thinks he can make this trade without our interference. He doesn’t want us on his tail when it’s done. I’d say not. Just do what I told ya, JD, and we should get all three out of this jam. Head out. And good shootin’, JD." The tracker tried to sound confidant despite the fear for Ibis and the others that gripped his heart.

The Easterner grimly nodded and trudged off to find a place to dig in.

Ezra sat astride the spare mount from the livery. He had taken it without asking but he had no doubt that Yosemite would graciously give him the ride, knowing the circumstances. He waited for Ibis to mount her mare. He knew it wasn’t fair to make the woman go back and meet with the man she had run from but there was no way around it. He patted his pocket, feeling the one hundred dollars there. It was more than Cyrus had lost to him but he was willing to pay anything to get Johnny and his beautiful Angelina back.

Ibis walked purposefully out of Mary’s and straight to where Ezra sat waiting. She had changed into her tanned leather dress and had pulled her hair into braids. She quickly mounted and turned her eyes to the gambler, waiting for him to show her the way.

Ezra took a deep breath and spoke softly. "I am truly remorseful that you have to endure this, my dear. I can see no other way around our predicament."

"Don’t worry about it, Ezra, let’s just go. Rufus will not wait for us for very long. He can wait for hours for a deer to step into just the right spot but when he is in control, he is not a patient man. He will kill the child. He killed our child without a second thought. And he will use your woman in my place. There is nothing for you to be sorry for. Lead the way, Ezra." The was no emotion in her voice, no sign of fear or distress in her eyes. Her face was stone cold in it’s lack of regret that she was leaving the first place she could truly call home.

The Southerner reached out and placed a warm hand on her arm. "Ibis, Vin is without a doubt the finest shot I have ever come across. He will not let that vile man who calls himself your husband take you away. Whether it is today or tomorrow or the next day after that, Mr. Tanner will track the man down and retrieve you. He loves you that much that he is willing to sacrifice everything for you."

She let her mask slip slightly at the mention of the tracker’s name. She glanced up at Ezra, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. "Will you tell him that I love him too?"

"Why don’t you pass that bit of romantic trivia on to him yourself. Shall we go and retrieve Master Wilmington before Inez is forced to suffer any further." He turned his horse to ride out of town and saw Buck standing on the front porch of the Sanchez residence. "Give me a brief moment, Madame."

Ezra slowly approached the mustached man. He didn’t dismount for time was at a premium now. He sat straight in his saddle and scrutinized the man before him. Buck looked defeated for the first time since Ezra had met him that day as they rode to the village of the Seminoles. His shoulders slumped. His face looked weary, forlorn. His usually bright blue eyes were glassy, perhaps seeing a future without his son.

"I swear to you that I will do all in my power to return your son to you, Buck. What kind of godfather would I be if I didn’t protect him in his time of need?"

The life of the team, the heart and soul of the Seven, turned tear laden eyes to the conman. "Bring him home to Inez, Ezra. She’ll never forgive either of us if …"

"I am doing this for you, my friend. I have let you down for the last time. Do you hear me, Buck?"

"Yeah, I hear ya, Ez. You listen to me now. Ya bring that little lady that has your heart back unharmed! I have faith in ya, Standish, you and Vin and the kid. We’ll be waitin’."

Ezra nodded. The trust this man put in him was astounding to him. "We’ll be back by noon." Out of the corner of his eye, Ezra saw Chris walk towards his oldest friend. He turned slightly and tipped his hat to their leader. He then spurred his horse and took off at a gallop, knowing that Ibis would be right behind him.

Chris approached his ‘brother’. He stood shoulder to shoulder with Buck and watched the two horses race towards the showdown with the kidnappers. When the horses were out of sight, they reentered the clinic and sat silently, keeping watch over the sleeping woman who had cried until there were no tears left to cry and who had then fallen into an exhausted sleep.

The trappers arrived at the crossroads as the sun crested the horizon. Rufus had the baby tied to his chest, ever leery of the Seven. He sent his son riding the perimeter to make sure none of the regulators were lying in wait for them. Cyrus rode cautiously three times around the area but he saw no one. He was sweating even though the day was starting out cool. He was scared! There was no other way to put it. His father had set them on a course to fight the seven gunmen and he had been unable to talk the old man out of trying to get Ibis back. And he was unwilling to go against his father’s wishes for as scared as he was of the seven regulators, he feared his father’s wrath even more. He had witnessed his father kill his brother when he was just days old. The baby had done nothing but cry and spook off a deer. And for this sin, it had been dealt a mortal blow. Cyrus knew that if he failed his father today, the same fate would await him. The young trapper pulled his horse up in front of his father after the third trip.

"I didn’t see any of ‘em, Pa. I searched the ground like you said. They’re not here. Maybe the gambler didn’t tell ‘em?" Cyrus pulled the pretty woman off her horse and held her loosely in front of himself.

"Maybe. Don’t let yer guard down, boy. I heard tell that one in the leather was part Injun. And Larabee has a heart a ice. We get the woman back, we take off fer the mountains. We can get lost up there." Rufus dismounted and positioned his horse in front of him as he searched the horizon for the two riders.

Ezra pulled to a halt as he spotted the kidnappers and Angelina. At first he didn’t see Jonny but Ibis did. She pointed out to the gambler that the infant was tied to the old trapper’s chest as protection against one of Ezra’s bullets. Ezra cringed. How could anyone do that to a baby? He determined than and there that this man must die.

As they got closer, Ezra tried to ascertain if Angelina had been abused or mistreated in any way. She looked upset and afraid but she seemed to be holding up rather well, considering that Cyrus had her pinned tight to his body. The two people from Four Corners stopped about one hundred feet away from the trappers.

Before Ezra could say anything, Ibis spoke out. "Send the woman and the child over right now, Husband. You do not want to hurt them for the wrath of the gunfighters will be upon you. You want me back, well here I am. Let them go and I will ride out of here with you and never look back. These men, who protect the town and those in it, have promised me that they will not follow you if you return the woman and the infant unharmed."

Rufus laughed. "You think I’m gonna believe you. No way in hell, woman. Git over here where ya belong and I’ll think about sending them back to the man who stole my money. Ya did bring the money didn’t ya, Fancy Pants?"

"Yes Sir, I have it right here. It is all yours as soon as my wife and child are delivered safely into my care. I am alone. I did not tell anyone except Miss Ibis here. She agreed to come along to save the baby. Shall we proceed?" Ezra pulled the wad of twenty-dollar bills out of his pocket and waved them at the two men holding his loved ones closely against themselves.

"Give the money to the woman and send her to me. As soon as she’s with me I’ll release your woman. I gotta have some protection as I ride away so I’m keeping the brat. When I feel comfortable, I’ll leave him along the path. Ya can pick him up if the varmints don’t get him first."

"Not acceptable, Sir. The boy comes with Angelina or I swear you’ll be dead before the day is over. I assume that you are aware of Mr. Tanner’s exceptional talents at tracking. We will find you no matter how far you ride."

Cyrus nervously looked from the gambler to his father. "Send ‘em back to him, Pa. He means it. I heard about the tracker. Please, Pa, they’ll track us down. She ain’t worth dying over, Pa."

Angelina could feel the sweat on the hands of the young trapper as he held her in front of him. She almost felt sorry for him but her desire to keep Johnny safe overrode any other emotion. She saw her love not more than fifty feet from her now as both he and the young woman from the Seminole village moved closer. She desperately wanted to run to him but she had sworn to herself that the infant came first.

Rufus wasn’t about to let any of them live to tell the tale but he hadn’t told his son that. He wanted to punish Ibis for running away. He wanted to punish the gambler for bilking all his son’s money out of him. He had no use for the woman or baby when this was over. Slowly, he pulled his gun from his holster and keeping it behind the horse in front of him, he waited as the two approached slowly.

"Cyrus, let the woman go. Ibis, git yer ass over here." He saw his son hesitate. "Let her go!"

Cyrus pushed the Mexican woman away from him but she turned, not running or even walking toward freedom. She stood with an expression of determination on her face. She held out her arms. Rufus turned slightly towards the woman who took three steps towards him. He moved the gun so that it now pointed directly at Angelina’s heart. Ibis’ sharp eyes caught the glint of sunlight off the metal gun and she spurred her horse forward, hoping to distract her husband.

Rufus saw the woman he had taken for a wife when she was just fourteen, race her horse towards him. He laughed for an instant and then he brought up his revolver and aimed at the woman he felt he owned.

Two shots rang out. Two men fell. A baby screamed and then was silent.

"NOOO!" A woman’s voice cried out.

Angelina reached Rufus’s headless body first. The gore didn’t faze her as she yanked at the heavy body. She had to get to Johnny before he was crushed beneath the weight. A few seconds later, she was joined by Ibis and they rolled the body over. The baby was so still, his face covered with sand. Ibis produced a knife from her belt and she quickly cut the ropes that held the dark haired infant to the body of the trapper. Angelina gently picked up the child and cradled him close to her body. Tears fell silently down both women’s cheeks as Ezra joined them.

"He was about to shoot Ibis, Angel. Otherwise, Vin would never have taken the shot." Ezra tried to explain the tragedy but he was angry with Vin for placing the woman above the baby.

Angelina raised tear filled eyes to her man’s concerned face. A smile broke out and she laughed. Ezra was taken aback. What had happened to her while she was with the trappers? She had suddenly lost her mind. Angelina held the tiny boy out away from her and the baby’s wail brought smiles to Ibis and Ezra as well. Ezra pulled the Hispanic woman close, feeling the life still in her body.

"Oh Angelina, I was so scared that they would hurt you! Are you all right, Sweetheart?"

He felt her nod against his chest. He felt Johnny kick his ribs for he was squishing the infant in his embrace of Angelina. He reluctantly let her go.

Vin and JD reached the small group at about the same time. Ibis looked up at Vin and then flew into his arms, her lips meeting his. Their hearts soared as the true meaning of the recent events struck them.

"Thank you, Vin. I was so afraid that he would shoot Angelina." Ibis had broken the kiss but she still had a firm hold on the tracker.

Over the top of his Angel’s head, Standish nodded. The anger had faded with the knowledge that Johnny would survive the ordeal. "There was not a thing that I could do for her. I add my gratitude to you, Mr. Tanner. I could not have made the shot, knowing that the babe could have been killed in several different ways. It was very heroic of you, Vin."

Tanner looked quickly at the young man standing next to him. He looked like a little boy who had just gotten done with a mud fight. JD was covered with dried brown dirt and sand. His hair stood straight up, it too smeared with mud and straw. Vin reached out and put an arm around the young sheriff’s shoulders and smiled appreciatively at the youth beside him.

"Wasn’t my shot, Ez. That was mine." He pointed to the hole in Cyrus’s chest.

Four heads turned towards Dunne. Awe and admiration were reflected in the eyes that stared at the young man.

"Didn’t see a choice. Is Johnny really okay?" JD blew off the admiration for an almost impossible shot. He had acted reflexively but had prayed an instant later that the tiny boy who carried his name would not be hurt by his action.

Angelina held the baby out, for all to see for themselves that he was still in good health.

"We’ll have Amanda check him over when we get back but I’d say that he’s fine. Ya took real good care of him, Angelina." Vin still had an arm around Ibis. He didn’t plan on letting her go for a while. "Are you all right?"

The young Mexican nodded, her arms still around the man she loved.

After loading the bodies on two of the horses, Vin helped Ibis up behind him on Rufus’s horse. JD mounted Ezra’s confiscated livery mount and reached down for the baby. Ezra lifted Angelina up onto Chaucer’s saddle and then mounted behind her. With nods and smiles all around, the small band made their way back home.

Inez sat locked in her husband’s arms on Amanda’s settee. Chris, Mary, Josiah, and Amanda sat in chairs surrounding the couple. Mary held her son, Quentin, in her arms. She looked down at the tiny life she had delivered merely hours ago and thought that if she ever lost him, as Inez had lost her son, she would simply die. One more time, she sent prayers to the heavens above that all of them would return safe and sound.

"They’re back!"

The words came as a shock to all six people. Even though they had been anxiously awaiting the return of their companions, the fear of losing one or more of them had them afraid of what the homecoming would bring.

Nathan shouted again as he entered the home of Josiah and Amanda Sanchez. "They’re back. All six of ‘em. Can’t tell if any’re hurt but they’re all ridin’ straight up."

Six anxious adults arose as one and made their way to the dusty street to greet the returning members of their family. Inez clung to her husband for support. Her breath caught in her throat as she saw her sister riding in front of the gambler. Her eyes searched the others, looking for her son. JD, giving the impression of having just rolled in a pigpen, was on the far side of Chaucer. He noticed the petrified looks on Buck and Inez and he smiled broadly. He nudged the horse forward so they could see the precious bundle he held. Before he could say a word, another’s voice announced the good news they all wanted to hear.

"He’s fine, Inez."

Inez’s attention was drawn away from her baby and locked fully on her sister. "Angelina?"

Angelina sat up straight and proud in front of Ezra. She smiled glowingly at her sister and then, she shifted her dazzling smile to her brother-in-law. "I was a Recillos woman, Buck."

The tall regulator ran forward to lift his sister-in-law off the horse and then he swung her around in pure joy. "I knew ya had it in ya, gal! Thank you, Angel!"

Inez reached up and took her son from JD as he came to a stop in front of her. Her deep shuddering sigh of relief was not lost on the young man. "He’s hungry, Inez, but he’s not hurt, far as we can tell. Ya might have Amanda check him out."

As she cradled her infant son to her breast, Inez raised thankful eyes to the young man both she and her husband treated as a brother. "Gracious, mi amigo."

"De Nada."


Three months later, Vin Tanner and Ibis joined hands in matrimony. It was a very small ceremony with only the seven regulators and their women in attendance. Josiah said the sacred words that bound them together for the rest of their lives. Chris stood by Vin’s side, Mary by Ibis’s. The two had never been happier in their lives. Chris had given them his old shack and land. He explained he no longer needed it. Vin planned on building something more suitable for a family as quickly as possible.

Six weeks later, the Seven again gathered together in Josiah’s church. It was a closed ceremony for twenty-one people. Maggie DuBois had arrived two days prior and she sat proudly with Nettie Wells. Beside them, Casey and JD held hands, dreaming of the day that they would take the step. Nathan and Rain sat in front of them, Amanda to the right of the healer. The two had become fast friends and respected associates. On the other side of the aisle, Vin and Ibis sat, both so totally in love they rarely left each other’s side. Behind them, Judge Orrin Travis and his wife Evie sat, their grandson, Billy, squirming in between them.

At the front of the church, Josiah Sanchez stood tall. He loved weddings and christenings. They were his favorite parts of being a preacher. He smiled at the three couples and two infants that stood before him. It was time to start.

"Welcome to all. Three years ago, a man with the desire to bring justice to this territory, stepped out of a stagecoach and into a gun battle. Seven men, who had been assembled to aid an oppressed people, rode back into this small dusty frontier town with no intention of staying and making a home. The man with a dream," the preacher nodded at the Judge, "and the seven formed an alliance. Now, with God’s holy assistance, we celebrate not only justice but love and kinship also. The seven men, from such diverse backgrounds and interests, became family and we have gathered some remarkable women into our fold. Now, we also gather two new lambs into our family and into God’s divine grace."

He paused and motioned Ezra to move forward. He held a happy baby fondly and his gold tooth sparkled as he grinned and stepped up to stand by the preacher. Angelina moved with him until the two of them stood in position for the christening.

Johnny, at ten months of age, was a happy, adorable infant who had inherited his father’s love of life. He was curious about everything, which had resulted in numerous bee stings and bumps and bruises. He sported a full head of black hair and big brown eyes. He had round full cheeks and an infectious laugh. He loved his "aunts and uncles" but he was a daddy’s boy, preferring his father’s arms to his mother’s or aunt’s. At the moment, he was content to be held by his Uncle Ezra, picking at the gambler’s diamond stickpin.

Josiah laid a tender hand on the top of the boy’s head. "Do you, Ezra, promise to fulfill your role as Ezra John’s godfather, to support his parents, to teach our boy the laws of man as laid out for us by our Lord in the Ten Commandments, to assist him along the path that will lead him to manhood and the glorious person that he will become?"

The con man adjusted his grip on the squirming bundle in his arms. Smiling, he replied, "I will."

Josiah turned his attention to Angelina. "Do you, Angelina, promise to fulfill your role as Ezra John’s godmother, to support his parents, to teach our boy the laws of man as laid out for us by our Lord in the Ten Commandments, to assist him along the path that will lead him to manhood and the glorious person that he will become?"

"I will," Angelina softly answered.

"Buck, Inez, do you promise to aid your son in becoming a loving, respectful, member of God’s family? Will you love your son and inspire him to become the best man that he can be? Will you teach him the ways of our savior, Jesus Christ?"

Buck and Inez stood slightly behind the godparents. Buck held his wife close to his side. They both replied, "We will."

Josiah signaled Ezra to move up. "Then as representative of our Lord, I baptize thee, Ezra John Wilmington and offer you the salvation that Jesus Christ gave his own life for, so that we humble servants could be absolved of our sins." He reached into the fount of water and cupped some, dripping it onto the youngster’s forehead. John’s eyes grew large and then his face wrinkled up and he yelled out loud and clear, "PAPA!"

Everyone laughed at the boy’s distressed proclamation and when they were all quiet again, including John, Josiah concluded the ceremony with, "To quote our Savior, Jesus Christ, suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven. Welcome to the family of God and to the family of the Seven, Ezra John."

"PAPA!" Buck stepped forward and took his son in his arms. The boy immediately stuck his thumb in his mouth and cuddled his head onto his father’s shoulder. He was once again content.

"Next." Josiah motioned for Chris and Mary. They moved forward with Quentin. With Buck’s arms full of his own son, Inez took the little blonde haired boy.

The ceremony was repeated for the son of Chris and Mary Larabee. Buck and Inez were to be his godparents. The four adults stood quietly while the big preacher asked the questions and then dipped his hand once more into the water. As he drizzled the water over the fine, almost white, hair of Quent, the baby cried and fussed, but the ceremony went on without any real interference.

As both infants were settled in the group, Johnny going to Maggie and Quent to Evie, the wedding began. Inez and Mary stood up for Angelina. Buck and Chris stood with Ezra. As Angelina took her place by Ezra, she noticed that he once again glanced at the door of the church.

"I am sorry she isn’t here, mi amour." Angelina placed a small hand on the black coat of the man she was about to marry.

With a wan smile, Ezra placed his hand over the one that gave him such comfort. "I really didn’t expect her to make it but I had hoped. At least you got to meet the ignominious Maude before the wedding. Are you still sure you want to continue?"

Angelina nodded, a small smile touching her face. "I am marrying you, not your mother, Ezra."

Ezra breathed a sigh of relief and turned to face the preacher. They both readily replied, "I do" to the holy man’s ceremonial questions and, finally, Josiah proudly pronounced the young Mexican woman and the gambler man and wife.

"I love you, Mrs. Standish." Ezra kissed his bride. He had never been happier in his entire life.

All of the celebrants filed out of the church and prepared to depart. As they walked out of the church, Yosemite stood proudly holding Chaucer’s reins. The black gelding had been brushed to a gleaming shine. He wore ribbons in his mane and tail. He pawed the ground and bobbed his head as Ezra approached.

"He wanted ta be part of the show, Mr. Standish. Congratulations." The livery owner handed the reins over to the horse’s owner.

"Thank you, Sir. He looks magnificent." Ezra patted the neck of his loyal steed. Chaucer nudged him with his nose. "Yes, my dear friend, she said yes."

Buck helped Maggie up and then settled his eight-month pregnant wife in their buggy. He took Johnny from Casey and passed him to Inez. Chris assisted his wife into a buckboard and waited while Judge Travis and his wife got settled. He plopped his adopted son down in between Mary and himself. Josiah handed his wife into her buckboard and then assisted Nettie Wells into her wagon. Nathan and Rain joined Nettie for the ride to the party to celebrate life. Vin and Ibis mounted horses for the ride. Ezra and Angelina got into the carriage that Maggie had given them for a wedding present. JD and Casey got into the front seat and JD took up the reins. He slapped them down onto the matched team and the procession moved away from the church. Ezra was so wrapped up in his new wife he failed to notice that JD headed in the wrong direction until they stopped just minutes after they left town. In front of them was one of the older but statelier houses in Four Corners.

"Mr. Dunne, I fear you have made a grievous error. We are to hold the festivities at the Wilmington abode. This, I believe, is the residence of Mr. Heidegger." Ezra complained for he was anxious to celebrate with his ‘family’.

The others all pulled up behind the beautiful new carriage and began to scramble out of their modes of transportation. The Standish’s gawked wide-eyed at the actions of their friends. Mary came to stand by the door of the carriage.

"Well, what are you waiting for, Ezra. Help your bride out." She had a huge conspiratorial grin on her face.

"I..I…I don’t understand, Mrs. Larabee."

"Last month, when your mother came to visit, she made arrangements with the bank to purchase this house from Mr. Heidegger. Evidently, he got behind on his payments due to his rampant gambling problem. She bought it for her son and his wife for a wedding present. Welcome home, Angelina." Mary opened the door and made a grand sweeping gesture with her arm.

The big two-story house was freshly painted a sparkling white. The large front porch was a blue and two large wooden rockers sat welcomingly on it. Flowers had been planted on either side of the walk that led up to the steps. Four giant trees provided necessary shade around the exterior of the large house. Angelina’s hand went to cover her open mouth. She was speechless once again.

"Maude did this?" Ezra asked, stunned.

Mary nodded and then made her way with the others up the stairs and inside. Her husband and son followed. Everyone was in a celebratory mood as they made their way into the new residence of Ezra and Angelina Standish.

Buck came up beside Ezra as Inez linked arms with her sister and escorted her up the stairs. "Comin’ Brother?"

The gambler shook his head, not fully comprehending what Buck had just called him. "What did you say, Mr. Wilmington?"

"Hell, Ez, we’re family now. Ya can call me Buck, Brother!" The large man slapped the smaller one on the back and raced forward to help his pregnant wife up the steps.

"Wait, my dear wife. I wish to carry you across the threshold." Ezra ran to catch up with his ‘brother’ and laughing, he passed the Wilmingtons and swept his bride into his arms. Together, they entered the home he had always dreamt of.


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