Too Much

by LT

Sequel to Second Chances (best to read that one first or this one won’t make much sense).

Disclaimer: don’t own ‘em, not making any money off of ‘em.
Warning: Rated PG-13, death of minor character, implications of sexual abuse and murder but nothing graphic
Feedback is welcome.
Size: Approx 170K

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3
Part 4 - Epilogue

Part One
The street was dried mud. Every horse that traversed its length stirred up dust. Every person who crossed the street had to eat that dust. It was late summer and the ground was dry as sandpaper. It was a time when everyone looked forward to the end of the summer, the end of the heat, the end of the dry. It was also a time when all of the town was looking forward to Sunday, the first of September, for that was the day of the big wedding. The day that their infamous gunslinger and the owner of the local newspaper were to be wed. The whole town was invited to the outdoor ceremony. Mary Travis and Inez Recillos had been planning the affair for months now. Chris Larabee, the groom, had been sitting on the sidelines, listening to the plans, and coming to dread the day.

Chris sat outside the saloon watching the town go by him. Nobody stopped to talk although several of the men tipped their hats as they walked by. Chris kept his eyes on the street. He wanted no company right now. His mind was set on one man and only that man was welcome. Of course, he wanted to know if any strangers came into his town for that was part of his job as the head of the band of seven men that Judge Travis, the territorial judge, had put in charge of Four Corners and the surrounding area over two years ago. He always wanted to be prepared for danger and Chris Larabee had a knack of spotting it as it rode into town whether it was on horseback or on a stage coach. Today, though, he was watching for the one person who was foremost in his thoughts. He had seen the kid ride into town about half an hour ago but Buck Wilmington had not shown yet. Larabee was worried about Buck. The big man, who had been his friend for almost thirteen years now, was in trouble. He was still healing from a gunshot wound to his lung that almost killed him and he was exhausting himself by trying to continue his duties as one of the regulators of the town and build the house that he and his fiancé would eventually move into. Additionally, Buck was riding a little over a mile back into town every night to spend time with Inez which meant he was not getting much sleep. Chris had never, in all their years together, seen Buck push himself this hard for this long. He had been at it for almost three months now and his reserves were used up. Buck looked haggard and worn-out and Chris wasn't the only one who recognized that Buck needed to take it easy for a few days. Nathan and Josiah had both commented on Buck's physical and mental weariness. Josiah had been doing a lot of the work out at the new house with Buck but he didn't go out to the small homestead every day like Buck did. He knew how far Buck pushed himself every day and he didn't see how the big man could keep up the pace. Nathan fretted over the health of all of them but Buck was his main focus right now. He tried to talk to Buck several times but the scoundrel just plain ignored him, as he did all the others.

Out of the corner of his eye, Chris saw Ezra Standish approaching him from the jailhouse. It was the gambler's turn to man the jail and take care of any prisoners. Fortunately for Ezra, there weren't any prisoners today.

"Mr. Larabee, Mr. Garnet brought this to the jailhouse but I believe it is for you. I sincerely hope that it does not contain bad news. Of course, with your upcoming nuptials, it is probably a response to one of Mary's numerous invitations." Ezra handed the telegram to Chris and then sat down in the empty chair beside him. He pulled out his ever present deck of cards and started running them through his fingers. Chris watched him for a minute. He was always amazed at the man’s dexterity and he had to admit that he had never seen anyone with fingers as nimble as Ezra's. He marveled to himself once again as he opened the telegram.

Chris Larabee
Four Corners
Yuma Territory

Need Tanner and one other to help track murderers/robbers. Come ASAP

Sheriff Warner
Bitter Creek

"Anything of great importance, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra inquired, never taking his eyes off of the deck in his hands.

"They need Vin in Bitter Creek. I heard Mary say something about a stage robbery where three people got murdered. Guess they want him to track the robbers. I won't send you along so you don't have to worry, Ezra." Chris grinned at him. Ezra wanted no part of some other town's posse. Hell, he complained every minute of their own chases.

"Moi worried? Mr. Larabee, I would never have expected you to dispatch a Southern gentleman to traverse the countryside with our illustrious tracker. I would expect that delightful task to go to Mr. Wilmington or Mr. Dunne, perhaps Mr. Sanchez. I am well aware of your mental capabilities and as such, I knew that I was safeguarded from your inclusion of myself in this diminutive enterprise."

"Ezra, shut up." Chris would talk to Vin later. Right now, he wanted to spot Buck coming into town before he went to supper. Chris knew that JD had been helping Buck put shingles on the roof yesterday and today, probably tomorrow too. No, he would not send Buck or JD to ride along with Vin. He considered Josiah but he had been helping Buck so much lately that the big man looked like he would bite his head off if Chris suggested a long, dusty, possibly dangerous ride with the sheriff of Bitter Creek. That left Nathan or himself. He would ask Nathan about the ride. He would love to go with Vin but with the wedding only five days away, he doubted if Mary would be too happy with him if he decided to go. It sure would be nice to get away from town and all the wedding plans for just a few days though.

The tracker of their group came sauntering up the boardwalk towards Chris and Ezra. He had a grin on his face and an easiness in his countenance that Chris found comforting.

"Howdy, Cowboy. What's up?" Vin plunked himself down beside the other two.

"How ‘bout a ride to Bitter Creek? They wired for your help in tracking some murderers. Leave first thing in the morning." Chris still didn't take his eyes off the street.

"Sounds just fine. Mary and Inez have had me running errands for them. I'll be glad to have an excuse. You comin' along?" Vin casually took out his bowie knife and cleaned his fingernails.

"Thinkin' on it."

"Want to discuss it over dinner?"

"Nah, Mary's waitin' on me. In fact, I got to go. Keep an eye out for Buck, will ya. I need to talk to him tonight." Chris rose and stretched and then made his way towards the office of the Clarion newspaper. He would love to get away from the wedding preparations for a few days. Mary and Inez had been planning and plotting for months now and this week, everything was either coming together or coming apart. Chris wasn't up for the latter.

Chris entered the back door to tell his future bride that he was there and that he was going to clean up. The first person he spotted was Mary's best friend, Inez. He nodded at her and then searched the kitchen for Mary. The smells of beef stew cooking slowly on the stove made his mouth water. He also caught the odor of freshly baked peach pie. He suddenly realized that he had grown used to the meals he now shared with Mary and her son, Billy. In fact, he looked forward to them.

"You stayin' for dinner?" He smiled at Inez.

"If you don't mind. Chris, I have a favor to ask of you, a big favor." Inez looked him directly in the eye.

"Let me get cleaned up and then we'll talk over dinner. I take it Mary knows all about it already?"

Inez smiled and lowered her head. She nodded and Chris chuckled to himself, then went back outside to wash himself off by the well. Women! He tried to guess what kind of favor Inez would be asking him for and decided it must have to do with Buck. He shook his head. He still, after four months, could not believe that his dear old friend was actually in love and engaged to be married. Chris knew this was the real thing for Buck and Inez, not just a passing fancy or an attempt to find the dream life that he knew Buck had always wanted. This was Buck's dream come true. He couldn't be happier for his friend. Hell, he couldn't be happier for himself either. He had found what he thought was gone from his life forever. He had found love. It felt like a miracle for him to have found Mary and Billy and that, as of Sunday, they would forever be a part of his life. He was so grateful to whatever power had brought them into his life. And he was also grateful that Buck had found Inez to share his life. Life was exceptionally good right now. He dried off and went back inside.

Mary was in the process of dishing up the stew and Inez was cutting some of her famous bread when he entered the kitchen. Chris moved to Mary's side and kissed her cheek lovingly. Then he made his way to the head of the table and sat down. The ladies followed suit, Mary to his right and Inez to his left. Inez said a quick prayer and then Chris started to eat.

"Where's Billy tonight?" he asked between mouthfuls.

"I fed him earlier. He's out playing with the Michaels boys. Chris, Inez wants to ask you to talk to Buck." She laid her hand over his, suggesting that she really wanted him to help Inez.

"I figured as much. What exactly do you want me to talk to him about?"

Inez set down her spoon and looked directly at Chris. "He has been pushing himself far too hard. I cannot get him to take a few days to rest. He will not even rest on Sundays, Chris. He thinks he has to do everything himself and it all has to be done immediately. I have tried many times to talk to him about it but he only says that the house must be done so that we can get married. Could you try to get him to take a few days and just rest? He is not looking well to me. He never really got all of his strength back from the shooting and his lung is still weak. And he's hardly getting any sleep. I have told him to just stay out at the house and rest during the nights but he insists on coming back to town every night. I am afraid something will happen to him, Chris."

Chris smiled warmly at her. She truly loved the big man who was more a brother to Chris than a friend. "As a matter of fact, Inez, I was waiting for him to show up tonight to talk to him about the same thing. I don't like the way he looks right now either. He's lost weight and he looks haggard and worn-out. I'll try to get through to him but you know him. A more stubborn man I have yet to meet." He patted Inez's hand.

"I've met one or two that are just as stubborn," Mary said and gave Chris a sly grin. "But Buck is right up there. At least he won't be working this Sunday, right Inez?"

"Si. We will both be at the ceremony and I plan on getting Buck drunk and taking advantage of him later in the evening."

Chris gave Inez a sideways smirk. "Inez, I thought you were already taking advantage of him every night. At least that's what he claims." Chris smiled at her with a twinkle in his eye.

"Oh no, Senor, I am not the one taking advantage. It's all him." Her eyes held a similar twinkle. "But what is a woman to do but submit to the wants and desires of her man."

"I'm so sorry you have to lay there and take it, Inez. It's the fate of all women, I'm afraid." Mary added seriously. She couldn’t hold it though and when the grin spread across her face, they all laughed heartily.

All three thoroughly enjoyed their dinner and before they knew it, the peach pie had been served and Chris had finished his coffee. The two women started clearing the dishes and Chris got up, wiping his mouth on his napkin.

"I'll mosey over to the saloon and see if I can catch Buck. It was a wonderful dinner, ladies. I'll probably see both of you later." Again he placed a kiss on Mary's cheek. He tipped his hat and left the two women to their work.

"Mary," Inez began as they started washing the dishes. "I have some important news and I have to tell someone or I’ll just bust. I know I should tell Buck first but I can't seem to find the time. Hopefully, this Sunday I can tell him that he is going to be a father in about six months." Inez watched Mary's face.

The plate Mary had been holding fell to the floor. She turned to face Inez, dumbfounded. She quickly recovered and ran to her friend, embracing her tightly. "Are you sure? Did you see Amanda already? When is the baby due? Oh, Inez, this is fantastic news!"

Inez returned the embrace. Finally, she said, "Yes, I have already seen Amanda and, just yesterday before she left for Red Rock, she told me I was correct. Buck got in late last night and fell asleep as soon as we...well, finished. He was up and gone before I got up this morning. Do you think he will be pleased with the news? We’ve never really talked about children. I'm pretty sure he wants them but it is so soon. Oh Mary, what will I do if he doesn’t want the baby? I’ve never see him around babies. I’ve seen him with Billy of course, but a baby is different. Do you think he will approve?" Inez looked to Mary for support.

"Of course he will want the baby. It’s a part of both of you and that makes it very special. I bet Buck will be elated."

"The baby is due around the end of February. I would like to be married before the baby is born and the way Buck is going on the house, we should be able to do that. Mary, what do you think?"

"I think he is going to be the happiest man in the world, Inez. He’ll have every thing he’s ever wanted. I’m a little jealous." She hesitated then. She bit her lip which was common for her when a disturbing thought struck her. "He's going to push harder than ever to complete the house now. He'll want the two of you married as soon as possible. I sure hope that Chris can make him take a few days before you tell him. Are you happy with this, Inez?"

"Oh yes! I just can't decide if I want a boy that looks like Buck or a girl for Buck to spoil rotten. And I don't care if the house is finished or not, I would like to get married a month from now. Will you help me make some arrangements, Mary? I want just a small wedding with the seven and maybe my mama and sister in attendance. And, of course, Maggie must be here. I don't think that I could be any happier than I am right now. I have a wonderful man who loves me and now I am carrying his child. What more could I ask for?" Inez did look happier than Mary could remember seeing her.

"I'll wait until Monday to tell Chris but I think he'll be ecstatic for Buck. And you too, of course. Maybe all seven of them could work on the house and get it done a little faster. Of course I'll help you make any arrangements you want for your wedding. This is just the best news you could have shared with me."

Again both women hugged, tears streaming down their faces.

Chris was seated at his favorite table in the back of the saloon with Vin, Josiah and Nathan when Buck finally made his appearance. He was sipping on his beer when Buck entered through the batwing doors. As was his custom now, Buck immediately looked for Inez. When he didn't see her, he headed for the table where his friends were seated.

"You guys know where the Mex is?" Buck asked, a tinge of nervousness in his voice. Inez should be behind the bar at this time of night.

"She and Mary are finishing up some plans for the wedding. I think she told Ezra to mind the store but he's not very good at it." Chris answered, pushing his hat back from his face. My God, he looks tired, Chris thought to himself. Buck gave a sigh of relief and headed back toward the bar to get a beer. Chris followed him, his beer in hand. When Buck had been served, Chris motioned for his old friend to follow outside.

Buck reluctantly followed Chris out into the night. He really didn't want to hear what Chris had to say. He was tired, hungry, and sore down to his bones. He wanted to soak in a hot bath and then lay with Inez in a soft bed. Anything else was uninvited tonight. He sipped at his beer and waited for Chris to begin his speech.

"Why are you doing this, Buck?" Chris said, not looking at his friend but instead, searching the night for the right words to say to Buck that would make him think about slowing down for a week or so. Chris was not good with words. He usually let his scowl or infamous glare do all his talking. Tonight, he had to find a way to make his stubborn friend listen to him.

Buck took a long drink of his beer. He gave no reply to Chris. He didn't want to have this conversation. He had already had it with Inez, Nathan, and Ezra. He didn't want Chris's version tonight. He had gotten up before dawn, downed a cup of coffee, and headed out to do his morning check of the surrounding area. It was one of the tasks that all seven of them had assigned themselves when they had agreed to watch over the town and surrounding countryside for Judge Orrin Travis.

Although JD was the official sheriff, Chris was the leader of the group the town's people called the "Magnificent Seven". Chris had laid out the job assignments and fit the names in for each day. He tried to make the tasks fair and equitable but it always seemed that four of them got most of the work. Chris liked to stay in town to protect it from any harm. He was the fastest gun by far and he could usually preclude any trouble with just his glare and a few words of warning. Nathan often had medical problems to take care of, even though the town now had a very capable doctor in Dr. Amanda Elder. When Amanda had discovered how competent Nathan was, she had asked him to share the load with her and she had taken on the whole area. She would be gone for days at a time, doing her rounds of the surrounding communities that were too small to have a doctor of their own. Her traveling did not sit well with Josiah, who had fallen in love with the woman shortly after her arrival in Four Corners, but Amanda felt the need to take care of as many people as she could and Josiah couldn't fault her for that. Sometimes he would accompany her, the rest of the time he would worry about her. Thus, Nathan often had to pass his regulator jobs on to the others. Ezra had the saloon to take care of. He was part owner, along with his mother, who had left the managing position to Inez, since Maude had controlling interest. Luckily, Inez and Ezra got along like sister and little brother so the Standish Tavern ran smoothly. Ezra was as sharp as they came and he was a conman extraordinaire. He loved to take people's money as long as they willingly sat down to play poker with him. He rarely ran a scam now days except when it could help his family, the six men he called friends and Inez. Chris had come to the conclusion long ago that he could always trust Ezra to be there when they needed him despite the rocky beginning they had had. That left Josiah, JD, Vin and Buck to do the twice daily patrols and the jail supervision most of the time.

Chris took a deep breath and turned to face Buck. Buck was leaning casually against the door frame but the look on his face was not the happy go lucky expression he normally wore. He looked tired and leery. He also looked ready to bolt the minute Chris said anything he didn't want to hear. "Buck, you look like shit!"

"Well, thank you for that revelation. Now can I go? I have things ta do." He pushed himself away from the building and took a step to leave.

"Why are you pushing yourself so hard? You own the land so it's not goin' anywhere. Inez loves you for some unknown reason, so she's not goin' anywhere. The house is coming along. Inez doesn't care when it gets done, she just wants you to take care of yourself. Why don't you take a few days and rest?" Chris took a step toward the man who had ridden at his side for what seemed his whole life. They had covered each others backs through thick and thin, keeping each other alive. Now, he had to protect Buck again, this time from himself. Chris couldn’t forget that Buck had done that for him for almost three years after Chris's family had been murdered. Chris had tried his best at self destruction but Buck had always been there to drag him back from the edge of the precipice. Now it was Chris's turn to protect his "brother".

"Am I shirking my duties to this town?" Buck's eyes had narrowed to slits. His body had tensed.

"No." Chris sighed. He knew where this was going without words being spoken.

"Then get off my back. I am a grown man, I don't need a baby sitter to tell me when it's time to go to bed. I thought you, of all people, would understand what I need to do." He laughed, but it was cold and bitter. "Just leave me the hell alone. I can take care of myself, Larabee." He started to walk away when Chris reached out and lightly grabbed his arm. Buck turned back to face Chris, anger clearly marking his features.

"Hey Pard, I just don't want to see you get sick or hurt. We all care about you. We're looking forward to your wedding day." Chris tried a different approach but it didn't get him any farther.

"Like I just said, I can take care of myself." Buck jerked his arm away from Chris and angrily stalked away into the night. All Chris could do was watch him leave.

Chris turned and walked back inside. He stopped at the bar and got a bottle of whiskey and then went back to the table his friends were sitting at. He sat down, defeated. He poured a full glass and downed it in one gulp. He looked up and saw eight eyes staring at him. "I didn't get anywhere with him. God, that man is stubborn!"

Josiah studied his glass of beer for a minute and then he softly said, "He's scared, that's all."

"Scared? Buck Wilmington? What on earth would make you say that?" Nathan asked, bewildered.

Josiah looked at all four men before he answered. "Suddenly, Buck has everything he's ever wanted in his life. He's got a family, roots, and a wonderful woman who's agreed to be his wife but isn't yet. The dream is staring him right in the face and he's scared it will vanish like everything else has in his life."

Vin nodded his agreement. Nathan sighed deeply and studied the worn table. Ezra took a quick look around the Standish Tavern and had to agree with Josiah, for he often felt the same way. Chris looked at Josiah in amazement, his mouth slightly ajar. Every word Josiah uttered was crystal clear to Chris now. Of course, why hadn't he seen it that way?

Buck had grown up in a brothel, his mother was a prostitute who had died violently, killed by a man who thought his money could buy anything. Buck had to flee the only home and family he had ever known when he was fifteen, when, one night, he had killed the murderer of one of the girls in the house. He had fought in the most deadly war any man could conceive of, seeing companions blown apart right before his eyes. He had linked his fate to Chris during the war and, later, they had traveled out West where they struggled to survive. When both of them had finally settled down, Chris marrying the woman they both loved, Buck had finally found contentment. He had a family and roots. He had loved Sarah and Adam Larabee with all his heart just as a brother would his sister-in-law and nephew. He wanted the same for himself and he knew that if Chris could find the perfect life, then, one day, he could too. When he talked Chris into staying that extra night in Mexico after a horse selling trip, he had no idea that fate would once again take everything from him, including Chris. They had arrived at the horse ranch to find the house burned to the ground and Sarah and Adam dead, killed in the fire set by paid murderers. Buck stayed strong outwardly for Chris. He had no choice, Chris needed him to be strong. But, inside, he was probably as ravaged as Chris. He just never showed the despair. He put on his smile and wandered the countryside with Chris, looking for any clue as to who killed Sarah and Adam. To relieve the hurt and sadness, he lost himself in women's arms just as Chris lost himself in a bottle of whiskey. They remained lost, even to each other, until the fateful day they had both ended up in Four Corners and had agreed to protect a Seminole village for five dollars apiece. The seven had gathered that day, and without realizing what had occurred, they changed their lives for good.

Now, all seven men had brothers they could trust with their very lives. They had a town that depended on them and friends they could smile with. Five of them even had women that they loved. Buck was building the house he had dreamed of his whole life and soon he would have Inez as his wife and he hoped, a whole passel full of children. With the dream so close he could reach out and touch it, Buck had to be scared. Scared that life would once again pull the rug out from under him and laugh as he fell flat on his face.

Chris sighed and threw down another shot of whiskey. "I should have seen it, Preacher. Of course, you're right. Nothing he has ever cared for has lasted. Every time he cares for someone or decides that this is the place to put down roots, something happens and suddenly, it’s all gone. Do you see any way of helping him out, Josiah?"

"There's not much more that any of us can do but what JD and I are doing, helping out with the building of the house. I don't see any way to slow him down until the house is done and he and Inez are married. Even then, a part of him will always be that scared little boy who lost his mother and is petrified of being alone. Just try to understand where he's coming from and volunteer to help if you can."

Chris nodded slightly, determined to help Buck all he could. Well, as soon as his wedding was over.

Inez came back to the bar late that night. She and Mary had discussed all sorts of things, mostly talking about babies. Inez was in a very good mood until she saw that Ezra had done absolutely nothing behind the bar all night. He was totally engrossed in his card game. Inez fumed for a moment and then she let out a long breath in disgust. She shook her head and went to the supply room at the back of the kitchen. She started lining up bottles of alcohol on the table in the middle of the small room.

Buck entered the bar and looked around for his woman. She still wasn’t to be seen and again he headed over to where his friends were seated. He had on fresh clothes and his hair was still wet from his bath. He was clean shaven and looked to be in a slightly better mood. He didn’t move to sit.

"You guys seen Inez yet?" he queried.

"In the supply room. How you doin’, Buck? Did the two of you finish the roof today?" Josiah looked carefully into his eyes.

"Should finish tomorrow. Thanks for the help, Josiah. I really appreciate all you’ve done. The rest of you too." Buck never looked directly at Chris. He turned to go find Inez.

When he was out of earshot, Josiah sighed. "He’s exhausted. He has no spark in his eyes. He needs a break, some time to just lay by a lake under a tree and doze. Maybe you should try again, Chris?"

"Wouldn’t do no good, Preacher. He’s gonna do what he’s gotta do. Same as any of us. See you at dawn, Vin. I need to go explain to Mary why I’m leavin’ town just before our wedding." Chris got up and walked out of the saloon.

"Good luck, Pard." Vin smiled to himself. He knew his friend was in for a long night. Mary was a very strong woman and she was not going to be happy with Chris and his decision to accompany Vin on another town’s problem.

Buck quietly slipped into the supply room and stood, leaning against the doorframe, watching the woman work. He loved to watch her body move, so lithe and graceful, even pulling bottles off shelves.

"Hey, it’s been a long time, woman. How about a kiss to welcome me back?" He never moved from the door frame. His voice was low and husky, the way she liked it.

Inez turned slowly to see him standing there, so cock sure of himself. There was no way she was going to run into his arms, well, not for a few minutes anyway. "It has been a long time, stranger. What have you been up to?"

"A little of this, a little of that. You’re looking mighty fine, Mex. Got a man on the side?" He took a step toward her, reaching out his hand.

"I’m very satisfied with the one I’ve got, Senor. No need for another. You’re looking awfully tired, mi amor. Are you alright?" She inched toward him, her bottom lip caught by her teeth.

"Oh yeah. I’m just fine, now." He rushed forward and pulled her into his embrace, passionate, fiery, full of the love he felt for this beautiful woman. He bent to kiss her lips and felt the power she had over him the moment their lips touched. He moaned into her mouth as she greedily kissed him back. Both of his hands entwined themselves in her glossy black hair as he explored her mouth with his tongue.

Inez had grabbed him around the waist, holding him tight to her so she could feel his strong body against hers. Her hands moved to his buttocks and she pushed her body against his, feeling the desire he had for her. Hating to let her go, he finally pulled away.

"Wow, lady, what you do to me!" He kissed her forehead and her nose, and then he found her lips once again. It was a soft gentle kiss this time but the soft warm lips found her heart. "I love you so much, Inez."

"I love you too, mi amor." She returned the kiss.

He ran his gentle fingers over her face and then kissed the top of her head. "Mex, I’ve decided that this weekend, I’m going to take a break from the house. You tell Ezra that Saturday, you and your future husband are going to take a day just for themselves. I’m gonna take you on a picnic out by Miller’s lake. We’re gonna eat fried chicken, gonna go skinny dippin’, and I’m gonna make love to you in a field of flowers. How does that sound to you?"

She smiled her radiant smile, the one he would do anything to see, and she simply nodded her head. She reached up and touched his face. His eyes were moist with tears of joy and her heart melted again for this glorious man who would soon be her husband. Right then she decided that she would tell him about the baby on Saturday.

"And we’ve got a wedding to go to on Sunday, right? How about the first dance, Sweetheart?" His eyes were twinkling now as he watched her straighten her clothes.

"The first and the last dance, Buck. I may even let you walk me home after the reception, that is if you’re exceptionally good on Saturday." She smiled at him seductively as she passed him with her arms loaded with bottles. She tossed her head at the rest of the bottles on her way out the door.

He grabbed up the bottles as he said, "Darlin’ I’m always good or haven’t I proven that yet. I guess I’ll have to give you another demonstration tonight." He laughed as he walked through the kitchen and came out into the bar.

Buck was saddling his big gray mare as Chris and Vin walked into the livery at dawn. Buck was whistling as he tightened the cinch under her belly. "Good mornin’ pards. What gets you two up so early?"

"God, Buck, can’t you ever be anything but chipper in the mornin’?" Vin walked past him and entered the stall where his fickle gelding stood, nickering softly to him.

"He’s always been like this. That is unless the husband came home before he got what he was after. Right, Stud?" Chris slapped Buck on the back as he made his way toward his horse.

"Guess you’re right, Pard. And how’d you sleep last night?" Buck grinned and threw a handful of hay at Chris.

"Probably pretty much the same as you did." Chris smiled. It was good to see his friend acting like his old self. "We’re headed to Bitter Creek to help track down some stage robbers. You guys keep your eyes out for any signs of trouble, you hear, Buck. I’ll be back Friday at the latest."

"Sure Chris. By the way, I decided to take the weekend off. I don’t want any assignments, if that’s all right with you. Thought I’d rest up for the wedding." Buck looked sheepishly over at his old friend.

Chris stopped what he was doing and looked over at Buck, surprise on his face. "Sounds like a good idea, Pard. I think we can cover for you." His smile was full of warmth.

"Gotta finish my roof today and then do the afternoon circuit. See you boys when you get back." Buck mounted up and swung toward the road out of town. He kicked Bourbon into a canter and quickly disappeared.

Chris watched him go and felt better about things than he had in several weeks. He finished getting his black gelding ready for the trip to Bitter Creek. He was whistling as he and Vin rode out of town.


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