Too Much

by LT

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

Part Four
Dr. Amanda Elder put her stethoscope down and turned to the others who were gathered in the room. She couldn’t lie to any of them for they were all her friends. "He’s catatonic. It means he’s unable to move. I can’t tell if he has brain damage or not. He simply doesn’t respond to any stimulus. His body is badly damaged but I don’t think you hurt him anymore by bringing him home. The doctor did a good job on his wrist and it should heal in a few weeks. I know you all want to know when he will awaken but I can’t tell you. That’s up to him. It could be later today or never. Right now, all we can do is wait. Chris, did Dr. Beacon get any liquids in him at all?"

Chris looked at Nathan. "I don’t know to be honest. Nate?"

Jackson nodded to the doctor. "Yeah, I saw him spoonin’ some broth down his throat, massagin’ it so that Buck would swallow. I guess he did his best for Buck but he gave up on him. There is hope for him, right Amanda." Nathan wanted to lift the spirits of everyone in the room, including himself.

"Of course there is. Ah, Inez, he wouldn’t leave you to raise the baby all by yourself, now would he? But, young lady, you have to rest and take care of yourself or there isn’t going to be a child. Do you understand that?" Amanda walked to Inez and looked deep into her brown eyes.

Inez nodded.

"A baby! You and Buck are gonna have a baby? When? How? Oh my gosh, Inez, does Buck know? He never said anything to me." JD was on edge. His mentor was lying motionless on a bed just ten foot away and no one could tell him if Buck would live or die. His big brother was pale and discolored at the same time and the youngest regulator was scared. He had no way of helping Buck and now he was learning that Buck was going to be a father.

JD’s outburst broke the somber mood. Tiny smiles lit up faces and Inez felt the hundred pound weight lift temporarily. "He doesn’t know yet, JD. I only found out last week and I didn’t get the chance to tell him." Tears welled up in her dark eyes. "I should have told him." She broke down and started once again to cry.

JD felt terrible for making it harder on the beautiful woman with the heart of gold. "Golly, Inez, I’m sorry. Please don’t cry. He’ll be just fine with a little rest. You’ll see." He made his way to her side and put his arms supportively around her shoulders.

Chris took Mary by the hand and they left the room. JD would take care of Inez in place of Buck. He was sure of it. As they exited the clinic of Amanda Elder, Vin was approaching from the jail.

"How’s Bucklin?"

"Still the same. No tellin’ when he’ll wake up."

Mary pulled her hand from Chris’s. "I’ll go make some supper. You must be starved. Vin, would you like to come eat with us? I’m gonna make enough to feed Inez and JD too."

"Thank you Mary. Don’t mind if I do." He smiled politely. When she was out of hearing, the tracker turned to his best friend. "Lost the two that got away. Usually can track a man even in the rocks. I guess I was in a hurry ta get back for a weddin’." Vin nodded in Mary’s direction. "She don’t look too disappointed."

"We got married in Eagle Bend. Got a preacher to do it at the doc’s house. Sorry ya rushed back for nothin’. Those two’ll probably ride on now that they aren’t backed by a gang anymore. Nathan told me Buck found another wagon they musta preyed on. Three women dead along with a man. All the women raped. Just that woulda hit Buck hard but then that boy died while he was tryin’ to get him out of the tree. Just one death too many, I guess. He probably felt guilty ‘bout them too."

"Yeah, he takes things like that ta heart, all right. You okay, Cowboy?" Vin gave the gunslinger a sideways glance.

"Yeah, I am. Thanks. Best we not keep Mrs. Larabee waitin’." The two friends walked to the Clarion office together.

"Mornin’, Mrs. Larabee," JD smiled as he walked into the Clarion News office. He hadn’t had a chance to use that moniker on Mary before and he found he liked it a lot.

Mary looked up from the article she had been writing and made a quick assumption. "Is Buck doing better?"

The smile melted instantly from the young sheriff’s face and Mary was sorry she had said anything. The past five days had been almost as hard on the young man as they had been on Inez. Both of them had barely left Buck’s side during that time. Chris had stayed with his old friend last night, finally persuading both JD and Inez that they needed a good night’s rest but the lad still looked tired.

"No, Ma’am, he’s not. I was just wonderin’ if you could print this up for me." He extended his arm and handed her a piece of paper.

She quickly read it over and smiled. "Of course I can print this up. This is very nice of you JD. I’m sure Buck will be very appreciative of your effort. How many do you need?" She moved toward the printing press and started organizing the letters.

"I don’t rightly know. How many can I get for…" He pulled some coins from his pocket and counted them. "I only got two dollars."

"Don’t worry, JD. The flyers are on the house. Just my way of contributing. I’m sure that Chris and the others will be glad to help you hand them out and I promise that the Larabees will be in attendance. You can pick them up in, say, two hours, okay?"

"Thanks, Mary."

JD exited the newspaper office and stopped to watch a young stranger ride past him on the street. Nothing in the young man’s appearance made him suspicious but he instantly decided to watch out for him. As he turned to walk away, he noticed Vin watching the young man also. The sheriff nodded slightly to the tracker and then crossed the street to join his friend.

"Never seen that cowboy before. Looks like he’s been riding hard." JD fingered the butt of his gun.

"Looks familiar but I can’t place ‘im. Buy ya a drink?" The tracker squinted slightly, trying to place the face.

"No, got ta get back to Buck. Do you think you and Josiah would be available this afternoon to help me with somethin’?" JD fiddled with the brim of his bowler hat. He hadn’t discussed his plan with anybody. Now that he had put it in motion, he wasn’t sure how the others would react. He felt so useless, just watching Buck’s silent form day after day. He wanted to find a way to help his best friend.

"Sure. Meet ya at the saloon for some lunch."

JD made his way to the saloon with the flyers in his hand. He hoped the others wouldn’t laugh in his face and that they would be willing to help. As he entered the dark interior of the saloon through the batwing doors, he noticed the young stranger sitting by himself, watching the gambler play solitaire. The youth was nursing a beer.

JD moved on by him and headed to the Seven’s back table. Vin and Josiah were already eating their noon meal. JD pulled out a chair and set the flyers on the table. Both of his friends looked up and smiled at him and then they turned their attention to the pile of papers.

"Would you guys help me pass these out?" JD implored. He held his breath as Josiah picked up a single sheet and read the bold lettering,

Citizens of Four Corners
Sunday, September 15th
Join us in helping a neighbor
Let’s get together to finish Buck Wilmington’s
House out at his homestead
Considering all that he’s done for us
Let’s help him when he injured
Bring tools and hardware
Food and Drink furnished

Josiah read it aloud for Vin’s sake and the he slapped the youngster on the back. "This is a terrific idea, son. Don’t know why the rest of us hadn’t thought on it. He’d be right proud of you, John Dunne." The gray haired man beamed at the youngest. "Let’s make sure that everyone gets one. A good old fashioned barn raising is just what this community needs."

"Bucklin’ll be surprised, that’s for sure. Who you getting’ to provide food and drink?" Vin took a handful of flyers.

"Ezra and Mrs. Potter?" JD replied tenuously. He had yet to ask either one of them.

Vin laughed. "I’ll ask Miss Nettie if she could make up somethin’ too."

Josiah slapped the young man beside him on the back. "Why don’t I mention it at services on tomorrow. I bet the ladies league would be glad to help out. And somehow, we’ll persuade Mr. Standish to help out too."

Both men got up and started to leave. "Comin’?"

JD jumped up, his dinner forgotten. The three friends headed out to inform the citizens of four Corners of their plans. None of them paid any attention to the young drifter who had been listening to every word they said.

The days passed slowly for Inez. She spent all her time beside Buck, praying and hoping for him to open his eyes and smile at her. Amanda had shown her how to feed the almost lifeless man. She changed the bedding, she cleaned up after him. She bathed, and shaved the man she loved. But mostly, she prayed to a merciful God, imploring Him to bring her beloved Buck back to her and their baby.

When JD showed her the flyer, she had smiled tiredly at the young man she considered to be part of her family. She kissed him tenderly on the cheek and softly said, "Gracious, little one. He would be so proud of you, the way you are holding up. I am so indebted to you, mi amigo. I don’t know how I would have managed without you and Ezra and Mary. Gracious."

"Ah heck, Miss Inez, it ain’t nothin’. I was just tryin’ ta figure out a way ta help Buck out. I feel so helpless, just watchin’ him lay there. This was all I could think of ta do. I know he’s gonna wake up soon but with that busted wrist, well, he can’t hardly pound any nails now, can he?" He smiled at the beautiful Mexican woman. "Don’t tell Buck but darned near the whole town plans on bein’ there. Mary and Miss Nettie along with Mrs. Potter have got a bunch of women lined up to bring food out and Josiah told me that he persuaded Ezra to supply the beer. Mary had a whole barrel full of cider that she was gonna serve at her wedding but since that didn’t happen, well she donated it. Mr. Perkins at the hardware store said that Buck had ordered a keg of nails before … Anyway, he’s bringin’ that and another one that he’s donatin’. Yosemite and his brother Cyrus said they’d be happy ta sharpen any tools and will bring some extra hammers and saws. It’s turnin’ out ta be a regular social event. Guess folks was disappointed they didn’t get ta go ta Chris’s wedding so this is the next best thing. I know ya don’t wanna leave Buck but ya oughta be there."

"Nada, JD, but will you thank all the generous townsfolk for me. I’m sure that when they are done, the house will be beautiful. It is so generous of them all. My heart is full of wonder at what you and the others have done." Once again she smiled at the diminutive sheriff and then she turned her attention back to Buck.

"We are so lucky to have such wonderful amigos, mi amor. And your little brother has made it all possible. You will have to thank him for all his help when you wake up. He is a good man, Buck. You should be very proud of him." She talked to her fiancé’ as she bathed him. No matter what, she would never willingly leave this man.

Derrick and Silas Braden waited outside of town for Jimmy Walker to return. Jimmy had joined the two men when they found their way to Purgatorio after the shootout. Jimmy was young but he had proven how ruthless he was when he senselessly shot the sheriff of Vista City six months earlier. He had grown bored in Mexico waiting for the heat to cool off.

When Derrick had shown up in Purgatorio and had started telling tales of their recent rampage, Jimmy had decided to throw his fate in with the brothers. Derrick was fun to be around. He didn’t care what laws he broke as long as he got what he wanted and what Derrick wanted was women. He couldn’t get enough of brutally taking what he considered a man’s right. Women were trash, nothing more that vessels for his entertainment and the more they screamed the more fun it was. The first night that he had met Jimmy, the two of them took a young barmaid out into the desert and viciously had their way with her, leaving her body for the vultures when they were done.

Silas Braden, on the other hand, had only one goal in mind. To take something from Chris Larabee that he would never forget. The gunslinger in black had cold bloodedly shot his baby brother and Silas was not about to let Larabee get away with it. He just had to figure out a way to make Larabee hurt like he did. The problem was the other six men that were always hanging around the regulator from Four Corners. Silas wanted revenge but he wasn’t stupid or obsessed like Derrick. He would take his time and find a way to exact his vengeance. He was the one who had sent Jimmy to Four Corners to keep an eye on things. He had threatened Jimmy that doing something stupid and getting himself noticed by the Seven would be a prerequisite for a brutal death. The intense glare from the cold golden eyes convinced the young outlaw that the older brother was completely deadly serious.

Silas was the first to see the cloud of dust coming their way. He stood behind a boulder, waiting with rifle aimed at the incoming rider. When he recognized Walker, he relaxed slightly but kept the rifle trained on the foolish young man.

Jimmy smiled broadly at Derrick and then turned to face the older of the two brothers. He handed him a flyer and then sat back in the saddle, a smug grin on his face.

"What the hell is this supposed ta mean. This ain’t nothin’!" Silas tightened his finger on the trigger.

"That," the boy began, "is the ticket to your revenge. Buck Wilmington is one of the regulators and he’s real sick or somethin’. Everybody is gonna be out at his homestead on Sunday. The whole town will be ours for the takin’. We can burn it down around Wilmington’s ears after we take whatever we want!"

Silas lowered the rifle and, for the first time in two weeks, he smiled. "Oh, Jimmy, ya done real good, reeeaaal good. What time is everybody leavin’?"

"They’re all headin’ out right after church services. Be gone the rest of the day so we can take our time. Man, this is gonna be fun."

"Fun? Nah, Jimmy, its payback time. Larabee’s gonna regret the day he killed a Braden. He’s gonna regret it the rest of his life." He laughed out loud and was joined by both Derrick and Jimmy.

Sunday dawned clear and bright. By the time Josiah, who had cut church services to a bare minimum, was done, Chris, JD, and Vin had a wagon loaded with everything the crowd would need to finish a house. Chris watched as Mary made her way with Billy from the church to the livery where all construction material had been stored. He smiled as she approached. He still had a hard time believing she was his wife. He wondered if the amazement would ever wear off.

"Did you get all three baskets packed in the wagon?" She asked. Billy had run ahead and was already ensconced in Chris’s arms.

"Yup, sure did. Just waitin’ for you and the young un to change into work clothes." He set Billy down on the ground.

"Give us five minutes. Did Vin go out to get Nettie and Casey?"

"Left ten minutes ago. JD’s already out at Buck’s getting’ everything organized. Any other questions, woman?"

She smiled and taking Billy by the hand, she hurried to her home to change clothes.

Chris noticed Ezra headed his way. He smiled. It had not been hard to choose who would be staying behind to protect the deserted town. Ezra was the laziest, complainingest, deadbeat there was when it came to manual labor. He had to get sweaty and dirty and it wasn’t worth listening to him bitch and moan. Only he and Inez, plus a few scrooges, would be in town with Buck. Amanda had told the raven haired woman that if something came up, she could get Bertie Simpson to ride out for her. Bertie had a broken arm and, although he wanted to help out Buck, his mother wouldn’t hear of it. He was thirteen and could ride like the wind but he couldn’t lift anything.

"Well, Mr. Larabee, I assume that you have everything loaded and are ready to depart for the Wilmington homestead." He brushed a piece of lint off his sleeve.

"Yeah, Ez, we’re ready to go as soon as Mary gets back. Now, you’re sure ya can handle things while we’re workin’ our butts off?"

"I believe that I can handle whatever may come this way. In all seriousness, Chris, this is a wonderful venture that the young Mr. Dunne has taken on. It warms my heart to see so many come to the aid of one."

"Ya know, Ezra, it kinda makes me wanna believe in people again." Seeing Mary coming his way he moved to the side of the wagon. "Remember, the Simpson boy can ride for us if anything comes up."

"I do recall that being the plan. Enjoy the beverages. I really do wish that I was skilled enough to assist all of you in this endeavor. May all go smoothly today."

With that Chris climbed up to the seat of the wagon, after handing Mary and Billy up. He tipped his hat to the gambler and took the reins. "See ya later, Ezra."

Ezra watched the Larabees as they rolled out of town and then he made his way to Dr. Elder’s clinic. Inez was just finishing feeding Buck when her good friend entered.

"Any change, my lovely senorita?" Ezra moved to stand by her side. He slipped a comforting arm around her waist and she laid he head on his shoulder. Next to Buck, the antisocial conman was her greatest support.

"No." She lifted her head and smiled at her confidant. "It is hard to be depressed today knowing that all of our neighbors are working to complete our dream. It warms the soul to see such an outpouring of friendship. I wish I could come up with a way to thank them all for their time and effort today."

"I’m sure you will think of something. Now, can I get you anything? Do you have enough food and water?" He released her and gazed down on the pale features of one of his "brothers". "Does he need anything, Sweetheart?"

"We have all that we need. Thank you, mi Amigo."

Ezra wandered the street for awhile and then settled himself in front of his saloon. He was thoughtlessly running the deck of cards through his fingers when the three riders came riding into town. The gambler quickly put away his deck and moved to intercept the three men.

"Good afternoon, gentlemen. May I be of assistance to you? I’m afraid that most of the businesses are closed for the Lord’s day of rest. I am the proprietor of the local saloon, if you good sirs are in the mood for a beer or something a little stronger." Ezra’s hand rested gently on the butt of his gun. He had taken an instantaneous dislike and distrust of the three. Remembering he had no back up he decided to play it cool for now.

"Oh, we’ll be havin’ us a beer or two, mister, but I reckon we can help ourselves. Jimmy, get his gun." Faster than Ezra could draw, Silas had his gun out and aimed at Standish’s heart.

Ezra raised his hands slightly away from his revolver. He flinched slightly when the young man he had seen in his saloon just two days ago removed his gun from its holster. Jimmy threw the gun out into the middle of the street.

"Now, barkeep, how many others are still in town? We know they all left ta help out a fellow neighbor which was right nice of all of ‘em. How many remained behind?" Silas dismounted and came up to stand a few feet from Ezra. He tapped the muzzle of his gun against the gambler’s chest.

"Just me and a couple of others. Nobody you have to fear, though. If they didn’t go help build a house, they certainly aren’t going to protect this town."

"That’s real good, barkeep. Jimmy, tie his hands. Derrick, go see if you can find that sick gunman. Probably at a doctor’s if this town’s got one. Jimmy, go with him when ya git done there. Bring the bastard out to the street when ya find ‘im."

Jimmy hurried to tie Ezra’s hands and join his friend on his search of the town. He felt like a kid in a candy store. The whole town was his to pick and choose from. Too bad there weren’t any women around. He and Derrick could have themselves a grand old time with no one around to stop them.

Ezra had clenched his fists as the young gunman tied his wrists and now he could feel that the rope was slightly loose. As discreetly as possible with the malicious leader right in front of him, he worked to free his hands. He stopped when Silas pulled on his arm.

"Come on, let’s go find us a beer and a bottle. Then we’ll go lookin’ for some kerosene. We’re gonna light up this town like you never seen, mister. Larabee is gonna regret the day he shot a Braden. Yes sir, he’s gonna remember this day for a long, long, time." Silas pulled Ezra with him through the batwing doors of the Standish Tavern. He shoved Ezra down in a chair while he went behind the bar and helped himself to a bottle of red eye.

Derrick was the one that spotted Dr. Elder’s shingle which hung proudly outside her home. He smiled at Jimmy as the two made their way into the clinic. They stopped abruptly when they came upon Inez. She screamed and ran towards the bed where Buck lie, motionless, defenseless. Derrick was laughing as he grabbed her arms and began to drag her away from her man.

"Jimmy, haul his ass outside. Silas wants him to die like a dog in the street. What’s the matter with him, lady? He unconscious or something?"

Inez fought with all she had but her strength was no match for the husky young outlaw. She refused to answer his questions. She would die trying to protect Buck from these animals if need be. ‘Where was Ezra?’ she wondered as Derrick threw her out into the street, tearing her blouse as he pushed her down.

"Hey, Silas. Looky what we found, Wilmington and his lady. He’s out of it as far as I can tell. Hasn’t moved at all since we caught ‘em. She, on the other hand, is a spitfire. I’ll give ya the first go at her if ya want, Silas." Derrick was rubbing his crotch in anticipation.

"Nah, maybe later, kid. Drop him, Jimmy. Right there in the middle of the street where he can watch his town go up in flames. What’s a matter, Wilmington, cat got your tongue? He looks dead already, Jimmy. Ya sure he’s breathin’?"

"She sure was tryin’ ta defend him. I think he’s just unconscious or somethin’. Hey, Derrick, I want a go at her when you’re done. She sure is a pretty one, ain’t she." He dropped Buck’s body and made his way to where Derrick was standing over Inez.

Silas had brought Ezra back out to the middle of town with him. He watched helplessly as the vile young man pushed his friend down onto the ground. He furiously worked to remove his bonds while the three murderers were busy with his family members. He wouldn’t let these bastards hurt Inez or Buck if he could at all prevent it.

In a window above the hardware store, Bertie Simpson watched in horror as three gunmen tied Mr. Standish’s hands and took his gun. He knew that the few men who had stayed in town wouldn’t help. They were the town’s pessimists, the ones who complained the loudest but never bothered to lift a finger to change things. Bertie knew the only help Mr. Standish would receive would be if he could get out of town and bring back Mr. Larabee and the others. He hurried down the backstairs, checking quickly to see if he had been noticed and then made his way to the livery via the alley ways.

Without bothering to put a saddle on the horse, he picked out the fastest one and drew the bridle up over his head. He led the gelding to the back door of the stable and climbing onto a fence rail, he mounted. He whipped the horse with the ends of the reins and flew quickly out of town.

The sound of pounding hooves drew all their attention. Derrick fired at the retreating form but the boy was too far away. Cursing their luck, he turned to his older brother. "Now we’re gonna have to rush and I really needed to take time with this one, Silas," he whined like a petulant little boy. He reached down and pulled Inez to her feet.

The black haired Braden looked back at Ezra. "Thought you said no one was here?"

"I said no one of consequence. It was probably one of our upstanding citizens fleeing for his life, leaving the rest of us to perish." Ezra’s wrists were rubbed raw already but he almost had his hands free. ‘Just a few more minutes, please give me a few more minutes,’ he thought.

Silas looked back at his red headed brother. "Don’t take all day with her. I’m gonna go to the dry goods store for kerosene. I want this place ablaze before the hours up. You understand me, Derrick?"

Derrick’s hands were already on Inez’s arms. He and Jimmy would take her right there in the street, in front of her lover. Then they would put a bullet in both of their heads. He glared briefly at his brother. "Yeah, I got ya Silas. It won’t take long." He moved his gaze back to the incredible young woman before him and he grinned at her. "Now for some fun."

Inez screamed, a loud, ear piercing, primal scream of fear.

Buck’s eyes snapped open. His head pounded and his body ached but the scream had penetrated his deep conscience. Inez needed him. He looked to see what was going on and he saw a gun, three feet ahead of where he lay. He picked his head up a little more and realized he was laying in the street. Where was everyone? Was he sleeping and this merely a nightmare?

Another scream brought his head to the side and he saw his beloved Inez struggling with a man who was molesting her. His hand stretched out to grab the gun he had seen. His hand was bandaged and splinted but he pulled the gun to him. He slowly moved his left hand out from under his body and he grabbed ahold of the gun, his finger already on the trigger. He rolled to his side.

Derrick was ripping Inez’s blouse off and trying to kiss her mouth. He held both of her wrists with his left hand. Jimmy was watching his friend, his hand rubbing himself in the excitement of the moment.

Silas had turned his back. He was not interested in what his crazy younger brother did. The black haired murderer pulled Ezra by the arm. He intended to take the bar keeper with him to the general store. As he pulled on Ezra’s arm, the gambler’s hand slipped free.

"Leave her alone." The words were barely audible, his throat dry with the dust of the street. He watched the scene play out before him. He gathered his strength. He had to protect her.

"Leave her alone!"

The deep menacing tone was clearly heard by all the second time. Derrick turned his head to stare at the body in the street. The man who had been on his death bed minutes before was now pointing a gun at him. His left hand tightened even more on Inez as his right hand reached for his pistol.

Jimmy was startled. The man was supposed to be sick, almost gone. How could he now be pointing a gun at his friend? Where did the gun come from?

Silas spun back towards the scene of his brother fighting the woman and attempting to draw his gun. Wilmington had a gun already pointed at Derrick and Jimmy was standing, paralyzed with disbelief.

Ezra pulled his arm away from Silas and his derringer ejected from his sleeve. As Silas reached for his gun to shoot Buck, Ezra pulled the trigger. Silas continued the motion of removing his gun but he fell, lifeless, before he could aim and fire.

Buck held his breath and carefully aimed. As Derrick swung to bring his gun to bear on the downed lawman, Buck pulled the trigger. The red headed rapist flew back, pulling Inez down with him in a death grip.

Jimmy drew his gun while Derrick was falling. He was pretty quick but Buck’s gun was already out and moving to aim at the young man’s chest. Ezra had also shifted his arm and the second bullet in his derringer was meant for Jimmy Walker. The two guns roared as one and the fledgling outlaw fell, his life snuffed out.

Buck’s energy was gone and he collapsed back to the dirt, the blackness claiming him once again. Ezra raced to deliver Inez from the lifeless body of her attacker. He pulled the already stiffening fingers back and released her wrist. Helping her to her feet, they made their way to where Buck lay, motionless once again. Ezra removed his gun from Buck’s grasp and then the two of them turned his body over. Inez cradled his head on her lap, her tears falling silently down onto his face. Ezra laid his head on the big man’s chest and heard the steady beat of the scoundrel’s heart. He felt the rise and fall of the chest as it worked to pull in air.

"He’s fine, sweetheart. He must have passed out from the exertion. Can you get his feet? We’ll get him back to Amanda’s."

Still crying, she nodded and gently gave over her place at Buck’s head to Ezra. Between the two of them they got the tall, lanky man back to his bed in the doctor’s clinic.

Ezra left Buck to Inez’s loving care and went back out to cover the bodies. He was just making his way to the livery when he heard horses approaching. His hand on his reholstered gun, he waited for the riders to appear.

Chris, Vin, JD, and Nathan raced into town and found the gambler waiting for them in the middle of the street. Ezra’s hand fell away from the butt of the gun and he smiled, a tired welcoming smile.

The four gunmen pulled their horses to a stop and glanced at the three covered bodies in the street. They all quickly dismounted.

"You all right, Ezra?" Nathan saw bloody cuffs hanging below his friend’s coat sleeves.

"I’m fine and so are Inez and Buck. We took him back to Dr. Elder’s clinic." JD took off at a run towards the clinic. Pointing at the bodies, the gambler added, "They knew the town was empty. They were plannin’ on burning everything after killing Inez and Buck. I believe they knew you, Mr. Larabee."

"Why would you say that?" Chris had now moved to stand beside his friend, watching as Nathan checked the man’s wrists.

Vin had gone to check the bodies and when he lifted the blanket of Jimmy Walker, he grunted. He squatted down beside Derrick Braden’s body and drew back the blanket. Before Ezra could answer Larabee’s question, he interjected, "This was one of ‘em we was chasin’."

"Precisely, Mr. Tanner. Evidently, our infamous leader shot their brother in the skirmish. They were seeking redress by incinerating the town. They also had plans to murder Mr. Wilmington and … well, they had plans for Inez also."

"Buck awoke when he heard Inez screaming for help. He managed to obtain my gun which the miscreants had thrown into the street. I had managed to free myself of my bonds, so when Buck asked them politely to leave the senorita alone, I took the opportunity to employ my derringer. Simultaneously, Buck shot the rapist that had a grip on his fiancée. I believe the third felon has two bullets in him."

Nathan’s head snapped up in surprise. "Buck woke up?"

"Yes, Mr. Jackson, I believe that I was quite clear on that point."

"Was he all right, Ez?" Chris was as shocked by the news of Buck’s recovery as Nathan was.

"By the time Inez and myself got to him, he was unconscious again. We got him back to the clinic and into bed. Inez is with him now. Perhaps … " Ezra was interrupted by the arrival of a wagon, moving as fast as it could, coming into town. Aboard were Josiah, Amanda, and Mary. Josiah pulled the horses to a halt near the horses of the others. Vin went to offer a hand down to Mary and then Amanda.

"Amanda, Buck woke up. He’s back in your clinic," Nathan informed her as he took her elbow and the two rushed toward her home.

Mary quickly moved to Chris’s side. "Is everyone alright?"

He put a protective arm around his wife and smiled. "Yeah, ol’ Ez handled everything just like he promised. Thanks Ezra."

"I only performed my appointed duty, Mr. Larabee. I am distressed that Miss Recillos was treated so maliciously before I could effect her release. I do hope that the baby was not harmed by the manhandling she was forced to endure." Ezra’s eyes filled with tears and he quickly dropped his head.

"You did all you could Ezra. Come on, we’ll go see how they are." He began to steer Mary toward Amanda’s.

"Josiah and I’ll take the bodies to the undertakers and then join ya," Vin stated.

Chris merely nodded at the tracker and then moved off, followed closely by Ezra.

Amanda came out of Buck’s room followed by Nathan. She looked at all the worried faces and thought to herself how lucky she was to have fallen into this circle of friendship. The small hallway held JD, Chris, Mary, Vin, Ezra, and her beloved Josiah. She smiled and she could literally feel the tension being expelled from the tired bodies.

"He’s sleeping. He came to awhile ago and spoke to Nathan and Inez. His body is one big ache. After all, he did fall from a tree but, he’s lucid and hungry. He drank his fill of water and then fell asleep. I think you all can see him tonight. Why don’t we all get some food. I think I can fix something with a little help from Mary."

Laughter filled the small space as they all headed to her kitchen.

Inez sat by Buck’s side, waiting for him to awaken. Despite the ordeal of the afternoon, she felt better than she had in weeks. Buck was going to recover fully and that was all she wanted. Amanda had even checked her over and told her that the baby should be just fine.

She jumped up when Buck’s eyes began to flutter open. "I’m here, mi amor."

He smiled at her and squeezed the hand holding his. "Are you okay?"

She smiled. Of course she was okay. "Yes, love, I am fine thanks to you and Ezra. How do you feel?"

"Woman, don’t you know your Buck is always fine when you’re beside ‘im. I’ll be up and around by tomorrow."

"Well, why don’t we let Amanda dictate that. I have something to tell you and I have waited too long as it is." She hesitated.

Buck pulled her close and whispered, "Honey, you can tell me anything. Go ahead."

Laying her head on his chest, feeling his warmth spread through her, she announced, "We … you and me, we are going to have a baby."

She felt his body tense. Her fears blossomed when he didn’t utter a word. She lifted her head from his chest as a tear slid down her cheek. "I thought you wanted children?"

He blinked his eyes and then cleared his throat. "A baby?"

"Si, a baby."

"A baby?"

"Si! Don’t you want children?"


"Amanda says around the end of February. She says the baby is doing fine."

"A boy or a girl?"

She chuckled. "I don’t know. Not until it arrives will we know."

"A real baby?"

"Si. A little part of both of us. Well?"

"Oh yeah, Sweetheart, oh yeah! Oh my God, I’m going to be a father! Oh, Inez, I can’t believe it. I’m going to be a father?"

"Si, mi amor, a father. I will even let you name our child."

"I know exactly what we’ll name him or her! And it won’t be Eudora."

They both hugged and laughed and cried and made plans for more than an hour. Then they both fell asleep, cradled in each others arms.


The sky was a perfect blue and a gentle breeze blew over the assembled crowd. All of Four Corners was gathered today at the Wilmington homestead to celebrate the nuptials. Most of the people were settled on benches, facing the flowered trellis where Josiah stood. The front row held the "family" members. Nathan and Rain held hands as they awaited the beginning of the ceremony. Nettie Wells and Amanda Elder flanked Margaret DuBois, each woman holding a handkerchief in preparation. Alma Recillos sat beside Evie Travis, already dabbing at tear filled eyes.

Buck and Chris, each looking extremely handsome in brand new black suits, stood anxiously awaiting the processional of women that would soon begin. Beside them were Vin and JD, also both attired in suits (not an easy task, getting Vin into what he called a straight jacket). The four men were antsy, shuffling their feet, wiping sweaty palms on dress pants.

The fiddler began his song and all four men snapped to attention, their eyes riveted on the women heading their way from the house. First to approach was Casey Wells in a dark maroon gown, brown hair piled artistically on her head (by Aunt Maggie) holding a bouquet of wild flowers. She stumbled as she made her way down the front steps but quickly recovered and smoothly made her way to stand on the left side of Josiah. Angelina Recillos followed Casey. She was a few years older than Casey and she had a woman’s body, much as her sister. Her maroon gown clung to her curves and several men were heard groaning at the picturesque young woman. She had long raven hair cascading down her back with tiny white flowers sprinkle throughout. She made her way flawlessly to stand beside Casey.

Finally, from inside the house, both brides appeared simultaneously. A hush fell over the gathering as the exquisite women glanced quickly at each other and then proceeded to walk, escorted by two very proud gentlemen, towards the arbor and the men waiting for them.

Mary Travis was clung to the arm of her former father-in-law, Orrin Travis. She wore a high neck, lace covered, sparkling white wedding dress, her blonde hair piled in ringlets on top of her head. Her gray eyes sparkled as they focused on her husband.

Inez Recillos was the last to walk to the trellis, escorted by Ezra Standish, her best friend. She also had her hair styled with flowing tendrils down each side and tiny white flowers dusting the raven colored hair. She wore a white gown with an empire waist that was cut low, the tight sleeves coming from the shoulders which were bared. She was radiant as she made her way to Buck’s side.

The actual ceremony only took a few minutes, Josiah not finding any reason to ask if anyone disagreed with the couples choices. The celebration lasted well into the night. The beer and wine flowed freely and the musicians supplied lively music for hours.

Buck danced with all the women, smiling, complimenting, even flirting, but when each dance was through, his eyes searched for his wife. Being five months pregnant, Inez had no desire to be on her feet on the dance floor the whole evening but she made her way around the numerous tables, thanking everyone for their hard labor on the house and encouraging them all to eat and drink more. When she took time to sit, she sat by her mother and sister. Numerous men asked Angelina to dance but she refused them all. That is, until her new brother-in-law swept her off her feet without even asking.

Buck could feel her heart racing, saw the look of fear in her eyes so he gently held her, smiled and easily whirled her around the edge of the floor. By the end of the dance, she had grown comfortable in Buck’s arms and shyly smiled back at the tall lanky man that her sister clearly adored. As Buck was about to lead Angelina back to the table and her sister, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He looked back to see Ezra waiting to dance with the exquisite Mexican woman. Buck looked at Angelina for if she didn’t want to dance with anyone else, Buck was not going to hand her over. Without words, he asked if it was all right. The timid young woman glanced at Ezra and then nodded her head. Buck handed her over to the Southern gentleman and he tenderly took Angelina into his arms. They fit perfectly and Ezra whirled the beauty gracefully through the crowd. When the dance was over, he held her chair and then sat with the Recillos women, sipping punch he casually laced with bourbon from his flask.

Mary also toured the tables, thanking people for coming and understanding the double wedding. Chris danced with her several times but mostly, he stood on the sidelines with Vin. The two of them watched Nathan teach Rain how to waltz, JD and Casey take their turn at a polka, and Josiah and Amanda sashay through a turkey trot. Vin had shed his coat and tie but he still looked handsome in his white shirt and suspenders. Numerous women approached him for a dance but he only tried it once with Mary.

The hour grew late and finally, the last of the guests departed and only family remained. The family was growing and now included fifteen men and women. Nettie, Alma, and Maggie came out of the house with stacks of sandwiches and coffee and they all congregated on the large wrap around front porch, taking seats on chairs and benches.

Inez sat wearily beside her new husband. Buck was finally wearing down and his arm wrapped protectively around the love of his life. Inez smiled and laid his hand on her stomach where she could feel the baby moving. Buck smiled and gently kissed her lips. He couldn’t imagine being any happier than he was tonight.

Mary sighed and leaned into her husband side. His arm went around her shoulders and he leaned to kiss her hair as he noticed where Buck’s hand was. He envied his old friend somewhat. He decided that he and Mary would have to discuss having children. He was now at a point in his life when a son or a daughter would fill him with joy.

Inez glanced at her sister who was seated beside her mother. Alma was busy talking to Nettie, Maggie, and Amanda. The women were discussing gardening, Amanda wanting to learn all she could for she wanted a small garden the next summer. Josiah held her hand and listened, not contradicting his love but wondering when she would find the time. Angelina didn’t speak. She hadn’t spoken to anyone in five years. The village doctor could not find a thing wrong with her throat but she refused to talk. The new bride did notice that she was covertly glancing numerous times at a young man from the South who was sitting beside Nathan and Rain. JD and Casey sat on the steps of the porch, feeding each other the small finger sandwiches the older women had prepared.

Vin watched the people he had come to love, the people that loved him. He had put his old leather coat on as the chill of the night started to set in. He was content and right now, that meant everything to him.

"So Josiah, are you and Amanda planning on a wedding soon?" Maggie turned to the big man next to her.

"I guess this is as good a time as any to tell all of you. We talked about Christmas but my lady wants to do it in San Diego. We don’t expect all of you to follow us out there so we thought maybe a party to celebrate when we return." Josiah smiled at the blushing woman beside him.

"Well, all right. Good for you two. Just so long as Amanda is back in town during February. Nathan, ya know I trust you one hundred percent but this is my child we’re talking about and I reckon both Mex and I would prefer Amanda to be around, just in case." Buck tightened his arm around Inez.

"We’ll be back. I wouldn’t miss that event. If you would rather we wait, Inez …?" Amanda hadn’t thought about Inez and her baby, she had been so excited when Josiah had asked her to marry him.

"Oh Amanda, I wouldn’t want you to put off anything for me. Nathan can take care of everything, no matter what the father says." She poked Buck in the ribs.

Amanda turned to the dark man sitting with his back against the front of the white washed house. "You will be around, won’t you?"

"Yeah, I’ll be here. Rain just told me tonight that she is going to move into town so that we can be together. We plan on waiting until spring though to tie the knot. How ‘bout you JD? Any wedding plans?"

JD choked on the sandwich he was eating. "What? No, no way. Not me!" He grimaced when Casey moved away from him and gave him a nasty look. "Oh, now Casey, sweet heart, you know I love ya, but I don’t think either of us are ready, do you?"

She slid back to his side and agreed. "No, I don’t think I’m ready for marriage or motherhood. Speaking of motherhood, how about you, Mary? You plannin’ anything yet?"

Nettie was incensed that her niece would talk of such a thing in mixed company but Casey seemed clueless. "Child, that is not proper for a young lady to be discussing."

"Ah hell, Miss Nettie, we’re all family. I’d like ta hear the answer," Vin added his two cents worth.

"I don’t know about Mary but I sure like trying to make a child." Chris got slapped for that comment and everyone laughed as Chris apologized to his wife.

Buck raised his coffee cup and proposed a toast. "Here’s to love, the ladies, and family. We are truly blessed."

Everyone raised their mugs and agreed. "To family!"


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