Castles and Ghosts

by Lyn

Chapter 10
"Enough." Vin stood suddenly and began to pace. Fitzsimmons had insisted that they go over more figures and Vin had listened to more than he could handle on very little sleep. Besides, none of it made sense to him. He turned and faced his friends. "Ez, yer good with this stuff. It makes sense to ya doesn’t it?"

"Well yes Vin, it does."

"Then would ya be willin’ ta take this on, on yer own? Ya know it makes no sense ta me. Could ya jest make sure that ever’thing is on the up and up? And that this place can pay fer itself?"

"Certainly. It would be my honor to over see your estate finances."

"Ya know I don’t want a dime of this money, right?"

"Although I do not understand that sentiment, I know that these are your wishes."

"Thanks Ez." Vin stopped in the doorway and turned back. "Hey Ez, if there’s a way, kin ya see that maybe somethin’ be set up fer charity? There must be an orphanage around here somewhere that could use some help."

Ezra nodded and Chris stood and followed Vin out of the room.

"So what do you want to do now?"

"Sides go home?"

"Yes, besides go home."

"Don’t know." Vin shrugged and looked around the hallway. "I’ve had this feelin’ ever since we got here. Like someone’s watchin’ me." He looked at Chris then shrugged again. "Reckon maybe I took JD’s ghost stories a little too serious." Vin tried to force a laugh.

"You haven’t been sleeping well. Put that together with a strange house that echoes and I can see where you might feel that." Chris said casually.

"Yeah." Vin stared upward. "Want ta go explorin’?"

With a grin, Chris followed Vin up the stairs.

The two men spent the balance of the morning checking out all the rooms. They had met up with Penelope, the chambermaid and had asked what rooms belonged to servants so they wouldn’t enter them and intrude on their privacy.

After a noon meal, the two men were joined by JD and began to explore the lowest floor. They spent the early afternoon opening trunks of old clothing and linens and checking out antique paintings and furniture, entering room after room, only encountering one that was locked. Vin considered picking the lock, but decided it could wait. He’d see if Malcolm had a key later.

"Hey Vin! Look at this hat!" JD had placed a large brimmed black hat with a flowing dirty white ostrich feather tucked in the band on his head. "What do you think?"

"I think that’s even sillier than that other hat you wear!" Buck’s voice boomed from the stairwell.

"Buck you wouldn’t know a good looking hat if one bit you!"

"Well let me tell ya kid, that one bites." Buck took a swipe at JD’s head as the younger man ducked. "Hey Vin, some of the cousins are up there asking about you. Apparently one remembered a whole slew of family she forgot to tell you about and the other wants to know if she should continue booking guests."

Vin groaned. "Didn’t I see another set a stairs here somewhere?"

"Sure did. Right over there. I’d guess that they head up the back of the house, maybe closer to the servants rooms," Chris answered.

"Then I’m headin’ up em. I’m beat. I’m gonna go lay down."

"What do you want me to tell the cousins?" Buck asked, giving a tug on his mustache before his hand whipped out to remove the hat on JD’s head.

"That I don’t care what they do." Vin caught the look Chris shot at him. "Tell the one that yeah she should keep bookin’ guests. And tell the other that I’ll listen ta her tales about the family after supper."

"Will do."

Vin moved off toward the back staircase while the other three closed up trunks before heading up the stairs. As he moved amongst the accumulation of old furniture, Vin passed the locked door they had found. An uncontrollable shudder caused him to pause, briefly studying the door, before continuing to the staircase. The entire time he felt as though eyes watched him move.

Vin wearily let himself into his room. Thoughts of sleep were immediately brought to an end as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. Someone had been here, in his room. And it wasn’t the chambermaid, of that he was certain. Once more he searched the room, checking the walls and paneling for latches and coming up empty again.

"Tanner, ya got ta be imagin’ things," he muttered to himself an hour later. He kicked off his boots and flopped down on the bed and tried to get a short nap. He was unsuccessful, feeling eyes on him once more. He forced his eyes closed, then finally gave up. Tiredly, he ran a hot bath to prepare for the evening meal and the reading of the will. Then maybe they could go home and he could leave this all in his past.

He finished dressing just as Chris knocked on his door and the seven friends made their way down the stairs.

Chapter 11

Supper was another long, drawn out affair, with relatives chattering at and questioning the exhausted sharpshooter until he thought he would explode. His friends sensed the pending explotion and gracefully stepped in, engaging the relatives in conversations, Buck and Nathan took on the two cousins, Josiah their husbands and JD began telling bad jokes to a few of their children, while Ezra distracted Fitzsimmons.

"You all right?" Chris asked softly.

"M’head feels like it’s gonna fall off," Vin muttered, one hand absently rubbing at his temple.

"You gonna make it the next couple hours?"

"Yeah, reckon so."

"You have that aspirin I gave you?"

"Up in m’room. Took some this afternoon. I’ll take some more after supper."

Chris just nodded and the pair settled in to a comfortable silence as the meal finished. Vin excused himself to go after the aspirin as Fitzsimmons retired to the library to prepare for the reading of the will, while the others lingered over coffee or tea until Fitzsimmons called for them.

Vin knew immediately that someone had been in his room once more. He immediately began a cursory search. He was surprised to see a dusty footprint on the ancient rug near the fireplace and immediately concentrated on that area.

His fingers ran over the stone of the fireplace and felt a bump of some sort along the edge. He pressed against it, wondering how he had missed it before, and was rewarded with a resounding click and a section of wall sliding open. Hoping there would be sufficient light, he held his gun in both hands and proceeded inside the revealed passageway, leaving the entrance open behind him.

The passage was short, moving back behind the fireplace to an opening in the floor with a continuous stair leading both up and down. Glancing at the back of the stonework, Vin found a small peephole looking in to his room. The dust on the floor beneath it had been greatly disturbed, and Vin now knew why he had felt eyes on him so frequently. He proceeded to the open stairwell. Now, up or down?

Making a decision he stepped into the stairwell and moved down the steep stairs, his gun still at the ready. Coming to another platform, he stepped off and followed the passageway, a dim light leading him on. A low murmur of voices could be heard.

He stepped forward silently, edging himself along the wall so that he could see through the opening revealed ahead of him. Somewhat surprisingly, he found himself looking in to the library. A step closer revealed Fitzsimmons talking to a gray haired man whom Vin had never seen before.

"They are due to read the will in just a few moments," he heard Fitzsimmons say. "In fact I believe his friends are already gathering in the hall with the cousins."

"Well then, it is time for me to ‘disappear’ once more," the gray haired man said before he turned toward the open passage in the library wall.

"Hold it right there!"

Chapter 12

The others heard Vin's raised voice from the dining hall and came running. Chris and Ezra threw open the sliding doors and were just inside the room and the others just entering but all six froze in place at the sight of Vin with his gun pointed at a man somewhere in his fifties. Worse yet, the man had Vin's jaw line and, when his face could be seen more clearly, Vin's eyes. Vin's cousins and some of the servants gathered in the doorway behind them.

"Who the hell are you? And why have you been watching me?" Vin demanded.

"Is that any way to talk to your father boy?"

"My father?" Even as he said it, Vin knew this was the man in the portrait at the bottom of the stairs. A little older, a few more wrinkles, more gray hair, but the same man. "Yer suppose ta be dead…"

"Oh that. Well that was more a test than anything else."

"A test? What kinda test?"

"Why to see if you're worthy of the family heritage. I mean what with your upbringing, all the orphanages and homes and such, why we had to make sure you weren't a gold digger now didn't we?" The man motioned toward his relatives, who had now entered the room. "I have to admit, you're not quite what I expected, but you definitely do not seem interested in any money that the estate might have. Do you agree?" he asked the gathered relatives.

"Oh yes indeed." and "Very much so." could be heard from the cousins.

"I did rather hope to see how you acted after you ‘inherited’ all this before we made our final decision. But I do believe you have passed the test."

"A test? A TEST?" Vin shook his head in disbelief. "You pretended ta be dead just ta see if I'd pass yer stupid test?"


"I cain't believe this." Vin's friends had never seen him so angry. Chris moved up to the man carefully, putting his hand out and taking Vin's gun from the hand now hanging loosely by his side. "You been dead ta me all my life. I find out jest weeks ago that ya weren't really dead before. In fact, that ya knew where I was at least part a my life and ya did nothing then ta contact me. And now….NOW…I'm findin' out yer really alive, that you knew I lived in them hell holes growin’ up and I'm bein' tested ta find out if I live up ta some…standards?" Vin turned on his heals and moved toward the door, pushing his way through the cluster of people gathered in the doorway and hall then out the front door. Chris glared at the man, then followed. Ezra was right behind him.

"JD, get our coats. We're gonna need em. It's kind of cool out there." JD nodded at Buck's orders, then left the room. Then Buck turned his anger at William Tanner.

"How dare you do that to him?" Buck moved over to the man, towering over him, his finger poking him in the chest for emphasis. "You'll never know exactly what that boy has gone through in his life, what he's survived. We don't even know it all, but what we do know, well, it's enough ta bring a grown man to tears. And you knew about him, knew he was all alone. And you allowed those things to happen to him. You claim ta be his father, but no loving father that I know of would have done such a thing to his son. And then this…this TEST! You were never the man Vin Tanner has become." With that Buck turned and followed his friends out of the room, meeting JD in the hall. Jackets were put on and the group went out to find their friends.

Chapter 13

Vin pushed the heavy doors open and took an immediate left. Walking quickly, he moved through the tunnel to the parking area, then kept moving beyond, heading toward the beach. Without any conscious thought he began to jog, then moved into a full out run, feeling the need to put some distance between himself and the large house and it's deceiving occupants. He didn't hear Chris yell his name as the blood began to pound in his head and the ground began to pass under his feet.

Chris began to run after him, down to the beach and through the sand. Ezra took off across solid ground, hoping to get ahead of his friend and cut him off. Ezra and Vin had run together on numerous occasions and he knew how fast Vin could be. And Ezra could match the fleet footed sharpshooter under most circumstances. But Vin had a head start and, undoubtedly, a good adrenaline rush going for him. His only hope was that he could reach a small hill where the beach curved back into the landscape before Vin got there by way of the beach itself.

As Ezra approached the hill he saw that he was, indeed, just fractions ahead of Vin. He picked up his pace even more till he was running directly at Vin, launching himself into a tackle and taking the man down at the knees. The two tumbled in the sand before coming to a stop. Vin was on his feet immediately and in a fighting crouch before he realized who had tackled him.

"Jeez Ez," he muttered breathlessly as Chris ran up to join them. "Didn't know ya knew how ta do that."

"Well Mr. Tanner, I guess when the need arises a man can do just about anything necessary." Ezra said as he brushed the sand from his clothing. Vin brushed at his own clothes before dropping to the sand, sitting in a cross-legged position and looking out at the ocean, breathing deeply of the salty air. The other men joined him, one on each side.

"You planning on running clear back to the states Pard?" Chris asked after sitting in silence, each man catching his breath from the run.

"Would if I could."

"Are you going to be all right Vin?" Ezra asked.

"Yeah. Jest one more case a being yanked around. Knew it was a bad idea comin' here. But I'll be fine. Ya get used to it after a while."

"Shouldn't have to get used to it though," Chris added.

"Been like that most a my life. Only time I recall not being treated like that was when I come ta work fer you." Vin grabbed a handful of sand and let the grains trickle through his fingers. "Well, and somewhat in the Rangers, after they found out that I could shoot."

Chris grinned at the understated comment. To say simply that Vin could shoot was like saying that Barishnikov could dance or Monet could paint.

"It is indeed easy to become passive and accepting of one’s treatment," Ezra said as he picked at a blade of sea grass near his feet. "Unfortunately some feel that such a person is, at best, unmotivated. Personally I think it takes great strength to overcome such treatment and emerge a man of upstanding character and compassion such as yourself."

Vin squinted one eye and cocked an eyebrow. "I'm not sure, but was that a compliment Ez?"

"Indeed it was Mr. Tanner."

"Thanks." Vin's gaze went back out to sea, nodding as the rest of his friends joined the group, taking seats in the sand or leaning against a large rock. Jackets were handed to the threesome. The men sat in silence for a time, no words needed as they forged that silent bond that allowed them to work so well together, quietly passing Vin their strength, understanding and support.

"So what would be our next move?" Josiah finally asked.

"Now we go home," Vin replied as he stood, brushing the damp sand from his clothes before burrowing his hands into his jacket pockets and led the group back toward the Hall.

Chapter 14

Vin led the men into the house, stopping just inside the arched entry to the library where the family members had gathered. His friends spread out behind him, in a show of support.

"We'll be leavin' in the mornin’," Vin said then turned to walk away. He stopped at his father's next comment.

"Now why would you want to do that? I thought we could get to know each other."

Vin wheeled around, his rage barely contained. "Get ta know each other? From the sounds a things ya've had twenty-eight years ta get ta know me, but ya never tried. Why should ya want ta now?"

"Well, I had the estate here to run…"

"And ya had a son in the States that needed ya. Apparently that weren't important to ya then, why should it be now? My mother always told me what a wonderful man my father was, how I should work hard ta live up ta the Tanner name. Right now I'm ashamed a that name if it means I’m related ta you."

"I have to agree with the young man," a voice said from the entry hall.

"Mother?" William Tanner asked, surprise evident in his voice. Vin turned as his friends parted and allowed a woman in her late 70's to walk between them. She stopped in front of Vin and reached up to touch his cheek before turning toward her son.

"I should have stopped your father when he demanded you come home and leave that lovely woman behind. I should have done something to keep you from becoming your father's son. He was every bit as manipulative as you are now. You've learned well. Unfortunately. You are every bit as self centered as he was."

"Now Mother…"

"No. I won't hear it. I allowed you to become that way, to treat this boy so poorly. And yes, I know everything about what you have done here this week. How you allowed him to believe you were dead. How you never once tried to help him, tried to contact him and take him away from the life he was forced to live. I'm ashamed of you and ashamed of myself for not stepping in much, much sooner. And the rest of you should be ashamed of yourselves for your parts in this charade." She gestured at the relatives then turned toward Vin once more.

"I wish to ask your forgiveness, although you have every right to tell me no, and I would not blame you if you did."

"Grandmother?" The word was a whisper, Vin's emotions dangerously close to the surface.

"Yes boy. I’m your Grandmother." Vin studied the grey haired woman before him. She wasn’t extremely tall nor short and was obviously strong, both in will and in body despite her age. Vin’s own blue eyes stared back at him.

"Mrs. Tanner, Vin, perhaps it would be best if we retired to another room?" Ezra had come up beside the two, nodding a greeting to the elderly woman and offering an arm in escort. Vin followed after a nudge from Chris and the others trailed behind, Buck and Josiah the last to walk away, both men turning and glaring at the gathering as if to warn against following.

Chapter 15

Ezra led the group to the small office near the staircase, seeing that the woman was settled into a comfortable chair before moving away a few feet. Chris steered a shocked Vin toward another chair, which the sharpshooter sank into, leaning forward to hold his head in his hands. Chris stayed at his side while the others took up positions around the room, taking seats or leaning against walls and furniture.

"Mrs. Tanner, would you care for some tea?" Ezra asked, then went in search at the woman’s nod. He returned to a still silent room moments later, having found Monica nearby and requesting the refreshments. By then Vin had raised his head and was watching the elder woman.

"Never knew I had a grandma," Vin’s quiet statement broke the silence in the room.

"I’m sorry Vincent, you should have known. You should have been part of this family from the start."

"It’s jest Vin, ma’am." Vin leaned back in the chair, emotional exhaustion settling in. "And I reckon if I had been then I’d a never met these guys."

"It’s obvious you are all very close."

"Yes ma’am. We’re family."

"Like we have never been," the woman sighed as she leaned back in her chair, a sad smile passing her face even as she studied the face of the grandson she had never met. "I owe you an explanation. You deserve at least that." She looked up as Monica entered the room with a pot of tea and several cups on a tray along side a full bottle of Irish whiskey and seven glass tumblers. She quietly poured the tea then left the room, making sure the door clicked soundly behind her. Buck stood and poured whiskey into a glass and brought it over to Vin.

"Might I have a splash of that?" the woman asked, holding her teacup out. Buck smiled obligingly and poured a dollop into her cup then filled glasses for the other men as well. The woman took a sip and looked around the room at the men gathered there. Her gaze landed on Vin, who had yet to take a taste of his whiskey and sat staring into the glass while everything that had happened this day fought for order in his head.

"William was not always like this. Growing up, he was always a thoughtful and loving boy, and it was so difficult to deny him the one desire he’d had since he was a little boy. So the year before he went to University we sent him on a trip to the States." She smiled in memory. "He had devoured every book he could get a hold of on the Wild West and swore he would see it for himself. Of course as he grew older he understood it would not be the way it was in his books, but he still wished to see it. It was on this trip he met and fell in love with your mother."

"William positively gushed when he would ring us up and tell about her. We chalked it all up to an infatuation. We had no idea it had gotten as serious as it had." She stood and moved about the room nervously. "It wasn’t until William had returned and begun his studies that we found out your mother was expecting. By this time my husband and I were having our own troubles. He had become very manipulative and demanding. A once loving man, he was now impossible to live with, more concerned with making money than in what his family needed. In fact he and I were separated at the time and I was living off a stipend in London. With the news of your impending arrival, he began to work on William and before long had the boy convinced that your mother was a gold digger, only becoming pregnant to get the Tanner money."

"My mother never cared for money. We was as poor as church mice, but we was happy."

"I know son. She never asked for a penny, never even asked for marriage. She just wanted William to know his son." She sat next to him on the sofa and took his hand. Vin looked into her eyes and waited for her to continue. "William was so proud the day he heard of your birth. And his father was so angry. He would have none of a male Tanner heir being an illegitimate child of an American woman without what he considered a legitimate heritage. He told William he would be disowned if he made any move to contact this woman again. By then, I’m afraid William had been so tainted by his father that he agreed."

"I should have done something, but I’m afraid financially he had my hands somewhat tied. And William, bless his heart, followed his father’s teachings. I had no idea you would be put through so much in your lifetime or I would have tried harder."

"Doesn’t sound like there was much ya could a done."

"It seems there must have been. But at the time I’m afraid I wasn’t as outspoken as I am now. I acted somewhat as the dutiful wife and allowed Harrison to handle things." She looked around at the faces of Vin’s friends and saw acceptance and understanding there. She could only hope that Vin felt the same way. "I can assure you that all of that has now changed."

"So now what Vin?" Buck asked from where he leaned against the desk. Vin looked at each of his friends and knew that they would support whatever decision he made. He drew strength from their support. "Home. There’s nothin’ here I need or want. Except maybe," he turned to face the woman next to him, "A grandmother?"

"You shall have that from this moment forward."


"And what shall we do about those hovering outside the door?" Ezra asked. He had taken a seat in a straight-backed chair next to the chair Vin sat on.

"They hangin’ round outside?"


"Ya got any ideas Ez?" A gleam appeared in Vin’s eyes and a smile crossed his face.

"I’m certain I could come up with something," Ezra replied, the gleam in his eyes matching Vin’s.

"Ma’am, stand back and watch. This could be right fun!" Buck exclaimed.

"Would it help if I told you I have controlling interest of the estate? I technically own 51% of it still. It goes directly to William upon my death according to Harrison’s will."

"Why yes ma’am, that does indeed lend a few ideas," Ezra grinned, his gold tooth flashing.

"Genevieve, please. I should be on a first name basis with my Grandson’s family."

Moments later the group left the room, a plan hatched to exact at least a few moments revenge on William and the relatives.

Chapter 16

"I’m thinking some a them velvet paintin’s instead a the tapestries, mebbe even the one with the gambling dogs on it," Vin said as he pushed through the knot of family members just outside the door and pointed up at a few of said items while Ezra scribbled furiously in the note pad. He was laying on his Texas accent especially thick, to the point of exaggeration. The other five men and Genevieve followed behind him as he headed down the hall, the relatives watching them before following also.

Vin paused in the entry to the dining hall. "A bar complete with the nekked lady painting and foot rails. Mebbe even a spittoon. Or mebbe those booths like ya find in diners with the red vinyl bench seats and them individual tabletop jukeboxes. Do ya think that Monica would mind wearin a beehive hairdo?"

He turned and crossed the hall to the library. "Y’all know that buffalo head I found in that junk store back home? I think that would look real good right above the fireplace, with a bearskin rug on the floor. That crystal chandelier goes and we’ll get one made a antlers. I’ve seen tables made a tree trunks or antlers. We’ll need some a them. And a juke box filled with Willie Nelson and Roy Rodgers records put over in that corner."

Ezra continued scribbling as Vin dictated. "Burl wood tables….got it. What about Box Car Willie records?"

"Yeah, them too!"

"What do you think you’re doing?" William finally spoke up, the words sputtering in disbelief.

"Gran here turned over her share a the castle ta me. Reckon iffn I’m gonna live here I should be allowed ta make it a bit like home. Daddy." Vin applied just a hint of sarcasm to the title.

"Gran? Daddy?" William blustered at the casual names used. "And I’ll have you know that she is not allowed to sign over her share. It is in my father’s will that she may lay claim to 51% of this property, but once she passes it becomes mine entirely."

"Ez," Vin stated calmly giving the man permission to jump in.

"I do believe that your father’s will did indeed leave 51% to your mother. But what she does with that is entirely up to her. She has, succinctly, bequeathed that percentage to Vin. And she has given him permission to act as though he is already in possession." Genevieve nodded, confirming the statement.

"I’m told that’s controlin’ interest. Means I own more’n you do. So I’m movin’ in," Vin said then turned back to the room. "That thing up there," he pointed to the family crest on the wall, "has ta go."

"No! You can’t….she can’t…Fitzsimmons!!!"

Vin’s face turned serious. "Relax, Daddy," he said, not even attempting to hide the contempt he had for the man from entering his voice. "What makes ya think I’d want ta live here, after the crap ya pulled? We’re still leavin’ in the mornin’." And Vin headed once more for the door, leading his friends out into the hall and up the stairs, helping his grandmother make the climb and seeing her to the room Penelope had prepared before heading to his own.


An hour later found Vin lying on the large bed, wide awake, his hands behind his head and staring at the ceiling. He had taken the painting from above the fireplace down and covered the peephole and moved the chairs in front of the sliding passageway door. It wouldn’t stop the door from opening, but he would at least know if the chairs had been moved.

He looked up as the knock came on the door, followed by it opening and his friends trooped in, each dressed and ready for bed.

"Figured you couldn’t sleep either," Chris said as he dropped into a chair. The others all took places around the room as Vin sat up on the edge of the bed.

Buck joined Vin on the bed and propped himself up against the headboard, shifting a pillow behind his head to make himself comfortable. "You okay Junior?" he asked.

"Reckon I will be."

"Vin, you never did get a chance to tell us how you ended up downstairs. We were in the hall the whole time and you never went past us." Chris looked at his friend, studying the face to make sure he truly was all right.

"Member how I couldn’t sleep? It was cuz I felt like someone was watchin’ me. Felt like someone had been in my room when I wasn’t here too. Turns out there’s a secret passage right behind those two chairs and a little peep hole behind that paintin’ on the mantle."

"Really?" JD could barely contain the excitement in his voice. Secret passages were as good as ghosts. Then he remembered what Vin had been put through. "What he did really sucked Vin. No father should treat his kid that way."

"Reckon he didn’t know any better JD. From what Gran said his own father taught him ta be like that. Ta think that every one is out ta get what you have and take it from ya. Guess he thought he was protectin’ what’s his."

"You have a very forgiving soul, Vin," Josiah’s deep bass was a comforting sound in the cavernous room.

"Wouldn’t say that, but if I am I reckon I got it from my mama. And you all." Vin couldn’t suppress the yawn that suddenly crept over him.

"Looks like it’s time to turn in," Nathan piped up, ever the practical one.

"You going to be able to sleep Pard?" Chris asked as the men all stood and moved toward the door.

Vin nodded. "Yeah, I think I can." He stood and walked the men to the door, saying goodnights in the hall before latching his door once more. He crawled under the covers and was asleep in minutes.

Chapter 17

The next morning found six men in the van that delivered them to Woodhaven Manor. Vin was safely sequestered in the car that his grandmother had arrived in and they spent the drive to London getting acquainted. She took a room in the same hotel as the Seven and spent the two days until their plane was scheduled to leave with them, showing them more of the sights of London and making a place for herself in the heart of each man.

But the day came that had them returning to the states and Genevieve found herself choking back tears as she waited for the men to board.

"You know you are welcome here anytime," she said as her hand stroked Vin’s cheek.

"I know," Vin replied, a slight blush covering his cheeks at the public display of affection. "Any chance you might come over to the States?"

"Very possible," she replied as their flight was announced for last boarding.

"I’ve already asked her for Christmas," Chris said, coming up to retrieve his friend, taking his arm and tugging. "Now come on Pard or we’ll miss our flight."

Vin backpedaled, waved a final good bye, then turned to follow his friend. Yet he stopped at the open door to the gangway and strode back, giving her one final hug before running back to the door.

"I’ll see you at Christmas!" she called after him.

"She gonna be in Denver for Christmas?" JD’s voice could be heard.

"Reckon we can show her a good time," Buck replied as the men walked down the gangway.

"Just so you don’t burn the tree down again," Josiah added.

"Or box up a live turtle for her gift without punching air holes," Nathan chimed in.

"Mr. Larabee’s home smelled for a week after that," Ezra put in his two cents worth.

Genevieve smiled as she listened to the men. Vin had paused once more at the door and he smiled at the memories his friends talked about. "See you at Christmas Gran!" he called back, then followed his friends as the doorway closed behind him.

"See you at Christmas, Vin," she whispered.


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