Uh Oh! Here Comes Trouble!

by Karen Shannon

The seven men rode back into town, their horses walked at an easy gait, and as the seven little girls had fallen asleep in the arms of the men. Chris held Kristian, who sat with her legs dangling off the left side of the big black gelding, Storm. Vin held Cricket in much the same position on Peso, along side Chris. Josiah and Nathan had their charges, Debbie and Maria, behind them. Their little arms wrapped around the men’s waist and resting their head on the backs of their heroes. Ezra, Buck and JD had their little ‘angels’ as Buck had described them, held up in their arms with their heads cradled on the men’s shoulders. The horses plodded down the main street to the livery stable where Yosemite, the blacksmith, met them. He held the reins of each horse as the men dismounted attempting not to wake the girls. As the men shifted the girls so they were all resting their heads on the men’s shoulders, the men walked down the darkened streets, lit only by the night street fires, to the boarding house. As they entered, they nodded to the desk clerk and walked up the stairs to their rooms. When each man entered their rooms, they held the girl in one arm, pulled back the blankets on the bed, and laid the girl on the bed. After he pulled the blankets back up over her, he sat in a chair near the window and fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

The following morning, Ezra, was sound asleep, deep into a dream of owning his own saloon, The Standish Tavern. From somewhere deep in his gut, he was aware that he was being watched. He was vaguely aware that the sun was up from the light shining through his eyelids. Having no desire to open his eyes to fullness of the sun, he dared a peek out of his right eye and found Laura staring at him. He sat up, opened both eyes, and looked more closely at her. Both her hands were on her hips, her pursed lips showing her annoyance, and her eyes glaring at him provided Ezra with enough information that she was not happy. Rubbing his face with both hands and taking a deep breath, "And what pray tell, my lovely young lady, are we doing up at this ungodly hour?"

"It’s 8:30 Mr. Ezra. All the others are already gone. They’s getting a bath and then they’s all getting a new dress. Mr. Chris said so." As she pouted her lips, "Mr. Ezra, am I gonna get a new dress, too?"

Ezra stood up, stretched and then took her by the hand, "By all means. Let us depart our humble abode and take refreshment in a nice warm bath. After which, you shall be adorned in the most beautiful garment this little backwater town has to offer." Laura stared at him as she tried to figure out what he’d just said but, in the end, she just smiled as she took his hand and they headed for the bathhouse.

+ + + + + + +

As Ezra and Laura entered the bathhouse, they could hear the giggles and laughter of the other girls. Mrs. Wilson, the wife of the owner the bathhouse, came from the back as they entered. Mrs. Wilson was a short stocky woman, with long hair tied up in a bun that had turned gray many years ago. She smiled and looked at Laura, "You must be Laura, our missing angel." Laura smiled and nodded her head. "Good, I have a tub in the back with your name on it. The water is all ready for you."

Laura's eyes widened as she whispered, "Ya got a tub my name on it? Why’d ya write my name on yer tub? Does that mean nobody ‘cept me c’n use it?" Mrs. Wilson laughed as she shook her head, "No, sweetheart. Your name isn’t really written on it. It’s just a saying. It means I have a bath waiting for you."

Being a little disappointed with that, as she thought that maybe they thought she was special, "Oh." Was all Laura could think to say as she went with Mrs. Wilson.

As they disappeared behind the curtain, Mrs. Wilson stuck her head back out, "Oh, Mr. Standish. Mr. Larabee asked me to tell you, that when you decided to make your appearance, they would be at the mercantile, buying the girls a few things if you cared to join them." Ezra smiled at her and tipped his hat, "Thank you Mrs. Wilson. I do believe I shall wander over to our quaint little shop and see if there is anything suitable for little Laura to wear." With that said, he departed the bathhouse and headed for the mercantile.

+ + + + + + +

Mrs. Potter was busy trying to help the men decide what they wanted to buy for girls. She had a deep affection for each of these men. They had been the only ones to stand up against the man and his family who had killed her husband in cold blood, two years ago. They had seen to it that the man responsible was brought to justice and paid for his crime. She had to smile as she watched these hardened gunfighters fussing over which dress to buy for each of the little girls she had seen earlier. She had already set aside what each girl would need in the area of underclothes. She had to smile as she listen to each one of men, each more determined than the next, that the girls were to have nothing but the best. Chris had promised Kristian the light blue dress in the window that had the matching bonnet. He was more than pleased to find out it would probably fit her. As he looked at it more closely, he realized that the blue in the dress was almost the same shade as Kristian’s eyes. Ms. Potter handed him a pair of white stockings that brought out the little white flowers on the dress.

Vin had picked out a green dress with white spots on it. The green reminded him of the color of new grass. Much like Cricket, new and full of wonder. He also picked up some matching green hair ribbon that he knew would look great in her hair. Josiah picked out a dress of royal blue. He said that with Debbie's long dark hair, this dress she would look like a little cherub. For her hair, he decided on a white bow with streamers. Buck looked around and finding it hard to decide on just the right dress. But, he finally decided on the off white dress and matching stockings for his ‘angel.’ Nathan, too, was having a difficult time deciding. He was torn between the beige dress with the bonnet or the pale gray one with the ribbons. After much thought, he finally gave into the beige dress. JD knew instantly which dress he wanted to purchase for McKenzie. It was the solid pink dress with the white apron. He couldn’t make up his mind on the hair ribbon, so he bought both the pink and the white. Ezra entered the store as the men were paying for their purchases and smiled to each of them. "I see that each of you have made your selections. And, I am more than grateful that none of you have chosen the dress I had desired to purchase for beautiful Laura." He walked over to the rack and pick up a red dress, with four layers of crinoline, white stockings, a white hair ribbon. "Mrs. Potter, what about shoes for the dear girls?"

She smiled, "Oh, Mr. Larabee and I discussed that before you arrived. After the girls have put on their dresses, you will bring them back here and I will fit them with proper shoes."

"I see," he said as he smiled while paying for his purchase. "Then I will see you shortly along with my companions escorting seven of the most beautiful young ladies to grace this town." Mrs. Potter nodded her head, "So I’ve heard Mr. Standish. So I’ve heard." The men all tipped their hats to Mrs. Potter as they left and headed back to bathhouse. As the men entered, Mrs. Wilson stepped out from behind the curtain and Chris handed her a package. "This here is their underthings." Holding up Kristian’s dress, "And these are their dresses and such." Mrs. Wilson smiled and took the dresses from the men and disappeared behind the curtain one more time. The men sat down on the bench in the waiting area. They could hear the giggles and laughter from the girls as they dressed. Then one at time the girls appeared from behind the curtain. McKenzie was first in her pink dress and stockings. Her dark hair hung limply down her back as she ran to JD and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him on the cheek. "Oh, it’s so purty, Mr. JD. Thank you." she said with glee.

Maria was the next one out. She stopped just outside the curtain, uncertain what she should do. Nathan beamed at how pretty she looked and motioned for her to come to him, "Come here girl, don’t just stand there. Let me see how pretty you are." She smiled and quickly walked over to him.

Cricket made the next debut. Vin looked at her in that green dress and he had to admit that he’d done a pretty good job, because the dress looked like it was made for her. The color brought out the tan of her skin and yellow of her hair. She walk up to Vin and spun around, all the while her smile went from ear to ear. Robbie came running from behind the curtain and jumped into Buck’s arms, squeezing him with everything she had. "Mr. Buck, ain’t no one every bought me a dress as purty as this one!" Buck just hugged her back and smiled at Chris.

Debbie walked out in the royal blue dress that Josiah had purchased for her and as far as Josiah was concerned she looked every bit the little cherub he knew she would.

Laura made her grand entrance as she stumbled through the curtain over a loose board. When she fell, Ezra was quickly at her side helping her up and dusting off her pretty red dress. She held his hand as they walked back to bench and stood quietly as he took his hair brush from his pocket and began to gently brush her hair.

Chris watched the curtain, but Kristian did not appear. Mrs. Wilson came out and motioned for him to come. He stood up and walked to the curtain and peek in. There, he saw Kristian staring at her reflection in a mirror. Tears rolling down her cheeks. He quietly walked over to her and knelt down behind her, looking in the mirror at her. "What’s wrong darlin’? Don’t you like the dress? We can take it back if you don’t. There’s lots of dresses over at the mercantile." Kristian shook her head and looked at Chris through the mirror, "Oh, no. It ain’t that, Mr. Chris. It’s just that I ain’t never had a store bought dress before and I sure ain’t never had one this purty. I ain’t got the words to tell ya how much I love it."

Chris turned her around to face him and smiled, "Darlin’ you already have told me. I’m glad you like it. I thought it looked pretty in the window but, now that I see it on you," he shook his head, "girl you are a treasure." She smiled through her tears and wrapped her arms around Chris’ neck and he gently kissed her cheek. He stood up after she let go, took her hand and walked her out the waiting area with the other girls. Mrs. Wilson appeared again with combs and brushes and helped the men fix the girls hair. A short time later, a tall, slender woman with long golden hair crossed the street from the Clarion Newspaper office and headed for the only restaurant in town. As she entered the restaurant, she was taken back by the sight of the seven peacekeepers having breakfast with seven little girls. Each one of the peacekeepers seemed to dote over a particular girl. Chris looked up to see her watching them, "Morning, Mary. Why don’t you join us for breakfast?"

She smiled unsuredly, "Hmmm. Chris, who are these children? Where did they come from?"

Chris rose from his seat, as he took Mary by her arm, he led her away from the group, "They’re orphans, Mary. Seems they ran away from the county home here recently. Said someone called ‘ole fish face’ was mean to them. We found them, gave them a place to sleep, a bath, a new dress and breakfast. We’re gonna try and find them each a family so they don’t have to return to county home."

Mary sighed and shook her head, "Chris that is not your responsibility. The ‘ole fish face’ as they call him, is Mr. Fisher. He runs the home. I have met him, and yes he is strict but, he has many children to handle and so he must be in order to maintain some control. These girls must be returned immediately. That is your only responsibility to them, Chris. Nothing else. It is up to Mr. Fisher to find them homes, not you." "But, Mary, they’re scared." Chris protested. She nodded her head, "Yes, and they have every reason to be scared. Mr. Fisher will punish them for running away and causing such a fuss." "What fuss, Mary?" Voiced a preturbed Chris. Mary closed her eyes to control her temper, "Mr. Larabee, as one of the leaders of this town that you were hired to protect, I must insist that these girls be returned to county home TODAY. Do I make myself clear?"

"Perfectly." Sneered Chris as he pushed past Mary to return to his seat at the table. He picked up a napkin and wiped food off the face of a little blonde haired girl in a light blue dress. Mary saw the look of trust in the children’s eyes. She knew that soon that look would be gone when the men returned them to the home later today.

"Ain’t nothing we can do, Chris!" asked JD.

"Ain’t like she owns the town, Chris." Buck added. "No, but her option does carry a lot of weight." Injected Nathan.

"Chris, I promised them little girls that I’d try to figure out how to help them. Not help send them back. I know’d what it's like in them places. I ain’t happy about this. It’s ain’t fair!" Vin said through clenched teeth.

"Perhaps Mrs. Travis could be persuaded to reason if she would just talk with the children. Perhaps she will see that what we are attempting to do is worthwhile." Ezra looked around at the distraught faces of his companions, "And perhaps she might actually show some compassion. But this is Mrs. Travis we are talking about isn’t it." He sighed. Chris looked at the girls, asleep in one of the jail cells. He took a deep breath before he spoke, "Best get it done once they’re awake. No sense in putting it off. I’ll have a talk with Mr. Fisher. Maybe he can be talked into not punishing them too harshly." All the men looked at him and just shook their heads not liking this one bit.


They rode in silence. All you could hear was the plodding sound of the horses hooves on the hard dry ground. The autumn breeze blew gently through the trees and Kristian watched as a flock of birds flew over head, headed south for the winter and she wished she could join them. The girls, each, rode with the men they had hoped in their hearts would help them. None of them spoke a word when Chris had told them that they had to return to the county home today. They had just stood there and the men could see the betrayal in each of their eyes. Each of the men had returned to the mercantile and purchased a small toy for the girls but when the girls left the jailhouse to ride out to the county home they had laid the gifts on the desk and walked out quietly. No one felt like talking during the ride. No one wanted to take this trip. Chris could not stop the feeling in his gut that this was wrong. That something terribly wrong was going to come of this. However, not having any legal ammunition with which to fight with, he had no choice. When they arrived at the home a very angry Mr. Fisher greeted them. He stood there, silently, as the men dismounted and helped the girls down, depositing them in front of him. Everyone noticed the fury in his eyes. Without a word, he stepped aside and the girls walked past him, heads hung down, crying, as they walked up the steps into the home. Chris walked up to him, "Mr. Fisher, I’m Chris Larabee. These are my men. We’re the peacekeepers in Four Corners."

"Thank you, Mr. Larabee, for returning my charges. I hope they didn’t cause too much havoc on you community." Mr. Fisher said coldly.

"Havoc? No they didn’t cause any havoc. They were good girls. Just hungry, dirty and tired is all." Was Chris’ answer. "I hope you can take it kinda easy on them. Don’t think they meant no harm. Just wanted to find a family that would take them all in, I think." Mr. Fisher looked annoyed, "Take them all in! Yes, that would be their stupid idea. Mr. Larabee, trust me when I say that any punishment I deal out for those girls will most certainly fit the crime." With that he turned and walked away. Mary approached the men sitting in front of the saloon. She smiled at them, "Good morning gentlemen. I heard from the Judge. He said he would be here tomorrow. He’s bringing Billy with him." She turned her eyes to Chris, "Billy will be glad to see you again, Chris. I know how much he looks forwarding to coming here, so you can take him fishing."

Chris just glared back at her, "Billy ain’t half as glad as Kristian would be to see me." Mary bit her lip, "Chris, you and your men all know that it was for the best. In addition, it is the law. You just couldn’t KEEP the girls. Why the town….." Suddenly, Mary noticed the men were not paying attention to her as they were looking down the street at the edge of town near the church. She followed their gazes and found six little girls, in rags, standing there, holding hands. They didn’t move from the spot they were in until the men start towards them. Once the men made a move, the girls started forward again. Tears flowing down all the faces, girls and men alike.

"Chris, I don’t see Kristian." Vin whispered as they were almost running toward the girls.

"I know." Was Chris’ anguished reply. He felt fear grip his heart the closer he came to the girls.

When the two groups met, the girls rushed into the arms of the peacekeepers and tears were shed by all. Chris held back and barely noticing when Mary approached. He reached out his hand and touched Vin’s shoulder. Vin turned to look at him as Cricket hung on to him as if her life depended on it. Vin nodded his head when he saw the look in Chris’ eyes. He pulled Cricket away from him slightly, "Darlin’, where’s Kristian?"

Cricket sniffed and in a ragged breath, "Mr. Fisher, he got real mad cause we runned away. He said he knew it had to be Kristian’s idea ‘cause she’s a troublemaker. We all got whipped for running off, but Kristian got it worsen’ any of us. Then he put her in the meat cellar to teach her a lesson."

Chris was puzzled, "How is putting her in the meat cellar gonna teach her a lesson?"

"Cause it’s dark, Mr. Chris. And Mr. Fisher knows that Kristian is scared of the dark. And she’s been there three whole days. He ain’t even let her out to eat or do her business or nothing. And we ain’t allowed near the cellar, neither. Ya gotta help her, Mr. Chris! She needs ya!" Cricket pleaded. Chris took a deep breath before turning to Mary, "How about it, Mrs. Travis? Think maybe now is a good time for the law to step in? Think maybe these children need our protection as much as this town does?" When Mary didn’t answer, Chris turned back to Cricket, "Darlin’ just one more question. Where are the pretty dress we bought you?" "Mr. Fisher said we didn’t deserve such nice clothes so he took um. Don’t know what he did with um though." Cricket said with a hitch in her voice.

Chris rubbed the back of her head, "Mr. Fisher was wrong, honey. And we’ll help Kristian and we’ll get your dresses back for ya." Cricket gave Chris a small smile and then reached out to hug his neck.

"Vin, you reckon you can find that cellar, once we get to the home?" Chris asked with a little more pleading in his voice than he wanted, as they tightened the cinches of their saddles.

Vin nodded his head, "Cricket, told me exactly were to find it. We’ll get her Chris. None to worry."

They looked up as Ezra brought Envy to a halt, "Gentlemen, I do believe we are wasting precious time, if we are to rescue our lost little angel." As Mary came out of the Clarion, she saw Chris and Vin mounting their horses as the remainder of the men rode up. Mary crossed the street, taking hold of Storms reins. "Mr. Larabee, surely it won’t take ALL of you to look for one missing child who, we all know, has probably just run away again."

Through clenched teeth, Chris hissed, "Mrs. Travis, I seem to remember, when your young Billy ran off, you wanted the whole blessed town looking for him." He jerked on the reins causing her to release them; "Now if you don’t mind, there is a little girl out there who needs us." He gave Storm a quick kick and they were off.

Mr. Fisher was alone in his office. In front of him was a large plate of Roast Beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, biscuits, corn-on-the-cob, and broccoli. A bottle of wine was to his left and a goblet half full was to his right. In the middle of a bite of potatoes, the door to his office busts open with a little help from Mr. Larabee’s boot against it. Fear came over Mr. Fisher when he was faced with six very angry men, with guns. He stood, pushing his chair back behind him trying to summon up enough courage, "How dare you! This is my office! You may be the law in Four Corners but you have no authority here! You are frightening the children with your guns. I must insist….." Unfortunately, he found that he was unable to finish that statement when he felt the coldness of metal against his temple and heard the obvious sound of a gun hammer being cocked. Chris stepped around his desk and came up next to him. "You’ve got about 5 seconds to tell us were Kristian is." Chris hissed.

Mr. Fisher shuddered, "Why g..g..gentle…gentlemen. Why on earth are you looking for that little she-devil?

Buck pressed the gun harder against his temple, "Just answer the question." Vin came running in, "Chris! I found her. Nathan, come quick. She don’t look so good." They all ran out of the office, with Buck shoving Mr. Fisher in front of him. Vin lead them around back to a cellar door that had been pried open. As they stepped down into the cellar, they had to let their eyes adjust to the darkness. However, once they did, Vin pointed to a corner were they could see Kristian curled up into the smallest ball she could. Her eyes wide open with fear. When Nathan approached her, she tried to go further back in the corner. "Darlin’, it’s ok. You’re safe now. It’s me, Mr. Nathan." Kristian shook her head and whimpered.

Chris put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder and motioned for him to step back. When he did, Chris knelt down in front of her and in a soft voice, "Kristian, baby, it’s me Mr. Chris." He reached out for her but, she pulled away. "Please don’t, Kristian. Listen to me, I’m sorry. I didn’t know." In a such a soft whisper, Chris could hardly hear her, "Yea, ya did. We told ya. But ya didn’t listen. Grownups never listen."

Tears formed in the eyes of the gunslinger, as he tried again to touch her, "I’m sorry, Kristian. You’re right, we didn’t listen and we were wrong. But, we’re listening now and we’re here now. We’re gonna put a stop to this today. Ya gotta believe me, baby." Wide blue eyes looked up at him, "Why?"

Chris swallowed hard, "Cause, I’m asking ya to. Everybody makes mistakes, even dumb grownups like us. But, hopefully, sometimes we can correct those mistakes, like we’re trying to do now." Kristian just stared at him, "Your friends trusted us enough to come back to town and get us. They gave us a second chance to help. Can’t you?" Kristian thought for moment then reached out her hand to Chris who took it and pulled her into his embrace.

"I’s so scared, Mr. Chris. I’s scared of the dark." Chris just hugged her closer and stood up facing the group. Nathan stepped up to him, "Chris, I need to check her out. Make sure she’s ok." Chris nodded and walked post the group, out of the cellar. Chris looked at Mr. Fisher with cold green eyes, "Buck, lock him in the cellar ‘till we’re ready to leave." "You got it, Chris." Buck said as he shoved a complaining Mr. Fisher into the cellar.


That evening five men rode back into town with one tired little girl resting in the arms of their leader. Mary stepped out of the Clarion, along with an elderly looking man in suit. The men pulled up their horses and tipped their hats to Mary. Chris turned his eyes to the elderly man, "Judge."

The Judge nodded his head, "Chris. Mary told me what been going on."

Chris glanced at Mary and back to the Judge, "Has she now." The Judge looked at the one man who looked out of place, "Are you Mr. Fisher?" "Yes, I am," he nodded. "Might I assume that you are the terrioritial judge?" The Judge confirmed this by nodding his head. "Good, I like to file a complaint against these men. They came barging into the home, scaring the children half to death, interfered with how I discipline the children and had the nerve to lock me in the cellar!" The Judge looked from Mr. Fisher back to Chris, "Any of this true?" Chris nodded, "Yep, all of it."

The judge sighed, "Let’s take this off the street and into the jailhouse, shall we gentlemen." As they started toward the jail Mary attempted to follow. "Mary, I think maybe you’d better stay here. Take care of Billy. We’ll handle this from here on out."

"But Orrin."

"Mary, I think it’s best this way." She nodded her head and returned to the Clarion.

+ + + + + + +

As the men neared the jailhouse, the Judge turned to Chris as he dismounted, "Where are Mr. Wilmington, Standish and Sanchez?"

"Couldn’t just leave all them kids alone. They're bringing the rest of the children to town tomorrow. Just until we find another person to take charge of the home." The Judge nodded and entered the jailhouse. Everyone followed him inside and took up various places around the room. The Judge noticed how Kristian waited until Chris sat down and then without hesitation climbed up in his lap. "Where are the other girls in question?"

"Mrs. Potter, was keep’m over at the mercantile ‘til we got back." Vin replied.

"Very well, Mr. Tanner. If you would be so kind as to ask the young ladies to join us, I would appreciate it." Mr. Fisher was becoming very annoyed, "Judge, I must insist that these ruffians be locked up and I be allowed to return to my duties"

"We shall see, Mr. Fisher, we shall see." was all the Judge had to say.

Mr. Fisher found a chair and sat down as he glared at the men. Vin left but, returned shortly with the girls who ran in and circled Kristian and Chris. Kristian smiled at them and they all hugged each other. Then the judge noticed how Cricket immediately ran to Vin and leaped into his arms, while the littlest one with dark hair down to shoulderblade ran over to JD who picked her up. When he looked at Nathan, he saw that he standing with a young black girl in front of him, his arms wrapped protectively around her. The other girls looked around and then to Chris who leaned over and whispered something to them that made them smile and they stood beside Chris. He also noticed that not one of the girls even acknowledge the presence of Mr. Fisher. The Judge took a deep breath, "All right, let’s get this mess cleared up." One by one each of the girls told the judge about her life at the home and how they were treated. They told him, how when they had run away, how Mr. Fisher had punished them and how he had been overly cruel to Kristian by placing her in the meat cellar for three days when he knew she was afraid of dark. Mr. Fisher was also allowed to speak and tell his version. The judge also learned how the girls had ambushed Vin, and how Kristian had "borrowed" his horse. While the judge listened to everyone version, he watched carefully what was going on in the room. The little whispers between each man and child. The tender touches of the hardened men for the girls. He saw how each child looked at the men and how much they trusted them. After all was said, the judge leaned back in the chair, "All right, gentlemen. I have heard enough. Everyone will have my decision tomorrow, after the rest of the peacekeepers return home. Until that time, Mr. Fisher please do not leave town. Mr. Larabee, you and your men are responsible for these girls while they are here. Does everyone understand?" When everyone nodded that they understood the Judge stood up, "Good." With that he left.

+ + + + + + +

The next day, Buck, Ezra and Josiah returned to Four Corners with a wagonload of ten more children. As Mary watched them rumble down the street, all she could do was shake her head and return to the Clarion. Once the wagon reached the jailhouse, Chris came out with Kristian in tow, while she sucked a piece of rock candy. Chris looked at the children, all with the same lost look about their faces. He noticed movement at his side and saw Kristian walk over to the wagon and hold up her bag of candy for the children to share. Chris smiled as he stepped down off the boardwalk to help with the children. Mrs. Potter came out of the mercantile, walked up to the wagon and placed her hand on Chris’ arm. "Mr. Larabee, I just wanted to tell you that, last night some of folks in the area got together and talked about these here children coming to town." Chris raised his head and stared at Mrs. Potter, not sure where she was going with this, but she smiled, "Don’t worry. Nobody’s gonna run them outta town just for being orphans. In fact, several families have expressed an interest in adopting them."

Chris put his arm around Mrs. Potter’s shoulder, giving her a small hug, "Thank you, Mrs. Potter. You’re a good woman."

"Well, I don’t know how good I am, but, I know a wrong done when I see it, and these children have been treated unfairly for no other reason other than they are orphans and that’s wrong. So, now if you children will all come with me, I have some clothes and other things for you brought in by the families. The families themselves will be here directly." All ten children climbed out of the wagon and left with Mrs. Potter.

Kristian looked at Chris, "Should I go with her, Mr. Chris?" "Not just yet, darlin’. Not just yet." He answered as he placed his hand on her head drawing her close to him.

Suddenly, the sound of giggles could be heard as Robbie, Laura and Debbie step out onto the boardwalk from the boarding house. "Mr. Ezra!" "Mr. Josiah!" "Mr. Buck!" was all said in unison. As Josiah climbed down from the wagon and Ezra and Buck dismounted their horses, they were all greeted by the three girls who smothered them in hugs and kisses.

Judge Travis stepped out of the jailhouse, "It’s good to see you gentlemen back. Mr. Larabee, would you please tell everyone concerned to be here in the next 15 minutes?"

Chris nodded and tipped his hat, "Yes, sir." Chris took Kristian by the hand and walked down the street toward the saloon.

Fifteen minutes later the seven men entered the jailhouse and took seats around the room. "Where are the girls?" asked the judge. "They’re waiting outside. Wasn’t sure you wanted them in here or not" was Chris’ answer.

"Well, this all concerns them, so let them come in."

JD went to the door and opened it. He motioned for the girls to come inside and as McKenzie entered he took her by the hand and led her to his seat pulling her up into his lap. Each girl went to stand next to "her" hero as the door was shut. "Anyone seen Mr. Fisher?" inquired the Judge. Chris shook his head, "Yosemite, said he bought a horse last night sometime and lit out."

The judge nodded his head, "Very well. Let’s get this settled." He looked at each of the men, who each had a very protective hold on "their" charge. The judge smiled and nodded his head. "I would say, that we need to find these girls a good home, but I think maybe they’ve already found one." The men looked at the judge and then at each other.

Vin was the first to speak, "Judge are you saying what I think your saying?"

"That depends Mr. Tanner. Let me clarify what I myself. In all my years on the bench, I have never seen any adopted child that was meant to be with a family as I see here today. These girls need you gentlemen. These girls need the devotion that you gentlemen have shown toward them. These girls need the protection that only you gentlemen can offer. However, more importantly, you gentlemen need all the love these little girls have to offer. Therefore, unless I hear any objections I am going to leave these girls in your custody.

Chris swallowed the lump in his throat, "Judge you letting us adopt them even though none of us are married?" The judge smiled, "That is my prerogative, gentlemen. Where the law would prefer that you were married, it is not mandatory. And, if I feel you are qualified then so be it." With that said, the judge stood and left the jail, leaving fourteen confused people.

"Mr. Ezra, what just happened?" Laura asked with wonder in her eyes. Ezra smiled, "It seems, my dear, that my six friend and myself have just become the proud recipients of seven exceptionally lovely gifts from the judge. The judge has decided to honor us with the pleasure of nurturing you young ladies into adulthood and beyond."


"We’ve just become fathers."

Laura was still confused but Maria caught on, "Ya mean, ya’ll are now our pa’s?"

Nathan gave her a hug, "That’s right darlin’. From here on out we’re a family." Maria smiled and hugged him back. Kristian turned to Chris, "This true, Mr. Chris?" Chris tightened his hold on Kristian who was in his lap, "Yea, darlin’ it is. The judge just bent a lot of rules to let this happen to. We owe him a lot of thanks."

Cricket looked up hopefully at Vin, "Does this mean I can call ya Pa instead of Mr. Vin?" Vin picked her up and threw her in the air catching her on her descent, "You bet it does!"

All the girls wrapped their arms around the necks of their new fathers who stood and walked out the jail, into the bright sunshine of a new day.


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