Love and Infatuation
Characters: Vin, OFC
Universe: Old West
Author's Note: This is a sequel to my story Lara and you will probably want to read it first for this one to really make sense. I know that I gave Vin his pardon in my story No Longer WANTED, but those events never took place for this story. Vin is still WANTED (by the law, not just us ladies). This story is for, and because of, Tammy. Two of her ideas somehow got together in my head and became this story. Thanks for her help on this story and my others. Also thanks to Lacey for her support, ideas and help with my writing; and everyone else who sends me such nice feedback. I love it and it helps keep me writing. Hope you enjoy.
At mid-morning the Saloon was almost empty. A fact enjoyed by Chris Larabee and Buck Wilmington since it gave them the chance to quietly discuss their "little brothers". The younger mens love lives were the main topic, since they were both off with the lady of their choice. JD helping at Miss Netties, so he could spend time with Casey. Vin out giving Lara shooting lessons, even though by now she was a good shot and no longer needed the lessons.
"At least JD admits he likes Casey. Vin is to stubborn to say hes interested in Lara, except as a friend."
"Give the boy time. It took JD a while. And you should know that friends make the best lovers. Think of you and Sara. You were friends for what, 3 or4 years, before you got around to romance." Buck was glad they could talk about the good times without it immediately causing Chris, and himself, to relive the bad.
Chris answer was almost wistful. "We were young." He quickly focused back to the present in an effort to "skip over" the terrible memories of his familys death.
"So are Vin and Lara. And JD and Casey. Thats why we all agreed not to push them."
Seeing Vin and Lara at the door Buck started in the middle of an old story of himself and Chris, whos quick intelligence and familiarity with the story allowed him to play his part without missing a beat; even though he couldnt see the reason for his friends changing the topic. The young couple were so focused on each other that the cover up wasn't even really necessary.
"Ill bring your coffee in a minute," commented Lara as she walked past them. Vin took his seat.
"You know better than to sit with your back to the door, Cowboy."
"Buck was facing it. If anyone came in hed let me know, or take care of things." The two old friends shared a look that Vin didnt quite understand. Before he had a chance to figure it out Chris continued. "And you know better than to call me a Cowboy." The half hearted growl in his tone didnt worry the young man whos blue eyes danced with mischief.
"You quit sittin with your back ta the door and Ill quit callin you Cowboy."
Buck interrupted before the two could get into the customary friendly argument. "How did Lara do this morning?"
Vin beamed with pride. "She did great. Pretty soon shell be able to out shoot you, Buck."
"Dont worry Buck. If that happens I promise I wont tell anyone," teased Lara as she returned. Setting her tray on the table, she sat down to join them. She poured four coffees' from the pot and handed them out.
"We saw the stage coming. It should be here soon."
Finishing the coffee the men said good bye to Lara as she went to the kitchen and they went to meet the stage. They were just in time to see an expensively dressed man step out and then turn to hand his extravagantly dressed wife out. It was the third passenger that truely captured the mens attention. She was easily identified the daughter of the first two passengers. She had the small bone structure and classically beautiful features of the woman, and the blonde hair and brown eyes of the man. On a girl in her late teens the effect was stunning.
Despite the laws of nature, time stopped. Or at least thats how it felt to Vin as he saw the girl step out of the stage. He couldnt take his eyes off her. He didnt even register Bucks low whistle as the ladies man headed toward the girl.
Alexandra responded automatically to Bucks flirting and attentions, but most of her attention was elsewhere. She felt eyes on her and wanted to know whose. It only took a moment for her to see Vin and their eyes locked, since his had never left her. She was used to men falling all over themselves to get her attention, so Vins restraint was interesting and different. His gaze told her he was interested and liked what he saw, but he didnt come to her. While it wasnt Vins intention his action, or lack thereof, seemed to pose a challenge to her and she smiled widely as she decided to take it. The fact that he was just the sort her father wouldn't approve of only made it better. Before she could act on her decision her mother demanded her attention and she looked away. Even as she looked back to her parents she couldn't get his shy smile and blue eyes out of her mind.
Lara felt cold. She knew it was a warm fall day, and that she was standing in the sun, but she felt cold as she watched Vins all-to-obvious fascination with the new arrival. She hurried back into the Saloon before the tears in her eyes could fall, wishing shed never turned and followed the men out.
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As Vin approached the Hotel he looked in the window to the dining room and froze, just outside the light spilling from the window. Alexandra was sitting at a table with Ezra and smiling at something he said.
Vin only recalled his surroundings when JD walked up. "What you looking at Vin?"
"Nothin. Just making sure everything's quiet. Better get going and finish my patrol around town. Ill see ya later."
"OK. Ill be in the Saloon getting some food."
As Vin mechanically walked the rest of his patrol he saw almost nothing. His minds eye remained focused on the scene from the dining room. Alexandra and Ezra, having a romantic dinner for two. And Alexandra had looked so happy, so intent on what Ezra said. It had looked to him like she was hanging on Ezras every word and Ezra had looked enchanted by her. But he couldnt find it in him to fault Ezra for that; he couldnt imagine that any man would not be enchanted by her. And no wonder she had hung on Ezras words. He was studied and well spoken, sophisticated. No wonder she preferred his company for dinner. They looked good together, he forced himself to admit, both so well dressed and groomed. Her elegant green dress matched the green jacket Ezra wore, strengthening the impression of them being a couple.
With each thought his depression grew and his belief in himself dwindled. After his patrol he didnt join his friends in the Saloon, knowing Ezra would eventually appear. He didnt think he could face him right now, so he went to his room to try and sleep. He also didnt want to face Chris, who would know something was wrong. This was one of the times he hated how easily the older man could read him. He was surprised to find himself cheered by the thought of riding with Lara the next morning.
Walking into the stables Lara hadn't expected to see her horse already saddled and standing near Peso, with Vin between them. He smiled shyly at her as she walked up.
"Mind if I ride with you this morning?" Vin asked, even though the two of them riding together was not uncommon.
"If youre sure you want to. I know you like to ride by yourself."
"I . . ."
"All I meant is ya dont always have to watch out for me, especially know you taught me how to shoot."
"I watch out for you because I want to. Are you saying you dont want me around any more?"
"NO!" She caught herself and lowered her voice. "Uh- - no. I just thought you might not want me around. With Alexandra here."
"Shes still in the hotel. Well be back before she comes out," Vin answered, uncharacteristically blind to the pain he was causing Lara.
Lara didnt answer, but took her horses reins, using it as an excuse to look away so he wouldn't see the pain in her eyes. Moments later they rode out together. Lara tried to pretend that it was just another day, that Alexandra wasnt waiting back in town. Vin was preoccupied thinking about Alexandra, and how he could find a way to spend some time with her. He knew he should let her be with Ezra, but something in him couldnt let her go that easily.
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Seeing Alexandra walk out of the hotel Vin quickly stood and walked toward her like a month drawn to a flame.
She smiled as she watched him approach. "Good afternoon, Mr. Tanner."
Vin was surprised, and very flattered, that she knew his name. "Miss Terrington. Anything I can do for you?"
Seeing that she had him hooked she allowed her smile to become even brighter. "Well, I'm sure you're busy but I would very much like a tour of this lovely little town. I don't suppose you have time to show me around? I'm sure you know all the places and people."
"I'd love ta show you around, Miss Terrington." Answered Vin, having fallen for her flattery, and under her spell.
"Please, you simply must call me Alexandra. Would it be to forward of me to ask if I could call you Vin?" She "demurely" lowered her eyes to prevent the man standing near her from seeing the gleam of triumph in them.
"No, I'd like that, Miss. . .Alexandra. We don't stand on formalities out here like they do back east."
Vin spent the afternoon showing Alexandra around the town and talking with her. He was so focused on Alexandra that he never saw the pain on Lara's face as she watched them.
For her part Alexandra found Vin an interesting diversion. She had seen the look on Lara's face and the idea that she was taking Vin from the other girl made her smile all the brighter; as did the look of disapproval on her father's face. She knew he wanted her to spend time with Ezra Standish, and knew she'd do as he asked, when she was ready. She enjoyed the chance to tweak him and assert her independence. The final icing on the cake was that she'd learned Ezra and Vin were friends; playing them against each other was an entertaining thought.
As it neared dinnertime Vin walked Alexandra back to the hotel.
"Thank you so much for showing me around. It was a lovely afternoon."
"Yeah. It was. Would you, maybe, like to spend some time together tomorrow?" Vin asked in a shy and uncertain tone.
Knowing her father wanted her to spend the next day with him and Ezra Standinsh she decided this would be the perfect opportunity to play them against each other. "I would like that very much. Why don't you come by the hotel tomorrow morning?"
Vin smiled happily and agreed before telling her goodbye and leaving to get ready for his patrol that night.
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As Buck watched Lara move around the Saloon he knew something was wrong. Hed noticed it when she got his drink and food. Shed made the usual lighthearted comments, but underneath thered been no honest joy. Shed responded with her carefree manner out of habit, not out of any real feeling. Most men would not have seen this, but Buck Wilmington was not most men; he was good at reading women, and better at reading his friends. Lara was both and therefore an open book. He stood and walked over to Inez.
"Its pretty quiet. Mind if I take Lara out of here for the evening."
The lovely Saloon owner was not prepared for the jolt of pain this question caused. She knew Buck went after the ladies, but Lara. . . she was hurting right now, vulnerable, and Buck wanted to take advantage of that. Not to mention that his friend Vin was so clearly in love with the girl. How could he do this? She turned on him.
"You mean can you take her to your room, your bed, and "comfort" her?" She asked, saying the word comfort as if it were almost a curse. "Can you take advantage of her while shes hurting and vulnerable? Can you try and help her forget Vin? I know hes making a fool of himself with that Alexandra creature, but this is to much, even for you."
Buck was caught so off guard by her accusations that he couldnt mask the intense pain they caused. That she would think hed ever take advantage of a woman in that way was bad enough. But for him to do that to Lara, to Vin, would be a hundred times worse. He considered both of them his friends. The thought that Chris would kill him for a stunt like that flashed through his mind, quickly dispelled by the knowledge that Chris would know he wasnt capable of something like that. His pain was caused by the fact that Inez didnt know that. By her believing him guilty of planning that level of betrayal, of not one, but two, friends. His temper flared, in a way it rarely ever did around a woman. The anger burned in his eyes, but still couldnt hide the pain he felt.
"NO! THAT IS NOT WHAT I MEANT!" He heard the Saloon go silent as all heads turned to look at them. He lowered his voice till it wasnt much louder than a whisper. "I was planning to take her to the Church, hoping that if I couldnt help her Josiah could. I was going to explain why Vin is acting like he is. Shes needs to talk to someone; and since she doesnt seem to want to talk to you, I wanted to try." He saw his dig hit home, but was to hurt and angry to care much, so he continued. "Im hoping I can convince her not to give up on Vin. Now, can I take her out of here for a while?" As much as hed have liked to stay and work things out with Inez, take her outside and talk, he knew Lara needed him now. He was also smart enough to know that when they were both angry was not the time to have a real discussion.
Inez mutely nodded. Her thoughts were a jumble as she watched him approach Lara. She was not surprised at the change she saw. His body relaxed its tension; and while she couldnt make out the words she could hear his usual, light hearted tones, very different from the harsh tone hed been using with her. And she could picture his easy smile, even if she couldnt see it. She knew Lara would only see concern in his eyes, not the pain and anger she had. Shed long ago decided that in some ways he was as good as Ezra at controlling how his emotions showed.
As she continued to work she thought over what shed learned. Despite his harsh tone and anger, he had been sincere, that she was sure of; and as much as she didnt like to admit it, his anger had been justified. Hed only wanted to help Lara. Hed had no designs on her. Then there was the pain shed seen. It had been real. Hed been deeply hurt by her accusations, that she thought so little of him. But if her opinion of him mattered to him, that would mean. . . he cared about her, truely cared. This thought amazed her. She knew he was interested in her, but that he cared about her? Then she considered her pain. That stab she felt when he asked about Lara. It could only mean that she cared about him. The thought scared her and she decided not to think about it anymore, at least for the moment. . .
On hearing a familiar voice calling her name Lara looked up with a smile. "Hi, Buck. Did you need another drink?"
"No. I was wondering if we could talk outside for a little bit. Dont worry, I cleared it with Inez."
"Sure. I could use a break."
Trusting Buck completely she didnt worry when he kept walking once they got outside. She soon figured out their destination, and was curious. "Why are we going to the old Church, Buck?"
"Its a quiet place to talk, without getting interrupted. Dont worry. . ."
Before he could finish, Lara spoke up. "Im not worried. Why would I be?"
"Well, Inez seemed to think I was taking you out for something besides talk."
Lara laughed softly. "Shes just jealous. Even if she wont admit it to herself. Youve always been a perfect gentleman and friend. I know that and, deep down, so does Inez."
After Inez doubts about his honor, Laras trust had a healing effect. Her words helped erase the last of the anger, and gave him a new idea as to what had caused Inez anger.
As they entered the Church Buck nodded to Josiah and Lara gave him a smile. He stayed seated at the front reading while Buck and Lara sat at the back of the building.
"So whatd you want to talk about? Need some advice on women?" Teased Lara.
"Lara, I know all about using humor to hide pain, but it doesnt make the pain go away."
She gave up the pretense of being fine and slumped slightly, the smile gone from her face as if it had never been. "Youre right, Buck. But theres no way Im letting that girl see shes hurting me. Vins happy, I dont want to ruin that for him."
"Dont worry, Darlin. You arent gonna ruin anything." He reassured her in a gentle tone.
"Shes just so beautiful."
"So are some snakes." Buck commented without thinking.
"Ive never heard you speak bad of a woman before, Buck."
"Uh, sorry. Maybe I should say dolls. Yeah, she has a pretty face; so does a doll. Theyre perfect on the outside, but theres nothing inside, no warmth, no heart, no mind. A doll may be nice to look at for a while, but no man ever really fell in love with one, or married one. Vins a smart boy, just blinded right now. Give him a little time and hell see her for what she is, like the rest of us have, and then hell forget her and come back ta you."
"You really think so?" Lara asked, desperately hoping he was right.
Buck saw her need for reassurance and was more than happy to give it. "I know so. Ive seen it happen before. Done it myself a few times. It never lasts."
"What do I do til then?"
"Try to be patient. Remember that it will end and he will see through her. When he does its going to hurt, and hes going to need you."
"Thanks, Buck. I needed to hear that."
"No problem. What are friends for?"
"I should get back."
"You should get some rest. Its a slow night at the Saloon. Go to bed and sleep."
"Maybe. Walk me back?"
"Of course, Darlin. Lets go." Having said that he stood and held out his arm for her in a courtly gesture. She smiled at him and took it.
Josiah was pleased to see the change in Lara as the two walked out. He once again had hope for Vin and Lara working out their relationship, correctly guessing that had been the topic of conversation. He did sometimes marvel at the Ladies Man, at his big heart and the depths in his soul that he usually kept hidden.
As Ezra prepared to meet his next mark he was distracted, or more accurately, puzzled. He didnt usually have trouble reading people, after all it was part of his trade; but he wasnt sure what was going on with Vin, who seemed to be avoiding him, but not really mad at him. He thought perhaps the young man had a fight with Lara, who had been acting rather sad the last day or so.
He thought back to what hed seen the night before. Buck and Inez seemed to have a fight. Hed been expecting that for a while with the two passionate people. But Buck actually yelling at a woman?!? He again felt a surge of relief that he hadn't placed money on any wager that Buck could yell at a woman, much less Inez. Hed have lost, since hed have sooner bet on hell freezing over. Hed watched Buck walk Lara out of the Saloon shortly after. Since Lara looked happier when they returned, he hoped Buck had been able to help her. He shook his head slightly thinking what a matchmaker the Ladies Man could be. Yes, the young couple had a fight and Buck was fixing things.
Or perhaps. . .Vin had finally realized he was in love with Lara. That would make sense. If Vin had admitted that to himself, but wasnt ready to admit it to others hed avoid Ezra, who would be one of the more likely to see it. He hoped this was the case.
He got his answer when he entered the hotel lobby to meet Mr. Terrington. Vin was there, an unusual enough occurrence to attract his attention. He saw Vin staring and followed his gaze- - -to Alexandra. She'd just made her appearance and he had to admit she looked dazzling. He then looked more carefully at the young mans face; the adoring look was easy to read. When Mr. Terrington called out to him it caught his attention, and Vins, who quickly left the building. The gambler ignored Terringtons repeated call as he followed his friend. But Vin had used his uncanny knack for disappearing and was nowhere to be seen on the street.
Ezra continued to the Saloon where he sat by himself for a while absently shuffling cards and thinking. He still felt terrible guilt over the emotional pain hed inflicted on his friend when hed mocked him and his ability to write poetry. The hurt and betrayal hed seen in his eyes still haunted him, but most of all the vulnerability hed glimpsed. Once hed sobered up hed vowed never to cause Vin to feel that again; but now he had.
At one time he would have excused his action by the fact he hadnt known of Vins interest in Alexandra, but he had changed in his time with the Seven and could no longer silence his conscience with such flimsy excuses. He had hurt Vin. That was the simple fact he could not ignore. Now he had to try and find a way to make it right. He decided to start with an apology and explanation, if he could get the elusive young man to actually talk with him, before it was to late and things went to far. He knew he had to mend this rift before it became to wide. He also knew Vin most likely felt insecure about the young woman, given her parents obvious wealth and interest in social standing. Things had the potential to get very ugly, very quickly. He hoped that wouldnt happen, but knew human nature well enough to suspect it would.
At least he now knew what was going on with Vin, and Lara. Vin must have seen him with Alexandra. And Lara must have seen something like he had, and now believed she had lost Vin. Its the only thing that completely explained the actions of both over the last few days.
He finally found Vin that evening when he went to check on his horse and found Vin caring for Peso. "Mr. Tanner. . . Vin. Im sorry, very deeply sorry. Had I known of your interest in the young lady I would not have pursued her. I would not intentionally hurt you, please believe that."
Knowing how much having his friends trust him meant to the other man Vin reassured him. " I do, Ez. I believe you."
"Thank you. I saw you with her yesterday afternoon, I believe her father is interested in her seeing me and that she is interested in seeing you. If its any consolation to you, Alexandra did ask me several questions about you."
Vin's eyes brightened at this news. "She did?"
"Yes, she most certainly did. And our spending time together was her fathers idea and maneuvering, rather than hers, as I mentioned before."
"Not surprising hed want her to spend time with you instead of me."
Ezra's eyes narrowed for a moment before he responded. "No, I suppose it isnt, since he is obviously a very shallow and foolish individual who is easily impressed by appearances. As much grief as I may give you about your taste in clothing it is the clothing of a honest and hard working man, its unfortunate that her father could not see that."
"Thank you, Ezra. But if your interested in her, the two of you. . . "
Ezra interrupted, "No, Vin, I cant deny that I enjoyed spending time with a beautiful young woman, but that is all it was. I must sadly confess that I am more interested in her fathers money than in her heart. I have no deep feelings for her, and you apparently do."
The two men shared a look of understanding, then began talking about their horses and other items of common interest as they cared for the animals.
Ezra was still worried about Lara, who he considered a friend, but wasn't sure what to say on the matter. He comforted himself with the thought that Buck seemed to be handling that side of the situation, knowing that Buck was the best one of their group to help Lara at the moment.
As Vin sat in his usual chair outside the Saloon in the morning he was a little surprised to see Mr. Terrington heading purposefully for him, flanked my his wife and Alexandra. He didn't know that Terrington had heard of his friendship with Chris Larabee and waited until he'd seen the black clad man ride out of town before confronting Vin; knowing there was no way he'd get away with what he planned if the gunslinger was around.
"I take it the entire town is in on this conspiracy? Including the Sheriff?" Demanded Terrington.
"What conspiracy?" Vin wanted to know, glad he'd spent enough time around Ezra to understand what Terrington was saying.
Terrington sneered at him. "You walking around acting like some sort of law man when you're really wanted by the law. Dead or Alive. For Murder. A conspiracy is the only explanation for why a worthless murderer is walking around acting like a decent citizen. Not to mention shamelessly following my daughter around, acting like you are fit to even look at her. Don't let me catch you anywhere near her again. I should have known. You look more like someone who causes problems than a lawman who solves them."
Reeling from the unexpected attack Vin helplessly looked at Alexandra with pleading eyes; hoping she would let him explain, hoping she would tell him she still cared about him. She looked back with eyes that where as hard and cold as her stone heart. Her perfect lips distorted into a sneer. "The only reason I spent time with you was that it seemed to make Mr. Standish happy. You really were amusing following me around like a mangy puppy. But now I know what you really are I never want to lay eyes on you again." At her cruel words hope bled slowly out of Vin like blood dripping from an open wound.
"I'll see to it that this little game doesn't last. I'm sure there are plenty of honest lawmen, and bounty hunters, who'd like that $500 bounty," Terrington threatened. Vin was too hurt to fully register or care about the treat.
Unable to take anymore Vin turned and walked into the Saloon. He never saw the disgusted and angry looks the people of Four Corners directed at the family, or the sympathetic looks that followed his retreat. Nor did he see Josiah, who'd witnessed the scene but been to far away to help, quietly slip away.
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Alexandra saw Lara, and a way to share her misery. If she couldnt have Vin, she wouldnt let him have anyone. "Lara."
Lara slowly turned, not wanting to talk to the other girl, but seeing no way out. "Yes."
"You dont need to worry about me stealing Vin from you. I know hes a wanted man, but not by me."
Even though she knew she shouldnt rise to the bait, she couldnt seem to stop herself from asking. "What are you talking about, Wanted?"
Alexandra answered in a mock-sympathetic voice, "Oh, so Vin didnt tell you. Hes a wanted man. Wanted by the law. For murder. Hes all yours. At least until he gets arrested and hung. Hope youve been "enjoying" him while you can." She finished by holding up the Wanted poster with Vins picture.
Lara stood motionless for a moment, not believing her eyes or Alexandras crude reference, then looked to the girl holding the poster. "Unlike you Im not stupid enough to believe everything I see. Especially when its so obviously wrong."
"STUPID!?!" Shrieked Alexandra.
"Yes, stupid. Any women who would willingly give up a man like Vin is VERY stupid. If you know him so little as to believe hes a murderer, you dont deserve him."
"I dont deserve HIM!?!"
"Would you please quit repeating everything I say? It does make you sound stupid. Vin is good, kind, compassionate, and most of all loyal. You dont seem to know the meaning of the word. Now get away from me before I say something unkind."
As Lara watched the other girl stomp off the street she mentally called her all the rotten names she could think of; having now worked in the Saloon for several months it was a unusually long list for a young woman her age.
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As Vin was about to turn the corner he heard two familiar voices and stopped, then stood frozen, stunned by what hed heard. His reaction was in some ways like Alexandras. The idea that it was her who did not deserve him was almost unbelievable. Hed never imagined looking at it that way; as her being disloyal to him. Laras defense of him touched something deep in his heart and soul, and began to heal them from the damage Alexandra and her family had inflicted. It was several minutes before he collected himself and walked away.
He ended up sitting in the Old Church. Hed been surprised to find it empty, but decided Josiah must be visiting Nathan at the Clinic. He began to compare the two women, and his feelings for them.
Hed always known that Lara was beautiful, but it had only seemed to matter in making it even more important to protect her from men who wanted only her body. Alexandra was the more stunning and obvious beauty, but Vin decided he should rightly shoot himself for letting that blind him. He knew better than most that appearances couldn't be trusted.
Hed always felt protective of Lara. Especially since theyd first gotten to know each other after she was attacked by two cowhands and the Seven had helped her. He admitted to enjoying the time they spent together, and had even been making up excuses lately to spend time with her. He trusted her, had even shown her some of his favorite places in the nearby desert; something very rare for him. Hed shown her some of his poetry and shed listened intently, praised it and encouraged him to write more.
Alexandra had been more like a quest; something beautiful and unattainable. He knew she would never have been happy in his world, or he in hers. He realized hed never even thought of a future with her. Hed never considered showing her his poems, somehow knowing she would likely scorn them.
He was stuck by the sudden thought that his interest in Alexandra was a reverse reaction to his feelings for Lara. He hadnt wanted to admit his growing attraction to her, so when Alexandra had appeared hed "fallen" for her to prove to himself he wasnt falling for Lara.
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Seeing Chris back from his patrol of the outlying ranches away from town Josiah stopped him. "We need to talk."
Seeing the serious look on the preachers face Chris asked, "Whats wrong?"
"Its Vin." Knowing those two words had guaranteed him the other mans total attention Josiah explained. "Terrington found out about the bounty. He laid into Vin something fierce. That pretty poison he calls a daughter did her share of damage too. The boy will never show it, but hes torn up inside. I think he might plan on sharing Vins location with every lowlife or lawman from here to California." The former preacher watched the expression on his friends face change as he spoke. By the end it was a look he recognized as meaning someone was going to have a VERY bad day; and he knew exactly who that person was going to be. Remembering the pain the man had caused his young friend Josiah smiled slightly at the thought.
The black clad gunfighter stormed down the street. The towns folk who saw him quickly moved out of the way, realizing that Chris Larabee was angry; and when Chris Larabee was angry no one with any sense stood within arm's reach. Many of them, having witnessed the scene between Vin and the Terringtons, knew who he was angry at and were pleased that Terrington would be dealt with. A few almost felt sorry for the man. Almost.
Chris saw Mr. Terrington standing by the stables, looking at the horses. It didnt take him long to reach his destination.
"Mr. Terrington, " greeted Chris in a deceptively civil tone. "I hear youre going to be making your new home in California." Once he had the mans attention his tone became sharp enough to draw blood. "Til you leave, stay away from Tanner. If you say anything else to hurt him, or even slightly upset him, your new home will be in the Cemetery. Once you leave, dont return and forget you ever heard the name Vin Tanner. Anyone comes looking for him, I come looking for you."
"Now see here. I. . ." As he looked into eyes that were cold enough to freeze the mid-day sun his voice trailed weakly off. Chris gaze was frightening but also compelling and he couldnt look away even though he desperately wanted to. The thought crossed his mind that this must be how a bird felt trapped in the gaze of a deadly cobra.
Chris said nothing, knowing that with a coward like Terrington silence would be more threatening than anything else he could say. Certain that hed made his point, the gunfighter smiled; but the smile did not promise mercy, instead it left Terrington with the impression that most of the men who had seen that smile were now dead. Chris turned and left.
Terrington watched Chris' retreating back. He wanted to leave as soon as possible now he knew death by his true name-- - Chris Larabee.
Standing back far enough to stay out of the way, but close enough to hear every word, Josiah smiled at the one sided conversation and the look on Terrington's face. He'd have to remember to tell the others about it later. Preferably when Chris was not around.
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News of the confrontation between the Terrington's and Vin had spread through the small town almost immediately. The entire town tried to show Vin their support and friendship; and their belief in him.
Mary was careful to give extra praise to the poem Vin brought for her to look at. Even though he no longer needed lessons he often asked her to look over his poems and any other writing he did.
Inez made sure to pay him special attention and ensure he had his favorite foods for lunch and dinner.
The stable master praised his ability with horses as he helped quiet an anxious horse when he was there caring for Peso.
Vin saw what they were doing but after the emotional battering he'd had that morning he was glad for it, and deeply affected by it. He even admitted to himself that he needed it. The other members of the Seven stayed near Vin during the evening and tried to cheer him up.
Buck told stories as usual, but they were chosen, and told, to highlight Vin's contributions and abilities. To remind the young man that he was needed and valued by the team.
Josiah quietly told Vin that if he needed to talk he knew where the church was.
JD asked for another tracking lesson saying he hoped one day he'd learn half the stuff about tracking that Vin knew.
Ezra mentioned a poetry contest he heard of and encouraged Vin to send an entry. That "reminded" Nathan of a shooting contest he'd heard of and that he knew Vin could win.
When Ezra asked the Saloon at large for bets on that he received a chorus of laughter; followed by assurances that no one there would be stupid enough to take that bet. They all agreed that Vin would win easily.
Chris said nothing specific, but all evening Vin felt his eyes watching him and sensed his silent support and care. When he excused himself to go to his room at the hotel Chris followed him out to the porch of the Saloon.
"You alright, Pard?"
"Sure, Cowboy, I'm fine."
"Next time you call me cowboy I'm gonna shoot ya." Chris informed his young friend, who just gave a half smile and ignored the threat.
"Hear you talked to Terrington."
"I just wished him a safe trip and gave him a little advice on how to make sure he had one. Things can be more dangerous out here in the West and I made sure he understood that."
"I'll bet you did." Vin answered with a chuckle.
Chris was pleased to hear that small laugh. He took it as a good sign. "Vin, you are one of the best men I've ever met, maybe the best. This town is lucky to have you as a protector. I'm lucky to have you as a friend, a brother. And one day a woman will be lucky to have you as a husband. Don't let that little monster, or her father, convince you otherwise."
"Thanks, Chris. Think I'll go get some sleep." Vin said and held out his hard.
"Night." Chris answered as he reached out and grasped Vin's forearm in their usual way rather than shaking his hand. Vin instantly returned the gesture. Chris watched his "brother" walk to the hotel before returning to the Saloon.
As Vin sat unmoving, staring at the sunset, his mind raced. He needed to talk to someone, but who? Any need for advise on women brought the Ladies Man to mind, but asking Buck didnt feel right. He knew who he wanted to talk to. Chris. But he knew what a painful subject it would be for the older man, and the last thing Vin wanted to do was cause him more pain. Asking Buck was now totally out, for the same reason. Though Buck had never said anything to him, he knew Buck still felt guilt and intense pain over the death of Sara Larabee.
"Whats on your mind, Vin?"
The quiet question broke his reverie. He hid his surprised reaction as Chris sat in the next chair. Hed never even heard him walk up.
Chris was stunned into silence for a moment, not believing what had just happened. One of the strongest parts of their friendship was that they never lied to each other. "I think that may be the first time youve told me an outright lie. Make sure its the last." If Buck had been there hed have recognized the tone in Chris voice as one hed used with Adam.
"What makes you so sure theres anything on my mind but the sunset?"
"One, I know you. Two, the fact that I got this close without you noticing. And you didnt even see the sunset. I answered your question, now answer mine."
"Not sure I can do that, Cowboy."
"I know I said Id shoot ya next time you called me a cowboy, but not till after I get my answer."
"Then I guess Id better not answer for a while." Vin smirked as he said this, trying to break the tension.
Vin decided that maybe if he explained a little Chris might, just might, let it go and not demand the details. "If I told you, itd hurt you. Means I aint gonna do it, so ya might as well shoot me."
"You not tellin me, lyin to me, hurts more than anything you could say." Chris let some of the hurt and worry he felt show in his eyes. It was enough to convince his "little brother" to talk.
"I was thinking about love. And marriage. And how you know if it's the right person. How you knew it was Sara ya loved an wanted ta spend your life with. I know thinkin about her and Adam is painful for ya, so I didnt wanna ask you about it."
"Im learning to remember the goods times, and leave it at that. Not there yet, but Im learnin. Itll always hurt, but that means Im alive. And Ive finally figured out that means a part of them is still alive too. You know that after I lost them, I wanted to die and go with em. Now Im not sure I have that right. I need to stay alive so that some part of them lives, in me. The best way I can honor their memories is to share them. Even if it hurts."
"So how did you know that Sara was different, was the one?"
When Chris spoke again, his voice had a reflective quality. "We were friends for a few years. When I went to fight in the war, she was the only one I thought of, or missed. When things were bad Id think of her and it would help. When I thought about coming home, it was to her. She was home for me. When Buck and I got back I did something stupid. She wouldnt talk ta me. Wouldnt see me. Thats when I knew for sure. I couldnt stand it. I couldnt stand my life without her in it. I still can't, not really. Anyway, Buck sweet talked her into givin me a chance to apologize, and we started courting, instead of just being friends."
"Think Buck can talk Lara into givin me a chance to apologize?"
"So youre finally admitting you love her?" Asked the older man.
"Just like everyone, but JD, knew JD was in love with Casey. Dont worry, you werent as obvious about it. But having seen the signs with him. . . "
"Ya knew em when you saw them with me."
Chris nodded an agreement.
The older man raised a questioning eyebrow.
"Forgiven and forgotten. You were trying not to hurt me, and I appreciate that, but like I said, you tellin me a lie hurts worse than any honest answer ever could so make sure its the last."
"First. Last. Only. I promise."
"Thats all I need. Lets get a drink."
They turned and went to join the others in the Saloon. Vin was hoping Lara would be there.
Since she wasnt needed at the Saloon Lara decided to go riding. She had no particular place in mind, just a desire to get out of town. After riding for a while she saw landmarks near a place Vin had shown her a couple weeks ago. Hed told her it was one of his favorite places to go when he needed to get away and be on his own.
It was a small, sheltered canyon with a stream and trees along the bank. Hed told her that in the spring there would be flowers. She decided it was as good a place to rest as any; the stream would let her water the horse, and the grass would be a comfortable place to rest. Almost an hour later the sound of horse hooves caused Lara to look up and see Vin on Peso. She stayed still until he approached. "I hope you dont mind me coming here."
"Wouldnt have shown it to you if I did. Do you want to be alone? I could go. . ."
"Please stay. This is your place. I was just keeping it warm for you." Lara blushed as she realized how her comment could sound.
"Why dont we both stay?" Vin suggested. At her quick nod he moved next to her and sat. It was a long time before either spoke. Both were occupied by thoughts of the person next to them. Neither was really sure what to say.
"For what?" Asked Lara, confused.
"Defending me. Believing in me. Trusting me."
"What are you talking about, Vin?"
"I overheard you and Alexandra. I didnt mean to but. . ."
After considering for a minute she chuckled softly. "I dont guess either of us was being real quiet during that. . .talk."
Vin gave a slight nod acknowledging the truth of that statement. "Not really. Did you mean what you said?"
"Yes. Im sorry I was so rude to her. I know you care about her. But I meant what I said."
"No. I mean what you said about me, and. . . her not deserving me."
"I meant it. If she was so willing to believe that about you, she didnt deserve you."
"Im sorry I didnt tell you about it. I should have. I didnt like lying to you."
"I was thinking about that. You never actually lied to me. You just didnt tell me something. And youre innocent anyway."
Vin was again touched by her belief in him, but also curious. "How can you be so sure about that?"
"I just am. I know you. You arent a murderer." Lara said this with complete confidence. There was no doubt of it in her mind.
"No. But I am wanted by the law."
"Will you tell me about it?"
Lara sat quietly listening as Vin told his story.
Vin found it surprisingly easy to open up to Lara about his past. He put it down to knowing she already believed in his innocence. They spent the afternoon talking and simply enjoying each others company.
Looking out at the canyon he decided that this was heaven and she was his angel. But seeing the sun getting low in the sky, he suggested it was time to get back to town. Lara reluctantly agreed.
At the stable Vin helped Lara off her horse. There was nothing unusual about that except that this time Vin made sure that Lara ended up standing very close to him and he left his hands at her waist. He slowly bent his head towards her, giving her time to pull away if she wanted to.
Lara had no desire to pull away and leaned in closer for Vin's kiss. It was gentle and sweet, but only lasted for a moment before they were interrupted by the sound of someone clearing their throat.
Pulling back from each other they saw a grinnling Buck standing at the stable doors. "Sorry, but Inez was looking for you Lara. Things were starting to get busy earlier than normal and she could use some help. I can take care of putting your horse in for the night, if ya want."
She nodded in reply. "Thanks. I'd be grateful." She looked back at Vin and gave him a soft smile. "I'll se you later?"
"I'll be over to the Saloon once the horses are taken care of." He told her and reluctantly took his hands from her waist.
Lara winked at Buck as she past him and silently mouthed, "You were right."
Chuckling Buck moved to take her horses reigns. "So, you two finally figured it out, huh?"
"Yeah. We did. You knew, too?"
"Hate to brake it to ya, but we all did. Who already spilled? Chris?"
"Yep. We talked. Now can we get these horses taken care of? I'm suddenly reeeaaal thirsty, and want to get ta the Saloon."
Buck laughed and started undoing the saddle as Vin removed Peso's.
Vin was finished and hurrying toward the Saloon in record time. Buck, smiling smugly, followed behind.
7 7 7 7 7 7 7
Buck exchanged an amused and knowing look with his oldest and best friend. They both worked not to laugh. For the third time in less than an hour Vin was sitting with his beer held halfway to his mouth for a drink. He'd been distracted from his drink by the sight of Lara leaning over a nearby table as she washed it. Feeling Vin's stare she looked up to meet his gaze.
Ezra walking between them as he came to take his seat at the table broke the moment. "I don't suppose I could interest you in a game of poker tonight Mr. Tanner? With how distracted you've been this evening even JD could beat you."
"HEY! Ez!" Came JD's slightly outraged response. He then turned to Vin. "He has a point. You have seemed distracted tonight. And what's up with Lara?"
Josiah answered the question before Vin could respond. "JD, think about how you and Casey acted around each other when you first realized you liked each other."
After thinking for a moment JD's eyes went wide. "OH!"
"Yep. The love bug bit 'em. And there ain't no cure for love sickness," commented Nathan.
"Who said I wanted to be cured?" Asked Vin as he finally set his beer back on the table. "'Sides, I know it ain't fatal or Buck would of been dead a few dozen times by now."
That drew laughter from all of the men, even Buck himself.
"Yeah, well. I don't think Lara would take kindly to you following my example."
"Don't worry, Buck. I''ve learned my lesson. I just wish me learnin' it the hard way hadn't been so hard on Lara."
"It's over now, Vin. That's all that matters. She's gone and can't hurt either of us again." Lara noted, having walked over to the table. Se looked over at Buck for an instant before continuing. "Besides, it's not like I'm some doll that's going to break."
Hearing a customer call from another table Lara turned to leave, but couldn't resist looking back at Vin once more. This caused her to trip. Having been watching her Vin was able to stand and catch her before she fell. Thankfully she hadn't been carrying anything but a cleaning cloth so no damage was done. He continued to hold Lara even after she obviously had her balance back, but she was perfectly happy with that and did nothing to move away. The six men watched the scene with amused, but indulgent, expressions.
Inez had seen the near accident and walked up. "Why don't you take a break Lara. I'm sure Vin won't mind taking you out for some fresh air. Just don't be out all night." With a conspiratal wink at the young couple she went to take care of the customer who'd called to Lara moments before.
The others watched with indulgent grins as the couple disappeared into the night. Half an hour later Josiah went to patrol around the town to make sure things were quiet. He saw Vin and Lara walking along the other side of the street.
Vin's head was bent slightly down to listen to Lara and she was looking up at him. A moment later soft laughter reached his ears. He was almost across from the couple before Vin noticed him. Josiah saw it as a sign of just how focused on Lara Vin was. He normally paid much more attention to his surroundings. Josiah sent up a silent prayer that it would not become a problem. With the bounty on his head it was dangerous for Vin to be so distracted.
Vin looked up as Josiah called a greeting. Realizing that he'd been caught by surprise for the second time in two days he decided he'd have to be more careful. He didn't want to get caught or killed now he'd found Lara.
After seeing Lara to the Saloon, Vin left again to join Josiah in patrolling the town. In the dark he didnt see the mischievous look in the older mans eyes.
"You know, it would be real nice to perform a wedding again. And JD and Casey are taking their own sweet time."
"You aint suggesting that . . . "
The teasing tone of voice registered with the young man and he turned to look at his friend. "That aint funny. Im not saying it wont happen, but not right away."
"Thats probably smart. I was teasing. Just so long as I get to perform the wedding when it does happen."
"Wouldnt have it any other way, and neither would Lara. Only thing would be if she wanted you to. . . give her away. Women are funny about these things."
"Yes, they are. Well, Im sure Chris will be your best man, so one of the others could give her away. JDs to young. Maybe Buck, he acts like her big brother anyway."
"Yeah, I think Lara might like that. But no reason to worry bout it now. Its still a long time away."
"True enough. So, right now, lets go join the others."
"Sounds good to me. Think Lara will still be down in the Saloon?"
Josiah shook his head slightly and chuckled. "Young love."
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