Ezra was really delirious now. He seemed to have absolutely no sense of where he was.
A short while ago, he had flailed an arm at Inez as she tried to feed him and spilled the soup all over himself. With Nathans help she had managed to change his nightclothes even though Ezra had fought every inch of the way.
He started muttering about Zolda again, as he leaned heavily against Nathan and coughed into a handkerchief that the healer held up to his face. And at the mention of that name, Nathan glanced up at Inez who was anxiously looking on, still clutching Ezras old nightshirt which was sodden with soup and sweat.
Before she had left, a minute ago, Maude had imparted to them who Zolda was. Inez had wanted to weep. As if Ezra didnt have enough to face now, without this ghost coming back to haunt him. And he was so caught up in the nightmare that nothing Inez could say or do would bring him out of it.
She was startled by the sound of the door opening and looked up to see Angelica charging across the floor. The child was halfway to Ezra before Inez intercepted her and grabbed her by the shoulders.
Angelica fought with everything she had, fiercely kicking and shouting. Inez wasnt sure that she wouldnt have bitten her, given half a chance.
"Father! Let me go, Inez! Father!"
Ezra lifted his head and tried to focus. But it wasnt Angelica that he was seeing.
"Zolda," he muttered softly before his voiced gained volume and he tried to shout at her.
"Get out, Zolda!" he rasped, "Go away!"
Angelica stared. She had no idea who Zolda might be but her father was looking at her as he spoke.
He started to cough again but recovered enough to gasp out, "Get out If you stay Ill kill you." Then the coughing overcame him and he collapsed back onto the bed. Nathan only just managed to catch him as he fell back and prevent him from hurting himself further.
Inez felt Angelica go rather slack in her grasp and slightly loosened her hold. Somewhat afraid that the child might actually faint, she knelt beside her, ready to catch her if she collapsed. But then Angelicas dazed expression hardened into something dangerous and, again too quick for Inez to stop her, she turned and fled from the room.
Inez got up to follow her but then Ezra moaned her name softly. Once more, she was torn in two directions. She would need to deal with them in both in rapid succession, so first she went quickly to the more immediate source of need.
He was barely conscious but, when she reached out and put a hand to his forehead, he groaned and managed to whisper "Ange- "
"Shes gone. I am going after her to make sure she is alright."
He moaned again and moved his head slightly. It was almost a nod and Inez took it as an indication of his agreement. She desperately needed to check on Angelica too, but still she hesitated to leave him.
Nathan placed a gentle hand on her arm.
"Go," he said softly, "Ill take care of things here."
She gave him a quick nod and squeezed his hand on her arm in gratitude. Then she left the room to find Angelica.
The child appeared to have taken refuge in her own room and Inez knocked on the door.
"Go away! Leave me alone!"
Inez tried to push the door open and was met with considerable resistance. Angelica appeared to be on the other side, throwing all her weight against her door to keep it closed. And apparently realising that her message wasnt getting through in English, the child resorted to Spanish.
"Dejame sola, no te quiero ver!"
Inez didnt care if the girl didnt want to see her, she had no intention of leaving her alone this time and demanded entrance.
Inez redoubled her efforts and her superior weight and strength overcame Angelicas attempt at physical opposition. The door began to ease open slowly and when it reached half open, the resistance suddenly disappeared.
Angelica had changed tactics. She stood facing the intruder, her face still wet with tears but more than ready for a showdown. And she fired the first salvo, telling Inez that she didnt want to talk to her and demanding that she leave.
"No quiero hablar contigo, largate!"
But equally heatedly, Inez told her that she had no choice but to listen. "Pues te amuelas, porque me vas a tener que oir!"
Finding that Spanish was equally ineffective, Angelica reverted to English, saloon-style.
"Go to Hell! Im not allowed in your room so you can damn well get out of mine!"
But Angelica had closed her eyes and placed her hands over her ears, as she began to shout, "Go away, go away, go away," over and over again.
Inez almost shook with frustration but it was obvious that she wasnt going to be able to get through to her now. She certainly wasnt going to try and beat the child into submission. She would just have to wait until Angelicas anger had cooled down sufficiently for them to talk.
"Alright, I will talk to you later." And the saloon manager retreated, closing the door behind her.
* * * * *
Nearly an hour later, Angelica lay on her bed and contemplated the ceiling. Or rather, she gazed at the ceiling while she contemplated her place in the world.
Last week, it had all seemed so simple. Shed lived at the saloon in Four Corners with the most wonderful father in the world and Inez who had seemed to care for her almost as much as he did. The two of them argued a lot but they both loved each other and they both had loved her. Shed had six fantastic uncles who each spent time talking with her or playing with her or showing her things. And her grandmother had visited every so often and she was just so much fun.
But now her father didnt want her any more. Hed told her to go away. Shed been so bad that hed stopped loving her. And Inez had become mean and selfish and untrustworthy. And she couldnt even trust her grandmother or her uncles to try and help her.
Suddenly, she was all alone in the world again. Ezra had promised that she wouldnt be. He said that theyd be together forever. And now he was telling her to go away. He hadnt even given her a chance to be good again. Fathers werent supposed to be like that.
He didnt even look like the father she remembered. She knew that he was sick but he looked so changed. His face flushed and beaded with sweat. And he had that really short beard-type stuff that Uncle Vin often had, and sometimes her other uncles, especially if theyd been away from town for a while. But never her father, he always made sure that he shaved and dressed nicely. Now he was different, everything was different.
Hed said that hed kill her if she didnt go away. How could he say something like that? And if he couldnt be trusted, then no one else could.
She heard footsteps outside her door and rolled over, closing her eyes.
It was probably Inez again. She still wanted to talk but what could she possibly say to make things any better?
Sure enough, the door opened and Inez softly called her name. Angelica carefully made sure that she didnt make any sound or movement. If Inez thought she was asleep then she would go away again. There was no point in arguing with someone who was asleep.
But then she heard the footsteps approach her bed. Inez sighed, a soft mournful sound, and then Angelica felt a light kiss on her forehead.
"Que suenes con los angelitos, mi nina."
Then, swiftly and quietly, she left the room again.
Angelica was almost overcome. Inez had wished her pleasant dreams so softly and fondly and sadly that she couldnt have been pretending. After all, she mustve thought that Angelica was asleep, what would be the point of pretending?
Angelica began to cry silently. She and Inez had once been such good friends, and she missed that too. Maybe if shed said something before Inez left the room, she would have come back and made everything right between them. Then Angelica wouldnt have been so totally alone.
But she hadnt and now the chance was gone. So alone in the darkness, Angelica cried herself to sleep.
* * * * *
After shed seen that Angelica was asleep in her room, Inez had returned to Ezra. Shed even managed to convince Nathan to go and have a meal and hopefully get some sleep. Actually, the healer had gone with comparatively little argument, as if he had realised and made concession for how much the confrontation with Angelica had exhausted her.
Inez sighed. She really didnt know what to do about Angelica. The child must have been terribly hurt and confused by the days events. She had certainly been furiously angry and Inez had been totally unable to reach her because of it.
But at least, Angelicas slumber now appeared to be peaceful. Ezras certainly wasnt. His face was flushed with the raging fever and his hair was soaked with sweat. The tossing and turning had greatly diminished (he was just too weak to indulge in that much movement). But his incoherent moans continued, even as he fought painfully for each and every breath. But Inez thanked God that, at least, he still continued to breathe, even though each breath sounded like it could be his last.
Inez closed her eyes, as she held his feverish hand against her cheek. She couldnt bear to see him like this.
She wanted to see him swinging Angelica into the air, both of them giggling and their faces alight with the sheer joy of living. She wanted to catch that brief half-smile, followed by the deliberately exaggerated wide-eyed innocent stare, when one of the other six accused him of cheating in a friendly poker game. She wanted to exchange one of those fleeting glances with him, as another fracas erupted in the saloon, and even sense that little lurch of her heart as she realised that he was about to step into the fray. She wanted to watch his eyes drift closed and feel all the tension seep from his body, as he fell asleep in her arms after they had made love to each other. She even wanted to feel the familiar burning fury as he ended one of their arguments with a smart comment and a smug smile, obviously (and mistakenly) thinking that hed won convincingly.
"I need you do all of those things again," she whispered, opening her eyes to steal another glance, "Please, querido, stay with me."
She closed her eyes again and laid her head on the bed beside him, needing to be near him. The sound of his tortured breathing filled her ears and, to her, each ragged gasp was like blessing from God.
The early morning sunlight filtered through the window and onto Inezs face, waking her. From long-standing habit, she straightened up and stretched, preparing herself for another long day. In the mornings quietude, she could hear her joints crack, after a night spent sleeping in an awkward position.
Quiet? Suddenly fear clutched at her heart again. It was far too quiet. She couldnt hear Ezras breathing. She anxiously gazed at him. He was utterly pale and still.
Her throat constricted and her own breathing was suspended.
He couldnt have died while she was sleeping!
"Ezra!" she cried, giving full voice to her alarm and anguish.
There was a startled movement behind her and she glanced around to see Nathan waking in a chair. He must have come back to the room after she had fallen asleep.
"Nathan?" Inez desperately needed to know what had happened but emotion choked her and she couldnt articulate the question.
But she didnt need to. Instantly, Nathan moved to her side, placing one hand on Ezras brow and the other over his heart, to ascertain his condition. The healers concerned expression slowly melted into a broad grin and he turned to Inez.
Inez stared at him, so shaken by the threat of the unthinkable that her mind found it difficult to comprehend good news.
"His fevers broken. Hes turned the corner."
"Hes going to be alright?"
Nathan never liked to give guarantees. In his line of work, it was often dangerous to get peoples hopes up. But looking into Inezs desperate and disbelieving eyes, he knew that he had to give her something.
"Yeah, I think he might be."
He immediately found himself enclosed in an enthusiastic embrace with tears of relief being rained upon his shoulder and Spanish prayers of thanks being rained upon his ears.
"Its okay, Inez," he said, trying awkwardly to pat her on the back.
She laughed as she released him and wiped the tears from her eyes.
"It is better than okay. It is wonderful. We must tell the others. And Angelica! She could see him now, couldnt she? It has been breaking her heart."
Nathan considered the proposal. "Yeah, I think itd be okay. So longs she dont get too close."
Inez was out of the door before hed finished speaking. But then she returned, a little more subdued.
"Shes not there," the saloon manager sighed, "Probably hiding from me again."
But even this disappointment couldnt keep her elation in check for long. "We have to tell his mother! She should know straight away!"
Nathan couldnt help laughing at her. Her exuberance was contagious.
"Inez, she probly wont be awake for another hour or two."
Inez shook her head. "For this, she would want to be woken!"
Nathan chuckled again. "Okay, Ill go get her. But dont ygo wakin Ezra while Im gone. He needs as much rest as possible."
Inez laughed as well. The sheer relief was making her feel ridiculously light-headed.
"It is not Angelica that you are talking to. I can contain my enthusiasm."
Nathan grinned at her. She was indeed acting a lot like Angie or another child of similar age.
"See that ya dont!" he told her in his best serious parental tone.
And she burst into a fit of childish giggles again.
* * * * *
Angelica had been sitting, half-hidden in a corner of the kitchen, for ten to fifteen minutes, as she contemplated the bottle of whiskey which she had just stolen from the bar.
Ezra obviously enjoyed drinking it, like he enjoyed smoking his cigars. So, for a very long time, she had wanted to try some.
But he had told her quite definitively that these things were for fathers and other grown-up people, and not for little girls. She had looked around the saloon for confirmation and found that it seemed to be the case (although nearly everyone in the saloon, apart from her, was grown-up).
It wasnt that she didnt believe him but shed decided to research the subject a bit further. So shed asked several people why they liked whiskey and tobacco. (With Inez and Ezra not far away, shed always felt free to roam around the saloon and talk to anyone she liked.)
One answer had always stuck in her mind. "Oldest reason there is, Littlun. Tdrown msorrows."
It had come from poor Mr Rowan, whose wife had died in childbirth, at the beginning of the year.
"And whiskey makes you feel better?" shed asked him.
"Well, it makes me not feel quite so bad."
Well, right now Angelica reckoned that she was feeling very sorrowful and she really wouldnt mind not feeling quite so bad.
It had taken a bit of effort but she had finally got the bottle open. She sniffed at it, even though she had known what it smelled like for ages. She hadnt thought to get a glass but then shed seen people tip it down their throats straight from the bottle. The bottle she held seemed quite heavy but it was worth a try.
As soon as the liquid hit her mouth, she gagged. A small amount went down her throat but the majority came straight back up. She dropped the bottle, coughing and spluttering.
The stuff was absolutely awful! How could they bear to drink it, let alone enjoy it? Not only did it taste disgusting, but it was burning her throat too.
Then to her further dismay, she saw that the bottle she had dropped was rapidly emptying onto the floor. She scooped it up and stoppered it but it was already more than half empty. And the whiskey had not only splashed onto her but also made a large puddle on the floor. Shed need to clean that up quickly.
She raced back into the bar and climbed up to place the bottle back on the shelf. Would Inez notice another half empty bottle? Maybe not. But she would certainly notice a large pool of whiskey on her kitchen floor. As she returned to the kitchen, Angelica looked for something to clean it up with and grabbed one of Inezs aprons which was hanging behind the door.
She managed to mop up most of the spill but what was she going to do about the whiskey-soaked apron? And her own clothes for that matter? Shed need to change and maybe shed better lie low for a while.
Checking, that no one saw her, she crept up to her room. And as she neared her fathers room, she could hear Inez and Uncle Nathan laughing.
She frowned as she slipped into her room and changed out of her whiskey-stained nightdress to get dressed for the day. What right did they have to be so happy? She was alone and miserable, and her father didnt want her anymore, and it seemed that they were all perfectly happy to carry on as if nothing had happened. They even found it funny.
Well, she didnt need any of them. If Ezra wanted her to go away, then that would be what shed do. She and her mother had always traveled from place to place. She could certainly do it again. Even if, this time, it was on her own.
She looked around the room for what she would need.
Her warmest coat. It was getting really quite cold these days. So she took it from the wardrobe and put it on.
The deck of cards that Ezra had given her. As he had told her, they were a necessary tool for survival. So she placed them in one of the pockets of her coat.
Her pen and paper, in case she needed to write something? But she looked dubiously at the small pot of ink on the shelf. That would be hard to carry. No, leave them behind.
But she should write a letter to Ezra to tell him that she was going. Since she wasnt allowed to see him, it would be her only chance to say goodbye. So she carefully wrote out the words and placed the piece of paper on her bed.
Then she angrily wiped at her eyes. If he didnt want her, then she didnt need him! She would look after herself!
She opened her door cautiously and looked outside. It seemed that the laughter had stopped and she then saw Uncle Nathan hurrying down the stairs.
He didnt seem to have noticed her. Well, why would he? Nobody cared about her anymore.
Well, she didnt care about any of them! Shed get some food from the kitchen and then shed be gone. Shed find somewhere else to live and shed look after herself.
She didnt need any of them!
Maude Standish had volunteered to fetch her granddaughter. Somebody had to do it and, anyway, she was beginning to feel claustrophobic amidst the ecstatic relief that her sons room was now awash with.
She knew that many people thought of her as a cold and unfeeling woman. That wasnt really true. She was as relieved as any of them to learn that Ezras fever had broken. She no longer felt as though she was wading through quicksand or that her heart was encased in ice. So she could understand the comparative euphoria that the release of tension had brought them.
But, although she was not really unemotional as a person, she was undemonstrative. The uncontainable jubilation which the others so freely displayed felt like it was smothering her. She needed to get away and someone needed to talk to Angelica. Thus it seemed only logical that she offer to be the one to go and find the child.
But Maude had instantly found herself the recipient of a suffocating embrace. Inez currently seemed incapable doing anything in a sedate manner. After the crushing tension of the past few days, the saloon managers relief was being expressed in the form of completely uninhibited exuberance, with both laughter and tears flowing freely. And Inez was truly grateful that someone had volunteered to fetch Angelica. If she didnt need to search for the child, she could remain by Ezras side and be certain of being there when he woke. And with the way Angelica had been hiding from Inez recently, finding her might take quite some time.
Maude decided to try Angelicas room again and called her name as she entered. No answer. Several items of clothing were strewn across the floor (the child had always had a tendency towards creating chaos) and there was a faint odour of alcohol. It was very unsettling.
A piece of paper lay on the bed and Maude picked it up with an almost overwhelming sense of foreboding.
I am going away
The characters were reasonably well formed and the language used was outstandingly simple, but still she had to reread it twice for the message to penetrate.
Going away? No, it seemed that she was already gone. How could she? Why in Gods name would she?
Why would she? What a stupid question! It was profoundly obvious. The child had been trying to see her father for days and everyone had been keeping her out. And those who might have made it up to her by spending time with her, were more concerned with checking up on him. So no one had really explained to her what was happening. All Angelica knew was that she had been excluded and abandoned.
"This, Maude Standish, is why you should never have become a mother," she murmured to herself, as she left the room and headed downstairs. Shed never managed to meet the needs of any of the children whod relied on her. And now she had failed again with another generation.
She hadnt been able to look after Isolde. She should have prevented her from being exposed to the illness, just as Ezra had endeavoured to do with Angelica. So her only daughter had died because of her lack of thought and care.
She hadnt been able to look after Ezra. Always distracted by the next prospect or plan, shed let him grow up essentially without her. True, shed raised him to be independent, a survivor and a fighter. But loneliness and isolation still haunted him, and these were scars from the wounds that shed inflicted long ago, when hed been too young to protect himself.
Now, she hadnt been able to look after Angelica. Again shed been distracted, although this time by a far more worthy cause. But she knew that shed failed in the resolution shed made to herself that Angelica would never want for anything.
After all, it was at least partially Maudes fault that the poor child had been orphaned in the first place. A careless conversation could cost a life.
Oh Mr Greel, if that is what you have envisioned, you really must look up my son, Ezra. The quaint little town he resides in would be ideal for such a venture and he practically runs the local law enforcement.
Shed really given very little consideration to the words shed uttered to get that distasteful man off her back. But now they haunted her dreams. In his ensuing visit to Four Corners, Malcolm Greel had murdered Angelicas mother and thus Maude Standish found herself responsible for the death of an innocent young woman.
And it was Ezra who had stepped forward to, in some way, remedy her mistakes. Ezra, who had himself been abandoned, had taken in the orphaned child and adopted her. He had managed to give her the security that he himself had never known. And now when he had been too ill to care for his daughter, his mother had allowed that security to be stripped away.
Shame was a concept that Maude might have once professed to have no understanding of. But now she could write the definitive book on it and she felt like she was about to embark on a whole new chapter.
But she wouldnt admit defeat yet. Angelica couldnt be long gone. The ink on the paper still smudged slightly under Maudes fingers.
Shed have to find the girl. She couldnt have Ezra awaken to find that hed lost his daughter. As Inez had said, Angelica was the only person he believed would never leave him. And when he was six, he had emerged from fevered delirium to find that hed lost his only sister. Maude simply couldnt bear to face that look in his eyes again.
But where would Angelica go? Inez had said that she had an unparalleled expertise in hiding. Would she try to conceal herself?
Putting down the childs note, Maude made a quick search through the kitchen and saloon bar. She found a hastily mopped up whiskey spill (which surely bore witness to an interesting tale) but no sign of Angelica. No, it seemed that she had definitely left the premises.
Where would she head for? The child was hurt and she was probably looking for comfort and familiarity. So where was comfortable and familiar?
Since her arrival in Four Corners, Angelica had always lived at the saloon and she wasnt there. She could hardly try and make her way to San Francisco. After all, neither the train nor the stagecoach would arrive for at least several hours. Maybe there was somewhere else nearby where her mother had taken her.
Of course! It hit Maude like a bolt of divine lightning. If Angelica felt that shed been abandoned by her family here at the saloon, there was a quite obvious place that she might head for.
Immediately, Maude set off for that destination. Her sense of purpose was almost legendary. She wouldnt let it fail her family now.
* * * * *
Inez was beginning to worry. Maude had been gone for a very long time. Maybe Angelica was hiding from her grandmother, as well. Or then again, since she was no longer encumbered with worry over Ezra, maybe Maude was taking the opportunity to spend time with her granddaughter.
No, that was almost impossible. If she had been told that she was allowed to see Ezra, there was absolutely nothing that could possibly stop Angelica from invading the room as fast as was humanly possible.
So Maude couldnt have told her yet. Angelica must still be in hiding.
Ezra stirred slightly and Inez instantly leaned forward. She couldnt help it. Each time he moved, she hovered in anticipation like this. But this time, there was also a quiet moan. She placed a hand to his face and received another faint response.
She called to him softly. "Ezra?"
Nathan and Josiah instantly came to stand beside her. The three of them were the only ones left in the room. The others had gone downstairs for something to eat and drink.
Inez just couldnt wait any longer. She gently but firmly shook Ezras shoulder.
"Ezra! Wake up!"
Another moan and his eyes slowly opened. He blinked and whispered, "Inez?"
"Si, querido!" She wanted to kiss him, even though she knew that it still wasnt a good idea. With difficulty, she managed to restrain herself.
"Welcome back," Josiahs voice rumbled from over her shoulder.
Ezra blinked again. "Have I...been somewhere?"
The preacher smiled at him. "Everywhere and nowhere."
"Yve bin ill, Ezra," Nathan explained, "pneumonia, remember?"
Ezras brow furrowed slightly, then he closed his eyes and nodded.
"But you are going to be fine now." Inez caressed his face again and he reopened his eyes.
"I take it...that you mean...eventually...because...at the moment...I feel like hell." His voice was still weak and halting, but the complaint was delivered with a shadow of his sardonic smile. And Inez took immeasurable comfort in that.
She picked up his hand and kissed his fingers fervently. Tears of joy escaped down her cheeks and mingled with her kisses.
He was back. He was going to be fine. Everything would be alright now.
Ezra felt his chest tighten at her display of naked emotion. He knew that she couldnt help it. Her nature and, to some extent, the culture she had been raised in were expressive in that way. And his illness must have alarmed her greatly.
But he needed to say something, anything, to break the mood before he too succumbed. The disease had severely drained his resources and his defences were weak. He wanted nothing more than to just relinquish control and let her take care of him. But he knew that he couldnt afford to rely on anyone like that.
He had put up the walls for a reason. The soft vulnerable parts of his heart and soul couldnt afford to be risked. After being trampled on so often in the past, they had to be hidden away. Her companionship and tenderness were wonderful. But he was rapidly becoming addicted to them and they would probably be withdrawn someday.
So he tried for a tone of self-depreciating nonchalance, to hide any sign of emotion. "Its reassurin...to find you...still here."
Inez looked up sharply. "Of course, I am here! Where else would I be?"
"Well you...have other...responsibilities... the saloon and...such things."
"And do you think that such things have mattered at all while you have been ill?"
She couldnt believe this. She had been watching over him for days with her heart bleeding, and every moment spent away from him had torn even more at that gaping wound. And now he was implying that she would have just continued on as if nothing was wrong. She was becoming well and truly annoyed with this attitude.
"What do you think of me? That I tell you that I love you to your face and then laugh at you behind your back? That I weep on the outside but on the inside I do not really care about you at all? Why do you find it so hard to believe that I love you? You are not so hard to love. Surely, Angelica has shown you that. You love her and would never leave her. Why cant you understand that I love you and I would never leave you?"
"You dont...have to be...melodramatic...I think...weve established... Im not goin...to die."
She was a hairs breadth from physically shaking him. How could he be so obstinately stupid? But instead she snorted in exasperation.
"I cannot convince you. I think, you will probably be sitting with your grandchildren on your knee, some day, and you will be telling them how surprised you are that I am still by your side. Oh well, so be it!"
For a moment, she thought that she might have gotten through to him because he didnt come up with a reply to that. But then she noticed that his eyes were drifting closed again. He was probably just too tired to speak.
He did manage to whisper her name once more before he lapsed back into unconsciousness. And Inez thought that she still heard a note of reproach in his voice.
She looked up at Nathan and Josiah, who had witnessed the argument in silence.
The preacher reached out to squeeze her shoulder reassuringly and offered a sympathetic smile. "Yeah, hes definitely back."
All three of them knew that any affection for Ezra came with a requisite amount of exasperation attached. If you wanted to invest the former, you might as well expect the latter.
Then they heard the door opened with boisterous force and all turned, expecting to greet Angelica and Maude.
But it was Buck, JD and Casey. They all looked frantic, and all three started speaking at once.
"Inez, shes gone!"
"Found this just then..."
"Shes left. We gotta get after her..."
Nathan managed to cut through the babble. "Hush, you lot! Ezra still aint too well an he just got back tsleep."
They fell silent but Inez already felt a fear seize hold of her. "Whats happened?"
Casey handed her a piece of paper. "Sorry, Inez. I only just found it. It was on a table near the bar."
Inez read the note and, once more, her world came crashing down around her ears.
"Madre de Dios!" It came out as little more than a whisper and she found that she couldnt move. Nathan and Josiah read the note over her shoulder and both also swore under their breath.
"Whatll we do?" Casey was near tears. For the past few days, Angie had kept pestering her about seeing Ezra. And Casey had brushed her off because she was too busy trying to look after the saloon. "We gotta find her."
Josiah nodded. "Then wed better start lookin." A thought struck him. "Wheres Maude?"
Buck shrugged. "Dont think anyones seen her since this mornin."
"Weve gotta tell her. And we gotta find Chris and Vin and Mary and anyone else wholl help. Form a proper search party."
"Right!" JD immediately headed for the door.
"Tell them well all meet in the saloon," Josiah called after him. Then he turned to Inez, "You best stay here with Ezra."
"No, I need to help you look for her." It was her fault that Angelica had gone. She should have done more to get through to her.
Buck knelt down in front of her and took her hand. "Dont worry, well find her. Someones gotta keep an eye on Ezra."
She shook her head vehemently and Nathan came to her rescue. There was a new crisis and he could see that Inez needed to be there to deal with it personally. Shed always rebelled against letting others fight her battles for her. Once or twice, shed been forced to accept it. But it was obvious that she wasnt going to let it happen this time.
"Ill stay with Ezra," he volunteered, "Other than him, Inez knows Angie better than anyone. You folks will be needin her with ya."
Inez threw him a grateful look and Buck sighed. In his experience, having a distraught mother in the search party was a recipe for disaster. Okay, so Inez wasnt Angies ma, but she was the next best thing. But he knew that werent going to be able to stop her. So theyd better let her join the search party, where someone could at least keep an eye on her.
"Cmon then, darlin," he said, drawing her to her feet, as he himself stood.
Inez let him lead her out the door. She was still slightly numb from the shock. She couldnt get Ezra back just for them to both lose Angelica. It would destroy him. And it would destroy her too.
They had to find her. They simply had to.