Jubal Sanchez

by Angie

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Ezra sat with Hannah that morning. Josiah had not returned to the small room they were sharing during the night and the gambler was beginning to worry. The elder Sanchez showed up at the table and indicated that he wanted to sit with his daughter. The southerner shrugged his shoulder as he dug into the oatmeal that the sister had handed him when he sat down.

Josiah arrived a few minutes later and accepted a bowl from a sister. He glared at Jubal before taking a seat beside Hannah and digging into his meal. When Jubal finished his food and left the table, Ezra voiced his concern.

“I trust that you are undamaged, Mr. Sanchez?”

“I just needed some air last night and I fell asleep in the desert. I’m sorry for worrying you. Did he say anything to you?”

“No, just sat quietly eating his meal. I shall have to ride to the telegraph office to see if there is a response to my missive. Is there anything I can bring back for you?”

“No, thanks, Ezra. I’ll just spend the day here with Hannah.” The older man’s voice was dejected sounding as he studied the child-like expression on his sister’s face.

“Be strong, Mr. Sanchez. Right will prevail.” Picking up his hat, Ezra headed for the convent stable where he and Josiah had left their horses. Chaucer blew loudly when he saw his master and he nickered and tossed his head. “Be patient, I’m taking you out for a while. I will have to find some dependable person to exercise you if we are to be detained here for any length of time.”

A rough toe to his ribs wakened Chris from his slumber. He rolled over on the hard ground and groaned. Lancaster wouldn’t allow them to have their bedrolls and Paulo refused to allow him to go to Vin when Tomas brought him back to camp. The men had thrown the Texan down behind a large boulder and tied him to it so that Chris could not see him and he could not get away.

A blindfold was passed around his face before he was given a bowl of leftover beans from the night before. They were cold and pasty and his stomach rebelled at them but he knew that he had to eat. He strained his ears to hear if Vin was being similarly fed. He couldn’t make heads or tails of what he heard and could only hope that his friend was not being further abused.

Diego and Tomas put Chris on his horse and tied his hands to the saddle horn. Paulo and Joby put Vin on his horse and tied him to the saddle horn. He was gagged so that he could not call out to the other man. As they rode, Lancaster noticed a stage moving toward them on the road.

“Okay, here’s the deal. You’re going to help us rob that stage. If you don’t, I will punish your friend again. If you try anything at all, I will whip him to within an inch of his life and leave him for the vultures.”

Chris and Diego blocked the road while the others melted into the trees beside the road. The bullets had been removed from Chris’s guns before they were returned to him. When the stage rolled to a stop, he pulled his gun and pointed it at the driver.

“Get down and walk back the way you came.” His hard, hazel eyes bored into the man and his hand tightened on the pistol. The driver nodded and climbed down from the coach.

Diego ordered the passengers out and searched them. He took money and jewelry and sent them up the road after the driver. He then ordered Chris to throw down the bags and then to go thru them looking for hidden money or valuables. When each bag had been searched, he ordered Chris back onto his horse and they rode away.

The stage rolled into Four Corners and JD handed the driver Ezra’s bag. The young sheriff took the report of the stage being robbed. The description of one of the robbers was vaguely familiar but he let it go. After the horses had rested, the coach left for Vista City. They wouldn’t reach the town before the next day. The young sheriff wished he could go along to find out what was happening with his friends.

Coming out of the jail, JD noticed the nervous looking young men on the boardwalk. He checked his pistols and headed in their direction. Buck and Nathan had also noticed the pair of strangers. They saw JD walking into trouble and immediately went to his defense. The first man pulled his gun and pointed it at the two men crossing the dusty street while the other man pointed at the dark haired youth striding toward him from the other way.

Seeing the gun pointed in his direction, JD threw himself against the wall. Unfortunately, it wasn’t wall, but window and he went right thru, landing amidst a shower of glass. He rolled to the wall and tried to peek out and see what was happening with his friends.

Buck and Nathan split up as the first man fired in their direction. Nathan felt the bullet strike his side, spinning him around before he slammed into one of the hitching posts. The second man fired on Buck, missing him and punching a new hole in the rain barrel. The ladies man popped up and got off a quick shot, killing the second man. JD crawled across the floor and peeked out. The first man was standing right in front of him on the other side of the window. He pointed his gun and pulled the trigger. Another shower of glass rained down on him as the man slammed into the boardwalk.

Running to the downed healer, Buck cursed fate. Of all the days for Nathan to be shot. Josiah was calm enough to probably remove the bullet, or even Chris, but the thought of either he or JD doing it felt insane. He pulled out his handkerchief and pressed as hard as he could. With his other hand, he probed under Nathan to see if the bullet had gone all the way thru. Finding no exit wound, he began to yell for help.

“JD! JD, where are you kid? Nathan’s hit!”

The kid ran onto the boardwalk and jumped down to Nathan’s side. Mary Travis and Yosemite also ran to his side. Between the two men, they managed to get Nathan to the clinic. JD followed behind with Mary as she dabbed at the bleeding cuts on the young sheriff’s hands and arms.

Settling Nathan on the bed, Buck began to open his shirt and study the wound. Blood was not pumping out and he knew that was a good sign but the absence of an exit wound meant that the lead ball was still inside. The ladies man threw a helpless look at the people around him and then looked back to the man on the bed.

“Nathan, you gotta tell me what to do. Tell me how to help you,” Buck pleaded.

“Gotta get the bullet out. You have to do it, Buck. Hurry. I’ll talk ya thru,” Nathan whispered.

Ezra collected the paper from the telegraph operator and read it. The lawyer was coming and would arrive on the next stage. The judge wired that it would be a couple of days before he could get there but he would order that Hannah not be removed until he heard the arguments.

He stopped at the general store and picked up a few personal necessities. Knowing that Josiah enjoyed a good cigar, Ezra picked up a couple for them to celebrate with if they won.

“When we win!” He said it aloud to assure himself.

Kneeling in the chapel, Josiah prayed. He prayed for strength and patience to deal with the next few days. He prayed for protection for Hannah, that she would not be harmed by what was coming. He prayed for inner peace.

When he left the chapel, he went to his sister’s room. Standing at the door, he heard a male voice inside the room. Steeling himself, he listened to the words before entering the room

“I will save your soul, darling child. You must confess your sins and be forgiven. Only then will you be able to enter the kingdom of God. You have been taught to obey your parents. Obey me, child!”

A small sound of complaint came from Hannah and Josiah burst into the room. His sister was cringing in the corner as Jubal stood over her. His hands were open and held in such a way as to prevent Hannah from escaping. A feeling of primal rage filled Josiah and he grabbed he father by the back of his cassock and hurled him away from Hannah.

As he turned on the older man with clenched fists, Hannah began to cry. Her soft whimpers escalated into louder cries as she sought to escape the tension now filling the small room. She pounded on the wall as she moved until she struck the window. The glass shattered, cutting her hand before Josiah could get hold of her and gather her into his arms. Sheltering her from the sight of the blood, he guided her out of the room.

The others joined Chris and Diego a half mile down the road. They continued for a while before they turned off of the road and sought an open area to take a brief break. As soon as Lancaster dismounted, Chris jumped from his horse and moved to pull Vin from the saddle. He could see that the tracker had been recently beaten. Paulo allowed him a few minutes with his friend before he ordered them apart.

“Why was he beaten? I did exactly what you told me to do! Why don’t you just let us go and be on your way? We won’t follow you! You have my word on that!”

“Because it pleased me to beat him, and if you raise your voice to me again, I will use the whip instead of my fists. Since you were so successful at the stagecoach robbery, I will let you feed him some lunch. That will have to be enough for you.”

The bowl of stew was barely warm when it was handed to him but Chris immediately began to spoon it into Vin’s mouth. The tracker resisted after the first few bites and Chris growled at him to eat since they didn’t know when they might be fed again. Joby dropped a canteen at their side and walked away. Taking up the canteen, Chris first tested the water to make sure it was okay before offering it to Vin. When the tracker had finished about half of the bowl he passed out and was eased to the ground.

They stayed only long enough to rest the horses and finish their meal. Lancaster liked the idea of using the lawman to commit their crimes. An idea formed in his mind and he let a slow smile grow on his face. He motioned Paulo closer and lowered his voice.

“What is the next town?”

“Jack’s Fork, why do you ask?”

“They have a bank there, don’t they?” Seeing the slight nod, Lancaster continued, “I think that our blonde friend is about to begin his life of crime. We’ll send him in with Joby and Diego.”

Paulo studied the pair of lawmen and fairly drooled at the thought of using the opportunity to further punish the darkly dressed man. His smile mirrored Lancaster’s as he nodded again.

After cleaning and bandaging the cuts on Hannah’s hand, Josiah went in search of Jubal. He found him in the Mother Superior’s office. Struggling to hold back his explosive rage, he stood in the doorway. His shoulders heaved with each breath as he forced his hands to hang limply at his sides.

“I just heard what happened, Josiah. Jubal is very upset about Hannah. He didn’t realize that she was so sensitive to being approached. I have his promise that he will not try to get close to her again. I think it best that both of you refrain from entering Hannah’s room.”

In an uncharacteristic display of self-control, Josiah nodded and walked away. He knew that it would not help his case if he vented his anger on the man. He moved to the stable and began to brush and curry Prophet to give him something to do until Ezra returned.

It was nearly suppertime before the gambler returned to the mission. He told Josiah that the lawyer would arrive the next day and the judge a couple of days after that. Josiah told Ezra what had happened in Hannah’s room.

“Would it be safe for me to assume that you did nothing to harm the man? A display of temper can only serve to weaken your case.”

“I walked away from him. I haven’t seen him or Hannah since it happened.”

Hearing the defeated tone in the older man’s voice, Ezra took him by the arm.

“Let me settle Chaucer and then you and I will go to the drinking establishment and acquire something to soothe our nerves.”

Buck’s eyes widened as his voice rose, “You want me to take out the bullet? Nathan, if it was in your arm or leg, maybe I could but that thing is in your gut. I don’t want to do you no harm.”

“If you don’t get it out, it will be worse. Buck, please, you have to do this,” Nathan pleaded as he clasped the trembling hands.

“I’ll help you, Buck. We can do this,” Mary assured him as she squeezed his shoulder.

“Okay, JD, boil some water. Yosemite, you mind staying to help hold him down?”

The livery operator nodded and swallowed hard as he looked at the bloody wound. Mary took a clean cloth and began to mop the sweat from Nathan’s face. In spite of the weak smile on her face, her eyes were filled with fear and uncertainty.

After a small dose of laudanum to dull the pain, Nathan began to tell Buck what to do. JD boiled all the instruments and laid them out on a clean towel on the table next to the bed. After scrubbing his hands in the carbolic, Buck dried them on a clean towel and approached the bed. Nathan indicated the first instrument and JD picked it up and handed it to Buck.

In spite of the pain, Nathan talked Buck thru locating the bullet. When JD placed the tongs into his hand, Buck shuddered. Mary reached across to wipe the sweat from his face and patted his shoulder to assure him that he could do what needed to be done.

Inserting the tongs into the wound, Buck felt carefully for the ball of lead. He touched it and tried to take hold of it. The ends of the tongs slid off of the bullet twice causing Nathan to hiss and struggle against the pain.

“You’ll have to cut in so you can get a better grip on it. Take that knife, the small blade, and enlarge the opening in the skin. Then you can cut along the muscle until you can see the bullet.”

Buck began to shake his head. “I can’t do it, Nathan. I can’t cut into you like that. Oh God, Nathan, I’m sorry. I just can’t do this!”

A gentle hand rested on his and Mary caught his eye. She took the knife from JD and moved around the bed to the other side.

“You hold him. I can do this,” she said with more conviction than she felt.

“You sure, Mrs. Travis?” Nathan was afraid that the woman would blame herself if anything went wrong. He didn’t want to bring any more worry into her life.

“Just tell me what to do.”

While Nathan explained to Mary, Buck reached across Nathan’s chest and felt the healer’s hands take hold of his arm. The first incision in the skin caused him to break into a sweat but he didn’t move.

“Now look at the path of the bullet. The muscle looks just like animal muscle. Try not to cut across the grain of the muscle when you cut and you should be able to see the bullet. It’s probably up against bone, that’s why it won’t come out easily.”

Chewing on her lower lip, Mary tightened her grip on the blade and made the deeper incision. Nathan cried out as he legs jerked under Yosemite’s weight. JD reached in with a clean cloth to blot the blood that welled up in the wound, drawing another agonized yell from Nathan. As soon as the young man lifted the towel, Mary could see the bullet.

“There it is! I can see it! Nathan, it’s flattened against the bone. What do I do now?”

Getting no response, she looked at Buck. Nathan had passed out from the pain. She tossed a panicked look at the men. JD pressed the tongs into her hand. With her wrist, she pushed a lock of hair out of her face before she took the proffered instrument. Reaching into the wound, she grasped the small ball of lead and turned it slightly. The bullet popped free and she backed it out of the hole. JD reached in again with a clean cloth to blot the blood welling up.

“Now what?” Mary asked.

“Carbolic to clean it and then stitches,” Buck announced with certainty.

“Stitches? I don’t think I can do that, Buck. I’ve never been much of a hand to sew.”

“You’ll do fine. JD get the bottle of carbolic. Mary, you’ll want to back off, he’s gonna feel this.”

When Mary had moved away, Buck took the bottle and eased his weight onto Nathan’s chest. JD pinned the healer’s free arm under his knee and Yosemite nodded to show he was ready. A strangled gasp was followed by a scream of pain as the carbolic entered the wound. In spite of the two big men and JD holding him down, Nathan still nearly managed to throw Buck and JD off of him.

When the wound had been cleaned thoroughly, Mary moved forward with the needle and thread that she had found already on the table. Following Buck’s directions, she stitched the muscle and closed the skin over the wound. The last step was the bandage that JD gently placed over the stitches. A strip of cloth was passed under Nathan to tie the bandage in place before he was covered and let rest.

Chris kept a close eye on Vin as they rode. Paulo would not allow them to talk. Around dusk, they made camp. Diego and Tomas took Vin away from the camp and tied him to a tree. Lancaster lounged around the fire with Paulo while Chris and Joby gathered firewood to get them thru the night. When they had enough wood, Chris asked to be allowed to take food and water to Vin.

The tracker continued to behave as if he was on death’s door. He allowed his head to bob as he rode and sank to his knees as soon as he was pulled from the saddle. His ribs did ache when they drew the rope tightly around the trunk of the tree but Vin was not as hurt as he wanted them to believe. When Chris knelt at his side with the food and water, he continued the injured act. He couldn’t take the chance that Chris would catch on and make a move that might get them both killed. As long as his friend thought that he was too weak to defend himself, he would not make a move.

“Come on, Vin, you gotta eat. I know it’s not great but you need to eat. How bad are you hurt?”

“Mostly my ribs, but my back hurts too. Just give me a while. If that Mexican doesn’t get hold of me again, I should be okay soon. Where are we headed?”

“Looks like Jack’s Fork. We can’t let them get us too much farther away from Judge Travis’s circuit.”

“Why? What difference does that make?” Vin couldn’t see the connection.

“They made me help them rob the stage. If they make me do something in Jack’s Fork, I don’t know if the judge can get me out of it.”

He hadn’t thought of that. If Chris was identified and if people were killed, he could end up in jail or worse. The thought that his friend could wind up getting hung because he had to do what they told him was like an icy hand around his heart. He couldn’t bear it if Chris got into trouble because of protecting him.

When he finished feeding Vin, Chris walked back to the horses and got a bedroll. He carried the blanket back and covered his friend with it. Lancaster and the others saw what he was doing and made no move to stop him. He carried the second bedroll to the side of the fire and threw it down.

“You don’t think you’re done for the night, do you? Grab that shovel and get over here, I have something for you to do,” Paulo announced with an evil grin.

Leading Chris to an open space, he told him to begin to dig.

“What am I digging?”

“A hole. Ask another question and I’ll bring your friend over here and make him dig instead.”

With an aggravated sigh, Chris began to dig. Paulo and the others took turns watching him as he worked. Sweat poured off of his body as he dug into the harder earth when the hole was knee deep. Finally, Lancaster called from the fire that it was time to get to sleep. Chris threw down the shovel and staggered to the bedroll and accepted the rope that bound his wrists and ankles before dropping into an exhausted sleep.

Josiah looked across the table at the gambler. Ezra outwardly projected calm to those around him but if you studied his eyes, you would see the nervous energy itching to be burned off. Vista City was a sleepy little town and nothing much happened after the sun went down. Tossing back the last of the watered down whiskey, the older man clapped his friend on the shoulder.

“Come on, Ezra. Let’s get some sleep. Don’t want to be yawning when that lawyer gets here tomorrow, do you? Maybe the sisters saved us some supper.”

“It couldn’t possibly be worse than what passes for food in this little establishment,” Ezra intoned acidly. The food that they had gotten a few hours before was only barely fit for human consumption.

The two men made their way back to the mission. Josiah was calmer now than he had been earlier in the day. Ezra was sure that with the help of the lawyer, they would be able to prevent Jubal from taking Hannah. He had plans to interview the sisters and get their testimony concerning the condition the woman was in when she arrived at the mission. He also planned to get a statement from the Mother Superior regarding the funds that Josiah had contributed to the care of his sister. He was planning to paint the elder Sanchez as a cold, unfeeling cad who had driven the woman insane and then deserted her while portraying Josiah as the loving, caring brother who sacrificed for her well being. It gave Josiah a warm feeling to know that his friend would work so hard to protect someone who wasn’t even related to him.

“You know, Ezra, if we win …” Josiah began.

“When we win, Mr. Sanchez. When we win,” Ezra prompted.

“When we win, your secret will be out.”

“What secret?” Ezra’s eyes flashed a slight bit of fear.

“That you really are a loving, caring individual instead of the cool, calculating character you play in the saloon. That there really is a good heart under all those fancy clothes,” Josiah finished with a grin.

“Mr. Sanchez, I am merely protecting my interests. If you were to lose Miss Sanchez, would you not then follow her to San Francisco to ascertain that she is being properly treated? If you leave, our group would be out of balance. Without your calming influence, Mr. Larabee might one day make good on his promise to do me harm for my unfortunate habit of irritating him. By assuring your continued residence in our little town, I am protecting my own person.”

“If you say so, son. But don’t blame me if I can’t keep the smile off of my face when I look at you.”

“Go to sleep, Mr. Sanchez. Hopefully, you have had enough to drink that you won’t remember this conversation in the morning.”

Inez carried a tray up to the clinic and offered to take a turn sitting with Nathan. JD had gone out on a short trip around the town and quickly returned to the clinic. Mary and Buck continued to sit on the sides of the bed, mopping the sweat from Nathan’s face and waiting for him to awaken. They barely touched the food on the tray and turned to making pot after pot of coffee to get them thru the long hours.

Late in the night, Nathan began to thrash under the blankets. His temperature was climbing and he was in considerable pain. Buck eased him up so that Mary could coax a dose of laudanum into his mouth. JD made the herbal tea and spooned it into the healer’s mouth. Inez took a hand at giving him the broth she had brought up with her. Between the four of them, somehow, they saw Nathan thru until morning.

A toe in his ribs startled Chris out of his sleep and he rolled into a defensive crouch. Shaking his head to clear it, he glared up at Paulo. The Mexican drew back and slapped Chris across the face.

“I don’t like your attitude. Get up and get ready to head out!”

“As soon as I take a leak and check on Vin,” Chris challenged. Another backhand across the face split his lip and knocked him from his knees.

“I said get up and get ready to go out! You will do as I say or I will take my time torturing your friend while you watch,” Paulo threatened. His hand rested on the whip, curled neatly on his belt. The challenging look faded quickly from the hazel eyes and he meekly offered up his hands to be untied.

“You will ride into Jack’s Fork with Diego and Joby. You will hold up the bank and return here. If everything goes well, I will leave you and your friend behind and be on my way. If anything happens to either of my men, I will allow Paulo to take it out on your friend and then let him have his way with you. Do you understand?” Lancaster raised his eyebrows as he studied the blonde.

“I understand. I’ll do whatever it takes to see Vin out of this safely. Will you give me your word that no harm will come to him while I’m gone?”

“I won’t allow Paulo to hurt him unless you fail to follow my instructions. Fair enough?”

With a curt nod, Chris mounted his horse and followed the other two men up the trail. He turned back once to see Paulo kneeling next to Vin and a cold hand closed around his heart. He heard Lancaster call the Mexican away from the tracker and heard the evil laughter.

The stage arrived in Vista City and Ezra and Josiah were there to meet it. The lawyer, Preston Giles, got out and looked around at the decrepit little town. He turned to take his bag from the driver.

“Ezra, good to see you again! What ever are you doing in this little armpit of the territory?”

“It is good to see you too, Mr. Giles. I believe my telegraph explained that this is a custody matter. My friend here, Josiah Sanchez, wishes to prevent his father from removing his sister from the safety of the local mission. Miss Sanchez is unable to state her wishes and, as such, we are forced to seek legal protection for her,” Ezra explained.

“And the woman in question is not a minor?”

“No, she is an adult. She is not in possession of all of her faculties. She has been living here at the mission for a few years now. The gentle sisters care for her and my friend here contributes to her care with monetary support.”

“May I ask why you wouldn’t want your father to have custody of your sister?” The lawyer turned to look up to Josiah.

It took an encouraging nod from Ezra for Josiah to find his voice.

“He’s the reason that she’s the way she is. He beat her until she lost her mind. I thought he was dead. I got a telegram saying that he had died. When he showed up here and said he was taking her away, I just can’t believe he would try something like that after all this time.”

“Your father beat her? Do you have any proof of this?”

A look of shame rolled across the azure eyes as Josiah’s jaw clenched. His eyes took on a faraway look as he relived the incidents that he knew had left physical marks behind on both of them.

“She probably still has the scars on her back. He beat her with a horsewhip when he caught her in the hayloft with a boy. He broke a couple of her ribs once and her arm a couple of times. On her wrists, …” Josiah’s voice tightened until he couldn’t force the sounds out. Ezra placed a gentle hand on the tense shoulder and nodded to Giles.

“That’s quite enough, Mr. Sanchez. We will, of course, have to reveal this to the judge but there shouldn’t be any problem gaining custody of your sister. I know it will be uncomfortable revealing such personal information in so public a forum, but I don’t think your father will be in a position to challenge it. May I meet with your sister briefly?” Giles took note of the barely contained rage of the older man.

“Yes, I’ll take you to her. You can’t get close to her, she’s afraid of strangers. I hope you’ll understand?” Josiah asked. The lawyer nodded.

As they made their way to the mission, Ezra and Preston carried on a lively conversation centering on Maude’s latest escapades. Josiah tuned it out as his mind relived the last time he had laid eyes on his father before seeing him at the mission only a few days ago.

He had left the seminary. A drunken parishioner had taken a swing at him and Father Sanchez had knocked him on his drunken ass. The entire parish was in an uproar over the handsome young priest who had so much trouble containing his temper. After meeting with the priest in charge of the seminary, Josiah had packed his bags and left.

He caught up with Jubal and Hannah in the Missouri territory. His father was preaching to the tribes of Indians that had not yet left the area. He was staying on the military fort in his wagon at night. Hannah was often left in the wagon as he went about spreading the Gospel. After a couple of weeks, he caught her with a young soldier. Even as the young man was asking for Hannah’s hand in marriage, Jubal’s rage boiled over.

Josiah had arrived only the day before and hadn’t had much time to talk to his father. Hannah had confided that she was in love with a certain young man and that they were to be married. He was overjoyed for her because it meant that she would finally be free of their father. He kissed her on the forehead and gave her his blessing. A few hours later, his happiness came crashing down on him.

“A harlot! Worse than a prostitute! A whore! A rutting bitch, lying with anyone who comes sniffing around! You are a disgrace to your parents!” Jubal’s words were punctuated with sharp slaps and fists. Hannah was trapped in the wagon and looking at her father with terror in her pale, blue eyes.

“Father, leave her alone! He wants to marry her! Stop hurting her!” Josiah caught the descending fist and spun the man around to face him. It was like looking at someone he didn’t know as he saw the maniacal look in Jubal’s eyes.

“Do you want to take her punishment, boy?” Jubal asked, venom dripping from the words.

“If it means that you’ll let her go, yes.” Josiah squared his shoulders and stood toe to toe with his father.

He remembered being shoved out of the fort. He then fell in behind his father as they walked into the woods. Finally, Jubal turned and told his son to kneel against the tree. His hands were drawn around the trunk and tied securely. His stomach tightened as he steeled himself to bear the brunt of his father’s madness.

Always before, Jubal had used his belt on them. This time he had something else. The horsewhip was thin and supple and the first stroke took away his resolve to remain silent. His throat was raw from screaming as the lash bit into his back again and again. He was just barely conscious when he heard Hannah’s scream.

His sister had finally broken out of her reverie and followed the sound of her brother’s screams into the forest. She launched herself in between her father and brother and took several lashes on her own back before she passed out. Jubal rained down on her with his fists and feet until he was too tired to continue. He threw down the whip and left them there as he got in his wagon and left.

The Indians found them in the morning and tended to their injuries. It was several days before Josiah was able to talk to his sister. One of the Indian women told him that she had lost the baby. The Indians thought they were husband and wife when they told him. Hannah disappeared before he was strong enough to go after her. It was years before he found her, drooling and raving in a sanitarium where he had stopped on a whim

“Mr. Sanchez? Josiah?” Ezra gripped the older man by the shoulders and shook him slightly. The pain and horror in the man’s eyes had the gambler worried.

“I’m sorry, Ezra. I was miles away,” he apologized.

“And lost in the past, if I may hazard a guess.”

The door to the clinic opened and Buck’s head came up sharply from where it rested on the bed next to Nathan’s shoulder. He blinked a few times to clear his vision as Inez closed the door behind her and set a food tray on the table.

“I figured that you would not leave him so I brought your breakfast to you. How is he doing?”

“Still burning with fever. Damned little ball of lead causes more trouble than it’s worth! Have you seen JD this morning?”

“He stopped and ate a little bit earlier. He looks a little rough, Buck. You should talk him out of taking the patrols for a while.”

“I didn’t even know he’d gone out. Have you seen Mary Travis?”

“She dropped by and ate and went to spend a few minutes with Billy. I’m sure she’ll be back in a half hour or so. Can I sit with him while you eat?”

Nodding gratefully, Buck eased out of the chair and stretched. His back popped and his muscles groaned as he reached over his head to pull out the kinks. He looked down at Nathan again before going to the table and lifting the cover off of the plate. Inez had brought all of his favorite foods. He poured himself a cup of the strong coffee sitting on the stove and dug into the meal.

Taking a clean cloth, Inez soaked it in the basin of cool water and began to bathe Nathan’s face and chest. She gently lifted his head and coaxed a few sips of water into his mouth. She replaced the blanket and turned her attention to Buck. The ladies man was exhausted. She took a minute to knead the muscles of his shoulders until she felt him relax under her hands.

“Why don’t you go over to your room and get some sleep? Mary and I can handle this for a few hours.”

“I need to be here when he wakes up, Inez. Between worrying about him and wondering where Chris and Vin have gotten off to I just can’t let my guard down. But thanks,” he said as he pressed a kiss on her forehead.

After watching the forlorn creature in the corner of the garden, Preston made a few notes on his pad and gestured Ezra away, leaving Josiah watching over Hannah.

“Has she always been like that?”

“I don’t have all the particulars on the situation. You will have to ask Mr. Sanchez any questions you have with regard to his sister.”

“How did you get involved in this? Is she an heiress or something? It just doesn’t seem like the kind of con you usually run.”

The lawyer instantly regretted his words as Ezra’s hands grabbed him by the lapels and slammed him into the wall behind him. The gambler’s green eyes were full of fire as he leaned in close.

“This isn’t a con. That man is worried about losing his sister to the man who drove her insane in the first place. There isn’t any money to be made here on any side! Now, if you hope to collect the funds that I promised you, you will never mention the word ‘con’ in my presence again.”

Preston smoothed his lapels as soon as Ezra withdrew his hands. He swallowed hard a couple of times before he could make himself speak again.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize. Of course, I’ll do all I can to help them.”