by Angie

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The shack was dark and it was cold when JD awoke. He felt like someone had stuffed his mouth with cotton and he had a headache. Something warm and heavy rested on his stomach and he carefully raised his head to see what it was. Abigail’s head rested on him and he could see that her hands were tied like his. It was still dark outside and he closed his eyes and drifted off again.

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Buck opened his eyes and knew immediately that something was wrong. The gentle touch that had soothed him was missing. He could feel the tension in the room. As he looked around, he was dismayed to see four of the other regulators, minus JD and Ezra, lounging around the room. Abigail was nowhere in sight. They would not have left her alone.

“Chris? What happened? Where are JD and Abigail?”

“Buck! Here, drink some water. Don’t try to sit up! Nathan will kick me in the ass if you bust out those stitches.”

“Don’t change the subject. Where are JD and Abigail?”

“They were taken last night. We were so busy watching for them to do something to Vin that we never thought they would try something down here. We figure that JD must have fallen asleep and they grabbed Abigail out on the landing.”

“What are you all doing sitting here? Why aren’t you out there looking for them?”

“Buck, they left a note. We’re to deliver the army payroll to them and they’ll let us know where Abigail and JD are being held. I’m going to let Vin see if he can pick up the trail, but that puts the hostages at risk. Since we don’t know who the kidnappers are, they could be watching us. The note says that if we try to find them that they will kill them.”

The thuds of Buck’s fist striking the bed stirred the others. Nathan came to the bedside to stop him from injuring himself. A cup of herbal tea was pressed into Buck’s hand only to be flung across the room.

“I don’t want anymore damned tea! I want you to go out and find her!” Buck was livid.

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Her arms hurt and she had a headache. Her head rested on something soft and warm that moved. She could hear the heartbeat and breathing of whoever was with her. Twisting around, she managed to sit up and drew one leg up to steady herself. She was frightened by not knowing where she was and who was with her. After a few minutes, the body moved and a soft moan floated up.

“JD? JD, is that you? Are you all right?”

“Abigail? Are you all right? Where are we?” JD struggled to sit up and clear the fog from his brain. He managed to squirm around until he was leaning against the wall. His hands automatically worked the ropes as he tried to free himself.

“I’m okay. I don’t know where we are. I haven’t been able to hear anything.”

“They didn’t hurt you did they?”

“No, just scared me. You don’t think they hurt him do you?” Her voice cracked as tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Buck? No, I don’t think they hurt him. You said they wanted the army payroll and they didn’t want to kill anyone. They’ll just keep us until they get the money and then they’ll let us go. We’ll be okay,” JD assured her with more confidence than he felt. He inched around the wall until she could lean against him.

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The lieutenant stared at Larabee as if the man had surely lost his mind.

“You want to give them the payroll? You’ve got to be kidding. They’d bust me down to my skivvies! I’m sorry about your man and the woman but if I were to agree to what you’re suggesting, they’d bring me up on charges!”

The poor man never saw the move that put him against the wall. All he knew was that he was suddenly being slammed into a wall and an arm was cutting off his breathing. His mouth opened and closed several times as his lungs cried out for the air suddenly being denied. The hazel eyes were filled with a cold rage as they burned into him. A voice intruded on the confrontation.

“Mr. Larabee, I do not think it would be in your best interest to continue to deprive him of air. He will be unable to thank me for saving his life.” Ezra’s soft drawl held a hint of teasing. Chris released the man and shoved him one last time for good measure.

“Lieutenant, I assure you that we will do our utmost to secure the return of your funds. It is important to us to secure the safe return of our sheriff and the young woman. As soon as they are securely ensconced in the safety of our custody, we will turn our attention to your payroll.”

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Dale opened the door of the shack and looked inside. The young man blinked at the bright sunlight and the woman raised her head expectantly.

“You don’t want to be looking at me, kid. You see, we can’t leave behind any witnesses. If the guys think you can identify us, they might want to kill you. But I think we could find a use for the blind girl,” Dale teased.

Keeping his head down, JD tried to put himself between Abigail and the man in the doorway. Dale moved into the shack and jerked JD away from the wall and freed his hands. Abby cried out when the man grabbed her until she felt her hands released. Dale backed away and set a canteen and a pan inside of the door.

As soon as the room was dark again, JD reached out for the pan and canteen. He scooted back to the wall, bringing the items with him. The stew was warm and he stirred it with the spoon before he opened the canteen.

“Water?” He offered to Abigail.

She held out her hands and he gave her the canteen. The water was cool and cut the dry, cottony feeling in her mouth and throat. She took only a few swallows and handed it back to JD. He put something else in her hands.

“It’s stew and it’s warm. You go ahead,” he urged.

They finished the stew and most of the canteen of water before the door opened again. JD kept his head down to avoid seeing the man. The rest of the day passed in silence, neither captive had much to say. Finally, JD worked up his courage and asked a question.

“Is it scary, being blind? I got knocked on the head and couldn’t see for a few days but I knew that it would come back so I wasn’t too worried.”

“It was when I first realized that I was losing my sight. I used to cry myself to sleep and make deals with God. When my parents sent me off to the blind school, it was scary. I had never been away from home.”

“Are your parents still back at home?”

“No, my father was thrown from his horse and killed a few years ago and my momma died of pneumonia last winter. That’s one reason I volunteered to have this new treatment, I’m all alone and I don’t want to be a burden on anyone.”

“Is it hard for you to get around? I hated having to wait for one of the guys to take me to the restaurant or to the boarding house.”

“I think pride is the first thing you shed when you’re blind. You have to depend on the kindness of strangers so much of the time. It’s helped me to find out that there are a lot of nice people in the world and some not so nice.”

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Chris rode out with the army payroll secured to a borrowed army horse. He could almost feel Vin watching him through the spyglass from the outcrop of rock to the south. Ezra was in disguise and leading a donkey loaded with mining tools. Much to his dismay, they had thrown dust on his beloved Chaucer and had loaned him a battered saddle. Josiah and Nathan had stayed behind to watch the town and look after Buck.

The sun was warm on his shoulders as Chris waited at the designated place. Lighting a cheroot, he glared through the smoke at the flat, open expanse of space where it would be difficult to hide a group on any size. He was worried about JD and because of JD, he was worried about Buck. The big-hearted ladies man would blame himself if anything happened to the kid. A lone rider came toward him and he threw down the cheroot and shifted in the saddle. Pushing back his duster, he bared the butt of his gun and rested his hand on it.

Dalton had drawn the short straw. He wasn’t afraid, really, but he had heard a lot about Chris Larabee and didn’t want to cross the man. He slowed up as he approached the man dressed all in black on the big black stallion. Larabee’s hazel eyes bored into him as he came within sight of the man.

“That all of it?” He asked, trying to sound cold and hard.

“Yeah, that’s it. Where are the hostages?”

“You’ll get that tomorrow morning. Ride out again after sunup. No tricks and don’t try to follow the messenger. We could still hurt them.”

Chris watched the man lead the animal away before turning back toward town. He passed Ezra on the road and nodded as he rode on by. He knew that Vin would trail the man from a safe distance to see if he could rescue JD and Abigail. All he could do was ride back to town. And it galled him to be so helpless.

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That evening, the wind picked up. JD could hear the shack groaning and creaking as the breeze blew through the cracks between the graying boards. Supper consisted of beans and cornbread and another canteen of water. They shared the meal in silence. Abigail had heard the rider return with the money and knew that their usefulness as shields was pretty much over. JD was listening for any clues as to who the men were and for any names that might accidentally slip. They discovered that the roof leaked when it started to rain.

Vin lay flat of his stomach on the ridge, staring down at the homestead. The man with the money had ridden in and it had been quiet since. He watched a man carrying a pan and canteen to what looked like a smoke house several yards from the house. The rain did little to improve the situation as there was very little to use for cover between himself and the smoke house. He scooted back from the ridge and went to check on Peso.

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Several colorful phrases rolled through the gamblers head as he rode. As badly as he disliked being dirty, he absolutely hated being wet and dirty. Chaucer tossed his head, voicing his displeasure with the situation. The animal was like his master in that he preferred the warmth and comfort of his stall to being out in the open, especially in the rain.

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After refusing to take the herbal tea all day, Buck’s temperature was climbing rapidly. He was uncomfortable and irritable. The wound on his back was infected and had to be opened and drained. The process was especially painful because the tissue had started to heal and had to be cut to get to the infection. Even after a large dose of laudanum, Buck still moved when the carbolic touched the open wound.

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Vin decided to wait until the kidnappers had gone to sleep to try to get down and free JD and Abby. Hopefully, he would only have to disable one or two of their patrols. They didn’t appear too worried about the hostages, as there was no guard posted on the shack.

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The thick evergreen trees provided some measure of protection from the rain and Ezra set up his oiled tarp and stared down at the homestead. He had followed the trail left by the army horse after Yosemite had filed special marks into the animal’s shoe. He hadn’t seen the man take the pan of food to the smoke house so he was unaware that the hostages were being held there.

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The wind picked up and Abigail began to shake. She could feel every gust of wind and was thoroughly soaked from the leaks from above and the water blowing through the cracks. When the lightning and thunder started, she began to rock and whimper.

“Abigail, Miss McKinney? Are you all right? It’s just a storm,” JD said as he tried to comfort the distraught woman. Another explosion of lightning and the roll of thunder had her cowering in the corner.

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Peso sidestepped and snorted loudly to let his master know what he thought about being out in the lightning and thunder. Vin looked over his shoulder at the animal before turning back to the homestead. The storm seemed to have convinced them to forgo patrols. Stuffing his spyglass back into his pocket, he untied the horse and mounted. He planned to ride down and try to get behind the smokehouse and use it for cover.

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The flash of lightning and roll of thunder caused Buck to toss in his sleep. The laudanum was wearing off and the storm was growing in intensity. Another clap of thunder brought the ladies man wide awake and gasping for his breath.

“Easy Buck, take it easy. Just lay still for a minute. It’s just a storm. You’re safe,” Josiah’s litany of comforting phrases finally penetrated the laudanum induced fog and Buck relaxed. His eyes roamed the clinic before his jaw tightened and his fists clenched.

“Vin is still out there trying to find them. He was following the guy who picked up the payroll. Ezra was also following the money. They’ll find them and hopefully spring them before any harm comes to them,” Chris explained.

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Knowing that Abigail was afraid of thunderstorms, Ezra hoped that she was all right. He stared down at the homestead just as another flash turned the inky blackness into daylight for an instant. The gambler came to his knees in shock as he realized that Vin was approaching the house from the other direction. Leaving the donkey securely tied to the tree, he mounted Chaucer and rode down to see if he could help.

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Abby’s screams were growing hoarse as she continued to rock. She had made it to her feet and was pounding on the wall when JD finally took hold of her. Pulling her back to her knees, he tried to get her to calm down. When she finally collapsed against him sobbing, he rocked her slowly. She clung to him, burying her face in his neck. The young sheriff wasn’t sure if she was shaking from cold or fear so he just continued to hold her as tightly as he could.

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The wind was driving the rain against him at an angle and making it hard to see. Vin stayed down close to Peso’s neck hoping to create a smaller target. He was making a large circle around the homestead and approached the smokehouse. He had no idea how he was going to get all three of them away from the house with only the one horse, but he figured that they could hide out in the trees if they had to.

Another flash of lightening illuminated the night and Vin flattened himself against the wall of the smokehouse. He hoped that no one was looking out of the windows. When the darkness had returned and his eyes adjusted, he inched around to the door and lifted the cross bar that was the only lock the building had ever needed.

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Abby had gone limp in his arms and JD eased his grip on her as he leaned back against the wall. He shivered when the warmth of her body shifted slightly. He heard the rasp of the cross bar being lifted and dropped his head closer to her shoulder. Fear charged through him as he realized that they could be coming to take the woman away as the man had threatened earlier.

The inside of the shack was completely dark, forcing Vin to step inside to find JD and Abigail. Settling on his knees, he felt around him for their bodies. After a moment, he decided to call out for them.

“JD, Abigail? Are you in here?”

A surge of joy raced through JD’s heart as his head shot up and he called back.

“Vin, thank goodness! We have to get out of here! Abby’s terrified of the storm, she keeps screaming and shaking,” JD explained.

Pulling off his coat, Vin wrapped it around the woman before gathering her into his arms. JD got to his feet and followed the tracker out of the door. Rounding the corner of the building, Vin’s heart leapt into his throat as he realized that there was another horse and rider beside Peso. Hard on the heel of his fear came the thought that he recognized the rider.

“Ezra! What are you doing here? Damn, you’re lucky I got my hands full or you’d be sporting a few new holes in them fancy duds!” Vin exclaimed.

“Perhaps we should make a hasty departure from this venue before we are noticed. If you will hand Miss McKinney up to me, I believe the loads on our mounts will be fairly even. We can leave the donkey until tomorrow, he has ample fodder and shelter in the trees,” Ezra shouted over the storm.

After he mounted, Vin handed Abby up to the gambler and helped him to get her balanced in front of him. They took a minute to thread her arms through the sleeves of the hide coat before the tracker mounted Peso and pulled JD up behind him. Chaucer wheeled tightly and started back the way he had come. Peso rounded the corner of the smokehouse just as another flash of lightning lit the sky.

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Tate was heading to the outhouse when the lightning flashed. He looked toward the smokehouse just in time to see the two men riding away. Pulling his pistol, he got off a pair of shots before the horse was too far away. He ran back to the building, screaming that the hostages were getting away.

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The roll of thunder startled Abigail and she tensed. Ezra tightened his grip on her and shouted into her ear over the storm.

“Just relax! You’re safe! We’re heading back to Four Corners.”

After a deep shudder passed through the woman, she settled back into his arms and nodded. Ezra felt her legs tighten as she tried to help keep her balance on the horse. He loosened his grip slightly, keeping his arm around her just in case.

An impact nearly unseated Vin and his left arm went numb. The sudden, sharp pain was followed by a burning sensation. Fighting to turn Peso after Chaucer, he heard JD cry out. The roll of thunder prevented him from questioning the young sheriff as to how badly he was injured. As long as the young man did not fall from the horse, they would make it to safety.

Something struck him on the shoulder and JD cried out. The pain and burning sensation were not too bad and he clung more tightly to Vin. A second burning sensation and an explosive pain in his head nearly caused him to lose his grip. Lacing his fingers together around the tracker’s waist, JD’s head dropped and bobbed gently against Vin’s shoulder.

The men at the homestead rushed around gathering their belongings. They were planning to leave immediately. Dale and Dalton saddled the horses. Tate and Jose were coming out of the house with their saddlebags. A flash of lightning briefly lit the sky and the horses danced nervously. A second, brighter flash zeroed in on a nearby tree and it exploded into flames. Two of the horses broke free and took off running. Dale chased after them before falling in the mud. He lay on his stomach, cursing and pounding his fist against the ground.

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Josiah wrung out the cloth and placed it on Buck’s face. His temperature had fallen slightly over the past couple of hours. Nathan had gone to help with a pair of ranch hands who had been brought in after lightning struck the shack they had been sheltering in. Both men had been struck by pieces of wood and suffered broken bones. A make shift clinic had sprung up in the saloon as other injured people were coming in from their homesteads.

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The strength of Abby’s grip on his wrist was startling. Ezra’s hand was numb. She was doing a good job of remaining calm, only jumping when the thunder started. Chaucer was not wasting any time getting back to his warm stall. The gambler slowed the horse several times to give Vin a chance to catch up but the animal picked up speed at every opportunity.

During the next flash of lightning, Vin saw Chaucer several yards in front of him. Turning his head, he heard the sounds of at least one horse coming up behind him. He couldn’t pull his mare’s leg because of the way JD’s arms were around his waist. He had realized that the kid was unconscious and didn’t dare take a chance on loosening his grip. Nudging Peso with his heel, he urged the animal to give just a little bit more.

The two wild-eyed horses raced past the burdened animals without pausing. Both Vin and Ezra breathed a sigh of relief when they saw the riderless animals go past. Both men eased up slightly on their mounts. As Vin came alongside of Ezra, he called out.

“Can you see if JD is awake? He hasn’t moved since we left the homestead!”

“In this darkness, I can’t see a thing. I suggest that we follow the other two horses and get back to town as quickly as possible,” Ezra shouted back.

They reached Four Corners a half hour later. There were several people milling around in front of the saloon and Vin called out to them for help. Two men rushed out to ease JD down from the horse and rushed him into the saloon where Nathan was still working. In spite of his limp arm, Vin managed to help Ezra get Abigail down. Another pair of townspeople moved to help the woman into the saloon. They followed the men with JD. Yosemite rushed up and took the reins of both horses. Ezra smiled his gratitude to the man.

As soon as Vin crossed the threshold, Ezra gasped.

“Mr. Tanner! Sit down immediately!”

All eyes turned and Vin shrank back against the gambler. Ezra tucked his arm around the tracker and steered him toward a chair. Vin was shaking with cold and soaking wet but it was the blood that soaked the front and back of his shirt that had drawn attention. Inez rushed over and pressed a clean towel against the bleeding wound. Vin winced and jumped away from the gentle touch.

Chris looked up from where he was kneeling over JD. The color drained from his face as he took in the bedraggled look of the tracker. He looked up at Nathan to see if he was needed before rushing across the room.

A blanket that had been warmed by the fire was wrapped around Abigail after the soaked hide coat was removed. She lifted her head and smiled in the direction of the footsteps that moved away from her side. A warm mug was pressed into her hands and a Mexican accent spoke softly.

“It’s chicken broth, it will warm you up. Are you hurt?”

“No, thank you. Did something happen to JD? Is he all right?”

“He’s been shot twice. Once in the shoulder and one shot grazed his head. Nathan’s working on him right now,” Inez explained.

“Where’s Ezra?”

“He’s with Vin and Chris. Do you want me to get him for you?”

“No, not if he’s with the others. Could someone take me up to the clinic?”

“Sure, I can take you up. You want to go now?”

“Please, I need to see Buck.”

Vin struggled to get up from the chair as Chris held him in his seat by the towel he was holding against the wound. “How bad is he hurt, Chris? He went limp and I just kept riding! I had to get him out of there. Did I do the wrong thing?”

“No, Vin! You probably saved his life. For all we know, they would have killed them. Now sit still until Nathan can get over here to look at you.”

The shoulder wound was through and through and had stopped bleeding. Nathan cleaned the wound and stitched it carefully. The head wound had him worried. The scalp wound had stopped bleeding but the bone under it looked broken. He was afraid to touch it to confirm his suspicion. As long as JD was breathing all right, he would assume that the injury wasn’t life threatening.

Josiah looked up as Inez and Abigail came through the door. His smile could not have been any bigger at seeing the blind woman. He motioned Inez to bring Abby closer.

“Look who’s here to see you, Buck. Come on, open your eyes. Wake up for me.”

The blue eyes opened and focused on the women standing over the bed.

“Is this Heaven? Two beautiful women standing over me, what more could a man ask for? If I’m still asleep, don’t wake me, okay Josiah?”

Abby sat on the edge of the bed and took his hand. She reached out and felt his forehead to see if he still had a fever. He was cool to her touch and she smiled.

“Josiah, you should go down to the saloon. Vin and JD were hurt and they might need your help. I’ll stay with Buck. Please tell Ezra that I’m up here,” Abby said.

As the graying man eased out of the room with Inez, Buck’s grip on her hand tightened. She could feel the fear coursing through him. The indecision and the frustration sped up his breathing and tightened the muscles in his shoulders.

“How bad? Do you know?” Buck’s voice cracked as he spoke.

“Vin got shot once and JD got hit twice. He was unconscious when they pulled him off of the horse downstairs.” A roll of thunder shook the building and Abby flinched. “I’m scared, Buck!”

“Me too,” he answered as he pulled her to his chest.

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The tracker hissed as Nathan cleaned the wound. The bullet had passed cleanly through without striking bone or vital organs. The muscle that was hit controlled the motion of his arm. Nathan stitched up the wound and put the arm in a sling. He then led Vin to a cot near the fireplace and tucked him under a blanket to warm him. Ezra said Vin had put his coat on Abby because she was wet when he found her.

The gambler was also trembling as Inez coaxed warm broth into him near the wood stove in the far corner of the room. Chris had not left JD’s side and was even now leaned over in his chair holding a pale, limp hand. Nathan moved up behind Ezra and checked his forehead.

“You feeling poorly, Ezra?”

“Just cold, Mr. Jackson. I shall retire to my bed as soon as I finish the broth that Inez has been so kind as to bring me. How are our young compatriots?”

“Vin will be fine. JD has a head wound. I’ll have to watch him closely. You should go right to bed. Take that with you. Get out of those wet clothes. I already sent someone up to build a fire in your stove.”

Receiving a grateful smile from the gambler, Nathan headed up to check on Buck. He found Abigail cuddled up under a quilt with the ladies man. He checked her forehead to see if she, like the others, was running a fever from her journey through the cold rain. She was warm to the touch and shivering in Buck’s arms. He poured a cup of the herbal tea and coaxed it into her after building up the fire in the stove.

“I’ll send someone up with food for both of you,” he whispered as he slipped out of the room. Buck nodded as he tightened his arms around Abby. Another roll of thunder set her to trembling and her hands tightened in the material of his shirt and the quilt.

Yosemite came back into the saloon with several bags draped over his shoulders. The markings on the sides of the bags proclaimed them as the army payroll. The livery owner set the bags on the floor beside of Larabee and walked away. The irritating lieutenant strode over and looked down at the bags before picking them up and walking away. The owner of the bank had been helping tend to the injured and was only too willing to open the vault to secure the money.

A cool hand brushed his forehead and Vin opened his eyes to find Inez smiling down at him. She tucked the blanket up more tightly under his chin and caressed his cheek gently. He let his eyes close again.

The small form on the cot moved and Chris tightened his grip on the pale hand. JD’s forehead furrowed and his free hand reached up to finger the bandage on his head. A sharp pain in his shoulder drew a moan and brought Nathan to his side.

“Just lay still, JD. Can you open your eyes and look up here for a minute?” The healer knelt beside the cot and studied the boy’s dark eyes.

The pale face turned toward Nathan and he winced as the pain in his head took up a rhythm in time with his heartbeat. He squinted at the dark skinned man who was intently studying the dark eyes.

“How many fingers am I holding up?”

“Three, why?” JD’s eyes were clearly puzzled.

“You took a head shot and I wanted to make sure that your eyes were working all right.”

“What about Vin and Abby and Ezra? Are they all right?”

“Vin took a shot through the shoulder like you but he’ll be all right. Ezra’s upstairs asleep and Abigail is up in the clinic with Buck. Everyone will be okay.”

A roll of thunder caused JD to look around the room apprehensively.

“You ought to check on Abby, she’s terrified of thunder. She started screaming and rocking on her knees. It was all I could do to keep hold of her. I don’t know how Ezra managed to keep her on the horse if she fought him the way she was fighting with me.”

“Okay, JD, I’ll go check on her. I gave her an herbal tea a little while ago and she’s probably asleep. You need something for pain?”

“No, thanks, I’ll sleep on my own, Nathan.”

A deep shudder passed through the woman as the thunder rolled and Buck tightened his grip on her as she pressed in closer. The door opened and Inez and Nathan came in to check on them.

“She’s running a fever, Nate,” Buck called urgently.

“She’ll probably take a cold from the ride in the rain. She’ll be fine.”

The healer pressed a hand against the woman’s forehead to find it marginally warmer than it had been. She was curled across Buck’s chest with her arms wrapped around his neck. Nathan lowered another quilt over the woman and nodded to the ladies man.

Several hours later, the fever broke and Buck pulled the blankets more tightly around Abby. Another roll of thunder had her shuddering and pressing tighter against his chest. As the storm blew itself out, both Abby and Buck slept.

By the time the sun was painting the sky with streaks of pink and gold, Nathan was just settling into a bed at the boarding house. Ezra had wakened only long enough to take another mug of herbal tea and request another blanket. Vin slept through the night. JD tossed and turned in his sleep as his fever rose and fell. Every little move seemed to bring him pain and he was not one to sleep lying still.

Chris remained hovering over Vin and JD while Josiah kept watch over Buck and Abby. When the storm had finally passed, the preacher had lifted Abby and placed her on the cot on the other side of the room. Buck was able to get into a more comfortable position and dropped back off to sleep.

Two days later, Mary delivered a telegram to Abby that the stage was coming for her at the end of the week. The stormy season was pretty much over and the roads were drying out. It was not exactly welcome news as the woman was still tending to the recovering Buck Wilmington.

The ladies man didn’t take the news too well either, he was developing a deep attachment to the blind woman. She wakened in him all the protective urges and allowed him to care for her as much as she cared for him. It was also the longest time Buck could remember being with a woman without being intimate with her. Aside from holding her hand and the night she’d spent cuddled up with him during the storm, he had not even so much as kissed her. It was a new thing for Buck.

Abby stayed with Buck the night before she was to leave. He was still confined to the clinic because of the pain he was experiencing from his injury. Vin and JD were being confined to their rooms at the boarding house under Chris and Josiah’s watchful eyes. After supper, Abby settled into the rocking chair and talked to Buck about anything that came to mind. He confided some of his deepest secrets to her. In the morning, when Nathan looked in on them, Abby was asleep in the rocking chair and Buck was sitting up on the bed watching her sleep.

When the stage arrived, all of the regulators were there to see her off. Josiah embraced her warmly. Vin squeezed her hand and wished her well. JD embraced her and pressed a kiss on her cheek. Ezra embraced her and whispered something in her ear that had her nodding and smiling. Chris only tipped his hat and wished her well. Nathan shook her hand. Buck waited until last. Leaning heavily on Josiah to get on his feet, he drew Abby into his arms. Her hand brushed across his face lightly before his lips covered hers. She molded her body to his for the duration of his kiss. When he released her, she swayed slightly in his grasp.

When the stage finally disappeared, Buck allowed Nathan and Josiah to move him back to the clinic. He spent the next couple of days mourning her absence. When Nathan removed the last of the stitches from his back and pronounced him well enough to be moving around on his own, Buck returned to his room in the boarding house. In a couple of weeks, he was back to his old self.

Three months passed with only an occasional letter from Abby. Her letters were always upbeat and positive. When she stepped from the stage one afternoon, Buck froze in his tracks. He raced to her side as she reached the boardwalk and waited for her to turn around. When she turned, his heart leapt into his throat. She was still wearing the dark glasses and carrying the cane!

“Abby?” He said softly as he stepped up close to her.

“Buck! Buck, I missed you so much!”

She moved toward him and he enveloped her in his arms.

“I didn’t know you were coming back. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming?”

“I just wanted to see you on my way back home. I can only stay a couple of nights. I have so much to tell you!”

He held her by the shoulders, staring into her eyes. She reached up and removed the glasses. The opaque look was gone from her eyes and she looked right at him.

“I have to wear them for the next few months until my eyes are completely healed! My goodness, look at you! You’re just the way I pictured you!”

They spent the afternoon together, talking and catching up. Chris rearranged the patrol schedules to allow him to spend more time with her while she was in town. The blond gunslinger couldn’t help but smile at the way Buck fawned over the girl.

Almost as if God planned it, a fierce thunderstorm wracked the town the next night. Abby and Buck spent the night cuddled together in his room at the boarding house. The formerly blind woman was thrilled with the natural display. She boldly ventured toward the window to watch as the storm moved off.

When the stage arrived the next day, Buck reluctantly escorted Abby to see her off. She clung to him until the last possible moment. She hung out the window and watched him until the coach rounded the end of the street. Chris moved up alongside of the ladies man and cast him a sideways glance.

“I’m surprised you let her get away.”

“Ah hell, she was way to innocent for me. Besides, she has a whole life waiting for her back where she came from. I’m content with building happy memories.”