Sixth story in the Christmas Wish series.
"Do either of you gentlemen know anything about Colorado?" asked Ezra Standish as he strolled up to Vin Tanner and Buck Wilmington with a smile that showed his gold tooth. The dark form of Chris Larabee seemed to prowl behind the gambler, but that was one of the well-known gunman's natural moves, not necessarily indicating he was upset, just careful.
The residents of the town nodded, tipped their hats, or spoke to the dangerous looking forms as they passed, now used to their presence as they patrolled the outlying areas and used their time and talents to protect the town and its environs. Some of the newer citizens gave the men a pretty wide berth however. The town was growing, due in a large part to the Seven, but some of the most recent settlers were from eastern areas where gunfighters were rare, and they were a little nervous around the imposing figures.
"What part 'a Colorado?" asked Vin softly as the four men met up.
"The area some miles southwest of Denver, I believe. It was reported to be quite rugged and barely inhabited."
Sandy curls bobbed as the tracker dipped his head in agreement.
"Reckon it is. I ain't spent much time up there, especially not the city. It's got too many people for me already. But I chased a bounty up that way once. Mighty wild in places, and can be hard goin' on horse and man. Ain't nothin' like it for wide spaces and feelin' free, though. Water and graze all over, deer, mountain goats . . . all kinda game. Plus some mighty fine wild horses. Man could make a good life if he could stock up enough supplies to make it through the winters."
Buck looked curious.
"Why'd ya ask, Ez?" The tall form stood with one hand on the butt of his gun in a way that came across as lazy, but also allowed him to be poised for action should it materialize.
Standish gave another wide smile and waved one hand expansively at his companion.
"Because Mr. Larabee just won himself a parcel of land there!"
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The other two men looked at the slim blond in surprise. Ezra often accepted deeds, jewelry, or other forms of collateral in lieu of cash in his games, but for Chris to agree to such things was unusual.
"Chris?" asked Buck curiously, while Vin just raised his eyebrows at the lean form in question.
Broad shoulders covered in light gray above the ebony pants just shrugged.
"I know a little bit about the area, and it sounded like a nice piece of property. Guess the abundance of wild horses was what really drew me. The land seemed like it'd make a good spot to build a cabin and put up some corrals to hold 'em, once you wangled 'em. I've been thinkin' about getting' a good stud or two and some mares and maybe raisin' a few horses again. Can't make a livin' with my gun forever . . . "
Buck gave a big smile, making his mustache twitch.
"Back to raisin' and trainin' horses again . . . sounds good, Pard. Wouldn't mind joinin' ya, if you're of a mind to accept partners . . . "
The lanky figure turned serious for a minute.
"You're right, we're all gettin' older. And the town is growin' . . . lotta folks movin' in. But they don't all seem to appreciate the fact that they're protected by a team of gunmen. One of these days they're gonna elect a mayor or city council and get like the cities back east and want a regular police force, not seven gunhands who aren't official," the brunet opined a bit sadly.
A newer couple who had just arrived moved to the other side of the street to avoid the four men, adding emphasis to the statement.
Vin nodded in agreement. "Reckon Bucklin's right . . . some 'a the folks are already talkin' about wantin' a 'real' sheriff and deputies. Especially if the territory becomes a state, reckon they're gonna want 'official' peacekeepers, not unofficial ones."
The blue gaze met Larabee's jade one. "Wouldn't mind roundin' up wild horses m'self, if'n you want some help . . . "
Larabee looked at the two men as one corner of his sculpted mouth quirked up at the corner.
"Appreciate the offers. I could use the help. One of these days we'll head up that way and check things out."
Turning to Standish, the blond raised a brow in query. "Ez, can you find out who I need to contact to file the deed?"
The gambler nodded eagerly. "Of course, Mr. Larabee. And if you do decide to form a ranch, I would be more than happy to offer my services to keep the accounts and perhaps invest any profits for you . . . "
Vin slapped the chestnut-haired man on the back. "Plus, ya can make trips to Denver for some high-stakes poker, huh?"
Buck grinned. "Yeah, I heard there's some millionaires built houses up there. All kind 'a mine owners and such around. Imagine they'd have some extra money to spend."
The gambler's gold tooth gleamed in a wide smile. "I am acquainted with that rumor myself. I must confess that I wouldn't be adverse to takin' some of a millionaire's money . . . or gold or silver . . . or even the deed to a mine or two as collateral for a wager."
The others laughed as they turned toward the jail where JD was ensconced watching one of the local drunks who was spending the night for shooting up the street.
Chris walked in front, a look of speculation on his handsome face.
Wilmington moved up to put one arm around his oldest friend's shoulders. The reality was that the seven of them would eventually have to move on to other pursuits for one reason or the other. He'd gotten used to them being together though, and thought of the rest as brothers. He really wished that they could manage to stay together no matter what happened in the future.
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Ezra sent some wires and found out where Larabee needed to go to file the deed he held and legally lay claim to the acreage contained in the description. They were all still paid to protect the town at the moment though, so once that was done, things went back to normal for a while.
Chris and Buck had a talk with Judge Travis about trying to get Vin's name cleared, and Ezra started trying to come up with the extra money needed to purchase the saloon when the current owners decided to put it up for sale.
JD got the men to agree to exchange Christmas gifts, and they spent part of their spare time coming up with ideas and putting the necessary plans for them in action. The purchase of medical books for Nathan, putting a down-payment on the saloon as a surprise for Ezra, and writing out statements about Eli Joe to help clear Vin of murder, etc. all took time. Plus there were a few would-be bank robbers and other miscreants that still hadn't figured out that it wasn't wise to try to commit crimes in the area protected by the Magnificent Seven, as the peacekeepers were now known.
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Once they'd handled everything, it was almost Christmas. They all gathered in the saloon for a holiday meal and to exchange gifts. After a trip outside to enjoy the rare snow that started just as they finished eating, and which was an answer to JD's wish, they all gathered back around the table.
After opening their presents, giving Ezra the key to the saloon, and Vin a copy of the papers from the governor of Texas that removed the murder charges and bounty, they all settled in to sip some good Kentucky bourbon and play a few hands of poker.
After a couple of rounds, Buck looked over at Chris.
"Whatcha gonna do about that land deed, Stud?" asked the ladies' man softly.
Larabee leaned his chair back on two legs and stared thoughtfully at his cards for a minute.
"I was thinkin' that come spring, you, me, and Vin might take a break and ride up that way, check it out. I need to have the deed recorded anyway, and I don't want to trust it to the mail or a messenger. You two alright with that?"
Both men nodded. The others looked on in interest, but Dunne suddenly became perturbed.
"You aren't gonna leave, are you Chris?"
The blond gave the younger man a reassuring smile.
"Not right now, JD. But Buck, Vin, Ez, and I have been talkin' a little, and the town's gonna eventually want an official law force. It's not a bad idea to have something in mind for when that happens."
The young brunet looked at his hero. "Can I come if you guys start a ranch? You know I can ride."
Buck's mustache twitched as he grinned and reached to slap the kid's bowler.
"You can fly, too."
"And swim . . . " added Ezra with a matching smile, the two reminding the smaller form of when he first asked to join Larabee and the others, and spooked his horse by proving that he could shoot.
Nathan and Josiah both chuckled, while Dunne rolled his eyes at the embarrassing memory.
Buck then sobered and looked at Chris.
"I've gotten used to us all being a team, Pard. Would be nice to have the kid with us."
Larabee nodded, then turned to Sanchez and Jackson.
"You two are welcome to come too, if that happens. I might just use the place to keep horses while we round 'em up, then drive 'em back, but if things get too tame here and we're not needed, might move there."
Vin looked at the pair as well. "Reckon there'd be a need for a healer and preacher up there maybe even more than here if it's still as wild as I remember."
Josiah thought a minute, then dipped his head in agreement.
"I'm not as young as I used to be. The thought of having a place to call home when I 'retire' sounds pretty good," murmured the deep baritone.
Nathan looked somewhat torn. "I like the idea 'a that. Not sure what'll happen with Rain, though . . . " he trailed off uncertainly.
Wilmington reached to clap the other man on the shoulder. "She can come too, Nate!" One cobalt eye winked at JD. "Casey'd probably like to have another woman along if she and the kid get together by then."
Vin grinned at the stain of red that immediately colored the young sheriff's cheeks.
"Yeah, ya wouldn't have to stay at the ranch. Reckon ya could get your own places nearby."
The ladies' man grinned even bigger at the idea. "Yep. That way y'all could have your privacy, but we'd all still be close. I'd hate for us to split up now that we've gotten t' be like brothers."
The rest nodded as well. They had their disagreements and spats, but they had all grown used to having someone to watch their backs and help out when they needed it.
Jackson spent a few minutes in thought, then smiled at the rest.
"Guess I could work with y'all at the ranch roundin' up the horses long enough to get a grubstake for me and Rain. I'll see what she thinks, if that's alright with the rest of ya."
The other six nodded. They spent a little more time discussing the idea, each of them becoming more excited about the plan as they talked. It might not happen anytime soon, but it was nice to have something to look forward to if/when the town got too domesticated to need or want them.
Buck pushed back his chair and stretched out his long legs with a smile of satisfaction. Looked like he was getting his wish . . . his family would stay together, no matter what happened in the future.
Next story: Chris
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