Part Two
Three Months Later

Ezra woke to the smell of coffee and bacon. He rolled onto his back and sighed contentedly as he stretched. Mornings had taken on a regular routine. He had never led what most people would call a normal life. When he was young, his mother had dumped him on whatever relative would take him, that is, when she did not need him for her own purposes. As he got older he had drifted from town to town, always living out of rented rooms and never staying too long in one place. He had not realized that he missed having roots, or having a place to call home, until now.

He could have stayed in bed forever, enjoying this wonderful new feeling of being home, but his painfully full bladder would not let him. He closed his eyes and sighed, wishing that he could go back to sleep. It was obvious that he was never going to be a morning person. He still could not manage to get up as early as most of the population. With regret he pulled himself out of bed, shrugged into his robe, and headed for the privy.

Once the call of nature was satisfied, his stomach urged him to the kitchen where breakfast was waiting. He poured a cup of coffee and picked up the covered plate from the side of the cook-stove, where it had been set so it would stay warm.

The sound of splashing water came from behind the curtain that had been strung across the corner of the kitchen nearest the stove. The gambler smiled as he sipped his coffee and listened to his wife humming softly as she bathed.

The tub had been one of the first purchases for the house. He could not expect a woman to use the public bathhouse. He was loath to use it himself. Often three or four patrons had to use the same bath water, because it was so difficult to heat and haul enough hot water for the tubs. On more than one occasion he had climbed into a tub, only to discover live lice floating on the surface of the water. It made his skin crawl to think about it. He definitely preferred a private bath, but he did use the same bath water that Becca used. Sharing a bath with her just was not the same as sharing with a grungy cowboy straight off the trail.

Ezra sat sipping his second cup of coffee while he waited for his turn in the tub. Becca's startled gasp, followed by a huge splash, brought him flying out of his seat, knocking the chair over in his haste. He yanked the curtain back to find Becca sprawled flat on her back in the tub. She blushed as she tried to sit up and cover herself at the same time. The gambler leaned over the tub and asked anxiously, "What happened? Are you injured?"

"I lost my balance and fell. I'm all right." She now sat upright in the tub with her arms crossed over her breasts. Her blush deepened as Ezra's gaze shifted from her face to travel over her body.

"Becca, I'm your husband. You needn't be embarrassed for me to see you unclothed. Let me help you." He reached out to help his wife out of the tub. Gently he slide his hands under her arms, leaving her hands free so she could help push herself to her feet. He continued to steady her as she stepped out onto a towel on the floor next to the tub.

Ezra could hardly take his eyes off her. He had seen naked women, but never one that was pregnant. He wanted desperately to run his hands over her swollen belly and feel the life inside, but he did not dare. With some effort, he pulled his thoughts away from such things. Instead, he picked up a towel from the stack on the chair. Then he stepped behind her and dried her back and arms before helping her slip into her robe.

Ezra handed Becca the towel. Without saying a word he undressed in full view of his wife and stepped into the tub. She stood still, completely mesmerized by the sight of her husband's well formed body, as she watched him ease himself into the tepid water.

Casually, Ezra lathered his wash cloth and held it out to Becca. She reached out and tentatively took the cloth; not really sure what he wanted her to do. The gambler leaned slightly forward and asked, "Will you assist me with my back, please?"

Becca's hand shook slightly as she pressed the cloth to his back. She was hesitant at first, but quickly gained more confidence. She braced her free hand against Ezra's shoulder and scrubbed with long firm strokes as she marveled at the feel of his firm muscles under her hands. All the while, Ezra sat lost in the feel of her soft, warm hands as they slid over his soap slicked skin.

+ + + + + + +

"Evenin', Mrs. Standish." The owner of the mercantile nodded and tipped his hat as he passed Becca on the walkway.

"Evenin', Mr. Lawrence." She smiled and nodded in return. Becca was so surprised at how easily the town's folk had accepted her. Word had spread quickly about the circumstances of her arrival and about her sudden marriage to one of the peacekeepers. Even after her condition had become obvious, people had been very sympathetic and supportive; not at all judgmental, and she was truly relieved.

She continued on her way, exchanging greetings with those she passed as she made her way to the jail to meet Ezra. On evenings when he worked late, he treated her to dinner out. Becca enjoyed these evenings. She loved creating a home for Ezra, but it was nice to get out and be around other people sometimes. She walked into the jail and saw Ezra sitting behind the big desk writing a letter. He looked up and smiled when he saw her. He blew across the surface of the letter to dry the ink. Then folded it and put it into his inside jacket pocket.

"You can finish your letter before we go, if you want. I don't mind waiting," she offered.

"That will not be necessary. I was attempting to find a way to explain the circumstances of our marriage to my mother. It is a task that I do not mind postponing until a later time." The gambler knew that his mother would not approve of her son's decision to assist a young woman to salvage her reputation. After all, what could possibly be in it for him?

Josiah came in and Ezra turned over the task of guarding the one prisoner currently housed in the jail. "Our guest has been quite amiable this evening. You should have a quiet night."

The preacher clamped a big hand on the gambler's shoulder and grinned. "Glad to here it. You two enjoy yourselves. Good night Becca."

"Good night, Mr. Sanchez."

The couple had hardly sat down at the table when they heard a familiar voice. Buck Wilmington strolled up to their table, with J.D. Dunne close on his heals. "Well, look who's here," the gunslinger grinned broadly as he drew near the table. "Looks like you two could use some company. Mind if we join ya?"

Actually, Ezra did mind if they joined them, but it would be extremely rude to say so. Instead he said, "By all means, gentlemen. You are quite welcome to join us." He could see that his wife was pleased for a chance to visit with their friends. She had grown quite fond of the other six lawmen, and they had all been smitten by her.

Becca's laugh was infectious. He found himself laughing as Buck told one amusing story after another, most of which were told at his expense. Under other circumstances, it would have irritated the gambler to have his most embarrassing moments revisited, but it was worth a little embarrassment to see the joy in Becca's eyes and to hear the pure delight in her laughter.

Ezra realized that for the first time in his life, he was truly happy, and with that realization came another one. He loved her. What had started out as an act of kindness, or in Josiah's words, an act of chivalry, had turned into something much more. When did Chivalry end and love begin? He did not know when it had happened. He only knew that he was glad that it had.

As quickly as the euphoria had claimed him, it began to wane. She would be leaving in a few months. He knew that was the plan, and that she had agreed to it enthusiastically. It would not be fair to her to complicate things by confessing his feelings. He would just have to enjoy the time that he still had with her and hope when the time came that she would ask to stay with him.

The foursome finally had to be run out of the dining room so that it could be closed for the night. They said their good nights outside on the walk, and they all went their own way. Ezra offered his arm to his wife, and they strolled lazily toward their home.

The silence of the night was broken by the deafening sound of two shots being fired, followed by the shrillness of a woman's scream. Buck and J.D. sprinted toward the sound and stopped short when they saw the gambler lying on the wooden walk in a widening pool of blood. Becca knelt beside him, holding his face between her hands as she screamed out his name. "Ezra! Ezra! Oh God please, somebody help him!" She was nearing hysterics by the time the lawmen reached her side. There was no sign of the shooter. There was only the sound of hoof beats receding into the night.

The other members of the group rushed to the aid of their fallen friend. Nathan tried to assess Ezra's wound, but Becca kept getting in the way. Josiah took hold of the terrified woman and eased her a few feet away from where the healer worked on her husband. He held her close and spoke softly in an effort to calm her. Suddenly, Becca went totally limp in his arms, and he eased her down on the rough boards of the walkway. It was then that he noticed the blood on his hands. He shouted to the others for help, and Vin moved over to them to see what had happened. In the light of the fire, set to light the walks at night, he could see the growing red stain on the front of her dress. It was high on the left shoulder, and when he shifted her so that he could see her back, he saw that the blood flowed freely there as well. The tracker worked quickly to tear away her dress over the wounds. The bullet had passed all the way though the fleshy part of her shoulder, just above the collarbone. Vin reached under the skirt of her dress and tore some strips from her petticoat, which he pressed to the twin wounds in an effort to slow the bleeding.

Nathan worked quickly over Ezra. The bullet had entered his back just below the ribs, but there was no exit wound. The lead ball was lodged somewhere inside. "J.D., Go get Mary! We have to get them up to my rooms. I can't do anything here in the dark." Together the men managed to move the two to the clinic.

Mary and Vin worked on Becca; cleaning and bandaging her wounds. The healer probed into the gaping hole in Ezra's back. At last, he felt the end of the probe strike something hard, and it was not in the right place to be bone. Slowly, he worked the lead ball toward the surface. Once the bullet had been removed, the flow of blood began to slow. Nathan cleaned and padded the oozing wound, and then he snuggly bandaged the area. He glanced over at his friend's wife, who still had not regained consciousness. His worried expression told the others all they needed to know. It did not look good. Now, all they could do is wait, and pray that infection did not set in in either patient, and that nothing vital had been hit by the bullet that struck the gambler. They all knew that it would be a long night.

+ + + + + + +

The silence of the night was broken by only the sound of his horse's hooves as the dark figure fled from the town of Four Corners. The man urged his horse to go faster as he raced to put as much distance as possible between himself and the men that were sure to follow. At the top of a rise outside of town, he paused for a moment to look back, his form only a black shadow against a dark sky. Fierce gray eyes leveled an icy glare at the small town. The man smiled and turned his horse away from the town that he had vowed to return to, and the man he had vowed to kill.

+ + + + + + +

"Ezra! Ezra!" Becca's frightened voice startled the waiting men. The healer hurried to her side to stop her from thrashing around and pulling the bullet wounds open again. At the black man's touch, her eyes fluttered open and slowly focused on the face hovering above her. "Nathan?" She was puzzled at first, but then the searing pain in her shoulder brought the memories flooding back. She struggled to get up, but Nathan would not let her move. "Ezra, I have to see Ezra!"

"He's here with you. Turn your head and look over there." Nathan pointed to the other bed a few feet away. Becca could see that he was still breathing, but she knew he was badly hurt. She remembered the pool of blood on the walkway, and that she had not been able to wake him up.

Tears pooled in her eyes, as she reached out a hand toward the man she had married, but she could not reach him. "Ezra...." her words were cut off by the sound of her sobs.

The men in the room felt the same despair that the young woman felt, but they were equally useless to their friend. Only time would tell, and with the will of God, he would survive to see the love in his wife's eyes.

+ + + + + + +

You cannot track in the dark, and they had been forced to wait for daylight before they could go after the man. Vin and J.D. had waited at the edge of town near where Ezra and Becca had been shot, as the sun had slowly crept over the horizon. They had wanted to be ready to ride as soon as they could make out the trail that had been left the night before.

Vin Tanner eyed the ground with a practiced eye. The trail had been easy enough to pick up, but the shooter had at least a ten-hour head start on them. They had been on his trail for three days, and they felt that they were getting closer. At first their quarry had been traveling fast, but the farther they got from town, the more careless he became.

"How much longer do you think, before we catch up to him?" J.D. was tired, but he was not about to give up the chase.

"Don't know, but I think we're gettin' close." Vin continued to look for signs of the shooter's passing. He had lost the trail once when the rider had thought to follow a streambed for a distance. He missed the place where he had left the stream and had to double back. The tracker did not want to lose any more time by overlooking something again.

"How you reckon Ezra and Becca are doing?" The young sheriff was clearly worried about his injured friends back in town. The wounded woman had regained consciousness shortly before midnight. Nathan had said that as long as there was no infection, she should recover, and there should not be any harm to the baby. The gambler was another story. He had lost a large amount of blood, and his wound was so deep. He was still unconscious when the two men had left to track his shooter.

"Becca's probably doin' all right, but Ezra didn't look so good. Nathan'll keep him with us, if he can." Vin was worried too, but he did not want J.D. to know how hopeless things looked for the gambler.

The two rode on in silence for a couple of miles when the sound of gun shoots off in the distance caught their attention. The two lawmen pushed their mounts forward, until the sound of gunfire was much closer. They both dismounted and looped the reins of the two panting horses over a tree branch. Carefully, they made their way toward the sounds of confrontation.

The two lawmen drew their guns and lowered themselves to the ground, where they crawled cautiously up a small rise. The shots sounded like they were coming from the other side of the small hill. From the top, they could see the men below them. They could make out three men spread out about a hundred yards away. A glint of reflected sunlight told them that one of the three was wearing a badge. Not far from where Vin and J.D. were lying, a lone man crouched behind a fallen tree. Both men had no doubt that this was the man they had been tracking. As they watched, their shooter tried to move to better cover. A bullet caught him in the side and sent him tumbling to the ground. The man did not move. The other sheriff edged from behind his protective cover.

Vin cocked his head to listen. He was not sure but he thought he heard something moving behind them. He strained to hear the sound again, and finally caught the faint rustle of dry leaves. Slowly, the tracker turned to peer in the direction of the sound. He scanned the area behind them, fearing an ambush from behind. He heard the rustling again, but it took a long moment before he discovered its cause. The sharpshooter caught a quick glimpse of a snake slithering its way through the leaves that littered the ground near a fallen tree a few feet away. Vin breathed a silent sigh of relief. Snakes he could handle, but he hated to be crept up on.

J.D. watched as the men from the posse slowly worked their way toward the fallen man. Something caught his eye, but at first, he could not figure out what it was. Then he saw it again. The man moved. He was inching his hand toward the gun that was lying less than a foot away from his hand. In an instant the man had the gun in his hand and had twisted around to shoot at his pursuers. The sound of a single shot echoed through the trees. The three men froze in their tracks as they watched the body of the man they had been tracking convulse once and then go limp.

The leader of the group found his voice first and shouted, "Who's out there? Show yerself!"

Vin and J.D. raised onto their knees and then slowly stood up.

"Drop yer guns!" the other man yelled.

They tossed their guns to ground and waited for the men from the posse to join them.

"Who're you?" the sheriff demanded.

J.D. spoke up in an attempt to draw some of the attention away from Vin. These men were lawmen, and one of them might recognize him from that old wanted poster. "J.D. Dunne, sheriff from Four Corners. Who're you?"

"Dan Tucker, sheriff from Red Fork." He looked the younger man over as he spoke. "Ain't you a mite young to be a lawman?"

The young sheriff held his ground and looked Tucker straight in the eyes.

"You the one that shot him?" He nodded toward dead man.

"Yes," J.D. admitted.

The older man gave him a long appraising look before speaking again. "Young, but I guess you can handle yerself all right. I 'preciate the help. We been on his trail fer two weeks."

"What were you after him fer?" Vin wanted to know.

"Killed a woman in Red Fork. You after him too?"

J.D. nodded and then added, "He shot two people in Four Corners."

Tucker looked at the body and smirked. "Ain't gonna shot nobody else." He walked over and rolled the dead man onto his back.

J.D.'s gasped in surprise, and Vin looked at him questioningly. "You recognize him? There's somethin' familiar about him, but I can't quite place it."

"Yeah, I recognize him. He was Becca's Pa."

+ + + + + + +

Nathan removed the bandages from the gambler's back and shook his head in dismay. The wound had closed over again. It was swollen, hot, and hard to the touch. He was going to have to open it again so it would drain. There were still no outward signs of infection, but God only knew what was going on inside. The healer took the slim point of a knife, cut the bullet wound open and pressed firmly around the site. He was relieved to see that there was still no puss in the vile fluid the welled up from the incision. The healer soaked a cloth with whiskey and pressed it to the open wound. Ezra groaned, but he did not move.

Becca watched from the extra cot that had been brought in for her. She had seen this procedure done three times in as many days. Ezra had not completely regained consciousness since the night of the shooting. There had been times when they thought that he was coming around, but he never came fully awake. She looked up at the healer, hoping that this time there would be better news.

Nathan glanced over at Becca as he continued to press the soaked compress to his friend's back. He wished he could tell her that Ezra was going to be fine, but in truth, he had no idea. He shook his head sadly as he spoke. "There's no change." He removed the compress and rebandaged the oozing wound.

"Hey pard. Get yourself some sleep. I'll sit with them for a while." Chris urged the exhausted healer to get some rest.

"Don't think I should leave Ezra." He knew he needed sleep. He had not done more than nap for the past three days, but he could not bring himself to go. What if Ezra took a turn for the worst?

"Nathan, I'll call you if anything happens," Chris promised.

"Brother, you won't be any good to him if you're worn out." Josiah knew how to get through to the black man. He was stubborn, but he would not jeopardize a patient.

Nathan reluctantly agreed. "You be sure and call me, no matter what." He trudged off to his own bed and much needed sleep.

Chris and Josiah settled in to keep watch over the gambler and his wife. Chris sat and watched the slow labored breathing of the injured lawman, while Josiah bowed his head in silent prayer.

Becca's quiet weeping captured the two men's attention. Josiah dreaded looking in her direction because he knew what he was going to see. She would be laying there crying and reaching out to Ezra. He had seen it many times in the last three days, but it still tore at his heart to watch it. 'Damn it, Nathan! Why won't you let her up for just a minute or two?' he thought as he squeezed his eyes shut to avoid seeing the scene in front of him.

As if he had spoken the words aloud, Chris seemed to know his thoughts. "Don't know about you, but I can't stand much more of that," he whispered and nodded toward Becca.

"Me either, but what can we do about it? Nathan said she has to stay put."

Chris gave the preacher a sly grin. "She has to stay put, but did he say anything about the bed?" Josiah caught his meaning and beat his friend to the bedside. Together, they half pushed and half lifted Becca's cot, as they moved it close to Ezra's.

Instantly, Becca's hand shot out to rest on her husband's chest. She could feel its slow rise and fall as he struggled to draw each breath. She also felt the rhythmic beating of his heart, and she was somewhat comforted to feel that the beat was strong. With a great effort Becca raised herself onto one elbow and leaned closer to Ezra. Gently, she laid her hand against his cheek as she spoke softly to her husband. "Don't you dare die, an' make me a widow fer real. You hear me, Ezra? You get that notion outta yer head, cause I ain't gonna let you die." She trembled from the effort of raising herself up, and she had to give up and lie back down. One hand slid down his chest and down to his side to clasp his hand. She fell asleep, still clinging to that hand, and they both seemed to rest easier.

The two big men were intent on watching their sleeping friends, but neither man noticed when Ezra's fingers slowly closed to lightly squeeze his wife's hand.

+ + + + + + +

Chris Larabee chuckled softly to himself as he watched Becca fussing over Ezra. Nothing short of tying her to the bed would have kept her in it once the gambler woke up. Her own injury did not seem to slow her down at all once she had a reason to get well. She sat on the edge of his narrow bed and spooned broth into his mouth every time he opened it. It reminded him of a mama bird feeding her baby. The picture that thought brought to mind was his undoing, and he laughed aloud.

The southerner weakly held up a hand to stop the spoon that hovered near his face. "Mr. Larabee, I fail to see what you find so amusing." His voice was faint, but there was a hint of the old Ezra in it.

"Sorry, Ezra, just glad to see your getting better, that's all." Chris continued to grin as he watched the couple.

The lawman turned at the sound of the door opening. Vin and J.D. looked like they were wearing most of the trail. Dust caked their clothes and they smelled of stale sweat and horses. As soon as they caught sight of Ezra propped up in bed, both men broke out in huge grins.

"Thought we were rid of ya fer sure this time." Vin teased the bedridden man.

"I fear not, Mr. Tanner. You appear to be stuck with me." The gambler attempted a smile as he teased the tracker in return. He had heard similar banter between the other men, and now he felt a real sense of acceptance at having the teasing directed at him.

"Yeah, Ezra said he had to stick around so he could collect that five dollars J.D. still owes him," their leader taunted.

J.D. shot an exasperated look toward the man in black. "You didn't have to remind him about that, did you?"

"Mr. Dunne, you needn't concern yourself." The gambler's words were slow and weary. "The debt has been forgiven."

The young man's mouth dropped open, and he looked at the healer. "Uh, Nathan, you sure he's all right?"

"I wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth, if I were you," Chris advised.

The tracker caught Chris's attention and covertly signaled that he wanted to talk to him outside. "Think I need to go wash 'bout ten pounds of road dirt off me." Vin nodded to Ezra and turned to go out the door. "Be back when I stink a little less."

When the tracker reached the door, Chris got up to follow. "Hold on there, Pard. I'll buy you a drink first."

+ + + + + + +

Chris was relieved to know that the man was dead, but he did not like the thought of having to tell Becca that it had been her father who had shot Ezra and her. He was not sure how she would handle that information, or the fact that one of the seven had been the one to fire the shot that had killed her father. He stopped at the newspaper office to see if Mary could give him a hand. He wanted to talk to Ezra alone first.

"Look who I ran into on my way back here," Chris announced when he strolled back into the clinic.

Mary went over to sit with Becca beside Ezra's bed. "Ezra, you look stronger every time I see you. You'll be back at the game table before you know it." Mary smiled broadly and placed an arm around the younger woman. "How you holding up, Becca? You look like you could use a break. Why don't I take you home for a bit, so you can freshen up."

Becca did not want to leave Ezra, but he persuaded her that he would be fine. "You have attended to my every need for three days. Go on with Mrs. Travis. I will be well tended until you return. And....... uh......"

"And, what?"

"Well, not meaning to offend in any way but...." The southerner grimaced and wrinkled his nose.

"Ezra Standish! Are you tellin' me that I smell?" Her voice was sharp, but the smile that sprang to her lips was completely genuine.

"Well, I .... uh..... would not put it so bluntly, but yes, just a bit."

Becca laughed happily. "Now I know he's gonna be all right. He's back to bein' hisself again." She smiled fondly at her husband. "I'll have ya know, Mr. Standish, yer gettin' a mite ripe yerself. Reckon I'll have to take care of that when I get back."

The women were both still chuckling as they headed down the stairs. "Don't think I ever saw anyone get by with tellin' Ezra that he stank before." Mary looped her arm in Becca's as they walked toward the Standish's home.

"All right, gentlemen, I assume this was a ruse to remove my wife from the vicinity," the gambler observed.

"Yeah, Ezra, it was." Chris told the gambler the story Vin and just told him. "Do you think we should tell Becca?"

"Yes, Mr. Larabee, I do. She has a right to know, but I think perhaps Josiah should be present. I am not sure what her reaction will be."

"I'll send for him. Do you want to tell her?" Chris really hoped he would say yes.

"No, I think it would be best for you to inform her. I do not think I am quite up to something of that magnitude just yet." Ezra did not want to be the one to bring this news to his wife.

The sound of women's voices reached the three men before the door opened. "I brought her back to you, Ezra, fresh as mountain air." Mary popped in the door for just a minute. "I can't stay, I have to go check on Billy," and with that she was gone again.

The young woman looked from one serious face to another and back again. "What's wrong?"

"Becca, come and sit with me." Ezra patted the edge of his narrow bed. She sat next to her husband and watched as the other men moved their chairs closer. Her heart sank. Whatever this was about, it was not going to be good.

Chris cleared his throat before beginning to speak. "Vin and J.D. found the man that shot the two of you," he began. "I'm sorry to have to tell you, but.... it was....your Pa."

She stared at him without a hint of emotion. "Where is he now?"

"He's dead," the preacher said quietly. Then Chris took over and told her the details of what had happened.

Becca covered her face with her hands and wept quietly. She felt Ezra's hand on her arm as he tried to comfort her, and she heard Josiah's quiet voice as he tried to reassure her. "I know it's a shock. He wasn't a kind man, but he was your father."

She swallowed hard and sniffed loudly, but she would not look at the preacher. "No, it ain't that. I know it should be, but it ain't. I should feel some hurt at losin' him, but all I feel is glad that he's gone." She finally looked up at the big man, and he realized that the tears were from a profound sense of relief, not from grief.

Josiah gave her a half-smile and said, "I understand how you feel. We just didn't know how you'd take it."

"I am fine, Mr. Sanchez," Becca told them calmly.

"I know a certain young sheriff that will be relieved to hear that," her husband stated wearily. The efforts of the day were starting to wear on him, and he needed to rest.

"I'll got let him know," the preacher offered.

"No, Mr. Sanchez, I think I should, if you'll sit with Ezra."

"Of course, I will." Josiah was pleased that Becca wanted to talk to J.D. herself. It would mean a lot more to the young man to hear from her own lips that she did not blame him for her father's death.

Becca checked the jailhouse first, but the young sheriff was not there. Her next stop was the saloon. She pushed her way through the bat wing doors and caught sight of Buck sitting at a table near the rear of the room. She strode up to his table with an air of fury around her. "Mr. Wilmington!" Buck looked up and his jaw dropped. This was one pissed off woman. "I am looking for Mr. Dunne, do you know where he is?"

Buck gulped and stammered, "He's... He's... at the....bathhouse."

Quickly she turned and marched toward the door without saying a word.

"Umm......Becca......I don't think you should go there." The ladies man tried to stop her headlong charge toward the bathhouse, but she was not going to be stopped.

Rebecca Standish burst through the bathhouse doors and demanded, "Where's J.D. Dunne?"

The proprietor stared in astonishment as an irate Mrs. Standish charged into the room. He pointed to the second door on the right, and she headed straight for it.

"Becca, why don't you let me go an' tell him yer wantin' to talk to him?" Buck suggested.

She ignored Buck and yanked the door to the room wide open. She strode into the room like a woman possessed. "Mr. Dunne!"

J.D. sat straight up at the sudden intrusion. He blushed hotly when he saw who the intruder was and clamped his hands over his groin to try to cover himself.

"Becca, .....Mrs. Standish, you shouldn't be in here." J.D.'s blush grew brighter has the woman glared down at him from her place at the side of the tub.

"I heard that you killed my Pa!" she fumed at the red faced young man.

The young peacekeeper looked past Becca to where Buck stood leaning against the doorframe, obviously enjoying his friend's predicament. He shrugged as if to tell the young sheriff that he was on his own this time, and he settled back to watch. J.D. cringed farther down into the tub, and he tried not to look at woman standing over him. "I.... umm.... I had to...... He was going to....."

A stifled laugh brought his attention back to the young woman beside the tub. The stunned look on his face was her undoing. Her laughter rang through the room as she bent and threw her arms around her friend 's neck. Before she released him, she gave him a firm kiss on the check. "Thank you, J.D., fer settin' me free."

Becca straightened and turned to leave, but before she walked away she could not resist saying one more thing. She picked up a wash cloth from the small table by the tub and dangled it over the water. "By the way, J.D., next time...... a wash cloth might make a better cover."

The sound of Buck's whoops of laughter followed Becca into the street. She headed back toward the clinic feeling happier than she could ever remember.


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