Halloween ala Wilmington

by Purple Lacey

Twelvth story in the Angel Girl series.

Thanks to MOG for inventing this AU and allowing us to borrow it from time to time.

This just started as a quick little fic-let for Halloween, but somehow just kept growing, and growing until it turned into this monster (which I guess is appropriate for Halloween). Don´t expect a plot because, as usual, there isn´t one. Not beta-ed so all mistakes are strictly my own.

Part 1
Buck loved Halloween. He loved everything about Halloween. He had ever since he was a kid playing pranks and greedily harvesting candy from his mother´s friends and neighbors. It was a time to dress up and pretend to be someone else and lose your inhibitions. It was carving pumpkins and roasting their seeds. It was setting up haunted houses to amuse yourself and scare your friends. It was gorging on candy and caramel apples then running around on a sugar high. It was playing tricks and generally getting into mischief. It was half-drowning yourself bobbing for apples. It was parties, and laughter, and games. Halloween was just FUN. It was Buck´s favorite holiday, and he enjoyed it as much as an adult as he had as a child.

He always indulged himself at Halloween by throwing a big party and inviting everyone he knew to share in his fun. The bigger the party the better as far as he was concerned. He spared no expense for costumes, decorations, food and drinks. He set up his own haunted house and took delight in coming up with new things to scare, or surprise, or just freak out his guests. With the addition of Angela to his life, Halloween had gained an even greater zest as he got to re-experience a little bit of his childhood delight in the holiday by watching his three year old daughter´s excitement and simple joy. Yep, she was definitely her father´s daughter when it came to this time of year.

It was the beginning of October and Buck was already starting to make his plans for his annual Halloween bash. He rubbed his hands together in glee just thinking about the new ideas he had for his haunted house this year. He could imagine the ladies´ screams already. The same ladies that would need reassurance and comforting after going through said house, he thought to himself with a grin. It would only be good manners to comfort those poor ladies. It would, in fact, be his duty as host. Chuckling wickedly, Buck looked up from the costume catalog he was thumbing through as he sat at his desk in the bull pen of the office of The ATF´s Team 7 when the phone by his elbow rang. He reached out and picked up the receiver.

“Agent Wilmington,” he said.

“Hi, Buck. It´s Lillian in AD Travis´ office. He wants to see you in his office in five minutes.”

“Me?” Buck asked in confusion. “Not Chris? Are you sure about that?”

“Yes. That´s what he said.”

“Okay, I´m on my way.” Buck hung up the phone and hurriedly left the office. He wracked his brain trying to think of anything he might be in trouble for, but couldn´t. He didn´t have the time to get in trouble the way he used to before Angel was born. Caring for her took up a lot of his time, and provided him with the entertainment he used to get into trouble looking for. Buck didn´t remember anything he had done recently that would cause him to be called on the carpet. Shrugging his broad shoulders, he opened the door and entered the AD´s outer office.

“That was quick,” the small brunette behind the desk said with a smile as he entered.

“I may be ignorant, but I´m not stupid,” Buck grinned and winked. “I make it a policy to never anger the man that controls my paycheck.”

Lillian laughed and said´ “Go on in. He´s waiting.”

Buck entered the inner office with the smile still on his face.

“Good morning, sir,” Buck said, “and good morning to you, too, Mrs. Travis.” Buck had spotted the lady in one of the chairs in front of her husband´s desk. Buck breathed a silent breath of relief. The Judge wouldn´t have called him up to his office to chew him out if Mrs. Travis was here.

“Hello, Buck,” Evie Travis smiled at the tall, good- looking agent. “How is that precious daughter of yours?”

“Angel´s doing great. Growing like a weed, and getting smarter everyday,” Buck said proudly. “I just got some new pictures taken if you´d like to see.” Buck started reaching into his back pocket for his wallet when the Judge stopped him.

“Not right now, Buck,” Travis said hurriedly. He knew exactly how many pictures Buck carried around with him having been waylaid by the proud father in the past, and was acutely aware of his wife´s love of children. He knew if he let Buck and his wife get started they would be in his office for a good hour rhapsodizing over the lovely child. As much as he doted on the girl himself, he had work to do and never enough time to do it.

“Sit down, Buck. I´ve got an assignment for you,” Travis said and gestured for him to take the seat next to Mrs. Travis.

“For me, sir?”

“Yes, Buck. This job calls for your expertise. I´ll let my wife explain,” Travis said then leaned back in his chair.

Evie smiled at the puzzled agent and said, “You know how the agency is working with several community groups in the city to help elevate its image and improve its public relations with the citizens of the area. If you remember, this last Easter the agency helped organize an Easter egg hunt and fundraiser for local children in homeless shelters. I can say that it was an unqualified success. Everyone enjoyed themselves immensely and we raised even more money than we had anticipated. It was so successful that we have decided to hold another one. We´ll be hosting a party to benefits the children at Denver Children´s Hospital. We´re hoping to help them raise funds for some new equipment that they desperately need. That´s where you come in, Buck. I´d like your help organizing the party.”

“That sure sounds like fun,” Buck grinned, “and for such a good cause, how could I say no. When are you planning on having it?”

“Halloween,” replied Mrs. Travis.

“Halloween! B..b..but . . .” Buck saw his dreams of his a Halloween party going down the drain.

“I asked for your help on this one because I remember all the remarkable parties you´ve had on Halloween in the past. No one does Halloween better than you, Buck. That´s the kind of expertise that´s needed here. We want this to be special; fun for both children and adults. I know you probably had plans for yourself and Angela for this holiday, but I´m hoping you can see your way clear to helping with this. There´s no one better for this job. I´ll help in every way I can. I´ll take care of invitations, obtaining the locations, sponsors, caterers, and all the other details. So, what do you say, Buck. Will you help me throw a Halloween party to end all Halloween parties, and help some very sick children at the same time.” Mrs. Travis turned her smile up a few notches and put a gentle pleading in her eyes that the ladies man found hard to resist.

A party, hmm? Not just a party, but a HUGE party. Bigger that he had ever thrown before. What an opportunity! Buck´s mind spun with plans. An evil little glint began to show in his eyes and he tried his best to sound reluctant, “That´s a big job. I don´t know if we could do it alone. I think we´re gonna need help with this.”

“Oh, there will be plenty of help, let me assure you. As I said, we´ll be working with the hospital and several community groups, as well as getting help from within the ATF. There will not be a lack of helping hands, so don´t worry about that,” Evie said reassuringly. “We need you to help with the planning and organizing of the event more than anything.”

“I´m sure the other members of your team would be happy to help, too,” grinned AD Travis. “This is, after all, an agency sponsored event. I do believe it´s their turn to participate. If I remember correctly, Team Six was told to make themselves available at the Easter party, so numerically speaking Team Seven should be next on the assignment roster.”

The two men shared a humorous look over the woman´s head, as they thought of the reaction Buck´s teammates would have at this news.

Oh, yeah. This was surely going to be fun.

“Ma´am, you got yourself party planner. When do we start?”

+ + + + + + +

The rest of the month passed in a flurry of activity. Buck found himself in his element. He was immersed in two of his three favorite things: Halloween, and women. He was being cheerfully encouraged to let his imagination run wild by some of the most prominent women in the city. They lapped upped his suggestions like cats with cream. He only had to open his mouth to have half a dozen women leaning toward him eagerly to find out what new attraction he had devised for the party. He was in hog heaven, as his mother used to say. “How could life get any better than this?” Buck asked himself as he shifted Angela in his arms and set her astride his hip.

Angel´s eyes were almost glowing in delight has she watched the activity surrounding her while she and her father stood in the middle of the large convention hall that had been donated for the party by the hotel that connected to the convention hall. People hurried right and left making last minute adjustments and preparations for the bash that was scheduled to take place in two hours. Luckily for Buck, his part in the proceedings was pretty much over. Although he would be attending in costume like his teammates, Mrs. Travis had convinced her husband that he had contributed more than enough of his time to the project and deserved to enjoy himself with his daughter instead of helping his teammates and the other ATF staff that would be keeping order at the party. She knew how much he was looking forward to sharing the holiday with Angela. The only official duties Buck had left for that evening was helping to judge the costume contest, the rest of the evening was his own.

“Well, Angel girl, what do you think? Does it look like fun?” Buck smiled down at the child in his arms.

“Can we go play now, Daddy?´ Angel asked excitedly.

“Not yet, pumpkin,” he said, “It´s not time yet, and we don´t even have our costumes on. It´s more fun when you get to dress up, honey. You remember last year when you got to be a ballerina, don´t you?”

Angela´s little head bounced up and down enthusiastically. Angela loved playing dress up, a trait she obviously inherited from her father. That ballerina costume was still one of her favorite dress up outfits and she wore it at least once a week. She would dress in the pink leotard and tutu and her father would dance with her and twirl her around the room while they both laughed. It was a ritual both of them enjoyed immensely.

“Candy!” Angel definitely remembered the candy she had received last year.

Buck laughed and hugged the child, “You remember the rules from last year about the candy, right? No eating anything until Daddy or one of your uncles checks it to make sure it´s okay, right?”

“I ´member, Daddy.”

‘Okay, now promise daddy you´ll follow the rules, Angel,” Buck look into the child´s eyes sternly to make sure she realized this rule was not negotiable and would be followed.

Nodding her head again, Angela promised to abide by the rules. She knew when her daddy got that look that she would be in big trouble if she disobeyed. Angela didn´t want anything to spoil the fun her daddy had promised they would have.

Satisfied that she understood, Buck looked down at his watch. “It´s time to get dressed, Angel. Are you ready to “suit up”, darlin´? ” he asked with a big grin.

“Yes! Now, Daddy. Let´s do it now!” Angela bounced on her father´s hip in her excitement.

Buck carried his child across the convention room and out the front doors into the lobby of the hotel. Knowing his daughter would be up late that night, Buck had rented a room in the hotel for the night. He had put Angela down for a nap and she had slept for almost two hours before he had taken her downstairs for one last look around before the party started. Now he pushed the button to call the elevator that would take them back to their room on the 14th floor where their costumes were waiting.

Buck and Evie Travis had decided to pick out the costumes for the ATF personnel that would be in attendance that evening, thus saving any arguments anyone might have about appearing in costume. To Buck´s amusement, every year Chris showed up at his Halloween party dressed in his usual black jeans and tee shirt claiming he was dressed as an ATF agent, and Vin came in his jeans and leather jacket claiming he was dressed as a bounty hunter. This year they had no choice but to wear the costumes that Mrs. Travis had arranged for them. This had been made abundantly clear to everyone on the team by AD Travis himself. They didn´t like it, but knew there was no way around it. Orders were orders. Buck had wanted to take advantage of this situation to have his friends dress in the most outlandish costumes he could find, but the idea was gently but firmly shot down by Mrs. Travis. Together they decided to have the team costumes follow a theme. Mrs. Travis was the one to suggest what the theme should be and after that it was relatively easy to decide which team member would be which character. Buck couldn´t wait to see their faces when they were handed their costumes. The party hadn´t even started yet and Buck was already having a whale of a good time.

Buck handed the plastic key card to Angel who took it and carefully inserted it into the electronic door lock on their hotel room door. She pulled the card out and clapped gleefully when the light on the lock turned green indicating the door was now unlocked. When they had first arrived at the room, Buck had found the lock fascinated the little girl. She had spent almost ten minutes opening and closing the door while Buck looked on indulgently, implicitly encouraging her curiosity and exploration.

Buck reached out to take the keycard from the little hand as Angela started to insert the card into the lock once again. “We need to get dressed now, pumpkin. You can play with that later, okay? We don´t want to be late for the party, do we? We might miss all the fun,” he said as he turned the knob and pushed he door open. He carried her into the room and set her feet down on the floor, then closed the door behind him.

Angela raced to the closet where the garment bags containing their costumes were hung and waited impatiently for her father to lift the bags from the rod and carry them over to the bed.

She watched her father unzip the bag that held her costume and jumped up and down in delight when he pulled it from the bag.

“Is that mine, Daddy? Do I really get to wear that?”

“Yep. This must be yours, Angel, ‘cause I don´t think it would fit me,” he teased as he tried to put his arm into the sleeve of the costume. He couldn´t get it past his wrist.

“Daddy!” Angel giggled, “you´re silly!”

“Silly, am I?” Buck pretended to be insulted, “I´ll show you silly.” He grabbed the still giggling child and gently tossed her on the bed then began tickling her ribs. He tickled her until she started to hiccup, then lifted her off the bed and held her by her ankles upside down. “Still think I´m so silly now?”

Angela nodded and continue to giggle and hiccup.

Buck laughed and turned the child rightside up then pulled her into his arms for a hug and kiss.

“Let´s get you dressed.”

Buck helped the little girl into her costume, and left her admiring her reflection in the mirror while he jumped in the tub for a quick shower, leaving the door slightly open to listen for her. He thought she was too engrossed in admiring her new clothes to get into any trouble, but he had been a parent too long to let his guard down where the little imp was concerned. He finished his shower in record time, dried off in the small bathroom and slipped on his briefs before wrapping a dry towel around his waist. He leaned out the door to check on Angel and found her still primping in front of the mirror. Grinning to himself, he grabbed his costume and returned to the bathroom to dress. When he was finished, he stood beside Angela in front of the mirror. “We make quite a pair, don´t we, Angel girl? I´ll have to thank Mrs. Travis again for the idea. Are we ready to have some fun?”

“Yeah!” Angela yelled eagerly. “Is it time now, Daddy?”

“You betcha. Let´s go get the party started, pumpkin!”

+ + + + + + +

Angela was sitting on Buck´s shoulders as he stood beside Evie Travis at the back door of the hall where the volunteers had been told to enter. There was still an hour before the party officially started, but the volunteers were due to arrive early so they could get into their costumes and receive their instructions. To Buck´s right were booths that had been cordoned off from the main area and set up as dressing rooms so people could change into their costumes on-site. To Buck´s left stood racks of costumes that had been rented or donated for the volunteers to wear. Each costume was encased in a garment bag and had the name of whomever it was intended for on a card taped to the front. Inside the bags of the ATF members was a brief description of the character their costumes represented.

Josiah and Nathan were the first two of his teammates to arrive. Angel was the first to see them from her perch high above everyone else.

“Unca Nathan, Unca Jo, look at me! Do you know who I am?” Angel yelled at both men and squirmed on her father´s shoulders to be let down.

Buck obliged by lifting her down and setting her on her feet. She immediately ran to her two uncles and put an arm around the knee of each man and gave each a big hug. She stepped back and smiled at the men who towered over her.

“See? Can you guess who I am?” she said as she held her arms away from her body a moment and then turned in a quick circle. She was dressed in a denim skirt with a white ruffled, long sleeved blouse. Slung across her back was a plastic replica of a Winchester rifle, and two pistols hung in the gunbelt around her tiny waist. Her brown hair was topped with a small cowgirl hat with strings the tied under her little chin, and her feet were encased in black boots.

Josiah winked at Nathan, swept the excited child into his arms and lifted her up until her face was level with his own. “Hmm, you look familiar. I know I´ve seen you someplace before. I know . . . you´re Angel.” The big man teased.

“No, Unca Jo, you´re supposed to guess who I am.”

“You mean you´re not Angel? You look just like Angel.” Josiah buried his face in the child´s neck and pretended to take a bite as the child wiggled in his arms at the tickling sensation on her neck. “You taste just like Angel. Are you sure you´re not Angel? What do you think, Nathan?”

Nathan lifted the giggling child from Josiah´s arms and tossed her into the air and caught her again. “Well, I´d say she weighs about the same as Angel, and she definitely smells like Angel,” he said as he sniffed the child´s hair. “I would say this is Angel. Are you SURE you´re not Angel?” Nathan grinned at Angela.

Buck joined the laughing trio and slapped Josiah on the back. “Howdy boys. Y´all ready for some fun?” Buck drawled.

The men returned the greeting, staring at the tall, dark haired man standing in front of them. He was dressed in jeans, and a dark blue western shirt, with a big cowboy hat perched rakishly on his head. Two six-guns rested in holsters secured by a brown belt that hung low on his lean hips. Clipped to the belt was a long rubber rattlesnake coiled in loops like a whip, and a lariat was clipped to the opposite side. The man was getting plenty of female attention behind his back due to the leather chaps he wore that framed his rather fine looking backside to perfection. The outfit was completed with a brown leather vest, richly tooled cowboy boots, and a red bandana tied around his neck.

“So you got to come as a cowboy, huh, Buck,” Nathan said.

“Not just a cowboy, my friend, THE Cowboy,” Buck drawled.

“Oh yeah? Just who is “THE Cowboy”?” Nathan queried.

Buck shook his finger at him. “That´s not how it works, Nathan. Half the fun´s in the guessing. You figure it out and then I´ll tell you if you´re right.” Buck shot a glance at Josiah, who had a knowing smile on his face. “Have you guessed it yet, Josiah?”

Josiah just nodded and said, “Very original.”

“Thanks. Mrs. Travis gets all the credit. It was her idea. You ready to see your own costume?”

Buck led the two men over to the costume racks and handed Josiah the bag that had his name on it. He took Angel from Nathan and handed the man his own costume bag.

“Inside the bags you´ll find a card letting you know what character you´re suppose to be and something about him. Don´t tell anyone who you are, but try to give them hints based on the things written on your cards. The dressing rooms are over here. When you´re done you can check your clothes in the security booth over there.” Buck pointed out the booth to both men.

“Since you´re basically here to help keep anyone from getting out of line, you don´t have an assigned place to be like the volunteers, so you´re free to roam around and enjoy the attractions, just keep your eyes open. Any questions?” Both men shook their heads and headed to the changing booths.

Vin and Chris arrived a few minutes later, and hugs and kisses were exchanged with Angela.

Chris turned his head away from the child he was holding and glared at his oldest friend.

“Who´s idea was this costume thing? I hate stupid costumes. I´m too old to play dress up,” Chris griped.

“You´re never to old to play dress up, Chris. Where´s your spirit of adventure?” Buck teased, “Anyway, you should be glad that you´re getting the costumes you are. Mrs. Travis put her foot down or you would have been dressed as “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” and Vin over there would have been “Tank Girl”.”

“Remind me to thank Mrs. Travis, and shoot you later,” Chris growled.

“That goes double for me,” Vin threw in.

“I don´t know, Vin. I think you would have made a really sweet Tank Girl. I could definitely see you in the role,” Buck said tongue in cheek.

“You sure you got enough bullets, Chris?” Vin snarled.

Buck laughed at his friend and repeated the things he had told Nathan and Josiah. The two men stalked off to the dressing rooms carrying their assigned costume bags. Buck had to repeat the instructions twice more when JD and then Ezra arrived.

Buck made one last circuit of the room, double checking the arrangements. Angela rode on his shoulders once again and oooed and ahhed at the decorations and games they passed. They ended up beside Evie Travis again. The lady had changed into her own costume and was now garbed in a large white hat, dark blue shirt with fringed sleeves and gold piping on the front, a black pair of men´s trousers, a six gun strapped on her thigh, leather gloves, and a bag slung across her back with the words “Pony Express” stenciled on it.

“I think we´re good to go,” Buck stated. “Everything looks like it´s in place.”

“I can´t thank you enough for all your hard work, Buck. Everything turned out better than I had hoped. I just know we´re going to easily reach our fund- raising goal, and I´m sure people will be talking about this party a long time. It´s truly amazing what you accomplished in only one month.” Evie reached out to squeeze his arm in gratitude.

“Don´t go giving me too much credit. I got to do the fun stuff, but you did most of the work.”

“If this goes a well as I expect it to, what would you say to making this an annual event? Would you be interested?”

Buck grinned and said, “Why don´t we just enjoy right now, and worry about next year afterwards, okay? I know that´s what Angel and I intend to do, right pumpkin?”

Angela´s grin matched her father´s when she looked down at the woman by her father´s side. “RIGHT,” she yelled, “We´re gonna go trick ‘r treatin´ and get lots of candy!”

Josiah wandered out of the security booth headed in their direction. He was dressed in a red and white plaid shirt with black suspenders holding up his blue jeans. Heavy workboots encased his feet, and a red stocking cap covered his hair. A large plastic ax dangled from a loop on his jeans.

“Has anyone seen a blue ox wandering around anywhere?” he asked with a smile, causing the others to laugh.

“You look most impressive, Mr. Sanchez,” Ezra´s voice was heard from behind him. Josiah turned to watch as the undercover agent approached the group. If he had not spoken Josiah doubted he would have recognized the man. He was wearing a set of tattered old clothes and his hair was covered by a long, shaggy white wig. Attached to his face was an equally long and shaggy white beard. Imitation birds and squirrels had apparently taken up residence in the beard, and he held what appeared to be a rusty rifle in his left hand.

“My word! Is that really you, Ezra?” Josiah laughed.

“Unfortunately, yes, Mr. Sanchez, it is I. Please remind me to deal with Mr. Wilmington later for this assault on my dignity, it you please.” Ezra´s disgruntled voice came from behind the shaggy beard. He had a difficult time speaking as bits of the beard kept getting in his mouth as he spoke and he had to keep spitting them out again.

“Hey, now! Don´t be blaming me for this. I didn´t choose the costumes,” Buck denied, “Besides, it does seem to fit your sleeping habits.”

“Oh, really? Then just who do I have to thank for this atrocity?”

“That would be me,” Mrs. Travis said softly. “When we were discussing the press coverage for the event, Buck warned me it might put you into danger to have your face easily recognized due to your undercover assignments, so I chose this costume knowing that it would hide most of your face, and still keep to the team theme. I´m so sorry if it makes you uncomfortable, Ezra.”

“No, no. The apologies are all mine. I should not have spoken without thinking. I, myself, had not thought of the possible ramifications of having the press wandering the event at will.” Ezra took the woman´s hand and lifted it to his lips. “I can only give my sincere thanks for your touching concern for my welfare.”

Evie Travis blushed with pleasure at the words of the young man she considered another son.

“Are you trying to make time with my woman, Standish?”

AD Travis walked up and removed his wife´s hand from that of the agent. He was clothed in dark black pants with red suspenders and a blue long sleeved shirt.. The pants were tucked into black cowboy boots. The pearl handle of a revolver could be seen tucked into his waistband. A little noose hung from his front pants pocket, and a small gavel hung from a belt loop.

“We string up thieves in this part of the country. That includes wife thieves as well as horse thieves,” Travis said as he pulled his wife´s arm through the crook of his own. “Go find your own woman before you wind up swinging from the nearest tree, Standish.”

Ezra raised his hands in front of him in surrender, and backed away laughing.

“Be careful, Ez,” JD slapped him on the back as he joined them, “I think he´s serious.”

Angela laughed and reached out to bang her hands on the large pot the man was wearing on his head. “Ow, Angel! Don´t do that,” he said and quickly stepped back beyond the reach of the young girl.

The youngest member of the team was wearing dark wool pants that were rolled up to the middle of his shins, and a white shirt with a drawstring neck . The long sleeves had been rolled up to mid- arm. A cloth pouch was slung by a strap across his chest and contained little bits of plastic that had been painted to resemble seeds. He shifted from one bare foot to another as his friends laughed at his reaction to Angela´s unusual greeting.

“Hey, it´s not that funny, you guys. Not only is this thing heavy, but it makes my ears ring when she bangs on it that way!” JD complained, but just succeeded in making his friends laugh harder at his dilemma.

The other three teammates emerged from the back booths together and made their way to the knot of laughing people. Nathan´s costume consisted of a blue chambray work shirt that was unbuttoned to halfway down his chest , suspendered jeans, brown work boots, and what appeared to be a large sledgehammer made of plastic. Vin was dressed in a buckskin jacket and pants, fringed along the sleeves and pant legs. In his right hand he carried a plastic replica of a long rifle and angled far back on his head was a fur cap with a ringed tail that hung down to the top of his back. On a leather string around his neck he wore a tooth that must of come from a very large animal.

It was Chris that caused the hearts of the ladies nearest the group to beat a little faster. The tall blond man strode beside his friends unaware and uncaring of the reaction he was causing. His lean body was covered in a black western cut suit jacket and black form-fitting trousers. He wore a white shirt under a black vest. A black gunbelt with two holsters hung low on his hips, two pearl handled revolvers sticking out of the holsters, and the holsters were tied to his thighs with black leather cords. On his feet were well polished black leather cowboy boots and a black hat rested on his blond hair. On the front pocket of his jacket he wore a gleaming silver star with the word “Marshal” etched into it. The unconscious arrogance and slight air of danger that radiated from him caused quite a few feminine heads to follow his progress across the floor.

“You were supposed to wear a costume for the party, Chris,” Buck smirked at his friend. “You better hurry and go change.”

Chris just made a rude gesture, and glared at him. Buck reached up and covered Angela´s eyes, sending his own disapproving glare back at his friend. Chris looked momentarily chagrinned to find himself receiving identical glares from everyone standing in the group. Vin dared to punch him on the shoulder in disapproval.

Angel reached up and pulled her father´s hand away from her eyes, but before she could make any comment Josiah, hoping to distract her attention, pulled her from her father´s shoulders.

“ You want me to guess who you are now, Angel?” he asked. At her nod he whispered in her ear and she laughed and agreed. “It´s your turn to guess who I am,” Josiah teased the child. He put her on his hip and continued, “Do you think you know?” Angela shook her head no. “Why don´t I tell you his story, hmm?” Josiah carried the child over to a large hay bale and sat down with her on his knee. Angela gazed at her uncle with rapt attention, as always, eager to listen. No one told stories as well as her Unca Jo, except maybe her Unca Ezra. Angela had spent many hours listening to the big man spin yarns and was always anxious for more. She absorbed everything he said like a little sponge. The other adults were forgotten for the moment.

“Sorry, Buck. I forgot she was there for minute,” Chris apologized.

The seven men tried hard to watch their language and behavior around the little girl, but would occasionally forget or just react without thinking. They had learned the hard way what a good little mimic she was. Buck was still trying to break her of the habit of yelling “damn” every time she got an owie. JD had unwittingly been responsible for teaching her that one when he stubbed his toe on a rock while playing barefoot in the backyard with the child.

Giving his friend one last glare, Buck nodded his acceptance of the apology. “You know what´s gonna happen to you the first time I catch her doing that, don´t you?” Buck warned.

Chris ruefully nodded, knowing full well he would deserve any punishment his friend chose for his unthinking response. Angela might have been born Buck´s daughter, but all seven men felt responsible for her upbringing, so Chris couldn´t find fault with his friend for trying to shield their little one. In his place, Chris would have reacted the same way. Luckily for him the first of the partygoers began to arrive and the group´s attention was diverted.


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