For Your Smile

by Jan

First story in the Smile series.

Part 1

JD had just gotten back from his patrol when he walked into the saloon. After quick look around he spotted Vin, Buck, Ezra, and Josiah playing poker. “You guys aren’t going to believe what I saw riding into town,” JD said as he took a sip of his beer. “A group of trail hands driving herd of cattle heading for town.”

Buck interrupted with a laugh. “Hell, JD, nothing unusual about that.”

“I must concur with Mr Wilmington, JD,” Ezra added with a smile.

“Herds come through here all the time, son.” Josiah smiled at JD’s growing frustration.

“Not a with a group of trail hands that’s mostly women,” JD told them with a cocky grin.

“Women?” Buck sputtered.

“Yep, thought that would interest you.” JD leaned back in his seat happy that he had their full attention. “They should be arriving in town soon.”

“Well,” Buck prompted. “Aren’t you going to tell us the rest?”

JD leaned forward talking softly like he was telling a secret said “I talked to some of the women that were on the wagons. They were all planning on moving here so joined forces to bring the cattle for two of the families who plan on starting a ranch nearby. The others plan to live in town.”

“WooHoo, new women moving to town. I best go make our new residents feel welcome,” Buck said as he dropped his cards and stood up to head out front.

Buck was walking down the boardwalk when the others walked out of the saloon. Vin leaned against the post; JD took off after Buck while Josiah and Ezra sat on the bench in front of the saloon. Soon they saw a lead wagon followed by the herd entering town. The wagon stopped in front of the Clarion, the older of the two women got off the wagon and walked into Mary’s office.

A small girl about five years old jumped out the back of the wagon, darted across the street before she started running down the boardwalk. She was looking behind her when ran smack into Vin’s leg. Vin smiled reassuringly at her when he bent down to help her up from the boardwalk where she fell.

“Betsy!” a man hollered as he stormed after her. “Come back here,” his voice filled with anger.

She grabbed onto Vin’s leg and begged, “Please don’t let him take me.”

Vin could feel her shaking against his leg and decided there was no way he would let that man hurt her. Placing his hand on her small shoulder he gave her a quick squeeze and said, “Don’t worry, you’re safe with us.”

The man walked up and reached out to grab Betsy when he heard a growl coming from Vin. “Look Mister, my name is Arthur Blackwell. I’m a good friend of this little girl’s Mother. I am taking her back to the wagon with the others,” the man explained with a cold tone that seemed to dismiss Vin.

Betsy clung tighter to Vin, he answered with, “Don’t seem like she want to go with you.”

The hard tone made Blackwell wince but he wasn’t about to let a saddle tramp push him around. “It doesn’t matter what she wants, her Mother left her in my care.”

“It matters to me,” Vin told him as he gave Betsy’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Josiah and Ezra stood to give Vin their support.

“There a problem, Mr Blackwell,” a young woman’s voice asked as she walked up next to Vin. The woman reached out and ran her hand over Betsy’s head. When Betsy looked up at, the woman winked at the little girl and smiled.

“I’m just taking Betsy back to the wagon but this saddle tramp is interfering,” Blackwell said with a sneer.

“Looks to me like Betsy would rather be with him than you,” the woman said as stepped forward to put herself between Vin and Blackwell. “Why don’t you go back to the wagon, I’ll take care of Betsy.” When he started to protest she added, “You wouldn’t want to create a scene now would you.” Her tone was low but firm. Vin, Josiah, and Ezra all got the feeling she would side with them over Blackwell and Vin felt Betsy relaxing her grip on his leg.

Blackwell also seemed to know she had taken Vin’s side over him which angered him more causing his to snap at her, “You don’t even know him, Amy, and you’re choosing him or me.”

“Haven’t you ever just met someone and knew you could trust them?” Amy asked. “Betsy and Boo seem to agree with me,” she smiled and pointed to the Australian shepherd dog that stood by Vin, trying to defuse the situation. “Please Mr Blackwell, let me take Betsy.”

He turned and walked back to the wagon, Amy knew he was still mad but he had backed down. She relaxed as he walked off and turned back to Vin saying, “Thank you for helping Betsy.”

Vin nodded, not saying anything as Betsy spoke up. “Cousin Amy, I wanna ride herd. I’m older than Josh and he gots to ride with his Uncle Joey.”

Amy squatted down to Betsy’s level and said, “Sweetie, I’m sorry we didn’t know you wanted to ride or we would've worked it out so you could.” When Betsy looked Amy in the eye, Amy added, “We won’t be able to find your Ma, but how about you ride with me.”

“With you,” Betsy asked excited at the idea.

“Yep, with me,” Amy said with a smile.

Betsy smiled back saying, “Let’s go,” as she started for Amy’s horse.

“Hey, forgetting something,” Amy asked her with a nod toward Vin.

“Oh.” Betsy ran back to Vin and hugged him tight. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, little lady,” Vin told her with a slight hug back.

Amy and Betsy started again for the horse when Betsy stopped and ran back to Vin. “I can’t ride herd,” she cried. “I’m in a dress,” she moaned.

Amy turned back and laughed, “Know what, the cows don’t care. I used to forget to change out of my dress from school all the time when I was a kid.” Taking off her hat Amy placed it on the little girl’s head. “There, that’s all you need.”

Betsy had a huge smile on her face and looked up at Vin for his approval too. He winked at her saying, “You’ll be the best looking cowgirl out there.”

Vin knew he said the right thing when Betsy’s smile got even bigger and he saw Amy mouth, “Thank you” silently with a smile on her face too.

Josiah followed them to the horse and offered to hand Betsy up once Amy was mounted. Amy laughed as Betsy let out a whoop when they rode off with the herd as the dog, Boo, followed behind.

The three men watched them ride away. Ezra walked up to Vin saying, “I would wager that’s two for you and nothing for Buck so far.”

Josiah laughed as he said, “I would wager you’re right, Ezra.”

Vin ignored them thinking instead about the warm feeling he got when Amy smiled at him. He knew she was just being friendly and it didn’t really mean anything regardless of what Ezra and Josiah were saying but he was thinking about trying to get her to smile at him again.


Town had calmed down a little from the arrival of the trail drive. A few of the wagons stopped in town while two went with the herd. Part of riders had just gotten back in town from the ranch where they left the herd with the rest of the hands.

Chris was talking to JD when he heard a yell and someone knocked him to the ground just as a shot rang out. He pulled his gun and rolled the person over until he was on top with his gun to their head. Chris was surprised to find it was a young woman who looked up at him with wide hazel eyes.

“There was a gun pointing at your back from the alley,” she explained trying to stay calm but Chris could feel her heart beating rapidly as he used his body to pin her to the ground.

“Dang, Chris” JD said, “that would of hit you if she hadn’t knocked you down.”

The others came running so Chris hollered at Buck, “Shooter was in the alley.”

Buck, Vin, and Ezra turned to check out the alley while Josiah and Nathan came to check on Chris.

“Miss Amy” Josiah said recognizing the young woman laying beneath Chris.

“Hi” Amy smiled up at him. “You were with the man that helped Betsy.”

“Yes, I was,” Josiah answered.

Chris looked down at her asking, “Betsy, she was the little girl Vin helped out.”

“Vin,” Amy said. “I never got his name, blue eyes, light brown hair, longer than yours, buckskin jacket, tan pants. He a friend of yours?”

“Yep.” Chris relaxed and put his gun away. “How’d you know I didn’t deserve to get shot in the back?”

“Nobody deserves to get shot in the back,” Amy told him as Vin, Buck, and Ezra showed up.

“Whoever it was is gone now,” Vin told Chris before he smiled at Amy. “Hi, again.”

“Hi,” Amy smiled back at him. Looking at Chris she added, “Not that I’m complaining, but are you planning on getting off of me.”

“I’m kinda of comfortable right now,” Chris smirked. “Maybe I’ll stay right were I am.”

“Then I might have to shot you myself,” Amy told him with a laugh making Chris laugh too.

Chris pushed himself up off her then reach down to help Amy to her feet. “You all right?” he asked.

“Yep, thanks. I didn’t hurt you either did I,” Amy asked.

“I’m fine, thanks to you,” Chris grinned.

“Ma, ma,” a small boy yelled as he ran up to Amy followed by two older boys and Billy Travis.

“Hey, Sunshine,” Amy said smiling as the boys ran up to her. “Ya having fun with Cody, Leo, and Billy?”

The boy, Josh, wrapped his arms around one of Amy’s legs saying, “The mean lady is chasing us, Ma.”

Billy turned and wrapped his arms around Amy’s other leg adding, “We been trying to lose her.”

Leo ran behind Amy and wrapped his arms around her waist. Cody tried to stand his ground but decided to move behind Amy too, to help protect the young boys he told himself. Amy struggled not to laugh because she knew the boys were scared of this woman. “Dang, she must be scary,” she told the boys.

“Yeah, she’s mean,” Billy told her.

“Maybe we should run,” Leo finally spoke up.

Part 2

Amy smiled and ran her hand over Leo’s hands before stroking Billy and Josh’s backs. “I think we can outrun her, so let’s try talking first and if that doesn’t work then we’ll run,” she told the boys.

Amy wasn’t the only one having a hard time not laughing. Through the whole exchange the Seven watched with interest. They knew Mrs Royal was Guy Royal’s Ma and seemed to think was the queen of the town and should be treated accordingly. With silent looks to each other they decided they weren’t going to stand idly by and the old bag terrorize the boys.

The woman came to a stop in front of Amy and the boys. “These children have been disturbing my rest,” she sneered at Amy.

“How did they do that?” Chris asked as he moved up to stand slightly in front of Amy and the boys.

“They were talking and running about,” Mrs Royal spat out with distain.

“Well, ma’am, sorry they disturbed you but talking and running about are what boys do.” Vin said as he came to stand on the other side of Amy near Josh.

“I’m talking to the young lady, and I use that term loosely, not you hooligans,” Mrs Royal said as she raised her head like she was better than them. “She doesn’t know who she is dealing with.”

“No ma’am, I don’t but I do know you are terrifying these children and that’s wrong,” Amy calmly said back.

Mrs Royal’s eyes narrowed. “I know that’s you Billy Travis, your father would be ashamed of you.”

Chris started forward at that comment, he wasn’t about to let the remark slide knowing it hurt Billy. Out of the corner of his eye Chris saw Amy’s hand tighten on Billy’s shoulder in support and heard her reply. “That’s a lie, Stephen Travis told me Billy was his finest accomplishment and I know for a fact he couldn’t have been prouder. Billy is a fine young man and I also know that Stephen Travis is up in heaven right now watching over Billy and nudging the man next to him saying proudly ‘That’s my boy’.”

“You knew Stephen Travis,” Mrs Royal snorted.

“Yes, he’s my cousin. Our father’s are brothers, so you see I know a lot more about what Stephen thought of Billy than you ever would,” Amy reply her voice hard. “I also know what he would have thought of you using his memory to hurt Billy. You may think you are somebody important but from what I can see you’re just a rude, mean woman who wants to make everyone else as miserable as you are.”

Even Ezra struggled not to cheer, they all had wanted to put Mrs Royal in her place but Mary had insisted she be treated with respect.

The men standing around them gave Amy confidence to take this woman on. She usually avoided confrontations but there was no way she was going to let this woman bully the boys. “Children are a blessing, ma’am, hearing them and watching them brings joy. They remind us of the wonders of everyday things that we’ve forgotten, of the simple pleasure of life. You will not take that away from them or us. I will have them respect you and your property, but they will continue to make noise and play,” Amy told her gently.

Mrs Royal saw the glare that Chris Larabee was giving her and knew she had overstepped his tolerances. Deciding retreat was her best course of action she raised her chin and said, “See that you do.” With those words she walked off head held high trying to ignore the cheers she heard from the crowd that had gathered to witness the exchange.

“Really, Cousin Amy,” Billy pleaded his eyes filled with unshed tears. “My Pa was proud of me?”

“Absolutely, Billy,” Amy said her own eyes filling with tears. “Your Pa thought the sun rose and set with you. I maybe haven’t know you long but I can see you’re a fine boy, one any man would be proud of.”

“Ya really thinks he’s watch me?” Billy asked.

“Yep,” Amy said with a smile, “you see no one knows for sure what happens when people die. I believe that they go to heaven and from heaven they watch out for their loved ones, that voice that warns you not to do something that’s them looking out for us. I know it’s not the same as having here but I know they are still with us living in our hearts and always will be.”

Amy squatted down and held out her arms to Billy who immediately gave her a hug and whispered in her ear, “I’m glad you’re here Cousin Amy.”

“Me too, Billy,” Amy whispered back.

Standing Amy turned to Vin, “Thank you again. Hopefully we won’t make it a habit of needing rescuing.”

“My pleasure, ma’am,” Vin said with a nod.

Amy smiled and started to introduce them. “I’m Amy Travis; this is my son Josh, and my brothers Leo and Cody.”

She was impressed when he just accepted what she said as fact, considering the fact that Leo was a young negro she figured she would at least get a look.

“Vin Tanner, ma’am,” Vin replied happy that she’d smiled again.

“Buck Wilmington, ma’am,” Buck said as he rushed around to introduce himself. “It’s a pleasure to have such a lovely lady move to our fine town.”

Amy laughed saying, “Does that really work?” At his hurt look she added, “I’m sorry but we’ve been on the trail for too long and I smell like cows, there’s no way I’m lovely.”

“Ma’am,” Buck tried the charm again. “You’re beauty shines through no matter what.”

Amy laughed again but was saved from a reply when two other women walked up with Betsy and a toddler. “Rosie’s was looking for her Mama,” the younger of the two said.

“Hey there Sweetpea,” Amy said as she took the little girl. “This is my sister Lisa Travis,” pointing to the younger woman, “Cousin Holly Mitchell, her daughter Betsy, whom you’ve sort of met, and my daughter Rosie.”

Betsy ran up to Vin and grabbed his hand. “Ma, this is the nice man that saved me from that mean Mr Blackwell.”

Amy turned to the other ladies and introduced the two she had just met. “Vin Tanner and Buck Wilmington, I didn’t find out the others name yet.”

Buck, ever the gentleman, bowed to the ladies and introduced the rest of the men. “This here is Chris Larabee, Ezra Standish, Josiah Sanchez, JD Dunne, and Nathan Jackson, at your service ladies.” Each of the men nodded an acknowledgement as Buck said their names. “We’re the peacekeepers here in the area so anything y’all need but sure to let me know.”

“It’s very nice to meet y’all,” Amy said with a smile. “If you’re one of the peacekeepers then it’s good that man missed,” she said to Chris. “Thank you for helping with that lady.”

Chris just smiled and nodded deciding to leave the talking to Buck. Before Buck could start in again Josh looked up at Vin and told him, “Rosie’s dotted, like Leo and Cody.”

“Adopted,” Amy explained.

“That’s what I said dotted,” Josh said with a sigh. “Their Ma and Pa couldn’t take care of ‘em so we do.”

“Lucky they have you,” Vin told Josh.

“Yep, we’s lucky to have them too,” Josh said with a nod in agreement.

Vin smiled and nodded back to Josh who was thrilled to have this man treat him with respect. Usually adults, other than his family, just ignored him. Josh figured this man saved Betsy and him too so he wanted to be his friend.

Holly turned to Vin and said, “Thank you for helping my daughter Betsy. I never left her with that man; Aunt Rachel and Beth were watching the children that didn’t ride.”

“Yeah, he lied,” Betsy added. “You should shoot him Cousin Amy.”

“Betsy,” Amy said as she sat on the boardwalk to be more Betsy’s height, “you can’t just go around shooting people ‘cause they made you mad.”

“Why not, you shoot good,” Betsy added still holding Vin’s hand.

“You can’t ‘cause there wouldn’t be anyone left if you did that,” Amy told the little girl with a wink. “’Sides if you shoot ‘em they can’t apologize.”

“Mr Blackwell’s mean, he ain’t gonna ‘pologize to nobody,” Betsy complained.

The comment made both Vin and Ezra determined to find out more about this Mr Blackwell, neither liked him from early but to hear the little girl say he was mean made them want to teach the man a little something about messing with kids.

“Betsy, stop that,” Holly told her daughter.

“You’re probably right, sweetie,” Amy added, “but we’re here now so we don’t have to be around him all the time now.”

“’Less he marries Cousin Bess,” Josh added making a face of disgust.

Lisa laughed and told Josh, “Don’t you worry about that our Cousin Bess is smarter than that.”

“And if she had a case of stupid we’ll just have to help her out,” Amy said.

“Will you two stop that,” Holly glared are Amy and Lisa who just laughed. “You’re supposed to teach the kids to respect adults not how to play tricks on them.”

“No, we teach ‘em to treat all people with respect but once someone shows you they don’t deserve your respect you don’t have play the fool just ‘cause they’re older than you,” Amy corrected.

Lisa nodded in agreement and added, “It’s what our folks taught us.”

“C’mon guys,” Amy said to the kids gather around. “We best go help them with the house. Nice meeting y’all.”

The seven watched them walk off as Buck said, “I think town just got a lot livelier boys.”

Part 3

Vin sat on his chair outside of the saloon watch Amy, Holly, and the kids play. Chet Williams, the son of Sadie a local working girl, was playing with them. Vin had found out from Chet that Amy and her family were friends of Sadie’s and that Chet was thrilled that they were here in town. Vin and the others made an effort to be friends with Chet, his Ma profession made the respectable people in town stay away from him. It was from Chet that Vin also found out little Rosie was the daughter of another working girl who, before she was killed by one of her clients, had asked Amy to adopt her daughter to give her a better life. Rosie’s real Ma, Molly, was the daughter of a working girl and she wanted more for Rosie.

Chris walked up and joined Vin, following Vin’s line of sight he saw the kids playing in the alleyway. “Nice family,” Chris said.

“Yep,” Vin agreed.

“Wonder how Mary feels about Billy’s new playmates,” Chris said with a smirk.

“What ‘cha mean by that?” Vin asked.

“Nothing, ‘cept this side of the Travis family seem a lot less worried about being proper,” Chris explained.

Vin laughed and shook his head. “They do at that.”

Both Vin and Chris made it a habit to know a little something about the people in town. They had found out that Gus Travis was Oren’s younger brother and he was opening a gun shop in town. He and his wife Rachel had six children Matt, Joey, Beth, Amy, Lisa, and Sam. Beth was married to Pete, they with Joey and another young couple Max and Della were setting up a cattle ranch outside of town. The herd they drove through town belonged to them. Beth was pregnant and had a little boy Tommy age 3. Amy had two Josh, who proudly told them he would be 5 in two weeks and Rosie who was 18 months old. Gus and Rachel were warm and caring people who had taken in four younger children, Leo age 7, Cody age 9, Dave age 8, and Debbie age 4, along with two of the women and the young man. Anna Stewart was Leo’s Ma’s sister, she showed up on the Travis doorstep looking for Leo a year and half earlier and ended up staying with them herself. Holly’s Ma was Oren and Gus’ sister Prudence, she and her daughter Betsy, two months older than Josh, had moved in the Gus and Rachel after Holly’s husband was killed in a robbery two year earlier. Charlie Hutchins was an adult with a simple mind; he had gotten a job with Yosemite at the stable. He was a hard worker who worked well with all the animals. Vin watched the kids carefully and saw they were all well cared for and obviously very loved, he knew that wasn’t always the case with adopted children.

Bess Anderson turned out to be Oren and Evie Travis’ daughter. She was the one that convinced the others to move to Four Corners with her and her daughter, Janie age 8. Bess’ husband was died when the plague came to their town 4 years earlier, their infant son also died. She knew of Stephen and Mary’s dreams and enjoyed reading the stories Mary and Billy send in their letters. Bess wanted to be a part of that dream; Mary had told her they were getting closer all the time. The other women in the group were friends of Bess’ whom she had talked into starting a clothing store in town with her. Stephanie Peterson was looking for a fresh start for her and her two children, Melissa age 4, and Mark 14 months. Stephanie’s husband had stolen money and left his family for another woman a year and a half earlier. Meg Johnson and her younger sister Kim were looking for adventure; so far they had found it. According to Cody, Mr Blackwell had joined up with them about half way through the trip and was useless the whole trip. He didn’t seem to have a profession but Cody thought he was after Bess for her money which made Cody hate him since he really liked Miss Bess and Janie. The month on the trail getting here made them a very tight knit group.

“You planning to go to Josh’s birthday party?” Chris asked Vin. Josh had invited all of the Seven to attend.

“Reckon, been thinkin’ on it,” Vin answered. “You?”

“Ain’t decided yet,” Chris told him then smiled adding, “Josh’d be crushed if you weren’t there. He seems mighty fond of you.”

Vin looked over at Chris saying, “What ‘cha mean by that.”

“Nothing, ‘cept they seem like a nice family. I think his Ma has tried real hard to protect him from hurt. Don’t think she’d be happy if you hurt him by not going is all,” Chris explained.

“She tell you that?” Vin asked looking over at Chris.

“Didn’t need to,” Chris told him. “She reminds me of Sarah, not in looks but in spirit. Sarah was loving like that, gentle and warm, made you feel good just being around her.”

“Don’t know much about kid’s birthday parties,” Vin confessed.

“Vin,” Chris said softly, “all that little boy wants is for you to be there.”

“I’ll think on it more,” Vin told Chris with a nod.

Chris nodded back then they both turn back to watching the kids play.


A few days later Charlie came running into the saloon. “Mr Tanner, need ya to come. Something happened to Peso.”

Vin and Chris were both on their feet immediately heading down to the stable with Charlie following them. Walking inside cautiously they saw a well dress man tied to one of the support beams with a gag in his mouth. Chris checked on the man while Vin went to check on Peso. He was surprised to find Amy in Peso’s stall talking softly to him as she put something on some cuts.

“Ma’am I need ya to come out of there,” Vin said keeping his voice calm to not startle Peso who seemed agitated but was allowing her to treat his cuts.

“I’m almost done,” Amy answered, “this is the last one.” She finished soothing on the ointment and came out of Peso’s stall wiping her hands on her skirt. “Just a minute,” she told Vin as she grabbed an apple out of her pocket and gave it to Peso petting him while she said, “told ya I’d give ya a treat if you were good, and you were very good.”

Both Vin and Chris were shocked to see Peso take the apple then nuzzle her shoulder with affection as she ran her hand down his neck in a gentle caress. She turned back to Vin and handed him a jar of the ointment she had been using. “Mr Tanner, he your horse,” Amy asked. At Vin’s nod she continued “The cuts aren’t too bad, you should use this for a few days at least until they heal over more. He shouldn’t have any problem with them but I wouldn’t use a saddle on him until they heal up some, this one is right where the saddle will rub it.”

Vin smelled the ointment and said, “This is a Kiowa cure.”

“Yep, they were our closest neighbors when I was a kid,” Amy told them. “I used to play there all the time growing up, they taught me lots of great stuff.”

“You’re really good with animals Ma’am,” Chris said. “Peso there doesn’t let too many people get close to him.”

“Yeah, the medicine man in the village used to tell me I had a gift with animals and wild things,” Amy replied with a smile.

Chris asked, “What happened here?”

“I came in to check on our horses and saw that man hitting Peso with a whip. Stopped it and tied him up then asked Charlie to find the owner of horse,” Amy answered with a glare over toward the man tied to the post.

“Thanks,” Vin said his eyes full of anger but his tone full of gratitude for her actions.

Chris pulled the gag from the man’s mouth who quickly said, “You going to belief me or that whore.”

“Hey,” Amy said stepping forward, “I don’t have a problem shooting someone who’d hurt an animal. Keep it up and it’ll my word against a dead man.”

“I demand to see the law of this town and have her arrested for assault,” the man sneered.

“That dead man plan is sounding better all the time,” Vin snarled as he walked up to the man. “Why did you beat on my horse?”

“That horse tried to bite me, I was protecting myself and the whore attacked me for it,” the man sputtered not liking the looks Vin and Chris were giving him. “You, I insist you get the Sheriff,” he roared looking at Charlie.

“Go ahead Charlie,” Chris said.

“That won’t be necessary,” Oren Travis spoke up as he walked into the stable.

“Oren, I’m so glad you are here,” the man said. “I arrived in town to visit my son, stopping here first to drop off my carriage. I was walking by when that crazed horse attacked me, I was defending myself and this whore pulled a gun on me then tied me to this post.”

“Where is this woman,” Oren asked.

“That would be me Uncle Oren,” Amy said as she stepped out from behind Vin.

“Uncle Oren,” the man sputtered.

“Yep,” Amy said giving him an innocent smile. “I came into the stable and this man was beating Peso with a whip so I stopped him, since I didn’t want to turn my back on him I tied him up. He kept yelling so I gagged him,” she explained to Judge Travis.

“Bernard, this is my niece Amy Travis,” Oren said. “Amy, this is Bernard Blackwell, his son Arthur traveled into town with you and the family.”

“That explains a lot” Vin whispered but both Amy and Chris heard him and smiled at the comment.

“Chris untie him,” Oren said wearily.

“You’re letting him go,” Amy said shocked.

“He’s not going anywhere for now,” Oren explained. “I’ll discuss the situation with Vin and we’ll decide what to do.”

Chris untied the senior Mr Blackwell and whispered, “You best not cause in problems in my town if you know what’s good for you.”

Mr Blackwell thought about saying something rude back but after taking in the glare Chris was giving him and the angry looks from Vin and Amy he thought better of it and started to leave. Stopping by Oren he asked, “I don’t suppose you know where I might find my son do you?”

“I believe he’s at the hotel,” Oren answered.

After he walked out of the stables Oren turned to Chris, Vin, and Amy and said, “I know you are angry. Did he hurt Peso?”

Vin was trying to calm down when he answered, “Some cuts, he’ll be fine in time.”

“Did anyone see the attack start?” Oren asked.

“No, but you know that horse didn’t do anything to deserve it,” Amy said still angry.

“Amy,” Oren said calmly.

“Uncle Oren, that man is a pompous jackass who thinks he’s better than everyone else so he can do whatever he wants and get away with it because he’s your friend,” Amy told him as she was trying to calm down. “He wanted me arrested before you got here and he found out I was your niece.”

“I know,” Oren said sadly. “The problem is there aren’t laws to cover this. Vin, he damaged your property. We could ask for restitution but then he would insist he paid you for the horse so the horse was his.”

“No way in hell is that happening,” Vin said firmly.

“I’ll talk to him and tell him I won’t stand for him trying to throw his weight around,” Oren said with a grim smile. “Maybe that will help.”

“Tell ‘im we’ll be keeping an eye on him, Judge,” Chris added.

“I will,” Oren smiled at them before he walked out too.

“Thanks for help Miz Travis,” Vin said with a smile. “And thanks for this,” he added holding up the jar of ointment.

“I’m glad I could help,” Amy replied with a smile of her own. “There are too many Miz Travis’ around here now so please both of you call me Amy.”

“Only if you call me Vin,” Vin said smiling back at her.

Amy laughed saying, “Deal Vin” as she put out her hand to Vin to shake.

Vin shook her hand saying, “Deal Amy” with a warm smile.

“Call me Chris,” Chris added. “Amy, it’d be best if you weren’t alone for awhile,” Chris said seriously. “He wasn’t too happy and might go after you to get even.”

“I’ll be careful,” Amy promised.

Part 4

Vin was in Mrs Potter’s store the three days later when Amy came in carrying Rosie. She handed Gloria a list of supplies they needed then turned to see him standing there. Smiling she greeted him, “Morning Vin.”

“Mornin’ Amy, Rosie,” Vin replied shaking little Rosie’s hand when she reached out for him.

“Amy,” Gloria interrupted, “it’ll take me awhile to get all of this together. Would you like to wait or come back?”

“No problem, Miz Potter,” Amy answered. “We figured it would take awhile, I’ll come back later this afternoon with the boys and we’ll pick it up so take your time. Say bye to Mr Vin and Miz Potter, Sweetpea,” Amy told Rosie.

“Bye” Rosie said waving her hand wildly.

Both Vin and Gloria laughed saying, “Bye” back.

Amy was paying attention to Rosie so when the front door to the store open and Arthur Blackwell walked in and slapped her across the face she almost fell. Before she could react Vin had grabbed Arthur by the throat and slammed him against the wall growling, “Don’t ever lay a hand on either of them again.”

Arthur sneered back, “That bitch attacked my father.”

“With good cause,” Vin answered pushing tighter on Blackwell’s throat. “Stay away from her or you’ll answer to me.”

Amy put a hand on Vin’s back and pleaded, “Please Vin, he’s not worth it.”

Vin let Arthur go with a warning look. Arthur quickly left the store knowing that this man meant exactly what he said and wished he was out of this horrid uncivilized area.

Vin turned to Amy and stroked her cheek. “You all right?” he asked gently.

Amy looked up at him with tears in her eyes saying, “Yeah, he scared me more than anything, Rosie too.” Amy tried to calm Rosie down who was crying and clinging to her. “Thanks for the help, again.”

“Vin,” Gloria spoke up from behind Amy, “bring them into the back room and I’ll get a wet rag for her cheek.”

“Oh, I don’t wanna be any bother, Miz Potter,” Amy said turning to look at Gloria.

“Nonsense dear,” Gloria said with a smile, “I’d never forgive myself if you left without getting a chance to calm down a little first, and please call me Gloria, Amy.”

“Thank you, Gloria,” Amy smiled back more tears coming at the woman’s kindness. “I’m so sorry this happened.”

“That wasn’t your fault Amy,” Gloria insisted. “I heard what that man’s father did to Peso and trust me I’m just glad you were there to stop him, we’re on your side dear.”

Vin put an arm around Amy’s waist and gently lead her to the backroom. Sitting her down Vin took the wet rag from Gloria and held it against Amy’s reddened cheek. Gloria left then quickly came back with a glass of tea for Amy and a piece of candy for Rosie who was beginning to calm down. The bell on the front door rang so Gloria excused herself to take care of her customer leaving Vin to take care of Amy and Rosie.

“Want me to have JD arrest him?” Vin asked.

“No, I think you put the fear of God in him and he wouldn’t bother me again.” Amy smiled. “We should probably get home.”

“I’ll take ya,” Vin said, “and no arguments.”

Walking down the boardwalk they ran into Sadie in front of the saloon. “Amy,” Sadie said, “can I talk to you in private for a minute.”

Vin sat on the bench in front of the saloon saying, “I’ll wait here for ya.” Rosie scampered out of Amy’s arms and walked over to Vin holding her arms up. Vin remembered the last time she did that Josh had told him that means she wants you to pick her up so he lifted her onto his lap. Rosie snuggled up against his chest and settled down for a nap. “I got her,” he told Amy, “we’re fine.”

Amy smiled and nodded at him then followed Sadie into the saloon for their talk.

Chris and Buck walked up to see Vin sitting there with Rosie asleep in his arms. “Starting with ‘em awful young aren’t ya,” Buck said with a laugh as they sat down next to Vin.

“Amy’s inside talking to Sadie,” Vin explained to Buck. Turning toward Chris he added, “Arthur Blackwell hit her over at Miz Potter’s.

“She all right,” Chris asked with concern.

“Shook up and her cheek’s red but she’ll be fine,” Vin answered.

“Maybe we should tell those Blackwell how things work around here,” Buck added his tone full of anger that someone would dare to hit a woman.

“Might be a good idea,” Vin agreed. “Sooner them two leave town the better I’ll like it.”

“Let’s wait until tonight,” Chris added with a smirk, “we can get them alone that way.”

The three men nodded in agreement knowing they would let the others in on their plans. None of the seven had anything good to say about either of the Blackwells and this latest action sealed their fate.

Amy came out of the saloon to the three men quietly watching the town they protected. Her talk with Sadie had helped calm her down and she hoped she had convinced Sadie to come to Josh’s party with Chet. Sadie was concerned the people of the town would turn against the Travis family if they included her and Chet in their party. Amy assured her that she had been picking her own friends since she was a small girl and no one was going to tell her who she could and couldn’t have for a friend.

Holly walked up to join Amy asking, “Have you seen the boys? It’s almost time for lunch.”

“No,” Amy replied. “I’ll go look for them.” Amy bent down over Vin to take Rosie from him. Vin tried to be a gentleman but couldn’t resist stealing a peek down her top which gapped away when she was leaning over him.

Smiling at him Amy lifted up Rosie who slept through the whole thing. “Thanks for watch her for me,” Amy told Vin.

“Why don’t you let me take her,” Holly offered, “so you can look for the boys.”

Handing Rosie over to Holly Amy looked around trying to decide what direction to look. Vin stood up saying, “I’ll help ya look.”

Leo came running up yelling, “Miss Amy, Miss Amy come quick Josh’s in trouble.”

Amy took off after him followed by Vin, Chris, Buck, Holly and Rosie. They got a tree outside of town and found Josh stuck up in the tree.

“That mean Mr Blackwell chased him so Josh climbed the tree to get away and now he can’t get down,” Cody explained.

Amy started for the tree when Vin grabbed her and pulled her back. “You’re in a dress, I’ll get him. You stay here and help calm him down.”

Amy nodded then grabbed Vin’s arm. “Please be careful.”

Vin smiled at her reassuringly. “Don’t worry I’m a great tree climber.”

Amy tried to smile back but it was weak. Vin gave Buck his hat and gun then started up the tree. Amy hollered up to Josh, “Don’t worry sweetheart, Vin’ll get you down. He won’t let anything happen to you; just do what he says all right.”

Josh nodded feeling better now that help was coming. Vin was almost to Josh but couldn’t go any farther because he didn’t think the limb Josh was on would hold both their weights. “Josh,” Vin said calmly, “I need ya to crawl over here to me.”

“I’m scared” Josh confessed his eyes red from crying.

“I know Pard,” Vin said smiling warmly. “I won’t let ya fall. Just reach out to me and crawl over slowly.”

Josh slowly made his way to Vin who scooped him up once he could safely do so. “Great job, Pard,” Vin told Josh. “What ‘cha say we go down to your Ma now.”

Josh clung to Vin and nodded against his neck. Vin slowly worked his way back down the tree. Once he was close enough he handed Josh down to Buck who handed him over to Amy’s waiting embrace. Vin climbed the rest of way down turning to check on Josh he suddenly found both Amy and Josh in his arms Amy crying on his shoulder as she whispered, “Thank you” over and over again.

“Mr Vin saved me Ma,” Josh said.

“Yeah, sweetheart,” Amy said getting herself a little under control, “he did.”

The word had quickly spread through the town about both Blackwell’s actions so no one was surprised when they both left town on the next day’s stage. Whether or not anyone suspected they were forced out of town no one said a word because they were all glad to see the last of these two pompous men.

Part 5

Josh’s birthday party was a huge success, all of the seven attended and had a great time visiting with the ladies and playing with all the kids. Several others from town, including the Potter family, Yosemite, Inez, Mary and Billy, and Nettie and Casey Wells, also attended at the Travis family was quickly making friends with their friendly attitude. Sadie and Chet were there too and soon found themselves joining in the festivities with all the others.

Josh was in heaven, not only because it was his birthday but because his hero Vin was there. He just glowed under Vin’s attention.

Town had settled down into a regular routine, the newest arrivals establishing themselves as members of the community. Gus’ gun shop opened and business was picking up every day. The clothing store was also fast becoming a success. The Travis family also established themselves as excellent horsemen with their horse breeding business that Amy and Lisa had started.

Vin was riding patrol when he came across Amy sitting on the back of a buckboard without a horse in sight. “What happened?” he asked.

“Promise not to laugh,” Amy asked back.

“I’ll try,” Vin said trying to keep from smiling.

“I told Gloria I would bring some supplies out to the Fredrick’s place. I was on my way back to town when two men jumped out from the bushes and stole my horse,” Amy answered disgusted at herself for getting in this mess.

“You all right,” Vin asked concerned.

“Yep, they just wanted the horse,” Amy said. “I thought maybe if I waited here for awhile someone would come along and save me the walk back to town.”

Vin rode up and took his foot out of the stirrup hold his hand out to help her mount behind him. Once mounted Vin started Peso toward town. “Why would I laugh,” he asked.

“Because I didn’t do anything to stop them, there were two and they had the drop on me so I just let them take the horse,” Amy grumbled still mad.

“Sounds to me like ya did the right thing,” Vin told her. “They obliviously only wanted the horse so why fight back, someone could have gotten hurt that way.”

Amy felt herself relaxing. “I know, it’s just the longer I sat there the madder I got and the stupider I felt for riding right into their trap.”

Vin looked around at the clouds gathering and told her, “Looks like a storm gathering, we won’t make it to back to town so better find some place to wait it out.”

The rain started before they found some place. Vin felt Amy snuggled up tighter against his back trying to keep as dry as possible. They were both soaked when they rode into the yard of the Conrad place. Vin handed Amy his saddlebacks and told her to go into the cabin while he put Peso away.

Vin entered the one room cabin to find a blanket had been hung to section off a small area. Amy had changed into some dry clothes she found, they didn’t fit very well but they were dry. She was working on getting a fire going when she looked up at him and said, “I left some dry clothes for you too behind the blanket, you best get out of those wet things.”

Once they were both dry the blanket came down and went back on the bed. The wet clothes were laid out around the room to dry and Amy was looking through the cupboards to see what she could find for them to eat.

Vin check the wood supply and was happy to see they could hold out for several days before more would need to come in. He was getting the stove going for Amy who found stuff to cook a meal for them.

The storm raged outside while they were secure inside the cozy cabin. It may not have looked like much but it was solidly built. They talked about all kinds of things while they ate and waited out the storm. When it became obvious they would have to spend the night Vin started to set up his bedroll on the floor.

“Vin,” Amy said softly, “you’ll get chilled sleeping on the floor.”

“I’ll be fine,” Vin said knowing she was right the floor was still damp from their dripping all over it when they first got to the cabin.

“That bed is plenty large enough for both of us,” Amy insisted. When he looked up at her shocked Amy smiled and added, “I’m offering you a warm dry place to sleep, not my body. I know I can trust you not to take advantage of the situation.” Amy saw he was hesitating worried about how it would look. “No one else needs to know what happened here except us, I need you healthy and if you get sick sleeping on the floor I’ll never forgive myself.”

Vin looked her in the eye and saw the trust. He was seriously thinking it over when Amy added, “If you’re worried I’ll take advantage of you we can set it up so there is a blanket between us. You forget I grew up with brothers, sharing a bed isn’t a big deal.”

Vin couldn’t stop the laugh that bubbled out of him. “All right, I’ll share the bed with you.”

Amy had found three blankets to put on the bed, Vin made her get under all three while he got under just the top two. The more time he spent with this woman the more attracted to her he was getting, he didn’t want to take any chances of giving in to his feeling in his sleep.

Amy woke up to moans and tossing in the bed beside her. She realized Vin was having a nightmare and debated how to help him without getting herself hurt, she’d seen his lightning fast reflexes and didn’t want him to hit her not knowing it was her. Amy decide to take her chances and reach out to take Vin’s hand in hers. “Vin” she called softly as she placed her other hand on his arm.

Vin woke from his nightmare to feel a warm hand in his and a gently stroking on his arm. Embarrassed he looked over at Amy surprised not to see pity but understanding in her eyes. “Want to talk about it,” Amy asked as she continued to stroke his arm, “it helps sometimes.”

“No,” he replied gruffly.

“All right,” Amy replied smiling at him. “Can I keep holding your hand? I know when I’ve had nightmares it helped me to have something real to hang on to. Kept me from falling back into it when I went back to sleep.”

“That would be all right,” Vin told her, his voice heavy with emotions. To Vin’s relief the nightmares didn’t come back all night, waking the next morning to feel one of her hands still wrapped around his hand and the other on his arm. He found himself not wanting to pull away from her but the chill in the air let him know he should get up and stoke the fire.

Amy’s hand tightened on his when Vin tried to pull his hand from her’s. Hearing a soft sigh Vin turned to see her eyes opening and her smile at him with a sleepy smile. “Mornin’,” Vin said smiling back at her. “I’m going to add some wood to the fire.”

“Hmmm,” came the sleepy reply.



“You need to let go of my hand so I can get up,” Vin said as he leaned forward to kiss her forehead.

“Hmmm,” Amy moved closer to him then woke up enough to understand what he was asking saying, “Oh, sorry,” as she let go of his hand missing the warm comfort right away.

The rain continued through the day, at least their clothes had dried enough to get back into them. Vin laughed when he saw she had a hunting knife strapped to her leg and kept a handgun in the pocket of her skirt. “Guess you could have tried to stop them from taking the horse after all,” Vin told her still laughing.

“Yep,” Amy said joining in with his laughter. “But then I wouldn’t be here with you,” she said saucily with a wink.

Amy started to get together stuff for lunch when a mouse flew out of the cupboard and landed on her skirt. Screaming she jumped back and kept screaming until Vin was able to grab the mouse and throw it outside. She was trembling when he put a hand on her back asking softly, “Are you all right?”

Amy nodded no and turned in his arms to cry on his shoulder. Wrapping his arms tightly around her he felt her body shake with fear. Vin began to gently stroke her back and whisper words of comfort in her ear. Her arms wrapped around his waist as she pulled even tighter against him, he could here her soft whispers of, “I’m sorry” repeating. The shaking finally stopped but Vin kept his hold tight sensing she needed to feel safe again before she could pull away from him.

Her eyes were red and swollen when she pulled back and looked him in eye. “I’m so sorry,” Amy started, “I shouldn’t be so terrified of mice but I am.”

Vin kept up the gentle caress on her back as he back up to the chair sitting pulling her into his lap. “Wanna tell me about it,” he asked softly without any pressure on her.

Resting her head on his shoulder Amy started her story, “There was a haunted house just outside of town. My brothers, like most of the other kids in town, wanted to check out the inside of the house but it was boarded up so they couldn’t get in. They found a window that had an opening in but it was too small for either of them to get in. I was Josh’s age and would have done anything they asked me too. The plan was for them to lift me up through the hole in the window, then go and unlock the front door so they could come in.”

“You were going to walk through the house by yourself at five,” Vin asked.

“Yep, Matt and Joey were right outside so what could happen I thought. I’ve decided kids are fearless it never occurred to me this was a bad plan,” Amy explained playing with the buttons on his shirt.

“It didn’t work out the way they planned, huh,” Vin prompted.

“The rain got through the open window and the floor beneath it was rotten so when I landed on the floor I broke through and got stuck. The house was full of mice in the floorboards so they ran out and over me. I was screaming and Matt and Joey were doing their best to get in to me. They finally broke in and got me out but it had taken awhile and the mice in their own fear from my screaming had bitten me severely. Matt and Joey rushed me home but I got really sick and almost died, they felt so bad about it I don’t think Ma and Pa had to punish them at all.”

“I can see why you’re afraid of mice,” Vin told her sincerely.

Amy relaxed a little that he didn’t think she was a coward. “My family tried to help me get over my fear, they got some mice and tamed them and tried to get me to hold them. Pa told me if I could replace the bad memories with good ones it would help but I was too afraid and wouldn’t do it. I don’t know if it would have helped or not, I didn’t even try.”

“Amy,” Vin started as he put a hand under her chin to lift her head so he could look her in the eye, “you were a little kid. That would have scared an adult, stop blaming yourself for it. If that mouse hadn’t got on you would you have been better?”

“Yep,” Amy confessed, “it’s a lot worse when they get on me.”

“I remember you saying once the reason you were so good with a gun was because of mice,” Vin added smiling at her.

“When Uncle Jake taught me how to shoot I decided if I shot the mouse it wouldn’t hurt me,” Amy said with a laugh at the memory. “The problem was those little mice are hard to hit, you have to be fast and accurate to hit ‘em.”

“That you do,” Vin agreed.

“So I practiced and practiced until I got good enough to kill the mice,” Amy told him.

“Remind me never to make you mad at me,” Vin replied making her laugh.

“Thank you for being there for me again and for understanding,” Amy told him.

“Hey, you were there for me last night,” Vin answered, “that’s what friends do.”

“Yep, it is,” Amy agreed. “Vin, I’m glad we’re friends.”

“Me too, Amy,” Vin told her with a smile.

That night after they crawled into the bed, Amy reach out her hand to Vin with a soft smile. Vin smiled back and took it keeping both of their nightmares away for the night.

Part 6

The next day the rain had finally stopped; they cleaned up the cabin and replaced the wood, leaving a note that they would replace the food they had eaten soon. Amy mounted Peso behind Vin and they rode off toward town. Their friendship had blossomed during their stay at the cabin; they were talking relaxed on the ride back to town.

The shot startled them both. Vin mentally kicked himself when he recognized the bounty hunter that came out from the trees. Vin wouldn’t try anything while the man had his gun trained on Amy, they all knew it. With an evil smile the bounty hunter said, “Well, Vin Tanner. I didn’t think it would be this easy.”

“Let her go Hackett,” Vin told the man. “You’re after me not her.”

“No, I think having this lady along will help keep you in line,” Hackett said. “All right, ma’am hand me his gun, belt and all, and the knife and I won’t have to hurt anyone.”

Amy didn’t want to do but Vin whispered, “Do it, we’ll wait for our chance, this isn’t it.” Reaching around his waist Amy unbuckled the gun belt, she opened the strap from his leg and removed the belt, with his gun and knife and handed it over to Hackett.

When Hackett reached for the gun belt he grabbed Amy’s arm instead pulling her off Peso. Vin started to protest until Hackett put his gun to Amy’s head. “Now you didn’t really think I would let you ride together did you,” Hackett said with a laugh. “Tie his hands to the saddlehorn.” He pushed Amy forward. Vin nodded to her making eye contact that he hoped would reassure her. Amy tied Vin’s hands then was thrown to the muddy ground by Hackett who checked the ropes. “Not bad, I would have done tighter but that should hold him,” Hackett said before he reached down to grab Amy and drag her up against him, he grabbed Peso’s reins and pulled them both along to where his horse was tied.

He put Amy up on his horse then mounted behind her. Pulling Peso behind them they rode off toward Texas. Amy shivered in revulsion when he started groping her and drove his elbow into his stomach. Vin had an idea what was happening and hollered out, “You hurt her and you lose your leverage over me.”

Hackett laughed but he left Amy alone the rest of the ride. They stopped for the night; Hackett tied Vin to a tree. Amy moved to stay as close to Vin as she could get. She whispered to him, “He never checked me for weapons.”

Vin smiled and saying, “Dumb move.”

Amy kept her eye on Hackett while she carefully pulled her knife out and started to cut Vin free.

Hackett had been drinking and decided to get brave. He walked up to them and grabbed Amy’s arm pulling her up to him he kissed her hard. Amy struggled against him but it just seemed to excite him more. Hackett pulled his head back and slugged Amy in the face. Walking over to where she lay he ripped her blouse open grabbing at her breasts.

Vin had finished cutting himself free and jumped on Hackett, pulling him off Amy then slicing his neck with the knife. Hackett dropped dead at Vin’s feet, Vin called out to Amy who had pulled her gun out and was holding it in his direction. Vin knew from the way the gun was shaking it wasn’t him she was seeing and tried to think of a way to let her know who he was. “Amy,” Vin called softly to her, “it’s Vin. It’s safe, Hackett’s dead he can’t hurt you anymore.”

The gun still shook so Vin took a step forward and held on his hand saying, “I need you to hold my hand and keep away the nightmares.”

Vin breathed a sigh of relief when the gun lowered then he ran to her gathering her into his arms letting her cry out the fear. They sat there while Vin rocked Amy until she pulled back. “Ya hurt?” Vin’s concerned voice almost made her cry again.

He checked her injuries and winked at her saying, “Guess we need to find ya something to wear back to town.”

“I’d rather be naked than wear anything of his,” Amy said her voice full of venom.

Vin took off his coat and shirt and gave the shirt to her. “I’m so sorry Amy; I’m wanted in Texas for a murder I didn’t commit. Ya never shoulda got hurt ‘cause of me.”

“Not your fault Vin,” Amy said as she put his shirt on feeling better wrapped in the warmth and his scent. “He was the one that hurt me not you, he didn’t have to take me with you and he did. He was the criminal not you.”

Vin smiled at her but inside he still felt that it was his fault she was hurt. Vin pulled Hackett’s body away from the camp but left him for any animals that might come along, not wanting to leave Amy any longer that he needed too.

She was stoking the fire when he got back. “I think we oughta stay the night here and head back to town tomorrow if you’re all right with that,” Vin told her.

“Yeah, I think that’s for the best,” Amy agreed.

Meanwhile back in town the others were getting concerned. They had figured Vin had run into Amy on the road and they were holding up somewhere waiting out the storm. When the storm ended this afternoon they expected them back before dark. It got dark and neither was back, they decided first thing in the morning they would ride out and try to find Vin and Amy.

After dinner Vin put some whiskey into her coffee with lots of sugar for the shock. He set up the bedroll and they were sitting on it Vin leaning against his saddle with Amy wrapped securely in his arms. “Vin,” Amy started softly, “about earlier.”

“Yeah,” he answered. “Ya got nothing to be sorry about, I understand.”

“Not all of it you don’t,” Amy sighed. “I was home alone one day when a couple cowboys rode up saying they had an injured horse and needed my help. Usually someone from the family would go with me but this time no one was around so I went with them alone. When we got to the cabin and two more came out I knew I’d made a mistake trusting them but it was too late. I tried to fight but they were too strong for me. They tied me to the bed and all had their way with me.”

Vin swallowed hard trying to keep himself together to hear her out. “They left me there beaten and bleeding tied to that damn bed, one of them said they would be back for more fun later. My throat was raw from screaming so I could hardly make a sound. Matt found me and brought me home. It was almost six years ago but when Hackett was grabbing at me, it all came back. I could feel them hurting me again and I had to fight back, I could just let it happen again.”

“Josh’s Pa?” Vin could help but ask.

Amy nodded. “I’m not sure which one, as far as I’m concerned he’s my son and that’s all that matters. You stopped him Vin; you helped me win this time. Last time, a man rode by and heard my screams. He didn’t do anything; he just left me there while he went home to bed.”

Amy had to smile when she heard Vin’s growl of disgust. “Vin,” Amy whisper turning her head to look at him, “please help me replace the bad memories with good.”

Vin lowered his head to kiss her gently at first and the kissed deepened filling with passion and desire. He sucked her lower lip into his mouth. Amy opened her mouth to let his tongue in, her own tongue mating with his as moans of pleasure filled the air. Vin unbuttoned the shirt and reached his hand in to gently stroke her breasts. Vin kissed his way down her neck to her breast; he began to suckle on her light brown nipple feeling her hands stroke his hair pulling his head tighter against her. Both were breathing heavily when Vin pulled back, “Not like this, Amy,” Vin panted out. “I want you but I don’t want it to be because we’re both upset.”

Amy’s eyes filled with tears but she nodding in agreement, knowing it wasn’t the right time for them. Amy felt Vin pull the shirt closed over her and buttoned it up. He pulled her down against his chest saying, “Let’s try to get some sleep; I want to get an early start tomorrow.”

Amy snuggled up against him saying, “Night Vin.”

The next morning Vin managed to get Hackett loaded on his horse while Amy packed up the camp. Before they mounted Peso again Amy grabbed Vin’s arm. “Vin,” Amy said softly, “I know I’m being selfish but I need to know you’re all right with what happened.”

“If you mean about that bastard hurting you, then no, I’m not,” Vin replied then smiled and stroked her cheek. “If you’re talking about what happened later between us, then yes, I am.”

“Good,” Amy said with a smile, “I was worried you were feeling guilty so kissed me like that just to make me feel better.”

Vin pulled her in for a kiss before saying, “I don’t kiss women like that if I don’t have feelings for them.”

“That’s wonderful because I don’t kiss men like that if I don’t have feeling for them,” Amy said with a wink making Vin laugh.

“Let’s ride, darlin’,” Vin said helping her mount up.

They met the others on way to town, JD took the body back to town while Nathan insisted he check them both over. Vin refused to leave Amy’s side until she was safely back home with her family. Before that could happen they both needed to tell the Judge what happened. Once Judge Travis heard their story he ruled Hackett’s death justified.


A few days later, Amy rode out to the lake that Vin had told her was a favorite place of his to think. She saw Peso tied up to a tree and knew Vin was there. Walking up to him she said, “I know what you’re trying to do.”

“What do you mean?” Vin asked even though he knew what she was talking about.

“You’ve got it in your head that if you stay away from us you’ll protect us from men like Hackett,” Amy told him as she walked over to sit next to him.

“Amy,” Vin said, “you, Josh, and Rosie mean a lot to me. You were hurt because of that damn bounty on my head; I don’t want that to happen again.”

“So you’re pulling away from us to protect us from something that might happen,” Amy said moving face him and take his hands in hers. “Will it hurt if we lose you, hell yes. Vin, you have to know it’s too late to protect us by staying away, we still lose you and it hurts. It hurts more because you left us of your own free will not because someone made you leave us.”

Vin looked at her wanting to deny what she was saying was true but knowing she was right.

“We all love you Vin Tanner, you can’t stop us from loving you,” Amy insisted. “Please don’t throw us away like yesterday’s garbage.”

“Damn Amy, I love y’all too,” Vin pulled her into his embrace. “You sure about this, look what happened last time you got too close to me.”

“I’m sure I’ll never forgive myself if we don’t try,” Amy told him hugging him tightly. “I feel like I can tell you anything, you let me be me and make me feel like I matter. My kids think you’re the best thing to come along. Maybe we’ll get hurt but I know we’ll get hurt if we give up now.”

“Guess we need to give it a try then don’t we,” Vin said before he kissed her.


Vin and Amy had been growing closer over the last month, falling deeper in love each day. There was a homestead a little ways out of town that they had talked about starting a horse ranch at. It was close enough to town for Vin to keep up his peacekeeping duties and for Amy to stay close to the rest of the family. Vin worried what would happen if he got the urge to move on, he’d never been one to stay in one place to long. Amy just smiled and told him home was where the heart was and her heart was where ever he was.

Vin thought he stayed too long with the Texas Ranger rode into town and walked right up to Vin in the saloon. “We need to talk,” the man said. Turning to JD the Ranger asked JD to find Amy Travis and bring her to him.

Vin stood facing the Ranger when Amy ran into the saloon followed by JD and Chris. Amy’s worried face turned into a huge smile when she saw the Ranger. She said, “Matt” as she ran to him giving him a hug.

JD and Chris joined the others behind Vin waiting to see what would happen next. Rachel Travis followed the others in, also running up to hug the Ranger.

Amy moved back toward Vin and told the gathered crowd. “He’s my oldest brother, Matt.” Amy position herself between Matt and Vin knowing she couldn’t let Matt take Vin in regardless of the pain it might cause.

Rachel pull back from Matt to stand next to Amy. Matt dropped his head saying softly, “Just hear me out.” Amy and Rachel nodded for him to continue.

“I heard about what happened when that bounty hunter tried to take Tanner in,” Matt started holding up his hand when Amy started to defend Vin. “I let you down once Amy, I ain’t doing it again. I knew you wouldn’t let me take him in unless I could prove to you he was guilty.”

“He was framed Matt, you can’t prove he’s guilty because he didn’t do it,” Amy insisted.

“I’ve gotten to know him Matt, Amy’s right he’s a good man and didn’t kill that man like they said,” Rachel also spoke up in Vin’s defense.

“Yeah, well I found out a few things you don’t know,” Matt said. “I want you to see this.”

Amy took the paper Matt held out and read it over, her eyes filled with tears when she looked back up at Matt asking, “Is this real?”

Matt nodded yes as an answer. “Why don’t you tell him,” Matt suggested.

Amy wiped the tears away as she turned to Vin. “It says based on the evidence present by Texas Ranger Matt Travis that Vin Tanner has been found innocent in all charges against him,” Amy said her voice cracking with emotion.

Buck whooped and slapped Vin on the back saying, “You’re a free man Vin.”

That broke Vin from the trance he had been in stunned by the news. “Innocent?” he asked.

Amy nodded, tears streaming down her face saying, “Yes, innocent ruled by a Judge in a court in Texas.”

Vin scooped Amy up in his arms and twirled her around before kissing her soundly. Chris managed to pull the paper from Amy’s hand, needed to read it for himself before slapping Vin on the back offering his congratulations. The others gathered around all wanted to be part of the moment. Rachel moved to Matt and hugging him whispered, “Thank you Matt, I want you to know how proud I am you’re my son.”

Vin managed to pull away from his friends and walked up to Matt. Vin held out his hand to Matt who shook it firmly. “I don’t know how to thank you,” Vin told him sincerely.

“Just take good care of my sister that’s thanks enough,” Matt answered. “Besides, once I found out the proof you were innocent what kind of man would I be to sit on that.”

Amy pulled out of Vin’s arms to hug Matt whispering, “You’ve never let me down Matt. You’re the best brother a girl could ask for, I miss having you around please stay for awhile.”

Matt hugged her back saying, “You celebrate with your friends; I’m going to find the rest of the family. Don’t worry; I plan on staying around to get to know your new friends.”

Matt turned to leave and felt a hand on his arm. “I promise you to dedicate my life to making her happy,” Vin said making eye contact so Matt would know how serious he was.

“What I can see Vin, you already do make her happy,” Matt told him with a smile. “The wanted posters have already been recalled; I asked them to hold off on Four Corners because I wanted to be the one to bring the news. It make take awhile to get the word spread so be sure to keep one of those two copies in a safe place and carry the other on you for awhile.”

The party was still going strong in the saloon later that night when Vin worked his way out to the street. Walking out into the street Vin took a deep breath of air. “Smell sweeter tonight,” Chris asked as he walked up to Vin.

“Ya know it does,” Vin replied with a huge smile.

“Take the time to savior it Vin, you deserve it,” Chris said reaching out for one of their special handshakes.

Clasping arms the two friends shared a private moment.

The End
Next: Buck's Apology