We all know Ezra's a sucker for children. Seems he's not the only one....
Author's Note: This is a re-write of a story I wrote for another fandom, some years ago. In the unlikely chance you do or have, come across that story, please be aware that no plagiarism has taken place. It's a little hard to plagiarise yourself, after all! :) I hope you enjoy!
Mrs Potter, the proprietress of the Four Corners general store looked up on hearing a sound and found herself being watched by a pair of big brown eyes. A small girl in green gingham was looking at her solemnly.
"Hello Sweetheart. You're new around here aren't you?" Mrs Potter had lived in the town for years and she knew most of the local children by sight. On the other hand, the place was growing rapidly. New people were moving in every day. Especially with seven peacekeepers to help keep things safe.
"I'm lost," the little girl informed her, chewing on the end of one of her pigtails.
Oh dear. "Ok. Were your parents outside when you last saw them?"
"I don't know." The child substituted her thumb for her pigtail in her mouth. "When we were in Boston, Mama and Daddy told me to find a policeman if I was lost, but I can't see one here." Tears welled up into her eyes.
"Oh, Sweetheart, don't cry." The older woman came around and knelt beside the little girl, putting an arm around her shoulders. "We don't actually have policemen here. We have a 'Sheriff' instead."
"Sherr-riff . . ." It was obviously a new word.
"That's right, honey. Sheriff Dunne. And he's a very nice man. I'm sure he'll be able to find your Mama and Daddy for you." She stood up, shaking out her skirts. "I'm Mrs Potter, by the way."
"Sally Anne Matheson." The child put out her hand. Despite being so young, she had obviously been well drilled in manners.
"I'm pleased to meet you, Sally Anne" They shook hands and Mrs Potter turned towards the door. "Now why don't we go find the Sheriff?"
"Ok." They walked out together, Sally Anne trustingly holding on to the woman's hand.
JD Dunne finished the last of his coffee and stretched slightly. Things were quiet today. The sun was shining and there wasn't a sound beyond the normal morning noises of the small town. His thoughts turned to the picnic he had planned for that afternoon, with his sweetheart, Casey Welles, only to have them interrupted by a voice calling his name. He looked up to see Mrs Potter crossing the road, holding the hand of a small girl who looked to be about seven years of age.
He got to his feet, smiling. "Morning, Mrs Potter. Who's your friend?"
"This is Sally Anne, JD. She's lost. Apparently, her parents told her to find a policeman, if that happened." She smiled "So I thought I'd bring her to you."
"Well, that sounds good to me." JD smiled back and stepped over to stand in front of the two.
"You're not a policeman!"
Taken aback slightly by this solemn pronouncement, he asked, "No?"
"No! You're a Sher-riff! Mrs Potter said so."
JD shot a look at the woman, who blushed slightly, her free hand coming up to hide her smile (the other one still being firmly held by Sally-Anne.)
"Well, Sweetie . . . " He hunkered down in front of the child. "She's right. I am a Sheriff. Sheriff Dunne."
The little girl freed her hand from the woman's and held it out. "Sally Anne Matheson. I'm from Boston," she added proudly.
"Hey, so am I." Brown eyes met brown as they shook hands and JD said, "I'm pleased to meet you, Sally Anne. And you know something? In a big city like Boston, they call them policemen, but in a little place like this, I'm called a Sheriff, instead."
"Uh . . . "
He was saved by the sound of Mrs Potter clearing her throat behind them. "I need to be getting back to the store, 'Sheriff.' " She smiled at him, teasingly. "I'll leave Sally-Anne with you."
"Thanks, Mrs Potter. I know Chris is over at the jail, so I'm sure we can work something out between us." The young man stood and touched his hat politely, before turning back to the little girl in front of him.
+ + + + + + +
Hand in hand the two walked solemnly the short distance to the jailhouse. "Hey Chris. Buck. Oh hey, Ezra," he added as the smaller man emerged from the cells in back of the room.
"Just where did you find that undersized scrap of humanity?" Ezra smiled at the girl, his gold tooth flashing
"Mrs Potter gave her to me. Her name's Sally Anne and apparently she's lost."
"Oh, dear." The gambler looked down at the little girl again and with a somewhat theatrical flourish presented her with a slightly battered flower, which Chris had last seen on the jaihouse floor; where it had fallen from the buttonhole of a drunken drummer they'd locked up overnight to sober up. He'd left on the stage that morning, but his boutonniere had remained. "A little posy for a pretty lady?"
The little girl giggled and accepted the bloom, eyes wide with delight as the gambler produced it from, apparently, thin air.
Chris looked on, a tolerant smile on his face. Ezra had a soft heart and never could resist a child.
"Heck, kid, isn't she a bit young, even for you?" Buck spoke up, grinning, under his moustache. "And what's Casey gonna say about you having a new girlfriend, hmmm?"
JD just glared at him, annoyed. "Go away, Buck."
Wilmington opened his mouth to continue his ribbing of his younger friend, but catching his leader's eye, promptly closed it again. Holding up both hands in surrender, he backed towards the door and headed outside. His grin widened as he caught sight of a young woman across the street. "Hey Casey!"
"Hi Buck. Have you seen JD around? We're supposed to be going fishing later and I wanted to make sure he remembered."
"Yeah, I just left him. He's at the jail." The big man tried to keep his face straight. This was going to be good! "Uh . . . thing is though, Casey, he was with someone else. A girl."
"JD talks to a lot of people." The young brunette shrugged, not at all worried. "He is the Sheriff here, after all."
"I . . . well . . . They were holding hands." Buck somehow managed to keep his face not only straight, but slightly downcast, as if reluctant to pass on bad news, refusing to look at the young woman.
The girl's eyes widened and her face became first devastated and then disbelieving. "No! JD wouldn't do that!"
"Why don't you go look for yourself, if you don't believe me?" The big man gestured over to the jailhouse, the innocent look on his face marred only by the smile that was threatening to break out under his moustache. "They're both still over there."
He watched, chuckling, as Casey stormed over to the jail, calling JD's name as she stomped in, only to be pulled up short at the sight of the little girl now sitting on the edge of the desk, surrounded by doting men.
"JD! Buck . . . Oh . . . " The look on the young woman's face was almost comical and Chris had to bite his cheek to stop from laughing out loud.
Ezra was the first to break the silence. Poker face firmly in place. "Let me guess. You've been conversing with Mr Wilmington. Yes?"
The brunette looked at him, starting to flush. "Yes. He . . .he said. . . ." She broke off, her face flaming scarlet.
"Aw, heck, Casey, you should know better than to listen to Buck." JD's comment only caused the girl to look even more embarassed and Chris decided to step in.
"Sally Anne, this is Miss Welles. She's a friend of ours. Casey, this is Sally Anne. She's misplaced her parents."
"Hello." Sally Anne again shook hands and then observed, "Buck's the big man with the moustache like Daddy's!"
Casey stared at the girl for a moment. "Your Daddy has a moustache? A big one?"
"Yes. It tickles when he kisses me." The little girl giggled and the surrounding men smiled, exchanging glances..
"Is he wearing a blue jacket?" Casey persisted, garnering all the men's attention.
"You've seen him?" Chris frowned.
"Yes. He was over in the General Store, earlier." She turned back to the little girl. "Is your Mama wearing green? Like you?"
"Daddy said we were twins. What does that mean?"
"It means that you look alike, honey. Well that's it then. They were in the General Store earlier."
"Okay, well they probably haven't gone too far, then." Chris took charge of the situation. He picked the little girl up off the desk and placer her gently on the floor. He took her hand in his and headed out into the street.
"Sally Anne! There you are! We've been worried sick!" A lovely blond woman came hurrying down the boardwalk towards them. Her skirts pulled up in one hand as she ran.
"Mama!" Sally Anne freed her hand from Chris' and ran towards the woman who knelt and pulled her into her arms.
"Sally Anne, where have you been? We told you to stay with the wagon!"
"I wanted to look at the horses, Mama. There was a big brown one! And then I got lost and I looked for a policeman like you told me to, only the lady in the store told me that they didn't have any here, that they had a Sherr-iff, instead and she took me to find him and then we met his friends and one of them gave me a flower! Look!" She held it up proudly. The bloom now even more bedraggled than before, from it's constant handling.
The blond woman looked up at the men who stood grinning behind Sally Anne and rose gracefully to her feet. "Sheriff." She smiled and held out her hand to JD, whose office was proclaimed by the badge he'd fastened to his coat before leaving the jail. "I'm Jessica Matheson and this is my husband David." She indicated the tall, heavily built man who came ambling up behind her. All the men noted his mustache, which truth to tell, did somewhat resemble that sported by Buck Wilmington.
"Pleased to meet you, too, Sheriff". The dark-haired man smiled as the young man shook hands with his wife and himself - and then he turned towards his daughter. "Seven years old and in the hands of the law, already." He shook his head, with a mock-stern look on his face and a twinkle in his eye "I don't know what's going to become of you, my girl, I really don't." Sally Anne squealed with laughter as he took her from her mother and picked her up, holding her at arm's length. "Maybe we ought to have the Sheriff here put you in jail! Teach you not to wander away again." The little girl just giggled even harder.
"Or maybe we shouldn't trespass on the good Sheriff's time any longer," her mother spoke up, smiling fondly at her husband's antics.
"You're very welcome, Mrs Matheson. It was my pleasure. I like kids and she's a real polite little thing. You've done a good job with her."
"Thank you, Sheriff. We've tried." The woman dimpled and dropped a curtsey.
"Are you staying in town or just passing through?" Out of the corner of his eye Chris could see Sally Anne being placed back on the ground and pulled into her father's arms in a tight hug.
"We're just passing through. We'd just stopped to water the horses and buy some supplies, when Sally Anne decided to wander off. We've got kinfolk outside of Eagle Bend and we're heading out to join them."
"And we'd better not keep them waiting for too long. Come on you." The little girl's father swung her up into his arms "Say goodbye and thank you to the Sheriff, now."
"Goodbye, Sheriff. Thank you for the flower, Mr Standish."
"You are most welcome," returned the now thoroughly charmed, gambler.
"It was nice meeting you, Sally Anne. Nice meeting all of you."
"You too, Sheriff."
"And thank you," The blond woman dropped another curtsey before the three of them headed across the street to a wagon parked down by the General Store.
The men watched them go, smiling, before dispersing back to the jail and their various plans for the day.
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